This weekend's St. Louis symphony concerts feature (to borrow a phrase from the baseball diamond) a pair of heavy hitters—on both the stage and the page.
The OnMusic Dictionary (at dictionary.onmusic.org) defines attacca as "a musical directive for the performer to begin the next movement (or section) of a composition immediately and without pause." Lately the symphony has been experimenting with playing compositions by different composers attacca as a way of highlighting similarities between the pieces. This weekend's bit of attacca might be the boldest yet, following the prelude to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" (first performed in 1859) with Arnold Schoenberg's neurasthenic 1909 "monodrama" "Erwartung" ("Expectation").
In his "Concord Hymn" Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the first shot of the American Revolutionary War as "the shot heard round the world." The same phrase has been applied to the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. This weekend the St. Louis symphony will be playing the musical equivalent of "the shot heard round the world." Let's call it "the chord heard round the world." Its effect was less violent, but no less revolutionary in its own way.
Highlighting this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts is a pair impressive performances of works written right here in the good old USA (including one premiered in St. Louis) by visitors from abroad: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 1945 "Violin Concerto" and Dvořák's 1893 "Symphony No. 9" ("From the New World").
This weekend David Robertson conducts the symphony in three "American" works. Granted, only one was written by an American; but all three were composed here and one even had its premiere in St. Louis.
What's the first piece of "classical" music you ever heard? In my case it was Franz von Suppé’s "Poet and Peasant" overture. I heard it, not in concert or over the radio or on an LP (a primitive sound reproduction device invented by the ancient Mayans), but as the soundtrack for a cartoon. I have long forgotten the actual content of the cartoon (I think it might have involved elves), but the music is there to stay.
The text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, with its apocalyptic images of death and redemption, has inspired composers to produce some of their most profound and idiosyncratic work. The Italian operatic master Giuseppe Verdi, while so indifferent to religion that he was effectively an agnostic, was no exception. His 1874 "Messa da Requiem," inspired by the deaths of Rossini and the Italian poet and patriot Alessandro Manzoni, overflows with brilliantly theatrical moments, from the hair-raising Dies Irae to the heartfelt Recordare and epic Libera Me. A good performance should not spare the drama.
There's only one work on the St. Louis Symphony program this weekend, but it's a big one: the "Messa da Requiem" (Requiem Mass) by that giant of Italian opera, Giuseppe Verdi.
"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful." So runs Sammy Cahn's lyric for the 1945 holiday favorite "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" Substitute "music" for "fire" and you have a good summary of this weekend's symphony concerts.