Andris Nelsons and TMC Conducting Fellows
Tanglewood (297 West St., Lenox, MA 01240)
BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons and Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) Conducting Fellows lead the TMC Orchestra in music showcasing instrumental color and virtuosity in a program of Ravel, Strauss, and Schubert.
Abandoned in its two-movement form by Franz Schubert in 1822, the B minor symphony stands out for innovations in form, melody, and orchestration.
The two Richard Strauss works on the program are poles apart in intention: the early Death and Transfiguration is a profound imagining of a man’s thoughts and revelations at the end of his life, while the Dance of the Seven Veils from the opera Salome is the alluring means by which, at her mother Herodias’s bidding, Salome seduces her stepfather Herod.
Maurice Ravel’s orchestral suite Le Tombeau de Couperin was in part inspired by the French Baroque composer François Couperin.
The score of Death and Transfiguration calls for 3 flutes, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, timpani, tam-tam, 2 harps, and strings (violins I and II, violas, cellos, and double basses).
Richard Strauss felt that audiences could only understand the work if they knew specifically what it was about, the BSO says. Born in Munich, Germany, on June 11, 1864, He began composing Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) in late summer 1888, in the middle of his life, completing the score on November 18, 1889. He conducted the first performance on June 21, 1890, at the Eisenach Festival.
In summer 1889, Richard Strauss was between posts, serving as rehearsal assistant at Bayreuth, Richard Wagner’s opera festival, where Wagner’s widow Cosima held sway. In hand were three projects: the completed score of his symphonic tone poem Don Juan, whose premiere under his own baton at Weimar on November 11, 1889, would secure his reputation as ‘the most significant and progressive German composer since Wagner;’ the libretto for Guntram, his first opera; and a rough sketch for the orchestral tone poem Death and Transfiguration.
Strauss felt that audiences could only understand Death and Transfiguration if they knew specifically what it was about, and he saw to it that programs distributed at the first performance included Alexander Ritter’s sixteen-line verse treatment of his scenario; this he also included on the title page of his score. But the best introduction to Death and Transfiguration [may be] the composer’s own, from a letter he wrote in 1894:
‘It was six years ago that it occurred to me to present in the form of a tone poem the dying hours of a man who had striven towards the highest idealist aims, maybe indeed those of an artist. The sick man lies in bed, asleep, with heavy irregular breathing; friendly dreams conjure a smile on the features of the deeply suffering man; he wakes up; he is once more racked with horrible agonies; his limbs shake with fever …
‘As the attack passes and the pains leave off, his thoughts wander through his past life; his childhood passes before him, the time of his youth with its strivings and passions and then, as the pains already begin to return, there appears to him the fruit of his life’s path, the conception, the ideal which he has sought to realize, to present artistically, but which he has not been able to complete, since it is not for man to be able to accomplish such things. The hour of death approaches, the soul leaves the body in order to find gloriously achieved in everlasting space those things which could not be fulfilled here below.‘