Program notes: Zerweck/valkov recital

Cui, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op.84

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shostakovich, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134

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

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

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

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

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2023

program notes – camerata recital ft. viktor valkov

C.P.E. Bach, Würtemberg Sonata No. 1 in A Minor 

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s “Württemberg Sonatas” were named after their dedication to Carl Eugen Duke of Württemberg who studied with Bach at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin. They were published in 1744. Together with the “Prussian Sonatas” published two years earlier, the “Württemberg Sonatas” are undoubtedly some of the most significant German piano works among the general piano art music of the 18th century, and they clearly stand out from the expressive and playful rococo style of his times.

Concerning the earliest pianos of his time of his time, C. P. E. Bach wrote his impressions in his famous book, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments

The new Forte pianos, when they are resistant and well-made, have many advantages, though their mechanism must be studied carefully and not without difficulty. They do well when played alone and in [ensemble] music not too loud.

Yet he generally preferred the harpsichord for solo keyboard performance.

For the first movement of the A Minor Sonata the music marked Moderato, that is, moderately fast. Yet Bach seemingly contradicts this direction by emphasizing runs and chord outlines in very fast notes. In fact, “figures,” such as chord outlines and scales, dominate the music most of the time. Like a Scarlatti keyboard sonata, this movement is constructed in two halves, each repeated.

The Andante that follows is (in contrast) very sweet and melodic. We 

are hearing the “inner” C.P.E. Bach. Although the melody seems to wander at times, the composer is in control, shaping the music by bringing back the opening melody to initiate the middle third of the movement. The final third starts as a quiet meditation, then forte for a declarative ending.

The sonata’s finale, Allegro assai (very fast), restores the energy of the first movement and adds to it some of the melodic values of the middle movement. In form, the finale follows somewhat the binary structure we experienced in the opening movement, thus binding the ideals of both previous essays. Now C.P.E. Bach displays the kind of wit that made Haydn’s finales famous in the next generation.

 Brahms, Seven Fantasies, Op. 116 

In 1853, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) first met and came under the influence of Robert Schumann. After that, Brahms wrote no more sonatas for solo piano, but rather concentrated on variations and, along the path of Schumann, shorter piano pieces. Toward the end of his life, Brahms once again devoted much attention to the short piano piece. In 1892, he wrote 20 works for the instrument which were published as Opp. 116, 117, 118, and 119, and have been called Brahms’s “children of Autumn.”

Rather than using Schumannesque pictorial titles, Brahms gives his pieces more generic labels, chiefly “Intermezzo” and “Capriccio.” The Intermezzos are usually in a slow or moderate tempo, and their mood is often wistful or nocturnal. The Capriccios, on the other hand, are brilliant concert etudes. In character, they are sometimes bright, sometimes stormy, but always technically demanding. Here is a brief description of the Fantasien, Op. 116:

No. 1, Capriccio: “Defiant and unruly” with heavy octaves and brusque chords, this piece is reminiscent of the “Edward” Ballade and may have been composed earlier than the rest.

No. 2, Intermezzo: A “whimsical” first section contrasts with a lament of “wistful loneliness” in the second. Clara Schumann was particularly fond of this piece.

No. 3. Capriccio: Somewhat austere arpeggios in the outer minor sections give way to a majestic, sweeping central episode in the major mode.

No. 4. Intermezzo: Brahms once considered calling this a “Nocturne.” It is almost a pure improvisation on its opening two ideas.

. No. 5: Intermezzo: “One is positively rocked by it, as in a cradle,” remarked Clara Schumann. Cross-rhythms and overlapping hands are some of the technical difficulties in this deceptively simple-looking piece.

No. 6. Intermezzo: Of all the Brahms Intermezzi, this may be the most typical in mood (graceful, pensive) and one of the simplest in form (A-B-A).

No. 7. Capriccio: To end the set comes a fast, restless movement. Its syncopated middle section, at once tender and fantastic, again pays homage to Robert Schumann,
Brahms’s pianistic mentor. 

