Haydn | Vancouver Recital Society

Stay Tuned!

Sign up to get free in-depth coverage on up and coming artist and more!

×

A change to our first concert in the 2017-18 Season

The Simón Bolívar String Quartet’s scheduled performance at the Vancouver Playhouse on September 17 has been postponed to a future season. The current volatile and violent situation in Venezuela, which has heightened following last week’s election, has made it almost impossible for the quartet to navigate around Caracas to make arrangements for their North American tour. Both the USA and Canada have withdrawn most of their diplomatic staff from the city, and there are now very few airlines flying in and out of Venezuela. Given that the situation is expected to escalate before it is resolved, the sad decision was made to postpone the tour, which, in addition to the scheduled VRS engagement, had included planned performances at the Ravinia Festival and Cornell Concert Series.
 
Alejandro Carreño, 1st violinist with the quartet, said, “This is a regrettable moment for us as Venezuelans, and a dark process of our history. Artistically this tour was very important for the quartet, and that is why we want to let the presenters and public know how sorry we are about this situation, which is out of our control. We hope to reschedule these concert dates where possible, so that we can return soon to these important places. We are profoundly grateful for all the support we have received from our team and colleagues; their commitment and support is invaluable to us as artists. We very much hope to be able to perform internationally as a quartet again in the near future.”

We are obviously very disappointed that we won’t be able to hear the Simón Bolívar String Quartet this season, however our primary concern is for the safety and wellbeing of the members of the quartet and indeed the people of Venezuela in these difficult times. We’ll be keeping in touch with quartet, and we very much hope to present them in a future season. So stayed tuned for more on that…

In the meantime, I’ve spent the last few days on the phone with my contacts in Europe and North America trying to find an equally brilliant quartet to present on this date. And the good news is, I’ve found one! The Verona Quartet — hailed by The New York Times as an “outstanding ensemble of young musicians” — will be stepping in to replace the Simón Bolívar Quartet. The venue, date and time of the performance are unchanged.

The Verona Quartet has a wonderful program:

Haydn: String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 50, No. 1
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, Op. 108
Ravel: String Quartet in F major.

In my 38 years as a concert presenter, I’ve dealt with cancellations before. But never due to political and civil unrest.

Our thoughts are very much with the Simón Bolívar Quartet.

Warmly,

 



Leila Getz, C.M., O.B.C., DFA
Founder & Artistic Director

 

Program Notes: Roman Rabinovich

Franz Joseph Haydn
Sonata in B-flat Major, Hob. XVI:41

In 1784 Haydn wrote three keyboard sonatas for Princess Marie, the new bride of Prince Nicholas Esterházy, grandson of Haydn’s employer Prince Nicholas I. Each is a two- movement work, without a lyrical slow movement, perhaps reflecting the taste of the young Princess for lighter fare.

The second in the set, the Sonata in B-flat, begins in a spirit of pageantry with
an emphasis on sprightly dotted rhythms and frequent coy changes in dynamics, indicating clearly that the work was intended for performance on the fortepiano, which had largely replaced the harpsichord by the 1780s.

The female breast is given ample room to heave beneath its stiff lace bodice with the arrival of a restlessly modulating second subject dark with minor-mode colouring and rippling triplet accompaniment. A rich variety of ornamentation in the form of trills and turns maintains a high level of elegance in the melodic flow throughout.

The second movement Allegro di molto strikes a quasi-learned tone with its freely contrapuntal texture of answering phrases and its lively chatter of small leaps in dialogue with smooth runs and churning broken chords, all within the grasp of the delicate hand of a princess. In this movement as well, a minor-mode shadow falls melodramatically over the proceedings, only to be banished by a cheerful reprise of the opening material, tastefully varied at its return.

 

Robert Schumann
Kreisleriana Op. 16

Violinist Johannes Kreisler represented, for Robert Schumann, the very essence of the new Romantic spirit in art. This eccentric, hypersensitive character from the fiction
of E. T. A. Hoffmann was a cross between Nicolò Paganini and Dr. Who, an enigmatic, emotionally volatile figure committed to plumbing the depths of his creative soul.

Schumann’s tribute to this symbol of creativity in art, his Kreisleriana of 1838, is as wildly inventive and emotionally unstable as the artistic personality it describes. Each of the eight pieces that make up the work comprises contrasting sections that reflect the split in Schumann’s own creative personality, a bipolar duo of mood identities to which he self-consciously gave the names Florestan and Eusebius.

