Monday, December 4, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
JCC Arts Center Concert Hall
JCC, 29, Changgyeonggung-no 35-gil,
Glière: Selected Duos for Two Cellos, op. 53 (1911)
Kodály: Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, op. 12 (1919–1920)
Prokofiev: Violin Sonata in D Major, op. 94a (1943, arr. 1944)
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44 (1842)
A TASTE OF CULTURES
NOTES ON THE PROGRAM
Chamber Music Today’s final program departs from the familiar territory of eighteenth and nineteenth century Germany for twentieth century Russia and Hungary, in an exploration of virtuosic works by composers from these regions. Reinhold Glière’s cello duos offer an unusual opportunity to revel in the warm, sonorous textures produced by two cellos while Zoltán Kodály’s swirling Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, propelled by Hungarian folk-dance rhythms, is similarly scored for an unusual instrumentation. Originally scored for flute and piano, Sergei Prokofiev’s D Major Violin Sonata follows, the piece exuding Prokofiev’s classic, mischievous sense of humor through its virtuosic yet carefree violin writing. For the triumphant finale of the 2017 season, we return to Germany with a performance of Schumann’s nobly heroic Opus 44 Piano Quintet, premiered by the composer’s own wife Clara Schumann, one of the greatest pianists of her time.
(Born January 11, 1875, Kiev; died June 23, 1956, Moscow)
Selections from Ten Duos for Two Cellos, op. 53
Dedication: Rudolf Ehrlich, Russian cellist and pedagogue
Other works from this period: Eight Pieces for Violin and Cello, op. 39 (1909); Symphony no. 3 in b minor, Ilya Murometz (1911); Crisis (ballet-pantomime) (1912)
Approximate duration: 9 minutes
Born in Kiev to a woodwind instrument maker, Reinhold Glière’s early days were surrounded by music. His father’s house was a nexus for musical activity in Kiev, and little Reinhold—an accomplished violinist from a young age—never lacked a critical audience. At age sixteen, he began three years at the Kiev School of Music, later entering the Moscow Conservatoire to study with Arensky and Taneyev under the direction of Rimsky-Korsakov. By the time he graduated, Glière had already amassed an impressive catalog of compositions, including a string sextet, a symphony, a one-act opera, and a small library of chamber works.
In 1911, Glière published his monumental Symphony no. 3, Ilya Murometz dedicated to Glazunov, which earned him renown as far as the United States. He was appointed Director of the Kiev Conservatoire in 1914 and held that position until becoming the Director of Compositional Studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1920. Much like his father, his adult life was full of charm and a community of musicians. Among his students in Moscow were Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and Miaskovsky, and he was awarded honors including the title “People’s Artist of the Soviet Union” by The Order of the Red Banner.
The Ten Duets for Two Cellos were written in 1911, shortly after Glière returned to Kiev from a two-year trip to Berlin where he studied conducting with Oscar Fried, a close collaborator with Gustav Mahler. The diverse collection of miniatures demonstrates the maturing voice of Glière. Each of the ten characteristically contrasting movements are masterfully balanced with each other. The stark Commodo is relieved by the trotting Vivace, whereas the deep pathos of the Andante lends well to the brisk nature of the Giocoso. The treatment of two cellos is done with great care, exploiting the full resonance of the duet while capturing the listener’s imagination with wistful and frequently evolving melodies.
– © 2017, Andrew Goldstein
(Born December 16, 1882, Kecskemét; died March 6, 1967, Budapest)
Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, op. 12
First performance: April 8, 1920, Budapest
Other works from this period: Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8 (1915); Háry János Suite (1926–1927)
Approximate duration: 21 minutes
Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and dissolved into ten independent nations. An independent Hungarian Democratic Republic was formed, and overthrown in March 1919 by the Hungarian Republic of Councils, a communist state.
The Republic of Councils was also short-lived, but their role in Hungarian music was monumental. The government elevated the Budapest Academy of Music to university status, naming Ernö Dohnányi as Director and Zoltán Kodály Deputy Director. Kodály, a Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist, was well regarded for his massive contribution to the advancement of Hungarian music. Prior to World War I, his studies of traditional Hungarian folk music alongside colleague and friend Béla Bartók aided in the establishment of a whole-distinct Eastern European tonality.
