Songs for voice and keyboard and string quartet by the New York Festival of Song and the Borromeo String Quartet.
Many of us have heard the narrative of “Dvorak: the champion of Czech folk music.” And in a way it’s true: he did popularize Czech--and more broadly, Slavic--folk music, combining it with Western classical forms in a way that made it accessible and appealing to a broad European audience. But, as with so many artists, he was constantly fighting against the very “box” he had created for himself.
The string quartet we’ll hear on today’s program--Dvorak’s 10th--was, perhaps, a halfway point. In it, Dvorak at times drifts fairly far afield from the well-worn terrain of the “Slavonic Dances.” Indeed, the third movement of the quartet could be mistaken for the work of one of Dvorak’s German contemporaries. But at other times--the second-movement “dumka,” for example--Dvorak was clearly playing to the crowd, and giving them what they expected of a composer who was, at the time, still a bit pigeonholed.
We’ll begin with a recording of “Goin’ Home” by the New York Festival of Song, and continue with the complete string quartet in E-Flat Major, performed by the Borromeo String Quartet.
Songs for string and keyboard and string octet by Colin Carr and Thomas Sauer, and the Borromeo and Jupiter String Quartets.
By most accounts, Felix Mendelssohn had a rather charmed childhood. Compared to other child prodigies of the classical and Romantic eras--Mozart, of course, springs to mind--Mendelssohn had a fairly easy time of it. His parents were encouraging and supportive without being overbearing.
But some unhappiness surely lurked below the surface. For one thing, his sister Fanny, with whom he grew up playing and studying music, was at a certain point forbidden from progressing further as a serious composer, and Felix was at least as involved in the decision to hold her back as her parents. For another, though he was born Jewish, his parents hid his identity, baptizing him into the Lutheran church, and even changing his name.
He wrote his octet in E-flat Major, the second work on today’s podcast, when he was just 16; the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream came about a year later. We’ll hear it performed by the combined Borromeo and Jupiter String Quartets. By the time he wrote the Song without Words for cello and piano, opus 109, Mendelssohn had reached the advanced age of 36. We’ll begin with the Song with Words, played by cellist Colin Carr and pianist Thomas Sauer.
Songs for piano trio and string trio by the Claremont Trio and Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute.
We are all, in one way or another, a product of the culture into which we are born. This week’s podcast features music by two composers who built on those roots.
We’ll begin with a recording of the Claremont Trio performing a new work, a piece commissioned for the opening season at the Gardner’s new Calderwood Hall. Simply titled "Folk Songs for Piano Trio", the piece was written by Gabriela Lena Frank. Born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank is deeply interested in identity and culture. In this piece, she was especially inspired by her mother’s Peruvian heritage; the composer describes it as “a series of snapshots of Andean life.” It’s a wonderfully imaginative, engaging work, and one that the Claremont Trio--for whom it was written---will no doubt long enjoy playing.
Next, we have another trio, this one Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio, performed by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Dohnanyi was vitally important to musical life in his native Hungary, sand in this string trio, it is easy to detect the distinct influence of Hungarian folk music, particularly in the first and final movements.
Before our trip to Hungary, though, we’ll begin in the Andes, with Frank’s "Folk Songs for Piano Trio."
Songs for violin and piano by Benjamin Beilman and Yekwon Sunwoo.
This week, we turn our attention to two performers, and two composers, whose music-making exhibits a sort of wisdom beyond their years. The recordings are both taken from a recital presented last spring at the museum featuring violinist Benjamin Beilman and his Curtis classmate Yekwon Sunwoo.
Both of the pieces we’ll hear were themselves the product of youthful composers’ imaginations. We’ll start with Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E-flat Major. Written when Strauss was just 23-years-old, the piece is widely agreed to have been the work of a young man in the throes of first love; he had recently met the woman who would later become his wife, Pauline.
Next, we’ll hear another piece by a 23-year-old: Chris Rogerson’s Once. Rogerson was both a classmate of Beilman’s at Curtis and a fellow member of the Young Concert Artists roster. This piece, as Beilman told audiences at the performance at the Gardner, was conceived during the composer’s residency at the famous MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire.
Songs for solo keyboard and string quartet by Seymour Lipkin and the Borromeo String Quartet.
The ability to create brilliant, complex, sprawling symphonies out of a small musical ideas--essentially, the art of variation--is probably Beethoven’s greatest achievement. In today’s podcast, we’ll listen to two of Beethoven’s more straightforward variations--one, his set of 32 variations on an original theme in C minor, for piano, and the other a part of a string quartet, his 10th.
We’ll start with the piano work, played by Seymour Lipkin. The source material here exhibits Beethoven’s extraordinary economy: it’s just 8 bars, a chord progression in the bass with a little flourish of melody in the treble. After that, we’ll settle into Beethoven’s more generously proportioned string quartet number 10, Op. 74, sometimes called the “Harp” quartet. The nickname, like most of Beethoven’s, was bestowed by the publisher, an allusion to the plucked arpeggios in the first movement that sound a bit like the strumming of a harp. We’re interested in variation, though, and for that, we’ll focus on the final movement, marked allegretto con variazione, or quickly, with variations. We’ll hear the piece as performed by the Borromeo Quartet.
First, the lightning-fast 32 variations in C minor.
Works for string quartet by the Borromeo String Quartet and the Daedalus Quartet.
