Robert Schumann

Born: June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Germany

Died: July 29, 1856, Endenich, Germany

Schumann was one of the quintessential artists of music’s Romantic era. Encouraged in a wide range of studies by his writer/publisher father, Schumann became a law student at the University of Leipzig. But music was his first love. He studied piano with Friedrich Wieck, and later married Wieck’s daughter Clara, one of the finest pianists of her time. Schumann’s efforts to become a piano virtuoso were foiled when he developed partial paralysis of his right hand, so he focused on composing and writing. His music was often written in feverish bursts of activity – 1840, for instance, saw the creation of over 140 songs, and 1842 was a year of chamber music. While he composed in larger forms such as opera, symphony, and concerto, many feel that Schumann’s true genius came to the fore in his songs and piano miniatures. As a critic he co-founded the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and wrote articles praising composers like Chopin and Brahms. Having long suffered from mental problems, in 1854 Schumann tried to drown himself in the Rhine, and he spent his final years in an asylum.

Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E major, Op. 52

Composed: 1841

Duration: 18 minutes

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

1840 was Schumann’s “year of song,” as he produced around 140 lieder in that one year alone. In September of that same year, after a long courtship and a legal battle with her father, Schumann finally married Clara Wieck. Now settled and happy, Schumann turned to orchestral music in 1841, completing his Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 along with the Overture, Scherzo and Finale. Schumann wrote the latter quickly, completing it in just three weeks. But he was uncertain as to what exactly the piece was. For a time he regarded it as his Second Symphony. He also referred to it as a Sinfonietta. And in a note to a potential publisher, he called it a Suite, saying that “the individual movements can be played separately.” Dedicated to the Dutch violinist and conductor Johannes Verhulst, it was published in 1846 after a few revisions to the Finale the preceding year.

After a slow introduction in which two ideas are immediately introduced – a graceful theme for the violins and a descending phrase in the cellos – the first movement speeds to a propulsive Allegro with a skipping theme. As that theme is developed, the ideas from the slow introduction make brief reappearances before an exciting coda. In 6/8 time, the Scherzo opens with a tune in the strings with a distinctive dotted rhythm. That lively music contrasts with a lovely, lazy Trio section led by the winds that, in its second appearance, incorporates the descending cello theme from the Overture. A rising melody in the strings, unfolding in counterpoint, opens the Finale, with contrast provided by a slower, elegant theme. These themes dominate the movement, alternating between one and the other as the music builds to a grand conclusion.

Ludwig van Beethoven 

Born: December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany

Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria

One short biographical sketch on Beethoven begins “The events of Beethoven’s life are the stuff of Romantic legend, evoking images of the solitary creator shaking his fist at Fate and finally overcoming it through a supreme effort of creative will.” Those biographical details, however, such as the deafness that plagued his last three decades of life, his stormy love affairs and his famous ill temper, are dwarfed by his artistic output, one of the monuments of music history. He literally mastered and transformed all the musical forms of his day, and extended the range and depth of expression available to composers. Beethoven was no Mozart-like prodigy, although even in his teens he was composing and playing in orchestras. But by his twenties – after studies with the likes of Franz Josef Haydn and Antonio Salieri – both his compositions and piano playing had garnered considerable attention. It was around the age of thirty that Beethoven first noticed his encroaching deafness, but soon thereafter began the second, or “middle,” of his creative periods, which included groundbreaking works like the “Eroica” Symphony, the “Appassionata” and “Waldstein” piano sonatas, and the opera Fidelio. After a period of relative musical inactivity in the late 1810s, he entered his so-called “late” period, highlighted by the Ninth Symphony and the late string quartets and piano sonatas, in which his music gained a new, very personal depth and freedom.

Ah! perfido, Op. 65

Composed: 1796

Duration: 14 minutes

Instrumentation: flute, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings, solo soprano

Ah! perfido, or Ah! Deceiver, is a concert aria for soprano and orchestra. The text of its opening recitative is taken from the play Achille in Sciro by Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), the Italian poet who provided libretti for dozens of operas, oratorios, and other works. The words in the aria that follows are by an unknown poet. Ah! perfido was first performed in Leipzig on November 21, 1796 with soloist Josefa Dušek, a well-known singer for whom Mozart had also written a couple of arias. The work was also part of the famous four-hour concert on December 22, 1808 in Vienna, at which Beethoven led the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Piano Concerto No. 4, and the Choral Fantasy, along with several other works. The opus number of 65, by the way, was assigned over twenty years after the aria was written and is deceptive, as this is actually a quite early work of Beethoven’s.

In the work, a young woman expresses her anger after having been betrayed by her lover. With stormy strings, the recitative begins with the soprano passionately asking, “Ah, unfaithful liar! vile deceiver, you leave me?” She wants the gods to punish him, but then asks for mercy for him. At “Ah no! Ah no!” she turns the curses on herself, saying that she should be condemned and not he – “though he has changed, I am what I was.” After a breath, the orchestra takes up a new, consoling theme for the aria, “For pity’s sake, do not leave me,” as the singer turns to her sadness at their parting. Gentle woodwind phrases accompany her song, as she laments the fact that she is likely to die unhappy. Another breath, and the third section returns to the storminess of the first. There is still love in her complaint of his cruel treatment, as she tries at the end to evoke his pity.

