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VRSchubert- Day 4: Hometown boy

The house in which Schubert was born, today Nussdorfer Strasse 54, in the 9th district of Vienna.

Unlike any of the major composers who worked in Vienna during the Classical and Romantic periods, Schubert was the only one actually born in this musical capital. Joseph Haydn was born in  Rohrau, Austria. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn.

Franz Peter Schubert was born on January 31st, 1797. His father was Franz Theodor Schubert, the son of a Moravian peasant, was a parish schoolmaster, and his mother, Elisabeth (Vietz), was the daughter of a Silesian master locksmith, and had also been a housemaid for a Viennese family prior to her marriage. While Franz Sr. was not a musician of fame nor had he had formal training, he provided Schubert with rudimentary musical teachings.


Spread the word and save: if you re-tweet or re-post any of our VRSchubert posts, you have the opportunity to save 25% on regularly priced tickets*. Call our box office to reserve your tickets: 604-602-0363.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Small print: discount on A, B, C, D price section not to be combined with other offers.
 

VRSchubert-Day 3: Graphic Schubert

 

Bringing Schubert closer to young readers, Dutch author and artist Jeroen Janssen and Pieter van Oudheusden are preparing to publish a graphic novel about the last days of Franz Schubert’s life.

Fighting a losing battle against death, Schubert’s final days are haunted by the ghosts of his past, including Beethoven, his family, and his many secret and hopeless loves. In the feverish brain of a dying man, Schubert’s world has turned into a chain of nightmares, each bearing the title of one of his songs and containing fragments of their lyrics.

About The Last Days of Franz Schubert, the author writes, “[this is] a visual song cycle around the major themes of his life, playfully interpreted from a modern point of view – sometimes willfully anachronistic, but always inspired by the love for the man and his music.”

On a special Facebook page, the author shares numerous sketches for the upcoming book.


Spread the word and save: if you re-tweet or re-post any of our VRSchubert posts, you have the opportunity to save 25% on regularly priced tickets*. Call our box office to reserve your tickets: 604-602-0363.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

VRSchubert- Day 2: the Shape of Schubert

 

Franz Schubert

Chubby and short at only 5 foot one inch, Franz Schubert had to endure the nickname “Schwammerl” or mushroom by his friends.

Perhaps these attributes are the reasons for a life unlucky in love, but they are certainly not apparent in the youthful, charmingly handsome 16 year old seen in this portrait by Kupelweiser.


Spread the word and save: if you re-tweet or re-post any of our VRSchubert posts, you have the opportunity to save 25% on regularly priced tickets*. Call our box office to reserve your tickets: 604-602-0363.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/tag/vrschubert/.

VRSchubert- Day 1: Lewis on Schubert

 

In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and this celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/tag/vrschubert/.


Paul Lewis has been described by Gramophone Magazine as “arguably the finest Schubert interpreter of his generation.” Modest as he is, here is the artist’s perspective on performing music by Franz Schubert:

“This is the music I love, and my hope is that the people who come and hear it can love it too. That the experience will be long-lasting – and if it is, it will be because of Schubert.” – Paul Lewis

Spread the word and save: if you re-tweet or re-post any of our VRSchubert posts, you have the opportunity to save 25% on regularly priced tickets. Call our box office to reserve your tickets: 604-602-0363.

Small print: discount on A, B, C, D price section not to be combined with other offers.

Program Notes: Paul Lewis

 

Paul Lewis performs the Late Schubert Sonatas

The year of Schubert’s death, 1828, saw the birth of an extraordinary number of masterpieces from the pen of this master lyricist: the “Great” C major Symphony, the Mass in E-flat, the String Quintet in C, thirteen of his finest songs, and the final trilogy of great piano sonatas. This trilogy might be compared with the last three symphonies of Mozart. Each trilogy was written within a short period during the last year of its composer’s short life; each is a compact picture of its creator’s musical personality comprising three works of markedly differing character; each is a distillation of its composer’s last years of suffering and was written in a period of despair and deprivation; all the sonatas and symphonies are spacious in design, noble in concept and almost epic in scale; and each trilogy contains one stormy work in a prevailing minor key.

