Also Sprach Zarathustra – November 15 & 16, 2019
It Became Dark
A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Yale School of Music and Princeton University, Rogerson was honored in 2012 with a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In the same year he co-founded Kettle Corn New Music, a new music presenting organization in New York City, and currently serves as its co-artistic director. He has been named the Composer-in-Residence for the Amarillo Symphony for 2014-2017.
Rogerson composed It became Dark in 2017 on commission from the Kansas City Symphony. He writes:
“There is something very poignant about sleep. Sleep unites us: we all participate in this ritual, however different we may be. Over four movements, It Became Dark explores an emotional journey as night falls and sleep beckons.
“As a child I was often afraid of bedtime; the imminent plunge into the unknown frightened me, and my parents came up with a nightly ritual to help calm me down. The first movement, “Ritual”, is child-like, simple, and tranquil, and depicts the tenderness of this time.
“As I grew up, I’d sometimes ask for “three more minutes!” to play or read or whatever I was doing. The second movement of this work, which is orchestrated from an earlier solo piano work of a similar topic, attempts to portray these frenetic and playful moments.
“The third movement describes stillness. Here my thoughts gravitated to a recent memory, late at night on the South Island of New Zealand. After a rain, my sister and I walked out on the road, in the middle of nowhere and in complete darkness, and we saw the Milky Way in all its grandeur. Our eyes were soon drawn to a nearby forest: glowworms illuminated the woods, creating their own miniature, shimmering constellations. In one mysterious, magical moment, we could witness the immense beauty and vast potential of our universe and compare it to the ephemeral beauty we have here on Earth.
“The final movement is called “Sleep Music”: a fleet, flowing lullaby that attempts to evoke the world of dreams.”
Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major, Hob.VIIb:2
Franz Joseph Haydn
Haydn belonged to the last generation of servant-musicians. Most of his life was spent, ostensibly contentedly, at the Esterháza estate (now in Hungary). There, the music-loving and talented Count Nikolas kept him on a demanding schedule of composing for his court orchestra, chamber ensembles opera – and the Count’s favorite instrument, the barytone. He was finally able to break out on his own at the end of his long life when Nikolas’ successor, a parsimonious and unmusical sort, took over the estate.
The authenticity of Haydn’s cello concertos has been in question for the last 200 years. The existence of Concerto No. 1 in C major, however, has never been in doubt since the composer listed it in his Entwurf-Katalog (a thematic draft catalog) of his works, which he began compiling in 1765 after his patron admonished him for “negligence.” But the manuscript was lost, and for a long time only romanticized and souped-up versions were available. Finally, a copy was discovered in 1962 in the Czech National Library bearing the signature of Joseph Weigl Sr., Haydn’s cellist, who had been in the service of the Esterházy family from 1761 to 1768, and for whom it was probably written. All other cello concertos attributed to Haydn – the number is in dispute – have been suspect, although recent research and the mining of archives have removed some from the “doubtful” list.
The Concerto No. 2 belongs to the recently authenticated category. Although it was always well known, it is missing from the Entwurf-Katalog and was believed for over 100 years to be by Anton Kraft, one of the Esterháza cellists from 1778 to 1790. But in 1954, Haydn’s lost autograph dated 1783 was discovered in Vienna. He had probably composed the Concerto for Kraft, who became one of Vienna’s most sought-after cellists.
In 1783, the year of the autograph manuscript, Haydn’s orchestra at Esterháza was adequate, but still limited. Consequently, in the D major Concerto the soloist always played with the orchestra in all the tutti sections, a tradition that is not always followed today. Moreover, since at that time it was customary for soloists to improvise their own cadenzas, Haydn specified none in the autograph.
Haydn appears to have composed the Concerto by the time he had already produced 80 of his more than 104 symphonies and around the time of the Op. 33 String Quartets. These were the two genres in which he was most prolific and innovative, significantly advancing the “state of the art.” His name was by then well known, especially in Vienna, where the Esterházy family spent a good part of the year, bringing their prize musician with them.
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
In 1892, by then a well-known composer and respected conductor of the opera at Weimar, Richard Strauss became seriously ill, the lingering after-effects of pneumonia. To regain his health, he spent November of that year on an extended Mediterranean cruise, stopping over in Egypt, Greece and Sicily. The respite gave him time off from his hectic conducting schedule to concentrate on the composition of his first opera, Guntram, and to plan two future works: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and Also sprach Zarathustra.
