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MSO program is about ups and downs of love

March 22, 2007|by ELIZABETH SCHULZE

This weekend the Maryland Symphony Orchestra reunites with the renowned mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer in the magnificent French song cycle, "Les Nuits d't" by Hector Berlioz.

These "Summer Nights" are reflections on the joys, anxieties and frustrations of love. While the first and last songs convey the ecstatic and hopeful faces of love, the four inner movements proceed through misery, melancholy and mournful resignation. It can be no coincidence that the composer was experiencing the breakdown of his first marriage when he was setting these poems to music.

We contrast these night songs with Berlioz's overture to his opera "Beatrice and Benedict." Here the mood is one of exuberance. The composer combines two love themes from the opera: a love duet and Beatrice's famous aria celebrating her discovery of love.

The second half of our program presents a musical milestone: the Symphony No. 1 in C minor by Johannes Brahms. Pressured by early fame and great expectation from the public and his peers, Brahms delayed writing a symphony until he felt ready to tackle the large form. The symphonies of Beethoven cast a long shadow across the nineteenth century and Brahms was acutely aware that he must meet the high standards of the master while making the form his own.

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The First Symphony has been much admired for its formal mastery and intellectual rigor, but Brahms' own heart can be found in the strains of the alpine call in the fourth movement. This theme recalls one of the composer's happier moments, when he and the love of his life, Clara Schumann, heard the alphorn as they walked together in the Alps. He included the tune in a birthday letter to Clara in 1868 and incorporated it into his symphony eight years later as a message he expected only she would understand.

Elizabeth Shulze is music director and composer of the MSO.

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