Saturday July 29, 2017, 11:30 AM

Kirke Mechem

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Waltz of the Flowers
from The Nutcracker, Op. 71 (1892)

Mari Kodama, piano / Momo Kodama, piano / Clara Bellegarde, harp

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Carnival of the Animals (1886)
Stephanie Jeong, violin /Karsten Windt, violin / Naoko Shimizu, viola
Matt Haimovitz, cello / Edicson Ruiz, bass / Clara Bellegarde, harp
Stacey Pelinka, flute / Bruce Foster, clarinet
Ward Spangler, xylophone/glockenspiel
Mari Kodama, piano / Momo Kodama, piano

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Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Waltz of the Flowers
from The Nutcracker, Op. 71 (1892)

Pytor Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker is one of the most famous works of music in the world. But the great composer was at first not very interested in the story.

If you don’t already know the story of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse-king,” as it was originally titled by the 19th century author E.T.A. Hoffman, it goes something like this:

The ballet begins with a Miniature overture and the scene of the President of the Council of the German State and his friends decorating a Christmas tree. Children enter, marching playfully, and then draw back as a frightening-looking man wearing an eye-patch arrives. But they quickly warm up to the man—Drosselmeyer—when they realize he has brought them presents: a pretty doll, a toy soldier, and a wooden nutcracker.

Later in the night, Clara—the President’s daughter—sneaks down from her room, and witnesses a great battle between the mice of the house and the Nutcracker King, Drosselmeyer’s wooden nutcracker come to life. The Nutcracker is victorious, and is transformed into a handsome prince who then invites Clara to the Land of Sweets.

The second act finds Clara and the Prince in an enchanted pine forest. Sweets and toys come to life, dancing in celebration: chocolate—Spanish dance, coffee—Arabian dance, tea—Chinese dance, Russian dance—Trepak, and a Dance of the toy trumpets.

Waltz of the Flowers, which you will hear today, comes slightly later in the same scene. For this performance, the sounds of an entire orchestra will be captured by two pianos and harp instead.

The Nutcracker was premiered on December 18, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was presented on the same concert as a new opera by Tchaikovsky called Iolantha. Can you imagine how long that concert must have been? The opera was performed first, and the ballet performance didn’t finish until well after midnight.


Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921)
from Carnival of the Animals (1886)

Carnival of the Animals was written by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in early 1886. Saint-Saëns had just completed a terrible concert tour in Germany that left him miserable. In order to recover, the composer stayed for a while in a small Austrian fishing village.

While there, he was supposed to be working on his Third Symphony, a grand new work for orchestra and organ, but Saint-Saëns was exhausted, and thought of different ways to avoid work on the symphony. So he decided to compose Carnival of the Animals instead. Saint-Saëns eventually finished the Third Symphony too, it is fondly called the “Organ Symphony,” and is one of his greatest and best-known works.)

Carnival of the Animals was written as an amusement for the French holiday of Shrove Tuesday. For Catholics, this is the last day of celebration before the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. In order to capture the variety of moods and colors he wanted, Saint-Saëns used the wild assortment of instruments you see on stage. While Saint-Saëns loved Carnival of the Animals , he was afraid it would ruin his reputation as a “serious composer” and refused to let it be published during his life. The only movement he allowed to be published was The Swan, which features solo cello. However, after his death in 1921, Saint-Saëns’ publisher Durand decided it was time to share all of Carnival of the Animals with the whole world. And funnily enough, today it is one of his most famous and beloved pieces.

© 2017 Joseph Stillwell


The Carnival of the Animals - Grand Zoological Fantasy (1886)
With Verses by Odgen Nash (1902-1974) (introduced in 1954)

The seemingly inevitable and perfect marriage of music and verbal wit in pairing the verses of Ogden Nash with Saint-Saëns' "Carnivals" was instigated by conductor André Kostelanetz, who encouraged Nash to write original verses not only for this work but also for Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" and Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." Noel Coward delivered the new verses on the original 1954 Columbia LP conducted by Kostelanetz.

