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The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Other Orchestral Favourites

Carl Maria von Weber, the honorific 'von' acquired in doubtful circumstances by his unreliable father, was a cousin of Constanze Weber, the girl Mozart married in a match of which his father greatly disapproved. It had seemed that Weber himself might be a second Mozart, showing obvious musical abilities as a child, when he travelled with his father's theatrical company, and embarking on an ambitious career as a conductor, when he was appointed Kapellmeister at Breslau at the age of eighteen. After various vicissitudes, he was able to establish himself as a virtuoso pianist, an innovative conductor and a composer of stature, before his early death in London in 1826. The rondo-brillant known in English as Invitation to the Dance was written for the piano in 1819 and dedicated to his wife Caroline. The work is a miniature drama in which a gentleman approaches a lady, asking for her hand in the next dance, a request that she eventually grants. They talk together, both with increasing warmth, and then dance, exchanging conversation as they move forward together. They dance. He thanks her, and they part. Invitation to the Dance was orchestrated by Hector Berlioz for performance in Paris when Weber's opera Der Freischütz (The Marksman) was staged there.

George Enescu shares a double distinction, as a leading violinist in his generation and as the most outstanding of Romanian composers. He was born in 1881 at Liveni, in Moldavia, the son of an estate-manager, and had his first violin lessons at the age of four from a gypsy fiddler, playing by ear, before his obvious talent necessitated professional advice and attention, leading to his admission to the Vienna Conservatory in1888, at the age of eight. His later career brought him an international reputation as one of the greatest violinists of his time and as a remarkable teacher. Based in Paris, he nevertheless continued his connection with his own country, where his musical influence remained considerable. As a composer Enescu has too often been cast as a nationalist, using folk material. This is, in general, an unsatisfactory summary of his very varied work. Nevertheless his popular reputation abroad, to his regret, has depended largely on his Romanian Rhapsodies. In the first of these he makes use of a series of folk-melodies, the first of which he may well have learned from his gypsy teacher. Written in 1901, the two Rhapsodies weave together with skill the original material and won immediate popularity.

The Flight of the Bumble-Bee has provided virtuoso material for instrument after instrument, from the violin to the tuba and double bass. The bee in question appears in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of his famous son and mighty hero Prince Guidon Saltanovich and of the beautiful Swan Princess, where its flight serves as an entr'acte. In Pushkin's verse-tale it is Prince Guidon who takes the form of a bee, observes the happenings at his father's palace, from which he and his mother were expelled a t his birth, and stings his mother's wicked sisters and the old match-maker who had caused their troubles. First staged in 1900, the opera was written to celebrate the centenary of Pushkin's birth in 1899.

Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling (‘The Sorcerer's Apprentice’) must, for one generation at least, be associated with the images of Walt Disney's film Fantasia, which imposes the picture of Mickey Mouse on the apprentice, unable to control the magic powers he has unleashed. The story itself is graphically illustrated in the music of the French composer Paul Dukas, a symphonic scherzo written in 1897, a work that has provided a fertile ground for analysis in its symmetrical thematic construction. The magic unleashed by the apprentice to do his work for him is eventually controlled by the retttrn of the sorcerer himself.

Born in 1811 in Raiding, near Sopron, the son of an estate-manager in the service of Haydn's patrons, the Esterházy family, Franz Liszt showed prodigal talent as a child and was taken by his parents to Vienna for piano lessons with Czerny and then to Paris. His subsequent career was at first as a virtuoso pianist, a life of constant travel, concerts and popular adulation. This was followed in 1848 by a change of career and of mistress. In Paris he had been associated with Countess Marie d'Agoult, the mother of his three children, a liaison that had made removal from Paris necessary. In 1848 he settled in Weimar as Director of Music Extraordinary to the Grand Duchy, accompanied now by the young heiress, the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, a woman separated from her Russian husband. In 1861 he moved to Rome, embarking on what he described finally as a three-pronged existence, with involvement in Rome in the music of the Church, in Weimar as an influential teacher and in his native Hungary now acknowledged as a national hero. Liszt's association with Hungary is reflected in various compositions, not least the nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, piano works that reproduce not the folk-music of Hungary but the music composed by gypsies for the entertainment of their employers and patrons. Liszt made a colourfu1 orchestration of his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

In 1829 the young Felix Mendelssohn, son of a prosperous banker now settled in Berlin, and a man of precocious talent in many directions, travelled with his friend Carl Klingemann to Scotland, visiting Holyrood Palace, and remembering there the events that had befallen Mary Queen of Scots, and then moving north to the Highlands. Taking ship from Oban, Mendelssohn and his friend visited Mull, possibly the true inspiration for his Hebrides Overture. The voyage to Iona and to the deserted basalt rock formations of Staffa, with the magnificence of Fingal's Cave, found Mendelssohn sea-sick, his chief memory of the trip. By 1832, after various revisions, he had completed his overture in its final form, a work that he had originally called Die einsame Insel (The Lonely Island), thinking, perhaps, of Mull. His publishers preferred the more dramatic and Ossianic echoes of Fingal's Cave and it is true that the sea round the Hebrides does not remain calm throughout Mendelssohn's musical voyage.

Finnish national music found its greatest champion in Jean Sibelius, a symphonist who turned his attention also to a series of symphonic poems, many of them based on legends from the early Finnish sagas. Finlandia arose from music provided for press pension celebrations in 1899, an occasion for an expression of patriotic loyalty in the face of threatened Russian interference in the affairs of Finland. The music written for the original pageant was revised the following year, to form the present familiar concert work.>

Nationalism is at the heart of the cycle of symphonic poems by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, Vlast (‘My Country’). As elsewhere in Europe, feelings of national identity, associated with other revolutionary ideas, had made a marked appearance by the middle of the nineteenth century, most notably in the year of revolutions, 1848, when there had been a rising also in Prague. Smetana, German-speaking, nevertheless identified himself with the cause of Czech nationalism and moved in 1856 to Sweden, returning to Prague in 1861, after various cultural concessions had been made by the government in Vienna. The second symphonic poem of the cycle, Vltava (Moldau), written in 1874, shows the great river that flows through the Bohemian countryside to Prague, passing, on its way, villages and farms, woodland and the scenes of historic events in the history of the country.

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