Philippe Bianconi

Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata No.8 in C minor, Op.13 "Pathétique"

In today's full-of-holes-blue-jean world, with its relative values expressed with timid, politically correct words, the adjective “pathetique” is at least suspicious if not outright misinterpreted with a sneer. For Beethoven and his contemporaries, who absorbed classic education, it harkened back to its Greek origin - “pathos” - and it meant suffering, awe, tenderness, endurance, courage and above all, heroic perseverance. For the contemporaries of Beethoven, the honest display of true emotion justified itself and it was reserved for a person of strong character.

The Op.13 is the only sonata to which Beethoven gave a descriptive name. All the others, such as Moonlight, Appassionata, Pastorale came from the publishers. In this sonata, composed in 1799, the youthful Beethoven declares himself to be his own master and he does it unashamedly and with full confidence. The giant shadow of Haydn, lurking behind his previous sonatas is gone and Beethoven emerges as the defiant hero, full of pathos like a Greek mythological hero. The first C-minor chord of the introductory Grave of the first Movement is characteristically masculine and affirmative. The ensuing Allegro di molto e con brio , with the interjected Grave sections, reinforces the grandeur of the conception. Nothing like this has been written before. Beethoven knows it, and furthermore, he does not have the slightest intention to apologize for it. The second movement Adagio cantabile is tender, full of retrospective rapture and it contains one of the most beloved melodies ever written by any composer. The concluding Rondo , with the Allegro tempo marking is much criticized by the cognoscenti, quite unjustly, at least in this writer's opinion. The sometimes lyrical, sometimes serious, sometimes quasi heroic, sometimes canonic building blocks of this Rondo are very welcome relief after the intensity of the previous two movements and its expansive, operatic main melody evokes a much needed smile.



Robert Schumann
Kreisleriana, Op.16

To understand the origins of this Romantic masterpiece by Robert Schumann, one must start with E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) the German writer, painter, critique, composer and caricaturist who studied law, the sciences, arts and music at the University of Konigsberg and became one of the first creators of short fantasy and horror stories. To say that he had an unsettled life would be an understatement, yet the influence of his writings on art, music and even psychology was far-reaching. Delibes's Coppelia and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker are based on his stories and so is the opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Offenbach . His tales, intertwining the fantastic into the real had an enormous influence on American writers such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne and especially Edgar Allan Poe.

It has been argued with much justification that Hoffmann and Schumann were kindred spirits, that Hoffmann inspired Schumann. Hoffmann, in his “Devil's Elixir” divided the artistic personality (his own, presumably) into sharply contrasting characters – Lothar the realist, Cyprian the romantic and mystic, Ottmar the skeptic and Theodore the impassioned lyrical. Each of these could champion and represent a contrasting view*. Similarly, Schumann perceived his own personality as three distinct characters and interwove them in his music. Florestan was impulsive and passionate, Eusebius dreamy and reflective and characteristically, Master Raro was the mediator. (A cipher from Cla ra and Ro bert Schumann). Furthermore, in Hoffmann's “Kreisleriana” a mad musician, the Kapellmeister Kreisler appears. Kreisler is depicted as a dashing, crazed figure of a genius musician whose personality is so hypersensitive that he is constantly drawn between his visions, dreams and reality, searching for his special heaven that might grant him the peace and serenity for the creation of his music. A better description of Schumann's personality would be hard to find, although because of the age difference, Schumann could not have been the model for Kreisler.

Schumann wrote the Kreisleriana shortly after his Kinderscenen Op. 15 (Scenes from Childhood), during the unhappy months when Frederich Wieck used every means at his disposal to keep his daughter Clara and Robert separated. Music was the most intimate means of communication between the two lovers at this unhappy moment of their life. Both of these compositions were inspired by Clara – the Kreisleriana uses an actual theme of hers, the Kinderscenen as a consequence of her unguarded remark that at times Robert seemed like a child to her.

Schumann, reading Hoffmann, initially considered reviewing the Kreisleriana in his Neue Zeitschrift fur Music but then his creative instinct and his longing for Clara got the better of him. He responded with his own Kreisleriana, a cyclical work of eight strongly contrasting pieces. Indeed it is fortunate for us that instead of verbal polemics (in which, it must be said, Schumann was second to none) he created this delicious, thought provoking, immensely engaging work for the piano. “The alternation of passion and satire must have seized Schumann's imagination, giving him, as it were, an excuse to yoke together musical ideas that seem incompatible at first sight, to change mood and expression without warning, to go directly from a lyric meditation to a strangely sinister scherzo or an outburst of rage” (Charles Rosen – The Romantic Generation). Yet structurally the diverse elements hold together, through the interplay between the tonalities of G minor and B flat major. Although in this work, unlike in the Davidsbundlertanze (referring to an imaginary band of followers of the Biblical David – that is, Schumann and his followers fighting the musical Philistines) and in the Carnaval, where Florestan, Eusebius and Raro appear either as titles or cryptically at the end of each piece, in the Kreisleriana there are no clear references. Yet it is clear that here, G minor represents Florestan, the passionate and B flat major is Eusebius, the lyrical. The 4 th piece, titled Sehr Langsam (Very Slowly) the two keys merge and the tonality becomes ambiguous. Could it be that here, Schumann found peace through a spiritual union with Clara?

