February 28, 2015 7:30 PM
Morrison High School Auditorium
Brahms: Tragic Overture, op. 81
Mozart: Voi che sapete from
Marriage of Figaro
Rodgers and Hammerstein:
My Own Little Corner from
Alice Lind, soprano
Ibert: Concertino da camera
- Second Movement -
Colleen Elfline, saxophone
Dvořák: Symphony No 6
in D minor, Op 60
Allegro non tanto
Scherzo (Furiant), Presto
Finale, Allegro con spirito
Other than his Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote only two other works for orchestra that are not in the extended format of a symphony, a concerto or a serenade. These two works, fraternal twins of a sort, are the Academic Festival Overture, Op 80, and the Tragic Overture, Op 81.
Brahms composed the contrasting pair of overtures during the summer of 1880. He wrote the Academic Festival Overture, a jovial fantasy on popular student songs, in response to the University of Breslau conferring an honorary doctorate upon him the previous year. The Tragic Overture, on the other hand, arose out of a more spontaneous motivation. The composer envisioned a complementary pair of overtures - a sort of musical counterpart to the thespian mask: Comedy facing one way, Tragedy the other. Brahms even commented, wryly, "One weeps, the other laughs." Materials left over from the first overture are incorporated into the Tragic Overture, so that to the attentive ear a common element can be heard. However, these two opposites are seldom programmed together as Brahms had at first intended. The Overture was premiered at a December 1880 concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, the same concert at which Dvorak's Symphony No 6 in D major was to be premiered, but was instead withdrawn.
Unlike its sibling, the Tragic Overture does not refer to a specific occasion, but remains general in nature. This is underlined by the working title Brahms gave the piece during its composition - A Dramatic Overture. He settled on Tragic Overture, according to his correspondence, because neither he nor his friends could come up with a more suitable title It may be that Brahms was subconsciously influenced in the title by an early work of Dvořák that he came across in a trove of manuscripts that Dvořák had sent to Brahms for the "Master's" approval after he was awarded a state grant for artists in 1877.
With the earnest request that I may continue in the future to enjoy your highly valued favour, I beg your kind permission to forward to you for your inspection some of my chamber music works and compositions for orchestra.
Dvořák's Dramatic Overture, subtitled Tragic, was written around 1870, but was not published until after his death. Concert records show that the piece has had only a couple of public performances - as a curiosity more than for musical worth. As an early work, it is written in no clear style: Dvorak seemed intent on not leaving out any musical vogue of his age be it Wagner, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Beethoven - even Brahms himself.
Admittedly Brahms' Tragic Overture is dramatic, somber - even grim - but for all that, there is no feeling of defeat. It's more like a victory from which the victor can draw only a hollow pleasure.
Program Notes © William H Driver and Clinton Symphony Orchestra Association