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"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
The Revolutionary Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven

By Master Sgt. Kristin duBois | United States Marine Band | January 23, 2019


On Sunday, Jan. 27, the Marine Chamber Orchestra kicks off its 2019 series of monthly performances with the innovative Symphony No. 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Conducted by Assistant Director Capt. Ryan Nowlin, the program will also feature Felix Mendelssohn’s mysterious and captivating Hebrides Overture, also known as “Fingal’s Cave,” in addition to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon.


“With his First Symphony, Beethoven established himself as the heir of the Classical symphony,” Nowlin said. “This bold offering made clear the composer’s adventurous appetite to expand and develop the genre, taking it to heights never before imagined.” There was good reason for the general acceptance, and even admiration, of Beethoven’s first symphonic effort. In large part, the form and melodic language of the work is fairly conventional.  But it is in the details of the work that one finds a glimmer of the bold and courageous voice that soon came to the fore of Beethoven’s music, setting in motion the most revolutionary development of the symphony by a single composer.


The Hebrides Overture was inspired by Mendelssohn’s journey to a cluster of islands off the western coast of Scotland called the Hebrides and, more specifically, by a particular cavern among those islands named Fingal’s Cave. Deeply moved by what he had seen in the Hebrides, even before seeing the infamous cave, he sketched out the opening of the overture in a letter to his sister Fanny. While Mendelssohn is widely recognized as one of the last classicists, this remarkable overture qualifies him as one of the first writers of program music, as he captures the ominous nature and the sense of wonder that is inherent to Fingal’s Cave and the movement of the surrounding sea.


The sinfonia concertante, a work for multiple soloists and orchestra, was a musical form that was in vogue in the late 18th century. It was especially popular in Paris, a fact that was not lost on Mozart who decided to experiment with the form while visiting the city in 1778. He found four capable soloists who were eager to play his music, quickly composed a work for them within the space of just a few days, and immediately made plans for two performances in April 1778. Unfortunately, the performance was sabotaged by Giuseppe Maria Cambini, a jealous fellow composer who delayed the copying of the orchestral parts long enough to prevent the première (while also substituting one of his own works). Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante was never rescheduled for performance, and the original score and parts did not survive. The scholarly controversy began several decades later, when another sinfonia concertante for four soloists was found in the collection of nineteenth-century Mozart biographer Otto Jahn. The score, which bore no composer attribution, was clearly a copy or reconstruction that was done in the mid-19th century. However, the style of the music was so Mozartean that many musicians were convinced that the work was authentic. While musicians and scholars continue to debate its validity, there can be no disputing that this work is a lovely and compelling example of the distinctive sinfonia concertante style of the Classical period. Today’s performance will feature oboe player Staff Sgt. Tessa Vinson, clarinetist Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Grant, French horn player Gunnery Sgt. Douglas Quinzi, and bassoonist Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher McFarlane.


The free, 2 p.m. concert will be preceded by a French horn quartet recital in the lobby at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Va. Free parking is available. Capt. Nowlin, Staff Sgt. Vinson, Gunnery Sgt. Grant, Gunnery Sgt. Quinzi, and Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher McFarlane will all be available in the lobby for a post-concert chat.


Program and notes

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