Works for string orchestra by Ives and Dvorák performed by A Far Cry on December 8, 2013.
On this podcast, we’ll hear two selections that, to our ears, sound like America.
Only the first was actually written by an American, though: a piece called “Hymn: Largo Cantabile” from Charles Ives’s Set of 3 Short Pieces.
Ives was the son of a musician, a bandleader for the United States Army, and he studied music as a student at Yale. His music pushed harmonic boundaries far beyond what he would’ve learned at the Yale music department. But it always retained a distinctly American flavor, often incorporating popular music and, as in this piece, traditional hymn tunes. The music is a bit mysterious, and it is unmistakably Ives.
Next, we have Dvorák’s “American” Quintet, opus 97, arranged for chamber orchestra. It, like the Ives, was performed at the Gardner Museum by A Far Cry. This arrangement was composed for the group by cellist Blaise Dejardin.
The Dvorák, like the Ives, draws on traditional American tunes, incorporating several snippets of American Indian songs. Like Ives, Dvorák took these tunes and embedded them within his own sound world, creating a piece that is certainly rooted in Native American music, but rendered in Dvorák’s own unique voice.
Works for voice and piano by Marc Blitzstein and Ned Rorem performed by New York Festival of Song on November 3, 2013. Work for string orchestra by Schoenberg performed by A Far Cry on March 6, 2011.
The 20th century was an eclectic one for classical music. Today’s podcast traces just a few of the many strands.
The piece written first is actually the final one we’ll hear: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. Many of us closely associate Schoenberg with serialism, the formalized system of atonal music composition that he developed with his protégés Berg and Webern. But Verklaerte Nacht embraces dissonance and extended harmonies, and it is luscious and rich music, overtly late-Romantic in language, inspired by a poem about the profound depths of love.
The podcast begins with a piece that comes several decades later, by the American composer Marc Blitzstein. A Philadelphia native, Blitzstein studied locally at the Curtis Institute of Music and then set off for Europe, where he worked briefly with Schoenberg himself. The brief and touching song depicts a young soldier’s note home to his sweetheart, Emily.
After the Blitzstein, we have a piece from the next generation of 20th century American composers: Ned Rorem, who just celebrated his 90th birthday in 2013. Rorem also takes up war as his subject in this, a movement from his cycle War Scenes, based on Whitman poems.
Work for voice and string orchestra by Bach performed by Rebel Baroque Orchestra on November 10, 2013. Work for string orchestra by Bach performed by A Far Cry on December 5, 2013. Work for piano quartet by David Ludwig performed by Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute on March 30, 2014.
During the past century, classical music has explored many new and far-flung territories. But it would be a mistake not to recognize the profound influence of earlier music – in particular, that of Bach.
This influence has been felt in many ways. One significant development has been the emergence of historical performance: using centuries-old instruments. The first selection on our podcast, comes from this tradition: the Baroque orchestra Rebel performing an aria from Bach’s St. John Passion, with tenor Rufus Mueller. The historical instruments lend a brightness and transparency that is quite unique.
We’ll then go to a modern performance of an historic work: the chamber orchestra A Far Cry playing Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto. They bring a unique perspective to the music of Bach, playing it on modern instruments.
Finally, we arrive at the most modern work of the bunch: contemporary composer David Ludwig’s Aria Fantasy for Piano Quartet. It takes some careful listening to hear, but the piece is actually based on Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations; you may hear quotes from the various movements creep in throughout the work.
Work for solo piano by Haydn performed by Sonia Chan on January 20, 2001 and work for string quartet by Haydn performed by Musicians from Marlboro on April 27, 2014.
In the 1770’s and 80’s, Haydn found himself in a situation familiar to many artists: how to balance his day job with his budding career? Granted, Haydn’s day job was musical as well. He was the Kapellmeister, the musical leader, of the Esterházy musical establishment.
