Adaskin String Trio and Ensemble Schumann perform the last Chamber Music Series concert of ORCMA’s 2012-2013 season.
Saturday, April 6, 2013, 7:30 p.m., Pollard Auditorium
By Becky Ball
England has its Royalty, Italy has its Pope, and Oak Ridge has its Chamber Music Series. We put a real value on chamber music here in the Atomic City and look forward to many more concerts as we close out a rewarding season with a program filled with rewarding composers.
Ludwig van Beethoven – String Trio, Op. 9 No. 2 in D Major
Beethoven may have been the very first freelance musician. He had no official court and he wrote for himself instead of for the church or state. Often he would sell the same score to several different publishers and charged a hefty sum for each. By the age of 20, Beethoven was famous. He soared like a bird with new wings into the Romantic period, leaving behind some of the constraints of the pure classical form. He singlehandedly influenced a whole generation of Romantic composers. An unknown woman at his funeral got it right when she spoke: “They are burying the general of the musicians.”
The books tell us that Beethoven lived in squalor, dressed in rags, spoke with crudeness, and conducted open affairs with married women. They also tell us that Beethoven grew up poor, suffered with syphilis, endured an alcoholic father who nearly beat him to death, and went deaf. But we want to close the curtain on Beethoven’s misfortunes and open one on his fortunes, including public adoration. One Jean Francois Le Suer was so taken with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, that he screamed, “It is incredible. Marvelous . . . It has so upset and bewildered me that when I wanted to put on my hat, I couldn’t find my head.”
This afternoon’s String Trio in D Major, the second of the three Opus 9 trios, will probably not garner that kind of response, but this exacting trio with a famous precedent in Mozart’s Divertimento – K. 63 has plenty of charm. The three trios in the Opus 9 set are the only string trios Beethoven wrote. They are treasures for what they are as well as being the prelude to the string quartets, a genre in which Beethoven excelled.
The trio begins quietly with the violin introducing the first theme. What follows is of special interest because of the smooth counterpoint when instrumentalists pass motifs from one to the other, leading to a cleverly disguised return to the first subject. A simple minuet grows in interest when the cellist plays in the instrument’s high register called the “Prussian” register. Don’t be surprised to hear the influence of Mozart and Haydn throughout this trio.
The slow movement’s eloquence is wonderful. Take note of the darker mood and the key of D minor, and the newer territory Beethoven is taking us to. The rondo finale offers another new trick. The cello gets to show off again by playing above the viola. Do you want more novelty? Listen to the cello add an open-string drone to the mix.
BONUS FACT: Beethoven dedicated the Opus 9 trios to Count Johann Georg Browne-Camus and his wife Anne Margarete, both of whom jumped on Beethoven’s bandwagon the minute he arrived in Vienna. So thankful were they that they gave him a gift – not gold or silver or jewel or trophy, but a horse. Beethoven was so busy composing that he probably forgot he had a horse. Enter his enterprising servant, who profited handsomely by renting out the horse.
Mozart – Quartet in F Major for Oboe and Strings, K. 370
Mozart was a child prodigy extraordinaire. He was picking out melodies on the keyboard at age 3, started keyboard lessons with his father at age 4, composed music at age 5, and taught himself to play the violin and organ at age 6. All his life Mozart’s brain was like a sponge soaking up methods and styles of idols like Haydn and J. S. Bach and sons. Mozart lived only 35 years, but that was long enough to gift the world with moe than 600 compositions and to predict that the teenage Beethoven would “make a big splash in the world.” Incidentally, those 600 plus works were catalogued chronologically by Ludwig von Kochel, an Austrian botanist and mineralogist. Now when you see the letter K and a number by a Mozart composition, you might say a silent thank you to von Kochel for his enormous task. By the way, The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs devotes 67 pages to Mozart’s music.
Mozart’s “sole delight and passion” was having something to compose. However delightful and passionate, he believed that “music must never offend the ear.” His form is of such perfection that every wrong note sticks out like a sour insult. The same perfection can make his music sound deceptively easy and predictable. The genius of Mozart is a never-ending mystery.
The simple happy tone of the oboe, which cuts so thrillingly through an orchestral mass, can have some problems, however, blending with strings. Some musicologists believe that is why Mozart gave the oboe such dominance in the Oboe Quartet. Others believe he beefed up the oboe part to challenge the superman talent of his friend Friedrich Ramm, the then master oboist of the Munich Orchestra. Whatever the reason, the quartet is delectable beginning with the first happy glittering of the oboe. When the strings join in with melodies of their own, listen carefully to the violin’s second theme. It will be the same old first theme but in a different key. Later in this movement, a counter melody for oboe sharpens our interest before the exposition gains momentum. The extra bonus is the random individual solos.
The Adagio is emotional – so very pretty, so soulful, so ingenious in structure. Savor it. The Rondo has rhythmic tricks that one cannot miss. The first one is when the oboe slides into 4/4 meter while the strings remain tenaciously in 6/8. But the real magic is when the oboe plays eight 16th notes against the strings’ three eighth notes. At least it is not a right hand-left hand task for one person. Happily, this jolly movement brings back three rising notes from the Adagio movement. You will hear them in the oboe’s tip top range. Oh what joy!
BONUS FACT: Mozart was knighted when he was a teenager. He received the Papal Order of the Golden Spur from the Pope of Rome, Clement XIV. He earned the order because he wrote down a complicated composition on paper after hearing it only once. He was 14 years old at the time, and the piece was Gregorio Allegri’s 9-part Miserere written for the Sistine Chapel.
Charles Martin Loeffler - Deux Rhapsodies: L’ Etang (pond) and La Cornemuse (bagpipe)
The Alsatian-American composer and violinist spent his life all over the map: his childhood in Russia, Hungary, and Switzerland; his student years in Berlin and Paris; his performing, conducting and composing years in America, and finally his retirement years on a farm in Medford, Mass., where he soaked up classical and contemporary literature, cooked up gourmet meals, and bred horses.
He emigrated to New York in 1881 and soon took many positions with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including those of soloist, assistant conductor, and principal violinist. The BSO played many of Loeffler’s symphonic poems and short orchestra pieces. Loeffler’s style reflects French Impressionism, and among his like-minded peers were Faure, Chausson, Debussy, and Gershwin. Clearly, he was a cosmopolitan composer and an avid proponent of contemporary music. What makes his sound so intriguing is his unorthodox instrumentation. One never knows what instruments he is going to pair together in his sound choir, or which of the elements are going to dominate – folk songs, mysticism, medieval chants, or even jazz. When he blends them together and lets them flow out in long musical phrases, we think what a compatible marriage this Impressionism and Romanticism make.
