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PROGRAM NOTES: AVI AVITAL


Avi Avital: Kedma

“To open the concert, I have chosen to perform a composition- improvisation of my own. Unlike a composer’s relationship to an instrument and to a musical form, the performer’s relationship to his instrument, as in this case, is expressed in a frequent dialogue to “get to know” each other better. This improvisation, in which I have modified the mandolin’s traditional tuning, is sub-divided into four parts; each part concentrating on a unique character and on one of the mandolin’s four pairs of strings. These four parts are then followed by a finale that reminds us of a kind of folk dance, where all of the strings and characters participate and reunite.

I have called the piece Kedma, which in Hebrew means “eastwards” or “towards the orient”. “Kedma” also contains the Hebrew root of other words with very different, apparently contradicting, meanings: kodem – before and kadimah – forward; kedem – antiquity and kidma – modernization, avant-garde.”  – Avi Avital

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita in D minor, BWV 1004

The practice of composing an ordered collection of rhythmically contrasting dance pieces in the same key for a single instrument arose in the 17th century. Published under the name of suite or partita, the genre normally comprised an allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue, to which Bach added a mighty chaconne to crown his Partita in D minor for violin solo, composed in 1720.

The problem of creating full harmonies on a single-line instrument is addressed by Bach in his use of the style brisé (“broken style”) typical of 17th-century French lute music: chordal progressions are “broken up” into irregular patterns of arpeggios and runs to create a continuous flow of sound for the performer to shape expressively in performance. The opening allemande is a classic example of this lute-inspired texture and its (re-)transcription for a plucked, stringed instrument such as the mandolin is therefore especially apt.

The courante lives up to its name in a series of flowing runs in triple metre while the deliberate and serious sarabande, with its grave emphasis on the 2nd beat of the bar, sets the stage for the jaunty and dancelike gigue (“jig”) that follows.

The chaconne which concludes the suite is one of the most celebrated works in the classical canon, having inspired transcriptions and adaptations by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Busoni and Segovia, among others. Exceeding in duration the length of all the preceding pieces combined, it is conceived in three parts, with a middle section in the major mode. It presents an evolving set of ever-more probing variations on the repeating bass line D-C#-D-Bb-G-A-D given in the first four measures. The majestic architecture and encyclopedic breadth of this work foreshadow the artistic heights that Bach was to scale in his Goldberg Variations and Well-Tempered Clavier.

Yasuo Kuwahara: Improvised Poem

The Japanese mandolinist Yasuo Kuwahara was a prolific composer for his chosen instrument who made important contributions to both the solo and ensemble repertoires of the mandolin. He enjoyed an international reputation for compositions ranging from lush romantic scores such as Song of Japanese Autumn (a favourite with mandolin ensembles both in Europe and the United States) to works in a more challenging modern idiom for solo mandolin.

Improvised Poem falls into the latter category. Its exploitation of the full sonic potential of the instrument in frenetic chordal tremolos and abrupt cross-accents, only occasionally interrupted by episodes of reflective calm, put it on even terrain with the boldest flights of fancy of the flamenco guitar.

Maurice Ravel: Vocalise-étude en forme de Habanera

Maurice Ravel was born in a small Basque village near the border with Spain and although thoroughly Parisian in his artistic sensibilities was constantly drawn to the rhythms and melodies of Spanish music.

In this vocal exercise, composed in 1907, we hear both Paris and Madrid. The pastel chord streams and scintillating flecks of harmony in the piano exemplify French impressionism at its height, while the dark melodic contours and biting ornamental inflections of the solo line evoke exotic locales of the Iberian peninsula. Pulsing beneath both is the slow, suave and lilting rhythm of the habañera.

Manuel de Falla: Siete Canciones Populares Españolas

de Falla’s most popular vocal work was composed in 1913 from authentic regional folk songs to which the composer added a piano part bristling with added-note chords, strumming rhythms and other effects richly suggestive of the sonorities of the Spanish guitar. The work represents a musical travelogue through the regions of Spain, each song offering a glimpse into the daily life and eternal concerns of the common people, beginning in Murcia from which the first two songs derive.

The first, El Paño moruno (The Moorish Cloth), gives a none-too-veiled warning to young girls to avoid the “stain” of an illicit love affair. The Seguidilla murciana is an intenseargument of insistent taunts and bitter banter.

The mood changes to one of bewildered sadness in the Asturiana from Northern Spain, the hypnotic figures in the piano evoking the numbness of unfathomable grief. By contrast, nothing could be livelier than the Aragonese Jota that follows, a whirling piece in triple time danced to the rhythmic clicking of castanets.

The Andalusian Nana is a lullaby, said to be the one that de Falla’s mother sang to him when he was an infant. A rocking rhythm is created in the piano by a syncopated accompaniment over a soothing, sleepy pedal point in the bass.

The whimsy of love-sickness fills the Canción, a rollicking tune known all over Spain. The set ends in the deeply flamenco-inflected Andalusian gypsy music of Polo, with its rich build-up of guitar sonorities in the piano part supporting the dark fury of its melismatic solo line.