Florestan, Schumann’s passionate, action-oriented side, opens the work Äußerst bewegt (extremely agitated) with a torrential outpouring of emotion that only halts when the introspective daydreamer Eusebius takes over with more tranquil lyrical musings. The pairing is reversed in the following movement, Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch (very intimate and not too fast), which begins thoughtfully but is twice interrupted by sections of a much more rambunctious character.

Schumann’s inventiveness in creating this series of mood-swing pieces is
astonishing. Each is a psychologically compelling portrait of a distinct temperamental state, enriched and made whole by embracing its opposite.

Projecting these portraits is no easy task for the pianist as Schumann’s writing, especially in slower sections, often features a choir of four fully active voices with melodies as likely to rise up from the bass, or to emerge out of the middle of the keyboard, as to sing out from on top. Indeed, the smooth part-writing and polyphonic texture of many sections points to another prominent feature of Schumann’s writing: his great admiration for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Schumann’s desire to give a Bachian solidity of structure to his writing is most evident not only in his four-voice harmonization textures, but also in his use of close three-voice stretto in the 5th movement and fugato in the 7th, not to mention the many extended passages based on a single rhythmic pattern in the manner of a Bach prelude.

But most remarkable in this work is the sense of mystery and unease that it radiates as a result of the pervasive use of rhythmic displacement in the bass, where strong notes often fail to coincide with the strong beats of the bar, in imitation of the unregulated movement of tectonic plates of thought and feeling in the mind of the creative artist.

 

Anton von Webern
Variations Op. 27

The 12-tone system of composition propagated in the early 20th century by Arnold Schoenberg, and employed by his students Alban Berg and Anton von Webern, presents a daunting challenge for audiences accustomed to listening for tunes to hum in the shower and rhythms to inspire a tapping motion in their footwear. The density of intellectual content of this music is far out of proportion with the ability of even seasoned musicians to perceive its organizing principles on a first listening.

And yet, like modernist works of abstract art that pull in the viewer’s attention at a visceral level, 12-tone works such as Webern’s Variations Op. 27 can exercise an unexpected fascination that requires no explanation.

So in listening to this three-movement work, it is merely necessary to be aware of
the scale of listening at which the composer wishes to engage his audience, and
that scale, in comparison with traditional music in the repertoire, is the minute. This
is music for listening with an “aural magnifying glass,” music of pointillist patterns of sound unconnected to scales or keys, the elegance of which lies in the symmetry of its gestures and balance of its tonal patterning.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata in A Major, Op. 101

The works of Beethoven’s late period see him writing with a more relaxed approach to form and a wider sound palette, one that in the case of his piano music reaches out to the extreme ends of the keyboard. This is music of an increasingly personal stamp, wilfully pushing towards new expressive horizons with a confidence that virtually defines this composer’s ‘brand’.

His Sonata in A major Op. 101 presents us with two pairs of contrasting
movements. Movements 1 and 3 are lyrical and reflective, with little by way of strong profiling in either tonality or rhythm. They seem to flow onward at the pace of personal thought and feeling. Movements 2 and 4 are punchier, driven by the momentum of a large-scale formal plan, with a decisive rhythmic edge and clear tonal outlines at the heart of which lies a yearning for the rigour of serious imitative counterpoint.

The work opens with a movement of great gentleness of expression, almost a meditation, full of rippling pulses rather than strong beats. Its exposition goes by in a single page, more a succession of dream states than a delineation of contrasting ideas, and its development merely seems to intensify rather than challenge the prevailing mood.

The second movement is a bold and forthright march with sharply chiselled dotted rhythms peppered with points of imitation (of a kind that may have inspired the fifth movement of Schumann’s Kreisleriana) and an even more formally contrapuntal trio.

The slow movement is surprisingly short, more an intermezzo than a formally poised exposition of lyrical thoughts. With an air of improvisation it follows a little melodic turn figure through a series of harmonic adventures culminating in a daydreaming cadenza and a reminiscence of the sonata’s opening bars.

An ear-catching flourish of trills leads us into the finale, a sonata movement brimming with exuberance and good-humoured melodies drawn from country life, including
an Austrian mountain yodel and a rollicking contradance. Each is presented from the outset with its own imitative echo, preparing us for the full-on fugue that breaks out in the development section. By his use of the extreme low register Beethoven turns the lowest voice in the fugue into a kind of basso buffo from comic opera, humorously out of place in such a learned context.

 

Bedřich Smetana
Four Dances from Czech Dances (Book II)

Bedřich Smetana was among the first composers to promote a distinctly Czech style
of music in the 19th century during a period of rising nationalist sentiment in his native Czech homeland. His best-known works are his comic opera The Bartered Bride and the set of six symphonic poems based on themes from Bohemian country life entitled Má Vlast (my homeland).

Smetana was a gifted pianist and composed more for the piano than for any other instrument, with dance music playing an important role in his projection of the Czech national style. His second set of Czech Dances dates from 1879 and are intended to be artful examples of the actual music that might accompany Czech folk dancing.

Medved (The Bear) is a heavily textured stomping piece combining duple and triple metres to paint the lumbering gait of the bear, with a much sweeter middle section that imitates the sounds of the Czech bagpipes.

Hulán (The Lancer) is a slow, tender dance evoking the love of a young girl for her soldier boyfriend. Despite the subdued mood, an underlying current of intense yearning provides the performer with the occasion for flamboyant pianistic display.

Slepička (The Hen) is a vivid portrait of the race of barnyard fowl immortalized by Rameau’s La Poule and the animated film Chicken Run. Smetana’s hen is a busy creature indeed, with a daily agenda full of strutting, clucking and feathery flapping, all to a polka rhythm occasionally put humorously off-stride by unpredictable changes in metre.

Skočná (Hop Dance) is an exhilarating stomping dance for couples that sees its participants whirling each other ever more frenetically around in circles with a joyous, almost madcap abandon.

Donald G. Gíslason 2015

 

 

 

 

Program Notes: Doric String Quartet

 

Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 20, no. 3

A strong new current of artistic expression swept through central Europe during the late 1760s and early 1770s, known as Sturm und Drang (storm and stress). While not every work was stormy or stressful, the moniker served notice that composers were turning away from the light, gentle, superficially pleasing world of the style galant (courtly style) to infuse their music with greater emotional depth and stronger subjective feelings. Sturm und Drang was evident in the relatively large number of works written in unusual keys (especially in the minor mode).

Another important new aspect of the Op. 20 quartets was the liberation of the cello part from servitude as a mere bass accompaniment, and the full participation of all four instruments as near-equals. It was probably sheer coincidence that an early edition of these quartets used as its frontpiece a drawing of a rising sun (hence, the nickname “Sun” Quartets), but the symbolism, accidental or otherwise, is obvious, signifying both the rise of a new musical style and the ascent of Haydn as a fully mature composer of string quartets. These works bear another nickname as well, Die grossen Quartette, which translates as either the great quartets or the large-scale, fully-formed quartets (in contrast to the slighter works that preceded them). Both designations are apt.

There are additional unusual features to be found in the Quartet Op. 20, No. 3. The division of the fiery main theme of the first movement into seven-bar phrases creates a most irregular pattern. The development section of this movement begins in the same key as the exposition (G minor), another exceptional procedure. The minuet movement continues the tone of tragedy and dark passion, possibly providing the model for Mozart in the analogous movement of his famous G minor symphony some years later. Following a slow movement of exceptional breadth and depth, a spirited sonata-form finale brings the G minor quartet to a close.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String Quartet no. 3 in D major, Op. 34

Millions of movie-goers have thrilled to the brash, swashbuckling themes, the sumptuously scored love music and the grandly heroic evocations of historical pageantry in Korngold’s film scores like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Anthony Adverse, Of Human Bondage, Kings Row, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk and others. But late in life, Korngold returned to composing strictly classical music as he had done back in Vienna before his twelve-year stint in Hollywood. The third string quartet, composed in 1944-1945 while Korngold was living in Hollywood, was the first happy result of this decision. It was also the first concert work in which Korngold incorporated themes from his films, a move he made assuming that his film scores would soon be forgotten. (How wrong he was!). The first performance was given by the Roth Quartet in Los Angeles in 1946. The score is dedicated to Korngold’s friend, the great conductor Bruno Walter, also living in Hollywood at the time.

The first movement is laid out in traditional sonata form, with a flowing, twisting and highly chromatic opening theme followed a minute or two later by a more relaxed, lyrically expressive second theme dripping with nostalgia.

The Scherzo has the character of a grisly, macabre dance as might be enacted by wraiths or gnomes. By way of total contrast, the central Trio passage is warmly romantic, based on a theme from Korngold’s own favorite film score, Between Two Worlds.

Film romance appears in the slow movement as well. The main theme comes from the love music in The Sea Wolf, its gently rocking rhythm suggestive of the motion of ocean waters. Near the end, a descending three-note motif, heard a dozen times, might be heard as the haunting call of a siren.

The Finale is all energy, virtuosity and rambunctious behavior. The second theme comes from Korngold’s final film score, Deception, which was still unreleased at the time he wrote the quartet.

Franz Schubert: String Quartet no. 14 in D minor, D. 810 (Death and the Maiden)

Schubert began his Quartet in D minor in early 1824. The previous year had brought him to the nadir of despair and frustration. Not least of the reasons for his depression was a prolonged stay in the hospital during which he came to the realization that his illness (most certainly syphilis, for which no cure then existed) was probably fatal and that he had not long left to live. The prevailing dark, somber and tragic mood of the D minor quartet reflects this despondent state of mind, and the composer’s gloomy thoughts on life and death, the past and the future. All four movements are in minor tonalities (in itself highly unusual), and there are just two extended passages where the music moves into the major mode (the fourth variation of the second movement and the Trio of the third).

The quartet takes its nickname, Death and the Maiden, from a song of the same title Schubert had set seven years earlier to a poem by Matthias Claudius. Schubert borrowed the song’s opening passage, slightly modified, to serve as the basis of a set of variations for the second movement. This passage represents the slow tread of Death as it approaches the girl. Curiously enough, Schubert’s score makes no mention of any subtitle; “the Death and the Maiden quartet” is an appellation assigned by later generations. The work was first performed in public in Vienna on February 1, 1826 at the residence of Josef Barth.

The work opens with music of great visceral impact, a full, chordal figure hurled forth with vehemence by the entire ensemble. The embedded triplet figure is destined to play a major role throughout the entire quartet.

The theme Schubert uses to construct the variations of the second movement is eminently suited to its purpose. Each of the five ensuing variations explores some aspect of this simple G minor subject, adding new layers of meaning, figuration and expressivity.

The Scherzo also derives from borrowed material, this time a re-working of one of Schubert’s German Dances from D. 790. Like the first movement, the music is bold in its gestures and often strikingly agitated.

The final movement is almost manic in its unflagging momentum and urgency. Again the triplet figure pervades the music, and is found as an element in each of the three themes. The music reaches almost unbearable levels of intensity, culminating in a veritable whirlwind of notes that brings the quartet to a sensational close.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

LEILA GETZ: ONE OF THE MOST PERFECT CONCERT EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE

 

Last night I had one of the most perfect concert experiences of my life. I have been attending a conference of music managers and presenters in Budapest. I discovered that baritone Christian Gerhaher was singing an all-Schubert song recital in the Vienna Konzerthaus. It was sold out, but after 33 years in the concert presenting world, I was able to pull strings and, to my utter astonishment, I became a guest of the Konzerthaus. So, I hopped on a train and headed back to Vienna (where I’d been just the week before) to hear the performance. The distance between Vienna and Budapest seems similar to the distance between Vancouver and Seattle. Except that, of course, one just sails through borders from one country to the next.

The Konzerthaus was packed to overflowing. There were 750 seats filled in the hall with an additional 50 seats on stage. I know this because I asked the Intendant of the Konzerthaus. I also enquired about their wonderful piano and he told me that they select and rent a new Steinway from the factory every two years.

I am guilty of over-using the word “extraordinary”, but there is simply no other word to describe Gerhaher’s voice (or voices, as he seems to have so many of them). He inhabits the text and the music he is singing. He simply delivered what Schubert intended when he wrote the songs. Nothing more and nothing less. His regular pianist is Gerold Huber and the two of them together are as one. Right down to the tiniest nuance. I can understand why Andras Schiff has chosen to invite Gerhaher to Carnegie Hall for his “Perspectives” Series. And of course, we, at the VRS are the beneficiaries of this collaboration. We jumped at the opportunity when we heard about it.

If you are a serious, discerning music lover you must not miss the Gerhaher/Schiff performance at the Chan on May 14. Don’t expect a larger than life personality like Bryn Terfel (nothing wrong with him!) but expect the most perfect delivery of song you will experience for many, many years to come. It is both deeply gratifying and humbling at the same time.

Leila (en route from Vienna to Budapest).

Program Notes: Christian Gerhaher and Andras Schiff

Ludwig van Beethoven
An die ferne Geliebte
Adelaide, Op. 46

An die ferne Geliebte, composed in 1816, stands proudly at the beginning of Christian Gerhaher’s recital as the first important song cycle from any composer, that is,  a series of songs in which the constituent numbers are linked together by a theme or narrative of some sort to form a cohesive whole. The six songs of An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) are set to poems by a minor poet named Alois Jeitteles (1794-1858). A solitary lover seated on a hillside gazes into the distance and longs for the object of his affection. The lover’s thoughts turn to blue mountains (the second song), a brook (the third), clouds (the fourth) and the glories of springtime in May (the fifth) as he thinks of love filtered through these images of pure, unspoiled nature. The final song brings the listener full cycle, with passages of both text and music from the opening stanza returning for a fulfilling close. The songs are heard without breaks, and piano transitions link some of them. The cycle is further unified by a tonal scheme centered around E-flat major.