Tchaikovsky, Dumka in C Minor 
(Scenes from a Russian Village) for Piano, Op. 59

Originating in Ukraine, the Dumka became popular with Slavic and Russian composers during the late 19th Century. Notably, the Czech nationalist Dvořák used it as the basis of three works. Russian composers Mussorgsky, Balakirev, and Peter I. Tchaikovaky (1840-1893) were also attracted to its sudden alternations between slow, tragic sections and fast, athletic dances. Tchaikovsky composed his Dumka in 1886 in response to a request from Parisian publisher Félix Mackar. The following year Mackar received a copy of the piece and probably brought about the Dumka’s premiere at a Parisian concert that year.

Tchaikovsky’s opening section may remind us of tragic epic poems. The music wants to tug at our heart-strings. Slow, wandering phrases finally give way to a counterpoint between a reprise of the tragic melody now coupled with a flitting, improvisation-style tune in the piano’s upper range. Coming down to mid-range, dissolving into pure accompaniment supporting the ongoing sorrowful melody.

The first dance section follows, perhaps seeming trivial compared with the first section. Block chords lead to a faster dance and new melodies occupy our attention. One melody in a moderate tempo emerges to seize our attention. Then, pure pianism takes center stage to begin developing some previous musical ideas.

Now we hear a reprise of something familiar, yet it has been re-dressed in dark block chords. Sudden stop! A sparse, sad tune comes, supported only by occasional, choppy, low chords. These dominate now, as the music reaches an abrupt conclusion.

Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition

It is difficult to conceive that the piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition written in 1874 by Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-1881), had to wait until after the composer’s death to be published. The origin of Pictures at an Exhibition goes back to 1873. That year saw the death of Victor Hartmann, architect and artist, who was a close friend of Mussorgsky’s. The composer expressed his sorrow at the loss to Russian critic Vladimir Stassov, who had first introduced them. The following year Stassov helped to arrange an exhibition of 400 of Hartmann’s watercolors and drawings in St. Petersburg. From this collection, Mussorgsky chose eleven works on which to build his suite, introducing some of the movements with a recurring “Promenade” theme. The “Promenade,” as explained by Stassov, represents the composer “walking now right, now left, now as an idle person, now urged to go near a picture; at times his joyous appearance is dampened as he thinks in sadness of his departed friend. . . .” 

“The Gnome” is the sketch of a nutcracker in the shape of a deformed gnome. “The Old Castle” (following a “Promenade”) portrays a medieval Italian castle with a singing troubadour in the foreground.

“Tuileries” (following another “Promenade”) shows a crowd of children and nursemaids in the famous Parisian park. Mussorgsky’s subtitle reads: “Dispute of the Children after Play.” “Bydlo” portrays a Polish peasant wagon with giant wooden wheels drawn by oxen. “Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells” (following a “Promenade”) was based on a design for a child’s ballet costume, which is a shell from which only the head and limbs protrude. “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” contrasts strongly with the previous section and stems from two pictures the artist gave to Mussorgsky (now lost). “Limoges — The Marketplace” shows a group of women gossiping by their pushcarts amid hustle and bustle.

“Catacombs,” a picture of the Paris catacombs, led Mussorgsky to inscribe, “The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me toward skulls, apostrophizes them — the skulls are illuminated gently in the interior.” “Cum mortuis in lingua mortua” (With the Dead in a Dead Language), a continuation of the catacombs motif, reworks the “Promenade” theme into an eerie character piece.

“The Hut on Fowls’ Legs” is a drawing of a clock in the shape of the hut of Baba-Yaga, the Russian witch. Toward the end of the section, Mussorgsky suggests the witch flying. When she lands, it is squarely on the downbeat of the final section, “The Great Gate of Kiev.” This was Hartmann’s design for an ancient-style gate, complete with decorative cupola and a triumphal procession marching through the arches (represented by the “Promenade” theme). The full mass of the piano’s resources comes together here to give Pictures at an Exhibition a majestic conclusion.

Program notes by Dr. Michael Fink 2020/2022. All rights reserved.

