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Program Notes

STRINGS

Gryphon Trio
Thurs. Dec. 9, 2021 at 8 pm

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-97)
Piano Trio in B, Op. 8 (1853-4, rev. 1889)
   Allegro con brio
   Scherzo: Allegro molto
   Adagio
   Allegro
JEFFREY RYAN (b. 1962)
JEFFREY RYAN
Born in Toronto, ON, February 24, 1962
Chimera (2021) (world première)
INTERMISSION
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 87 (1889)
   Allegro con fuoco
   Lento
   Allegro moderato grazioso
   Finale: Allegro ma non troppo

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Born in Hamburg, Germany, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, Austria, April 3, 1897
Piano Trio in B, Op. 8 (1853-4, rev. 1889)

Brahms took his chamber music seriously and re-energized the medium for the later 19th century, raising it to the highest level of achievement. His original plan was to bookend his output with two versions of a piano trio, written 35 years apart – and then retire. But the expressive musicality of Richard Mühlfeld, the Meiningen Court clarinettist, propelled him to add a coda of four more glorious chamber works as the finale to his creative life. With an overall catalogue of 24 widely varied chamber compositions spanning four decades, it’s arguably the piano trios that best marry the medium with the message. Before Brahms, Beethoven had found his voice in the string quartet; Schubert, for the most part, found his in the string quintet and Schumann his, in the piano quintet. The piano trio gave Brahms the most comfortable, natural vehicle for his carefully crafted compositions.

The Piano Trio in B, Op. 8 is both the first and last work Brahms wrote in the medium of piano trio. He wrote the first version in 1853-4 and published it as his Op. 8, not long after being proclaimed a musical genius by Schumann – “springing forth like Minerva fully armed from the head of Jove.” Then, late in life, in 1889, when a new publisher acquired rights to several of his chamber music compositions, Brahms took the opportunity to re-write a piece first conceived by an up and coming 20-year-old. “It will not be so wild as before,” he wrote to Clara Schumann, who had helped workshop the earlier version. He tightened its expansive style, simplified its structure and used its themes as the building blocks of what is, essentially, a new work, one third shorter than the original. What is striking is that Brahms, who assiduously destroyed his sketches and early drafts, entered the process knowing that a work that had been in circulation for nearly 40 years could not be deleted from his catalogue. Striking, too, is the skill with which Brahms sustains the youthful energy of the first version. “I did not provide it with a wig,” he said in a manner calculated to confuse, “I just arranged its hair a little!” It is this revised version, written after a lifetime of composition and after almost one hundred published works, that is usually played today. Brahms jokingly referred to it as his Op. 108, rather than his Op. 8.

In the ‘new’ Op. 8, Brahms retains the lyrical opening theme. It is instantly recognisable as Brahmsian, being characteristically nutty brown in texture, somewhat wistful in mood. Its expansive nature, on the scale of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, ensures that the broad sweep of the opening movement will remain, though this is virtually all that does remain from the earlier version of the trio. Other Brahmsian thumbprints, like hemiola patterns and additional rhythmical shifts, add new energy, direction and tautness to the music. The deftly scurrying Scherzo pays homage to Mendelssohn. Together with its broadly lilting, waltz-like trio, it is virtually unchanged from the 1854 publication. The slow movement is built upon a solemn, expansive chorale-like opening, again showing the influence of the Archduke trio but now speaking in Brahms’s mature voice – the more so with a new, autumnal second theme. The questioning B minor cello theme that opens the finale, introduces a note of restlessness. But it immediately gives way to a brightly assertive D major second theme that introduces a valedictory tone to the movement. Although the music ends in the minor, its mood is confident and hard-won.

JEFFREY RYAN
Born in Toronto, ON, February 24, 1962
Chimera (2021) (world première)

Music TORONTO’s Composer Advisor Jeffrey Ryan writes about Chimera, commissioned by Jennifer Taylor for the Gryphon Trio in celebration of Music TORONTO’s 50th anniversary:

“The original Chimera from Greek mythology was a fire-breathing hybrid of lion, goat, and serpent. Over time, ‘chimera’ came to describe any creature, mythical or real, comprised of multiple DNAs. The Sphinx, the Manticore, the Kotobuki, Anubis, Ganesha, and of course the Gryphon are all examples of chimeras (as are most marmosets and more than a few humans). When I began looking for inspiration for a new work for trio—three individual voices that merge into a single entity—the three-part Chimera was the perfect choice.

“Three different musical ideas form Chimera's DNA. The mass and strength of the lion are represented by dense chords that become internally activated and rhythmically pulsed. The mountain goat, high and distant, appears as still sustained tones. The serpent provides the long sinuous lines that weave through the texture. These three elements are overlapped, juxtaposed, and intertwined, passing amongst the players and transformed along the way.

“In a single movement, Chimera begins very slowly, as if shrouded in mist (Diaphonous). As the piece unfolds, the music gradually becomes faster and more focussed, moving through Mysterious, Stealthy, Restless, and Racing, until the final section (Determined) explodes in fire.”

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
Born in Nelahozeves, Bohemia, September 8, 1841; died in Prague, May 1, 1904
Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 87 (1889)

Like Brahms, chamber music was important to Dvořák, and he left more than 30 chamber works. They include two piano quartets, written almost 15 years apart. The earliest of them dates from 1875 when Dvořák was still a relatively unknown composer. It found little favour with the public. Brahms, however, had enjoyed substantial success with his three piano quartets and sales had brought their publisher, Simrock, a good return. Hoping to repeat the success, Simrock now pressed Dvořák to honour a commitment he had made to write a second piano quartet. After a tentative start, Dvořák found that the ideas flowed without difficulty. One month after he began the work, Dvořák was able to write to a friend: “I’ve now already finished three movements of a new piano quartet and the finale will be ready in a few days. As I expected, it came easily and the melodies just surged from me, thank God!” In all, the E-flat Piano Quartet took ten days from its earliest draft to completed score, August 19, 1889. Publication came the following year, and the work was given its première in Frankfurt on October 17, 1890.

At the time of its composition, Dvořák was at the height of his skill as a composer. Ahead of him lay his now famous trip to the United States. But he already enjoyed a high reputation throughout Europe. He had positioned himself as a Czech nationalist, though he was careful to use all the current musical techniques of the internationalist. The new Piano Quartet in E-flat is more confident than the earlier work and successfully marries form with content. There’s a strong hint of folk-music in its forthright opening on the strings. Then the piano has other ideas and asserts its independence. Some discussion follows. But it isn’t long before all four instruments join in a radiant statement of the opening theme. A second theme appears on the viola, Dvořák’s favourite instrument. After much sumptuous development, the opening theme finally appears as a ghostly echo of itself, with tremolo bow effects from violin and viola.

The slow movement is scored in the warm, rather veiled key of G-flat major. Its five repeated melodies are closely related and grow out of a splendid melody introduced right away by the cello. The music moves through a wide range of moods. The third movement is rooted in the folk-music that Dvořák so loved. It has the lightness and easy grace of a sentimental waltz or a Ländler, perhaps, coloured by exotic modal harmonies. When the theme appears for a third time, high in the piano, Dvořák’s music distinctly evokes the sound of a Hungarian cimbalom. The forthright opening of the finale, rather unusually for a major-key work, takes us straight into the minor. Each instrument is given a generous share of the melodic writing. There’s some lovely buoyant interplay between the four instruments and a brilliant conclusion ties a bow on one of the finest of Dvořák’s chamber works.

Brahms and Dvořák program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca



The concert has been cancelled, but these notes reveal what we are missing.

STRINGS

St. Lawrence Quartet
Thurs. Nov. 18, 2021 at 8 pm

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in B-flat, Op. 76 No. 4 (Hob.III:78) (‘Sunrise’) (1796-7)
Allegro con spirito
   Adagio
   Menuet: Allegro ma non troppo
   Finale. Allegro ma non troppo
JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in D minor, Op. 76 No. 2 (Hob.III:76) (‘Fifths’) (1796-7)
   Allegro
   Andante o più tosto allegretto
   Menuetto: Allegro ma non troppo
   Finale: Vivace assai
INTERMISSION
JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in D, Op. 76 No. 5 (Hob.III:79) (1796-7)
   Allegretto
   Largo ma non troppo. Cantabile e mesto
   Menuetto. Allegro ma non troppo
   Finale. Presto
JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in C, Op. 76 No. 3 (Hob.III:77) (‘Emperor’) (1797)
   Allegro
   Poco adagio cantabile
   Menuet. Allegro & Trio
   Finale. Presto

JOSEPH HAYDN
Born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, March 31, 1732; died in Vienna, May 31, 1809
Quartet in B-flat, Op. 76 No. 4 (Hob.III:78) (‘Sunrise’) (1797) Hob?
Quartet in D minor, Op. 76 No. 2 (Hob.III:76) (‘Fifths’) (1796-7)
Quartet in D, Op. 76 No. 5 (Hob.III:79) (1796-7)
Quartet in C, Op. 76 No. 3 (Hob.III:77) (‘Emperor’) (1797)

Haydn wrote the six great quartets of his Op. 76 late in life, 1796-7, when he already had been composing for a half century. The quartets were commissioned by and dedicated to Count Joseph Erdödy (1754-1824), who, as a member of an aristocratic music-loving family, had a string quartet who played at his two palaces in present-day Slovakia. The 18th century English musician and man of letters, Charles Burney, heard the set in London in 1799 and wrote to Haydn saying that instrumental music had never given him more pleasure. “They are full of invention, fire, good taste, and new effects and seem the production, not of a sublime genius who has written so much and so well already, but of one of highly-cultivated talents, who had expended none of his fire before." Burney’s comments reflect the high esteem in which Haydn was held throughout Europe. He was, quite simply, the greatest living composer of the time and he knew that musicians everywhere were judging his latest compositions by the high standards he himself had established.

During his two visits to England, Haydn had the opportunity to compose for the public concert room rather than for the private aristocratic salon he had known throughout much of his composing career. His approach to the quartet began to change. His music became more concentrated and closely argued, his thematic and structural material more tautly constructed. It began to speak out to an audience and range boldly through different keys. The six Op. 76 Erdödy quartets were composed over the year following his second triumphant visit to the British capital. They are, in many ways, Haydn’s final thoughts on the medium (if not, quite, his final quartets). In a profound way, he brings a lifetime’s experience to bear on the quartets, in both human and musical terms. They anticipate more from an audience than the earlier quartets, when string chamber music was designed as a background for wining and dining, or for four amateurs to enjoy in the privacy of their own music salon. After these quartets, for the remainder of his life, Haydn was to concentrate on choral music, including the six great masses of 1796-1802 and his two oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons.

The ‘Sunrise’, as the B-flat quartet, Op. 76 No. 4 is known in the English-speaking world, has one of the great openings in chamber music. A lovely rising phrase is played by the first violin, over a warm, sustained chord, like the sun rising out of the clouds. Haydn's confidence is at its peak. The music both sums up the great classical era of chamber music and looks ahead to the dawning age of romanticism. While its opening seems to promise a sunny, easy-going work, this never quite arrives. The B-flat major quartet often sounds like a minor-key quartet which happens to be written in the major. Its opening does, however, contain a wealth of musical ideas that provide the fuel, and thereby the unity, of the entire work. The three subsequent movements – a profound slow movement, rustic minuet and exuberant and witty finale – are written with no less skill than the magical opening. Op. 76 No. 4 can be counted among the finest of Haydn’s quartets.

