DR. CAROLINE KYUNGA AHN, COMPOSER
Take Me Home Clouds, Take Me…
‘Take Me Home Clouds, Take Me…’ for Orchestra (2023) is one of my ‘Take Me Home’ piece collections that I plan to write throughout my entire career as a composer. I wrote my first one ‘Take Me Home Winds, Take me’ for Trio in 2017 when my grandma passed away. At that time, I fell into a deep dark hole, and homesickness as a foreigner hit me greatly. I wanted to go back to my hometown in South Korea to be with my family.
After several years, my life is more settled and comfortable in the US, and it no longer feel like Korea is my home anymore. The more I live here in Carmel, I just love the city more and more, and my Carmel home feels like my real home where my heart] belongs. ‘Take Me Home Clouds, Take Me…’ recalls the situation when we were in horrible airplane turbulence on the way back home from our family vacation in Las Vegas.
The piece starts with intense harsh harmonies to describe stressful and scary situations on the airplane. A lot of dissonances and nonfunctional harmonies are heard in the beginning section. Next section leads into repetitive 16th notes in the string section. The more the airplane shook, people became more anxious, and it started to feel almost chaotic, and I was trying to describe it.
The following section describes when I started talking to my children who were super nervous at that time to think about our sweet Carmel home, and how we would be home soon. This section is where I was trying to describe my impression of our city Carmel… very fresh, authentic, fun, urban but peaceful and beautiful.
‘Take Me Home Clouds, Take Me…’ is commissioned by Carmel Symphony Orchestra and is dedicated to my family who is always there for me. Many thanks to the Carmel Symphony Orchestra for commissioning me to write a piece for such an honorable occasion, and for such a beautiful hall. I am honored to have completed my orchestra work, ‘Take Me Home Clouds, Take Me….(2023)’ and very excited to share it with people around the world .
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (1785)
Early in 1785, Leopold Mozart traveled from Salzburg to Vienna for an extended visit with his son Wolfgang. While there, he was present when Wolfgang premiered a new piano concerto on February 11. In a letter home, Leopold told his daughter that Wolfgang had completed the concerto only the day before the premiere; consequently, there had not been time for any rehearsal as a team of copyists were still writing out the orchestral parts for the last movement minutes before the performance was to begin!
Stories like this are common, often with the inference that Mozart was a lazy fellow who put off work until the last possible minute. But nothing could be further from the truth. The two years between February 1784 and March 1786 were the busiest period of Mozart’s life. During this time, he wrote no less than eleven piano concertos. This, by itself, would be a remarkable feat. But when you consider that during the same period he also wrote a piano sonata, two violin sonatas, three string quartets, three piano trios, two piano quartets, and the opera The Marriage of Figaro, along with a vast number of shorter works of various kinds, all while juggling performing and teaching commitments on top of everything else, the wonder is not that he sometimes finished pieces late, but that it didn’t happen more often.
Mozart’s choice to concentrate on piano concertos during this period can be seen as a marketing decision. Having left Salzburg for Vienna in June 1784, his initial concern was to promote himself as both composer and pianist. Churning out concertos for his own use proved to be a good vehicle for building his reputation on both fronts. This might explain why nearly all of his works up till then were in major keys; he may have felt they were more immediately digestible for a public that viewed concert-going as a pleasant diversion.
With the piano concerto of February 1785—the seventh of his Vienna concertos and the twentieth overall—Mozart must have felt ready to break the mold somewhat. For the first time, he wrote a concerto in a minor key. Moreover, he chose D minor, a key often associated with dramatic, and even terrifying expressions. Many have pointed out that the many aspects of the concerto, including the key, anticipate the music for the climactic scene in his opera Don Giovanni, as the Commendatore’s ghost drags the unrepentant Don screaming to hell. No wonder this concerto would continue to be a favorite of the Romantic composer/pianists of the next century.
While the concerto is in many ways a typical mid eighteenth-century concerto, there is much about it that must have seemed new to Mozart’s contemporaries. In place of a clearly stated theme, the concerto opens quietly with a tense, choppy figure in the strings, suddenly blown away as trumpets and timpani make an unexpected forte entrance. The music suddenly stops without having really established anything. Winds enter, seeming to attempt a new theme, but it fails to materialize. The feeling of starting and stopping, with tensions rarely being resolved, is something new to Mozart, and the very thing that so appealed to the Romantics.
When the piano finally enters, it is with a frail wisp of a theme, which seems to be abandoned as soon as it is finished. The anxious music of the beginning returns, now with the piano adding another layer of activity. The tension is temporarily released when the piano introduces a second theme, elegant and graceful, only to return with a vengeance as the theme ends.
