Siegfried Idyll, Dumbarton Oaks
Pavlova Winds with A440 strings presents:
Wagner Siegfried Idyll
The Siegfried Idyll was composed as a birthday present for Wagner’s wife, Cosima, in 1870. Wagner had arranged for the orchestra to play the piece to her as she woke up in the morning of 25th December, the day she celebrated her birthday (her actual birthday was 24th).
Her diary for that day says:
When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, R. came in to me with the five children and put into my hands the score of his “symphonic birthday greeting.” I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household; R. had set up his orchestra on the stairs and thus consecrated our Tribschen forever!
The piece was originally titled Tribschen Idyll, named after the house the Wagner family lived in near Lucerne from 1866-1872. The name of the piece was changed when it was published reflecting birth of their son, Siegfried, and the use of thematic material from the opera of the same name.
The original ensemble had 15 players – flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet and strings – dictated by the size of the staircase it would be first performed on. The relatively small (only 12 bars) trumpet part was played by conductor Hans Richter, who learned to play the instrument specially for this performance. The orchestration was expanded when the work was published.
Stravinsky Concerto in Eflat ‘Dumbarton Oaks’
i. Tempo giusto
iii. Con moto
This work is almost always referred to by its nickname. This is due partly to an error, since it was at Dumbarton Oaks that an important conference was held in during the Second World War at which the foundation of the United Nations was laid. However, the house to which it refers was the home of Robert and Mildred Bliss and it was for their thirtieth wedding anniversary in 1938 that the concerto was commissioned.
The Bliss couple were renowned collectors of antiques and pre-Columbian art, for which their house in Washington DC (which they eventually donated to Harvard University) was a beautiful setting. Robert Bliss had been a distinguished US diplomat, as ambassador in both Sweden and Argentina as well as serving in St Petersburg and Paris, and he and his wife frequently hosted social and political events. Stravinsky visited the house in 1937, and found the beautiful gardens inspirational – not least perhaps because he was suffering at the time from tuberculosis which was to kill his wife and daughter within a year.
It has been compared with Bach’s six “Brandenburg” concertos and there are in fact brief quotations from Bach embedded in this piece, as well as a strong Baroque flavour which, as with all Stravinsky’s work, encounters and merges with his own style. He acknowledged his indebtedness to Bach, saying “I do not think Bach would have begrudged me the loan of these ideas”. He had played Bach a lot during the composition of the concerto, partly to console himself for his daughter’s impending death. It was the last work he completed in Europe, before his forced emigration to the USA. Nevertheless the music is lively in the opening movement, lyrical in the second and jaunty in the final part.