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

Blueprint – Program Notes

Blueprint – Program Notes

Shaw, Blueprint (2016) 

The youngest composer ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music is Caroline Shaw (1982- ). At age 30, she received this honor for her a cappella vocal work Partita for 8 Voices. In addition to composing, Shaw is active as a violin soloist, chamber musician, and ensemble singer, chiefly with the group Roomful of Teeth, for whom she composed Partita. Her recent commissions include works for Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. She has also collaborated frequently with Kanye West. Shaw has studied at Princeton, Rice, and Yale Universities.

Shaw most often composes for a particular artist or ensemble, crafting her music to a degree on aspects of the artist/ensemble revealed through personal encounters. Blueprint was composed for the Aizuri Quartet, which played its world premiere in April 2016 at Wolf Trap Vienna, VA). The title of this seven-minute work uses that quartet’s name as a springboard for Blueprint. However, the work also relates closely to an early string quartet by Beethoven. As Shaw explains:

The Aizuri Quartet’s name comes from “aizuri-e,” a style of Japanese woodblock printing that primarily uses a blue ink. In the 1820s, artists in Japan began to import a particular blue pigment known as “Prussian blue.” . . . The story of aizuri-e is one of innovation, migration, transformation, craft, and beauty. Blueprint, composed for the incredible Aizuri Quartet, takes its title from this beautiful blue woodblock printing tradition as well as from that familiar standard architectural representation of a proposed structure: the blueprint. This piece began its life as a harmonic reduction — a kind of floor plan — of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 6 [“La Malinconia”]. As a violinist and violist, I have played this piece many times, in performance and in joyous late-night reading sessions with musician friends. . . . Chamber music is ultimately about conversation without words. We talk to each other with our dynamics and articulations, and we try to give voice to the composers whose music has inspired us to gather in the same room and play music. Blueprint is also a conversation — with Beethoven, with Haydn (his teacher and the “father” of the string quartet), and with the joys and malinconia of his Op. 18, No. 6.

-Caroline Shaw

Walker, Lyric for String Quartet

George Walker (1922-2018) is one of America’s most distinguished Black composers. Educated at Oberlin and Curtis conservatories, the Eastman School of Music, and Fontainbleau, Walker studied composition with such notables as Gian-Carlo Menotti and Nadia Boulanger, and piano with Rudolph Serkin and Robert Casadesus. Having taught in several major schools of music, Walker held chairs in composition at Rutgers University, the University of Delaware, and the Peabody Institute. He has also won two Rockefeller fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1982, Walker was made a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1996, Walker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his symphonic work, Lilacs, based on poetry by Walt Whitman. He was the first African American to be honored with that award.

In Walker’s adaptation for string orchestra, Lyric became the most often performed work by an American composer. About the music, Walker has written:

It was composed in 1946 and was originally the second movement of my first string quartet. After a brief introduction, the principal theme that permeates the entire work is introduced by the first violins. A static interlude is followed by successive imitations of the theme that leads to an intense climax. The final section of the work presents a somewhat more animated statement of the same thematic material. The coda recalls the quiet interlude that appeared earlier. Lyric is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother.

-George Walker

Program annotator William D. West has noted certain parallels between George Walker’s Lyric for Strings and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Each was originally the slow movement of its composer’s first string quartet, and both are elegiac pieces expressing an underlying sorrow. West writes:

The poignancy inherent in Walker’s thematic material, and the way he builds it to a searing climax half way through, may also suggest a profound grief, and in this case, of course, we know the connection with the passing of his grandmother. Appropriately, since this is a very personal memorial, the music in the string orchestra version remains intimate throughout, the equivalent of a personal letter which takes us briefly and succinctly into the private and confidential world of the sender.

-William D. West

Beethoven, Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, no. 1

The six works of Op. 18 represent Beethoven’s first burst of energy in the direction of the string quartet. At the time of writing (1798-1800), Beethoven had many occasions 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. There, a group of musicians was placed at Beethoven’s disposal, giving him opportunities rarely afforded a composer.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed the F Major Quartet second in the series, but he placed it at the head of the set because of its size and impressiveness. This work stems from 1799, and Beethoven dedicated its initial version to his friend, Karl Amenda. Two years later, the composer revised it with the statement, “I have just learned how to write quartets properly.”

The most impressive feature of the first movement is its initial “turn” motive. Beethoven intensively experimented with different versions of this idea, covering no fewer than 16 pages in his sketch books. At last, he devised a motive that music scholar Joseph Kerman says “behaves like a coiled spring, ready to shoot off in all directions. . . .” Although this motive dominates the movement with its 104 occurrences, there is a rich abundance of other thematic ideas. Kerman states that the movement’s mood “owes much to the perilous effort of holding all this material together.”

Beethoven did not give “names” to much of his music, but he occasionally had some extra-musical idea in mind. At the end of one sketch of this quartet’s Adagio, Beethoven wrote, “les deriers soupirs,” “the last breaths.” Reportedly, he interpreted this to his friend, Amenda, with the words, “I thought of the scene in the burial vault in Romeo and Juliet.” Broad theatrical emotion is rampant throughout the movement, but especially in the development, which romanticizes its themes as no quartet ever had before.

The size and emotional range of the Scherzo are slight in comparison with the preceding movements. However, as a witty respite, it works well. In the Trio section, a “limping” motive, adds a humorous touch.

Beethoven inherited from Haydn two responsibilities for the finales to early works such as this: They must be effervescent, and they must be sharply rhythmic or dance-like. The finale to the F Major Quartet fills both requirements — and then some. To balance the magnitude of the first movement, Beethoven here provides a lengthy sonata-rondo form with well-contrasted themes. The verve and directed energy of this finale provide an appropriate finish to a monumental accomplishment in chamber music.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2020

Program Notes: Blueprint

Program Notes: Blueprint

Schnittke, Third String Quartet (1983)

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) was one of the Soviet Union’s most prominent contemporary composers. Born in Engels on the Volga, Schnittke studied at the Moscow Conservatory during the 1950s under Golubev and Rakov. From 1962 until 1972 he taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Since that time, Schnittke composed free-lance, occasionally teaching abroad. Schnittke’s style has been influenced by composers as diverse as Carl Orff and Luigi Nono. He has produced a sizeable oeuvre including symphonies, chamber works, choral music, and four violin concertos which have been championed by Gidon Kremer.

The Third String Quartet was commissioned by the Mannheim Gesellschaft für Musik and composed during the summer of 1983. The Eder Quartet premiered it in Mannheim in May 1984. The work exemplifies Schnittke’s current concern to reconcile tradition and historical awareness with modern musical language and procedures. To this end, the quartet begins as three quotations from historical contexts: (1) a cadence from a Stabat Mater by Orlandus Lassus, (2) the principal theme from Beethoven’s Grosse fuge, Op. 133, and (3) the note sequence D, E-flat, C, B-natural, which Shostakovich used in a few works as a motto of his own name (in German spelling: D, Es, C, H, suggesting the abbreviation, D. Sch).

In the first movement, Schnittke keeps these fragments quite distinct, commenting on each and exploring their implications. The balance between consonance and dissonance and between tonality and non-tonality is a delicate one maintained masterfully throughout these explorations.

The second movement (Agitato) proceeds without a pause. In it, Schnittke begins to transform the thematic material, injecting more of himself into the music and with more immediacy than before. The contrast between emotionally charged rhythmic passages with those that seem to suspend the music in time is particularly striking.

Again without pause, the last movement (Pesante) pounds forth with its opening stamping chords. Fragmentary, cryptic references to the historical themes are sometimes perceptible, but the emphasis falls on Schnittke’s style and what it has learned from the precedent masters that the composer has chosen to inform his work.

Shaw, Blueprint (2016) 

The youngest composer ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music is Caroline Shaw (1982- ). At age 30, she received this honor for her a cappella vocal work Partita for 8 Voices. In addition to composing, Shaw is active as a violin soloist, chamber musician, and ensemble singer, chiefly with the group Roomful of Teeth, for whom she composed Partita. Her recent commissions include works for Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. She has also collaborated frequently with Kanye West. Shaw has studied at Princeton, Rice, and Yale Universities.

Shaw most often composes for a particular artist or ensemble, crafting her music to a degree on aspects of the artist/ensemble revealed through personal encounters. Blueprint was composed for the Aizuri Quartet, which played its world premiere in April 2016 at Wolf Trap Vienna, VA). The title of this seven-minute work uses that quartet’s name as a springboard for Blueprint. However, the work also relates closely to an early string quartet by Beethoven. As Shaw explains:

The Aizuri Quartet’s name comes from “aizuri-e,” a style of Japanese woodblock printing that primarily uses a blue ink. In the 1820s, artists in Japan began to import a particular blue pigment known as “Prussian blue.” . . . The story of aizuri-e is one of innovation, migration, transformation, craft, and beauty. Blueprint, composed for the incredible Aizuri Quartet, takes its title from this beautiful blue woodblock printing tradition as well as from that familiar standard architectural representation of a proposed structure: the blueprint. This piece began its life as a harmonic reduction — a kind of floor plan — of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 6 [“La Malinconia”]. As a violinist and violist, I have played this piece many times, in performance and in joyous late-night reading sessions with musician friends. . . . Chamber music is ultimately about conversation without words. We talk to each other with our dynamics and articulations, and we try to give voice to the composers whose music has inspired us to gather in the same room and play music. Blueprint is also a conversation — with Beethoven, with Haydn (his teacher and the “father” of the string quartet), and with the joys and malinconia of his Op. 18, No. 6.

Beethoven, Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, no. 1

The six works of Op. 18 represent Beethoven’s first burst of energy in the direction of the string quartet. At the time of writing (1798-1800), Beethoven had many occasions 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. There, a group of musicians was placed at Beethoven’s disposal, giving him opportunities rarely afforded a composer.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed the F Major Quartet second in the series, but he placed it at the head of the set because of its size and impressiveness. This work stems from 1799, and Beethoven dedicated its initial version to his friend, Karl Amenda. Two years later, the composer revised it with the statement, “I have just learned how to write quartets properly.”

The most impressive feature of the first movement is its initial “turn” motive. Beethoven intensively experimented with different versions of this idea, covering no fewer than 16 pages in his sketch books. At last, he devised a motive that music scholar Joseph Kerman says “behaves like a coiled spring, ready to shoot off in all directions. . . .” Although this motive dominates the movement with its 104 occurrences, there is a rich abundance of other thematic ideas. Kerman states that the movement’s mood “owes much to the perilous effort of holding all this material together.”

Beethoven did not give “names” to much of his music, but he occasionally had some extra-musical idea in mind. At the end of one sketch of this quartet’s Adagio, Beethoven wrote, “les deriers soupirs,” “the last breaths.” Reportedly, he interpreted this to his friend, Amenda, with the words, “I thought of the scene in the burial vault in Romeo and Juliet.” Broad theatrical emotion is rampant throughout the movement, but especially in the development, which romanticizes its themes as no quartet ever had before.

The size and emotional range of the Scherzo are slight in comparison with the preceding movements. However, as a witty respite, it works well. In the Trio section, a “limping” motive, adds a humorous touch.

Beethoven inherited from Haydn two responsibilities for the finales to early works such as this: They must be effervescent, and they must be sharply rhythmic or dance-like. The finale to the F Major Quartet fills both requirements — and then some. To balance the magnitude of the first movement, Beethoven here provides a lengthy sonata-rondo form with well-contrasted themes. The verve and directed energy of this finale provide an appropriate finish to a monumental accomplishment in chamber music.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2019

Program Notes: Beethoven250

Program Notes: Beethoven250

Beethoven, Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2

When Beethoven’s first set of three violin sonatas (Op. 12) went on sale at the end of 1798, the musical world of Vienna was no more ready for them than it had been for his other music. A review of the sonatas written in June 1799 makes such statements as:

After having looked through these strange sonatas, overladen with difficulties . . . [I] felt . . . exhausted and without having had any pleasure. . . . Bizarre . . . Learned, learned and always learned — and nothing natural, no song . . . a striving for strange modulations. . . .

