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William Blake: Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing (1786)
William Blake: Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing (1786)

NOTE: This week’s In Performance (Sunday 6 April 2014) will extend past the usual end time of 10pm.


Felix Mendelssohn might almost have been born to compose the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Certainly his love for Shakespeare was in full bloom long before his teenage years were past.

Felix, it must be said, was no starving artist. He was the son of a wealthy banker. The family lived outside Berlin on a sumptuous estate of 10 acres. Their palatial home even included a theatre. When the weather was fair, they held concerts in their vast gardens – not outdoors, but in yet another concert hall which seated hundreds.

To get his last three symphonies performed, Mozart had to rent a casino; all the young Mendelssohn had to do to hear his music played was walk a few yards. He and his immensely talented sister Fanny were regular features on the concert stages, too.

But it was the idyllic garden itself that really captivated young Felix. He spent hours there, reading, imagining, composing. One evening in the summer of 1826, he told his English friend William Bennett, he discovered Shakespeare in that garden.

There his music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream had its first stirrings. Not even a month after falling under Puck’s spell, Mendelssohn had already composed an overture. He had also effectively invented the concert overture – a musical form that doesn’t introduce a specific opera or other theatre piece, but rather stands for a literary work. Mendelssohn’s work arguably points the way to Liszt’s symphonic poems and Strauss’s tone poems.

He was 17 years old.

By 1842 Mendelssohn’s career was fully established. He was music director of the famed Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He was also Kapellmeister to Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. Friedrich’s Royal Theatre was planning a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: would Mendelssohn compose the music?

In all, Mendelssohn created 12 new pieces for the play, introducing them with the atmospheric overture he’d crafted as a Shakespeare-smitten teenager. What’s remarkable about the music he composed at the age of 33 is how seamlessly it fits with what he’d written 16 years earlier.

The production’s premiere in November was a complete success. The music has never faltered since. Today the suite from Mendelssohn’s music is a beloved part of the standard orchestral repertoire, but it’s a rare treat to hear all the music Mendelssohn composed in the setting that he intended – woven into a theatrical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (In fact today you should consider yourself fortunate to hear a live orchestra accompanying any stage production.)

Following on to last season’s collaboration with Groundworks Dance Theatre in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the Akron Symphony and music director Christopher Wilkins undertook a project at least as complex.

In early March (2014), A Midsummer Night’s Dream brought together on the E J Thomas Hall stage noted regional actors, Ballet Excel Ohio (formerly Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet), and the Summit Choral Society Children’s Chorus. To keep the length of the performance in line with the realities of modern classical concert practice, the play was presented in an abridged version from Murray Ross’s Theatreworks of Colorado Springs, Colorado.


Duke Theseus and Hippolyta are preparing for their wedding. Their courtship has been – shall we say – unconventional: Hippolyta is the queen of the Amazons, whom Theseus has just defeated in battle. He is captivated by her charms. She is a captive.

Egeus arrives with his daughter Hermia. It seems that she too is involved in a somewhat complex courtship: both Lysander and Demetrius seek her hand.

The truth is that Hermia loves Lysander. However, Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius. He is here to get his wishes enforced by the duke’s iron hand. Meanwhile, Helena is in love with Demetrius. (Following this so far?)

Egeus is fabulously successful; the duke grants his wish. Hermia has a month: she must do as papa says or face death! – or at least the ascetic life of the convent.

Hermia and Lysander decide to run away. They will meet in the forest. But Hermia makes a grievous error: she tells Helena of their plans.

Remember, Helena loves Demetrius – but Demetrius doesn’t love Helena. Here is some ammunition for Helena: maybe if she spills Hermia’s secret to Demetrius, she’ll win some favor from him. So she does. Demetrius takes off in hot pursuit of the desperate couple, Helena at his heels.

In the forest, fairy king Oberon and fairy queen Titania are scrapping over which of them should have a changeling boy that Titania has stolen. Titania refuses to give him up, so Oberon exacts his revenge. He commands that his servant Puck find a rare flower, its juice a love potion. Puck drizzles the philter on Titania’s eyes as she sleeps. When she opens them, she will fall madly in love with the first creature she sees.

Demetrius, seeking Lysander and Hermia, has instead found Helena. He is not pleased. Helena’s visible anguish at his rejection softens Oberon’s heart. He directs Puck to apply his love potion to Demetrius’s eyes.

Just then Hermia and Lysander arrive on the scene. As ordered, Puck anoints the Athenian’s eyes. When he opens them, his heart surges with passion for Helena. There is, however, a bit of a problem. Puck has confused his Athenians. It is Lysander who’s fallen for Helena! He instantly abandons Hermia as if he’d never met her.

Meanwhile, players set to perform at Theseus’s and Hippolyta’s wedding have made their way to the forest to prepare their play. Puck listens nearby as Nick Bottom and Company rehearse. He can’t resist a bit of mischief, and bestows an ass’s head on poor Bottom. The actor’s comrades flee in terror. Titania awakens – and who should her lovesick eyes spy but ass-headed Bottom!

