Masterworks IV: Portraits

Masterworks IV

Portraits: Elgar & Schumann with cellist Steven Isserlis


March 1 – 7:30 PM – Maryland Hall

March 2 – 7:30 PM – Maryland Hall 

Click here to buy tickets for Maryland Hall performances.

*The pre-concert lecture at Maryland Hall will be in the auditorium from 6:30 – 7:00 PM.

March 3 – 3 PM – Strathmore – Click Here to Buy Tickets on Strathmore’s Website

Berlioz Le Carnaval Romain (Roman Carnival), op. 9

Schumann Concerto for Cello in A minor, op. 129, Steven Isserlis, cello

Elgar Enigma Variations, op. 36

Masterworks IV brings to life beautiful orchestral music as painted by three important composers, all genius musical artists. Berlioz paints the story of two lovers at a Roman street fair; Elgar sketches special moments in the lives of his family and friends. Masterfully using instrumentation, tone and structure, Elgar brings forward the personality and character of his subjects in each portrait; finally, the Schumann Cello Concerto’s transcendental qualities bring us far away from present circumstances.  Steven Isserlis, cellist, joins the ASO for this transformative evening of music. Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, Steven Isserlis enjoys a unique and distinguished career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster.


Hector Berlioz, Le Carnaval Romain

2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, timpani, 2 tambourines, cymbals, triangle, and strings

As played by Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Myung-Whun Chung

Robert Schumann, Concerto for Cello in A minor

Solo cello, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

As played by Gewandhausorchester conducted by Riccardo Chailly with Martha Argerich, piano

Edward Elgar, Enigma Variations

2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, side drum, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, and strings (optional organ, to be determined)

As played by Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk

Music Notes

Hector Berlioz, France, December 11, 1803 – March 8, 1869

Le Carnaval Romain (Roman Carnival), op. 9

Hector Berlioz, born in France in 1803, was a leading composer of the Romantic era of classical music. Originally schooled in medicine, Berlioz fought his parents to pursue training in music, winning notable prizes and achieving some success early in his musical career. He was greatly inspired by dramatic composers of the era, especially Weber and Beethoven, and assumed as his signature sound music that was passionate and expressive. His compositions  made the brass section equal to  others in the orchestra. He experimented with new instruments, such as the bass clarinet and the valve trumpet. And he used the  English horn as a solo instrument to convey musical melancholy. He was equally innovative in musical form and in stretching the limits of classical tonal harmony. 

Hector Berlioz’ Le Carnaval Romain is based on previously composed scenes from his opera Benvenuto Cellini, and is a brilliant example of Berlioz’ ability to transform vocal music for the opera into instrumental music for the orchestra.  

When Berlioz debuted Benvenuto Cellini, it was a massive flop and widely panned by critics. Based on the autobiography of a sixteenth century sculptor, the opera details a wild adventure involving the sculptor longing for artistic independence, his secret lover, her father, the antagonist, and the Pope.  The first movement of Carnavale Romain was originally composed for the Overture, or opening of Benvenuto Cellini, the only portion of the opera to experience a welcoming reception. Berlioz then chose other pieces to write nine minutes of brilliant music. 

Two slow themes with cellos and basses introduce the Pope. A woodwind melody with the English Horn tells the love story of the sculptor Bellini and Theresa, the woman who excites his dreams of independence and for whom he’s only too happy to leave the restrictions of the studio.  The  wild saltarello, Belioz’ favorite Italian folk dance, is played  in triple time, showcasing recurring, cymbals-punctuated music that brings to life the carnival and the opera’s setting in Rome’s Piazza Colonna. The dance becomes wilder and wilder as the overture progresses. At the end, the Pope’s theme in slow notes bestrides the scurrying string figurations and the pounding kettledrum rhythms. 

Beloved by orchestra players, especially the brass, Roman Carnivale is a whirlwind of passion and color that inspires the audience’s imagination with vivid portraits of summer nights, Italian piazzas and a passionate romance in which the main characters are challenged by medieval themes of religion, patrimony, and forbidden love. 

Robert Schumann, Germany,  June 8, 1810 – July 29, 1856

Concerto for Cello in A minor, op. 129

Much like Berlioz, Robert Schumann was expected to pursue a career far from music. His parents wanted him to pursue a degree in law. However, he left the courtroom for the concert hall, training as a pianist under Friedrich Wieck. A hand injury ended his career as a pianist, but ushered in a new time in Schumann’s life in which he became an important composer and influential music critic. 

Consistent with many of Schumann’s other works, his Concerto for Cello utilizes both fragmented and full themes that are introduced in the first movement, then quoted, developed, and repeated throughout to engage the audience in an emotional journey that is wide in scope, varying in context and mood, and with a strong sense of storytelling with moments that are agitating, meditative and brilliant. 

Schumann suffered from a mental disorder that first manifested in 1833 as a severe melancholic depressive episode that recurred several times, alternating with phases of “exaltation”. Increasingly, Schumann suffered delusional ideas of being poisoned or threatened with metallic items. What is now thought to have been a combination of bipolar disorder and perhaps mercury poisoning led to “manic” and “depressive” periods in Schumann’s compositional productivity. After a suicide attempt in 1854, Schumann was admitted at his own request to a mental asylum in Endenich (now in Bonn). Diagnosed with psychotic melancholia, he died of pneumonia two years later at the age of 46, without recovering from his mental illness. 

Steve Isslerlis, cello

Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, British cellist Steven Isserlis enjoys a unique and distinguished career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster. The recipient of many awards, Steven Isserlis’s honors include a CBE in recognition of his services to music, the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau, and the Piatigorsky Prize in the USA. He is also one of only two living cellists featured in Gramophone’s Hall of Fame. In 2017, he was awarded the Glashütte Original Music Festival Award in Dresden, the Wigmore Hall Gold Medal, and the Walter Willson Cobbett Medal for Services to Chamber Music.

He gives most of his concerts on the Marquis de Corberon (Nelsova) Stradivarius of 1726, kindly loaned to him by the Royal Academy of Music.

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, England, United Kingdom (June 2, 1857 – February 23, 1934)

Enigma Variations 

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet began his Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 in the spirit of good humor. He used instrumentation to magically reveal the personality and character of 14 close family members and friends, including his wife, publisher, a former lover sailing away and even his friend’s dog falling into a river. Musical instruments bring forth the personality and establish a setting for each of variation. Elgar wrote: “It may be understood that these personages comment or reflect on the original theme & each one attempts a solution of the Enigma, for so the theme is called. The sketches are not ‘portraits’ but each variation contains a distinct idea founded on some particular personality or perhaps on some incident known only to two people. This is the basis of the composition, but the work may be listened to as a ‘piece of music’ apart from any extraneous consideration.”]

In naming the theme of the fourteen variations “Enigma”, Elgar posed a challenge which has generated much speculation but has never been conclusively answered. The Enigma is widely believed to include a hidden melody. After its 1899 London premiere Variations achieved immediate popularity and established Elgar’s international reputation.