The Music

Notes on the music at “Euphoria”

Posted by SoundBox

April 4, 2018



J.S. BACH “Ich habe genug,” from Cantata No. 82, BWV 82
HANDEL “O, Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?” from Semele, HWV 58
MONTEVERDI “Pur ti miro,” from L’Incoronazione di Poppea, SV 308
J.S. BACH “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” from Cantata No. 51, BWV 51
J.S. BACH (ARR. BERIO) Contrapunctus XIX, from The Art of Fugue
JAMES KALLEMBACH  The Song of Fenrir
LIGETI Ramifications, for 12 Strings
LIGETI  Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures




J.S. BACH: “Ich habe genug,” from Cantata No. 82, BWV 82 1727/1735  |  7 mins
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) originally wrote “Ich habe genug” in 1727 to celebrate the Feast of the Purification, which falls on February 2. An efficient man, Bach thought what he had written for the occasion was so good that he revised it several times thereafter so it could be performed more frequently. Tonight we hear an adaptation from 1735. LISTEN FOR: The most present feeling in this music is that of joy—in the opening section, catch the musical flourish made on Freude (joy), while the final section, Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod (I look with joy toward my death), is—despite its solemn subject—one of Bach’s most cheerful arias.

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HANDEL: “O, Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?” from Semele, HWV 58 1743 |  3 mins
Semele, composed at breakneck speed within just a couple of months in 1743, was the first large-scale composition the normally prolific George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) had written in nearly two years. Semele is an oratorio based on mythology. It abounds with exquisite and beautifully descriptive music, as epitomized in “O, Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?” PICTURE THIS: The harp and continuo musically illustrate the moment Semele awakens, full of regret that the dream she was having of being with her lover has ended.

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MONTEVERDI: “Pur ti miro,” from L’Incoronazione di Poppea, SV 308  1642  |  4 mins
Many believe there has been no composer more skilled or more inspired at the wedding of music to words than Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). The cherry on top: When Monteverdi composed L’incoronazione di Poppea, he was a seasoned seventy-five years old and at the zenith of his creative powers. Tonight we hear the famous duet from the end of that extraordinary masterpiece. By this point in the opera’s story arc, any anguish or turmoil has been resolved. Love has conquered all and the couple singing this tune are simply left to indulge in their adoration. Famed for being one of the most intimate and erotic moments in all of opera, weigh in on how you feel after experiencing one of the most sensual love duets ever penned. SoundBox will be dimly lit in case you catch yourself blushing.

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J.S. BACH: “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” from Cantata No. 51, BWV 51  circa 1730 |  4 mins
While J.S. Bach wrote more than 200 cantatas in his lifetime, his church cantatas feature some of the most impassioned intersections of music and textual fervor. One of Bach’s most exuberant declarations is the cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (Shout for Joy to God in all Lands). DID YOU KNOW? The work’s orchestration—for soprano, obbligato trumpet, strings, and continuo—is unique in Bach’s catalogue of works, and stands as a real rarity in German music of its time.

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J.S. BACH (ARRANGED IN 2001 BY BERIO): Contrapunctus XIX, from The Art of Fugue  circa 1740s |  9 mins
J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue is arguably the genius musician’s most discussed work. Everything about it has been debated—when he wrote it and for what purpose, the proper ordering of its movements, why it’s unfinished or whether it’s unfinished at all, how it should be performed or whether it really should ever be performed. The excerpt we hear tonight is the most problematic component of all, not just because any unfinished piece is by nature somewhat perplexing and frustrating, but because some Bach superfans aren’t even convinced that it’s part of The Art of Fugue in the first place. DID YOU KNOW? Now that that’s out in the open, let me try to tell the story of The Art of Fugue. From his thirties on, Bach had a penchant for teaching and for assembling collections of works designed exhaustively to explore a specific genre or the possibilities of a single compositional seed. Bach’s plan with this piece was to offer a series of fugues and canons, all on the same theme. The Art of Fugue was meant as a textbook in fugue, albeit one written in music rather than words. Unfortunately for us die-hard fans, the last entry of this musical textbook, titled Contrapunctus XIX, breaks off in its 238th bar. At that point in the manuscript, someone wrote “NB. While working on this fugue, where the name BACH is introduced in the countersubject, the author died.” Tonight we hear an arrangement made centuries later by experimental and electronic music pioneer Luciano Berio (1925-2003). Friends, take solace in this music: Even as a torso, Contrapunctus XIX is one of Bach’s most grandly designed fugues—superbly varied, magnificently vigorous. The sudden and unexpected unraveling of this music? A piercing reminder of mortality.
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JAMES KALLEMBACH: The Song of Fenrir  2018  |  7 mins
Tonight’s performance is the world premiere of The Song of Fenrir, a San Francisco Symphony commission. Composer James Kallembach offers these comments: The story of Fenrir—Loki is the trickster god of Norse mythology—seductive, clever, and vain. He produces such fine and wondrous things that enthrall and charm both the world of the gods and of humankind. Yet there is always another side to Loki’s dealings—a catch, a fatal flaw, a curse—a darker aspect that both gods and humans tend to ignore, much to their own peril. Fenrir, the son of Loki, is a giant wolf with an insatiable appetite. He would devour everything that exists if it were not for the gods, who try and restrain him with the strongest chains that have ever been made. When the chains fail the gods ask the dwarves to craft something to restrain Fenrir. The dwarves produce the Gleipnir—magical silken threads that cannot be broken. Fenrir is restrained, but, as with everything that the god Loki puts into place, there is a catch: In the final world battle the Gleipnir will break and Fenrir will be freed. He will devour the sun, causing the world to perish. Fenrir lies in wait until the world is consumed by war, and he can perform his final act of destruction. He bides his time—at times howling, at other times roaring, and occasionally, he sings.

