Elgar's Enigma Variations
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THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY PRESENTS GREAT PERFORMERS
Violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program featuring J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin with Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov. With a gracious Allegro, expansive Adagio, and a vigorous finale, hear the unmatched artistry of these two exceptional musicians performing Bach's charming concerto.
At a Glance
Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060 ca. 1720-1736 | 14 mins
Soloist and SFS Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov offers these comments: There are actually two versions of Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto for Oboe and Violin, or the ‘Bach Double’ as we call it—one for oboe and violin, and one for two harpsichords. As a result, there is a bit of tug of war between oboists and pianists about this piece, as we each think our version is better! Keyboard instruments have many special qualities, but the oboe and violin can do two things that are impossible for the harpsichord: We can sustain notes and we can use vibrato (a slight, pulsating variance in pitch), which ultimately makes us sound closer to the nature of the human voice. This ability to sing is especially noticeable in the second movement where the oboe and violin trade off beautiful vocal melodies with each other. I hope our audiences agree!
Serenade for Strings 1880 | 29 mins
Piotr Tchaikovsky shared that he wrote this Serenade “from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart”—and it’s certainly full of unmistakable Tchaikovskian melancholy. The opening is dramatic. The second movement is one of the most gracious of Tchaikovsky’s many waltzes—a kind of balletic embroidery. The Elegy’s soft beginning is simply beautiful and phenomenally imaginative. The Finale is marked “Tema russo” (“Russian theme”), and both the melancholy violin tune (a boat-hauling song) and the dance-like Allegro con spirito are rooted in folk music.
Enigma Variations 1899 | 30 mins
PICTURE THIS: On an October evening, Edward Elgar, tired from a day’s teaching, lit a cigar and began to improvise at the piano. One theme in particular struck his wife’s fancy, and she asked what it was. “Nothing,” he replied, “but something might be made of it. Powell [the future Variation II] would have done this, or Nevinson [Variation XII] would have looked at it like this.” He played some more and asked, “Who is that like?” “I cannot say,” Alice Elgar replied, “but it is exactly the way Billy Baker [Variation IV] goes out of the room. Surely,” she added, “you are doing something that has never been done before.” “Commenced in a spirit of humor & continued in deep seriousness” is how Edward Elgar described the genesis of the work that would make all the difference in his life. He was in his forties and still endeavoring to scrape together a living. When he finished the Enigma Variations—each containing an identify of “friends pictured within,” he sent the score to the great German conductor Hans Richter, who agreed to introduce the work in London. Richter’s advocacy meant a lot. A famed interpreter of both Wagner and Brahms, he was adored in England. The Variations proved a landmark, not just for Elgar, but for English music.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.