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Program Notes: Jeremy Denk

Johann Sebastian Bach
English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808

Bach’s keyboard suites are a remarkable amalgam of the florid keyboard idiom of the French, the lyrical gift for vocal melody of the Italians, and the sober contrapuntal rigour of his fellow Germans. The suites which posthumously (and illogically) came to be labelled “English” were composed sometime before 1720 and are thought to be his earliest keyboard dances.

In imitation of French practice, Bach begins his third suite in the set with a Prelude, but written in the style of an Italian concerto grosso, with motoric rhythms driving relentlessly forward in a non-stop rush of 16th notes, during which the opening pecking motif not infrequently pops its head above the fray.

A more conversational tone is offered in the following Allemande with left and right hand trading the same material back and forth, thematically inverted in the second half. The Courante is a marvel of contrapuntal bravura, with its three self-confident voices pursuing independent melodic objectives while the underlying rhythmic pulse often “goes duple” on its nominally triple 3/2 time signature.

The rhythmically stark but harmonically rich outlines of the Sarabande are simply made for ornamental in-fill and Bach provides his own ornamented version for each   half of this intense, but sombre interlude. As galanteries, the optional dances inserted between sarabande and gigue, Bach offers a major-minor pairing of gavottes, the most rhythmically dancelike pieces in the set. A quietly droning Gavotte II in the major mode is sandwiched between twin renditions of the merrily twinkling Gavotte I in the minor, while the Gigue finale serves up a toe-tapping two-voice fugue that, like the Allemande, turns its theme on its head for the second half.

 

William Byrd
Ninth Pavan and Galliard from Lady Nevell’s Book

Western music’s first great genius of keyboard music was the English court musician William Byrd. It was he who first established the idea of a rhythmically regular, harmonically-based contrapuntal keyboard idiom that the Baroque era went on to adopt as its own. The collection of his best early pieces, copied in manuscript for the music-loving Lady Nevell in 1591, is a compendium of the major genres of instrumental music of his day and includes a number of dances in the traditional pairing of pavane and galliard.

The pavane was a solemn, snooty, and minimally aerobic processional dance in duple time, unlikely to require a lathering of deodorant amongst even its most fanatical practitioners, while the more athletic galliard in triple metre was quite the stuff of sweatbands and lululemon stretch pants: all leaps, jumps and hops.

Byrd structures his Ninth Pavan and Galliard as a set of variations on the bass line and implied harmonies of the well-known Italian dance, the passamezzo, hence its anglicized moniker “Passing Measures”.

 

THE MUSIC OF RAGTIME

In the late 1890s a new genre of piano music arose in the United States that combined the syncopations of African-American dance music with the formal proportions, orthodox harmonies, and rhythmic beat of a John Philip Sousa march. The almost comical pairing of a chuckling right-hand melody constantly bobbing in and out of synch with a straight-up oom-pah beat in the left produced a delightfully off-kilter, ‘ragged’ sense rhythm that gave the new genre its name: ragtime.

Being essentially a written genre, fully composed in score and distributed in sheet music, ragtime thrived in the period before the arrival of radio broadcasting. Gradually supplanted after WWI by a more improvised style of jazz, it experienced various nostalgic revivals, most prominently in the 1970s when Marvin Hamlisch’s score to the hit film The Sting (1973) re-popularized the music of Scott Joplin.

Stravinsky’s quirky-jerky Piano Rag Music (1919) is more cubist in inspiration, presenting characteristic fragments of the ragtime genre (syncopation, stride bass) in a succession of modular blocks with irregular metres and jagged angular melodic gestures until it settles down into an eerie ostinato-fuelled impression of a broken music-box. This is Picasso’s grand piano descending a staircase.

“You want syncopation? You can’t handle syncopation!” is what Paul Hindemith seems to be saying in his thuggishly muscular Ragtime, the last movement of his Suite 1922 composed in—well, guess the year. Creating a rat-a-tat sound-world that foretells the tumultuous final pages of Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata (1951), he suits up the ragtime genre as Robocop-on-Red-Bull, instructing the performer to “play this piece wildly, but always very strictly in rhythm, like a machine.” Be prepared to take cover.

Sunflower Slow Drag (1901) is a collaboration between Scott Joplin and his younger contemporary (and in-law) Scott Hayden. It displays many of the features of the classic piano rag, with a four-bar introduction and a syncopated melodic line alternating octaves and single notes, driven relentlessly onward by colourful chromatic inflections in the harmonic texture.

Conlon Nancarrow’s favourite musical structure was the canon, a fancy word for a round (think: Frère Jacques, Row, row, row your boat). He was especially fond of prolation canons, in which identical melodies run at different speeds, as in the second of his Canons for Ursula written in 1988 for the American pianist Ursula Oppens (b. 1944).

The 379 bars of this canon feature two voices percolating along at speeds in the ratio of 5:7 (this is not a piece for the math- challenged musician). The left hand enters first, at the “5” speed, followed by the right hand 69 bars later at a slightly peppier “7” rate of progress, dropping out 39 bars before the end, so that in this Pythagorean version of Aesop’s Tale of the Tortoise & the Hare, the hare wins, hands down.

American composer William Bolcom’s touchingly intimate Graceful Ghost Rag (1971) was written in memory of his father. With its unusual minor-key colouring and Brahmsian moderation of pace, it achieves an aching poignancy in a genre generally known for its upbeat mood and restless rhythmic bustle.

Donald Lambert was among the finest exponents of Harlem stride piano, with a southpaw savvy that left his fellow musicians agape in admiration. His uniquely personal 1941 arrangement of the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhäuser accomplishes the impossible. It manages to replace that swelling in the breast, that urge to stand up and salute the flag that Wagner’s stirring anthem seldom fails to inspire, with the contrary urge to sit down, loosen your collar, and order a cocktail. There’s a reason why this piece comes just before the intermission.

 

Franz Joseph Haydn
Fantasia in C Major Hob. XVII:4

Haydn’s C major Fantasia (1789) is not only one of his most virtuosic piano works— with its runs in double thirds, octave glissandi, and volleys of Wimbledon-speed hand-crossings between registers—it is also one of his wittiest, as well. When not arpeggiating its way across vast swathes of the keyboard, it divides its time between a bouncy repeated-note motive as a first theme and a second thematic idea in cheery horn-fifths.

Structured as either a ‘rondo-ish’ sonata or a ‘sonata-ish’ rondo, it upsets formal expectations at every turn with quick dives down the rabbit hole into unexpected keys followed by surreptitious chromatic creepings back up to tonal ground zero. Its sudden and rapid changes of dynamics between forte and piano are the perfect dramatic foil for the work’s almost laughably long pauses, during which pianists of whatever degree of comedic gift will have only sidelong glances and Kabuki eyebrow theatre with which to keep their audiences enthralled.

 

Robert Schumann
Carnaval Op. 9

Robert Schumann’s kaleidoscopic mini-drama of scenes from a masked ball, composed in 1834, features a colourful cast of the real and imagined characters that dominated his personal and artistic life. There are stock characters from Commedia dell’ arte (Pierrot, Harlequin, Pantalone, Columbine), his two love-interests (Ernestine von Fricken & Clara Wieck), fellow musicians (Chopin & Paganini), and even the two sides of his own split personality (dreamy Eusebius & extrovert Florestan). Completing the line-up is the patriotic marching band of the Davidsbund (League of David), the youthful defenders of ‘real art’ and sworn enemies of fossilized musical culture.

Cleverly woven into the score are cryptographic clues equating alphabetic letters with the names of musical notes (in German notation). Thus Asch (Ernestine’s home town) is spelt out in the pitches A-Eb-C-B, and the composer’s own name, S-C-H-um-A- nn is represented by Eb-C-B-A.

As we enter the ballroom we hear the Préambule’s proud fanfare, followed by the sounds of bustling guests, fragmentary waltzes, and the breathless excitement of the masked revellers. The first character we meet is Pierrot, the sad clown. His downcast mood is rendered in chromatic wanderings regularly interrupted by a jolting three-note figure as he perhaps keeps stubbing his toe. The nimble Arlequin (Harlequin) then enters with a display of ac- robatic leaps and comic tumbles until the time comes for the first waltz, a Valse noble, grandiloquent and gracious by turns.

But who is that standing off in the corner? It’s Eusebius, languorously musing to himself—until his flip-side, the passionately sociable Florestan, emerges talking a mile a minute of this and that, ever the charmer. A Coquette flirts into view, her fan all a-flutter, tossing her head back as she fills the room with coy laughter. Ah, now a suitor has pulled her aside with his Réplique (reply) to her provocative glances, pleading his amorous attentions against the backdrop of her silvery laugh.

Meanwhile the Papillons (butterflies, i.e., revellers) are whirling about the room at breakneck speed. Even the letters ASCH— SCHA begin to dance out their cryptic messages, until Chiarina (Clara) strides imperiously into view with a grave and haughty waltz. Chopin takes to the keyboard to restore calm with an achingly poetic melody over swimming arpeggios, but then Estrella (Ernestine) makes her entrance, setting the room a-boil once again. The heart of every swain is now set beating at the thought of winning her Reconnaissance (acknowledgement).

But what’s this? The lecherous old Pantalon and Columbine, Pierrot’s girlfriend, are playing out a comic scene. Why is he chasing her around that table? No matter, a seductive Valse allemande (German waltz) draws everyone to the dance floor, interrupted briefly by Paganini who offers an impromptu display of his dazzling pizzicato technique before the waltz returns. Meanwhile, sitting apart, a suitor whispers his intimate Aveu (confession of love) to a young woman, who very much likes what she is hearing.

Whew! What a press of people. Time for a Promenade out in the garden for a bit of people-watching amid the curious who stroll and the stand-offish who strut. But a commotion breaks out during a Pause in the dancing. In comes the paramilitary youth wing of the League of David in a Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins, to the spluttering dismay of the Old Fogey faction, stung at being labelled “Philistines”. They quickly get the orchestra’s bass players to strike up the dusty old Grandfather’s Dance that traditionally ends such festivities—a tune simultaneously being parodied by these impudent youngsters in the treble—but to no avail. The upstarts want the ball to end musically as it began, with the music of the Préambule, and they get their way, triumphant to the end.

Donald G. Gislason 2015

 

 

PROGRAM NOTES: YO-YO MA & KATHRYN STOTT


Igor Stravinsky

Suite Italienne

At the end of the Great War Igor Stravinsky underwent a radical shift in his compositional techniques and aesthetic aims. Gone were the gargantuan orchestras that had performed the lush, colorful scores of his pre-War ballets Firebird and Petrushka. Gone, as well, the dense chord structures and revolutionary rhythmic tumult that brought international critical attention—and volleys of projectile produce—hurtling to the Paris stage where Rite of Spring had premiered a scant few years before.

Stravinsky’s new neoclassical style featured leaner chamber ensembles, more transparent textures, astringent harmonies, and a new respect for music of the past, qualities perfectly reflected in his ballet Pulcinella, which premiered in May 1920 at the Paris Opera. With a cast of rascally characters from commedia dell’ arte, and music largely based on the gracious scores of Neapolitan composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), this ballet soon became one of the composer’s most popular works, spawning a host of arrangements, including this Suite Italienne, which Stravinsky assembled in collaboration with cellist Gregor Piatagorsky in 1932.

In arranging the music of Pergolesi and his contemporaries, Stravinsky preserved the clear phrasing, courtly cadential patterns, and ornamental trills of the Baroque Neapolitan style, but laced the score with spikey accents on weak notes of the bar, while stomping on the toes of the harmony by means of exaggerated passing and neighbour notes in the bass—a crafty way of maximizing sonic resonance without thickening the texture.

The suite begins with the ballet’s overture, called Introduzione. Clearly audible, even in this chamber version, is the Baroque ritornello style of the original orchestral scoring, with alternating sections played by the whole orchestra (ripieni) and a small group of soloists (concertino).

The Serenata derives from the tenor canzonetta Mentre l’erbetta pasce l’agnella (While the little lamb grazes), from Pergolesi’s opera Il Flaminio (1735). The gentle lilt of its dotted rhythm identifies it as a sicilienne, but its pastoral tranquility is tinged with a hint of melancholy.

A characteristic feature of Neapolitan opera buffa was the prominent role it gave to the bass voice, exploited largely for its humorous potential in arias studded with large leaps and other comic effects. In the opening section of the Air, the cello plays the role of Bastiano from Il Flaminio, a stropping, galumphing man-servant who awkwardly pleads the case of his pining heart to the love of his life. All is not well, though, as the following lyrical love lament from Pergolesi’s Lo frate ’nnamurato (1732) makes pathetically clear. Our swaggering swain is left alone by the end, humming a sad refrain from the preceding Serenata.