Hermia, bereft at losing Lysander, is sure that Demetrius has killed him. He denies it, so she goes to look for her beloved.

Oberon sees the tangled state of affections and realizes: this is all Puck’s fault! He orders Puck to find Helena and bring her hither. He paints Demetrius’s eyes with the love potion.

Puck brings Helena to this scene. She’s trailed by Lysander, imploring her to return his love. Just as Oberon planned, Demetrius awakes to the sight of Helena and is overtaken by passion for her. But what’s this? She’s also pursued by Lysander? Now Demetrius really will murder his rival! He and Lysander challenge each other to a duel.

Helena, utterly bemused, is certain that she must be the victim of an elaborate ruse. Hermia is simply heartbroken.

There shall be no bloodshed in this fairies’ wood. Oberon has Puck imitate Lysander’s and Demetrius’s voices, leading them on a futile chase until they fall exhausted into a deep sleep. Puck washes Lysander’s eyes with an antidote. When he awakes, he will again be in love with Hermia.

Puck declares that all will be as it should be when the lovers awaken: Lysander and Hermia will be a couple, and Demetrius will love Helena as she loves him. As act 3 gives way to intermission, all four slumber to the strains of Mendelssohn’s gentle Nocturne.

As act 4 opens, the four lovers remain asleep in the dark, magical forest. Titania, however, is still pursuing Bottom, ass head and all. Oberon, now possessed of the changeling he sought, decides Titania has suffered enough. He lifts the love spell from her. Puck relieves Bottom of his ass’s head.

Theseus and Hippolyta, on an early morning hunt, stumble onto the slumbering quartet. He wakes them with his hunting horns, and hears them out.

Theseus, his heart warmed by their tale of confusion, reverses his decree. Egeus’s desires are as nothing compared to love. Lysander and Hermia shall marry, and so shall Demetrius and Helena. In fact, they’ll join in the festivities of his own marriage.

Bottom and company return from Athens to perform at the lavish wedding feast in Theseus’s palace. Theseus asks them to present the play Pyramus and Thisbe for the lovers. All retire for the night.

All but the fairies, that is. They sing and dance. Oberon blesses all three couples.

And who has the final word? It’s impish Puck, of course: "If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear … So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends."

Theseus and Oberon John Hedges
Hyppolyta and Titania Elana Kepner
Egeus A Neil Thackaberry
Lysander William John Liptak
Hermia Natalie Welch
Puck Stuart Hoffman
Nick Bottom Bob Russell
Peter Quince Terence Cranendonk
Francis Flute Andrew Knode
Snout Mark Seven
Snug Ryan Nehlen
Starveling Michele McNeal
Cobweb Marybeth Hobson
Peaseblossom and Philostrate Catie Hewitt
Moth Karla Cummins
Mustardseed Anna E White
The Akron Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Christopher Wilkins
Director Craig Joseph
Ballet Excel Ohio
Artistic director Mia Klinger
Choreographer Eric Yetter
Summit Choral Society Children’s Choir
Director Heather Cooper
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Brian Thornton
Brian Thornton
(Vivian Goodman)

When he was 7, Brian Thornton fell in love with his uncle’s guitar. His parents wouldn’t let him take up the guitar, though. They were sure he’d become a long-haired, drug-addled rock musician! The cello looked a little like a guitar, so he thought he’d give it a try. "There was also this really cute girl named Becky in my orchestra class," Brian says, "and she played violin." (Brian ended up marrying someone else in 1994, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Woda. They have two daughters.)

Brian Thornton studied with Lev Aronson from age 14. But had it not been for Aronson’s remarkable strength and keen survival instincts, he might not have lived to coach Brian – or for that matter such other notable cellists of our time as Lynn Harrell and Ralph Kirshbaum.

Lev Aronson
Lev Aronson

Lev Aronson was born in Germany in 1912, while his Latvian parents were traveling there. He took to the cello early, studying with one of the greats, Gregor Piatigorsky. By the time he was 20, Aronson was principal cellist of Latvia’s Liepaja Philharmonic. He was well on his way to his own solo career.

But it was not to be. In the 1930s, Adolph Hitler was flooding Europe with his toxic brew of jingoism and fascism. Many musicians, including Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati, slipped away to safer turf. But Aronson’s family was in Riga, so he stayed.

Hitler’s army trampled Latvia in 1941. Aronson was forced into slave labor and sent to concentration camps, including Kaiserwald, Buchenwald, and Lauenberg. His parents and sister were killed.

Aronson’s captors confiscated his bows and his precious Stradivarius cello, but they couldn’t take away his musicality. Although he couldn’t play for the four years he spent in captivity, Aronson held the music in his heart and mind. It helped him endure the horrific camps.

In captivity, Aronson had nothing to his name, not even a watch. He counted the hours by singing cello concertos to himself – 20-minute works by Haydn, Saint-Saens, Boccherini, and Tartini. This internal musical clock once saved his life, when Aronson was ordered to unload rocks from a truck in an hour or be killed.

