Masterworks III: Pictures at an Exhibition

Masterworks III: Pictures at an Exhibition

Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 with Netanel Draiblate

January 31 & February 1, 2025 at Maryland Hall

February 2, 2025 at Music Center at Strathmore

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Music Program

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Overture from The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30, No. 3

Camille Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61, Netanel Draiblate, violin

Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition


About the Music

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – Overture from The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30, No. 3

Composed: 1898 – 1899

Premiered: The Overture to The Song of Hiawatha was composed in 1899 for the Norwich Triennial Musical Festival performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, then published separately from any of the three Hiawatha cantatas as Op. 30, No. 3. The complete trilogy with the new overture was presented at Birmingham, England in 1901.

Length: 11 minutes

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbal, triangle, harp, and strings

Tune in to the Music: Hiawatha Overture with London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Joshua Weilerstein

What to Listen for: The overture’s main melody and connecting theme is derived from the spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Listen for the connecting theme of African-American spirituals throughout many of our Masterworks this season! 

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912, London, United Kingdom) was a British composer and conductor of mixed-race descent (his mother was white, and his father was from Sierra Leone, Africa. The couple remained unwed, like their own parents). As a boy, Coleridge-Taylor studied violin, sang in a church choir, and showed talent as a composer. There were numerous musicians on Taylor’s mother’s side, and her father played the violin, teaching it to his grandson from an early age. Taylor’s musical ability quickly became apparent, and his grandfather paid for him to have violin lessons. The extended family arranged for Taylor to study at the Royal College of Music from the age of fifteen. He later changed from the violin to composition. By the time he graduated in 1897, he had produced a significant collection of works, including a symphony and several large chamber compositions, a number of which were performed publicly. 

The African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, African-American playwright Henry Francis Downing, and other Black people encouraged Coleridge-Taylor to draw inspiration from his Sierra Leonean ancestry and the music of the African continent for his compositions. Coleridge-Taylor sought to integrate these themes into the classical tradition, much as Johannes Brahms did with Hungarian music and Antonín Dvořák did with Bohemian music. 

Coleridge-Taylor’s greatest success came in 1898 with the premiere of the cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the first of several works inspired by the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The trilogy of cantatas, known together as The Song of Hiawatha, became so famous in Britain that its popularity rivaled Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Coleridge-Taylor held a number of conducting and teaching positions in London, including appointments as professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of Music. 

Coleridge-Taylor made three tours of the United States in 1904, 1906, and 1910, during which time he became increasingly interested in his father’s ethnic and cultural heritage. Coleridge-Taylor achieved such success that he was referred to by white musicians in New York City as the “African Mahler” when he had three tours of the United States in the early 1900s. Coleridge-Taylor participated as the youngest delegate at the 1900 First Pan-African Conference held in London, and met leading Americans through this connection, including the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and the scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois. In 1904, on his first tour to the United States, Coleridge-Taylor was received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, a rare event in those days for a man of African descent. His music was widely performed and he had great support among African Americans. 

After Coleridge-Taylor’s premature death at age of 37 in 1912, musicians were concerned that he and his family had received no royalties from his Song of Hiawatha, which was one of the most successful and popular works written in the previous 50 years. His case contributed to their formation of the Performing Right Society, an effort to gain revenues for musicians through performance as well as publication and distribution of music. 

About the Music

In 1899, Coleridge-Taylor wrote an overture to the The Song of Hiawatha cantatas that showcases his compositional talents. This overture, Op. 30, No. 3 features a slow introduction whose main theme recalls the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, originally published in 1867. The second theme is introduced by horns, clarinets, violas, and cellos. The overture closes with an affirmative coda based on a choral episode from Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. The overture is typically performed separately from the cantatas.

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s high opinion of Coleridge-Taylor’s cantata is confirmed by an entry he made in his diary later on the night he heard it, one of the very few in which he referred at all to a contemporary composer: “Dined at home and went to Roy. Coll. Music Concert to hear Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha. Much impressed by the lad’s genius. He is a composer, not a music-maker. The music is fresh and original – he has melody and harmony in abundance, and his scoring is brilliant and full of colour – at times luscious, rich and sensual. The work was very well done.” Sir Hubert Parry described the event as “one of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history”. 