Gabriela Lena Frank 

Born: September, 1972, Berkeley, California

Composed: 2001

Duration: 24 minutes

Instrumentation: strings 

Gabriela Lena Frank has written the following about her composition:

This piece was written for string quartet in 2001 and arranged for string orchestra in 2003.

Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout draws inspiration from the idea of mestizaje as envisioned by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. As such, this piece mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions.

“Toyos” depicts one of the most recognizable instruments of the Andes, the panpipe. One of the largest kinds is the breathy toyo which requires great stamina and lung power, and is often played in parallel fourths or fifths.

“Tarqueda” is a forceful and fast number featuring the tarka, a heavy wooden duct flute that is blown harshly in order to split the tone. Tarka ensembles typically also play in fourths and fifths.

“Himno de Zampoñas” features a particular type of panpipe ensemble that divides up melodies through a technique known as hocketing. The characteristic sound of the zampoña panpipe is that of a fundamental tone blown fatly so that overtones ring out on top, hence the unusual scoring of double stops in this movement.

“Chasqui” depicts a legendary figure from the Inca period, the chasqui runner, who sprinted great distances to deliver messages between towns separated from one another by the Andean peaks. The chasqui needed to travel light. Hence, I take artistic license to imagine his choice of instruments to be the charango, a high-pitched cousin of the guitar, and the lightweight bamboo quena flute, both of which are featured in this movement.

“Canto de Velorio” portrays another well-known Andean personality, a professional crying woman known as the llorona. Hired to render funeral rituals even sadder, the llorona is accompanied here by a second llorona and an additional chorus of mourning women (coro de mujeres). The chant Dies Irae is quoted as a reflection of the comfortable mix of Quechua Indian religious rites with those from Catholicism.

“Coqueteos” is a flirtatious love song sung by gallant men known as romanceros. As such, it is direct in its harmonic expression, bold, and festive. The romanceros sing in harmony with one another against a backdrop of guitars which I think of as a vendaval de guitarras (“storm of guitars”).-Gabriela Lena Frank

Zoltán Kodály

Born: December 16, 1882, Kecskemét, Hungary

Died: March 6, 1967, Budapest, Hungary

One of Hungary’s most important composers, Zoltán Kodály was also an innovator in the field of ethnomusicology, and his teaching method, including textbooks and a considerable amount of music written specially for children, has been embraced worldwide. After early studies with his father, Kodály took classes in literature and languages at Budapest University. He also attended the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, where he earned diplomas in composition and music education, and in 1906 was awarded a Ph.D. for his analysis of Hungarian folk song. During those and subsequent years he made numerous trips into the countryside, often with his friend Béla Bartók, collecting and recording folk songs (the program for folk music research they began eventually resulted in the collection and analysis of over 100,000 folk songs from all over central and eastern Europe). Kodály maintained parallel careers as a composer and conductor while continuing his researches and teaching at Budapest’s Academy of Music, where he greatly influenced future generations of Hungarian musicians. Late in life he served as president of the International Folk Music Council and the International Society of Music Educators.

Dances of Galánta

Composed: 1933

Duration: 16 minutes

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion, strings

Kodály celebrated his fiftieth birthday in 1932. The following year, he received a commission from the Budapest Philharmonic, for a work to be performed at a gala concert celebrating the orchestra’s eightieth anniversary, that caused his thoughts to turn to his youth. When Kodály was three, his family had moved to Galánta, a small market town in northern Hungary (now in Slovakia). There he had the first musical experiences he could remember, hearing classical music played by his father, an amateur violinist and railroad stationmaster, and his mother, who sang and played the piano. He also became enamored of the Romani bands that often performed in town. Kodály remembered those seven childhood years in Galánta as the happiest in his life. Later, as he became an expert on the folk music of his native Hungary – traveling through the country, collecting, analyzing, and publishing the songs and dances he encountered – one of his expeditions took him again through the Galánta region. He also ran across a Viennese publication from around 1800 that collected melodies from that area. All these experiences and memories went into the creation of the Dances of Galánta, which were premiered by the Budapest Philharmonic on October 23, 1933.

In his Dances, Kodály employs five examples of the old Hungarian verbunkos. Originally a song-dance used by army recruiters to convince potential soldiers of the joys of service (the name derives from the German werben, to recruit), the verbunkos is a syncopated dance that traditionally alternates fast and slow tempos. A slow, dark-hued introduction leads into a cadenza for the clarinet, an instrument commonly found in gypsy bands. Soon the flute and oboe take their turns as soloists. As the tempo increases, new melodies are introduced in a sort of medley, alternating with reappearances of the clarinet’s original tune, with surprising off-kilter accents, lively syncopation, and colorful orchestration.

Chris Morrison is Content Coordinator and Producer at KNCJ Public Radio.