De Waart and MSO tackle three great works with mysterious connections to love — and to each other.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s MSO music director Edo de Waart has been conducting for 50 years, and has a wealth of knowledge he uses to put together interesting concerts. “The way Edo programs pieces is pretty brilliant,” says MSO violinist Yuka Kadota.
This week’s concert, for instance, includes Edward Elgar’s famed “Enigma” Variations, each of whose 14 variations was written specifically for a different friend of the composer. In addition, the concert will include a performance of Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, which he wrote for his first visit to the city, and Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” a very personal work written for the composer’s wife.
“There is a common thread between all the pieces — an intrigue and a mystique that’s part of it,” says Kadota.
The “engima” in the Elgar piece comes from his mysterious description of a hidden theme that is, in the composer’s words, “not played.” Elgar never disclosed the theme, saying only that “its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed.” Naturally, that has sparked a treasure hunt for music theorists looking to uncover the work’s hidden meanings.
Pianist Joseph Cooper suggested the theme is based off on Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, which accompanied the Enigma Variations on its premiere’s program in 1899. Dutch lexicographer Hans Westgeest recently theorized it was based on a melody in the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata.
We can only be certain about what the theme isn’t. Elgar publicly denied a few theories during his lifetime, including that the work was based on such popular songs as “Auld Lang Syne,” “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia!” Meanwhile, the mystery certainly didn’t hurt the reputation of the piece and, if anything, heightened the public’s interest.
“Given that it’s about the people in Elgar’s life, I think the theme is actually love,” Kadota says. “He gives hints there is a dark saying involved, and it would fit because love has its dark side also.”
Elgar’s first variation, dedicated to his wife Caroline, contains a four-note fragment that Elgar whistled when he arrived home. The tenth variation, dedicated to Elgar’s friend Dora Penny, features stuttering woodwinds to represent Penny’s speech disorder.
Perhaps the best-known movement in the piece is “Nimrod,” the ninth variation dedicated to Augustus J. Jaeger, a music editor known for his brutally honest criticisms of Elgar’s work. Despite the caustic relationship, the two developed a strong bond of trust, with Jaeger encouraging Elgar to continue writing music during his deepest bouts of depression.
“You can just feel the love and the reverence for this person,” Kadota says. The warm strings of this variation have become almost synonymous with respect and friendship, and the movement is widely played at funerals and memorial services. “(Elgar) had this lyricism that just pulls at your heart. I think also there is a fascination with him because his music just has so many levels.”
Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” was originally composed privately as a birthday present to Wagner’s second wife, Cosima, just a few months after their son Siegfried was born. On Christmas morning in 1869, Cosima woke to the soft melody of the work, played by a small group of Wagner’s friends near the stairs of the composer’s Switzerland villa.
Wagner sold the score under financial pressure a decade later, and incorporated it into his opera Siegfried, which premiered in 1876. Still, the piece forever reflects its original, highly personal dedication — a celebration of love and friendship, not unlike the Enigma Variations.
“On so many different levels people will enjoy this concert,” Kadota says. “Even if they don’t know the background, they’ll still get a lot of out of it.”
11 a.m. on May 2 and 8 p.m. on May 3 at the Marcus Center. Tickets range from $22-$99 and are available online or by calling (414) 291-7605.
Other events coming up:
Magnificent Moods by the Festival City Symphony
The Festival City Symphony dedicates its final concert of the season to one of the prolific fathers of Romantic music, Robert Schumann.
Schumann, best known for his Symphony of the Rhine (or Rhenish Symphony) and his Spring Symphony, developed some of the most uplifting music of the early Romantic era, despite confronting a strew of personal difficulties and chronic mental illness. Although (and perhaps because) Schumann’s brilliant composing career was cut short by his untimely death at age 46, he remains an icon of the Romantic era.
3 p.m. on May 4 at the Pabst Theater. Tickets range from $8-$14 and are available online or by calling (414) 286-3205.
This week is the last opportunity this season to join the Skylight Music Theatre in a discussion of the form of opera — and with drinks and jokes included.
Opera lovers — or aspiring fans — can join Skylight artistic director Viswa Subbaraman at Hotel Foster this week for a monthly discussion called Opera 101, which focuses on the tradition of the art form along with live performances by local singers.
7:30 p.m. on May 1. For more information, visit the Skylight Music Theatre’s website.
Fanfare and finale by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra
Audiences interested in enjoying Milwaukee’s up-and-coming classical talent have the opportunity at this week’s Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra concert, Fanfare and Finale. The concert will feature appearances from the MYSO’s Prelude Orchestra, Flute Chorale, Brass Choir, Junior Symphony Orchestra, Junior Wind Ensemble and Senior Symphony.
5 p.m. on May 4 at the Marcus Center. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.