In Germany, the Quartet in D minor, Op. 76 No. 2 has the nickname ’Die Quinten’ (‘Fifths’), referring to the two descending intervals of a fifth with which the piece opens. This falling interval and its inversion and different permutations recur throughout the first movement. It will provide a unifying element in the melodic material of the entire quartet. Haydn would have called this his ‘learned’ (gelehrter) style. And it is a measure of his genius as a composer that we do not need to pick apart the technical sophistication of his musical language to enjoy its content. The craft in Haydn’s music appealed to the younger Mozart and he learned much from it. With the D minor tonality of this quartet, however, we also find Haydn taking a leaf out of the book of a composer more than 20 years his junior. D minor was Mozart's ‘tragic’ key and the key of the powerful Quartet K. 421 that Mozart had recently dedicated to Haydn. In his Op. 76 No. 2, Haydn returns the compliment with one of the most concentrated, rigorously constructed quartets he was to write.

The highly focused, impassioned mood of the first movement relaxes in the following Andante. Here, the first violin serenades us, to alternating plucked and bowed accompaniment, in elegant music that is not without a hint of whimsy – the pleasing, relaxed theme has the unusual length of 15 measures, for instance. The minuet then brings complete contrast. Its severe style introduces a strict canon, first between the two violins, then between viola and cello. Its bleak and eerie minor mood, plus the tension Haydn develops within the music, have given the movement a nickname of its own – Hexenmenuett (‘Witches' Minuet’). The tension between major and minor keys continues in the exuberant finale with its ‘Hungarian’ off-beat inflections, frequent pauses to hold the listener’s attention and extreme leaps – with a surprise in store on the final leaps. The tension is only resolved towards the end when, suddenly, the music eases quietly into the major key and remains there until the jubilant final chords.

The heart of the Quartet in D, Op. 76 No. 5 is its magnificent slow movement, marked Largo. Almost as long as the other three movements together, it is one of the finest such movements that Haydn wrote. Some printed scores used to subtitle the entire work ‘Famous Largo.’ That’s not as convincing a nickname as the Sunrise or the Emperor, but it does serve to highlight the importance that the slow movement plays to the rest of the work. In fact, there is every reason to believe that the quartet was composed around its slow movement – a practice that Haydn adopted on many occasions in his symphonies and quartets at the time, including the Emperor. [Sadly, the original manuscripts of the Op. 76 set are lost and with the loss goes clues as to the order of composition of both movements and quartets themselves].

The quartet opens with a gracefully lyrical movement, based on a theme that has the character of a sicilienne. It's an unusual way of starting a quartet, initially giving the feeling of informality, but soon developing into intricate, contrapuntal writing between the four instruments in a sequence of closely argued variations. The first violin line is elaborately decorated throughout. By its understatement and exuberant conclusion, the movement provides the perfect foil for the Largo that follows. This is a full sonata-form structure, written in the distant key of F-sharp which right away establishes an ethereal, other-worldly and gently pulsing mood; the bright open strings of the quartet’s instruments do not resonate in the key of F-Sharp major. The marking at the top of the movement, cantabile e mesto, means ‘in a singing style and sad.’ Indeed, as the music constantly reaches ever-distant keys, the entire movement takes on an air of melancholy, a feeling of nostalgia tinged with sadness along the way, pointing the way forward to Beethoven’s hymn-like slow movements and subsequent romantic expression in chamber music.

The Menuetto rolls up its sleeves to bring us quickly back to reality. It leans towards the finale which at once introduces tongue-in-cheek good humour. The movement’s beginning sounds like an ending, were it not for a hidden cache of thoroughly convincing developmental material which demands the lightest, most virtuoso of touches. The D major quartet includes string writing of such richness, sonority and overflowing invention that listeners often use the terms ‘symphonic’ and ‘orchestral’ to describe its impact.

In 1793 Haydn bought a house in Vienna and was able to afford extensive renovations, including the addition of a second floor. He remained on the payroll of the Esterházys, but with minimal duties. Three years later, the city of Vienna was under threat of invasion from Napoleon. French troops led by Napoleon were advancing from the Po valley into Styria. Other troops were advancing from the East and both were closing in on Vienna in a pincer-like move. Vienna was in a state of emergency and a civilian militia had been mobilized to protect the city. Following a state commission, Haydn, a strong nationalist, was commissioned to write a national song for the cause. His beautiful, heartfelt Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (God Preserve Franz the Emperor) was a bold challenge to the Marseillaise and was instantly adopted as the Austrian national anthem. In fact, so universal was the appeal of Haydn's melody that it was later to be used as the ‘Brotherhood’ anthem of Freemasonry, as the German national anthem Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, and even as the Protestant hymns Praise the Lord! Ye heavens, adore him and Glorious things of Thee are spoken.

The slow movement of the Quartet in C, Op. 76 No. 3 is a set of variations on this celebrated, dignified tune. Hence the quartet's nickname Emperor, or Kaiser. Each instrument in turn introduces the solemn melody, while the other three instruments weave an increasingly intricate web around it. But Haydn goes further. He again structures the entire work around the slow movement, making it the focal point of the quartet. The melody finds its way into the first movement, whose five-note theme derives from Haydn’s patriotic song: G (Gott) – E (erhalte) – F (Franz) – D (den) – C (Kaiser). This cryptic message would have been recognized in Haydn's day as one of the many ‘learned’ effects he used in his late quartets, complementing such popular elements as the lively country dance he fashions out of the same notes over a viola and cello drone in the central development section. The intensity and dignity of the four slow movement variations is set into relief by a forthright minuet. The finale, an intense, powerful movement, then completes the strong architectural structure that Haydn has built.

— Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


Due to a communication failure, these notes were not published in advance of the concert

PIANO
Stephen Hough
Tues. Nov. 9, 2021 at 8 pm

ALAN RAWSTHORNE (1905-71)
Bagatelles (1938)
   Allegro –
   Allegretto –
   Presto non assai –
   Lento
ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838)
   Äußerst bewegt
   Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch
   Sehr aufgeregt
   Sehr langsam
   Sehr lebhaft
   Sehr langsam
   Sehr rasch
   Schnell und spielend
INTERMISSION
STEPHEN HOUGH (b. 1961)
Partita (2019)
   Overture
   Capriccio
   Cancion y Danza I
   Cancion y Danza II
   Toccata
FRYDERYK CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 3, in A-flat, Op. 47 (1840-1)
Nocturne in F-sharp, Op. 15 No. 2 (1830-2)
Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2 (1830-2)
Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 (1837)

ALAN RAWSTHORNE
Born May 2, 1905 in Haslingden, England; died July 24, 1971 in Cambridge
Bagatelles (1938)

Practical Cats was my introduction to English composer Alan Rawsthorne back in the 1950s. It is a piece for narrator and orchestra based on six poems from T. S. Eliot’s collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). It was engaging then and remains so to this day. It falls in the tradition of his friend and fellow-Lancastrian William Walton’s Façade. (Baron Lloyd-Webber, then still a kitten, was to add to Eliot’s fame 27 years later with the musical Cats). Where Walton found an international audience, Rawsthorne’s more consistently restricted musical language, based on constantly shifting tonalities and juxtaposed melodic phrases, somewhat in the manner of Hindemith, led to him being labelled a ‘musician’s composer.’ His compositional craft is secure throughout a large catalogue of compositions – three symphonies, several concertos, and much chamber music including several works for piano, his own instrument. His confident, polished orchestral and instrumental technique also found an outlet in well over 20 movie and theatre scores.

The four Bagatelles on today’s program are among Rawsthorne’s earliest published compositions. They were written for Gordon Greene, formerly a fellow student at the Royal Manchester (now Royal Northern) College of Music and subsequently a teacher of Stephen Hough (their lessons included these pieces). The bagatelles make full use of the keyboard and are interconnected through a recurring theme and the harmonic and melodic use of thirds and fourths. The first is forward-driving and prominently introduces the theme in stern left-hand octaves. It fades into the lilting, graceful, dance-like second bagatelle which, in turn, gives way to the fast and furious scherzo-like third whose middle section reintroduces the first movement theme. The fourth bagatelle is a reflective and sombre two-part invention which builds to a sudden, somewhat enigmatic resolution in the major.

ROBERT SCHUMANN
Born in Zwickau, Saxony, June 8, 1810; died in Endenich, nr Bonn, July 29, 1856
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838)

"The best description of Schumann himself,” Brahms once said, “is to be found in some of the writings of Hoffmann – especially in the splendid Kreisler." Johannes Kreisler is a larger-than-life Kapellmeister who appears several times in Hoffman’s published fiction (including, intriguingly, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr). Schumann calls him eccentric, wild and gifted, feeling a bond between the fictional Kreisler and the romantic composer that he himself embodied. The first edition of Schumann's Kreisleriana, published October 1838, even depicts drawings of characters from Hoffmann's writings, as well as pictures of Robert and the young pianist he was soon to marry, Clara Wieck.

Schumann's absorption with the untamed, wittily gifted character of Kreisler did not dampen his own creative spark. He wrote Kreisleriana in the white heat of inspiration, in just four days in April 1838. In its pages he wove constant references to the woman he loved. "You and one of your ideas are the principal subject and I shall call them Kreisleriana and dedicate them to you,” he wrote. “You will smile so sweetly when you see yourself in them.” Cryptic messages are encoded in Kreisleriana. Thematic cross references underline the cycle of eight fantasy pieces and bring a powerful sense of unity to its music.

At the same time, Kreisleriana has been seen as a musical depiction of Schumann’s impending insanity. Turbulent, rhetorical pieces representing the Florestan side of Schumann's character (No. 1, the second Intermezzo of Nos. 2, 3 and 5) alternate with the more reflective, internalized, Eusebius side (Nos. 2, 4 and 6). The music in these movements correspondingly alternates between a restless G-minor and a dreamier B-flat major. The contrasts also occur within each piece, as in the way the serene chorale that ends the seventh piece in Kreisleriana seems to share little with the fiery, cascading sixteenths that precede it. At other times, Schumann makes inner voices appear as if from nowhere, sometimes leaving them ‘hanging' with their dissonances unresolved. The extraordinary crab-like harmonies that emerge from complex counterpoint immediately after the second Intermezzo of No. 2 give the effect of learned improvisation – and, perhaps, that trance-like state that both Schumann and Kreisler entered when immersed in their own world at the piano.

STEPHEN HOUGH
Born in Heswall, England, November 22, 1961
Étude Book One: No. 5 Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) (1985)
Partita (2019)

Interviewed a couple of years ago, Stephen Hough said: “Tonality is what I live for, it’s my oxygen! I think all music is sort of searching for that resolution. I think if something is purely atonal, it’s impossible to resolve anything because it doesn’t return home. It’s always on the move, and it never comes back. I think however complex a tonal system is, we all want that. It’s something planted in the womb.”

Like most of Hough’s compositions, written for the most part over the last two decades, the 13-minute Partita is a commission. It was commissioned for the Carnegie début of the young Swiss pianist Albert Cano Smit by the Naumburg Foundation in 2019.

Stephen Hough (who can list engaging program note writer as well as blogger in his resumé) writes: “This Partita is in five movements. Its outer, more substantial bookends have an 'English' flavour and suggest the world of a grand cathedral organ. The first of these alternates between ceremonial pomp and sentimental circumstance, whereas the final movement, taking thematic material from the first, is a virtuosic toccata – a sortie out of the gothic gloom into brilliant Sunday sunshine.
“At the centre of the work are three shorter movements, each utilising the interval of a fifth: a restless, jagged Capriccio of constantly shifting time signatures, and two Cancion y Danzas, inspired by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou (1893-1987)"

FRYDERYK CHOPIN
Born in Żelazowa Wola, nr Warsaw, Poland, March 1, 1810; died in Paris, October 17, 1849
Ballade No. 3, in A-flat, Op. 47 (1840-1)
Nocturne in F-sharp, Op. 15 No. 2 (1830-2)
Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2 (1830-2)
Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 (1837)

With its origins in narrative poetry and folk song, and its use to describe such 19th century songs as Schubert's Erlkönig, Chopin began to use the title Ballade for solo piano music in 1831. All four Chopin Ballades are single movement, extended piano compositions with an implied storyline. They draw on the idea of contrasting and reconciling opposites – the basis of the sonata principle – but free from the constraints of any conventional form. This is clear in the Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47 where two contrasting themes are fused into a third. Essays have been written on the way Chopin transforms the themes of this ballade, a true example of art concealing art. Yet it is a mark of the strength of Chopin's creative powers in 1841 that the Third Ballade flows with natural momentum and strikes us as the most romantic of the set.

