Work for voice and piano by Schumann performed by Mark Padmore, tenor and Jonathan Biss, piano on October 12, 2014 and work for string quartet by Schumann performed by Musicians from Marlboro on March 17, 2013
Today’s podcast features two chamber pieces by Robert Schumann, the type of music you might have heard in a Romantic-era salon.
We begin with a song cycle—the form that was Schumann’s bread and butter. Schumann wrote more than 400 songs, or lieder, in his lifetime, and he is widely acknowledged as a master of the genre. The set we’ll hear today is Sechs Gedichte und Requiem, Schumann’s opus 90. The cycle consists of six poems by Nikolaus Lenau, an Austrian poet, and a contemporary of Schumann’s. The seventh movement “Requiem” is a text of mourning written by another poet.
The string quartet we’ll hear dates from 1842 when he turned his attention to chamber music and his first three string quartets. We’ll hear his opus 41, number 2, the String Quartet in F Major which has more than its fair share of creativity, making it a rewarding listen, even though it was Schumann’s very first effort in the string quartet form.
Our string quartet on this recording hails from Musicians from Marlboro. We’ll start with the song cycle, performed by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss.
Works for string orchestra and voices by Josquin Des Prez arranged by Caroline Shaw, and by Schubert arranged by Mahler, performed by A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth on May 11, 2014.
The first work we’ll hear is Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez’s “Nymphes des bois,” a piece written in memoriam of the great composer Johannes Ockeghem, who had recently passed away. The version we’ll hear is a sensitive contemporary arrangement by Caroline Shaw for voices and strings.
The other piece on the program is a very different take on death: an arrangement by Mahler of Schubert’s string quartet “Death and the Maiden.” The string quartet was itself an adaptation of Schubert’s song of the same title, which depicts a struggle between a young maiden and the grim reaper.
The quartet, and Mahler’s adaptation of it for string orchestra, builds on the song, each expanding it in turn for greater and greater forces. The piece concludes with a tarantella, a swirling, relentless dance of somewhat ambiguous origin, fittingly linked with both courtship and death. The Schubert also features the players of A Far Cry performing.
Work for string quartet by Beethoven performed by Belcea Quartet on November 4, 2012.
In April of 1825, Beethoven became seriously ill. Bedridden, and in declining health, he feared his end might be near. As his health worsened, he wrote many of his so-called “Late Quartets” – his incredible final contributions to the art of the string quartet.
But as the weeks passed, Beethoven made a remarkable recovery. The piece we’ll hear today—his fifteenth string quartet—celebrates his return to health.
The piece’s center—emotionally, musically, and structurally—is the third of its five movements. The movement is subtitled, “Heiliger Dankgesang,” or in full: “A holy song of thanks to the divine, from one who has been healed.” The movement begins with chorale-like chords and depicts a slow but steady move from weakness to vitality and health. It is a radiant hymn of gratitude from a person who’s been given a second chance at life.
The recording we’ll hear features the Belcea Quartet, from a performance in 2012. In full, the piece runs about 45 minutes.
Works for violin and piano by Ravel, Debussy, and Saint-Saens performed by Paul Huang, violin and Jessica Osborne, piano on December 1, 2013.
The turn from 19th to 20th century was a fertile moment in French music. In the space of a few decades, artistic norms shifted dramatically, from beautifully formed, pleasingly symmetrical classicism to the mistier depictions of Impressionism.
The last piece we’ll hear is Saint-Saens’ Sonata No. 1 in D Minor. Though penned by a Frenchman in 1885, the piece sounds remarkably similar to the chamber music of Beethoven, with its substantial scale and recurring musical themes.
Before the sonata, we’ll hear two pieces that were written just a few years later, but sound like they come from another musical world. First is Ravel’s “Piece en forme de Habanera,” a work infused with the same Spanish flair that would later characterize the composer’s most famous piece, Bolero.
After the Habanera, we have another piece from early 20th century France: Debussy’s “La plus que lent.” Originally written for solo piano, this piece, too, spawned many adaptations, including the violin and piano version we’ll hear. Debussy, like Ravel, was inspired by dance: in his case, the waltz.
Works for cello and piano by Brahms performed by Wendy Warner, cello and Irina Nuzova, piano on September 28, 2014.
In September 2014, cellist Wendy Warner played a recital at the Gardner Museum, joined by pianist Irina Nuzova. The program had a distinct focus on Brahms, and on this podcast, we’ll feature three of the Brahms works.
First come two arrangements for cello of Brahms lieder. First is the languidly beautiful “Sapphische Ode,” a love song. The second song we’ll hear is “Lerchengesang,” the Song of the Lark. This is another of Brahms’ love songs, a remarkably sweet, tender melody, about hearing a lark’s song and being reminded of a special spring moment long ago.
Then, we get to the meat of the program: Brahms’ Sonata for cello and piano No. 2, in F Major. The piece opens with an exuberant first movement, with tremolos in the piano and soaring melodies in the cello.
The subsequent movements of the sonata explore a variety of different keys, harmonies, techniques, and moods. The slow movement starts curiously, with the piano voicing the main theme while the cellist plucks along, pizzicato. The final allegro is a quick, light romp, perhaps a somewhat abrupt ending to such a major piece, but one that cleverly leaves the listener wanting more.
