Because the program notes demand it!
Solid program note game has always been a huge part of what we do at LGB. Ever since I can remember I was always fascinated by what concert program notes said. Learning all the cool things about the composers, knowing when a piece was first performed by the ensemble, and knowing the instrumentation for pieces (a huge bonus for my young mind) where important to my concert experience. And each of these things were crucial to how I learned about the music.
When, LGB put on our first public performance seven years ago (see Inaugural Concert), the program notes, which you can still read at that link, where taken from a paper I had written about Handel’s Coronation Anthems. Everyone seemed to love them, and I guess we haven’t really looked back ever since.
After years of concert going, and reading so many program notes I can’t even count them, I began to become less interested in what they said. Partially because a lot of what I was reading I had learned in music history classes, and partially because the writing was so boring and predictable.
The “Great Composers of the Past,” like Bach and Beethoven, were lauded for their artistry—rightly so. Guaranteed for inclusion were the “Beethoven was deaf and wrote a symphony. Wow!!” paragraph and the often cited Bach “overly composed his pieces” comment made by one of his contemporaries.
For me, these cliche statements, and often generic nothings, don’t do one bit of good. Absolutely none. And, to be honest, program notes often attempt to dumb-down topics which program note authors don’t think the audience will understand.
As an audience member, musician, and program note writer, I always believe it’s my job to create an intriguing story about our concerts which engages, educates, and piques the interested of the audience. If I don’t think the general audience will understand something, I use footnotes. If an aspect of a composer’s life is irrelevant or too mundane, in relation to the pieces being performed, I leave it out. And most importantly, I want to pique the audience’s interested just enough that they look up the composers and even the pieces for themselves!
There’s no greater research-geek rush than finding out something really cool about a piece of music. This exact same thing happened to me while researching for our upcoming concert, Concert III: Lively Entertainments:
Handel frequently borrowed material from his earlier works, or from other composers, in his own compositions. One of the composers the Handel borrowed music from was Georg Philipp Telemann. Handel was a subscriber to Telemann’s Tafelmusik collection (if you remember from Concert II: A Casual Concert, we performed a piece from that collection).
Anyways, Handel borrowed some musical ideas from Telemann’s third production of Tafelmusik. In the image below, the opening movement of Handel’s Sinfonia (left) is compared with the opening movement of Telemann’s Concerto for horns (right).
Handel obviously didn’t copy what is here note-for-note. But he clearly used some of Telemann’s musical figures in the sinfonia.
For me, this is the type of information that is super cool and should be included in program notes! And it’s also something that’s definitely worth writing a blog post about.
And, of course, the program notes for Concert III: Lively Entertainments have soooo much more cool info. So, make sure you keep an eye on your email. We’ll be sending you the eProgramBooklet even earlier than everyone else. That’s just another perk of being a Sustaining Contributor.