Program Notes: Classical III – A Little Night Music
This program features the YSO string section, opening with Mozart’s famous serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik and closing with Dvorak’s classic Serenade in E major. Between are works by Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Chinese composer Bao Yuankai, Mexican composer Ricardo Castro, and the “Dean of African-American composers,” William Grant Still, whose Ennanga will be performed by YSO harpist Jill Whitman. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(January 27, 1756-December 5, 1791)
Eine kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”) for strings in G major, K. 525

Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik (also known as Serenade No. 13) was completed in August 1787. It is not known why Eine kleine was written, but around this time Mozart was commissioned to compose several chamber pieces for King Friedrich Wilhelm II, and scholars have suggested that this piece could have been one of them. Today, it is one of his most popular works. 

The piece has four movements and the styles fit what is expected from a “serenade” of this period: light, pleasant music with appealing melodies and delightful structures that audiences can follow easily, whether listening intently or enjoying it as background music at a social gathering. The first movement is perhaps the best known of the four, with an opening fanfare, symmetrical phrasing in two clear themes, and a very satisfying pace that seems perfectly balanced. The second movement is elegant and yet somewhat surprising—the opening melody returns three times, contrasted first by a similar section and then later by music that is a bit more agitated. The third movement is a pleasant minuet, and the last movement is peppy and upbeat, bringing the piece to a satisfying close. 

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate
(born July 25, 1968)

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, is a composer and pianist dedicated to the development of American Indian classical composition. His compositions have been commissioned by major North American orchestras, ensembles and organizations, and they are performed throughout the world. The composer writes “‘Chokfi’ (choke-fee) is the Chickasaw word for rabbit, who is an important trickster legend within Southeast American Indian cultures…Different string and percussion techniques and colors represent the complicated and diabolical personality of this rabbit person. In honor of my Muscogee Creek friends, I have incorporated a popular tribal church hymn as the melodic and musical base.”  

William Grant Still
(May 11, 1895-December 3, 1978)
Ennanga for harp and strings

Born in Mississippi, Still was inspired and encouraged to become a musician at a very early age. He studied music theory and composition at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, and later studied with noted composers George W. Chadwick and Edgard Varèse. His study with Varèse led to initial original compositions that are dissonant and complex; his later studies with Chadwick freed him up to write more lyrically and to integrate folk and popular musical elements into his serious music. In 1931, the Rochester Philharmonic premiered his Afro-American Symphony, the first symphony by a Black American to be performed by a major orchestra. He moved to Los Angeles in 1934 and turned to music for film and television. This provided financial stability which allowed him to continue to compose art music, including operas, ballets, symphonies, symphonic poems, and other large-scale instrumental and vocal works.  Ennanga is in three movements. The title is the Ugandan word for a miniature harp. In the first movement, melodies clearly connected to folk styles are combined with percussive textures and surprising dissonance in the harp and piano. In the second movement, the harp plays a melancholy tune resembling a spiritual, with occasional contrasting, albeit similar melodies in the strings. The third movement features a slow introduction for the harp followed by peppy dance-like music that once again features surprising harmonic dissonance and occasional cadenza-like moments for the harp.  

Bao Yuankai
(born January 4, 1944)
Zou Xikou (Going to the West Gate)

Bao Yuankai is a Chinese composer and music educator. He has taught at several Chinese universities and received several awards for his compositions and teaching. Bao is Deputy Director of the Composition Committee of the Chinese Musicians Association, Editor of Music Research. His compositions, including symphonies, chamber music, cantatas, musicals, movie and television soundtracks, and children’s music, combine traditional Chinese music with Western forms and techniques. Going to the West Gate is from a collection entitled Chinese Sights and Sounds: 24 Pieces on Chinese Folk Tunes for Orchestra. It is based on a folk song that is popular in Shanxi, Northern Shaanxi, and Western Inner Mongolia. Poor soil around the Yellow River creates difficult living conditions, causing young men to leave home during the spring to look for jobs, leaving their wives and children at home. It is a miserable time for all until they return in the fall. The song is sung from the wives’ perspective, expressing sadness and love. In this orchestral version, a melancholy mood is consistent throughout the piece. 

Ricardo Castro Herrera
(February 7, 1864-November 27, 1907)
Menuet, Op. 23 

Ricardo Castro was a Mexican concert pianist and composer. He was born in Durango in northwestern Mexico. In 1879, his family moved to Mexico City where he entered the National Conservatory of Music and studied piano as well as harmony and counterpoint. At the age of nineteen, Castro finished his First Symphony in C minor (though the symphony was not premiered until 1988), and he wrote several large-scale works, including concertos and piano pieces. Castro received support from the Mexican government to give masterclasses in conservatories in several European countries from 1903 to 1906. When he returned to Mexico, he was appointed music director of the National Conservatory of Music and held that position until his death of pneumonia in 1907. Castro’s music is described as Romantic, colorful and sentimental, and his Menuet op. 23 is no exception. 

Antonín Leopold Dvořák
(September 8, 1841-May 1, 1904)
Serenade in E major, Op. 22

Born in rural Bohemia, Dvořák’s upbringing included both folk and classical music. Despite objections from his father who hoped he would take over the family inn, Antonín was unable to resist a career in music.  After formal studies in Prague, he gained a position as a violinist in the National Opera orchestra, where he would meet Bedřich Smetana, whose nationalistic efforts were to have a strong impact on Dvořák.  He achieved some visibility as a composer by the mid-1870s, catching the eye of Johannes Brahms who became very important to his future success.  Brahms’ influence resulted in the publication of Dvořák’s first collection of Slavonic Dances (Op. 46) in 1878. The timing could not have been better—his knack for combining folk elements with classical settings made him a busy and rich person, free to do as he pleased.   In 1875, Dvořák received a generous stipend from a commission in Vienna, allowing him to write several works, including the Serenade. Dvořák is said to have written the piece in just 12 days, from May 3-14. The piece was premiered in Prague on December 10, 1876, and it was eventually published in orchestral and two-piano versions. The overall character of the work is elegant and graceful, befitting the expected character of a “serenade.” In five short movements, the music flows naturally with a sense of enjoying the moment, its character idyllic and pleasant. Throughout the work, melodies are engaging and appealing, and the contrasts between moods are handled purposefully and gracefully. The pleasantness and ease of the character belie the advanced craftsmanship involved, and the experience is equally enjoyable for the performers and the audience, whether listening as concertgoers or as background music at a social occasion. This Serenade is one of the composer’s most popular and most frequently performed works.