Loeffler’s Deux Rhapsodies are based on songs that Loeffler composed, using poems written by Maurice Rollinat. The poems speak strangely of images that are at once macabre and beautiful. The music is very moody, and like Impressionistic paintings, the musical landscapes are mystifying. Carl Engle suggested the music depicts the “landscapes of the soul.” Often performers project the poems and/or the visuals on a screen. However, the music can stand alone with its dark appeal, uneasy emotions, and fascinating orchestrations. There will come a time when the viola will quote the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass. Listen for it.
BONUS FACT: When Loeffler was just 12 years old, his father was sent to prison for having told the truth about certain goings on in the Prussian government. His father was an easy target because he had been author of many Republican ideals. After his father died (in prison), Loeffler remained embittered against Germany, his birthplace, for the rest of his life.
Gabriel Faure – Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op.15
Faure fell in love with the organ at first sight. That sight was from the eyes of a child. The child got so good at the organ that at the age of nine, he enrolled at the Ecole Niedermeyer, a famous school of church music in Paris. The academy is still there. Not only was Faure accepted but the director took him on as an organ student and never charged him a franc. While at the academy, young Faure was entranced with a cappella choirs. It obviously inspired his song cycles and the Requiem, which took 20 years to complete.
Faure was Saint-Saen’s favorite piano student and the two remained lifelong friends. The Paris Conservatory was to become a second home for Faure. He wound up teaching there for many years. He influenced many now famous composers, including Ravel (his student), Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Sir Edward Elgar. He was also involved in the French Art Songs that were cultivated in the second half of the 19th century by such composers as Berlioz and Chausson.
Faure’s Piano Quartet was the masterpiece of his early period. A syncopated piano accompaniment provides color, texture, and rhythmic interest to the strings’ vigorous but sturdy theme in the first movement. It is a lovely contrast when the viola presents the gentle and expressive second theme. In fact, the two themes are transformed so often and with such variety that we get as interested in the form as in the wonderful sound. The momentum of the movement does not prepare us for the calm coda, but we love surprises.
The Scherzo comes next -- not the usual order -- but it does not bother a thing. We are happy with the piano whose cheerful ride over the strings’ pizzicato accompaniment is delightful. By the way, you have already heard the theme the strings will repeat. Hint: it is in a different mode. Faure replaces the usual trio with an instrumental chorale, and as muted by the strings, it is as graceful and beautiful as parts of the Requiem.
In the last two movements, Faure takes a simple idea and gives it a wide range of treatments and expression, beginning with the Adagio and ending with the Allegro Molto. The cello introduces the unifying theme, which gets a lot of mileage. The brief rhythmic phrase rushes and subsides, but it never tires. Great!
BONUS FACT: This Piano Quartet had a heck of a time getting published. Major publishing houses were afraid to take a chance on a minor (little known) composer. Finally, one publishing establishment made a deal: We will publish only if you give up all rights. So desperate to get it out there, Faure agreed. He never made one red cent on it. That is SO NOT RIGHT!
Program Notes for the Manhattan Piano Trio Chamber Concert on
Sunday, March 24, 2013, at 3 p.m. at Pollard Auditorium
By Becky Ball
Viva la musical nationalism, and check out the Czechs featured on tonight’s program. First, there was Bedrich Smetana, father of Bohemian music. Then there was Dvorak, who followed Smetana as leader of Czech national music, and not far behind came Bohuslav Martinu, who may be more Czech at heart than any of them. We also welcome Haydn, who grew up on folk songs and peasant dances, and was a pioneer in the development of the symphony and string quartet. The late Cy Feldman would have been among the first to applaud. Clap! Clap!
Josef Haydn – Piano Trio in E flat Major, Hoboken XV:30
For the most part, life was good for Josef Haydn, whose music-loving dad made his living repairing wagons. Josef excelled at the keyboard and was terrific at singing, teaching and conducting. He rose through the ranks to become the long-term conductor of Hungary’s Prince Miklos Lozsef’s court orchestra, one of the world’s finest private ensembles.
For Haydn, living the good life meant never having financial problems. He got a wealth of compositions published, including hundreds of chamber pieces. Living the good life meant developing a close friendship with Mozart, who inspired “new delicacy” in Haydn’s own compositions. Living the good life meant playing chamber music with Mozart. Fittingly, Mozart’s Requiem was the music of choice at Haydn’s funeral.
Until recently, Haydn’s piano trios were shamefully underrated. How can that be, what with their reputation as "the most brilliant works before Beethoven?" Perhaps they were put aside because they commanded virtuosity and lots of practice. There are rewards galore for those who play and those who listen– rewards such as adventurous harmonies and rule-breaking surprises. In form, Haydn’s piano trios are actually more like keyboard sonatas because of the dominance of the piano. The piano or harpsichord used in Haydn’s day, however, was a weaker instrument than the modern piano, thus the dominant scoring. If anybody complained, Haydn had an answer: “The educated ear is the sole authority (on rules), and I think that I have as much right to lay down the law as anyone.” Amen!
His Piano Trio in E flat Major begins with a wonderful lyrically expansive first movement. Radiant in its definition, the pianist darts all over the keyboard. Think of the speed of a squirrel scuttling for fallen birdseed. Can you imagine trying to get a workable fingering for such keyboard antics or for scales that know no boundaries? Maybe Haydn was not high born, but his Andante here has great nobility. A dark-toned, foot-tapping accompaniment remains steady while the remaining instruments embellish. Something close to a military gait crops up here and there. It’s a little surprising but fun. The presto sneaks in and out so quickly there is little time for analysis. Just enjoy the ride.
BONUS FACT: Haydn was a most affable composer. We have read of only one enemy and alas, she was his second wife. She did not have an ear for his music, but she sure had a head for his manuscripts. She used them to curl her hair.
Bedrich Smetana – From My Homeland
If you want to hear what the culture of Bohemia sounds like, Smetana’s heartfelt nationalistic works are the best place to go. His "My Country," in which the famous Moldau resides, is a cycle of six symphonic poems that celebrate Czech history, legend and topography. Smetana’s popular opera The Bartered Bride had an enormous influence on future operas. He was instrumental in the establishment of Czech national opera, and he held an important place in the development of musical nationalism in his native Bohemia.