Béla Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances

Transylvania held a particular fascination for Bartók, who visited the region several times in the years preceding the First World War to collect folk tunes from the local peasant population. Its very remoteness and primitive way of life, he believed, offered the opportunity to discover the authentic roots of an important indigenous musical tradition, so different from what passed for “gypsy” music in the salons of Budapest and Vienna.

His settings of these Romanian folk tunes were composed in 1915 for piano solo, and subsequently published in other instrumental arrangements in the following years. His modest but harmonically pungent accompaniments frame these haunting melodies in simple rhythmic garb while evoking the sonorities of the original village instruments on which they were played: the fiddle, shepherd’s flute and bagpipes.

The simple titles of the dances themselves give an idea of the kinds of choreography they were meant accompany. The opening Jocul cu bâtă, which Bartók originally heard played by two gypsy violinists, involves dancing with a stick or staff, while the following Brâul uses a sash or waistband as its visual prop.

A dark mood broods over the third piece, Pe loc, presumably danced “in one spot.” The recurring interval of an augmented second suggests its origin in regions south of Romania, perhaps the Middle East. The same interval pervades the melodic inflections of Buciumeana, a gypsy violin piece.

A more boisterous mood is evoked in the last two dances. Poarga Românească (Romanian polka) alternates 2⁄4 and 3⁄4 metres while the aptly named Fast Dance (Mărunțel) picks up the pace with a rhythmically intense accompaniment supporting the melodic twists and turns of the gypsy violin above.

Program notes by Donald Gislason, 2013.

NELSON MANDELA’S CLASSICAL PIANIST

 

The world is a poorer place for Nelson Mandela’s passing. Over the last few days I have read many articles about him and about my native South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. One item, in particular, surprised me. The piece below, by British journalist Norman Lebrecht, was posted on his daily blog ‘Slipped Disc’:

“One of Mandela’s close friends in the 1950s was the Welsh-born pianist Harold Rubens, who moved to South Africa when his prodigy career dried up (he is pictured below as a boy, playing for George Bernard Shaw).

A brother of the novelist Bernice Rubens and the hero of her novel, Madame Sousatzka, Harold became active in anti-apartheid activities. His home became a secret meeting place for Mandela and other leaders of the resistance. When confidential plans were discussed, Harold would sit at the piano and hammer out ffffs so the conversation could not be picked up on secret service microphones.

Albie Sachs recalled: ‘We were meeting in the underground in their cottage in Newlands. We would hear him practising the fourth Beethoven piano concerto, going over it and over and over again while we were doing our secret planning in the room next door. Happily the music was very loud, and if there were any bugs, all the security police would hear would be Beethoven and not us planning resistance to apartheid. Beethoven would have been happy. Such complex and mixed-up feelings in this simple building.’

Harold refused to play before segregated audiences. He returned to London in 1963, taught at the Royal Academy and died in 2010.  He’ll be playing G-major for Nelson right now, bless them.”

Harold Rubens

Harold Rubens performing for George Bernard Shaw

Harold Rubens was a professor of piano at the College of Music in Cape Town, which was the music faculty of the University of Cape Town. I was a pupil of his from 1957 to 1961. To describe Harold Rubens as a colourful individual would be an understatement! He was very short and had a complicated personality. Actually, he terrified the living daylights out of me. I would stand outside the door to his studio with butterflies in my stomach!

We all knew that Professor Rubens was involved in anti-apartheid activities, but most of the people I knew were. I don’t think that any of us realized that he was engaged in the activity that Mr. Lebrecht has written about. I called two of my good friends who were at the college with me over the weekend and neither of them knew about this. And to see Harold Rubens playing for George Bernard Shaw makes me feel ancient!!

Leila Getz

 

Program notes: Kuok-Wai Lio

Leoš Janáček: In the Mists

Janáček’s four-movement piano cycle from 1912 presents us with intimate, personal and emotionally immediate music that stands stylistically on the border between eastern and western Europe. Its sound world is that of the fiddles and cimbalom (hammered dulcimer) of Moravian folk music. Equally folk-like is its use of small melodic fragments, repeated and transformed in various ways. In the composer’s use of harmonic colour, however, there is more than a mist of French impressionism, à la Debussy, but an impressionism as heard through Czech ears.

The Andante sets the tone of introspection with its dreamlike repetitions of a tonally ambivalent 5-note melody, set against non-committal harmonies in the left-hand ostinato.  A contrasting middle section brings in a less troubled chorale melody that alternates with, and then struggles against, a cascade of cimbalom-like runs, before the nostalgic return of its melancholy opening theme.

The varied repetition of a four-note motive dominates the many contrasting sections of the Adagio, as a noble but halting melody engages in conversation with rhythmically and melodically transformed versions of itself.

The Andantino is similarly fixated on a single idea, presenting the gracious opening phrase in a number of different keys until it is interrupted by an impetuous development of its accompaniment figure, and then ends exactly as it begins.

The fourth movement, Presto, with its many changes of meter, is reminiscent of the rhapsodic improvisational style of the gypsy violin. The cimbalom of Moravian folk music can be heard most clearly in the thrumming drones of the left-hand accompaniment and in the occasional washes of metallic tone colour in the right hand.


