Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra
Charles Peltz, Music Director
Glens Falls High School, Glens Falls, NY
Sunday May 11th 4PM (pre-concert discussion at 3:15PM)
Claude Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No.31 “Paris”
Sergei Prokofiev: Selections from Romeo & Juliet
Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is so well known, and the opening so iconic, that it needs no introduction. Instead, I would like to draw your attention to the detail that Debussy attends to. Debussy is known most for his harmonic daring – all the stuff that backstops his most excellent melodies. This time, don’t listen for all that yummy color that Debussy infuses his music with. Instead, let your ears wander, and listen to anything but the melody and its soft chordal backdrop. I promise you that you’ll hear something that you’ve never heard before – some stray pizzicato notes, a new rhythmic complexity that you’ve never noticed before, a small accompanimental line in the cellos. There are only twelve minutes of music here, but there is an incredible amount of detail crammed into that twelve minutes, and there will never be only one thing happening at any given moment.
Whenever I hear Mozart’s Paris Symphony, I’m struck with how much it feels like a concerto, rather than a symphony. To wit: a three movement structure, instead of the traditional four movements, the extreme flashiness of the string parts, and sparkling charm and humor everywhere. That opening thought that occurs – the three long notes followed by an impulsive run – happens many times, just begging to be developed.
Also of note: how much this symphony forecasts Beethoven. The use of trumpets, the excessively declamatory style of the main theme of the first movement, and they way that the work tends to sit on certain chords. If you play at the 0:54 mark of the video, for example, you’ll hear the winds playing a chord known as a dominant seventh chord, and they’ll just sit on it for a solid five or six seconds. The dominant seventh is known for the anticipation it creates – it really makes the listener want to hear the next chord – and resting on it was one of Beethoven’s trademarks.
I’ve chosen not to include the full YouTube highlights of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet music here because to do so would be too difficult. Prokofiev drew enough music from his popular ballet for three separate suites, and as is tradition, the music director has picked and chosen his own preferred movements to create an original presentation. Since this work was originally prepared as a ballet, and the music was designed to highlight action happening onstage, our music director has prepared a slide show to serve the same purpose. He has chosen a number of pieces of art designed to represent the action that would be taking place onstage were we actually staging the ballet.
So what do I find interesting about this music? I like how it oscillates back and forth between edginess and accessibility. In the above clip, for example, a C-major chord emerges at 1:12, as clear as daylight. However, it is shortly shrouded back up in a cloud of dissonance. Mozart was once quoted as saying that
“The passions, whether violent or not, should never be so expressed as to reach the point of causing disgust; and music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.”
This was a rule that Prokofiev rarely showed any respect to. His music is excessively expressive, and if something ugly is happening in the action of the ballet, you can bet that it will show up in the music. The story of Romeo & Juliet is a story with a huge emotional range in it, and Prokofiev’s score represents all that emotion well.