PROGRAM NOTES: Ba - Bi
[A] | [ ⇑ ] | [BL-BU] | [C] | [D-E] | [F-G] | [H] | [I-J-K-L] | [M] | [N-O-P] | [Q-R] | [S] | [T] | [V-W-Y]
Copyright 2006-2020 by Edward Lein;
please notify & credit if reprinting.
Trio in F# Minor (1952)
Although Arno Babajanian (sometimes transliterated Babadjanyan, 1921-1983) is virtually unknown in this country, the Soviet-Armenian virtuoso pianist and composer of everything from pop tunes and jazz pieces to classical works and musicals remains a national hero in his homeland. In addition to a 2006 Armenian commemorative postage stamp, a monument to him was erected in 2002 in Yerevan, the Armenian capital and his hometown, but a public outcry deemed that the sculpture was more a caricature than a likeness, so it had to be reworked and was officially re-unveiled in 2003.
While he was in kindergarten Babajanian’s precocious talent was discovered (or at least suspected) by Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978), and the famous composer insisted that the 5-year-old receive formal musical training. So when Babajanian was seven he was enrolled in the Yerevan Conservatory, and he later continued his training at the Moscow Conservatory. Much like Khachaturian, Babajanian absorbed characteristics of Armenian folk music into his own style, and his later works also show influences of Bartók and Prokofiev, and sometimes even Schoenberg.
His 1952 Trio, cited as one of Babajanian’s most important works, is unified by the recurrence of the opening theme in all three movements.
--Music @ Main, January 12, 2009 (Trio Solis)
Oberek No. 1 (1949)
Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) joins Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) as the only Polish women yet to achieve international recognition as composers. At age seven Bacewicz began her career as a violin prodigy, and from 1928-1932 she studied violin, piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory and philosophy at Warsaw University. She then received encouragement from Szymanowski, plus a stipend from the famous pianist and Polish Prime Minister Ignacy Paderewski, to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, a teacher whose numerous illustrious students ranged from Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter to Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones.
During the 1930s Bacewicz was the principal violinist for the Polish Radio Orchestra, with whom she was able to perform several of her own compositions. Forced underground during World War II, Bacewicz continued composing and performing for secret concerts in Warsaw, and after the war she joined the faculty of the State Conservatory of Music in Łódź. Between 1956-1966, inspired by a number of important composition awards and commissions, and especially after sustaining serious injuries in a car crash, she concentrated exclusively on composing.
Not surprisingly, many of Bacewicz's works feature the violin, including seven violin concertos, five violin and piano sonatas, and 2 sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Her Oberek no. 1 (1949), which adapts a traditional Polish dance that is often described as a very lively mazurka, was hastily written as an encore piece for a concert she would perform the following evening!
Johann Sebastian Bach
Once dismissed by many of his contemporaries as being too old-fashioned, the works of the great German Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) probably have been studied more than those of any other composer, making him perhaps the most influential musician of all time.
Despite being thought of as a fuddy-duddy, he nonetheless was one of the earliest composers to write out the keyboard part in some of his sonatas for solo instrument with accompaniment, rather than simply using the more common basso continuo. Since we know Bach used some of his music as teaching pieces for his family and patrons, one might suppose that some of the sonatas with written-out keyboard parts perhaps provided examples of how Bach thought artfully improvised accompaniments should sound. Of course, in some sonatas Bach does use the conventional basso continuo, employing a single-line bass part to indicate the desired chord changes, and from which the keyboardist improvises harmonic and rhythmic support--much like bass and keyboard instruments function in pop and jazz bands today.
English Suite No. 5 in E minor, BWV 810
Of the 19 variously-titled suites Bach wrote for solo harpsichord, his English Suite No. 5 in E minor, BWV 810, is among the earliest half dozen, most likely written ca. 1715-1720, when Bach was working either in Weimar or Köthen. No one can say exactly why the six English Suites (BWV 806-811) have been nicknamed "English," especially since the choice and ordering of various dance movements most definitely subscribe to the contemporary French model, and the suites' contrapuntal textures are decidedly German. Bach's manuscript is lost so we don't know if he made any reference to the Brits himself, but one of the earliest surviving copies says the suites are "for the English," and it has been conjectured that Bach perhaps had a particular English performer or patron in mind when he wrote them. Then again, maybe Bach, ever the teacher, came across some works by English composers that he didn't much care for, and his suites were meant "for the English" to show them how it's done ... .
Sonata in E-flat Major, BWV 1031
Of the six sonatas for a solo flute with accompaniment listed in the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue), the first three (BWV 1030-1032) are more "modern," with a written-out keyboard part, while the latter three (BWV 1033-1035) use the then more traditional continuo. Of these, BWV 1032 is now thought to be by C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), one of Bach's composer sons, and BWV 1033 might also have the same authorship. The authorship of Sonata in E-flat Major, BWV 1031, is considered somewhat less iffy, although it has been suggested that it could be a joint effort between the elder Bach and his aforementioned progeny. Still, as British music historian Nicholas Anderson has observed, "What is indisputable ... is the high quality of its craftsmanship and its expressive charm."
Piano solo (YouTube)
Schafe können sicher weiden ("Sheep may safely graze")
J.S. Bach wrote well over 1000 works in virtually every genre common among his contemporaries. The big exception is opera, but many of Bach's cantatas do share defining characteristics of the Baroque opera seria, with alternating recitatives and arias, ensembles and choruses. In modern times some of Bach's cantatas have been staged, and even an early performance of his secular cantata, Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd ("What pleases me is just the merry hunt"), BWV 208, called for props, and probably even had at least a little staging. It was composed in 1713 for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weisenfels (1682-1736), on a libretto by Salomon Franck (1659-1725), a frequent collaborator with Bach at the court in Weimar. Intended as an allegory praising the birthday boy (who fancied himself a great hunter), the cantata ostensibly centers around Diana, the goddess of the hunt in Roman mythology. One of Diana's companions is Pales, the patron deity of shepherds, and Pales is assigned what has become one of Bach's most recognizable inspirations, Schafe können sicher weiden ("Sheep may safely graze"). The aria, meant to illustrate the Duke's kindness toward his underlings, has become so popular that it has been adapted for performance by solo organ or piano, and arranged for orchestra and any number of instrumental combinations.
Sheep may safely graze With a good shepherd's protection. Under rulers where goodness reigns, There we find rest, and peaceful days, And all that makes a joyful nation. --English translation, ©2012, E. Lein
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903
From 1717-1723, Bach was employed by Prince Leopold of Cöthen, and it was during this period that he wrote the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903. Although Bach had become famous as a church organist, Cöthen was essentially a Calvinist town, so instrumental music was not usually a part of religious services there. But Leopold was a great lover of music and a very capable performer, and he encouraged Bach to write music for the enjoyment of the court. It was during this time the Bach wrote much of his famous secular music, including the The Well-tempered Clavier (Book I), the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the six Suites for solo cello, the four Orchestral Suites, and the famous Brandenburg Concertos. Even though Cöthen lacked any fine church organs, Bach obviously kept up his keyboard skills on the harpsichord, as demonstrated by the improvisatory, virtuosic display of the Chromatic Fantasy. Its companion 3-voice Fugue is in 3/4 time, and is one of the longest fugues Bach ever wrote.
Prelude and Fugue No. 8, BWV 877, from Das wohltemperierte Clavier, Book 2
The most-studied contrapuntal works ever written are contained within Bach’s two books that comprise his monumental Das wohltemperierte Clavier (The Well-tempered Clavier). Each book contains 24 pairs of Preludes and Fugues that traverse all the major and minor keys. Prelude and Fugue No. 8 from the 2nd book has been published both in D# minor and in its enharmonic equivalent, E-flat minor—giving the pianist a choice between either of two nearly impossible key signatures!
Chaconne (from Partita in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004)
The monumental Chaconne (originally Ciaconna), the fifth and final movement of Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004), is built over a repeated four-measure bass pattern, D | D-C# | D-B flat | G-A(-C#), and is divided into three main parts including a middle section in D major. In crafting the piece Bach employed all of the violin techniques available to him, and he created one of the most demanding and moving pieces in the violinist’s repertoire. About the Chaconne the German romantic composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) observed:
On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, October 21, 2007 (Cromley and Friends: Voices & Violin, Bach to Broadway)
Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
Bach’s own manuscripts of the Cello Suites have never been found, but current research suggests that they were composed while Bach was at Cöthen, where he served as Kapellmeister from 1717-1723 in the court of Prince Leopold (1694-1728), and that they pre-date Bach’s well-known Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, which were written in 1720. All six of the Cello Suites follow a standard six-movement pattern, but with the fifth movement dance types varying among minuets (in Suites 1, and 2) bourrées (in 3 and 4), and gavottes (in 5 and 6). Among all 36 movements of the six Suites, the popular Prelude from Suite No. 1 has had the most exposure: it’s been used as background music in television commercials hyping everything from sports cars and insurance to dog food.
Sonata for Viola da Gamba with Obbligato Harpsichord, BWV 1028
It seems likely that Bach wrote his three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba with Obbligato Harpsichord (BWV 1027-1029) around 1740, and probably for Carl Friedrich Abel, a virtuoso gamba player and the son of one of Bach’s colleagues during his time in Leipzig. But even early in Bach’s career, viols were considered something of a throwback to an olden time, and the sonatas are most frequently performed with the modern cello. The 2nd Sonata in D Major, BWV 1028, retains the slow-fast-slow-fast outline made popular by the sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), but Bach was one of the earliest composers to use the obbligato keyboard as an essentially equal partner with the solo string, rather than treating it as an accompanying harmonic “filler” instrument, as was typical in the continuo parts that prevailed through most of the Baroque period.
"Little Fugue" in G Minor (arr. for flute quartet by Melvin Lauf, Jr.)
Bach is the unrivaled master of counterpoint, and his “Little Fugue,” originally for organ solo, features one of his most recognizable tunes. Composer and arranger Melvin Lauf, Jr. (b.1971) plays both the flute and the harp, and his works have been performed at the White House and Kennedy Center, as well as for the pre-ceremonies to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, March 9, 2008 (Arioso Flute Quartet)
P.D.Q. Bach: Suite No. 2 for Cello All by Its Lonesome, S.1b (1991)
P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742?), the 21st of J.S. Bach’s 20 children, is the hilarious fictional creation of Professor Peter Schickele (b.1935), the composer and Grammy® Award-winning comedian who originated the character in the mid-1960s, about the same time that he left his teaching position at the Juilliard School. The salient feature of any "P.D.Q." work is the satirical blending of recognizable classical pieces and styles (which Schickele calls "manic plagiarism") with elements of present-day pop culture. His many memorable titles include The Short-tempered Clavier, Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice (An Opera in One Unnatural Act), and Fanfare for the Common Cold.
Despite its poking fun, the Suite No. 2 is a demanding piece that requires four different kinds of pizzicato and the frequent changing of the cellist’s hand positions.
--Music @ Main, September 9, 2008 (Alexei Romanenko, cello)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981):
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning composer who ranks with Bernstein, Copland and Gershwin as the Americans whose concert music is most frequently performed.
Adagio for Strings
The justly famous Adagio for Strings was premiered by Toscanini when Barber was only 28, and it was played at the presidential funerals of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, and for both Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. Arranged for string orchestra from the slow movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11, Barber also arranged the piece as an Agnus Dei for unaccompanied mixed choir. The Adagio has been featured in several films, including The Elephant Man, Platoon, and Lorenzo’s Oil.
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, April 22, 2007 (UNF String Ensemble)
The Monk and His Cat (from Hermit Songs)
Sure on this Shining Night
Barber's art songs are among the finest written by any American composer. In his The Monk and His Cat (Hermit Songs, op. 29, no. 8, 1953) a medieval friar compares his own scholarly pursuits with the antics of his feline companion, as translated by W.H. Auden (1907-1973) from an anonymous Old Irish verse discovered in the margins of an illuminated manuscript. Barber's luminous Sure on this Shining Night (op. 13, no.3, 1938), on a poem from Permit Me Voyage by James Agee (1909-1955), probably has had more performances than any other American art song.
--Summer Serenade, July 25, 2007 (Lindsey Tuller / Clinton Weinberg)
Walter H. Barnes
Walter H. Barnes has made numerous arrangements for brass instruments in association with what is perhaps the most famous brass quintet of all, the Canadian Brass.
3 Elizabethan Madrigals (by Thomas Morley and John Dowland, arranged by Walter Barnes)
1. Morley: My Bonnie Lass
2. Dowland: Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite
3. Morley: Now is the Month of Maying
For 3 Elizabethan Madrigals, Barnes chose works by two of the most famous English composers of the late Renaissance, Thomas Morley (1557?-1602) and John Dowland (1563-1626), and adapted three of their pieces that still enjoy frequent performances in a wide variety of arrangements. English madrigals were inspired by contemporary Italian part-songs on secular texts, and they were composed primarily for amateur singers and instrumentalists. They became the predominant form of popular music in England from the late 1580s until about 1630, and Morley more than any other is credited with driving the "craze." Dowland (pronounced "DOO-land" during his time) was famous throughout Europe for his singing and lute-playing, and Come Again, like many of his "Songes or Ayres," was published for performance by one to four voices, with or without lute accompaniment.
Audio on YouTube
DJ Mason Bates: Blue Berceuse
San Francisco composer DJ Mason Bates (b. 1977), who studied with John Corigliano, moves fluidly between the worlds of classical music and electronica, and he recently became the first dual recipient of the Rome Prize and the Berlin Prize. Among his many international performances, Omnivorous Furniture (for symphonietta and electronica) was recently commissioned and performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and he was the featured soloist in performances of his own Concerto for Synthesizer with both the Atlanta and Phoenix Symphonies. More at http://www.masonicelectronica.com/.
--Music @ Main, February 5, 2008 (Piotr Szewczyk: Violin Futura)
Bob Becker (b.1947) holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music where he studied percussion with William Street and John Beck, and composition with Warren Benson and Aldo Provenzano. He continued his studies with post-graduate work in the World Music program at Wesleyan University. As a founding member of the percussion ensemble NEXUS, Becker has been involved with the collection and construction of a unique body of multicultural instruments as well as the development of an extensive and eclectic repertoire of chamber and concerted works.
Alan Beeler (b.1939) completed his graduate study in theory and composition at Washington University, where he received an M. A. and Ph.D. He has taught music theory, composition, and oboe at Washington University College, Wisconsin State University, and Eastern Kentucky University, where he was Professor of Music Theory and Composition. His many compositions include works for solo piano, chorus, chamber ensemble, string orchestra, full orchestra, and voice.
His Dance Suite was written in the summer of 2008, and the composer writes that each movement “uses a single or double musical interval to control the melodic and harmonic activities in both instruments.
"The first is a Waltz in fourths and half steps that begins with a canon between the parts. The middle section is more active, with some of the intervals expanding and contracting. The closing section returns to the canon with the parts exchanged.
"The Polka uses thirds in a kind of dialogue. It is a conscious parody of the famous Beer Barrel Polka that I used to hear all the time when I taught music at Wisconsin State University in Stevens Point … .
"The March in Fourths is reminiscent of Bartók with similar exchanges between the instruments to those of the Waltz.
"The last piece is a cross between the English jig and the Italian tarantella, with two different whole tone scales connected by thirds and fourths between the instruments.
"I hope the performers and listeners have as much fun with these pieces as I did writing them.” --Music @ Main, May 12, 2009 (VnC Duo)
Ludwig van Beethoven
The Transcendent German-born composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) began his compositional career essentially imitating the styles and forms he inherited from Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and W.A Mozart (1756-1791), but during his "middle" period (ca. 1803-1815) Beethoven expanded and personalized this inheritance, creating works that have come to represent the culmination of the Classical style in much the same way that the works of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) represent the culmination of the Baroque. During Beethoven's "late" period (ca. 1815-1827), he discovered new paths toward still more personal, even intimate, musical expression, and, despite the gradual and eventually total degeneration of his hearing, he forged the way beyond the Classical tradition into the Romantic.
Sonata for Horn and Piano in F major, op. 17
Beethoven has remained among the best known Western classical composer for two centuries, but when his Sonate pour le Forte-Piano avec Cor was first performed in 1800 it was the horn virtuoso Giovanni Punto (1746-1803) who attracted the audience rather than the then relatively unknown composer and pianist. Punto specialized in “low” horn playing, so with him in mind Beethoven made good use of the wide leaps and rapid arpeggios often required of the “2nd Horn” in orchestral works. Beethoven wrote the virtuoso piano part for himself to perform, so perhaps not surprisingly the piano often takes the lead in presenting thematic ideas.
Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in E-flat Major, op. 38
To anyone familiar with Beethoven's Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, his Trio, Op. 38, will be immediately recognizable as an arrangement of the composer's earlier best-seller. Dating from 1799-1800, Beethoven seems to have used Mozart's six-movement String Trio in E-flat Major, K. 563, as the model for the Septet. Beethoven's serenade became so popular with the music-buying public that others had started selling unauthorized arrangements for different instrumental combinations, so Beethoven made an arrangement for reduced forces himself, and issued it in 1805 with a new opus number. The original Septet was for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and string bass, and it was unusual for its time in that the clarinet was treated as an equal to the violin. Beethoven's Trio version allows for either clarinet or violin, with cello and piano.
Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 23
Beethoven began work on both his 4th and 5th violin sonatas in the summer of 1800, while he also worked on his Symphony No. 2, Op. 21, and the ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43. The two violin sonatas were intended as contrasting companion pieces and initially were grouped together as the composer’s “Opus 23.” But the violin part of the brightly lyrical Sonata No. 5 in F major (now known as the “Spring” Sonata) mistakenly was printed using an oblong format rather than the tall format used for the darkly dramatic Sonata No. 4. This made it impossible to bind the two sonatas together, and it was cheaper to assign them separate opus numbers rather than re-engraving them. Thus, the fifth sonata became “Opus 24,” while the fourth kept the original work number.
Although Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 dates from his “early” period, contemporary critics were already making note of the composer’s originality, even when they didn’t quite understand his innovations. The key of A-minor was a rare choice for chamber music compositions, made even more unusual by Beethoven’s retention of the minor mode for the first movement’s “second subject,” which is introduced in E-minor rather than in the “expected” relative major key centered on C. And although Beethoven retains the 3-movement outline favored by his mentors rather than using the 4-movement scheme with an added scherzo movement that he later seemed to prefer (and which he uses in the “Spring” Sonata No. 5), he nonetheless interjects the jesting spirit of a scherzo into the slower-paced middle movement.
Piano Sonatas No. 13 & No.14 "Moonlight"
Beethoven composed both Sonata No. 13, Op. 27, No. 1, and Sonata No. 14, Op. 27, No.2, in 1801, about the same time he began to lose his hearing, and he gave them both the same subtitle: Sonata quasi una fantasia ("Sonata in the manner of a fantasy"). This title is especially apt for Sonata No. 13, since its four, highly contrasted movements do not follow the "typical" ordering of Classic-period sonatas, and they are played without a break. Rather than being cast in an "expected" sonata-allegro form, the first-movement Andante-Allegro-Andante shapes up as an ABA song form.
-- Score from imslp.org of Sonata No. 13 | YouTube Performance of Sonata No. 13
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2,"Moonlight"
Since Beethoven first published the “Moonlight” Sonata it has ranked among his most popular works, but it did not get its nickname until a few years after the composer’s death. In 1832, a music critic compared the sublimely beautiful first movement to moonlight reflected on the surface of a lake, and that image stuck. The poetic tranquility of the opening is in stark contrast with the rather ferocious virtuosity on display in the 3rd movement—it was observed that when Beethoven himself played the tempestuous finale he would sometimes break the piano strings and hammers! Beethoven composed both of his Sonatas, Op. 27, in 1801, about the same time he began to lose his hearing.
-- Score from imslp.org of Sonata No. 14 | YouTube Performance of Sonata No. 14
Seven Variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, WoO 46
Along with J.S. Bach, Beethoven is arguably the best known Western classical composer, but over the past few decades works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) have become almost as recognizable, especially after the success of the 1984 movie of Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus. Himself a big fan of Mozart, Beethoven used the show-stopping Act 1 duet between Pamina and Papageno from Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute") as the inspiration for Seven Variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, WoO 46. By 1801, the year Beethoven wrote these Variations, the 31-year-old composer had already suffered acute hearing loss, which he described in his letters. For the last decade of his life Beethoven was completely deaf, but he continued to produce revolutionary masterworks that still provide benchmarks other composers strive to attain.
Sonata no. 9 for Violin and Piano, op. 47, "Kreutzer"
Beethoven wrote his “Kreutzer” Sonata (Sonata no. 9 for violin and piano, op. 47) in 1803, two years after he began to lose his hearing. The "Kreutzer" gets its nickname from its dedicatee, Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831), a French virtuoso Beethoven had seen perform in Vienna. Ironically, Kreutzer deemed the work virtually unplayable and never performed the remarkable sonata that has secured the violinist's place in music history.
True story: Kreutzer wasn’t the work's original dedicatee. That suspended honor went to George Bridgetower ( ca.1778-1860), an Afro-Polish virtuoso employed by the British Royal family. Bridgetower was apparently something of a cut-up: the original dedication read “Sonata per uno mulaticco lunattico.” When he and Beethoven premiered the work in Vienna on May 24, 1803, the ink was barely dry on the score, and for the second movement George had to read from the piano score over Ludwig’s shoulder. During the performance Bridgetower altered the violin part somewhat, much to Beethoven’s delight, and at some point Beethoven rewarded him by giving the violinist his tuning fork (now in the British Library). But, as the story goes, the two went out for a drink afterwards and Bridgetower made an off-color joke about a woman who turned out to be a very dear friend of the composer—Beethoven took the insult personally and broke off all ties with the violinist, and changed the dedication in the process.
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts--Premiere Concert, February 26, 2006 (Shiao/Smart: The Kreutzer Project)
--Music @ Main, June 10, 2009 (Huls Clark Duo)
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata"
Beethoven began composing his Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 in 1803 and continued to work on it for several years, finally publishing it in 1807, but the tempestuous work did not receive its nickname until 1838, well after the composer's death. The final movement, in sonata-rondo form, has the feel of perpetual motion, and noted British musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940) observed that this is one of only a few sonatas by Beethoven that ends in tragedy rather than triumphing over it.
Piano Trio No. 5 in D major, Op. 70, No. 1 "Ghost”
Beethoven wrote the “Ghost” Trio, Op. 70, no. 1, in 1808, and, together with his “Archduke” Trio, Op. 97, he created what have remained the best-known works in the genre for two centuries. Although composed immediately following his “Pastoral” Symphony (No. 6), Op. 68, the “Ghost “ Trio actually shares some thematic material with his Symphony No. 2, Op. 36. Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio got its nickname from Carl Czerny (1791-1857), a pupil of Beethoven who became a famous musician in his own right, because the tremolos in the slow movement reminded him of the ghost scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This association with Shakespeare and the supernatural is perhaps not entirely fanciful: Beethoven’s sketches indicate that as he worked on the Trio he was toying with writing an opera based on Macbeth!
--Music @ Main, January 12, 2009 (Trio Solis)
Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke”
Beethoven himself played the piano part of his Piano Trio No. 7, Op. 97 (“Archduke”), for the premiere of the work, but his deafness was already so advanced that it proved to be his last public performance as a pianist. The “Archduke” is Beethoven’s last piano trio, and it is among 14 works he dedicated to his pupil, patron and friend, Archduke Rudolph of Austria (1788-1831)—hence the trio’s nickname. The captivating Allegro moderato is the first of the work’s four movements.
--Music @ Main, March 3, 2009 (Trio Florida)
Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101
1. Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung [Somewhat lively, and with innermost sensitivity]
2. Lebhaft. Marschmäßig [Lively. Moderate march]
3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll [Slow and yearning-full]
4. Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit [Swiftly, but not too much and with determination]
The transcendent German-born composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) began his compositional career essentially imitating the styles and forms he inherited from Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and W.A Mozart (1756-1791), but during his "middle" period (ca. 1803-1815) Beethoven expanded and personalized this inheritance, creating works that have come to represent the culmination of the Classical style in much the same way that the works of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) represent the culmination of the Baroque. During Beethoven's "late" period (ca. 1815-1827), he discovered new paths toward still more personal, even intimate, musical expression, and, despite the gradual and eventually total degeneration of his hearing, he forged the way beyond the Classical tradition into the Romantic.
After the passing of his mentor Haydn, Beethoven found little inspiration in the works of his contemporaries, least especially from the batch of Italian operas then sweeping the Continent. Instead, for artistic renewal he seems to have drawn upon two main sources: first, his lifelong affection and admiration for the music of Bach and G.F. Handel (1685-1759), striving in his final years to achieve a satisfying synthesis of Baroque contrapuntal techniques with Classical archetypes; and second, the straightforward lyricism of the folksongs he collected and arranged for Scottish publisher George Thomson (1757-1851). Beethoven's Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, the first of his five late period piano sonatas, was written during the summer and fall of 1816, and it demonstrates most especially the contrapuntal challenges he set for himself during his final decade. Beethoven dedicated it to Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann (1781-1849), a close friend whom he regarded as a foremost interpreter of his piano music, and who, appropriately enough, was also an admirer of Bach.
Outwardly, Opus 101 manifests the four movements of a "typical" Beethoven sonata, but in its details it becomes anything but ordinary. The gently-flowing melody of the pastoral opening movement unfolds without any marked contrasts, and it is especially unusual that the clear establishment of the home key is delayed until near its end. Its reverie is interrupted by an exuberant march, used in place of the more usual scherzo. The brief, improvisatory third movement is an elegiac adagio that leads--very uncharacteristically--into a restatement of the first few measures of the first movement, which in turn is followed immediately by a boisterous sonata-form finale. Both the march, with its canonic trio, and the finale, with its fugato development, are dominated by complex contrapuntal textures, which, as Beethoven himself joked, might have justified nicknaming the work "The Difficult-to-Play Sonata." So--and especially because of the reprise of the first-movement tune leading into the finale--the overall effect is rather like a "Prelude and Fugue," but with a big interruption in the form of the march. And, granted, it is unlike anything Bach could have imagined on his puny harpsichord.
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"But why," one might ask, "does Beethoven throw in a march?" Well ...
In addition to an unparalleled body of musical works, Beethoven left the world a mass of diaries, letters and notebooks that paint a vivid picture of one of the greatest musical minds that will ever walk the earth--despite his appalling penmanship. But, in retrospect, he rather foolishly failed to detail every aspect of his personal life and each source of inspiration, so it has proven irresistible to virtually every writer about the most-written-about composer to fill in the gaps with insights into the hidden meaning behind the musical notes. Like now.
At this point in his lonely life, Beethoven corresponded that he pretty much had given up on the idea of finding the ideal wife (including his "Immortal Beloved"--most likely Antonie Brentano, who was unhappily-married to one of Beethoven's friends). He was, however, hopeful that he'd find some sort of familial contentment rearing his 9-year-old nephew, Karl, the son of his recently-deceased brother, Caspar Carl (not yet knowing that both Karl and his widowed mother, Johanna, would prove to be a continuing source of consternation). In any case, Beethoven was now resolved to fully dedicate his life to his art (despite his hearing loss and persistent problems with his digestive health). Thus, the gentle opening, "with innermost sensitivity," might be seen as the composer's wistful paean and farewell to the idea of warm and quiet domesticity, leading into renewed vigor and commitment to artful pursuits, appropriately exemplified by the "determined," fugue-like finale. But as he was working on the Sonata, Beethoven received a commission to write a march for military band (i.e., WoO 24), and he was happy to set aside work on the Sonata to fulfill it. Thus, a march interrupted his work on the Sonata, much like a march interrupts the prelude-fugue aspects of the first and last movements, allowing one to wonder if perhaps this is a case of "art imitating life."
Elegischer Gaesang (Elegiac Song), Op. 118
In his Elegiac Song, Op. 118, composed in 1814 for a friend whose wife had died in childbirth, Beethoven tenderly sets an anonymous German text, which translates: Gently, as you lived, thus have you died, too holy for sorrow! Let no eye shed tears for the heavenly spirit’s return home.
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, February 10, 2008 (UNF Chorale & UNF Chamber Singers)
An die ferne Geliebte
Ever the revolutionary, with An die ferne Geliebte (1816) Beethoven invented the song cycle by composing six interconnected songs, to poems by Aloys Jeitteles (1794-1858).
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, September 16, 2007 (Biernacki/Smart: Love Songs and Cycles)
“Spring” Sonata and String Quartet no. 5
Both the “Spring” Sonata and String Quartet no. 5 were published in 1801, placing them in Beethoven’s “early” period. Among Beethoven’s 10 sonatas for violin and piano, his “Spring” Sonata (No. 5) is second in popularity only to his “Kreutzer” Sonata (No.9). For his String Quartet No. 5 in F major, Op. 18, No. 5, Beethoven used Mozart’s String Quartet No. 18, K. 464 (one of Mozart’s “Haydn” Quartets), also in F major, as a model.
Even as a young child, Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931) could play almost any piece he heard by ear, and at seven he was hailed as a miniature musical genius by the Davenport Daily Democrat, the newspaper in his Iowa hometown. Largely self-taught on piano and cornet, Beiderbecke was one of the most original and influential jazz musicians of the 1920s, despite being largely unknown to the general public when he died at age 28. First conceived as a piano solo, In a Mist is Beiderbecke's most famous composition, and its fluid and "misty" harmonic language demonstrates an affinity with the musical Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel.
Along with the operas of Rossini and Donizetti, those of Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) have come to epitomize the essence of the lyrical vocal style we now call bel canto (i.e., "beautiful singing"), as opposed to the more forceful and declamatory style represented by Wagner. Bellini, whose operas include Norma (1831), La sonnambula (1831), and I Puritani (1835), was born into a musical family, and he showed prodigious talent from an early age. Little Vinnie reportedly was singing arias before he was two, and before he turned three he had begun to study music theory (remember, kryptonite didn't make an appearance until the 20th Century ...).
At age 18, Bellini entered the conservatory in Naples, where, for his graduation in 1825, his first opera was produced; and by the fall of 1827 Il pirata ("The Pirate") premiered at La Scala in Milan. Before too long, Bellini went from being local sensation to international celebrity, and elements of his style--sensuous, long-flowing melodies and sometimes surprising harmonic shifts--are said to have had a great impact on the young Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849). Bellini's rise was cut short at the height of his popularity, when he grew ill in Paris (on an extended stopover between London and Milan), and died from acute intestinal and liver maladies.
During the first few years after he left the conservatory, Bellini composed more than a dozen songs with piano. Among these, Il fervido desiderio and Dolente immagine di Fille mia were published posthumously, along with a third song, as Tre ariette; the authorship of the texts is unknown.
The Austrian Alban Berg (1885-1935) is one of few composers of predominantly “atonal” music (i.e., music that deliberately avoids musical scales and harmonies centering around a specific keynote) who has sustained a following among the concert-going populace, particularly with his ground-breaking operas, Wozzeck (1922, the first full-length atonal opera) and Lulu (1935, the first 12-tone opera), and his moving Violin Concerto (1935).
Vier Stücke, Op. 5, for Clarinet and Piano
According to social philosopher Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) who studied music composition with Berg in the 1920s, Berg’s atmospheric and freely-atonal Vier Stücke, Op. 5 (“Four Pieces,” 1913), might be regarded as a condensed version of the four-movement sonata archetype as brought to fruition by Beethoven, with Berg’s 7½-minute version appearing “in rudimentary, shriveled form,” and “everywhere and immediately creating, shattering, abandoning, reintroducing, and rounding off remnants” of its musical motifs. It is perhaps easy to suppose that Beethoven (had he been around and not deaf) might have slapped the budding composer for such a conceit, but it is surprising that Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Berg’s teacher and adopted father-figure, apparently gave his pupil a brow-beating for not producing more extended compositions, especially since Schoenberg’s own brief piano works served as a model for Berg’s Pieces. Berg took the criticism to heart and abandoned miniature forms in favor of large-scale works, ultimately demonstrating a communicative power his mentor’s own atonal oeuvre has proven unable to match.
The French Romantic Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was among the most progressive composers of his era, and his original blending of symphonic forms with dramatic narrative, coupled with his keen insight into orchestration, had profound influence on the creative development of such luminaries as Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. As a composer, Berlioz was never very popular with the French musical establishment, and despite his early successes he had difficulty getting his later works performed unless he paid for the concerts himself. But he did enjoy success as an author and music critic, and gained international fame as a conductor. In 1850 he was appointed Head Librarian of the Paris Conservatoire, which provided not only financial stability, but also something of an ironic twist to his biography. As a youth Berlioz had been sent to Paris to attend medical school, but rather than study human anatomy (which repulsed the young Hector) he preferred to study music scores, so he would sneak into—and then be kicked out of—the very library he would later manage.
Les nuits d’ete (“The Nights of Summer”): Villanelle - Le spectre de la rose - Lîle inconnu
Especially famous for his Symphonie fantastique (1830) and Grande Messe des morts (Requiem Mass, 1837), Berlioz wrote about 50 songs with piano or guitar accompaniment, and among these the six songs from Les nuits d’ete (“The Nights of Summer”), Op. 7 (1841, orchestrated 1856) are easily the best known. Although the lyrics of all the opus 7 songs are by the influential French poet and critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), apparently the composer’s original intent was not that they be performed as a song cycle. Instead, he conceived them as separate songs to be performed variously by tenor, baritone, contralto, and mezzo-soprano, and was only later (but easily) convinced to orchestrate the whole set by an admiring music publisher.
The selections this evening are the first, second and sixth songs from the set:
-- Villanelle, a rustic song, joyously welcomes the returning spring with renewed hopefulness as the countryside begins to reawaken.
-- In Le spectre de la rose (“The Ghost of the Rose”), a fading blossom at first seems to lament having been cut down in its prime, only to rejoice in its happy fate of having adorned the belle of the ball as its perfume lingers on.
-- In the concluding barcarolle, L'île inconnue ("The Unknown Island"), a flirtatious gondolier asks his pretty young passenger to imagine which exotic shores she'd like to be whisked away to--she responds, "To the faithful shore where one is always in love!"
COMPLETE TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS: Berlioz / Gautier : Les nuits d'ete
--Music @ Main, May 26, 2009 (Anne Elise Richie)
As a precocious youngster, Georges Bizet (zhahrzh bee-ZAY, 1838-1875), entered the Conservatoire de Paris a couple of weeks before his tenth birthday and seemed destined for great things, excelling both as pianist and composer and winning the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1857. But his adult life was plagued by one setback after another and he never enjoyed the success his great talent should have afforded. His final work, Carmen has become one of the most beloved operas of all time, but the 37-year-old Bizet, weakened by complications from acute tonsillitis (i.e., quinsy, the same affliction that did in George Washington), died of a heart attack three months after his masterpiece premiered to a decidedly lukewarm reception at Paris’s Opéra-Comique, and without a clue as to the ultimate popularity his swan song would gain. The perceived immorality of the story by French author Prosper Mérimée (may-ree-MAY, 1803-1870), beginning with smoking factory girls (shocking!) and ending with a sexually-charged murder, was a tad racier than the family-friendly theater was accustomed. The theater management even went so far as to insist that the ending be rewritten— it is to Bizet’s credit that he refused to compromise his artistic vision. The rest, as they say, is history.
Believing it was an anonymous folksong, Bizet borrowed the melody of Carmen’s Habañera from a piece called El Arreglito, but the tune is actually by Spanish composer Sebastián de Yradier (say-bahs-tee-AHN day ee-rah-thee-EHR, 1809-1865). The librettists, Henri Meilhac (ahn-REE mee-YAK, 1831-1897) and Ludovic Halévy (lü-doh-VEEK ah-lay-VEE, 1802-1883), best known for their satirical writing in the operettas of Jacques Offenbach (zhahk AH-fun-BAHK, 1819-1880) never took Carmen very seriously, and Bizet had to rewrite the lyrics several times himself because his librettists couldn’t get it quite right. In the opera, as “Carmen” sings she shamelessly flirts with a hapless soldier, “Don José,” and he is hopelessly smitten—but you can’t say she didn’t warn him.
Carmen: Toreador Song
Carmen is anxiously awaiting the release of José, who went to jail himself rather than letting Carmen get arrested for, well, for being Carmen. “Escamilio,” the local celebrity bullfighter, enters ye ole (or is that olé?) tavern and immodestly charms his adoring fans with the famous Toreador Song. For the time being, the irresistible Carmen ignores Escamilio’s advances, but ultimately it is not only her faithfulness to José that proves to be short-lived.
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, November 18, 2007 (Bella Voce Cabaret)