“Adelaide,” which closes the program, was Beethoven’s first important song and dates from 1795 or 1796, about the time he was writing his first piano trios and piano sonatas. The text is by Friedrich von Matthisson (1761-1831), a much admired German poet in his day. The song is an expansive, impassioned outpouring of emotion as a man wanders about a garden and sees in his beloved Adelaide as a manifestation of the beauties of nature.

Robert Schumann
Dichterliebe, Op. 48

Schumann composed more than half of his total song output in a single year, 1840. His love affair with Clara Wieck, who was to become his wife in August, provided fertile soil for serious attention to love lyrics. Concurrently, Schumann was beginning to recognize that the larger musical forms (symphony, sonata, string quartet) were not developing in the direction he had expected, and he was prepared to look elsewhere for the full flowering of romantic music. This “elsewhere” became the Lied (song in German). Furthermore, Schumann recognized that the piano could play a highly significant role to play in vocal music – not mere accompaniment, but an equal partner.

Schumann composed Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love) in the space of about a week in May. In these sixteen songs, Schumann perfectly captures the psychological atmosphere of each poem. The piano writing, as in Schubert, is of great importance in defining the mood of each song. In Schumann, these moods are often carried to their greatest expressive heights in the piano postludes. All but two of the Dichterliebe songs end with postludes, some of them nearly half the length of the song itself. Another remarkable aspect of these songs is the vocal declamation. The music, with few exceptions, is perfectly welded to the words of the text with regard to metre, observation of punctuation and emphasis on the right word or syllable.

In the opening song, beautiful weather, flowers and birds are all part of the poet’s blissful reverie on love. But this love affair is doomed from the beginning, and the cycle traces a progression of regret, pleading, reconciliation and forgiveness. By the final song, the poet is so disconsolate that he prepares to drown his love, his sorrows and his dreams in a coffin in the deep sea.

Robert Schumann
Gesänge des harfners

The nine songs of 98a are all settings of lyric poems drawn from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1821/1829). Schumann undertook these settings in 1849, the centenary of Goethe’s birth. Of the nine songs, four are sung by the mysterious waif Mignon, one by the promiscuous actress Philene and four (the even-numbered ones) by the Harper, an itinerant musician and a strange, confused, half-crazy, tragic figure who turns out to be Mignon’s father (the mother was the Harper’s sister), though neither character learns this traumatizing fact until late in the novel. One can surmise already that the story is filled with repression, frustration, loneliness, bitterness, withdrawal and skeletons in the closet. So too are the Harper’s songs, aside from the opening Ballad, which he sings “with free, declamatory expression” (as Schumann marked in the score) before a royal gathering.

Franz Joseph Haydn
Five Songs

Haydn was almost fifty before he first turned his attention to song. The reason for this late start is simple: he had had no requests or impetus to write anything of this type. But in 1781 he brought out a set of twelve, some of which were expressly meant to show a certain Leopold Hofmann, Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna (Haydn referred to him as a “braggart”) that Haydn could do a much better job at setting the same texts than Hofmann. A second set of twelve followed a few years later. These early songs in German reflect the simple melodic and harmonic style of the Singspiel (German-language stage works with spoken dialogue interspersed with tuneful, folklike songs) and are always strophic in design (two or more verses set to the same music.)

Not until 1794-95, during his second London visit, did Haydn return to song-writing. Again, he produced twelve (this time two sets of six each, published in 1797). These are the English Canzonettas. Here the writing is more chromatic, there is more ornamentation, and the emotional range is greater. “The Wanderer,” for example, is a gloomy but beautifully etched setting of an Anne Hunter poem, with the image of wandering unmistakably portrayed in the piano. “Content” is the only one of the five Haydn songs on this program in a major key and the only one not concerned with loss, despair, death or the afterlife.

“The Spirit’s Song,” is a single, independent number Haydn wrote to another text by his London friend Anne Hunter. Stark in tone, dark in color, its text concerned with lonely ghosts, “The Spirit’s Song” nearly takes on the feeling of a dramatic recitative from an opera.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2012.

 

Top