Lest this technical description frightens the listener, let me hasten to state, that to enjoy this magnificent music one does not need to be conscientious of these interesting (or confusing?) details. The melodies, the shifting rhythms, the rich harmonies and the kaleidoscopic, quick mood changes will enthrall any listener who is willing to immerse himself in the genius of Schumann's music.

*With this concept Hoffmann foreshadowed and influenced Carl Jung's theory of the archetypes.


Claude Debussy
Feuilles mortes - La Puerta del Vino
Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses
La Terrasse des audiences du clair de lune
Feux d'artifice


The Impressionist painters perceived art as a sensuous experience. Debussy, too, created sensuous semi-visual tone poems with music. He stated his unyielding opposition to what he perceived to be intellectual, at times formalistic character of Germanic music:”French music is clearness, elegance, simple and natural declamation. French music aims first of all to give pleasure”. He composed “mood pieces” – Debussy's own definition of preference, since he objected to the “impressionist” label. His music is subtle, misty, always refined, and often without clear tonality. His piano style is so distinctively unique that even the unpracticed listener can recognize it after only a few bars.

The first set of Debussy's Preludes was published in 1910, the second in 1913. Each contains 12 short pieces with descriptive titles. The longest is barely over six minutes the shortest is about two. Each asks the members of the audience to let their imagination escape and create an unexpected, unforeseen world. Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves) is a melancholy mood piece where harmonies float like dead leaves. La Puerta del Vino was inspired by a postcard received from de Falla, depicting the gate of the Alhambra . It evokes, however gently, the Habanera, specifically the “cante hondo”. Les Fees sont d'exquises danseuses (Fairies are exquisite dancers) is a feather-light, stylized dance with broken chords and shimmering tremolos. La Terrasse des audiences du Clair de Lune (The terrace of moonlight audiences) with descending bell-like tinkling creates a surreal image of an otherworldly scene, shimmering in moonlight. Feux d'artifice (Fireworks) is a virtuoso show-piece that creates fireworks, not only for the imagination of the listener but for the piano and the pianist as well.



Franz Liszt

Sonetto 104 del Petrarca
Mephisto-Waltz No.1


Petrarca (1304-1374) a famous Italian scholar and poet, was one of the founders of the Renaissance. He wrote 365 Sonnets, most of them inspired by his idealistic love for the lady of his dreams, Laura. It was natural that Liszt, young and almost always ardently in love, set three of Petrarca's Sonnets to music. First, in 1838, they appeared as songs with piano accompaniment, then twenty years later and after many revisions, as solo piano pieces. He included them into his Annees de Pelerinage. This three-volume set of brilliant and incisive piano pieces is autobiographical, like Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The first volume describes Liszt's reaction to his wanderings in Switzerland, the second in Italy and the third, a much later set, his spiritual progress from the worldly to the transcendental.

With the secure hand of the master pianist of all ages, Liszt weaves glamorous, exquisitely pianistic lines that sing as few singers can. Sonnetto 47 sings of earthly, yet sublime love, Sonnetto 104 (the one performed tonight and the most often played of the three) sings the infinite longing of unrequited, passionate love, and Sonnetto 123 may best be described by a line from the poem: “I saw angelic grace, here on earth…”. Conceived in Italy, with his lover, Countess Marie d'Agoult at his side (she just left her dull, but very decent and wealthy husband for Liszt, creating the scandal of Europe of her time), and the storm clouds of this ill-fated liaison not yet on the horizon, reading Dante and Petrarca, and absorbing the incomparable artistic treasures of Italy, Liszt's creative genius soared and gave us these gems. They are the essence of Romanticism.

Program notes by Stephen Seleny

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Paul Badura-Skoda

Joseph Haydn
Sonata in A-flat major, Hob.XVI/46

The bounties of Haydn's oeuvre are astounding. He was the Father of the Symphony, but with equal justice we could call him the Father of the piano sonata form, and that of the String Quartet. His music is always on the highest plane and the quantity of masterworks he produced boggles the mind. He wrote 104 Symphonies, 52 (or 68) piano Sonatas, 23 Operas, 83 String Quartets, 12 Masses, 3 monumental oratorios (The Seven last Words of Christ, The Seasons and The Creation) and nearly endless number of other works.

Haydn showed musical talent very early but was not a “wunderkind”. His childhood was miserable, more beatings than bread as he remembered, and he never had a real music teacher. He learned by hearing the finest music of his time as a choirboy. At age eight he was accepted into the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna , where he remained for nine years. He did not compose with the ease of Mozart, Schubert or Mendelssohn. Would he have died young like Mozart, he would be virtually unknown. Haydn developed slowly, methodically and with inevitable steadiness. After his dismissal from the Cathedral choir, he struggled through many meager years and fell into a very unhappy marriage. Then, in 1761 he entered into the service of Prince Eszterhazy and for the rest of his life, in one capacity or another he remained associated with this famous family. He gracefully accepted his role as a servant, and the Eszterhazys treated him as a prince of music.