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LIGETI:  Ramifications, for 12 Strings  1969  |  8 mins
Many consider György Ligeti (1923-2006) to be one of the most important avant-garde composers of the twentieth century. Alongside Boulez, Berio, Stockhausen, and Cage, Ligeti stood as one of the most innovative, influential, and progressive figures in music. Still others may recognize his incredibly atmospheric and integral music for the Stanley Kubrick films 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut. Ligeti’s chamber piece, Ramifications, is an extraordinary reconsideration of our experience in pitch and rhythm; in the composer’s own words, it is “a terminus in the development from ‘dense and static’ to ‘broken-up and mobile’ composition.” From the outset, the ensemble is divided into two groups: the first, made up of three violins, viola, cello, and double bass; the second, made up of four violins, viola, and cello. The latter group plays re-tuned to a quarter-tone in pitch above the first group. By tuning the two groups a quarter-tone apart, Ligeti creates an arresting live performance situation in which we witness the two groups subconsciously attempting to recalibrate to each other. The different degrees to which each musician will make this re-tuning correction produces the overarching amoebic and blurred harmonic atmosphere of Ramifications. LISTEN FOR: Ramifications begins with a narrow range of pitches that gradually expand and ascend. Sudden changes in volume mark the second half of the piece. At about the seven-minute mark, the double bass plays at its lowest range and signals the beginning of the end. High harmonics in the violins join the bass to close out this sonic wonderland. It is almost guaranteed that you will emerge from this experience hearing things a little differently (plus or minus a quarter-tone?) than before.

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LIGETI: Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures  both 1962 |  11 mins each
SoundBox concludes with two of Ligeti’s essential (and linked) works, Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures. Both are highly theatrical—and surreal. PICTURE THIS: In both pieces, it’s helpful to see as well as hear the performers in order to feel and experience the way in which the vocal sounds become a new form of language. Ligeti hoped that the pieces would help us explore the relationship between music and language, inflections and comprehension, and the consideration of the wordless communication that is ever-present in music. Aventures opens with a single sung note and a kind of scattered white noise that ebbs and flows. It’s followed by an extended range of vocalizations, including (but not limited to) extended increases and decreases in volume (all on a single note), humming, growling, laughing, spitting, screeches, screams, heavy breathing, sustained vowels, high and low hard consonants, explosive shouts, ahhh, shti (not misspelled), rrrr, shots, and so on. Throughout the work, Ligeti offers the musicians very precise instructions, including on how to produce toneless breathing, declaiming, whether to perform to the audience or the other performers, how to sing into the horn, where and how to brush the piano strings, and the kinds of materials to be used by the percussionist such as a balloon, plastic cups, aluminum cans, or, you know, a tray piled with dishes. Both Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures explore the distortion and abstraction of sounds, meaning and use of language in music, and rhythms and accuracy; vocal effects paired with physical gestures and ensemble collaboration make for a lively, dramatic, and humorous experience.

To sharing music, laughter, and recycling—enjoy SoundBox!

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Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.