In the early 19th century a new kind of music -- passionate, poetic and unrestrained -- was capturing the imaginations of Western composers. They were the Romantics. Their music celebrated human emotion, exalted beauty and emphasized feeling over form.
This Saturday, the Sam Houston State University Symphony Orchestra will salute two of the Romantic era's most distinguished composers -- Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn. The season-opening performance is set for 7:30 p.m. in SHSU's Killinger Auditorium.
The concert will mark the 200th year since the birth of Schubert, a Viennese composer often hailed as the first musical voice of the Romantic movement. It will also commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mendelssohn's death. A German composer known for his harmonious fusion of classical and Romantic spirits, Mendelssohn is often revered as the last of the great classicists.
In Schubert's honor, the orchestra, under the direction of Carol Smith, will perform one of the composer's signature works, "Symphony No. 8," also known as his "Unfinished Symphony." The two-movement work is among Schubert's most popular masterpieces.
According to SHSU music professor Kip Wile, the "Unfinished Symphony" blends "vigor with passion and vulnerability" creating an "astonishing emotional depth that lends the music a timeless quality, as though Schubert were composing for the ages."
Mystery has always surrounded the nature of the "Unfinished Symphony, explained Wile. The survival of fragmentary sketches demonstrates that Schubert, at least for a time, intended to compose a traditional four-movement symphony. Yet having completed only the first two movements the composer presented them as "one of my symphonies in full score."
This mystery, as well as the Romantic epithet "Unfinished," have undoubtedly contributed to the symphony's extraordinary fame.
The second half of Saturday's Romantic music affair features a Mendelssohn piano concerto penned when the composer was only 14 years old. Again under the baton of Carol Smith, the SHSU Symphony Orchestra will perform Mendelssohn's "Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E major." The performance will feature the keyboard mastery of SHSU pianists Charlotte Tull and John Paul, two long-time members of the SHSU music faculty.
Tull is a graduate of the University of North Texas where she studied under Silvio Scionti and Stefan Bardas. She performs regularly in solo recitals, orchestral engagements, and duo-piano and chamber ensemble concerts. Paul completed his bachelors and masters degrees at the Manhattan School of Music and earned a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. He also attended the Academy of Music in Vienna. He performs regularly as a recitalist, a soloist with orchestras, and in chamber music concerts.
Tull and Paul have earned numerous accolades for their many piano-duo concerts. Mendelssohn's demanding concerto promises to provide a fitting showcase for these two talented musicians.
Unrealized by many, Mendelssohn was a child prodigy on par with Mozart. As young children, he and his older sister, Fanny, were rigorously trained, not only in music, but in Greek, Latin, history, contemporary literature and drawing. At age four Mendelssohn took up piano, and by the time he was eight he could play all of Beethoven's symphonies from memory. Also at eight, he began composing his own music. By the time he was 16, Mendelssohn had written four operas and a variety of concertos, symphonies, cantatas and piano music.
"In the music of his early maturity, Mendelssohn is unparalleled by Mozart or anyone else," Wile said.
Works penned in the composer's early years are among his most famous. These include Mendelssohn's "Octet in Eb major", written at age 16, and his immortal "Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream," composed the following year.
Saturday's Mendelssohn selection, "Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E major," offers a taste of the composer's early work. Completed in October 1823, the concerto was first performed -- with Mendelssohn and Fanny at piano -- a year later in Berlin, on Fanny's Nov. 14 birthday.
In addition to the two musical performances, Saturday's program will include the presentation of the Ahysen-Towler String Scholarship. Established in 1992 with substantial contributions from Howell H. Towler Jr. and Harry Ahysen, the scholarship assists talented string performers with expenses while pursuing degrees at SHSU.
This year's scholarship recipient is Bryan Hornbeck, the symphony's principal cellist. A graduate of Bryan High School, Hornbeck is pursing degrees in music and business administration at SHSU. For the last two years he has served as symphony president.
Tickets to Saturday's SHSU Symphony Orchestra performance may be purchased on the night of the event at the door of the Killinger Auditorium. The auditorium is located in the Beto Criminal Justice Center on the northeast corner of the SHSU campus. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students and children. The concert is free for SHSU students and Friends of Music members. For more information on SHSU concert events or Friends of Music membership, contact the SHSU music department at (409) 294-1360.