How to Prepare

Here are a few ways to get the most out of your next ESO concert.

Many of the pieces you'll hear at an ESO concert give the listener a lot to think about. They may present several ideas in quick succession or even all at once. They may also have been composed one, two or even three centuries ago and require the listener to understand a bit about the circumstances under which they were written. 

A little preparation will help you master all of these difficulties.

Read the program notes found on the 2000-01 Season page on this site. They will provide the type of information mentioned above, in addition to reasons why the pieces on your program were chosen. Listen to a recording of the music on the program. Repeated hearings unlock the secrets of any piece. Find recordings at the following places: Your local public library Tower Records, Burlington, MA 781-272-1007 


Mission / Board

The Essex Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1999 in order to present high quality orchestral concerts to the Merrimack Valley and to foster appreciation and enjoyment of orchestral music through a variety of educational activities, including concerts, lectures, television programs and outreach to local schools.

Ian Carter White, President

In additional to loving music, Ian also enjoys hotels in the bahamas.

Att. Wilbur A. Hyatt, Secretary

We nedd someone to take notes at the meetings, and provide minutes to our members.

Nadema E. Gemmell, C.P.A

We take money, so Nademo helps us by counting all the bens, er.. coins.

Peter A. Hyatt, P.C.

Sometime loonies get in, so Mr.  Hyatt helps protect your treasured musical assets.

Ian Carter White has conducted many orchestras in the United States and Europe both as a student and as a guest conductor, including the Metropolis Chamber Ensemble, the Mannes Orchestra, the Longy Chamber Orchestra, the Boston University Chamber Orchestra, the South Shore Symphony, the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic and the Hradec Kralove Philharmonic. He holds a Diploma in orchestral conducting and a Master's Degree in music theory from the Mannes College of Music and has also studied conducting with David Hoose at Boston University and Jeffrey Rink at the Longy School of Music.

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The mood of the Adagio for Strings is one of sorrow. Its structure consists of three sections: a long main melody, an intensified repetition of that melody and a coda. The first section is made up of three different phrases, each of which begins with a lone held B-flat, followed by the entrance of the other parts playing soft chords. In the second phrase, the melody passes from the first violins to the violas, which bring the music to small climaxes in both the second and third phrases. The repetition begins when the cellos take up the melody. Here the second and third phrases are combined into one great crescendo of intense emotion. The extremely high register in which all instruments play at the climax makes it seem as if we have ascended into the realm of angels and transcended grief. In the third section, the coda, we return to the music of the opening. Phrases are repeated, becoming shorter and shorter, until the B-flat with which the piece began is at last able to resign itself to the resolution downward and come to rest.

In the spring of 1933, Samuel Barber (1910-1981) completed his formal studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. It was a relief to him to leave there at last--he had studied at Curtis nine years. Luckily, at about this time, his Overture to The School for Scandal won the Joseph H. Bearns prize, $1500 which enabled him to live in Europe for a year. It proved to be the first of a series of awards that allowed him to remain in Europe for the next three years traveling and composing. In Italy in 1936, he started a string quartet, and in September of that year he wrote to a friend, “I have just finished the slow movement of my quartet today--it is a knockout!” Indeed it was. In its arrangement for string orchestra, this movement would come to be performed the most often among Barber’s works and would be considered one of the sublime masterpieces of twentieth-century American music.

