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Kansas City Symphony

2012-2013 Classical Series


April 5, 6 and 7, 2013
Michael Stern, Conductor
Kansas City Symphony Chorus
Charles Bruffy, Director
Caroline Robinson, Organ

RACHMANINOFF

The Bells, Poem for Soprano, Tenor and Baritone Soloists,


Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 35
The
The
The
The

Silver Sleigh Bells


Golden Wedding Bells
Loud Alarum Bells
Mournful Iron Bells

INTERMISSION
POULENC

Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani


in G minor

SCRIABIN

The Poem of Ecstasy (Symphony No. 4), Op. 54

April 5-7, 2013, page 1

Notes on the Program by DR. RICHARD E. RODDA


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
The Bells, Poem for Soprano, Tenor and Baritone Soloists, Chorus and
Orchestra, Op. 35 (1913)

Piccolo, three flutes, three oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons,
contrabassoon, six horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta,
harp, piano, organ and strings.

SIDEBAR BULLET POINTS:


Rachmaninoffs work sets Edgar Allen Poes verses about the bells that
punctuate the progress of life from cradle to grave
Rachmaninoff recalled that the sound of church bells dominated all the cities
of the Russia I used to know Novgorod, Kiev, Moscow
Rachmaninoff declared The Bells to be his favorite among his compositions
In December 1912, just in time to escape the harshest rigors of another Russian winter,
Rachmaninoff left Moscow for a working holiday in Italy. In Rome, he recalled in his memoirs,
I was able to take the same flat on the Piazza di Spagna that Modeste Tchaikovsky had used
for a long time and which had served his brother [i.e., the composer Peter] as a temporary
retreat. All day long I spent at the piano or the writing desk, and not until the pines on the
Monte Pincio were gilded by the setting sun did I put away my pen. Here I worked on my
Second Piano Sonata and the choral symphony, The Bells. The Bells set a reworking into
Russian of Edgar Allan Poes well-known poem by the symbolist writer Konstantin Balmont,
whose lyric The Migrant Wind Rachmaninoff had included in his set of Fourteen Songs
composed in 1912 (Op. 34, which also contains the well-known wordless Vocalise). The Bells
was largely completed in Rome between January and April 1913, when Rachmaninoffs visit
was suddenly cut short because his two young daughters contracted typhoid fever. He insisted
that they not be treated by Italian doctors, and took them instead to a specialist in Berlin. After
six anxious weeks in Germany, the family returned to its country retreat at Ivanovka, where
the score was finished on July 27th.
Poes verses about the bells that punctuate the inexorable progress of life from the cradle to
the grave were altered in small but significant ways by Balmont, mainly by replacing some of
the reiterated litanies of the original text (To the rolling of the bells ... /To the tolling of the
bells .../Of the bells, bells, bells, bells ...) with new lines that served to heighten the poems
drama by making it more ornate and overtly emotional. The power and emotional range of the
original poem remained, however, and were superbly enfolded by Rachmaninoff in some of his
most deeply expressive music. Rachmaninoff laid out his setting of The Bells in the broad
structural plan of a large four-movement symphony with voices a brilliant opening
movement in quick tempo; a thoughtful Lento; a raging Scherzo; and a brooding finale which
was inspired, according to the composer, by the closing movement of Tchaikovskys
Pathtique Symphony. The first movement (for chorus and tenor soloist), with its sparkling
orchestration and its harmonic evocation of bell sounds, depicts the settled wholeness of
childhood through the radiant tintinnabulations of the Silver Sleigh Bells. Confident optimism
and joy in the promised fullness of life are the poetic and musical subjects of the following
movement (for soprano and chorus) The Golden Wedding Bells. The third movement The
Loud Alarum Bells with its violent rhythms, blazing orchestral sonorities and choral shouts,
stands in terrifying contrast to the halcyon music of the wedding. The solemn chiming of great
bells continues almost unabated throughout the finale, The Mournful Iron Bells (baritone and
chorus), but Rachmaninoff ends his Symphony not with Poes bleak pessimism, but rather with

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a halo of gentle peace. In Rachmaninoffs version, wrote John Culshaw, it is the human spirit
that finally triumphs; the bells do not cease their tolling, but their cry is in vain.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)


Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani in G minor (1938)

SIDEBAR BULLET POINTS:


Poulencs Organ Concerto marked a move away from his early insouciant
works to a more serious manner of expression
Poulenc returned to the Catholicism of his youth following the death of a
friend in 1936
The Concertos one-movement form was influenced by the Baroque fantasia
The appearance of Francis Poulencs Organ Concerto in 1938 produced mild surprise
among the followers of his music. Since first winning public attention at the age of eighteen
with his Rapsodie ngre, his chamber music, songs, ballets, concertos and piano pieces (these
last just right, advised Anatole France, for the intimate conversations at five oclock) were
brilliant, refined, even impudent. The Organ Concerto revealed a previously unknown facet of
his musical personality, one that his friend the American composer Ned Rorem described as
deeply devout and uncontrollably sensual.
Poulencs depth of feeling was grounded in the Catholicism of his youth, but with which, he
admitted, from 1920 to 1935 I was very little concerned. In 1936 he underwent a rejuvenation
of his religious belief brought about by the death of his colleague Pierre-Octave Ferroud in an
automobile accident. Deeply shaken, Poulenc wrote, The atrocious extinction of this musician
so full of vigor left me stupefied. Pondering on the fragility of our human frame, the life of the
spirit attracted me anew. His renewed interest in the faith led to a wonderful series of musical
works that reflect a more noble vision than do those of the preceding years: the Gloria, the
Sonata for Two Pianos, many sacred vocal pieces, the cathartic opera The Dialogues of the
Carmelites and the Organ Concerto.
The Organ Concerto is cast in a single movement comprising seven sections differentiated
by tempo and texture, a formal concept derived from the Baroque keyboard fantasia. The
sections are alternately slow, with chordal scoring, and fast, with a dynamic, moto perpetuo
quality. To bring unity to the structure, there are thematic relationships among the various
formal parts, most notably a great peal from the solo organ, reminiscent of Sebastian Bachs
Organ Fantasia in G minor (the Great, BWV 542), which occurs in both the first and last
sections. The scoring is a piece of expert craftsmanship, with the timpani reinforcing and
delineating the bass line, while the strings are combined with the careful registrations of the
organ to produce sonorities that are, by turn, brilliant and hymnal.

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)


The Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54 (1905, 1908)

Piccolo, three flutes, three oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons,
contrabassoon, eight horns, five trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta,
organ, two harps and strings.

SIDEBAR BULLET POINTS:


Scriabin was the great mystic among the Russian composers
The Poem of Ecstasy was based on a verse by Scriabin himself

April 5-7, 2013, page 3

Scriabin said that the works themes represent such things as human
striving after the ideal, the awakening of the soul and soaring flight of the
spirit
The music for The Poem of Ecstasy grew from Scriabins literary poem of the same name. He
had published this poem of several hundred short lines in May 1906, and sent copies to his
friends; he once admitted that his greatest satisfaction came from regaling an assembly with
these obscure verses. When the musical work was completed, however, he discouraged printing
the poetic text in the score. Conductors who want to perform The Poem of Ecstasy, he wrote,
can always be apprised that it has such a thing, but in general I would prefer for them to
approach it as pure music. This seems a curious pronouncement for a composer who was not
only meticulous in giving his work a vivid philosophical setting, but also provided specific labels
for each of its themes. He may have realized that the words were little more than a quizzical
appendage to such a grandiloquent piece of music.
Modest Altschuler, Scriabins friend, confidant and the conductor of the premiere, remarked
that The Poem of Ecstasy sought to express something of the emotional side of [Scriabins]
philosophy. He described the three facets of this philosophy that emerge in the music: a) the
composers soul in an orgy of love; b) the realization of a fantastic dream; and c) the
composers apprehension of the glory of his own art. For his part, Scriabin said that various
of the themes represent human striving after the ideal, the awakening of the soul, gradually
realizing itself (the Ego theme), the Will to rise up, and the soaring flight of the spirit. This
is a challenging burden for simple musical tones to carry, and perhaps it is for this reason that
Scriabin advised hearing the work as pure music. Approaching the work as pure music also
relieves the listener of receiving The Poem of Ecstasy as a philosophical tract rather than as
simply a grandiose musical composition.
The style of The Poem of Ecstasy is opulently post-Romantic. Its harmony is rich and
glowing, its orchestral complement colossal, its melody expressive and densely chromatic.
Though it is still tonal, some of Scriabins new chordal combinations stretch traditional
harmonic functions to great lengths. The seething emotional turmoil of the music was
cultivated in the hothouse of Wagnerian Romanticism gone wild. Yet, this is music of sharp and
individual character, of brilliant originality that is unique in the realm of the art. Though The
Poem of Ecstasy is cast in the old sonata-allegro structure, it is better heard not as a formal
exercise but rather as a musical distillation of the most intense physical and spiritual feelings
a sort of concert-hall catharsis. The grand, sweeping arches of rising tension, which grow
from expectant tenderness to climactic release, parallel aspects of our lives. This music creates
an ardent excitement and visceral stimulation that even the most jaded gainsayer would find
hard to deny.
2012 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

