Program Notes – Summerfest

By Chris Morrison

Journeys Inside America

Joan Tower: Très lent: Hommage à Messiaen
(1994, 8 minutes)

 

Joan Tower has been called “one of the most successful woman composers of all time.” Reno audiences will remember that, in 2005, she conducted the Reno Chamber Orchestra in the West Coast premiere of her Made in America, which the Orchestra co-commissioned and which later won three Grammy Awards. She writes of her Très Lent: “When I was the pianist for the Da Capo Chamber Players, we frequently performed Messiaen’s quartet [Quartet for the End of Time] over a seven-year period. During this time, I grew to love the many risks Messiaen took – particularly the use of very slow ‘time,’ both in tempo and in the flow of ideas and events. Très Lent is my attempt to make ‘slow’ music work.”

 

Antonín Dvořák: String Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 97

(1893, 32 minutes)

 

In 1892, at the height of his popularity in Europe, Dvořák accepted the invitation of the philanthropist Jeanette Thurber to become director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York. Quickly finding himself overwhelmed by New York and homesick for his native Bohemia, Dvořák spent much of the following year’s summer vacation with fellow Czech settlers in the small settlement of Spillville, Iowa. While he found the Iowa landscape a little strange – “Few people and a great deal of empty space,” as he put it – Dvořák found great pleasure in his nearly daily contact with the Kickapoo Native American community there. In his first month in Spillville he composed the well-known String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, the “American,” and within days had started work on the E-flat major Quintet – also sometimes called “American,” and likewise completed in a matter of weeks. Both the Quartet and Quintet were premiered in Boston on New Year’s Day, 1894 by the Kneisel Quartet, probably the best-known American string quartet of the day.

 

Like the “American” Quartet, the E-flat major String Quintet features transformations of Native American melodies along with more recognizably Czech elements – including much material based on the pentatonic scale, the five-note scale common to much of the world’s folk music, including the songs of Dvořák’s native Bohemia and the African-American songs he had encountered in New York. It is said that the second theme of the Quintet’s first movement is derived directly from one of the Native American melodies Dvořák heard in Spillville, and much of the melodic material of this movement relates to the pentatonic scale. The ostinato repeating figures of the second movement, while evocative of Bohemian folk music, may well also be related to Native American drumming. This spirited music is contrasted with a more mournful central section. The Larghetto third movement is a set of five variations on a wistful double theme, half in the major and half in the minor – interestingly enough, part of this melody was originally conceived as a setting of the familiar words “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” by S.F. Smith, which Dvořák had thought might become a new American National Anthem! After this relatively restrained music, the jaunty Finale, even with its lyrical interludes in the minor, brings the Quintet to an enthusiastic close.

 

Florence Price: Andante moderato from String Quartet No. 1 in G major

(1929, 7 minutes)

 

Florence Beatrice Price was the first African-American woman composer to have one of her pieces played by a major orchestra, when her Symphony in E minor was played by the Chicago Symphony in 1933. She supported herself by teaching, including heading the music department of what is now Clark Atlanta University, while also producing a considerable amount of music – ultimately including four symphonies, three piano concertos, a violin concerto, and a host of other works. After her death in 1953, she and her music faded into temporary obscurity. But in recent years, her music has been winning performances all over the United States and the world.

 

Price wrote three works for string quartet. Her Quartet No. 2 in A minor from 1935 and the Five Folksongs in Counterpoint of 1951 were preceded by the Quartet in G major, which Price seems not have have completed. Only two movements have come down to us, the second of which, often performed on its own, is a lovely, songful Andante moderato, with a playful central section providing some contrast.

 

William Grant Still: Suite for Violin and Piano

(1943, 15 minutes)

 

Once known as the “Dean of African-American Composers,” William Grant Still created some 200 works, including five symphonies, nine operas, ballets and choral works, and much more. He got his musical start in the jazz and theater world, playing a number of wind and string instruments as well as arranging for W.C. Handy, Fletcher Henderson, Artie Shaw, and Paul Whiteman. Eventually he dedicated himself to composing, becoming the first African-American composer to have a symphony and an opera performed by major institutions.