Franz Schubert: Four Impromptus, D. 935 (Op. 142)

Schubert wrote these four works, along with another group of four impromptus (D. 899/Op. 90) in 1827. Only two were published in the short period Schubert still had to live. The four that finally appeared as Op. 142 were published in 1838 by Diabelli, who entitled these pieces “Impromptus.” 

The word “impromptu” belies the true construction of the works, for they are not improvisations at all, nor are they spur of the moment conceptions. Rather, the word is intended to evoke the idea that the music originated in a casual manner, and that it was born of poetic fantasy in the composer’s mind. Each of the impromptus explores a particular mood of tonal poetry, that mood being defined at the outset.

The somewhat elusive structure of the first impromptu combines elements of sonata and rondo. There is a wide range of moods, from the sombre melancholy of the opening to some highly excitable passages later on. Schubert’s characteristic fluctuations between major and minor tonalities are also much in evidence.

The second is designed as a simple Minuet and Trio. The music strongly recalls the mood, tempo, melodic outline and harmonic progressions of the opening of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 26 in the same key (A flat major). 

The third impromptu is a theme with five variations. Schubert borrowed this wonderfully idyllic, ingratiating theme from his incidental music to the play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern, where it introduces the scene of Rosamunde tending her flocks in Act IV. He also used a close variant of it in his String Quartet in A minor (D. 804).

The final impromptu, with its slightly ironic air, delights principally through rhythmic playfulness, a dancelike spirit and brilliant passage work. Towards the end, a note of veiled mystery creeps in, but this resolves into a furious rush to the finish, culminating in a swoop down to the lowest note (F) on Schubert’s piano.


Robert Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

The Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David) dates from 1837, when the composer was 27. In its first edition, it was published with the title “Florestan and Eusebius,” referring to the two fictional characters, members of the “League of David”, who are actually only opposing facets of Schumann’s alter ego, the former representing his extroverted, exuberant side, the latter his quiet, meditative side. The “Davidsbund” itself, purely a product of Schumannn’s fertile romantic imagination but fashioned after the Old Testament figure, represented the proud, musical pioneers who went forth to do battle (with pens and notes, not swords and slingshots) against philistines and ultra-conservative composers of the day. All but number 16 bear an initial at the end, indicating whether it was inspired by Florestan, Eusebius or the two together.

The spirit of the dance infuses the entire eighteen-piece set in one way or another. Mazurka, waltz, polka, tarantella, Ländler, and other dance forms are either obviously or subtly transformed in these mood pieces, which are by turns joyous, eccentric, reflective, lively, agitated, and whimsical. The opening gesture, which is used as a sort of motto throughout, comes from a mazurka by Schumann’s fiancée, Clara Wieck. 

The pianist-scholar Charles Rosen offers this insightful observation about the music: “The meaning of the Davidsbündlertänze cannot be put into words, of course, but it comes closer to words than any other piece of music that I know. With its combination of memory and nostalgia, humour and willfulness… the work seems to hint at something hidden within it, intended for us to guess at and not to find. It is, in any case, the reticent Eusebius that has the last word.”

Program notes by Donald Gislason & Robert Markow, 2013.

Program notes: Benedetto Lupo


Johannes Brahms: Three Intermezzi, Op. 117

The three Intermezzi Op.117 are, together with the piano pieces of Op. 116, 118 and 119, collectively the last Brahms wrote for solo piano, and are among his very last compositions. Only three more opus numbers followed, and they involved the keyboard as well. In a way, it was entirely fitting that Brahms drew the curtains on his career with music for this instrument. He had been an outstanding pianist himself since his teens. His earliest surviving work published under his own name – the Scherzo in E-flat Minor, Op. 4, written when he was eighteen – was a piano piece, and Brahms continued to write for the instrument throughout his life.

Op. 117 dates from 1892. The first is prefaced by words from a Scottish lullaby, “Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament,” which begins: “Baloo, my babe, lie still and sleep; It grieves me sore to see thee weep.” Brahms puts the melody in an inner voice surrounded by a gently rocking accompaniment. The central section (all three Intermezzi are in three-part form) moves from E flat major to E flat minor, taking the listener to even more remote regions of sombre reflection. The second Intermezzo is a study on a recurring, descending two-note motif embedded in garlands of accompanying arpeggios. The mood is wistful, pensive, “composed in Brahms’s rainy-weather mood” (Charles Burr). If the second was Brahms in his “rainy-weather mood,” the third “is surely Brahms at his bluest. … In the middle part, a kind of fearful cheerfulness is attempted, but the brave attempt is doomed.” Brahms called this Intermezzo “the lullaby of all my griefs.”