Camille Saint-Saëns – Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61, Netanel Draiblate, violin

Composed: 1880

Premiered: October 1880, Hamburg

Dedication: Pablo de Sarasate

Length: 29 minutes

Instrumentation: Solo violin, 2 flutes (2nd doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings

Tune in to the Music:  Saint Saëns Violin Concerto No 3 with violinist Joshua Bell conducted by Josh Wielerstein at Verbier Music Festival

What to Listen For: The main theme is composed of just four bold strokes, and it will be easy to track them in the rest of the movement. Also the particularly lyrical treatment of the solo violin line and a beautiful passage in harmonics (whistling-like sounds) at the end of the second movement

Camille Saint-Saëns (9 October 1835 – 16 December 1921, Paris) was a prolific composer, author of books on music and on subjects as diverse as philosophy, painting, literature, and the theater, a linguist, and an insatiable world traveler. As a young student he showed a strong interest in almost every academic subject, including archaeology, mathematics, religion, Latin, Greek, and astronomy. In addition to a long career as a composer and organist, he also enjoyed success as a music journalist, and a nationalistic champion of French classical music. 

Born in Paris and baptized at the famous Cathedral Saint Sulpice, Saint-Saëns was a musical prodigy. Before he was three years old he displayed perfect pitch and enjoyed picking out tunes on the piano. He made his concert debut at the age of ten. After studying at the Paris Conservatoire he followed a conventional career as a church organist, first at Saint-Merri, Paris and, from 1858, La Madeleine, the official church of the French Empire. After leaving the post twenty years later, he was a successful freelance pianist and composer, in demand in Europe and the Americas. Among the musicians who were quick to spot Saint-Saëns’s talent were the composers Gioachino Rossini, Hector Berlioz, and Franz Liszt, and the influential singer Pauline Viardot. Liszt heard him playing at La Madeleine and declared him the greatest organist in the world. Although in later life he had a reputation for outspoken musical conservatism, in the 1850s Saint-Saëns supported and promoted the most modern music of the day, including that of Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Richard Wagner. Saint-Saëns admired Wagner but was not influenced by him. He once commented, “I admire deeply the works of Richard Wagner in spite of their bizarre character. They are superior and powerful, and that is sufficient for me. But I am not, I have never been, and I shall never be of the Wagnerian religion.”

His ten concertos – five for piano, three for violin, and two for cello, embody the elegance and brilliance that reflect his remarkable talent. Saint Saëns’ first two violin concertos were relatively early works, but the third was written in 1880, when he was forty-four, at the top of his game, and during the period of his most successful works: Samson et Dalila, the “Organ” Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, Carnival of the Animals, and others. It is dedicated to the great virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate, soloist at the work’s première. His Violin Concerto No. 3 is the most often played of his violin concertos, a piece that is challenging technically and that appeals to audiences who have loved it well for more than 140 years. 

About the Music

The third violin concerto by Saint-Saëns is dedicated to his friend and colleague, one of the 19th century’s greatest violin virtuosos, Pablo de Sarasate. They met for the first time when Sarasate was a 15-year-old prodigy and Saint-Saëns was a 24-year-old composer/organist. Sarasate had always been disappointed by the trivial nature of much of the virtuoso music he was called upon to play, and met with Saint-Saëns to ask for a more weighty work, which he provided with his three violin concertos. Their friendship continued as both Sarasate and Saint-Saëns matured, and some 17 years later, Saint-Saëns wrote his Violin Concerto No. 3 for Sarasate. Saint-Saëns tells of many pleasant “musical evenings” spent at his home with Sarasate, and this experience was put to good use in the Concerto No.3.

The concerto features three movements:

  • An opening movement, featuring the violin throughout, develops two contrasting themes.
  • A lyrical movement in the form of a barcarolle, a gently rocking song in 6/8.
  • A third movement begins with a dramatic introduction, and continues as a rondo, dominated by a fiery main theme.

The piece is technically challenging to play, and requires a high level of skill and finesse from the violinist.

This work (and Saint-Saens as a composer generally) honors and respects the Classical style’s traditions of form, while also embracing Romantic fireworks and drama. The work is in a traditional 3-movement format, with each of those movements taking on the traditional forms; but right away he innovates by eliminating the opening orchestral introduction, as well as the 1st-movement cadenza. This concerto is an excellent example of Saint-Saens’ respect for the past while also being a highly respected contemporary composer of his time.