Italian opera gave Chopin a love of the long, sustained, elaborately decorated vocal line, a style of singing known as bel canto. “You have to sing if you wish to play,” he said to his pupils . . . who provided him with a substantial income. His absorption of vocal detail found its way into Chopin’s piano writing to a degree previously unexplored, nowhere more so than in the 18 nocturnes he published between 1830 and 1846 (three more make up the complete catalogue). The nocturnes journey through the lyrical, more subjective side of Chopin's nature and are mostly in a simple ABA form. The Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2 pays homage to the Irish composer John Field, who was the first to use the French word Nocturne as a springboard for a poetic, reflective song-without-words for solo piano. Chopin’s early nocturne, however, surpasses Field’s 18 nocturnes in the expressive power, intensity and poetry of its musical language. Already by the time of the Op. 15 collection, published just one year after his Op. 9, Chopin is willing to experiment both emotionally and structurally with the customary three-part form. In the Nocturne in F-sharp, Op. 15 No. 2 he produces the utmost refinement within the deeply felt ornamentation of the underlying melody in the outer sections of this favourite nocturne, creating an intimate, improvisatory feeling. This, he then extends and broadens into the contrasting turbulence of the nocturne’s middle section.

Chopin was exploring new territory when he wrote single virtuoso scherzo movements outside the context of the symphony and piano sonata. Without the framework of contrasting sonata movements, he made a point of providing contrast within the scherzo itself. The principle behind the four scherzos is that of alternating dramatic and lyrical ideas. A lively outer section often encompasses a more lyrical middle episode, though the shape of each Scherzo does vary. In the opening turbulent outburst of the Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31, a question- and answer-like statement broadens ínto one of Chopin’s most vivid, plunging and expansive melodies. Dramatic contrast is present from the outset and continues for all three sections of a work that Robert Schumann referred to as ‘Byronic.’ Chopin maintains a feeling of spontaneity and creativity with a structure that brings a surprise at every turn. A triumphant coda culminates in the key of D-flat major rather than in the home key of B-flat minor, resolving the tensions within one of Chopin's most loved and magisterial works.

— Rawsthorne, Schumann and Chopin program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


PIANO
Tues. Oct. 26, 2021 at 8 pm
David Jalbert

KELLY-MARIE MURPHY (b. 1964)
Smoke Darkened Sky (2021) (world première)
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images (Book One), L. 110 (1905)
   Reflets dans l’eau
   Hommage à Rameau
   Mouvement
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images (Book Two), L. 111 (1907)
   Cloches à travers les feuilles
   Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût
   Poissons d'or

INTERMISSION

GYÖRGY LIGETI (1923-2006)
Étude Book One: No. 5 Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) (1985)
Étude Book One: No. 6: Automne à Varsovie (Warsaw Autumn) (1985)
SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No. 6, in A, Op. 82 (1939-40)
   Allegro moderato
   Allegretto
   Tempo di valzer lentissimo
   Vivace

KELLY-MARIE MURPHY
Born in Sardegna, Italy, September 4, 1964
Smoke Darkened Sky (2021) (world première)

Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy lives in Ottawa where she teaches composition and where she is currently working on a Triple Concerto for Trio Sōra and the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and a new work for the Lafayette Quartet. Kelly was the 2018 recipient of the Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music.

Kelly-Marie Murphy writes: “The pandemic has seared many images into our consciousness. For me, one that made a deep impression was during the second wave in India. There were so many deaths from Covid that the funeral pyres, which were burning day and night, led to intense, thick, clouds of smoke.

Smoke Darkened Sky was commissioned by Jennifer Taylor for Music Toronto for this recital by David Jalbert — one of the first concerts as we return to the stage after being shut for the past 18 months. The single-movement piece explores grief, rage, desperation, and reflection. It explores thickening texture through a variety of techniques, including extended techniques developed by George Crumb.

The very end of the piece is based on the Darbari raga from Hindustani classical music. It is a raga that has the ability for profound emotional impact.”

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
Born in St Germain-en-Laye, France, August 22, 1862; died in Paris, March 25, 1918
Images (Book One), L. 110 (1905)
Images (Book Two), L. 111 (1907)

Debussy liked the word ‘Image.’ He used it twice, in 1905 and 1907, for the two sets of piano pieces we are hearing today. He also used it for the Trois Images for orchestra and for an early set of pieces, not published until 1977, and now known as the Images (oubliées). "I love pictures (images) almost as much as music," he wrote to composer Edgard Varèse in 1911. His friend René Peter says in his memoir: “He may call his compositions pictures, sketches, prints, arabesques, masques, studies in black and white. But clearly, it is his delight to paint in music.” The title Image gives Debussy a framework that is difficult to pin down in words. His titles are often reflections upon the music itself, rather than statements describing what the music is ‘about.’ Debussy valued his Images highly, telling his publisher, Jacques Durand: “I think I may say without undue pride that I believe these pieces will live and will take their place in the piano literature . . . either to the left of Schubert, or to the right of Chopin.”

Water was, of course, a much-loved theme of the Impressionist painters and it posed a challenge to Debussy when he tried to capture its essence on paper. Pianist Marguerite Long writes that Debussy likened the opening motif in Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in the water) to “a little circle in water with a little pebble falling into it.” In this wonderful tone poem, the rippling and shimmer of light have a hypnotic effect and build to a formidable climax, dying away on ripples of sound. Hommage à Rameau (Homage to Rameau) was written when Debussy was editing an edition of a ballet héroique by Rameau, Les Fêtes de Polymnie. It is more of a tribute to the 18th century French composer than an imitation of his style and contains the performing directions "Slow and grave, in the style of a sarabande, but without rigour." The final piece in the collection, a brilliant toccata titled Mouvement (Movement), is pure shimmering virtuosity, built around a non- to slow-moving harmonic bass, which looks forward to the rhythmically driven piano music that Bartók and Stravinsky would write a short generation later.

The first piece in Book Two of Debussy’s Images is the evocative Cloches à travers les feuilles (Bells [ heard ] through the leaves). It incorporates a whole-tone scale, on which Debussy’s entire musical structure is built, together with bell overtones and multi-layered textures to summon impressions of distant tolling bells, heard beyond a landscape of rustling leaves. The title of the exotically coloured second Image, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût (And the moon sets over the temple that was), is believed to have been proposed by its dedicatee, musicologist Louis Laloy, after the piece was composed. The music suggests serenity and stillness, coloured by echoes of the gamelan. The technically demanding third Image, Poissons d'or (Goldfish), is believed to have been inspired by a Japanese lacquer painting, showing two darting goldfish in rippling water. Its synthesis of trills, tremolos and a toccata-style of keyboard writing produces vivid illustrative effects, as pianistic bravura transcends technical challenges.

GYÖRGY LIGETI
Born in Dicsőszentmárton [Diciosânmartin, now Tîrnăveni], Transylvania, May 28, 1923; died in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2006
Étude Book One: No. 5 Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) (1985)
Étude Book One: No. 6: Automne à Varsovie (Warsaw Autumn) (1985)

“Cézanne had trouble with perspectives,” Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti wrote when introducing his three volumes of Études, written over a 16-year period. “The apples and pears in his still-lifes seem about to roll away. In his rather clumsy depictions of reality, the folds of the tablecloth are made of rigid plaster. But what a wonder Cézanne accomplished with his harmonies of colour, with the emotionally charged geometry, with his curves, volumes, and weight displacements! That's what I would like to achieve: the transformation of inadequacy into professionalism.” Ligeti’s professed inadequacy in piano technique – he was not a pianist-composer in the traditional sense of a Rachmaninoff or a Scriabin – resulted in 18 Études, which he began at the age of 60 and which form the core of his music for solo piano. In them, Ligeti pushes at the bounds of musical structure and perception and, in doing so, opens a gateway to the later works, including the shimmering textures and intricate rhythms of the Violin and Piano Concertos. The Études are virtuoso works in both the pianistic and compositional sense. Like the Chopin Études, they proceed, Ligeti said, “from a very simple core idea and lead from simplicity to great complexity. They behave like growing organisms.”

Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) is one of the most immediately expressive Études, rising and falling in undulating arcs of major and minor 7th chords. Marked Andante molto rubato, con eleganza, with swing, the piece leaves some interpretative room for the pianist to distil what Ligeti describes as the “jazz poetry of Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans.” “Arc-en-ciel is almost a jazz piece,” Ligeti says. In Automne à Varsovie (Warsaw Autumn), Ligeti says, “a single pianist, with only two hands, seems to play simultaneously at two, three, sometimes four different speeds.” Inspired by the harsh political and economic conditions in Warsaw in the early 1980s, the study is built around falling chromatic lines which are layered upon one another in differing polyrhythms. All the while there is a constant 16th-note pulse as the music moves throughout the entire register of the piano.

SERGEI PROKOFIEV
Born in Sontsovka, Russia [now Krasnoye, Ukraine] April 15/27, 1891; died in Moscow, March 5, 1953
Piano Sonata No. 6, in A, Op. 82 (1939-40)

Prokofiev worked on his Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Piano Sonatas at the same time, moving from one of the ten movements to another as the mood took him. They were composed against a background of war and terror and soon became known as his ‘War Sonatas.’ Although each is a very different work, together they reflect something of the brutality and harshness of war, its futility, and its rapidly changing moods from optimism to dejection, from love and tenderness back to fury.

The sixth was the first to be finished early in the Spring of 1940 and it is one of the finest sonatas from the last century, the longest of all his sonatas and twice as long as the preceding Fifth. Prokofiev himself gave the première of the work on a radio broadcast in April 1940. The young Sviatoslav Richter made his recital début in November of the same year with its first public performance. Richter had turned pages when Prokofiev gave a preview of the sonata for a group of Moscow musicians and was immediately grabbed by the work’s relevance to life at the time. “With singular boldness the composer severed himself from the ideals of romanticism and included in his music the shattering pulse of the 20th century,” he wrote in his memoirs.

As he began work on the sonata, Prokofiev’s pent-up fury and anxiety were fuelled by political events as the Soviet Union was becoming dragged into the horrors of the Second World War and the parallel terrors of Stalinism. Now, too, for the first time he had been denied permission to return to the West for a concert tour. His friend, theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold, had just disappeared in mysterious circumstances after being arrested by the KGB. Prokofiev’s own marriage was under strain as he felt increasingly strong feelings for the young poet Mira Mendelsohn. At a musical level, Prokofiev was uncompromising in his rejection of romantic values and what he saw as the "tired, worn-out arpeggio-ridden techniques" of the great keyboard composers of the past. The biting harmonies of the sonata’s opening movement are built around the clash between A major and A minor. The tonalities first collide in the opening measures of the piece, over a disorienting left-hand tritone. Tritones, the most unsettling and tonally distant of musical intervals, known for centuries as the devil’s interval – diabolus in musica – appear throughout the Sixth Sonata, from the first page to the last.