These sonatas also prompt thoughts on Beethoven’s last works in the genre, “final pronouncements of great minds,” as Ernest Porter puts it. “The sense of finality,” writes Porter, “is with us who cannot imagine any greater succeeding works and who perceive in these a summation of the composer’s output. Both had gone through trial and tribulation and the passions of sorrow and joy, and had arrived at that period when they could meditate on the inner meaning of life while still expressing its heights and depths. … The sequence of emotional thought is more highly controlled and resolved with persuasive logic.”

Schubert died before the sonatas were published. Diabelli published them only in 1838, with the dedication going to Schumann, an apt choice in light of his championship of Schubert’s music.

With regard to Schubert’s treatment of form, it is worth quoting Joseph Machlis’ observation on the sonatas in general: Schubert “was not the master builder Beethoven was. Inevitably he loosened the form, introducing into its flexible architecture the elements of caprice and whimsy, improvisation and inspired lyricism. His sonatas are spacious, fantasy-like compositions that display all the characteristics of the Schubertian style – spontaneous melody, richly expressive harmonies, rhythmic vitality, charming changes of key, emotion-charged shifts from major to minor, figuration that is almost always fresh and personal (with an occasional tendency to ramble), and great freedom in the handling of classical form.”

Piano sonata in C minor, D. 958

The opening subject of the C minor sonata – tragic, stormy and brusque – is often compared with the theme of Beethoven’s 32 Variations for Piano in the same key. The second subject, however, is a gracious, utterly beguiling melody in E flat major that only Schubert could have written, and probably the most memorable theme in the entire sonata. Yet Schubert devotes little time to it in the course of the first movement’s development section, preferring instead to focus on the defiant opening idea and even more so to a new, serpentine motif which becomes the predominant material of the development.

The Adagio opens with a solemn, hymn-like theme in four-part harmony in the key of A flat major. Two unsettled interludes, both derived from the same contrasting material in this A-B-A-B-A-form movement, interrupt the placid mood.

The Menuetto returns to C minor. The tempo marking of Allegro (rather brisk for a minuet) helps avoid what otherwise might have been a somber movement. The central Trio, reminiscent of a Ländler (a rustic Austrian dance in triple meter), has “Schubert” written all over it.

The finale is infused with a touch of the demonic. On paper, the rhythmic pattern suggests a tarantella (a lively Italian dance), but the effect in performance is closer to a gallop – of a ride to the abyss.

 Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959

The A major sonata opens with a grand, majestic subject that breaks off at the end to introduce one of the movement’s most characteristic features, gentle cascades of triplets. Schubert extends both the opening subject and the triplets for some time, spinning out his lyric ideas with ineffable ease. Eventually he introduces the second subject, a serenely reposeful theme as notable for its simplicity as for its charm.

The slow movement is a three-part structure. A gently rocking theme of almost hypnotic power slowly unfolds in F sharp minor. By contrast, the central section is highly dramatic, full of clashing dissonances, long trills, chromatic scales and rumbling bass.

The Scherzo is one of Schubert’s most delightful, and its lighthearted, bouncy mood all the more welcome after the seriousness of the two preceding movements.

The long rondo-finale reveals Schubert at his most endearing and congenial, calling to mind Schumann’s famous comment about Schubert’s C major Symphony: music of “heavenly length.”

Piano sonata in B flat major, D. 960

Olympian in scope, expansive yet coherently organized in its concern for proportion and balance, saturated with gorgeous lyricism and often discussed in terms of hushed reverence by its admirers, the B flat sonata stands as a landmark in the history of musical achievements. The first movement opens with one of Schubert’s most heavenly themes – a tender, reflective progression of smoothly-connected chords suggesting vast spaces and extended time spans. The sublime beauty of this theme is underscored by its utter simplicity. It closes on a low, mysterious trill, as if from a distant region. Three more times we hear the theme, each one slightly altered, but no less ingratiating. “Schubert’s piano melodies are not involved with struggles, metamorphoses and chasms,” said pianist Jörg Demus; “they wander along with gentle corpulence – likenesses of their creator – through the musical keys as through countrysides, changing by means of an apparently abrupt harmonic inflection, appearing suddenly in another light and assuming a new countenance from one measure to another.”

