Program Notes – Camerata REcital 2021

Barber: Cello sonata, op. 6

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) spent the years 1924-1932 as one of the first students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute. He worked in voice (a baritone), piano, and composition. Barber showed early potential as a composer, and the works of his student years — the Serenade, Dover Beach, the Violin and Cello Sonatas, and the Overture to The School for Scandal — are not at all apprentice pieces. They are the youthful flowering of a prodigious, creative talent that have become part of the standard repertoire.

The Cello Sonata was, in fact, the last music Barber wrote under the tutelage of his Curtis teacher, Rosario Scalero. He began the sonata while in Europe during the summer of 1932. Barber and Gian-Carlo Menotti (fellow student at Curtis) had hiked and boated from Innsbruck to Menotti’s family villa high above Lake Lugano. There, without a piano, Barber composed the sonata’s entire first movement and the Presto section of the second. When Barber returned to school in the fall, he completed the sonata under Scalero with technical help from Orlando Cole. Cole was the cellist who then premiered the sonata in December 1932 with Barber at the piano.

The influence of Brahms on Barber’s sonata is unmistakable in the first movement. After the relentless march of the first theme group, comes a very Brahmsian second theme. Barber’s development section, however, is his own brand of rhapsody. The compacted and re-arranged recapitulation shows Barber’s incipient sense of elegant yet expressive form.

The slow movement and scherzo are folded into one movement, a technique already perfected by Beethoven and Brahms. Barber’s song-like Adagio is a reflective introduction to the Presto middle section, a high-spirited study in perpetual motion. The returning Adagio is now elongated and more expressive, building to a dynamic climax before receding into a quiet close.

Barber marks the final movement Allegro appassionato, and with good reason. Instead of an opening theme, the composer gives us an impassioned outcry. By contrast, the following cello-piano dialogue is at turns introspective and witty. The passion returns with some fresh perspectives, leading again to secondary material stated in new ways and to a Brahmsian-heroic ending.

perkinson: Lamentations (Black/Folk song suite)

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), unlike his Black-British namesake, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), was never fashionable among the upper classes nor highly paid for virtuoso performances. Perkinson struggled most his life in one way or another. Yet he overcame many problems, notably racial bias. He is now considered to be among the finest Black American composers of the 20th century: alongside names such as Florence Price and William Grant Still. Perkinson received a musical education carrying some distinction from New York’s High School of Music and Art, New York University, and the Manhattan School of Music (Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees).

His professional life was always diverse, and sometimes surprisingly so. As a jazz pianist, he toured with drummer Max Roach. He composed the ballet For Bird [Charlie Parker], With Love for Alvin Ailey, then became Ailey’s Music Director. His film score credits included music for From Montgomery to Memphis (Martin Luther King Documentary) and four films for Sidney Poitier. In the field of education, he taught at Brooklyn College and Chicago’s Columbia
College, where he was Director of the Center for Black Music Research and headed The New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. In the field of traditional Classical Music, in 1965, Perkinson co-founded New York’s Symphony of the New World.

About his personal concert-music style, Dr. Johann Buis (Wheaton College, Illinois) writes, “Perkinson was more forward-looking than better-known African-American counterparts like Florence Price and William Grant Still. His music falls into a kind of ‘in-between category,’ with a constant tension between the pull of atonality and a sophisticated, never faddish use of jazz idioms.” Lamentations (Black/Folk Song Suite) for cello solo is a near-perfect embodiment of Buis’s description of Perkinson’s very personal style.

The composer does not elaborate on the “Black/Folk Song” reference in the suite’s title. A repeated jazzy pattern (an ostinato) informs Fuging Tune. Flashes of melody seep through, but the ostinato becomes the substance, and it dominates the movement’s ending.

By contrast, Song Form is a long string of hazily tonal melodic phrases. Strongly lyrical in their way, these melodies become a sort of psychological portrait of the composer’s often-difficult life.

Calvary Ostinato, entirely pizzicato (plucked), uses a short repeated pattern (the ostinato) to form the backbone of touching (sometimes tortured) melodic phrases. Occasional strummed chord patterns lend a charming variety to the other textures. The movement ends as it began, with a soft utterance of the ostinato.

The Perpetual Motion in the final movement (bearing that title) is a series of single repeated notes (or pairs of notes). From that platform, a procession of short phrases develops, becoming gradually more intense. This climaxes in an exploration of the cello’s high range and Perkinson’s grand, concluding fireworks.

