March 1st, 2017

Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)

Deux Interludes for Harp, Clarinet, and Cello, (1946)

Jacques IbertThis program of intimate stories, poems and otherworldly evocations richly continues with a set of two magical interludes by French composer Jacques Ibert. Around fifteen years younger than Ravel, Ibert spent his life in Paris where he composed a significant body of music for opera, ballet, orchestra, film, incidental and chamber music. While his style is wide ranging, particularly in the Deux Interludes, Ibert displays an utterly French sensibility with clarity, poise, color and vivid impression.

The two interludes come from Ibert’s incidental music for Suzanne Lilar’s play Le Burlador (The Seducer), apparently a feminist take on the iconic Don Juan story. The interludes comprise an eloquent music pair using a time honored slow-fast pattern and a stylistic projection of first France then Spain, a perfect representative of the Franco-Iberian mélange found throughout the music of Massenet, Debussy, Ravel, et. al. Read the rest of this entry »

Schumann, Three Romances, Op. 94

March 1st, 2017

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Three Romances, Op. 94, (1849) arrangement for Harp and Clarinet

Robert SchumannSchumann was the quintessential romantic, not in the simple notion of a lover, but in the deeper and broader notion of a visionary storyteller where character, setting, mood and developmental drama create seemingly living fairytales out of sound. Growing up with a father who was a writer and the owner of bookstore, Schumann absorbed literature as much as music and this would deeply influence his teeming imagination and his prodigious musical output. While Schumann would eventually conquer the large formal abstractions of the symphony and the string quartet among others, he was perhaps most original with vivid miniatures: art songs, solo piano works and evocative delights for small ensemble that gave birth to the Romantic “character piece.”

Like so many of Schumann’s vivid character pieces, The Three Romances, Op. 94 of 1849 have charmed listeners with sonic fairytales whose musical essence transcend even their specific instrumentation. Originally written for violin or oboe and piano, they will undoubtedly work their magic in a fresh arrangement for harp and clarinet. Indeed, charmed with the unique sparkle, texture and intimate poetic sense of the harp, these Romances are apt to become particularly incandescent. The clarinet is likely the most flexibly expressive and “human” of any partner. The two outer Romances begin in a somber, minor key but pursue rich, wordless narratives in and out of a variety of moods. The center Romance is the inverse: starting in the light but shifting midway into a much darker outburst of passion. As with all of Schumann’s “songs”, there is not a strong separation between voice and accompaniment: while the clarinet sustains the primary melodic role, the harp weaves in and out of the texture significantly interacting as a nearly equal partner.

Strauss, Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 13

March 1st, 2017

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 13, (1883-1884)

Richard StraussWhen surveying the music of such important Romantic composers as Wagner, Liszt, Mahler and Strauss, one notices a conspicuous absence of chamber music. The “New German School” instigated by Wagner and Liszt and eventually embraced by Hans von Bülow and a mature Strauss as music of the future sought “new bottles for new wine” in the form of all-encompassing musical drama or the symphonic tone poem. It was largely left to “conservatives” like Brahms to maintain the classical traditions represented by the four-movement symphony and chamber music in the form of string and piano quartets. Wagner composed no chamber music, Liszt a handful of minor works, and Mahler but one movement for piano quartet. But a young Richard Strauss proved to be an exception. Though his mature output is dominated by his masterful, celebrated tone poems as well as cutting-edge operas, Strauss’s first blush as an emerging composer sprang precisely from his discovery of Brahms. In 1883 at the age of 19, Strauss moved to Berlin and came to know the symphonies and chamber music of Brahms who was at his peak and just entering his final decade as a commanding composer. Read the rest of this entry »

Haydn, String Quartet D Major, Op. 1, No. 3

February 25th, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet D Major, Op. 1, No. 3, (c. 1757-1762)