The deeply contemplative second movement is no less sublime than the first, but is cast in a simple A-B-A mold. The accompaniment consists of a constantly repeated four-note figure that in itself contributes to the music’s hypnotic effect.

After two long and profound movements, some lighthearted relief is needed. This Schubert provides in the form of an elfin Scherzo in which the single theme darts about, touching briefly on various keys. The brief central Trio relies on syncopation and a darker mood for its effect.

The finale’s main theme is announced by a one-note “call to attention,” which is associated with the theme upon nearly every subsequent appearance in the movement. On and on flows the music, propelled by endlessly repeated rhythmic patterns and a natural power of melodious invention.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2012.

Program Notes: Eric Owens, bass-baritone

Eric Owens, bass-baritoneEric Owens’ recital divides neatly into two halves – a German half and a French half, with the final song a true rarity that bridges the geographical and cultural divide. The German songs (Lieder) all tend to be of a dark, serious or melancholic nature, while the French songs (mélodies) are lighter, even airy and effervescent, the perfect antidote to the German half. As Eric Owens puts it, Debussy “brings us out of the land of despair.”

Hugo Wolf may well be the only major composer who is remembered today for his songs alone. If it was Schubert who put the Lied on the musical map, it was Wolf who epitomized this genre to the exclusion of almost everything else. In his musical depictions of poets’ words, Wolf has few equals and no superiors. Accents, pauses, harmonic twists, modulations, textures and figurations all play a role in illuminating the text, in both the vocal and the piano writing. The Michelangelo Lieder were Wolf’s last songs, written in March of 1897 as he was approaching the onset of dementia from the syphilitic infection that later killed him. In their bare harmony, declamatory style and absence of melodic lines, these songs show the composer’s single-minded intent to concentrate on the essence of the words to the exclusion of all else. The texts are three sonnets (in Walter Robert-Tornow’s German translation) of the famous painter, sculptor and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), written when he was an old man reflecting pessimistically on life. In the first, the poet thinks back to the days when he was young and unknown. The second is an observation on the ephemeral nature of all earthly things, and the third a memory of lost love.

Although Robert Schumann wrote less than half as many songs as Schubert, his achievement is hardly less impressive, for most of them were composed in a single year, 1840, the year of his marriage to Clara Wieck. Schumann’s wedding present to Clara was the collection of 26 songs entitled Myrthen (myrtles, the flowers traditionally associated with weddings). No. 15 of this collection is the strangely despondent “Aus den hebräischen Gesängen” (From Hebrew Melodies), set to words by Lord Byron in German translation. Muttertraum” (Mother’s Dream), set to words of Hans Christian Andersen, paints a consoling picture of a mother gazing fondly at her infant son while outside ravens lurk. They look forward to feasting on his corpse hanging from the gallows, as they know the child will grow up to be a criminal. Gruesome imagery is found also in Der “Schatzgräber” (The Treasure-seeker), a magnificent and graphically realistic setting of Joseph von Eichendorff’s morality tale of a man obsessively seeking buried treasure and finally being buried himself. A different kind of desperation pervades “Melancholie,” a song of unrequited love.

