The Bear Necessities

Franz Joseph Haydn (1745-1809) is remembered today as one of the most prolific composers of the eighteenth century, and possibly of the whole Western music canon. He is commonly referred to as the father of both the symphony and the string quartet! Along with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, he completes the trio now known as the first Viennese School, so called for their connections to the city of Vienna, the cultural heart of Europe in the eighteenth century. Owing to both his long lifespan and his enviably stable employment conditions, Haydn’s was able to amass a prodigious compositional catalogue, including 104 symphonies, 50 concertos, 84 string quartets, 24 stage works, and 12 masses. In the 21st century, Haydn may not hold the same household name status and Mozart and Beethoven but his reputation during his own lifetime towered above them both! 


Haydn by Denyse Klette

The son of a wheelwright and a castle cook, Haydn’s musical talent was recognized early on, leading to his tenure as a choirboy at St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. Following his voice break, Haydn turned to composition, eventually landing the position of Kapellmeister (Music Director) at the Esterházy court. The Esterházy family were highly prominent landowners within the Holy Roman Empire, holding properties on either side of what is now the Austro-Hungarian border. Haydn served three successive Esterházy Princes, spending the majority of his tenure going back and forth between their two primary residences, Scholss Esterházy in Eisenstadt (in modern-day Austria) and Esterháza in Fertőd (in modern-day Hungary). Upon the death of Prince Nicolaus (the second of the three Princes), Haydn’s duties were dramatically reduced, opening up the possibility of new opportunities further afield. 


As Haydn’s obligations to the Esterházy family decreased, he started laying the foundations for what would eventually become an extremely lucrative career as a freelance composer. Haydn started selling his music to publishing companies all over Europe, especially in London, Paris, and Vienna. Many of his most famous and beloved works today were composed, not for his Esterházy patrons, but for an international list of publishers and a growing audience of middle-class amateur enthusiasts.


In 1785, Haydn was approached by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges with a commission for six symphonies to be performed by Saint-Georges’ orchestra, the Concert de la Loge Olympique. These works would eventually be dubbed the ‘Paris Symphonies’ and were still being performed by Saint-Georges and his orchestra in 1789 when the organization disbanded in the turmoil of the French Revolution. The two most popular of these works were Symphony No. 85, nicknamed La Reine due to the favour it was shown by Marie Antoinette, and Symphony No. 82, nicknamed L’Ours (The Bear).


The Bear Symphony (so called for the final movement’s uncanny but unintentional resemblance to the music used to accompany dancing bears, a popular type of Parisian Street entertainment), is as delightfully sassy as the preceding anecdote. The first movement opens with a bombastic hunting horn theme that is sure excite. As to be expected in a sonata form, this is the first of two main themes, the second theme wonderfully contrasting the first with its beautifully endearing quality. In the central development section, Haydn explores the more sombre expressions of the minor mode, modifying the movement’s themes to fit this change in mood. This finally gives way to a restatement of the first theme, although this time it is not quite so brash.


Movement two takes the form of a theme and variations, the standard structure for a symphonic second movement. However, this movement differs from expectation with Haydn’s use of two complimentary but distinct themes that both get developed throughout the movement. On first listen, the music sounds simple with sometimes only minimal alterations between thematic restatements. However, this is indeed the point as Haydn is subtly setting up the listener’s expectations, only to thwart them a moment later. The effect is like that of a roller-coaster ride, and equally as thrilling. 


The third movement, a minuet and trio, opens with the air of courtly pretension that often accompanies the minuet style. However, this is merely what appears to be the start of a witty commentary from Haydn on the façade of courtly life. The music continuously becomes more unhinged, before returning to the opening theme as if nothing alarming had just happened. The fourth movement, another sonata-allegro form, uses a repeated motif made up of a bass drone interspersed with quick grace notes. It was this motif that had some listeners daydreaming about dancing bears. The music is so exuberantly playful that you will have no alternative but to dance in your seat. To do otherwise would be unBEARable! – Written by Kieran Foss

Music Talk with Adam Johnson

Maestro Adam Johnson was the very first guest on the SSO’s Music Talk from McNally – that was 7 years ago!
We’re thrilled to have him back leading this very important concert featuring the music of Chevalier de Saint-Georges and Haydn.


The French Mozart

Many of the eighteenth-century composers whose names are still familiar today came from Vienna, Europe’s cultural capital at that time. It is therefore ironic the François Devienne (1759-1803), whose last name literally translates as ‘from Vienna’ was in fact a fabulous classical composer from Joinville, France. Devienne is famous, not only as a composer, but also as a virtuoso player on both the flute and the bassoon – naturally, many of his concertos feature these two instruments. His virtuosity in conjunction with his dramatic compositional style has led some contemporary scholars to nickname him “The French Mozart.” 


