February 15 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
February 16 – Friday at 11:00 a.m.*
February 16 – Friday at 8:00 p.m.
February 17 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
MENDELSSOHN’S VIOLIN CONCERTO
Symphony No. 4 in C minor
Henri-Joseph Rigel (1741-1799)
composed circa 1771-1774
At a Glance
Rigel composed his Symphony in C minor in the early 1770s in Paris. It was published — and designated as “No. 4” — in his first collection of Six Symphonies Opus 12 in 1774. Its first performance is believed to have taken place that same year, led by the composer as part of the Concert Spirituel in Paris.
This symphony runs about 15 minutes in performance. Rigel scored it for 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, and strings. Some performances may have also included a harpsichord as continuo.
The Cleveland Orchestra is presenting this symphony for the first time with this weekend’s concerts. It is also the first time the Orchestra has performed a work by Rigel.
About the Music
Although there are several recordings available now of his symphonies and string quartets, the music of Henri-Joseph Rigel is little known to general concert-going audiences. And few musicians know much about him as a man.
A contemporary of Mozart, during the late 18th century the German Rigel was a highly-esteemed composer in his adopted city of Paris, one of the great musical centers of that period. Rigel was born in 1741 in Wertheim am Main, and studied composition with the Neapolitan composer Nicolò Jomelli — Italy was still considered by many as the forefront of musical art — and with Franz Xaver Richter.
In 1767, he travelled to Paris to further his education, and took up permanent residence in France’s bustling capital city. As it turned out, in that same year his name appeared for the first time in the catalog of works by the music publisher Breitkopf of Leipzig, and six of his keyboard sonatas were published in Paris — a good omen for an illustrious career in his new home city.
Rigel was a member of the Concert Spirituel, a highly-influential concert series (for which Mozart composed his Symphony in D major in 1778, later cataloged as K297 and known as the “Paris” Symphony). Rigel became a founding faculty member of the Paris Conservatoire in 1795.
Although he composed fourteen operas — most of that music is now lost — and several oratorios, Rigel’s fame during his lifetime and now rests with his instrumental works. These include twenty-plus orchestral pieces; fourteen symphonies were published in Paris during his lifetime. His first collection, of Six Symphonies, Op. 12 was published in 1774, the year he made his premiere at the Concerts Spirituels. The Symphony No. 4 in C minor is the fourth symphony from that collection, most of which are built in three movements.
The orchestras of Paris, during the last half of the 18th century, were known for their large size and the quality of their playing (compared to earlier in the century), and Rigel took advantage of these forces. His music is often characterized as being part of the Germanic Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) movement, a term derived from a movement in German literature. Its parallel instrumental musical style is characterized by extremes of dynamics and forceful expression.
With the Parisian orchestras, Rigel had players who could execute his every orchestral effect and the virtuoso parts that gave maximum strength to his musical ideas. Like Haydn’s more famous Sturm und Drang works — including his symphonies from this same period — Rigel’s Fourth Symphony clearly and resolutely embodies the movement’s spirit and energic soundscape.
Rigel begins the first movement Allegro assai with a flood of rapid tremolo supporting lightning-like flashes of motifs in the first violins, accompanied by accentual bursts in the brass; this music then settles into a second subject that suggests a minuet. An extended middle section gives greater time to the development of the minuet music itself. The movement’s recapitulation section brings back material from the middle to round things out.
The lilting pastoral of the Largo non troppo second movement contrasts the opening storm with a sense of calm — although its middle section in the minor reminds us that this movement is only a brief respite from the ensuing drama of the third movement, marked Allegro spiritoso. Here, the passionate drive of the first movement returns — with unrelenting force. The music rarely approaches the sunny semblance of a major key, leaving the hearer stressed and in anguish. —Steve LaCoste © 2018
Steve LaCoste has served as archivist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in addition to writing program notes for a variety of institutions.