“New World” Program Notes

Claude Debussy
DOB: August 22, 1862 in Paris, France
DOD: March 25, 1918
French composer often cited as the forefather of impressionism (a term he vehemently rejected), Debussy became one of the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Admitted to the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris at the age of 10, Debussy found his piano and compositional studies to be stifling and unimaginative. His increasing displeasure with the traditional classical symphony, Debussy cultivated his mature and evocative compositional style for decades gaining as many fans as harsh critics within the music establishment. Composing for piano, orchestra, voice, opera, and Chamber works, his mix of Bohemian stylings with nods to French folk music and mysticism helped reframe the boundaries of classical music.


Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun:
First premiered on December 22, 1894, this work is often regarded as French composer, Claude Debussy’s, first orchestral masterpiece. Considered a turning point in Western art music, the piece was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Stéphane Mallarmé. While it’s tempting to consider this piece as an improvisational tone poem, Debussy’s innate ability to compose pastorale themes and textures with complex structure is inescapable. This piece begins with solo flute introducing the spritely main theme of “a faun playing his pan-pipes alone in the woods…becoming aroused by passing nymphs and naiads, pursues them unsuccessfully, then wearily abandons himself to a sleep filled with visions.” The flute passes the opening theme throughout the woodwinds until the orchestra picks up the swelling and sensuous melodies and countermelodies. Debussy centers the chromatic and whole tone scales in this colorful composition that has enchanted audiences for over a century.


Antonin Dvořák
DOB: Sept. 8, 1841 Prague, Czechoslovakia
DOD: May 1, 1904 Prague, Czechoslovakia
Czech composer and organist Antonin Dvořák is celebrated as one of the most versatile and culturally resourceful composers of his time. Most known for incorporating folk music of his motherland into many of his works, Dvořák was a champion of other multicultural composers infusing their musical motifs into Western music–most notably the musical idioms of African Americans and indigenous peoples of the Americas. Dvořák wrote nine symphonies, operas, and multiple works for chamber ensembles.


Symphony No 9 New World Symphony:
Composed in 1893, Antonin Dvořák’s, “New World” Symphony, made its debut on Dec. 16, 1893 at Carnegie Hall. Perhaps one of the most popular and performed symphonies of all time, Dvořák’s masterpiece was a reflection of the American scene providing evidence for the validity of music proliferating from the United States. Heralded as “a noble composition of heroic proportions”, musicologists cite much of this symphony was based on spirituals and Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s “The Song of Hiawatha.” Dvořák’s use of indigenous sonorities and African American hymns is done without direct quotation but, rather, in the spirit of the cultures that make up America. Each movement is thematically linked making this cyclic symphony a timeless statement on the music of the New World being born from the tenants of Old World Music structure.


Samuel Barber
DOB: March 9, 1910 West Chester, Pennsylvania
DOD: January 23, 1981 Manhattan, NYC
American composer, pianist, baritone, and conductor; Samuel Barber earned his place as one of the most influential and celebrated composers of the mid-20th century. Contrary to his modernist contemporaries, Barber rejected experimental trends in favor of traditional harmonic language, lyricism, and emotional expression indicative of the late 19th century. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Barber began piano at the age of six and embarked on an illustrious educational journey at the Curtis Institute at the age of fourteen. Decade after decade, Barber enjoyed global acclaim and prestige due to premieres that left audiences in awe, confounded and intrigued by his compositional sensitivity.


Adagio for Strings:
American composer, Samuel Barber’s, arrangement from String Quartet, Op. 11, Adagio for Strings, is his best known masterpiece. Composed in 1936 and premiered in 1938, the work was hailed as a piece “full of pathos and cathartic passion.” The adagio builds up on a tense melodic theme with haunting harmonies that shy away from pretentious effect in favor of honest and lyrical precision. With numerous arrangements that have been used in the popular culture of film and theater, Barber’s Adagio for Strings has solidified itself as one of the most important musical works of the 20th century.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
DOB: January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria
Austrian composer, W.A. Mozart, was a child prodigy already competently playing violin and piano at the age of five. He began to compose and performed before European royalty. Despite his short life, his body of 800 works represent virtually every Western classical genre of his time. Many of these compositions are acknowledged as pinnacles of the symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral repertoire. Mozart is widely regarded as being one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music.


The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s most beloved operas, is a curious blend of the sublime and the silly. It was a considerable success and might have been the start of a whole new career for Mozart, had he not taken ill and died in the middle of its run.
Its overture is a fugal sonata movement similar to what Mozart had composed for the finale of his “Jupiter” Symphony three years earlier. The overture is unique in being Mozart’s only purely instrumental work that uses trombones. The trombones convey grandeur and dignity in the temple scenes giving weight to the orchestration in the fast sections—the closest the symphonic Mozart comes to a modern “brass section.”