 

Brahms: Seven Fantasies, Op. 116

The titles of the seven pieces in Op.116, “Intermezzo” and “Capriccio,” are not especially revealing in themselves of any unique properties, though the Intermezzos tend to project a reflective, late autumnal quality in music of quiet resignation and tender sentiments, while the Capriccios are energetic and even passionate. Each is a unique and distinct creation, yet together they constitute a unit greater than the sum of their parts. The entire set opens and closes with a vigorous Capriccio in D minor. Within this framework are found four Intermezzos and another Capriccio, all in keys closely related to D minor and to each other. Malcolm MacDonald, in his monograph on the composer, even makes a case for Op. 116 as a multi-movement sonata, with No. 3 as a scherzo and Nos. 4-6 as the slow movement in E major with a central contrasting E minor section. The motivic unity is striking: the three Capriccios all feature melodic chains of descending thirds, a quality found more discreetly in the Intermezzos as well.

Each piece is in three-part form, with a contrasting central section and with a return of the opening material sometimes considerably modified and, in a few cases, much abridged. Within these general outlines, Brahms lets his poetic imagination roam freely as he develops short, epigrammatic or enigmatic musical cells in some of his most personal and intimate compositions. Simplicity and concentration are the keynotes. Lionel Salter stated the case perfectly when he wrote: “Their brevity only serves to heighten the intensity of their feeling. It is as if the composer, at the end of his life, had compressed the essence of his musical and emotional thoughts into these miniatures.”

 

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 37 (Grande Sonate)

Excepting The Seasons, rarely does any of Tchaikovsky’s solo piano music turn up on recitals, and few pianists have championed the sonata on today’s program. Yet here we have a work written on a grand scale that is laden with brilliant effects, passionate writing, Tchaikovskian melancholy and orchestrally- conceived sonorities. There are plenty of critics today who heap opprobrium on the sonata, but such was also the case for the same composer’s first piano concerto, which went on to become the world’s most popular work of its kind. A persuasive performance of the Grande Sonate inevitably leaves the audience wondering why this work is not played more often.

The sonata bears no official number, as it is really the only completed work in this genre Tchaikovsky acknowledged in his lifetime. He began a Sonata in F minor in 1863 while still a student in St. Petersburg (its single movement has been completed by pianist Leslie Howard), and finished one in C sharp minor two years later, but the latter was not published until after his death, when it was assigned the misleading opus number 80, even though the music antedates his Op. 1. It is sometimes referred to as “Sonata No. 1” today. The G major sonata was composed in the same year (1878) as the Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto. It was dedicated to the German pianist Karl Klindworth, but the highly successful first performance went to Nicolai Rubinstein in Moscow on November 2 1879.

The opening fully justifies the appellation Grande Sonate in its evocation of processional pomp and splendour. During the course of this highly energetic sonata-form movement Tchaikovsky incorporates three well-contrasted subjects. The development section is unusually dramatic and elaborate, the textures at times approaching orchestral density.

The slow movement, like that of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, is based more on harmony than on melody. Nevertheless, it is imbued with typically Tchaikovskian melancholy in the outer sections, and with inspired lyricism in its central episode.

The Scherzo departs from the standard model in its unusual metre of 6/16, which involves two sets of triplets per bar. Many listeners and commentators find this the most interesting movement of the sonata, one marked by sparkling brilliance, intriguing cross rhythms and exquisite delicacy.

No fewer than four themes are incorporated into the rondo-finale. Most memorable are the opening refrain and the sweeping melody that sounds for all the world like an operatic tenor pouring his heart out to his lover.

 

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Vilde Frang

 

Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Sonata in F major

Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto is such an established pillar of the standard repertory that it comes as a surprise to learn that this composer also wrote three sonatas for the instrument, although these are as obscure as the concerto is popular. The first, in F major, dates from 1820 when the composer was still a lad of eleven; the second, in F minor, was written five years later and published as Op. 4; and the third is a work of Mendelssohn’s maturity, written in 1838, but not published during the composer’s lifetime. This sonata was discovered only in 1953 by Yehudi Menuhin, who also introduced audiences to Mendelssohn’s early Violin Concerto in D minor. Of the sonata, Menuhin wrote that it “has the chivalrous romantic quality of the age that produced Schumann, the elegance and lightness of touch of the age inherited from Mozart, and in addition the perfect formal presentation which Mendelssohn himself drew from Bach.”

The sonata opens with a bold, striding subject, almost Schumannesque in its vigor, first for the piano alone, then for the violin accompanied by a torrent of arpeggios in the piano. The tightly-knit structure of this sonata soon becomes apparent as the first theme dissolves into the second, whose character is different (suavely lyrical) but whose rhythmic profile is based on that of the opening subject. The slow movement features music of ravishing sweetness, and the last scampers along with characteristic Mendelssohnian fleetness and lightness of touch.

 

Gabriel Fauré: Violin Sonata no. 1 in A major, Op. 13

Gabriel Fauré was basically a lyricist who excelled in small, intimate forms: piano pieces, chamber music, works for small chorus, and songs. In the larger forms he left a famous Requiem and two rarely-heard operas, Prométhée and Pénélope. The sonata we hear this afternoon, composed in 1876 and lasting nearly half an hour, is actually one of his largest pieces.

Fauré himself said that his music exemplified “the eminently French qualities of taste, clarity and sense of proportion.” He hoped to express “the taste for clear thought, purity of form and sobriety.” To these qualities we might add meticulous workmanship, elegance and refinement, for in all these respects his Violin Sonata Op. 13 certainly conforms.