Violinist Netanel Draiblate

Netanel Draiblate, Concertmaster of the ASO, will perform Camille Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 for each performance of Masterworks III. Hailed as “an extremely gifted violinist with a strong stage personality and charisma,” Netanel Draiblate has concertized across four continents. The versatile artist performs as a soloist, chamber musician and recording artist and has been called “a violinist who combines confidence and virtuosity with a playful musical personality”by The Washington Post. A sought-after teacher, Draiblate currently is the Founder and Director of the Annapolis Symphony Academy. He has held faculty positions and led master classes at Georgetown University and other prestigious institutions. When not concertizing, Mr. Draiblate is a First Officer on the CRJ-900 for Endeavor Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines.


Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Composed: 1874. Maurice Ravel adapted the piece for orchestra in 1922. That version is the most recorded and performed.

Premiered: (Ravel’s orchestration) October 19, 1922, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky in Paris

Dedicated to: Vladimir Stassov

Length: 31 minutes

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (2nd and 3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, alto saxophone, timpani, xylophone, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, whip, ratchet, cymbal, bass drum, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, chimes, 2 harps, celeste, and strings

Tune in to the Music: Pictures at an Exhibition with the Oslo Orchestra conducted by Semyon Bychkov at the Oslo Concert Hall

What to Listen For: Pictures at an Exhibition begins with a steadily moving Promenade (walking section) in which Mussorgsky depicts himself roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly, at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend, the artist Viktor Hartmann. The music is programmatic, depicting the topics of the varied paintings, and ranges from baby chicks running amok to a menacing fairytale witch and the solemness of catacombs. 

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (March 21, 1839 – March 28, 1881 Karevo, Russia) was an influential proponent of distinctly Russian music in the Romantic period. He was a member of “The Mighty Five”, a group of prominent 19th-century Russian composers (Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, and Mussorgsky) who lived in Saint Petersburg and collaborated from 1856 to 1870. The primary inspiration for their collaboration was to create a uniquely Russian nationalistic musical identity, often in defiance of established conventions typical of Western classical music. Many of Mussorgsky’s works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other national themes, including the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.

Mussorgsky’s ancestors reputedly descended from the first Ruthenian ruler, Rurik, and he was born to a wealthy family of landowners. At age six, Mussorgsky began receiving piano lessons from his mother, herself a trained pianist. At 10, he and his brother were enrolled at the elite German language Petrischule (St. Peter’s School). While there, Modest studied the piano with Anton Gerke. At age 13, Mussorgsky and his brother entered the brutal Cadet School of the Guards, likely the place where he began his eventual path to alcoholism. Music remained important to him. He was allowed to continue music lessons with Gerke, and his skills as a pianist made him much in demand by fellow-cadets. In 1856 Mussorgsky graduated from the Cadet School and received a commission with the Preobrazhensky Regiment, the foremost regiment of the Russian Imperial Guard. In 1858 Mussorgsky resigned his commission to devote himself entirely to music. In 1860, Russian serfs were freed from slavery and Mussorsky’s family lost half their estate. He spent much of the rest of his life working on and off as a civil servant, often penniless and living in communal spaces with other artists. An alcoholic, he died at age 42.  

For many years, Mussorgsky’s works were mainly known in versions revised or completed by other composers. 

About the Music

Pictures at an Exhibition was originally a piano suite in ten movements, plus a recurring and varied Promenade theme. It is a musical depiction of a tour of an exhibition of works by Mussorgsky’s friend, the architect and painter Viktor Hartmann. Music for Hartmann’s illustrations represented chicks, children, Baba Yaga in her wooden house on chicken legs, catacombs, gates, and even rattling carts. The fact that this was done seriously, and not jokingly, was considered radical. The importance of the piece lies in Mussorgsky’s musical depiction of people from diverse cultural groups, at different states of life, in both dramatic and comical circumstances, and displaying a range of emotions. The final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev”, is widely considered one of Mussorgsky’s greatest works. French composer Maurice Ravel was commissioned by the great conductor Serge Koussevitsky to orchestrate the piano suite, and the masterwork that resulted is now how the piece is most commonly heard.


Promenade – Mussorgsky depicts himself roving through the exhibition

Gnomus – According to Stassov, this represents “a child’s plaything, fashioned, after Hartmann’s design in wood, for the Christmas tree at the Artists’ Club. . . .  It is something in the style of the fabled Nutcracker, the nuts being inserted into the gnome’s mouth. The gnome accompanies his droll movements with savage shrieks.”

