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7:30pm Mansfield Theater

January 20 2024


Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks explodes on the stage and leads us into a what’s sure to be a fiery and inspired performance of Bach’s Violin Concerto by guest artist Ariel Horowitz.

Hailed by the Washington Post as "sweetly lyrical," Horowitz will dazzle you with her mastery of the violin! 

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Why You Shouldn't Miss It

This concert highlights the ups and downs of life as a composer dependent on the generosity of the noble classes for one's livelihood. While Handel was scoring one of his greatest successes with Music for the Royal Fireworks, written for the King of England to celebrate the end of a war, Haydn got in a not-so-subtle dig at his employment situation with his Farewell Symphony, which asks the musicians to gradually leave the stage before the work is finished.

Ariel Horowitz is featured on Bach's classic Violin Concerto in A minor. According to Classic FM, Bach's concertos are essential listening. This one is an altogether more yearning and melancholy concerto than any of his others. The second movement's aching loveliness brings the soloist's heart to the fore.


Violin Concerto in A minor
1717 – 1723
Johann Sebastian Bach  
|  1685 – 1750


Allegro Moderato


Allegro assai

While the very notion of a “Greatest Composer of All Time” is patently absurd, J.S. Bach is one of the few who can be given the title with slightly less absurdity than the rest. His encyclopedic approach and extensive output yielded a body of work which shows the possibilities of the musical style of his day more thoroughly (and skillfully) than perhaps any other composer before or since. While this is the GFSA’s first performance of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1, the Symphony has performed other works of Bach on a variety of occasions. A GFSA program from 1992 goes into the reception of Bach’s music:

Nowadays, we know Johann Sebastian Bach was a genius. Richard Wagner considered him “the most stupendous miracle in all music.” Bach, however, never thought himself as anything more than an industrious artisan who performed his daily chores–composing music–to the best of his ability. He never entertained the suspicion he might be a genius or even unique. His children certainly never did. His son, Wilhelm Friedemann, thought so little of his father’s music that he sold much of it for ten cents apiece and simply lost many others. But Bach was a genius. His music is the ultimate technical development and the fullest artistic  expression of an existing style. He is also prophetic of things to come: His lyrical style belongs to the new age more than to the old.

The violin concerto as a medium has always lent itself to this sort of lyricism. Like many of Bach’s works, the exact details of the Violin Concerto’s inception have been lost to history–the most that can be said is that it was written sometime prior to 1730. (It would have been a likely inclusion on Bach’s Friday night Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, a kind of concert series and gathering event for music lovers of various stripes.)

But the lack of biographical detail in no way limits the piece’s potential for personal expression. The first movement has become a staple of the repertoire, and the third’s jig rhythms give it a high-spiritedness in spite of its minor key. But it is the second movement’s aching loveliness that brings the soloist’s
heart to the fore.


Music for the Royal Fireworks
George Frideric Handel  
|  1685 – 1759


Overture (Adagio – Allegro – Lentement – Allegro)


La Paix (Largo alla siciliana)

La Réjouissance (Allegro)

Menuets I and II 

The GFSA has performed Music for the Royal Fireworks once before, in 1990. Here’s how the program note from that concert introduces us to the composer:

George Frederic Handel’s notoriety was predicated on contradictions. He was at one time a Lutheran organist in a Calvinist church, a Protestant who wrote sacred pieces for the Papacy. He was a German who lived in London and wrote Italian operas. He was reviled by critics and lauded by the public. He had an intrinsic ability to alienate and to charm. He had a formidable genius and inexhaustible energy, but was slovenly in appearance and uncouth in behavior.

Handel might object to the “reviled by critics” characterization–like most composers he had successes and failures, and his successes brought him a level of fame and security that virtually any composer would envy. (And the “slovenly in appearance” comment just feels mean.) In any case, his reputation and hygiene (and, probably, German-ness) were sufficient to bring him close to the German-by-birth King of England. Again, from 1990:

In 1748–49, when Handel wrote the Fireworks Musick, he was the most famous composer alive. He held the prestigious and relatively well paid position of music master to the royal family and Court Composer. As such he was commissioned by King George II to compose an orchestral work to celebrate the recently concluded War of the Austrian Succession. 

The premiere was eventful:

On the 27th of April, an enormous crowd gathered in Green Park in London to pay homage to King George II and to witness a promised display of fireworks before the magnificent new building especially designed and erected for the occasion. This remarkable structure built of wood and over one hundred feet high, had a special musicians’ gallery … It was surmounted by a huge sun, which at the proper moment was to burst into flaming light. This occurred at the climax of the fireworks and after Handel’s music–but it was only the beginning of the Royal Fireworks, for the building caught fire and sparks, embers and half-spent rockets fell among the crowd; there was panic, there was a rout, and the peace celebration was a tragic failure. 

To this day, music intended for outdoor performance–especially performances accompanying explosions–tends to be written for winds, and Handel’s original orchestration used trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoons, and drums–the loudest instruments of the day. But following its rocky premiere, the five-movement suite proved popular enough for Handel to make a later orchestration that included strings, which is the orchestration heard on this program.

Symphony No. 45 "Farewell"
Franz Josef Haydn  
|  1732 – 1809


Allegro assai


Menuet e trio

Finale: Presto, Adagio

The GFSA has performed a dozen or so of Josef Haydn’s 106 symphonies, though never a complete version of the famous “Farewell.” (Back in the 1940s, one of the GFSA’s precursors performed the finale only, on two occasions.) Most of these performances have been of Haydn’s late symphonies, written at the height of his fame for audiences in Paris and London. But “Farewell”  comes from the pre-fame stage of
his career in 1772, when he was cutting his teeth churning out music for the music-minded Esterházy prince, near what is now the Austria/Hungary border. How he came to be there is described in our 2020 program:

Unlike his fellow classical-era Vienna transplants Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn was not born into a family of professional musicians, and he spent his early career in the city eking out a living somewhere near the poverty line. That may be why he embraced the patronage system that Beethoven in particular struggled with so much; his 30-year stint (starting in 1761) as court composer for the Esterházy princes led to the production of a huge amount of innovative and epoch-defining music in all genres.


Our 2000 program provides more context to Haydn’s time at the Esterházy court:

The intellectual and social order that characterized pre-revolutionary Europe permeates the music and the life of Josef Haydn. Most of his life, he was a servant.
He wore his master’s livery and ate with footmen, butlers, and maids. And from the time he entered the service of the Esterházy family, he never questioned his position as a servant. He was not particularly impressed with nobility. He said, “I have had converse with emperors, kings, and great princes, and have heard many flattering remarks from them, but I do not wish to live on familiar footing with such persons, and I prefer people of my own class.” 

This discomfort with noble conversation may explain his approach to the “Farewell” Symphony: Haydn and his musical comrades had been holed up away from their families at the prince’s summer home for an extended stay, with no indication of when they might return home. Rather than confront his boss on the matter, Haydn instead composed a symphony which ends with the musicians leaving the stage section by section, until only two violinists remain and the stage is almost dark. According to Haydn, the prince got the message, leaving (with musicians in tow) the next day.


“Farewell” is for obvious reasons most famous for its unexpected ending, but the previous three movements offer plenty of drama. Programmatically inclined audiences might hear frustration and longing in the fiery first movement, and gentle mocking in the cheeky grace notes of the second. The graceful minuet’s ending is in its own way as delightfully unexpected as the finale’s, and before it takes its sharp left turn, the finale provides the sort of quicksilver fireworks that would later make Haydn famous throughout the continent.

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