Sibelius: Valse triste
Ligeti: Violin Concerto, Miranda Cuckson, violin (artist-in-residence)
Sibelius: Symphony No. 6
Sibelius’s Valse triste was originally part of the incidental music he composed for his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt's 1903 play Kuolema (Death), but is far better known as a separate concert piece. The composer describes the scene in Valse triste / Kuolema—
It is night. The son, who has been watching beside the bedside of his sick mother, has fallen asleep from sheer weariness, Gradually a ruddy light is diffused through the room: there is a sound of distant music: the glow and the music steal nearer until the strains of a valse melody float distantly to our ears. The sleeping mother awakens, rises from her bed and, in her long white garment, which takes the semblance of a ball dress, begins to move silently and slowly to and fro. She waves her hands and beckons in time to the music, as though she were summoning a crowd of invisible guests. And now they appear, these strange visionary couples, turning and gliding to an unearthly valse rhythm. The dying woman mingles with the dancers; she strives to make them look into her eyes, but the shadowy guests one and all avoid her glance. Then she seems to sink exhausted on her bed and the music breaks off. Presently she gathers all her strength and invokes the dance once more, with more energetic gestures than before. Back come the shadowy dancers, gyrating in a wild, mad rhythm. The weird gaiety reaches a climax; there is a knock at the door, which flies wide open; the mother utters a despairing cry; the spectral guests vanish; the music dies away. Death stands on the threshold.
György Ligeti’s Violin Concerto uses, as New York TImes arts critic Allan Kozinn says, “Hungarian folk melodies, Bulgarian dance rhythms, references to medieval and Renaissance music and solo violin writing that ranges from the slow-paced and sweet-toned to the angular and fiery.” The concerto was written for German violinist Saschko Gawriloff and premiered in 1992. Ligeti’s writing makes use of microtonality in its scordatura (atypical tuning) of violin and viola, and then instruments unusual for orchestra that include recorders and ocarinas. It could be said that it is a concerto where the very old meets the very new.
Coming from a deep background in the classical repertoire, Miranda Cuckson has in recent years become one of the most active performers of contemporary music. She is passionate about the role of the performer / interpreter in the creative process and in communicating the music. Downbeat Magazine recently stated “violinist Miranda Cuckson reaffirms her standing as one of the most sensitive and electric interpreters of new music.”
Sibelius wrote in 1943 that "the sixth symphony always reminds me of the scent of the first snow."
For a free opportunity to listen to Miranda Cuckson, violin, come to the Ann E. Pitzer Center at 12 noon on Thursday, May 3, to hear a program of works by UC Davis graduate student composers including Addie Camsuzu, Josiah Catalan, Sam Clark-McHale, Daniel Godsil, Aida Shirazi, Sarah Wald, and FangWei Luo.