Peter Donohoe
Wednesday, June 11 at 8:00 p.m.
PepsiCo recital Hall, TCU


Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564

J.S. Bach/Ferrucio Busoni (1685-1750) (1866-1925)

Bach composed most of his monumental organ works at Weimar , during the years of 1708 – 1717. The C major Toccata Aria and Fugue, BWV 564, was composed during the years of 1712-13 along with many other organ works that defined the essence of organ music for centuries to come. At that time Bach was in the service of Prince Wilhelm Ernst and had access to a very fine organ. So it was quite natural that he explored the heretofore unknown techniques and possibilities of organ playing. We must add that by any measure Bach was the greatest organist not only of his time but of all times and that the organ was his favorite instrument. In the process Bach established the style of a two or three partite composition, where the first –usually a prelude or a toccata – became a free flowing, virtuoso showpiece, the second - in case of a three–partite design – an aria, and the closing section was always the culminating, strict, very demanding fugue.

It was this virtuoso, yet very disciplined form of composition that attracted Ferruccio Busoni's (1866-1924) imagination. He was one of the greatest pianists of his time, but much more than that, a very innovative musician. For example, in 1894 he wrote his “Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music” in which he predicted that in the no too distant future an octave will be divided into more than the traditional 12 degrees. “Music was born free, and to win freedom is its destiny” was his philosophy. Therefore it should not be a surprise that Busoni set many of Bach's organ works to piano, adapting the texture to the newly established romantic piano sound by Liszt, yet maintaining the essence of Bach's music. The organ was out of fashion by the turn of that century since it was not a transportable instrument, yet the monumental organ works of Bach had to be heard. Busoni, more than any other arranger, popularized Bach's organ music. No wonder that these transcriptions of Busoni require enormous technique from the performer and that they remain in the virtuoso piano repertoire even today.



Prelude, Aria and Finale
César Franck (1822-1890)

It is a little known fact that Cesar Franck began his career as a piano virtuoso. Recognized today as one of the most serene composers of “seraphic music”, it is hard to visualize the young Cesar-August as a pianistic wunderkind, exploited by his enterprising, money and fame-hungry father. When Cesar was introduced to the Parisian public at age twelve, he garnered little attention and soon it became evident even to his father that temperamentally Cesar was unsuited to be a flashy virtuoso. So, as second best he encouraged his son to compose, especially since Cesar already wrote many Fantasias, Caprices and variations – all of them insignificant but fully embellished with meaningless fast runs, octaves and florid arpeggios. At that point, however fate interfered. Cesar, at age 26, fell in love with a soubrette at the Comedie Francaise, married her and declared his independence from his father.

It should be no surprise therefore that for forty years thereafter Cesar Franck composed no significant works for the piano. Essentially he was a shy, unpretentious personality. He turned his attention to the organ, and immersed himself in the music of the Great Cantor of Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach. He accepted various appointments in succession, till finally he became the organist at Sainte-Clotilde, one of the most prestigious positions in the music world of France , even today. After composing some of his most significant works for the organ, chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras, late in his life he returned to the piano, composing the Symphonic Variations, the Prelude Chorale and Fuge and the Prelude, Aria and Finale. In these great piano works Franck “classicized” the romantic spirit by constructing works whose spirit is imbued with romanticism, but has classical means, forms and esthetics.

The Prelude, Aria and Finale is Cesar Franck's last piano work, completed in 1887. Often described as a Sonata in one movement, it employs the cyclical technique first championed by Liszt. The First movement exhibits three distinct themes that reappear throughout in different forms. The Aria is the “central panel of the triptych, from which emanates the light of hope which fecundates the fervor of the Prelude and soothes the uneasiness of the Finale” (Alfred Cortot). The Finale begins with a forceful and rhythmically tight theme that persists until a somewhat introspective conclusion.



Sonata in B minor
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

To analyze this epic work and to put it into historically meaningful context would require more than a program note, however extended. This has been done magnificently by Alan Walker in his three volume work, titled simply “Franz Liszt”. These three volumes are the composer's best biography ever and if the reader is interested in an exhaustive, yet eminently readable explanation of this one movement Sonata, pp.149-157 of volume two will suffice. However, if the reader wishes to comprehend fully the significance of this pioneering monolith, further reading of these volumes will be very rewarding and informative.

The above paragraph was not written to frighten or discourage the listener. Like all timeless masterpieces, this Sonata speaks with equal clarity to the music lover and to the professional. Here only a few important facts can be stated. The B –minor Sonata, Liszt's grandest work for piano solo, was completed in 1853 in Weimar , after the composer has retired from his virtuoso years of wandering the world. It has evoked nearly endless theories about its hidden meaning and undoubtedly it will continue to generate many more. For some it is the musical portrait of the Faust Legend, for others it is the portrait of Liszt himself. One can also encounter Milton 's “Paradise Lost, the Bible and the actors in the Garden of Eden referenced as sources of inspiration. Liszt never sanctioned any of these interpretations. He just smiled and called it “Sonata” – an enigmatic title that defies any speculation.