April 5-7, 2013, page 4

Rachmaninoff: The Bells


I.
Slyshish, sani mchatsya v ryad,
Mchatsya v ryad,
Kolokolchiki zvenyat.
Serebristym legkim zvonom slukh nash
sladostno tomyat,
Etim penyem i gudenyem o zabvenye
govoryar.
O, kak zvonko, zvonko, zvonko,
Tochno zvuchnyi smekh rebyonka,
V yasnom vozdukhe nochnom
Govoryat oni o tom,
Shto za dnyami zabluzhdenya Nastupayet
vozrozhdenye.
Shto volshebno naslazhdenye,
naslazhdenye nezhnym snom.
Sani mchatsya, mchatsya v ryad,
Kolokolchiki zvenyan
Zvyozdy slushayut, kak sani, ubegaya,
govoryat
I, vnimaya im, goryat,
I mechtaya, i blistaya, v nebe
dukhami paryat;
I izmenchivym siyanyem,
Molchalivym obayanyem,
Vmeste s zvonom, vmeste s penyem,
o zabvenye govoryat.

Hear the sledges dash abreast,


Dash abreast,
Jingle bells!
Their light and silvery tinkle pours sweet
anguish in our ears,
All this singing and this ringing sweet
oblivion foretells!
Oh, how clear, clear, clear,
As if babys resonant laughter
In the icy air of night
Is their chatter:
After days of disillusion
hope restores.
The delight is all-enchanting, as enchanting
as sweet dreams.
Sledges dash, dash abreast, dash abreast,
Jingle bells!
Stars, attentive to the sledges,
Seem to listen, all aglow,
Dreaming, sparkling in the heavens
With the ever-changing radiance
And with silent fascination
With the ringing and singing sweet
oblivion foretell.
II.

Slyshish, k svadbe zov svyatoy,


Zolotoy.
Skolko nezhnovo blazhensrva v etoy pesne
molodoy!
Skvoz spokoinyi vozdukh nochi
Slovno smotryat chyi-to ochi
I blestyat,
Iz volny pevuchikh zvukov na lunu oni
glyadyat
Iz prizyvnykh divnykh keliy,
Polny skazochnykh veseliy,
Narastaya, upadaya, bryzgi svetlyye letyat.
Vnov potukhnut, vnov blestyat,
I ronyayut svetlyi vzglyad
Na gryadushcheye, gde dremlet
bezmyatezhnost nezhnykh snov,
Vozveshchayemykh soglasyem zolotykh
kolokolov.

Hear the call to holy nuptials,


Golden bells!
What a tender bliss the youthful
song foretells!
Through the quiet air of night,
As if someones eyes are gazing,
shining
At the moon through the undulating
tones
From the wondrous sounding cells,
Full of fairytale rapture
Mounting, sinking, crystals
sprinkle
As they glance
At the future, wherein sleeps tender
quietude
Announced by the harmony of bells.

