As we continue to kick off this new year, Ether Game is celebrating fresh starts, introductions, and grand arrivals in classical music. It’s a show we’re calling “Making An Entrance.”
Say “hi, how are you” to these famous musical entrances…
- Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), Il Barbiere Di Siviglia: Largo al factotum – This aria marks one of the most famous entrances in opera history. The wheeling and dealing Figaro sings of his role as village ”factotum”—a guy who unofficially does multiple jobs. The aria is a classic example of Rossini’s comedic style, featuring rapid patter-like singing from Figaro that accelerates as the aria reaches its climax. Figaro boasts that he is the sort who can get things done, especially if you happen to be a noble pretending to be a student to woo the girl of your dreams away from her obstinate guardian. Such is the dilemma Figaro faces when his former (and future) master Count Almaviva comes to him for help. While the first two plays in Pierre Beaumarchais’s “Figaro Trilogy”—Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro are famous to music lovers thanks to Rossini and Mozart, the third entitled The Guilty Mother has never enjoyed the same popularity.
- Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), Aida: Grand March – Giuseppe Verdi’s grand opera Aida premiered in Cairo, Egypt in 1871. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Verdi had been asked to compose an ode for the opening of the Canal, but refused on the grounds that he did not write “occasional pieces.”Aida remains a staple of the operatic repertoire at any theatre brave enough to stage it. The tradition remains in larger halls that during the Grand March, live Elephants and other real animals make a grand entrance, and are paraded across the stage along with the cast of characters.
- Julius Fučík (1872–1916), Entrance of the Gladiators – This music probably conjures up more images of silly circus clowns than it does brave gladiators, but that wasn’t composer Julie Fučík’s intention. The Czech composer originally wrote this as a kind of chromatic military march. But his obsession with ancient Roman culture caused him to title the work the “Entrance of the Gladiators,” as a nod to those brave warriors entering the Roman colosseum ready to engage in battle. Fučík himself was not from Rome, rather he was born in Prague in 1872. He studied composition under none other than Antonín Dvořák before going on to develop his musical talents in various regimental bands of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Despite the success of “Entry of the Gladiators,” very few of Fučík’s more than 400 compositions are known outside of his native Czech Republic.
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, “Eroica”: I. Allegro con brio – Beethoven knew how to make an entrance with his music. His famed Eroica Symphony marked a turning point for the composer, and its new revolutionary sound can be heard immediately in the first chord. The symphony begins unusually by not including a slow introduction. Instead, Beethoven begins with two crashes of an E-flat major triad, almost like he is kicking in the door, saying “wake up and listen!” As the music unfolds, Beethoven creates a drama, full of adversity, struggle, and triumph. This drama is befitting of the symphony’s nickname “Eroica” or “Heroic.” The hero of the drama is unnamed—although it could very likely be the composer himself, who was struggling with increasingly inevitable deafness when he wrote it. Originally, the hero was supposed to be the revolutionary hero Napoleon Bonaparte. That is, until Napoleon named himself Emperor and Beethoven scratched out his name from the symphony’s title page.
- Richard Wagner (1813–1883), Tannhäuser: Entry of the Guests – In Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser, history and myth are blended together through the filter of nineteenth-century German nationalism. The story takes place at the real historic castle known as The Wartburg and the legendary singing competition, or Sängerkrieg, that took place there during the middle ages. The excerpt we just heard marks the opening ceremonies of the competition, in which noble guests enter the hall and form a semicircle, in the middle of which the famed Minnesängers will compete. Our hero is Tannhäuser, a minstrel who tries to compete only to find that he has been damned because of a salacious trip he took to the home of Venus, the goddess of love. It seems that even the Pope can’t save Tannhäuser’s soul, but he is eventually redeemed by pure love of a woman named Elizabeth.
- Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585), Spem In Alium – Thomas Tallis’s famous 40-voice motet, “Spem in alium,” employs an extraordinarily large ensemble, and Tallis takes full advantage of the dynamic possibilities presented by his metaphorical “cast of thousands.” The 40 voices are, in the original full score, notated on 40 separate staves. The arrangement of the parts in the original manuscript, which now resides in the British Library, seems to indicate that Tallis intended the voices to be divided into eight separate choirs, with five voices, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass, in each choir. The composer, who was well-known for his contrapuntal prowess, gradually introduces each voice through imitation, one of the most common entrance techniques in Renaissance music; each voice enters by repeating the musical motive that directly precedes it. Through the skillful manipulation of his eight five-voice choirs, Tallis manages to create a slow build until the final grand entrance, when all 40 voices sing in unison.
- Johann Strauss II (1825–1899), The Gypsy Baron: Entrance March – In 2018, this march kicked off the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Concert. This concert series has been happening since the 1940s as a way to celebrate the Waltz music of Vienna. The “Entrance March” from Johann Strauss II’s operetta The Gypsy Baron is a perfect way to enter the new year. Although an “entrance” march, this excerpt actually comes at nearly the end of the opera. The opera is about a man who falls in love with a young gypsy girl, only to find that she is actually the daughter of a Turkish nobleman. This is upsetting news, because it means he can’t marry her unless he becomes a nobleman himself. The man joins the army, and his heroic efforts in combat allows him to rise in noble rank and thus marry the gypsy girl. This march comes just as he and the troops enter the city after their victory in battle.
- Tielman Susato (c. 1500–c. 1561), Entre du Fol (“Fool’s Entry”) – Not much is known about Tielman Susato’s life. We do know he lived in the early 16th century, and flourished in Antwerp as a composer and music publisher. In 1551, he published a volume of dance music, which became popular in the area. Susato didn’t perform in a dance consort himself, but his music would have been appropriate for this kind of ensemble performing for a rich Flemish court around this time. Dance played a large part in courtly life in the 16th century, both as an art form and in social gatherings. Some of Susato’s dances included refined court dances, lowly peasant dances, and even elaborate choreographed mock battles. There are even dances associated with different characters. For instance, Susato wrote a “King’s Dance,” just for the king. And, as we just heard, he wrote a “Fool’s Entry,” to accompany the entrance of the court jester into these noble gatherings.
- Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: “Pure Imagination” – In the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, this song is sung just as the five golden ticket winners enter the magical “tasting room” in Willy Wonka’s fantastic chocolate factory. This tasting room resembles a garden where everything from the flowers, to the trees, to the chocolate river is edible. Author Roald Dahl created this world, but actor Gene Wilder added other aspects to Wonka’s character. Take Willy Wonka’s grand entrance when everyone arrives at the chocolate factory for the first time. When he enters, he walks slowly with a limp and a cane. but then his cane gets stuck in the cobblestones, and wonka falls forward and does a somersault, leaping miraculously to his feet! Talk about making an entrance! Wilder wanted to add this character trait to Wonka so that no one will know from then on if Wonka was lying or telling the truth.