Il vecchio castello (The Old Castle) – There was no item by this title in the exhibition, but it presumably refers to one of several architectural watercolors done on a trip of Hartmann’s to Italy. Stassov notes that the piece represents a medieval castle with a troubadour standing before it.

Tuileries – The park in Paris, swarming with children and their nurses. Mussorgsky reaches this picture by way of a Promenade.

Bydlo – The word is Polish for “cattle.” Mussorgsky explained to Stassov that the picture represents an ox‑drawn wagon with enormous wheels, but added that “the wagon is not inscribed on the music; that is purely between us.”

Ballet of Chicks in Their Shells – A costume design for a ballet, Trilby, given in Saint Petersburg in 1871 (no connection with George du Maurier’s novel, which was not published until 1893). In this scene, child dancers portray canaries “enclosed in eggs as in suits of armor, with canary heads put on like helmets.” The Ballet is preceded by a short Promenade.

Samuel Goldenberg and Shmuel – Mussorgsky owned two drawings by Hartmann entitled A Rich Jew Wearing a Fur Hat and A Poor Jew: Sandomierz. Hartmann had spent a month of 1868 at Sandomierz in Poland. Mussorgsky’s manuscript has no title, and Stassov provided one, Two Polish Jews, One Rich, One Poor; he seems later to have added the names of Goldenberg and Shmuel.

The Marketplace at Limoges – Mussorgsky jots some imagined conversation in the margin of the manuscript: “Great news! M. de Puissangeout has just recovered his cow. . . . Mme. de Remboursac has just acquired a beautiful new set of teeth, while M. de Pantaleon’s nose, which is in his way, is as much as ever the color of a peony.” 

The Catacombae – The picture shows the interior of a catacomb in Paris with Hartmann, a friend, and a guide with a lamp. The music falls into two sections, Sepulcrum romanum (Roman Sepulchers) and Cum mortuis in lingua mortua (With the Dead in a Dead Language), a ghostly transformation of the Promenade.

The Hut on Fowls’ Legs – A clock in fourteenth‑century style, in the shape of a hut with cocks’ heads and on chicken legs, done in metal. Mussorgsky associated this with the witch Baba Yaga, who flew about in a mortar in chase of her victims.

The Great Gate of Kiev – A design for a series of stone gates that were to have replaced the wooden city gates, to commemorate the April 4, 1886 escape of Tsar Alexander II from assassination. Musicologists have noted that this section in particular reflects Mussorgsky’s nationalist feelings. Alfred Schnittke wrote: “everything that symbolized Russian spirit throughout the cycle becomes concentrated in The Great Gate of Kiev. Indeed, old Russia associates with its heroes’ might, their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the native land, pride for the nation, patriotism, faith in God and church, predilection for mass festivities, and the people’s devotion to their tsar. In his final picture Mussorgsky created an apotheosis, an elaborate scene that represents his beloved Russia in its splendor and grandeur.”

Svetlana Nagachevskaya wrote in her 2009 dissertation that Mussorgsky’s music “showed essential aspects of life at different stages of maturity: embryonic life in Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells; the innocence of childhood in Tuileries; childhood memories that associate with fantastic fairy tales in Gnomus and Baba-Yaga; romantic aspirations and emotional wounds in The Old Castle; the injustice and hardship one faces and endures in adulthood in Bydlo and Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle; humor and the cheerful atmosphere of everyday life in The Marketplace in Limoges; death and transfiguration in The Catacombs; and positive, optimistic attitudes and hope for the future in spite of tremendous opposition in The Great Gate of Kiev. Mussorgsky’s creative imagination is unparalleled … All of these specific traits make Pictures at an Exhibition unique.”

Mussorgsky’s supporters loved the piece; however, fellow composers were not as enthused. Mussorgsky set the piece aside and it wasn’t published until five years after his death. In 1922 the French composer Maurice Ravel told the Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky about the pieces. Koussevitzky asked Ravel to orchestrate them. It was through this orchestration, and through Koussevitzky’s frequent and brilliant performances, that Pictures at an Exhibition became popular with audiences. Ravel was not the first to orchestrate the Pictures, and since his version many others have transcribed them. Ravel’s version showcases technical brilliance, imaginative insight, and concern for the original composer’s intent. 

Calendar for Masterworks III: Pictures at an Exhibition