The first movement stresses the powerful potential of the piano as a percussive instrument, to the point of marking two note clusters col pugno – played with the fist. But the more lyrical side of the piano is not ignored, particularly in the middle movements. On the surface, the second is a graceful and dance-like march. But there’s an underlying feeling of irony that won’t go away. The sentimental, if robust, waltz of the third movement brings to mind Prokofiev's ballet music. With the finale, we return to the fury and turmoil of the battlefield. Powerful motoristic rhythms and violent climaxes propel the music relentlessly forward to a brilliant conclusion, punctuated only by rather sinister, even macabre, flashbacks to themes – and, ultimately, the same persistent and unresolved tritone – from the opening movement.

Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


STRINGS
Thurs. October 21, 2021 at 8 pm
Parker Quartet

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703, (1820)
ZOSHA DI CASTRI (b. 1985)
String Quartet No. 1 (2016/17)

INTERMISSION

ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Quartet in A, Op. 41 No. 3 (1842)
   Andante espressivo – Allegro molto moderato
   Assai agitato
   Adagio molto
   Finale: Allegro molto vivace

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Born in Vienna, Austria, January 31, 1797; died in Vienna, November 19, 1828
Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703, (1820)

The intense and almost orchestral scale of the Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) shows that something profound was developing in the chamber music of the 24-year-old Franz Schubert. Ahead lay the quartets of his maturity and the Romantic age beyond. Behind him lay the classicism of Haydn and Mozart and life in the family home, where quartets were composed to be played by the family string quartet. The Quartettsatz is a chamber music torso that is analogous with the orchestral Unfinished symphony, written not long after. In 1820, however, there is no doubt that Schubert intended the Quartettsatz as the opening movement of a full string quartet, since he also completed 41 bars of a slow movement. But where the slow movement flounders, the Quartettsatz confidently progresses beyond traditional first-movement sonata form – telescoping the repeat of the main opening theme later in the movement, ranging far and wide in key development and only returning to the drama of the home key, C minor, in the coda. After the Quartettsatz, Schubert was to write no more chamber music for four years. It was as though the fiery Quartettsatz, with its hushed tension and dark tremolos, represented too rapid a leap into the Romantic sound world and Schubert was unable, at that time, to sustain the implications of one of his most romantic and deeply poetic string quartet movements.

ZOSHA DI CASTRI
Born in Calgary in 1985
String Quartet No. 1 (2016/17)

Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri is based in New York where she is the Francis Goelet Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University and a 2021 Guggenheim fellow. Her music has rapidly gained wide attention and shown a desire to reach beyond the concert hall to include music theatre, and many collaborations – with electronics, video, dance, and interactive sculpture installations. A 15-minute lunar prelude to the 2019 BBC Proms, Long Is the Journey, Short Is the Memory, added to her international acclaim. A new work for soprano and orchestra will be premièred by Barbara Hannigan and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra later this season.

Di Castri has drawn inspiration from nature in some of her music – a frozen prairie landscape in the first of two, high-profile commissioned works for the New World and San Francisco Symphonies, for example. But here in this eleven-minute quartet, she draws from the very sounds of music itself. It was written as the imposed piece for the 2016 Banff International String Quartet Competition. The piece derives, she says, from close (even ‘microscopic’) interactions with actual sound files and improvisations in a digital audio workstation. The constantly shifting, mercurial, single-movement piece develops a series of intense motifs, many of which are clearly laid out in a slower, ethereal section just before the work concludes. These motives, Di Castri says, provide “an opportunity to explore an enormously varied sound palette for contemporary experimentation. A close listening will reveal recurring motives, like the swelling-sliding ‘warp’ chord heard at the beginning, as well as returning textures, which range from wonky unisons to pointillistic reverse sounds, percussive strumming to squeaky insectile chatter, zips, squeals, ricochets, and lightening-speed hocketing glissandi. Escaping the agitation and frenzy are moments of melodic beauty, microtonal introspection, and a delicate fabric of time-suspending harmonics.” Around the time that she wrote this String Quartet No. 1 (her only quartet so far), Di Castri said to an interviewer, laughing at the same time: “If anything, maybe the very fast, shifting nature [of the piece] somehow subconsciously reflects my current lifestyle here in New York trying to juggle writing, teaching at Columbia University, and entertaining a one-year-old.”

ROBERT SCHUMANN
Born in Zwickau, Saxony, June 8, 1810; died in Endenich, nr Bonn, July 29, 1856
Quartet in A, Op. 41 No. 3 (1842)

Schumann wrote his three string quartets during a highly focused seven-week period in the summer of 1842. We now know that his intense bursts of creativity, juxtaposed with troubling periods of melancholy, were related to a lifelong mental illness that eventually led to an early death. His interest in the quartet followed a flood of piano music in 1839. Then there followed his ‘year of song’ and, significantly, his long-delayed marriage to pianist Clara Wieck. The next year saw an outpouring of orchestral music. Then, in June and July of 1842, he turned to the string quartet. A few months after completing his three quartets Op. 41, Schumann wrote to a friend: "You may be sure that I have spared no pains to produce something really good; indeed, I sometimes think, my best."

Schumann saw the medium of the string quartet as a “by turns beautiful and even abstrusely woven conversation between four people.” In his critical writings, he gave praise when he saw an awareness of tradition in a composer’s music, rejecting orchestral-like writing on the one hand and intrusions from the opera house on the other. The Third Quartet, written between July 8 and 22, 1842, is the most unified and yet relaxed of the three quartets. Many view it as the finest. Like Beethoven's Harp Quartet, it opens with a sigh, a melancholy, pleading sigh that soon evolves into the sunnier, lyrical opening theme of the first movement. Both the interval of a falling fifth and the opening chords – echoing the same chord found in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 31 No. 3 – become the building blocks of the entire movement. It ends, again, with a sigh.

The ingenious second movement begins much like a scherzo by Mendelssohn (to whom the three quartets are dedicated). However, it soon becomes clear that it is, in fact, a set of variations, four in all, where three of the variations actually precede the theme itself. The movement concludes with a final variation and again uses the same musical building blocks as the opening movement. The musical unity continues in the two remaining movements. The beautiful, yearning slow movement takes the interval of a fifth and inverts it to produce one of the most eloquent of all Schumann's slow movements. The finale, on the other hand, returns right away to further explore the opening chord. Its originality of development, combining elements of rondo, scherzo and trio in an altogether unique manner, is a fitting conclusion to one of the finest works in the repertoire.

Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


PIANO
Thurs, September 23, 2021 at 7:30 pm
Marc-André Hamelin

MARIA SZYMANOWSKA (1789-1831)
Nocturne in B-flat, (publ. 1852)
CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH (1714-1788)
Suite in E Minor, Wq. 62/12, H. 66 (1751)
   Allemande
   Courante
   Sarabande
   Menuet I - II - III
   Gigue
FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in A, D. 959, Op. posth. (1828)
   Allegro
   Andantino
   Scherzo: Allegro vivace
   Rondo: Allegretto

MARIA SZYMANOWSKA
Born in Warsaw, December 14, 1789; died in St Petersburg, July 25, 1831
Nocturne in B-flat, (publ. 1852)

Warsaw-born Maria Agata Szymanowska was a successful pianist–composer, active throughout Europe a generation before her fellow countryman Fryderyk Chopin and even longer before the Germany-based pianist Clara Wieck (Schumann). She was born to a cultured middle-class family and made her Warsaw début in 1810, followed immediately by her first foreign tour, to Paris. Marriage followed later that same year, with twins in 1811 and a daughter (who was to marry Poland’s greatest Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz) in 1812. Her professional career resumed in 1815, with her first visit to England in 1818 and to Berlin. By 1820 the marriage had failed.

Two years later, Szymanowska and her three young children began an 18-month tour of Russia, followed closely by a swing through Western Europe, including many leading German cities, Paris and London. This huge undertaking was managed with the help of her brothers and sisters. Szymanowska performed with leading artists and ensembles of the day, with a repertoire of her own music and that of her contemporaries such as Hummel, Field, Dussek, Ries, Herz and others. She also included the music of Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven in her public and private recitals. Robert Schumann reported that she was frequently referred to as ”the feminine Field, not without reason.” Hummel, for his part, is reported as saying as early as 1822: “From now on, I will only be composing, and she will be playing.” Goethe fell in love with her, wrote poems to her and ranked her higher than Hummel on the rapidly expanding roster of traveling pianist–composers. Writing to his mother from Weimar in 1825, Mendelssohn mocked Goethe’s and other musicians’s high ranking of Szymanowska, saying: “It seems to me that they have confused her pretty face with her not so pretty playing.”

Further fuelling 19th century sexist criticism, in the first edition of his Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Sir George Grove spilled more ink over Goethe’s infatuation with Szymanowska than with her playing. However, a more recent Online Grove contributor reports 19th century praise for the delicacy of Szymanowska’s tone production and for her lyricism combined with virtuosity. Szymanowska settled permanently in St Petersburg in 1828, withdrawing from public concert giving, now teaching, bringing up her children, and hosting a salon which was attended by the capital’s élite. Many of her compositions, which numbered some 113 mostly piano and vocal works in all, were published by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig from 1820, and by other publishers around Europe. Her piano music, mostly written between 1815 and 1820, includes a collection of 24 Mazurkas, six Polonaises, and Vingt exercices et preludes, all of which have been seen as influential upon Chopin.

Chopin planned to attend Szymanowska’s January 15, 1826 farewell concert in Warsaw. He left no record of his impressions, so whether he went we cannot be certain. One piece he would not have heard, however, is Szymanowska’s gentle Nocturne in B-flat which opens this concert. This is a late composition, believed to date from the late 1820s and eventually published posthumously, in St Petersburg in 1852. It is, consciously or unconsciously, an homage to her friend and sometimes colleague John Field’s brief B-flat Nocturne of 1817. Szymanowska’s melody and accompaniment are similar but range more widely across the keyboard. She adds more filigree to her right-hand melody and includes more virtuoso touches than Field’s earlier, calmer nocturne. [Interestingly Chopin also pays homage to Field’s B-flat Nocturne in his Op. 32 No. 2 Nocturne of 1837]. Maria Agata Szymanowska died at the age of 42, in the 1831 cholera epidemic in St Petersburg.

CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH
Born in Weimar, March 8, 1714; died in Hamburg, December 14, 1788
Suite in E Minor, Wq. 62/12, H. 66 (1751)

From the 16th century to the 19th, there were seven generations of the Bach family. Many of them made fine careers as musicians. During his lifetime, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the best known of them all, better known even than his father, Johann Sebastian. For more than a quarter of a century, J.S. Bach’s second-born son worked at the Prussian court of the flute-playing Frederick the Great, before succeeding his godfather, Telemann, to a position of prestige, as Kantor to the Hamburg Johanneum, with teaching responsibilities and directorship of the five principal churches in Hamburg. In Berlin, Bach’s position as Court Harpsichordist to a musically conservative ruler, was relatively modest. His salary, too, was decidedly modest – one sixth that of Quantz, whose easy-going music Frederick preferred. Bach’s worldly-wise character, keen intellect and genial personality, however, made him well-known among Berlin’s leading artists, poets and philosophers in the Age of Enlightenment, while his published music gave him a reputation as one of the most respected, progressive and forward-thinking composers throughout the German-speaking lands.