“Schumannesque” is often used to describe the opening movement, not only for the music’s impassioned urgency, but for its sophisticated rhythmic layering, pervasive use of syncopation, and intricate mingling of the voices. The second movement, a barcarolle in D minor, offers some much needed relief. The third movement is a scherzo in all but name: stylish, witty, brittle, epigrammatic, and crackling with electricity are just a few of the descriptions that have been applied to this undeniably appealing music. The finale is another sonata-form movement with an unorthodox sequence of keys (again the Schumann influence).

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Sonata in A major, K. 305 (K. 293d)

Aside from the symphony, Mozart wrote more violin sonatas than any other type of music. More than forty sonatas survive, and they were written in every period of Mozart’s life, starting at age of six. Nearly half of the early sonatas are essentially keyboard sonatas with violin accompaniment, in which the violin merely doubles the melodic lines and adds incidental imitation and dispensable figuration. But beginning with the so-called “Palatinate” (or “Palatine”) Sonatas (K. 296 and K. 301-306), written in Paris during the first half of 1778, Mozart gave the violin a significantly greater role to play, drawing the two instruments closer to the equal partnership found in the late sonatas. The designation Palatinate refers to the dedicatee, Maria Elisabeth, wife of Carl Theodor, Elector of the Palatinate (a region in western Germany adjoining France).

Brilliance, energy and much unison writing mark the first movement, whose exuberance is relieved only during the gentle second theme. It is in standard sonata form, with a short but harmonically adventurous development section. The second movement is a theme and variations set. The theme is, as violinist Abram Loft puts it, “all melting lyricism and grace.” The first of the six variations is for piano alone, the second involves many ornamental touches from the violin, the third consists of flowing triplets traded back and forth between the two instruments, the fourth has the violin playing a simple melodic line while the piano provides a luxuriant underlay, the fifth is in the minor mode, and the sixth brings the sonata to a joyous conclusion.

 

Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Sonata no. 2 in D major, Op. 94a

September 1942 found Prokofiev in the far-off, exotic Central Asian city of Alma-Ata, where he was working with Sergei Eisenstein on the film Ivan the Terrible. Having a fair bit of free time on his hands, Prokofiev decided to use it to write something quite different from the film score he was preparing. With memories of the great French flutist Georges Barrère in his mind from his Paris years (1922-1932), Prokofiev sketched out a sonata for flute and piano, on which he put the finishing touches upon returning to Moscow the following year. The first performance was given in December by the flutist Nikolai Charkovsky and accompanied by Sviatoslav Richter. But scarcely anyone else seemed interested in the work, so when David Oistrakh suggested that Prokofiev turn it into a violin sonata, the composer eagerly agreed. In this form, the work bears opus number 94a (or 94bis). The first performance of the Violin Sonata took place on June 17, 1944, played by Oistrakh and Lev Oborin. (Prokofiev’s other violin sonata, No. 1, was begun in 1938 but not completed until 1946, well after the “second” sonata.

Prokofiev said he “wanted to write the sonata in a gentle, flowing classical style.” These qualities are immediately evident in the first movement, both of the principal themes are lyrical and eloquent. The Scherzo, in A minor, bubbles over with witty, energetic writing in the form of flying leaps, rapid register changes and strongly marked rhythms, while the brief, expressive slow movement possesses, in critic Alan Rich’s words, “the tenderness of a Mozartian andante.” The Finale goes through several changes of mood and tempo and, in the concluding pages, it hurtles along with a white-heat intensity to a thrilling close.

 

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Beatrice Rana

 

Robert Schumann: Abegg Variations, Op. 1

Schumann’s Abegg Variations first appeared in November of 1831, but Schumann had completed it more than a year earlier, shortly after his twentieth birthday and before he had made the commitment to a life of music (he was still studying law in Heidelberg at the time).  It is no fumbling attempt, but rather an assured, individual work from a composer who already knows piano technique intimately.

“Abegg” was the surname of a young lady, Meta Abegg, Schumann had met at a ball in Mannheim. He dedicated his Op. 1 to “Pauline, Countess of Abegg,” though both “Pauline” and “Countess” were fictitious. Nor did Schumann have any amorous intent, as Meta was already in love with someone else. The French appellation was in deference to Paris as the center of pianistic virtuosity at the time, and the theme-and-variations form was the most popular formula for demonstrating this virtuosity. Themes were usually drawn from popular operatic numbers of the day (Rossini, Bellini, Auber, etc.), but Schumann broke with convention and invented his own. Actually, it is more of a fragment than a theme, which, in fact, spell the name ABEGG.

The work consists of an introduction, in which the five-note motif is spun out both forwards and backwards over four variations, including a quiet, reflective Cantabile, and a Finale alla fantasia. Biographer Eric Jensen notes that “it is clear that Schumann intended the work to be comparatively conventional, entertaining, and pleasing – goals that, as time passed, increasingly he abandoned.” However, the music is anything but easy to play, and cannot have been intended for amateurs to fool around with at home.

 

Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13

To Schumann, the piano was the instrument through which he confided his most intimate thoughts, and was his most personal medium of artistic expression, so it comes as no surprise to learn that the Symphonic Etudes are intimately connected to the composer’s personal life.

Out of his romantically fertile imagination, Schumann created a gallery of fictional characters known as the Davidsbund (band of David), two of whom are opposing facets of Schumann’s alter ego: Florestan, representing his extroverted, exuberant side; Eusebius his quiet, meditative side. Davidsbund were the proud musical pioneers who went forth to do battle (with pens and notes, not swords and slingshots) against philistines and ultra-conservative composers of the day. Florestan and Eusebius are deeply bound up in the world of the Symphonic Etudes. Among the titles Schumann tried out before settling on the present one are Etuden im Orchestercharakter von Florestan und Eusebius and Davidsbündler Etudes.

The opening gesture, a full-fledged theme, forms an integral part of the composition and serves as the basis of a series of variations. The number of variations, the title of the set and their ordering went through numerous changes in the course of the nineteenth century, extending to well after the composer’s death. In the form most commonly encountered today, the Études symphoniques (Schumann used the French title for the first published edition of 1837), there are twelve numbers following presentation of the dirge-like theme in C sharp minor. Originally Schumann wrote six more as well, but withdrew them, mostly due to difficulties in arranging a proper sequence of so many variations in the same key and for the most part of similar character. Five of these “extra” variations were salvaged by Brahms and published as a supplement in 1873.

Most of the Etudes (or studies) are also variations, although very freely fashioned out of the original theme. The “symphonic” aspect of this music refers to the organic growth and extensive working out of the theme as well as to the orchestral textures, colors, sonorities and effects suggested or realized.

 

Frédéric Chopin: 24 Preludes, Op. 28

Aside from Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, Chopin’s Preludes (1838) are surely the most famous group of pieces conceived as an orderly traversal of the 24 major and minor keys. (There also exists a solitary additional Prelude, Op. 45.) Other composers have also essayed the procedure, including Alkan, Bentzon, Busoni, Hummel, Kabalevsky, Kalkbrenner, Scriabin and Shostakovich. But those of Bach and Chopin remain by far the best known.

The Bach connection is borne out in biographer James Huneker’s remark that Chopin was “one of the most daring harmonists since Bach.” Franz Liszt, always one to recognize the bold innovations of genius, praised the Preludes: “This composition is of a kind by itself … poetic preludes, analogous to those of a contemporary poet [Lamartine], which soothe the soul with golden dreams and raise it to ideal regions. Admirable in their diversity, they reveal a labor and knowledge that can be appreciated only by careful study. Everything is full of spontaneity, élan, bounce. They have the free and great features that characterize the works of genius.”

Some people are perplexed by the title “prelude” in view of the fact that nothing follows. Reinhard Schulz’s cogent explanation should clarify the point: “The purpose of a prelude has always been to establish the mood of something which is to follow, anticipating its basic characteristics. Each of Chopin’s Preludes may be understood as containing the essence of an entire world of feelings – it is left to the receptive listener to fill in the detailed picture in his mind.”

The Preludes are arranged in pairs of major and minor keys and ascend in intervals of the fifth. Hence: C major, A minor (no sharps or flats); G major, E minor (1 sharp); D major, B minor (2 sharps), etc., through six sharps, then 6 flats, 5 flats, and so on down to 1 flat. Each of these 24 cameos, these “moods in miniature,” inhabits a private world of its own, from the feverish energy of the first to the noble pathos of the final piece. As Robert Schumann said of them, “may each person search for what suits him; may only Philistines stay away!”

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

PROGRAM NOTES: SITKOVETSKY TRIO

 

Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio no. 3 in C minor, Op. 101

This is the last work Brahms wrote for the piano trio. It is a magnificent work in every respect, from the sharply etched melodies to the concision and masterly manner in which they are handled. It is also one of Brahms’s most compact scores, tightly and concisely argued using a minimum of melodic substance developed with maximum efficiency. Brahms seemed to reserve C minor for some of his weightiest, most dramatic and gravely serious works – the First Symphony, the First String Quartet and the Third Piano Quartet come to mind. The first performances – in Hofstetten and Budapest that year – were private ones. The Trio’s official public premiere took place on February 26, 1887 in Vienna with members of the Heckmann Quartet and Brahms at the piano.

The very opening is sufficient to arrest the listener’s attention and hold it for the duration of the movement: a bold, even fierce gesture that biographer Malcolm MacDonald refers to as “explosive wrath.” This first subject consists of several elements, including a tautly rhythmic figure for the three instruments in unison. The second theme, though warmly lyrical, brings no relaxation of the tension and momentum.

The second movement, also in C minor, is mysterious, almost wraithlike, yet also of great delicacy. MacDonald calls it “a profoundly uneasy movement of grey half-lights, rapid stealthy motion, and suppressed sadness.” The central episode changes to block chords for the piano and pizzicato for the strings, but the mood remains subdued. The dynamic level rarely rises above piano.

The third movement’s main features are a relaxed mood of tenderness and natural simplicity with an antiphonal treatment of piano and strings and an irregular metre of 7/4. The key is now C major rather than C minor. For the central section the music moves into another rare metre, 15/8 (five equal groups of triplets).