Nash's first published poems began to appear in the New Yorker around 1930. His first collection of poems, Hard Lines, was published in 1931 to tremendous success. He frequently contributed poems to periodicals including Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, Life and Vogue.

Nash consider himself a "worsifier." Among his best known lines are "Candy / Is dandy, / But liquor / Is quicker" and "If called by a panther / Don't anther." He was also the author of three screenplays for MGM, and with S. J. Perelman, wrote the 1943 Broadway hit, "One Touch of Venus."

Ogden Nash: Verses for Camille Saint-Saëns
Carnival of the Animals

Camille Saint-Saëns
Was wracked with pains,
When people addressed him,
As Saint Sanes.
He held the human race to blame,
Because it could not pronounce his name.
So, he turned with metronome and fife,
To glorify other kinds of life.
Be quiet please - for here begins
His salute to feathers, fur, and fins.

Royal March of the Lion
The lion is the king of beasts,
And husband of the lioness.
Gazelles and things on which he feasts
Address him as your highoness.
There are those that admire that roar of his,
In the African jungles and velds,
But, I think that wherever the lion is,
I'd rather be somewhere else.

Hens and Roosters
The rooster is a roistering hoodlum,
His battle cry is "cock-a-doodleum".
Hands in pockets, cap over eye,
He whistles at pullets, passing by.

Wild Asses
Have ever you harked to the jackass wild,
Which scientists call the onager?
It sounds like the laugh of an idiot child,
Or a hepcat on a harmoniger.
But do not sneer at the jackass wild,
There is a method in his heehaw.
For with maidenly blush and accent mild
The jenny-ass answers shee-haw.  

Come crown my brow with leaves of myrtle,
I know the tortoise is a turtle,
Come carve my name in stone immortal,
I know the turtoise is a tortle.
I know to my profound despair,
I bet on one to beat a hare.
I also know I'm now a pauper,
Because of its tortley, turtley, torper.

The Elephant
Elephants are useful friends,
Equipped with handles at both ends.
They have a wrinkled moth-proof hide.
Their teeth are upside down, outside.
If you think the elephant preposterous,
You've probably never seen a rhinosterous.

The kangaroo can jump incredible,
He has to jump because he is edible.
I could not eat a kangaroo,
But many fine Australians do.
Those with cookbooks as well as boomerangs,
Prefer him in tasty kangaroomeringues.

Some fish are minnows,
Some are whales.
People like dimples,
Fish like scales,
Some fish are slim,
And some are round,
They don't get cold,
They don't get drowned.
But every fishwife
Fears for her fish.
What we call mermaids
They call merfish.

In the world of mules
There are no rules.

The Cuckoo
In the Depths of the Woods
Cuckoos lead bohemian lives,
They fail as husbands and as wives,
Therefore, they cynically dispariage
Everybody else's marriage.

Puccini was Latin, and Wagner Teutonic,
And birds are incurably philharmonic,
Suburban yards and rural vistas
Are filled with avian Andrew Sisters.
The skylark sings a roundelay,
The crow sings "The Road to Mandalay,"
The nightingale sings a lullaby,
And the sea gull sings a gullaby.
That's what shepherds listened to in Arcadia
Before somebody invented the radia.

Some claim that pianists are human,
And quote the case of Mr Truman.
Saint Saëns, upon the other hand,
Considered them a scurvy band.
A blight they are, he said, and simian,
Instead of normal men and womian.

At midnight in the museum hall,
The fossils gathered for a ball.
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling carefree circus,
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodonic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil,
"Cheer up sad world," he said and winked,
"It's kind of fun to be extinct."

The Swan
The swan can swim while sitting down,
For pure conceit he takes the crown,
He looks in the mirror over and over,
And claims to have never heard of Pavlova.

Now we've reached the grand finale,
Animale carnivale.
Noises new to sea and land,
Issue from the skillful band.
All the strings contort their features,
Imitating crawly creatures.
All the brasses look like mumps
From blowing umpah, umpah, umps.
In outdoing Barnum and Bailey, and Ringling,
Saint-Saëns has done a miraculous thingling.