 

His Suite for Violin and Piano takes its inspiration from three sculptures, all from the 1930s and associated with the Harlem Renaissance. The first movement, suggested by Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer, employs dance rhythms and hints of the blues. Several sculptures of Mother and Child by Sargent Johnson inspired the lullaby-like second movement, which also has won some popularity in Still’s arrangement for string orchestra. The third movement takes as its inspiration Augusta Savage’s Gamin, a bust of a young boy that draws from Still playful, syncopated, jazz- and blues-inflected music.

 

Valerie Coleman: Suite from Portraits of Josephine

(2006, 15 minutes)

 

Coleman played the flute and composed from an early age, earning a double bachelor’s in theory/composition and flute performance from Boston University, and a Masters in flute performance from Mannes College of Music. While a student, Coleman founded the well-known quintet Imani Winds, which focuses on music from the non-European part of the classical music world. In 2020, Coleman was named Performance Today‘s Classical Woman of the Year, and was listed as “one of the Top 35 Women Composers” in the Washington Post

Portraits of Josephine portrays the personality and moments from the life of Josephine Baker. Baker (1906-1975) became one of Europe’s most-popular performers as a dancer at the Folies Bergère in Paris during the 1920s. She later worked for the Red Cross and French Resistance during World War II, and during the 1950s and 1960s was active in the American civil rights movement. Of the original eight movements of Portraits of Josephine, the Suite includes the first, sixth, third and eighth – the insouciant, swinging “Ol’ Saint Louis,” “Les Milandes” (named after the Château des Milandes where Baker settled to raise her family, and which is now a museum dedicated to her), the atmospheric, jazz-inflected “Paris 1925,” and the elegant closing “Thank You, Josephine (J’ai Deux Amours).

A Musical Melange

Erberk Eryilmaz: Raki Havasi

(2019, 5 minutes)

 

Eryilmaz is a Turkish-American composer, pianist, conductor, and percussionist whose works have been performed around the world. He and his wife Laura Krentzman have established the Hoppa Project to promote music with a wide range of styles from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Eryilmaz has written of his Raki Havasi, or Raki Air, that it “was commissioned by WindSync in 2019. The work is inspired by the celebratory drinking tunes and dances of the northwest region of Turkey. Raki is Turkey’s national alcoholic drink and mainly produced from the grapes and aniseed of the region. This drink does not only influence the human body but has also influenced the folk music of the region with super cheerful and explosively energetic music in 9/8 meter. For an authentic performance, drinking by the performers is recommended, but for an accurate performance, maybe not.”

 

Ernst Chausson: Poème, Op. 25

(1896, 16 minutes)

 

A prominent member of Chausson’s circle of artist friends was famous Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. When Ysaÿe asked Chausson to write a violin concerto for him, Chausson demurred, replying “I hardly know where to begin with a concerto, which is a huge undertaking, the devil’s own task. But I can cope with a shorter work. It will be in very free form with several passages in which the violin plays alone.” That work was the Poème, which Chausson composed while vacationing in Italy. Its very successful premiere, at the Nancy Conservatoire on December 27, 1896, featured Ysaÿe as soloist. The work’s original title, Le Chant de l’amour triomphant (The Song of Love Triumphant) – borrowed from the novella of the same name by Ivan Turgenev, a tale of love and jealousy and magic set in the Renaissance – was abandoned.

 

A slow, mysterious opening sets a languorous mood as the violin enters with an arching melody. After the piano restates the melody as a chorale, the violin rejoins with its elaboration on the theme, including frequent double-stops. The violin seems to soar above the piano’s busy accompaniment. As the chorale sounds again, the violin soon adds a new, bracing melody. The music builds, the chorale returns one last time, and the violin decorates with trills the work’s poetic conclusion.

 

Francis Poulenc: Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano

(1924-26, 13 minutes)

 

By his mid-twenties, Poulenc had become well-known in France, through his compositions and his membership in the informal French composer group Les Six. He had already written a couple of chamber works involving woodwinds when he started on the present Trio in May 1924. It took the self-critical composer two years to complete. Toward the end of the process, Poulenc holed up in a Cannes hotel to finish the piece. Igor Stravinsky happened to be staying nearby, and the older composer gave Poulenc some advice on the Trio’s first movement.