In 1945, the Russians liberated Lauenberg, but not Lev Aronson: they held him on suspicion of being a German spy. A year on, though, he made his escape, pushing on through Poland and Germany to the American Zone.

In 1948, Aronson’s former teacher Gregor Piatigorsky helped him connect with conductor Dorati, then music director of the Dallas Symphony, and get another cello. Aronson soon landed a gig playing in the Dallas Symphony. A year later he became the orchestra’s principal cellist.

Lev Aronson spent two decades playing for the Dallas Symphony. After he left, he built his legacy teaching at Baylor University and Southern Methodist University.

Aronson died in 1988. Of his beloved teacher, cellist Brian Thornton says, "He was all about telling stories with the music, always making statements when playing – a metaphorical approach." In addition to his work in the Cleveland Orchestra – he’s been a part of the orchestra since 1994 – Brian passes on Aronson’s legacy by teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Because Aronson lost his chance at a high-profile solo career to the Nazis, it’s mostly just his former students who remember him today. When Thornton visited Southern Methodist University, he found that few of the current faculty or students knew of him.

Hence this program, part of Thornton’s effort to shine a spotlight on his former teacher’s legacy. Brian’s campaign has given birth to a CD; a concert tour of synagogues and temples; coordination with a book tour by Frances Brent, author of The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson; and an Aronson scholarship and annual music festival at SMU.

Tonight’s program (on 10 November 2013′s In Performance) was recorded at Hudson’s Christ Church Episcopal on 20 October 2013, as part of the Music from the Western Reserve chamber music series. It includes previously unperformed compositions and arrangements by Lev Aronson. Brian Thornton is accompanied by pianist Elizabeth DeMio.

Ernest Bloch: Abodah, A Yom Kippur Melody. Although Swiss-born Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) wasn’t sure he was keen on any organized religion, he found himself drawn to his Jewish heritage. Alongside obviously secular classical works – symphonies, concertos, chamber music – Bloch reached down to his roots for several works. By 1920, the year he became the first music director of the newly founded Cleveland Institute of Music, Bloch’s publisher Schirmer was emblazoning the covers of his scores with a Star of David and his initials.

Bloch originally composed Abodah in 1928 for violin and piano. It’s based on a Yom Kippur tune, traditionally used during an afternoon service on the Day of Atonement.

Brian Thornton introduces us to Lev Aronson and Bloch’s Abodah:

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An-Ski: Mipnei Ma. Folklorist, author, and playwright An-Ski (Solomon Zainwil Rapaport, 1863–1920) founded the Jewish Historical-Ethnographical Society in 1908. He promoted the idea that Jewish classical music should be based on traditional themes.

An-Ski directed a series of ethnographic expeditions between 1911 and 1914, and it may have been on one of them that he collected the Hassidic tune Mipnei Ma. It asks the question, “Why did the soul descend from the supreme height to the deep pit?”

Brian Thornton tells of Lev Aronson’s tribulations in the Nazi concentration camps, and discusses Mipnei Ma:

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Marc Lavry: Kineret. Like Lev Aronson, Marc Lavry (1903-1967) came from Riga, Latvia, and studied at the Berlin Conservatory. He conducted the Berlin Symphony and the Riga Opera before rising antisemitism drove him to Palestine in 1935.

Lavry composed over 400 works – songs, opera, symphonies, and chamber music – but most of them have never been published. Kineret is an impression of the Sea of Galilee.

Brian Thornton explains why he created SMU’s Lev Aronson scholarship and music festival, and introduces Kineret:

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Lev Aronson: Hassidic Dance. "After the War," Thornton says, "Aronson found that the melodies of the cantoral tradition, Klezmer tunes, Yiddish songs, and the Jewish art music [from] the beginning of the 20th century had new significance [to him]." Hassidic Dance is based on some of those tunes from Aronson’s childhood.

Brian Thornton introduces Hassidic Dance:

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Bach: Cello Suite #3 in C, S1009. Johann Sebastian Bach knew naught of the synagogue, of course. He was a dedicated Lutheran, inscribing Soli Deo gloria at the end of every sacred work. But his six cello suites are central to the instrument’s repertoire, and Brian Thornton has warm memories of Lev Aronson coaching him in their performance.

Brian Thornton introduces Bach’s Cello Suite #3:

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Patrick Zimmerli: Sonata Kol Nidrei. With one foot in the world of jazz – he’s a saxophonist of Brian Thornton’s own generation – Patrick Zimmerli takes us into a world quite different from the one that shaped Lev Aronson. Or does he? The language of Zimmerli’s sonata is of our time, but its Kol Nidrei origins root it firmly in Jewish traditions: this is the text that introduces the Yom Kippur evening service. Brian Thornton commissioned this solo sonata for his Lev Aronson Legacy concerts and recording.

Brian Thornton introduces Zimmerli’s Sonata Kol Nidrei:

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Further listening:

Brian Thornton’s CD, Kol Nidrei and Beyond, Lev’s Story, at CDBaby

Cleveland Orchestra Cellist Honors His Teacher at WKSU News

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Blossom Time Song of Love Sheet Music Cover
Cover to sheet music for "Song of Love" from Blossom Time (Patricia Burton & Associates)

NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (9 June 2013) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.