Life was not good to Smetana. Three of his four daughters died in childhood, he personally helped man the barricades during the Prague Revolution, he interrupted his career for self-imposed exile in Sweden following the political unrest of 1828, and he contracted syphilis and eventually went deaf. Had he lived today, he would have gotten some kind of relief for his tinnitus, a never-ceasing high pitch ringing in his head. Furthermore, he might not have gone deaf, and he would not have wound up in an “asylum for lunatics.” He may have died in a place with a pretty name. Our hope is that his music enriched his life as much as it has ours. From My Homeland consists of two short pieces for violin and piano.
BONUS FACT: Smetana’s mother loved music and dancing. She allegedly went to a carnival celebration and danced until midnight. The next morning she gave birth to her only son at 10 a.m. The dance sure beat cleaning the house, and it more than likely did a better job of siring a musician.
Bohuslav Martinu – Variations on a Theme by Rossini
Now if anybody had a reason to be afflicted with ringing in the ear, it would be Martinu, who was born in a bell tower. Not only was he born there, he lived there with his parents and two siblings until he started school at age six. His father was a bell ringer and watchman at the village church in downtown Policka.
Fortunately, the noises in young Martinu ’s head were original music notes, and his output of compositions, beginning at the age of 10, was staggering. His early music training was nothing special. Beginning at age seven he took violin lessons from the local tailor and eventually earned a spot in the second violin section of the Czech Philharmonic.
Have you ever wondered which came first - great music or the storms of war that may have provoked great music? Fleeing a war-torn country back then was like a dissonant song with too many verses. Martinu fled during the German invasion of 1940, and his long exile took him to Paris, New York, back to his homeland, and finally to Switzerland. From 1948 to 1951 he was a visiting professor at Princeton University. In 1932, his progressive String Sextet won the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge award. Martinu returned to Europe in 1953 and closed out his life in Switzerland.
Martinu’s imaginative works sound like no other. They are progressive and full of rhythmical energy. Stravinsky was as struck with Martinu as he was with Prokofiev. He called their elusive commodities “instant imprints of their personalities.” Some have labeled his music "melodic neoclassical with a hint of modern." We say that you can take the composer out of his homeland, but you cannot take the homeland out of Martinu. His music is loaded with Czech melodies and rhythms - folk music for sure.
The Rossini theme is from the opera Moses in Egypt. Paganini wrote a set of variations on the same theme. Martinu’s makeover is a crafty arrangement for cello and piano. As the movements have their say, you will hear propelling tempi, a wide dynamic and dissonant harmonic range, and a communicative love for the high spirits and the robust expressions of Rossini. It is all virtuosic fare. Since Martinu lived such a poor existence, it is really heartwarming to hear such rich and clear-witted music.
BONUS FACT: Martinu was easily distracted. He would rather read, compose, or go to the theater than attend classes. When the Prague Conservatory kicked him out for “incorrigible negligence,” he sat down and impulsively wrote more music.
Antonin Dvorak – Piano Trio No 4 in E Minor: Dumky
Dvorak was a prolific composer of symphonic, chamber and piano works, many of which were nationalistic. His fame spread rapidly, but he was different in that he rarely quoted actual folk tunes. His music captures the folk flavors of wherever he resided. The British loved his “folk” music, especially the Slavonic dances and choral works. His time as director of the National Conservatory in New York is well documented, especially the time spent in Spillville, Iowa, where there was a colony of Czechs.
Ah, we revisit the Dumka and the Dumky (singular and plural)! There are so many definitions for so few words. Jim Svejda of The Record Shelf Guide tells us that the Dumka is of Russian origin, and its literal meaning is a “passing through,” as in “this vale of tears,” which Dvorak interpreted as sad. Other musicologists tell us that the nickname derives from the Ukrainian dumka, a melancholy lament in ABA form (slow-fast-slow). Dumka has also been defined as a Slavic folk song with sharply contrasting interludes - slow and melancholy and rapid and exuberant. Take your pick, but you definitely will hear six Dumky (movements), the first three played without pause. The fourth will be slow and dark while the fifth thinks it is a scherzo. The last dumka is in rondo form. The six-dumka piece has more mood swings than most piano trios. But who wants average when you can hear this gem? It has earned its masterpiece status.
BONUS FACT: In 1890 Dvorak predicted that "any serious and original school of composition in America must come from African-American melodies." The prophetic old Czech master was right. African-American influence brought us jazz, blues, R&B, rock, hip hop, and rap. Do we owe some of our identity to Dvorak’s influence?
Program Notes for the Feb. 23 Chamber Concert at 7:30 p.m. at Pollard Auditorium
Oak Ridge Symphony String Quartet
Violinist Karen Kartal and Susan Eddlemon, cellist Ihsan Kartal and violist
By Becky Ball
Anton Webern – Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement)
Take comfort, this unabashedly romantic piece was written before Webern hooked up with Schoenberg. The exercise was assigned as part of his work on his doctorate at the University of Vienna. The piece has a brooding lushness and intense expression that you don’t find in Webern’s later works. This romantically shaped and broadly phrased music is often compared to the styles of Brahms and Mahler. It is too bad that Webern never heard it performed. Seventeen years after his death, it was located in the Webern archives at the University of Washington. The unpublished work had its premiere in Seattle on May 27, 1962.
The eleven-minute movement features crafty manipulations of tone as two themes weave in and out of waves of unsuspecting climaxes and interesting harmonics. As the music fades away, remember the theme you heard first.
BONUS FACT: This is a bizarre story about one cigar and two deaths. Near the end of World War II, on the night that Webern was visiting his daughter and family in Austria, American soldiers came to investigate Webern’s son-in-law, who was allegedly dealing in the black market. Unaware of the tense situation, Webern stepped outside of the house to smoke a cigar and a North Carolina soldier bumped into him. Thinking he was being attacked, the soldier shot and killed Webern. Overcome with remorse, the soldier died of alcoholism in 1955.
Robert Schumann String Quartet No. 2 in F Major
Schumann was born in June but it would have been fitting if he had hatched on Valentine’s Day. He was the most romantic of the Romantic composers and his piano works were the most poetic. In his piano, vocal and chamber music, he combined classical structure with Romantic expressions. He was bothered by music that merely “tickled the ear,” or composers whose music was “like a sum in arithmetic.” Do you want to applaud? While you’re at it, applaud Schumann’s efforts to “improve the tastes of the audience.”
