“Soundscapes” Takes You On A Musical European Vacation

Southland Sessions Presents Pacific Symphony
Episode 3: “Soundscapes”
PBS So Cal Broadcast: November 21 at 7 p.m.

Join us on the third episode of Southland Sessions, “Soundscapes,” where Maestro Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony explore the ability of an orchestra to paint vivid pictures in selections from works that tell a colorful story.

You’re invited to take a sonic journey through major European travel destinations in France and Italy.

Starting the program in France, Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique is subtitled “Episode in the Life of an Artist in Five Sections.” For this broadcast, the Symphony performs the last two movements, which tells the story of an artist with a vivid imagination who poisons himself with opium out of despair for being spurned by the love of his life. The fourth movement, “March to the Scaffold,” takes on an ominous character: having taken too little opium to kills himself, the young artist dreams that he has killed his true love and is about to face the consequences for his crime. The fifth and final movement, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” sees the artist in the midst of a hideous gathering of ghosts and monsters who have come to his funeral. Once the funeral bell tolls, we hear the distorted Dies irae from the Catholic Mass for the Dead—the witches are dancing.

Continuing on south to Venice, Italy, we hear a Baroque concerto from one of Vivaldi’s best-known works: The Four Seasons, “Winter,” performed by violinist and Symphony audience favorite, Philippe Quint. This set of four concertos has accompanying sonnets, which may have been written by Vivaldi himself. Following is the sonnet text which accompanies “Winter”:

In icy snow we tremble from the cold,
Caught by the bristling wind with its harsh breath;
We run and stamp our feet at every moment,
With teeth a-chatter, cold as very death;
Or by the fire we sit content and happy
While outside pours down a torrential squall,
And tread across the ice with careful footsteps,
Cautious from fear that we might trip and fall;
We turn abruptly, slip, and crash down earthwards,
Then rising, hasten on across the ice
In case the surface cracks and breaks apart.
Through bolted doors we hear the winds competing,
Sirocco, North Wind, all the winds at war:
It’s winter, but it brings us joy for sure.

Finally, we finish our musical travelogue further south in Rome, Italy. Ottorino Respighi is known mostly for his “Roman Triptych,” a set of three orchestral tone poems. The three tone poems of Respighi’s Triptych—Fountains of Rome (1916), Pines of Rome (1924) and Roman Festivals (1928)—each depict the rich aspects of Italian culture and specifically of Roman landscapes. Pines of Rome, as the title suggests, depicts these trees in four different locations in Rome at different times of the day.

Respighi wrote detailed descriptions of each movement:

The Pines of the Villa Borghese
Children are at play in the pine groves of Villa Borghese; they dance round in circles, they play at soldiers, marching and fighting, they are wrought up by their own cries like swallows at evening, they come and go in swarms. Suddenly the scene changes.

The Pines Near a Catacomb
We see the shades of the pine trees fringing the entrance to a catacomb. From the depth rises the sound of mournful psalm-singing, floating through the air like a solemn hymn, gradually and mysteriously dispersing.

The Pines of the Janiculum
A quiver runs through the air: the pine trees of the Janiculum stand distinctly outlined in the clear light of a full moon. A nightingale is singing.

The Pines of the Appian Way
Misty dawn on the Appian Way; solitary pine trees guard the magic landscape; indistinctly, the ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps. The poet has a fantastic vision of bygone glories. Trumpets sound and, in the brilliance of the newly risen sun, a consular army bursts forth toward the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.

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