We’ll begin the podcast with Brahms’ third string quartet, performed by the Borroemo Quartet. This quartet, Brahms’ opus 67, came some two years after the first two quartets, which were published as opus 51. Brahms himself remarked—with some humor—on the difficulty he faced in writing his first two string quartets, a process he described as a “forceps delivery.” The pieces went through extensive revisions, taking at least four or five years to reach their final form, perhaps even longer. The third quartet, by contrast, seemingly flowed from his pen; it came together in four short months, between August and November of 1875. The piece has a sort of ease about it that one can’t help but attribute to Brahms’ growing comfort with the form—an airy, carefree quality.
Next, we’ll hear another string quartet—in fact, another third string quartet—this one by contemporary composer Fred Lerdahl. And this piece had an even longer gestation than the Brahms. We’ll hear Lerdahl’s Third String Quartet as it was recorded in a Composer Portrait this past October, at which the Daedalus Quartet—for whom the piece was written—played all three of Lerdahl’s quartets in sequence, culminating with this one. We begin our program with the Brahms.
Works for string and keyboard, and piano trio, by Paul Neubauer and Anne Marie McDermott, and the Claremont Trio.
It's no surprise that one of Robert Schumann's great strengths as a composer was his lieder, or songs for voice and piano. Another early love was literature; he read many of the great German poets and philosophers and he wrote about music extensively, even founding a music journal called the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.
This passion for the keyboard and belief in the power of storytelling in art is perhaps most obvious in his songs, but it doesn't end there. Much of Schumann's purely instrumental music has some sort of story beneath the surface. We'll begin today's podcast with one such piece: Schumann's Maerchenbilder, or 'Fairytale Pictures,' for viola and piano, performed on this recording by violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Anne Marie McDermott.
Next we'll hear Schumann's first piano trio, in D minor, performed by the Claremont Trio. Though Schumann gives no intimation that he intended the piece to have any sort of story, or program, it's hard to ignore the qualities it shares with his other, more explicitly programmatic music: rapidly shifting moods, with episodes of great passion and intensity alternating with moments of light, shimmering character.
Works for keyboard and string quartet by George Li and Musicians from Marlboro.
Joseph Haydn had a pretty comfortable life for a musician. He had his first appointment with a Bohemian nobleman at the age of 27, and from then on, he enjoyed a fairly quick ascension to the post of Kappellmeister in one of the richest courts in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed both Austria and Hungary: the Esterhazy family.
But a unique opportunity presented itself after the death of Prince Nikolaus, the second Esterhazy prince for whom Haydn had worked. Haydn received an invitation to go to London and present his work for an entirely new audience. It was an exciting turn of events for a composer that had spent many years rather isolated in the country, and Haydn accepted.
The second piece we’ll hear on today’s podcast, Haydn’s String Quartet No. 52 was written just before that first big trip to London, when Haydn surely would have been busily working up a repertory of work to bring with him on his trip. His first trip was a triumph, and Haydn returned to London a few years later, in 1794, for his second (and last) visit. And the piece we’ll hear first on our program today, before the quartet, dates from that latter visit. We’ll begin with that piano sonata, performed in our recording by the young pianist George Li, an incredibly accomplished teenager studying in Boston at the Walnut Hill School and New England Conservatory. Then, we’ll move on to the quartet, played by Musicians from Marlboro.
Works for string and keyboard and chamber orchestra performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Many would agree that Mozart is, as a composer, in a class of his own. And so when scholar after scholar and critic after critic calls out a particular work as one of Mozart’s best, it is sure to be quite an extraordinary piece of music. We find ourselves today in the very fortunate position of hearing two such works: Mozart’s 32nd violin sonata, in B-flat Major and his 14th piano concerto, in E-flat Major, both played with great style and panache by the musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Mozart’s Sonata for Violin & Piano no. 32, K. 454, is first on the program, and it is an absolutely exquisite specimen of the genre. The piece is a true partnership of equals—unique among Mozart’s work to date in that respect.
Next comes the Piano Concerto. Written in the same year as the violin sonata we have just heard, the 14th piano concerto was written when Mozart was unanimously regarded as the top pianist in town. It was written for his student, Barbara Ployer, and if the piece is any indication, she must have been a very promising pupil. The piano part is quite virtuosic.
Works for piano and viola performed by violist Beth Guterman , Matan Porat, and Jonathan Biss.
On this week’s podcast we’ll have several studies in contrast. Written some 80 years apart, the two works on this program date from very different times: a Paul Hindemith sonata from the early 20th century, written in the shadow of World War I, and a Robert Schumann piano piece composed in the heart of the Romantic era. But the idea of contrast is more intrinsic than that: both pieces are exploration of contrast in music.
We start with Hindemith’s rather brief Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 11, Number 4, performed by violist Beth Guterman and pianist Matan Porat. A fairly early work, the sonata was written when Hindemith was still exploring and finding his unique compositional voice, and this particular piece—structured as, essentially, a three-movement exploration of the theme and variations style—gave him ample opportunity to experiment. After the Hindemith, we’ll hear Schumann’s piano cycle Kreisleriana, played by pianist Jonathan Biss. Written in eight movements, the piece is based on the fictional character Johannes Kreisler, from the works of author E. T. A. Hoffman.
So, get ready for quite the musical roller coaster. We begin with the Hindemith sonata, followed by Kreisleriana.
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