 

The first movement opens with chords from the piano, with the bassoon, then oboe, joining in soon afterwards. The tone is serious, or more likely mock serious, imitating the manner of an overture of the French Baroque. Then the tempo speeds and the music makes much of quick contrasts and humor, with the two wind instruments largely taking the melodic lead. A brief quote from the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice is a part of the graceful, heartfelt second movement, which Poulenc himself described as “sweet and melancholic.” What one commentator calls a “frenzy of movement” characterizes the fast-paced third movement, with its horn calls and fanfare-like conclusion. Even much later in life, Poulenc thought very fondly of his early Trio, finding in it “an extraordinary fresh force and fantastic individuality.”

 

Traditional: Tsuru No Sugomori (arr. Garrett Hudson)

(3 minutes)

 

The shakuhachi is the traditional end-blown bamboo flute from Japan. Zen monks have used the instrument to accompany meditation, it sometimes accompanies other instruments like shamisen and koto, and today the shakuhachi turns up in all sorts of musical contexts, from traditional music to jazz. It can produce a wide range of tone colors and “bent” notes through changes in embouchure, blowing angle, fingering, and other techniques.

 

Over the centuries, a vast repertoire has been created for the shakuhachi. One of the most famous pieces is Tsuru No Sugomori, usually translated as The Crane’s Nesting. Cranes have long been thought to symbolize longevity, and have been worshiped as sacred. Through a variety of playing techniques, Tsuru No Sugomori depicts the life cycle of the crane, with imitations of its cries, the fluttering of its wings as it flies, and even the fledgling leaving the nest and its parents. Garrett Hudson evokes the sounds of the shakuhachi in his arrangement for flute.

 

Leoš Janáček: Pohádka

(1923, 12 minutes)

 

Pohádka, generally translated as “Fairy Tale,” is based on scenes from an epic poem, The Tale of Tsar Berendyey by Vasily Zhukovsky. It’s Janáček’s only work for cello and piano, and it exists in several different versions. Pohádka started life in 1910 in three movements. Then two years later, Janáček revised the work, adding a quiet fourth movement. A further revision, returning the piece to three movements, was premiered in 1923, and has become the work’s definitive form.

 

In Zhukovsky’s tale, Prince Ivan has fallen in love with Princess Maria. But Maria’s father, Kaschei, King of the Underworld, objects, and feels that Ivan needs to prove himself worthy. The quiet opening of Janáček’s first movement evokes the magical lake where Ivan and Maria meet. Their love duet is followed by the appearance of Kaschei, who pursues the two lovers on horseback. In the second movement, Ivan and Maria have taken refuge at a nearby palace. But the Tsar and Tsarina of the castle see Ivan as a potential mate for their own daughter, and put a spell on him, simultaneously turning Maria into a blue flower. A magician breaks Ivan’s spell, restoring Maria to her human form and bringing her and Ivan back together. They return to the palace of Ivan’s parents in the final movement, where they recount their adventures and celebrate their love.

 

Maurice Ravel: Alborada del gracioso

(1904-5, 7 minutes)

 

Ravel was born in the French Pyrenees, just a few miles from the Spanish border, and had a lifelong attraction to Spain and Spanish music. One of his earliest attempts at writing “Spanish” music was Alborada del gracioso, originally the fourth movement of the five-movement suite for solo piano Miroirs. In musical terms, an alborada can be many things, from a Galician folk tune to a song for a wedding day. In this case, though, Ravel probably simply means a song sung early in the morning, at dawn. In the Middle Ages, troubadours wrote such songs, called albas, typically the lament of two lovers forced to part as the sun comes up. A gracioso was a comedic figure, sometimes a comic lover or a servant that provides humorous comments on his master. In Ravel’s work, a challenging one for the pianist, lively dance music, in which the piano evokes the strumming of a guitar, frames an extended songlike central section, the serenade of the jester.

 

Georges Bizet: Adagio from Symphony in C major

(1855, 9 minutes)

 

Bizet grew up in a musical family, started studying at the Paris Conservatoire at age nine, and won multiple prizes before he turned twenty. Despite this glowing start, though, his music had difficulty finding a following. Even the opera Carmen, now his most famous piece, got a lukewarm reception early on. The Symphony in C major was a student work, composed when Bizet was just seventeen years old. He later suppressed it, and it remained unknown until it finally got its first performance in 1935.

