Spring Symphony

Voices of Spring (Frühlingsstimmen - Walzer) opus 410 Johann Strauss II (1825 – 1899)

On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring Frederick Delius (1862 –1934)

Symphony No. 1 in Bb opus 38, ‘Spring’ Robert Schumann (1810 –1856)

Andante un poco maestoso. Allegro molto vivace


Scherzo. Trio I. Trio II. Coda

Allegro animato e grazioso


Program Notes by Hugh Keelan

I acknowledge that we are offering you a program which does NOT include work of composers from under-represented backgrounds and communities. The Windham Philharmonic does not intend this to represent a direction, quite the opposite. Thank you for attending.


Frühlingsstimmen – Walzer (1882, by Johann Strauss II)

There is a perfection to the Waltz King’s large output of operettas and dances: the opus numbers of his waltzes, polkas and mazurkas alone extend to 472; all are captivating, inventive, and filled with joy. This perfection of style and musical personality was recognized, admired, and openly envied by illustrious ‘serious’ composers that included Wagner, Brahms, and Richard Strauss (from an unrelated family).

On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring (1912, by Delius)

This little piece is unostentatious, an invitation to each listener to crane their neck to hear the cuckoo calls hidden behind other music. The foreground of this extraordinary soundscape is occupied by a Norwegian song In Ola Valley, introduced to Delius by Percy Grainger, and used earlier in a piano piece by Grieg. We could consider this a human artifact, found and shared, with nature in the background. Under this sweet melody there are brief passages of surging, vernal, vibrant harmony, while at other moments we feel the remaining chill of winter: we see the twigs and branches that do not yet flourish. The cuckoo is only ever audible very faintly...do we even hear it at all?

Let’s put Delius in the category ‘minor master:’ an English composer assumed to be more to an English audience’s taste than to others’, also perhaps faded...his time is past...doomed to be locked in a certain era or cultural niche. Nevertheless, the Windham Philharmonic (Windham Orchestra) has performed at least one small piece by Delius in the past to noticeable effect, as well as music by other English composers such as Vaughan Williams and Elgar in several concerts, including with Mary Westbrook-Geha as mezzo soprano soloist. I believe that the Windham Philharmonic has an unexpected and extraordinary affinity for the music of my country of birth.

This is emotional for me, and I take this opportunity to express my gratitude, and to thank the players for their very generous personal and artistic commitments.

Symphony No. 1, ‘Spring’ (1841, by Robert Schumann)

Some of us performers and listeners love to know the magic keys that unlock something personal and fascinating about a ‘great’ composer, or a particular work. And we can choose not to care that frequently composers (Debussy, Alban Berg, Elgar, Bach, Shostakovich, Schumann...) were at pains to keep their secrets secret, or, when more generous, to tantalize us with the obscurity of their clues. It is also remarkable that many of these enigmas are, by the different composers’ intentions, inaudible: numerology, complex games with letters and initials, mathematics, hidden and unacknowledged musical quotations. Perhaps there is a glimpse of this in Delius’ almost metaphysical relationship to the sound of the cuckoo...

This symphony was never given the title ‘Spring’ by Schumann, and (to my point above about holding secrets tight) he withdrew descriptive movement headers before publication, but his correspondence shows us that the subject of spring was on his mind. He quotes spring-inspired poetry, and he exhorts performers in his circle to be expressive of the moods and qualities of the spring. It is very infectious to read. Clara, meanwhile, was pressing him to start writing for orchestra, “...his imagination cannot find sufficient scope on the piano... his compositions are all orchestral in feeling...”

On the other hand...no German composer could escape Beethoven when writing symphonies. The master’s influence on Schumann’s First Symphony is most obvious in the third movement, a Scherzo, in mood jaunty and irascible, and, true to Beethoven’s models of Scherzo, obsessive and compulsive. Beethoven’s obsession was to hold doggedly onto the maximum number of repetitions of alternating material (and as he got older, to increase them); Schumann’s was to reduce in a precisely controlled manner the amount of Scherzo material at each point of return. Beethoven points us towards the infinite (an implication of infinite repetition?) Schumann’s repetitions I think aim at Romantic personal expression, with passionate moods juxtaposed and in constant flux.

There is delicious solo work for flute, a pair of horns, violins, cellos, and the net effect of the symphony is of an ensemble sound. The work is a celebration of intimate ensemble playing.

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