Sonatas written before Haydn were usually short, one-movement pieces, and placed differing technical demands on the performer. Some were little character pieces, some were virtuoso etudes like the Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. A Sonata, as we refer to it today, is a multi movement composition built on contrasts and development of motives. The first Movement (almost always in “sonata form”, a technical term referring to the structure) contains an exposition section with two contrasting themes (some call them the masculine and the feminine elements) and a closing theme, followed by a development section, often much larger than the exposition, where only the taste and talent of the composer limits the development of the exposition's themes. Then, after the composer is satisfied that he explained fully the meaning of these themes, a recapitulation follows where the original themes reappear, more or less in their original form. The Second Movement is usually slow and lyrical, the Third is dance-like, and the Finale is fast and energetic. It would be false to say that Haydn invented all of this. No, he did not, but he was the one who pulled these diverse, already existing ideas into a unified arch, achieving equilibrium. Ever since, every composer who ever wrote a Sonata or Symphony (which is a Sonata for Orchestra) - be he a Classical, Romantic or Modern composer - owes a measure of debt to”Papa Haydn”.

The Piano Sonatas of Haydn fit into two categories: the “concert sonatas” of at least three movements requiring considerable virtuosity from the performer, and the “chamber sonatas” for amateur performances, usually of two movements only. Recent, somewhat controversial research proclaims that he wrote not 52 but 68 Sonatas. Be that as it may, the sonata of this evening is certainly a three movement “Concert Sonata”. This Sonata in A-flat is a larger conception, with an ornate, expansive first movement that follows the typical sonata form closely. The second movement is an extended aria with a figurative ostinato-like bass and the last movement is a delightful, light presto for fast fingers.

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Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata No.21 in C major, Op.53 "Waldstein"


Beethoven wrote this sonata in 1804, at the beginning of his "middle" period of creativity, the time of the Eroica Symphony, the Fidelio, the Appassionata and the Razumovsky Quartets. He had already conquered Vienna, but his restless soul soon became impatient with the role assigned to him by the Imperial city: that of heir apparent to the classicism of Mozart and Haydn. He started to search for new forms and modes of expression to expand the possibilities of instruments, especially of his beloved piano. He dedicated this sonata to Count Waldstein, his old friend from his youthful days in Bonn. So, does this work signify no more than Beethoven's nostalgic memories of Bonn? It is, to be sure, an embodiment of cheerful activity, of recalled and realized youth; and the open-ended melody of the last movement Rondo is reminiscent of the melodies of the Rhineland. But this sonata is much more – it presents an entirely new vision.

The rattling main theme of the
Allegro con brio is a formless apparition; it does not "happen" in melody but in rhythm, and at most in harmony. The stop-and-go, up-and-down sliding of harmonies foreshadows those unique developmental techniques that were to become increasingly common in Beethoven's music. The secondary theme, the melodic element of the movement is in E major, and emphasizes the “major-third” key relationship, a device the young Beethoven scarcely used before now. The movement is full of shining vitality, of pulsation, strength and determined search for the future. In contrast, the slow movement, the Introduzione, is the essence of stillness: its mysterious theme barely has time to ascend from the depth of stillness when the curtain rises and sunshine streams in with the smiling melody of the Rondo. Continuously transformed into more and more brilliant variations, forcefully interrupted by contrasting sections, embellished with trills, triplets and virtuoso runs, this melody and the entire movement reaches its shining zenith in the final exuberant Prestissimo.



Frank Martin

Fantaisie sur des rythmes flamenco , 1973


It was a whim of my friend Paul Badura-Skoda that led him to ask me to write a piano fantasia for him. He is particularly fond of this genre, both in classicism and romanticism, owing to the less constrained and more direct mode of expression allowed the composer in the absence of a prescribed musical form. Tempted by the idea of writing a piece infused with the intimate, dreamy and dramatic atmosphere of certain works of the romantic era, I agreed to his request.

For the rest, I had for several years been attracted by the rich and complex rhythms of flamenco, into which I had been initiated by my daughter Teresa, a fervent devotee of the art. But more than the complexity and richness of the rhythms I was fascinated by the mixture of tragedy, dignity in the face of Fate, and joy, which the art expresses. Having again seen my daughter perform this passionate dance in the summer of 1973, with a flamenco group in Majorca, I was seized with the desire to write something which she might one day dance. Hovering between two such different worlds I hardly knew which direction to choose, when one day I stumbled on a series of chords which evoked sufficiently well the dreamy spirit of the romantics and immediately took on the slow rhythm of the rumba. The special character of this beginning informs the whole of the first part of the fantasia. The rhythm gets progressively faster until it bursts into the frenzy of a flamenco rumba. At its climax it breaks off abruptly. After a prolonged silence a different dance form appears – a „Soleares“. Like most of the flamenco dances the „Soleares“ is based on an ostinato rhythm which has its complete exposition at the beginning of the dance. The word „Soleares“ as such denotes solitude, a solitude which expresses at the same time nostalgia, revolt and acceptance of Fate. The work ends with another dance, called the „Petenera“, which is similarly based on a completely traditional, imperturbable rhythm. He „Petenera“ is an old poem of epic character, sung to this rigid ground rhythm. The poem tells of the tragic fate of a woman (Petenera) abandoned by her lover.