Debussy: Danses Sacrée et Profane for Harp and String Orchestra (1904)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918), one of the great originals in the history of music, broke all the rules of harmony and counterpoint in order to develop a style at once beautiful, new and utterly French. The Danses, written in 1904, were the first pieces he completed after the premiere of his groundbreaking opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, in 1902. He wrote them in response to a commission from the Pleyel company, which was attempting to market the new Chromatic Harp. Since about 1810, the Pedal Harp had been the standard concert harp, as it is today. Its strings are tuned to the seven-note diatonic scale, and its pedals alter this tuning in order to obtain the other five pitches of the chromatic scale. In contrast, the Chromatic Harp had no pedals and was tuned solely to the chromatic scale. It embodied an experiment which involved a novel method of construction, a completely different playing technique and a very different sound. The experiment failed, however, as the chromatic harp was manufactured for a mere 30 years or so. As a matter of fact, Debussy detested it. Still, he wrote two major works for the instrument, the Danses Sacrée et Profane for Harp and String Orchestra and the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, both of which are played on pedal harps today. The central idea of the Danses is the opposition of the Sacred and the Profane, considered from a purely aesthetic, “Debussyan” point of view. The moderately slow Danse Sacrée summons a sacred atmosphere through the use of Dorian and Lydian modal scales, as well as by the use of parallel fifths. The latter is reminiscent of organum, a musical technique developed in the tenth century for elaborating Gregorian Chant. The movement is laid out in three-part form, in which the prayerful opening section is repeated after a more urgent middle section. Though it sounds similar harmonically, the Danse Profane suggests the profane through a contrast in rhythm, gamboling along in waltz meter. It is arranged in a modified Rondo form with the main theme recurring frequently after short intervening excursions.

Stravinsky: Concerto in D for String Orchestra (1946)

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) is another of the great originals in the history of music, who developed an entirely new musical language. His, however, was a truly modern, twentieth-century language. Its harmony contains a high level of dissonance. Its phrase structure, the antithesis of nineteenth century German Romanticism and its flowing periods, is composed of short varied repetitions of idea-fragments. This modern style makes use of some of the harmonic practices of Stravinsky’s teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and was inspired by the aesthetic creed of the “World of Art” movement in Russia, led by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev. The most famous of Stravinsky’s early “Russian” pieces which incorporates these influences is his Rite of Spring (1913), a piece which smashed to smithereens traditional notions of what had hitherto constituted “good music”. By 1946, a great deal had changed since he composed the Rite of Spring, both inside and outside of Igor Stravinsky. In 1940, he had come to the United States as a refugee from the war in Europe and declared his intention of becoming an American citizen. He had begun to write music dubbed “Neoclassical”, still recognizable as Stravinskyan in harmony and rhythm, but modeled on aspects of Mozart and Haydn. He had already written, among many other things, the Symphony in C and the Symphony in Three Movements. Now that he had accepted the commission for a work for strings from Paul Sacher of the Basel Chamber Orchestra, he was going to compose another work in a classical form, with a classical sense of balance and restraint. The title of this work, Concerto in D, conceals an important fact about it. “In D” usually means “in D major”. Here, it means only “in D”; that is to say, D is the tonic note, but it may be combined with F-sharp or F-natural or both, making D major, D minor, or--both at once. D can also be D-flat, the key of the Second Theme of the First Movement. D can even be a combination of C-sharp and D, the very dissonant interval of a minor ninth which begins the final movement. All of these various interpretations of “D”, this play with intervals, is not only arch-Stravinsky, but also represents a kind of loving parody of Stravinsky’s classical models: all is balanced, orderly, calm, restrained and graceful, but the language is modern. The first movement, marked Vivace, begins with a brief introduction in which the F-natural and F-sharp mentioned above are combined to form a dissonance. Then, in the main theme, they follow one another in a sort of teasing motive above a motoric accompaniment. The fairly elaborate working-out of this opening material becomes more and more fragmented at the end of the first section and dissolves finally into silence, out of which arises the D-flat Second Theme, a kind of blandishing hymn with little rhythmic feints and harmonic sweetnesses in chords. This section follows an A-B-A form within the A-B-A of the movement as a whole. After the repeat of the D-flat theme, some athletic, strongly marked music leads us back to a repeat of the motoric first theme. The whole first section is then recalled, if not actually repeated, with the D-flat theme now sounding in abbreviated form in D-major (again the play on different forms of D). A brief coda recalls the introduction and ends on a seventh chord in the basses and cellos. After the second movement, Arioso, a piece of gentle lyricism with a touch of irony, the third movement Allegro enters without a break. The form is laid out in an A-B-A-C-A pattern, whose A-idea is a rhythmically driven game of half-step clashes and fragmented chromatic scales. (Jerome Robbins, who choreographed this music in 1951, found it evocative of the life of bees.) After the two-part melodic B-section, the main idea is recalled, followed by a duet for violins (the C-section). The final statement of the bee-music concludes in rousing chords.