From his childhood in Hungary at the end of the 18th century, Zsigmond Romberg had clearly displayed his musical promise. This, his parents thought, would never do! Zsigmond should study something that would guarantee him a solid, stable income. Music, they were certain, was the route to privation. Thus, they sent him away to school to study engineering.

Maybe they’d never been to the city where they sent him. If they had, they might have known that someone with a love of music wouldn’t long resist its pull in Vienna.

Sure enough, young Zsigmond quickly fell under the spell of Johann Strauss Junior and Franz Lehar. He signed up for composition lessons with Richard Heuberger, creator of the operetta Der Opernball – who, coincidentally, had also given up engineering to become a composer. After serving in Hungary’s army, Romberg headed for the States, hoping that the Land of Opportunity would be kind to an aspiring composer. When he arrived here in 1909, Romberg, now calling himself Sigmund, was just 22 years old.

Romberg’s first opportunity wasn’t as auspicious as he’d hoped: he found himself working in a pencil factory. However, it wasn’t long before he was playing piano in a cafe. That led to a gig leading the house orchestra at Andre Bustanoby’s tony New York restaurant. Romberg soon expanded the orchestra’s repertoire with his own waltzes and other compositions.

Bustanoby’s was at 39th and Broadway, so it was inevitable that Broadway would discover Romberg’s talent. Sure enough, producers JJ and Lee Shubert hired Romberg as a staff composer for their shop. In 1914 Romberg composed his first musical for the Shuberts, The Whirl of the World.

Three years later, Romberg had 17 musicals and revues to his name, and his first major hit on the stage: Maytime, an English adaptation of Walter Kollo’s Viennese operetta Wie einst im Mai (As Once in May).

In 1916, at the height of the Great War, the Hungarian composer Heinrich Berté had filled theatres in Vienna (and later Germany) with his long-running nostalgic (and utterly fictional) portrait of composer Franz Schubert’s love life, Das Dreimäderlhaus (The House of Three Maidens). Largely at the insistence of his producer, Berté had borrowed most of his musical themes from Schubert’s compositions. As it turned out, that was the right choice. The familiar tunes – and the sentimental subject – resonated strongly with audiences worn down by war. Das Dreimäderlhaus was, in a way, the opera stage success that had eluded Franz Schubert in his lifetime.

The US was on the other side in WW I, but by 1921, American listeners were again ready to embrace Austrian culture. In that year, Romberg applied his 1917 Maytime formula to Das Dreimäderlhaus. Blossom Time opened at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre on 29 September.

In creating Blossom Time, Romberg didn’t just fit Das Dreimäderlhaus‘s melodies to Dorothy Donnelly’s English libretto. He effectively recomposed the operetta’s music, changing the rhythms of many tunes, and adopting a theme from Schubert’s Unfinished symphony as Blossom Time‘s love theme.

The result was Romberg’s biggest hit yet. Blossom Time‘s legs carried it for almost 600 performances – one of the longest first runs in Broadway history.


Act 1 opens at Domayer’s, an outdoor cafe in Vienna. It’s May, 1826. Composer Franz Schubert’s friends Kuppelweiser, Vogl, and Schwind reveal that their better-heeled friend Baron Franz Schober is carrying on an affair with the married singer La Bellabruna. Bellabruna enters with her husband Count Scharntoff, who wonders what she finds so extraordinary about artists. She asks him, "Can you write a song?"

Sharntoff can’t, but he knows someone who can. He offers Schubert the astronomical sum of 250 Gulden (about 66,500 of today’s US dollars!) for a love song he can pass off as his own work.

We meet Mitzi Kranz and her sisters Fritzi and Kitzi. The latter two are secretly engaged, against their father’s wishes, and are here for a rendevous with their fiancees – Schubert’s friends Binder and Erkmann respectively.

Schubert joins his friends. He pays their bill – and tips the waiter. This is the eternally penniless composer? Schubert reveals his good fortune.

Herr Christian Kranz arrives, looking for his daughters, soon followed by Bellabruna’s wealthy lover, Baron Schober. Schober fears Count Scharntoff will challenge him to a duel over Bellabruna’s affections. He promises the Kranz sisters that he will persuade their father to accept Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s fiancees.

Mitzi reveals that she sings Schubert’s songs. Schubert is smitten. Schober tells Kranz that his daughters are at the restaurant so Mitzi can arrange to study singing with Schubert. Binder and Erkmann ask Herr Kranz for Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s hands. Tipsy with Schober’s wine, he agrees to consider the proposal.

Act 2 takes place 3 months later. We are at the Kranz home for Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s wedding. La Bellabruna realizes that Schober has fallen for Mitzi Kranz, and they agree to end their affair. In a duet, Mitzi and Schubert wonder about each other’s feelings.

Bellabruna tells Mitzi that "F S" is in love with her, and warns her that this "F S" is a cad. Bellabruna means Franz Schober, but Mitzi thinks she is speaking of Franz Schubert! Bellabruna’s warning thus confounds her intent: Mitzi, believing her trust in Schubert betrayed, falls under the romantic spell of her childhood friend, Schober.

