- Sergei Prokofiev – Symphony no1 ‘Classical’ in D major, op25
- Franz Schubert – Symphony no3 in D major, D200
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major, op35
Tonight’s concert begins and ends with bright, golden fireworks… – or yellow ones, at least: Russian composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) both agreeing (for once) that this was the characteristic colour, for them, of the key of D major. In his influential work of 1785, Ideas Towards an Aesthetic of Music, Christian Schubart (1739-1791) – summarizing the thoughts of many earlier musicians – described it as “The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory”; adding that “Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key”. We are therefore in for an enjoyable evening of what philosopher (and composer) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) called “gaiety or brilliance”: as not only do our wonderful first and last works start and finish in this flaxen key, but so does our enthralling central one!
Not that this means we are in for an evening of invariability: if anything, the music programmed tonight demonstrates just how spectacularly disparate orchestral ‘classical’ music can be. For example: a comparison of the two “inviting symphonies”, both fashioned to long-standing formal rules – particularly as regards structure – reveals many more differences than similarities. They both just happen to open and close with the same chord. (Although it then takes Prokofiev a mere eleven bars to change key completely: to the “innocent, simple, naïve” C major!) After all, the key which each revolves around, is only a starting-point: all it does is unlock the musical doorway through which we, and the players, ‘visit’ each composition.
As for Tchaikovsky’s miraculous work: the key of D major is a favourite one for violin concertos – think of Mozart’s second and fourth; of Beethoven’s, and of Brahms (also written in 1878); and even of Prokofiev’s first… – as the instrument’s open strings are particularly resonant in this key. (As, of course, are the orchestra’s! Indeed, the last chord we will hear tonight uses this characteristic to full effect: as the strings triple- or quadruple-stop – that is, play three, or all four strings, simultaneously – and, in this case, fortissimo…!)
You might think from the descriptors above that an evening packed full of what scholar Albert Lavignac (1846-1916) dubbed “joyful, brilliant, alert” D major might be too much of a good thing. I don’t believe it is; and I hope, at the end of the evening, as you call Jennifer back to the stage once more, that you won’t either!