Tchaikovsky, Lehar and John Williams

Concert: 7.30pm Saturday June 18th, 2016

The Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony is one of his most popular works, despite his own opinion, written after its second performance; “I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure”.

It was the finale that prompted that reaction from both Tchaikovsky himself and some critics -they considered the ending insincere or even crude. 

In 1892 one American reviewer wrote;
“Of the Fifth Tchaikovsky Symphony one hardly knows what to say … In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes. The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker. Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!”

The second movement, in particular, is considered to be classic Tchaikovsky: well crafted, colourfully orchestrated, and with a hauntingly beautiful horn solo.

The Symphony was composed between May and August 1888 and was first performed, conducted by Tchaikovsky in St Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre on November 17th of the same year.

It is a cyclical symphony with four movements, and with a recurring main theme which is heard in all four movements, bringing a sense of unity to them. The theme, sometimes dubbed “Fate theme”, has a funereal feel in the first movement, but gradually transforms into a triumphant march, which dominates the final movement.

The Merry Widow – Lehar

The Merry Widow (German: Die lustige Witwe) is an operetta by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár. The librettists, Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, based the story – concerning a rich widow, and her countrymen’s attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband – on an 1861 comedy play, L’attaché d’ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) by Henri Meilhac.

The operetta has enjoyed extraordinary international success since its 1905 premiere in Vienna and continues to be frequently revived and recorded. Film and other adaptations have also been made. Well-known music from the score includes the “Vilja Song”, “Da geh’ ich zu Maxim” (“You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s”), and the “Merry Widow Waltz”.

Star Wars – John Williams

John Williams started composing music for film in 1958, and began to gain much success with film scores in the late 60s and early seventies. He earned Academy awards for his scores on Fiddler on the Roof and Jaws. Working with director Steven Spielberg, they crafted the iconic five-note figure that features both in the background music and as the communications signal of the film’s extraterrestrials in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious 1977 space epic film Star Wars. Williams created a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Star Wars often is credited as heralding the beginning of a revival of grand symphonic scores in the late 1970s. One technique in particular is an influence: Williams’s revival of a technique called leitmotif, which is most famously associated with the operas of Richard Wagner.

Its main theme, “Luke’s Theme” is among the most widely recognized in film history, and the “Force Theme” and “Princess Leia’s Theme” are well-known examples of leitmotif. Both the film and its soundtrack were immensely successful – it remains the highest grossing non-popular music recording of all-time, and Williams won another Academy Award for Best Original Score.

In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back, where he introduced “The Imperial March” as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire, “Yoda’s Theme”, and “Han Solo and the Princess”. The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, for which Williams’ score provided most notably the “Emperor’s Theme”, “Parade of the Ewoks”, and “Luke and Leia”. Both scores earned him Academy Award nominations.

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