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The symphony orchestra's power, subtlety and range of color is unparalleled in stirring the emotions and the imagination. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra's Classics at the Pops is a program of some of the repertory's most vivid symphonic pictures.
Respighi said that in The Pines of Rome he used "nature as a point of departure in order to recall memories and visions. The centuries-old trees which dominate so characteristically the Roman landscape became testimony for the principal events in Roman life." The tone poem's finale, he continued, represents "misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of innumerable steps. To the poet's fantasy appears a vision of past glories; trumpets blare, and the army of the Consul advances in triumph toward the Capitoline Hill."
Elgar headed each of the fourteen sections of his Enigma Variations with a set of initials or a nickname that stood for the composer's friend portrayed by that variation. Variation IXNimrodnamed for the great-grandson of the Biblical Noah, a noted hunter, is a moving testimonial to A.J. Jaeger, an avid outdoorsman and Elgar's publisher and close friend. The composer wrote, "This Variation is a record of a long summer evening talk, when my friend grew nobly eloquent (as only he could be) on the grandeur of Beethoven, and especially of his slow movements."
Aaron Copland wrote his Fanfare for the Common Man for Eugene Goossens, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who commissioned several leading American composers to write heroic pieces to open his war-time concerts during the 1942-1943 season. "The challenge was to compose a traditional fanfare," Copland wrote, "direct and powerful, yet with a contemporary sound…. I think Goossens was rather puzzled by the title I chose. He wrote, 'Its title is as original as its music, and I think it deserves a special occasion for its performance. If it is agreeable to you, we will premiere it March 14, 1943, at income tax time.' [The income tax deadline was changed to April after the War.] I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time."
In the fantasy opera Schwanda, the Bagpiper by the Czech composer Jaromír Weinberger, Schwanda, a country piper, uses his music to break a spell of gloom cast upon court of Queen Ice-Heart by a sorcerer. The Queen kisses him in appreciation, but when Schwanda's wife appears he denies the encounter. "May the devil take me to hell on the spot," Schwanda says, "if the Queen kissed me." He is promptly swallowed up by a gaping hole in the earth, but a friend engages the devil in a card game, wins half of his infernal kingdom, and trades it for Schwanda's release. The Polka is the music with which Schwanda breaks the evil spell at court and sets the whole town dancing. The Fugue accompanies Schwanda on his triumphant departure from the devil's realm.
The failure of Berlioz's opera Benvenuto Cellini, inspired by the autobiography of the Italian sixteenth-century sculptor-adventurer-goldsmith-military hero-lover-murderer, was nearly complete at its premiere in 1838. Except for the original overture, everything else, the composer reported, "was hissed with admirable energy and unanimity." Five years later Berlioz mined the opera for thematic material for a new overture that he could use either as an independent concert work or as the introduction to the opera's second act. With the flavor of the opera's setting and his own Italian travels as guides, he named it Roman Carnival. The first of the overture's two themes is taken from Benvenuto's aria to his beloved Teresa; the other is a bubbling saltarello reminiscent of the folk dances Berlioz heard in Rome.
The story of Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah is set in Gaza, Palestine, about 1150 B.C. The mighty Samson, leader of the Hebrews, is bewitched by Delilah, a princess of the enemy Philistines, and he cannot resist her temptations. He is lured to her house, where she shears his locks, the source of his strength, and leaves him powerless. He is seized by Philistine soldiers. The opera's final tableaux is set in the temple of Dagon, where the Philistines are celebrating their suppression of the rebellious Hebrews. Samson, mocked by the Philistines, is led in by a child. Realizing that he is chained to the main pillars supporting the temple roof, he prays for a brief return of his former strength. His prayer is answered, and he topples the pillars, burying himself and his enemies. The Bacchanale accompanies the revels in the temple of Dagon.
Ralph Vaughan Williams encountered Greensleeves frequently during his folksong researches in 1904-1906, when he was preparing a new edition of the English Hymnal, and he incorporated it into his incidental music for The Merry Wives of Windsor and Richard II while he was music director for Frank Benson's Shakespeare company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1913. Fifteen years later, when he was composing his opera Sir John in Love, based on Shakespeare's amorous knight, Falstaff, Vaughan Williams again turned to Greensleeves. He assigned it to Mrs. Ford to sing in Act III, just as Falstaff arrives for their tryst, and also used it later in the opera as the entr'acte before the closing scene in Windsor Forest.
The plot of Verdi's Aida tells of the ancient Egyptian warrior Radames, who is chosen by the goddess Isis to lead his country's forces against the invading Ethiopians. His mission is complicated by his love for Aida, a captured Ethiopian princess who has disguised herself as a slave, but the Egyptians prevail, and parade their Ethiopian captives and booty before king and people in the spectacular Grand March. So impressed were the Egyptian authorities with this music's noble strains and majestic gait that it was adopted as the national hymn soon after the opera's premiere.
Shostakovich composed the Festive Overture for a concert on November 7, 1954 commemorating the 37th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, but its jubilant nature suggests it may also have been conceived as an outpouring of relief at the death of Joseph Stalin one year earlier. So joyous is the Festive Overture that one critic suggested it was "a gay picture of streets and squares packed with a young and happy throng."
Debussy himself suggested the delicate blending of reality and imagination in the poetic description of his Nocturnes that he provided for the work's premiere in October 1901: "Fêtes ['Festivals']: vibrating, dancing rhythm, with sudden flashes of light. There is also the episode of a procession (a dazzling, fantastic vision) passing through the festive scene and becoming blended with it; but the background remains persistently the same: the festival with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the universal rhythm of things."