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PROGRAM NOTES

JOSEPH ACHRON: Hebrew Melody

JOSEPH ACHRON

(born 1886 in Lozdzieje, Poland, now Lasdjaj, Lithuania; died 1943 in Hollywood, USA)
Hebrew Melody (1911)

 

The nigunim, which are personal, improvised tunes, were passed on by the Jews from generation to generation through the centuries. These soul-searching melodies without words poignantly re-kindled the lives of the Hasidic Jews in Eastern Europe in the early 19th and the 20th centuries. One particular kind was used in prayer and for study, and it can be assumed that Achron heard the Nigun that became the Hebrew Melody sung by his grandfather at the synagogue and at home.

 

Joseph Achron and his brother, Isidor, were musically trained from an early age by their father on the violin and the piano respectively. Joseph, who was considered a prodigy, gave extensive concert tours to all the cities of the Russian Empire following his debut in Warsaw at the age of seven. At the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which he entered in 1899 at the age of 13, he was a member of the violin class of the legendary teacher, Leopold Auer, along with Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein.

 

While in St. Petersburg, Achron became active in the Society for Jewish Folk Music, which had been established to promote, organize, and present Jewish music. The impact it had on Achron is obvious: much of his compositional output makes references to the folk elements of the Jewish people.

 

Achron himself premiered the Hebrew Melody in 1911 in St. Petersburg as an encore after a special tribute concert to the Czar. Many violinists, including Heifetz, picked it up immediately, popularizing the work throughout the world. In addition to the natural beauty and the haunting quality of the melody, the closeness of the violin sound to the human voice and the importance of the instrument in Jewish culture made the work a perfect match for the character and the original purpose of its tune.

 

In 1922, Achron established a publishing company for Jewish music in Berlin. He traveled to Palestine in 1924 but stayed only a short while. With the growing unrest in the world political situation, he emigrated to the US in 1925, but found only partial refuge there. At first he settled in New York and taught at the Westchester Conservatory, while making an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate his violinistic career. In 1934, he moved to Hollywood, where he worked as a film composer. On his death in 1943, Achron’s friend, the composer Arnold Schönberg, described him in an obituary as the “most underrated modern composer.”

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHN ADAMS: Road Movies

JOHN ADAMS
(born 1947 in Massachusetts)

Road Movies (1995)

I. Relaxed Groove
II. Meditative
III. 40% Swing

 

The American composer John Adams has long been recognized as a leading light of his generation. His most prominent works have often featured incendiary historical and cultural elements, frequently provoking political and social controversy. Still, it is his musical excellence that keeps Adams on the forefront of the contemporary music scene, his compositions exciting aficionados of the new, while finding popularity with a wide range of music lovers.

 

Amongst many symphonic, operatic and large-scale works, Road Movies, commissioned by the Library of Congress and premiered at the Kennedy Center (by the violinist Robin Lorentz and pianist Vicky Ray) in 1995, is still something of a rarity in the Adams oeuvre. After earlier compositions in a “minimalist” style, employing a strict pulse while stressing harmonic progression, Adams discovered a personal gateway into deliberately melodic writing in the early 1990s, an approach he felt more suited to composing for chamber groupings. Nevertheless, his chamber works strike us as quintessential John Adams, the more lyrical passages rich in sentiment and hauntingly beautiful, setting off music of remarkable wit, that spins, sways, croons and jives.

 

Adams refers to Road Movies as “travel music,” and in fact the composition brings to mind an American road trip, much as that kind of experience has been conveyed in so many classic films. The first and third movements both proceed in essentially perpetual motion, each utilizing a rocking, or a swinging rhythm, illustrating the beat of driving on the open road. Adams’s distinctive minimalist techniques are in evidence throughout the work, as he delights in repeating specific rhythms over and over. It must be noted, though, that Adams throws in “tricks,” little gestures that grind his music’s gears, to enliven the musical journey by momentarily thwarting his listeners’ expectations.

 

The first movement develops in a layering pattern, building upon an initial picture with new, repeating fragments manipulated to create an increasingly dense overall statement. Off-rhythms within the larger regulated tempo have a humorous, rather than confusing, effect. The irregularities in this music do not come from complex meter changes, but instead are crafted to be on and off beats in a rather asymmetrical pattern.

 

In the second movement, the mood turns contemplative, in the style of the blues. The violin’s lowest string, the G, is tuned a whole step lower to make it an F pitch. Since the tonality centers on the G-key in this movement, the F is a 7th pitch going upwards from G (or in reverse a step below the G). This focus on the 7th pitch is a typical characteristic of the blues, and is specifically known as the “Blues 7th”. The lowered G string creates a looser kind of sonority for the instrument, giving the movement a sense of languid nonchalance. This quiet attitude is in clear contrast to the two outer movements, which are defined by rhythmic jauntiness and percussive articulation.

 

The title of the final movement, 40% Swing, refers to the computer setting on a MIDI. The violin and piano swing side-by-side, sometimes in full concert with each other, at other times more independently. Adams describes the third movement as “for four-wheel drives only” and the listener just needs to hang on for this wild ride. Ever so intense for the players, the movement giggles all the way to the end.

 

(April 2008/rev. July 2014)

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV 1003

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
(born 1685 in Eisenach; died 1750 in Leipzig)

Sonata No. 2 in A minor for Solo Violin BWV1003 (1720) from the Sei Sonatas e Partitas senza basso

1. Grave
2. Fuga
3. Andante
4. Allegro

 

Johann Sebastian Bach’s music needs no introduction. But for such a famous and distinguished composer, surprisingly little is commonly known about his personal life except that he had two wives, 20 children and was a devout Lutheran who held several long-term positions, both inside and outside the church. His music is universally respected; his works epitomize music as an international language.

 

After Bach’s death in 1750, his music was neglected for nearly a hundred years and the few people who knew about him thought of him as an organist rather than as a composer. The rediscovery of Bach began with the publication of a biography in 1802 by the German musicologist Johann Nikolaus Forkel, who wrote that “This sublime genius, this prince of musicians… dwarfs all others from the heights of superiority.” Then in 1829, the young Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy conducted a performance in Berlin of the St. Matthew Passion, which had never been heard outside Bach’s own Leipzig church. A performance of the St. John Passion followed in 1833. Camille Saint-Saëns, among other composers, made transcriptions of Bach’s works, drawing them to the attention of a wider public. In 1850, a complete critical edition of Bach’s works was undertaken; it took 50 years to complete.

 

Bach wrote Sei Sonatas e Partitas senza basso (Six Sonatas and Partitas without bass) for solo violin in 1720 during the six-year period in which he was employed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. While at Cothen, which was a secular court, Bach was released from the many liturgical duties that had been required of him in his previous employment. Most of the music he wrote in Cothen was therefore secular and instrumental. The Brandenburg Concertos, the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Six Suites for Cello also date from this period.

 

Like the rest of Bach’s compositions, the Six Sonatas and Partitas were forgotten after his death. Their revival began with the violinist Ferdinand David, who prepared the complete set for publication in 1843. Joseph Joachim also performed selected movements, helping to make the works more familiar. Felix Mendelssohn issued the Chaconne movement of the D minor Partita with an original piano accompaniment and Robert Schumann issued all six sonatas and partitas with piano accompaniment in 1854. Brahms and Busoni later made piano arrangements of the Chaconne. Nevertheless, it was only in the 20th century that the six works took their rightful place among the masterpieces of the violin repertoire. The Six Sonatas and Partitas (actually three sonatas and three Partitas), are the pinnacle of the violin repertoire because of their complexity and their beauty. Emotionally powerful and passionately involving, these pieces challenge the performer to the limit of his or her technique and musical integrity. Many violinists feel that a lifetime is not long enough to master these great works.