For this work Teresa has devised a choreography which reflects very closely the spirit and atmosphere of flamenco, but which freely deviates from the precisely fixed and
regulated technical forms of this type of dance. In the same way the music, based on its traditional rhythms, expresses the character of flamenco without speaking the same musical language.

Program note by Frank Martin

When I approached Frank Martin in 1970 to write a Fantasia for piano solo, he told me that the idea appealed to him but that I would have to wait at least three years. Since he was an octogenarian then, I had litle hope ever to see this work How great was my surprise when exactly three years later, in 1973, I received the manuscript together with the following letter:

Mon très cher Paul,

Voici cette Fantaisie que tu as voulu avoir de ma main. Ne suis-je pas obéissant ? Je dois dire pourtant qu'à part les moments toujours pénibles de „composite“, j'ai eu une grande joie à l'ècrire, évoquant toujours à mo esprit ce que tu saurais en faire, avec la délicatesse de ton toucher, le bondissement de ton rythme et ce profond sens musical que j'aime dans ton jeu. C'est en toute amitié que je note:

écrite pour l'ami Paul et à lui dédiéeate

 ton Frank
 décembre 1973

(My very dear Paul,
Here is the Fantasy that you have wanted from my hand. Am I not obedient ? I must tell you, though, that apart from those laborious moments of „compositis“, I have had great pleasure in writing it, always evoking in my mind what you are going to make of it, with the delicacy of your touch, the bounce of your rhythms and that profound musical sense that I love in your play. It is with all my friendship that I note:

writen for my friend Paul and dedicated to him

yours Frank           
December 1973)

The work is also dedicated in another sense to Martin's daughter Teresa Martin, a first rate flamenco dancer, to whom the composer owed his thorough knowledge of this specific art. Nearly all his late works were somewhat inspired by flamenco. Thre was much more to it than its rhythmical vitality or peculiar expressiveness of melody: what attracted Frank Martin in this art was, in his own words, „the attitude of man who meets an inexorable fate with pride and defiance and thus finds his freedom, even if he has to perish“.

The Fantasia consists of four parts: Rumba lente, Rumba rapide, Soleares, Petenera. Soleares is a slow dance of solitude; Petenera is a slow dance, too, depicting the sorrow and defiance of a woman (La Petenera) abandoned by her lover. The auserity of this Fantasia is a far cry from the flamboyance of some of the Preludes, Frank's best known piano composition, of 1948. Yet, there is depth behind this apparent aridity, which has something in common with Beethoven's last works, and an astonishing vitality which belies the old age of the composer.

The work had its premiere at the Lucerne Festival in 1974 with the collaboration of Teresa Martin, who gave an impressive performance in flamenco style.

Program note by Paul Badura-Skoda

Robert Schumann
Symphonic Etudes, Op.13

In 1830 Schumann finally broke down his mother's and guardian's opposition, and started on the road to become a concert pianist. He enrolled in the studio of Friedrich Wieck, who became a famous piano teacher, mainly because his daughter Clara, although only eleven years old, achieved fame as a brilliant pianist. Friendship developed rapidly between Robert and Clara, but Friedrich soon discovered that this friendship was turning into an amorous infatuation. Perceiving Robert to be unsuitable for Clara, he forbade them to see each other. To make sure that Robert forgot Clara, Friedrich introduced him to Ernestine von Fricken, a lovely 16 year old, who was also studying piano with him. The impressionable Robert became infatuated with Ernestine and soon they became engaged. Then, to please Ernestine's father, who was a wealthy Baron and an amateur composer, Schumann borrowed a melody from the Baron and used it as the main theme for his own Symphonic Variations. However, the engagement with Ernestine was short lived; it was but a fleeting flame. Schumann's one and only real love was Clara and pretty girls of whatever charm could not change this.

To understand Schumann's music, one must realize that he was a full-blooded romantic. He had many personalities. Schumann was well aware of this and included self-portraits of his split-personality in his famous Carnaval, op. 9. He called them Eusebius and Florestan – the contemplative and the active. The one constant in his life that held him in balance was his passionate love for Clara Wieck. In spite of all the machinations and opposition from Clara's father, they were married in 1836. Their love and dedication to each other became the life-sustaining force that inspired Schumann to write some of the most glorious music of the Romantic Age. Ultimately, his schizophrenic tendencies became uncontrollable. He attempted suicide and spent his last years in an insane asylum.

Schumann wrote the first version of the Symphonic Etudes in 1834, continued to revise it and finally published it in 1852. These etudes are variations on a theme. They differ markedly in character; some use the melody architecturally, others merely as bass-line support. They are true etudes, since each tackles a different technical challenge, yet they are unified, not only because of the common theme but foremost because of Schumann's unerring sense of how to create a cohesive whole out of quite diverse elements. His struggle over the order and number of the variations proves that the unity of the work was important to him. Ultimately he sanctioned the publication of nine variations, with a massive finale, and excluded five superb variations, which appeared in print only after his death.