The shy, quiet Schubert, unaware of Schober’s feelings for Mitzi, asks him to intercede on his behalf with Mitzi, taking Schubert’s love songs to her. The effort works, but not as Schubert intended: it further intensifies Mitzi’s attraction to Schober.

Act 3 finds us in Schubert’s apartment. Schubert has been accepted as a member of the Music Society, but he is despondent over his lost love. His Unfinished symphony is to be performed, but he is too ill to attend.

Count Scharntoff returns the song that Schubert composed for him; Bellabruna, he says, is unworthy of it. He will duel with Schober tomorrow. Despite his own unrequited love for Mitzi, Schubert tells Scharntoff that Schober loves Mitzi, not the Count’s wife Bellabruna. He persuades Scharntoff to cancel the duel, for Mitzi’s sake.

Mitzi apologizes to Schubert for her confusion and offers to help him through his illness. Recognizing that she and Schober are meant for each other, he urges her to follow her heart.

Franz Schubert Justin Berkowitz
Mitzi Amy Maples
Baron Schober Luke Bahr
Count Scharntoff Ted Christopher
La Bellabruna Caroline Miller
Herr Kranz Boyd Mackus
Fritzi Danielle McCormick Knox
Kitzi Sarah Best
Vogl Stephen Faulk
Kuppelweiser Christopher Cobbett
Schwind Brad Baron
Binder Jacob Allen
Erkmann John Callison
Frau Kranz Olivia Maughan
Greta Ruby White
Novotny Mary Snyder
Frau Coburg Suzanne Oberdorfer
Artistic Director Steven Daigle
Conductor Steven Byess
Rosamunde: Incidental Music Three Little Maids
Schwanengesang: "Ständchen" Serenade
Ecossaise D735 #2 & Trauerwalzer D365 #2 My Springtime Thou Art
Heidenröslein D257 Love’s A Riddle
Symphony #8 "Unfinished" Tell Me Daisy
Die Forelle D550 & Piano Sonata in Eb D568 Only One Love
Die schöne Müllerin D795: "Ungeduld" Thou Art My Love
Ave Maria D839 (Liederzyklus vom Fräulein
vom See
: "Ellens dritter Gesang")
Peace to My Lonely Heart
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Emmerich Kálmán
Emmerich Kálmán
(Wikimedia Commons)

NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (2 June 2013) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.


Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta Zsuzsi Kisasszony (Miss Susie) premiered in Hungarian in February of 1915 at Budapest’s Vig Theatre.

The next year it made its way to Broadway – effectively rewritten in English by none other than P G Wodehouse – under the title of Miss Springtime. In 1917 it was presented in German at Vienna’s Johann Strauss Theater as Die Faschingsfee (The Carnival Fairy), with a libretto by A M Willner and Rudolf Oesterreicher.

Kálmán’s name changed about as many times as his operetta’s! He was born in Siófok, Hungary on 24 October 1882 as Imre Koppstein. His heritage was Jewish, and when he applied for entrance to the Protestant gymnasium (secondary school) in Budapest, he took the surname Kálmán. He changed his first name to Emmerich when his works began to gain popularity in Vienna.

Like many composers of earlier times, Kálmán first studied law, after abandoning an initial desire to be a tailor. For a time he thought he might become a pianist, but physical problems – neuritis – drove him toward composition. He studied at the Budapest Music Academy (now the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music).

Kálmán’s early orchestral works brought him the Franz Josef Prize of Budapest. However, he found popular success in musical theatre with his first operetta, Tatarjaras, Ein Herbstmanoever (An Autumn Maneuver, which OLO produced as Autumn Maneuvers in 2002). After it became a massive hit in Vienna, he moved there, and quickly expanded his popularity with such works as Die Csardasfuerstin (OLO, The Gypsy Princess, 1986, 1993, 2010) and Graefin Mariza (OLO, Countess Maritza, 1985, 1989, 1994, 2003).

Miss Springtime, as performed by Ohio Light Opera last summer (2012), was OLO artistic director Stephen Daigle’s English reworking of the Viennese version, Die Faschingsfee. It has been issued on CD by Albany Records under the title The Carnival Fairy.


Act 1 places us amid Carnival celebrations at a Munich tavern. Painter Viktor Ronai is toasting his victory in an art competition – he’ll receive a prize of DM50,000! This is a generous stipend for a starving artist: adjusting for inflation, 1915′s DM50,000 would be over US$266,000 today.

Countess Alexandra, driving her car, has a minor accident and is surrounded by a group of the Carnival revelers. She joins them. Not knowing who she is, they declare her Miss Springtime, the Carnival queen.

After a short chat with Alexandra, Hubert introduces her – incognito – to Viktor. She is immediately drawn to him. They drink champagne. Meanwhile, Hubert’s girlfriend, Lori, threatens to leave him over his brief conversation with Alexandra.

