Entry March of the Boyars: As a young violinist, Johan Halvorsen’s travels took him as far as Helsinki, Stockholm, Aberdeen, Leipzig, Liege, and St. Petersburg. In 1892 he settled back in Norway as a conductor and built a close friendship with Edvard Grieg. (Halvorsen later married Grieg’s niece.) For thirty years, he served as conductor and composer at the Bergen National Theater. Ironically, this prestigious post also condemned most of his work to obscurity: the incidental music for a play being often swept aside as quickly as the scenery.
Bojarenes inntogsmarsj (“Entry March of the Boyars”) however, is one of the few works that has not been forgotten with all the transitory art of the theater. As the story goes, Halvorsen had been offered a teaching post in Bucharest. Curious, he located an article about Bucharest and was inspired by the tales of landed aristocrats in the 10th century. Halvorsen recounts: “Got hold of an encyclopaedia to find out what Bucharest was like. There I read about the art-loving Queen Carmen Sylva and the descendants of the rich, distinguished Boyars who invaded Bucharest so and so many years ago. ’This would look good in the newspapers,’ I thought. And then there was the Queen! She would immediately summon me to the palace with my quartet. I had to find release, so I wrote a march and called it ‘The March of the Boyars.’”
Just as Halvorsen was finishing work on the march, Edvard Grieg came to visit. “Now, how are you doing? Already in full swing, I see.” Grieg saw the manuscript on the piano, looked it over and proclaimed, “That‘s really good!”
© 2008 by Robert Horton, DMA
March of the Trolls: While the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg certainly composed a great deal of orchestral, choral, chamber, and theatrical music during his long career, he seems to have been happiest with much more modest musical forms—he composed nearly 200 songs and nearly 250 piano pieces. Though Grieg was himself a fine pianist, the great majority of his piano works are what are usually called “miniatures” or “character pieces”—short, one-movement pieces that usually evoke a single mood or image, which can be played by amateur pianists. Many of these pieces either borrow Norwegian folk melodies, or evoke the folklore and culture of his homeland. Grieg once wrote: “Composers with the stature of a Bach or Beethoven have erected grand churches and temples. I have always wished to build villages, places where people can feel happy and comfortable... the music of my own country has been my model.”
Dwarves and trolls are figures both feared and beloved in Norwegian folklore (Just take a drive through Stoughton or Mt. Horeb sometime!), and this set ends with a forceful March of the Trolls. This is a frantic and rather threatening march...until it is interrupted by limpid, pastoral music led by the oboe and strings. But the march returns full force soon enough. At the very end, the oboe makes one more attempt to steer the music back to a pastoral mood, but the piece then ends abruptly with an angry bark from the entire orchestra.
©2014 by J. Michael Allsen
Flute Concerto: Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) is widely regarded today as Denmark’s finest composer. His music covers a wide range of styles, from Romanticism to Neoclassicism.
Nielsen is most highly regarded today as a symphonist, and his six symphonies are frequently performed. His compositions also include numerous chamber works (including string quartets and a Wind Quintet), a number of vocal and choral works, two operas, and concerti for violin, clarinet, and flute. Nielsen’s career was a diverse one, beginning with a second violin position with the Royal Chapel Orchestra of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, and spanning to the post of Head of the Copenhagen Conservatory, which he held towards the end of his life. In between, he was a conductor for the Odense Music Society, a guest conductor in Sweden, and he traveled widely across Europe, becoming inspired by the music of Wagner, Bach, and Mozart.
The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra was composed in 1926, by which point Nielsen’s health was already deteriorating. The Concerto was written for Holger Gilbert Jespersen, then flutist of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, the group for whom Nielsen had composed his Wind Quintet in 1922. Interestingly, Nielsen had intended to write a concerto for each member of this quintet, but sadly he only completed the clarinet and flute concerti before his death in 1931. Jespersen premiered the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in Paris for an audience that included Roussel and Honegger among others. This concerto, a two-movement work, is a stunning, yet quirky composition, with sudden and dramatic shifts in mood and character. With many brief vignettes, one could easily subtitle this piece “The Adventures of the Flute.”
