Antti Siirala
Saturday, June 14 at 8:00 pm
PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU

10 variations in G major on "Unser dummer Pöbel meint" by C.W. Gluck K. 455
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

“I would rather neglect the piano than composition, for me the piano is only a sideline, although thank God, a very good one”, wrote Mozart to his father in1778. It was not an accident that variations were the few of his piano compositions that were published in his lifetime. For at least the first half of his life, keyboard performances as much as composition represented a livelihood and the seventeen sets of variations, ingenious although somewhat standard workings out of popular or diplomatically advantageous themes, were ideal recital pieces for Mozart. Thus, his ambivalent attitude about piano and piano recitals in general, is quite understandable. For, although, by any measure these variations are not Mozart's most profound compositions, they are charming, imaginative and thoroughly entertaining.

The K. 455 set was “composed” in Vienna . We have documented evidence that he improvised on this theme, probably in the presence of Gluck, (the theme comes from Gluck's La Rencontre imprevue) in a concert on 23 March 1783. This improvisation with some added variations became the final score and was published in 1784.

Rhapsody in B minor, Op.79 No.1    
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Earlier in his career, until 1863, Brahms wrote large scale, technically demanding works for the piano. He often played them himself, for he was a formidable performer. Then, after completing his two sets of 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 two Rhapsodies of the Op 79 are a bit more extended and have a broader color palette. The B – minor is the longer of the two, more virtuoso and less introspective. It is written in a ternary form, with two distinct themes in the exuberant outer sections and a gentle, espressivo melody serving as a highly contrasting middle part. It is an engaging, open work, immediately attractive to the audience and therein lies its popularity.

Variations on an original theme in D major, Op. 21 No.1
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

After completing three monumental sonatas in 1852, Brahms wrote no more sonatas for the piano. But overlapping them, three sets of variations – The Variations on a Hungarian Song, The Variations on a Theme of Schumann and the Variations on an Original Theme – were in their gestation period. They were published a year or two later and represent a specific musical form that remained vital for Brahms throughout his life. The last of these, published in 1854, the Op. 21 No. 1 is the most mature of the three and it is a work of considerable poetry and substance.

The Theme of this variation is a richly textured setting of a noble melody that offers the composer many possibilities. Brahms, however, restricts himself to its unusual dimensions – two nine-bar units, each repeated, until the eleventh, final variation. The first seven variations are in the tonic D- major and are essentially introspective. With variation 8 th the mood intensifies (albeit in the minor key) and the set reaches its climax in the 9 th variation. The 10 th variation is a curiously ambiguous transition to 11 th where Brahms creates a freely flowing, open ended transformation with a long trill in the bass that hides a melodic invention, alluding to some of the earlier variations. The ending of this noble set is a peaceful, subdued, gently rocking recollection of the theme.

We should be grateful to our artist of this evening for bringing us this seldom performed but very beautiful work. This should also serve as a reminder to the participating young artists of this festival, that there are a virtually endless number of seldom explored, magnificent works by the greatest masters and that it would serve the next generation of performers well to explore these hidden gems instead of repeatedly performing the well-known.

24 Preludes, Op. 28
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

The preludes were published in 1839. The ever present misinformation about them is quite romantic in character but also quite disturbing. One is that they were composed in Majorca , while Chopin was vacationing there with George Sand (who was a woman in spite of her assumed pen-name). Yet we know that most of them were at least sketched before Chopin even departed for Majorca . Also, the vivid and at times morbid stories, describing external events and circumstances, supposedly inspiring certain preludes, are nearly endless and historically unsupportable. This is truly unnecessary, for these Preludes do not need romantic exaggerations. They are masterpieces, full of beauty, imagination, and color. Each is a gem in its own right. Schumann found them “amazing, pure enchantment”, for Liszt “they had magnificent spiritual proportions” in spite of their shortness.

They were composed on each of the major and minor key of the scale, like the Bach preludes and fugues of the Well Tempered Clavier. Some are built on a single idea; some are only on a motive. The shortest is about twenty-five seconds long and only six of the twenty-four are longer than two minutes. The longest is about five minutes. Some are melancholy, somber, even painful, others are light, witty, immensely lyric or nothing more than a fleeting apparition. They can be played as a set – which is the usual practice nowadays – or singly. Either way they impress, like finely chiseled diamonds of unparalleled beauty. Indeed, they are miniatures, yet each is a perfect portrayal of the soul of a Romantic genius.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Program notes by Stephen Seleny