As owner of his own music journal, Schumann critiqued and championed the music of Berlioz, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt and Mendelssohn. When Schumann wed Clara, the marriage was considerably more than a long-awaited romantic union; it was a union of the arts. Clara was a brilliant concert pianist and composer as well. Like no other performer, she romanticized Schumann’s piano music all over Europe. Still there was enough time and love for eight children.
Schumann anointed 1842 as the year for chamber music, and sure enough within a week, he completed the three Opus 41 string quartets. They were dedicated to Mendelssohn, his best friend, and debuted on Clara’s 23rd birthday.
The winsome Quartet in F (in sonata form) is a masterpiece filled with clever inventions and intense poetic feeling. There is a bit of minimalist in the first movement. Note how simply it gets on with its business - a pretty violin melody playing in three-four meter. There is no second theme. Instead, we focus on the concise exposition and development. Listen for Schumann’s fascinating tone manipulations. For dramatic effect, Schumann throws in some ripping surprises. Listen for them in the unusual second movement, which takes a tender theme and utilizes it in four variations. The variations in A-Flat Major vacillate from ardent lyricism to complex rhythmic and harmonic changes. As the theme bursts into fragments, you can expect some more animation. Meanwhile, the darting scales and pizzicato “percussion” are having a field day.
Schumann’s pianistic figurations are particularly enjoyable in the terrific Scherzo (in C minor), which features an assortment of arpeggios, syncopation and other rhythmic deviations. The movement ends with a lovely coda. If you liked the trio in the Scherzo, you will really enjoy how Schumann uses it in the finale, marked by witty syncopations, nifty spiccato, brilliant canons and multiple changes in mood, color and texture. Savor the cello’s dark chocolate tone and the fantastic runs. Do you wonder if the cello thinks it is a piano? The players’ give and take throughout are almost as much fun to watch as to hear.
BONUS FACT: “Endeavor to play easy pieces well and beautiful. That is better than to play difficult pieces indifferently well. When you play, never mind who listens to you. Play always as if in the presence of a master.” – Robert Schumann. This extra bonus fact is that it matters not that Schumann was insane, as some speculated, nor if angels dictated his music, as he and Clara believed. What we have to treasure is his legacy of inspiration and his music. Embrace it.
Serge Prokofiev String Quartet No. 2 in F (The Wartime Quartet)
Prokofiev was prolific in all areas of composition, including chamber music, ballet, keyboard, choral and opera. His standing in Soviet music changed like the weather, but historians tell us that he was “in word and deed, a true Soviet.”
While the German army was taking over Russia in the summer of 1942, the Soviet government evacuated a group of favored musicians, actors, artists, and professors from Moscow to the safety of a little town in the Kabardino-Balkaria Autonomous Republic. It was there that Prokofiev composed his second quartet, which uses the folk music of the Caucasus mountain area. Contained in each movement are actual folk songs and dances. He made a sincere effort to keep the folk material as authentic as possible. The critics, however, did not like the “harsh harmonies or barbaric rhythms.” Their criticism fell on deaf ears because Prokofiev made a conscious effort to write music unlike anybody else. The Soviet press even slapped the term Formalism on Prokofiev’s music, which means it is music that is not likely to be understood on first hearing. Today Prokofiev’s music is classified 20th century style with Romantic roots. It is generally appreciated on first hearing.
A dance and a song (Udzh Starikov and Sosruko) make up the first movement. The neat thing here is that three players create an accordion-sounding accompaniment to the violin’s song. The second movement uses a Kabardian love song and the cello in the upper range is the “crooner.” The middle section features another folk dance that is supposed to imitate the sound of the kermange, a variety of the spike fiddles originated in Persia and used throughout the Middle East. A mountain dance gets lively treatment in the third movement, but it alternates with two lyrical themes, and if you stored some of the first movement in your memory bank, you will delight in discovering it anew before the novel piece ends.
BONUS FACT: The egomaniac Prokofiev could be his own worst enemy. He was often rude and insulting without cause. If you don’t believe it, consult Shostakovich’s book Testimony. But at the same time, Prokofiev was one of the most popular 20th-century composers and was dearly loved for his beautiful melodies.
Astor Piazzola Four for Tango
Argentina-born Astor Piazzola was a virtuoso performer with an unprecedented mastery of the bandoneon, Argentina’s answer to the accordion. He also earned an international fan club because of his enormous success at fusing tango, classical and jazz music. At age 18 he branched out and devoted more time to studying music and composing. He loved Bach and he loved the tango, which might account for his broad musical style that is both personal and unique. Piazzola created the Nuevo Tango, which abounds with an eclectic mix of ideas. He wrote Four for Tango three years before his death in 1992.
You could say that the piece is six-and-a-half minutes long if you count the first two minutes of strange non-musical special effects. You will not want to miss the high-pitched glissandi invented by Bernard Herrmann, who scored the music for the infamous shower scene in the movie Psycho.
Four for Tango was composed for the Kronos String Quartet. It is loaded with strangeness, such as the clicks of the wooden side of the bows or the rapping of knuckles on the bodies of the instruments. When the melancholy tango tune finally appears, the tango for one has to watch out for the accompanying instruments who want to play violent. Note the hammering of notes; ask yourself if they are communicating anything emotional as suggested. And the tango itself, how many textures does it take to make it radical enough? Oh, what fun! One thing is for sure, we will not have to wait for the audience to shriek.
BONUS FACT: According to the musical historians, Piazzola is the single most important composer in the history of tango, a towering giant whose shadow looms large over everything that preceded or followed him. As a great cultural export, he and Duke Ellington have much in common.
ISOTONE CONCERT PROGRAM AND PROGRAM NOTES BY BECKY BALL AND SCOTT EDDLEMON
January 19, 2013 7:30 p.m., Pellissippi State Community College, Clayton Performing Arts Center
Honoring Andrei Sakharov and introducing world-class pianist, Emi Kagawa.