The three songs of Franz Schubert on Eric Owens’ recital all deal with epic subjects of classical mythology, carry dark messages, and were composed by a young man still in his early twenties. “Prometheus,” with its frequent changes of texture, tempo and mood, and with its essential instrumental component, is more an operatic scene than a mere song. “We may all be made of Promethean clay, but only genius can be fired to produce a work as extraordinary and highly-colored as this,” writes pianist Graham Johnson. “Fahrt zum Hades” (Journey to Hades) is another impressive setting, this one to a description of a despairing man’s crossing of the River Styx and his last glimpse of earthly beauties. The poem by Schubert’s friend Johann Mayrhofer inspired the composer to create what John Reed calls “a dramatic aria of solemn grandeur, tragic in tone and classical in its combination of deep feeling and formal restraint.” In “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus” (Scene from Tartarus) we find a viscerally powerful song that none other than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau claimed can leave a listener “stunned and terrified.” Set to a passage from Schiller, its text alone is frightening enough, but underscored by Schubert’s chromatic, discordant music, this through-composed song in several linked sections takes on colossal proportions.

The majority of Claude Debussy’s 85 known, authenticated songs are early works, composed between 1880 and 1892. So too are the three we hear tonight. “Beau soir” was his second song to be published, yet, as Barbara Meister notes, “it is already the work of a master. From the very first measure one is intrigued by the rhythmic pattern …” There are numerous harmonic felicities as well. Despite the song’s title (Beautiful evening), the message of Paul Bourget’s poem is that happiness turns to sorrow, life leads to death. “Fleur des blés (Wheat flower) immediately followed “Beau soir,” but whereas in the earlier song the piano had essentially an accompanying role, now it is nearly an equal partner with the voice. André Girod’s poem invites images of pastoral loveliness, which are compared to features of the poet’s beloved. “L’Âme evaporée (The evanescent soul), another Bourget setting, is the first of two Romances published in 1891. Meister calls it “really a perfect duet for the two performers.” For the most part each has his or her own part, but at the song’s climax their lines join.

Cervantes’ picaresque novel Don Quixote, which recounts the adventures of the legendary “knight of the sorrowful countenance,” has inspired no end of musical compositions. Maurice Ravel’s contribution to this literature took the form of three short songs that Don Quixote addresses in homage to his ladylove Dulcinea. Composed in 1932, it was his last work. Ravel had already proven himself a master at composing music to Spanish subjects (L’heure espagnole, Rapsodie espagnole, Boléro, Alborada del gracioso). The first song is a highly fanciful Chanson romanesque, in which Don Quixote offers to fulfill whatever whimsical requests Dulcinea may present. It is set to the meter of the Spanish guajira, which alternates between 6/8 and 3/4. The second is a prayer at the shrine of the Madonna, set to the 5/4 meter of the Basque zortzico. Finally comes a drinking song in the manner of an Aragonese jota. The first performance was given by baritone Martial Singher in Paris on December 1, 1934.

During his Paris sojourn of 1839-1841, Richard Wagner composed half a dozen songs to French texts as part of his effort to become better known there. He hoped the popular singers of the day would add them to their repertories, but, as musicologist Werner Breig informs us, “the songs did not meet with much success at the time, perhaps because they were too complicated for the function they were supposed to serve.” For “Les deux Grenadiers,” Wagner used a translation by François Adolphe Loeve-Veimar of Heinrich Heine’s original ballad in German. Two of Napoleon’s troops are en route home from the disastrous Russian campaign. They mourn the capture of their beloved Emperor. One wants only to get back to his family, the other wishes for the comfort of the grave on French soil. To the sounds of the Marseillaise, the latter imagines his heroic deeds in defense of Napoleon.

Getting to know baritone Christian Gerhaher

Christian Gerhaher on the origins on German Lied (song):
The German Lied was born into quite special circumstances. The composer found himself creating something with no pre-existing format, which in practical performance terms was restricted to a quite intimate situation, which will later become the famous Schubertiade. That means it had a more social than an artistic significance.

On performing:
I mostly perform German language songs, and in doing so have developed an idea of combining the expression of pronounced text and sung music into a personal, meaningful sound.

On favourite composers:
Schubert, Schumann and Mahler – all three in general for their faithful way of combining music and text in an authentic synthesis – all of them in a personal way.

