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Dohnányi, Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1

May 27th, 2017

Ernő Dohnányi [Ernst von Dohnanyi], 1877-1960

Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1, 1895

Ernő DohnányiErnő Dohnányi is apt to be the greatest composer you have never heard. He is celebrated as the “greatest” Hungarian “musician” after Franz Liszt, great because his musicianship encompassed his diversity of profound gifts as a epic concert pianist, tireless conductor, superb composer, educator, administrator and ambassador that essentially encapsulated the entirely of Hungarian classical music culture for decades leading up to WWII. Likely owing to his international career and a bit of marketing, he often went by the more German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnanyi without the odd punctuation.

Dohnányi wrote nearly a dozen chamber music masterworks that should be more frequently played. His two most famous works are a Serenade for string trio and this extraordinary piano quintet, the first of two. Read the rest of this entry »

Shostakovich, 5 Pieces for 2 Violins

May 27th, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1906-1975

5 Pieces for 2 Violins (arrangement)

Dmitri ShostakovichShostakovich is frankly a 20th century Beethoven. He wrote tons of symphonies, string quartets, film scores, piano music, operas and songs, and his music seems to speak so vividly to so many listeners. While much of his music is epic, intense, dark and rife with spiky modernisms, Shostakovich composed many beautiful, “classical” pieces full of lyricism, personality, fine craftsmanship and sheer musical delight. Among his incidental music, ballets and suites you will find many gems, the likes of which inspired Lev Atovmian, a student of Shostakovich, to arrange these five pieces for violin duo with piano accompaniment. As a very young man, Shostakovich had a job playing piano at the theatre for silent movies improvising a live soundtrack on the fly. These vignettes make a reel of compelling scenes, each one a little short story including a prelude, an elegy and three different dances, each more lively than the last.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Piano Trio in C Minor, (finished by Maximilian Steinberg)

April 30th, 2017

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1844-1908

Piano Trio in C Minor, 1879 (finished by Maximilian Steinberg in 1939)

Nikolai Rimsky-KorsakovRimsky-Korsakov was a highly significant musical figure within late 19th century Russia whose influence would reverberate westward making a strong impression on Debussy, Ravel and other 20th century composers. He is celebrated for his brilliant and original orchestration in such classics as Capriccio Espagnol, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, and Scheherazade that expanded the orchestral palette along with a new exotic “Orientalisim” that ultimately become inspiration for the French impressionists. Rimsky-Korsakov is often regarded as the chief “architect” of Russian Nationalism during an age when composers across Europe were seeking to express their native cultures, a diversity of “otherness” rising against the fundamentally Austro-Germanic aesthetic of the classical canon. Perhaps the most vivid expression of Nationalism was opera with its natural ability to leverage the mother tongue as well as indigenous folklore traditions. Rimsky-Korsakov thought of himself primarily as an opera composer producing a rich oeuvre comprising at least 15 operas, a further source orchestral suites and extracts associated with his fame. It is therefore somewhat surprising to learn that he composed chamber music, particularly considering some additional details of his historical and cultural context. Read the rest of this entry »

Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68

April 22nd, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68, (1944)

Dmitri ShostakovichSince the latter part of the 20th century following his death in 1975, the string quartet cycle of Dmitri Shostakovich has come to be regarded as extraordinarily significant. While his fifteen symphonies command attention and demonstrate his creative and prodigious career, they were large spectacles staged for grand public expression subject to broad scrutiny by a totalitarian regime, subject, as well, to the changing complex public image Shostakovich chose, or was forced, to display. The string quartets are different. They are private, personal, intimate and true. They embody music Shostakovich wrote for colleagues, friends, family and himself. And it is particularly this dichotomous context that makes the fifteen string quartets so compelling. Within the music, one finds startling and original music of profound, visceral affect, ample creative genius, but also something of the actual life of Shostakovich: a personal diary of poignant reactions, reflections and dark visions. As the (incomplete) cycle spans some thirty-six years of his life, from the age of thirty-two to less than a year before his death, one can follow the quartets and thereby follow Shostakovich, an immensely creative and sensitive Soviet citizen weathering the myriad personal and global devastations of the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »

Prokofiev, String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 (on Kabardinian themes)

April 9th, 2017

Sergei Prokofiev, 1891-1953

String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 (on Kabardinian themes), 1941

Sergei ProkofievSergei Prokofiev came of age in the 20th century and has remained both a popular and critical favorite of the period especially as a Russian / Soviet composer along with the elder Stravinsky and the younger Shostakovich. A child prodigy, he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 13 and soon caused a sensation with his intensely percussive piano playing with a startlingly modern rhythmic vitality that would characterize much of his mature work. Prokofiev launched a career as concert pianist, composer and conductor and, shortly after the revolution, left Russia for several years living the United States and then Paris where a combination of misfortunes including lukewarm reception and a worldwide economic depression left Prokofiev feeling unfulfilled and unappreciated. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1936 where, despite some newfound success, he would eventually experience WWII and then, just following the war, the devastating state censure accusing him (along with several prominent composers) of degenerate formalism. Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Nakamatsu, Solo Recital in Carmel

April 8th, 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Rondo in D Major, K. 485 (1786)
Fantasy in D Minor, K. 397 / 385g (1782)

Jon NakamatsuMr. Nakamatsu’s recital begins with two works by Mozart who was among the first great composers to write explicitly for the piano vs. the harpsichord. In addition to his masterful concertante and chamber works featuring the “new fangled” instrument, Mozart composed 17 piano sonatas and numerous single-movement pieces: variation sets, rondos and fantasies, etc. The pair of works presented here might well be titled “Mozart light and dark”, so effective is their contrast in exploring Mozart’s emotional range.

