Archive for December, 2011

Brahms, Piano Trio in A Major, Op. Post

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

Piano Trio in A major, Op. Post
Attributed to Brahms, composed around 1853-1856 (?), published in 1938.

Johannes BrahmsReeling within the rich welter of contemporary music, one occasionally thinks with wistful nostalgia: why doesn’t anyone write more music like Bach, Beethoven or Brahms? This question provokes another: might there more music of these composers or their contemporaries yet to discover, learn and love? Here, the thought of Brahms is especially poignant since it is thought that he carefully destroyed over half of his chamber music compositions, the unpublished music swept away on the cutting room floor. If only we could gain a sense of these lost works! (more…)

Mozart, String Quartet in B-flat, K. 458, “Hunt”

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

String Quartet in B-flat, K. 458, “Hunt”, 1784

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - The Hunt QuartetWhen Mozart completed his six string quartets dedicated to Haydn in 1785, he created six of the finest quartets ever written, absolute touchstones of the genre that have remained at the core of the repertory ever since. These quartets were a quantum leap from Mozart’s earlier quartets and, in most estimations, outshine the remaining four quartets that followed. There are several reasons that contributed to the outstanding quality of these six “Haydn” quartets. Mozart met Haydn in person for the first time in 1781 and had multiple occasions to directly experience Haydn’s revolutionary Op. 33 quartets that were first published in 1782. It was also during these first years in Vienna when Mozart came into more intimate contact with the music of Bach. Inspired by Haydn’s latest musical miracles and armed with newly expanded contrapuntal skills, Mozart determined to write his own new set of quartets primarily in homage to Haydn in the spirit of pure artistic dialog. (more…)

Mozart, String Quintet No. 4 in g minor, K. 516

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quintet No. 4 in g minor, K. 516, 1787

Wolfgang Amadeus MozartIn 1787, Mozart wrote a pair of string quintets scored for two violins, two violas and cello. Often called “viola quintets” to distinguish them from the “cello quintets” of Boccherini and Schubert, where the cello is doubled, these two Mozart quintets essentially gave birth to a new ensemble and genre that runs like a rarefied thread of rich chamber music through the 19th and 20th centuries. As he did in his final two symphonies, Mozart imbued his nearly simultaneous but clearly fraternal twins with yin and yang natures: K. 515 in C major is sunny and bountiful; K. 516 in g minor is predominantly dark, tragic and, at times, violent. Together, they are typically regarded as Mozart’s finest chamber music. Both works spread out on a grand scale with untold riches of musical art. Always astonishing with his deft scoring, Mozart surely indulges his love of the viola here with an emphasis on rich inner voices as well as prominent lead roles for the first chair. (more…)

Mendelssohn, String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 87

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 87, 1845

Felix MendelssohnMendelssohn’s second viola quintet dates from last years of his composing career. By this point he had written all of his chamber music save the final string quartet, Op. 80, and a few isolated quartet movements that were since bundled and published in s a composite set as Op. 81. Within two years, Mendelssohn would be dead and this final quintet would remain unpublished due to his feeling that the work was somehow not finished. Mendelssohn wrote his first quintet some twenty years earlier when he was seventeen. And although the precocious Mendelssohn was already a master by the standards of lesser mortals, it is the second quintet that lasts in the repertoire as the mature masterwork, the next historical landmark for the viola quintet after Mozart. (Beethoven wrote a viola quintet in 1801 called “The Storm” but it is not included in the traditional canon). (more…)

Brahms, Clarinet Quintet in b minor, Op. 115

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in b minor, Op. 115, 1891

A Late Walk

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

- Robert Frost
(more…)

Hugo Wolf, Italian Serenade

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)

Italian Serenade in G major (for string quartet), 1887

Hugo WolfHugo Wolf was an elusive figure remembered primarily for his masterful lieder, his trenchant criticism of Brahms and his eventual decay into dissolution and madness. He was a fierce disciple of Wagner and the “new” German school and can be regarded as a late Viennese Romantic before the turning of the tide with Schoenberg after Wolf’s death. Leaving only a few works for small ensemble, his lone and rarely performed string quartet in D minor is the closest thing we have to Wagnerian or even Mahlerian chamber music. Wolf also penned a two single movement works for string quartet, a substantial Intermezzo and his one “outlier”, the celebrated Italian Serenade. Completed in 1886, the Italian Serenade occupied Wolf for some time with the word “Italian” added to the simple title Serenade only in later revisions. (more…)