Schubert was not only the great founder of the Lied as a musical category. He displayed in his large oeuvre an immense variety of micro-styles, all deriving from a true and honest attempt to execute the intuition that Schubert seems to have derived from reading a poem. A very special miracle that I notice constantly throughout his multi-faceted oeuvre is that Schubert treats very good poems with the greatest distinction and delicacy. He does not seem to add too much new or of his own to a perfect poem. On the other hand, he really seems to be able to ennoble weak poems, of which he set not a few.

Schumann is my personal favourite (not only as a song composer). Performing his works I like especially his trend-setting innovation of giving at least equal weight to the piano part. I also admire, as I do with Hugo Wolf, his highly delicate and quality-conscious selection of texts. I admire and feel touched by his radical artistic genius.

On Deitrich Fischer-Dieskau:
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in my view, established Lieder-singing as a kind of vocal chamber music. This achievement should not be underestimated (I think this maybe was one of his main merits). The history of Lieder performances reveals an always strongly private and emotional orientation. I would even say that such an approach to singing and interpreting this literature leads to the danger of group sentimentality,

Fischer-Dieskau’s method was, first of all, to take the composer’s intentions seriously. He dispensed, for example, with the tendency to select particular pieces from an entire song-cycle. Secondly, he sang this literature with a well-known, superb technique that combined perfect pronunciation with a helpful, bright voice-colour.

On influential singers:
[Of course,] Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. There was another Lieder singer. His work and not only for me, is a true, dear treasure. Fritz Wunderlich was a wonderful singer. He was and is an inspiration for singers many and varied. His timbre is a perfect example of how much imagination and will are sable to influence the quality and aesthetic value of singing.

One of our favourite composers: Franz Schubert

“When Schubert wants to tell you something important, he will usually lower his voice rather than raise it – he draws you into the message, rather than projects it out to you.”  Paul Lewis

Last week, we pointed out Franz Schubert, a much-loved composer by our audiences, will be well represented in our 2012-2013 season.

Leading the charge is Paul Lewis. Is there anyone today who better represents the legacy of pianists who championed the composers of the First Viennese School? Now with the retirement of Alfred Brendel, this great tradition of piano playing is very much alive in the hands of this young British pianist.

Perhaps best known to our audiences for performing the complete sonatas by Beethoven, an Olympic feat, Paul returns with a program dedicated to the three final sonatas by Schubert, the composter with whom he is perhaps best associated.

Paul’s Vancouver performance is actually part of a multi-year Schubert project, which features a series of solo recitals based on the late piano music, and the great song cycles performed with tenor Mark Padmore.

A survey of his 2012 performances will astonish and impress (it will also give a sense of pride knowing the VRS performance follows on the heels of one at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center).

As if by design, but really by coincidence, two other pianists continue the theme of later Schubert: Simon Trpceski and Behzod Abduraimov.

Simon brings to the Chan Centre Schubert’s 16 German Dances (D.783) and the monumental “Wanderer” Fantasy (D.760). He has also chosen Liszt to pair with Schubert, and in so doing he includes Liszt’s Soirees de Vienna,Valses caprices d’après Schubert.

Behzod also pairs Schubert with Liszt, but adds Beethoven for a triumvirate of  towering composers for the piano. He offers the Sonata in A major (D.664), an earlier work, but one which can easily be included in Schubert’s catelogue of favourite and significant output.

Over the coming weeks we will continue to share with you other thoughts and opinions on our 2012-2013 Season. Series tickets are currently offered at exceptional prices with fantastic benefits (complimentary parking passes!).

SOME THOUGHTS ON OUR UPCOMING 12-13 SEASON

 

Today we want to share with you a few thoughts and facts about our recently announced 2012-2013 season:

UP FIRST: On October 5 András Schiff will open the 33rd season with an all-Bach program. In fact, András was one of the first artists who launched the Vancouver Recital Society in 1981. Like so many artists who followed, he made his Canadian debut in Vancouver.

