JACOB BANCKS (b.
Rock Island Line
Jacob Bancks is a member of the music faculty of Augustana College where he teaches music theory and composition. Originally from Fairmont, Minnesota, he holds degrees from Wheaton College, the Eastman School of Music, and the University of Chicago. His compositions have been praised by the New York Times as "invitingly lyrical” and "colorfully orchestrated” and have been commissioned and performed by the United States Marine Band, the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, eighth blackbird, Pacifica Quartet, Schola Antiqua of Chicago, Cantori New York, pianist Daniel Paul Horn, marimba virtuoso Makoto Nakura, Annapolis Symphony, New York Youth Symphony, South Dakota Symphony, Soli Deo Gloria, and the Spektral Quartet among others.
Bancks writes about Rock Island Line: "One of my favorite places in the Quad Cities is the stretch of the Arsenal Bridge between the Arsenal and downtown Davenport. As long as I don't get caught by an open draw span, I find the kinetic motion of that particular place extremely stirring–I’m driving my car, train tracks run above, and the Mississippi River flows below.
"This bridge represents what I had in mind while composing Rock Island Line. My aim was not so much to paint pictures or narrate stories; rather, my hope has been to express in sound the motion, energy, and exuberance of roads, rails, and rivers, especially including those whose time of greatness is in the past. Of course, one risk in music without text is that things can get a bit abstract, which is why I hope listeners notice some pieces of musical "local color,” including a brief homage to Bix Beiderbecke, as well as the great blues tune from which my piece borrows its title.
"The piece is dedicated, with gratitude, to maestro Mark Smith, the musicians of the Quad City Symphony, and the people of the Quad Cities, who I am now happy to call my neighbors.”
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
The mental and physical processes that resulted in a major composition by Ludwig van Beethoven were complex ones. Musical themes played constantly in his mind, and he noted many of them down in his sketch books for later refinement and use. He was adept at working on several compositions at once, usually in a juggling game necessary to meet impending deadlines from publishers, patrons, and performers.
But perhaps Beethoven’s most unusual compositional skill was his ability to write two vastly different symphonies at essentially the same time. He accomplished this feat twice in his lifetime: with the Fifth and Sixth symphonies in 1807-08; and again four years later in 1811-12 with the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. In both instances, the differences between the two sets of paired works could not have been greater.
With his Seventh Symphony, Beethoven had worked to achieve a perfect balance of both form and musical content. The Seventh’s rhythmic dynamism and sheer force of personality left Beethoven little more to say. So with his Symphony No. 8, which received its premiere in Vienna in February 1814, he turned his vision backward to a gentler time and age, when charm and humor marked much concert music.
The Eighth Symphony is a jewel of late-Classical-era symphonic tradition. Its four movements have charm and an inner calm that shows none of the revolutionary boldness so common of Beethoven at this time of his life. The first movement (Allegro vivace e con brio) is written in a strongly accented triple meter. The movement unfolds in a manner first robust, then lyrical, and ends with a surprisingly simple and quiet understatement.
For the second movement (Allegretto scherzando), Beethoven playfully accompanies his theme with a clock-like ticking rhythm. The third movement is a minuet, although its stolid and square rhythms conjure up images of rustic and heavy-footed peasants more than powdered-wig ladies and silver-buckled gentlemen.
The finale (Allegro vivace) is also lighthearted, but surprising in its speed and rapid changes of volume and harmonic shifts. A jubilant ending brings Beethoven’s tribute to the Classical era to a close, and with it, an end to this period of his symphonic development. Ten years would pass before his next and final essay in symphonic form–the Ninth Symphony–would appear.
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
In a remarkably long and productive career Johannes Brahms wrote more than one hundred twenty compositions. This outpouring covered all types of music from orchestral to choral, from songs to piano solos to chamber music. The only medium he never attempted was opera. His life spanned the period almost from the death of Beethoven to the start of the 20th century, and he was often pitted against the turbulent and radical trends of Germanic music as personified by Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. For conservatives, Brahms offered music that was Romantic in spirit, but that reflected the Classical ideals of formal integrity, control, and moderation.
Brahms’s wrote only four symphonies; but these four works form the creative center of his output. He once said that writing a symphony after Beethoven was no laughing matter. For him the nine symphonies of Beethoven were an intimidating precedent to follow–so much so that not until he was 43 years old did he finally finish his First Symphony. Its success inspired him so much that he immediately began work on his Symphony No. 2, finishing it in just four months.
Brahms wrote his Second Symphony from a much different perspective and in great contrast to the somberness of the First. He took pleasure in misleading his friends and publisher about his new symphony’s nature, referring to it as "so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it.” The Second Symphony is, of course, one of his sunniest works. Its lyrical and melodic qualities have been unanimously praised ever since its first performance in December 1877 by the Vienna Philharmonic.
Written in four movements, the symphony begins with a quiet and gentle theme first stated by the horns. Various groups of instruments enter, echoing the pastoral nature of the theme before the violins eventually take up a full and soaring version. As the movement unfolds, various themes emerge, intertwining with hints of the opening melody. Moods alternate from quiet to forceful and back again until the movement reaches a peaceful, thoughtful ending.
The second movement begins with a broad, lyrical theme by the cellos, before shifting to the violins. At a stately pace the movement develops, always maintaining a taut intensity and passion.
The brief third movement opens with plucked bass notes from the cellos supporting a theme by the woodwind section. Suddenly the tempo doubles in speed as first the string section, then the entire orchestra launches into a brisk and jovial version of the opening melody. The movement lasts just a few minutes, but is one of Brahms’s gems of brevity and brilliance.
The final movement begins with a dramatic orchestra whisper from the strings. Suddenly an outburst from the entire orchestra launches a flurry of energy and melodic development. As in the first movement, Brahms produces a tightly constructed movement filled with drive, conflict, and virtuosic orchestral writing. Its conclusion is one of Brahms’s greatest masterstrokes, as the entire brass section sounds out a swirling, triumphant fanfare.
Program notes by Dennis Loftin