But this steady gig came with strings attached: Haydn’s contract prohibited him from accepting commissions from any external source. The piano sonata written in 1771 demonstrates Haydn’s continuing musical growth. It was his very first piano piece to bear the “sonata” title, and it was longer and displayed more serious emotion than many of his earlier works.
In 1779, Haydn renegotiated his contract to allow him to accept outside employment, and things began to change. His Opus 50, number 1 string quartet was among the fruits of this highly creative and productive period. The Opus 50 quartets were commissioned in 1784 by Haydn’s new publisher, though it took him a while to complete them. He finally delivered the manuscript to his publisher in 1787.
Works for solo piano by Beethoven and Schumann performed by Paavali Jumppanen on April 13, 2008 and May 4, 2014.
The pianist Paavali Jumppanen is a longtime Gardner Museum favorite, and this podcast features him performing two piano works that show that opposites attract: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90, and Schumann’s Humoreske in B-Flat Major, Op. 20.
Beethoven considered titling this sonata “Struggle Between Head and Heart,” and there is a feeling of opposing forces throughout much of the first movement, labeled (in German) “With vivaciousness, and continuous sentiment and expressivity.” The music starts powerfully, with bold chords, but this muscular, strong emotion is repeatedly interrupted by gentler motifs in a minor key. At only 13 minutes, the sonata is one of Beethoven’s shorter works, but there is much musical delight packed into this diminutive piece.
We’ll then hear Schumann’s Humoreske, a set of short piano pieces, each about 3 to 5 minutes long, designed to be played together. The piece is likewise a study in extremes. The piece vacillates from joy to melancholy to great tenderness, and sometimes in the space of less than five minutes. In all, the set lasts some 25 minutes. It’ll be preceded by the Beethoven sonata.
Work for string quartet performed by Musicians from Marlboro on April 12, 2014 and works for voice and piano by Harry Burleigh performed by New York Festival of Song on October 14, 2012.
An advance warning: this podcast program may have you humming all day long. Our program features eminently sing-able works by two composers: Dvorak and Harry Burleigh.
We’ll start with Dvorak’s Cypresses for string quartet, an instrumental piece based on a set of songs the composer wrote as a young man, settings of the poetry of the Moravian writer Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky The poems are steeped in the emotion of young love. Some movements also touch on the deep pain felt when a first love is lost. The string quartet arrangement has 12 brief movements, totaling about 20 minutes. The performance we’ll hear is by Musicians from Marlboro.
Then, we have performers from the New York Festival of Song, offering up a number of short works by the African-American composer and arranger Harry T. Burleigh. In the 1920’s, Burleigh’s songs and arrangements of spirituals were immensely popular recital fare. The selections we’ll hear include both originals, such as the first piece “A Birthday Song,” and arrangements, including “Steal Away” and “Stan’ Still Jordan.” The podcast ends with all three singers—sopranos Julia Bullock & Dina Kuznetsova, and baritone James Martin—performing “O Rocks, Don’t Fall on Me.”
Works for violin and piano by Vitali, Debussy, and Szymanowski performed by Angelo Xiang Yu, violin, and Dina Vainshtein, piano on April 20, 2014.
Today, we’ll introduce a violinist who we think you’ll be hearing much more about: Angelo Xiang Yu. He swept a number of major competitions, winning the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2010. He attended New England Conservatory here in Boston for his undergraduate education and Artist Diploma and, this fall, will continue studying there for his Master’s degree.
For his Gardner Museum recital in April 2014, he brought with him a program that, as we’ll hear today, showcased his breadth and virtuosity.
The Vitali Chaconne has a notable history with virtuoso violinists. In fact, Jascha Heifetz chose this piece as the curtain-raiser for his own American debut, at Carnegie Hall in 1917. But according to modern scholars, it’s quite unlikely that this work was actually written by its supposed Baroque-era author, Tomaso Antonio Vitali, a violinist from Bologna. The piece has a distinctly Romantic flavor for a work that supposedly hails from the early 1700’s.