 

Adjustments have often been made to the modern violin to increase the tension of the strings in relation to different parts of the instrument so as to maximize the sound volume to meet the demands of large concert hall settings. During Bach’s lifetime, violins had shorter fingerboards and lower bridges; thus playing double and triple notes was less difficult than the same execution on modern-day adjusted instruments. Bach’s works demonstrate complete mastery of contrapuntal writing, which requires many voices to be played simultaneously while often retaining the independence of the lines. For example, in the Fugues of the six sonatas (Bach followed the slow-fast-slow-fast movement structure for all three sonatas with the second movement being a four-voice fugue), the various lines interact, and should be played as if by separate violinists.

 

The Sonata No. 2 in A minor begins solemnly with the Grave movement. In this somber opening, the melodic lines are lyrical yet highly ornamented, and contain unusually large intervals for Baroque music–certainly the widest leaps of the first movements of the three sonatas. The last two and a half bars serve as a bridge to the next movement, the Fuga (Fugue). The first nine notes of the four-voice fugue are the rhythmic basis for the entire movement, each voice in turn taking a leadership role. There is no noticeable break in this long movement; the music continually heightens in intensity until the climax at the very end.

 

The third movement, Andante, resembles a procession. The two voices take distinct roles, which they maintain through the entire movement: one is an aria-like melody; the other is strict, ostinato-like eighth-notes. The quiet sound of the final broken chord fades away into the abandon of the fast Allegro final movement. Here, the composer specifically indicates the dynamics forte and piano, as well as bowings that enhance the legato and articulated execution of the notes. The 32nd notes throughout add direction and flair, manipulating the momentum of flow with pleasing surprises.

 

(May 2005)

Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Sonata No. 3 in C Major BWV 1005

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

(born 1685 in Eisenach; died 1750 in Leipzig)

Sonata No.3 in C Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005 (1720)

1. Adagio
2. Fuga
3. Largo
4. Allegro assai

 

Johann Sebastian Bach composed six solo works for violin in 1720, while he was serving in the court of Prince Leopold of Cöthen. This set of sonatas and partitas is considered by violinists to be at the pinnacle of solo literature for the instrument. Certainly no other work poses such a challenge to the player for its technical, intellectual, and artistic integrity. Any one of these sonatas or partitas can be considered as a base for all musical endeavors that follow.

 

Around the time he wrote these masterworks, Bach was fully enjoying working in a secular court. He was freed from the daily ration of writing Cantatas, as well as Masses and other choral works, and from other musical (non-composing) responsibilities. In Cöthen he was able to experiment with a new creative vigor, and his employer clearly encouraged him in this direction. Thus, a great list of secular instrumental compositions dates from his six years there, including the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, and the Well-Tempered Clavier.

 

The six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin consist of three sonatas and three partitas. The Sonatas are in four movements, following the slow-fast-slow-fast order, a form known as sonata de chiesa (“church sonata”) with the second movement being a fugue in four voices. In a fugue, a theme (‘part’ or ‘voice’) is played and extended or developed through imitation. The three Partitas are mostly a collection of Baroque dance movements – they are not exactly meant to be danced to, but they take the rhythm and inspiration from the dances, in the usual tradition of a Baroque partita.

 

The opening movement (Adagio) of the C Major Sonata (No. 3) begins solemnly, played on a single string for an entire bar, already distinguishing it from the other two sonatas, which both start with a four-note chord. Bach then puts one new voice at every measure, and each addition produces a richer texture. Moreover, again in great contrast to the other sonatas of the set, the most distinguishable character is not in the melodic line given to one voice with other lines accompanying or elaborating in harmony, but in the recurring rhythm of a dotted 8th followed by a 16th (ta-a-a-ta). In fact this rhythm, found three times within a measure, is the consistent force in the entire movement, making it ponderous and grave.

 

In the second movement (Fuga), the clarity of the individual lines can be heard as well as the complexities of the musical structure and textures, and therefore it serves as a testament to the player’s achievements. Elegantly proud in its character, this Fugue is glorious for its masterful skills of compositional technique and for the completeness of its craftsmanship.

 

The grand scale of the second movement makes the reflective quality of the following movement (Largo) more compelling and powerful. Often, the voices seem to have an on-going relationship. At times, they are more conversational, at other times, like a ricochet or an after-thought reverberance.

 

The final movement (Allegro assai) is imbued with a bubbly quality. Amidst the cheerfulness there is also much humor. Sparkling and full of life, this movement finally gives the player a straightforward challenge at virtuosity.

 

It is unfathomable for any musician or music lover today not to have been touched by the music of J.S. Bach. However, it is of interest that most of Bach’s music was virtually forgotten for about a century after his death, until the great revival initiated by Felix Mendelssohn in the 1800s. He, together with Ferdinand David, the concertmaster of Mendelssohn’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, supported performances of Bach’s music which brought great and increasing interest in them. Certainly, today one cannot think of music without the presence of Bach, and each hearing is a new experience.

 

(October 2006)

Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Sonata in A Major BWV 1015

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
(born 1685 in Eisenach; died 1750 in Leipzig)

Sonata in A Major for Violin and Keyboard BWV1015

1. Dolce
2. Allegro
3. Andante un poco
4. Presto

 

The Bach family was full of musicians who served churches, courts, and towns between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Johann Sebastian was the greatest of them all. During his lifetime, he was particularly known for his talent as a performer; however, it is as a composer that we know him best today. Certainly he is considered one of the greatest composers of all time. His music is loved, learned, analyzed, and performed by both professional and amateur musicians alike.

 

From 1717 to 1723, J. S. Bach served Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen as Kapellmeister and it was during this tenure that he composed the majority of his works for the violin. These include the two concerti, the Six Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, and a set of Six Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard, of which the A Major is the second.

 

The work is in the typical Baroque sonata form known as the Sonata di chiesa consisting of four movements: slow, fast, slow, fast. However, Bach introduces a technique that deviates from the tradition of his time-the keyboard and the violin share the melodic line. In previous Baroque sonatas, such as those by Handel, only the solo instrument presented the main line while accompanied by two subordinate lines played either by the keyboard (harpsichord at the time and frequently a piano today) and the Viola da Gamba or by the keyboard alone. The lowest line of the subordinate lines, the basso, was usually simply written as a note paired with a column of numbers that specified the types of pitches that should also be added to the musical surface. Taking the information as guidelines, the performers realized the basso freely, adding the suggested pieces and embellishing the accompaniment with trills, appoggiaturas, etc. In other words, the composer only provided a skeletal structure of the harmonic progression on the written music and left it up to each performer to flesh out the harmonies and improvise embellishments.

 

This was not the case with Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard, where the composer wrote out every line concretely leaving very little space for the performers to improvise. The result was therefore not a solo violin line accompanied by a keyboard line but rather a work in which each line could be distinctly heard and enjoyed. Such technique gives insight to the future of the sonata form. In the classical period, namely the time of Mozart and Haydn, it was the keyboard that dominated the violin, and later on, the roles were more evened out, placing equal emphasis on both instruments.