Count Meredith arrives. Thinking the masked Alexandra a commoner, he makes advances to her. She clearly doesn’t appreciate his attention, though, so Viktor steps forward to defend her honor. Unbeknownst to Viktor, however, Meredith has funded his award. Now he withdraws it! "A chaperone of working girls will never get my prize," he vows.

Alexandra begs Viktor’s forgiveness: "I’ve destroyed this opportunity for you … Perhaps I can do something for you?" Viktor asks only that she see him again.

Act 2 opens in Viktor’s studio, where he has painted Miss Springtime from memory. He is entertaining his friends lavishly: he has received his prize after all! Not only that, but his benefactor has also paid to renovate his studio. One thing is missing from his life, though. He still doesn’t know the identity of Miss Springtime – and he’s smitten with her.

The bohemians disperse and Hubert enters. He has two revelations for us. First, this very night, Alexandra is to be betrothed to Duke Ottokar. Second, it’s she, not Meredith, who has funded Viktor’s award and studio. Viktor returns, and it’s again abundantly clear: Alexandra is about to marry the wrong person.

Meredith enters and Viktor thanks him for his generosity. But, says he, I didn’t send the money! Meredith, thinking Hubert provided the prize, reimburses him. But what Meredith really wants to know is – what happened to the "chorus girl" who so attracted him the night of Carnival? Hubert tells him that she is the "Cannon Countess" with the circus.

Meredith has been invited to a party with Duke Ottokar, so he takes his leave. Alexandra frets. The party is her surprise betrothal! What will happen when Meredith recognizes the "Cannon Countess" there? "I can’t help it," she sighs; "It’s my mischievous Hungarian heritage."

Hubert gives Meredith’s prize reimbursement to Alexandra for safekeeping. Hubert’s girlfriend Lori sees this, and in Viktor’s presence, accuses Hubert of proposing to Alexandra. Shocked, Victor rejects Alexandra. Duke Ottokar enters, and Viktor learns that not only has Hubert tried to buy Alexandra’s love, she’s already engaged to the Duke! Devastated, Viktor casts his painting of her into the fire.

Act 3 takes place at the Hotel Regina, where Countess Alexandra and Duke Ottokar are about to announce their engagement. Viktor enters. He tells Hubert he is leaving, and wants to return the stipend that he thinks Hubert funded. Hubert confesses that the money came from Alexandra. Viktor, ashamed, apologizes to Alexandra for his rude behavior. She refuses to speak with him, but instead dictates a letter of acknowledgement to Hubert.

To her shock, when Hubert delivers the letter to Viktor, it has become a declaration of love! Hubert confesses to Duke Ottokar, "Yes, I wrote it. But it’s true: she loves him, he loves her, and they are meant to be together."

Duke Ottokar calls in all the guests. "In the spirit of Carnival, a deception has been played," he announces. "I’ve invited you here not for my own engagement, but to announce the engagement of Countess Alexandra Maria to the painter Viktor Ronai." The company all applaud, and Alexandra and Viktor sing a duet. Once again, love conquers all, as the curtain falls on Miss Springtime.

Countess Alexandra Tara Sperry
Viktor Ronai Grant Knox
Hubert Jacob Allen
Lori Natalie Ballenger
Count Meredith Stephen Faulk
Lubitschek Christopher Cobbett
Duke Ottokar Mark Snyder
Dierks Geoffrey Kannenberg
Pappritz Nathan Brian
Goetz Andrew Maughan
Merringer Ezra Bershatsky
Mizzi Mary Griffith
Artistic Director Steven Daigle
Conductor Steven Byess
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Gustav Mahler in 1892
Gustav Mahler, 1892
(Wikimedia Commons)

It was quite an honor for a young composer – a chance to play his latest work for a master conductor – and Gustav Mahler accepted it gratefully.

At the keyboard, Mahler glanced up from his score. Conductor Hans Guido Freiherr von Bülow’s hands were covering his ears! Mahler’s Totenfeier trailed off. "No, no," Bülow murmured. "Please, carry on."

Mahler’s first symphony, the "Titan," had premiered in 1889. He’d tried to deny that it had a program, but eventually admitted that what he had in mind was "a strong, heroic man, his life and sufferings, his battles and defeat at the hands of Fate."

With this new work, Totenfeier – Funeral Rite – Mahler was burying his first symphony’s hero.

Mahler arrived at the final notes of the Totenfeier. The room fell silent. Long seconds ticked away. Bülow sat, silent, staring. Then the words poured out: "If what I’ve just heard is still music, then I no longer understand anything about music."

Mahler was crushed. The critics had written after his first symphony that Mahler was a fine conductor – but, like most fine conductors, he had no future as a composer. Now this. "I’m thinking of giving it up," he wrote to his friend Richard Strauss.

He didn’t. Nor did he allow Bülow’s judgement to turn him away from his work. And, as it turned out, Bülow would have yet another role to play in the composition of what would eventually become Mahler’s second symphony.

It took Mahler another 2 years to make further progress on the symphony. By that time a mildly revised Totenfeier had become the symphony’s first movement. Once he’d finished the symphony’s andante second movement in July of 1893, Mahler almost immediately composed the third, a scherzo.

