Joseph Kalichstein and The Calder Quartet
Wednesday, June 25 at 8:00 pm
PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU

String Quartet No. 19 in C major (" Dissonant "), K. 465
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

It is almost superfluous to say that Mozart was an unparalleled musical genius. At age four he demonstrated perfect pitch and at age six he was an accomplished pianist, violinist, organist and composer. His father, a musician himself, took him on a tour to the courts of Europe , where he astonished everyone with his playing, improvisations and his ability to recreate complicated pieces of music after just one hearing. Although he had a difficult and brief life, his astonishing talent generated a body of works whose quantity and quality are immortal.

Mozart wrote 35 works for string ensembles. This is the second of the six quartets dedicated to Haydn, whose op. 33 had an immense influence on Mozart and whose friendship and respect he earned. “It was from Haydn that I learned how quartets must be written”, proclaimed Mozart many times. For, indeed, Mozart admired and respected his idol and expressed his gratitude in the letter of dedication of the six quartets: “Dearest friend and eminent man, in like manner I send my six sons to you…Your words, above all have given me confidence, so I lay my children at your heart, in the hope that they will appear not altogether unworthy of your love…' The admiration between these two giants was mutual. Previously, Haydn told Mozart's father, Leopold: “I tell you before God, as an honorable man, that your son is the greatest composer I know, either in person or by name. He has taste, and besides that the greatest understanding of composition”.

The title “dissonant” is inappropriate and misleading. This is a cheerful work full of instantly engaging melodies and those who misjudged the 24 measure introduction to the first movement and sent it back to the publisher to correct the “dissonant” mistakes were a bit ignorant. Mozart sets these introductory measures in bold contrast to the bright radiance of what follows and it does not require a genius to see that as usual, he was right. The themes of the Allegro are lively, full of sunshine and even more effective after the terse opening. The Andante cantabile is one of Mozart's most intimate and heartwarming creations. The dialogue of the violin and the cello that dominates its most touching moments is truly unforgettable. The Menuetto is an energetic dance full of contrasts and the closing Allegro is a delightful plethora of bubbling melodies, full of teasing and good humor.

Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op.9
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

This is an unjustly neglected work possibly because any artist who aims to achieve an authentic and convincing performance of this composition must do a great deal of research and study about the origin and circumstances of its birth. That there was a very close relationship between Brahms, and the Schumann family is well known but it is critical to know that this set of variations was written in May and June of 1854, when the Schumann family was stricken. Clara just gave birth to their seventh and last child and it was in February 1854 that Robert tried to commit suicide for the first time. It was not an accident that the theme chosen by Brahms came from Schumann's Bunte Blatter op 99 and it was the same melancholy theme used by Clara (Schumann's wife, one of the preeminent pianists of her time and an accomplished composer as well) for her set of variations composed a year earlier to celebrate her beloved husband's birthday. Brahms brought each variation to Clara, one by one (“to comfort me” Clara noted in her diary) and in November of the same year Clara's and Brahms' Variations were published together. Clara's set was dedicated “to him” (i.e. Schumann) and Brahms' set had the inscription “Little Variations on a Theme by Him. Dedicated to Her”.

This little preface, although insufficient for the professional, should at least give a hint to the listener why a plaintive tone and general melancholy permeates this not so little set of Variations. (For professionals who wish to study this gem “Brahms and Schumann: Two Opus Nines and Beyond” by Oliver Neighbour, in the”19 th Century Music. Vol. VII no.3” is a must). Originally Brahms planned 14 variations but a few months later he added two more and inserted them as variations 10 and 11.

Analyzing the form and/or each variation would serve no purpose. It would have to be very extensive and it would have to expect considerable musical sophistication from the reader. Enough to say that this is a complex work, a masterpiece, perhaps the finest the young Brahms has written. Its intensity of very private feelings and its elegiac quality puts it on a special pedestal that invites only the most mature and seasoned artist to perform it.