Joseph Haydn Haydn is justly regarded as the mighty pioneer of the string quartet for, though he may not have been the very first, he proved the exemplar, firmly establishing the genre with a stunning collection of 68 works, nearly half of which are regarded as masterworks. Concert programs rarely feature any of his quartets before Op. 20 (1772) and Haydn himself, when compiling his official catalog late in life, declared his Op. 9 (1769) to be his first group of “real” quartets. But Haydn began his journey with a series of pieces genuinely scored for string quartet and published in collections under various early titles such as cassation, divertimento and serenade as Op. 1 and Op. 2. Although the precise dates are unknown, scholars believe that Haydn composed these initial 10 quartets between 1757 and 1762, suggesting that the string quartet tradition is now at least 250 years old. Tonight, you will hear not only a very early Haydn string quartet but perhaps, according to some scholars, his very first: the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 1, No. 3. Read the rest of this entry »

Weinberg, String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 66

February 25th, 2017

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)

String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 66, (1959)

Mieczysław WeinbergMieczysław Weinberg (known by a variety of names including Moishe Vainberg) was a brilliant, prodigious 20th Century Soviet composer of Polish birth. Born in Warsaw, as a youth he was pianist and ensemble leader for his father’s Jewish theatre. Weinberg entered the Warsaw conservatory at the age of 12 where his talents as pianist earned him a potential opportunity to study in America, but WWII interceded. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1941, Weinberg fled to Minsk while his parents and sister, left behind, were murdered. In Minsk, he began formal studies in composition but within just a few years, when the Germans pressed on into Russia, Weinberg fled again, this time to Tashkent, Uzbekistan where Weinberg would meet his future wife, work for the local opera and submit the score of his first symphony to Shostakovich. 13 years his senior, Shostakovich was so impressed that he arranged for Weinberg to move to Moscow where he would live for the rest of his life in close proximity to Shostakovich, who became his mentor, colleague and friend. Read the rest of this entry »

Foote, Piano Trio No. 2 in B-flat Major

February 12th, 2017

Arthur Foote, 1853-1936

Piano Trio No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 65, 1908

Arthur FooteDespite a recent revival through a number of recordings by Naxos, the American composer Arthur Foote, though well respected in his time, has largely been forgotten. Born in 1853, Foote would have been old enough to be the father of Charles Ives, the grandfather of Aaron Copland. Two facts make Arthur Foote a noteworthy American composer: he was the first classical composer wholly trained within the United States (vs. travelling to Europe), and, he was the first to earn an MA in music from any American institution, in his case, Harvard. Foote made a good living as a professional musician by playing organ, teaching piano and composing, spending his life in Boston close to Harvard where he enjoyed a variety of fruitful associations. Foote composed songs, anthems, choral music, and several orchestral pieces, but he most outstanding achievement was his admirable corpus of chamber music comprising three string quartets, a piano quartet and quintet and two piano trios among other works. In his chamber works in particular, one finds finely-crafted works in a mid-19th century Romantic style showing the influence of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Dvořák while displaying Foote’s own genuine talents for melody, color and narrative form. Read the rest of this entry »

Ginastera, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26

January 29th, 2017

Alberto Ginastera, 1916-1983

String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26, 1958 (revised in 1968)

Alberto GinasteraThe Argentine composer Alberto Evaristo Ginastera is widely regarded as a significant 20th century composer particularly as an artist of the Americas, a fresh and vivid voice from the new world. He was born in Buenos Aires to parents of Catalan and Italian decent and revealed his musical talents as a young boy. Pursuing his musical studies at the Conservatorio Williams and the Conservatorio Nacional de Música, Ginastera completed his formal training by the time he was 22 years old in 1938. A premiere of his orchestral suite from the ballet Panambí in 1937 while he was still a student immediately established his reputation as a new composer of great promise. Ginastera proved quite prolific with an oeuvre comprising operas, orchestral works, concertos, choral and solo vocal pieces, a diversity chamber works, film scores, and incidental music for several dramas. Particularly noteworthy is the ceaseless artistic exploration he pursued which, according to the composer himself, can be divided into three phases. Grove Music offers a useful, concise summary: Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew von Oeyen, Schubert and Ravel

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Terry Riley, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector

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: Read the rest of this entry »

Mozart, String Quartet in D Major, K. 575

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. Read the rest of this entry »