Brahms: Cello sonata in F Major, Op. 99

In the summer of 1886, Brahms’s new-found lodgings at Lake Thun, Switzerland were a delight to him. That year, he was very productive, especially in the chamber domain. Among his completed music was his Second Cello Sonata, a work written with a particular performer in mind: Robert Hausmann, the cellist with Joachim’s string quartet. (For Hausmann and Joachim, Brahms would write his Double Concerto the following year.)

It had been nearly 20 years since Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) had composed his First Cello Sonata. The new sonata, besides being a completely mature work, is also fresh in other respects. Brahms exploits a higher general range in the cello than previously, and he shows a deeper understanding of the instrument’s natural character, which, in the words of Martin Cooper, “ranges from gruff surliness to a manly ardor and an almost feminine lyrical tenderness.”

A unique tremolo texture dominates much of the first movement, beginning in the piano in a thunderously low range. The cello picks up the idea in the development section, making it shadowy and remote. Biographer Karl Geiringer refers to this movement’s character as “ardent pathos.”

For the Adagio, Brahms moves the tonality up a half-step to the remote key of F-sharp major. We might consider this a more “moonlit” key, where the composer can spread out his heartfelt nocturne. A highly emotional middle section again shifts key.

The agitated Scherzo reminds us of Brahms’s stormy youthful style, growing as it does from a quiet opening. The Trio turns to the major mode in the proud demeanor of classical elegance.

As in his expansive Second Piano Concerto, Brahms places a brief, light, and charming fourth movement rondo finale in his Second Cello Sonata. The cheerful mood is broken only by a reference to the slow movement before Brahms finishes in high spirits.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink. All rights reserved. Copyright 2021

program notes: Adventurers

haydn: string quartet in e-flat major, op. 76/6

[In this work] it is easy to take at face value Haydn’s outer shell, the part he exposed to the public eye, as being the whole man. The Finale of No. 6 is dry, but the point that is being made is not one that admits of a Mozartian warmth, while the opening Allegretto fulfills exactly the same function as that in No. 5 — that of preparation for the slow movement. – H.C. Robbins-Landon

The graceful ingenuities of… No. 6… roll away like the process of peeling an onion… – Sir Donald Tovey

These comments expose the framework in which we should consider the E-flat Quartet: The man Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) had several layers of depth, and so did much of his music composed late in life. This quartet properly falls last in the half dozen works of Opus 76. The analogies of the onion and of an outer shell that holds inner treasures hold true. But so could the image of a revolving door, where Haydn can survey the entire 18th century on the inside, yet he also ventures into a preview of the 19th on the outside.

With a theme that could be a “prequel” to music by Robert Schumann, Haydn sets out the theme and variations that forms the quartet’s first movement. These variations are wide ranging in emotional and formalistic character, creating an underlying tension throughout. The climax comes in the fugue on part of the theme, ending this concise movement in a cheerful mood.

Often, you may find this quartet nicknamed “Fantasia.” That is because Haydn gave the Adagio second movement that title. Robbins Landon remarks, “… It can only be described as one of the boldest and most original movements in the whole eighteenth century.”  Immediately, we realize that the opening theme is a remarkable forerunner to Beethoven’s slow “hymn-like” themes. The emotional, wandering harmonic character of sections contrasting with the “hymn” is also progressive — ahead of Haydn’s time. Ultimately, these tendencies merge in an extended epilogue, which can leave a listener nearly breathless.

Although Haydn titles the third movement “Menuetto,” its lively speed and witty character make it more of a scherzo — again, pre-echoes of Beethoven. Even the central section, “Alternativo,” is playful and humorous.

In the Allegro finale, short downward scale patterns form the chief thematic ideas. This movement is full of fun and Haydnesque droll humor. There seems to be no end to the descending scale fragments, and the composer seems determined to see how long he can work with them before his listeners grow uncomfortable. However, the master knows just when to wind things up with a brilliant, frothy finish.

Corea: Adventures of hippocrates

 Chick Corea (June 12, 1941-February 9, 2021) was an important figure in modern jazz and rock performance and composition.  A keyboardist of considerable reputation, his initial musical education came from his father (a professional musician) and from transcribing and learning improvised solos from records.  Bud Powell and Horace Silver were early influences.  Corea’s first professional experiences were with Latin bands, but in the late 1960s he joined Miles Davis’s group, which was pioneering jazz-rock fusion through electronic abstract jazz.  When he formed his own avant-garde group, Circle, in 1970, it was to explore “free” jazz improvisation in a non-electronic sound environment.  However, Corea gradually turned to synthesizers and other electronic devices to achieve his sound ideal.  He developed as a composer during this period, with some of his tunes (notably Windows, Spain, and Crystal Silence), becoming jazz standards.  Corea’s interest in the interaction of jazz and rock grew in the 1980s through the formation of a trio, the Elektric Band.  Since then, the versatility and wide-ranging musical interests of Chick Corea have become legendary, and his name is known equally among jazz and rock listeners, as well as many classical enthusiasts.