Hungarian Dance No.11 in D minor and No.1 in G minor
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

The Hungarian Dances of Brahms are not Hungarian. Their musical content has nothing to do with the authentic Hungarian music - it is gypsy music. Brahms heard various gypsy bands perform often, since Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the adjoining Hungarian Plains were a favorite migrating route for gypsies. In the Hungarian “society” of that time, the real music of Hungary was totally unknown although it lived hidden in the countryside in the memory of the “folk”, waiting for the epochal discovery by Bartók and Kodály. Gypsy bands, consisting of violin, viola, double bass and a cimbalom – a harp-like instrument, placed before the player like a table, on which he played with two felt-tipped sticks, one in each hand – roamed the countryside and provided the music for entertainment and dancing. Brahms heard very early in his career some of these gypsy melodies from Remenyi and Joachim also; both famous violinists as well as friends and performing partners of Brahms. Like his contemporary Franz Liszt, Brahms was captivated by the improvisatory, special sound of this dance music and composed 26 Hungarian Dances between 1852 and 1869. Originally he arranged them for two pianos, but soon because of their popularity Brahms and others arranged them for solo piano, orchestra and virtually any conceivable combination of instruments.

Brahms himself did not call these dances original compositions but arrangements. Very few have original themes and most were derived from the “czardas” type dances; two steps to the right and two back to the left. They are delightful little ditties without any pretense of any seriousness.

Piano  Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Around the late 1850s, the young Brahms was working in Hamburg , Germany conducting a women's chorus. Then, when not chosen to lead the Hamburg Philharmonic, he began to cast an inquiring eye toward Vienna . At that time Vienna was the acknowledged music capital of Europe . With the help of one his friends at the Vienna Conservatory, Brahms was able to arrange performances of his compositions in Vienna . In these concerts Brahms played his monumental Handel Variations Op.24 and his two Piano Quartets, the Op. 25 and Op. 26. These glorious works were very well received by the Viennese public and critics declared him to be the successor of Beethoven. No wonder, Brahms was a very attractive young man, a natural romantic of the masculine type, and a monumental pianist, like Beethoven was. The success of his works and the adoration of the public made it possible for Brahms to stay for the full season and ultimately Vienna became his permanent home.

After this short historical introduction, I suggest that you just sit back and get ready for an unforgettable ride. This Op. 25 quartet is a true picture of a young genius who is in love with life, with women and with music itself. In this youthful, exuberant quartet Brahms wears his emotions unashamedly on his sleeve. Every movement, every measure, every melody of this quartet is simply irresistible. Like a magnet, it always attracted performing artists and audiences everywhere and even opposite temperaments like Arnold Schonberg, the founding father of twelve tone music, paid homage by orchestrating it in 1937. Analysis of such immediately appealing work would be overkill; still, a few words may add to the listening pleasure.

The Allegro overflows with ideas and with melodies that are as expansive as they are romantic. The main theme flows like a river and the masculine gentility of the cello frames the glorious secondary theme. The title Intermezzo for the second movement comes from Clara Schumann. She sensed, correctly, that the original Scherzo definition, assigned by Brahms, does not fit for it is full of tonal ambiguities. Indeed, shifting clouds might be a good metaphor for this mysterious, yet exquisitely melodious music,. The Andante con moto is a long melody that sings in the strings like voices of angels. In the middle of this movement Brahms inserts a march that, according to some, could have been written for toy soldiers. Maybe, but whatever it is, it is utterly engaging. The Rondo alla Zingarese is an orgiastic gypsy dance. (See notes above, concerning the Hungarian Dances). The asymmetric theme keeps us at the edge of our seat throughout this irresistibly virtuoso finale. Through various contrasting interludes the tension and speed builds, and when it's over, and you are on your feet, clapping till you hands are red, just remember that Brahms was only 23 when he wrote this quartet!

                                                                                                                                                                                  Program notes by Stephen Seleny