We are excited about all of the rich history and interesting facts that orchestral music has to offer. The information presented here is for those new to classical music, lovers of the art of classical music, parents that wish to share more information with their children, and anyone that loves to learn.
The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra is dedicated to sharing the joy of music with everyone and doing all we can to educate and inspire our audiences. We have chosen some of the most interesting figures and works in our season and went in-depth to go beyond the concert program notes to bring you more stories and facts so you will be "in the know."
Thank you to the Alabama State Council on the Arts for their support of this project. Their investment in arts education allows us to bring this information to you.
Let us know what you think! We are interested in your thoughts and welcome your suggestions. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read on and be inspired!
SEPTEMBER CONCERT CONTENT
Ludwig van Beethoven: Short Biography
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is considered to be one of the most important and prolific composers in Western music, and his name is often synonymous with “legend” or “genius.” The opening notes of his Fifth Symphony and the “Ode to Joy” theme from his Ninth Symphony are recognizable across generations and demographics. To summarize his life and creative output is a tremendous task, but we will touch on some key points here.
Beethoven was born on or around December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was a prominent bass singer and eventual Kapellmeister of the Court of the Electorate of Cologne, and also served as young Ludwig’s first music teacher. Johann was a “stage father” of sorts; he saw the success that Leopold Mozart had with his children, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and hoped to find the same notoriety with his son. Beethoven’s first public performance on the piano was in 1778.
Soon after this, around 1779, Beethoven found his first true teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe, the Court’s organist, who taught him the basics of musical composition. In the early to mid-1780s, Beethoven wrote his first works – piano sonatas and keyboard variations. After the death of his mother in 1787, Beethoven’s father descended into alcoholism, and Ludwig was left to look after the family finances. To earn extra money, he played viola in the Court orchestra.
In 1792, Beethoven moved to Vienna to study with the revered composer Franz Joseph Haydn – and he spent the rest of his life in Austria. He found success in Vienna, and completed his first set of string quartets and first symphonies – all of which showed notable influence of Haydn and Mozart - between 1798 and 1802. This compositional era is known as his “Early Period.” It was also around this time that he began to lose his hearing, which he lost completely by the age of 44.
The cause of Beethoven’s deafness remains unknown. It has been attributed to many things, including autoimmune disease, lead poisoning, and even his habit of immersing his head in frigid water in order to stay awake. When he began to lose his hearing around 1802, Beethoven moved to a small town outside Vienna called Heiligenstadt, where he explored coping mechanisms for his deafness and attempted to come to terms with this great change to his livelihood.
He returned to Vienna from Heiligenstadt the next year, and he brought with him a significant change to his compositional style. Most musicologists consider this change indicative of the start of his “Middle Period,” and also a bridge to a more Romantic idiom. His well-known Third Symphony (also called “Eroica”) and only opera, Fidelio, were composed during this period.
Beethoven had many personal difficulties from 1811-1817. His brother, Kasper, died in 1815, and Beethoven started a custody battle with his sister-in-law over his then 9-year-old nephew, Karl. Beethoven eventually got custody after a seemingly endless back-and-forth, but his relationship with Karl was never easy. Almost a decade later, in 1826, Karl attempted suicide. He survived, but soon after left home to join the army, and never saw Beethoven again.
Beethoven’s so-called “Late Period” began around this time, in 1815. Works from this period include the Missa Solemnis, the late string quartets, and his Ninth Symphony. Beethoven’s pieces from this era are known for their depth of emotional intensity and formal innovations. He struggled through many health challenges during the composition of these great works – especially the late string quartets.
After months of being bedridden, Beethoven died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56. His funeral procession in Vienna three days later was attended by close to 20,000 people.
About the Egmont Overture
Beethoven wrote the Egmont Overture between 1809 and 1810, and it premiered in June of 1810. It was conceived as an introduction to a set of incidental music pieces to accompany a Goethe play called Egmont that was written in 1787. The overture and the pieces that follow are considered to be some of the final works of Beethoven’s “Middle Period.”