As a study for that scherzo, Mahler had written a song, a setting of a text from the German folk poetry collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). The verse he chose was "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" (St Anthony’s Sermon to the Fishes). This tale had significance for Mahler, as we’ll soon see. In his Hamburg study – Mahler was chief conductor of the State Theatre there – hung an artist’s image of this aquatic sermon. It was a sermon politely and attentively received by the saint’s scaly audience – and an entirely ineffectual one.

That same month, Mahler briefly set aside the symphony to compose music for yet another Wunderhorn verse. "Urlicht" carried a decidedly more optimistic tone. Initially, Mahler meant it for his collection of Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs.

Now Mahler had the first three movements of his symphony. He’d already realized that the largest orchestra wouldn’t suit the statement he wanted to make with its finale, that he’d need a chorus. But what words would they sing? Nothing seemed quite right. Not even his beloved Wunderhorn collection yielded his text.

So things remained through the rest of the summer and the winter of 1893.

It was Bülow who gave him the answer in the spring – though not in the way Bülow might have preferred. In early February of 1894, Bülow had gone to Cairo, searching for relief from his failing health. But five days on, the spark of life winked out for Bülow.

Bülow’s body was returned to Hamburg. On the 29th of March, Mahler attended his memorial service at St Michaels. "It hit me like a lightning bolt, and everything became plain and clear in my mind!" Mahler told a friend. The choir had sung Friedrich Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode in Bülow’s service: "Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n, wirst du, mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh!" ("You will rise, my dust, yes, rise, after a brief rest.").

Mahler had the text for his choral finale. Or, rather, for some of it; in the end, he chose what suited him from Klopstock, and wrote the rest of the words himself. Three months later, the finale was finished.

But Mahler was still not satisfied with the symphony’s structure. He thought the lightness of the second movement, the andante, was too much of a contrast with the massive first movement. He didn’t like the transition between the scherzo and the finale, either.

The second problem he solved by inserting the "Urlicht" song between the 4th movement and the finale – the first time any composer had done such a thing in a symphony.

For the first problem, he experimented with placing the scherzo ahead of the andante. Ultimately, though, he decided to go with plan A – andante first – and suggest that the conductor allow an interval of "at least 5 minutes" between the first movement and the andante.* (In one performance Mahler conducted, he also inserted a pause between the 4th movement and the finale. In the end, though, he thought better of it, and said that the finale should immediately follow the "Urlicht," with no break at all.)

So exactly what was it that Mahler needed to say in his second symphony? Why did he need a massive orchestra, two soloists, and a chorus? The subtitle, "Resurrection," might lead you to think that he was expressing a religious idea.

However traditional it may be, though, that subtitle is not Mahler’s. He was not a religious man. Though he’d been born and raised in Judaism, Mahler didn’t much adhere to its precepts as an adult.

Mahler converted to Catholicism early in 1897, but that too had little spiritual significance for him. It was really just a way round Vienna’s virulent official anti-semitism, which had stood in the way of his directorship of the Vienna Court Opera. (As he left the conversion ceremony, he remarked to a friend, "I have just changed my coat.") Later, asked why he’d never composed a mass, Mahler replied that he couldn’t state the Credo and still maintain his artistic and spiritual integrity.

The real meaning of this music can be found in Mahler’s own words: "My [first] two symphonies are nothing but the full substance of my whole life."

Over a period of nearly 5 years, Mahler gave his listeners much more specific information about his second symphony, in the form of movement-by-movement programs. He wrote three in all. Even though he eventually withdrew them, I think they still provide useful context for the music.

Gilbert Kaplan, the businessman and amateur musician so taken with Mahler’s second symphony that he created the Kaplan Foundation to support study and preservation of Mahler’s music, and even studied and learned to conduct the work, has developed an analysis which draws from all three of Mahler’s programs. Here is a somewhat abridged and paraphrased version.

Movement 1: Allegro Maestoso. Mit Durchaus Ernstem Und Feierlichem Ausdruck. We stand at the coffin of a beloved person. His whole life, his struggles, his passions, his sufferings, his accomplishments, all pass before us. The distractions of everyday life are lifted like a hood from our eyes, and a solemn voice chills our hearts: "What next? What is life? What is death? Why do we live? Why do we suffer? Is it all nothing but a huge, frightful joke?" We must answer these questions if we are to go on living — indeed, if we are to go on dying! This answer I give in the final movement.

Movement 2: Andante Moderato. Sehr Gemächlich. You are struck by a memory, a ray of sunlight, pure and cloudless, out of the departed’s life. Surely you’ve had the experience of burying someone dear to you. Perhaps, on the way back, some long forgotten hour of shared happiness suddenly rose before your inner eye, sending a sunbeam into your soul — and you almost forgot what had just taken place.

