PROGRAM NOTES WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE
GRANT PARK ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS
Carlos Kalmar Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Christopher Bell Chorus Director
Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE
Grant Park Orchestra
Carlos Kalmar Conductor
Joyce Yang Piano
Suite No. 1 from L’Arlésienne
Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 16 Allegro molto moderato
Allegro moderato molto e marcato
Overture to William Tell
JULIA PERRY (1924 - 1979)
SHORT PIECE (1952)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, timpani, harp, piano, celesta, and strings
Performance time: 8 minutes
Julia Perry was a prolific American composer as well as a conductor and pedagogue. Born in Lexington, Kentucky and raised in Akron, Ohio, she began her musical study at an early age. After completing
her instrumental studies at Westminster Choir College (studying piano, voice and composition), she continued her education in composition at Juilliard and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood.
Julia Perry received two Guggenheim fellowships in 1952 and 1954. With the support of these awards, Perry, like many other prominent Black artists of that time, left the United States for Europe where she studied first with Luigi Dallapicolla in Florence, then with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, joining the ranks of the most prominent students of the world- famous pedagogue, including George Walker, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Quincy Jones.
It was during her years in Europe that Perry composed her Short Piece, a work that demonstrates her command of more abstract and neoclassical music. Her earlier pieces—mostly songs and spirituals—were more directly influenced by Black musical idioms.
The legendary Nina Simone, also a classically trained pianist and contemporary of Perry, once said, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” And upon her return to the U.S. in the early 60s, Julia Perry’s compositions began to reflect those times. Her tenth symphony was titled the Soul Symphony, and is said to be a direct response to the unrest related to the civil rights movement.
In 1970, Julia Perry suffered a series of strokes that left her paralyzed on her right side. After learning to write with her left hand, she continued to compose until her death in 1979. She left behind a substantial catalogue of published and unpublished music, including several operas, twelve symphonies, chamber music, songs and arrangements. In addition to the Short Piece for Orchestra, her best-known works are Stabat Mater (1951) for solo voice and string orchestra and Homunculus, C.F. (1969) for soprano and percussionists. Her awards include a Fountainebleau Award and a Boulanger Grand Prix for her Violin Sonata.
EDVARD GRIEG (1843-1907)
PIANO CONCERTO IN A MINOR, OP. 16 (1868)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings, and solo piano Performance time: 30 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 27, 1937, Richard Czerwonky, conductor with Alec Templeton as soloist
Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian composer, pianist, and conductor. In the late 19th century, he was a central figure in the promotion of Norwegian music with many of his compositions, including the Piano Concerto, reflecting the influence of Norwegian folk music.
Like many composers, Grieg began his musical study at an early age under the instruction of his mother. When he was a teenager, he left his hometown in Norway to study at the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory—a relatively new institution founded by renowned composer Felix Mendelssohn. Although Grieg did not particularly enjoy his time at the institution, it was during his school years in Germany that a young Grieg attended a performance that would leave an indelible impression and serve as major inspiration for his Piano Concerto. At this performance, Clara Schumann performed the Piano Concerto in A minor, a masterwork written by her late husband, Robert Schumann. A decade later, Grieg would embark upon his own Piano Concerto in A Minor, a three- movement work that pays homage to Schumann’s influence while displaying Grieg’s unique artistic voice as a Norwegian composer. Both of these influences are present in the opening moments of the piece—the bold and energetic entrance of the piano nods to the beginning of Schumann’s concerto while the three-note pattern played a prominent role in folk music of the time.
Like the finale of the Overture to William Tell, Grieg’s music has also become a staple of pop culture. Excerpts from his Peer Gynt suite (1875) are widely recognized—his “Morning Mood” movement is well known for its placement in the Bugs Bunny cartoon (think sunrise), while the popular “In the Hall of the Mountain King” has found its way into commercials, TV shows, and film. This movement will likely remind listeners of countless film and TV moments, building suspense, a chase, a battle, and more.
GIOACHINO ROSSINI (1792-1868)
OVERTURE TO WILLIAM TELL (1831)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo and English horn, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion, and strings
Performance time: 12 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: August 1, 1936, Gladys Welge, conductor
Gioachino Rossini was one of the most celebrated Italian composers of the 19th century and consequently enjoyed widespread success, prestige, and wealth during his life. As one of the most prolific opera composers, William Tell was his thirty-ninth and final opera. The four-act opera is based on a play (Wilhelm Tell) by Friedrich Schiller that tells the story of William Tell, an archer and Swiss hero that helps to liberate Switzerland from Austrian occupation. Though the opera is rarely performed, the overture (the introduction to the opera), remains a concert-hall favorite.
Though William Tell may not be Rossini’s most well-known opera, melodies from the overture have become pop culture mainstays. The overture is divided into four distinct sections, and while the English Horn solo in the third section found its way into cartoons, it is the last section (The March of the Swiss Soldiers) that has cemented itself into widespread cultural recognition. In addition to being used in early Mickey Mouse cartoons, the melody from the Finale rode into radio and TV history as the opening credits to the radio and TV versions of The Lone Ranger, and has since made its way into cartoons, commercials, and movies alike.
©2021 Danielle Taylor