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Tone Poems

Tone Poems – In a literal case of art imitating life, symphonic music is freed from its traditional structures and takes a programmatic turn.

 
Program 1

Opening the program is a play on orchestral music--without the use of instruments--illustrating that tone poems know no boundaries.  

Battle scenes dominate the beginning of the program, but the rough and majestic sharply transitions into light and airy as the harp emulates clockwork in Couperin's Tic-Toc-Choc.  

Bill also reveals his favorite Vivaldi "season" and the poem attached to it.

 

Janequin: Escoutez tous gentilz “La bataille de Marignan; La guerre”
King’s Singers
EMI 69837
6:04
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Biber: Battaglia
Concentus Musicus Wien/Harnoncourt
DG Archiv 73262
7:39
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Couperin: Tic-Toc-Choc
Hoffmann, hp.
Cappriccio 10165
2:31
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Rameau: La Poule
Salánki, hps.
Panth 14074
9:06
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Respighi: Gli Uccelli (excerpts)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
DG 437 533
10:57, 2:33
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Telemann: Don Quixote Suite (excerpts)
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Musicmasters 210
6:20
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Vivaldi: Winter fr. The Four Seasons
English Concert/Pinnock; Standage, v.
Arch 400045
7:50
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Program 2

Boccherini weaves a lyrical portrait of Madrid at night, which Bill describes as "raw, unedited tape," as if Boccherini had walked around the streets collecting sounds.  

Beethoven refines musical storytelling, painting both scenic and emotional portraits.  Berlioz chooses to express the mood behind a well-known Shakespeare play, while a teenage Mendelssohn "never got it more right" than when he wrote an overture on another Shakespearean classic.

 

Boccherini: Night Music of the Streets of Madrid

Moscow Concertino/Bushkov
Discover 920129
9:54
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Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, Pastoral (excerpt)
CSO/Solti
Lon 421773
:47
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Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Op. 84
New York Phil/Masur
Teld 9031-77313
8:39
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Berlioz: Le Roi Lear Overture, Op. 4
Dresden Staatskapelle/Davis
RCA 09026-68790
:30, 15:50
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Mendelssohn: Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture in E major, Op. 21
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Harnoncourt
Teld 74882
11:44
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Program 3

Composers of the 19th century try to break from conservative constraints with their "music of the future."  Schumann thinly veils a Roman cathedral in his symphony and a rarely performed and dark Wagner overture capitalizes on an allegory.  Wagner's father-in-law, Liszt, is also the father of the tone poem, as he invented the term for his pieces, but Strauss wins the title of "the greatest master of tone poems."

Schumann: Symphony No. 3, Rhenish, IV
Concertgebouw/Haitink
Phil 416126
5:27
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Wagner: A Faust Overture
London Phil/Boult
EMI 63122
11:26, :22
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Liszt: Hunnenschlacht
Berlin Phil/Mehta
Sony 66834
14:13
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Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28
CSO/Solti
Lon 440618
14:57
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Liszt: Au lac de Wallenstadt fr. Années de pèlerinage
Watts, p.
EMI 64599
3:28
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Program 4

The tone poem travels to the mountains of Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, in Smetana's "Má vlast," whose six pieces illustrate the history and landscapes of his native country.  

The consecutive pieces share a theme: tragic karma imposed on debauched characters.  Dvorák visits a funeral in "The Wild Dove" and Franck follows a sacrilegious hunter in "The Accursed Hunstman."

 

Smetana: Má vlast: No. 6, Blaník, T 121
CSO/Kubelik
Merc 434379
13:52
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Dvorák: The Wild Dove, Op. 110
Royal Concertgebouw/Harnoncourt
Teldec 21278
19:42
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Franck: The Accursed Huntsman
BSO/Munch
RCA 5750
1:52, 13:56
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Program 5

Popularity of the tone poem continues into the 20th century.  Many choose to stay current with the exception of Satie's throwback to ancient Greece.

Holst's "Mars" coincides with the onset of World War I, and Ives focuses on a famous American park in his musical imagery.  Interesting to note is Arthur Fiedler's performance of Gershwin's famous tone poem, which incorporates antiquated French taxi horns.

 

Holst: Mars fr. The Planets
CSO/Levine
DG 429730
7:17, :18
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Delius: A Song of Summer
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Groves
EMI 63171
9:35
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Ives: Central Park in the Dark
St. Louis Symphony/Slatkin
RCA 61222
9:19
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Gershwin: An American in Paris
Boston Pops/Fiedler
RCA 68792
16:39
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Satie: Gymnopédie, No. 1
LSO/Previn; de Lancie, ob.
Boston 1045
4:02
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