Archive for the ‘Program Notes’ Category

Andrew von Oeyen, Schubert and Ravel

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Andrew von Oeyen, Schubert and Ravel

Andrew von OeyenThis evening, Andrew von Oeyen offers a tantalizing recital of solo piano works in two parts, each transfixing in its own way, and together, a tour de force. The first half features a single epic sonata in four movements by the Viennese master Franz Schubert at the pinnacle of his power near the end of his short life. The second half jumps nearly one hundred years, from Schubert to Ravel, from Vienna to Paris, from the 19th to the 20th century, and from high Classical Romanticism to modern Neo-Classicism, Impressionism and proto-jazz. The program immerses us in the musical personality and style of each composer, so brilliant in their unique and contrasting ways. Together, they complete a truly rich and comprehensive program expressing broad and deep a reach of history. They both share an essential quality: Schubert and Ravel are treasured for their mesmerizing beauty. We are fortunate this season at Kohl Mansion to expand on Mr. von Oeyen’s foundation as later concerts will explore the exquisite ensemble music of both Schubert and Ravel. Tonight, we will enjoy the first of a multi-part story. (more…)

Terry Riley, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Terry Riley (born 1935)

Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector (for string quartet)(1981)

Terry RileyA native Californian especially beloved in the San Francisco Bay Area, Terry Riley is the composer that broadly introduced the world to “minimalism.” Inspired by the original work of fellow music student La Monte Young, Jazz and North Indian Raga, Riley bucked the dominant trend of intellectual serialism and pursued a new musical aesthetic with tape loops, repetitive rhythms, static harmonies, and accumulating layers of sound producing slow but gradual change within a matrix of mesmerizing stasis. His famous break-through piece was the 1964 work “In C” composed for an indefinite number of performers on unspecified instruments playing through a series of 53 different melodic / rhythmic fragments with the timing of the progression left to the aesthetic discretion of each performer. Soon thereafter, Riley, a piano virtuoso, abandoned notation in favor of his own freely improvised and overdubbed keyboard parts yielding some remarkable and influential recordings dissolving the boundaries between classical, jazz and rock. A decade later, Riley met the fledgling Kronos Quartet and a fruitful artistic relationship was born. Of their first collaboration, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector, Riley writes: (more…)

Mozart, String Quartet in D Major, K. 575

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

String Quartet in D Major, K. 575, 1790

Frederick William II, King of PrussiaMozart’s final string quartets comprise a set of three collectively known as the “Prussian” or the “Berlin” quartets. In 1789, friend and student Prince Karl Lichnowsky took Mozart to Berlin to meet Frederick William II, King of Prussia (the second son of Frederick the Great). Frederick was a skillful cellist, and a generous patron of the arts. The meeting proved fruitful for Mozart resulting in a commission for six string quartets as well as some piano sonatas for Frederick’s daughter. But these final years were difficult times for Mozart. His letters paint of picture of illness, his wife’s difficult fifth pregnancy, debt and urgent pleas for yet more loans from overly taxed friends. Mozart completed the first quartet straight away, spent nearly a year working on Così fan tutte, then managed to complete two more quartets in May and June of 1790. Financial desperation ultimately forced Mozart to monetize his latest work as swiftly as possible: he sold the three quartets to the Viennese publisher Artaria who released them in print shortly after Mozart’s death in 1791 without any dedication to the Prussian patron. (more…)

Bartók, String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Béla Bartók, 1881-1945

String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114, 1939

Today, Béla Bartók is considered one of the great, modern musical innovators of early 20th Century. In a span of some forty years from the end of the 19th century into in the years before WWII, European “classical” music underwent not just one but several revolutions with new, divergent directions established by Debussy, Schoenberg, Bartók, Stravinsky, and, “in secret”, the American composer Charles Ives. Perhaps somewhere along a spectrum between Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Bartók forged his own path starting from late Romanticism, adding some Debussy, and then a deep infusion of Eastern European folk music from his field studies, yielding a distinctive, complex, high art that is uniquely his own. While Bartók composed music in all the standard genres, his chamber music occupies a central place in his life and oeuvre. His six, mature, complete string quartets composed over a span of thirty years comprise a probing cycle of intense and profound exploration and innovation second only to Beethoven. With a distinctively new musical language cast in a variety of novel forms, enriched by a fresh technical means and sonorities, Bartók’s six quartets boldly establish a new chapter in the history of the genre such that, even today, they sound modern, strange, even, like late Beethoven, imponderable. But they are always striking, rich and deep. (more…)

Schubert, Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 99, D. 898

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 99, D. 898 (1827-28; published 1836)

Franz SchubertWhen Schubert turned 30 in January 1827, his native Vienna was in the thrall of what might then have been called the “Age of Beethoven and Rossini.” Schubert had achieved some renown for his work, but he was still publically regarded as a gifted “song and dance man”, a notch or two below the pantheon. Schubert was warmly admired for his Lieder (German songs), dances and piano duets including a few genuine hits. But he was not (yet) held in the same esteem as Beethoven, Mozart or Haydn largely because Schubert had not written (to the public’s knowledge) a “serious” concert work. He knew this, and his scant correspondence finds him yearning to compose a long-form instrumental work, to enter the great foray.

