June 1, 2019
June 2, 2019
William Herschel (1728-1822)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Paul Dedell (1955- ), newly commissioned
Serenity: The Seasons of Henry David Thoreau
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Impromptu for Strings, after Op. 5, No. 5 and 6
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 43 in E-flat major, Mercury
Paul Dedell’s first original theatrical score, The Great American Hero, won the David B. Marshall award from the University of Michigan in 1979. His choral score, Come Life, Shaker Life, received the Alfred Nash Patterson Award. His compositions have been heard locally and internationally, most recently in collaborations with Marlboro College, the Brattleboro Concert Choir, New England Youth Theater, Sandglass Theater, and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Current commissions include Serenity for Juno Orchestra as well works for Con Moto and The River School. With his wife, Susan, he co-directs Winged Productions, a series of events that aims to explore basic animating questions that lie at the heart of the human experience. Paul is the middle school program director at Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro.
Jenny Karstad has been performing music her whole life in school, church, and community choirs. She studied piano extensively in her childhood. Currently she sings with the Brattleboro Concert Choir and sits on the board of the Brattleboro Music Center. In her professional life she is a psychotherapist.
Brief program notes
Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Tracking William Herschel’s life, step by step, one finds a steady, sensible sequence. Yet it is somehow jarring to discover that William Herschel was both a composer of some talent AND the astronomer who discovered Uranus (as well as infrared radiation!). All before he was 50. William Herschel was born in Hanover, Germany, then united with England under the rule of George II. His father was a military oboist, so William and one brother (two among ten children) also became oboists, ultimately in the same service. The Herschel family was militarily dispatched to England when William was a teenager. Apparently bright and clearly capable, he was also a violinist and organist, eventually holding keyboard posts in Halifax, Bath, and Leeds. He wrote Symphony No. 8 around age 20. It is one of 24 symphonies he wrote as he moved among posts in northern England. Herschel seems to have been a curious person; his studies in music theory led naturally into mathematics, which led to an amateur interest in astronomy. That exploration eventually commanded his professional attentions and provided livelihood for the remainder of his life. He announced his discovery of this new planet in 1781, under the reign of George III. Herschel named the planet ‘Georgium Sidus’ (The Star of George). It finally earned its giggle-inducing name some 70 years later. The king was enamored of Hershel’s work and provided him with an annual stipend on the condition that Herschel and his family move to Windsor and provide ready access to telescopes and other astronomy devices. King George also named Herschel the Astronomer Royal.
The opening of this symphony is solidly Sturm und Drang—brooding minor key, sudden dynamic contrasts, restless agitation. An insistent repeated figure ploughs through dissonance into a moment of Classic elegance before the turmoil resumes. The second movement, a somber minuet with sighing figures, ends with a delicate, poignant cascade. The final Presto assai recalls the brooding contrasts of the first movement, juxtaposed against agitated string passages and gallant-style episodes.
Serenity: The Seasons of Henry David Thoreau
When Juno Orchestra commissioned Paul Dedell to write a work for chamber orchestra, the offer included a framing suggestion: might he cast a new version of the seasons—as modeled previously by Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzola—but, this time, invoking New England’s seasons. While composing Serenity, Dedell drew upon the thoughts and meditations of Henry David Thoreau. Of course, this new music will readily speak for itself, but, to further the context, it’s worth noting that Dedell has composed several, prize-winning works for voices. His compositional voice seems, like Thoreau’s, deeply rooted in New England (hymnody and shape note tradition, nature-inspired, beautiful). This new work opens with a brief prologue, the year begins with Spring, and a narrator reads salient bits of text by Thoreau.
Speaking of multi-talented humans: Paul Dedell has been a woodworker/carpenter, and currently, in addition to composing, is a middle school educator and program director at Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro.
Impromptu, after Op. 5, No. 5 and 6
The work of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is saturated by the influence of the Finnish language, traditions, and folklore. Sibelius’ music speaks from the creative energies and inspirations of the natural world – Finland’s mountains, rivers, valleys, and forests. Though he began university training with the intention of becoming a lawyer, and opposite from Herschel, he found his true calling in music. A violinist first, his talents for composition quickly convinced him and others that he must study composition, first in Helsinki and later in Berlin and Vienna. In 1892-93, he composed a set of piano Impromptus, Opus 5, which were the first of his many piano pieces to be published throughout his career. Sibelius stopped composing altogether for the last twenty-five years of his life, yet he did arrange a number of his earlier piano works for orchestra. This Impromptu for Strings combines the fifth and sixth piano pieces from the Opus 5 set, in E minor and E major respectively, into a simple ABA song form. The music of the sixth Impromptu was also used in Sibelius’ melodrama from Svartsjukans nätter (Nights of Jealousy), where it accompanies the text “if you once stood, shrouded in the misty haze, on the hilltop, in the spring morning’s embrace….”
Listen sometime to a performance of the original piano version of Impromptu, Op. 5, No. 5. You will readily recognize the string version performed today, but in an entirely different emotional context. A small window into the composer’s mind.
Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 43 in E-flat Major, Mercury
First, the moniker “Mercury” is not by Haydn and wasn’t assigned to the symphony until perhaps 100 years later. It bears no meaningful relationship to the piece, but the name does relate well to the Herschel. Honestly, that’s not why this piece was chosen for today’s concert.
E-flat Major is a wonderful key for Haydn. Every single string quartet in E-flat is a comfortable, well-wishing gem. (It’s as if Haydn is at his most gentlemanly, even avuncular in E-flat.) Combine that with Haydn’s expert ability to create and prolong tension, and the opening of the first movement begins to make sense. What may seem like ‘too long’ a time for meandering at the outset is intentional on Haydn’s part. (This idea of ‘too much’ of anything is developed throughout the symphony. It works intellectually, if not playfully; it provides freedom for Haydn; and it is a unifying technique.) When we finally get to the inevitable, high-spirited electricity in the first movement, we find ourselves actually relieved. It’s as if someone is playing with us, but in a warm, embracing way (like my Uncle Russ). When the development seems to have returned to the main theme—in the right key—but ‘too soon,’ we are being cajoled by Haydn to listen still longer, to what turns out to be a sophisticated alteration of form, offering an even more far-reaching exploration of material than we might have expected. The second movement is somehow profound and touchingly sweet at the same time. In the second half, there is a sighing passage that goes on ‘too long.’ The Minuet is jovial, straight ahead, and clear. Listen to the Trio as it says the same thing ‘too many’ times. The final movement seems to open willingly, to bolt ahead with requisite energy, but it seems to work a bit more like a brief, declamatory recitative. Once truly off and running, the motion still stops ‘too often.’ Haydn’s eccentricities of form and phrasing are perhaps at their most delightful when set in this context of gemutlich E-flat Major.