Brussels Philharmonic | Happy 2024! | programme notes

Happy 2024!

programme notes


Antonín Dvořák Slavonic Dance, Op. 72 No. 1 (1886)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel Concerto for Trumpet in E-flat major (1803): I. Allegro con spirito III. Rondo
Josef Strauss Sphärenklänge, Op. 235 (1868) / Hesperus-Bahnen, Op. 279 (1870) / Feuerfest! (polka-française), Op. 269 (1869)
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a (1892): March / Final Waltz and Apotheosis / Sleeping Beauty Suite, Op. 66a (1890/1899): Waltz
Jacques Offenbach American Eagle Waltz (1876)
Charles-François Gounod Faust: Concert Waltz (1859)
Johann Strauss Jr. Tik-Tak Polka, Op. 365 (1874)

[playlist: trumpet tunes for a Happy 2024]
[all programme notes]


05.01.2024 FLAGEY

We're rolling out the red carpet for the New Year and welcoming it with a thunderous concert! ----- Not to be missed in this lively musical cocktail: some dazzling favorites from the emperors of the waltz, Josef and Johann Strauss Jr., some delightful romantic gems by Tchaikovsky, Gounod, and Dvořák, and to finish it off, a dash of spicy trumpet classics.
Happy New Year!

A gilded concert with a black edge

There is no classical music concert that speaks more to the imagination than the New Year’s concert of the Vienna Philharmonic. The splendour of the Golden Hall, adorned to the heights of brilliance – with floral arrangements more expensive than the average annual income of an Austrian – and the reassuring familiarity of the unmissable encores The blue Danube Waltz and the Radetzky March guarantee that an audience of a million tune in to the event on television on 1 January at exactly 11:15 am local time. Anyone who wishes to attend the spectacle in person can easily have to pay a thousand euros for a ticket.

With all its pomp and ceremony, the New Year’s Concert may be thought to be a centuries-old tradition. But no, the custom is not even a hundred years old. On 31 December 1939, music was used for the first time in the Austrian capital to ring in the new year – and that was also the only time that the concert took place on New Year’s Eve, rather than on New Year’s Day. The date was no coincidence: a few months earlier, the Second World War had broken out. It was with this new event that Nazi Germany sought to boost the morale of the soldiers on the front, and at the same time to fill its war coffers. The popular tunes of Johann Strauss and his relatives were in that sense ideal to get a great many people to get on their feet. At the end of the war, the Nazi past was soon forgotten, and the concert continued every year without interruption.

Eroticism in 3/4 time

Despite these dubious origins, there are few orchestras today that have not jumped on the bandwagon. 1 January is of course untouchable, and the Brussels Philharmonic has been celebrating since its existence the new year with music in the first few weeks of January. And, of course, the graceful waltzes are also an essential part of our programme.

Just like the New Year’s concert itself, the waltz is not all that old as a genre. In Southern Germany, there had been various local variants of a dance in ¾ time, to which, according to Goethe, ‘people were waltzing and circled round each other like spheres’. And yet, waltz was used in that era mainly as a verb. Only at the end of the 18th century did the waltz come to be known as a separate genre. The Journal des Luxus und der Moden devoted an article to nightlife in Berlin, where ‘waltzes and nothing but waltzes are now so much in fashion that at dances … one need only to waltz, and all is well.’

Nevertheless, there was also a good amount of criticism of the unbridled flamboyance. Seen through contemporary glasses, used to twerking rear-ends, half-naked video clips and sensual hip movements, it is hard to believe that the graceful oom-pah-pah in three-fourths time that seems outdated today was once the scandal of the ballroom. Medical professionals worried about the speed at which the dancers were twirled around. But it was mainly the common folk who were critical of the ‘erotic character’ of the waltz. Partners had to hold each other far too close, and men often had to lift the women’s long dresses so as not to trip on the fabric in the whirlwind. That often made for offensive positions with too much exposed skin. In the darker corners of the dance floor, things could sometimes be even more indecent. Pamphlets were printed with fulminating titles like Proof that waltzing is an important source of our generation’s weakness of body and soul, and according to some sources, the waltz was even banned in certain places.

Seen through contemporary glasses, used to twerking rear-ends, half-naked video clips and sensual hip movements, it is hard to believe that the graceful oom-pah-pah in three-fourths time that seems outdated today was once the scandal of the ballroom. Medical professionals worried about the speed at which the dancers were twirled around.

As is the case with many trends, the craze soon died out again at the beginning of the 19th century. Only the Viennese remained faithful practitioners of the waltz. Famous halls such as Zum Sperl and the monumental Apollo Hall, with a dance floor for 6,000 couples, opened their doors in the first decade of the century. For their enduring popularity, we have a new generation of composers to thank. Musicians like Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Joseph Lanner, and the Strauss family went on to give the waltz a more serious treatment. It was mainly the second generation of Strausses, with the brothers Johann and Josef at the helm, raised the waltz from something common to a more refined musical genre, with catchy tunes and inventive rhythms, and made the waltz into the elegant figurehead that it is today.

The trumpet can be a show-off

In addition to the waltz repertoire, we try each year to bring in something a bit more unusual. Last year, the contemporary Prince of Clouds by the British composer Anna Clyne was on the programme. This year, music director Kasushi Ono’s eye fell on the Trumpet Concerto of Johann Nepomuk Hummel, which is for various reasons the ideal new year’s fireworks. Hummel was a pupil of Mozart’s and was, as indicated above, one of the pioneers who popularised the walt, and so serves as a bridge to the rest of the programme. Moreover, this work was first performed on 1 January 1804, at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, where Joseph Haydn was in charge of the music. This particular date of the première is, of course, yet another reason 220 years later to have it help usher in the new year again.

The choice is prompted by more than just historical anecdote. The Trumpet Concerto is an unusual work in terms of composition as well, since it gives the trumpet a central role that was certainly unusual at that time. At the beginning of the 19th century, the most important and interesting parts were reserved mainly for the string instruments. Woodwinds were used to support the melody and harmony, and the role of the brass were limited to a few well-chosen (rhythmic) accents. In this work, Hummel turned the accepted ideas completely on their head. He placed an accompanying instrument in the spotlight and gave it intriguing, elegant melodies that required a virtuoso valve player.

Anyone who hears the work will confirm that it is truly captivating. To some extent, this has to do with the material on which Hummel based his music. He borrowed some of his tunes from Luigi Cherubini’s opera Les Deux Journées. We know that Hummel had a score of that work in his library, since in 1802 he wrote his Variations on a theme from Cherubini’s Opera Les Deux Journées for pianoforte. In the Trumpet Concerto, the echoes of the work are not explicit, but there are so many allusions that it must have been a deliberate tribute. In addition, this was a clever way for the composer to make it clear to the aristocratic, well-educated audience at the Esterházy court that he was up on the latest trends in the musical landscape.

Just as he had been able to keep his finger on the pulse of the dance culture.