FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2019

Two men of mystery, one incredible concert

McAllen Performing Arts Center

801 Convention Center Blvd.

8:00 p.m.

PROGRAM NOTES

John Barry

Born October 3, 1933, York: Died January 30, 2011, Oyster Bay

The Best of Bond

Arranged and orchestrated by Jeff Tyzik

 

John Barry is the undisputed master of music for the James Bond films, having composed some of the most well-known and beloved themes from the long-running series. He created eleven scores for Bond films between 1963 and 1987, as well as penning the music for many other cinematic masterpieces including The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves. He has been the recipient of numerous awards for his film music, including the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA Award, and Grammy Award, some of which he has won more than once. In honor of his tremendous service to the arts of music and film in England, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1999, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a British citizen.

Barry’s relationship with the James Bond films started in 1962, when he was asked to work on the main theme music for Dr. No,which would be used during the film’s opening title sequence. The producers were dissatisfied with the somewhat bland theme offered by head composer Monty Norman and turned to Barry to revise it, a natural choice since Barry’s jazz orchestra had been already been hired to record the theme for the film. Barry’s arrangement was designed to suit the skills of his unique ensemble, adding the distinctive jazz-inspired musical features that make the theme so highly recognizable today. Flashy ostinato patterns, interesting counter melodies, and jazzy rhythms gave life and sparkle to Norman’s theme, creating a compelling musical representation of the main character that has been used in every Bond film since the series began.

 

Barry is said to have created the true “Bond sound,” a combination of bold jazz, blaring brass, and lush strings that can sound sensuous, moody, brave, or brash, an ideal mix to accompany the perilous adventures, and passionate love affairs, of the world’s sexiest spy. Barry himself prepared this medley of famous Bond themes in 2005, drawing from his own musical scores as well as borrowing some of the unforgettable tunes written by other Bondcomposers such as Bill Conti, Marvin Hamlisch, and George Martin.

 

Johannes Brahms

Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg: Died April 3, 1897, Vienna

Symphony No. 3 in F major, Opus 90

 

Johannes Brahms spent the summer of 1883 in the German resort town of Wiesbaden, where he put the finishing touches on his much-anticipated Third Symphony. His close friend Clara Schumann was one of the first people to see the new work, having received the score as a surprise present for her sixty-fourth birthday. She was overjoyed and wrote to him: “I have spent such happy hours with your wonderful creation…What a work! What a poem!…From start to finish one is wrapped about with the mysterious charm of the woods and forests….The second is pure idyll; I can see the worshippers kneeling about the little forest shrine, I hear the babbling brook and the buzz of the insects... [In the finale] one’s beating heart is soon calmed down again for the final transfiguration which begins with such beauty in the development motif that words fail me.” The first performance of the new symphony was given in Vienna on December 2, 1883, and was a spectacular triumph. Even the critic Eduard Hanslick, who was famously disparaging of new compositions, exclaimed that the Third Symphony was “artistically the most nearly perfect” piece he had heard in his career. Brahms, on the other hand, found all this success worrying because he feared that his next work would be a disappointment when compared to the Third Symphony. (He had exactly the same worries after his First and Second Symphonies as well, concerns that naturally proved to be completely unfounded.) As he wrote to his friend Heinrich von Herzogenberg: “The reputation that the symphony has acquired makes me want to cancel all my engagements.”

            The Third Symphony is the shortest of Brahms’s symphonies and is masterfully refined in its delivery of the musical material. The first movement opens with two extremely important musical gestures. One is a strong emphasis on the pitch sequence F-Ab-F, which will be a prominent part of all four movements. It stands for the German phrase “Frei, aber froh” (Free, but glad), and served as Brahms’s musical retort to a similar motive used by his close friend Joseph Joachim, who had employed the pitches F-A-E to represent the phrase“Frei, aber einsam” (Free, but lonely) in earlier works. The other essential musical idea is the assertive first theme of the violins, which is thought to be a musical reference to the Rhenish Symphony of Robert Schumann, another close friend of Brahms. This theme returns in the fourth movement, giving the Third Symphony the sense of having a cyclic structure. The second movement opens with a soft serenade in the clarinet and bassoon that is echoed in the low strings. The restrained theme undergoes many subtle shifts but never strays far from a sense of introspective calm. The rich theme of the third movement is passed among the strings until the winds intervene with the dance-like Trio. The fourth movement, normally the energetic end of a symphony, gets a subdued start in the minor mode with a mysterious theme punctuated by stark intervals and sudden silences. A shimmer of broken chords in the strings breaks the tension as the violins sound a transfigured version of the opening theme from the first movement and then blend with the orchestra for a quiet close. 

Hungarian Dance No. 6

            The relationship between Brahms and Hungarian folk music started when he was in his teens and had a significant influence on his later output. After the defeat of the Hungarian resistance in 1849, many people, especially the Roma gypsies, fled Hungary with plans to emigrate to America. One of the most important stops on their journey was the large port in Hamburg, where the massive passenger ships could refuel and take on supplies for the long voyage across the ocean. In order to earn some quick cash, many refugees sang or played instruments on the streets near the port. Brahms lived in Hamburg until he was nineteen and spent his teenage years working as a pianist at some of the less-than-savory establishments at the shipyard, so he often heard these impromptu street performances. Refugees played a mixture of traditional Hungarian folk songs and music unique to the Roma culture, but like most Europeans, Brahms could not tell the difference between the two styles and made the incorrect assumption that they were from the same musical tradition.

 

Brahms was further influenced when he served as an accompanist for a concert tour by the famous Hungarian violinist Eduard Hoffmann. Hoffmann - who would make the important introduction of Brahms to his future friends Joachim and the Schumann family - was known for astounding audiences with his fiery, virtuosic showmanship in the gypsy style. Brahms witnessed the immense popularity of Hoffmann's performances and was soon entertaining friends at the piano with gypsy-inspired works himself. It is known that he and Clara Schumann performed some of these pieces in one of her concerts during the 1860s, but Brahms did not prepare any of the music for publication until 1869. The Hungarian Dances were published in four books, with ten dances in the first and second books appearing in 1869 and eleven additional dances published in the third and fourth books in 1880. All twenty-one dances were originally composed for piano four hands, a popular musical configuration of the time, but some were also arranged for solo piano in 1872. Brahms only orchestrated the first, third, and tenth dances from his collection, though over time other composers chose to orchestrate their favorites from the Hungarian Dances as well. Whether performed on the piano or by an orchestra, these pieces were immensely popular in Brahms's own era and have remained so to this day.

 

  • Program notes by Heike Hoffer

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