Wagner: On Christmas Day in 1870, a small group of players assembled on the winding staircase of the Wagner home, Triebschen. Cosima, Wagner’s wife, awoke to hear her beautiful 33rd birthday present – originally named TriebschenIdyll. This romantic composition is an unexpectedly intimate piece from a composer known for his grandiose operas due partly to the fact that Wagner was composing the Idyll to be played on a staircase. The piece celebrates Wagner’s private joys- the bliss of married life, the birth of his son, Siegfried, and the composition of Siegfried. The piece was renamed Siegfried Idyll when the Wagners elected to publish their private musical collection.
Edouard Lalo studied violin and cello in Lille before studying at the Paris Conservatoire. He later composed, taught and played in chamber groups but it was a disheartening time; he could not get his music performed or published and eventually he stopped composing altogether. In 1865 Lalo, encouraged by his new wife, started composing again and in his early fifties he had his major breakthrough with Symphonie espagnole which Debussy called ‘a masterpiece of rhythm and colour’. Lalo’sinspiration came partly from the brilliant Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate and the character piece is said to reflect Saraste’s persona - filled with ‘lyricism, wit, and a certain fire.’ Symphonie Espagnole is neither a real symphony, nor a traditional concerto. It is more like a suite, especially in its incorporation of dance rhythms. The opening movement starts with a rhythm of duplet followed by triplet which gives a definite Spanish quality to the music – the violin then enters in the fourth bar and barely stops after that with impressive melodic invention and rhythmic flair. The scherzando in the second movement is flavoured with the same seguidilla dance rhythm that dominates Carmen’s famous aria, the violin soaring over the pizzicato strings and harp. The final intermezzo offers decidedly flamenco-style rhythms- the violin is enthralling, alluring with demanding passages full of emotion.
Symfonie in d-klein
César Franck was born in the Walloon city of Liège. At the age of 11 he made his first tour as a virtuoso pianist then two years later the whole family moved to Paris so he could study at the Paris Conservatory. His father desperately wanted Cesar to be a concert pianist but instead he favoured organ and in 1848 took up the post of organist at Notre Dame de Lorette. He was a religious and introspective man; a respected organ professor at the Conservatoire and was also known for his glorious organ improvisations. Nearly all Franck’s finest and best known works came later in his life and it is suggested that the move from earnest religious compositions to a more romantic, sensuous quality and style came with his infatuation with a former composition student, Augusta Holmes. He finished writing the Symphony in D minor when he was 64 – it was premiered in 1869 but the response was cool and questions arose as to the suitability of giving a Cor Anglais a solo! Now the symphony is a staple of the symphonic repertoire, each of the movements showing Franck at the apex of his creative and structural power. The entire symphony marks the development of the cyclical form in which music and motifs from one movement can be heard throughout the rest of the symphony. The huge first movement is in sonata form, opening with a three-note motif very similar to the finale to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16, Op. 135. It’s an almost agonizingly slow lento before taking off with an energetic, fortissimo allegro non-troppo using the same three-note utterance. The motif is spun through widely different keys and with sudden and repeated tempo changes throughout the movement. The second movement presents a hybrid of slow movement and scherzo, opening with plucked harp and strings before the entrance of the haunting melody of the Cor Anglais. The finale opens with a joyful and upbeat melody – the coda brings the symphony back to its beginnings as it recapitulates the core thematic material of the symphony - as Franck said, "The finale takes up all the themes again, …They do not return as quotations, however; I have elaborated them and given them the role of new elements".