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Hans Christian Andersen's immortal stories inspire the American Symphonic Orchestra's next concert on March 11 at Lincoln Centre

By on - H.C. Andersen 2005 - 10 March 2005

Musical works by Stravinsky, Zemlinsky and others re-tell Andersen's stories of The Nightingale, The LIttle Mermaid, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and LIttle Ida's Flowers.

ASO'S "Hans Christian Andersen" concert kicks off international celebrations of Andersen's bicentennial in 2005.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier will be narrated by West Wing and stage actor Roger Rees

It is no secret that works by literary geniuses often inspire composers - Shakespeare, Pushkin, Goethe come to mind - but one of the less widely recognized giants of the 19th century, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), inspired the quartet of works that Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra will perform at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall on Friday, March 11, to celebrate the Danish author's bicentennial. 

Igor Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale, Alexander Zemlinsky's Mermaid, Karel Husa's Steadfast Tin Soldier and Paul Klenau's Little Ida's Flowers Overture comprise the evocative program, the fifth in the ASO's six-concert series given by Lincoln Center Presents Great Performers. The fact that the four composers come from four disparate cultures is a tribute to the international appeal of Andersen's timeless tales. The oldest of the composers, the Austrian Zemlinsky, was four years old when Andersen died; Stravinsky, the Russian, was eleven years younger than and the contemporary of Klenau, the only Danish composer on the program; and the youngest, Husa, born in Prague and now in his 80s, spent most of his life in the United States.

Botstein's Theme-Building
Leon Botstein works constantly to develop programs of works outside the mainstream repertoire but built around a theme or a historical event.  Writing of Andersen and his contribution to world culture, Botstein says:

"For Andersen, the demonic, mystical, magical and fantastic, in all its darkness as well as joy, dramatized life's experiences by suggesting a world of morally ordered supernaturalism, of rules and actions which provoked consistent consequences of tragedy or triumph. Such is the world as children might experience it. [...] The view of Andersen's stories as psychological mirrors of the inner self... suggests his allure to many composers who were deeply interested in the modern development of music."

The works
At the time of the Andersen centennial, at the second performance of Vienna's new "Society of Creative Musicians" in January 1905, both Zemlinsky's The Mermaid (Die Seejungfrau) and Arnold Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande were given their premieres. Zemlinsky's name, then as now, was linked with that of his more famous pupil, Schoenberg. Unfortunately the resources required to rehearse and perform these two gargantuan orchestral pieces led to the cancellation of the Society's third planned concert. 

"The Mermaid" of Andersen and Zemlinsky falls in love with a prince but, unable to marry him, chooses to die.  The Andersen "Nightingale" (allegedly inspired by his unrequited love for the "Swedish Nightingale," soprano Jenny Lind) became Stravinsky's Chant du Rossignol and was famously premiered in 1920 in Paris with scenery and costumes by Henri Matisse and choreography by Leonide Massine. It tells the story of a Chinese emperor who allows an artificial nightingale to sing in his chamber in place of a real one, and is saved on his deathbed by the return of the living nightingale to sing for him of its own accord - not at his imperial command.

"Little Ida's Flowers" was the only original tale in Andersen's first published volume of four stories, (1835), the others having been inspired by other sources. Andersen later wrote, "One day, when I was visiting the poet Thiele, I told his little daughter Ida about the flowers in the Botanical Garden; later, when the fairy tale was written down, I kept and repeated a couple of the child's comments." This was the ideal subject for a ballet, and the Danish composer and conductor and sometime Schoenberg pupil Paul von Klenau (1883-1946) wrote one full of rich orchestral colors representing the exotic flowers Andersen describes. Its overture will be on the ASO concert. Klenau spent most of his adult life in Germany, thereby alienating himself from his countrymen and their suffering under the Nazis.

Karel Husa, the only living composer on the ASO's Andersen program, grew up in Prague, but emigrated to the US via Paris, and taught for many years at Cornell University. His half-hour Steadfast Tin Soldier was commissioned after the death of a child and published in 1974. Like Andersen's tale, it tells the story of the unrequitable love of a one-legged toy soldier for a paper doll; they both are forgotten and tossed into a fire. Only a little heart-shaped bit of tin remained in the ashes. Husa has said that Andersen's tales "always seemed to me most beautiful and poetical, but also sad, sometimes even cruel, as they dealt with all subjects of life as well as death."

Press comment on the ASO
"Mr. Botstein produces qualitative concept concerts and recordings at an admirably constant rate," wrote Adam Baer in the New York Sun recently. Bernard Holland wrote in his New York Times review of "Revolution 1905," a recent concert in the current ASO season, that the orchestra "is sounding better than I can ever remember it."

American Symphony Orchestra
Friday March 11, 2005, 8:00 pm
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center

Paul von Klenau (1883-1946): Little Ida's Flowers (Klein Idas Blumen) - Overture
Karel Husa (b. 1921): The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971): The Song of the Nightingale (Le chant du rossignol)
Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942): The Mermaid (Die Seejungfrau)
For immediate release Contact: Glenn Petry (212) 625-2038 - Andersen's Tales & the American Symphony Orchestra -