Program represents centuries of Scandinavian music

November 10, 2005|by ELIZABETH SCHULZE

This weekend's MasterWorks program features music by three of Scandinavia's most important composers.

The music of Swedish composer Franz Berwald had to wait until the middle of the 20th century to be celebrated for its substantive originality. Born in 1796, a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert, Berwald was characterized as an "old musician of the future."

Though his most important compositions date from the early 1840s, his harmonies and formal ideas often prophetically point to the music of Wagner, Brahms and Dvorak, all musicians who thrived during the second half of the 19th century.

One of Berwald's achievements of the 1840s was his opera "Estrella de Soria." Its lively overture is cast in a heroic mold with wonderful harmonic twists and turns and orchestral writing worthy of Mendelssohn.


Following Berwald's overture, the brilliant young pianist Andrew von Oeyen will join us as soloist for Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's popular Piano Concerto in A Minor. Von Oeyen, a star on the rise, has received worldwide critical acclaim for his performances and we are excited to be working with him this weekend.

The 19th century saw the rise of musical nationalism and Edvard Grieg proudly held the standard for his country, composing music firmly rooted in Norway's musical traditions.

Of his compositional approach, he wrote: "Composers with the stature of a Bach or Beethoven have erected grand churches and temples. I have always wished to build villages: places where people can feel happy and comfortable ... the music of my own country has been my model."

Grieg's Piano Concerto has been a popular piece since its premiere. Cast in a traditional three-movement form, Grieg's distinctive, passionate voice evokes his national heritage in music imbued with folk-like character and hymn-like lyricism.

Finland is represented on the program's second half with Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5.

In light of his popular works like Finlandia and several tone poems based on Finnish legends and folklore, Sibelius is most often characterized as a Finnish nationalist. However, his symphonies are achievements of a different order.

In 1934, Sibelius explained that: "My symphonies are music conceived and worked out solely in terms of music, with no literary basis. I am not a literary musician - for me, music begins where words cease. A scene can be expressed in painting, and a drama in words, but a symphony should be music first and last. Of course, it has happened that, quite unbidden, some mental image has established itself in my head in connection with a movement I have been writing, but the germ and fertilization have been solely musical."

The Fifth Symphony was first composed in 1915 and revised in 1916 and again in 1919. We will perform the 1919 version. During work on his final revision, Sibelius wrote: "From everything I notice how my inner being has changed since the period of the Fourth Symphony. And these symphonies of mine are more confessions of faith than are my other works."

Elizabeth Schulze is music director and conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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