Liszt welds a multi movement sonata – fast, slow, fast with a coda harkening back to the slow section -. into one thirty minute giant. To quote Alan Walker: “Not only are its four contrasting movements rolled into one, but they themselves composed against a background of a full scale sonata scheme – exposition, development and recapitulation. In short Liszt has composed a ‘sonata across a sonata' “. He introduces the three main themes in the first seventeen measures and then he transforms them continuously thereafter. The variety of transformations is nothing short of astounding. The structure includes virtually all conceivable tempos, moods and technical inventions espoused by previous masters and a good number invented by Liszt himself. The work is not only a summation of what has been done before but it is also a beacon into the future. By now we know - after many years of misunderstandings – that Liszt was the seminal figure of Romanticism and what followed would have been quite different and maybe even impossible without his pioneering spirit. The world had to wait more than fifty years before a significant successor to Liszt's B-minor sonata appeared, from the pen of Arnold Schonberg.

The technical difficulties of this sonata are frightening. It requires a sublime technique and considerable endurance to perform it. Yet, again to quote Alan Walker: “The chief problems posed by this sonata are musical ones…. the necessity to hold its vast structure together. Unless it unrolls as if from a single musical impulse it cannot succeed; for only when the player himself can hear the Sonata in B – minor as a shining whole will his performance become worthy of the work”.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Program notes by Stephen Seleny


Cantéyodjayâ (1948)
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

French composer, organist and teacher Olivier Messiaen made one of the most individual contributions of all to Western music. He was arguably the most influential composer of the second half of the 20th Century, not only through his teaching of many other important composers - for example Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hans Werner Henze and George Benjamin - but also through his quite extraordinary effect upon those around him, and his ability to draw them into his philosophical world.

His music was strongly influenced by the French organ tradition and by the works of Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartók, and early in his career he compiled a series of musical modes entirely of his own creation that created unique sound worlds. He described these modes as 'modes of limited transposition' and he continued to use them throughout his career. Later he absorbed into his language many influences from Eastern cultures - in particular from the music of Bali . He also developed an ability to associate every harmony with a particular hue of colour - a hue which was often named very specifically in his scores. However, it was his devout Catholicism to which we can attribute the spiritual nature of his early organ works “La Nativity” and “L 'Ascension”, and it was the way in which his sincere and all-consuming religious conviction informed his music, his philosophy and his life that strikes the listener far more than the - albeit huge - intellectual background of his compositions.

If overt religiousness is the basis of many of his works, a more secular form of expression informs many others - his belief in the power of human love as an aspect of the divine is certainly founded in religious conviction, but in these works one feels a more universal, humanistic, inspiration than in expressly Catholic works such as “Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus”, La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ and Trois Petites Liturgies.

Three of his most important, revolutionary and characteristic works formed a trilogy on the theme of human (as opposed to divine) love, all written during the 1940s. The first, a huge song cycle for soprano and piano entitled “Harawi” was written in the aftermath of World War II and demonstrates Messiaen's belief in the prevailing power of good over evil. The second, “Cinq Rechants” for unaccompanied chorus, the third - and most important and possibly Messiaen's best-known work – “Turangalila Symphony” continued with this theme and were specifically inspired by the legend of “Tristan and Isolde”. By this time the composer's style had fully matured into that of a truly unique and original voice, with a quite extraordinary fusion of systematic compositional techniques, an overwhelming emotional confidence totally devoid of inhibition, and a level of majesty, mystery, excitement and beauty that secured his place in the line of truly 'great' composers.

One year after the “Turangalila Symphony”, the solo piano work “Cantéyodjayâ” appeared - a relatively short work that seems to encompass almost all the aspects of Messiaen's style. One major side of his music that seems have been eliminated here however (although it returned in a major way later in his output) is his completely unabashed earlier references to tonality and in particular to the chord of the added 6th - a signature harmony that has led many more harmonically inhibited composers to be critical.

The work has a conciseness and energy that expresses joy (perhaps there is a parallel with Debussy's “L'Isle Joyeuse” here) from the outset, and has a sense of gradual increasing excitement to the final climax that makes it irresistible. Note the opening recurring dance-like motive (in alternating 5/16 and 4/8 time, although no time signatures are notated by the composer in this piece), which gradually disappears from the musical argument only to return unaffected by the enormous climax that precedes that return, and the quiet statement of the chordal theme (the 'doubleafiorealila' - see below) that is perorated to form that climax.

The recurring sections of “Cantéyodjayâ” are given titles which are synthetic combinations of French and Sanskrit words. The opening refrain is a theme of marvellous subtlety; other striking sections include the 'alba', played in the tenor register; the 'mode de durées, de hauteurs et d'intensité' which follows; the 'doubleafiorealila' and the vigorous 'globouladjhamapa'. Later on, the 'interversions' is followed by a six part cannon; a further section of strict writing based on a palindromic rhythm which leads to the return of the transformed 'doubleaflorealila'.

Despite the emotional impact of this work, it also forms the first appearance of what became known later as total serialism - a system whereby not only the pitches were determined by an initial 'tone row' as created by Schoenberg, but so were rhythms, varieties of attack, and tempi. This technique was taken to its ultimate by Stockhausen, but it was Messiaen who combined - as great composers always have - the intellectual with the emotional, the technically complex with the profoundly immediate in a way that seems to be inimitable and incomparable in the musical language of the latter part of the last century.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Program notes by Peter Donohoe