Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Program NOTs

I went to a concert here the other night. Beethoven 4th piano concerto and Mahler 5. The Beethoven was beautifully elegant, with a stunning display of lyricism by the concerto competition winner, although her tempos were rapidly fluctuating and on the whole ar too slow in every movement for my taste. The Mahler was distinctly excellent, after a rough first movement. It's rare to get an orchestral work of that magnitude so light on its proverbial feet, but the waltzes and fanfares and marches glittered with a very Viennese classical style. I loved the vividness of the scherzo and last movement, the translucent textures in the modestly subdued fourth movement, and the sharpness of the end of the second, where everything drops off into a series of one note gestures. The audience was incredibly quiet at the end of the two even numbered movements. Bravo.

But that's not my point here. Ahem. My point is about program notes. Part of me (the cynical part) would love to see a site where people put up quotes from the worst program notes out there (the other part of me says that I'm being too critical of something that isn't meant to have that level of scrutiny). I remember one that vividly explained that Tristan and Isolde was in a rondo form. I, uh, guess that chord keeps coming back...yeah. The notes for this one weren't bad, except for the following about the Beethoven:
The piano's short introduction ends on the dominant key of D, followed by the orchestra restating the theme down a third, in B major; a harmonic technique that Beethoven used often.
Movement by third, yes common. In between movements, or maybe for the secondary theme. But definitely not for the restatement of the first theme immediately after the exposition. What infuriates me is the way this turns the most magical moment in the entire piece into something apparently commonplace. I love the opening. The piano enters so quietly and serenely, and then the orchestra enters in a new harmonic sphere. The contrast is attention-grabbing, sure, but in the most seductively, transportive way, at once familiar and foreign.

Rant over. What are your favorite program note gaffes? Maybe if there's enough, we can start that website after all.


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