Works for solo piano by Bach and Ravel performed by Ji, piano on April 12, 2015.
First, we have the less razzle-dazzle of the pair: Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major. The piece opens with a fairly serene, lilting theme. The second movement gets a bit more rollicking, with dotted rhythms and skips in the bass. And the final movement has some more virtuosic passagework.
After that comes the real fireworks: Ravel’s famous La Valse. The composer’s own introduction is really the best way to describe what happens over the course of the piece: “Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished,” he writes. “The clouds gradually scatter: one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth.” As the piece goes on, it seems to get more and more out of control, ending in a frenzy that recalls a danse macabre—a dance to the death.
Ravel originally wrote the work for orchestra, and he intended it to be choreographed as a ballet. But when he presented the score to the Russian impresario Diaghilev, he refused. The piece was a masterpiece, Diaghilev said, but it shouldn’t be danced: it was itself a portrait of the ballet—no dancers required.
Works for chamber orchestra by Rebel and La Guerre performed by Les Délices on November 23, 2014.
We begin with an instrumental piece: La Fidelle by the composer Jean-Fery Rebel. The title—meaning “faithful one”—has clear connections to the other Rebel work on the program: a vocal selection from Rebel’s opera Ulysse. We’ll hear a pair of arias sung by Penelope at the end of the opera, when she is reunited with her husband Ulysses after his journey has finally brought him safely home. Penelope sings of the extreme pleasure of seeing her long-lost love again. We’ll hear the lovely soprano Clara Rottsalk in the role of Penelope.
Between the two Rebel works, we have a piece that is not only about but written by a woman: Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil d’Ulisse, a telling of another part of the same mythic story. The singer—Clara Rottsalk again—tells of a fierce storm stirred up by Neptune that tosses Ulysses’ boat violently. But, in the end, Minerva intervenes, saving him from the frothing waves and lulling him and his crew to sleep.
Work for chorus by Sibelius performed by Boston Children’s Chorus on March 28, 2015 and work for string quartet by Tchaikovsky performed by Borromeo String Quartet on November 13, 2005.
Our podcast begins with a brief, touching selection from the Boston Children’s Chorus: a setting of Sibelius’s theme from Finlandia, translated in English as “This is My Song.” The peaceful hymn tune was originally a part of Sibelius’s patriotic symphonic poem, but it was so beloved that it was excerpted, combined with lyrics by a Finnish poet, and became the de facto national hymn of Sibelius’s home country.
After that sweet beginning, we leap into a string quartet that also has ties to its composer’s homeland: Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1. It is in the second and third movements that we especially hear the influence of the composer’s Russian homeland. The theme in the middle movement is a folk song. Stories vary: some say that Tchaikovsky learned it from a carpenter, others that he heard his sister’s gardener humming it on a visit to Ukraine. Several years later, Tchaikovsky looked back on a performance of the piece with pride, writing, “Never in my life have I felt so flattered…as when Leo Tolstoy, sitting next to me, heard my Andante with tears coursing down his cheeks.”
We’ll hear the piece played with great feeling by the Borromeo Quartet.
Work for sextet by Beethoven performed by Musicians from Marlboro on May 10, 2015 and work for string trio by Beethoven performed by Musicians from Marlboro on November 13, 2005.
We’ll hear two Beethoven chamber works on this podcast…though one sounds suspiciously symphonic in scope. As the saying goes: three’s company, but six—apparently—is a crowd.
We begin with the sonically oversized Sextet in E-flat Major, for two horns and string quartet. Though clearly chamber music, in terms of sheer numbers, the piece has the feel of a concerto, with the strings playing a supporting, “orchestra-style” role, and the horns offer a pastoral-sounding duet with no shortage of technical challenges.
Then, we cut the forces in half for the more intimate but no less substantial String Trio in D Major, opus 9, number 2. Written a couple years after the sextet, this piece has a more collaborative character, with all three players taking equal part, and musical ideas at least as ambitious in scope as the sextet, if not more so. The first movement, for example, boasts not one theme, but three—all cleverly related and interwoven in the development section.
Both performances on this podcast are by Musicians from Marlboro, a perennial favorite with Gardner Museum audiences. We begin with the sextet.
Work for solo piano by Schubert performed by Ji, piano on April 12, 2015 and work for violin and piano by Schubert performed by Aleksey Semenenko, violin and Inna Firsova, piano on November 2, 2014.
How many great works have been saved from the ash heap of history by posthumous publication?
From time to time, one encounters a piece of classical music with a mysterious-looking opus number—often chronologically nonsensical, sometimes containing an abbreviation. Often, this denotes a work published (and assigned a catalogue number) after the composer’s death. Such is the case with both of the Schubert pieces on this podcast—the third Impromptu in B-flat Major and the “Grand duo” Sonata for violin and piano in A Major.
The first is played by Ji, a well-known Korean pianist who won the Young Concert Artists auditions and recently made his Gardner Museum debut. If the theme sounds a bit familiar, don’t be surprised. Drawn from the composer’s incidental music to the play Rosamunde, it was apparently a favorite tune. The impromptu takes the form of a theme and variation.
The “grand duo” sonata—also published after the composer’s death—is fittingly named: the piece exhibits true equality and partnership between the piano and violin, played on this recording by violinist Aleksey Semenenko and pianist Inna Firsova. (Semenenko, like Ji, is a recent YCA winner.) It is an elegant but compact little work, less than 20 minutes in length.