 

The A Major Sonata as a whole is serious and noble in character. Perhaps because of the three important lines, rather than one accompanied by two, in even the quietest moments there is a certain degree of richness provided by the complexities. It is wonderful to be able to hear the theme in three voices played as if in canon or fugue, and one can only appreciate the genius of Bach for his extraordinary craftsmanship. However, it is the passionate empowerment—something not usually associated with the music of the Baroque period—that reigns throughout, leaving those touched by it grateful for the gift of Bach’s music.

 

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Sonata in E Major for Violin and Keyboard BWV 1016

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

(born 1685 in Eisenach; died 1750 in Leipzig)

 

Sonata in E Major for Violin and Keyboard BWV1016

  1. Adagio
  2. Allegro
  3. Adagio ma non tanto
  4. Allegro

 

The great masterworks of Johann Sebastian Bach are at the very core of western classical music, defining and inspiring an immortal tradition to the present day. It is truly inspiring that this man wrote music constantly and consistently, whether for the church or for secular employers, his music forever speaking across cultures and generations. Bach was largely forgotten for almost a century after his death, until his music was re-introduced by none other than Mendelssohn. For all Bach’s supreme brilliance, any number of his compositions have sadly been lost. In a sense, Bach was a victim of his times. His music was not widely circulated; he generally wrote for his employers without much regard for anything so worldly as marketing or publicity. Yet his music addresses the human soul in miraculous ways, giving hope and depth to the lives that each of us leads.

 

Bach’s output of violin music comes mainly from his Anhalt-Köthen years, when he was employed in a secularly focused court where he was relieved of the constant need to write the numerous cantatas and other church-serving compositions that defined his responsibilities in other postings. Much of his non-religious music stems from this period, including the Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin, the Cello Suites, the Brandenburg Concertos, and the Well-Tempered Clavier. Compared to the Solo Sonatas and Partitas, the six Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard register somewhat less in modern-day consciousness. However, this is not to say that they are inferior – it is more that the solo works are so monumental in impact that they overshadow most everything else composed for the violin. With these violin/keyboard sonatas, we recognize Bach’s incredible break from the trio sonata tradition, how he wrote amazingly for both instruments, with complex parts that are mutually independent yet intertwining. These works travel far beyond the convention of a main line accompanied by a figured bass on da gamba and a keyboard.

 

The Sonata in E Major, BWV 1016, is the third in the set of six. Like all others in the set, the sonata follows a sonata da chiesa format, of slow-fast (fugue)-slow-fast structure. The first movement is highly decorative, at the same time featuring lyrical writing for the violin. Its rich sonority lends depth to the texture, while imparting a sense of both freshness and hopefulness. The fugue that follows is a particularly delightful movement, full of elegant gaiety. The various voices interact and exchange among each other, and the manner in which the music builds and spins upon itself, fulfilling the requirements of a good fugue, is both amazing and engaging. The jolliness of expression of the second movement cedes to a somber and deeply romantic third movement, a passacaglia. While of brief duration, it is the one of the most memorable movements in the entire set. The closing Toccata provides an exciting conclusion for the sonata. This is festive music, fast notes running throughout the movement; with 16th notes in the outer sections and triplets in a middle section defined by its sense of poise, sandwiched between so much splendor.

 

Notes © 2016 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Sonata in E minor for Violin and Basso Continuo BWV 1023

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
(born 1685 in Eisenach, Germany; died 1750 in Leipzig)

 

Sonata in E minor for Violin and Basso Continuo BWV 1023

 

J.S. Bach left us an incredible number of great works, chamber music and orchestral, church music and secular. In truth, he was so prolific that it is difficult to determine exactly how much music he actually did write, whether some of his work has been lost, and how best to catalogue his vast list of compositions. This is especially complicated as Bach, in his various work postings, was responsible for creating music for myriad performances in church and otherwise, and often repurposed compositions, or elements of compositions, for new situations. From any perspective, Bach’s music represents a simply miraculous flow of creativity from a single person.

 

Bach wrote widely for the violin. Most notable are the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, the two-violin “double” concerto, two violin concertos, as well as the six accompanied sonatas. Beside these, there are other works that prominently feature the violin, including some of the concerti grossi. While Bach’s accompanied sonatas, BWV 1014-1019, were scored for violin and cembalo obbligato, this work, the Sonata in E minor for Violin and Basso Continuo BWV 1023, was originally written for violin and continuo, and an optional gamba, doubling the bass line. The sonata is thought to have been composed in the same approximate era as Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas and the six suites for cello, in the early years of the 18th Century. Bach was just starting his career at that time and, since his first positions tended to be in secular situations, the young Kapellmeister was left with much time to compose instrumental works.

 

The sonata is emotionally intricate and gripping. The violin is dominant throughout and the continuo part (most often played by a keyboard, either a harpsichord or piano, with or without the accompanying bass part,) consists, in its original edition, of a simple bass line, which needs to be expanded upon, embellished, and harmonized at the discretion of the keyboardist, as was customary during Bach’s period. (Today’s keyboard player may choose to utilize modern editions of the score for inspiration and ideas.)

 

The work opens with a violin-dominant section in the virtuosic mode of a toccata. Grand in its mood, though brilliant, it is not dissimilar to the Preludio of the E Major Partita BWV 1006 in its non-stop, ongoing 16th notes that seem to go climbing up and down. This movement segues directly into an Adagio ma non tanto. A tri-meter movement, the character is evocatively poignant and somber yet flowing and elegant. The two movements that follow and complete the work are both dance-inspired, an Allemande and a Gigue. These are binary in form, which is to say in two related sections that are both repeated. The Allemande was one of the most popular dances in the Baroque and Renaissance eras and, in this particular case, it is poised and stately. The final Gigue is lively – although spirited, not exactly jolly.

 

(October 2015)

Notes © 2015 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request

BÉLA BARTÓK: Sonata for Violin Solo Sz. 117, BB124

BÉLA BARTÓK

(born 1881 in Nagyszentmikós, Hungary; died 1945 in New York)

 

Sonata for Violin Solo Sz. 117, BB124 (1944)

 

Béla Bartók’s final years, spent in the United States toward the end of the Second World War, were anything but glorious. The composer had been forced from Hungary, his beloved homeland, to avoid the Nazis, whom he had long opposed, only to experience a fraught American exile, undermined by financial frailty and the leukemia that would eventually end his life. Not quite the final years one might have expected for a composer who ranks amongst the greatest of the twentieth century, if not of all time. He was a true giant, a true Romantic to succeed Brahms.

 

Bartók was a precocious musical talent, who started piano lessons at an early age. In young adulthood, with his friend Zoltán Kodály, he travelled into the native countryside to research folk music of the different ethnic groups of Central and Eastern Europe. That education served as a pivotal inspiration, the folk music he learned and catalogued becoming a strong presence in all of Bartók’s mature compositions.

 

The Solo Violin Sonata is one of the final pieces that Bartók completed before his death in 1945. It was commissioned and premiered at New York’s Carnegie Hall by the late Yehudi Menuhin. Bartók had heard Menuhin about a year earlier in another Carnegie Hall recital in which Menuhin had performed Bartók’s First Sonata for Violin and Piano as well as Bach’s Third Sonata for Solo Violin in C Major. Menuhin had consulted with the composer in preparation for that earlier performance, initiating a dialogue that led to the violinist commissioning the subsequent sonata.

 

In composing his solo sonata, Bartók was clearly influenced by the solo violin sonatas and partitas of Bach, from the titles of two of the movements, Tempo di ciaccona and Fuga, to the multiplicity of voices throughout the work, and the music’s loose adherence to the Sonata di Chiesa‘s slow-fast-slow-fast structure.

