2024 master classes

This past May, Camerata San Antonio conducted two free masterclasses for students in Kerrville and San Antonio. In Kerrville, violinist Laura Scalzo and cellist Ken Freudigman worked with students from the Hill Country Youth Orchestra to help them prepare for performances at Texas State Solo and Ensemble Competition later that month. This class was free, open to the public and made possible by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas R. Hamilton. Pat Lee of HCYO coordinated. Thank you!

Our San Antonio class was sponsored by The Texas Violin Shop and Stratton Rehab and space was provided by The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit. The class started with a presentation about how the body works and the special vulnerabilities of string players by Brik Stratton of Stratton Rehab. Brik also demonstrated some of the techniques he uses on cellist Ken Freudigman, who was recovering from a broken finger!  Students performed a Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins, a Haydn Quartet and a Reger String Trio. Our entire quartet participated in coaching the groups, including Laura and Ken, as well as Matthew Zerweck and Emily Freudigman. 

Program notes: Zerweck/valkov recital

Cui, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op.84

Cèsar Cui (1835-1918) was born in Vilnius, Imperial Russia (now part of Lithuania). He received a good education, part of which were his studies with Stanisław Moniuszko, who was an early Russian quasi-nationalist composer. However, Cui’s family was practical, and allowing Cesar to pursue the career of a composer was out of the question. Thus, he entered St. Petersburg’s Chief Engineering School at the age of sixteen. After further education in military engineer, he joined the Russian Army and became a successful teacher of military fortifications. rising to the rank of General.

In his spare time, Cui became a composer and music critic. He was a fairly prolific and specialized in opera. However, he also composed many short piano pieces in the “salon” tradition. Much of his music is notable for its Russian character. This came naturally, largely because he was a member of “The Five” (or, “Mighty Five”) who actively tried to establish a Russian nationalistic style of concert music. His compatriots in this group were Borodin, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Cui composed the Violin Sonata between 1860 and 1870, but it was not published until 1911. The first of three movements, Allegro, begins with two lyrical themes that have a “Schumannesque” style. A third theme begins in that style but soon turns to more original interplay between violin and piano. This develops one or two portions drawn from those two themes. Then, in a more relaxed tempo, the Schumannesque lyricism we heard at the opening resumes, becomes more agitated, and then completes the movement.

Marked Andante non troppo, the flavor of the central movement’s opening section is more purposely “Russian” in the manner of a folk song. The central section that follows is slightly faster and (again) more like Schumannesque Romanticism. When the first section returns, it brings with it, again, the sadness of many Russian folk songs. However, Cui is brief and the music tastefully forms a coda to the whole movement.

The sonata’s Allegro requires a sense of perpetual motion from the violin in the opening section. Next, Cui turns to Russian flavor for more lyrical thematic material. A transition ensues, involves interplay between violin and piano. This leads to a reprise of the opening section, which is suddenly cut short by a second digression. This turns out to be the conclusion of the sonata, reminiscent of this movement’s opening but with more “fireworks.” This music completes the extraordinary stylistic unity of the entire work.

Beethoven, Violin Sonata no. 6 in A Major (Op. 30, no. 1)

In 1802, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed a set of three violin sonatas, which he dedicated to Tsar Alexander of Russia. The following year Beethoven’s publisher, Artaria, brought out the sonatas as Opus 30, but the composer neither heard nor received anything from the Tsar. Years later, Beethoven composed a polonaise and presented it personally to Tsarina Elizabeth. On learning that her husband had forgotten to reward Beethoven for the earlier dedication, the empress promptly gave him 100 ducats.

Although the A Major Sonata is not Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata, its opening movement begins with a pastoral quality. The second part of the exposition then moves in the direction of popular Italian comic opera, even to a quickness and comic concluding material. By serious contrast, the development section treats the first theme in canon, later becoming dramatic. In concluding the movement, Beethoven projects a feeling of gentle courtesy.

The extended second movement continues the bucolic spirit of the first through a contemplative main theme. This theme later recurs twice, and in between, Beethoven places differentiated sections that grow into tragic episodes. The first of these is in minor with the violin exploring the dotted rhythms of the main theme’s piano part. The second episode is part declamatory and part gliding, using triplet rhythm. The triplets continue as a varied accompaniment to the last return of the principal theme.

Beethoven originally intended the final movement of this sonata to be part of the “Kreutzer” Sonata (Op. 47). Based on a cheerful theme, the movement unfolds as a set of six “character” variations. The first is a moto perpetuo dialogue between the instruments. The second features the violin in nearly continuous even notes. Variation 3 has the piano’s left hand providing a fast, running foundation for canon-like interchanges between the right hand and the violin. Variation 4 is a study in chordal multiple stops for the violin with improvisatory-style comments from the piano. The minore variation comes next: a serious essay in 18th-century counterpoint, leading to a transition that explores remote harmonic areas. The final variation is a country dance in 6/8 time. The coda recalls the comic opera flavor of the first movement to cap the sonata with good humor.

Shostakovich, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134

The single violin sonata by Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975) was an emblem of deep friendship for another musician: violinist David Oistrakh.  Shostakovich wrote the work in 1968 for Oistrakh’s 60th birthday, and the following year the dedicatee premiered it with Sviatoslav Richter at the piano. The sonata comes from the same year as the Twelfth String Quartet, and the two works share much of the same musical language.  It is a somewhat eclectic language that utilizes 12-tone “rows” without actually employing 12-tone techniques.

In the first movement, an Andante, much of the piano part consists of a single line performed in octaves.  That is the way the work begins: as a thematic tone row exposed in a wide, sweeping arc.  This theme is soon heard also in the violin.  Contrasting sections follow, rhythmic at first, and then an eerie tranquillo. All themes are reiterated in abbreviated form, but a new, somewhat “expressionistic” element is eventually added in the violin: tremolo double stops bowed at the bridge.

The second movement is a scherzo written in the manner of Shostakovich’s early sardonic, incisive style. Both the violin and piano parts are technically demanding, and the movement is a display of virtuosity. The constant build of momentum is suddenly cut short by the abrupt ending of the movement.

Following a largo introduction, the finale unfolds as a broad set of variations on a passacaglia-like theme that is stated by the violin playing pizzicato. The piano and violin pass the theme back and forth, sometimes disguising it with ornamentation.  The climactic moment is reached when, after the variation for piano solo, when we hear an extensive violin cadenza.  As the work winds down, snatches of the “eerie” section of the first movement reappear, and the final notes from the violin are the earlier “expressionistic” ones.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2023

program notes: las musas

wallen: are you worried about the rising costs of funerals? 

Born in Belize, Errollyn Wallen (1958- ) moved to London, England, with her parents and siblings at the age of two. When her parents moved to New York, the children were raised by an aunt and uncle living in England. Growing up, she took lessons in dance, and her uncle sparked her interest in music through piano lessons.

Following graduation from boarding school, Wallen spent about two years (1976-78) training at the Dance Theater of Harlem (New York), but then returned to England, now thoroughly dedicated to music composition and performance. Studying in London at Goldsmiths and then at King’s College London, she earned a Master’s Degree from Kings College, Cambridge in 1983. Wallen now lives and composes in a lighthouse on the coast of Scotland.

In her career as a composer, Wallen has received numerous commissions and honors. A few top honors were Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2007 and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2020. She is one of the top 20 most performed living composers of classical music in the world. A very versatile and productive composer, Wallen has written nine chamber operas and a variety of other vocal music, a large and varied repertoire of chamber music, and numerous orchestral works, notably her most recent: Concerto Grosso, premiered in 2022 by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, John Butt, conducting.

Philip Headlam conducted the premiere recording of Are You Worried . . . on Avie Records. For that CD he also wrote the following insightful description of this song cycle:

turína: las musas de andalucia, op. 93

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) was born in Seville. His early studies were there and in Madrid. Following his predecessors, Isaac Albèniz and Manuel de Falla, Turína moved to Paris in 1905, where he studied with d’Indy. He became a friend of Debussy and Ravel. While in France, Turina, Albéniz, and Falla resolved to become nationalist composers writing in a Spanish style. After the outbreak of WW I in 1914, Turina returned to Madrid. His early career there included conducting for the Ballets Russes and at the Teatro Real.

In the early months of 1929, Turina visited Havana, Cuba, where he gave a series of lectures at the Hispanic Institute of Culture. Two years later he was made Professor of Composition at the Madrid Conservatory. During the 1920s and ’30s, Turina frequently spent time in Catalonia and Barcelona, where he absorbed the Catalán culture and composed music that paid tribute to it.

Turina was most prolific in the field of chamber music, which led to performances at the piano with the likes of Pablo Casals. Several of his chamber works are based on some model or idea. Las Muses de Andalucia is an example. Combining the idea of the nine Ancient Greek Muses with musical idioms from his native Andalucia, Turina was able to create a work containing a panoply of musical colors, musical effects, and unique forms.

Las Muses de Andalucia was composed for one soprano voice, piano, and string quartet. Each movement was composed for a different instrumental combination or solo. This variety of musical colors and textures produces varied effects. The nine movements are:

  1. Clío 
  2. Euterpe 
  3. Talía 
  4. Polimnia 
  5. Melpómene
  6. Erato 
  7. Urania 
  8. Terpsícore 
  9. Calíope 

faure: la bonne chanson

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) came from a family of minor aristocrats and educators in the South of France.  As a child, he showed musical talent early, and his parents sent him to study in Paris. Initially, he studied church music. However, in 1861, he began to study the piano with Camille Saint-Saëns. This very popular composer introduced young Gabriel to the music of contemporary composers, which made a deep impression on him and his compositional style. 

Throughout his early professional life, Fauré’s main source of income was as a church organist. At the same time, his recognition as a composer grew steadily, and in 1896 he was appointed professor at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1905 he became its Director. However, his fame arrived late, and in concert life, he is still underrated. Historians consider him the greatest French composer between Berlioz and Debussy and one of the greatest song composers in history.

Proof of that claim can be found in his famous song cycle, La Bonne Chanson, (“The Good Song”). For this work, Fauré chose poems by Paul Verlaine, who had in mind his wife, to whom he was deeply devoted. Fauré composed most of La Bonne Chanson during the summers of 1892 and 1893, times when he was having a serious romantic affair with his vacation neighbor, singer Emma Bardac (later, Claude Debussy’s second wife). She would sing songs for the composer as he finished them. The song cycle was finally completed in February 1894. When published, La Bonne Chanson’s dedication was (naturally) to Emma Bardac.

Biographer Jean-Michel Nectoux has commented: 

“Fauré’s passion for Emma Bardac not only disrupted the even, bourgeois tenor of his life but, unusually for him, had the effect of completely reorienting his compositional activity. . . . He cast off from the moorings of what was reasonable, what “sounded well,” and at a stroke achieved the sovereign liberty that marks the great creative artist.”

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink 2023. All rights reserved. 

program notes: Star-crossed

 

c.debussy: pelléas et mélisande (arr. for piano trio by mouton)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) composed only one full-length opera: Pelléas et Mélisande (in 5 acts, adapted from a play by Maurice Maeterlinck). He had begun working on it in 1893, and it premiered in 1902. Some aspects of it were traditional, but some were new or adapted from recent operatic developments, notably Richard Wagner’s “music dramas,” Tristan und Isolde (1865) and Parsifal (1882). Wagner had assigned new responsibilities to the orchestra, particularly a web of short passages he called “leading motives.” In essence, the orchestra, in parallel with the singers, revealed the emotional (or psychological) aspects of the drama.

Debussy made his own personal adaptation of Wagner’s approach to the orchestra. In Pelléas, as in Tristan, the characters sing the words, but the emotional content comes from the orchestra. That is the key to Mouton’s “arrangement” of orchestral excerpts drawn from Debussy’s opera. He splices together a panoply of orchestral excerpts, arranged for violin, cello, and piano, which encapsulates much of the opera’s (subliminal) emotional content. In addition, Mouton’s Pelléas gives the concert venue a beautiful selection of infrequently heard music by Debussy.

Rather than telling the story outright, Mouton’s arrangement makes allusions to the opera by quoting orchestral passages. He links together several different (and often contrasting) segments from the opera’s orchestral flow. In essence, we are hearing something like a synopsis of the opera’s emotional content. We should enjoy Mouton’s arrangement as a “tone poem,” loosely modeled on the Pelléas story. 

C. schumann: piano trio in G minor, Op. 17

One of the most celebrated pianists of the 1800s was Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896). Women concert soloists were somewhat rare during her early lifetime, but she won her fame by her dazzling yet heartfelt performances. Her father Friedrich Wieck had been her teacher, not only for the piano but also in the rudiments of composition, which she worked at joyfully from an early age.

During the 1830s, a lodger at the Wieck household (and also a piano student of Friedrich) was Robert Schumann. Clara and Robert fell in love and wished to marry. Despite Friedrich’s opposition, they were married in 1840. The Schumanns had eight children, but Clara continued to perform, teach, and compose as much as her time allowed. Robert found employment at first in Leipzig, then in Dresden, and finally in Dusseldorf.

Robert suffered from what is now believed to have been Manic-Depressive Disorder. In 1854, he attempted suicide and was placed in a sanatorium until his death in 1856. From that period until near the end of her life, Clara Schumann worked unceasingly to support her children. Orchestral performances took first consideration, including concertos (notably her own piano concerto) and recitals     both solo and ensemble. 

Clara composed regularly until her husband’s death and sporadically thereafter. The G-minor Piano Trio was composed over the summer of 1846, and premiered the following January in Vienna.

The opening Allegro moderato shows us how clearly Clara’s sense of balance between instruments is never upset, although in many passages the piano dominates. The character of themes is likewise in balance, where the dramatic first theme group gives way to more lyrical themes without losing forward momentum. The central development section raises the emotional stakes, yet transformations of the themes remain, keeping them clearly in focus. Balance also comes into play when themes are brought back in their original form toward the end.

Giving the second movement the title Scherzo may be a mere formality, since the marking Tempo di Menuetto more clearly defines the movement’s contents. Here we have music in the style of “parlor” pieces (with Clara as the gracious hostess). The central “Trio” section becomes more adventurous, with several accent shifts and varied phrase lengths. The movement’s first section then reprises.

The Andante movement that follows reminds us of the friendship between the Schumanns and Felix Mendelson. For it begins truly like a “Song Without Words.” Its main theme is “sung” first by the piano, then by the violin joined in the theme’s center by the cello. Without warning, the strings come to the fore, pitted against the piano in a dramatic encounter. Finally subsiding, the music returns to the main theme, now clothed in drama. This is resolved by alternations between strings and piano, all playing phrases from the original “song” theme. Earlier dramatic moments are now revived as the music drives toward a recap of the “song,” now reprised by the cello with elaborated accompaniment by violin and piano. The full trio brings the movement to a close in clear, resonating harmonies.

The work’s Allegretto finale begins with a theme containing subtle folksong elements. Playful musical ideas are now shared among the ensemble. Then, a big surprise: a FUGATO (quasi-fugue) unfolds among the trio, but only temporarily. A rugged turn to fragmentary folksong ideas prefaces a final return of the fugato theme. After a rapid transition, the movement’s opening theme returns, punctuated here and there by fragments of the fugato. A faster tempo finally signals that the end is in sight. Then a momentary slowing gives the music added strength to drive to its triumphal ending.

j.brahms: PIano trio in B major, Op. 8

The Piano Trio in B Major was the first published chamber work by Johannes Brahms (1833- 1897), but it was doubtless not his first trio, and certainly not the first chamber work he composed. There is evidence that Brahms destroyed some 20 string quartets before allowing one (Op. 51) to be published in 1873. Two or more piano trios may have preceded Opus 8, and it is possible that a Trio in A Major, which came to light in 1938, was an early work that Brahms meant to destroy.

Brahms completed the B Major Piano Trio early in 1854, and its first version was published the same year. Clara Schumann found the work beautiful but did not especially care for the first movement. She felt the entire work was repetitious, and the first movement was particularly long. This movement contained no fewer than five themes, which did not contrast well with one another. After a normal development section there was a second development — a fugato — imbedded in the recapitulation.

 In 1888, Brahms’s publisher Simrock wrote to the composer asking if he would care to make some revisions in his early works for the purpose of publishing second editions. Brahms replied enthusiastically, “I shall certainly revise, and in such a manner that you will be justified in announcing it on the title page.” Thus in 1890, Simrock published a new version of the Opus 8 Piano Trio. Brahms had completely overhauled the first movement, making it more concise by deleting the fugato and replacing several subordinate themes with one incisive one. The Adagio and Finale were treated similarly. A superfluous Allegro section in the slow movement was removed, and the overabundance of material in the final Allegro was trimmed to improve its formal integrity. Only the Scherzo escaped major surgery, for Brahms revised only its coda. In this version, we hear the Piano Trio in B Major today, revised by a mature hand but missing none of the youthful exuberance of its original creation.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink 2023. All rights reserved.