CHEZ NOUS: The earliest performances were presented at the Granville Island Stage, but the Vancouver Playhouse was soon chosen as the ‘home’ for the Vancouver Recital Society. In the upcoming season we will present six afternoon performances at this downtown location.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: The VRS established its second ‘home’ soon after the opening of the Chan Centre at UBC in the spring of 1997. Now going into our 16th (!) season at this venue, we continue to present four afternoon performances along with four evening performances. Of course, Mr. Schiff adds a very special ninth performance at the Chan Centre.

In total, the 2012-2013 consists of 15 performances of which 10 are scheduled on Sunday afternoons.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT: we are very excited with our new, low “entry” price. For the first time it is possible to select a series of four performances for only $80 – or $20 for each performance.

AH, TO BE YOUNG AGAIN: our young audience members now have greater access then ever before with our Youth Club and Ru35 programs. Throughout the season, tickets can be had for as little as $16.

A POPULARITY CONTEST?: In our recent survey you ranked your favourite composers and, perhaps not surprisingly, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin came out on top. Happily, our 2012-2013 artists will give us a lovely dose of these top-rankers. As we have seen, Bach is in the best hands with András Schiff. Schubert is well represented throughout the season, most notably by Paul Lewis whose program is dedicated to the monumental three late piano sonatas. Adding to the Schubert repertoire are Simon Trpceski and Behzod Abduraimov. Behzod also brings us the ever-popular “Appassionata” sonata by that ever-popular composer, Beethoven. Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan brings Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante, and pianist Stephen Hough includes Nocturnes on his program.

2012-2013 is shaping up to be a most exciting season. Series tickets are currently offered at exceptional prices with fantastic benefits (complimentary parking passes!). Call our office at 604-602-0363 and we’ll be happy to discuss all our subscription options.

PROGRAM NOTES: KIRILL GERSTEIN


Johann Sebastian Bach
English Suite no. 6 in D minor, BWV 811

Bach’s Partitas, English Suites and French Suites – six of each – collectively rank among the glories of the keyboard literature. Each is a four-part sequence of dance movements, all in the same key but varied by rhythm, tempo and mood: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue. Each has a different national origin, respectively German, French, Spanish and English/Irish. To this basic framework additional movements, usually of French origin (Minuet, Gavotte, Bourrée, Passepied, etc.) are found between the Sarabande and Gigue. These dance movements are generally in two-part form, with each half repeated. An imposing Prelude introduces each of the Partitas and English Suites.

The moniker “English” Suites is a misnomer. Bach did not so designate them, and even if he had, they are stylistically more French than English in their orientation, taking as their point of departure the keyboard style of French harpsichord music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arranged by Ferruccio Busoni
Giga, Bolero e Variazione

Like Franz Liszt two generations before him, Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) spent the earlier part of his career on the concert circuit as one of the most sensational piano virtuosos of his time. Also like Liszt, he arranged and transcribed numerous works for piano solo. In 1909, he published four “books” collectively called An die Jugend (each lasts only four or five minutes) of his freely adapted transcriptions of other composers’ music. The third of these was based on the music of Mozart. The three sections are played without pause. The gigue is derived from Mozart’s Gigue K. 574, the “bolero” is actually a free fantasia on the fandango (a courtly Spanish dance) in the third act of The Marriage of Figaro, while the virtuosic variation is developed from the gigue material.

Oliver Knussen
Ophelia’s Last Dance

Ophelia’s Last Dance is a nine-minute work commissioned for Kirill Gerstein by The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The pianist gave the world premiere there on May 3, 2010. When he gave the New York premiere a few days later, Allan Kozinn wrote in the New York Times that “it begins with a dash of light-textured sparkle and a gently chromatic line, and as it grows more emotionally charged, its language veers toward neo-Romanticism rather than the harmonic density of Mr. Knussen’s earlier music.”

This piece is an expansion of an idea that dates back to 1974 and was initially intended to become part of Knussen’s Third Symphony, which occupied him throughout the 1970s. Fragments then went into his Ophelia Dances, Book I (1975) for chamber ensemble, and finally found their way into the present work for solo piano, thus “continuing the dance in various ways,” as the composer says.