At the fall of the regime in August 1919, Kodály, Bartók, and Dohnányi were all subjected to intensive investigation by the new government. Kodály, the least renowned of the three at the time, was made scapegoat and declared a Bolshevist by the new government. The campaign against him endured through a six-month trial, crippling most of his composition and teaching activities. The only work to emerge from this period was among his last works for chamber ensemble; the Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, op. 12.
Bartók wrote a 1921 review of the Serenade in hopes of bolstering Kodály’s public reputation again:
“This composition, in spite of its unusual chord combinations and surprising originality, is firmly based on tonality, although this should not be strictly interpreted in terms of the major and minor system. The time will come when it will be realized that despite the atonal inclinations of modern music, the possibilities of building new structures on key systems have not been exhausted. The means used by the composer—the choice of instruments and the superb richness of instrumental effects achieved despite the economy of the work—merit great attention in themselves. The content is suited to the form. It reveals a personality with something entirely new to say and one who is capable of communicating this content in a masterful and concentrated fashion. The work is extraordinarily rich in melodies.”
The work is written for two violins and viola, an ensemble that very few composers championed because of the difficulty in balancing the higher-register instruments. Other notable examples of this arrangement of instruments are Dvorák’s Terzetto and Sergei Taneyev’s String Trio in D Major, op. 21. In this way, Kodály reveals his tremendous depth and understanding of tonal sonority. Throughout the piece, the viola often strikes an open C string—the instrument’s lowest note—to create a sense of lower tessitura. The opening movement, Allegramente, employs a jubilant triple meter first theme. A sulky viola theme leads to the development of each theme, until all three voices trail off into silence. Lento, ma non troppo is a dialog between the viola and first violin, supported by rapid tremolando in the second violin. Kodály’s markings, which include ridendo (“laughing”), indifferente (“indifferent”), and disperato (“desperate”), suggest a programmatic context to the movement. The final Vivo movement continues the banter between violin and viola in an impish manner, providing an exuberant resolution to the work.
– © 2014, rev 2017, Andrew Goldstein
(Born April 11/23, 1891, Sontsovka, Bakhmutsk region, Yekaterinoslav district, Ukraine; died March 5, 1953, Moscow)
Violin Sonata in D Major, op. 94a
Composed: 1943, arranged in 1944
First performance: December 7, 1943, by Nikolay Kharkovsky and Sviatoslav Richter
Other works from this period: Ten Pieces from Cinderella, op. 97 (1943); March in B-flat Major for Military Band, op. 99 (1943–1944); Symphony no. 5 in B-flat Major, op. 100 (1944); Twelve Russian Folksongs, op. 104 (1944)
Approximate duration: 24 minutes
A generation after Franz Liszt derided Brahms’s traditionalist leanings, declaring that “new wine demands new bottles,” a number of early twentieth-century modernist voices expressly espoused Classical values as a means of giving voice to a contemporary perspective. Neoclassicism’s chief exponents included Stravinsky, Satie, and Prokofiev. In such works as Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and The Rake’s Progress and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, these composers turned to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century forms, as well as that period’s penchant for thematic clarity, in reaction to what they saw as the excesses of late Romanticism.
Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata in D Major, op. 94a, offers a prime example of the composer’s neoclassical period. The work is cast in four movements and illustrates the thematic and textural clarity valued by the new aesthetic. But equally importantly—and as is the case with Stravinsky’s and others’ finest neoclassical essays—the Sonata’s embrace of Classical qualities does nothing to obscure the freshness of its composer’s voice. On the contrary, the distillation of its features brings Prokofiev’s musical identity into razor-sharp focus.