Little is known for certain about Devienne’s early musical life. There has been some speculation that he studied music with his elder brother in the town of Deux Ponts, but perhaps this theory is a bridge too far! The earliest detail known for certain is that, by 1779, he was playing with the Paris Opéra orchestra as the last chair bassoonist. During this period, he was also studying the flute with the orchestra’s principal flautist, Félix Rault. Devienne remained with the opera for only one year, after which he entered the service of a private patron, Cardinal de Rohan. Following his entry into the freemason fraternity, he became a member of the Concert de la Loge Olympique, a masonic orchestra led by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. 


Many of Devienne’s early compositions received their public debut at the Concert Spirituel, one of the earliest public concert series. In 1782, Devienne appeared there as a soloist, performing a flute concerto that was likely his Flute Concerto No. 1. He went on to perform at the series at least seventeen more times, often playing virtuosic works of his own composition that featured either the flute or the bassoon. 


At age 31, Devienne joined the military band of the Paris National Guard, a decision that would eventually help him transition from a struggling artist to a central figure in Parisian musical circles. In this role, he began teaching at the Free School of Music of the National Guard, an establishment for the musical education of the children of soldiers. This institution would later be renamed the National Institute of Music and eventually go on to become the Paris Conservatoire, one of the most prolific music schools in Western musical history, producing future icons like Nadia Boulanger and Claude Debussy. Devienne was amongst the Conservatoire’s original faculty and was its first Professor of Flute. 


Though Devienne’s music was enthusiastically received in his own time, his status was eventually eclipsed by the Western world’s obsession with the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. It wasn’t until the 1960s that his music was revived by Jean-Pierre Rampal who succeeded in inspiring later generations of flute players to take up these wonderfully virtuosic works. The SSO is overjoyed to have its very own principal flautist, Allison Miller, rise to the challenge of Devienne’s music with a stunning performance of his most famous piece, his Flute Concerto No. 7.


While the concerto fits the standard model of three movements in a fast, slow, fast configuration, the music itself is anything but standard with its quick mood changes and fabulous demonstrations of the flute’s extensive range of capabilities. The concerto is also one of only three that Devienne wrote in the darker minor mode. The first movement loosely establishes two thematic centres, one melodramatic to the max, the other more lyrical and understated. The incredible balance that Devienne finds between these two themes keeps the listener engaged and on the edge of their seat. Movement two, while being more pastoral in temperament, still manages to have some weight to the music, augmented by Devienne’s imaginative ornamental writing and the not one but two extended cadenza sections for the soloist. The third movement is a rondo form with its repeated theme displaying a mischievous energy, interspersed by a carnival of magnificent musical colours and moods that run the gambit from idyllic to triumphant. If you’re looking for a uniquely exhilarating musical experience, Devienne’s Flute Concerto No. 7 is certain to deliver!


Written by Kieran Foss

A Little Knight Music

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was one of the most distinguished musicians and composers of late-eighteenth century France. Born in 1745 to a French aristocratic father and his African slave mistress, Nanon, Saint-Georges’ mixed heritage was cause for both intrigue and prejudice among the French elite. One of the more repulsive anecdotes from his life involved his rejection as music director of the Paris Opéra at the behest of its four leading ladies on overtly bigoted grounds. Despite this and similar setbacks, Saint-Georges was able to establish himself at the heart of French musical life, first as a virtuoso violinist, and later as a conductor and composer.


Saint-Georges’ early life was focused not on music, but on the art of fencing. He studied with master or arms Nicolas Texier de La Boëssière until graduating at age 19, whereupon he was named a Gendarme de la Garde du Roi (Man of Arms of the King’s Guard) and earned the moniker ‘Chevalier’ (Knight). Following his 1766 sparring duel with famed Italian fencer, Giuseppe Faldoni, Faldoni named Saint-Georges the finest swordsmen in all Europe. With this in mind, it is amusing to consider the audience’s reaction when, in 1769, this renowned swordsman took to the stage as a violinist with Le Concert des Amateurs. 


Saint-Georges’ musical training is subject to some debate. François-Joseph Gossec and Antonio Lolli both composed pieces dedicated to Saint-Georges, suggesting that they may had been his musical mentors. There is also a claim that Saint-Georges studied with the famed violinist, Jean-Marie Leclair, but this has never been proven. This dearth of information means that Saint-Georges’ 1769 appearance is the first moment of his musical career to which we can point with any clarity. 


Saint-Georges’ early works span the spectrum of fashionable genres in pre-revolutionary France. He wrote numerous instrumental works, including Violin Concerti, Symphonie Concertantes, String Quartets, and Sonatas. However, opera would eventually become his true passion. Following the debut of his first Comédie-Italienne (a genre of French comic opera with Italian influences), entitled Ernestine, he focused almost entirely on stage works, leaving behind his earlier interest in instrumental music genres. 