In March of that year, Beethoven died. Schubert was deeply moved and literally carried a torch in the funeral procession. Although we don’t know if they actually met, Schubert was intimately aware of Beethoven’s music including the final works – the piano sonatas, symphonies and quartets – and held him in the highest esteem. Schubert himself was a ticking time bomb: he knew he was battling a fatal but unpredictable illness. Beset with fragile, volatile health, his mortality quite real. With no time to lose and a vacancy now left by Beethoven, Schubert entered his “last year”, one of the most astonishing in the history of classical music. (more…)

Mozart, Rondo in A major for string quartet, Op. 464a, K.Anh.72 (incomplete)

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Rondo in A major for string quartet, Op. 464a, K.Anh.72 (incomplete), 1785

“Unfinished” is the state of being alive. We are still here, but so much still to do. Will we complete our life’s work, the day’s chores, the next 5 minutes? As yet, we don’t know how it will all end.

One of my favorite pieces for string quartet by Mozart is “unfinished.” I like to think of him intently composing, staring at the page, and midway through, his wife Constanza beckons from the next room, Mozart turns, stands up, walks away from his desk, and never returns to this piece again. It is really polished, complex, beautiful, quintessential Mozart, completely formed in his head and flowing out onto paper. But it stops, mid-piece, unfinished forever.

What is REALLY interesting to me is that the piece ends at the moment of greatest “crisis” in the musical development. This is a rondo with a recurring “verse” and Mozart ends the piece at the “point of furthest remove” from the verse (he never returns): he has ventured FAR AWAY from home, and things are dark, unresolved, literally at a point of twisted anguish. And it ends. This is an exquisite object lesson on so many levels, but, more crucially, you can really HEAR it in the music. It leaves you TOTALLY HANGING. (more…)

Brahms, Trio in A Minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Trio in A Minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114(1891)

Johannes BrahmsAround 1890, a fifty-seven year old Brahms gave indications that he would retire as a composer. Saddled with a meticulous, self-critical nature and the long standing burden of great expectations established by Schumann even before Brahms made his debut, it is entirely characteristic that he would take stock and ceremoniously quit while he was ahead. With an unquestionably illustrious career and a solid oeuvre of masterworks behind him, Brahms seemed to be finished. He remarked, “I have worked enough; now let the young folks take over.”

In early 1891, however, Brahms became intoxicated by encountering the clarinet playing of Richard Mühlfeld and was inspired by a fresh muse compose once again. Between 1891 and 1894, Brahms composed a clutch of four final chamber works featuring the clarinet: a trio, a quintet and two sonatas in that order. These are positively magical works. Mellow, melancholy, warmly nostalgic and fleetingly dire, the music perfectly exploits each of these signature characteristics of the colorful clarinet for a composite mood that has often been called “autumnal.” (more…)

Schulhoff, Duo for violin and cello

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)

Duo for violin and cello (1925)

Erwin SchulhoffA Czech composer, Erwin Schulhoff was born in Prague in 1894 of German-Jewish parents and very early showed an extraordinary talent for music. Upon Dvořák’s recommendation, Schulhoff began studies at the Prague Conservatory at the age of ten. He subsequently studied in Vienna and Leipzig. Early musical influences included Strauss and Scriabin, as well as Reger and Debussy, both of whom Schulhoff briefly studied under. After a life changing stint on the Western Front with the Austrian Army in WWI, Schulhoff returned with a new political and musical resolve. He turned to the leftist avant-garde and began to incorporate a variety of styles that flourished in a heady mélange between the wars including Expressionism, Neoclassicism, Dada, American Jazz and South American dance. Schulhoff was a brilliant pianist with a prodigious love for American Ragtime as well as a technical facility for even the most demanding experimental quartertone music of compatriot Alois Hába. At least one more influence added to this wild mix: the nationalistic and native folk music of Czechoslovakia. (more…)

Khachaturian, Trio in G Minor for Clarinet, Violin and Piano

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)

Trio in G Minor for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1932)

Aram KhachaturianAram Khachturian is generally celebrated as the foremost Armenian composer of the 20th century synthesizing European “classical” art music with striking elements of Eastern Eurasian folk music in a vivid nationalism that reflects multiple cultures under the sprawling aegis of Soviet Union. An outstanding conductor and teacher as well, Khachturian is remembered today primarily for his orchestral music comprising symphonies, concerti, ballet and film music, his most popular “hit” being the Sabre Dance from the Gayane suite. He was born and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of the Russian empire) where he was initially inspired by numerous folk music traditions from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Georgia. A young, provincial seventeen-year old Khachturian moved to Moscow to pursue a higher education, first in biology, then cello performance, and finally composition. Following years of study and practice, Khachturian would achieve an international reputation drawing praise from Prokofiev and Shostakovich (his nearly exact contemporary), who, like Khachturian himself, won awards as well as withering censure from the Soviet state. (more…)

Antonín Dvořák, Piano Trio No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 26, B. 56

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Piano Trio No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 26, B. 56

Antonín DvořákDvořák composed four piano trios, each more famous than its predecessor concluding with his most celebrated final trio known by the nickname “Dumky”. The prior in F minor is a muscular, serious trio drawing comparisons with Brahms, a contemporary and friend only eight years older. Dvořák’s even earlier second Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 26 is much more rarely programmed, crowded out by its more familiar successors, but it is a very fine piano trio imbued with Dvorak’s vivid musical personality: Color, warmth, lyricism, melancholy, lively dance, Slavic folk elements and artful craft abound. His already masterful skills wielded confidently display a mature composer in fine form.

Yet, as Dvořák began this trio early in 1876, he was a thirty-five-year-old unknown provincial composer. He had just applied to a commission in Vienna that granted funds to struggling artists and caught the attention of two prominent boards members, Eduard Hanslick and Johannes Brahms, both of whom found promising talent in Dvorak’s submissions and awarded him the highest amount allowable. With new funding, an ongoing connection with Brahms and his publisher, and a fresh creative impetus yielding several winning works in short order, within the next year or so, Dvorak would achieve international fame. (more…)