Archive for February, 2014

Brahms, Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, “Werther”

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, “Werther”, 1875

When Brahms submitted the score of his third piano quartet to his longtime publisher, he wrote that the cover should show picture a man holding a gun to his head, such was the black melodrama of the music and the quartet’s eventual nickname after Goethe’s young, suicidal Werther. C-minor is a favorite of both Brahms and Beethoven, a key Brahms also used for his first string quartet and his first symphony. The “Werther” quartet vies with the first piano quartet in g minor and the massive piano quintet in f minor for its thrilling intensity, its relentless rhythms and its delicious severity.

Suspense and surprise attack characterize much of the music beginning with the opening movement’s brooding introduction and the startling crash of the main theme pounding with thunder and ominous rumblings in the pulsing base ostinato. A number of obstinate rhythmic reiterations course through this practically violent music. (more…)

Copland, Piano Quartet, 1950

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Aaron Copland, 1900-1990

Piano Quartet, 1950

A recent pair of Copland recordings captured the duality of his music with one titled “Copland, the Populist”, the other, “Copland, the Modernist.” Many of Copland’s scores are quintessential American favorites while others lay somewhat fallow, unknown, a bit forbidding. Instead of “Appalachian Spring” or “Rodeo”, one finds music that is seemingly relentless in its modernism, spare on melody or even a consistent rhythmic groove. But it is Copland nonetheless, and closer inspection reveals wonderfully crafted and expressed music that is approachable with patience, attention and, perhaps, simply more familiarity. Indeed, Copland the familiar and popular American composer is a trustworthy guide for exploring the avant-garde. (more…)

Beethoven, Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 1/1

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1779-1827

Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 1, No. 1, 1793-1795

Beethoven’s first published works comprise a set of three piano trios that went to press in 1795 was he was in his mid-twenties. Saving the string quartet and the symphony until the time was right, Beethoven’s choice of the piano trio ensemble was practical and circumspect. Trios were popular and provided a vehicle for Beethoven the pianist, and, the genre at that time was largely a domain for amateur domestic music making, not necessarily a proving ground with extant masterworks as measurable standards. Indeed, it was Beethoven himself who elevated the trio into the central sphere of “significant” chamber music by expanding the form with these very trios. With Op. 1, Beethoven was the first to add a modern “scherzo” creating longer four-movement works less like the piano sonata and more like the string quartet. The first movement sonata forms explore a greater breadth and depth of expression and, famously, with the intense third trio in C-minor, broach a dark-side of unprecedented intensity and complexity. There is a new independence of the string parts that both play primary thematic roles along with the pianist. Already with his first publication, Beethoven stakes out new territory in a genre still waiting to be explored. (more…)