David Loebel, Associate Director of Orchestras, leads the NEC Symphony in its season opener.
Smetana The Moldau
Mozart Symphony No. 38, K. 504, "Prague"
Weber/Berlioz Invitation to the Dance
Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Weber
The Smetana is the most familiar of the six tone poems comprising Ma Vlast (My Country), the composer's brilliantly colored paen to the landscape, folk heritage, and landmarks of his Czech homeland (in photo right). Smetana wrote of the piece:
The composition describes the course of the Vltava (the “Moldau” in German), starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad (the “high castle”), and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German).
Mozart's Symphony No. 38 (Prague) is renowned for its somewhat unconventional three-movement structure (it lacks a Scherzo), its almost unprecedented use of sonata form in all three movements, and its extraordinarily dramatic, even tragic, atmosphere. While there is nothing characteristically Czech about Mozart's musical motifs—the work's nickname comes from the fact that it had its first performance in Prague—at least one Czech journalist of his time found that "his music is understood nowhere better than in Prague, and even in the countryside it is widely loved."
The latter two works are brilliant transformations of pieces by Carl Maria von Weber, each with interesting ties to the ballet. Berlioz's orchestration of Weber's waltz-inspired piano work came about when he was asked to provide ballet music for a Paris production of Weber's Der Freischütz. So vivid and virtuosic was his rendering that the piece took on an independent life as an orchestra showpiece.
Hindemith's reworking of several Weber themes was triggered by a request from choreographer Leonide Massine. But the two artists, with seemingly incompatible esthetics, had a falling out and the ballet project came to nothing. The composer instead put together an orchestral paraphrase of four movements using several Weber themes and it became one of his most popular works. George Balanchine had the last word, though: unlike Massine, he found Hindemith's work quite alluring and he choreographed it for the New York City Ballet and his wife Tanaquil le Clerc (in photo) under the title Metamorphoses.