Duets and Quintets

Friday, December 28, 2018 at 3:00 PM

South Reno United Methodist Church


Program Notes by Chris Morrison

Boccherini: Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major “Fandango” (c. 1790, 18 minutes)

Luigi Boccherini was probably the most important Italian composer of instrumental music of the late eighteenth century. After several years of touring as a cello virtuoso, in his late twenties he moved to Madrid, where he took a post as music director for Don Luis, younger brother of King Charles III. There he wrote hundreds of chamber works – his output includes over ninety string quartets and almost 140 quintets.

At the request of a guitar-playing Spanish nobleman, the Marquis de Benavente, Boccherini arranged several of his string quintets for guitar and string quartet in the 1790s. The Guitar Quintet No. 4’s opening Pastorale is gentle and suggestive of the countryside around Boccherini’s Madrid home. The guitar is frequently at the fore, but moves into the background for the second movement, where Boccherini’s own instrument, the cello, takes a leading role. The short, slow third movement serves as an introduction to the Fandango finale, one of Boccherini’s most brilliant movements. Originally a folk dance in triple meter, the Fandango was typically danced by a couple playing castanets – you’ll soon find out how Boccherini evokes this!

Hindemith: Viola Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 11/4 (1919, 16 minutes)

Teacher, violist, composer, and conductor Paul Hindemith was one of the most influential musicians of his day. He actually started as a violin player, but at the age of twenty-four, in the very year that he composed the present work, he made the switch to the instrument with which he was identified for the rest of his life. One writer has described the Sonata in F major as balanced “between classical form, folk nostalgia, and modern harmony.”

The work’s three movements are performed without break. Hindemith displays some harmonic daring in the first movement, which in its three minutes and 41 measures moves through something like ten different keys. Over a quiet piano, the viola introduces the first theme. Soon the piano takes it up, and the two instruments exchange lead and accompaniment roles throughout. A short cadenza leads into the second movement, four variations on a theme that Hindemith described as like a folk song. Starting in the major, the music moves to the minor for the first variation, in which the piano and viola lines overlap one another. The second variation is rhythmic, the third more lyrical, and the fourth builds to a climax. Then comes the third movement, which encompasses three more variations on that same theme as well as another main melody, heard at the start, with a distinctive ascending scale. That folk theme at different points takes off at breakneck speed, emerges in a fugue, becomes a repeating ostinato (reprising a similar passage in the second movement), and is the basis of a triumphant final statement by both instruments.

Mozart: Duo No. 1 in G major for Violin and Viola, K. 423 – Allegro (1783, 5 minutes)

Mozart’s friend Michael Haydn (the composer brother of Franz Josef) had committed himself to writing a set of six duos for violin and viola for Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, who had been up until two years earlier Mozart’s employer. As the deadline approached, Haydn, in the midst of an extended illness, realized that he couldn’t complete the commission in time. So he turned to Mozart, who, during a visit to Salzburg in 1783, quickly wrote a pair of duos for his friend. All six were presented to the Archbishop as Haydn’s work. He was apparently unable to tell where Haydn’s work ended and Mozart’s began. Both instruments are equal partners throughout the Duo No. 1, including the Rondeau third movement that combines charm and seemingly effortless virtuosity.

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44 (1842, 28 minutes)

Robert Schumann tended to spend extended amounts of time on particular genres. He spent most of 1840, for instance, writing songs. 1841 was an orchestral year, and 1842 was his year for chamber music. After composing the three string quartets, Op. 41, Schumann moved on to the Piano Quintet, sketching the work in just five days in September 1842. Completing the first draft of the work on October 12, Schumann further revised it before its first public performance, on January 8, 1843 in Leipzig.

A cheerful theme opens the first movement, leading into a dialogue between viola and cello that produces a second theme. These ideas are developed and move rather far harmonically, before returning in their original form. The second movement opens and closes with what sounds like a funeral march, framing a furious central section. The third movement is similar in mood to the first, the scherzo theme interrupted twice for a lyrical canon and a more extroverted theme. Exciting polyphonic writing highlights the final movement, building to a strong double fugue based on the opening melodies of the first and fourth movements.