Like Haydn, a generation later, Bach became adept at navigating the fine line between court servant and freelance composer. In Berlin, he wrote many keyboard sonatas which, when published, generated a useful second income. Many, like those written immediately before and after today’s E minor Suite, were designed with the amateur in mind and are galant in style. Among the more than 300 works he wrote for keyboard we also find forward-looking fantasies, rondos, minuets and many more sonatas in which Bach ‘touches the heart’ and ‘awakens the passions.’ These were the two key ingredients of the north German Empfindsamkeit, a movement associated in all the arts with heightened feeling and emotion in reaction to the rational thought of the Enlightenment. They reveal many of the dramatic contrasts, wide melodic leaps, plunging key changes and startling harmonies that we find in Bach’s orchestral symphonies and concertos. The Suite in E minor, on the other hand, is one of only two suites to be found in Bach’ catalogue and, at first glance, its familiar sequence of dance movements look like something we might expect from the pen of his father. By 1751, the keyboard suite was, indeed, somewhat out-dated. Bach himself, on the other hand, was on the cutting edge of where music was heading. Once into the Allemande, however, the music almost immediately lingers on a highly expressive chromatic sighing motif, all the while maintaining a characteristically Baroque style brisé texture of constantly arpeggiated notes. The sighing motif and sensitive chromatic writing is even more present in the lovely, intimate Sarabande, where the left hand echoes the right throughout, in wide melodic leaps. In the first of a string of three contrasted minuets, we get a glimpse of Bach’s teasing way with the use of silence. A playful Gigue concludes this intriguing suite, written, interesting enough, in the year following J. S. Bach’s death. As the 18th century English music historian and traveller Charles Burney put it: “Of all the musicians who have been in the service of Prussia, for more than 30 years, Carl P. E. Bach and Franz Benda have, perhaps, been the only two who dared to have a style of their own; the rest are imitators.”

FRANZ SCHUBERT
Born in Vienna, Austria, January 31, 1797; died in Vienna, November 19, 1828
Piano Sonata in A, D. 959, Op. posth. (1828)

Franz Schubert composed three towering piano sonatas in 1828, the last year of his life. They were only published eleven years later and are therefore given the rather ominous looking opus posthumous designation. They progress from the tragic and brooding C minor (D. 958) to the emotionally wide-ranging A major (D. 959) and to the meditative and peaceful B-flat (D. 960). Schubert worked on all three at the same time, sketching, revising, composing hurriedly in ink on different sizes of manuscript paper, clearly in a feverish state of mental exhilaration. Although sketches for the sonatas exist from early in 1828, Schubert would have mentally contemplated the material over much of the year, completing all the writing in a remarkably short period of time, in September 1828. This final trilogy of sonatas is one of the most striking accomplishments in the entire piano repertoire.

The first movement of D. 959 opens with bright, arresting A major rhythmic chords which contrast with a calmer, hymn-like second theme. Each idea is put through many variations in all registers of the piano before we get to the customary central development section. At this point, in one of many striking twists on standard practice, Schubert uses an entirely new theme. The music rocks back and forth a half step, between B major and C major – these are key relationships that are quite without precedent in classical sonata writing. Another twist comes in the coda, where the two main themes are gradually and magically fused.

The Andantino is one of Schubert's most poignant, tormented movements. Its main theme, hypnotically repeated, touches on emotions found in Schubert’s bleakest songs. Calling its middle section “among the most daring and terrifying pages in all music,” Alfred Brendel sees a parallel between this tortured movement and the war paintings of the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, who died, like Schubert, in 1828. These present a damning indictment of human cruelty and the fragile vulnerability of individuals confronted by power. Few composers have delved so deeply into the darker side of humanity as does Schubert in the sonata’s slow movement.

The Scherzo, with its pizzicato-like opening chords, relaxes the tension by light-heartedly toying with variants of themes from the previous two movements. The finale, for all its lyricism, has an undercurrent of melancholy. In it, Schubert re-uses a melody from the youthful A major sonata (D. 537), though he re-works it into something altogether more subtle and distinctive. In matters of form, the movement tips its hat to the finale of Beethoven's G major Sonata, Op. 31 No. 1. But where Beethoven gruffly resolves the arguments, Schubert polarises the music. There is no resolution between what Robert Schumann referred to as Schubert’s ‘heavenly lengths’ and the storm and drama of the central section. Schubert fragments the main theme of the finale in the coda, leaving echoes hanging in silence. This powerful sonata closes with a glance backwards to the arresting chords of the opening.

Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


TRIO
Thurs, August 26, 2021 at 7:30 pm
The Powerhouse Trio

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in B-flat, K. 454 (1784)
   Largo - Allegro
   Andante
   Allegretto
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 2, in A, Op. 100 (1886)
   Allegro amabile
   Andante tranquillo
   Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante)
CRIS DERKSEN (b. 1990)
Nice and Clean (2021), for piano, cello, and audio clips
Planes, for cello and violin

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
Violin Sonata in B-flat, K. 454 (1784)

“I’ve got to write at breakneck speed – everything’s composed – but not written yet,” Mozart wrote in a letter to his father about an upcoming opera. What he means is that the outline of the opera was in a draft form, sketched on manuscript paper and he had yet to tackle the filling out process, writing down every note. That’s the composing method that was meant to happen with this B-flat Sonata, K. 454, undertaken at the last minute for Regina Strinasacchi (1764-1839). The 23-year-old Italian violin virtuosa had been touring between 1780 and 1783, arriving in Vienna the following year. Mozart was proud to write about her to his father in Salzburg: “I am right now composing a sonata which we are going to play together on Thursday at her concert in the theatre.” It was a concert organized by his friend the clarinettist Anton Stadler and it also included a performance of the Wind Serenade, K. 361.

The audience in the Kärtnertor Theatre on April 29, 1784 included Emperor Joseph II, who asked to see Mozart’s music, after it had been tumultuously acclaimed. Mozart showed him the violin part, handwritten, with hastily drawn lines, between which were a few sketches for the piano part. Mozart, it seems, had relied on his prodigious memory for the performance. (Fourteen years after the concert, his widow Constanze exaggerated things when she recalled how Mozart presented the Emperor with a blank sheet). The original manuscript, now in Stockholm, largely corroborates the facts. The piano part, added after the concert, is written in a different colour ink and is frequently compressed between the existing violin part lines to the point of illegibility.

K. 454 opens, unusually for a work on this chamber-music scale, with an introduction. In it, violin and piano are presented as equal partners. After a tightly argued first movement, with several striking modulations, the slow movement provides the focal point of the work. Here, the richly decorated violin and piano parts dovetail and truly share the material. This marked a turning point in Mozart’s writing for the duo sonata. The finale is a cheerful, often concerto-like rondo, with four episodes. The sonata quickly became a favourite with the Viennese. Within a few years it had been arranged for flute quartet, for string quartet, and for string trio.

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Born in Hamburg, Germany, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, Austria, April 3, 1897
Violin Sonata No. 2, in A, Op. 100 (1886)

Brahms wrote his Second Violin Sonata in the summer of 1886 in the Swiss town of Hofstetten on Lake Thun, near Bern. The setting proved ideal. Renting the entire top floor of a farmhouse, at the edge of the river Aar, with a view of the alpine glaciers in the distance, Brahms produced three of his most successful chamber works – the A major Violin Sonata, the F major Cello Sonata, and the C minor Piano Trio. His latest flirtation was with the North German contralto Hermine Spies, who was on vacation in Switzerland, and for whom Brahms was to write many of his late songs. Echoes of two of his best-known songs (Immer leiser and Wie Melodien) and others written for her in Hofstetten are woven into the violin sonata. As his close and trusted friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg put it: “The entire sonata is a caress.” In performance, the caress may sound as spontaneous and as unbuttoned as Brahms ever becomes. But there is a rigorously disciplined mind behind the romantic glow. Listen, for instance, how the opening phrase reappears, inverted, as the melody of the second movement – and, again, how it can be clearly heard in the background, in the piano accompaniment to the violin’s new third movement theme. Similar intricacies abound and give the sonata an inner strength and structural balance. The second movement is something of a hybrid, alternating a slow-movement’s graceful hymn melody with a Scherzo-like, though still melancholy Slavonic-style dance, with its distinctive hiccup at the end. The finale won’t be rushed and its emotional path is rich and complex.

CRIS DERKSEN (b. 1990)
Born in NorthTall Cree Reserve, Alberta in 1990
Nice and Clean (2021), for piano, cello, and audio clips
Planes, for cello and violin

“I’m Indigenous, I’m half-Cree, half-Mennonite. I come from a classical background. I work with electronic tools. I’m really into creating music that is accessible and relatable. I’m into bringing classical music into a space that folks who don’t usually go into classical spaces can feel comfortable with.”

That’s composer-cellist Cris Derksen speaking with composer-professor T. Patrick Carrabré six or seven months ago at her alma mater, the University of British Columbia. By the time Derksen graduated from UBC with a B. Mus in cello performance in 2007, she was already touring with genre bending Inuit vocalist Tanya Tagaq. She continued to steadily build a career as both performer and composer, mostly on the road, for the next 13 years, broadening her audience base at every turn. She has been mentored by Buffy Sainte Marie, and collaborated with other leading Canadians including Naomi Klein and A Tribe Called Red (The Halluci Nation), Leanne Simpson, Lightning Dust.

As a result of this wide experience, first in the classroom, then in real life music-making, Derksen managed to keep busy during the first year of the Pandemic composing music for the Calgary Philharmonic, composing for a combined art-dance-fashion-creative piece for Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, scoring a documentary series B.C.: A History for Knowledge Network, and performing many virtual concerts. All the while, her clear vision about what she wants to do creatively, and her ability to articulate this, has made her a leader among a new generation of Indigenous artists. “Let us tell our own stories,” she said, coming out of the conference Call to Witness: The Future of Indigenous Classical Music, in 2019 in Banff. “Let Indigenous people do classical music. Give us the reins, we’re ready!”

Of the first of two selections, Nice and Clean (2021), for piano, cello, and audio clips, Derksen says: “I wanted to create a piece of music that showcases White folks talking about Indigenous folks. The audio comes from a 1967 documentary called Elliot Lake, talking about relocation of ‘Indians’ from reserves to the town of Elliot Lake in Northern Ontario.”

Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


strings
Thurs, July 22, 2021 at 7:30 pm
Juilliard Quartet

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
   Quartet in B-flat, K. 458 (‘Hunt’) (1784)
   Allegro vivace assai
   Minuetto. Moderato
   Adagio
   Allegro assai
HENRI DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
String Quartet Ainsi la nuit (1971)
         Ainsi la nuit
      I. Nocturne
         Parenthèse 1
      II. Miroir d’espace
         Parenthèse 2
      III. Litanies
         Parenthèse 3
      IV. Litanies 2
         Parenthèse 4
      V. Constellations
      VI. Nocturne 2
      VII. Temps suspendu
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
   Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 (1865-73)
   Allegro non troppo
   Andante moderato
   Quasi minuetto, moderato
   Finale - Allegro non assai

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
Quartet in B-flat, K. 458 (‘Hunt’) (1784)

Nicknamed ‘Hunt’, this B-flat quartet is the fourth of a set of six that Mozart dedicated to his good friend, Josef Haydn. He began work on the set the year after his move from Salzburg to Vienna. In the Austrian capital, he soon encountered the music of Bach and Handel through musical gatherings held by the music-lover Baron von Swieten. His new knowledge of the economy and expressive power of contrapuntal music had a noticeable effect on his quartet writing. Nowhere else did Mozart labour so painstakingly over his music – and with very few other works did he leave the trail of corrections and crossings-out that he does with today’s quartet. The main reason for the extra effort was a set of quartets recently written by Haydn, the older, more established composer of the two. When Haydn’s so-called Russian quartets, Op. 33 were published in 1781, he spoke of them as being in "an entirely new and special style." Mozart knew this to be true. Haydn increased the dialogue between all four instruments, not only in the customary, ‘busy’ section of a movement (the ‘development’ section), but throughout. He showed how it was possible to liberate the lower instruments by increasing the dialogue between them. He also showed how fragments of themes could be used as the basis for development. Mozart worked long and hard to understand and absorb these influences and, over the course of four years, created a remarkable set of six quartets. The 26-year-old Mozart dedicated them to his senior colleague Joseph Haydn. "They are, to be sure, the fruit of long and arduous work," Mozart wrote in a by-now famous dedication.

