Olga Kern
Saturday, June 28 at 8:00 pm
PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU

Sonatas in A major, K.24 - L.495; in D minor, K.9 - L.413; and in C minor, K.126 - L.402
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

Whatever you be Dilettante or Professor, in these Compositions do not expect any profound learning, but rather an ingenious Jesting with Art, to accommodate you to the Mastery of the Harpsichord. Neither considerations of interest nor visions of ambition, but only obedience moved me to publish them! Perhaps they will be agreeable to you: then all the more gladly will I obey other Commands to favor you with more simple and varied Style. Therefore show yourself more human than critical, and then your pleasure will increase. To designate to you the positions of the hands, be advised that by D is indicated the Right, and by M the Left.
Live Happily”.

These elegant words stand on the front page of the thirty-six “Essercizi”, published by Scarlatti in 1783, and with these short “exercises” he launched a revolution in the “Art of Keyboard Playing”. Today we call these miniatures Sonatas, but this term means something quite different from the classical multi-movement, large scale compositions of later times. Scarlatti composed 550 of these two to four page length, single-movement pieces, set in the binary form. Their content was strikingly original for their time, and even today they are fresh, amusing, enjoyable and refreshing. Most people associate them with finger dexterity and speed, requiring light, harpsichord-like sound. Yet the majority of them are slow, quite poetic and beautiful examples of the “bel canto” style. After all, let's not forget - Scarlatti was Italian. Nor should it be surprising that Chopin, the poet of the piano loved them, taught them to his students and predicted that they will be performed often in the future. The only reason not including them in his concert was – in Chopin's own words – “not to incur the disfavor of many fools”.

Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op. 58
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Chopin wrote three Sonatas for the piano. The first, in C minor is a youthful, student work, not in the repertoire anymore. The second , in B–flat minor is a thoroughly unique work, but to quote Schumann: “The idea of calling it a Sonata is a caprice, if not a jest, for he (Chopin) has simply bound together four of his most reckless children”. The third Sonata , is a mature work, composed in 1844. It adheres to the classical sonata form, although Chopin, the free spirit did not cherish the restrictions of this format. It is a testament to his creative genius that he was not only able to compress his abundant imagination into a pre-conceived sonata form but let it flower uninhibited, creating a magnificent masterwork.

The B minor Sonata is a four movement epic poem of large proportions and of considerable technical difficulties. The first movement is full of elaborate themes, bold modulations, experimental figurations and the texture is exceedingly complex. The second movement is a fleeting butterfly circling around an enigmatic center section. Chopin starts the third movement Largo with one of his most noble and poignant melodies and leads it into a meditative, questioning, suspended chorale, to which the return of the main theme provides a celestial answer. The last movement, a rondo, is a monumental, unbroken crescendo. As it proceeds to its irresistible coda, with accumulated elemental energy and with bold and unashamed virtuosity it creates an effect of inevitability.

Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

This cyclical Sonata, composed in 1913-14 is in essence a set of free variations on a main theme. It was revised by Rachmaninoff in 1931 because the first version seemed too long for him. "I look at my early compositions and I see how much superfluous material they contain" he wrote. "Even this Sonata has too much unnecessary movement of voices and it is too long. The Chopin Sonata (in b-flat minor) lasts 19 minutes - and it says everything". Then later, he gave permission to his close friend, Vladimir Horowitz, to whom this revised version seemed too condensed, to revise it again, thus a third version also exists.

The first movement is in sonata form but the strict rules of the form are loosened to allow the late-romantic, overheated imagination of Rachmaninoff to include chromatic and rhythmic variations of certain sequences. The second movement is in three parts; the first two are dominated by contemplative melodies, the third part weaves both themes of the first movement into a fantasia and the movement ends with reminiscences of the second theme of the first movement and tranquil triads of Rachmaninoff harmonies. The third movement is also in sonata form but without a recapitulation, more like a Scherzo which rushes headlong, directly and irresistibly into a fantastic Coda where elements of the first movement are again quite discernible. Most of the piano works of Rachmaninoff are complex and emotionally restless with many interior voices giving unique colors to their harmonies. The texture of this Sonata is also very dense, multi-layered, and extremely demanding of even the most gifted of pianists.

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor (with the cadenza by Rachmaninoff)
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Before another word is said, let's get one thing absolutely clear - Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies are not Hungarian. Their musical content has nothing to do with Hungarian music - it is gypsy music. As such, its closest relative is the flamenco of Spain . Liszt, who vehemently proclaimed that he was Hungarian (although he never lived in Hungary or have learned the Hungarian language) visited Hungary often and heard various gypsy bands perform. 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 Bartok and Kodaly. 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. Liszt was captivated with the virtuosity of these gypsies. Their improvisatory, special sound ignited his fertile imagination and he adopted their free-flowing music in his “Hungarian” Rhapsodies.

The Second Hungarian Rhapsody is the most popular and most often played. It is so well known that saying anything about it is just wasting words. The number of pianists, arrangers and even composers of stature, like Rachmaninoff, who tinkered with it, is nearly endless. Some tried to ease the technical difficulties of the work, while for some it became a vehicle to exhibit their technical power even further. Whichever the case, this Rhapsody is deservedly a perennial favorite.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Program notes by Stephen Seleny