Winter Concert, February 15, 2024

Henry Janzen, Principal Conductor & Music Director
Thursday, February 15th, 2024
Hart House Great Hall
University of Toronto

Overture to “Benvenuto Cellini”
Hector Berlioz

Concerto No. 2 for Clarinet, in E-flat major, Op. 74
Carl Maria von Weber

  1. Allegro
  2. Romanze: Andante con moto
  3. Alla Polacca

with Clarinet soloist Sean Lin


Variations on an Original Theme, op.36 (Enigma Variations)
Sir Edward Elgar

Theme (Enigma: Andante)
Variation I (L’istesso tempo) “C.A.E.”
Variation II (Allegro) “H.D.S-P.”
Variation III (Allegretto) “R.B.T.”
Variation IV (Allegro di molto) “W.M.B.”
Variation V (Moderato) “R.P.A.”
Variation VI (Andantino) “Ysobel”
Variation VII (Presto) “Troyte”
Variation VIII (Allegretto) “W.N.”
Variation IX (Adagio) “Nimrod”
Variation X (Intermezzo: Allegretto) “Dorabella”
Variation XI (Allegro di molto) “G.R.S.”
Variation XII (Andante) “B.G.N.”
Variation XIII (Romanza: Moderato) ” * * * “
Variation XIV (Finale: Allegro) “E.D.U.”

Members of the Hart House Orchestra

Hector Berlioz: Overture to the opera Benvenuto Cellini

Orchestration: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, bass drum, and strings. Performance time: approximately 11 minutes.

Even though Berlioz claimed to detest Italian music, some of his best compositions were inspired by the 15 months that he spent in Italy as the recipient of the prestigious Prix de Rome awarded by the French Academy of Arts to arts students. He loved the people and their culture, the sunny landscapes, the enticing way of life.

One of the works directly inspired by his stay in Italy is his first opera Benvenuto Cellini, on which he stated to work in 1834, a couple of years after his return to France. The opera is very loosely based on the memoirs of the 16th century Florentine sculptor, goldsmith and musician Benvenuto Cellini. (Berlioz privately identified with Cellini’s artist-hero personality).

The opera was a failure redeemed by some dazzling – though apparently bewilderingly modern – music. It closed after three performances, was performed only three times during the composer’s lifetime, and has been very rarely performed ever since. The only fragment of the opera that was a success from the get-go was the rousing, crowd-pleasing overture, which quickly became a favourite in the orchestral repertoire. Berlioz recalled that the overture was as enthusiastically applauded, as the rest of the opera was hissed.

The overture to Benvenuto Cellini is a mini-drama in itself. It begins with a spirited fanfare, and, in the span of some ten minutes, encompasses music of solemnity, lyricism, passion (recalling Cellini’s love for his fiancée Teresa), and sure-fire orchestral brilliance.

Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat, op.74

Orchestration: solo clarinet, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. Performance time: approximately 23 minutes

It is an interesting coincidence that both Weber and Mozart (who also happened to be cousins-in-law, although Weber was 30 years younger) composed masterpieces for the clarinet inspired by their warm friendship with virtuosos of the instrument: Anton Stadler, in Mozart’s case, Heinrich Joseph Baermann, principal clarinetist of the Munich court orchestra, in Weber’s case.

Weber is best known for his opera Der Freischütz, which is considered the first German romantic opera. Although he composed a great variety of instrumental music, including symphonies and piano concertos, it is only his concerti for clarinet that entered the repertoire. Weber’s contributions to the clarinet include also a concertino, a set of variations, a quintet and a grand duo, but none of them attained the popularity of the concertos.

The Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat, was composed and premiered in 1811, with Baermann, the dedicatee playing the solo clarinet. According to the composer’s diary, Baermann “played in a heavenly manner” and the work was greeted with “frantic applause.”

The mechanics of the clarinet developed a good deal further in the quarter century between Mozart’s time and 1811, when Weber first met Baermann. That allowed Weber to explore a much wider expressive range, and to highlight the romantic aspects of the instrument. Among the special features of this concerto are the many dramatic contrasts between the instrument’s brilliant high notes and the dark, rich sonority of the lower range.

The first movement of the E-flat Concerto (Allegro) is in a traditional sonata form. After a majestic orchestral introduction the clarinet makes a dramatic entrance with a three-octave leap from high to low, and then immediately rebounding back. The second movement (Romanze) is operatic on character: in the second half of that movement, the clarinet could be mistaken for a vocal solo, with the orchestra playing short chords in the manner of recitativo secco, as used by Mozart in his operas. The rondo finale (Alla polacca) makes use of a polonaise rhythm, and becomes ever more virtuosic for the soloist as it unfolds with an especially brilliant conclusion.

Edward Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme, op.36 (Enigma Variations)

Orchestration: 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, bass drum, cymbals, organ ad libitum, and strings. Performance time: approximately 30 minutes

The genesis of Elgar’s Enigma variations is one of the most moving and heart-warming stories in the history of classical music: On an October day in 1898, Elgar came home after a long day teaching. After dinner, in order to relax, he sat down at the piano to doodle.