 

At the point that he wrote the Symphony, Bizet was studying with his favorite teacher, composer Charles Gounod, of whom he later wrote, “You were the beginning of my life as an artist. I spring from you. You are the cause, I am the consequence.” Gounod’s own Symphony No. 1 in D major was the model for Bizet’s Symphony. Heard in this concert in a reduction for ten instruments, Bizet’s second movement begins with a sinuous melody, soon followed by a songful second theme. A slow contrapuntal section is among the debts Bizet pays to Gounod’s Symphony, which features a similar interlude. Then the opening theme returns before the movement’s gentle close.

 

Astor Piazzolla: La muerte del ángel (arr. Blaise Déjardin)

(1962, 4 minutes)

 

Piazzolla was almost single-handedly responsible for taking what was once a regional folk dance, the tango, and making it famous all over the world, as he took to heart the advice of the famed pedagogue Nadia Boulanger to use his classical and jazz training to create what came to be known as “nuevo tango.” In the early 1960s, Piazzolla wrote five works that have since been dubbed the “Angel Series,” although they weren’t conceived of by the composer as a collection or suite. The first of those, La muerte del ángel, was originally one of two songs Piazzolla wrote in 1962 for a play by Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz, El Tango del Ángel. The play has been described as “the story of an angel trying to heal the broken spirits of humans in a Buenos Aires home, only to die in a knife fight.” That knife fight is the setting for La muerte del ángel, which begins as a three-voice fugue. Its rhythm and tempo get faster before the actual knifing, depicted in glissandi or slides. Originally written by Piazzolla for his own group, the piece is heard in this concert in an arrangement for four cellos by Blaise Déjardin.

Down the Danube

Franz Schubert: Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703

(1820, 9 minutes)

 

Schubert is known for abandoning pieces before having completed them, the most famous example being the “Unfinished” Symphony of 1822, just one of several Schubert symphonies left as incomplete fragments. Another example is the Quartettsatz, or Quartet Movement, which was to have served as the first movement of his String Quartet No. 12. He only completed this first movement and the beginning of the second. Why he didn’t proceed with the rest of the quartet is unknown. One popular guess is that, having come up with such a powerful opening movement, Schubert didn’t quite know where to go from there. In any event, the Quartettsatz remained unheard until Johannes Brahms, who had come into possession of the score, arranged for its first performance and publication in the late 1860s. The movement begins not unlike the “Unfinished” Symphony, with an uncertain, fluttering figure in the first violin that is taken up by the other instruments. The music is passionate and dynamic – throughout, Schubert makes much of contrasts of loud and soft. Some respite is found in the lyrical second theme, and in the chorale-like idea heard a couple of times at the end of the exposition and recapitulation of this sonata-form movement. But overall, the Quartettsatz was well-described by Robert Winter as “a work of furious intensity that heralded Schubert’s maturity as a composer of instrumental music. Its concentration and variety of texture and register paved the way for the three great quartets of Schubert’s last years.”

 

Zoltán Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7

(1914, 26 minutes)

 

One of Hungary’s most important composers, Kodály also helped set standards 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. As a scholar and teacher at Budapest’s Academy of Music, he exercised a great influence on future generations of Hungarian musicians. Kodály and his compatriot Béla Bartók made many trips into the Hungarian countryside, collecting and recording folk music (the program for folk music research begun by Kodály and Bartók eventually resulted in the collection and analysis of over 100,000 folk songs from all over central and eastern Europe).

 

Many of his chamber music compositions date from the years of World War I. They all betray to some extent his interest in folk music, even though the war had brought his collecting trips to a temporary end. The Duo for Violin and Cello was written right at the start of the War, but wasn’t premiered until May 7, 1918. The themes of the first movement, in a conventional sonata form, have the contours and gestures, as well as the modal flavor, of folk music. Kodály opens the second movement with the cello, his own instrument, which is soon joined by the violin in a passionate song that turns into a double fugue. The third movement’s dramatic slow opening, the rhythms of which sound as much like speech as they do song, leads into fast paced music resembling a lively child’s folk song with a repeating ostinato accompaniment.

