The Seasons 1947 | 15 mins
By 1947 a burgeoning partnership with dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham had begun to push John Cage along his path to becoming the premier American Maverick composer. The Seasons is his coming to terms with Indian thought. According to Cage, it is “an attempt to express the traditional Indian view of the seasons as quiescence (winter), creation (spring), preservation (summer), and destruction (fall). It concludes with the Prelude to Winter with which it begins.” The score presents a world close to nature: Sounds are shimmering, gurgling, twittering, occasionally threatening, but mostly gentle. Movement is slow and relaxed, the passage of time barely perceptible.
Violin Concerto No. 1 1866/68 | 36 mins
Renowned violinist Joseph Joachim, who collaborated with Bruch in revising this concerto to the version we hear at these concerts, once said: “The Germans have four violin concertos…. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch.” In the opening movement, orchestral chords and solo flourishes alternate. Bruch finds room for two expansive and memorable melodies, then brings back the opening chords and flourishes, using them this time to prepare the soft sinking into the Adagio. In the Adagio resides the soul of this perennially fresh and touching concerto, lyric rapture being heightened by Bruch’s artfully cultivated way with form, proportion, and sequence. As for the crackling, Gypsy-tinged finale, some might assume that Bruch had borrowed a notion or two from his slightly older friend Johannes Brahms. It turns out that Bruch got there first.
Concerto for Orchestra 1943 | 36 mins
Having moved to New York in 1940 to escape the rising tide of National Socialism in Central Europe, fifty-nine-year-old Béla Bartók felt depressed and isolated in his new surroundings. He lacked energy and was plagued by the first symptoms of the leukemia that would kill him. Providence smiled on Bartók when the conductor Serge Koussevitzky offered the composer a commission for a new symphonic work. Bartók accepted and during the summer and early fall of 1943 wrote the entire Concerto for Orchestra at a rural mountain getaway in the north of New York State. The composer provided a comment to help the listener: “The general mood of the work represents, apart from the jesting second movement, a gradual transition from the sternness of the first moment and the lugubrious death-song of the third to the life-assertion of the last one.”
Compiled by SFS Director of Publications Jeanette Yu and SFS Managing Editor Steven Ziegler.