Waterloo Chamber Players

Indomitable Music:
Overcoming the Obstacles

Indomitable Music

Indomitable – Impossible to subdue or defeat. Today’s concert features music by composers who faced formidable challenges, and in some cases, whose music was lost to audiences for decades or even centuries. Yet ultimately, these voices proved impossible to subdue. Whether because of race, gender, or a myriad of other challenges, several of the composers on this program have suffered from extraordinary neglect.

Waterloo Chamber Players is proud to be part of the current resurgence of interest in discovering and enjoying the music of these indomitable composers, dismissing the filters of racism and sexism that trivialized their contributions in the past, and the stereotypes to which they and their music have been subjected. Our program also includes music by very familiar composers who nevertheless faced similar challenges and refused to be defeated.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Coriolan Overture, Opus 62

We open the concert with this work by Ludwig van Beethoven, who clearly does not fit into our characterization of lost or forgotten composers. Yet Beethoven’s epic struggle with his growing deafness profoundly influenced his personal life, and his output as a composer. Many of his most important works were written in the last decade of his life, when he was profoundly deaf.

Despite this huge challenge, much of Beethoven’s music is optimistic in tone, with the majority of his large-scale works ending quite triumphantly. “Even when the hero seems to fail, as in the case of Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, Beethoven concludes the piece with a celebration of Egmont’s ultimate victory.” (Cleveland Orchestra n.d.). The Coriolan Overture is the exception that proves the rule. Composed in 1807 as incidental music not for Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, but rather for a play by Heinrich Joseph von Collin, the overture expresses the tragedy of the life story of the 5th century Roman general, Coriolan. The general’s success in the military did not translate to his later political life. Unceremoniously thrown out of office, Coriolan turned traitor and actually led an attack on Rome. His ultimate fate remains unclear, but it is most commonly believed that he was either assassinated by his enemies, or committed suicide in regret for his treachery. Either way, Beethoven’s great overture reflects the ultimate tragedy of Coriolan’s life.

Lili Boulanger (1893 – 1918)
D’un matin du printemps

Lili Boulanger’s elder sister Nadia is better-known than Lili, as one of the most influential teachers of music composition in the twentieth century. But it was her younger sister who won the prestigious Prix de Rome for composition, the first woman to achieve the honour, and one that had eluded Nadia herself. Lili lived a short and intense life, suffering from poor health but full of determination, writing prolifically until her death at the age of 24. With a family that was very well-connected in the musical world of France and celebrated during her lifetime, Lili Boulanger’s music had been largely forgotten until recently.

D’un matin du printemps (“Of a spring morning”) was completed in 1918, at the end of Lili’s short life. There are versions of the piece for piano trio (piano, violin, cello) as well as a version replacing the violin part with a flute. Set for orchestra by the composer, it is probable that her sister Nadia helped to notate parts as Lili’s health deteriorated. Premiered three years after the composer’s death, D’un matin du printemps evokes the innovations of French music of the early 20th century. As guest conductor Dan Warren says, “When you listen to D’un matin de printemps, originally chamber music that she orchestrated, well it’s just beautiful. It’s like Ravel or Debussy!”

Erich Korngold (1897 – 1957)

An accomplished and acclaimed composer of ‘serious’ music, Erich Korngold was forced into exile in America with the Nazi occupation of his native Austria. By 1934 Korngold had settled into life in Hollywood, achieving fame as a film composer. After being dismissed for decades, there is renewed interest now in his ‘classical’ compositions. Guest conductor Dan Warren sums up the absurdity of attitudes towards Korngold’s music. “When people dismiss Korngold’s great violin concerto, for example, as ‘sounding like movie music’, I don’t see that as an insult. He created the genre of film music. Shostakovich and Prokofiev also wrote movie music. Korngold’s music, like the Straussiana that we’re performing in this concert, is so beautiful.”

As an Austrian, Korngold was a huge fan of Johan Strauss II, and had in fact made arrangements of several of Strauss’s waltzes for the Theater an der Wien in Vienna prior to his exile. Straussiana was actually written much later, in 1953. The first two movements are based on polkas from Strauss’s operettas Fürsten Ninetto, and Cagliostro in Wien, with the final movement based on a waltz from Strauss’s Ritter Pasman.

Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957)
Valse Triste

The music of Jean Sibelius was heavily influenced by the folklore of his beloved Finland, under occupation by Russia during his lifetime. His most famous piece, Finlandia, was written as part of a suite to protest censorship, and has become a de-facto national anthem for Finland.

Originally written as incidental music for the play Kuolema (Death) by his brother-in-law, Arvid Järnefelt, Valse Triste is best known as a separate concert piece. The plot of the play revolves around denial of death, reflected in the haunting melody and unsettled harmonies of this famous waltz.

Amy Beach (1867 – 1944)
Gaelic Symphony: Allegro con fuoco

American composer Amy Beach (1867– 1944) is known as the first female composer to have a work, her Gaelic Symphony, performed by a major symphony orchestra, the Boston Symphony, with whom she had also appeared as a piano soloist. Her career as a performer was curtailed by the wishes of her husband, who discouraged his young bride from performing in public. Amy poured her energy into composition, only resuming her performing career years later after the death of her husband.

