Music Toronto - Chamber Music Downtown

Program Notes

Thurs, May 13, 2021 at 7:30 pm

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

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


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.”

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.”

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.”

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:

Thurs, April 15, 2021 at 7:30 pm

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in C, Op. 76 No. 3 (Hob.III:77) (‘Emperor’) (1797)
   Poco adagio cantabile
   Menuet. Allegro & Trio
   Finale. Presto
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.

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: