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 LatinMiguel del Aguila
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.
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!
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.
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
Camerata San Antonio is one violin short of a string quartet this fall for a worthy reason: Violinist Matthew Zerweck is taking paternity leave. In compensation, the remaining members have been able to explore some of the literature for string trio, with side trips to two and four in the company of frequent collaborator, pianist Viktor Valkov. For the Nov. 15 concert, Camerata visited an unaccustomed venue, the intimate recital hall in the Palo Alto College performing arts center. The space proved acoustically dry but left nothing unheard – including the occasional loud expulsion of breath by which cellist Ken Freudigman telegraphed some especially important turn in the music. The towering finale, Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A, had an especially generous number of those. The first half took less-traveled roads to Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for violin and piano and Ernst von Dohnanyi’s Serenade for string trio. The eminent violinist Joseph Joachim was the thread connecting all three composers: He collaborated closely with both Clara Schumann and Brahms, and he invited Dohnanyi to teach at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, of which the violinist was director.
Clara Schumann was one of Europe’s most celebrated pianists in the middle decades of the 19th century. She composed a good deal of music – much of it for her own solo and chamber music performances – in her 20s. After a five-year hiatus, she had a burst of activity in 1853, the year she met Brahms and the year of the Three Romances. Her husband, Robert Schumann, was committed to a mental institution the following year, and Clara became the sole support of seven children, including a newborn boy. Those circumstances dictated that she concentrate on her lucrative concert career and set composition aside.
That’s our loss. On the evidence of the Three Romances, Clara Schumann was a composer of considerable merit. The whole set flies by in only 10 minutes or so, but a lot of music is packed into that slender frame. The violin is given generally long-lined, declarative melodies that sustain interest by avoiding the obvious. The piano part, considerably busier, invites billowing dynamics and sculpted phrasing. The two parts are distinct, even opposite personalities in earnest conversation – for which the cool reserve of violinist Anastasia Parker and the heated passion of Mr. Valkov were well suited.
Dohnanyi’s Serenade is so immediately engaging that it’s easy not to notice how expertly it is crafted. Dohnanyi composed this five-movement work in 1902, when he was in his mid-20s, and in some ways it looks back to the Romanticism of Brahms. But the energetic, intricately wrought counterpoint – especially in the fugal Scherzo and bustling Rondo – and the fresh harmonies contain at least a hint of the new century. Mr. Freudigman put plenty of snap into the occasional Hungarian folk tropes, violist Emily Freudigman spun lovely melody to open the Romanza, and Ms. Parker was especially effective in the disconsolate Theme and Variations, the emotional center of the Serenade.
Brahms was a young man of 28 or 29 in 1861 when he completed his second piano quartet, a chamber work that is symphonic in both duration (about 50 minutes) and ambition. The allegro movements that open and close the work seem steeped in testosterone, the Scherzo has a restive undercurrent, and even the sweet Poco adagio is agitated by rocking eighth-note figures that seem prepared at any moment to spring into action. The performance was big, bold, and muscular – words that often come to mind when Mr. Valkov is involved in chamber music. Those traits were amplified by the physical circumstances: The seven-foot Steinway B Mr. Valkov was playing might not have been enough piano for a big concert hall, but it was possibly too much piano for Palo Alto’s little recital hall. At times the piano overwhelmed the strings in volume, but the pianist’s in-the-bones Romanticism was the driving force in a compelling performance.
Coda: Technical difficulties kept me from posting a timely review of Camerata’s October concert, with three works for string trios performed by Ms. Parker, Ms. Freudigman, and Mr. Freudigman in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall. They opened with Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Trio of 1990-91, music that is less self-consciously avant-garde than the clouds of dissonance that characterized much of his music from the late 1950s and 1960s, but no less startling. The first of its two movements was the more remarkable, with extended solo cadenzas of widely different character for each of the instruments – all played with conviction. Jean Francaix’s String Trio in C of 1933 was at the opposite pole – three brief witty, jaunty, cheeky movements and one wistful, lyrical Andante. A warm, affectionate account of Mozart’s grand Divertimento in E-flat, one of his longest works, closed the concert.
Read Mike Greenberg’s review at incidentlight.com
Penderecki: String Trio
Surely Krysztof Penderecki (1933- ) is one of the most significant composers of “New Music” since 1950. In 1960, his style turned from serialism à la Boulez toward an entirely personal direction that became known as “sound mass music.” Among the composer’s first works expressing the new style was his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima composed in 1960 for 52 string instruments. The following year, Penderecki received the UNESCO Prize for the work. Soon his international reputation became enhanced through the success of the St. Luke Passion (1963-1965). These two works have remained among Penderecki’s best known music.
Although in the full flush of his career he focused on music for large forces (e.g., opera, oratorio, and large orchestra), Penderecki’s catalog shows a sprinkling of chamber music, which flourished briefly in the 1990s. The String Trio of 1990-91 is one of the fruits of that period. Although the work is very dissonant in places, its clarity of sound and of form owes much to the music of the Classical Giants: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Penderecki has said as much: “Logic. You must have exposition, you must have development … nobody can do anything better.”
The number three also figures significantly in this work. (Its connection to the performing trio is obvious, of course.) Analyst Kenneth Woods has explained this idea clearly:
The screamingly dissonant chords that launch the work (heard three times) are a combination of three triads [chord entities]: G major, G sharp minor and B flat diminished. These chords preface three cadenzas, which introduce three strongly differentiated musical personae – the morose viola, the mercurial cello and the volcanic violin.
Although the String Trio is cast in two movements of several minutes each, the first contains seven different tempos. Three of these are the cadenzas mentioned above.
The Vivace second movement is mostly a fugue in which the composer emphasizes a two-note idea: the minor third (on a piano, the notes would be three keys apart). The intellectual fugal sections alternate with “dramatic unisons and solo episodes” [Woods]. Elements of a gloomily animated wit are worked into the mix, leading to an ending both instrumentally and intellectually complex and challenging.
Franҫaix: String Trio in C Major
Jean Franҫaix (1912-1997) was something of a prodigy who fulfilled his promise with numerous later works. He had composed his first piano piece at the age of six. Later, his father, a conservatory director trained him thoroughly in piano and sent him to Paris to complete his education at the Conservatoire. There, he received a first prize in piano and studied composition privately with Nadia Boulanger. From the 1930s, he was an active composer, writing music with wit, irony, and at times even mischievousness. His style shows the distinct influences of Stravinsky, Ravel, and Poulenc, yet there is a freshness about many of his works that has become synonymous with his name.
Franҫaix composed his String Trio in 1933, and it is an excellent example of his personal brand of neo-classicism. In the first movement, the spiccato perpetual motion is more important than melodic ideas, although there is one lyrical moment. Nicolas Slonimsky has pointed out that the viola part contains a concealed reference to Bach’s name spelled backward (H [B-natural], C, A, B-flat): a humorous reference to the “back-to-Bach” crusade of the 1930s.
The Scherzo is actually a mock waltz, but it follows the Scherzo-Trio-Scherzo classical form. Offset rhythms in the cello and occasional accent shifts in the viola add to the caricature. The Trio section tries humorously to be pompous.
Somewhat Satie-like, the Andante spins out a languid violin melody over a repetitive harmonic accompaniment. There follow two mutations, one an eloquent cello echo and the other a warm viola solo.
The final Rondo is a galloping polka built on a square-phrased main theme. The middle section brings back the satirical quality of the first two movements. At last, Franҫaix pours forth a mock apotheosis, but this disappears into a brief, puckish coda.
Mozart:Divertimento in E-flat for String Trio, K. 563
The year was 1788, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was entering the saddest period of his life. His music being out of favor with the Viennese public and having only a tiny regular income, he went into debt. In June, he began to borrow money regularly from his brother in Freemasonry, the well-to-do merchant Michael Puchberg. Frequently, from that time until April 1791, Mozart would beg money from this always-generous friend, making blue-sky promises of repayment once his fortunes in music improved. Mozart’s lodge-brother probably never expected to see his money again.
Puchberg was not entirely without recompense, however. In September 1788, Mozart dedicated to him something unique in his output: his only complete work for string trio. It ran six movements, including two minuets: a divertimento. Mozart must have been proud of the E-flat Divertimento, for he performed it in Dresden in 1789 (on his way to Berlin), and again in Vienna a year later. Divertimentos were usually light-hearted, but Mozart sometimes violated that tradition. As it turns out, the first half of this work has a serious tone, while the latter half is blithe.
We may be astonished by the plethora of musical ideas in the first movement’s exposition. However, in the development, Mozart chooses to focus on a motive from the second theme group for serious contrapuntal treatment.
The gradually swelling passion of the Adagio falls outside the realm of divertimento tradition. Its development goes far afield harmonically before returning to the home key for an elaboration of each theme.
In the first Menuetto, Mozart’s theme features cross accents of 2+2+2 beats within the space of 3+3 beats. Development is again the watchword, as ideas grow in the second portion. The Trio section stresses equality among the three string parts in the form of alternating solos.
The Andante now places us squarely in the traditional divertimento domain. Here is a carefree, walking theme. The following variations become progressively more decorative or rhythmically dense until the quasi-Baroque minore variation. Bursting back into the major mode, Mozart now demands non-stop passagework from the players until the music unwinds in the coda.
Truly entertaining, the second Menuetto has some comic overtones. Both Trios are in Ländler rhythm (forerunner of the waltz) and flavored with the spirit of the Viennese public dancing parties for which Mozart wrote his German Dances.
The final Allegro balances the seriousness of the opening movement with a complete relaxation of mood. The recurrent main theme is a playful peasant dance capped by a little drumming fanfare. Even the semi-serious counterpoint in the middle section is not long lived. As a coda, the little fanfare takes over, bringing to an end what Alfred Einstein termed “the finest, most perfect trio ever heard.”
Notes by Michael Fink, 2019