 

Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! (arr. Franz Hasenöhrl)

(1894-95/1954, 8 minutes)

 

Richard Strauss’s orchestral tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks), Op. 28 has become a famous part of the repertoire. In it, Strauss describes episodes from the life of Till Eulenspiegel, possibly an actual person who lived in the fourteenth century, a charming young practical joker who mocked all conventions and authority, whether secular or religious. His pranks, sometimes aimed at middle class tradespeople and young women with whom he wished to flirt, often also extended to people of power, like the clergy and the nobility. He tended not to be taken seriously, and escaped punishment. But he was eventually accused of blasphemy, put on trial, and hung.

 

Decades later, Franz Hasenöhrl – his actual last name was Höhrl, but he took the pseudonym Hasenöhrl, or “Bunny Ears” – an Austrian composer and teacher for many years at the University of Vienna, decided to recast, or deconstruct, Strauss’s work in what he called Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! (“another way,” or “for once differently”). Cutting the work approximately in half and using just five instruments – violin, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, and double bass – rather than Strauss’s massive orchestra, Hasenöhrl rather masterfully brings to life the world of Till Eulenspiegel in chamber form. He maintains Strauss’s focus on the horn, which introduces Till in a famous solo in Strauss’s original, and the violin, generally representing Till’s more poetic side. The double bass not only provides the low foundation of the ensemble, but also evokes Strauss’s percussion effects.

 

Johannes Brahms: Scherzo, WoO. 2 from the F-A-E Sonata

(1853, 6 minutes)

 

This short movement is drawn from the so-called F-A-E Sonata, a collaborative four-movement sonata for violin and piano composed in 1853 as a birthday present for the famous violinist Joseph Joachim by his friends Brahms (who provided the third movement), Robert Schumann (who wrote movements two and four), and Albert Dietrich (who wrote the opening movement). The title refers to Joachim’s personal motto “frei aber einsam” (free but lonely). Brahms’s contribution to the Sonata is fast and rhythmically exciting, with syncopations and more than a hint of the “gypsy” style that so entranced Brahms, Joachim, and their circle.

 

Josef Suk: Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 1

(1891, 20 minutes)

 

The Czech composer Josef Suk is remembered mostly because of his connection with Antonín Dvořák: Suk studied with Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory, and in 1898 married his daughter Otilie. Suk served as the second violinist of the famed Czech Quartet for forty years, but also composed a great deal of music. His early works – such as his best-loved composition, the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 – are in a Romantic style that owes much to Dvořák’s tutelage. But after the deaths of Dvořák in 1904 and Otilie the following year, Suk’s compositions grew darker and more introspective.

 

The Piano Quartet in A minor clearly falls into the early period. Composed while Suk was a student at the Prague Conservatory, the Quartet served as his graduate thesis. The forceful opening movement was written during an Easter holiday in Suk’s hometown of Krecovice, shortly after he had begun his studies with Dvořák. The elder composer thought highly of the soulful Adagio, which had been started during that same vacation, encouraging Suk to complete it and the rousing Allegro con fuoco finale.

 

György Ligeti: Six Bagatelles

(1953, 12 minutes)

 

Ligeti is among the most important composers of the second half of the twentieth century. His early compositions tended to be influenced by folk music. But once he left repressive Hungary in 1956, he was able to explore the avant-garde more fully, and publicly. Some subsequent works were written in a slow-evolving style he dubbed micropolyphony, and others incorporated a diverse set of influences, including minimalism and the complex rhythms he encountered in the music of sub-Saharan Africa.

 

The Six Bagatelles originated in Musica ricercata, a set of eleven piano pieces that Ligeti wrote over 1951 through 1953. An unusual aspect of Musica ricercata is that each of the sections is restricted to certain pitches – only two notes are employed in the first piece, three in the second, and so on. In 1953, Ligeti arranged six of the eleven pieces (numbers 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10) for wind quintet, creating the Six Bagatelles. The first Bagatelle is lively, with an almost bluesy quality, and full of contrasts. The second turns serious, almost anguished in mood. The third employs a repeating ostinato figure, juxtaposing more long-limbed and staccato figures. Strong accents and dissonances mark the lively, rhythmically irregular fourth. The fifth, titled “Béla Bartók in Memoriam,” pays tribute to Ligeti’s fellow Hungarian composer with bell-like sounds and dance rhythms. The final Bagatelle is fast-paced and often dissonant, building to a conclusion that Ligeti marks “as though insane.”