The Rondo in D Major, K. 485 is bright, sparkling and utterly classical sporting a simple, main theme with a rhythmic lilt due to what is often called a “Scottish snap.” The formal structure of the piece is actually a crystal clear sonata form (with multiple themes, key change, development and recap), but the lively, motto theme is deployed in such a way that it recurs throughout the structure like the main refrain of a rondo. Like a witty game, the merry rondo theme plays hide and seek, changing keys, moving from the right to the left hand, making digressions, taking on disguises and generally confounding expectations. Read the rest of this entry »

Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117

April 1st, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117, (1964)

Dmitri ShostakovichSince the latter part of the 20th century following his death in 1975, the string quartet cycle of Dmitri Shostakovich has come to be regarded as extraordinarily significant. While his fifteen symphonies command attention and demonstrate his creative and prodigious career, they were large spectacles staged for grand public expression subject to broad scrutiny by a totalitarian regime, subject, as well, to the changing complex public image Shostakovich chose, or was forced, to display. The string quartets are different. They are private, personal, intimate and true. They embody music Shostakovich wrote for colleagues, friends, family and himself. And it is particularly this dichotomous context that makes the fifteen string quartets so compelling. Within the music, one finds startling and original music of profound, visceral affect, ample creative genius, but also something of the actual life of Shostakovich: a personal diary of poignant reactions, reflections and dark visions. As the (incomplete) cycle spans some thirty-six years of his life, from the age of thirty-two to less than a year before his death, one can follow the quartets and thereby follow Shostakovich, an immensely creative and sensitive Soviet citizen weathering the myriad personal and global devastations of the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »

Schubert, String Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D. 956

March 26th, 2017

Franz Schubert, 1797-1828

String Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D. 956, 1828

Franz SchubertThe British composer Benjamin Britten once commented that the few years encompassing Beethoven’s late string quartets and Schubert’s final works were likely the most fruitful in the entire history of Western music. For chamber music lovers, fours years in Vienna between 1824-1828 proved to be a watershed yielding what many would unequivocally regard as the finest chamber music ever, unsurpassed to this day. Schubert’s “last year” was, alone, a miracle, perhaps especially catalyzed by Beethoven’s death and Schubert’s own serious illness, his clear impending fatality. Desperate to fill the void and make his own lasting mark in the realm of “serious” music, Schubert labored to produce two towering piano trios, three massive piano sonatas, his last song cycle Winterriese, and, finally, the exquisite string quintet. Only 31 years old, Schubert left a legacy that would take decades for the world to unearth and appreciate. An anonymous writer found on the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) offers this dramatic picture: Read the rest of this entry »

Mozart, String Quartet in D Major, K. 499, “Hoffmeister”

March 26th, 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

String Quartet in D Major, K. 499, “Hoffmeister”, 1786

Franz Anton HoffmeisterThough Haydn got a good head start on the game, Mozart’s string quartets seem to eventually interleave with Haydn’s later works as both Viennese composers evolved the classical string quartet together in a kind of interactive dialog. Historical reception has helped us by winnowing a bit of the wheat from the chaff to focus on the highlights. In Mozart’s case, we tend to ignore the dozen or so early quartets focusing on the “Famous Ten” in a sequence beginning after Mozart’s move to Vienna and his discovery of both Bach and Haydn’s latest creations. First, there are Mozart’s magnificent and meaty six quartets dedicated to Haydn, and, last, some years later, the three so-called “Prussian” quartets of a special “late”, delicate and refined character. And in between, a singleton, a lone “one-off”, bearing the nickname “Hoffmeister.”
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Zemlinsky, String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4

March 12th, 2017

Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)

String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4, (1896)

Alexander ZemlinskyAlthough for many music lovers he is apt to be obscure, Alexander Zemlinsky was an important musical figure in the rich tumult of fin de siècle Vienna during the rise of the so-called “Second Viennese School.” He was born in Vienna in 1871, three years before Arnold Schoenberg with whom his life would intertwine in a variety of ways. Zemlinsky revealed his musical talents early, began formal training at the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 13 and eventually blossomed into a first-rate composer, conductor and teacher. As a conductor, he was a respected interpreter of the emerging works of Mahler and Schoenberg drawing admiration from Kurt Weill and Stravinsky. As a young composer, Zemlinsky garnered praise from the elderly Brahms who recommended Zemlinsky’s music to his publisher Simrock starting with the worthy Clarinet Trio, Op. 3, of 1896. Read the rest of this entry »