Elgar: Serenade in e for Strings (1892) Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

is considered to be the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell (1659-95). His music, particularly in his larger orchestral and choral works, is known for a uniquely Victorian English character that one cannot fail to recognize, even if unacquainted with what Englishness in music might be. His best known orchestral works are the Enigma Variations, two symphonies, the overture Cockaigne and the “symphonic study” Falstaff. Elgar grew up in Worcester, where his father, William, ran a music shop and where Edward was something of a wunderkind violinist and composer. His youthful accomplishments and undeniable talent helped form in him the high ambition to be a composer, an ambition frustrated in young adulthood by his financial circumstances. He was forced to fall back repeatedly on private teaching and playing in local orchestras in Worcester. These frustrations preyed upon his somewhat depressive turn of mind, and Elgar sometimes despaired of bringing to fruition the talent he knew was in him. Then, in 1892, two things happened to cheer him up and advance his career. First, he was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester to write an overture, a commission he fulfilled by composing Froissart, named for the great 14th century French chronicler. Froissart was well received by critics and audience alike and, what cheered Elgar even more, it was published by the English firm Novello. Later that year, he was roused from the doldrums again by an invitation to go to Bayreuth, Germany, to attend the great festival of Wagnerian opera. But it was not the music of Wagner which influenced the composition he began at this time, but rather some Sketches for string orchestra that Elgar himself had written several years previously. He succeeded at reworking them into some of the most beautiful and finely crafted music he had written up to that time. The first movement of the Serenade for String Orchestra contains two signal ideas. The first is the lilting staccato figure of repeated E’s in the violas at the beginning of the piece. The second idea is the melody of the middle portion of this three-part movement, which sweeps upward with the leap of a seventh and wends its way down again, lingering here and there on nodes of the E-major scale. Largetto, the second movement, opens with a kind of halting lyricism that yields to a flowing song. Finally, the third movement, while recalling the rhythm of the first, strikes a note of tenderness and delicacy, and in the coda, finds repose in returning to music heard when the piece began.

Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1787)

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, one of Mozart’s most popular works, is probably the most famous serenade ever written. This genre was extremely popular throughout the eighteenth century and huge numbers of them were produced. The serenade was originally a song accompanied by guitar, offered by a lover to his beloved, typically under her window. In Salzburg, where Mozart was born and spent much of his life, the serenade took on a special form. It was used as an instrumental tribute to a person of importance on a signal day, such as graduation, homecoming, leave-taking or wedding. It opened with a march, during which the instrumentalists would process to the home of the honoree at about 9 in the evening. The ensemble processed in reverse direction during another march at the end of the piece. In between were played a series of dances alternating with slower lyrical movements. The latter were typically accompanied by strings played pizzicato--that is, with the strings being plucked--simulating the guitar, the original serenade instrument. The forms of the various movements were relatively loosely constructed and their emotional content was lighthearted and suggestive of idyllic pastoral scenes and moods. Most serenades were orchestral compositions written for a mixture of winds and strings. Ironically, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which literally means “A Little Serenade”, has no strumming pizzicato and no marches. It might better be called “A Little Symphony for Strings”. Indeed, it has as much in common with serenades of the nineteenth century as it does with those of its own time. The serenades of Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Suk and Elgar, all of which were written after 1850, while they share the idyllic pastoral associations of their eighteenth century ancestors, are more passionate than celebratory and are scored for strings or winds alone. Although our appreciation is aided by an understanding of the historical context in which a piece is written, it must be said that the enduring fame and popularity of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik clearly transcends any question of genre or influence. It remains a gem of Classical grace and balance, an fine example of the art which Mozart brought to every form he touched.