About Hippocrates, Corea has written: “This quartet was written by a relatively inexperienced writer for strings (me) so, technically, my notation may be unorthodox (or standardly wrong). But I find that most string quartet players, knowing that, will go ahead and make the proper adjustments themselves. This is better than trying to alter the musical concept to fit the correct technical point. Hippocrates is the name of a little robot in a science fiction series by L. Ron Hubbard. There are 7 stories in the 2 volume set entitled Ole Doc Methuselah.”

In 1994, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Society and the Orion String quartet commissioned a work from Corea. The outcome was The Adventures of Hippocrates. This was to be Corea’s first work in which a keyboard was not the central instrument.The music is a suite of five substantial movements for string quartet, each exploring a different tempo and rhythmic character. The composer describes their character: (1) Quasi Tango, (2) Waltz, (3) Lyrical (4) Quasi-Rock, and (5) [Finale] (with a “swiftly-moving tempo”). The music is as fresh as writing a string quartet was for Chick Corea. However, we can perceive a few outside influences in this music, such as Astor Piazolla (the “godfather” of the modern Argentine tango) and Béla Bartók (whose Mikrokosmos for piano Corea had previously recorded), and Corea’s own ’70s recordings of Fusion-Rock and “Free” Jazz. Summing up Hippocrates, critic-musicologist Kai Christiansen writes:

Corea has always been a composer and keyboardist with a sophisticated sense of rhythm, harmony and linear momentum. But this string quartet commission challenged Corea to project these skills onto instruments foreign to his fingers as well as splitting his keyboard conception into four separate parts. The results are intriguing, challenging and effective, as is so much of the great music Corea has created in his distinctive style. 

Beethoven: STring Quartet in g major, op.18/2

The six works of Opus 18 represent Beethoven’s first burst of energy in the direction of the string quartet. At the time of writing (1795-99) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) had ample opportunity to experiment with the medium and to hear his music when the ink was barely dry. He regularly attended the quartet sessions of Prince Lichnowsky and Emmanuel Förster, a composer who exerted a degree of influence upon young Beethoven. The group was placed at Beethoven’s disposal, giving him opportunities rarely afforded a composer.

The G Major Quartet, although placed second in publication, was the third in order of composition. More than in any other quartet, this is Beethoven’s homage to the wit of Haydn, the “father” of the string quartet. The work is nicknamed the “Compliment” Quartet, and Beethoven appears to pay his respects formally in the elaborate opening. Joseph Kerman writes that “it seems irresistibly to summon up images of courtly bowing and scraping in some never-never-land of rococo fantasy.”

Beethoven follows this introduction with the real meat of the exposition. His ready-set-go transition theme evolves into the secondary material soon to become important. In the development section, he employs as many themes as he can, in as many ways as possible. Characteristically, Beethoven’s recapitulation also presents material in new ways. The coda brings the wit of this movement into full bloom.

The Adagio is justifiably famous for one of Beethoven’s innovations. After exposing a sumptuous main theme, he abruptly inserts a section in binary song-form marked Allegro. Following this unpredictable but highly effective segment, the Adagio reprises with the cello and first violin sharing the honors.

Marked “Scherzo,” the third movement is a quickened minuet using galloping rhythms. The Trio section follows more the conventional 18th-century tradition.

The spirit of Haydn smiles through the main theme of the finale. But this playful rondo movement reflects the Haydnesque humor in new, Beethovenian ways. For example, there are false returns of the main theme in “wrong” keys, and mock-scowling shadings of the theme in the minor mode. The quartet ends with two codas: the first pompous and inflated and the second light and witty.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink. All rights reserved. Copyright 2021

Program notes – Strum

Program notes – Strum

Montgomery: Strum

Composer-violinist-educator Jessie Montgomery (1981- ) hails from New York’s Lower East Side, where her father managed a music studio. She was, in her words, “constantly surrounded by all different kinds of music.” Thus, her own compositions have drawn from many diverse influences, such as African-American spirituals, civil rights anthems, improvisational styles, modern jazz, film scoring, etc. From those early years, she developed, chiefly as a violinist, to receive degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University. In her professional performing life, Montgomery has been a member of the Providence String Quartet and the Catalyst Quartet. The latter began as a project of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, which creates opportunities for African-American and Latino string players.