The overture introduced a set of nine pieces for soprano and symphonic orchestra with an optional male narrator. The subject of the play – and of the incidental music – is the life of a 16th century nobleman named Lamoral, Count of Egmont. The play begins depicting the plight of the Dutch people under tyrannical Spanish overlords, and ends with Egmont’s call for revolution and eventual victory. Beethoven wrote the music during the Napoleonic Wars, and he had grave concerns over Napoleon’s rise to power.
This was not the first time that Beethoven was inspired by Napoleon. The great Symphony no. 3 (“Eroica”), composed sometime between 1803 and 1804, was originally dedicated to Napoleon; Beethoven greatly admired him at the time. When Napoleon crowned himself emperor on December 2, 1804, Beethoven was disturbed and enraged, and crossed out the dedication.
Beethoven’s “Middle Period” is the era in which he found his identity as a composer. He wrote his famous Symphony no. 5 during this time, and started to establish his own more Romantic idiom, straying from the more Classical style (inspired by Mozart and Haydn) that he used up until this point. Some consider the work of the “Middle Period” to be heroic in nature, but it also includes more subdued works, such as Symphony no. 6 (“Pastoral”). The Egmont Overture exhibits both characteristics, but leans toward the heroic, and the triumph of light over darkness. It starts with a dark cello melody, and leads to a rising storm. This ominous mood continues through the piece. Egmont’s death is marked by a falling unison figure followed by silence before the full orchestra proclaims victory.
About the French Horn and the Mozart Horn Concerto no. 4
This concert will feature Mozart’s Concerto for Horn no. 4. The French horn is a unique and vital part of the symphony orchestra, and has an interesting history. It is a member of the brass family, and consists of tubing wrapped in coil with a flared bell. Like other brass instruments, the pitch is controlled by the speed of air blown through the tubing, the shape/tension of the player’s lips, and the use of the instrument’s valves, which are pushed and released by the fingers. The valves change the length of the instrument’s tubing. The horn player can also adjust the pitch slightly by placing his or her hand inside the large bell. Unlike other brass instruments in the orchestra, the horn’s bell points backwards, which adds to the subdued and mellow tone quality compared to the trumpet or trombone.
The term “French horn” is misleading, and, interestingly, it is only called the “French” horn in the English language! The reason for this moniker is because early hunting horns, on which the design of the French horn is based, were made by the French. The modern design that we know today was actually developed by German makers. There are two main models of modern horns today: the Kruspe and the Geyer/Knopf. The difference between these two designs mostly lies in wrap style of the coils and the shape of the bell throat. You can often tell the difference, though, by noting the color and material of the instrument. Kruspe horns are usually made of nickel silver, and Geyer/Knopf horns are usually made of yellow brass. Another way to distinguish one from the other is to note the size of the bell. Kruspe horns have larger bells than Geyer/Knopf instruments.
The first horns were actual animal horns, and functioned mostly as communication tools. The Hebrew shofar is an example of an animal horn that is still used today. These animal horns were later emulated using metal. Early metal horns – which did not have valves - were sounded on hunts, often played by men atop a horse. The first valved horn was introduced in 1818.
The modern horn is mostly used in the symphony orchestra and concert band settings. In earlier music, it was often used to evoke “the hunt.” Once the right hand started to be used to adjust the pitch from inside the bell, composers began to consider the horn more seriously in orchestral, chamber, and solo music.
In the chamber music setting, the horn is very versatile. It has a place in both the traditional woodwind quintet AND the traditional brass quintet. Orchestras usually have at least two horn players. Beethoven was one of the first composers to use four horns in his symphonic music.
Mozart’s Concerto for Horn no. 4 in E-flat Major was completed in 1786, and consists of three movements. The final movement, unsurprisingly, depicts a hunt. Two of his four horn concertos utilize horns in the orchestra in addition to the soloist, and this piece is one of those two.
Franz Schubert: Short Biography
Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer who lived from 1797 to 1828. His works are generally considered to be part of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Although he died at the age of 31, he composed over 600 vocal works and seven complete symphonies; he also was a prolific composer of chamber music and operas.
Schubert was born in Vienna, and was the twelfth child of a Catholic schoolmaster. His older brother gave him his first piano lessons, but the younger Schubert quickly outpaced him. His father gave him violin lessons starting at age 8. After being discovered by the prominent musician Antonio Salieri, Schubert’s musical knowledge increased rapidly. In 1808, he gained entry into the prestigious Stadtkonvikt – the Vienna Imperial Court Chapel Choir.