- James Thompson
Symphony no. 5 in Eb Major, op. 82: "In a deep valley again," Jean Sibelius wrote in his diary in September of 1915, "But I already begin dimly to see the mountain that I shall surely ascend… God opens His door for a moment and His orchestra plays the Fifth Symphony." Sibelius wrote his Fifth Symphony during a pivotal time of his life. While returning home in 1914 after a visit to the United States where, among other things, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale University and feted at a music festival in his honor in Litchfield, Connecticut, he learned of the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo. By the time he arrived in Finland, almost all of Europe was at war. Weary of the honors bestowed upon him, bored with the celebrations in his honor, and fearful of the outcome of the war, he withdrew from public life into the isolation and solitude of Ainola, his spacious log house in the woodlands adjacent to the village of Jarvenpaa, some thirty miles northeast of Helsinki. There he remained, except for a few public appearances, for the rest of his life, faithfully and protectively attended to by his devoted wife and, at any given time, at least one of their three daughters.
Judging from the words that Sibelius penned in his diary, there can be little doubt that he was immensely pleased with his Fifth Symphony even before having heard a note of it played by an orchestra. Despite this confidence, however, this symphony proved to be a problematic score and appears to have given its composer more trouble than any other of his works. After the premiere, which Sibelius himself conducted on December 8, 1915, in Helsinki, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, he withdrew the score and drastically revised and condensed it. Most notably, he combined the first two movements into a single structure of unusual layout, thereby reducing the total number of movements from four to three.
He conducted this revised version in Helsinki on December 14 of the following year but was still not happy with it. Obviously determined that the Fifth Symphony should be his magnum opus, he planned yet another revision before his brother-in-law Armas Jamefelt was to conduct the Stockholm premiere, but the deteriorating political situation in Finland and subsequent civil war prevented him from doing so. It was not until nearly three more years of revisions that Sibelius was at last satisfied with the symphony and conducted it in its final, definitive form on November 24, 1919, again in Helsinki.
The two-part first movement of the symphony is marked Tempo molto moderato; Allegro moderato. Formally, it is unusual in that it has a double exposition that makes use of four distinct themes. Structurally, it is a brooding moderato movement that, through some novel changes in tempo, rhythm, tension, and mood, transforms itself into a scherzo--or seems to. In actuality, what appears to be a scherzo is really the development and recapitulation of the thematic materials that were "exposed" in the first part of the movement. Rather than trying to fathom the construction of this unique movement, however, it would perhaps be better to treat it as an extended, free-form rhapsody and simply enjoy the remarkable things that Sibelius did with his materials.
In marked contrast, the second movement, Andante mosso, quasi allegretto, is much simpler in design and takes the form of a theme and variations. Introduced first by the flutes, the theme seems innocuously naive at first, but ultimately produces some remarkable results. Overall, the mood is sunny and pastoral, although some dark clouds occasionally intrude, but only briefly. The variations themselves pose no problem in detection.
The final movement, marked Allegro molto, is epic in character, has an immense feeling of forward momentum, and seems to be depicting the power of nature. It begins with a whirring, moto perpetuo figure in the strings to which woodwinds are soon added. Next comes the vaulting theme in half notes nobly proclaimed by the four horns that suggests the tolling of bells. Sir Donald Francis Tovey preferred to describe it as "Thor swinging his hammer." (According to Sibelius, this theme actually came to him one morning as he stood watching a flock of swans circle overhead.) The finale is brought to a climax by a slowing of tempo (the reverse of the way that the first movement developed) and the symphony is capped off with six powerful, widely spaced chords-an awesome effect that never ceases to stun the listener.
-Kenneth C. Viant