Program botes by Stephen Seleny

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John Owings
Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata No.26 in E-flat major, Op.81a "Les Adieux"

Many Beethoven Sonatas have subtitles – none but the Pathetique from Beethoven – but the Les Adieux is the only one that has an extra-musical inspiration. In May of 1809, Napoleon besieged and ultimately occupied Vienna . In anticipation Archduke Rudolph and his entire entourage left the city. We should remember that the Archduke was a true patron and friend of Beethoven, thus the eminent danger threatening the Archduke and his departure deeply affected Beethoven. “On the departure of His Imperial Highness, for Archduke Rudolph, in admiration” reads the title page with Beethoven's handwriting and under it “written from the heart” well expresses his feelings. Furthermore, over the first three notes of the first movement, he wrote “Le-be-wohl” (good-by in German – literal translation = “Live well”). The second movement bears the inscription Das Abwesenheit (the Absence) and the third is marked Das Wiedersehen (the Reunion ). Beethoven became highly indignant when the score was published in London by Muzio Clementi, with the French subtitle Les Adieux. This is understandable since the French Army was the cause of all the misery and of course, by this time, Beethoven hated Napoleon with purple passion.

Beethoven composed the first movement in the basement of his house, seeking shelter from the bombardment. He covered his head with pillows to protect his sensitive ears, already showing signs of diminished hearing. The remaining two movements were written in 1810, after Napoleon left and the Archduke returned.

This sonata of Beethoven needs few explanatory notes because the music is exquisitely descriptive. It does not depict external events but Beethoven's reaction to them. The very first “horn-call” motive, in the slow introductory section, sets the mood of resignation. This motive becomes the essential building block of the whole sonata. In spite of the occasional outbursts, Beethoven unashamedly expresses his sorrow over his friend's departure. The desolation and loss is palpable in the second movement and the last movement is a brilliant, happy picture of the reunion. This is one of the most joyful pieces of music written by Beethoven, likely not only to celebrate his friend's safe return but also to rejoice in the departure of Napoleon.

 

 

Johannes Brahms
Piano Pieces, Op.76

Earlier in his career, until 1863, Brahms wrote large scale, technically demanding music for the piano. He often played it himself, for he was a formidable performer. Then, after completing his Paganini Variations and writing nothing for the piano for fifteen years, he gave us six sets of lyrical, somber, stark, reticent pieces which he titled Intermezzos, Capriccios, Rhapsodies and Ballades. The earlier outpouring of melodies was trimmed and the forms became smaller and simpler (usually A B A). In the words of Arthur Rubinstein these works “are so intensely intimate that one cannot really convey their full substance to a larger audience. They should be heard quietly in a small room, for they are actually works of chamber music for the piano”.

The Op.76 is the first set of these so called late works. It contains four Capriccios and four Intermezzos. These relatively short pieces are the first indication that Brahms began to experiment with a different kind of piano texture, where fewer notes stand for even richer substance. The titles in these late sets do not indicate any formal distinction; quite often Brahms himself altered and interchanged them. However, as they are in this set, the Capriccios tend to be more extroverted with quicker tempos, whereas the Intermezzos are more intimate and introspective.

With Brahms the form was never a preconceived pattern but more of a necessary frame for the character of the music. He was much more interested clothing his ideas with ever changing harmonies and enlightening them with subtle changes of rhythm, unexpected but meaningful accents, with duplets playing against triplets. The center-weight of the set is the Capriccio in C-sharp minor, the fifth piece of the set. With its extended ternary form, the final Capriccio in C-major is by far the most complex. The Intermezzo no.4 is a nocturne, whereas the Intermezzo no.7, with its Chopinesque melody is more for reminiscing of a fairy-tale place. Each of these little gems has its own special flavor and they speak intimately to the heart.

 


Maurice Ravel

Valses nobles et sentimentales

"The title Valses nobles et sentimentales sufficiently indicates my intention of writing a series of waltzes in imitation of Schubert. The seventh waltz seems to me to be the most characteristic", wrote Ravel. At the heading of the score there is also the quotation "the delightful and always novel pleasure of useless occupation" that well describes Ravel's state of mind at this stage of his life. Indeed, these seven waltzes, with an epilogue that recalls all the previous waltzes (all except the fifth) well express the author's high spirits and pleasure-loving sophistication. The contrasting characters, the sophisticated rhythms and the deceptive simplicity of these waltzes add immeasurably to the listening pleasure of the audience. Indeed, the professional never ceases to marvel at the refinement of Ravel's craftsmanship – when his text seems the simplest, it is the most refined and when it seems most complicated, the underlying logic makes it the most translucent. Stravinsky, at an unguarded moment, called Ravel “the Swiss Watchmaker”. He may have intended it as a joke, for he had enormous respect for Ravel and his music, yet he did hit it on the head. The finest Swiss watch cannot be better crafted than any score of Ravel.