As a composer, Montgomery was the resident Composer-Educator for the Albany Symphony during the 2015-16 season. In addition she has been recognized with grants and fellowships from the American Composers Orchestra, the Sphinx Organization, the Joyce Foundation, and the Sorel Organization. Her reputation has been spreading steadily, mainly in North America, beginning in New York City, Providence, and Boston, reaching out to Deer Valley, Utah; Miami Beach, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama; and Toronto, Ontario. Montgomery’s debut record album Strum: Music for Strings was released on the Azica Records label in late 2015. The concluding album track is Strum.

This one-movement work was commissioned by Community Music Works and premiered by the Providence String Quartet in 2006 and was revised in 2012. About the music, critic Maggie Molloy writes: 

Strummed pizzicato lines serve as a texture motive across all four instruments, creating a rhythmic vitality which propels the piece forward from its nostalgic first moments all the way through to its ecstatic and dramatic ending. Layered rhythms and harmonic ostinati round out the piece’s warm, dancelike spirit, crafting a joyous and hopeful ending. . . 

Dvorak: Piano Quintet In a major, op. 81

“This work probably epitomizes more completely the genuine Dvořák style in most of its facets than any other work of his.” (John Clapham)

“ . . . One of the most delightful and successful chamber works, not only in the composer’s works but also in the whole of chamber music composition.” (Otakar Šourek)

“ . . . The best piano quintet ever written, demonstrating as it does from start to finish some of the most lovable characteristics of a lovable composer.” (Gervase Hughes)

With accolades like that, there is very little to add except the bare facts. Having attempted, unsuccessfully, to improve his First Piano Quintet, Op.5 (also in the key of A major), Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) decided to start afresh. He began Op. 81 in mid- August 1887, and by mid-October the new quintet was completed. It was a period of contentment for Dvořák, and he worked in a pleasant environment. Once finished, Dvořák dedicated the new work to Dr. B. Neureutter, a generous patron of music. The premiere took place the following January, and Simrock published it immediately.

The first movement displays a wide expanse of moods generated from its two themes, both essentially song-like. These moods alternate rapidly during the development and keep the entire movement fresh and spontaneous.

The second movement bears the title Dumka, a kind of melancholy Slavonic folk ballad. In the hands of Dvořák, however, the Dumka involves sudden mood changes from melancholy to exuberance. That is what happens in the middle section of this rondo, when the rhythmic Vivace section springs up.

Although Dvořák gave a subtitle of Furiant to the Scherzo, it is not a genuine Furiant, since there are no predominating shifts of accent. However, every bit of the movement is Slavonic. Interestingly, the Trio section contains chiefly ideas from the main Scherzo theme.

The finale is a bustling movement in sonata form carrying an exhilaration that counterbalances the earlier melancholic moods. From the perky first theme to the last note, the movement is full of rustic fun. Dvořák’s mastery of every feature found in the quintet turn it into what Hughes has called “no less perfect a work of national art than the Dumka itself.”

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink 2020. All rights reserved.

Memory – program notes

Memory – program notes

Mason: In Memory (2020)

Quinn Mason (b. 1996) is a composer and conductor based in Dallas, Texas. He has studied at SMU with Dr. Lane Harder has also worked closely with distinguished composers David Maslanka, Libby Larsen, David Dzubay and Robert X. Rodriguez. His music has been performed in concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony Orchestra, South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Seattle, Mission Chamber Orchestra, loadbang, Voices of Change, Atlantic Brass Quintet, UT Arlington Saxophone quartet, the Cézanne, Julius and Baumer string quartets and concert bands of SMU, UNT and TCU. He has received awards from the American Composers Forum, Voices of Change, Texas A&M University, the Dallas Foundation, the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, the Heartland Symphony Orchestra, The Diversity Initiative and the ASU Symphony Orchestra. He is also a conductor, having studied with Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Will White, and has guest conducted Orchestra Seattle, the Brevard Sinfonia and the TCU Symphony Orchestra.

This piece wasn’t written about a specific time or person. It is meant to be a contemplation of memories past, which could be anything the listener/player desires – the viola acts as the voice that recalls these memories and reflects on them with tranquil, yet occasionally tumultuous introspection. Thus, this composition can speak to and work in any occasion.  

Quinn Mason

Schoenfeld: Café Music

Paul Schoenfeld (1947- ) is an American composer-pianist active also in Israel. Educated at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Arizona, Schoenfeld has concentrated much of his attention on piano music and chamber music involving the piano. He writes in a virtuoso style with fast tempos and complex textures. One writer has called his music “frenzied,” and the composer himself has remarked that his “is not the kind of music to relax to, but the kind that makes people sweat; not only the performer, but [also] the audience.”

