2:00 p.m. — Sunday, February 18, 2024
Morrison High School Auditorium, Morrison, Illinois
The whole family will enjoy this mix of new and old mystics and fantasy. Top of the list is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the music by Paul Dukas used for the Disney animated film Fantasia. It will be joined by two pieces by contemporary composers: The Three Virtues of Zarathustra, and Nimue and Her Fairies related to the legends of King Arthur. The overture to Beethoven’s ballet The Creatures of Prometheus will close the concert.
Students always attend free, Adult tickets are $20. An adult ‘brought’ by a student may enjoy a half-price ticket, please ask about this offer at the ticket table.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
If not for Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia, modern audiences might
know nothing of French composer Paul Dukas. Possibly the original “one- hit wonder”,
Dukas burned most of his life’s work near the end of his life, his fame resting on a single
orchestral work, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897).
Born in 1866, Dukas studied at the Paris Conservatory and established his position
among younger French composers with his overture to Polyeucte and with the
Symphony in C Major. The rest of his output was never large, due to his strict
censorship of his own works, and consisted mainly of dramatic and program music as
well as compositions for piano. A master of orchestration, Dukas served as professor of
orchestra at the Paris Conservatory, and later, professor of composition. Despite his
slender output, he was an influential figure on the French music scene in the early 20th
century. Although his own music was firmly rooted in French Romanticism, his influence
extended far into Modernism in his teaching. His extensive work as a music critic and
his close friendships with important composers of his time such as Saint-Saens, D’Indy,
Faure and Debussy (who famously had little regard for each other) likely prevented him
from composing more of his own music.
Dukas’ L’Apprenti sorcier based on Von Goethe’s Zauberlehrling is a piece of
descriptive music written in a style similar to Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. The poem tells
of a sorcerer who can turn his broomstick into a real servant. Overhearing the magic
formula, the old man’s apprentice decides to try it for himself when his master is out.
Thrillingly, the broom comes to life and follows orders to bring water from a nearby river
to fill the bath. Excitement turns to horror as the apprentice realizes he doesn’t know
how to turn the magic off and the house fills up with water. Desperately, the boy chops
the broom into pieces, only to have each piece continue bringing in more water. At the
height of the chaos when all appears lost, the sorcerer returns home and order is
restored, lesson learned.
Dukas’ masterful music follows the narrative of the poem. In the introduction, soft strings
hint at a magical and watery atmosphere while the clarinet, oboe and flute begin the
theme of the unstoppable broom. A sudden quickening of the tempo portrays the
disobedient apprentice, while the snarling muted brass intone the magic spell. After a
sudden and eerie silence, the story begins again in earnest with bassoons taking over
the broom theme. Soon enough, the music becomes chaotic as the beleaguered
apprentice pleads with the rising waters. After the brass repeats the spell theme and a
brief lull while the broom is hacked into pieces, the contrabassoon begins the tempest
again. This time the orchestra gets even more frantic until the master returns to restore
order. All is quiet until a final orchestral outburst signals the end of the story.
Nimuë and Her Fairies, a tone poem
Dr. Daniel Perttu is Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Westminster
College, where he has also served as Chair of the School of Music. His music has been
performed by many orchestras and chamber groups on four continents and in over 40 of
the United States. Many other performances have occurred in arts festivals, new music
festivals and concerts, solo recitals and conferences. He has also received various
commissions and awards throughout the country. He completed his doctorate at Ohio
State, masters degrees at Kent State and bachelors at Williams College.
Perttu describes his music as romantically-inspired. “Music with wonderfully lush
melodies and harmonies with clear points of tension and release — that moves me”, he
explains. Composers and writers whose works have influenced his music include
Mahler, Shelley, Rautavaara, Barber and Keats.
Critic Lee Passarella notes “the modal strains recall the works of… Ralph Vaughn
Williams and Ernest Bloch.”
Commissioned and performed by our own Brian Dollinger and the Muscatine Symphony
Orchestra in 2021, “Nimue and her Fairies” is one of his tone poems based on an
ambiguous figure from Arthurian legends. Nimue, or the Lady of the Lake is an
enchantress with more power than typical fairies. Her motivations are often unclear— is
she good or is she evil? In some accounts, she is the guardian of Sir Lancelot or the
love interest of Merlin the magician. In one story she gives the sword Excalibur to King
Arthur, yet in another legend she traps Merlin in a tree or tomb either because she
hates him or wants to escape his advances. Perttu’s tone poem captures the
mysterious qualities of Nimue and of the fairies associated with her. The music is meant
to capture her multifaceted character as a sorceress and to convey an atmosphere of
mystery and intrigue.
The Three Virtues of Zarathustra
Irminsul is a Celtic harpist, keyboardist and award-winning composer with a background
spanning classical to dark wave music. He has traveled with all sorts of acts from heavy
metal to neon Celtic to World ensembles, and has written for piano, strings, woodwinds,
mixed ensemble, orchestra and electronic studio arrays.
He describes being raised in classical music and jumping to rock and prog rock, where
he picked up his love and mastery of the synthesizer. Later he fell in with a group of
Irish musicians which led him to his “bread and butter” instrument, the Celtic harp. He
began with solo works on the brass wire strung harp, but then moved up to the bands
Idlewild, Dal Riyadh’s and the electro-Celtic band Stonehenge.
The Three Virtues of Zarathustra was also premiered by conductor Brian Dollinger in
January 2023 by the Kampala Philharmonic Orchestra in Hawaii.
The composer describes the three-part suite for orchestra as a relatively new genre of
music called neo-sacred. Applying a modernist-minimal approach to orchestral music, it
melds the spiritual and the sacred, celebrating the often archaic and ancient principles
of The Divine. The Three Virtues of Zarathustra presents to the listener the three pillars
of Zoroastrian faith: the thinking of good thoughts (HUMATA), the speaking of good
words (HUUKHTA), and the doing of good deeds (HUVARSHTA)
Ludwig van Beethoven
Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus
Beethoven put aside work on his Second Symphony in 1800 when he received an
important commission for a ballet designed by famous ballet master Salvador’s Vigano,
to be debuted in Vienna. He was thrilled to be composing for the court stage and
embraced the scenario of the Greek Prometheus myth representing the spirit of the
Enlightenment. Both composer and choreographer had lofty intentions for the
collaboration combining allegorical pantomime and heroic ballet.
The Prometheus of myth is horribly punished for stealing fire from the gods and gifting it
to humans, but in the ballet, he brings two statues to life and enlightens them with
knowledge and art, emphasizing Prometheus’ heroism celebrated by his creatures.
Although the ballet was a modest success, the importance of the young composer’s
music would later show up in the Eroica Symphony which shared the theme of the
ballet’s final section as well as other borrowed movements which reflected the
composer’s self-proclaimed “new artistic path”. Beethoven’s brilliance cannot be
measured by his music alone. He brought to music the revolutionary spirit that created
democracy in America and brought down the monarchy in France. Moreover, as
someone who persevered despite isolation, illness and the catastrophic loss of his
hearing, Beethoven embodied the sense of epic struggle and triumph, a heroic ideal
which became a central theme of 19th century Romanticism.
Prometheus begins in a slow tempo followed by a fast movement resembling the
opening movement of a symphony. It opens with a series of stark chords propelling the
music to more melodic sounds. What follows is a solemn theme led by oboes and horns
which moves directly to the Allegro forming the main body of the piece. A running figure
played by the violins is countered with a more relaxed idea introduced by woodwinds. A
short development fantasy leads to a reprise of both subjects, then a coda passage of
swelling volume and accelerating tempo.
Notes compiled by a Karin Anderson-Sweet