A British Excursion

Benjamin Britten: Phantasy Quartet in F minor, Op. 2
(1932, 14 minutes)

 

When Britten wrote his Phantasy Quartet, he was an eighteen-year-old student at the Royal College of Music. It was one of the many British works from those years titled “phantasy” written in response to the Cobbett Phantasy Prize, created by the philanthropist and amateur musician W.W. Cobbett in 1905. Cobbett wanted to encourage the composition of new instrumental works borrowing the single-movement Phantasy form that was fairly common in sixteenth century England. Dedicated to Léon Goossens, who was the oboist in the work’s first performance in a 1933 BBC broadcast, the Phantasy Quartet became the first work to gain Britten some international attention, when it was played for the International Society of Contemporary Music in 1934.

 

In an arch form, the Phantasy Quartet eases its way into life, leading into the first main theme, a quiet march introduced by the cello, then taken up by the other strings and the oboe. A variant of that melody becomes important in the subsequent faster music. The music’s mood is quick-changing, with the more lyrical oboe often contrasted with harsher, more complicated ideas in the strings. In the central section, the tempo slows again as the strings introduce a new theme, soon expanded on by the oboe. Now having made it to the other side of the arch, the fast music, then the quiet march, are heard once again.

 

Edward Elgar: Romance in D minor, Op. 62

(1909-10, 6 minutes)

 

Elgar was proficient on many instruments, including the bassoon, which he occasionally played in a wind quintet with his brother. The Romance, originally for bassoon with orchestra, was composed for Edwin F. James, then the principal bassoonist of the London Symphony Orchestra. James premiered the work, with Elgar conducting, in 1911. Elgar later also arranged the solo part for cello, as well as preparing versions with just piano accompaniment. The Romance was completed in between two of Elgar’s largest pieces, the Violin Concerto (1910) and the Symphony No. 2 (1911). Rather than the more comedic side of the instrument, Elgar creates in the Romance a rich, delicate, sometimes plaintive but always lyrical part for the bassoon.

 

Rebecca Clarke: Viola Sonata

(1919, 23 minutes)

 

Composer and violist Rebecca Clarke was the first female member of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, and one of Britain’s first female professional orchestral players. Subsequently she performed as a solo violist and in chamber ensembles. Her compositional output, much of it centered on the viola, varied in volume, centering on the 1920s and the period 1939-42. In later times Clarke and her music were completely forgotten, at least until a 1976 radio broadcast on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday sparked a renewal of interest.

 

The Viola Sonata was submitted to a composition competition sponsored by Clarke’s neighbor, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Out of 72 entries, Clarke’s work tied for first with a piece by Ernest Bloch. In the end Bloch won, as Clarke’s winning, according to the judges, might have been interpreted as favoritism to a friend of Coolidge’s (some also suspected that her name might be a pseudonym, as it was then thought socially and musically unlikely that a woman would write such well-constructed and passionate music!) Clarke described the Viola Sonata as “the one whiff of success that I’ve had in my life,” and it now stands as perhaps the most frequently performed and recorded major work for viola and piano. Its first movement opens with a fanfare from the viola. The melodic and harmonic nature of what follows might call to mind the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, or that of Claude Debussy. The second movement is a scherzo, jagged and harmonically unpredictable, colored by harmonics and pizzicato notes from the viola. In a slow tempo for most of its duration, the thoughtful Adagio adds, as a coda, a reprise of the fanfare theme of the first movement, which evolves into a brilliant conclusion for both instrumentalists.

 

Edward Elgar: Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84

(1918-19, 35 minutes)

 

Sir Edward Elgar was mostly self-taught as a musician and made his living through his compositions as well as free-lance teaching, conducting, and performing. His reputation as a composer was largely based on large-scale orchestral and choral works, such as the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, and the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. Elgar had pretty much abandoned chamber music until his early sixties, when he settled a country cottage in Sussex and – having overcome a depression brought on by the effects of World War I, the deaths of many close friends and his wife’s ill-health – composed his Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata, and String Quartet in quick succession.