 

The opening movement of the sonata is marked Tempo di ciaccona, and this movement is sometimes performed as a stand-alone, without the other three movements. The title does not mean that it is a chaconne; rather it is in the tempo of one. Additionally, the beat emphasis is often on the second beat of the ¾ meter, which also seems to bear some connection to the structure of a Chaconne. However, the movement’s compositional structure actually follows a basic sonata-allegro form. Always emotionally gripping, haunting at times, dramatic, bold, larger than life, heart wrenching and heart-warming, the movement presents a great challenge for its player.

 

The sonata’s “Hungarian” flavour, its biting rhythm and character, is present throughout. The music asks for considerable imagination from the violinist, plus confidence in his or her technical abilities – otherwise Bartók’s boldness and range of expression cannot be expressed. The violinist must have incredibly well coordinated and trained hands to maneuver through chords that require stretching of muscles and precise timing of the movements of the arm. Late in life, Bartók seems to have returned to Bach and the glories of polyphony, and when a player has the capacity to reach this music’s deep and complex emotional core, this sonata has great musical wisdom to impart.

 

(October 2015)
Notes© 2015 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
(Referential sources available on request)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Sonata in D Major Op. 12 No. 1

 LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Major, Op. 12 No. 1 (1797/98)

1. Allegro con brio
2. Tema con variazioni (Andante con moto)
3. Rondo: Allegro

 

Beethoven wrote ten sonatas for piano and violin between 1797 and 1813. Both Mozart and Haydn had previously written sets of sonatas for the two instruments conceived from a pianistic point of view, placing less importance on the violin part than on its partner, the piano. Beethoven followed suit, except that in his sonatas, the violin clearly does not submit to the piano. In so doing, he broke with the tradition of the time.

 

Nonetheless, the piano does play a crucial role in all ten of Beethoven’s piano-violin sonatas. Himself an accomplished pianist, he continuously sought a new level of virtuosity, at a time when the instrument was also being modified to meet this. As a result, a modern violinist must be aware of the particular pianistic sounds, colors, and articulations conceived by Beethoven for the piano of his time. Thus, the piano part is an essential guide for the violinist’s interpretation of the piece. Often the sense of resistance and achievement, so characteristically inherent in his music, must be communicated to the listener.

 

The Sonata No. 1 in D Major for Piano and Violin is dedicated to one of his teachers, Antonio Salieri. Beethoven had initially gone to Vienna in 1792 to study with Haydn, but that relationship did not last long, partly due to the elder composer’s heavy traveling schedule and the younger’s difficult and unrefined personality. Consequently, Beethoven went on to study with others in Vienna, including Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri.

 

Although Beethoven’s formal instruction from Haydn was short-lived, he was still inspired by the older composer to write his first symphony and the quartets. Haydn’s Sonatas for Piano and Violin could also have played a role in encouraging Beethoven to take up the task. Added to that influence was most likely the pressure of Karl Amanda, a violinist from Courland, the present-day Latvia, whom Beethoven had befriended.

 

The Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1 is a three-movement work. Written in 1797/98, it is generally joyous, spirited, and exuberant despite the fact that, by then, Beethoven was already experiencing extreme fluctuation of moods, pathological and psychotic in nature, as well as the first signs of his impending deafness. The movement indications are as follows: Allegro con brio, Andante con moto, and Allegro.

 

The work opens boldly in unison (both the piano and the violin playing the same material simultaneously), quickly feeding into a songful tune, first played by the violin then by the piano. Soon, the running notes and the tenser harmonies come in more frequent succession, with the two parts displayed as if engaged in a conversation, giving the sense of approaching excitement. But, humorously, Beethoven halts the forward motion, and the next section starts with the piano playing a somewhat calmer melody, eventually leading to a regal set of chords, perhaps a hint of his fascination with the military, followed by exuberant 16th notes. The next part, quite unusually for a middle section of a movement, is in a different key signature, that of F major, which starts off in piano dynamic, with the chords that were previously heard, suggestive of a military march. This section is not long, and the music returns triumphantly to that of the opening of the work, and the movement continues almost likewise.

 

The second movement is a set of four variations on a theme in A major. The theme has two subjects: each is first introduced by the piano and accompanied by the violin and immediately following, the roles are reversed. The first variation is entirely by the piano accompanied by the violin. In the second variation, the leadership is exchanged, with the violin playing the melody line over the piano. The next variation returns to a balanced split between the instruments, but here the entire variation is in the key of A minor. The final variation returns to the major key mode, and gives a sense of attainment.

 

Allegro, the last movement, is a rondo in 6/8 time. The feeling is gay and the theme incorporates offbeat sforzandos and slightly syncopated characteristics that were to become more prominent in Beethoven’s later works. The middle section, as in the first movement, is in F major. Throughout, the piano and the violin exchange roles, but never losing the dance-like quality filled with happiness.

 

(March 2003)

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN: Sonata in A Major Op. 12 No. 2

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2 (1797/98)

1. Allegro vivace
2. Andante, più tosto allegretto
3. Allegro piacevole

 

Beethoven wrote three sonatas for piano and violin in A major. The best-known is the “Kreutzer” Sonata, composed in 1802, which is so massive that it functions more like a concerto or a contest for the two instruments. In great contrast, the Sonata in A Major, Op.12, No.2, written earlier, is light and delicate with the dynamic between the two instruments that of an intertwined partnership.

 

The three Sonatas Op. 12 were dedicated to Antonio Salieri, one of the most influential and powerful musical personalities of the time and one of Beethoven’s teachers. They are all still under the obvious influence of Haydn and have a continual feeling of lighter touch, particularly Op. 12/1. Beethoven’s trademarks of subito (sudden) pianoand stormy forte or fortissimo passages are presented in a modest way here. They do not yet have the “shocking” impact that they have in the later sonatas.

 

The first movement, Allegro vivace, begins without complication; the harmonies are direct and simple, and a fun-loving character is maintained throughout. The two instruments take turns in stating the themes in a conversational manner.

 

The key of A minor, rather than A Major, begins the lyrical middle movement. The sonority of the first Andante theme clearly resembles that of the fortepiano. As an instrument, the fortepiano has much less vibration, or resonance, and volume than the modern piano, so its sound is both sharper and softer. Moreover, of interest in the opening theme is that when the violin enters, after the initial melody stated by the piano, it does so an octave higher than the piano. This is rather unusual since the piano and violin more often play the theme in the same register in works of the same or similar genre. The second subject is richer and warmer, with a vocal-like quality. Cast in an A-B-A form, the movement returns to the beginning material and its variants, coming to a conclusion in a rather somber mood.

 

The Italian word piacevole (pleasant) accurately describes the final movement of this sonata. Written in Rondo form, the recognizable theme returns repeatedly throughout the movement. Beethoven does not vary it too much, but the pleasure of hearing such a beautiful tune can never bore listeners.

 

At the time he composed this sonata, Beethoven was already beginning to face the deafness that would eventually become profound and permanent. Yet, the immense joy and resilience in his musical output can only attest to the dignity of his person.

 

(March 2007)

Notes © 2007 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Sonata in E-flat Major Op. 12 No. 3

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata for Piano and Violin in E-flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3 (1797/98)

1. Allegro con spirito
2. Adagio con molta espressione
3. Rondo: Allegro molto

 

During Beethoven’s lifetime, it was still customary for instrumental sonatas with piano to be conceptualized as a showcase for piano with an accompanying role for the other instrument. Both Mozart and Haydn, particularly in their early works, produced significant sonata sets for piano and violin that clearly gave prominence to the piano.