In an effort to explore his Jewish roots, Schoenfeld has become interested in folk music, particularly the folk music of past Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe. (These were also sources for the musical Fiddler on the Roof.) The instrumental music of this culture is called “Klezmer” with a constantly evolving repertoire largely made up of dance songs for weddings and other celebrations.

Schoenfeld’s Café Music is heavily influenced by both the Klezmer tradition and American jazz of the 1920s-1930s — and this is a fascinating fusion. The first movement blends jazzy themes, ragtime rhythms, and the wildly virtuosic style of Klezmer bands, playing at breakneck speed most of the time.

The second movement is what might be called “low-down” in the blues tradition. Sad and blue, the music is nonetheless partially parody. Choosing a minor key, Schoenfeld also recalls the laments of Ashkenazic Jewish peoples — and this style dominates the second half of the movement.

Again frenetically energetic, the third movement launches as a more classically oriented piece. Here and there we hear snippets of Gershwinesque jazz, yet the dance-style underpinning is clearly Klezmer. The only breaks we have from this emotional frenzy are occasional smooth passages in a quasi-Impressionistic style. By the end, Café Music has been quite a ride in a unique blend of Old World and New World musical styles.

Schumann: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47

During his most productive periods, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) frequently composed clusters of works of a single musical type. In his “chamber music years” (1842-43), for example, Schumann wrote all of his string quartets and several works for piano and strings. During a particularly creative two-month period, Schumann “invented” the piano quintet by composing his E-flat Piano Quintet, Op. 44, also completing the Piano Quartet, Op. 47, in E-flat as well. Each of these works required only five days to sketch and another two weeks to complete. Both were written between October and November of 1843.

In this music, the relationship of piano to strings is sometimes unbalanced. Unlike the lighter piano parts in works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, or Brahms, the piano is king with Schumann. Listeners may even have the impression that the E-flat Quartet is an extension of Schumann’s solo piano music, since the strings so often double the piano part or oppose it as a block.

In its brief sostenuto introduction, the Piano Quartet’s first movement gives us a small variety of mood snapshots, followed by the Allegro’s first theme, which Schumann presents in three distinct characters. All of them are “with energy and passion,” as Schumann’s directions indicate. The central development offers more cheerful/heroic moods and musical working-out. Before we know it, the principal music returns, abbreviated, and the movement ends in a bright, brave gesture.

The quartet’s Scherzo follows. Here is a perpetual-motion “Wild Horseman”-style opening, giving way to a graceful dialogue between piano and strings. The “Horseman” re-appears to mark the conclusion of this exciting music. 

The strings take the spotlight at the opening of the Andante. Then, the piano takes over with an “endless” melody, leading to a full-ensemble texture that seems to speak directly to the heart. The central section is a waltz-dialogue for strings with lilting flourishes from the piano. A cello solo is especially attractive, leading to the movement’s quiet, polite ending.

Counterbalancing the Quartet’s opening movement, the finale introduces a powerful fugue-like main theme. A smooth, but exciting section follows, and then we are back to the fugue, which now introduces a heroic-quality section that builds in excitement. The movement’s central section is smoother and more relaxed, though the tempo is still fairly fast. In several short segments, this music showcases all instruments. The fugue idea returns, now fragmented and developmental. In the final section, each instrument has a brief opportunity to show virtuosity, followed by a powerful, percussive conclusion.

Dr. Michael Fink 2020 (Schoenfield and Schumann notes)

Program Notes: Treasure

Program Notes: Treasure

florence Price: String Quartet in G Major

Florence Price (née Smith) (1888-1953) is a significant Black composer of concert music. Among her many other honors, Price was the first African-American woman to have a composition performed by a major orchestra (the Chicago Symphony).

She hailed from near Little Rock, Arkansas, where she graduated high school (as valedictorian) at the age of 14. Moving on to Boston’s New England Conservatory, she studied piano and organ, composing her first symphony and graduating with honors (1906) with a double major in organ and music education. Professor/Composer George Whitefield Chadwick continued to be a mentor to Price for many years. Returning to Arkansas, Florence taught at the college level, and in 1912, she married attorney Thomas J. Price. Together they had two daughters and a son.

To escape racial oppression, the Price family moved to Chicago in 1927. There Florence began a long period of compositional activity. Notably, her Symphony in E minor won a major award and was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Frederick Stock, conducting. 

In 1931, the Prices divorced, and Florence soon moved in with her close friend, Margaret Bonds. At that point, Price’s most productive creative period began. In addition to orchestral, chamber, and piano music, she composed widely for the voice, leading to warm, valuable friendships with Black singers Marian Anderson and Roland Hayes. (Anderson would usually end her recitals with a Black spiritual as arranged by Price.) In 1964, Chicago honored Price (posthumously) by naming an elementary school after her.