 

The Piano Quintet begins slowly and mysteriously before erupting into a heavily rhythmic main theme that recurs throughout the first movement. The music sighs, then charges forward. Contrasting sections, like an ethereal dance, appear as if from nowhere. Elgar himself described this movement in a letter to the critic Ernest Newman: “it is strange music I think & I like it – but – it’s ghostly stuff.” Based on a long, spacious melody heard initially in the viola, the heartfelt slow movement features a couple of more agitated interludes but largely maintains its tone of nostalgia and loss. Opening with a short quote from the sighing music of the first movement, the finale features many allusions to ideas from the previous two movements; animated passages alternate with more dignified ones, leading to the work’s noble conclusion.

Iberian Adventure

Maurice Ravel: Boléro

(1928, 9 minutes)

 

Ravel never believed that his Boléro could be a success in the concert hall, thinking that its repetition couldn’t hold an audience’s attention without the dance that originally went with it. He was entirely wrong about that, as Boléro remains one of his most popular pieces. Ravel had been asked to create a ballet on a Spanish theme for the dancer Ida Rubinstein. Fascinated with a tune he’d created, with what he called an “insistent quality,” Ravel decided simply to “repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.” In the original ballet, set in an Andalusian inn, several males stand around a table as a woman dances, slowly and seductively at first, then with more energy. Suddenly a knife fight breaks out among the men. But the dance continues, and by the end everyone collapses, exhausted. Ravel begins his Boléro with the tapping out of a rhythm on the snare drum. The main melodies are then heard, again and again, as instruments gradually enter. In WindSync’s wonderful adaptation of the work, the variety of wind instruments the members play take their turns with the main theme and the accompaniment figures, as the players likewise take turns at the snare drum. In their own way, they return Boléro to its dance origins.

 

Pablo de Sarasate: Introduction et Tarantelle, Op. 43

(1899, 5 minutes)

 

Pablo de Sarasate first attracted attention by winning first prize for violin at the Paris Conservatoire. Soon after that he began a world tour of performances that continued, off and on, for three decades. Famed composers such as Saint-Saëns, Lalo, and Bruch wrote concertos for him. He also wrote a number of works himself to play in concert, many of them short, encore-like showpieces. The Introduction et Tarantelle has proven to be one of Sarasate’s most popular short pieces, in both its piano and orchestra arrangements. In the opening Moderato, the violin’s song flows over a simple accompaniment of chords. After an arch-like idea is taken up and elaborated on by both the piano and violin, the Tarantelle breaks out, with much energetic virtuosity from the violin. The music’s exciting 6/8 rhythm is inspired by a dance traditionally used to ward off death and madness, specifically that brought on by the bite of a tarantula – hence the name.

 

Gaspar Cassadó: Requiebros

(1934, 6 minutes)

 

Spanish cellist and composer Gaspar Cassadó played his first recital when he was nine. An audience member, one Pablo Casals, was so impressed that he offered to give the young man lessons. The city of Barcelona then gave Cassadó a scholarship so that he could travel to Paris to become Casals’s youngest student ever. After World War I, Cassadó started his decades-long international career as a cellist, during which he collaborated with musicians like Yehudi Menuhin, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Artur Rubinstein. Requiebros, dedicated to Casals, is perhaps his most famous composition. The word means “flattering remarks” or “flirtations,” and this portrait of romance features lively dance rhythms and guitar-like strums from the cello.

 

Isaac Albéniz: Selections from Iberia

(1905-8, 12 minutes)

 

Albéniz was a Spanish pianist, composer, and conductor who was one of Spain’s best-known and most influential musicians. He was a prodigy who was playing concerts by age nine. Accompanied by his father, Albéniz had performed literally all over the world by his teens. Many of his compositions were inspired by his homeland’s history and folk music – the dance rhythms, the sound of flamenco, the influence of the guitar. (Although he never composed anything for guitar, many of his piano pieces have been arranged for the instrument and have become an important part of the guitar’s repertoire.) He wrote music for his instrument, the piano, throughout his life, including what is generally regarded as his masterpiece, the twelve “impressions,” four books of three pieces each, collectively titled Iberia. They range from evocations of dance music and portraits of street festivals to sound pictures of locations around Spain, such as Cadiz and Seville. Some of the pieces are highly technically challenging. As critic Donal Henahan put it, “There is really nothing in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia that a good three-handed pianist could not master, given unlimited years of practice and permission to play at half tempo. But there are few pianists thus endowed.”