If Herr v. B. wished to deny himself a bit more and follow the course of nature he might, with his talent and industry, do a great deal for an instrument [the piano] which he seems to have so wonderfully under his control.

Such bad press obviously did not deter Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) from his vision. In all, he composed ten violin sonatas spread over his first and second style-periods, including the famous “Kreutzer” Sonata (Op. 47). The last violin sonata was composed in 1812 and published as Op. 96.

 “Effervescence” is the word for the A Major Sonata’s first movement. Only momentarily does Beethoven depart from the tripping-skipping of the first and second themes. In the exposition, the only “serious” departure comes after those themes — a momentary catching of the breath before the composer whirls off in a new direction. In the brief development, Beethoven maximizes his small collection of ideas, and in the recapitulation, he extends them in a post-development that flies into a new key before a final landing in A major and a delightful coda.

“Dialogue” would be a good descriptor for the Andante. Interchanges of similar phrases between piano and violin characterize the lyrical outer sections. In the center, however, the two instruments become more closely entwined. Nineteenth-century writer Friederich Niecks commented that “the charm of the movement lies in its simplicity and naiveté and in the truth of its tender, plaintive accents.”

“Scherzo” might have been Beethoven’s appellation for the final movement, had he chosen that form. It has all the good-humored flavor of the best of Beethoven’s scherzos, and the composer himself used the word piacevole (pleasing) in the tempo marking. Following tradition, the movement is a rondo that presents the sunniest of themes, appropriately completing this “feel-good” sonata.

Beethoven, Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)

It may be altogether too glib to say that Beethoven anticipated or pioneered every major musical development of the Romantic age that followed him. Yet, when listening to his aptly nicknamed “Spring” Sonata, the notion is tempting. Here, in a nutshell, Beethoven presents a pre-echo of the heartfelt spirit, naivety, and boldness of Mendelssohn and Schumann — as well as elements of their melodic and harmonic vocabulary.

The first movement is particularly illustrative. In its opening, we have the innocent freshness of a Mendelssohn, heard in melodious themes given first to the violin and then answered by the piano. A short development leads to the unprepared and surprising recapitulation. Now, the harmonic color of the principal themes is tinged with the pathos of experience, but the spirit of pure joy returns in the sumptuous coda.

The Adagio is more comparable to Schumann in its harmonic richness and full, pianistic textures. However, chamber music authority W.W. Cobbett maintains that the opening theme of this five-part form “seems to have escaped from some opera by Mozart.”

The very brief Scherzo movement turns again to a Mendelssohn-like spirit. Its elfin violin elody. However, it is accompanied by offset piano rhythms that could have come only from Beethoven’s pen.

Over the rondo finale, the big-hearted Schumannesque spirit hovers again, although there are occasional winks in the direction of Mozart. In contrast with the opening movement, the piano is usually the leader and the violin the follower in presenting new themes. One Beethovenian feature in the harmonic plan is a false recapitulation in the key of D major, which then slips deftly back into F major for the concluding sections.

Beethoven composed the “Spring” Sonata in 1800 or 1801 and published it in the latter year alongside the Op. 23 Violin Sonata (no. 4). Much of the youth, vigor, and studied innocence of the “Spring” Sonata may be attributed to the early period in which the work was written. This was the time of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata for piano and the First Symphony, but a time before he fully realized (or admitted) his loss of hearing. Thus, with this sonata we might imagine Beethoven standing at the brink of the future. It is also easy to imagine this happening on a bright, sunlit day with a spring breeze wafting through the young master’s hair.

Beethoven, Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”)

It seemed that entirely new impulses, new possibilities, were revealed to me in myself, such as I had not dreamed of before. Such works should be played only in grave, significant conditions, and only then when certain deeds corresponding to such music are to be accomplished.

These are not the words of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) nor of Kreutzer, but rather of Tolstoy’s tragic hero in the novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, where a performance of this sonata drives him over the edge of insanity, and he kills his wife. Fantastic as that notion seems, it is imaginable through the unrestraint of the first movement and the excitement of the last. However, none of that was Beethoven’s intention. He composed the “Kreutzer” Sonata in 1802-1803 just ahead of the “Eroica” Symphony. This was a turning point in Beethoven’s style, the entry into his “Heroic Decade,” to use Maynard Solomon’s expression.

This violin sonata was the longest written to date, just as the Third Symphony would be the longest of its genre yet heard. And, just as Beethoven changed the dedication of his symphony, he re-directed the dedication of the sonata. Originally, Beethoven wrote the work for George Bridgetower, with whom he premiered the music in 1803. However, the two subsequently fought over the attentions of a woman. Beethoven then used the sonata as a political tool for his proposed (but never accomplished) move to Paris by dedicating it to the French virtuoso, Rodolphe Kreutzer. Ironically, Kreutzer never performed the sonata, finding it, in the words of Berlioz, “outrageously unintelligible.”

Although that was an exaggeration, many violinists have found the first movement to be awkward. Another feature that may have put off Kreutzer is the equal prominence of the piano. In the sketches, Beethoven made the notation, “in a very concertante style, somewhat like a concerto.” But it is a concertante for both violin and piano: a concerto without orchestra.

Beethoven begins with the only slow introduction among the ten violin sonatas, and he periodically returns to Adagio in the course of the first movement. “Feverish,” “fiery,” and “passionate” are terms often applied to the Presto that follows. Beethoven seems to have created a contest for superiority between the two instruments, and only in the heat of the development section do they achieve true parity.

The theme and variations in the second movement are a complete contrast. Here, Beethoven reminds us that violin sonatas were originally salon or drawing-room music. The theme and first two variations follow that idea; however, the fourth (in the minor mode) is music of somber introspection. A final decorative variation and quiet coda round out the movement.

In his haste to complete this sonata for its premiere, Beethoven used for his last movement the discarded finale from the Violin Sonata, Op. 30, no. 1 (which it would have overbalanced). This galloping tarantella puts the sonata into a whirl that balances the first movement in length and emotional values. Slowing only occasionally, the motion of this music is relentless, driving breathlessly to a tempestuous finish

Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2019

Program Notes: Unabashed

Program Notes: Unabashed

Schumann, String Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, no. 3

During his most productive periods, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) would concentrate on a single musical medium over an extended time. For example, we are acquainted with his “song year” (1840) and his “symphony year” (1841). During his “chamber music years” (184243), Schumann composed the three string quartets of Op. 41 plus several other works. He wrote the quartets in less than two weeks.

As was his habit before embarking on a new medium, Schumann immersed himself in the music of that medium by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Possibly, one of the Haydn quartets he studied was the D minor “Quinten” (Op. 76, no. 2), since the interval of a falling fifth is important in Schumann’s first movement, as in Haydn’s. This “sighing” or so-called “Cla-ra” motive is prominent in the introduction and in both of the principal themes and becomes a motto permeating the entire movement.

The second movement is a set of variations on a theme not explicitly stated until after the first three variations: a restless agitato, a Schumannesque galloping variation, and a fugato. After stating the theme, the composer presents a final broad-rhythm waltz variation.

In the third movement, Schumann’s harmonic genius is prominent as he fleshes out an otherwise undistinguished first theme. Here (as in most of the quartet) all instruments play most of the time. Wisely, Schumann thins the texture in much of the dotted-rhythm middle section, allowing the first violin and viola to hold a close dialogue.

Critic A.E.F. Dickinson has called the fourth movement of this quartet “a well-organized ballet-movement rather than a finale.” Whether one agrees or not, the dance impulse of the movement is indisputable. This movement in rondo form is highly sectionalized and repetitive, often giving full voice to the stamping main theme. In contrast, digressions appear: delicate, balletic rhythms; minor-key gypsy-like strains; and a “Quasi Trio” (Schumann’s marking), which undeniably is a Gavotte. The main theme is at last developed during a long coda that caps this ingratiating quartet.

Klughardt, Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 43

The composer-conductor August Klughardt (1847-1902) studied music at his birthplace, Cöthen, Desau, and Dresden. His career consisted mainly on a series of appointments as a conductor, usually in theaters and opera houses. Probably the most significant of these was his 1869 appointment at Weimar, where he formed a close friendship with Franz Liszt. Under the influence of Liszt, Klughardt developed an appreciation of Wagner and actually met him in 1873. Klughardt attended the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 and heard The Ring. It made an indelible impression on him, and the new Wagnerian style became an ingredient in his own music, including chamber works. He became a “progressive traditionalist,” perhaps the sort of composer that many critics wished Brahms had become.

The Piano Quintet in G Minor was premiered in Cöthen in 1884. Its success snowballed with performances in Leipzig and Dresden leading the way to international performances and celebrity. As one critic wrote, “Having heard it, we understand the immense success this masterful work has had in the concert hall and in the salon.”

Following an introduction exploring various shady moods, the opening Allegro bursts forth with a series of heroic themes and transition. By contrast, the cello leads in presenting the sweet second theme, which soon breaks into a heroic concluding thematic group. This also introduces a development section that glorifies several of the themes and fragments of them. Almost imperceptibly, the recapitulation occurs – more seasoned by the recent development. We hear themes presented more excitedly than earlier as the movement drives to a climactic finish.

The Adagio starts with an ultra-lyrical “song without words” that spotlights the instruments singly and together. A heroic-style transition brings another songlike section, which soon changes to a piano-led lyrical recap of the first theme in brief, as the movement’s coda.

The spirit of Schumann hangs attractively over the first section of the mode3rato third movement. A hymn-like central section focuses on strings alone at first, the answered by the piano and full ensemble in dialogue. A reprise of the first section shows dramatic contrasts between a big, spikey statement and a song-like coda.

Allegro non troppo, the final movement opens march-like with melody and counter-melody. A brief second section is more lyrical, returning before long to the heroic march, enhanced by counterpoint. A sudden change to triple meter sets off the central section a short lyrical break. Heroics return briefly, only to dissolve into a fugue on ideas from the opening melodies. A developmental reprise of the second section leads back to heroics, now enhanced by counterpoint, but dissolves into memories of other ideas in the movement. These become faster and excited, finishing finally in the quintet’s grand ending.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2020

 

The Beautiful Soul Program Notes

The Beautiful Soul Program Notes

Clara Schumann, Three Romances, Op. 22

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 was her teacher not only for the piano but also in the rudiments of composition, which she worked at joyfully from an early age.

A lodger at the Wieck household (and also a student of Friedrich) during the 1830s was Robert Schumann. Clara and Robert fell in love and wished to marry. However, Clara’s father exercised his right (under German law at that time) as Clara’s “owner,” and refused to give his consent. Clara and Robert took him to court over the matter in 1840 and won. They were married that year. 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. It worsened in the early 1850s. 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. Performances and tours took first consideration, including concertos (notably her own piano concerto) and recitals   ̶  both solo and duo. One of her closest collaborators was Josef Joachim, perhaps the most celebrated violinists of his day.

Clara composed very little after her husband’s death, and the Three Romances, Op. 22, written between 1853 and 1855, was one of her last works. She dedicated the set to Joachim, who wrote to her, calling them “a sheer delight to play, marvelous and heavenly.”

In Clara’s century, the “romance” was a genre of “character piece,” a short instrumental piece conveying one or more moods or emotions. In the Op. 22 romances, Clara does not identify such specifics in the first two, but merely gives us generic tempo markings (Andante molto and Allegretto). For the final Romance, however, the tempo marking is Leidenschaftlich Schnell: “Passionately fast.”

  1. Andante Molto. A wistful beginning and ending frames a more fervent center, painted with broad strokes. The piano part is amazing for its dual role of accompaniment to the violin and soloist with engaging melodic ideas. 
  2. Allegretto. There is a certain coyness to the opening theme. It becomes playful like a game between the violin and the piano. When the “coy” theme returns it brings more earnestness with it.
  3. Leidenschaftlich Schnell. Long intense lines in the violin are accompanied by a virtuosic piano part. The central section has something of a drawing room quality in its “proper” demeanor. A return to the passion of the opening becomes tame and sweet for a sketch of the violin and piano interlocked in a sweet, intimate adieu.

Dohnányi, Serenade in C Major, Op. 10

Ernst von Dohnányi (18771960) is considered to be among the finest Hungarian composers between Liszt and Bartók. He conducted a brilliant career in Europe and the U.S., first as a pianist and later as a composer and conductor. At times, he was also a musical administrator (Director, Budapest Academy) and a rugged individualist whose popularity was sometimes only temporary. Dohnányi was not a prolific composer, and he produced only nine published chamber works. The earliest of these owe a great deal to the influence of Brahms, whom he knew, and who arranged the Vienna premiere of Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet No. 1.

The Serenade is Dohnányi’s only work for string trio, but it is a masterful one. In it we can hear the beginning of the composer’s most mature handling of harmony, exotic scales, and unusual key combinations. There are also some humorous surprises in this work. Sir Donald Tovey (1875-1940) pointed out that the first movement march ends “by three meditative murmurs of its first bar followed by a figure like a sneeze.” The Romanza incorporates effects that evoke the feeling of Spanish or Hungarian scale modes. The third movement is a scherzo but is worked out in fugal style, with the theme of the trio eventually combining with the main theme in a double fugue. The work is rounded out by a witty rondo finale with “its mocking vein and its indignant end with the trio of the opening march.” (Tovey)

Dohnányi’s Serenade is a serenade in the classical tradition of Mozart, as seen outwardly in its beginning and ending march rhythms. However, there is an inward connection with Mozart as well: a sensitive balance between formal purity and dramatic purpose. As Tovey puts it, “There is no stroke of form without its dramatic value, and no stroke of drama that does not serve to complete the form.”

Brahms, Piano Quartet in A Major, Op. 26

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) often explored new compositional territory with a pair of works rather than singly. The first two symphonies, string quartets, and string sextets came into existence in this way. Although Brahms had worked on movements for one piano quartet as early as the 1850s (eventually becoming Op. 60), his first completed essays in this medium stemmed from 1861-62 in the form of the G Minor and A Major Piano Quartets. These run somewhat parallel to the first two symphonies by Brahms: the stormy minor-key antecedent work giving way to a sunny optimism in a major-key consequent work. Brahms sent both finished quartets to Josef Joachim for criticism (and help with the string parts), and the violinist was quite enthusiastic about them: “I have gotten to like the A major quartet more and more. The tone of tenderness is well contrasted with sparkling life.” A few of Joachim’s further remarks about the quartet are illuminating:

Your second sections flow splendidly and show a wealth of contrapuntal device. The first A major movement is an especially good example. This movement, so full of lyricism as to suggest the influence of Schubert, also contains its share of fairly strict, imitative counterpoint. The development section also contains an experimental group of three variations on the main theme, which moves into the remote key of C minor. 

The wonderful Poco Adagio with its ambiguous passion is a nocturnal movement beginning and ending with muted strings. The “shadowing” of the piano’s melody at the beginning is reminiscent of Schumann, while the key pattern appears to be influenced deeply by Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major. The ending of the movement is an elaborate variation on its opening. 

The Scherzo is a well-rounded whole. It reminds one a good deal of the later Beethoven; the structure is so compact as well as the turn of the melody. Amiable as its overall mood is, this movement does come remarkably close to the spirit of Beethoven. The main section attempts to accomplish a small sonata form, and the minor-key trio strives to be unified with the main section by borrowing the rhythm of the main theme for its own secondary thematic idea. 

The finale is a refreshing complement to the preceding movements. With its plethora of themes it seems to sprawl at times into what Beethoven might have called an “unbuttoned” state. However, frequently enough, Brahms buttons up the movement with tight, asymmetrical rhythms and periodic returns to the main rondo theme. The movement is capped by a final animato coda, the sound of which verges on the symphonic.