The mood picks up noticeably in the Tarantella which with its whirlwind pace and sustained use of the cello’s high register is the virtuoso showpiece of the suite.

The Minuetto e finale is one of the great musical transformation scenes in the Stravinsky canon. Opening at a measured pace in a mood somewhere between sustained elegy and proud strutting march, it builds and builds until exploding in an exuberant fanfare of excitement worthy of an eighteenth-century comic opera finale. As the work races off to its final bars, it looks in the rearview mirror to savour once again a simple melodic phrase from the overture that must surely qualify as among the most hummable-in-the-shower tunes in the orchestral repertoire.


Heitor Villa-Lobos

Alma Brasileira (arr. Jorge Calandrelli)

The chôro, a type of urban street music arising in the nineteenth century out of a mix of European dance forms and homegrown Brazilian musical styles, inspired Villa- Lobos to compose a series of works in this popular vein during the 1920s. The composer writes into the score the lazy, languorous rubato performing style typical of street bands of the time, as well as the wide range of emotions that characterize the genre. The fifth in this series, subtitled Alma Brasileira (Brazilian soul), travels from a mood of brooding fatalism on to heights of lyrical ecstasy, and back again.


Astor Piazzolla

Oblivion (arr. Kyoko Yamamoto)

The Argentinian composer and performer Astor Piazzolla is credited with moving his country’s most famous musical genre from the dance hall into the concert hall, creating the nuevo tango by incorporating elements of jazz, classical and folk idioms, and by composing for smaller chamber ensembles instead of the large dance orchestras traditionally used.

The mood of wistful nostalgia that permeates his tangos is also heard in Oblivion, written in Rome in 1984 for the soundtrack to the film version of Luigi Pirandello’s 1922 stage play Enrico IV.


Camargo Guarnieri

Dansa Negra
(arr. Jorge Calandrelli)

With the surname of a celebrated family of violin-makers and a first name recognized even by chocolate-lovers, Mozart Camargo Guarnieri seemed destined to become a musician, and indeed pursued a successful career as a conductor and composer both in his native Brazil and in the United States.

This congenial and joyful piece arose out of the composer’s contact with Candomblé, the spiritualist religion of African origin practiced in Brazil in which worshippers use dance to promote contact with the divine presence. Its teasing rhythmic complexity gives an elegance and cosmopolitan polish to the deep folkloric traditions that inspired it.


Manuel de Falla

Siete Canciones Populares Españolas

De Falla’s most popular vocal work—already performed once before this VRS season by Avi Avital in an arrangement for mandolin—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 while the second, the Seguidilla murciana, is an intense argument 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.


Olivier Messiaen

Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus

Few indeed are the great works of Western music written in a prisoner-of-war camp, but Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is one of them. Captured by the Germans in their sweep through France in 1940, Messiaen composed this 8-movement chamber work for clarinet, violin, cello and piano at the Stalag VIIIA camp in Görlitz, Silesia (present- day Poland) and premiered the work there with his fellow musician-inmates in January of 1941 before a ‘captive’ audience of understandably attentive listeners.

Inspiration for the work came from passages in the Book of Revelation in which an angel descends in glory from Heaven to announce the End of Time. Its fifth movement, Praise to the Eternity of Jesus, is a duo for cello and piano that evokes in broad majestic phrases the eternal quality of Jesus as “the Word,” “whose time never runs out.” With a tempo marking of Infiniment lent, extatique (infinitely slow, ecstatic) this movement seems to make time stand still, with its irregular groups of between three and six repeated piano chords behind a gentle but powerful overarching melody in the cello that provides a focus for this spiritual meditation.


César Franck

Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano

It will be a while yet before the Huffington Post is read by musicologists as a scholarly journal, and yet Alan Elsner, the Huff-Po reporter covering breaking news in 19th-century Belgian music, is not wide of the mark in observing that

There is a kind of breathless religious ecstasy to Franck’s music – soaring themes; simple, pure harmonies; those ceaseless, swirling, gliding accompaniments. This, one feels, is truly the music of the angels.

The work inspiring such shortness of breath and heady spiritual delirium in the intrepid journalist is, of course, the Sonata in A major for violin (1886), a present by the composer to the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe in honour of the celebrated violinist’s marriage, and actually performed at the wedding by Ysaÿe himself.  This work also lies at the heart of the cello repertoire, in an adaptation made soon after by cellist Jules Desart and approved by the composer.

The Allegretto ben moderato first movement floats in a world of harmonic uncertainty.  It opens with a number of dreamy piano chords, each followed by a simple chordal interval, as if prompting the instrumentalist with his pitches. The cello then obliges by using these tones to create a gently rocking, barcarolle-like melody, the outline of which will infuse much of the work as a whole. This theme, played by the cello over simple chords in the piano, gradually builds in urgency until a second theme emerges in the solo piano in an outpouring of melodramatic intensity, ending in a dark turn to the minor. The cello will have none of it, however, and dreams both sleepwalkers back to the major mode for an amicable review of the two themes, both in the home key.

Where drama breaks out for real is in the Allegro second movement, one of the most challenging in the chamber repertoire for the pianist. This sonata-form movement bolts from the starting gate with a swirling vortex of 16ths in the piano, fretting anxiously over a theme in the mid-range that is soon picked up by the cello.  Its worrisome collection of motives is based on the same small-hop intervals that opened the first movement, but reversed in direction and cast in the minor mode.  A more sunny mood prevails in the second theme which, however, ebbs away as both instruments take stock of the ground covered in a sober interlude marked Quasi lento.  The development section engages in a full and frank discussion of the two themes until the convulsive agitation of the opening returns in the recapitulation. Despite the turbulence roiling at the heart of this movement, it manages to pull a major-mode ending out of a hat for its final cadence.

The slow third movement, a free-form meditation marked Recitativo-Fantasia, is bruised with the memory of the first movement’s bliss. Its piano opening is almost a bitter parody of the sonata’s very first bars. As this thematic material is brooded over, the cello tries more than once to change the subject in distracted flights of fancy, but eventually agrees to join with the piano in a ruminative journey that passes through nostalgic reminiscence to end in heart-wrenching pathos.  The searing intensity of the octave-leap ‘wailing’ motif at the end of this movement is the most profound moment in the sonata.  No major-mode ending here.

All tensions are eased, all hearts healed, however, in a last-movement rondo that features a simple tuneful melody in continuous alternation with brief sections of contrasting material. This tune, so harmonically stable that it can be presented in strict canonic imitation (like a round), is shaped from the melodic outline of the theme that opened the sonata, bringing its cyclical journey full circle. Even the ‘wailing’ motif from the previous movement is recalled to the stage to give it, too, a happy ending.

British musicologist David Fanning got it right when he intuited the celebratory meaning beneath Franck’s remarkable use of imitative counterpoint for the end of this “wedding present” sonata:

It is hard to resist reading this as a musical symbol of married bliss, especially when the dialogue is placed even closer together, at a distance of half a bar rather than a full bar, on the deliriously happy closing page.

 

Notes by Donald G. Gíslason, Ph.D.

 

 

Program Notes: Ning Feng

Program Notes: Ning Feng

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin sonata no. 1 in D major, Op. 12, no. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his first violin sonatas, a set of three (Op. 12) in 1797-98. Six more sonatas appeared by early 1803, and one more in 1812. Although we refer to these ten works as “violin sonatas,” in the original scores the music is invariably identified as being “for the harpsichord or fortepiano and a violin” (rather than the other way around). Such was the case with most eighteenth-century works of this type, but hardly true with Beethoven, where we can see in even the first sonata the nearly equal partnership of the two instruments. Graceful themes, transparent textures and traditional accompaniment figures are found in abundance. Yet mingling with these attributes we also find a robustness and a boldly independent spirit straining to burst the bonds of classical restraint and moderation. This sonata-form movement combines a number of musical ideas in an atmosphere of brilliance and strength. The slow central movement is an orthodox theme and variations set in A major. Four variations, including one (the third) in the minor mode with extremes of dynamic contrast, are built from the sweetly tender theme. The finale is a rondo, written in a lively, playful style, and it incorporates several examples of the rough humour for which Beethoven later became renowned.

Edward Elgar: Violin sonata in E minor, Op. 82
Elgar’s father, in addition to owning a music shop, tuned pianos and played the organ at church, so it was almost inevitable that young Edward would learn these instruments. But the violin was the instrument he truly loved. He played it in many amateur orchestras, and for a time planned on a solo career. Hence, it is not surprising to find a rather large number of works for violin from his early years as a composer. His first published piece was a Romance for violin and orchestra. Opus numbers 3, 4, 9, 12, 15, 17, 22 and 24 are also for violin with either piano or orchestral accompaniment. His Violin concerto (Op. 61) is one of the most significant of the twentieth century. Yet, unaccountably, the Violin sonata is neglected in almost inverse proportion to the fame of the concerto. This sonata, Elgar’s last work for violin, written in 1918, is a 25-minute masterpiece imbued with the spontaneous lyricism of Schubert and the passionate warmth of Brahms.

Elgar himself left this concise description of his sonata: “The first movement is bold and vigorous, then a fantastic, curious movement with a very expressive middle section; a melody for the violin they say it is as good or better than anything I have done in the expressive way … the last movement is very broad and soothing, like the last movement of the Second Symphony.”

Manuel de Falla: Suite Populaires Espagnole
Manuel de Falla regarded the promotion of Spanish music as his mission in life, and his Siete canciónes populaires españoles (Seven Spanish Folkongs) are just one of the many manifestations of this purpose. The texts are anonymous, but the tunes have been traced to actual popular songs from all over Spain. Written in 1914-1915 for voice and piano, the songs were first heard in Madrid sung by Luisa Vela with the composer at the piano on January 14, 1915. They were later orchestrated by the composer’s friend Ernesto Halffter in 1938-1945 and by Luciano Berio in 1978. Additionally there exist arrangements for violin (by the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski in 1924), for viola, and for cello, in each case with the string instrument replacing voice. In this form, the songs are sometimes known as the Suite populaire espagnole (minus the second song, “Seguidilla murciana”).

“El paño moruno” (The Moorish cloth) is set to a pulsating Moorish rhythm from the southeastern province of Murcia. The words to the song deplore the stain on the lovely cloth that will cause its selling price to plummet.

In “Asturiana” a weeping woman seeks consolation under a pine tree, which itself breaks into tears out of compassion. The melody comes from Asturias, in Spain’s far north.

From Aragon, another northern province, comes a “Jota” in rapid triple meter, about two lovers in a clandestine relationship.

“Nana” is a lullaby from the southernmost province of Andalusia, whose songs have a decidedly oriental cast.

“Canción” (song) is another love song, this one about eyes with traitorous qualities.

“Polo” is a wailing lament from Andalusia over the heartache of unrequited love. The fiery flamenco idiom will be familiar to those who know de Falla’s famous ballet score The Three-Cornered Hat.

Igor Stravinsky: Duo Concertante for violin and piano
The Duo Concertant is Stravinsky’s only original work for violin and piano, composed in 1931 and 1932 as one component of a program for the composer and the violinist Samuel Dushkin to play on European concert tours. The first performance was given in Berlin on October 28, 1932. (A 1933 performance with these artists can be heard on YouTube.) George Balanchine choreographed it in 1972.

The titles of the five movements suggest inspiration from the pastoral poets of antiquity, and Stravinsky himself claimed that “the spirit and form” of the Duo Concertant were determined by his love of this poetry. However, as ever with this composer’s comments, one must be wary of taking them too literally. In fact, with the exception of the “Gigue,” there is little to connect the titles with the character of the music. Abram Loft, first violinist of the Fine Arts Quartet for many years, suggests that “the Duo Concertante will show to best effect as an oasis of coolness and reserve, surrounded in concert …by works of more outspokenly ‘Romantic’ quality.”

Franz Waxman: Carmen Fantasie
Ever since the premiere of Bizet’s Carmen in 1875, composers from A to Z have been creating fantasies, variations, paraphrases and transcriptions based on this opera, probably the most popular ever written. Among the best known works of this type for violin and orchestra (or piano) is the Carmen Fantasie by Franz Waxman, a composer best remembered for his 144 Hollywood film scores (Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Sunset Boulevard, Rear Window, Peyton Place, etc.). Waxman wrote his Carmen Fantasie for Jascha Heifetz in 1946. He also used this music as part of his film score for Humoresque.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

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