K. 458, the fourth of the set, is the most immediately appealing. It opens in an outgoing mood with a galloping theme reminiscent of a hunting-call. With his newly acquired economy of means, this 12-bar theme gives Mozart all the material he needs for the rest of the movement. It also gives the quartet a convenient nickname, although the hunt-like mood stops with the first movement. The Minuet which follows lacks the extrovert vitality of a hunt and its trio is very gentle. The Adagio is one of the most moving in the collection. It twice reaches spine-tingling intimacy when first the violin and then, echoing it, the cello play a brief minor-key descending phrase over pulsing inner strings. The finale shows real joie de vivre. There's humour and, at the same time, sophistication in the writing. Mozart recognized these qualities in the quartets of his friend Haydn and they were qualities he was proud to emulate.

The autobiographical element in Britten’s late music is strong, as it was with Gustav Mahler, another composer haunted by death. But death, for Britten, unlike Mahler, was not to be feared and fought against. “Death will give me freedom,” Phaedra sings in a cantata Britten wrote immediately before the quartet. And in his quartet, Britten ultimately finds peace; there is no regret. In the work he also embraces joy for life, ecstasy in that life, pain that is sometimes masked in sardonic humour and parody, while encompassing consummate technical skill. Its five movements follow the precedent of Britten’s instrumental suites of the 1960s, with three moderately paced movements enclosing two scherzos.

HENRI DUTILLEUX
Born in Angers, France, January 22, 1916; died in Paris, May 22, 2013
String Quartet Ainsi la nui (1971)

A severely self-critical musician, French composer Henri Dutilleux maintains a high posthumous reputation based on a relatively small number of works. One of his best-known works, the Sonatine for flute and piano (1943) shows clear connections with French tradition and the music of Debussy and Ravel. Dutilleux, however, disowned much of the music he wrote before the end of World War Two as unoriginal and derivative. He came relatively late to the more progressive 20th century music, blaming a Conservatoire education for the neglect. With his Piano Sonata (1946-8) he stated his own increasing detachment from tonality. Though the language of his music continued to evolve, Dutilleux’s connection with the classic French characteristics of economy of gesture, precision and clarity of thought and a modality of harmonic language, remained strong.

His only quartet, Ainsi la nuit (And so the night) had its origins in a 1971 commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation for a piece for the Juilliard Quartet. Dutilleux, a cautious and exploratory composer, began by making sketches as drafts for the composition. Each of the sections had its own mood and colour. Then, Dutilleux linked them together with short, transitional sections, or parentheses. Throughout the initial draft, themes are rarely presented in their primary form. Rather, the composer tends to work sideways, prefiguring a theme or, conversely, recalling a past event. Dutilleux has acknowledged the influence of Proust on his thinking, in particular on the oscillation between past and present and between the static and the dynamic in his music. In its final form, the quartet is in two large sections, the pause coming between Litanies and Parenthèse 3. Within these two sections are seven movements, four of which are preceded by short transitional sections. Dutilleux, however, dislikes pauses between movements – “They spoil the power of music to enchant us,” he once said. By giving a poetic title to the work, he encourages us to focus on its nocturnal evocations and allusions rather than on the details of its structure.

Dutilleux provided a note in the score, which reads: “Ainsi la nuit is divided into seven sections linked for the most part by parenthèses, often very short, but important because of the organic role which falls upon them. Allusions as to what is to follow – or what went before – find their place there and are situated in the manner of as many reference points. Here, as in other works by Henri Dutilleux, the memory concept intervenes, together with everything associated with it (prefigurations, variations, etc.) and this notion implies a particular subdivision of time, thus of the form adopted. The different titles, including the general title, refer to a certain poetic or spiritual atmosphere, but not in any way to an anecdotal idea.”

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Born in Hamburg, Germany, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, Austria, April 3, 1897
Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 (1865-73)

"It took Mozart a lot of trouble to compose six lovely quartets," Brahms wrote of the collection Mozart dedicated to Haydn, "so I will try my hardest to turn out two passable ones." But it wasn’t until he was 40 years old, with a secure reputation as both composer and pianist, that his first two quartets saw light of day. Brahms was a fierce critic of his own music. As a 20-year-old composer he thought of publishing a B minor quartet as his Op. 1. But it was only 20 years – and 20 string quartets later – that the two quartets we now know as his Op. 51 were to mark his official début as a composer in the medium. Four years later he felt confident enough to introduce his First Symphony to the public. What held him back from publishing both quartets and symphonies was a fear of being compared with the established masters of the Viennese classical tradition. Towering above them all in Brahms’s mind was the presence of Ludwig van Beethoven, a musician whose bust dominated his study in Karlgasse in Vienna.

So, what happened to the 20 early quartets? "The boxes with the old papers remained in Hamburg for a long time,” Brahms told a friend many years later. "When I was there two or three years ago, I was overwhelmed. The whole room was most beautifully papered with my notes, even the ceiling. I had only to lie on my back to marvel at my sonatas and quartets. It looked very good. Then I tore everything down – better that I should do it than someone else! The stuff has all been burned." Brahms knew that sketches and fragments had a story to tell, since he owned sketchbooks by Beethoven. He made a thorough job of the burning; none of his fragments or sketches has ever been tracked down.

Brahms frequently worked simultaneously on pairs of works. He wrote the two piano quartets, the two clarinet sonatas, the first two symphonies, the serenades and the sextets together. But these 'twinned' works were never born as identical twins. The C minor quartet, Op. 51 No.1, for instance, continues the powerful tradition of Beethoven's Razumovsky quartets. Today’s A minor quartet, Op. 51 No. 2, comes closer to the dreamy, melancholy world of Schumann. Its tender, lyrical nostalgia and longing provide a positive feeling to the music. The opening soaring violin melody contains a tribute to the great violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms weaves Joachim's personal motif, the notes F-A-E, standing for Frei, aber einsam (‘Free, but alone’) into the beginning of the phrase. Brahms also incorporates the phrase he took as his own motif, the notes F-A-F (Frei, aber froh – ‘Free, but happy’) into the score. It is a small indication of the wealth of contrapuntal invention that he uses throughout this quartet.

Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca


strings
Thurs, June 17, 2021 at 7:30 pm
⬗⬗⬗ collectif9 ⬗ RITUÆLS ⬗⬗⬗

collectif9 concert

“A sensory landscape that evokes timelessness ... the real, the important.” - Pan M 360

"Whenever we make something, especially something new, we may not always know what we’ve made.
It’s therefore quite marvelous to discover something displaying génuine mastery, created with a deep
understanding of the issues facing the audience." - Barcza Blog

"Moved, moved to tears, shivers, hairs standing up, the spine straightening on its own, the
heart tightening, a smile forming, tenderness received, all senses on alert ... in the end,
I just want to say thank you." - Audience member

A 60-minute feature-length film, RITUÆLS brings together works dating from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, launching a series of films produced by collectif9 that create various multidisciplinary universes. RITUÆLS is a mystical artistic experience confronting the infinitely large to the infinitely small, the cosmic with the microscopic, delicately questioning our place in the universe and in relation to our environment. The performance of the charismatic dancer Stacey Désilier accompanies us through the concert like a supreme presence, complementing this imagery.
The musical performance itself can be seen as a grand artistic ceremony during which the musicians occupy several spaces throughout the Church of Saint-Pierre-Apôtre (Montréal) in a way that echoes the grandeur and depth of the pieces on the program, becoming its own ritual. The lighting, scenography, and staging contribute to the creation of a succession of moments that transport us and invite contemplation, creating a moment of connection despite what separates us.

 

MUSICAL PROGRAMME
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179): O vis æternitatis
Arvo Pärt (born 1935): Psalom and Summa
Nicole Lizée (born 1973): Another Living Soul
Bryce Dessner (born 1976): Aheym and Tenebre
Michael Tippett (1905-1998): Lament
Jocelyn Morlock (born 1969): Exaudi

The music begins with a murmuring drone, from which the slow, monodic chant of medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen appears. From there, seamlessly into Arvo Pärt’s Psalom, which follows a style reminiscent of medieval and renaissance music - later we will play Pärt’s enigmatic Summa. Nicole Lizée is inspired by art forms of the recent past (in this case stop-motion animation) and creates a serene world that is backed by intense detail, within which “the impossible becomes possible — souls emerge from where once there were none.” The relationship between darkness and light guides Bryce Dessner’s Tenebre, and his Aheym brings guides us through a journey (the title translates to “Homeward” in Yiddish).

Michael Tippett’s Lament expresses grief using Purcell’s aria Ah! Belinda, during which a solo violin comments with a barely recognizable variation an Irish popular tune of the Renaissance, while Jocelyn Morlock’s Exaudi, also an expression of grief, includes hope. She writes of the piece: “the music moves us from an inability to comprehend our loss to passionate cries of anguish, to acceptance and angelic reassurance.” Exaudi was originally written for vocal ensemble and solo cello, and has been arranged for collectif9 by Thibault Bertin-Maghit.


ON SCREEN
> Chloé Chabanole, John Corban, Robert Margaryan, Elizabeth Skinner, violin
> Scott Chancey, Xavier Lepage-Brault, viola
> Jérémie Cloutier, Andrea Stewart, cello
> Thibault Bertin-Maghit, double bass
+
> Stacey Désilier, dance

CREATIVE TEAM
> Conception & Artistic direction: Thibault Bertin-Maghit
> Video production: Benoit Fry & Lucas Harrison Rupnik
> Audio production: Carl Talbot
> Lighting: Alexandre Péloquin
> Scenography: Joëlle Harbec


 

COLLECTIF9
Montréal’s classical string band collectif9 has been attracting varied audiences since their 2011 debut. Known for their innovative programming and unique arrangements of classical repertoire, the group performs “with an infectious energy and vigour that grabs an audience’s attention” (The WholeNote). collectif9 has performed over 150 concerts across North America, Europe, and Asia. collectif9 operates on the premise that a change of context can influence communication and experience.

Inspired by the processes of other artistic movements, collectif9 continually searches for new ways of expression within the classical medium, fostering communication and collaboration between artists of all kinds and members of society. collectif9 presents several new programmes every season in Montréal, Canada, and their national and international touring schedule includes performances in chamber music series, festivals, universities, and more. Recent highlights include concerts in the Festival de Música de Morelia (Mexico), La Folle journée de Nantes (France), and Sound Unbound (Barbican Centre, London).
> Visit www.collectif9.ca for the group’s complete biography.


COLLABORATORS
Photo of  Stacey Désilier, dancer
Stacey Désilier, dancer
Passionate about movement and possibilities of the body and fascinated by dance, Stacey quickly discovered the desire to make dance her profession. She pursued professional studies at the Montreal School of Contemporary Dance, which led her to collaborate with choreographers and performers Marie-Claire Forté, Sasha Kleinplatz, George Stamos, Helene Simard and Mélanie Demers, and the company MAYDAY.
In 2018, Stacey joined the company Animal of Distinction and participated in their new creation FRONTERA. She then set off to discover the world through movement thanks to collaborations with Cirque Éloize, Les 7 doigts de la main, L'Opéra de Québec (Starmania), and most recently with the company Tentacle Tribe which brought her back to her roots of urban dance and Haitian culture. Her artistic practice and cooperative work give her an inner richness that she wishes to share with various organizations, countries, and artists.