After he entered the Stadtkonvikt, Schubert grew seriously as a composer. He sometimes led the school orchestra – the first orchestra to play his music. During this time, he took private composition lessons with Salieri. He studied the symphonies of Mozart and Haydn, but he was most drawn to the works of his older contemporary, Ludwig van Beethoven.
In 1813, he left the Stadtkonvikt to become a teacher at his father’s school, where he worked until 1816. During this time, Schubert had his first episode of serious depression, an ailment that would plague him throughout his life. He was living with his father, and barely had enough money for basic necessities. He was teaching simply to survive. Despite his unhappiness, Schubert was still quite productive, especially in 1815. That year, he wrote 140 Lieder (songs), his first symphony, and nine works for the church.
In 1816, Schubert finally moved in with friends and out of his parents’ home. Since his friends were allowing him to live with them rent-free, he decided to quit teaching and devote himself solely to composing. With the help of baritone singer Johann Michael Vogl, Schubert made his way into the “in crowd” of the Vienna music scene. However, he was still not making enough money, so he begrudgingly returned to teaching in 1818.
In the early 1820s, Schubert was the ringleader of a close circle of musicians, writers, and artists who frequently had soirees that became known colloquially as “Schubertiads.” It was with this group that Schubert was arrested in 1820 by the Austrian police, who were suspicious of young people gathering, fearing they were plotting a revolution.
Schubert experts agree that the composer reached his musical maturity in the early 1820s, too, and his musical output increased. In 1822, he began his great Symphony no. 8 in B minor, now known famously as the “Unfinished Symphony.” For unknown reasons, Schubert stopped composing the piece in the middle of the third movement Scherzo. In 1823, he completed his first song cycle, and finished several of his other masterworks, including the Arpeggione sonata, the Symphony in C Major (known as “The Great”), and the String Quartet in A minor (“Rosamunde”).
His financial situation was improving, too. Schubert even found the time and money to take a vacation in 1825. His continued to thrive musically as well. From 1826 until his death in 1828, he lived in Vienna and wrote some of his most known works, including the String Quartet in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”), the String Quintet in C Major, and the song cycle Winterreise. He was greatly affected by the death of Beethoven in 1827
On March 26, 1828, just eight months before his death, Schubert gave his first and only public concert of his own works. His health had been declining since around 1821 with what scholars now believe was syphilis, and he was gravely ill during his final months. He died on November 19, 1828.
The “Unfinished” Symphony
Throughout music history, there are examples of great works left unfinished by composers when they died. Schubert’s great unfinished work, his Eighth (or Seventh, depending on the numbering system used) Symphony in B minor, was abandoned six years before he died. He completed two movements, and began sketching a third. This third movement, a scherzo, exists in piano score, but only two pages of the orchestrated version are finished. Some scholars believe that he also sketched a finale movement, and that it became the entr’acte of his opera, Rosamunde.
So why did Schubert abandon this piece? There are two main theories. Some think he stopped working on the piece when he experienced his first symptoms of syphilis, the disease that eventually led to his death. Others believe that he was distracted because he was also working on the Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, which was his most technically demanding work for the instrument.
In any case, what we have is considered by some to be the first Romantic symphony due to the emphasis on lyrical and expressive musical language inside the more traditional Classical form. Schubert focused a lot on the individual instruments’ sound quality (known as timbre) and not just on formal schemes.
The piece has several published “completed” versions (completions of the third movement, at least) by various composers and musicologists. Most recently, Cambridge professor Robin Holloway had his version premiered by the Cambridge University Musical Society in 2011.
Franz Liszt and the Symphonic Poem
Franz Liszt, who lived from 1811-1886, was a Hungarian virtuoso pianist, composer, and major musical benefactor who is considered by many to be the greatest pianist who ever lived, and is known as the creator of the “symphonic poem.”