 

Isaac Albéniz
El puerto from Iberia, Book I
Triana from Iberia, Book II

Albeniz was born in Catalonia . His father was Basque and his mother Catalan. His childhood was irregular, to say the least. By age four he was recognized as a prodigy and at nine he ran away from home. At age twelve, as a stow-away across Spain , the Caribbean and the US , he earned his way with playing the piano here and there. In his late teens he did some serious studies with such masters as Dukas, Reinecke and Liszt. They recognized his genius and tried to help him – especially Liszt - but with little success. Albeniz was a free-spirit and by nature an adventurer.

Albeniz, nevertheless was a phenomenal pianist, a great improviser and a musician of the first order. His concert programs reveal a master pianist with an eclectic taste. He believed that his own works were “bits of rubbish” for the ladies of the salon. His judgment is quite appropriate for many, if not most of his smaller piano pieces, but late in his life he produced four sets for the piano, each containing three pieces. He titled them “ Iberia ”. They are masterpieces, unequalled by any Spanish composer. These twelve virtuoso show-pieces were composed between 1905 and 1907 in London , Paris and Nice. They have titles that refer to Andalucía, the South of Spain. Although a Northerner, Albeniz was intoxicated with the Moorish-Gypsy-Flamenco music of the South.

To understand the music of Albeniz, we need to know that Andalucian folk music is both sung and danced. Much of this type of music fits into two categories: “Cante Jondo” (Cante Hondo) and Cante Flamenco. “Hondo” means “deep” and it denotes music of darker color especially in the “coplas”, the stanzas of the song with refrains. According to de Falla, the origins of Cante Hondo can be traced back to Byzantine Church Music, to Moorish chant (the Arabs occupied Spain for centuries) and to the music of the Gypsy bands who immigrated into Spain from the East. Recent studies also indicate a strong connection with the Hebraic chants of the Synagogue. Cante Flamenco is much lighter in character. It radiates brilliance and the varieties of Cante Flamenco take their names from the locales where they are sung and danced; sevillanas, malaguena, rondena, etc.

The fishing port El Puerto de Santa Maria is located on the Atlantic coast, near Cadiz . The picturesque location and the daily routine of the village inspired Albeniz to write a colorful, kaleidoscopic, ternary form composition with an introduction and Coda. Each section offers conflicting rhythms and contrasting moods. The Triana , the gypsy quarter of Seville , inspired this brilliant (and very difficult to play) show-piece. Indubitably this is the most popular piece of all of the sets, and deservedly so. Based on Paso-doble (Spanish two-step) and Marcha Torera (bullfighter's march) the piano imitates guitars, tambourines, castanets. The music depicts a frenzy of passion, violence, drunkenness, and flashes of color with intoxicating effect.

Program botes by Stephen Seleny

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Menahem Pressler
with the Calder Quartet

Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata No.31 in A-flat major, Op.110

If, as often said, the last sonata of Beethoven's mighty thirty two, the Op 111, is a transfiguration, then the penultimate, the Op 110, is a spiritual farewell. The first movement of this sonata is a lyrical, calm retrospective song, the second a tart, witty and rambunctious romp. Both are but extended preludes to the third movement which is the heart of this magnificent conception. This complex, sublime last movement is an intimate prayer and a submission to the unalterable laws of eternity. As a synthesis of extreme elements, it stretches the limits of classical style in every respect, yet its component parts are essentially classical - a recitative followed by an aria, then a fugue, followed by a variant of the arioso and a closing variant of the fugue.

This final movement is one of Beethoven's most original creations. It combines the traditional slow movement with the traditional fast closing movement and by repeating the sequence, brings it to a full circle .To make sure that his intentions are understood, Beethoven wrote seventeen interpretation signs (not counting pedal) just for the introductory eight bar recitative, marked Adagio ma non troppo. The rest of the movement is also full of instructions, not only in Italian but in German, too. The ensuing Arioso dolente recalls the great alto aria of Bach's St. John Passion. Sung at the foot of the cross when Jesus dies, this heartbreaking “Es ist vollbracht” (It is fulfilled) must have had a very special, personal meaning for the sick, completely deaf Beethoven. The lament is followed by a serene fugue, marked Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo , which is diverted back, just before its triumphant close, into the tragic “Es is vollbracht” Arioso . Marked “Ermattet, klagend” (Wearily, plaintively) and sung a half tone lower, in g-minor, full of sobs and gasps for breath, this is one of the most heartbreaking moments of this sonata. Clearly struggling how to proceed (from his own numerous sketches we know that this part gave Beethoven immense trouble), repeating defiant g major chords, Beethoven finds his way back into A-flat major, using an upside down version of the fugal theme. After a complex transition, the closing Fuga becomes a glorious hymn, a triumphant ending to an immense human drama and Beethoven's personal confession of his faith in God.