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

The Camerata Recital: Viktor Valkov – Program Notes

The Camerata Recital: Viktor Valkov – Program Notes

Eight Mazurkas – Luke Dahn

These eight mazurkas were composed between the years 2016 and 2020 as a kind of response to a personal study of the Chopin mazurkas, for which I have developed a genuine fondness. My “mazurkas” then deserve quotation marks, as they stand removed from the mazur tradition from which Chopin drew. To be sure, each of my mazurkas bears some of the basic defining metric and rhythmic elements of the dance—e.g. triple meter, emphasis on beat two or three, and syncopated accents—though at times these defining elements are rather latent or obscured. Mazurkas 1 and 8, which serve as bookends, are the most extroverted, celebratory and even bombastic pieces of the set. The short, pithy Mazurka 2 is marked by sharp staccatos and hidden quotations of two chorale tunes within its brittle texture. Mazurka 3 features a quiet passacaglia bass line above which an angular canon occurs. Perhaps the least mazurka-like of the set is the fourth piece in the set with its obscured triple meter and syncopated rhythms. Metric clarity returns in Mazurka 5 as pulsing harmonic seconds accompany patterned melodic gestures, although a much slower and delicately expressive middle section broadens these dance elements considerably. Mazurka 6 is the only piece in the set that explicitly draws from Chopin as the left-hand fifths that pervade the piece are taken directly from the sparkling middle section of Chopin’s Op.68, No.3. The dark, almost sinister character of the short Mazurka 7, marked by a low register “bass drum,” prepares the exuberant final number.

Luke Dahn

Pictures at an Exhibition – Modest Mussorgsky

It is difficult to conceive that the piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition written in 1874 by Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-1881), had to wait until after the composer’s death to be published. The origin of Pictures at an Exhibition goes back to 1873. That year saw the death of Victor Hartmann, architect and artist, who was a close friend of Mussorgsky’s. The composer expressed his sorrow at the loss to Russian critic Vladimir Stassov, who had first introduced them. The following year Stassov helped to arrange an exhibition of 400 of Hartmann’s watercolors and drawings in St. Petersburg. From this collection, Mussorgsky chose eleven works on which to build his suite, introducing some of the movements with a recurring “Promenade” theme. The “Promenade,” as explained by Stassov, represents the composer “walking now right, now left, now as an idle person, now urged to go near a picture; at times his joyous appearance is dampened as he thinks in sadness of his departed friend. . . .”

“The Gnome” is the sketch of a nutcracker in the shape of a deformed gnome. “The Old Castle” (following a “Promenade”) portrays a medieval Italian castle with a singing troubadour in the foreground.

“Tuileries” (following another “Promenade”) shows a crowd of children and nursemaids in the famous Parisian park. Mussorgsky’s subtitle reads: “Dispute of the Children after Play.” “Bydlo” portrays a Polish peasant wagon with giant wooden wheels drawn by oxen. “Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells” (following a “Promenade”) was based on a design for a child’s ballet costume, which is a shell from which only the head and limbs protrude. “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” contrasts strongly with the previous section and stems from two pictures the artist gave to Mussorgsky (now lost). “Limoges — The Marketplace” shows a group of women gossiping by their pushcarts amid hustle and bustle.

“Catacombs,” a picture of the Paris catacombs, led Mussorgsky to inscribe, “The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me toward skulls, apostrophizes them — the skulls are illuminated gently in the interior.” “Cum mortuis in lingua mortua” (With the Dead in a Dead Language), a continuation of the catacombs motif, reworks the “Promenade” theme into an eerie character piece.

“The Hut on Fowls’ Legs” is a drawing of a clock in the shape of the hut of Baba-Yaga, the Russian witch. Toward the end of the section, Mussorgsky suggests the witch flying. When she lands, it is squarely on the downbeat of the final section, “The Great Gate of Kiev.” This was Hartmann’s design for an ancient-style gate, complete with decorative cupola and a triumphal procession marching through the arches (represented by the “Promenade” theme). The full mass of the piano’s resources comes together here to give Pictures at an Exhibition a majestic conclusion.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink, copyright 2020