Amy Beach drew on her Irish heritage when creating the Gaelic Symphony. The main theme of the first movement is from her own song, Dark is the Night, which is about a turbulent sea voyage.

With the current resurgence of interest in music by women composers, many of Amy Beach’s previously unpublished works are now being released and performed. This renewed interest is much appreciated by guest conductor Dan Warren, who remarked, “Amy Beach’s symphony is so beautiful, it’s so amazing. It’s really such a great piece, I don’t care who wrote it, woman or man. She demanded the notoriety in her lifetime, because she was so good. Her work may have been regarded as a peculiarity at one time, but it really stands up.”


Joseph Bologne (1745 – 1799)
Symphony No. 2

Living in an era where Black people in his native Guadeloupe were enslaved, the story of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799) whose second symphony is featured on the program, is nothing short of remarkable. Of mixed race, Joseph was the son of Pierre de Bologne, a wealthy colonist. Remarkably for the time, the elder Bologne not only acknowledged his paternity by allowing Joseph to use the family name, but also ensured that his son received the best education possible in France.

The recent movie, Chevalier, tells the remarkable story of Joseph Bologne, an accomplished violinist and champion fencer. His excellence may have made it difficult to dismiss him as an exotic anomaly, but nevertheless and quite inevitably, Joseph’s ambitions were curtailed by racism. His potential appointment as artistic director at the Royal Academy of Music collapsed in the face of opposition. A petition to Queen Marie Antoinette from artists at the academy begged her to deny the appointment because “their honour and the delicacy of their conscience made it impossible for them to be subjected to the orders of a mulatto”. (Artaria Editions, n.d.)

Whether or not Bologne deserves his moniker as “the Black Mozart”, his life story is truly remarkable. Defying his former association with the royal court, he became the leader of a corps of Black troops in the French Revolution. Now that’s a life to be remembered and to be celebrated.

Paul Hindemith (1895 – 1963)
Symphonic Metamorphosis: Andantino

Like Erich Korngold, Paul Hindemith’s life and career were hugely affected by the horrors of Nazism. During the 1930’s Hindemith walked a musical tightrope in his relationship with the ruling Nazis. Called one of the most important talents in the younger generation of composers by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934, his compositions were being banned a mere two years later. By 1936 Hindemith was forced to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler in order to keep his position at the Berlin Academy, and concerned for his safety in 1938 he migrated to the United States, where he enjoyed great success. “Immediately after the war, his music was considered to be among the rare contemporary German works free of Nazi influence.“ (Music and the Holocaust, n.d.)

Hindemith began working on Symphonic Metamorphosis in early 1940, soon after arriving in the United States. The piece is based on themes by Carl Maria von Weber, and was originally intended to be used as incidental music for a ballet. The project died because of artistic differences, but the music found new life in 1943 when Hindemith reworked it into “a splashy, colourful orchestral piece of the sort that American audiences in particular seemed to like” (LA Philharmonic, n.d.). The third movement, marked Andantino, is based on Weber’s Six Pieces for Two Pianos, Op. 10, No. 2.

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911)
Symphony No. 1: Sehr Gesangvoll and Recht Gemächlich

Our program includes two selections from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Despite converting to Catholicism in order to keep his position as music director at the Vienna Court Opera, Mahler’s life and career were tainted by anti-Semitism. He left Vienna after ten years in the post in the midst of a public wave of anti-Semitism, moving to the United States in 1908, where he became director of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. Mahler’s influence on orchestral music has been profound, yet his work was only sporadically performed in North America for a good part of the twentieth century.

Mahler’s first symphony is popularly known as “The Titan”, and it is now performed regularly in concert halls around the world. The work premiered in Budapest in 1889, where it was poorly received by the audience. The composer undertook considerable revisions prior to its next performance three years later, and continued to make changes right up to the work’s publication in 1899. Our guest conductor, Daniel Warren, a great devotee of the music of Mahler, made the arrangements of the two selections on today’s program.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)
Swan Lake No. 1 Scene and No. 2 Waltz

Swan Lake is undoubtedly the best-known and best-loved ballet of all time, yet it has not always been so. “Believe it or not this now famous ballet was originally received as an artistic failure. The curtain first opened on Swan Lake on March 4, 1877 at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. It was said the music was considered to be too complicated and symphonic for ballet and the choreography was unimaginative and forgettable” (Ballet Beautiful, n.d.). Clearly the criticism did not prevent the great rise in popularity of Tchaikovsky’s music, and the rise in his status in his native Russia, where he was soon considered to be a national treasure. While his music remained popular with the Russian people, it was stereotyped and dismissed elsewhere. “Towards the end of the last century, however, the rumours of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality spread beyond Russia’s borders, and this effected a change in attitude to his work within Western musicological circles. His music began to be criticized as sentimental, romantically excessive, charged with many imperfections, and even pathological” (Tchaikovsky Research, n.d.). Thankfully today’s audiences have overcome the obstacle of deeply ingrained bias, and celebrate Tchaikovsky’s great genius.

The indomitable spirit of the composers on today’s program is at the core of their identities and the enduring appeal of their music. Waterloo Chamber Players is very pleased to present their music to you in concert.