 

Béla Kovács: Hommage à Manuel de Falla

(1994, 4 minutes)

 

Kovács is a Hungarian clarinetist who has served as principal clarinet of both the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. He also co-founded the Budapest Chamber Ensemble. After his performing career, he went on to teach at several institutions, including the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. His set of nine concert études titled Hommages are written in the styles of well-known composers, including Bach, Paganini, and Debussy. The Hommage to the great Spanish composer Manuel de Falla playfully evokes Spanish folk music and the flamenco of Andalusia, just as de Falla himself does in pieces like his 1919 ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat).

 

Joaquín Turina: La oración del torero, Op. 34

(1925, 9 minutes)

 

Turina’s music is a fascinating blend of Spanish and French influences. Born in Seville, his early studies took place there and in Madrid. He then moved to Paris for a decade or so, soaking in the sounds of French Impressionism. But Turina then returned to Spain, wanting to compose in a more consciously Spanish idiom. Such a work is La oración del torero, or “The Bullfighter’s Prayer,” originally written for a quartet of “laúd,” which is usually translated “lute” but in fact refers to a Spanish folk instrument nearer to the mandolin. Turina subsequently rearranged the work for string quartet, string orchestra, and piano trio.

 

Turina describes his inspiration: “During an afternoon of bullfighting in the Madrid arena … I saw my work. I was in the court of horses. Behind a small door, there was a chapel, filled with incense, where toreadors went right before facing death. It was then that there appeared, in front of my eyes, in all its plenitude, this subjectively musical and expressive contrast between the tumult of the arena, the public that awaited the fiesta, and the devotion of those who, in front of this poor altar, filled with touching poetry, prayed to God to protect their lives.”

 

Gaspar Cassadó: Piano Trio in C major

(1926, 18 minutes)

 

In the 1920s, Spanish music was starting to turn in a number of different directions. Some composers wanted to look to the innovations of the international avant-garde, while others imagined a more eclectic approach, drawing on a variety of influences diverse in both style and geography. There were some, too, who, while not ignoring what was happening around them, wanted to carry on the nineteenth century tradition of embracing Spanish folk music and nationalism. Gaspar Cassadó tends to fall into that latter category.

 

His Piano Trio has a consistently Spanish character, with lively dance rhythms as well as frequent ornamentation and strumming of the string instruments evoking the guitar. While the first movement does introduce some dissonance typical of the time of its composition, as well as a hint of French Impressionism, one also hears characteristic Spanish dance rhythms and harmonic progressions. The second movement is subdued but suspenseful, with mysterious half-lights and brief bursts of activity. But the mystery of that music is dispelled in the finale, which begins in the mode of the slow movement but quickly speeds for a more playful, dance-like atmosphere.

 

Traditional: The Song of the Birds (arr. Pablo Casals)

(1939, 3 minutes)

 

Pablo Casals, one of the best-known classical musicians of his time, took up the cello at age eleven, and within a decade had started his long, busy, international career as a performer, teacher, conductor, and humanitarian. After the Spanish Civil War and the rise of General Francisco Franco, Casals went into self-imposed exile in France. Starting in the early years of that exile, at every concert he played, Casals would include the folk song El Cant dels Ocells, or The Song of the Birds. Casals hailed from Catalonia – in fact, he often identified himself as Pau Casals, using the Catalan form of his first name rather than the Spanish. The song likewise is Catalan, a Christmas lullaby, telling of nature’s joy at the birth of Jesus Christ.

When, at age 94, Casals famously received the United Nations Peace Medal on October 24, 1971, he performed The Song of the Birds, introducing it this way: “I have not played the cello in public for many years, but I feel that the time has come to play again. I am going to play a melody from Catalan folklore, El Cant dels Ocells … Birds sing when they are in the sky, they sing: ‘Peace, Peace, Peace,’ and it is a melody that Bach, Beethoven and all the greats would have admired and loved. What is more, it is born in the soul of my people, Catalonia.”

Jessie Montgomery

Jessie Montgomery

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Louise Farrenc

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Mamun Shikdar