THE FLORIDA ORCHESTRA | 2018-2019 41
The very name strikes terror in the hearts of those
who love their Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky,
as Schoenberg upset the cart, introducing nasty
dissonances that many conservative listeners
loathe. Just as the Cubist movement in art had
its detractors, Schoenberg’s concepts took some
getting used to.
For those new to Schoenberg, the best place to
start is with Verklärte Nacht, (Transfigured Night),
originally conceived as a string sextet. Written in
1899 and revised for string orchestra in 1917 and
1943, Transfigured Night is a beautiful, seductive
creation that rides the wave of late Romanticism,
and barely hints at the progressive works that
followed. A veritable watershed that stands
alongside the works of Debussy, it serves what the
composed called “a reconciliation of the styles of
Brahms and Wagner.”
“There’s a high romanticism about this music, but
it’s very dense harmonically,’’ said Music Director
Michael Francis. “To me, Schoenberg is very much
out of a Brahms world, with a deep tragic quality,
which complements the Tragic Overture on this
Transfigured Night is based on a poem by Richard
Dehmel, which depicts a troubled couple (she’s
pregnant from another man) walking through “a
cold, barren grove” drenched in moonlight. The
man’s compassion and understanding of their
dilemma, and the realization that the woman’s child
will be his as well, “transfigures” their relationship.
But don’t take this story literally; whatever the
symbolism in the transition of darkness to light, the
piece needs no literary association to enjoy.
Speaking of the dark, this weekend’s performances
will feature the poem and be done with the stage
lights off, “and that will really give everyone a sense
of the narrative writing, and in darkness I think
you’ll feel it,’’ Francis said.
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1 IN D MINOR
Duration: ca. 44 minutes
Nothing else like it had ever been written. Audacious,
impulsive, titanic, full of the exuberance of a young
man burdened by the expectations cast upon him.
Johannes Brahms had just been tagged a genius by
the composer and advocate Robert Schumann, who
predicted great things from the 20-year-old from
Hamburg – and he didn’t disappoint. Ironically, it
was Schumann’s attempted suicide that stoked
the fire for the D minor Concerto, Johannes Brahms’
monumental attempt to carve his way into an elite
Brahms originally conceived the work as a sonata
for two pianos, and then as a symphony, but neither
worked. He spent the next four years molding both
ideas into what would become a keyboard concerto.
The result is music of turbulence, unanchored
harmony, and soaring expression. Then there’s the
shadow of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which
preoccupied Brahms for much of his early career.
“In this music, Brahms is battling through his
own issues,’’ Music Director Michael Francis said.
“There’s so much Beethoven in it, so much strength
The opening movement is one of the longest of any
piano concerto, clocking in at nearly 25 minutes,
its stormy orchestral introduction ushering in the
soloist and a series of somber chords. The tragic
tone continues through all five sections – intro,
exposition, development, recap and coda – and
seems intended to evoke emotional distress. If this
majestic argument nearly collapses under its own
weight, Brahms keeps the music moving with a
countenance never again heard in his work. Unlike
most concertos of the late 19th century, this section
contains no cadenza for the soloist to wax virtuosic.
It doesn’t need one.
A plaintive adagio follows, which many believe
is a tribute to Schumann’s beloved wife, Clara,
whom Brahms adored. The work concludes with
a vigorous rondo based on a gypsy theme and the
concerto’s only keyboard cadenza. If you hear hints
of the finale of Beethoven’s C Minor Piano Concerto,
you are correct. Some might call this plagiarism;
Brahms would consider it creative borrowing.
Program notes © 2019 by Kurt Loft, a freelance writer
and former music critic for The Tampa Tribune.