Program Notes: Handel, Vivaldi & Dvořák

Seattle Symphony musicians take center stage in a program featuring works by Vivaldi and Dvořák alongside Handel’s Organ Concerto in F major, a piece that shows off the majesty of Benaroya Hall’s Watjen Concert Organ. This elegant program will be broadcast live from the Benaroya Hall stage on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at 7:30pm on Seattle Symphony Live.


THURSDAY, MAY 6, 2021, AT 7:30PM
Handel, Vivaldi & Dvořák

Lina González-Granados, conductor
Nathan Chan, cello
Eric Han, cello
Joseph Adam, organ
Seattle Symphony

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL    Organ Concerto No. 13 in F major, HWV 295, “The Cuckoo
and the Nightingale”
Allegro (“The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”)
Organo ad libitum


ANTONIO VIVALDI   Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV 531



ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK    Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22, B. 52
Tempo di valse
Scherzo: Vivace
Finale: Allegro vivace

2020–2021 Season Streaming Sponsor: Scan|Design Foundation by Inger & Jens Bruun



Organ Concerto No. 13 in F major, HWV 295, “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”

BORN: February 23, 1685, in Halle, Germany
DIED: April 14, 1759, in London, England
WORK PREMIERED: April 4, 1739, in London, England

In 1710, composer, violinist, organist and harpsichordist George Frideric Handel set off for England. He had recently been hired as music director for Prince George of Hanover (future King George I of Great Britain) and the stability of commissions from English nobles and aristocrats led him to permanently settle in the country. In 1726, he became a British citizen. Born in Germany, Handel’s musical interest and talent led to a life as a composer-performer. From 1706 to 1710, he studied and worked in Italy; the Italian school’s popularity and dominance made a significant impact on his style, which aided his rapturous reception in England. The orchestral suites Water Music (1717), Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) and oratorio Messiah (1741) are some of his most performed and recorded repertoire in modern times.

Handel’s organ concertos provide a fascinating look at the genre’s function and form in the Baroque period. He debuted his Organ Concerto in F major, “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale” in 1739, part of the premiere performance of his oratorio, Israel in Egypt. The first and fourth movements are based on material from his Trio Sonata, Op. 5, No. 6. Following the solemn Larghetto, the second movement, Allegro, shows why the work is nicknamed “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale;” the imitation of nightingales and cuckoos was a popular classical music trope. The Organo ad libitum section allows the soloist to improvise, a creative commentary on the composer’s purposely limited directions (it is believed that Handel may have cut this section at the premiere). The Larghetto third movement is solemn and stately. The final Allegro is light and delicate; its opening trill evokes English composer Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March (1700), another Baroque-era piece familiar to modern audiences.



Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV 531

BORN: March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy
DIED: July 28, 1741, in Vienna, Austria
WORK COMPOSED: circa 1720

There’s a popular joke amongst string players that the composer, violinist and priest Antonio Vivaldi wrote the same concerto one thousand times. In reality, he wrote at least 500. The exact date of the Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor’s composition is unclear; but scholars have narrowed its completion to the 1720s. For the majority of this decade, Vivaldi wrote for the Ospedale della Pietá, a home for orphaned girls born into poverty and/or unmarried unions. He had been affiliated with the Pietá since 1703 when he was hired as a violin master. In addition to supplying the institution with new compositions, Vivaldi regularly wrote commissions for customers beyond Venice, ranging from concertos to sonatas to operas and sacred vocal works.

The Allegro opens with recognizable Vivaldi features: a memorable main theme; scalar sequences and crescendos; question and answer motives between the soloists and between them and the ensemble. Its ritornello form–where orchestral and soloist sections shift in primacy–would become a formal standard for the concerto genre. The Largo’s texture is sparser. The soloists move between providing the melodic direction or the secondary support with the double bass and basso continuo. The final Allegro is spritely and returns to the question–answer exchange between the two cellos. The use of sequential repetition is a basic and effective method to build drama and showcase virtuosic dexterity. For lovers of Vivaldi music, that’s what keeps bringing us back.



Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22, B. 52

BORN: September 8, 1841, in Nelahozeves, Czech Republic
DIED: May 1, 1904, in Prague, Czech Republic
WORK PREMIERED: December 10, 1876, in Prague, Czech Republic

Though it is the older piece, Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings is not quite as popular as his New World Symphony and “American” string quartet. The work’s genesis was in the midst of tough economic times for the Dvořák and his family; his renown as a Bohemian composer and music director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York more than ten years in the future. Dvořák applied for and was awarded an artistic grant from the Austrian government to pad their financial precarity and give him some space to compose. The serenade debuted in Prague in 1876. One of the deciding judges for the grant was composer Johannes Brahms, who championed Dvořák’s music and aided in the younger composer’s eventual entrance to the international stage.

Dvořák opens his Serenade for Strings with the second violins and violas. They are answered by the cellos before the first violins enter, and the ensemble’s coherence is communicated through a subdued polyphony and timbral blending. The Moderato contains two distinct characters: the lyrical, intimate main theme of section A and spritely theme of section B. The Tempo di valse has perhaps the most identifiable melody of the entire work; a waltz in minor mode that is gorgeous, intense and agitated. The Scherzo: Vivace is pure exuberance, joy and abandon. The stillness of the Larghetto does not equal relaxation. Continuous phrasing defines the A section, as if the entire group never stops to take a breath. The Finale: Allegro vivace draws upon the minor mode agitation of the Tempo di valse and the exuberance of the Scherzo: Vivace. Question–answer phrases occur more frequently. Combined with crescendos, they guide the dramatic growth and resolution, pushing the movement to a rousing end.

© 2021 A. Kori Hill

Posted on May 5, 2021