We’ll hear the Chaconne first, followed by the Debussy Sonata – one of the composer’s final works – and finally the Szymanowki Nocturne and Tarantella, all performed by violinist Xiang Yu and pianist Dina Vainshtein.
Work for cello and piano by Schumann performed by Colin Carr, cello and Thomas Sauer, piano on January 31, 2010. Work for solo piano by Schumann performed by Jeremy Denk on January 12, 2014.
The pianist Jeremy Denk has a funny, thoughtful, beautifully written blog. On it, he memorably described Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze–the piece we’ll hear him perform on this podcast – as “a meal of German, evocative, romantic, elusive tapas.” A series of musical “small plates.”
Before we dig in to that piece, we’ll enjoy another little morsel of Schumann: the Adagio and Allego for cello and piano, performed by cellist Colin Carr and pianist Thomas Sauer. This piece came out of a tradition called “House Music” – pieces for amateurs to perform in the home. It is an appealing, successful piece; one can easily imagine why amateurs (or any musician, for that matter) would be eager to play it.
Next we’ll move to the collection of 18 short piano pieces known as Davidsbündlertänze, which is one of Jeremy Denk’s personal favorites.
Denk is not alone in his admiration; the piece is widely considered to be among the greatest Romantic piano works, and one of Schumann’s personal “bests”. It is a work of contrasts. The composer begins the score with an old German adage that sets us up for the contrast to come: “In each and every age,” he says, “joy and sorrow are mingled: remain serious in joy, and courageous in sorrow.”
Work for cello and piano performed by Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova on February 26, 2012. Work for string quartet performed by Borromeo String Quartet on January 30, 2011.
“A great composer doesn’t imitate; he steals.” You may have heard this quote—or some version of it—attributed to Stravinsky, and though the sources are a bit sketchy, it’s one of those lines that has stuck. It’s funny, and surprising—which is surely part of the appeal—but it also has a bit of the ring of truth.
On this podcast, we’ll hear a couple “stolen” tunes as reinvented by Beethoven.
We begin with the variations for cello and piano on Mozart’s aria “Bei Maennern,” from The Magic Flute. The original tune is a charming duet between the opera’s heroine, Pamina, and the comic lead, Papageno, about the blissful rewards of married life. The piece is performed by cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova.
The borrowed tune in the work that follows—Beethoven’s string quartet No. 8 in E Minor, the second of the “Razumovsky” quartets—is a Russian theme, in honor of the count to whom they were dedicated. In this particular quartet, a well-known tune crops up in the third movement, one that was also used by both Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in their works. We’ll hear the Borromeo String Quartet perform the piece.
Works for chamber orchestra and voice performed by Rebel with tenor Rufus Mueller on November 10, 2013, and work for string quartet performed by Musicians from Marlboro on March 25, 2012.
Ask a New Yorker what H&H means, and they’re likely to tell you about bagels. But ask a classically inclined Bostonian the same question, and chances are they’ll have a more musical answer: Handel and Haydn, the namesakes of one of our local Baroque orchestras. On today’s program, we’ve got both H’s: vocal music by Handel, and a string quartet by Haydn.
We begin, fittingly, with an overture: Handel’s overture to his opera Agrippina, performed—as are all of our Handel selections on this podcast—by the Baroque orchestra Rebel. Then, they’ll be joined by the English-German tenor Rufus Mueller for a series of arias from Handel Oratorios, including Samson, Esther, and Jeptha.
Then, our second “H”: Haydn’s string quartet No. 43 in G Major, the composer’s Op. 54, No. 1. This piece is almost as much of a solo vehicle as the oratorio arias that come before it. The quartet was written by Haydn for the violinist Johann Tost, and there is a definite emphasis throughout on the first violinist. We’ll hear a performance by Musicians from Marlboro. But first, the Handel.
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