Toledo Blade Chamber Series
by Kalindi Bellach ©2018
Friends of Music / Fantasy Pieces / Night Music / Diversive Elements / Quintets Old & New
Friends of Music
Ravel - Introduction and Allegro
Bloch - Prayer for Cello and Piano
Mozart - "Kegelstatt" Trio
Brahms - String Sextet No. 2
On September 28, 1943, twenty-two musicians performed together for the first time as the Friends of Music at Macomber Vocational High School Auditorium. Edgar Schenkman directed a program that included two works that were quite modern at the time – Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro and Ernest Bloch’s first Concerto Grosso. These pieces were paired with two light classical favorites – Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik “A Little Night Music” and a selection of Hungarian Dances by Brahms.
Our first program on our Diamond Anniversary season honors the composers of this inaugural concert, and pays tribute to the spirit of amicable music making that has characterized this organization – and this series – since its founding.
INTRODUCTION AND ALLEGRO
Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
Ravel was commissioned to compose Introduction and Allegro for Harp, accompanied by String Quartet, Flute, and Clarinet just days before he had planned to leave for a boat trip with friends. But he accepted the commission, determined to complete the work before setting sail and then to refine the work once onboard. In a letter to a friend he outlines “a week of continuous work and three sleepless nights.”
Annotator Dr. Richard E. Rodda explains that unlike other ancient instruments, the harp “remained essentially unchanged in its construction until about 1810, when the Parisian piano maker Sébastien Érard introduced a system of pedals to chromatically alter the pitches of the open strings.” This newly designed instrument was competing with the Pleyel firm’s chromatic harp, which simply added strings so that every chromatic note was represented and no pedaling was required. In an effort to shift business from the established Érard, Pleyel commissioned the young Debussy to write for chromatic harp, and this resulted the Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane in 1904. Érard commissioned Ravel in response, and the Introduction and Allegro, in 1905, was dedicated to M. A. Blondel, the director of the Érard firm.
As the title implies, Introduction and Allegro has two main sections. In the Introduction, Ravel slowly presents the thematic material to be used in the Allegro, and explores various textures and colors, including tremolo, double-tonguing, and extensive arpeggios. Although the harp is clearly the featured instrument here, Ravel often gives that part the bass line usually found in an accompanimental part.
The harp takes up the melody introduced by the strings in the Allegro before a second theme is brought in by the winds. Ravel contrasts this second theme by using hemiola – emphasizing the weaker beats and parts of beats. Immediately after the movement’s pinnacle the harp plays a cadenza in which themes from the Introduction are explored further. The work closes relatively softly.
Despite the indication of instrumentation on the title page, there are a number of different editions and arrangements, including several by Ravel himself, who often conducted the work with a small string orchestra. Rodda notes, “Ravel may well have found a model for such a chamber concerto in Ernest Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet of 1891. He worked closely with Chausson.”
Commentator Blair Johnston describes Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro: “[It] looks forward to the raw sensuality of Daphnis et Chloé while hearkening back with great affection to the music of Chabrier and, especially, Franck.” It was premiered in February 1907 in Paris.
PRAYER FOR CELLO AND PIANO
Ernest Bloch (1880–1959)
Bloch’s Prayer for Cello and Piano is the first of three pieces in a set collectively called “From Jewish Life,” with the second and third movements titled Supplication and Jewish Song. Bloch completed the work in 1924. Like Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, though, it was originally composed for cello and piano, it has also been arranged for other configurations.
Marked Andante moderato, the Prayer is highly expressive, and according to annotator Neil Levin, “has the flavor of a fervently sung prayer, or a hymn of petition, in a traditional Ashkenazi synagogue.” Bloch opens his Prayer in the minor, presenting a simple four-note figure that forms the basis for the material to come. This is not a strict variation form but more of an alternation between the main themes highlighted by differences at each iteration.
Something that Bloch does often in his music for solo instruments is to play with the timing of phrases, leaving the performer with quite a lot of choice by indicating fermatas or holds and various other tempo fluctuations. Not only does this lend itself to an improvisatory “feel” but gives the sense that the phrases are connected to natural speech patterns. This helps give Prayer a contemplative nature. Bloch heightens this effect with the use of accents.
As a composer Bloch is perhaps most well known for codifying a Jewish style of music within the larger classical style. Commentator Michael Jameson cites his suite Baal Shem (1923) and his Méditation hébraïque (1924) as other examples of Bloch’s work in this style, and there are others. The critic Erik Levi points out, “Bloch’s Jewishness [is] derived from an inner impulse, not through a conscious absorption of Hebraic folk elements.” Bloch himself stated that he was not trying to recreate Jewish music in any accurate sense, but “to capture the complex, ardent Jewish spirit and soul … the most important thing is to write good and sincere music.”
Bloch’s Prayer for Cello and Piano is dedicated to Hans Kindler of the New York Philharmonic, who had premiered Bloch’s Hebraic Rhapsody Schelomo in 1917.
TRIO IN E-FLAT MAJOR, K. 498 “KEGELSTATT”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Mozart composed an extensive collection of chamber music in the latter half of the 1780s, when he was confronted with having fewer and fewer performance offers. His chamber works were extremely popular, especially in Vienna. The “Kegelstatt” Trio, completed in 1786, is among these works.
The title “Kegelstatt” is something of a misnomer. Commentator Jack Bryce explains that the week before signing the finished copy of the score, “Mozart wrote 12 duos for French horns, K. 487, in July of 1786 while bowling; he noted it on the first page of the manuscript.” This notation seems to have somewhat confounded a publisher at some point, who added the descriptive “Kegelstatt” – essentially referring to a place where you can play skittles, a game similar to modern bowling. The name stuck.
Mozart dedicated the piece to one of his students and the sister of his friend Franziska von Jacquin. He often spent time at their home, and the first performance of the “Kegelstatt” Trio was held there with Franziska (judging by the work, a wonderful musician) on piano, Mozart on viola, and Anton Stadler on clarinet. The clarinet was a relatively new instrument at the time, and Mozart had first become interested in it several years earlier after hearing it played while on a trip to London. He had also met and befriended Stadler around the same time, which encouraged him to write for the instrument. (Mozart also wrote Clarinet Quintet, K. 581 and Clarinet Concerto, K. 622 for Stadler.) However, because the instrument was still unfamiliar to most of his audience together with the changing climate about keyboard instruments, Mozart’s publisher decided to label the work “Trio for Harpsichord or Fortepiano with Violin and Viola accompaniment,” indicating that the clarinet could play the violin part – just to cover all bases.
Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio is in three movements, which are placed in a somewhat unusual sequence, opening with an Andante instead of the more traditional and faster Allegro. Mozart begins with a lively gesture in the viola and piano, followed promptly by the clarinet describing the theme. Mozart’s exceptional skill with color is in full effect, highlighted not only in the melodies but also (especially) in the accompanimental figures. This opening movement, though in traditional sonata form, continues to be slightly varied throughout.
The second movement is a Menuetto and has somewhat more substance than other examples of the form, which is traditionally characterized as light and elegant but not particularly poignant. Mozart employs some striking contrasts (especially in dynamics), which Bryce suggests may “seem to prefigure the assertiveness of Beethoven.” The trio section is in a minor key, featuring long legato gestures in the clarinet and a series of restless triplets in the viola. Mozart ties these two components together with the piano part.
The last movement is a flowing Rondo in seven sections. Its melody is closely related to the melody of the first movement. Mozart introduces a minor episode in the viola, which contrasts well with the otherwise high spirits of the cantabile theme.
Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio is a warm, friendly piece full of endearingly subtle eccentricities that have combined to make it a favorite among musicians and concertgoers for centuries.
STRING SEXTET NO. 2 IN G MAJOR, OP. 36
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Brahms began work on his second string sextet in 1864 while visiting Clara Schumann. He completed it a little less than a year later. Despite his immediately popular Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18, his second contribution to the genre, which is more introspective, was not as warmly received. Not only is Op. 36 quieter, it’s also richer and more complex than Op. 18.
During the time when he was working on this sextet, Brahms was engaged in a love affair with Agathe von Siebold, who was also the dedicatee of his Lieder, Op. 14 and Op. 19. There is some disagreement among researchers about whether or not Brahms was engaged to Siebold, but at some point he wrote her that he didn’t wish to “wear fetters.” Understandably, this comment seems to have ended their relationship, after which Brahms became depressed.
These circumstances affected Brahms deeply and are inextricable from the Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36. Brahms even wove Siebold’s name (A-G-A-D-H/B natural-E) into the thematic material, and wrote to a friend after the work’s completion, “Here I have freed myself from my last love.”
The sextet is in four, thematically intertwined movements. The first opens in the first viola, sotto voce, with an oscillating semitone. Brahms uses this opening interval between the tonic, or “home,” pitch and the leading tone directly below it to point out the harmonic uncertainty as the movement shifts between keys. The first iteration of the theme entirely in G Major doesn’t occur until after the development section.
The second movement of a work of this size would usually be a slow movement, but Brahms inserts a melancholy Scherzo, including as its central section a more humorous trio. The first violin introduces the theme, marked ma non troppo, which is based on a fragment from a set of keyboard dances written in the 1850s in the Baroque style. Listen for the ornamentation in this movement, another clue to its inspiration. The trio echoes the Ländler, which is similar to a waltz.
In the third movement we finally have our slow movement, marked Adagio. This is constructed as a set of five variations with a coda and is mostly in the minor. The opening theme features the violins almost exclusively until Brahms includes dense counterpoint in the third variation. The last variation moves into major, and the movement closes peacefully.
The fourth movement is presented in a modified sonata rondo form. Once again the harmony is slightly uncertain, but Brahms resolves it into G Major after everyone enters. Annotator Steven Lowe notes, “Though unhurried, the music is of a positive nature, and Brahms marks the main theme Tranquillo (quietly) in its first appearance; later he writes Semplice (simply)… Brahms’ contrapuntal mastery is in full evidence in this movement.”
Lowe notes that “the string sextet is a format with relatively few representatives in the repertoire … Beyond two by Brahms there is Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir of Florence and Schoenberg’s early Verklärte Nacht. Both Tchaikovsky’s and Schoenberg’s sextets also exist in string orchestra arrangements. Both of Brahms’s sextets have a nearly orchestral heft but still maintain the textural clarity of true chamber writing.”
Brahms’s Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 was published in 1866 and premiered the following year in Vienna. Sir Donald Francis Tovey, the eminent writer and critic, called it “the most ethereal of Brahms’s larger works.”
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Hindemith - Phantasiestück "Fantasy Piece," Op. 8 No. 2
Bruch - Selections from Eight Pieces, Op. 83
Schreker - Der Wind "The Wind"
Dvořák - Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81
PHANTASIESTÜCK (Fantasy Piece), OP. 8, NO. 2 FOR CELLO AND PIANO
Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)
Hindemith’s earliest musical training was on the violin, and he displayed a prodigious talent for it. Unlike some parents of the time who wished their children would choose a more dependable career, Hindemith’s father pushed him hard in his musical studies, and by all accounts did whatever was necessary to see that young Hindemith had regular lessons both in violin and composition. After World War I, Hindemith took up the viola, which became his primary instrument. This decision greatly affected his compositional output, as he went on to contribute a huge body of work to the viola repertoire, which he often performed himself.
Biographer Guy Rickards states that Hindemith suffered a feeling of great alienation from German society early in his career, both musically and personally, struggling with the overwhelming atmosphere of “industry … and burgeoning power … Hindemith, although an undoubted radical in the early 1920s, opted, by the end of that decade, to follow a more conservative and personal path.” The “radical” path to which Rickards is referring is the movement known as “Neue Sachlichkeit,” or “New Objectivity.”
This impulse toward the conservative does not at all diminish creativity in Hindemith’s work. On the contrary, he moved between the conventional and the innovative, bending the rules as he saw necessary. Hindemith himself wrote, “It is not surprising that things have developed as they have. The discovery in the last century, of the extreme limits of power and subtlety is the effect of the musical tone extended the boundaries of the tonal domain at the disposal of the composer into hitherto undreamed of distances. New combinations of tones came to be recognized, and new ways of bending a melodic line were discovered. It seemed as if the sun had risen upon a new, glowing, iridescent land, into which our musician-discoverers rushed headlong…. Confidence in inhabited methods vanished; they seemed barely adequate now to guide the beginners’ first steps. Whoever wished to make any progress gave himself unreservedly to the new, neither helped nor hindered by theoretical instruction, which had simply become inadequate to the occasion.”
Hindemith’s Phantasiestück, Op. 8, No. 2 (or “Fantasy Piece”) is the second in a set of three pieces he wrote for cello and piano between 1914 and 1916. The first is the Capriccio, and the third is the Scherzo. These pieces, which can be performed as a set or individually, are examples (especially the Phantasiestück) of his “more conservative and personal path,” generally being classified as representative of a late Romantic style. Phantasiestück was premiered in the spring of 1917.
The first descriptor that comes to mind about Phantasiestück is “Schumannesque” – Schumann wrote several pieces for various instruments that share with Hindemith’s the unique element of simultaneous warmth and restless yearning. This restlessness is exhibited not only in the cello part, with its ascending phrases broken as if by breaths, but also in the piano, which interjects as if commenting on the cello’s line. If you’re familiar with some of Hindemith’s more angular, later work, this may seem an uncharacteristically friendly piece. However, it wouldn’t be Hindemith without some small harmonic adventures, and there are several instances where he does not resolve the phrase the way your ear expects or pause where you feel he should.
Of Hindemith’s work pianist Glenn Gould reportedly wrote, “[Hindemith] represents a repose that is the true amalgam of ecstasy and reason.”
EIGHT PIECES FOR CLARINET, VIOLA, AND PIANO, OP. 83
Max Bruch (1838–1920)
Bruch was something of a prodigy in composition, beginning at age eleven and completing a full symphony and some chamber music before his fifteenth birthday. Over the next several decades he worked steadily and was widely respected not only as a composer but also as a teacher and conductor.
Bruch composed his Eight Pieces in 1909, when he was seventy years old, for his son (also called Max), who was a superb clarinetist. It was also for Max, Jr. that Bruch wrote his Concerto for Clarinet and Viola, Op. 88 a few years later. Tonight we will be presenting four of the eight pieces. This practice of selecting movements is not unusual and was encouraged by Bruch himself. Annotator Richard E. Rodda explains, “Bruch intended that the Eight Pieces be regarded as a set of independent miniatures of various styles rather than as an integrated cycle, and advised against playing all of them together in concert.”
Perhaps the most obvious break from tradition here is in the instrumentation. While there are certainly several arrangements of Bruch’s Eight Pieces for various configurations, the viola is most often replaced by a cello and the clarinet by a violin. In this performance, the viola is replaced with a French horn.
At its heart, each of the Eight Pieces is a character sketch, portraying a particular idea or mood. Most of them are on the melancholy side, which commentator James Reel suggests lends itself to the generally “autumnal” mien. While they may not be formally or harmonically progressive, Bruch shows great care in the textures and colors of each piece, exploring all the richest sounds each instrument has to offer.
The first movement is marked Andante and is in A Minor. It opens in the piano alone and continues to move between the instruments, whose parts remain relatively independent of each other. The second movement is short and marked a livelier Allegro con moto. Reel comments that “with a quietly roiling piano undercurrent this dark, restless piece would have been at home in any of Brahms’ chamber or piano works from the 1890s.”
From the second movement we skip to the sixth, which (somewhere in between the first two) is marked Andante con moto. The clarinet presents the melody first this time, and the trio is finally moving more as a unit.
We close with the seventh piece, the only one in the set to appear in the major mode. It is marked Allegro vivace ma non troppo, and is structured as a rondo. Reel suggests that this last movement might have elements of Italian folk song, and Rodda supports the idea by pointing out that not unlike many of his contemporaries, Bruch enjoyed incorporating folk music when he was working. Bruch’s Eight Pieces was published in 1910.
DER WIND (The Wind)
Franz Schreker (1878–1934)
Schreker is perhaps one of the best musicians of the twentieth century, although he has almost been forgotten. He was well known during his career, but this was during a time when Europe was becoming increasingly unstable. Nevertheless, Schreker was very much sought after in his day and, especially in the realm of opera, was among the most often performed.
In 1920 Schreker took over the directorship at the school of music in Berlin and is greatly responsible for its current status as one of the world’s leading institutions. These clear skies could not last in the face of growing prejudices, however, and Schreker was attacked not only for his Jewish roots but also for his musical style and personal and political beliefs. His music soon fell out of favor, and twelve years after arriving at the Hochschule he was forced to resign.
In 1933, Schreker died unexpectedly from a stroke, and his music was swept aside. Fortunately, his music, along with that of some others who were targeted by Hitler’s regime, is enjoying a resurgence of popularity.
Schreker composed The Wind in 1909, basing it on a poem written by ballerina Grete Wiesenthal (a translation is included below). The work was originally intended to accompany a form of abstract dance incorporating mime and pantomime, which Grete performed with her sister Elsa. Perhaps because of its connection to dance, the music is quite gestural, intended to illustrate the shapes and character of the wind.
Professor Helge Grünewald of the Berlin Philharmonic notes, “The composition sheds light on Schreker’s vexed relationship with Schoenberg, with whom he was in close contact at the time. Schreker instructs the pianist to depress the piano keys silently – an instruction also found in Schoenberg’s song Am Strande of 1909. It is uncertain which of the two invented the idea: it certainly appears in works by both composers at around the same date.”
In his blog, “Forbidden Music,” author Michael Haas explains, “At this time, it’s important to realise that ‘Modernism’ had only just started to loosen itself from the coherency offered by the safe harbours of tonality and the strictly representational. ‘Modern’ at the time was seen as an uncomfortable and challenging confrontation with often grim reality.” Schreker was likewise not interested in New Objectivity, though he was willing to make some concessions in order that the music supported the text more faithfully.
The Wind was not performed during Schreker’s lifetime. After he completed it he set it aside, and it was left alone until musicologist Gösta Neuwirth found it at the Wiener UE publishing warehouse. Neuwirth copied the score into its various parts, and The Wind was finally premiered in 1980.
Gently he gets up and the leaves tremble softly,
he moves the saplings – they have to bow to him!
Young people dance, driven by the wind, on the
wind, they think they are flying with him.
The wind gets wilder, he seizes the branches and
they blow up and down, shaking.
People, too, are swept along with this motion,
they run into the wind, laugh with him,
throw themselves at him, beside themselves now,
completely immersed in the wind’s game.
The wind becomes a tempest, serious and
violent – the people cling to each other to brace
themselves against him – all is struggle.
The great strong tree falls. The storm is over,
the leaves just tremble softly.
PIANO QUINTET NO. 2 IN A MAJOR, OP. 81, B. 155
Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)
Dvořák is perhaps most recognized for helping to create an idiom within classical music that, with the help of subsequent composers, became accepted as quintessentially American. He believed that in America, as in Europe, the way to an enduring national classical music was to incorporate the folk music of that nation. In America, this meant African-American and American Indian music. In addition to these, Dvořák also draws a lot on Bohemian influences. It’s important to note that he didn’t actually lift melodies from those genres but rather listened to them and then imitated the idioms. This is a technique that definitely does not work for every composer, but Dvořák had an undeniable talent for finding the core of whatever he heard and translating it into something fresh and new and entirely his own. He also had a fortunate gift for melody, producing sounds that are beautiful in their simplicity.
Dvořák did not have an easy beginning to his career. His family was supportive of his music, but not particularly enthusiastic about the precariousness of his job. He made a tenuous living for a little more than a decade, playing viola in the Bohemian National Opera as he continued to study composition. It was during this time that he was introduced to the work of composer Bedřich Smetana, whose Bohemian influence became a constant source of inspiration for him.
Dvořák’s work after this point was more in line with how we know him today, and its authenticity and sincerity prompted Simrock (the same company that published Brahms’s works) to take note. The direction he took after moving to the United States is not difficult to understand.
Dvořák wrote his Piano Quintet No. 2 in 1887, five years before his American sojourn. It was published the following year. This quintet is actually a reworking of an earlier attempt, which Dvořák discarded. It’s in four movements, the middle two in particular exhibiting ties to Bohemian folk music, following the forms of the dumka and the furiant. It also adheres to some classical traditions, as in the setting of the first movement in sonata form and the Finale as a rondo.
The first movement opens in the cello with piano accompaniment. Here is an example of one of Dvořák’s loveliest cantabile melodies. The second theme appears in the viola part, and both times, Dvořák varies the themes gently, like turning a gem to see another facet of it rather than picking up a different stone to examine. The Dumka is slower and is characterized by soft, plaintive phrases interspersed with moments of animation. This section usually functions as a type of ballad, with a necessarily strong narrative element.
Next is the Scherzo, marked furiant. A furiant is a dance that moves between duple and triple meter, juxtaposing the two against each other. In the rondo Finale, Dvořák includes a brief section of fugal writing before bringing the work to a strong close.
Revisiting and revising his works was something Dvořák did on a regular basis, and it was less common for him to express satisfaction over a work. However, as annotator Beth Fleming points out, “Dvořák and audiences alike agreed that Opus 81 [was] a complete success; some even consider it a central masterwork of Romantic-era chamber music, along with the Piano Quintets of Schumann and Brahms.”
Dvořák’s Piano Quintet was premiered in 1888, before its publication.
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Saglietti - Notte Serena
Faure - Piano Trio
Tchaikovsky - Piano Trio
Corrado Maria Saglietti (b. 1957)
Italian composer and French horn player Saglietti was born in 1957 in Costigliole d’Asti. His musical training began with the guitar, closely followed by forays into songwriting. He went on to study composition and horn. Perhaps his early interest in songwriting is part of what inspired Notte serena, a lighter work displaying lovely natural melodies. The composer went so far as to suggest that given the undemanding nature of the work it would be ideal for inclusion on longer and more arduous programs as a respite for the flugelhorn player. In 1977 Saglietti won a seat in Turin’s RAI National Symphony Orchestra and in 1986 completed his degree in composition at the Turin Conservatory under professors Santo Tresca and Gilberto Bosco. In 1990 he took over the post of principal horn in the orchestra, and to this day he remains an active composer and performer. Saglietti wrote his Notte serena (“Peaceful Night”) for flugelhorn and string quintet (two violins, viola, cello, and double bass) in 2003. It was published in 2009. He annotated the score with the text, “It’s nighttime, and the sky is full of stars. In a placid atmosphere the soothing sound of the flugelhorn plays a simple and sweet melody.”
PIANO TRIO IN D MINOR, OP. 120
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
At age seventy-five, and suffering from advanced hearing loss, Fauré was feeling his age. After he retired from his position as Director of the Paris Conservatory, a position he’d occupied since 1905, he wrote to a friend, “I feel … the onset of old age and I regret not finding my freedom sooner…. I have done good work even so.” This last comment presumably refers to his lessened capacity to focus on his work. As he wrote to his wife around the same time, Fauré wondered if he was finally reaching the end of both his energy and his creativity.
He began work on the Piano Trio at the urging of his publisher, Jacques Durand. Despite that urging, it took him several months to begin. Then he was interrupted by a summer trip when he neglected to pack his sketches and had to wait for them to be mailed to him. The sketches then sat unattended while he fought a bout of pneumonia. Near the end of September 1922, nearly nine months after accepting the commission, he wrote to his wife, “I’ve started a trio for clarinet (or violin), cello, and piano…. The trouble is that I cannot work for long at a time … my worst [obstacle] is perpetual fatigue.”
Fauré finally finished the Trio in February 1923, and Durand published it with Fauré’s optional instrumentation of violin instead of clarinet. Music scholar Roger Nichols comments, “To adapt a modern phrase from another context, Fauré was in the Establishment but never of it…. his music failed to take account of the twentieth century’s efflorescence as the age of publicity … [The trio] … is ferociously difficult to play well … [and] eschews facile narrative in favour of the deeper meaning … which means that [musicians and audience members] … all have to understand the nuances.”
Popular annotator Richard Freed adds that one of Fauré’s foremost qualities, both as a man and as a musician, is gentleness. For example, “His well beloved Requiem is a gentle work, so focused on its consolatory aim that it contains no Sequence, no reference to the Dies irae or fears or threats of retribution for human failings.”
Though Fauré and his music might be gentle and give the impression of simplicity, there is still much going on between the instruments and phrases, as Nichols explains: “The meaning is almost entirely in the movement between one note and another, between one chord and another…. It is a continual joy and excitement to follow Fauré’s games, which are linguistic rather than formal.” These “games” are where the difficulties in performance lie.
Marked a leisurely Allegro ma non troppo, the first movement is somewhat reserved, and yet there is a quality of searching and reaching beneath the surface to it. Fauré creates this sense by keeping the piano part moving almost constantly, restless beneath long cantabile lines in the string parts. The following Andantino is the largest of the three movements, and the first that Fauré wrote. It opens with a sweetly liquid violin melody that seems to drape over the gentle piano chords. The cello slips into the texture easily, without disrupting it.
The third movement, Allegro vivo, is startling in its rare – especially to Fauré’s work – energy. Freed tentatively suggests the word violence to describe some of its elements, though that might be too strong a word. Its dancelike movement is, at the very least, more emphatic and decisive than the majority of Fauré’s output.
French music scholar Jean-Michel Nectoux writes of the “perfect balance between that ‘fantasy and reason’ of which Verlaine and Fauré speak so persuasively.” Nichols suggests that in the Trio, this balance is “the achievement of an old man who has seen much and suffered much; a balance, moreover, that will subtly shift at every hearing.”
The Trio was premiered in May 1923 at the Société Nationale de Musique and has remained a staple of the repertoire since.
PIANO TRIO IN D MINOR, OP.120
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
In 1877 Nadezhda von Meck, influential businesswoman and patroness of the arts, wrote to Tchaikovsky to introduce herself as a fervent admirer. She had enjoyed his music for some time, and given that they had one or two mutual friends, she felt it time she wrote him. This letter was followed by a rich correspondence, subsequent commissions, and a long friendship that was by all accounts extremely important to both of them, though they never met in person.
In 1880 von Meck wrote to Tchaikovsky, “Why have you not written a single [piano] trio? … I always sigh because you have not composed a single one.” She included a picture of her own trio, which included the eighteen-year-old Claude Debussy, as incentive for Tchaikovsky. But the timing was not right for the composer. He seemed disinterested in chamber music at the time, claiming there was a lack of “blend” between the instruments in question. He explained, “The piano cannot blend with the rest, having … tone that separates from any other body of sound…. The piano can be effective in … three scenarios: alone, set against the orchestra, [or] as accompaniment.” He went on to beg her forgiveness for his refusal. “I would do anything to give you pleasure, but this is beyond me.”
Obviously, he did not maintain this position for long. Though Tchaikovsky told von Meck that he was working on the Trio for her, he neglected to mention another important source of inspiration: when the great pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, important to Tchaikovsky personally and professionally, passed away, Tchaikovsky dedicated the work to him, inscribing the score with the phrase, “To the memory of a great artist.” Given this dedicatee, it is little wonder how the piano slightly looms over the other instruments. Commentator James Reel points out that Tchaikovsky may not have realized – or minded – “how difficult his keyboard music could be.” He was certainly aware of other possible issues with his music, however. In a letter to von Meck written in 1882, Tchaikovsky shared his fear that “while … [his] work is not all bad … [he] may have arranged music of a symphonic character as a trio, instead of writing directly for the instruments.”
Unlike most works of this genre, Tchaikovsky’s Trio is in two large movements. The first is titled Pezzo elegiaco, or “Elegiac Piece,” a direct reference to his grief at losing Rubinstein. As in some of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works, he uses repetition as a developmental tool rather than transforming the elements into something else. The second movement is a lengthy series of variations on a theme, a concept that annotator Richard Rodda suggests is reminiscent of some of Beethoven’s late sonatas. There are eleven variations in all.
It has been speculated by some that Tchaikovsky based this theme on an afternoon outing he had taken with Rubinstein and several other colleagues to just outside Moscow. Tchaikovsky denied any such connection, laughing, “To compose music without the slightest desire to depict something, and suddenly to find that it represents this or that …”
In the second movement, the main theme is presented by the piano before being taken up by the strings. Tchaikovsky shows a sweeter, more playful side across these variations than he does in the first movement, depicting a number of characters. The eleventh variation moves into the finale and coda. This final section is quite a bit longer than those it precedes, a fact that contributed greatly to the audience’s initial displeasure with the Trio, though it became quickly evident that this was not a universal opinion.
After the Vienna premiere of the Trio music critic Eduard Hanslick wrote, “When the trio was played for the first time, the faces of the listeners expressed the wish it should be the last. It is among … [those] suicidal compositions that kill themselves by their merciless length.” Despite its “merciless length,” Tchaikovsky’s Trio has found a place among the most beloved chamber works of its genre.
Completed in February 1882, it was premiered privately by three of Tchaikovsky’s friends from the Conservatory the following month, on the anniversary of Rubinstein’s death. The first public performance was later that year.
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Böhme - Brass Sextet
Debussy - String Quartet
Gillingham - Diversive Elements
Bolling - Toot Suite
SEXTET FOR BRASS IN E-FLAT MINOR, OP. 30
Oscar Böhme (1870–1938)
Born in Dresden, Germany, a teenaged Oscar Böhme studied trumpet at the conservatory in Leipzig. He finished his studies quickly and then performed extensively across Europe. In his early twenties, he moved to Russia to accept a post with the Imperial Theater Orchestra and to teach. He was known primarily as a trumpeter and not as a teacher, though, and his most performed works are for brass instruments.
The exact date Böhme completed his brass Sextet is uncertain, but he probably finished it around 1906. Originally called “Trompetten-Sextett,” the piece was scored for three trumpets, two trombones, and tuba. Most performances now use three trumpets, French horn, trombone, and tuba.
The opening Adagio ma non tanto is, according to annotator Richard Rodda, “a virtual symphony for brass … [It] opens with a somber introduction that … [prefaces] the main theme.” Böhme structures this first movement in standard sonata form. The subsequent Scherzo tumbles forward, featuring lots of syncopation and a German folk dance in the trio.
The lyrical third movement is marked Andante cantabile, and returns us to a minor tonality. Böhme builds tension from the opening, and the movement culminates in a triumphant reiteration of the opening theme in a major key before dissipating back into a more reflective close. The Rondo finale is in a lilting, 6/8 meter, bursting with playfulness and surprising variants on the theme.
STRING QUARTET NO. 1 IN G MINOR, OP. 10
Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
As a composer, Claude Debussy was deeply involved with contemporary artistic developments and movements, most notably Impressionist painting and Symbolist poetry. He also wanted to rebel against the strictures of his traditional training and find a way to make music more suggestive and less literal, while also making something more French and less influenced by German musical tradition. Violinist Mark Steinberg, of Yale University, points out, “Ironically, exoticism and what we now call ‘world music’ furnished a large part of Debussy’s vocabulary in his quest to create something distinctly French…. Debussy’s creed was that French music should above all else exist to give pleasure, and the flavors of foreign lands were exploited for their sensual novelty, in the manner of the best fusion cuisine.”
Debussy completed his first and only string quartet in 1893, not long after he composed L’après-midi d’un faune. Both of these pieces were among the first of his that could be called Impressionistic. The quartet presents the main theme right at the beginning. This theme will come back in various dresses across all four movements, transformed rather than developed in the traditional sense. Annotator Chris Darwin writes that this is a nod to “César Franck’s use of ‘cyclical form’ where material reappears in later movements.” Steinberg likens Debussy’s use of this cyclical form to an epic journey: “Because of this a listener may feel he is following a protagonist through travels in unexpected lands, in the manner of Homer’s Odyssey or, to get back to France, Voltaire’s Candide.”
After presenting the main theme, the Animé et très décidé (“animated and decisive”) moves through several new tonalities and is never quite at home. Debussy does not forsake traditional forms entirely—he’s using sonata form here—but he modifies the traditional form somewhat. The movement finishes with a dazzling account of the opening theme.
The second movement is a scherzo. Assez vif et bien rythmé (“lively and rhythmic”) opens with strident pizzicato chords. These are answered by the viola, which plays a variant of the main theme in the new time signature. Here, the theme is turned into a more accompanimental figure that supports the pizzicato melody in the other three parts. Annotator Willard Hertz notes, “Some writers hear in this movement the influence of Javanese gamelan music, which impressed Debussy at the 1889 Paris Exhibition [Exposition Universelle].” There are also a couple other new presentations of the theme in this movement. Steinberg describes one that appears in the violin part, an unexpectedly “declamatory” statement, explaining that it is “perhaps a tip of the hat to Eugène Ysaÿe…. Besides partaking … of the flavor of the Javanese gamelan, this movement also has a somewhat Iberian character, with its rhythms and guitar-strums suggestive of flamenco.”
The slow movement, Andantino, doucement espressif (“gently expressive”), is the only movement in the quartet that doesn’t have a direct tie to the main theme expressed in the beginning. Here, Debussy calls for mutes and explores the colors within that softened texture. The movement is in a loose arch form and is fervent, almost prayerful, and impossibly sweet. Steinberg describes the ending section of this movement as “endlessly touching, ethereal … floating free … content and absorbed in a glowing vision.”
The finale, Très modéré—Très mouvementé et avec passion (calmly, then moving forward with passion), begins with a staid, moderate introduction before the tempo picks up. The main theme is presented in several different iterations in this movement, moving ever closer to the original before the coda takes off. Debussy finishes the movement in triumphant G major.
Debussy’s string quartet has become one of the most popular in the repertoire. Steinberg attributes this to its textural variety and “stunning sensual beauty.” Debussy dedicated the work to the Ysaÿe Quartet, which premiered it in December 1893.
David Gillingham (b. 1947)
David Gillingham tells us a little about why he composes: “My philosophy [is] to create music with an underlying purpose and that emanates a sense of heart. Each of my works is a reflection of who I am, from the very surface to the deepest depths of my soul. I envision myself as a servant of humanity, expressing a myriad of emotions, thoughts, and feelings that cannot be expressed through words. And, perhaps, this musical expression will validate our purpose here on earth.”
Gillingham’s Diversive Elements was published in 2012. He wrote it in five movements, outlined below by the composer:
Diversive Elements is a trio for euphonium, tuba, and piano that seeks to exploit the lyrical and athletic qualities and potential of all three instruments by casting the piece in five movements which vary in style and mood.
The piece starts with an “entrance,” or intrada, featuring all three instruments, followed by “Jazz Walk,” with stereotypical jazz rhythms and melodic figures featuring a walking bass throughout. The third movement, “Euphony,” seeks to exploit the lyrical qualities of the conical euphonium and tuba. The fourth movement is the spirited “Caccia,” with all three instruments “‘chasing’ in a continuous ‘chase’.” The final movement sports a fanfare and a catchy march to bring the piece to a rousing conclusion.
Gillingham holds degrees in music education, music composition, and music theory, and is currently a professor of music theory and composition at Central Michigan University. In tonight’s performance, Garth Simmons will perform the euphonium part on trombone.
Claude Bolling (b. 1930)
Claude Bolling, a French composer, was acknowledged as a jazz piano prodigy in his early teens—around the same time he started composing. In addition to his jazz studies, he studied composition with composer and organist Maurice Duruflé, who taught him how to write for larger ensembles. This tuition would serve him well later in his work with film and television music, but the early study in both genres led Bolling down a path toward a compositional style that drew from both classical and jazz—a style generally referred to as “crossover,” and which critic Stephen Wigler defines as “a hybrid species … [living in] both the classical and popular music worlds.”
Crossover music was not completely new to Europe during Bolling’s younger years, and it had certainly been popular in France for at least a decade before he was born. The US was slightly behind in getting in on the trend, but it was a popular style choice for jazz band leaders, allowing them to incorporate strings into their ensembles, and also allowed modern composers to incorporate a number of jazz elements into their writing.
Duke Ellington was Bolling’s biggest musical influence, and he performed and recorded Ellington’s music extensively. He also took compositional direction from him and became known as his “spiritual son.”
Though Bolling was often approached for commissions by instrumentalists, he preferred to take only projects that inspired him. He outlines the circumstances leading up to Toot Suite: “After having composed a sonata for two pianists for Jean-Bernard Pommier (originally written for a TV show), the great flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, after hearing this musical dialogue between a classical and a jazz pianist, requested a composition for his classical flute and my jazz piano. That’s how the Suite for Flute was written. After hearing that, other great classical soloists requested from me some compositions between their classical language and my jazz piano. After having composed a suite for violinist Pinchas Zukerman ... I remembered this exceptional classical trumpet player I had heard with Henri Salvador a few years before and I had the idea of a composition for him.” This “exceptional” trumpeter was the French virtuoso Maurice André, who premiered Toot Suite on French TV in 1980.
Bolling describes the work: “The title was influenced by the sound of the boats in the New York harbor and the popular song ‘Tootsy Tootsy Good Bye.’ That is why the composition was entitled ‘Toot Suite,’ which was a word game with the French expression ‘tout de suite’ (right now).”
Toot Suite is in six movements: Allègre, Mystique, Rag-Polka, Marche, Vespérale, and Spirituelle. Bolling includes a number of references to popular styles, but perhaps the most fun is his Rag-Polka à la Scott Joplin. Almost all of the movements require the trumpeter to make an instrument switch. Bolling explains, “Each movement of the Toot Suite is written for a different trumpet: flugelhorn, piccolo, in D, in C ... because Maurice André played all these different trumpets. That was a game and a challenge for that exceptional artist, but I did not realize that it would be a difficult challenge for others trumpet players.”
The score calls for trumpet(s), jazz piano, bass, and drums.
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Quintets Old & New
Pärt - Fratres
McDevitt - Flute Quintet*
Schubert - String Quintet
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
“There is little hope of giving a tidy account of composition in the second fin de siècle. Styles of every description … jostle against one another…. Some have tried to call the era postmodern, but ‘modernism’ is already so equivocal a term that to affix a ‘post’ pushes it over the edge into meaninglessness. In retrospect, modernism, in the sense of a unified vanguard, never existed. The twentieth century was always a time of ‘many streams,’ a ‘delta,’ in the wise words of John Cage.” – Alex Ross
Arvo Pärt’s work, together with one or two other contemporary composers, has a special place in the soundscape of twentieth century music. When he first began composing, Pärt favored a neoclassical style before moving through twelve-tone composition (music featuring each of the twelve pitches equally and therefore freeing itself of conventional tonality), and finally toward a minimalist aesthetic. Minimalism—a style defined by the work of such composers as John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley—refers to music using as few elements as possible. Most of these composers are also influenced by Eastern philosophical ideals.
Pärt diverged slightly from this mainstream minimalism, into what musicologist Paul Griffiths calls “holy minimalism.” This offshoot of minimalism is possibly, he explains, “the most striking instance of cultural reprise, harking back to the earliest European musical traditions and yet bound in many ways to its own time… the calm, repetitive music, often setting Christian texts … of a kind espoused since the mid-1970s by … composers, mostly Eastern European. This is not the minimalism of Reich or Glass; it has nothing to do with rock, African, or Asian traditions, and its pulse is almost certain to be slower and gentler…. US minimalism was … [merely] a lens through which to view the medieval and Renaissance music that was being restored to performance around the same time.... To set sacred texts was similar to [placing] oneself in contradiction to a state that had no place for religion.”
Pärt’s minimalist music came after he spent a significant period of time not composing at all but rather studying medieval music. Finally, early in 1976, he wrote Für Alina, a piece exploring the resonant hues surrounding a short series of chords presented over a pedal tone. In it Pärt suggests that the performer play “as if picking out something recalled from long ago.” Für Alina is Pärt’s first work using the technique he calls “tintinnabuli,” from the Latin “tintinnabulum,” or “bell.”
Pärt describes this technique: “The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises—and everything that is unimportant falls away…. [It] is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers—in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning.... Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements—with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of the triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.”
A scant two years after composing Für Alina, Pärt completed both Fratres (1977), or “Brethren,” and his double violin concerto, Tabula rasa, written for an early music ensemble called Hortus musicus. Fratres is centered on the pitch A and is constructed as a set of variations on the first chords. Pärt builds each phrase in a series of descending chords that are followed by ascending chords.
Fratres is doubtless one of Pärt’s most beloved works, and we find it in many arrangements. Annotator Brenda Dalen points out that in the original score “no particular instrumentation was specified.” Tonight’s performance will be the version for string quartet.
Griffiths writes of Pärt’s work, “What is evoked here is not so much singing as hearing—not the chanting of monks in some Romanesque abbey church but rather the way the ear will glide up and down in listening to the spectrum of a great bell…. Venerable liturgies are invoked, but outside any religious practice. Built with the elegant shadows of the first ‘tintinnabuli’ pieces, Pärt’s sacred settings exist beyond belief. Their church is a church of the abandoned.”
FLUTE QUINTET IN D MAJOR
William McDevitt (b. 1974)
*program note provided by the composer
Flute Quintet in D major was commissioned by Chuck and Carol Stocking, and dedicated to Mary Mennel in honor of her work with the W. W. Knight Nature Preserve in Perrysburg, Ohio. The Quintet was originally called Mary’s Piece of Nature and Serendipity, a title chosen in reference to Ms. Mennel’s fond description of various events in her life and career as “serendipitous.”
The first movement is marked allegro and depicts a nature walk. The flute and violin imitate various birds as they sing to one another. True to the tradition for pastoral settings, this movement is presented in a lilting 6/8 meter.
The Adagio is a lullaby featuring a songlike melody in the flute with softly muted strings beneath. The Rondo finale is marked allegro spirito. The charming melody in the flute is intertwined with the viola’s accompanimental string crossings underpinned by the pizzicato figure in the violin. This movement contains a small fugue in the development section before returning to the main tune.
The first movement was premiered in December 2017 at the W. W. Knight Nature Preserve. The second and third movements were completed this year; this is the first performance of the full work.
STRING QUINTET IN C MAJOR, D. 956, OP. POSTH. 163
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Franz Schubert completed his String Quintet in 1828, barely two months before his death, and it is inarguably one of his most impressive contributions to the chamber music repertoire. While it’s likely that the String Quintet was at least partly inspired by quintets by Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert chose a slightly different instrumentation than either of theirs. Instead of adding a second viola as his predecessors had done, for example, he added a second cello, adding depth and a darker texture. Annotator James Nicholas adds that this decision “permits [Schubert] to explore the string trio texture in the middle of the ensemble, while making embellishments with the ‘bookend’ combination of first violin and second cello at the extremes of the quartet range.”
The year leading up to his death was one of the most prolific in his career. Pianist Alfred Brendel calls this year “a tremendous development” both for Schubert and for classical music. Poet Franz Grillparzer wrote, for Schubert’s memorial, “The art of music has here buried a rich possession but far fairer hopes.”
Schubert had not been in the best of health for several years, suffering from a venereal disease, intermittent nausea, and intense headaches, but there was apparently nothing out of the ordinary leading up to his death to warn him that it was imminent. His career was going very well—his works were in high demand with audiences and publishers alike—and his social calendar was full. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the sense, in hindsight, that he was racing to complete so many new pieces because his time was short.
A few days after completing the String Quintet, Schubert accompanied his brother Ferdinand on a fifty-mile pilgrimage (on foot!) to see Haydn’s grave. On their return, he continued composing, until, according to his brother, he fell ill. “After this, he ate and drank hardly anything.” He passed away weeks later, only a few months shy of his thirty-second birthday.
Schubert’s String Quintet is most well-known for its slow movement and the first movement’s lovely cello duet. Interestingly, these two examples represent some of the only tranquil points in the piece. Brendel notes that the piece as a whole has a “dark core,” and even the C-major opening—a normally carefree tonality—is disturbed by dissonant hints of what’s to come. Nicholas describes this as an “exploration of … hitherto unprobed spiritual states or worlds.” He goes on to write about the irony behind Schubert’s key choice: “a vehicle for the darkest as well as for the most optimistic statements … it is the dark side of C major, or rather, the darkness behind the façade of ‘bright’ C major, which stamps this work indelibly and renders its character so amazingly, artfully ambiguous.”
Schubert follows the traditional overall structure of fast-slow-dance-fast. The first movement is marked Allegro ma non troppo and opens slowly, not unlike one of Beethoven’s or Haydn’s slow and stately symphonic introductions. But that slow beginning quickly gives way to a spritely main theme.
The Adagio begins gently, with the sweetest melody stretched over held chords, anchored with resonant pizzicato in the cello. Schubert interrupts this heavenly texture with a far more forceful and anxious section, which annotator Christopher Symons calls “turbulent and highly inflected. It is through the miraculous scoring of the instruments that Schubert seems able to conjure this uniquely mysterious atmosphere—stasis and movement, physical and spiritual.”
The third movement is a scherzo and is marked presto; Schubert, as he was so fond of doing, placed the contrasting andante sostenuto in the center of the movement in place of the usual trio. The Allegretto that follows opens in C minor but moves quite quickly into the major. Annotator Jonathan Blumhofer writes of the finale: “[It] is filled with jaunty, folkish rhythms and is, perhaps, the most explicitly Beethoven-influenced movement of the Quintet. [Thematic material] of the opening movement returns here in force, though, overall, this movement employs [it] in more subtle ways…. Toward the end, the tempo increases … as though the music is being consumed by frenzy.”
Despite Schubert’s having completed the String Quintet in 1828, it was not premiered until 1850.
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