The musical style of Price’s instrumental concert works is key-oriented, a holdover from the Romantic 19th century Other 20th-century composers who took this approach included Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, and Richard Strauss. Her frequent key changes and passages of thick, continuous counterpoint are reminiscent of the late-romantic, César Franck. 

The opening movement (Allegro) of Price’s G-Major String Quartet (1929) is almost a textbook of her style: frequent key changes, a great variety of musical themes and shorter ideas that flow quickly from one to another. Key changes sometimes occur in the middle of musical phrases, sweeping the listener’s ear very quickly from one soundscape to another.

The second movement is actually an Andante moderato liked to an Allegretto finale. The theme of the Andante is informed by the style of American folk songs. The Allegretto that follows starts with a trio of free improvisations on that theme, first lyrical, then dominated by pizzicato, finally, like a folk dance. A variant of the theme as a waltz, starting in a minor key, leads to an apotheosis and the quartet’s bright ending.

* *  *

In an introductory lecture at the first International Florence Price Festival (at SUNY-Fredonia, January 2020), Jordan Randall Smith commented:

It (almost) goes without saying: the music of composers like Beethoven and Brahms isn’t going anywhere. Cherished repertoire of the past will always have a welcoming space in the concert hall. That said, it is time to finally and fully celebrate the vibrant history of all women and all persons of color who have been the creators and performers of some of music’s greatest riches as a regular part of the concert going experience. We must endeavor to honor Florence Price as a pioneer and secure her place in the musical canon through a rigorous exploration of her music and a zealous advocacy for her legacy. 

edvard Grieg: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) composed only about a dozen chamber works, notably his three violin sonatas. By comparison, the body of art songs he wrote seems enormous. It comprises 70 opus-numbered collections and probably an equal amount of unpublished songs. In one of his published sets, Op. 25, which were settings of poetry by Hendrik Ibsen, he revived a musical idea that earlier had been the opening flourish of his Piano Concerto in A Minor (1868). The song, “The Minstrel’s Song,” was based on a Norwegian legend about water sprites who lure minstrels to their waterfalls with the promise of revealing the secret mysteries of music, but only at the cost of their happiness. The possibility that Grieg considered this song text to be relevant to his own life is shown in his own words, “I used the beginning of the song as the core motive in the string quartet that was composed a short time later,” coupled with his later comment on the quartet, “Herein lies . . . a bit of a life story. . . .”

At the premiere, the audience loved it, but the critics hated it. This situation caused problems getting the work published. However, the music continued to be a success, admired by both Liszt and Tchaikovsky. Grieg’s chief publisher finally had to give in with some embarrassment.

The “Minstrel’s Song” motive becomes a motto for the entire work, figuring into each movement. The dramatic first movement introduction leads to an agitated main theme, a contrastingly sweet second theme (subtly incorporating the motto), and a playful third. The development is characterized by heavy emotional contrasts, as the main ideas are worked out. A reprise of the themes brings no surprises, except that near the end a high melody in the cello sings out the second theme accompanied by trembling high strings — perhaps echoing a water sprite?

Titles of the last three movements reflect Grieg’s penchant for “character” music. The second movement is a romanze. Here is Grieg the tunesmith, pealing out a sweet, graceful salon-style melody. But what are these agitated episodes made more emotional by their reliance on the motto? If the quartet is truly autobiographical, this contrast might reflect some of the inner conflicts that plagued Grieg throughout his life.

The intermezzo, third movement, like many by Brahms, stands in place of a classical scherzo/minuet. Grieg’s music reflects the folk dances of his native Norway, heard especially clearly in the central section. Here is Grieg the nationalist at his best.

Following a slow introduction, quick saltarello rhythms animate the finale. The saltarello was a 16th-17th century leaping dance (which also informed the finale of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony). Grieg’s music is lively but not as wild as an Italian saltarello. It serves here to bring the quartet to a bright conclusion with the motto adding weight to both the pensive introduction and the lively coda.

 

Emperor – Program Notes

Emperor – Program Notes

del Aguila: Cutting Limes

Miguel del Aguila (1957- ) has been characterized as “Philip Glass, but with a sense of humor.” Born in Uruguay, Aguila moved to the United States in 1978 to pursue his musical education. Following the completion of his B.A. from the San Francisco Conservatory, he spent ten years in Vienna studying, conducting, teaching, and performing as a pianist. Settling in Southern California in 1992, Aguila rapidly made a name for himself as a composer, winning accolades locally (Los Angeles Times Resident Music Man of the Year, 1994) and nationally (Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, 1995). Active also as a pianist/conductor, he has performed at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall and Merkin Hall, and at Vienna’s Konzerthaus and
Bösendorfer Hall. In 1995, he became conductor and music director of the Ojai Camerata, a position he held for four years.

