Written by Ronald Comber

The Sleeping Giant
Abigail Richardson-Schulte (1976-    )

Abigail Richardson-Schulte was born in Oxford, England and moved to Canada as a child. Her music has been commissioned and performed by major orchestras, presenters, music festivals and broadcasters including the Festival Présences of Paris. Abigail won first at the prestigious UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, after which her music was broadcast in 35 countries. She also won the Karen Kieser Prize, CMC Prairie Region Emerging Composers Award, and a Dora award for best new opera. Abigail was Affiliate Composer for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 2006-2009 and remains Coordinator of their New Creations Festival. Abigail is currently Composer in Residence with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

She writes;

“After CBC’s recent ‘Seven Wonders of Canada’ competition, I was quite taken with the support of the Thunder Bay community for their legendary Sleeping Giant. I decided to write this piece for the legend. Here is the story: Nanabosho the giant, son of the West Wind, was a hero to the Ojibwe tribe for saving them from the Sioux. One day he scratched a rock and discovered silver. Nanabosho knew the white men would take over the land for this silver so he swore his tribe to secrecy and buried the silver. One of the chieftains decided to make himself silver weapons, and was soon after killed by the Sioux. He must have passed along the silver secret, as several days later a Sioux warrior was spotted in a canoe leading two white men towards the silver. Nanabosho disobeyed the Great Spirit and raised a storm which killed the men. As punishment he was turned to stone and lies watching over his silver secret.”

Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for Piano & Orchestra, Op.18
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Rachmaninoff had achieved worldwide prominence as early as 1893, with the publication of the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor, and his career as a concert pianist was firmly established shortly thereafter. But in Moscow the fin de siècle ennui, so prevalent in artistic circles throughout Europe, had arrived with a vengeance. Rachmaninoff, already melancholy by nature, succumbed to despair. Help came from an unexpected quarter. A Dr. Dahl, seeing his plight, took charge of him, and through a course of hypnosis, restored in him the desire to create. The immediate result was the composition of the Second Concerto, dedicated to the good doctor.

The work was first performed in a Moscow Philharmonic concert in 1901, with the composer triumphant at the keyboard. Subsequent performances proved to be so popular that the work was published in 1902.

The Concerto is in three movements.  The first movement opens with a devastating series of chords from the piano, building a terrible intensity which leads to the passionate first theme. The drama of the first subject is later perfectly matched by the tenderness of the rising second subject. Development ensues, leading to one of the greatest moments in all of Rachmaninoff’s works; the grand reiteration of the main theme in the strings, while the piano attacks with a fierce new counter-melody.

The second movement is a lovely three-part song, animated in its middle section, filled with a wealth of emotional meaning. The third movement is remarkable for the alternation of brilliant virtuosity and plangent lyricism. Rachmaninoff here uses his technical brilliance with telling effect, for not only is the piano writing inspired, but the dramatic mood shifts applied to reiterations of the principal counter-subject, from lyrical to heroic, are nothing short of uncanny.

Symphony No.5 in E Minor, Op. 64
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Tchaikovsky wrote his Fifth Symphony in 1888 as he was coming to the height of his fame. Of his major works, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and, of course, the Pathétique Symphony were still to come.  The premiere of the Fifth Symphony took place in St. Petersburg on November 17th of that year, and, as often occurs with an important and innovative work, the audience hated it. Tchaikovsky had little time for depression, however, as the next performance was a brilliant success, and so it has remained ever since.

The Fifth is a symphony dealing with fate and destiny (a very popular programmatic topic in Romantic music), depicting man’s struggle against unseen forces.

The first movement opens with an extended melody in the minor, used as a motto and later as a major climax. The main theme, a striding melody introduced by clarinet and bassoon, was probably based on a Polish folk-tune. The second subject is much more plaintive, and acts as a foil for the more energetic main theme. New material is frequently introduced throughout the lengthy development of the movement, and eventually the music winds down in a long coda.

The slow movement opens with a minor scale, leading to an unforgettable melody in the French horn. (It was used in a popular song called “Moon Love,” popular in the mid-to late Twentieth Century.) The second theme is quite optimistic by comparison, and supplies most of the rest of the material needed for the completion of the movement, with a tentative reappearance of the motto occurring just before the coda.

The third movement is unique in the long history of the Symphony.  It is neither a scherzo nor a minuet: it’s a waltz, and a delightful one. As the finale begins, the dark mood of the motto is transformed into triumph, and the second subject reinforces it with a striving melody, over a strongly rhythmic accompaniment. Some complicated development takes place, leading to a brief reiteration of the motto in the minor key again, but it soon turns back to the major in order to start an overwhelming drive to the finish. Near the end, one can hear reminders in the brass of the principal theme of the first movement, and with this final statement of cyclic form, the work builds to a glorious conclusion.