Benoit Fry, video producer & editor
Benoit Fry is a director, editor, and cameraman, and has been creating promotional content, music videos, fiction films, and documentaries for 15 years. He is known for producing sequences filled with emotion and for his impressive efficiency. With a solid cinematographic background, he is a masterful visual storyteller. He describes himself as a “creator of atmospheres”. A perfectionist, he always follows his ideas to the very end.
Passionate about film photography (he regularly shoots Super 8 film), he is also a photographer, and produces medium format film portraits, developed in his darkroom by hand. He has been part of the Shoot Studio team in Montreal since 2017.


Lucas Harrison Rupnik, video producer
Director, cameraman, editor, sound engineer and mixer, Lucas is recognized for his versatility, his autonomy, his openness and his clear and bold vision. Son of a photographer from a varied background, he likes challenges and is an enthusiast of music, cinema and the sea. He has a recording studio, learns quickly and is not afraid of the most complex software and equipment. Lucas loves road trips, he never gets tired of watching the movie 'JAWS', he wakes up without an alarm, and loves natural imperfections.


Carl Talbot, audio producer
Carl Talbot, recording producer and sound engineer, is a well-established audio professional in his community. His productions have received nominations, honours, and awards across the globe: Grammy, Juno, Felix, Gramophone Critics’ choice awards, Diapason d’Or, and many more. His 20 years of experience have led to hundreds of albums and films. Known for his musical approach and aesthetics, he benefits from having the rare qualities of being at ease artistically and technically in many genres of music.
Carl is currently the leading producer at Analekta, Canada’s largest classical label, with whom he has produced nearly a thousand titles since 1999. He has also worked with numerous labels, including Effendi Records, Justin Time Records, Sony-BMG, EMI, Virgin Classics, and Radio-Canada.


Alexandre Péloquin, lighting designer
A much sought-after lighting designer, Alexandre Péloquin works on the pop, electronic, and contemporary music scenes. He has worked with Pierre Lapointe, Milk&Bone, Ariane Moffatt, Yann Perreau, and Ensemble SuperMusique among others, in many festivals (Mutek, Piknik Électronik, Igloofest, Complément Cirque, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Festival de la chanson de Tadoussac, Festival Just for Laughs).
In 2018, he was awarded a Félix at the ADISQ Gala in the Lighting Designer of the Year category for the show La science du cœur by Pierre Lapointe, his longtime collaborator. He was a finalist in this same category in 2019 (Deception Bay - Milk&Bone), 2015 (Ariane Moffatt), and 2014 (Punkt - Pierre Lapointe).


Joëlle Harbec, scenographer
Joëlle Harbec has been working as a scenographer and artistic director since graduating from the theatre program at Lionel-Groulx college in 2011. In theatre, television, cinema, or circus, her passion is above all to create worlds that are vectors of emotions. Playing with materials and colours in juxtaposition to the lighting and performers allows her to create meaningful images, as one would in a painting.
She has collaborated on several theatrical projects with director Nicolas Gendron (Mélanie sans extasy, L’enfance de l’Art, Et au pire on se mariera). On television, her recent set designs have been seen on Projet 2000 on Tou.tv, Danser sa vie on Radio-Canada, and L’Heure est grave on Télé-Québec. In 2019, Joëlle worked as artistic director for the first time for a feature film with director Rodrigue Jean for L’Acrobate.


strings
Thurs, May 27, 2021 at 7:30 pm
CARDUCCI QUARTET
with clarinetist JULIAN BLISS

DAVID BRUCE (b. 1970)
Gumboots, for clarinet/bass clarinet and string quartet (2008)
Part one
Part two
   Dance 1. Angry, “with attitude” –
   Dance 2. Presto –
   Dance 3. –
   Dance 4. Light and joyful –
   Dance 5. Jubilante

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581 (1789)
   Allegro
   Larghetto
   Menuetto
   Allegretto con variazioni 

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581 (1789)
   Allegro
   Larghetto
   Menuetto
   Allegretto con variazioni 

Mozart loved the clarinet, an instrument he first heard in London at the age of eight. Each of the four movements of his Clarinet Quintet reveals his genius in setting off the many tone colours of the instrument against that of the strings. He wrote it for Anton Stadler whom he first met in 1781, shortly after moving from Salzburg to Vienna. Stadler was then the best-known wind player in the city, though the clarinet was still rare as a wind soloist and only just emerging as a full-time member of the orchestral wind section. The two quickly became close friends and fellow masons and Mozart continued to lend Stadler money, even when his own life was full of hardship and borrowing from friends and patrons. He had several nicknames for Stadler, deliberately misspelling his name as Stodla on occasions, Nàtschibinìtschibi, meaning something like ‘poor miserable fellow of stupidities’, and Ribisel-Gesicht, literally ‘red-currant face.’

Nevertheless, Stadler’s playing was to inspire not only this Quintet, one of the most sublime works in the repertoire, but also Mozart’s Clarinet Trio (Kegelstatt trio, K. 498), and the serene, melancholy Clarinet Concerto he composed a little more than a year after the Quintet. With the clarinet as the first amongst equals, the opening movement includes passages where each instrument leads the ensemble through the most poignant of sequences, the texture limpid, the line lyrical. Sometimes, as in the glorious slow movement, Mozart creates a blend between the wind and the string sonorities. Here, the warm, romantic, chalumeau sonority of the clarinet is delicately supported by the four string instruments, which are played with their mutes on throughout.

The minuet that follows brings us back to reality, though the movement’s very presence makes the Clarinet Quintet the only work for wind instrument and strings that Mozart wrote in four, rather than three movements. One of its most striking moments is the first trio section, where the strings play alone in the minor key in a somewhat anxious, poignant moment. The second trio – a rarity in Mozart’s chamber music – is a more rustic dialogue between clarinet and first violin. After abandoning a few pages of his first ideas for a finale, Mozart settles upon a set of five variations and coda on one of his disarmingly cheerful themes. Though the music frequently has the outward appearance of sweetness, there is an underlying sense of despair behind its radiance. It has been said that this music smiles through its tears.

DAVID BRUCE
Born in Stamford, Conn., USA in 1970
Gumboots, for clarinet/bass clarinet and string quartet (2008)

American-born, but UK-raised, David Bruce now has a thriving career on both continents. While composer-in-residence with the Royal Opera House in London, his Nothing, an opera for young people, had its première at Glyndebourne in 2016 to critical acclaim. It followed the success of his chamber opera, The Firework Maker's Daughter. Gumboots was Bruce’s first major commission, now the first of four commissions for Carnegie Hall, written in 2008 for the St Lawrence String Quartet and Todd Palmer. Since then, it has been taken up by many performers and is by far the composer’s most played work – though, intriguingly, David Bruce admits – not necessarily his ‘best.’

The title pays homage to Gumboot (rubber boot) dancing, dances born out of the harsh working conditions in Apartheid-era South African gold mines. Miners wore gumboots in the dark, flooded mines and were chained together, communicating illicitly by means of slapping the boots and rattling the chains. Soon, above-ground, a rhythmic dance was developed by the miners and the idea began to spread. Dances were presented for entertainment. Dance troupes were formed and shows were later given for tourists (and, of course, for cash). Inevitably, they’re now easily found on YouTube. “The idea is, for me, a striking example of how something beautiful and life-enhancing can come out of something far more negative,” David Bruce says. “Of course, this paradox has a far simpler explanation – it’s the resilience of the human spirit.”

Five dances were the first part of Gumboots to be written, though now they form Part 2 of the work. Each is based, for the most part, on a single idea and is only a few minutes in duration. “I like the crispness of form you get from keeping things short,” Bruce says. “My interest in folk music is usually less to do with specific melodies or harmonies and more to do with colours, ways of playing, ways of interacting and, of course, rhythms,” Bruce continues. Tension lies close to the surface in the first dance, marked “Short, spikey, with military precision.” The clarinet tries a flippant attitude, but anger boils to the surface at the movement’s climax, and the tension continues to the end. The second dance is inspired by a call-and-response type of African singing, with the clarinet becoming the leader and the other strings interjecting brittle, plucked chords. Dance 3, a perkily playful scherzo, seems almost designed to keep your foot tapping. The exuberance of Dance 4 layers rhythm upon rhythm in a virtuoso way, while the teasing rhythmic drive of Dance 5 derives from a nine-beat polyrhythm Bruce found among the Baka people of Cameroon.

Bruce then took some time to realise that a counterbalance to the dances could be provided with a prefatory single long slow movement. “It just felt right,” he says. “It felt interesting because it was such a unique structure.” The first part opens with bass clarinet and viola introducing a sombre, reflective tune, each instrument taking a slightly different approach, not always in step with the other, the whole a little distant and melancholy. The movement plays out as a kind of meditation upon this theme, unhurried, thoughtful, carefully crafted – or, as the composer puts it: “tender and slow moving, at times 'yearning'; at times seemingly expressing a kind of tranquillity and inner peace.”

— Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca



strings
Thurs, May 13, 2021 at 7:30 pm
JACK QUARTET

RODERICUS (fl. late 14th c) arr. Christopher Otto
Angelorum psalat tripudium (Antiphon of the Angels) (c 1390s)

RUTH CRAWFORD (SEEGER) (1901-53)
String Quartet 1931
   Rubato assai –
   Leggiero –
   Andante –
   Allegro possibile

ELLIOTT CARTER (1908-2012)
String Quartet No. 3 (1971)
Duo II: Maestoso (giusto sempre)—Pause—Grazioso—Giusto, meccanico / Duo I: Furioso (quasi rubato sempre)—Leggerissimo— Andante espressivo—Pause
Duo II: Pause—Scorrevole / Duo I: Giocoso—Pause
Duo II: Giusto, meccanico—Grazioso / Duo I: Leggerissimo—Furioso—Pause
Duo II: Maestoso—Pause / Duo I: Giocoso—Andante espressivo
Duo II: Largo tranquillo—Appassionato—Largo tranquillo / Duo I: Pause—Leggerissimo—Giocoso—Furioso
Duo II: Scorrevole—Appassionato—Coda / Duo I: Andante espressivo—Furioso—Coda


TYSHAWN SOREY (b. 1980)

Everything Changes, Nothing Changes (2018)


RODERICUS (fl. late 14th c) arr. Christopher Otto
Angelorum psalat tripudium (Antiphon of the Angels) (c 1390s)

The mediaeval music manuscript known as the Chantilly Codex is to be found today in the museum at the Château de Chantilly in Chantilly, Oise, about 35 km north of Paris. It contains 112 secular polyphonic pieces, mostly by French composers, comprising popular courtly dance styles of the time, including ballades, virelais, and rondeaus. Angelorum psalat tripudium (Antiphon of the Angels) is one of two Latin ballades in the collection and is the only surviving piece attributed to ‘Rodericus’, under the reversed form of his name S Uciredor. Like most of the collection, this two-part ballade is written in a complex notation which encompasses voice, pitch and rhythm in some 20 different note shapes, some aspects of which cannot be reproduced in today’s notation, which it predates.

The JACK’s viola player Christopher Otto was drawn to the intricacy of the 700-year-old Antiphon of the Angels which allows for several realisations. “For my arrangement,” he writes, “I have relied on the transcription of Nors. S. Josephson, in whose interpretation the note shapes signify a radical expansion of rhythmic possibility, specifying a much richer variety of speeds and durations than most Western music before the twentieth century. I have given the first violin and viola the original two parts and added the second violin and cello parts to clarify the underlying grid of these complex rhythms.”

