Amanda Forsyth Cello


Mendelssohn

The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26, “Fingal’s Cave”

Born in Hamburg, February 3, 1809
Died in Leipzig, November 4, 1847

In 1829, the 20-year-old Felix Mendelssohn embarked on a long Grand Tour of Europe. Some of the composer’s best-known works were inspired by these travels, including the Italian Symphony (No. 4) and two works from Scotland, the Scottish Symphony (No. 3) and the overture The Hebrides (also known as Fingal’s Cave).

Scotland especially appealed to Mendelssohn’s romantic sensibility and penchant for picturesque landscapes as musical stimuli. In early August, Mendelssohn and his traveling companion Karl Klingemann (a young German diplomat and poet) reached the western coast and took a boat to the Hebrides, a group of well over one hundred rugged, picturesque islands where Gaelic is widely spoken and the people still live much as they have for hundreds of years, tending cattle and sheep, weaving Harris tweed, and raising crops such as barley, oats and potatoes. Best known of the islands is Skye, but it was Staffa that left the deepest impression on young Mendelssohn, for here was located the spectacular cavern named after the folk hero Fingal.

The vast cave, open to the sea, measures 227 feet by 42 (69 metres by 13), and rises to a height of 66 feet (20 metres). The sea forms the floor; along the walls stand towering pillars of basalt lava, inspiring Klingemann to describe the scene as resembling “the interior of an immense organ. It lies there alone, black, echoing, and entirely purposeless – the grey waste of the sea in and around it.” Mendelssohn put his own impression into tone instead, noting down a 21-measure passage that became the opening of his overture and perfectly captures the air of hushed mystery, dark mists and the restless sea. Thomas Attwood conducted the first performance in London on May 14, 1832.

Two main musical ideas are developed within the context of a sonata-form movement: the “lapping wave” motif that opens the work, and a long-breathed, rising melody for the lower strings and woodwinds. The development section concentrates on the first subject, a remarkably malleable little motif that Beethoven too might well have enjoyed developing. The recapitulation begins as did the overture, but the second theme is given over to the solo clarinet. A coda brings the music to its emotional climax, followed by a quiet, haunting close.

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Mario Bernardi led the NAC Orchestra’s first perform­ance of Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides in 1971. The most recent interpretation by the Orchestra took place in 2015 on Canada Day, with Alain Trudel on the podium.

Program notes by Robert Markow

Marjan Mozetich

Cello Concerto

Born in Gorizia, Italy, January 7, 1948
Now living in Kingston, Ontario

Marjan Mozetich’s Cello Concerto was commissioned through the NAC Orchestra by the donor Charles Richard (Dick) Harington, who generously funded this project, and was written specifically with soloist Amanda Forsyth in mind. The composer writes:

“The Concerto’s initial musical material is used throughout the three movements in various guises. In technical terms, this material consists of the intervals of major and minor seconds and thirds. Both the themes and the accompaniment are made up of differing combinations and permutations of these melodic fragments.

I. Procession and the Chase begins with a slow, majestic, march-like procession featuring the cello, which provides the thematic material for the entire movement. This leads to a fast and incessant chase initiated by the cello and continued by the orchestra. At times the initiation is reversed. Throughout there is an undercurrent of a constant running pattern. The orchestra continues, with a constant running pattern. Overall this section has an earth-bound feeling to it.

II. Over Hills and Valleys is a lilting, slow-paced, relaxed movement using the same material as in the previous movement but in a more mellifluous tone. It has a bucolic air, as if a drone with a camera were gliding over the natural contours of the countryside.

III. In Flight: Homage to Ravel is a quick-moving and lyrical finale. Here the interval of the fourth (a second and a third combined) is introduced thematically, resulting in a movement subtly reminiscent of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (thus the dedication). Again, the concerto’s opening material is used, now in a lighter, airier vein.”

Program notes by Robert Markow

Mendelssohn

Symphony No. 4, “Italian”

Born in Hamburg, February 3, 1809
Died in Leipzig, November 4, 1847

Unlike many other composers, Mendelssohn was born to wealth and creature comforts. One of the advantages this brought to him was the opportunity to travel widely. His thorough education in the liberal arts and fine arts prepared him for keen observation of the sights, people, culture and spirit of any place he visited. In Italy, he was particularly impressed by the art of the old masters like Michelangelo, Titian and Giorgione; by the magnificent buildings of Rome; and by the natural beauty of the countryside. He began working on a new symphony in December 1832, and within a few weeks was referring to it in letters as his “Italian” symphony. It was first performed by the Philharmonic Society of London on March 13, 1833.

Italy’s sunny vitality and Mendelssohn’s enthusiasm for the land are immediately apparent in the opening bars of the symphony. An exuberant theme in the violins is accompanied by a continuous fusillade of notes from the wind section. The second theme (clarinet and bassoon) is more lyrical, but still imbued with restless animation. The development section features a new theme in the minor mode, appearing first in a delicately tripping manner, but growing to fearsome intensity. Then, as if with a touch of magic, Mendelssohn dispels the mood of anxiety with a sustained note for the oboe.

Much has been made of the penitential character of the Andante movement. The possibility exists that Mendelssohn borrowed the plaintive tune from a pilgrim chant he heard in a procession in Naples. The second theme (clarinets) is somewhat more cheerful, less severe. The chant then returns and eventually fades away in the distance “like a procession quietly turning the corner” in the words of Klaus G. Roy.

The graciously flowing third movement returns to a mood of warmth and sunshine. The central section evokes a gentle sylvan setting and features a solo unit of two horns and two bassoons, which are cleverly combined to sound like a horn quartet.  

The finale is a fiery, whirling dance movement that unites two different Italian dances. The saltarello, which opens the movement, is a jumping dance from Rome, while the Neapolitan tarantella is characterized by smooth, even triplets. The movement is in A minor, a most unusual key to end a symphony that began in the bright and breezy key of A major. Yet hardly one listener in a thousand stops to worry about such an irregularity, so thrilling is Mendelssohn’s rush to the finish.

The NAC Orchestra performed Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony for the first time in 1970, under the direction of Mario Bernardi, and most recently in 2014 with Pinchas Zukerman on the podium.

By Robert Markow


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