He grew up in Hungary, and studied piano and composition with composers Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri, respectively. In 1832, he heard the Italian virtuoso violinist Niccolo Paganini perform at a concert in Paris. He wished to become as skillful on the piano as Paganini was on the violin. Paris was a hotbed for pianists at the time, and Liszt stayed there honing his craft, and also stayed busy composing and arranging. He transcribed many large orchestral works for the piano, including Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
After meeting and having children with the Countess Marie d’Agoult in the 1830s, he toured as a performing pianist in the late 1830s and early 1840s to support his family. He traveled throughout Europe, performing in Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Switzerland, and France, among other places. He was so popular that poet Heinrich Heine used the term “Lisztomania” to describe the almost hysterical response he received from fans at his performances. He had a commanding and unique stage presence that captivated most audiences.
He settled in Weimar, Germany in 1842 and took up the post of Kapellmeister at the court of Russian Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. During this time, Liszt used his popularity and money to promote musicians and composers. Most famously, he helped Wagner regain his reputation after being exiled by conducting his overtures in concerts. His remained friends with Wagner throughout his life, and Liszt’s daughter, Cosima, eventually married Wagner.
His final twenty years of life were spent living in a number of places, including Rome, Weimar, and Budapest. A Royal Academy of Music was opened in Budapest in 1872, and Liszt was appointed President. Even as his health declined in the 1880s, he still traveled between his three homes. He died in Bayreuth in 1886 not long after Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival that year, which was hosted by Lizst’s daughter, Cosima.
As a composer, Liszt was perhaps best known as the inventor of the symphonic poem. He composed 13 of them total, of which 12 were written between 1848 and 1858. Liszt wanted to expand one-movement symphonic pieces to something more than concert overtures. He took multiple musical ideas, which, in a symphony, would take several movements to develop, and put them all into one movement. His symphonic poems were often cyclical, with the theme from the beginning returning at the end.
All of Liszt’s symphonic poems began as full piano scores. He enlisted one of his assistants, Joachim Raff, a gifted orchestrator, to convert his originals into symphonic form.
Liszt wrote prefaces for nine of his thirteen symphonic poems. Some of these introductions were simply biographical – what inspired him to write the piece, what feelings he was trying to convey, etc. Others had more elaborate programmatic content and featured more of a storytelling style. The reason for these introductions was to engage more of the public. He knew that many people wanted to attach stories to music, and this allowed him to guide them through his pieces and keep them interested.
Les Preludes is the second symphonic poem Liszt composed (though it is third in his catalog of works), and one of the few that makes it into the standard repertoire of today. It premiered in 1854 and was conducted by Liszt himself. The introduction reads:
“What else is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown Hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death?—Love is the glowing dawn of all existence; but what is the fate where the first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, the mortal blast of which dissipates its fine illusions, the fatal lightning of which consumes its altar; and where is the cruelly wounded soul which, on issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavour to rest his recollection in the calm serenity of life in the fields? Nevertheless man hardly gives himself up for long to the enjoyment of the beneficent stillness which at first he has shared in Nature's bosom, and when "the trumpet sounds the alarm", he hastens, to the dangerous post, whatever the war may be, which calls him to its ranks, in order at last to recover in the combat full consciousness of himself and entire possession of his energy.”
About the Soloist: Josh Williams
Joshua Williams has rapidly established himself as one of the rising stars in this current generation of horn artists. In 2017, he was awarded First Prize in the professional division of the International Horn Competition of America. As the top prize winner in this premier international competition, Joshua is being recognized as one of the outstanding soloists of his generation. Prior to this achievement, Joshua has been a first prize winner in a variety of other competitions sponsored by the International Horn Society and its constituent regional units, including the Southeast Horn Workshop solo competition, orchestral excerpt competition (both high horn and low horn), and quartet competitions.
As a soloist, Williams maintains an active schedule. He has been a featured artist at the Southeast Horn Workshop and the International Horn Symposium. He has also performed as a soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and The United States Army Field Band.
Joshua is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and began horn studies with Charles (Skip) Snead at the University of Alabama during his ninth grade year in high school. He has studied with Snead for over 10 years, having completed his BM, and MM degrees at the University of Alabama. He is currently a DMA candidate at the University of Alabama, where he serves as a horn studio assistant. Joshua performs exclusively on an instrument hand crafted by Schmiedhäuser Orchestral Horns.