Program Notes: Simon Trpčeski
Schubert: 16 German Dances, D. 783 (Op. 33)
So indelibly is the name Johann Strauss embedded in our consciousness as the purveyor of Viennese dance music that we tend to forget such music existed well before the Waltz King appeared on the scene. Not just minor, forgotten figures like Pamer, Faisatenberger and Wilde, but the likes of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Hummel contributed countless minuets, Deutsche Tänze (German dances), marches, contredances, and later écossaises and waltzes, either for large-scale social functions or for intimate parties. Schubert alone composed some four hundred little piano pieces of this nature across his creative life.
A “German dance” is a simple dance of folk character in triple metre; in Schubert’s hand it eventually gave way to the waltz. The sixteen pieces that make up D. 783 (Op. 33) mostly date from 1823 and 1824. These miniature gems – all sixteen take only about ten minutes to play – are, with two exceptions, laid out in the identical format of two eight-bar phrases, each phrase repeated in an AABB pattern. (The second phrase of Nos. 1 and 10 are double length.) Yet Schubert’s imagination never permits a feeling of repetitiveness or routine; each dance contrasts with its neighbors in tonality, articulation, harmonic activity, dynamic level and articulation.
Schubert: Fantasy in C major, D. 760 “Wanderer Fantasy”
Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, composed in late 1822, proved to be the most pianistically difficult and structurally advanced music he ever composed. Nearly everything he wrote for the piano was meant for his own use, but the Wanderer Fantasy was an exception, written for a pupil of Hummel. The subtitle “Wanderer” derives from a song of the same title, written by Schubert in his nineteenth year. The Fantasy’s slow movement incorporates the tune of the “Wanderer” song. The text, by the obscure poet Georg Philipp Schmidt, speaks of Byronic gloom, melancholia, loneliness, the search for happiness, estrangement, and of course, wandering – all subjects dear to the hearts of nineteenth-century Romanticists. Schubert set this text to music in 1816 and it became one of the most popular art songs of the entire nineteenth century. The title “Wanderer” was not assigned by Schubert, who called the work simply Fantasy in C major. It was affixed, as were so many fanciful nineteenth-century subtitles, by enterprising publishers with a view towards sales. In form, it closely paralleled Franz Liszt’s efforts in the direction of an extended, unbroken composition that develops from a germinal melodic cell or “motto,” which passes through various metamorphoses in its
course through the piece.
The work opens with the “motto” – the melodic-rhythmic pattern that pervades the entire composition – a long-short-short pattern on the same pitch. The second theme (E flat major) is in a lyrical vein but retains the rhythmic motto, while the third theme reverses the pattern. The Adagio consists of the “Wanderer” tune in C sharp minor, followed by seven variations, some quite brilliant. The motto rhythm becomes transformed in the third section (corresponding to a scherzo third movement) into a robust triple metre. The song-like Trio passage is derived from the second theme of the first movement. The finale, in addition to its exceptional technical demands, offers a rare instance of fugal writing in Schubert’s music. The fugal subject, too, is based on the motto rhythm.
Bach-Liszt: Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543
If Franz Liszt had done nothing more than transcribe, arrangeor paraphrase other composers’ works, he would still remain a formidable figure in music history. With composers from A to Z (literally, from Allegri to Zichy) he reworked in some fashion hundreds of pieces ranging from three-minute songs to hour-long symphonies. Strangely, he did little with Bach – just seven works, though those seven rank among Bach’s mightiest organ compositions. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor is a composite work of two independent parts later joined together, the Prelude sometime between 1708 and 1717, the Fugue about 1719. The Prelude is in 4/4 metre, the Fugue in 6/8, but both are built from arpeggiated chords and descending chromatic lines. The Prelude is full of flourishes, arabesques, runs, contrapuntal development and passionate intensity, while the four-part fugue is a veritable cathedral in sound. It is not difficult to identify passages where Liszt brings in the all-important pedal line from the original organ score, sometimes reinforcing it in octaves for even greater power and grandeur.
Franz Liszt: Soirées De Vienne, Valses-Caprices d’après Schubert
No one did more to popularize Schubert’s music in the nineteenth century than Franz Liszt. Among his efforts in this direction, he chose a number of Schubert’s waltzes, filtered them through the alembic of his own musical personality and produced a series of nine works he called Soirées de Vienne, or Valse-Caprices, which he published in 1852. Liszt borrowed a total of 35 dances from seven different waltz sets and used anywhere from one to seven waltzes for each Soirée. In No.7 he used three, all from D.783, which we heard in Schubert’s original form prior to intermission. No. 5 uses just two waltzes, yet it is, at about ten minutes in length, one of the longest of the Soirées. The sixth is by far the most popular and the only one in a minor key. It features a sturdy opening theme, echt Viennese lilt and numerous passages of scintillating filigree decorating Schubert’s charming melodic lines.
Pianist Leslie Howard, who has recorded Liszt’s entire output for solo piano, notes that Schubert’s waltzes “contain a wealth of delightful music which, as Liszt perceived from the beginning with his customary astuteness, requires rescuing and assorting with discreet habiliments for public use. Liszt concocted continuous suites from selected dances, often making a better point than Schubert did of the sheer originality of them by the use of contrasting tonality, and from time to time allowing himself the occasional variation, introduction, interlude or coda.”
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C sharp minor
The original solo piano version of the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, by far the most popular of Liszt’s nineteen rhapsodies, dates from 1847. Since then, almost countless arrangements, rearrangements and disarrangements have appeared for everything from simplified piano reductions to full orchestra, and in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to feature films (100 Men and a Girl). Liszt explained the title as follows: “By using the word ‘rhapsody,’ my intention is to indicate the fantastic-epic nature which I believe this music to possess. Each of these pieces seems to me to resemble part of a series of poems which all express national fervor. … [The rhapsodies] have their origins in the proud and warlike ardor and the profound grief which gypsy music can depict so well.”
Structurally, the rhapsodies are free in form, the overall shaping forces generally defined by areas of contrast and overall gathering momentum. Like many of them, No. 2 begins with a slow introduction leading into an Andante mesto, which features a passionate theme. The second main part is the friska, which begins quietly gradually building in speed, texture and volume. Finally we hear the principal theme of the friska in the major mode – a sort of brilliant cancan-esque dance tune.
Program Notes by Robert Markow, 2013