Music from Turandot Suite 1905 | 20 mins
Composers can’t help but be drawn to good stories—and Carlo Gozzi’s play Turandot is one of them. Before Puccini wrote his famous operatic masterpiece, German-Italian Ferruccio Busoni wrote his own Turandot based on the same tale. The piece is full of humor and irony, and weaves vibrant Chinese, Persian, Turkish, and Indian melodies throughout. All in all the work is a remarkably poised yet affecting piece, with the composer striking a rare and enrapturing balance between impassioning emotional impulsiveness and retreating into contemplative consideration. This is our chance to “lose our heads” in the telling of a magical tale.
Violin Concerto 1853 | 29 mins
Completed not long before Schumann committed himself to an insane asylum, this magnificent Violin Concerto lay unpublished and unperformed for eighty years. As a whole, its economy and concentration are characteristic of the best of late Schumann. The concerto starts magnificently and sternly. The sound is soon somber, sinks into softness, then stern again ahead of the entrance of the violinist. The solo line is treated with fantasy and vigor, and is managed with panache. The slow movement also begins in somber colors—it is perhaps the most intimate moment in Schumann’s music with orchestra. Schumann wrote that the finale should be played “Lively, but not fast.” What results is an engaging movement, gracious as well as spunky.
Symphony No. 3, Scottish 1842 | 40 mins
In fact, Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony does not employ folk melodies from Scotland. But his writing does conjure up a spirit that would have been deemed folk-like by many of its contemporary listeners, saturated in a passion that stirred Romantic souls. The music is dark and brooding from the outset, underscored by the rich, mid-range voices of the oboe, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and violas. The rest of the orchestra then enters with more impassioned strains—and yet it is a quiet, simmering passion. Here, as through much of the symphony, loud outbursts and accents are doled out to stand in telling contrast to the overriding quiet. The Scherzo has the strings scurrying about, against which the winds inject fanfare—like outbursts. A solo clarinet announces the bubbling main theme, a tune that, while we know better, we are hard-pressed to hear as anything other than Scottish. The Adagio follows, in which Mendelssohn mixes one of his signature, sweetly Victorian “song without words” melodies with passages of darker, even forbidding import.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.