The sonata-form finale returns to C minor and to the spirit of grim determination that dominated the first. As in the monumental First Symphony, drama and fury give way to radiant warmth, and C minor yields to C major in the final pages.

 

Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trio no. 2 in C minor, Op. 66

Six years after writing his first piano trio (1839), Mendelssohn produced a second. It was first performed on December 20, 1845 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where Mendelssohn was serving as conductor of its famous orchestra. The musicians were the orchestra’s concertmaster Ferdinand David, cellist Franz Karl Witmann and the composer as pianist.

The first movement, in perfectly constructed sonata-form, opens with a restless, flowing subject for the piano, soon joined by the strings. The second subject is a glorious, life-affirming theme in E flat major. The exposition is not repeated, perhaps since the development section is so extensive and does such a thorough job of working out both themes with great inventiveness.

The slow movement offers a good measure of consolation after the relentless pace and intensity of the first. It is a three-part structure, with the outer ones gently songlike and set to the pervasive rhythmic pattern of short-long, short-long. The central section has a more flowing quality and is sustained by the piano’s continuous triplet figures.

The Scherzo flies by in a blizzard of notes. It is further characterized by much imitative writing and by a vaguely Hungarian gypsy flavor.

In its powerful sonorities, massive piano chords, extremes of range, seriousness of purpose and overall intensity, the finale seems to speak more of Brahms than of Mendelssohn. Another feature of this movement is the incorporation of a chorale-like theme that has had scholars searching intently for its German-Lutheran origin – in vain. The Trio concludes with an extensive, exuberant coda in C major that is nearly symphonic is scope.

 

Franz Schubert: Piano Trio no. 2 in E flat major, Op. 100 (D. 929)

If the public today holds a slight preference for the first of Schubert’s two piano trios, the one in B flat major, this is countered by Schubert’s own preference for the other, in E flat. Both reflect the composer’s study of similar works by Mozart and Beethoven in their refined compositional technique and equal partnership of three instruments. The first performance was given on the day after Christmas, 1827 at the Musikverein in Vienna. Exactly three months later, in the same hall, Schubert performed the piano part at the only public concert he ever gave. The concert was an artistic and financial success, but the event was never repeated.

Lasting about forty minutes in performance, the E flat Trio is longer than any Schubert symphony except the Great C major. Although it does not contain as many beguiling themes as does the B flat Trio, it has even fuller, almost symphonic textures with greater brilliance and more breadth to the development sections.

The first movement is constructed from four thematic ideas. The first of these, memorable as it is, and boldly stated in the opening bars, turns out to be the one Schubert employs the least, while the last of them is the one he exploits to the fullest. The melancholy cast of the slow movement derives from a Swedish ballad Schubert presumably borrowed after hearing a tenor sing it. The Scherzo is a canon, with close imitation between piano and strings, while its central Trio section takes on the quality of a waltz. The finale breathes an air of carefree charm and lightness, at least initially. The second theme offers marked contrast of mood, metre and key. The movement develops into one of the longest Schubert ever wrote, over a thousand measures in the original version, but even in reduced form, as commonly played today, it runs to nearly fifteen minutes. Schumann’s description of Schubert’s final symphony as being “of heavenly length” can again be invoked for the finale of the E flat trio.

 

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Cavorting at the Cliburn

A letter from Leila Getz

I returned last Monday from a trip to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas with a prize winner and a cold!

It has been twenty years since I’ve been to a Cliburn Competition and have decided that I’m not waiting another twenty years. The next competition is in four years and I am planning on staying young and vigorous so that I can return….possibly with a group of interested music lovers from Vancouver (but more about that later).

I knew right from my arrival at YVR that I was going to have a great time; simply because the woman two ahead of me in the lineup to go through US Immigration had a companion bulldog. The dog was dressed in a wetsuit (which was a little tight) and she had obviously given the dog some calming medication for the flight (as it was accompanying her in the cabin).  As you know, in these lineups you stand, you move a few steps, you stand, you move. Well, each time she stood still the dog collapsed in a heap and fell asleep and each time she moved she had to drag the poor thing up, so that it could take three steps forward and collapse again.

This dog put a smile on everyone’s faces, including US Immigration officers. Everyone was in such a good mood, that I am thinking seriously about taking my dog with me when I travel in future.

Checking in to the hotel in Fort Worth was my next little adventure. There was a woman standing ahead of me, and upon closer examination I decided that she was very interesting and worth getting to know. I loved the way she was dressed (short grey hair like mine) and really kinky glasses and earrings.  When she turned around I said “I want your glasses” and she said “oh, I’ll give you the name of the store in Seattle”.  It turned out that my new friend, Widbey, was from Portland, where she is on the Board of the Portland International Piano Series, and she had brought a group of 18 subscribers to the competition.

She had arranged all the travel, tickets, museum outings and everything. Before we parted company she promised to send me all her notes on how to go about planning a trip like this for a group, and she did so just as soon as she got home.  On the free day between the semi- finals and the finals I was lucky enough to join her group on a special curated tour of the 10- year -old Museum of Modern Art, designed by Tadeo Ando, which houses the most incredible collection. All the art is post 1945. The building is magnificent and the collection is a dream. The most impressive thing about the experience was that because the museum has the luxury of space the art is not crowded and it’s a very easy gallery to go through without feeling overwhelmed. Fort Worth is renowned for its wonderful art museums. There is also the fabulous Kimbell Museum which is just across the road from the Modern Art Museum. There are other museums in the neighbourhood as well.  Oh, would that we could do this in Vancouver.

My other lucky perk was that my hotel room at the Worthington was just two doors away from the Cliburn Hospitality Suite. So, apart from having fun with other Cliburn guests in the hospitality suite, I could carry as much food and drink as I could back to my room when I left!

Now to the important stuff!  First of all, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to hear the twelve semifinalists play two full recitals, a piano quintet of their choice with the Brentano Quartet, and two concerti with the Fort Worth Symphony under Leonard Slatkin, who was an amazingly sympathetic and fabulous conductor.  The level of piano playing was extraordinarily high. And at that level it’s simply a matter of which ones have the magic and which don’t.  Ultimately, it’s that indescribable quality that separates the true artists from the gifted.

Beatrice Rana, right, 20, of Italy, reacts with her mother, Maria Solazzo, left, after winning the silver medal, 2nd place, in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, USA on Sunday, June 9 2013. (Photo by Carolyn Cruz/ The Cliburn)

Beatrice Rana, right, 20, of Italy, reacts with her mother, Maria Solazzo, left, after winning the silver medal in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, USA on Sunday, June 9 2013. (Photo by Carolyn Cruz/ The Cliburn)

It was clear to me right from the semifinals that Beatrice Rana was going to be at the top. She may only be 20 years old, but she plays with such maturity and innate musicianship, and her sound at the piano can only be described as ravishing.  Her Chopin Preludes were heart-stopping.  So was her performance of the Prokofiev 2nd Piano Concerto.  Her power and her intensity come from somewhere deep within. And her smile lights up the room.  Then, there was a contestant who didn’t make it from the semi-finals to the finals ( many of us were most disappointed by that)…a young Australian, Jayson Gillham who I think will have a career in spite of not reaching the finals.  His performance of the Schumann Quintet with the Brentano Quartet was my favourite chamber music performance of all.  Aside from his talent, he has a wonderful stage manner. He bounds on to the stage with such joy and radiance. He sits beautifully at the keyboard and delivers.

Towards the end of the finals I am proud to say that I predicted the outcome correctly.  The Gold Medal Winner, Ukrainian pianist, Vadym Kholodenko, also possessed the magic I was looking for. In the final round he played an electrifying Prokofiev 3rd concerto, and in his final recital he played  Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes…. a performance which was breathtaking.   As many of you may know, I am not a Liszt fan and by the time it was over I felt like a battered woman….nonetheless, the audience (including me) was transfixed.

I had the privilege of meeting a number of the jury members. My particular thrill was meeting Arie Vardi, a legendary teacher who teaches in both Tel Aviv and Hanover. He is the Chairman of the Jury of the Artur Rubinstein Competition in Israel.  He was the teacher of Yefim Bronfman and a host of other marvelous young pianists who have appeared (and will appear in the future) on the VRS’ Next Generation Series. Mr. Vardi was very excited because Boris Giltburg, an ex – student of his, and a pianist who graced our stage in Vancouver a couple of years ago, had just won First Prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels.  Arie Vardi is currently Beatrice Rana’s teacher (her previous teacher was Benedetto Lupo whom you will also hear on our series next season).  I attended a Master Class given by Mr. Vardi and it was one of the great experiences of my life. What a knowledge and imagination he has. He must be an extraordinarily inspiring teacher.  He was extremely complimentary about the VRS, saying that we have one of the best series he’s seen anywhere and how extraordinary it is that we find these young artists before anyone else does.  I felt 10 feet tall.

At the helm of the Cliburn is Jacques Marquis who recently came from Montreal to take over in Texas. A French-Canadian accent really stands out in Texas!  The competition is extremely well run, with seminars, master-classes, free lunch-hour concerts, receptions. I believe there are 1,200 volunteers!

I had the privilege of participating in a panel on the development of young artists’ careers.  I met presenters whom I know from other parts of America and Canada, and some I didn’t know previously.

As I sat in the same seat right throughout the competition I made friends with audience members around me.  The gentleman sitting behind me in the hall criticized me one evening when I came in wearing the same earrings as the night before!  Needless to say, he didn’t get away with it.

Audiences connect people in wonderful ways.  It’s just not the same as sitting at home in your living room.  People from all backgrounds come together to share a common passion and the vibrations are palpable. Even if the parking is a hassle!  Go for live…it’s the best way!

And, wouldn’t it be nice to take a group of subscribers to the next Van Cliburn in 2017?

Shall we make a plan?

Leila

P.S.  Don’t miss BEATRICE RANA. She opens our Paul and Edwina Heller Next Generation Series at the Playhouse on Sunday, September 29 at 3pm.

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Program Notes: Simon Trpčeski

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

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.

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