Program Notes


Concerto in B Minor for Cello & Orchestra (Opus 104) – Antonin Dvorak

On March 9th, 1894, Victor Herbert, the noted Austrian-American cellist and composer of operettas, premiered his Cello Concerto # 2 in E minor at a New York Philharmonic Concert. This work is popular and interesting in its own right, and has entered the repertoire as a minor classic, but music history owes this cello concerto a much greater debt. As Herbert described at the time, “… after I had played my Cello Concerto in one of the Philharmonic concerts, Dr. Dvorak came back to the [after party] and threw his arms around me, saying before many in the orchestra — ‘Famos! Famos! Gang famos!’” (Tremendous! Very Tremendous!)

The world-renown Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was at the time serving his second term as Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. While living in the U. S. (in New York City and Spillville, IA) he composed several of his most beloved works: the “American” Quartet, the “American” Quintet, and Symphony #9 “From the New World.” (Victor Herbert was a member of the cello section in the orchestra that gave the world premier of this symphony in 1893)… Continues for 8 more paragraphs

On the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (“An der schönen blauen Donau”) Opus 314 – Johann Strauss II

In 1865 the famed Austrian “Waltz King” John Strauss II was commissioned by Johann Herbeck to contribute a work for the Vienna Men’s Chorus Association at a public concert. Strauss was unable to take up the commission until the following year, when the first version of the work was premiered as “Waltz For Choir” on February 15, 1867 at a concert that was intended to lift the nation’s spirits after Austria had recently lost the Austro-Prussian “Seven Weeks War.”

Ironically, this most Austrian piece of music was inspired by a poem from the pen of a Hungarian, Karl Isador Beck. The first performance was not a success, in part due to the audience and choir’s distaste for the lyrics provided at the last minute by the chorus’s resident “poet” Josef Weyl. Here’s a sample (translated):

“Viennese, be happy! Oho, but why?
Well, just look around! But tell me, why?
 A shimmer of light! We can’t see anything yet.
 Well, it’s Carnival! Well, so what? 
So defy the times – O God, the times! – of sadness.”

Not exactly cheerfully uplifting, are they? The work received only one encore, the Viennese equivalent of laying an egg. After the concert Strauss said “The devil take the waltz, my only regret is for the coda—I wish that had been a success!” Later that year, however, Strauss presented an orchestral version of the waltz at the Paris World’s Fair, and in this form the work met with resounding success that continues to this day… Continues for 6 more paragraphs.

Suite from “Hary Janos” – Zoltan Kodaly (Opus 35a)

Zoltan Kodaly (1881-1945) was a Hungarian nationalist, composer and pedagogue. Like his countryman Bela Bartok, Kodaly was among the world’s first ethnomusicologists and made it a point to travel throughout the countryside and collect original folk songs, stories and other remnants of Hungarian national heritage. One of the folktales he heard was of the mythical soldier and adventurer Hary Janos, who was sort of a Hungarian Paul Bunyan. He left his village to join the Austrian army and fight in the Napoleonic Wars, where he rose from the rank of infantryman to colonel in a matter of days, single-handedly defeated Napolean and was wooed by the Austrian princess Maria Luisa, but gave up a life of fame to return to his village sweetheart.

Kodaly was seeking a story to serve as the basis for an opera honoring the Hungarian national character, and the fantastic adventures of Hary Janos seemed like an auspicious choice. The full title of opera translates roughly as “The Veteran: John Henry and His Adventures from Great Abony to the City of Vienna.” (In Hungary, first and last names are reversed from the western European manner.) The work is a folk opera, in which the musical numbers are intermixed with spoken dialogue (in the manner of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” or American musicals such as Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”). Most of the tunes in the opera are based on Hungarian folk music… Continues for 8 more paragraphs.