RUTH CRAWFORD (SEEGER)
Born July 3, 1901 in East Liverpool, Ohio; died November 18, 1953, in Chevy Chase, Maryland
String Quartet 1931
Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 (1865-73)

In the Epilogue to her biography Ruth Crawford Seeger : A Composer's Search for American Music, Judith Tick quotes Seeger’s daughter Peggy trying to come to terms with her mother’s early, progressive new music: "I don't understand how the woman that I knew as a mother created something like the 1931 string quartet. It is like someone crying; it is like someone beating on the walls... and I don't want to think about this as regarding my mother because my mother always seemed to me to have it all together, to have gotten a life that pleased her."

Ruth Crawford’s search for American music started in earnest while studying piano in Chicago in her early twenties, soon attracting the attention of Henry Cowell. This American composer and pianist, just four years older than Crawford, was already well established as a musical pioneer and, appreciating her as a “completely natural dissonant composer,” suggested Crawford study in New York with his own teacher Charles Seeger. Here Crawford’s Modernist interests in dissonant harmony and linear musical structure meshed with the analytical work Seeger was doing for his treatise on dissonant counterpoint in the rugged American new music of the time. She was to continue collaborating with Seeger on this aspect of his many specialties for years to come. Meanwhile, with music published in Cowell’s New Music Quarterly and her chamber and solo works being played in the concerts of prestigious new music organisations in both New York and Chicago, Crawford became the first woman to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, which funded study in Berlin and Paris.

Throughout her time in Europe (1931-2) Crawford continued to develop her ideas about composition, with Seeger’s regular advice sent by mail. On returning to the United States, she married Seeger in 1932, immediately becoming wife and mother to Seeger’s three boys (Charles, John, and Pete) and soon mother to four of their own children (Mike, Peggy, Barbara and Penny). With a move to Washington, D.C. and with her own progressive new music taking second place to motherhood, Crawford (now Crawford Seeger) turned a composer’s search for American music in the direction of another of Seeger’s interests, towards folk music. Working at the Archive of American Folk Song, Crawford painstakingly transcribed hundreds of folksongs gathered by John and Alan Lomax, wrote articles about folk song, published her own song arrangements, and built a wide reputation as an educator. After wryly referring to her recent work in 1938 as ‘composing babies,’ Crawford was only able to return to composition in the late 1940s. Her Suite for Wind Quintet won a national competition in 1952 and, after a creative silence of two decades, Crawford intended it as a return to exploratory, probing creativity. However, a diagnosis of intestinal cancer the following year was to lead to her death at the age of just 52.

The String Quartet 1931 is the centrepiece of a tiny catalogue of important but short compositions dating, for the most part, from the years 1930-33. Composed mostly in Europe, its structure is compact (11-12 minutes) and its four movements follow one another attacca, without break. The first, with four main thematic ideas, primarily explores the tension between the two opening themes, the first on violin, high and lyrical, simultaneously with a brusque, angular rising theme on cello. Throughout the brief movement, the lyrical theme recurs in one iteration or another, usually enveloped in evolving versions of the other three themes, all played with a feeling of ebb and flow. The richness and multiplicity of ideas within each instrumental line was an idea soon to be taken up by Elliott Carter. The movement winds down to long, sustained notes from all but second violin. A sudden, terse chord marks the opening of the second movement, now rhythmically precise, as the instruments chase one another in scalar fragments through a fleeting, contrapuntal web.

Crawford describes the highly original third movement (Andante) as “a sort of counterpoint of crescendi and diminuendi” where each instrument hovers over a single note for several measures. The pulsing mosaic-like effect increases in intensity as the melodic line constantly emerges and then disappears into the shifting harmony until it reaches a breaking point. Here, the pulsing is shattered by jagged shards, only to quickly unwind to the point from which the movement began. The fourth movement is a rigorously constructed dialogue between violin 1 and the other three instruments. Its opening section has the violin line building an additive structure, beginning with a one-note statement, then a two-note, then three and so on. Meanwhile the other instruments answer with a subtractive response, initially a 20-note phrase, then 19 and so on up to the turning point, when the entire process is reversed – the violin ending the movement with a single note. There is much more at play within this overall structure, adding to the unity and cohesion of the piece. Writing to Charles Ives a few months after the première of Crawford’s quartet, Henry Cowell said of its Andante that it was “perhaps the best thing for quartet ever written in this country.”

ELLIOTT CARTER
Born in New York City, December 11, 1908: died in New York City, November 5, 2012
String Quartet No. 3 (1971)

American composer Elliott Carter was referred to as the Haydn of new music when he was already over 100 years old and a quarter century into a remarkably productive Indian summer of composition. His five string quartets span his mature creative career at roughly ten-year intervals, challenging, provoking, rethinking, and energising a musical genre rather than comfortably falling back on a well-established tradition of civilised discourse. Late in life (in a 2012 interview with Laura Emmery) Carter said: “I consider all these pieces [his quartets] an adventure. Hence, I have to do something I haven't. I already had one adventure and now I want another one that's different. As a result, I think up something that intrigues me. When I'm writing, it's not like Haydn or Mozart who wrote a whole string of string quartets one after the other. They are all more or less in the same general pattern, although they are filled with variety and differences. My quartets are in very different patterns, very different conception.”

Carter referred to the Third Quartet as “the most complicated one of them all.” It took the Juilliard Quartet, who gave the première, over an hour just to put the first measure together. The piece, Carter says, “divides the instruments into pairs: a Duo for violin and cello that plays in rubato style and one for violin and viola in more regular rhythm. The violin-cello Duo presents four different musical characters: an angry, intense Furioso, a fanciful Leggerissimo, a pizzicato giocoso and a lyrical Andante espressivo, in short sections one after the other in various orders, sometimes with pauses between. The violin-viola Duo, meanwhile, presents the six contrasting characters listed in the program. During the Quartet each character of each Duo is presented alone and also in combination with each character of the other Duo to give a sense of ever-varying perspectives of feelings, expression, rivalry and cooperation.”

TYSHAWN SOREY
Born in Newark, New Jersey, July 8, 1980
Everything Changes, Nothing Changes (2018)

Announcing an upcoming audio recording on the website of New Music USA, the JACK Quartet gives some background to Tyshawn Sorey and his first string quartet, which concludes this virtual concert.

“The music of Tyshawn Sorey defies time-worn genre definitions and challenges the gate-keepers of classical music to recognize the compositional work of musicians of colour, often incorrectly categorized as jazz artists. An excellent improvisor in a number of styles, from the most outré sonic experimentations, to modern jazz, and more popular styles, Sorey has made a name for himself as a performer of his own and others’ music. However, his compositional voice enters the concert hall as a unique presence in the young generation, as he possesses a singular ear for harmony and a staggering formal control. Sorey uses number games as well as his polymath sonic imagination to create ground-breaking scores.

Everything Changes, Nothing Changes is the first quartet by Tyshawn Sorey, written for and premiered by JACK in July 2018, at the Banff Centre for the Arts as part of the EQ: Evolution of the String Quartet program. JACK and Sorey collaborated on details of Everything Changes, Nothing Changes while in residence at the Banff Centre. Sorey’s piece is a tour-de-force of subtle voicings, beautifully shifting harmonies, and a meltingly perfect pacing of pulsating string sounds over a long form.”

"It's dark ... literally ... that's all I can say," adds violinist John Richards from the JACK Quartet.

— Rodericus, Crawford Seeger and Carter program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca



strings
Thurs, April 15, 2021 at 7:30 pm
CASTALIAN QUARTET

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in C, Op. 76 No. 3 (Hob.III:77) (‘Emperor’) (1797)
   Allegro
   Poco adagio cantabile
   Menuet. Allegro & Trio
   Finale. Presto
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 (1865-73)
   Allegro non troppo
   Andante moderato
   Quasi minuetto, moderato
   Finale - Allegro non assai

 

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in C, Op. 76 No. 3 (Hob.III:77) (‘Emperor’) (1797)

In 1796, the city of Vienna was under threat of invasion from Napoleon. French troops led by Napoleon were advancing from the Po valley into Styria. Other troops were advancing from the East and both were closing in on Vienna in a pincer-like move. Vienna was in a state of emergency and a civilian militia had been mobilized to protect the city. Following a state commission, Haydn, a strong nationalist, was commissioned to write national song for the cause. His beautiful, heartfelt Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (God Preserve Franz the Emperor) was a bold challenge to the Marseillaise and was instantly adopted as the Austrian national anthem. In fact, so universal was the appeal of Haydn's melody that it was later to be used as the ‘Brotherhood’ anthem of Freemasonry, as the German national anthem Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, and even as the Protestant hymns Praise the Lord! Ye heavens, adore him and Glorious things of Thee are spoken.

The slow movement of the Op. 76 No. 3 String Quartet is a set of variations on this celebrated, dignified tune. Hence the quartet's nickname Emperor, or Kaiser. Each instrument in turn introduces the solemn melody, while the other three instruments weave an increasingly intricate web around it. But Haydn goes further. He structures the entire work around the slow movement, making it the focal point of the quartet. The melody finds its way into the first movement whose five-note theme derives from Haydn’s patriotic song: G (Gott) – E (erhalte) – F (Franz) – D (den) – C (Kaiser). This cryptic message would have been recognized in Haydn's day as one of the many ‘learned’ effects he used in his late quartets, complementing such popular elements as the lively country dance he fashions out of the same notes over a viola and cello drone in the central development section. The intensity and dignity of the four slow movement variations is set into relief by a forthright minuet. The finale, an intense, powerful movement, then completes the strong architectural structure that Haydn has built.

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Born in Hamburg, Germany, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, Austria, April 3, 1897
Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 (1865-73)

"It took Mozart a lot of trouble to compose six lovely quartets," Brahms wrote of the collection Mozart dedicated to Haydn, "so I will try my hardest to turn out two passable ones." But it wasn’t until he was 40 years old, with a secure reputation as both composer and pianist, that his first two quartets saw light of day. Brahms was a fierce critic of his own music. As a 20-year-old composer he had at one point intended to publish a B minor quartet as his Op. 1. But it was only 20 years – and 20 string quartets later – that the two quartets we now know as his Op. 51 were to mark his official début as a composer in the medium. Four years later he felt confident enough to introduce his First Symphony to the public. What held him back from publishing both quartets and symphonies was a fear of being compared with the established masters of the Viennese classical tradition. Towering above them all in Brahms’s mind was the presence of Ludwig van Beethoven, a musician whose bust dominated his study in Karlgasse in Vienna.

So what happened to the 20 early quartets? "The boxes with the old papers remained in Hamburg for a long time,” Brahms told a friend many years later. "When I was there two or three years ago, I was overwhelmed. The whole room was most beautifully papered with my notes, even the ceiling. I had only to lie on my back to marvel at my sonatas and quartets. It looked very good. Then I tore everything down – better that I should do it than someone else! The stuff has all been burned." Brahms knew that sketches and fragments had a story to tell, since he owned sketchbooks by Beethoven, so he made a thorough job of the burning; no fragment or sketch has ever been tracked down.

Brahms frequently worked on pairs of works simultaneously. He wrote the two piano quartets, the two clarinet sonatas, the first two symphonies, the serenades and the sextets together. But these 'twinned' works were never born as identical twins. The C minor quartet, Op. 51 No. 1, for instance, continues the powerful tradition of Beethoven's Razumovsky quartets. Today’s A minor quartet, Op. 51 No. 2, comes closer to the dreamy, melancholy world of Schumann's music. Its tender, lyrical nostalgia and longing provide a positive feeling to the music. The opening soaring violin melody contains a tribute to the great violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms weaves Joachim's personal motif, the notes F-A-E, standing for Frei, aber einsam (‘Free, but alone’) into the beginning of the phrase. Brahms also incorporates the phrase he took as his own motif, the notes F-A-F (Frei, aber froh – ‘Free, but happy’) into the score. It's a small indication of the wealth of contrapuntal invention that he uses throughout this quartet.

— Program notes © 2021 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca