SummerFest 2017 – Program Notes

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Sonata in E major for Violin and Keyboard, BWV 1016

The sonatas for violin with keyboard are written with fully developed parts for both instruments, independent and interacting. In some ways, they are like trio sonatas because the violin and the two hands of the keyboard create the effect of three parts. The E major is one of a set of six such sonatas, and most have the format of slow, fast (fugue), slow, fast for the four movements. It is not known exactly when these sonatas were written – the earliest manuscript dates from around 1725 – but it appears that the sonatas could date back to the period 1717-1723. This sonata appears to have gone through a revision in 1740. The Adagio is one of the most beloved and moving movements in the entire set of sonatas.

Bobbie Mielke

 

Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006): Trio for violin, clarinet and piano (1949)

Born in St. Petersburg (then known as Petrograd), Galina Ustvolskaya studied there from 1937 to 1947 primarily at the Leningrad Conservatory. Her most important teacher was Dmitri Shostakovich, who predicted worldwide success for her compositions. On several occasions, Shostakovich sent her some of his unfinished works for her comments – he even (later) quoted a theme from this Trio in two works of his own. The relationship was more than collegial – in the 1950’s, after the death of his wife, Shostakovich proposed marriage to Ustvolskaya. (She rejected the proposal, as she had actually rejected a lot of his music.)

Writers wax poetic in their attempts to describe her writing – “so outside of its time,” neo-primitive,” “in an inverted universe,” “forms emerging from pitch-blackness” are some descriptions. Her style changed radically through the years. In the 1940s and 1950s she (like other Soviet composers) wrote music to satisfy the existing regime. In the 1960s, her style became more dissonant, abandoning the “public” style. Approximately 21 pieces are extant in her non-Soviet style, all involving piano, percussion or both, with some interesting combinations of other instruments. The music is being programmed more frequently in the West in recent years.

The Trio performed here was published in 1949. The opening monologue of the first movement is formed by odd groupings of meters, becoming more rigid metrically with – 63 – the entrance of the piano, ending again with the clarinet monologue. The second movement features dialogue between clarinet and violin. A secondary theme in the final movement is the one used by Shostakovich three years later in his Fifth Quartet, and much later in a work written the year before his death.

Bobbie Mielke

 

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87, for Piano, Violin, and Cello (1882)

  • Allegro moderato
  • Andante con moto
  • Scherzo: Presto
  • Finale: Allegro giocoso

This trio, especially the first movement, is a fine example of the principle of “developing variation” – a term that composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) coined to describe Brahms’s technique of continually reworking themes over the course of a movement or an entire piece. The numerous themes in the first movement are introduced tersely and then expanded into longer phrases as the movement progresses, punctuated by cross-accents and cross-rhythms of two against three. The movement is grand, energetic, mysterious, and almost symphonic in stature.

The second movement is a marvelous example of the more traditional theme and variations form: a theme followed by separate variations as a series of set pieces. Brahms, like Beethoven, was one of the great masters of this form. Here the dignified theme is in Hungarian style, emphasizing the first note of a jagged reverse-dotted rhythm. The variations continue in a kind of Hungarian rhapsody between violin and cello. The quiet fourth variation incorporates two different variations simultaneously – one in the piano and the other in the strings. The final variation is plaintive, yet it retains the dignity of the original theme.

The third movement is a scherzo, dark and pianissimo in a night-music vein. The piano part is especially impressive for its delicacy and difficulty. The contrasting trio section, in major, recalls the majesty of the first movement. The finale is shorter than the other movements and full of good humor, while also recalling some of the mystery and sonority of the first movement.

Notes © 2017 by Charles C. Tucker

 

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928): Pohádka (Fairy Tale) for Cello and Piano (1910-1923)

Janáček was a Czech composer, conductor, organist, and teacher. When his teaching duties allowed, he collected, harmonized, and performed Moravian folk songs. His first successful composition, the opera Jenůfa, was premiered when Janáček was fifty years old. In 1918, the success of the opera in Vienna and Cologne, in its German version, along with the formation of the Czech Republic, gave him a tremendous creative boost. Most of his works, full of originality and power, were composed in the last ten years of his life.

Janáček was fond of Russian literature and took as his inspiration for Fairy Tale a poem by Vasily Zhukovsky, The Tale of Tsar Beredyey. This was a modern adaptation of old heroic tales about a young warrior-prince who finds himself taken by the king of the underworld. He must succeed in tests of valor and magic and is aided in this by the king’s daughter, who has fallen in love with him.

Janáček’s style is rhythmical, with sudden changes of mood, and often revealing the melody only in short bursts. In Fairy Tale, the melody usually resides in the piano, with brief interjections by the cello. The piece is in three parts and uses short rondo and sonata forms. The main keys of G♭ major and F♭ minor give the piece a rather veiled sound, in part because the cello’s lack of resonance in these keys.

Notes © 2017 by Charles C. Tucker

 

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in F Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 24, “Spring”

The “Spring” sonata was composed in 1801 and dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries, a patron and supporter of the composer. Here we find Beethoven on the threshold of his second period style. He has not said goodbye to the genteel world of Classicism – graceful themes, transparent textures, and traditional form are everywhere – yet mingled with these attributes are a new robustness and vigor, and a boldly independent spirit. The years from 1798 to 1802 were among his most productive, in spite of the growing threat of deafness. This is made heartbreakingly clear in his despairing Heiligenstadt Testament (1802). Yet he could not accept restriction on his creativity; at nearly the same time he also wrote, “I will seize Fate by the throat…..it will not crush me completely.” This period produced remarkable masterpieces in many forms.

The first movement, Allegro. As a spontaneous lyricism and gentle radiance of the opening theme in the violin, suggesting the freshness and beauty of spring. This unusually extended melody is immediately echoed in the piano, the violin taking over the piano’s former role with gentle arpeggio accompaniment. In the deeply felt second movement Adagio, many listeners find an anticipation of Schubert’s most expressive pages. Its gentle flow is propelled by a simple arpeggio in the piano left hand; the generously ornamented melody is traded between the piano’s right hand and the violin. “To hear this Adagio sensitively played… is to undergo one of the most moving experiences in music making,” writes violinist Abram Loft.

Although the Scherzo is extremely short, lasting barely one minute, it is historically important: Beethoven breaks from long-standing tradition by adding a fourth movement to what had been a three-movement form since the Baroque era. It is also quirky: the two instruments become rhythmically “wrong-footed”. The violin seems to stagger in pursuit of the piano, always one beat too late. The two are yoked firmly together in the dancing, brilliant Trio, only to fall out of sync again in the repeat of the opening section.

The Finale is a sunny, flowing Rondo featuring three episodes, yielding a form which can be expressed as A B A’ C A’’ B’ A’’’. The movement ends with a long and highly syncopated coda.

Robert Molison

 

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Trio in A Minor, Op. 114, for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello (1891)

  • Allegro
  • Adagio
  • Andantino grazioso
  • Allegro

By 1890, Brahms was beginning to speak of retiring from his illustrious career as composer, conductor, and pianist, when along came a wonderful clarinet player named Mühlfeld. With him in mind, Brahms wrote his four last major chamber works – two clarinet sonatas, the quintet for clarinet and strings, and the clarinet trio.

For the opening of the trio, Brahms used a theme he originally intended for a never-written fifth symphony. Big arpeggios, starting with the cello alone, give the movement a symphonic sweep, and each instrument bursts forth with virtuosic gestures. Yet Brahms also weaves the cello and clarinet lines in the most tender way and displays the wide range of tone colors these instruments can produce. He calls for a clarinet in A, slightly longer than the usual clarinet in B♭ and darker in timbre.

Brahms continues the gorgeous color palette in the second movement, one of the great slow movements in the entire genre of chamber music. The third movement is a charming minuet with two trios, one in major and one in minor. The finale gives us a full sonata form in only five minutes. The bold character of the first movement is revived, this time with more accented rhythms and a Hungarian spirit.

Notes © 2017 by Charles C. Tucker

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): String Quartet in G major, K. 387

The young Mozart had (with his sister and father) spent much time touring Europe as a child prodigy, both as performer and composer, and he lacked a home base for quite a while. Eventually he settled in Vienna with his new bride, late in 1782. Despite a multitude of commissions and successful compositions he was basically impoverished and received help from friends when needed. Mozart became a Freemason and one of his lodge partners was Joseph Haydn. At this time (over a period of two years) Mozart wrote six string quartets – this one is the first of that group – and dedicated the set to his friend Haydn. The dedication was related to a lot more than just their friendship.

Mozart felt that Haydn had “elevated the string quartet to a great art form” – Haydn made the movements more individual and innovative, and Mozart was inspired to expand his technique along those lines. Haydn – after hearing three of the six quartets in the set – remarked to Mozart’s father that this was the greatest composer known to him – he pointed to Mozart’s “most profound knowledge of composition.” The first movement, Allegro vivace assai, has two prominent themes, with long phrases, dynamic contrasts and opportunities for the four instruments to break loose on their own. The Menuetto movement employs some rhythmic quirks – accents on offbeats, humor, a Trio section in a minor key. The Andante cantabile third movement is delicate and (in the trio section) dark at times, with a focus on the first violin. The Finale (Molto allegro) involves a polyphonic fugue, then another fugue, full of unexpected moments. The quartet in its entirety has been given the subtitle “Spring.”

Bobbie Mielke

 

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 44 No. 3

By the year 1837, Mendelssohn was in the prime of his life – he was newly married and he was in demand throughout Europe as composer, pianist, conductor and more. Music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus – one of Europe’s finest – he composed a number of orchestral works for the organization. The three Op. 44 string quartets were begun at this time. Early in 1838 he finished the third (played here) (the order of composition of the quartets does not exactly match the published order). Not quite satisfied with the result, Mendelssohn revised the quartet. The end result resembles slightly his early, very successful Octet. It has been suggested that the composer was attempting to achieve the rich, full sound with a force of just four voices instead of eight.

The opening Allegro vivace movement is said to resemble the writing of Beethoven – heroic, dense, fairly short phrases. Add to that joyful but intense contrapuntal interplay. The Scherzo movement is not like other (well-known) Mendelssohn scherzos. It is driven and grounded, not light weight. The third movement, in A-flat major, is slow and passionate and perhaps the emotional heart of the work. The closing Finale Molto allegro movement is brilliant, rapid, demanding virtuoso playing. There is a dance theme joined by a counter melody. The mood is joyous and lively. Mendelssohn moved on to Berlin, back to Leipzig, was financially successful and wrote a collection of works played to this day. One of his greatest contributions, though, was the fact that he discovered many works by J. S. Bach that had gone unnoticed for a century. Mendelssohn brought these works to the attention of the public and championed them throughout his life.

Bobbie Mielke

 

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951): Verklärte Nacht (1899)

Verklärte Nacht, the poem, was edgy stuff in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. Its author, Richard Dehmel (1863-1920), took a frank approach to social problems in his poetry, often challenging the prevailing morality with suggestive or erotic language. He attracted both the ire of the censors and the admiration of a good many readers. Verklärte Nacht, a deep psychological portrait of love, acceptance, and understanding, became Dehmel’s best-known poem, in large part because of Schoenberg’s string sextet based on it.

Verklärte Nacht, the sextet, was edgy too at the time, not just for its subject matter but also for its emotional, expressionistic style. Schoenberg composed it in the late German Romantic tradition of his teacher Alexander Zemlinsky – a style that we hear in movie soundtracks to this day. The sextet’s harmonies range far from the home key and often lie unresolved. The melodies are treated as a “developing variation” – a term coined by Schoenberg to describe Brahms’s style of continually reworking themes over the course of a piece.

The sextet, like the poem, is in five sections. The first, third, and fifth sections portray the deeply intertwined feelings of an unnamed woman and man, newly in love, walking together on a cold, moonlit night. The second section, very agitated, expresses the woman’s painful revelation that she is pregnant, “but not by you,” she says to the man. The fourth section, in a sudden and glorious D major, portrays the man’s assurance to her that they will raise the child together. By the end, they are walking, not in a “bare, cold grove,” but in the “lofty, bright night,” surrounded by glittering stars.

Some of the poem’s sentiments now seem cloying or paternalistic, and Schoenberg himself said later that he had grown to dislike the poem. Yet he never disavowed his sextet, and he arranged the work for string orchestra, a version often heard on the symphony stage. Using Dehmel’s striking imagery as inspiration, Schoenberg sought to extend, one might even say to transfigure, traditional forms and patterns into a kind of music that is unpredictable, enticing, and radiant.

Notes © 2017 by Charles C. Tucker

 

Transfigured Night

  • Two people walk through a bare, cold grove;
  • The moon races along with them, they look into it.
  • The moon races over tall oaks,
  • No cloud obscures the light from the sky,
  • Into which the black points of the boughs reach.
  • A woman’s voice speaks:
  • I’m carrying a child, and not yours,
  • I walk in sin beside you.
  • I have committed a great offense against myself.
  • I no longer believed I could be happy
  • And yet I had a strong yearning
  • For something to fill my life, for the joys of
  • Motherhood
  • And for duty; so I committed an effrontery,
  • So, shuddering, I allowed my sex
  • To be embraced by a strange man,
  • And, on top of that, I blessed myself for it.
  • Now life has taken its revenge:
  • Now I have met you, oh, you.
  • She walks with a clumsy gait,
  • She looks up;
  • the moon is racing along.
  • Her dark gaze is drowned in light.
  • A man’s voice speaks:
  • May the child you conceived
  • Be no burden to your soul;
  • Just see how brightly the universe is gleaming!
  • There’s a glow around everything;
  • You are floating with me on a cold ocean,
  • But a special warmth flickers
  • From you into me, from me into you.
  • It will transfigure the strange man’s child.
  • You will bear the child for me, as if it were mine;
  • You have brought the glow into me,
  • You have made me like a child myself.
  • He grasps her around her ample hips.
  • Their breath kisses in the breeze.
  • Two people walk through the lofty, bright night.

 

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904): String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77 (1875-1888)

  • Allegro con fuoco
  • Scherzo: Allegro vivace
  • Poco andante
  • Finale: Allegro assai

Antonín Dvořák was a musician’s musician—a skilled violinist and violist who began his professional career performing in Prague’s symphonic and opera orchestras. In his mid- 30’s, around the time he wrote the first version of the String Quintet in G Major, he started to achieve recognition as a composer and to develop his distinctive style. The sounds of Czech and other Slavic folk music that dominate all of Dvořák’s music permeate the Quintet, to which he gave the motto “For My Nation.”

From the beginning of the first movement, the listener is aware of the special sonorities Dvořák achieves by adding the double bass to the standard string quartet of two violins, viola, and cello. The presence of the bass allows the cello at times to occupy a higher, more lyrical range, especially in the slow movement. And sometimes Dvořák achieves a wonderful textural effect by having the bass drop out altogether, as in the first movement, where he holds back the bass to give the second theme a lighter sound.

Dvořák was a master at filling his works with one captivating melody after another. In the Quintet, Dvořák relies less on long spun-out melodies and more on short motifs or gestures. The first movement is based on a broad descending figure, heard first in the lower instruments, and on a second livelier figure played by the upper instruments. In the second movement, Dvořák uses sharp rhythmical accents in the scherzo and the colors of different keys in the contrasting trio, putting his own Czech stamp on the classic Scherzo form. The sweet Poco Andante grows out of just a few melodic elements. The Scherzo and the Finale each begin with the same five notes, though they achieve dramatically different results. The Finale is based on just two themes that are continuously varied throughout the movement.

Notes © 2017 by Charles C. Tucker

 

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26 (1860)

  • Allegro non troppo
  • Poco adagio
  • Scherzo: Poco allegro
  • Finale: Allegro

We – concertgoers and musicians alike – often think of Brahms as a great classicist, bound by tradition. Yet composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) held that Brahms was a progressive composer, especially in his use of harmony. Brahms combined the rich harmonies and tone colors of romanticism with the classic formal structures inherited from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. In the Piano Quartet No. 2, Brahms uses traditional sonata, rondo, and scherzo and trio forms, while his spectacular melodies and harmonies spill forth like beautiful flowers overflowing their pot.

A gracious lyricism infuses the Piano Quartet No. 2. The melodies flow from one to the next with great ease – much like the chamber music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828), which Brahms was studying when he began work on the quartet. His themes, like those of Schubert, are often vocal in nature – and it is worth remembering that Brahms was an experienced chorus leader who over his lifetime composed over 200 songs and choral works.

The first movement of the quartet has a concerto-like texture, in which the piano often alternates and contrasts with the tutti strings. At the beginning, the piano is the soloist, and elsewhere the roles are reversed, like a triple concerto with the piano in the role of orchestra. The second movement invokes the nighttime, with muted strings and delicate swirls of sound in the piano. The third movement, a scherzo, is remarkable for being more melodic than dance-like. The finale is a substantial movement, effervescent and lively at the outset, with contrasting lyric sections that lend the movement an elegant grandeur.

Notes © 2017 by Charles C. Tucker