New Year’s Night
Monday, December 31, 2018 at 7:00 PM
UNR Nightingale Concert Hall
Program Notes by Chris Morrison
Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 (1786, 4 minutes)
In his first collaboration with his great librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart created the opera Le nozze di Figaro in just six weeks. It tells the tangled story of Count Almaviva’s valet and former barber, Figaro, who is to marry the Countess’s maid, Susanna. But the Count also wishes to seduce Susanna, while the Countess is pursued by the page Cherubino. The Overture’s bustling opening suddenly erupts in high spirits and maintains that joyful momentum to the end.
Piazzolla: Histoire du Tango (1986, 20 minutes)
Astor Piazzolla was almost single-handedly responsible for making the tango, once a regional folk dance, famous all over the world. Histoire du Tango, originally for flute and guitar, tells in miniature the history of the dance. Tango was initially largely found in brothels, and Piazzolla wrote that his first movement, “Bordel 1900,” depicts “the good-natured chatter of the French, Italian, and Spanish women who peopled those bordellos as they teased the policemen, thieves, sailors, and riffraff who came to see them.” In “Café 1930,” the tango has become increasingly popular as well as “more musical, and more romantic … with new and often melancholy harmonies.” By the time of “Night-Club 1960,” the “bossa nova and the new tango are moving to the same beat.” In the final movement, “Concert d’Aujourdhui 1990,” “Bartók, Stravinsky, and other composers reminisce to the tune of tango music.”
Saint-Saëns: Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 92 (1892, 35 minutes)
In June 1892, Saint-Saëns wrote to his friend Charles Lecocq, “I am working quietly away at a trio which I hope will drive to despair all those unlucky enough to hear it. I shall need the whole summer to perpetrate this atrocity, one must have a little fun somehow.” Despite his self-disparaging remarks, Saint-Saëns expended much time and energy on his Trio No. 2, which some have called the greatest French piano trio of the nineteenth century.
In an unusual five-movement layout, the Trio’s first movement begins with a somber theme from the violin and cello. The piano’s accompanying chords become more elaborate as the music builds in intensity. When it finally arrives, the second melody is lyrical and lovely. These themes are developed in passionate music that ends with a surprising coda. The second movement begins delicately, but soon turns more ominous, with brilliant piano writing that the composer described as “black with notes and black in mood.” Opening with the piano, followed by cello and violin, the third movement is introspective, as the three instruments exchange the main theme with one another. A waltz-like fourth movement is followed by a finale that begins quietly with the piano, but soon moves into a fugue begun by the violin, answered by piano and cello. The first of the two main themes takes over for the work’s brilliant conclusion.
Bacewicz: Quartet for Four Cellos – Narrazione (1963, 7 minutes)
See the notes for the December 29, 11:00 a.m. Festival concert for more on the life of Polish composer-violinist Grażyna Bacewicz. As is mentioned there, Bacewicz was seriously injured in a car accident in 1954 that put a definitive end to her violin career. A series of commissions for new compositions quickly followed, including the Quartet for Four Cellos. The first of its two movements, Narrazione, is dark, colorful, and intense.
Mendelssohn: Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 (1825, 30 minutes)
Mendelssohn’s Octet, composed when he was sixteen, may be the greatest work ever written by a teenager. He indicated his ambition in the score: “This Octet must be played by all the instruments in symphonic orchestral style. Pianos and fortes must be strictly observed and more strongly emphasized than is usual in pieces of this character.” Encompassing nearly half of the work’s duration, the first movement opens with a theme that soars through nearly three octaves before gently returning to ground. Behind it is what has been called a “vibrant background,” including tremolos, syncopated chords, and mild dissonances. This melody and a flowing second theme provide the basis of a complex development. We enter a more tranquil world with the second movement, in the 6/8 rhythm of a siciliano. An energetic central section leads to a return of the song-like opening music.
The composer’s sister Fanny shared her brother’s vision of the third movement: “the whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo … the trills passing away with the quickness of lightning … one feels so near to the world of spirits, carried away in the air, half inclined to snatch up a broomstick and follow the aerial procession … and at the end, all has vanished.” The bravura fourth movement opens with a fast-paced fugue that betrays Mendelssohn’s study of the music of Bach. A broad contrasting theme emerges, as do phrases from the second and third movements. Mendelssohn described the Octet as “my favorite of all my compositions,” adding, “I had a most wonderful time in the writing of it!”