Written by Ronald Comber

Palimpsest, for orchestra (Premiere)       
Jared Miller (b. 1988)

Jared Miller writes:

Although the term “palimpsest” specifically refers an old manuscript whose contents have been effaced beyond recognition, it can also be thought of as something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change.

In the Fall of 2015, I was helping my parents downsize their home, which involved me going through all of my musical scores from childhood and my teenage years, and deciding what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to discard.

Although I initially saw this task as a chore, I was surprisingly moved when I opened up a box that contained some of my favourite scores by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky that I studied when I was a child and teenager. On one hand, I was moved by the fact that such beautiful music on the page had degenerated over time. Ink was running and fading, which distorted the music to an almost unrecognizable degree. Consequently, this also made me feel my own passage through time and the changing impressions that this orchestral music had on me throughout. As a child, I always thought of the orchestra as this whimsical circus of sounds; where as an adolescent, classical music was the catharsis to my teenage angst.

I hoped to bring both of these impressions of a palimpsest to life in this piece. As a result, you will hear quotations from Beethoven’s Seventh and Ninth symphonies and Tchaikovsky’s First piano concerto in various guises: sometimes directly quoted, sometimes fading away, and sometimes distorted and re-imagined in a new musical context. In doing this, I ultimately hoped to convey the angst, catharsis, whimsy and eventual nostalgia that classical music has expressed to me throughout my life thus far.


Reverie and Tarantella
Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889)

Composer, conductor and the premiere double bass virtuoso of the nineteenth century, Giovanni Bottesini at first intended to become a violinist, but after years of study found that the only scholarships available at the Milan Conservatory were for bassoon and double bass. Borrowing a bass, the young Bottesini performed a successful audition just a few weeks later. Graduating after only four years, Bottesini won the prize for solo performance and bought a first-rate instrument. His career flourished from the start. After travels through the Americas, he quickly acquired a European following both as a virtuoso and as a conductor. He wrote wonderfully lyrical music, first featuring his instrument, but soon began to compose operas which became quite popular. Amusingly, as an opera conductor, Bottesini would often bring his double bass on stage during intermissions to perform fantasies on the themes of the opera that he was conducting, usually to great acclaim. That type of showmanship has declined over the years, and the lyrical tunefulness that was the hallmark of Bottesini’s style has gone out of fashion. Only his bass repertoire remains in regular service, as is witnessed by these two charming works.

The Reverie is a wonderfully melodic yet virtuosic slow work, and the Tarantella is unquestionably one of the finest – and showiest – works in the entire bass oeuvre. The music opens with a cadence before leaping into the Tarantella proper. A cantabile centre section displays Bottesini’s melodic gifts, and then the music jolts back into the Tarantella, the double bass demonstrating all of its possibilities in a mad dash to the end.


Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, “Choral”
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

One could say that the zenith of Beethoven’s life occurred in the years 1814 and 1815. His Seventh Symphony and “Wellington’s Victory” were both played to tumultuous applause at the Congress of Vienna; he was courted, feted and hailed everywhere as a genius. He even received the freedom of the city of Vienna, an honour which he much appreciated.

However, Beethoven’s ultimate tragedy was beginning. His hearing, which had been steadily declining since 1800, speeded its downward course (his last public appearance was in 1815). Then his brother Karl died, leaving Beethoven as guardian to a rather feckless child, and also leading him into years of litigation against the child’s somewhat slatternly mother. In fact, Beethoven spent so much time and energy worrying about his nephew that his flow of composition practically ceased for some years.

Ideas for what was to become the Ninth Symphony began to appear before 1817, but it was only in 1822 that Beethoven started to work seriously at it. By this time, even an ear trumpet did him no good. Communication with him could only be achieved by writing messages on a slate. His friends were appalled by the discordant state of his piano, and were terribly moved by his playing for them of soft passages, when no sound at all would be produced. No doubt, the action of playing the piano was a useful mnemonic for Beethoven, reminding him of the physical limitations of composition.

Beethoven’s decision on a choral last movement came late in the process of composition. Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” had long been on his mind, however, dating in a literary way back to his youth in Bonn, and musically from an abortive attempt at an overture in 1812. The Ninth Symphony was completed in the autumn of 1823. An option for its performance had already been purchased by the London Philharmonic Society, so a score was immediately dispatched, though nothing came of it. The first performance took place on May 7th, 1824, in the Vienna’s Karntnertor-theatre. Beethoven, still sitting directly behind the conductor at the end, was gently turned around to face the audience, so he could see the ovation that he could not hear.

The first movement of the Ninth Symphony is arguably the best single movement in all of Beethoven’s symphonic output. It has breadth of vision and of treatment not to be matched until Brahms, and in its development it contains some absolutely amazing harmonic progressions. Yet none of this was achieved through revolutionary new methods. Beethoven used the same musical language, only his message changed. The second movement, the scherzo, is remarkable for its rhythmic drive, and for its sudden eruptions into violence. The variety of colour and texture in the orchestration in this movement is all the more remarkable for being the product of a long evolution through many works, most of which Beethoven could not hear properly, if at all.

The third movement is one of those slow movements of Beethoven that feels as if it has all the time in the world. The lovely, wordless song moves with an almost sinuous grace over a pointedly rhythmic accompaniment, thus displaying its freedom from such mundane considerations as form, at least on the surface.

The last movement opens with a dissonant fanfare and a long recitative in the cellos, interrupted by quotations from the three previous movements. A distant version of the “Ode to Joy” theme slowly draws closer, then, after another dissonant blast, the baritone begins with introductory words by Beethoven himself (in italics below). The main text is from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”; throughout the movement, the text is repeated and reordered in many ways. Beethoven’s music achieves a new transcendent state of exultation, through all the interwoven choruses, solos and orchestral passages, which set the standard for so many later composers to follow.

 

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!

Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,und freudenvollere.

Oh friends, not these sounds!

Let us instead strike up more pleasing and more joyful ones!

Freude! Joy!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuertrunken,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Deine Zauber binden wieder

Was die Mode streng geteilt;

Alle Menschen werden Brüder,

Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,

Daughter from Elysium,

We enter, burning with fervour,

heavenly being, your sanctuary!

Your magic brings together

what fashion has sternly divided.

All men shall become brothers,

wherever your gentle wings hover.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,

Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;

Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,

Mische seinen Jubel ein!

Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele

Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!

Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle

Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

 

Whoever has been lucky enough

to become a friend to a friend,

Whoever has found a beloved wife,

let him join our songs of praise!

Yes, and anyone who can call one soul

his own on this earth!

Any who cannot, let them slink away

from this gathering in tears!

 

Freude trinken alle Wesen

An den Brüsten der Natur;

Alle Guten, alle Bösen

Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.

Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,

Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;

Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,

Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Every creature drinks in joy

at nature’s breast;

Good and Bad alike

follow her trail of roses.

She gives us kisses and wine,

a true friend, even in death;

Even the worm was given desire,

and the cherub stands before God.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen

Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,

Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,

Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Gladly, just as His suns hurtle

through the glorious universe,

So you, brothers, should run your course,

joyfully, like a conquering hero.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!

Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt

Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?

Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?

Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!

Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

Be embraced, you millions!

This kiss is for the whole world!

Brothers, above the canopy of stars

must dwell a loving father.

Do you bow down before Him, you millions?

Do you sense your Creator, o world?

Seek Him above the canopy of stars!

He must dwell beyond the stars.