We’re blooming with excitement this week, as we stop and smell the roses for some flowery music. Those April showers are behind us, so this week’s show is called “May Flowers.”
Check out our flowery playlist below:
- Léo Delibes (1815–1910), Lakmé: Sous le dôme épais (Flower Duet) – Though the music of Leo Delibes is not widely known—the ballet Coppélia is probably his most enduring work—beautiful pieces like this make you wonder why. We heard Lakmé and Mallika, a slave girl, sing a duet as they pick flowers by a river. The opera is set in India under British rule, offering numerous opportunities for music to illustrate the clash of cultures. Plotwise, the opera doesn’t turn out well for anyone. The title character is the beautiful daughter of a Hindu priest. The priest wants revenge on the occupying British, so when Lakmé falls in love with Gérald, a British officer, her father vehemently disapproves, and he stabs Gérald. Lakmé then commits suicide as she and Gérald drink magical water that ensures they will be together for all eternity.
- Scott Joplin (1868–1917), Gladiolus Rag – During Scott Joplin’s early life, ragtime music was not considered serious music. It was music for the dance halls and “red-light” districts of town. But few could have predicted how hugely popular it would become in the mainstream. Perhaps this was due to Joplin rebranding the genre as a kind of chamber music, appropriate for the parlors and drawing rooms of 19th-century music enthusiasts. He refined ragtime so it didn’t sound so bawdy, slowing down the tempo and replacing the improvised portions of the music with more tuneful and finely crafted melodies. He also gave his rags attractive, memorable titles. Three are named after flowers: tonight’s selection, the Gladiolus Rag, as well as the Sunflower Slow Drag and the Chrysanthemum. Although not named for a flower, his Maple Leaf Rag would become the most popular rag of all time, providing Joplin with royalties for the rest of his life.
- Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990), Candide: Make Our Garden Grow (Finale) – “Make Our Garden Grow” is the surprisingly sincere finale to the otherwise satirical operetta Candide, by Leonard Bernstein. After many trials and tribulations, our hero Candide returns home and resolves to make a good, simple life for himself and the people he loves, centered around … gardening (both literally and metaphorically). This finale was in the original conception of the operetta, but other parts went through numerous changes. It was author Lillian Hellman who conceived of making Voltaire’s novel Candide into a play, and it was Bernstein who convinced her to make it an operetta. He wasn’t too happy with Hellman’s result, so several other authors, including John La Touche, Dorothy Parker, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, and even Bernstein himself, made changes to the libretto over the years.
- Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), Blumine – Some music is sown in one work and then reaped in another, only to be separated like chaff from wheat when all is said and done. This is certainly the case with the original second movement to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the so-called “Titan” symphony. The movement, titled “Blumine” or “Floral,” had roots based in incidental music Mahler composed for a staging of Joseph Scheffel’s poem, “The Trumpeter of Säckingen.” Mahler re-incorporated elements of this score into the “Blumine” movement, now named after the collection of essays by Jean Paul entitled Herbst-Blumine (or “Autumn Flower Pieces”). Many parts of this symphony, including the title “Titan,” were inspired by the writings of Jean Paul. After three performances, Mahler cut the “Blumine” movement because is was too sentimental and it didn’t serve a symphonic function—plus, it was also harshly criticized by the press. Today, it’s frequently performed as a standalone piece.
- Johann Strauss II (1825–1899), Blumenfest-Polka (Floral Festive Polka), Op. 111 – Johann Strauss Jr’s Floral Festival Polka might have a quaint title, but the story behind the piece is far from that. Strauss wrote the polka in 1852, three years after the Austrian Empire had been ravaged by various nationalist revolutions. Over the course of one year, eleven countries and ethnic groups attempted to gain independence from the Habsburg monarchy. Though born in Austria, Strauss initially sided with the revolutionaries, likely because his family background was Jewish Hungarian. The decision cost Strauss several jobs in Vienna, and eventually he started writing patriotic music to regain favor with the Austrian emperor. The Floral Festive Polka was the first of these patriotic compositions, written in honor of the Archduchess Sophie of Bavaria for the yearly Spring festival that was held in the gardens of the Hapsburg palace. The strategy must have worked, because Strauss was later appointed court music director, despite his earlier brush with the authorities.
- Maurice Ravel (1875–1937), Jeux d’eau – Ravel’s lovely solo piano work Jeux d’eau (or “Play of Water”) owes a great deal of debt to two of his mentors: Franz Liszt and Gabriel Fauré. The work was inspired by the late Franz Liszt’s piano piece Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este, and both works depict the cascading sounds of water in a fountain. Ravel’s Jeux d’eau was dedicated to his teacher, fellow Frenchman Gabriel Fauré. Fans of WFIU will have no trouble realizing why a piano work about water fits in to a show all about flowers. Jeux d’eau has been used theme music for the short program Focus On Flowers for years now! Focus On Flowers host Moya Andrews is a master gardener and a member of the Bloomington Garden Club, and she has provided countless listeners with tips on how to get their gardens to grow.
- Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924), “Le papillon et la fleur” – “Le Papillon et la Fleur” or “The Butterfly and the Flower,” is one of Gabriel Fauré’s earliest compositions, and the first of his songs to be published. At the song’s premiere in 1869, Fauré was only just beginning to develop his impressionist style that would later be continued by Debussy and Ravel. Thus the piece follows more in the tradition of German lieder, taking its artistic direction from the form and words of the poem on which it is based. Like with many of his songs, Fauré chose to set music to a poem by Victor Hugo. This one tells the story of a flower who is in love with a butterfly that comes to visit her. The flower bemoans the fact that she is rooted to the ground, while the butterfly is free to roam the garden. She even expresses jealousy that because of this, the butterfly might be visiting countless other flowers after her.
- Agustín Barrios (1885–1944), Un Sueño En La Floresta (“A Dream In The Flowerbed”) – In the early 20th century, the legendary guitar virtuoso Agustín Barrios became known all over South America for his dazzling technique that helped push classical guitar music forward. Born in Paraguay, Barrios left his home country at age 25 to travel and perform around South and Central America. He adopted the stage name of Mangoré, which was the name of a famous chief of the Guaraní people native to Paraguay. He performed in traditional feathers and a headdress, which attracted some attention, but not as much attention as his virtuoso playing. This piece for instance, “A Dream In The Flowerbed,” features a very technically challenging tremolo technique, where one high note is repeated while the fingers of the left hand stretch to play a melody in the lower register.
- Scott McKenzie, San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) – Scott McKenzie’s 1967 song “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” became the anthem of the so-called “Summer Of Love” in 1967, exemplifying everything that was beautiful about the “Flower Power” movement of the hippies in the late 1960s. While McKenzie provides the beautiful vocals, the song was actually written by John Phillips, one of the members of the pop vocal group The Mamas And The Papas. Although San Francisco is at the heart of this song, it actually became more closely associated with the city 100 miles south, Monterey, California. The song was used to promote the Monterey Pop Festival, the counterculture music festival that laid the groundwork for every other music festival since (including Woodstock). Naturally, the Mamas and the Papas, with Scott McKenzie, closed the festival, performing this song, an anthem to the strength of “Flower Power.”