III.
Slyshish, voyushchiy nabat,

Hear the wail of the bells,

April 5-7, 2013, page 5


Tochno stonet medniy ad.
Eti zvuki, v dikoy muke, skazku uzhasov
tverdyat!
Tochno molyat im pomoch,
Krik kidayut pryamo v noch,
Pryamo v ushi temnoy nochi
Kazhdyi zvuk,
To dlinneye, to koroche
Vyklikayet svoy ispug.
I ispug ikh tak velik,
Tak bezumen kazhdyi krik,
Shto razorvannyye zvony, nesposobnyye
zvuchar,
Mogut tolko bitsya, bitsya, i krichat,
krichat, krichat
I k pylayushchey gromade,
Vopli skorbi obrashchat.
A mezh tem ogon bezumnyi,
I glukhoy i mnogoshumnyi,
Vsyo gorit,
To iz okon, to na kryshe
Mchitsya vyshe, vyshe, vyshe,
I kak budto govorit:
Ya khochu
Vyshe mchatsya, razgoratsya vstrechu
lunnomu luchu
Il umru il totchas, totchas, vplot do
mesyatsa vzlechu
O, nabat, nabat, nabat,
Yesli b ty vernul nazad
Etot uzhas, eto plamya, etu iskru, etot
vzglyad, etot pervyi vzglyad ognya
O kotorom ty veshchayesh s voplem,
s plachem i zvenya
A teper nam net spasenya.
Vsyudu plamya i kipenye
Vsyudu strakh i vozmushchenye.
Tvoy prizyv,
Dikikh zvukov nesoglasnost
Vozveshchayet nam opasnost.
To rastyot beda glukhaya, to spadayet,
kak priliv
Slukh nash chutko lovit volny v peremene
zvukovoy,
Vnov spadayet, vnov rydayet mednostonushchiy priboy!

As if brazen hell is moaning,


Agonized. A tale of terror their turbulence
foretells!
As if pleading to be helped,
Screaming out into the night,
Straight into the ears of darkness
Every sound,
Now lengthened, now abrupt,
Calling out their lasting fright!
Their horror is so great
And so mad is every shriek
That the punctuated tolling, quite unable to
intone,
Keeps on clanging, clanging, as they shriek,
shriek, shriek
Toward the fire-engulfed mass,
Sending their appeals for mercy.
While the frantic fires roar,
Dense and deafeningly strident,
blazing
Out the windows, on the roof,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
As if saying:
Its our wish
To keep going, to keep blazing toward
moonbeams,
Either perish now or reach to the moon
itself this instant.
Oh, you bells, bells, bells,
If youd only turn back
All the terror, all the fire, all the embers,
and this sight,
The initial fiery glance
You describe with road and clamor.
Now we see no liberation
Boiling fire all around
Full of fear and indignation.
Your command
To fierce cacophony declares
Nothing but a mad distress.
Now the danger ebbs and flows
And our ear distinctly tells all the waves of
changing sound
Swelling, sinking in the brazen
breakers well!
IV.

Pokhoronnyi slyshen zvon,


Dolgiy zvon!
Gorkoy skorbi slyshny zvuki, gorkoy
zhizni konchen son.
Zvuk zheleznyi vozveshchayet o pechali
pokhoron.
I nevolno my drozhim,
Ot zabav svoikh speshim,

Hear the mournful toll of bells,


Lasting toll!
Sounds of bitter sorrow are heard as a bitter
lifes dreams end,
And the iron tone of bells solemn
monody foretells.
Inadvertently, we shiver.
All diversions stand away.

April 5-7, 2013, page 6


I rydayem, vspominayem, shto i my glaza
smezhim.
Neizmenno-monotonnyi,
Etot vozglas otdalyonnyi.
Pokhoronnyi tyazhkiy zvon,
Tochno ston.
Skorbnyi, gnevnyi
I plachevnyi,
Vyrastayer v dolgiy gul
Vozveshchayet, shto stradalets
neprobudnym snom usnul.
V kolokolnykh kelyakh rzhavykh
On dlya pravykh i nepravykh
Grozno vtorit ob odnom:
Shto na serdtse budto kamen, shto glaza
somknutsya snom
Fakel traurnyi gorit.
S kolokolni kto-to kriknul, kto-to gromko
govorit
Kto-ro chyornyi tam stoit.
I khokhocheq i gremit,
I gudit, gudit, gudit
K kolokolne pripadayet
Gulkiy kolokol kachayet,
Gulkiy kolokol rydayet,
Stonet v vozdukhe nemom
I proryazhno vozveshchayet o
pokoye grobovom!

We lament, for we discover time will come to


end our day.
Unalterably dull
Is this distant voice.
Mournful heavy toll,
A knoll.
Pained, wrathful,
And lamenting,
Growing into lengthy din,
It proclaims that the sufferer fell into
eternal dream.
In the rusty cells of steeple
For the righteous and the wrong
It is menacingly saying:
On the human heart a stone, as the orbs, will
close forever.
A funereal torch is burning.
From the steeple someone yelled, someone
called,
Someone all in black stands there
And he laughs, and he drones,
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
As he falls onto the steeple,
Swaying throbbing iron bells.
Throbbing iron bells are moaning,
Groaning in the still of night
And their lingering call proclaims: all is
gravely right!