 

By the time Beethoven started to write his sonatas, the two instruments were beginning to be handled fairly evenly. Nonetheless, it must be noted that in the first printed edition of the Op. 12 set, published almost immediately upon their completion, the inscription reads “sonatas for harpsichord or piano, with a violin.”

 

The importance of the piano part is evident, following the tradition of the period, but one must also remember that Beethoven himself was a virtuoso pianist; his musical language is strongly keyboard-driven. Indeed, in his mid twenties, Beethoven was a rising piano star in the musical capital of Vienna. For this reason, the violin lines in all ten sonatas must be interpreted with the keyboard sound in mind.

 

As we know today, Beethoven’s life was filled with the tragedy of deafness, mood swings, and stormy temperament over which his genius prevailed. Certainly, one can sense evidence of this in many of his works, but the other side of his personality is also demonstrated, fun-loving and tender, with an adventuresome flair. Works such as the Opus 12 show this aspect of his character.

 

The E-flat Major Sonata is the third, and last, of the Opus 12 set, all composed between 1797 and 1798 and dedicated to Antonio Salieri, one of Beethoven’s teachers and an influential Kapellmeister of the Hapsburg court in Vienna. Written around the same time as the piano sonatas Nos. 4 and 7, the Opus 9 String Trios, the Opus 18 String Quartets, and the first piano concerto, the influence of Franz Josef Haydn, another of Beethoven’s teachers in Vienna, can also be heard. The general impression of the Sonata is one of youthful buoyancy that is almost addictive.

 

As the sonata begins, the piano takes a virtuosic leadership role; the second theme is introduced by the violin. With positive energy and mood, the music flows effortlessly, and its jolly character cannot be contained. The Adagio that follows, in C Major, is beautiful with the two instruments alternating in singing the main line. The mellifluous lines are natural and uninhibited and occasionally complemented by the bucolic rhythmic figures in the accompaniment.

 

The Rondo theme is catchy and gay and reminiscent of ‘Papa’ Haydn’s Hungarian panache. The two instruments are playful with each other with constant exchange of themes. Pleasing is the best way, perhaps, to describe the end of the Sonata, worthy of the twenty-minute work filled with bliss, hope, and delight.

 

(May 2005)
Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Sonata in F Major Op. 24 "Spring"

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata for Piano and Violin in F Major, Op. 24, “Spring” (1800-1801)

1. Allegro
2. Adagio molto espressivo
3. Scherzo: Allegro molto
4. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

 

Beethoven had a great love of nature and was particularly happy and inspired when in the forest or under the stars. The presence of God for him was reinforced by the beauty of nature. This tender side – bucolic, romantic, and gentle – contrasts with the well-known characteristics of extreme dynamic tension and emotional aura in much of Beethoven’s music, but it is indeed found throughout his oeuvre and is an important element in understanding the composer’s complex personality.

 

In an attempt to define Beethoven’s genius, Leonard Bernstein maintained that the composer had an ‘inexplicable ability to know what the next note had to be.’ Certainly, in listening to any of Beethoven’s works, one is aware that the composer is very conscious of what he is doing. Moreover, there is an incredible combination of sureness of musical direction and complete submission to the higher powers. Beethoven’s music is, without doubt, miraculous and godly. Therefore, it is not possible to imitate his music; it is always distinctive, uncontested, and in its own class.

 

The ‘Spring’ sonata, Op. 24, is the fifth of Beethoven’s ten sonatas for piano and violin. Composed between 1800 and 1801, it was dedicated, along with the Sonata in A minor Op. 23 to one of Beethoven’s most generous Viennese patrons, Count Moritz von Fries. Both sonatas were originally intended to be paired as Op. 23, Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, but through the fault of the engraver, the ‘Spring’ sonata became Opus 24.

 

One of the most popular of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and violin, the work is easily remembered, even after first hearing. The music is full of joy, and its refreshing, hopeful quality makes the subtitle, ‘Spring,’ most appropriate. Throughout, the melodies are immediate, simple, and elegant. There are also humorous moments, reminding listeners that Beethoven was a master of fun and games as well.

 

‘Spring’ is one of only three of Beethoven’s piano and violin sonatas to be cast in four movements, the others being No. 7, Op. 30 No. 2, and No. 10, Op. 96. It opens with one of the most unforgettable melodies of all time played in F Major by the violin. The second theme which follows is more rhythmic and energetic, and the movement develops around the two contrasting themes. The slow movement in B-flat Major speaks simply and flowingly, with violin and piano alternating in presenting the theme in slightly different variations. The third movement, a scherzo and trio, is like a game of tag in which the violin and the piano bounce off each other. The coquettish impression is strengthened by the rhythmic playfulness. The finale is in rondo form, with a lyrical theme followed by three episodes. Lighthearted and spontaneous, its dotted rhythms exemplify Beethoven’s inventiveness and sense of humor.

 

(January 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Sonata in A Major Op. 30 No. 1

 LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata in A Major, Op. 30 No. 1 (1802)

1. Allegro
2. Adagio molto espressivo
3. Allegretto con variazioni
In 1802 Beethoven spent a few months in Heiligenstadt, outside of Vienna. Despite his growing concern about his hearing impairment, which he had only disclosed to his close friends the previous year, he was fast gaining a reputation as a composer and pianist. The time spent at Heiligenstadt was an attempt to find inner calm amidst his growing mood fluctuations and fear of impending deafness, which must have discolored his approaching success. While there, he continued working on his compositions, including the Second Symphony and a handful of instrumental pieces, including the three Op. 30 sonatas for piano and violin.

 

The Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1 is rarely heard today in concert halls. Considered by its champions to be one of Beethoven’s most beautiful chamber works, it requires intensive listening and utmost attention to detail from the performers. Dedicated to Tsar Alexander I of Russia, it is distinctively different in character from the sudden musical outbursts for which Beethoven became so well-known.

 

Cast in three movements, the overall feeling is one of elegance, gentleness, tenderness, and poise. Throughout the work, both instruments share the limelight without a hint of virtuosity, and the impact of the composition is found in the intense beauty of the music. The bucolic style is much closer to, say, the Piano Sonata No. 15 Op. 28, “Pastoral,” with a hint of the gentle qualities in the last sonata for piano and violin, the Op. 96, than to the later, better-known, tempestuous A-major sonata (“Kreutzer”), which was written less than a year later. Curiously, the movement Beethoven originally conceived as a fourth movement for Sonata Op. 30, No. 1, was instead used as the final movement of the “Kreutzer” sonata. In the published version of the Op. 30, No. 1 sonata, therefore, there are three movements in all, and Beethoven has set a theme and variations as the final movement, a form he tended to use as a middle movement, but would use successfully both as stand-alone virtuosic pieces and as a final movement in this sonata, as well as in his Third Symphony (“Eroica”).

 

As a matter of fact, although Beethoven only specifies his last movement as conceived in a theme and variation format, the other two movements are loosely in a variation form as well, in part owing to Beethoven’s mastery of the compositional conventions: the sonata form and the rondo form. In the first movement, the idea of variation is clear in Beethoven’s infatuation with the rhythmic figure opening the sonata in the piano’s lower register. The sonata opens with a noble theme played by the piano. The rhythmic figure (see example) permeates the form; in addition to its important role at the beginning, this motive occurs at the development’s beginning and ending as the music prepares masterfully the way for this sonata’s main theme to return. The movement’s final moments also highlight the rhythm.

 

(Example 1: 1st Movement, Bar Numbers 1-2)

Btn6-1 Btn6-2sm

 

(Example 2: 1st Movement, Bar Numbers 83-87)
Btn6-2

 

(Example 3: 1st Movement, Bar Numbers 247-249)
Btn6-3

 

In the second movement, the combination of the rondo form, A-B-A-C-A, with the special attention Beethoven pays to creating equal roles for the violin and piano brings the technique of variation to the spotlight. In this form, the unforgettable melody introduced by the violin is repeated immediately by the piano. This pair of statements occurs twice more during the movement, separated by greatly contrasting material and saturating the musical surface to the point at which variation of the opening theme is almost required in order to keep the listener’s attention. Additionally, every important melodic utterance is stated twice, usually first by the violin and then immediately repeated in embellished form by the piano. The tradition of embellishing a repetition comes from opera, and several of this movement’s melodies resemble a simple aria from an Italian opera. Overall, Beethoven’s gift for writing lyrical melodies—a talent often forgotten in the popular “heroic” image of Beethoven—creates a movement in which tenderness is glorified, and passion is overwhelming without ever becoming abashed.

 

The last movement, in the form of theme and variations, provides a simple ending to an elegant sonata. It begins with the theme in the character of a refined German dance, which is followed by six variations. The final variation, Allegro, ma non tanto, does not suggest a grand finale with a dramatic climax; rather, the work concludes in an upbeat and contented mood.

 

Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN: Sonata in C minor Op. 30 No. 2

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata for Piano and Violin in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2 (1802) 

1. Allegro con brio
2. Adagio cantabile
3. Scherzo
4. Finale: Allegro-Presto

 

During the 18th and the 19th centuries, compositional theories asserted that certain key signatures represented particular characteristics. The key signature of C minor, for example, was said to possess “tono tragico, e atto ad esprimere grandi disavventure, morti di eroi.”

 

This description characterizes Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 30, No. 2 in C minor. Written in 1802, the sonata can be considered the first of the monumental works for the violin-piano duo literature. Significantly, of the seven instrumental works that Beethoven was writing during the same period, the Sonata Op. 30, No. 2 and three other compositions, the Sonate Pathétique, the String Trio Op. 9, No. 3, and the Piano Concerto No. 3, all shared the key of C minor. The mood represented by this key seems suited to the inner turmoil that Beethoven must have felt as he became increasingly aware of the realities of his impending deafness.

 

The emotional climate for the entire piece is definitively set in the fateful opening. The impetuous momentum, the sudden turning of corners, and the tragic sonority combine with tuneful, and at times playful, sections, to create not a disarray of differences but a work of epic proportion with great power and cohesiveness.

 

The sonata begins with rather understated dynamics and mysterious octaves. The transparency of the sound of octaves combined with the silences of the rests only increases the intensity and sense of dread, which is followed by agitated runs and sudden outbursts. This hair-raising beginning soon gives way to a contrasting section where the theme resembles a military march.

 

The relationship of the two instruments is of a complementary nature, and the collaboration remains strong throughout the work. While the sound palette of the notes themselves is strongly keyboard-inspired, the importance of both parts is laid out quite evenly.

 

In the slow movement, Adagio cantabile, the song-like quality and the warmth of emotion is consistent and compelling. The idyllic theme, first stated by the piano, is presented by both instruments throughout the movement in new and different ways. However, even in this calmest of the sonata’s movements, there are two moments of sudden outbursts, in which ascending scales appear unexpectedly. Before the shock registers, though, the lyricism of the theme returns.

 

The rhythmic figure in the Scherzo that follows clearly reminds the listener of the military-inspired tune from the first movement. However, here the meter is in three, and particularly in the middle (Trio) section, the feeling of a German country dance dominates. In the outer sections, the placement of the grace notes adds humor, and wit.

 

In the Finale, the anguish and the fear-imbued atmosphere return. The tempo of this movement is quite fast, causing a breathless quality, and the sudden outbursts and the stops are, for that reason, even more striking. In the Coda (marked Presto), the sentiment is one of fury, and while the Sonata concludes in the tonic chord of C minor, the dominating character of uneasiness and nervousness remain beyond the final notes.

 

Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Sonata in A Major Op. 47 "Kreutzer"

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

 

Sonata in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer” (1803)

1. Adagio sostenuto – Presto
2. Andante con variazioni
3. Finale: presto

 

Beethoven had to rush to complete the writing of his Sonata in A Major, Op. 47. In truth, he practically missed the deadline, and was writing it until curtain time on the evening of its premiere in Vienna in 1803 with the composer at the piano and George Polgreen Bridgetower playing the violin. Some parts of the first two movements had to be “filled in” or improvised from the sketchy manuscript. Nevertheless this work, which on publication became known by its subtitle, “Kreutzer” Sonata, has continued to inspire great minds, such as Tolstoy’s.

 

Leo Tolstoy heard a performance of the “Kreutzer” Sonata in 1888, and it inspired him to complete the final version of a novella, bearing the same name. The plot of his work was based on the struggle between spiritual and bodily desires within the context of a certain marriage, and it climaxes into the husband killing his wife.

 

The “Kreutzer” Sonata is an extraordinary work. Performing it, I am always struck by the sheer energy and control necessary for the bursts of emotional intensity, with running notes, melodic lines, and dialogue with the piano. These qualities, combined with the extremely challenging technical demands, become mental and physical stretch exercises for the performers.

 

The first movement best exemplifies Beethoven’s own description on the manuscript: “Sonata for piano and violin obbligato, written in a very concertante style, brilliant (this crossed out by Beethoven in the manuscript), quasi concerto-like.” It is indeed a work in which the two instruments execute dominance, vivacity, and excitement, and in concerto proportions, yet are simultaneously heeding the delicacy of subtle chamber-collaborative sensitivities.

 

The introductory Adagio Sostenuto, opens with a choral-like phrase, initially by the violin and then followed by the piano. This movement is really almost entirely in a minor mode, contradicting the major key indicated in the title, Sonata in A Major, leaving the opening violin phrase the only “obvious” A major phrase of the movement. In the main body of the movement which follows, Presto, the key signature of the A major (three sharps) is now officially changed to A minor or its relative C major, which is without any sharps or flats. The beginning statement is introduced by the violin, which is somewhat interrupted by the same statement played by the piano, who completes it with a mini cadenza-like arpeggio. The movement then takes off, and although there are moments throughout hinting at calm, they are never completely so; they are, simply, suspended moments that do not settle down entirely. The end of the movement is marked by relentless fury.

 

The Second Movement, Andante con Variazioni, is a set with four variations, mostly in F major. Considering that this is a “slow” movement, Beethoven nonetheless incorporated much humor throughout, with his off-beats, pizzicatos, continuous trills, etc. Additionally, there are lots of 16th, 32nd, and 64th notes, generally considered “fast” notes, but in these Beethoven requires quality, utmost ease, and tranquility of execution to maintain the crystalline beauty of the movement.

 

The last movement, Presto, was written originally about a year before, and was to be the last movement of another piano-violin sonata – Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1. Beethoven ended up writing a set of variations for the earlier work instead, and recycled the original for use in the “Kreutzer” Sonata. After the resonating A major chord from the piano—simple, yet sustained and powerful—the violin begins, setting the mood for the entire movement. The style is that of the Tarantella, which, according to Italian folklore, was a very rapid dance intended to cure the poisonous bite of a tarantula spider. Indeed, the origin of the Tarantella was not a carefree occasion; however, Beethoven’s treatment of it is light, witty, and gay, and in noted contrast to the first movement’s stark, dramatic, tumultuous quality. The third movement is spontaneous and graceful as the two instruments dance about together, and the movement ends triumphantly with joy and aplomb.

 

At the time the work was premiered, Beethoven was on amicable terms with Bridgetower, who was multi-racial, a virtuoso, and was officially in the service of the Prince of Wales. However, relations between the two took a turn for the worse when both men became enamored of the same woman. Upon publication of the sonata, Beethoven, upset and furious, removed the dedication to Bridgetower and changed it to that of another virtuoso, Rudolphe Kreutzer. Kreutzer, the author of the 42 exercises infamous among violinists around the globe, did not acknowledge the dedication by ever performing the piece. Today, this work is one of the most important in the violin-piano sonata literature. Feared and loved, it is the Mount Olympus for all who perform it.

 

(January 2003)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Sonata in G Major Op. 96

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(born 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna)

Sonata in G Major, Op. 96 (1812)

1. Allegro moderato
2. Adagio espressivo
3. Scherzo: Allegro
4. Poco allegretto
Beethoven and his genius established new standards and brought the field of classical music to a higher level. His music never fails to touch us deeply, and it reminds us to have faith in the imperfections of the human character. He has inspired films, novels, paintings, analytic scholarly works, and even a comic strip. Ironically, these manifestations–including films such as Immortal Beloved, images by Klimt and Warhol, and even the cartoon strip Peanuts–have resulted in spreading his name and his fame to new generations who may not even be familiar with his music.

 

As a teenager, Beethoven began to notice the extreme fluctuation of his moods. His temper and inconsistent temperament seemed to have been of a pathological nature. As early as 1796, but certainly by 1801, Beethoven also became aware of his progressing hearing problem, which moved steadily toward complete deafness. Modern medicine hypothesizes the cause of Beethoven’s deafness to be syphilis. Whether or not his impeding deafness was a decisive factor in his emotional instability, it is clear from his letters to his brothers that he suffered from psychological disorders that, from time to time, may have been psychotic in nature.

 

Beethoven wrote ten sonatas for piano and violin. In all of them he treats the two instruments with equal importance. Whereas the traditional works of the sonata genre from the classical period, including those by Mozart, place the violin in a subordinate position to the piano, such even-handling of the instruments by Beethoven was considered unconventional at the time, and had great impact on later composers.

 

Completed in 1812, Beethoven’s final sonata for piano and violin has a lyrical serenity that sets it apart from the previous nine sonatas. Dedicated to Beethoven’s devoted patron, Archduke Rudolf, it was premiered in 1812 with the Archduke at the piano and Pierre Rode on the violin.

 

The first movement, Allegro Moderato, opens with a fragment of three beats (a quarter note, two eighth-notes, a quarter note), played at first by the violin, and then repeated by the piano. The movement continues as each new melody grows from the previous one. The second theme reveals Beethoven’s fascination with the military.

 

The hymn-like second movement is marked Adagio Espressivo, and it is considered one of the most beautiful slow movements in Beethoven’s chamber music.
Performers have to breathe seemingly in slow motion to make way for the lyrical, uninterrupted line. The Scherzoin G minor follows, the only section of the piece that suggests a tremulous mood. The trio in the middle of the movement is a contrast, as it is in a major mode key of E-flat, in the style of a 3-beat dance.

 

The last movement, Poco Allegretto, is folk-like and is a set of loose variations, with a flowing quality similar to the first movement. In the middle of the movement is the Adagio Espressivo variation, heavily ornamented and bearing resemblance to the hymnal second movement. The theme of the movement returns after a fragmented interlude that is, surprisingly, in E-flat major. The boisterous Allegro variation quickly takes over with a barrage of 16th notes, rapidly progressing from D major to the home key of G major. This is abruptly taken over by a variation in canon, before returning at last to the home theme. The listener is surprised again with the change to poco Adagio, which is then immediately interrupted by the exciting, though short, Presto of eight bars, until the final chord of G major.

 

(May 2002)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ERNEST BLOCH: Poème Mystique

ERNEST BLOCH 
(born 1880 in Geneva; died 1959 in Portland, Oregon)

Poème Mystique
Sonata No.2 for violin and piano (1924)

 

The Swiss-born composer Ernest Bloch was so revered in his lifetime as to be sometimes thought of as the “fourth B,” alongside Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. However today’s concertgoers seldom encounter Bloch’s work beyond his much loved, passionate piece on Jewish themes, the cello and orchestra Schelomo. That is a pity as Bloch was prolific throughout a long career, especially notable for a variety of remarkable solo and chamber compositions for the instrument of his virtuosic youth, the violin. A particular case in point is his Second Violin Sonata.

 

Bloch came of age in an era of incredible artistic flux, in which many revolutionary methods of compositional expression were being pioneered. He could count a group of great composers of highly diverse compositional styles as his contemporaries, including his friend, Béla Bartók, and such other giants as Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Karol Szymanowski. Bloch borrowed, to his own ends, from all of their innovations. Many of Bloch’s own works were Hebraic in both their religious themes – though Bloch was not devout in his personal life – and in their modal writing, as derived from the traditions of the synagogue and the Jewish shtetl (village) of Eastern Europe.

 

Subtitled the Poème Mystique, the Sonata No.2 dates from 1924, a particularly fruitful year for Bloch, especially during a six-week sojourn in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during which he composed not merely the sonata, but also his Nuit Exotique, for violin and piano, plus several works for cello, for string quartet and for orchestra. The year was also marked by the premiere of Bloch’s Baal Shem, a suite of Jewish nature (“Baal Shem Tov” was the honorific name given to the 18th Century founder of Hasidism), performed by the violinist André de Ribaupierre (a student of Ysaÿe, as was the teenage Bloch before the legendary violinist steered him toward composition) and pianist Beryl Rubinstein. The same duo would introduce the Second Violin Sonata almost immediately upon its completion.

 

Bloch’s First Violin Sonata, dating from 1920, was an anguished response to the recently completed Great War. He also felt that the “peace” that followed was not sincere and was too superficial. The Second Sonata, this “mystical poem,” was written four years later, and functions as a sort of reaction to the First Sonata, and also to the state of the world as he saw it. In Bloch’s words, it portrays “the world as it should be: the world of which we dream,” pictured in “a work of idealism, faith, fervour, hope, where Jewish themes go side by side with the Credo and the Gloria of the Gregorian Chant.”

 

Written as a single-movement, fantasy-like work, there is a gentle passion, a sense of another, higher reality, to Bloch’s Second Sonata. Its manner of expression is unusually lyrical and seemingly effortless. The sonata is warm and emotional, with elements of simplicity amplified by intervallic uses of fourths and fifths. The music has a spontaneous feel to it, a natural flow.

 

Bloch’s sonata is a piece that places great technical challenges on a violinist. It demands a constancy of lyricism, of singing and soaring lines that are executed in extremely high registers, therefore in high hand positions, continually unfolding over the long form of one extended movement. The piano part resembles a transcription of an orchestral score, replete with rich sonority and colors. It is very impressionistic writing, requiring a good use of pedal. Largely absent the flash of histrionics, with only hints of the Judaic exoticism that characterizes much of Bloch’s oeuvre, the sonata calls upon an ever-developing, controlled romanticism from its performers, establishing its unique identity through shifting moods of pensive reflection and high-flying ardor.