The conceptual leap between the musical portrayal of the low-life prankster Till, and the utterances of a nineteenth century philosopher’s interpretation of an ancient Persian prophet, boggles the imagination. Zarathustra, or as the Greeks called him Zoroaster, probably lived in the sixth or fifth century B.C. in eastern Persia. Proclaiming himself the prophet of Ahura-Mazda (“The Wise Lord”), Zarathustra’s name for God, he saw man as the focal point of the conflict between God and the spirits of darkness. Persecuted by the Persians, Zoroastrians fled East to India, where they are called Parsees and still practice their religion.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) used the teachings of Zoroaster as the basis for a loosely reasoned philosophy in an aphoristic prose poem on mankind’s purpose and destiny – eventually promulgating his own cult of the Superman. In reading Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra (subtitled “Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen” – A Book for All and No One), Strauss was attracted to its antagonism and antipathy to all established religions. Nietzsche especially despised those creeds that promoted the weak and the humble. Also sprach Zarathustra preaches the exact antithesis: “I teach you Superman. Man is a thing to be surmounted.“ followed by the analogy: what ape is to Man, Man is to Superman.
Strauss wisely described the tone-poem as “Freely after Nietzsche” and wrote specifically in the program notes for the premiere that he “…did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray Nietzsche’s great work musically…The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to the genius of Nietzsche, which found its greatest expression in Also sprach Zarathustra.”
Strauss selected as suitable for a musical setting eight of the brief chapters: those describing the conflict between Nature and Man’s desire to overcome his base qualities to achieve a higher spiritual existence: “Von den Hinterweldern” (Of Primeval Man), Von der grossen Sehnsucht (Of the Great Longing), Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften (Of Joys and Passions), Das Grablied (Dirge), Von Wissenschaft (Of Learning), Der Genesende (The Convalescent) Das Tanzlied (The Dance-Song), Nachtwanderlied (whose fundamental meaning is variously understood as the Sleepwalker’s song, Drunken Song – Nietzsche’s revised title – or Night Wanderer’s Song). Rejection of the material, religious, sensual and scientific are all steps in Man’s evolution towards the Superman as epitomized in the figure of Zarathustra.
The score of Zarathustra bears separate headings, corresponding to the eight extracts, but the music itself contains motives and themes, also given titles, that follow a musical logic that does not always correspond to the text. The now hackneyed opening is identified as the portrayal of dawn and Zarathustra’s (i.e. mankind’s) setting out on his spiritual quest, as well as of abstract Nature. Related to this theme is another, an upward broken chord signifying mankind’s enquiring nature. These two motives recur throughout the tone poem, giving it musical unity as well as a narrative tightening that is absent in Nietzsche’s work. For example, in the section entitled “Of Learning,” Strauss portrays Zarathustra’s ultimately abortive search for transcendence through knowledge as a twelve-tone fugue – the most academic of musical genres – based on the Nature theme.
Strauss introduces and develops new musical ideas at critical points in Zarathustra’s quest, particularly the climactic Dance-Song, symbolizing the philosopher’s joy in his self-realization as the Superman. That the Dance itself is a Viennese waltz, is definitely more “Straussian” (Johann, Joseph and Richard) than Nietzschean. At the end of the work, Nietzsche and Strauss even appear to part company: While Nietzsche’s Zarathustra bombastically proclaims the dawn of the age of the Superman, Strauss ends Also sprach Zarathustra with the musical image of a gentle, mystical transcendence.
The announcement that Strauss was going to set Nietzsche to music met with considerable skepticism and some ridicule. Strauss himself was anything but sure of himself. In the period between the Frankfurt premiere in 1896 and the publication of the score, he wrote three different introductions attempting to explain the relationship between Nietzsche’s philosophy and his musical interpretation of it. One suspects that the composer’s musical conceptualization preceded his drawing up a systematic correspondence with the text. Any attempt to understand in depth the philosophical meaning of the score is of more pertinence to Strauss’s biography and to cultural history than it is a musically significant exercise. For today’s audience, for whom Nietzsche’s philosophy is either unfamiliar or irrelevant, Also sprach Zarathustra must stand or fall on its purely musical merit. For better or worse its carefully coordinated themes conjure images of the apes of 2001: A Space Odyssey in which the Supermen, both human and electronic, are sacrificed to something greater and unfathomable.
Program notes by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn