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.
Works for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry with guest violist Hellen Callus on February 2, 2014.
The Elgar, though written as an introduction, will come second on our podcast. Clocking in at about 14 minutes, the piece is a rich work of post-Romantic passion, written for string quartet and string orchestra – a sort of modern concerto grosso. In another nod to earlier styles, Elgar also inserts a devilishly difficult fugue, which comes around the middle of the Allegro, in place of a more conventional development section.
Before the Elgar, we’ll hear Bach’s Viola Concerto in E-flat Major. This is a somewhat curious piece. There’s substantial evidence that Bach did, in fact, write a viola concerto made up of these movements—or ones very much like them—but the manuscript itself was lost. The score we’ll hear performed is actually a reconstruction, assembled by a contemporary musicologist, from three surviving Bach works that are believed to contain fragments of the lost concerto. The performance we’ll hear of this rediscovered and little-known piece features the sought-after violist Helen Callus, whose performance makes a compelling case for this work’s place in the repertory.
Works for solo piano by Mozart performed by Jeremy Denk on January 12, 2014.
As the The New York Times puts it, “Mr. Denk, clearly, is a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs.” Today, we’ll hear Jeremy Denk play a bit of music from the classical era, two sonatas by Mozart: number 15 in F Major and number 8 in A minor.
The A minor sonata – written when Mozart was just 22 – is one of very few minor-key sonatas by Mozart, and it’s not surprising that he wrote it during a trying time. Mozart had left his job as a court musician in the summer of 1777, and he spent the next year traveling, performing, and trying to find a suitable position. His mother fell ill and passed away in the summer of 1778, right around the same time Mozart was composing the piece. The emotional, even angry tone of this piece is not surprising, given the context. But even within this tumultuous piece, there are moments of lightness, particularly in the second movement.
Before that, we’ll begin the program with the F Major sonata, Mozart’s fifteenth, unique in its transparent, finely wrought contrapuntal textures and its liberal use of dissonant clashes, particularly in the slow movement.
Work for string orchestra by Ljova performed by A Far Cry on December 8, 2013 and work for clarinet trio by Brahms performed by Musicians from Marlboro on March 25, 2012.
On our podcast today, we have a pair of musical melting pots: pieces that combine diverse musical influences.
We’ll begin with a performance by A Far Cry of Vjola Suite, a fun contemporary dance suite by a young Brooklyn-based composer and performer who goes by the pen name “Ljova”. This suite was inspired by Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s experiences living and playing in New York City, with its myriad cultures. The piece draws on the folk music of Eastern Europe, West Africa, Cuba, and the Middle East. It is – as the composer puts it – “a collection of lively dances, for which the steps have not yet been choreographed.”
After the suite, we’ll hear some more dances, in Johannes Brahms’ clarinet trio in A Minor, Op. 114. Brahms’s dances aren’t quite so geographically diverse, but they are, in their own way, a melting pot of then-contemporary influences as well. There is a flavor of the gypsy tunes, the refined Viennese waltz, and the more raucous Austrian Ländler, which features a spirited solo for the clarinetist. Performing the Brahms we’ll hear a trio of musicians from the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute.
First, the chamber orchestra A Far Cry performing the Vjola Suite.
Works for solo piano by Schubert and an improvisation by Albright, performed by Charlie Albright, piano on November 17, 2013.
Our program today has as its centerpiece Schubert’s final notes – his sonata in C minor, D. 958, one of the last three sonatas he wrote.
Schubert had been suffering from health problems for some time, likely complications of syphilis, but in the fall of 1828 he took a turn for the worse. He moved to his brother’s house outside the city, hoping the fresh air might alleviate his illness. He never recovered, but he also never stopped writing music. He composed up until the very end.
Whether Schubert knew quite how serious his condition was at the time he was writing these sonatas is debatable, but it is tempting to read these final three pieces as a musical reckoning with death. The sonata we’ll hear is the first of the group, and it is perhaps the most emotionally stormy of the bunch.
The pianist in the recording we’ll hear is Charlie Albright, a young musician whose performances we’ve featured previously. After the sonata, we’ll hear some of Charlie’s own music: an improvisation in the style of Schubert recorded at the same recital, in November of 2013.
Work for string orchestra and voice by Handel performed by Rebel Ensemble with Derek Lee Ragin on October 2, 2005. Work for string quartet by Beethoven performed by the Borromeo String Quartet on January 30, 2011.
Loss is a topic that has often been explored in great works of art. Today, we’ll hear a couple of pieces inspired by losses of varying sorts.
First, we have Handel’s aria “Cara sposa” from the opera Rinaldo, performed by counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin and the early-music ensemble Rebel. As the aria begins, Rinaldo’s fiancée has just been abducted by the powerful sorceress Armida. He laments her disappearance and his sorrow and pain is evident in Handel’s writing, which contains moments of wrenching dissonance.
Then, we’ll hear Beethoven’s Ninth String Quartet, in C Major, performed by the Borromeo Quartet. We cannot know exactly what Beethoven was thinking when he wrote this piece but the writer and composer Robert Simpson has suggested that the piece can be viewed as a literal narrative of Beethoven’s coming to terms with his deafness: the tonally unmoored, dissonant opening chords a depiction of deafness itself; the following consonant sections a representation of the discovery that Beethoven could still “hear” music in his head; and the finale a defiant triumph.
First, we’ll hear Handel’s lament, “Cara sposa,” from Rinaldo.
Work for solo piano by Liszt performed by Martina Filjak on April 8, 2012. Work for string orchestra by Grieg performed by A Far Cry on September 22, 2013.
Both of the works on today’s program have literary roots.
We begin with Franz Liszt’s virtuosic Ballade No. 2 in B minor, a piece thought to have been inspired by the German author Gottfried Bürger’s influential poetic ballad Lenore. The piece embodies a similar sense of drama, and the ominous beginning is very much in keeping with the suspenseful emotional climate of the poem. We’ll hear it performed by Martina Filjak, a Croatian pianist.
Next, we’ll hear a piece that was dedicated outright to an important writer: Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite for String Orchestra, opus 40. Grieg had been commissioned to write a work in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ludvig Holberg, one of the most important forefathers of modern Danish and Norweigian literature.
In response, Grieg wrote this piece, subtitled “From Holberg’s Time,” intended as an evocation of the music of the Baroque. Grieg’s piece is modeled on a Baroque keyboard suite and though originally composed for piano, we’ll hear the version that Grieg adapted for strings, performed by A Far Cry.
First, the Liszt Ballade.
Work for string quintet by Mozart performed by the Orion String Quartet with Ida Kavafian on October 15, 2006. Work for string orchestra by Mozart performed by A Far Cry on April 21, 2013.
“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is probably Mozart’s most famous composition– and arguably one of the most famous pieces of classical music today. The phrase does translate literally as “A Little Night Music,” but in Mozart’s day, the word “nachtmusik” was a fairly common musical description, often substituted for the more familiar “Serenade.” Indeed, the piece most of us know as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is more properly known as the Serenade in G, K. 525.
This work is inherently appealing and supremely fun to listen to. We’ll hear it played by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber orchestra in residence.
Beforehand, we’ll hear another lovely little ditty of Mozart’s, the first viola quintet, in B-flat, performed by the Orion String Quartet and guest violist, Ida Kavafian. This string quintet is often referred to as a “viola quintet” because the violist is the “special guest”. It was a somewhat unconventional choice (other composers more often added an extra cello, rather than a viola) but Mozart returned to this quintet configuration several more times.
We’ll hear the quintet first, followed by that very famous serenade.
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