Prelude & Fugue in D Major from J. S. Bach
The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893
Emi Kagawa, Piano
Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 Sergei Prokofiev
1. Andante assai
2. Allegro brusco
4. Allegrissimo - Andante assai, come prima
Susan Eddlemon, Violin
Emi Kagawa, Piano
Labware Leggiero Scott Eddlemon
Scott Eddlemon, Percussion
Etude in A Flat Major Op. 8. No. 8 Alexander Scriabin
Etude in D Sharp Minor Op. 8 No. 12
Emi Kagawa, Piano
Sakharoviana (commissioned by Isotone) Andrew Mark Sauerwein
Tribute to Andrei Sakharov
II. Balance of Power
IV. “The Truth is Never Simple” (π)
V. Common Grace (in Memoriam Eskaterina)
Susan Eddlemon, Violin
Emi Kagawa, Piano
Scott Eddlemon, Percussion
PROGRAM NOTES BY BECKY BALL
J. S. Bach – Prelude and Fugue in D Major from theWell-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846-893
One of the most illustrious composers of the Baroque era, J. S. Bach was born in the same year as Handel, and the two of them, bless their hearts, set the highest standard for Baroque expression. Bach created masterpieces in nearly every Baroque form except opera. His ability to fuse technical mastery with emotional depth is hard to beat, and his organ works are considered the greatest ever written. Bach created an equal temperament system, which allowed composers to write in any key. The famous Well Tempered Clavier, which roughly means the well-tuned keyboard, is a collection of 48 preludes and fugues. In each of the two volumes (1722 and 1744), he used every major and minor key.
The collection is basic to the repertoire of keyboard players, but we are here to tell you they are not easy. In fact, they were not written for public performance, but for solitary playing and meditation. Thank goodness for the pros that can bring them out of the closet. To really get into this music, listen for balance between the left and right hands ( bass and treble). In the fugue listen for each voice and follow it. The clarity of voices is a rewarding challenge. You might also take note of the speedy wonder of the prelude and the articulation details of the fugue.
BONUS FACT: Much is written about Beethoven’s deafness, but not so widely known is Bach’s blindness during his last years of composing. Bach was operated on by an English oculist, and some think it probable that the surgery and consequent treatment hastened his death in 1750.
Sergei Prokofiev – Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Opus 80
Prokofiev took piano lessons from his mother and wrote his first piano piece at age 5 and his first opera at age 9. The talented composer grew up with the label ultramodern enfant terrible. As with many composers of his era, he ran into trouble with Soviet authorities over his contemporary tendencies.
The good news is that his prolific output of operas, symphonies, concertos, suites, chamber, choral, and piano music and songs, which were regarded distastefully dissonant and avant-garde, is now accepted as 20th-century style with Romantic roots. The enfant terrible wrote the ever-popular Peter and the Wolf for orchestra and narrator – an entertaining method of teaching children about the four instrument families.
This Sonata for Violin and Piano contains a full range of emotions, virtuosity and lyricism. Quoting from Prokofiev’s own descriptions: “The Andante Assai is severe in character, and in the last section one should hear the sound of the wind in a graveyard.” This movement is much like a prelude, which extends into the second movement. Now we hear a sonata allegro that is “vigorous and turbulent but broadens out in the second theme.” The slow, gentle and tender third movement is the calm before the storm. “The finale is fast with complicated but exciting rhythms.” Listen carefully for the return of the wind in the graveyard. In 1953 the first and third movements were played at Prokofiev’s funeral.
BONUS FACT: News of Prokofiev’s death was kept from the public for several days because it occurred on the same day as Josef Stalin’s.
Alexander Scriabin - Etude in A Flat Major Op 8. No. 8,
Etude in D sharp Minor Op. 8 No. 12
Scriabin was a privileged prodigy who grew up to be a virtuoso pianist and an innovative but controversial composer. The Great Soviet Dictionary said of Scriabin that “no composer has had more scorn heaped or greater love bestowed” on him. And Leo Tolstoy described Scriabin’s music as “a sincere expression of genius.” We think this genius was intellectually restless and therefore got his kicks dabbling in mysticism, Nietzsch's theories, and the occult teachings of Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society. Do you know about the method in which different keys are associated with specific colors? My sources call it Synaesthesia and it was Scriabin’s creation. Even the various tones of Scriabin’s atonal scale were colored. The colors were demonstrated in performance by the use of colored lighting.
There was nothing boring about Scriabin. First, his music was characterized by lyrical but idiosyncratic tones, which were influenced by Chopin. Later he developed an atonal and much more dissonant musical style, influenced by mysticism and theosophy. During this period he regarded his music as the “supreme ecstatic mystery.” Scriabin’s later music, mostly for piano, was highly chromatic. If he represented the darker side of the Russian artistic psyche, at least he gave pianists ultimate challenges. There were many more notes in a shorter space of time than most pianists had ever seen. It was a style of music that exploited individual abilities, intended almost exclusively for the concert stage.
The Etude in A flat Major is a lovely melodic and reflective piece that keeps the ear and brain engaged. Listen for the flowing melodic line and then note the enhancement of the busy left hand and its wonderful colors. Let’s face it, the Etude in D Sharp Minor is a show-off piece. If Horowitz frequently used it as an encore, you can bet it’s not for sissies. There are treacherous stretches that would scare most of us away. Take note of the left hand jumping around like a grasshopper. Sometimes the right hand has to reach over and pick up a note, so wide are the intervals (up to an eleventh). Numerous octaves in the right hand are another technical feat. Repeated chords, which Scriabin seems to favor, are bold and self-assured.
BONUS FACT: At times the eccentric Scriabin thought he was God. After all, he was born on Christmas Day, and once he tried to walk on water on Lake Geneva and preach to the fishermen. They say he was arrogant and bad-mannered because of his short stature and very small hands. They also say that he wanted to bring to life a monumental world philosophy, and in so doing, achieve a higher form of life. Doesn’t that make him seem a little taller?
PROGRAM NOTES BY SCOTT EDDLEMON
Andrew Sauerwein - Sakharoviana
Sakharovianais a reflection on the life and legacy of Soviet physicist and human-rights advocate Andrei Sakharov. Though he is noted for his work on developing the hydrogen bomb for the Soviet Union, Sakharov is also remembered for his persistent support of human rights in the face of Soviet persecution and exile. He has been admired for his wisdom, which involved “not just thinking but acting, not just intellect but character.” Such character included unusual integrity, passion, humility in the search for truth, a marked lack of hatred and bitterness, perseverance in his commitments, listening to others without imposing his own views, joy in close relationships, warm hospitality, and enduring hopefulness even amidst dire circumstances. It seems likely that his mother, Eskaterina, an Orthodox believer, had a profound formative influence on her young son’s character, even though he left the church at the age of 13 to follow his father’s example of humanism and atheism.
Sakharoviana is cast in five movements, each exploring a dimension of the physicist’s story. The first, Eskaterina, is a meditation on the source of his character, evoked by reference to a Lutheran chorale known in American hymnals as, “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee.” This tune figures in the balance of the work in various guises. The second movement, Balance of Power, is a bald evocation of the race to develop the hydrogen bomb, casting opposing figures in an active dialogue marked by mounting anxiety and bewildering detonations. Tokamak follows with a different kind of balance. Its name comes from the geometry of a fusion reactor Sakharov helped design. The musical texture emulates the reactor’s doughnut-shaped electromagnetic field with particles spiraling within it, striving to maintain the precarious balance of containing a restless fusion reaction. The fourth movement takes its title from a phrase Sakharov used repeatedly: “The truth is never simple.” The rhythmic framework incorporates an approximation of π, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—a simple geometric relationship whose numerical value is beyond rational account. The last movement, Common Grace, revisits and transforms the meditation of the opening, musically pondering God’s gracious gifts of good character to the world.
Susan Eddlemon is a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City, where she studied under Joseph Fuchs. She is the first woman violinist to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Juilliard. Dr. Eddlemon has extensive solo, chamber and orchestral experience. She performed twice at Carnegie Recital Hall. She is an original member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and she has been concertmaster with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra, and the Boris Goldovsky Opera Company. Dr. Eddlemon has performed and taught violin in Oak Ridge and Knoxville over the past 20 years.
Scott Eddlemon is a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City, where he studied with Saul Goodman. He has played timpani and percussion in the Victoria Symphony and Calgary Philharmonic orchestras, as well as at the Spoleto Festival. While in Victoria, Mr. Eddlemon was the percussion instructor at the University of Victoria. Mr. Eddlemon is the principal timpanist in the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra and works with music and arts students throughout the Southeast with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Emi Kagawa, a native of Osaka, Japan, has been active as both a soloist and a chamber musician. She has performed extensively throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, and Japan. A winner of numerous national and international competitions, Ms. Kagawa has performed at the Weill (Carnegie) Recital Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and Steinway Hall. She is a past winner of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition at Juilliard. A dedicated educator, Ms. Kagawa is currently on the piano faculty of St. Joseph University and Lehigh University. Ms. Kagawa received her bachelor’s degree from the Kyoto City University of Arts and her Master of Music degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has continued her studies at the Juilliard School as a full scholarship student and at New York University. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Ms. Kagawa joined the faculty of Music Arts in Oak Ridge this fall. She looks forward to expanding her performing and teaching career in Tennessee.
MANHATTAN PIANO TRIO
Sunday, March 24, 2013 3 p.m., Pollard Auditorium
Milana Strezeva, piano; Wayne Lee, violin; and Dmitry Kouzov, cello
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) Piano Trio in E Flat Major Hoboken XV:30
Andante con moto
Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) From my homeland
Bohuslav Martinu (1890 -1959) Variations on the Theme by Rossini
Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904) Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor “Dumky” Lento Maestoso
ABOUT THE MANHATTAN PIANO TRIO
Hailed by critics as "a grand departure from the usual" (News Herald), the Manhattan Piano Trio has quickly become one of the most creative, exciting, and dynamic young ensembles in the United States. With more than 300 concerts in its first five seasons alone, MPT is one of the most active groups in the classical music scene, welcomed by enthusiastic audiences in more than 30 states, Australia, South Africa and Italy, and in venues such as Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, and the Ravinia Festival. The Washington Post described the Trio as "impressive" and "outstanding", while the Sarasota Herald Tribune said "one seldom is privileged to enjoy music of such a wide range of styles performed with self-effacing skill and relaxed assurance." Their third album, a disc of Schumann and Chopin trios in honor of the composers' bicentennials, was successfully released in 2010 on the Marquis Classics label.
The Manhattan Piano Trio has been recognized for its electrifying performances in international competitions. Since its inception in 2004, the Trio has captured grand prizes at the Plowman Competition and at the Yellow Springs Competition; the runner-up award at the Chesapeake Competition, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Listeners Choice Award in Melbourne.
In the 2012-2013 season, MPT will embark on another set of exciting tours, returning to Waynesburg University, Virginia Tech, Hobart and William Smith College, Bluefield College, and the Gualala Arts Chamber Music Series, as well as making debuts for the Feldman Chamber Music Society, the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg, Saginaw Valley State University, Georgia Southwestern State University, the Chamber Music Society of Utica, the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association, and Lindsey Wilson College.
Since its formation, MPT has carved out a unique niche for itself by performing concerts in a much wider range of settings from major concert halls around the country to venues in smaller towns. The Trio has performed in prestigious venues such as the Kravis Performing Arts Center, the Clark Memorial Library at UCLA, Chamber Music Sedona and Pro Musica Detroit. Along with these engagements, MPT has maintained its goal of establishing and encouraging new concert series to grow in small towns often bypassed by other major classical groups.
Past seasons have brought the group to virtually every part of the country. Highlights include performances and return engagements at the Franciscan University, William and Mary College, Shenandoah University, Fairmont Chamber Music Society, Young Harris Methodist College, St. Simons Island Concert Association, St. Vincent College, Oxford College of Emory University, and Lakes Chamber Music Festival in Minnesota. The Trio has also toured South Africa, performing in Pretoria, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Durban.
Strongly committed to educating new generations of musicians and music lovers, the Manhattan Piano Trio enjoys communicating with their audiences through both music and commentary. The Trio also presents master classes and outreach programs to preparatory schools, colleges, and communities, wherever it goes. As part of the community rebuilding effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, they were one of the first musical groups to perform in the city and were honored to give a benefit concert at the University of New Orleans.
The Manhattan Piano Trio is an ensemble that embodies, in the deepest sense, the borough that provides its namesake: the three musicians represent starkly different backgrounds, and yet connect on a fundamental level to enjoy making music together. Wayne Lee, violinist, is originally from San Francisco; the group's cellist, Dmitry Kouzov, grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Milana Strezeva, pianist, is a native of Chisinau, Moldova, and a naturalized American. Dmitry and Milana are founding members of the group; Wayne, who joined in 2008, is the most recent addition to the ensemble.
In addition to their rigorous concert schedule, the members of MPT are soloists and recitalists who have performed internationally. They are also devoted teachers; Wayne and Milana maintain private studios in New York and Miami, and Dmitry is professor of cello at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The performers all completed graduate degrees at the Juilliard School, and the group still enjoys an active presence in Manhattan.
The Manhattan Piano Trio is managed and represented by Reggie Bahl at MME INC. To learn more about them or to be added to their mailing list, please visit www.manhattanpianotrio.com
The Tesla String Quartet will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012,
at Pollard Auditorium in ORCMA's second Chamber Concert of the 2012-2013 season.
