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About this Piece

Composed: 1905
Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

Although Wagenaar parodied the conventions of Romantic opera in his own operas and secular cantatas, his music itself is staunchly Romantic in voice, little troubled by even the chromaticism of Wagner, let alone subsequent developments in the 20th century. He favored dramatic and satirical scenes in his orchestral music as well, writing mainly concert overtures and symphonic poems.

The overture Cyrano de Bergerac is a musical portrait of the title character in Edmond Rostand’s play, which was only eight years old when Wagenaar composed the piece in 1905. Cyrano’s pertinent characteristics are indicated in the score. The opening, for example – so like Strauss’ Don Juan in its orchestral profile and thrusting rhetoric – is marked “Heroism,” followed in short order by the lyrical contrast of “Love, Poetry.” The elegant yearning of the latter will be particularly important in the second half of the piece. It even makes a heroic, harmonically startling appearance just before the final chords, emblazoned by trombones and tuba in F amid the prevailing D-major jubilation.

The other traits Wagenaar indicates are “Rejoicing, Strength of Character,” “Cheerfulness, Chivalry,” “Humor,” and “Satire.” Some of these are barely motives, but all are developed and combined, although the brief recapitulation is dominated by the first two themes. Wagenaar conducted Berlioz and Mahler, and their influence – as well as that of Strauss – can be heard in the orchestration. But Wagenaar manages to make it sound fresh and clear, expertly channeling these weighty influences with a direct and endlessly tuneful spirit.

— John Henken