Season Opening: Romantic Italy 

Rossini : “Semiramide” Overture

Mendelssohn : Symphony No.4 “Italian”, Op.90

Conductor: Jinwook Park

September 2018 at 7 pm

Bergen Performing arts center

 

Program note: Romantic Italy

Rossini: “Semiramide” Overture

Semiramide is an opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi is based on Voltaire’s tragedy Semiramis, which in turn was based on the legend of Semiramis of Assyria. The opera was first performed at La Fenice in Venice on 3 February 1823.

Semiramide was Rossini’s final Italian opera and according to Richard Osborne, “could well be dubbed Tancredi Revisited”. As in Tancredi, Rossi’s libretto was based on a Voltaire tragedy. The music took the form of a return to vocal traditions of Rossini’s youth, and was a melodrama in which he “recreated the baroque tradition of decorative singing with unparalleled skill”. The ensemble-scenes (particularly the duos between Arsace and Semiramide) and choruses are of a high order, as is the orchestral writing, which makes full use of a large pit.

After this splendid work, one of his finest in the genre, Rossini turned his back on Italy and moved to Paris. Apart from Il viaggio a Reims, which is still in Italian, his last operas were either original compositions in French or extensively reworked adaptations into French of earlier Italian operas.

Musicologist Rodolfo Celletti sums up the importance of Semiramide by stating:

“(It) was the last opera of the great Baroque tradition: the most beautiful, the most imaginative, possibly the most complete; but also, irremediably, the last”.

Semiramide has its own overture, which was almost certainly composed last. Unlike many operatic overtures of the day, it borrowed musical ideas from the opera itself, thus making it unsuitable for use with another score. The range and balance of musical ideas, from the hushed, rhythmic opening through the Andantino for four horns (drawn from the opera itself) and the repetition with pizzicato countermelodies in the strings to the lively allegro, make the overture to Semiramide one of Rossini’s finest contributions to the genre and deservedly one of the most popular.

Mendelssohn : Symphony No.4 “Italian”, Op.90

The Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, commonly known as the Italian, is an orchestral symphony written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn. The work has its origins (such as the composer’s “Scottish/3rd Symphony” and “The Hebrides” overture) in the tour of Europe which occupied Mendelssohn from 1829 to 1831. Its inspiration is the colour and atmosphere of Italy, where Mendelssohn made sketches but left the work incomplete:

This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.

In February he wrote from Rome to his sister Fanny,

The Italian symphony is making great progress. It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done, especially the last movement. I have not found anything for the slow movement yet, and I think that I will save that for Naples.

The Italian Symphony was finished in Berlin on 13 March 1833, in response to an invitation for a symphony from the London (now Royal) Philharmonic Society; he conducted the first performance himself in London on 13 May 1833 at a London Philharmonic Society concert. The symphony’s success, and Mendelssohn’s popularity, influenced the course of British music for the rest of the century. The Germania Musical Society of Boston gave the first performance in the United States, on 1 November 1851, with Carl Bergmann conducting.

Mendelssohn himself, however, remained dissatisfied with the composition, which cost him, he said, some of the bitterest moments of his career; he revised it in 1834 and even planned to write alternative versions of the second, third, and fourth movements. He never published the symphony, and it appeared in print only in 1851; thus it is numbered as his ‘Symphony No. 4’, even though it was in fact the third he composed.

The joyful first movement, in sonata form, is followed by an impression in the subdominant minor of D minor of a religious procession the composer witnessed in Naples. The third movement is a minuet in which French Horns are introduced in the trio, while the final movement (which is in the minor key throughout) incorporates dance figurations from the Roman saltarello and the Neapolitan tarantella. It is among the first large multi-movement works to begin in a major key and end in the tonic minor, another example being Brahms’s first piano trio.

A typical performance lasts about half an hour.