 



Claude Debussy
Estampes

“I believe,” wrote Debussy “that music has until now rested on false principles. We search for ideas in ourselves when we ought to search for them in the world around us. We combine, construct and imagine themes which attempt to convey ideas, we develop them or modify them when they collide with other themes representing other ideas. In this manner we create a metaphysic, we do not create music. We do not listen to the thousands of natural sounds which surround us, we are not sufficiently on the look-out for the varied music which nature so abundantly offers. Nature envelops us, yet we live in her midst without perceiving her… It is more useful for a composer to watch a sunrise than for him to hear Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony.” There you have it – the whole aesthetic manifesto of Debussy. No doubt the environmentalists of today love it and no doubt the abstract-serialists of today hate it.

In 1903 Debussy published his three Estampes (prints, engravings) with titles that visualize landscapes of the Far East, of Spain and France itself. The musical visions of these widely divergent images invite the imagination of the audience and the performer.

Pagodes show the imprint of the Javanese and Cambodian orchestras Debussy heard at the International Expositions of 1900, where the exotic charm of the Chinese pentatonic scale fired up his imagination. The taste and sounds of Spain were never far from Debussy's heart, thus it should not be surprising that he included a sensuous habanera in the Soiree dans Granade, invoking the warm nights of Andalusia . The Jardins sous la pluie (Gardens in the rain) is the most familiar of the set, constructed of two well-known nursery refrains: Do-do, l'enfant do (Sleep child, sleep) and Nous n'irons plus au bois (We will not return to the forest). Three utterly different “Estampes”, so subtle in their distinctive language that, like magic, they transport us into three different worlds.

 

Antonín Dvorák
Piano Quintet in A major, Op.81

Composed in 1887, biographers often describe Dvorak's only piano quintet as a self-portrait. Dvorak's best friends maintained that this quintet was a virtually life-like picture of the composer. Possibly, but more to the point, it epitomizes his unique style more than just about anything else he wrote. The juxtaposition of quick-changing moods of the melancholy and the joyful and the infinite variety of the heartfelt melodies dominate this large scale, four-movement composition that is universally recognized as one of the true masterworks of this genre.

Fifteen years earlier Dvorak wrote a piano quintet but shortly after its premier performance destroyed it. Later, regretting his rash action, he retrieved a copy from a friend and set to revise it. Ultimately he put this youthful work aside and decided to compose a completely new quintet, the Op.81. After fifteen years of maturing, experimentation and immersion in the Bohemian folk idiom, Dvorak created this magnum opus of chamber music. It should not be a surprise that the unashamed, free-flowing Romanticism of this Quintet is beloved by audiences everywhere.

The Quintet opens with a wonderfully lyrical theme for the cello that sets the mood. This large scale, sonata form opening movement is full of lovely tunes and rich harmonies. The secondary theme for the viola (Dvorak's own instrument) is tinged with a bit of sadness and the dialogue between these two themes dominates the movement. The second movement Dumka, an old folk-ballad form, centers on a pensive melody that returns repeatedly but is interrupted three times by fast, happier interludes. The A-B-A-C-A-B-A form, characteristic of old Slavonic ballads is ideal to create the mood changes so beloved by the composer. The third movement is a furious Waltz with a meditative middle section and the last movement is a peasant dance, spiced with a humorous folk melody. It is a most effective closing statement, full of kaleidoscopic variety. It includes even a fugato and a closing chorale, and it sparkles with brilliant exuberance.

 

 

Program botes by Stephen Seleny

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Arie Vardi

The Polonaise

According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , by the end of the 16 th century, the Polish folk dance ancestors of the dance we call polonaise, were adopted by the gentry and lesser aristocracy. At first they were sung, accompanied by instruments and danced, but as they became more and more associated with the nobility and higher aristocracy the music became exclusively instrumental and a form of court dance. To quote Grove: “ the Court Polonaise was played by musicians in the galleries of the great reception halls, while the assembly, dressed in great splendor, danced it below in processional figures… In this form it was transformed into the most highbred expression of the Polish national spirit and in the process, became the most representative of Polish dances throughout Europe.”

The basic steps of the Polonaise accommodate the triple meter, where the accent falls on the first beat of each measure. In dance, this accent is demonstrated with a longer step and slight bending of the knees. The following two shorter steps demonstrate the second and third beats of the measure. Dancing the Polonaise demands straight posture with no movement of the hips. Hand gestures must be elegant and the head must be held high, expressing a certain pride. The man must display dignity; the woman must carry herself with grace and display a bit of shy timidity.

There are two rhythmic patterns that are characteristic of the Polonaise. The meter is ¾ and a typical measure contains one eighth-note followed by two sixteenths and four eighth-notes, or the cadential formula of four sixteenth-notes followed by two quarter notes. The tempo of the Polonaise is moderate and the rhythmic patterns are repeated constantly throughout the dance. Naturally, in the hand of the great masters who included Polonaises in their extended compositions, suites, sonatas or operas – Telemann, Bach, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Liszt and above all Chopin – these rhythms were stylized and the tempos and character of the dance were transformed into a bewildering variety.