Works for chamber orchestra by Vivaldi, Veracini, and Telemann performed by Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin on April 6, 2014.
In April 2014, the Gardner welcomed one of the most acclaimed early-music groups in the world: the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known to friends and fans by the nickname Akamus.
Formed in 1982, the group has won every major international accolade for their recordings, including the Grammys, the Cannes Classical Award, and the Gramophone Award. They have also collaborated with dance companies and directors to create innovative multidisciplinary performances, and have won acclaim for their opera recordings. In the United States, they are regulars at Carnegie Hall.
We’ll hear them play three short works by the Italians Vivaldi and Veracini, followed by an overture by the German Baroque composer Telemann. All were recorded at their April 6, 2014 performance at the Gardner.
Work for string orchestra and voices by Caroline Shaw performed by A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth on May 11, 2014. Work for chamber orchestra by JS Bach performed by the Gardner Chamber Orchestra on December 9, 2007.
When is a soloist not a soloist?
Today, we’ll hear two pieces that feature performers in soloist-like roles, but as part of a group. Both works take inspiration from the concerto grosso style—the Baroque form which contrasts small groups of players with a fuller ensemble.
The piece we’ll hear on the podcast is called Music in Common Time, and it was Caroline Shaw’s first commission, written for a “super-group” formed by combining the forces of Roomful of Teeth, Shaw’s vocal group, with A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber orchestra in residence; throughout the piece, the singers take on a concertino-like role, standing out from the texture while still unified as a group.
In Bach’s fourth Brandenburg concerto, for two flutes you’ll quickly notice that the flutes are not alone: though they do have an important role, the violin also vies for attention. On this recording, “team flute” has a champion in their corner: flutist Paula Robison, a renowned soloist and frequent leader of the Gardner Chamber Orchestra, the group heard on this recording from 2007. Whoever you decide is the “true” soloist, you’re sure to enjoy the ride.
First, Caroline Shaw’s Music in Common Time.
Works for piano by Franz Schubert and Adolf Schulz-Evler performed by Charlie Albright on September 29, 2013 and October 31, 2010.
Schubert’s Moments musicaux, a set of six piano pieces, are among his most beloved piano works. And, as it would happen, they were also among his last. It is both incredible and saddening to imagine what he might have done, had he continued to compose for several decades more, but Moments musicaux stands as an admirable, if premature, final accomplishment, with its six contrasting movements, recalling everything from Eastern European dances to Bach-like passagework.
Perhaps there is an emotional truth to the title Moments musicaux, if not a temporal one: within the little world Schubert creates in each movement, one can easily imagine losing track of time.
The pianist we’ll hear on this podcast is Charlie Albright. And he’ll close out the program, after the Schubert, with a piece that really allows his incredible technical gifts to shine: Adolf Schulz-Evler’s Concert Arabesques on “The Beautiful Blue Danube.” Wait a few moments: you’ll easily pick out the tune once the dazzling introduction is through. The eleven-minute piece flies by in a cloud of technical wizardry. Expect fireworks.
Work for piano by Beethoven performed by Seymour Lipkin on October 30, 2005 and work for piano trio by Beethoven performed by the Eroica Trio on September 14, 2014.
They say variety is the spice of life. It’s also a major theme in the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven seems to have never met a theme he couldn't work with—whether he wrote it himself, or borrowed it, from classical or popular music.
In the first piece on our podcast—the Variations on an original theme, opus 34—Beethoven penned the theme, as well as the variations that follow. Each of the six variations is in a different key—a novel feature for the time.
Next up is Beethoven’s piano trio in B-flat Major, opus 11. This piece is a variation, times two. Originally composed for a trio of clarinet, cello, and piano, Beethoven later created a “variation” of the work for the more traditional piano trio: violin, cello, and piano—which is the version we’ll hear, performed by the Eroica Trio.
But the variations don’t stop there. The final movement of the piece is in the form of a “theme and variations,” based on a tune from an opera by Joseph Weigl, a tune so popular, in its day, that is could be heard throughout the streets of Vienna.
Works for piano by Rachmaninoff performed by Nareh Arghamanyan on October 21, 2012 and work for violin and piano by Kreisler performed by Bella Hristova and Ieva Jokubaviciute on February 28, 2010.
Most composers have the ability to perform their own music. Many play several instruments. But there are a few who stand out, in music history, as having especially prodigious performing skills, talents that were more or less commensurate with their abilities as composers.
Rachmaninoff is perhaps the best-known composer in this category. He was, by all accounts, a uniquely gifted pianist and needless to say, he wrote piano music often. We’ll hear two such works: the first three movements of his Morceaux de fantasie, including the Prelude in C-sharp minor, which you may well recognize; and the first five of his Etudes-Tableaux. Both were performed at the Gardner by 25-year-old pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, an Armenian virtuoso who has won prizes at more than 18 major international piano competitions.
After Nareh’s performance, we’ll hear another piece composed by a virtuoso, for his own instrument. In this live recording, violinist Bella Hristova and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute play the Liebesleid of Fritz Kreisler, a brief, lyrical work that is, like the Rachmaninoff pieces, a perfect embodiment of the unique gifts of its author. Kreisler cultivated a sweet, singing, expressive sound that was widely recognized as uniquely “his.” In our podcast, we’ll hear another young violinist developing a voice of her own.
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