Movement 3: Scherzo: In Ruhig Fliessender Bewegung. You awaken from that blissful dream. The surge of life in ceaseless motion, never comprehensible, suddenly seems eerie, like billowing dancers in a brightly lit ballroom that you gaze into from a distance so great that you cannot hear the music. The movement of the couples seems senseless. You imagine that, to one who has lost his identity and happiness, the world looks like this — distorted, as if reflected in a concave mirror. Life for such a person becomes meaningless. Disgust for every form of existence seizes him. He cries out in anguish.

Movement 4: Ulricht. Sehr Feierlich, Aber Schlicht. The voice of simple faith rings in our ears: "I am from God, and to God I will return! The loving God will give me a small light, will light me to blessed eternal life!"

Movement 5: Im Tempo Des Scherzos. Wild Herausfahrend. The finale starts with the same anguished scream that ended the scherzo. The Last Judgment is at hand. The earth trembles; the Last Trumpet sounds; the graves burst open; all the creatures struggle from the ground, moaning and trembling. They march in a mighty procession: rich and poor, peasants and kings, the whole church with bishops and popes. All cry and tremble alike because, in the eyes of God, there are no just men. Their fearful cries for mercy and forgiveness ring in our ears.

The wailing becomes more terrible. Our senses desert us; all consciousness dies as the Eternal Judge approaches. The trumpets of the Apocalypse ring out.

Finally, the graves are empty; the earth lies silent and deserted. Comes now the long note of the bird of death. Even it finally dies away.

What happens now is far from what we expected. All has ceased to exist. Then: the soft, gentle sound of a chorus of saints and heavenly hosts: "Rise again, yes, you shall rise again!" The glory of God comes into sight. A wondrous light strikes us to the heart. All is quiet and blissful. Behold: there is no judgment, no sinners, no just men, no great, no small. There is no punishment and no reward. A feeling of overwhelming love fills us with bliss and illuminates our existence.


"The whole symphony sounds as though it came to us from some other world. I think there is no one who can resist it. One is battered to the ground and then raised on angels’ wings to the greatest heights."

  – Gustav Mahler


Gustav Mahler: Symphony #2 in c minor "Resurrection"
Christine Brandes, soprano; Lucille Beer, mezzo-soprano
Canton Symphony Chorus; Malone University Chorale; Walsh University Chamber Choir; University of Mount Union Concert Choir; [College of] Wooster Chorus
Canton Symphony Orchestra
Gerhardt Zimmermann, conductor

Movement 4: Urlicht (Primal Light)
Alto (or Mezzo-Soprano)
(From the German folk poetry collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Youth’s Magic Horn])
O Röschen rot! O little red rose!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not! Mankind lies in greatest need!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein! Mankind lies in greatest pain!
Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein! I would much rather be in Heaven!
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg; Then I found myself on a broad path;
da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen. Came then an angel who would divert me.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen! No, no, I will not be diverted!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott! I’m from God, and intend to return to God!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben, The loving God will grant me a small light,
wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben! will light me to blessed eternal life!
Finale: Auferstehen (Arise)
Soprano, Alto (or Mezzo-Soprano) and Chorus

(1st 2 verses: Friedrich Klopstock; remainder: Gustav Mahler)

Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du, You wil rise, yes, rise,
mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh! my dust, after a brief rest!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben Immortal life, immortal life
wird, der dich rief, dir geben. He who called you will give you.
Wieder aufzublühn, wirst du gesä’t! You were sown to bloom again!
Der Herr der Ernte geht The Lord of the Harvest
und sammelt Garben goes forth and gathers us in,
uns ein, die starben! the dead, like sheaves!
O glaube, mein Herz! O glaube: O believe, my heart, o believe:
Es geht dir nichts verloren! You have lost nothing!
Dein ist, ja Dein, was du gesehnt, All you have yearned for is yours,
Dein, was du geliebt, was du gestritten! Yours, for which you have loved and striven!
O glaube: Du warst nicht umsonst geboren! O believe: not for nothing were you born!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten! You haven’t lived and struggled in vain!
Was entstanden ist, das muss vergehen! What has come to be must pass!
Was vergangen, auferstehen! What has passed, arise!
Hör auf zu beben! Cease your trembling!
Bereite dich zu leben! Prepare yourself to live!
O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer! O all-penetrating pain,
Dir bin ich entrungen! I am wrested from you!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger! O death, you who vanquish all,
Nun bist du bezwungen! Now you are vanquished!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen, With wings that I have won for myself,
in heißem Liebesstreben in heated pursuit of love,
werd’ ich entschweben I will soar aloft
zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug’ gedrungen! to the light which no eye has reached!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen, With wings that I have won for myself,
werde ich entschweben! I will soar aloft!
Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben! I will die, so that I may live!
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du, You will rise, yes rise,
mein Herz, in einem Nu! my heart, in an instant!
Was du geschlagen, What you have vanquished
zu Gott wird es dich tragen! will lead you to God!
Translation: David Roden – Creative Commons 3.0 BY/NC/SA

*In today’s (25 November 2012) broadcast of the work, we’ll honor Mahler’s request – and simultaneously deal with our legal obligation to the FCC – by taking time out between the first and second movements for a station identification.

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