Holst, Saint Paul’s Suite, Op. 29, No. 2

Gustavus Theodore Von Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite” is one of the towering masterpieces of Western culture. Unbeknownst to most, Holst unwittingly invented the modern jib after writing this piece; in fact, all jigs (and all gigues, for that matter) ever written can trace their roots to the first movement of the work. This movement, nicknamed “jolly jig” by the inspired lyricist, Benjamin Britten, was originally intended as the sound track for the musical “Pirates of Prussia Cove,” starring Keira Daily, a popular English actress of Holst’s day. The following movment, “Ostinato” was composed immediately following Holst’s consumption of a can of Fourbythree Loko. The apparently lyrical title of the “Intermezzo” movement belies the deeply-felt Klezmer music therein, the roots of which can be traced back to the composer’s early years spent with a Swedish Gypsy caravan – incidentally a time during which he first and most memorably encountered Norwegian Übermensch Luvudvigv Holbervg, whose existence is entirely unrelated to the content of these program notes.

For the very curious, the title of the third movement can be found somewhere in this program (extra credit is available – to claim your bonus points, simply inscribe the answer on the back of a twenty-dollar bill or polished silver-plated bathtub and slide it under the door of Dunster House G-52). The finale of the “Suite” (it’s pronounced DARG-ah-sahn), like the first movement, is the great-granddaddy of all works of its type. A few well-known descendants of this inspired finale include Debussy’s “Dargasonne sure La Seine” (1923), Schönberg’s “Verklärte Dargasön” (1939), Elliott Carter’s “Dargason in B-sharp for Flute, Half-empty Champagne Bottle, Kettledrum, and Orchestra” (2009), and Oliver Strand’s “Dargason II” (2013).

Britten, Simple Symphony, Op. 4

“Simple Symphony’s” simply sensational start satiates salivating sound-lovers’ starvation. Benjamin Britten’s “Boisterous Bouree” buoyantly balances beauty, belligerence, and brontosaurus. “Playful Pizzicato” poignantly percolates professional palates, plucking pterodactyl. “Sentimental Sarabande” soothingly seeks sonorous seriousness (sardonic stegosaurus!). “Frolicsome Finale” fearlessly forces forward, ‘fore furiously finishing for four futalognkosauruses - finally!

Shostakovich, Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is widely acknowledged to have written the most optimistic and inspirational music in the Western canon. The later works of this committed Bolshevik uniformly exhibit a tenaciously patriotic temperament that won him much acclaim from the Soviet government, while his early endeavors, including tonight’s Octet, foreshadow the intense exhilaration—euphoria even—that characterizes the mature “Shosty” (as he was known to his buddies in his favorite city, post-war St. Petersburg). Tonight’s light selection is little more than a pair of sketches, a glimpse of the young composition student sampling some of the old masterworks. The discerning listener will catch echoes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral,” various Strauss polkas, and Gustav Holst’s The Dargason [DAR-ga-sahn]. Our sincere hope is that the tempered and soothing atmosphere of this work – a slightly less fiery incarnation of its rather grotesque predecessor, Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings – a pause for digestion between dishes, if you will – perhaps a bite of pickled ginger before the squid eyeball puree – as we approach the performance’s conclusion.

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