Carl Maria von Weber
Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65

Weber composed his brilliant Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) as a solo piano piece in 1819. It may well have been the first concert waltz (one conceived specifically for listening rather than for dancing), but its popularity was ensured through choreographic interpretation, beginning with Berlioz’ orchestration for the Paris Opera in 1841. The “invitation” portion lasts only a small fraction of the entire work. According to Weber’s own explanation, the invitation by the gentleman is made to the lady in the opening passage, followed by her demure responses and eventual acceptance. The dance is a series of contrasting waltzes, during which the dancers declare their love. At the end he thanks her. They part. Silence.

Schubert-Liszt
Soirées de Vienne no. 6: Valse-Caprice d’après Schubert (Allegro con spirit)

Schubert wrote an enormous number of little dance pieces for piano – waltzes, galops, Ländler, Deutsche, écossaises and minuets – to the tune of nearly four hundred. From this vast treasure trove Liszt chose nine waltzes and filtered them through the alembic of his own musical personality, calling them Soirées de Vienne, or Valse-Caprices. Biographer Bryce Morrison notes that Liszt was attracted to Schubert’s waltzes because of “their mix of both subtle and direct qualities,” which resulted in Liszt “tinting their exuberance and melancholy with a stylized command peculiarly his own.” Liszt was obviously fond of these works, first published in 1852, as he performed them often. The sixth is by far the most popular of the Soirées, with its sturdy opening theme, its echt Viennese lilt and its numerous passages of scintillating filigree decorating Schubert’s charming melodic lines.

Robert Schumann
Carnaval, Op. 9

Preambule
Pierrot
Arlequin – Valse noble
Eusebius
Florestan
Coquette
Replique
Papillons
Lettres dansantes
Chiarina
Chopin
Estrella
Reconnaissance – Pantalon et Columbine –
Valse allemande
Paganini
Aveu
Promenade
Pause
March des Davidsbundler contre les Philistins

Carnaval consists of 22 musical vignettes all constructed from three tiny motifs whose notes are derived from the name of a little German town, Asch. (Today it is As, just over the border in the Czech Republic, near Bayreuth, Germany). This was where Schumann’s current flame, Ernestine von Fricken, came from. Schumann met Ernestine at the Leipzig home of the piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, with whom she lodged and studied piano. Matters progressed to the point where Schumann and Ernestine became engaged in December of 1834. That month he began writing the music that became Carnaval.

As any student of music history knows, Schumann jilted Ernestine in favor of Wieck’s daughter Clara. But for the moment, the 24-year-old composer was infatuated with Ernestine. He discovered that the four letters of Ernestine’s birthplace, Asch, were also in his own. (In German terms, S=Es (E-flat), and H=B-natural.) The coincidence seemed to Schumann like fate knocking at the door. He loved puzzles, ciphers and numerical symbolism. This provided just the stimulus he needed to begin a new, large-scale composition. Schumann arranged the Asch motto into two additional variants – S-C-H-A and AS-C-H (As=A-flat) – and later inserted all three mottos into the score between the eighth and ninth numbers (between “Réplique” and “Papillons”) as double whole notes, calling them “Sphinxes,” meant only to be seen, not heard. Every piece in Carnaval except the “Préambule” is based on an ASCH motif, which usually appears at the opening and is then developed in ways both obvious and obscure.

 The autobiographical element of Carnaval goes further. Characters from Schumann’s life – both real and imagined – are portrayed, including his wife-to-be Clara (“Chiarina”), Estrella (“Ernestine”), Chopin and Paganini. Then there are the two aspects of Schumann’s musical personality: the quiet dreamer as reflected in Eusebius, and the passionate intensity of Florestan. Figures from the commedia dell’arte of Italian carnivals make appearances: Pierrot, Arlequin, Pantalon and Columbine. Other images of a masked ball at carnival time (the pre-Lenten season) make fleeting appearances. The final number portrays the rout of cultural philistines by the band of David, marching defiantly in 3/4 metre.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2012.

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