The Moderato first movement begins with a mellifluous theme decorated with florid turns; this genial music flares up suddenly with a circus-like glee. In this juxtaposition of seemingly disparate humors, this opening theme reflects characteristic elements of Prokofiev’s language: his keen ear for melody and texture, combined with his sardonic wit. The second theme restores the first theme’s limpid grace, but seems to wear a wry smirk: dotted rhythms and sly chromatic winks trace the music’s mischievous modulations from one harmonic area to the next.
The start of the development section, with its quick repeated triplets, again suggests a carnival entertainment. This rhythmic élan animates the first theme on its reappearance, complicating its expressive character. After a standard recapitulation, the piano takes an unexpectedly menacing turn in the movement’s final measures.
The Scherzo brings further mischief: here, of a rhythmic sort rather than harmonic. Prokofiev willfully obscures the beat, setting the pianist’s right and left hands in a jarring hocket as the violin dances playfully up and down the staff. Obsessive repetition of an unnerving motoric gesture in the piano injects a dystopian feeling into this good-natured frolic.
Prokofiev has another trick up his sleeve in the central trio section: the music seems to get slower as the piano’s steady quarter notes yield to a sustained chord; but though the rhythmic profile becomes static, the tempo pacing the violin melody is actually poco più mosso. The character of the music adds to the feeling of something deliciously off-kilter.
The Andante third movement appears, on the surface, naïve and sentimental, but its chromaticism suggests there is more than meets the ear. Winding triplets vaguely conjure Baroque ornamentation. The Sonata’s rondo finale answers with a refrain of spirited hi jinx. This recurs in alternation with episodes of varying characters, but unified by an unrelenting vivacity until the work’s final measure.
One year following its completion, Prokofiev adapted the Flute Sonata in a version for violin and piano at the urging of David Oistrakh. While the work is equally popular (and perhaps even more frequently performed) in its incarnation as a violin sonata, Prokofiev’s expert approach to the flute has installed it as essential to that instrument’s repertoire repertoire.
—© 2016 Patrick Castillo
(Born June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Saxony; died July 29, 1856, Endenich, near Bonn)
Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44
Dedication: Clara Schumann
First performance: December 6, 1842, Leipzig
Other works from this period: Detailed in the notes below
Approximate duration: 30 minutes
Robert Schumann’s compositions appear in clusters over the course of his creative career. The 1830s primarily saw the creation of piano works, and 1840 was his year of lieder, followed by a year of symphonic music. In 1842 came Schumann’s most significant chamber pieces. Between February and July of that year, he completed his three string quartets, each dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn. In the fall, he composed two companion pieces: first, the Piano Quintet, op. 44, and then a month later, the Piano Quartet, op. 47. Both were composed for Clara Schumann. The Quintet, which paved the way for such seminal works as the piano quintets of Brahms and Dvorák, took Schumann all of three weeks to complete. The work’s difficult piano part testifies to Clara’s virtuosic ability at the keyboard. Ironically, illness prevented her from taking part in the premiere, and Mendelssohn—one of the nineteenth century’s few pianists superior to Clara Schumann—heroically filled in at the last minute (sight-reading at the performance).
An ebullient energy drives the opening Allegro brillante: the opening theme comprises two powerful ascending leaps answered by eight emphatic chords. Again citing Schumann’s alter egos (see note to Adagio and Allegro, op. 70), these opening measures are unquestionably the work of Florestan; but Eusebius immediately transforms their stentorian might into a soft, loving gaze. The lyrical second theme, an enchanting duet between the cello and viola, contrasts the exclamatory first theme. The development section is all nervous energy, its devilishly intricate piano part obviously conceived with Clara Schumann’s virtuosity in mind.
The second movement is a somber funeral march. Schumann offsets the movement’s solemnity with an expressive second theme. A faster Agitato section combines the two themes in a show of Romantic pathos before reprising the march. As if rising from the dead, the third movement scherzo follows the elegiac march with ecstatic ascending scale figures, interrupted briefly by a poetic trio section and then by a longer, fiery second trio. The final movement recalls the first in its unrelenting character. A literal reprise of the first movement’s opening theme, combined with the finale’s own main theme in a magical fugue, brings the work to a blazing finish.
—© Patrick Castillo
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