                                                                                                                                                                             Program botes by Stephen Seleny

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John O'Conor

Ludwig van Beethoven
Bagatelles, Op.126

Beethoven wrote 24 “Kleinigkeiten” (small things or Bagatelles) grouped into three bouquets. The seven pieces of Op.33 (1803), the eleven in Op. 119 (1823), and the six in Op. 126 (1825) are indeed short little pieces, yet they are meaningful, even if they are compressed into small forms. A closer look at these little gems will also clarify that the usual, contemporary meaning of the word “bagatelle” – denoting something insignificant – does not apply. The dates of publications indicate next to nothing about the date of their creation. Delving into Beethoven's numerous sketch books clarify that inspirations and ideas from widely different creative periods are used in these “small things”. Only the Op. 126 was intended to be a cycle (Beethoven himself called them “Ciclus von Kleinigkeiten) The key relationship of the six pieces prove Beethoven's intention: after first two pieces in G major and G minor, the rest follows in a sequence of descending major thirds.

Beethoven wrote to his publisher that “many of them are the most worked out, and probably the best of the type, that I have yet written”. Since the longest is less then five minutes, how can they be “worked out”? Beethoven's unerring judgment how to create a unified whole out of divergent and even contradictory elements did not fail him here. With the sharpest reduction of their forms and with the most concentrated means, these gems sparkle as units of a suite and give us a quick glimpse into the creative genius of Beethoven.



Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata No.14 in C-sharp minor, Op.27 No.2 "Moonlight"

Around 1800, Beethoven sensed that the traditional sonata form had become too restrictive for his creative genius. The two sonatas of Op.27 openly state, even in their title – Sonata quasi una Fantasia - that they do not follow the traditional, but are prototypes for a new form. Both start with slow movements, both surrender the definitive, dramatic weight of the classical first movement to the closing movement. The improvisational voice is especially strong in the first of this pair and so is the desire for a freely flowing format, but in both there is strong evidence that Beethoven wanted to counteract the dissolution of the classical form with the use of new tools. He demands that the E-flat Major sonata's four movements be played continuously, without breaks (the only such example among his 32 Sonatas). In the Moonlight Sonata, the second of the set, the first two movements are tied together with the attacca marking – obvious defense in both Sonatas against the danger of excessive loosening. The internal logic of form must be aided by an external binding. Indeed, this search for organic unity within new forms will be completed only with the last Sonatas, twenty years later.

The “Moonlight” subtitle did not come from Beethoven but from the publisher who cleverly capitalized on the first movement's Notturno characteristic. This famous and most popular movement evokes the image of a clear moonlit night and the song of a lover. The long melody and the gentle accompaniment of the broken triads are reminiscent of a singer with a guitar, yet the character of the music foreshadows much deeper emotional tensions. For the short second movement the best characterization comes from Liszt: “A flower between two abysses”. The last movement's conquering force is indeed elemental, for its wave-upon-wave explosions leave only a few fleeting seconds for respite with the secondary theme and even this is full of nervous impatience. Inexorably this musical hurricane rumbles toward its last two chords and it leaves the audience emotionally drenched.

 

Franz Schubert
Sonata in C minor, D.958

Schubert belonged to a "school of good pianists whose fingers do not crash down upon the poor keys with the swoop of the hawk" wrote one of his friends. If Schubert ever owned a piano, which is doubtful, it was a five-octave antique, inherited from his father in 1814. The good instruments were in the homes of the aristocracy, where he was an infrequent guest. The piano was not a special instrument for him, just another means of expressing his musical ideas. He composed his music without the aid of his fingers. His piano scores are generally not very "pianistic", they do not exploit the potential of the piano like his contemporaries - Weber or Hummel, not to mention Beethoven - have done.

The last years of Schubert's life were a feverish race, as if he sensed that death was near. The great c- major symphony, the string quintet, and the last three piano sonatas were all composed in 1828. They are the crowning glory of his oeuvre, the summing up of his art. They also point to new horizons. The last sonatas especially demonstrate how freely Schubert used the classical forms, such as the sonata form. The dialectic, concise forms of Beethoven never suited Schubert's temperament. His music evolves as free flowing dream-like prose, searching for "liberated time". It rolls forward, from moment to moment, without arriving at, or even aiming to reach a definite conclusion or resolution. The intimate beauties of his most heartwarming melodies are not suited for development. They are exquisite as they reappear again and again, clothed in shifting harmonies and in ever-new levitating key relationships.

The C-minor Sonata, the first of Schubert's last three sonatas, is a tragic, composition. The striking resemblance of its opening bars to Beethoven's famous variations in the same key has often been noted. But this is superficial. Whereas Beethoven is concise in his variations, Schubert is expansive in his Sonata. The opening theme of the first movement takes the music on a long, turbulent journey and the almost choral like second theme gives but little respite. Even near the end, when this theme escapes from the tragic key of c minor into the brighter region of c major, Schubert is not at peace. He adds a dark conclusion in the minor key. The serene main theme of the second movement is contradicted by the turbulence of the middle section and even the return of this church like melody is clothed in restless colors. After a fleeting Menuetto, the concluding tarantella is a tour de force, but whereas a tarantella supposed to be a joyous, extraverted celebration, this is a haunted ghost dance, full of sadness, anxiety and foreboding. This is one of Schubert's most demonic and extended compositions for the piano. .

Program botes by Stephen Seleny

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