Elgar later recalled what happened next. 

“…I began to play, and suddenly my wife interrupted by saying: ‘Edward, that’s a good tune.’ I awoke from the dream. ‘Eh! Tune, what tune!’ And she said, ‘Play it again, I like that tune.’ I played and strummed, and played, then she exclaimed: ‘That’s the tune.’ The voice of my wife asked with a sound of approval, ‘What is that?’ I answered, ‘Nothing – but something might be made of it.’”

Just for fun, Elgar stared to toy with the tune, trying to make musical caricatures of some of his friends, and trying them on his wife Alice, to see if she could guess the subject. Soon enough, out of that spontaneous exchange grew the serious idea of a set of orchestral variations.

The Variations were composed in 1898 and 1899. They were dedicated “…to my friends pictured within” and given the title “Variations on an original theme, Op.36”.

The first performance, conducted in London by Hans Richter, took place on 19 June 1899, but it was not until 13 September in Worcester, however, that the Variations were heard in their final form after Elgar had added a further 100 bars to the end of “E.D.U.” to make a more powerful conclusion. The reception was enthusiastic and it propelled Elgar to fame.

In all, fourteen people and a dog are featured in the variations:

Variation I – C.A.E.:

Elgar’s wife, Alice, lovingly portrayed.

Variation II – H.D.S-P.:

Hew David Steuart-Powell, a pianist with whom Elgar played in chamber ensembles.

Variation III – R.B.T.:

Richard Baxter Townshend, a friend whose caricature of an old man in an amateur theatre production is captured in the variation.

Variation IV – W.M.B.:

William Meath Baker, ‘country squire, gentleman and scholar’, informing his guests of the day’s arrangements.

Variation V- R.P.A.:

Richard Arnold, son of the poet Matthew Arnold.

Variation VI – Ysobel:

Isabel Fitton, an amateur viola player from a musical family living in Malvern.

Variation VII – Troyte:

Arthur Troyte Griffith, a Malvern architect and close friend of Elgar throughout their lives – the variation focuses on Troyte’s limited abilities as a pianist.

Variation VIII – W.N.:

Winifred Norbury, known to Elgar through her association with the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society – the variation captures both her laugh and the atmosphere of her eighteenth century house.

Variation IX – Nimrod:

A J Jaeger, Elgar’s great friend whose encouragement did much to keep Elgar going during the period when he was struggling to secure a lasting recognition. “Jaeger” is the German for “hunter,” and Nimrod is the “mighty hunter” mentioned in the book of Genesis. Nimrod is the most beloved of the variations. It has become popular in its own right and is sometimes used at solemn occasions. It is always played at the London Cenotaph as part of the Service of Remembrance; it was also played at Princess Diana’s funeral.

Variation X – Dorabella:

Dora Penney, daughter of the Rector of Wolverhampton and a close friend of the Elgars. The music suggests the stammer with which she spoke in her youth.

Variation XI – G.R.S.:

George Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral, although the variation allegedly portrays Sinclair’s bulldog Dan paddling in the River Wye after falling in.

Variation XII – B.G.N.:

Basil Nevinson, an amateur cellist who, with Elgar and Hew Steuart-Powell, completed the chamber music trio.

Variation XIII – ***:

Probably Lady Mary Lygon, a local noblewoman who sailed for Australia at about the time Elgar wrote the variation, which quotes from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage.

Variation XIV – E.D.U.:

Elgar himself, Edoo being Alice’s pet name for him. It echoes themes from two variations: “C.A.E.” and “Nimrod” referring to his wife Alice and his friend Jaeger, which Elgar acknowledged to be the greatest influences on his life and art.

But what about the Enigma? The word “Enigma”, serving as a title for the theme of the Variations, was added to the score at a late stage, after the manuscript had been delivered to the publisher. In a letter to Jaeger, Elgar associated the Enigma with the theme of the variations, but hinted that the actual theme is never heard:

“The enigma I will not explain—its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the apparent connection between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes,’ but is not played—so the principal Theme never appears. . . .”

He also hinted that the Enigma was a familiar tune.

Not surprisingly, this unleashed a storm of speculations as to what the Enigma theme is. A number of tunes have bee proposed including, but not limited to: Auld Lang Syne (forcefully rejected by the composer), Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Rule Britannia, the slow movement of Mozart’s Prague symphony, and the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique piano sonata.

However, there is no convincing solution to the puzzle, and it will continue to be subject of scholarly papers and doctoral dissertations. Probably only Elgar’s wife Alice and his friend Jaeger knew the secret – if, indeed, there was one. It is quite possible that this was one of Elgar’s practical jokes, and that there is no tune. It seems, though, that the Enigma theme will remain forever unguessed, just as the composer intended.

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