While Saint-Georges was by no means naïve to the symphony genre (he famously commissioned and conducted Franz Joseph Haydn’s Paris Symphonies), he appears to have mostly avoided symphonic compositions, favouring the more French Symphonie Concertante genre. Symphony No. 2 was published in 1799 (the year of his death) alongside Symphony No. 1. These were the only symphonies he ever wrote, and Symphony No. 2 is actually a repurposing of the overture from his most successful Comédie-Italienne, L’Amant Anonyme.


Symphony No. 2 differs from modern symphony expectations as it contains only three movements in contrast to the now standard four. Nevertheless, the opening movement does start with the expected two themes of a sonata form. The first theme harkens back to the galante style of the early eighteenth-century, favouring a directness and simplicity that welcomes the audience into the piece. This contrasts with the second theme that mimics the empfindsamkeit style, which responded to the galante’s simplicity with a complex sensitivity. While these two themes are intriguing imitations of earlier classical styles, it is in the following development section that Saint-George shows off his artistic prowess. Here, he invokes the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) artistic movement that flourished in the late-eighteenth century, introducing a depth and anxiety that would later spur the music of composers like Ludwig van Beethoven to the heights of compositional stardom. 


The second movement appears to emulate an earlier baroque style, but also connects to the sensitivity of movement one’s second theme. The second movement, unlike the first, maintains the same emotional quality throughout – a standard procedure in baroque music. It’s quiet melancholy finally gives way to the exuberant opening of the third movement, which initially promises a quick and bombastic closing to the symphony. This expectation is dashed by the introduction of a second section, that consisting of two themes that follow an ABA structure. Only with the return of the movement’s opening music can the audience share in the true moment of triumph. Saint-Georges leaves us with an excited sense of homecoming, certain to leave everyone with a sense of utter satisfaction!


Written by Kieran Foss

Joseph Boulonge the Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Audiences today don’t know enough Joseph Bolonge, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and we need to change that because he was an important figure in music history who’s music is making a major comeback.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a champion fencer, classical composer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris. Born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, he was the son of George Bologne de Saint-Georges, a wealthy married planter, and an enslaved Senegalese African woman named Anne dite Nanon.

His father took him to France when he was young, and he was educated there, also becoming a champion fencer. During the French Revolution, the younger Saint-Georges served as a colonel of the Légion St.-Georges, the first all-black regiment in Europe. He fought on the side of the Republic. Today the Chevalier de Saint-Georges is best remembered as the first known classical composer who was of African ancestry; he composed numerous string quartets and other instrumental music, and opera.

The Chevalier played a key role in the aristocratic life of Paris in late 1700s, with close ties to the Palace of Versailles. The Chevalier often found himself the guest at the private musicales salons of Marie Antoinette at Versailles…with Chevalier playing his violin sonatas, with the Queen accompanying on the forte-piano.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ music was the toast of Paris and Versailles. During the 1780s, Saint-Georges’ star continued to get brighter and brighter. His output during this time was swift – operas, concertos, sonatas – but he also shaped the music that Paris was hearing. We have Saint-Georges’ to thank for the commissioning of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies, which the Chevalier conducted upon their premieres.

Experiencing the Music Together & Safely

We have an incredible track record here at the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. There has not been a single Covid-19 related incident at the SSO since the start of the pandemic. We are also one of the only orchestras who were able to perform all of our planned concerts in the last year. (Minus the one canceled due to a snowstorm!) That is no accident. It is thanks to careful planning and precautions agreed to by all of our people that we have been able to continue our artistry and livelihood safely.

Now that we have an audience in the room it’s more important to us than ever that we keep our events covid free. Since Opening Night we’ve required that everyone, and we mean everyone, interacting with your orchestra is fully vaccinated. All our musicians, guest artists, staff, and volunteers have proven their vaccination status. Before your ticket is scanned there is a wonderful volunteer checking your vaccine status. Everyone in the room is wearing masks and we’ve encouraged you to spread out in our concert spaces to your comfort level.

As much as possible we have eliminated intermissions from our concerts to minimize mingling so most shows run just over an hour. All of our venues have great air circulation and we improve that on stage with fans as several studies have shown increased air circulation is important to stop the potential spread of the virus. These are just some of the steps we take every time we are gathered in a performance space to create a safe and Covid-19 free environment.

Not every concert is able to be live-streamed this season for various reasons, but we are planning to have our audience present for every single performance. Having you in the room with us is a magical experience. The energy improves performances and there’s nothing quite like the thunderous applause we’ve been fortunate to receive after our first few events. It really is quite something to be in the room as the music happens.

Keeping you safe, keeping all of us safe, is the only way we can continue. We mainly rely on ticket sales and donations to keep this organization going and in return, we offer innovative and moving performances, meaningful connections, and countless unforgettable moments.

We laugh, we cry, we experience the music together. Most of all we continue to keep everyone safe so we can make it to 100 years of the SSO, and many years beyond that, all the while enjoying the incredible performances along the way.