While he has great respect for the classical tradition, Aguila believes he must create the freshest, most spontaneous music he can. What results is a captivating interplay of classical balance and romantic excess. Aguila’s penchant for devising programs for his own works (which he usually does not disclose) further enhances his highly dramatic style in which musical ideas, always simple and recognizable, are pushed to extremes by propulsive rhythms and adventurous instrumentation.

About Cutting Limes, the composer writes:

Cutting Limes (Cortando Limones) for solo violin was written in 2015. It was commissioned, premiered and recorded by Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio. A five-minute-long work for unaccompanied violin, the piece showcases the rhythmic possibilities of the violin through complex chords, harmonics, alternating hands pizzicati and other extended techniques. Built on a simple modal theme the music has an Andean character. The unaccompanied violin imitates a range of Latin
American instruments such as charango, quena and Zampoña as well as the singing of a chicharra (cicada). As I was writing this piece, I kept visualizing the way in which the bow moved along the strings while performing this music. In my mind, it looked as if it was sawing the strings. When I sent the first draft (still untitled) to the violinist, Stephanie soon replied that she was unable to play it because she accidentally cut her fingers while cutting limes. I immediately felt that this was the perfect title of the piece as this dangerous movement of a knife cutting limes was similar to the sawing bow movements I visualized while composing this work.

Miguel del Aguila

Josef Bologne, Chevalier de St.-Georges: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 1 No. 4

Chevalier de St.-Georges (1745 –1799) was born Josef Bologne, to a wealthy Caribbean French planter, Georges de Bologne, and his Black slave, Anne dite Nanon. Josef is presumed to be the first Black composer of European “art” music, including symphonies, violin concertos, chamber music, songs, and operas.

At the age of seven, his father took him to France, where he was educated and grew up, becoming prominent in several fields, including fencing, horsemanship, military leadership, violin playing, and composing music. As a young man, he received royal recognition, obtaining the title “Chevalier” [knight] and (honorary) Officer of the King’s Bodyguard. He was henceforth known as “Chevalier de St.-Georges.”

Very little is known about St.-George’s musical education. However, his name is connected to François Gossec. In 1773, Gossec turned over to St.-Georges directorship of the Concert des Amateurs (later re-named Le Concert Olympique), a small orchestra that St.-Georges trained to become the brightest musical attraction in Paris. Queen Marie Antoinette was one if its
patrons. While St. Georges was living at the mansion of the Duc d’Orlêans in 1777, Mozart also resided there for several months. Thus, it is very possible that the two composers enjoyed an acquaintance.

For Mozart and most other European freelance composers of the 18 th century, opera houses were the rough equivalent of Broadway for American composers of the 1920s-1960s. Thus, St.-George devoted considerable time and effort composing operas and trying to obtain performances of them with mixed success. In all, St.-Georges composed seven operas, always in
parallel with his efforts in instrumental music, including his final set of string quartets, Opus 14 (1785).

St.-Georges was in London at the fall of the Bastille in Paris (July 14, 1789), the start of the French Revolution. To aid the revolutionaries, he formed the Légion St.-Georges, made up completely of Black soldiers and officers.

During the 1790s, Josef took an active part in the revolution, leading a force of men of color for the revolutionaries. However, in 1793, he barely escaped the guillotine. Instead, he was imprisoned for “non-revolutionary activities,” i.e., performing music.

In 1796, St.-Georges plunged again into the world of concert music, creating a new symphony orchestra and playing violin solos. He died of complications from a bladder disease on June 12, 1799. Following his death, he was quoted as having declared, “Towards the end of my life, I was particularly devoted to my violin. Never before did I play it so well!”

Over time, St.-Georges has been called “The Black Mozart.” Some people disagree. Listen to his string quartet now, and YOU be the judge!

Kodály: Intermezzo

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967). (1882-1967) was a many-faceted musician and scholar, who made significant contributions in the fields of composition, ethnomusicology, elementary music education (the “Kodály Method”), and higher education (teaching and administration). He composed concert and religious music for a wide variety of vocal, chamber, orchestral, and operatic forms. He grew up several Hungarian towns, where he was exposed to a variety of native folk music. Around the turn of the 20 th century, Kodály collaborated with Béla Bartók in making folk-song collecting/recording trips through the countryside of Hungary. Together, they published a collection of songs from their findings in 1906. That was in the year following the composition of Kodály’s Intermezzo for String Trio. In this work, as in many to follow Central European folk music was a strong influence (as it was in the music of Bartók).

The Intermezzo consists of a chain of short thematic sections. The first recurs, such as in a rondo. The violin plays this pleasant, folksy melody, with a jaunty accompaniment by the viola and cello. The alternate sections, by contrast, are more lyrical and emotional, showing a vocal influence. Each return of the main theme has the same jaunty mood, but its instrumental presentation changes among the three players. The Intermezzo has no pretense of depth, but it
succeeds remarkably as entertaining, “feel-good” music.

Enesco: Aubade

Many regard George Enescu (1881-1955) as the greatest composer in the history of Rumania. At first a child prodigy on the violin, he made his debut at the age of eight, going on to study the violin and composition at the major conservatories of Vienna and Paris. In 1897, a concert of his works was given in Paris, and the following year the Cologne Concerts premiered
his Poème roumain, Op. 1. Despite his growing popularity in Paris, Enescu decided to dedicate himself to raising the level of music in his native country. He became a busy conductor there but continued also to compose.

Besides his famous Rumanian Rhapsodies for orchestra and a few nationalistic chamber works, Enescu composed extensively in a more “objective” chamber music vein. These works of varying dimensions span his entire creative life from the Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 2 (1897) to the Chamber Symphony, Op. 33 (1954). However, even these carry ethnic nuances, usually modes in place of traditional major/minor scales.

The French Aubade originated as morning music played by town musicians on the arrival of noble personages or high-ranking officials — a counterpart to an evening’s serenade. Gradually, it evolved into a kind of pastorale. Before Enescu’s 1899 Aubade, composers such a Gounod, Lalo, and Bizet had composed Aubaudes. Besides Enescu, 20th-century French composers such as Poulenc, Roussel, Milhaud, and Satie composed Aubades.

Enescu’s Aubade for string trio is a good example of his blend of traditional form elements and Rumanian ethnic nuances. While the cello and viola strum a lulling rhythmic accompaniment, the violin spins out the graceful main theme. The cello takes its turn with this charming melody, then hands it back to the violin. Now comes strong, brief reminiscences of Rumanian folk music, which introduces the development of established melodic ideas. Against the main theme from the violin comes an independent, new melody, spun out from the viola. Meanwhile the cello strums its original, main-theme accompaniment. Gradually, the viola comes to the fore, and the Aubade ends quietly as the trio bids a soft farewell.

Haydn: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76 No. 3 “Emperor”

The “Emperor” Quartet is probably the best known string quartet of among the works of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). While Haydn was in England (1790-1792 and 1794-1795), he became thoroughly impressed by the fervor with which the British people sang their national anthem, “God Save the King.” Encouraged by friends, Haydn pursued the idea, and a friend, Count Saurau, commissioned a text from poet L.L. Haschka. Haydn’s setting of these words made history.

The idea of a National Anthem was not unique to England and Austria; France also had one. It seemed good for Austria also to adopt a national hymn for increased morale in the face of Napoleon’s push through Europe. The anthem, “Gott! erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (God preserve the Emperor Francis) was premiered on February 12, 1797, the Emperor’s birthday. The hymn was an immediate sensation, and various arrangements of it could soon be heard throughout the country. Its later history is also noteworthy. In 1841, it was given new words, “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles,” which became the national anthem of Germany and Austria until after World War II. The tune continues today as Germany’s national hymn.

We must wait for the C Major Quartet’s second movement to hear it, however. The first movement is based chiefly on a single theme, which Haydn develops by putting it through several mood transformations. All the while, he makes virtuosic demands on the players.

All through the second movement, Haydn makes sure we can hear the famous national-anthem melody. Presented first in the topmost part of a hymnlike texture, it then sounds as a solo line in each of the variations. This strong melody is played by one violin (Var. 1), while the other etches a virtuoso part; is heard in the cello (Var. 2), while the other strings weave free line above it; appears in the viola (Var.3), surrounded by free countermelodies. In the final variation, the rich hymnlike texture returns, but soon Haydn shifts the instruments into a higher register, lending greater brilliance to the music, which contrasts with the quiet, dignified ending.

Haydn never ceased experimenting, and the Menuetto is a good example. The two violins play a melody in octaves, and the viola and cello soon echo that melody (also in octaves) in follow-the-leader fashion. The Trio middle section contrasts sharply by offering a chordal texture and dynamic nuances.

Another Haydnesque feature is the Hungarian flavor of the finale, something to be found in other of his chamber works. Syncopated rhythms here contribute to this essence. However, the movement also possesses the sophistication of an 18th -century drawing room. In all, we have the feeling that Haydn has made his mark with the “Emperor” movement, and the other three movements, although masterful, are frosting on the cake.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2020