A Night in Vienna: Songs and Waltzes

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach, Conductor
Matthias Goerne, Baritone

Sunday, August 2, 2009
2:30 PM
Donor Gates Open
3:00 PM
Public Gates Open
5:00 PM
Concert Starts
Reserved $65/$45/$25
Lawn $10


Schubert:         Songs orchestrated by Reger, Webern and Brahms
J. Strauss, Jr.:    Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, Op. 214
                        “An der schönen, blauen Donau”
                                 (“On the Beautiful Blue Danube”) Waltz, Op. 314
                        Unter Donnen und Blitz (“Under Thunder and Lightening”)
                                 Quick Polka, Op. 324
                        Kaiser-Walzer (“Emperor Waltz”), Op. 437

Program Notes

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Orchestrated Songs

The phenomenon of the orchestrated Lied provides many different insights into the constantly evolving Romantic aesthetic. In the works of Franz Schubert, the German song for voice and piano matured into an unsurpassed Romantic medium, an intimate genre capable of great expressive potential: literal pictorialism and psychological allegory, innocence and wickedness, extroversion and inwardness, reality and the supernatural, sophistication and folkishness. Schubert intended his Lieder for small gatherings of friends—in the purest sense, recitals (or recitations) of poetry with musical accompaniment. Musical Romanticism thrived during the early-19th century under this private consumerism, a fact borne out by the concurrent proliferation of opera, symphony and song transcriptions for solo piano.

However, as the century progressed, Romantic artists invented more grandiose platforms for their musical creations. Symphonies and operas now held audiences spellbound. By contrast, solo pieces, chamber works and songs became marginalized to either amateur domestic musicians or the diminishing numbers of connoisseurs—the musical elite. Rearranging Lieder for orchestra and voice essentially reversed the transcription practices of the early 19th century, popularizing an intimate musical expression before a mass audience.

Numerous musicians of diverse nationalities and musical interests have orchestrated Schubert songs in the almost 170 years since his death: Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, Jacques Offenbach, Max Reger, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Benjamin Britten, to name a select few. All paid homage to Schubert’s mastery of vocal communication, and in so doing, they also resurrected a bygone Romanticism—direct, expressive and not bombastic—still relevant to later ages.

Waltzes and Polkas

Vienna, the city of music, danced not only to the sounds of the ubiquitous waltz, whose roots are traced to the Ländler of the Austrian peasants, but also the polka and mazurka from Poland, the quadrille from France, military marches, and the German galop (which became the can-can in France). Ballroom dancing, perhaps the only egalitarian activity in old Vienna, cut across all social classes. For more than three-quarters of a century, a single family of violinists/conductors/composers rose from their poor surroundings to rule the city, and the world, as “The Waltz Kings.”

Johann Strauss, Jr. rapidly eclipsed his father’s popularity. When the elder Johann died, his son quickly merged the two orchestras in a brilliant attempt to monopolize Viennese ballrooms. Assuming the mantle of “king of the waltz,” Johann, Jr. capitalized on the unmatched popularity of the family name abroad, with regular tours as far away as the United States. He was granted his father’s former title, Imperial and Royal Director of Ballroom Music, in 1863, but he resigned this post eight years later due to ill-health. Strauss visited the United States in 1872 for the International Peace Jubilee in Boston, which celebrated the end of the Franco-Prussian War. For the hundred-year anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence (1876), Strauss wrote the Centennial Waltzes. None of his handful of American works was assigned an opus number!

The Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, Op. 214, derives its name from a fashionable Viennese society journal, Tritsch-Tratsch (“Chit-Chat”). Strauss composed this march-like polka in 1858. Often described as a “symphonic poem in waltz time,” the “Blue Danube” Waltz (An der schönen, blauen Donau, Walzer), Op. 314, lacks a true program, or sequence of musical events that follow a story line. Instead, the music alludes to the morning mist rising over the river. It conjures images of the ornately decorated spires of the churches. It reminds listeners of the carefree revelry in the salons and ballrooms in Vienna.

Unter Donner und Blitz (“Thunder and Lightning”), Polka schnell, Op. 324 (1868). evokes the lively, frenzied conclusion to the ballroom soirées. The Kaiser-Walzer (“Emperor” Waltz), Op. 437, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph’s accession to the throne in 1888, was Strauss’s apotheosis to the faded glories of a once-proud empire.

— Program notes © Todd E. Sullivan 2009

Park Details

Family Space, 3-4:30 p.m. – North Lawn
(music-related crafts, storytelling, and “instrument petting zoo")

Sunday, August 2 – Bennett • Gordon Hall
   Postlude Concert
Artists from Ravinia’s Steans Institute

Sunday, August 2, 3 p.m. – Martin Theatre
Master Class on the Music of Kurt Weill
James Conlon