Work for voice and piano by Schumann, performed by Mark Padmore, tenor and Jonathan Biss, piano on October 12, 2014 and work for clarinet and piano by Schumann performed by Richard Stoltzman, clarinet and David Deveau, piano on January 11, 2015.
Fantasy is a potent thread running through the work of many Romantic composers, but none more so than Schumann.
As a musical form, the ‘fantasy’ is the stuff of strong passions and dramatic emotional shifts, as we hear in the closing work on this podcast, Schumann’s Fantastiestuecke, opus 72 for clarinet and piano. The moods shift dramatically, starting with a movement marked “sweet and with feeling,” and concluding with one marked “fast and fiery.” The work ends in a whirlwind, with calls from the composer to play “schneller und schneller”—faster and faster.
Before that, we start with a fantasy of a different sort: Schumann’s Liederkreis, opus 24, a set of songs based on poetry by Heine. The poems tell the tale of a love gone wrong. In nine songs, the singer recounts stories of lost love and painful separation.
The nine songs that make up this set, like the poems themselves, vary in length, but they share a directness and simplicity. We’ll hear them performed by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss.
Works for chamber orchestra by Foote performed by A Far Cry with Paula Robison, flute on April 21, 2013 and February 6, 2011.
America has long been known as a place where many cultures converge. On our podcast, we’ll celebrate two Americans, from two different generations, whose music illustrates this multicultural inclination.
Born in the 1850s in Salem, Massachusetts, Arthur Foote was arguably the first major classical composer to be educated entirely in America. However, his work was undeniably influenced by European trends and aesthetics, as we’ll hear on this podcast. Foote traveled often to Europe, attending notable concerts, including Wagner’s first Bayreuth Festival. The score to A Night Piece, written for flute and strings, evokes elements of both German and French music of the late 19th century.
We skip ahead several decades for the next work on the podcast: Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Born more than a century after Foote, in 1972, Frank is a young composer of Jewish-Peruvian descent, and this piece draws particularly on her Latin American heritage. The work, she writes, “mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions,” combining them such that they coexist as equals, without one dominating the other.
Work for chamber orchestra by Chauvon performed by Les Délices on November 23, 2014. Works for voice and chamber orchestra by Rebel and Bourgeois performed by Les Délices on November 23, 2014.
Homer’s Odyssey is one of the most famous stories in human history. On this podcast, with French Baroque ensemble Les Délices as our guide, we’ll explore the timeless tale through music.
Our podcast starts with a work not literally modeled on the Odyssey—Francois Chauvon’s fifth suite. But, as Nagy argues in her smart program notes, this music has a magical quality that listeners might easily hear as evoking the years that Odysseus spent under the spell of the goddess Calypso.
After the instrumental suite, we’ll hear a series of vocal works, for which Les Délices is joined by soprano Clara Rottsalk. We start with excerpts by Jean-Fery Rebel’s little-known opera Ulysse. We close the program with another vocal piece inspired by Odysseus: Thomas-Louis Bourgeois’ Les Sirenes. It is—as it sounds—a portrayal of the seductive singing of the Sirens, who try to lure Odysseus and his crew into harm’s way. Fortunately for our hero, their beguiling music is ultimately unsuccessful, and he continues on his journey unscathed.
Works by Mozart for voice, performed by the Boston Children’s Chorus on November 1, 2014, solo piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen, piano on February 13, 2011, and two pianos performed by Christina and Michelle Naughton, pianos on March 10, 2013.
Mozart always makes for a delightful musical menu. On this podcast, we’ll enjoy three courses, all wonderful works by Mozart.
Our appetizer comes courtesy of the Boston Children’s Chorus, who perform the “Papageno” aria from The Magic Flute to start things off. The aria is a sweet love duet between Papageno, the prince’s loyal friend and slightly goofy companion, and his newfound love—his counterpart in female form, appropriately named Papagena.
Next comes Mozart’s tenth piano sonata, in C Major. The piece was almost certainly intended for broad public consumption: though it has some challenging passagework, it is playable for an amateur audience with a piano at home, and it may even have been written with Mozart’s own aristocratic piano students in mind. We’ll hear the piece played by Paavali Jumppanen.
For our third and final course, we have Mozart’s larger-still Sonata for two pianos in D Major. It is a virtuosic work from the get-go, requiring not just great individual technique but strong coordination between the two players. We’ll hear it performed by Christina and Michelle Naughton, twin sisters who often play together.
Work for clarinet and piano by Brahms performed by Richard Stoltzman, clarinet and David Deveau, piano on January 11, 2015.
In the 1890’s, Brahms declared himself finished as a composer. He was done writing music, he said. But a trip to Meiningen, and a chance to hear the great clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld changed his mind, and he went on to write a number of pieces to showcase the extraordinary talents of this apparently self-taught woodwind player.
Brahms heard Mühlfeld on a visit and was impressed, so much so that he wrote several works for clarinet in short order. First came a trio for clarinet, piano, and cello; then, a quintet. A few years later came two sonatas, one of which we’ll hear today: the sonata in F minor, Opus 120, number 1. The first performance of the sonatas featured Brahms himself at the piano, with Mühlfeld on the clarinet.
On our podcast, we’ll hear the Mühlfeld part played by the very able clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, with David Deveau standing in for Brahms on piano. The piece lasts almost 40 minutes, and it will make up the entirety of our program.
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