Schubert’s Cello Quintet in C Major performed by Musicians from Marlboro.
Let’s play a little word association game. When I say the words “Schubert” and “quintet,” what’s the next word that springs to mind? Perhaps “trout?” It’s fitting that the chamber work many of us may know Schubert for was inspired by one of his art songs, or lieder. Even towards the end of his all-too-brief lifetime, when he was in the prime of his career, Schubert was known more for his songs and piano pieces than his chamber and orchestral works. In fact, that “other” quintet—the one we’ll hear today, his cello quintet in C Major—was rejected by his publisher. A quarter-century went by before it was eventually published, posthumously. But that lack of recognition is no indication of the quality of the work. Today, the cello quintet is widely seen as one of the most important chamber works of the Romantic era, and the pinnacle of Schubert’s own output.
Works for solo cello, and violin and piano duo performed by cellist Colin Carr, violinist Corey Cerovsek, and pianist Paavali Jumppanen.
Sometimes, what isn’t there is just as important as what is. It’s a concept that carries across multiple artistic forms—in the visual arts, we call it negative space; in music, it’s rest. In this episode, we examine two pieces that take different approaches to this “negative space.” First, Bach’s third cello suite. There are many reasons the cello suites number among Bach’s most incredible achievements, but his use of implied harmony is surely among the most remarkable. While he does include some multiphonics (two notes sounded simultaneously), more often he relies on the solo lines to suggest the contours of the harmonies—giving us just enough information that our ears fill in the harmonies. In Beethoven’s playful second violin sonata, the instruments switch places after the first iteration of the theme, with the violin playing the melody—only to pass it off to the piano a few bars later. This back-and-forth continues until the very end of the sonata. Keep your ears open—we won’t give away the surprise, but suffice it to say the playful one-upmanship keeps up right through the final bar.
Works for keyboard and string sextet performed by Charlie Albright, piano, and Musicians from Marlboro.
Today, we’ll hear from two important Czech composers: Dvorák, whose idiomatic Slavonic pieces were among the first to put Czech music on the Western classical “map,” and Janácek, whose inventive work brought it into the 20th century. We begin with Janácek’s Sonata 1.X.1905, an emotional epitaph written to commemorate František Pavlí, killed October 1st, 1905, in demonstrations in Brno. The demonstrators were calling on the government to open a university in the city; the peaceful protest turned violent when Pavlí, a carpenter, was bayoneted by soldiers. Janácek’s emotion about the incident, and also his reaction to it, is clear from the music. Next, we’ll hear Dvorák’s String Sextet in A Major. Written in 1878, around the same time as the wildly successful Slavonic Rhapsodies and Dances, the sextet, too, draws on traditional Czech forms and styles. The middle two movements are modeled on two such folk sources: the Dumka, a thoughtful and melancholy epic ballad, and the Furiant, a fiery Bohemian dance.
Works for keyboard and string quintet performed by Katherine Chi, piano, and Musicians from Marlboro.
The late 80’s were good to Mozart. In 1786, his opera The Marriage of Figaro premiered to widespread acclaim; the next year, Don Giovanni opened to similar accolades. The work we’ll hear on today’s podcast, his string quintet in C Major, K. 515, springs from that wonderfully productive time. For this delightful and sunny quintet, Mozart imaginatively adds a second viola to the standard string quartet. He uses this second interior voice to lovely effect in the third movement in particular, as a duet partner to the first violin. We’ll introduce the quintet, fittingly, with an arrangement of themes from Mozart’s then-recent operatic triumph, The Marriage of Figaro. Katherine Chi will perform the Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Composed by Liszt but left incomplete, the piece and was later completed and published by the famous pianist and Liszt enthusiast Ferruccio Busoni. A charming pianistic take on the opera, the piece quotes two arias: “Voi che sapete” and “Non più andrai.”
Stravinsky once famously said, “Good composers borrow. Great composers steal.” Today we’ll listen to works by two composers who stole from themselves. “Meditation” began its life as the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, but was rejected and re-cast as the first movement of his Souvenir d'un lieu cher for violin and piano, and finally extracted and published separately, as it is performed in this recording. Dvorák’s String Quintet was originally written as a five-movement work, with an Intermezzo as the second movement, as we hear it performed on this podcast. That movement, however, was cut from the final version of the quintet, and it has had several lives in other arrangements.
Today, we will hear two pieces by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorák, beginning with his Terzetto for two violins and viola from 1887. Besieged with commissions after several very successful trips to England, Dvorák wrote this piece in just one week! Unapologetically melodic, the Terzetto’s themes dovetail and layer between the instruments, always containing a hint of wistfulness. The piece is far more rich, dramatic, and complex than either its title or its simple instrumentation would indicate. One of Dvorák’s earlier works, his Serenade for Winds and Strings, was written over the course of two weeks in 1879, during another period of increased demand for his compositions. Scored for a large ensemble of winds, brass, cello and bass, it nonetheless maintains a simplicity of line and texture. The work’s solidity of sound and honesty of expression convey an integrity that is present in much of Dvorák’s music, especially fitting for a composer who always placed family, homeland, nature, and music above all else.
Works for voice, piano, and string quartet performed by Jeanine De Bique, soprano; Warren Jones, piano; and the Borromeo String Quartet.
Some composers distinguish themselves in a single genre: Hugo Wolf, for example, whose brilliant lieder are like mini-monodramas, containing a whole world of feeling in less than two minutes of music. We’ll start with a selection of six of Wolf’s songs. But our main order of business on this podcast is a composer who can’t be bound by one signature form: Beethoven. Though published as number three in his first set of string quartets, the D Major quartet was in fact the first string quartet Beethoven wrote. Beethoven had waited about eight years from the time he arrived on the scene in Vienna before trying his hand at string quartets; some have postulated that this may well have been due to the shadow that his own teacher at the time, Haydn, cast over the form. When Beethoven finally published the set of six quartets from which this piece hails, he did it right. These quartets aren’t yet the work of a revolutionary, but they demonstrate Beethoven’s complete command of the form, and they clearly positioned him as one of its greatest living proponents. It was an important turning point: in 1802, Haydn fell sick. Though he battled his illness for several more years, he wouldn’t live to complete another quartet. The quartet, it seemed, had a new king.
Works for string quartet and string quintet performed by Musicians from Marlboro.
Much of Dvorák’s music—including the piece that he’s perhaps best-known for now, the New World symphony—inhabits a sort of cultural limbo. In the case of New World, it’s a musical homage to popular and folk tunes of America, but it’s written by a Czech composer, and at times Dvorák’s own background comes through. Today’s podcast features another of Dvorák’s “American” works, the string quintet in E-flat Major, inspired by the composer’s first long vacation in the States. As the story goes, Dvorák was immediately taken with the simple, pentatonic folk songs he heard during his time in Spillville, Iowa, and this delightful string quintet does indeed sound distinctly “American” from the start, despite its foreign authorship. We’ll set the stage for this piece—which makes up the bulk of today’s program—with another example of Dvorák’s cross-cultural explorations, this one with a more distinctly Slavic accent. The two waltzes, opus 54, apply Dvorák’s sensibility to that classic Austrian form: the waltz.
Works for voice and piano performed by baritone Randall Scarlata, soprano Jennifer Aylmer, and pianists Jeremy Denk and Laura Ward.
Today’s podcast features a wonderful bouquet of American song—beginning with selection by Charles Ives, and then moving onto works by Tin Pan Alley composers. Though at first blush they may seem like odd bedfellows, it’s important to remember than many of the Tin Pan Alley greats were contemporaries of Ives. The context was certainly different—Ives is often thought of as an under-appreciated (and commercially unsuccessful) pioneer, while the writers on Tin Pan Alley were employed by music publishers, and as such their work was expected to have commercial appeal. But both were masters of their respective domains. We’ll begin with 8 selections by Ives, performed by baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Jeremy Denk. Ives is a master of setting the scene, of evoking a time and place with just a few minutes of music. He does so here with great skill. Scarlata then joins soprano Jennifer Aylmer and pianist Laura Ward to perform 11 tunes from Tin Pan Alley—some familiar, some less so, but all delightful.
Works for mezzo-soprano, strings, and piano performed by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Musicians from Marlboro.
The two works on today’s podcast share a common inspiration: Romantic literature. First on the program, we’ll hear Respighi’s Il Tramonto, or The Sunset, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet or orchestra. Respighi was in his early 30s when he wrote the piece, working on it simultaneously with what was to be his career’s watershed composition, The Fountains of Rome. The work hinges on its text—a 19th-century poem by Percy Shelley that brims with the unfulfilled love and longing that characterize much poetry of the era. The second piece on the program, Brahms’ third piano quartet in C minor, is inspired by another tale of star-crossed lovers: Goethe’s famous Werther. Brahms gave the quartet the subtitle “Werther” himself; apparently, he thought the first movement embodied the protagonist’s sorrow and desperation in finding that his beloved has married another. Interestingly, this piece, like Respighi’s, was an early composition: Brahms began work on it as early as 1855, when he was in his early twenties.
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