At this point, Mozart’s listeners would have expected a Development section, one in which harmonic tensions are built and eventually released as the opening themes return. That is indeed what they got, except that the release only brings about a return to the restless music of the beginning. After the cadenza, the soloist falls silent, leaving the job of concluding the movement to the orchestra. Rather than bringing about a sense of release, the conflict is simply abandoned as the music sinks away to silence.
After all the sturm und drang we have gone through, the second movement comes as a much-needed moment of serenity. Mozart titles the movement a Romanza, a name which implies a piece in a simple, singing style. The unaccompanied piano introduces the main theme, one of Mozart’s most beguiling. There are two contrasting themes; the first continues the serene feeling of the beginning, the second totally shatters it with a return to the stormy mood of the first movement. The disturbance is only temporary this time, and the opening melody returns as if nothing happened.
The expected thing here would have been for the concerto to conclude with a fast, carefree movement giving the soloist ample opportunity to display his virtuosity. And that’s what we get, except for the carefree part. Instead, the music is once again stormy and tense, recalling the opening movement. At times, a happier little tune tries to assert itself, only to be punched down by the return of the opening theme. There is a cadenza, followed by the soloist bringing back the opening theme. And then…the happy tune returns and takes over. A Romantic like Beethoven would have probably sustained the dramatic feeling to the end, but Mozart’s essentially optimistic temperament wins out this time. The concerto ends in a triumphant mood, all conflict having been resolved.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92 (1812)
Composed mainly in early 1812, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was not premiered until December 1813. By then, it had been five years since the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (on the same concert in December 1808), and the public eagerly anticipated the new work. As it turned out, the new symphony was nearly upstaged by a different work, one appropriate to the occasion.
The occasion in question was a benefit concert for Austrian soldiers who had been wounded in the Napoleonic wars. An orchestra was assembled which included many of the best-known composers of the day. Louis Spohr played in the violin section, Dragonetti in the basses. The percussion section included such luminaries as Hummel, Moscheles, Meyerbeer, and Beethoven’s old teacher Salieri. To underscore the purpose of the concert, Beethoven contributed a work known as the “Battle Symphony” or “Wellington’s Victory,” a programmatic work depicting Napoleon’s defeat in Spain earlier that year. This work is now regarded as among Beethoven’s worst compositions; however, the cause was popular, and program music was just beginning to come into its own, and “Wellington’s Victory” was the hit of the evening.
Perhaps the presence of an overtly programmatic work on the program, coupled with the fact that Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (the “Pastoral”) was itself programmatic to no small degree, led listeners to expect some sort of similarly narrative element to the Seventh Symphony. Beethoven offered none, but that didn’t prevent a number of people from coming up with their own. One scenario was offered saying that the symphony depicted a revolution; another a chivalric romance. A later theory was that the symphony was based on a Goethe novel. Robert Schumann (possibly tongue in cheek) suggested an elaborate plotline about a country wedding, with the music supposedly depicting such details as the bride’s demeanor and the priest’s sermon. None of these are taken seriously any more. However, a comment by Richard Wagner continues to have staying power. Writing in 1849, he stated his opinion that “this symphony is the apotheosis of the dance herself: it is dance in her highest aspect, as it were the loftiest deed of bodily motion incorporated in an ideal mould of tone.”
Certainly the symphony overflows with rhythmic energy (at least in three of its movements), making a comparison to dance music appropriate and perhaps inevitable. After an unusually long introduction, the main section of the first movement is based on a skipping rhythmic cell, heard at the outset in the flute and oboe. The jaunty tune which follows ushers in a long movement in which the rhythmic drive never flags despite numerous changes of mood.
By contrast, the second movement is characterized by deeply serious expression. The “theme” heard at the outset, glued much of the time to a repeated E, seems to be devoid of any melodic interest, but that perception is soon put to rest as the real first theme is heard in counterpoint to the monotonous one. This movement proved so popular that it had to be repeated at the first performance, and soon was showing up in unexpected places, often inserted into other Beethoven symphonies in place of their own slow movements.
Fast, driving rhythm returns in the third movement, a scherzo. The tempo unexpectedly slows in the trio section, reportedly based on an Austrian pilgrim’s hymn.
While the adjective “whirlwind” seems overused in connection with the Finale, it is difficult to avoid. Sir Donald Tovey described the movement as a “triumph of Bacchic fury.” Dynamic motion is unrelenting, climax piles on climax, all enclosed within a classical sonata form.