The members of the Tesla SQ are violinists Ross Snyder and Michelle Lie, violist Megan Mason, and cellist Kimberly Patterson.
A bonus will be the appearance of Korean-born clarinetist Wonkak Kim, who will join the quartet in playing Mozart’s Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings. Kim joined the music faculty at Tennessee Tech University in 2011.
The quartet will perform Gyorgy Ligeti’s Andante and Allegretto and Carter Pann’s String Quartet No. 1: Love Letters.
The Tesla String Quartet is the winner of the Gold Medal at the 2012 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and the Third Prize in the 2012 London International String Quartet Competition. The quartet has performed in Austria, Canada, and England, as well as the United States.
PROGRAM NOTES FOR TESLA STRING QUARTET
By Becky Ball
The clock is ticking. With Tuesday’s ballot box results looming over us, what we need is a big dose of pacifying music. Tesla Quartet to the rescue! The good news is that no matter which composer you vote for tonight, there will be no losers. I am Becky (Program Notes) Ball and I approve this message.
Gyorgy Ligeti – Andante and Allegretto
Gyorgy Ligeti spent all of 1944 in a labor camp and he was the lucky one. The rest of his family went to Auschwitz, where only his mother survived. But history tells us that Ligeti turned out to be one of the most important avante-garde composers of his time. And so it goes -- another Soviet domination and another successful composer despite the odds. Ligeti has collected impressive awards, including the Grawemeyer Prize (1986) and the Music Prize of the International Music Council (1996).
Like the Polish composers of the1950s, Ligeti’s style relied heavily on cluster chords (chords with many adjacent chromatic notes) rather than conventional melody, pitch, and rhythm. After the Soviet invasion, Ligeti went to Vienna, where he was so intrigued with the rapidly changing music styles that he left Vienna for a job at a West German radio electronics studio in Cologne. While there he caused a sensation at the 1960 International Society for Contemporary Music Festival with his Apparitions for Orchestra. That successful composition was followed by Atmospheres, another orchestra piece in which he removed all traces of harmony, melody, and rhythm and replaced them with cluster chords. This is the piece that Stanley Kubrick lifted for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. We say “lifted” because the music was used without Ligeti’s permission.
Ligeti’s early compositions featured the New Polish aesthetics, but his later works were more eclectic, even minimalist in character. His most bizarre work was a group of pieces for seven instruments and three soloists who sing nonsense syllables. Like Bartok and Kodaly, Ligeti’s early music was influenced by folk music, but Ligeti described his individual style as “micropolyphony” derived from Webern. Whatever, we can conclude that Ligeti’s evolving style from early Viennese Classicism to Hungarian Modernism was a most interesting road less traveled.
The two-movement string quartet (Andante and Allegretto) is folksy, mellow, lush, and melodic, and if we didn’t know better, we would say romantic. The capricious flourishes in the Allegretto are subtle enough to be charming.
BONUS FACT: “Normal” composers wanting the loudest sound will write fff in the score. But when Ligeti wants the loudest volume, he uses 8, not 3, f’s! The ffffffff translates to an Italian instruction that might go like this: Fortississississississimo. We learned this precious information from Concert Pianist Jeremy Denk’s blog Ligeti’s Infinities.
Carter Pann – String Quartet No. 1: Love Letters
If you want versatile, then Carter Pann is your man. His music is a good blend of crafty popular idioms, haunted melodies, and musical jokes, not to mention works that gleefully quote from the works of other composers. Pann is widely respected for his unique performance techniques and advanced musical thinking. He received his B.A. degree from the Eastman School of Music and earned his M.A. degree under William Bolcom, William Albright, and Bright Sheng at the University of Michigan.
We haven’t counted, but Pann has probably won more prestigious awards than most of his peers, including the K. Serocki Competition for his Piano Concerto (also nominated for a Grammy for Best Classical Composition of 2001), a Charles Ives scholarship from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and several ASCAP composer awards. The clarinet concerto Rags to Richard he composed was commissioned by the famous Richard Stoltzman and premiered at Carnegie Hall. Cool! Clearly, Pann is creative and loves finding new approaches to theater music and eclectic works. He also dabbles in TV and radio commercial jingles.
Love Letters was commissioned by the Ying String Quartet for their Life Music Commissioning project funded by the American Music Association. Somewhat like Janacek’s Intimate Letters, Love Letters takes us on a romantic journey. The lovability of this work is in the instrumentalists’ role of wedding Pann’s emotional “paintings” with their own expressive playing. You will hear prayerful pleas, blissful serenades, and ardent passions, and you are going to love this love affair.
BONUS FACT: Carter Pann has more than a few stories to tell, but we giggled over the one he told his student (composer/pianist Keane Southland). Pann’s orchestral work “Shalom” was judged by members of the American Composers Orchestra, and he was told that it “was a great piece, but just too happy.” Somebody needs to set up a happy hour for those jury sessions.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings
Mozart wrote his first composition at age five and his first symphony at age eight. We know that he could write music notation before he could write words. We also know that his brain allowed him to picture a complete score before any notation went down on paper, and that he was quite the mathematician. But you may not know that Mozart had extensive training from his father, Leopold, who was considered Europe’s greatest music teacher of the time. Let’s hear it for teachers.
For Mozart, composing was love at first write, and the newly invented clarinet was love at first sight. It’s so easy to fall in love with this lovingly conceived quintet, so pure and so sublime. It was really the first great work for the instrument.
Written in 1789 for Anton Stadler and originally scored for a bass clarinet, the quintet is almost always played on an A clarinet. Perhaps we will think of the bass clarinet when we hear the dark tones in the first movement. The strings introduce two elegiac themes before the clarinet takes them and changes both the color and texture. Neat! To get out of the first movement, a virtuoso run is passed from one player to the next!
The melancholy second movement in which the clarinet reigns supreme was the best-loved movement even before it was used so poignantly in the last episode of M*A*S*H, when Captain Charles (David Ogden Stiers) taught the Mozart work to a group of Chinese prisoners. When he heard that they had been killed, he smashed his record, claiming it would be a constant reminder. As we listen to this beautiful movement with its wonderful melodies, intriguing scales, chromatics, and triplet arpeggios, we might give a silent tribute to all victims of war. Incidentally, the M*A*S*H episode turned a lot of listeners on to classical music. Applaud! And the actor Alan Alda recommended the Mozart selection. Applaud some more!
The minuet has two trios, unusual but interesting. The first is for strings alone. The second trio is a clarinet solo over the strings. Think of a German peasant dance. The concluding movement consists of a short and delightful theme transformed by fascinating variations.
BONUS FACT: Bet you don’t know what Mozart’s full name is. Ready? Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophillis Amadeus Gottlieb Sigismundus Mozart. The family called him Wolferei.
The Blair String Quintet will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012,
at Pollard Auditorium in ORCMA's first Chamber Concert of the 2012-2013 season.
The members of the Blair SQ are Christian Teal and Cornelia Heard, violins; John Kochanowski, viola; and Felix Wang, cello. Heard is the wife of Oak Ridge’s famous bassist Edgar Meyer, who has composed several pieces for the Blair Quartet (based at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN).
The quartet’s program for the ORCMA concert includes Haydn's Quartet No. 32 in C Major (The Bird), Opus 33, No. 3; selections from Images from a Close Ward, a piece written for the Blair SQ by composer Michael Hersch; and Beethoven's Quartet, Opus 59, No. 1.
PROGRAM NOTES FOR BLAIR STRING QUARTET
By Becky Ball
Joseph Haydn to Beethoven: “You make upon me the impression of a man who has several heads, several hearts and several souls.” Ludwig van Beethoven about Haydn: “Though I had some instruction from Haydn, I never learned anything.”
Welcome to ORCMA’s kickoff concert of the 2012-13 Chamber Music Series. The bookend quartets by Haydn and Beethoven should be fun to compare because we are betting that you will hear Haydn influences in Beethoven’s quartet despite the dissimilarity. Let’s listen carefully to the unexpected turns and twists, sudden key changes and surprises in both compositions. We think you will like Beethoven flavored with the Haydn spices, so here’s to genius, period.
Haydn: String Quartet in C, Op. 33, No. 3 (The Bird)
This opening quartet is the third in a set of six quartets subtitled Russian and dedicated to the Grand Duke Paul of Russia. Like Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets, Haydn’s six Russian quartets represent a turning point in the mode of composition.
We wonder which came first – the bird or the egg? The egg would be the promise by Haydn to hatch a quartet “in a new and special way.” The bird would be the bird-like twitters and trills that earned Op. 33 No. 3 its nickname The Bird. Take the violin’s first theme, for instance, which is so decorated with grace notes (notes inserted between repeated notes) that the decorations take on a life of their own. Indeed, when each instrument gets to chirp in the delightful development, you may want to reward each one not only with ovations but also with sunflower seeds.
The “new and special way” of composing includes new touches of humor, special techniques to lighten up the full brilliant sound and the scintillating use of variations instead of relying so heavily on contrapuntal interplay. To quote my much-admired predecessor Tom Carlson, this quartet is “one of Haydn’s most blithe and miraculously proportioned works.” We call it equal pay for equal work. But what’s with the Scherzo-Allegretto and its gloom? Does not the sun shine its brightest when it breaks through dark clouds? Who’s complaining anyway? Relish the dignified use of the strings’ lower register while it lasts. You know the characteristic sparkle will return just as birds return to their feeders.
The Adagio’s lovely melody is made lovelier by distinct contrapuntal undercurrent. The melody is at once as playful as it is lyrical, as rhythmic as it is flowing and as pretty as it is chirpy. A finale like this one puts a smile on everybody’s face – so light in texture, so witty in construction and mainly just a good time for us all – the players, the listeners and our fine-feathered friends.
BONUS FACT: This quote from Haydn sums up his music: “Anyone can see that I am a good-natured fellow.” We can hear it too.
The Blair String Quartet will supply program notes for the Michael Hersch piece.
Beethoven: String Quartet in F, Op. 59, No. 1
Let’s go back in time. It’s 1806. The string quartets we hear are written in the comfortable classical style endeared to us by Haydn and Beethoven. As Beethoven’s hearing deteriorates, he is devoting most of his time to the string quartet repertoire. It is lucky then for Beethoven that the Russian Ambassador Count Andreas Razumovksy takes a liking to his music, and in political jargon, funds the Op. 59 Razumovsky quartets with a super pack. Lucky for us too that we get to hear a fussed-over score that has had a comprehensive revision. Now we are privy to Beethoven’s richest period. Are we ready for “foreign” string textures? Are we ready to give up the Beethoven “as we knew him?” You betcha! Because we are now comfortably back in the future and our cultivated ears will discern the newness and still love the oldness in this the best of Beethoven’s three Razumovsky quartets.
The length and breadth of all four movements is something to write home about, beginning with the opening subject, which the cello proudly possesses, while the first violin is aloft somewhere in heaven. The plot thickens when the cello passes the cherished tune to the violin. Meanwhile, the other instruments attempt pandemonium, but seem suppressed at the same time. Delicious! If we keep our ears on the theme, we will so appreciate the mileage it gets through masterful transition material – development, exposition and fugato. This expanded movement in sonata form is a long difficult journey for the players and a rewarding ear-and-eye treat for the audience.
What’s new about the Scherzando? For one thing it’s placed second, before the Adagio, and how about a one-note rhythmic motif anchored by the cello while the other instruments dive in and out? We love the playful wit here. One minute the score is light and jokey and the next it is curiously dull. Listen here too for the sparest of string textures.
If the Adagio sounds like a funeral march, it is, probably an ode to one of his deceased brothers. Beethoven pinned a note to the movement saying, “a weeping willow over his brother’s grave.” Whatever its intent, the music has a compelling introspection. One can indulge in the sentimentality and marvel at the technical feats, such as the cello playing in its highest register. Don’t you now understand how the Scherzando needed the Adagio for such an irresistible contrast? There is nothing unusual about the Adagio leading into the finale without a break, but it is somewhat of a surprise to hear a Russian folk tune in the Dorian mode (D to D on the white notes of the piano) spruced up with such sunshiny cheerfulness. The surprise is as much fun as the music itself. We do, however, get to hear the tune again, this time with a soulful “properly” modal treatment. Listen for it but don’t blink.
BONUS FACT: During a tour of England in 1810, the Italian violinist Felix Radicati noticed the published parts of Beethoven’s Op. 59 quartets on a piano. The violinist exclaimed: “Ha! Beethoven, as the world says, and as I believe, is music-mad; -- for these (quartets) are not music.” Beethoven’s reply? “Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age.” Aren’t we special?