 

In the emotional center of the work, Bloch incorporates a Christian element, of the Gregorian chant, Gloria of the Mass Kyrie Fons bonitatis, which is shared between piano and violin, with a traditional Amen played at the end of the section on the violin. Added to the few touches of traditional Jewish musical style, this lends the Second Sonata its own unique universality.

 

While Ernest Bloch was known to sometimes suffer from serious bouts of depression, his pantheistic sonata closes in a spirit of revelatory joy, its mystical affirmation as moving in the present day as it was in the time between two devastating wars almost a century ago.

 

Notes © 2012 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Sonata in G Major Op. 78

JOHANNES BRAHMS
(born 1833 in Hamburg; died 1897 in Vienna)

Sonata Op. 78 (1878-79)

1. Vivace ma non troppo
2. Adagio
3. Allegro molto moderato

 

The work of Johannes Brahms epitomizes the central German tradition of the Romantic era. “A genius,” according to Robert Schumann, Brahms’s works combine a classical style with a Romantic temperament. The effects of his sonorities are extremely varied, ranging from a violent symphonic texture to the delicate whisper in a song.

 

In his personal life, Brahms was stubborn and reserved as well as loyal and generous. His life-long devotion to the Schumann family is well known; although he remained a bachelor, his attachment to Clara Schumann, Robert’s widow, and to their children, was of particular importance to his emotional and musical life.

 

Brahms composed his Sonata in G Major, Op. 78 shortly after the untimely death of his 24-year-old godson, the violinist and poet Felix Schumann. Although the sonata reflects Brahms’s sadness, the overall effect of the work could be described as tender rather than despondent. Upon receiving the completed manuscript, Clara Schumann is quoted as having said, “[I] could not help bursting into tears of joy over it. … I wish the last movement could accompany me to the next world.”

 

Written in Portschach in southern Austria in the summers of 1878 and 1879, the Sonata in G Major chronologically follows the Violin Concerto, Op. 77, one of the best-loved works in the violin literature. This sonata is reputed to be the composer’s third or even possibly the fifth attempt at writing a violin sonata. Brahms had written a “Scherzo” movement in 1853, as a birthday tribute to the violinist Joseph Joachim which became a part of the F.A.E. Sonata. This piece was a joint effort with Schumann and Albert Dietrich. Sometime between then and 1878, Brahms tried composing a number of works for violin and piano, but none has survived.

 

The Sonata in G Major is a three-movement work containing fragmentary references in the first and last movements to two of Brahms’s earlier songs, Regenliedand Nachklang op.59, No.3 and 4, respectively, of 1873. Set to poems by his friend Klaus Groth, they incorporate rain in a symbolic and poetic manner. In the first poem, the rain awakens dreams of childhood, and would “bedew my soul with innocent childish awe” and in the second, raindrops and tears mingle, so that when the sun shines again, “the grass is doubly green: doubly on my cheeks glow my burning tears.” This is not to say that this piece is “program” music; however it gives us possible insight into Brahms’s psyche, as well as that of the performer and the listener, as the piece unfolds.

 

The first movement opens mezza voce with both instruments playing with a slightly hushed quality. The violin has the main theme, with the memorable repeated “D”s in a dotted rhythm, which begin the melody.

 

mujsicnote-21brahms1-1

 

The rhythmic configuration and pattern is quintessentially Brahmsian, especially in the beginning movement. The strong beats of the violin and the piano hardly seem to line up; of course, when they do finally meet, the impact of the emphasis is that much stronger, and the uneven overlapping lines of the two instruments give an incredible sense of a prolonged phrase.

 

The initial rhythm of the three dotted notes can be heard sporadically throughout the movement, as well as in the middle part of the second movement, marked Adagio. This section is distinguished by the somber quality of a funeral march, in great contrast to the heart-warming sections that precede and follow it.

 

In the final movement (notice there is no Scherzo in this work, as would have been traditionally expected in the genre), the three “D”s make an appearance again. With the melody that begins with the dotted rhythm, one hears the accompaniment of quiet running 16th notes, from which the Romantic imagination evokes a gentle flow of water, perhaps of rain or of tears.

 

musicnote-21brahms1-2

 

Later a theme from the second movement returns, suggesting hopefulness, and eventually leading to the triumphant sounds of happiness. The opening melody is heard again, after which the work comes to a quiet end, with a tender reminiscence of the past.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Sonata in A Major Op. 100

JOHANNES BRAHMS
(born 1833 in Hamburg; died 1897 in Vienna)

Sonata Op. 100 (1886)

1. Allegro amabile
2. Andante tranquillo – Vivace – Andante – Vivace di piu – Andante – Vivace
3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andante)

 

Brahms spent the summer of 1886 at his favorite retreat at Lake Thun, near Interlaken in Switzerland. There he concentrated on writing lieder and chamber works, among them his second cello sonata (F Major, Op. 99), the second violin sonata (A Major, Op. 100) and the third piano trio (C minor, Op. 101)

 

By 1886, Brahms had produced masterworks in every musical genre except for opera. However, his successes had been tempered by the loss of a number of supporters and friends, most prominently Robert Schumann, who died in a mental asylum in 1856, as well as by unrequited romantic liaisons, notably with Schumann’s widow, Clara.

 

The A Major Sonata is probably the most lyrical of Brahms’s three sonatas for violin and piano. The reigning characteristics of the second violin sonata reflect Brahms’s personality – his shyness and introspection, his originality and his intensity, sometimes all at once. The work transports the listener into the private world of its creator.

 

The sonata begins with a direct and immediate theme, first presented by the piano and then taken up by the violin. Serving as an antecedent to the dramaturgical line that is to unfold in the rest of the piece, the melody is sweet in its simplicity and powerful in spite of its lack of bombast.

 

Whereas in the first movement one theme flows directly into the next, and the conversational interchange between the two instruments is intriguing, the second movement can be separated into two alternating sections. Beginning with the bucolic Andante, the folk-like Vivace enjoys a slight hint of humor. The movement ends in a short, light blaze of excitement.

 

The finale, Allegretto grazioso, is unusual in that it is devoid of the usual bravura excitement in Romantic-period works. The graceful and elegant rondo begins with a soulful line expressed in sustained legato. Mid-movement, there is a rather sudden passionate outburst and emotional upheaval. However, the poignantly calm theme of the opening returns to end the work in an expression of triumphant dignity.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Sonata in D minor Op. 108

JOHANNES BRAHMS
(born 1833 in Hamburg; died 1897 in Vienna)

Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 108 (1886-88)

I. Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Un poco presto e con sentimento
IV. Presto agitato

 

By the time Brahms spent the summers of 1886, 1887, and 1888 at Hofstetten on Lake Thun, he was getting close to his retirement from composing, having successfully established his international reputation with large-scale works, including the four symphonies. Nevertheless, in this idyllic setting, he wrote a large number of lieder and chamber works, including the Sonata Op. 99 for Cello and Piano, and two sonatas for violin and piano, Op. 100 in A Major, and Op. 108 in D minor.

 

The D minor Sonata is distinctive from Brahms’s two other violin sonatas by virtue of its more extroverted and virtuosic nature. It is almost as though Brahms meant the work to be performed in a larger venue like a concert hall, rather than in a salon-type room, as the term chamber music suggests. The last movement in particular contains large-scale sections that can be characterized as symphonic, and the Sonata certainly needs ample space for the sound to resonate.

 

Although Brahms’s oeuvre for the violin includes only three sonatas, a single concerto, the scherzo movement from the FAE sonata, and a double concerto for violin and cello, he was certainly familiar with the potential of the violin as a solo instrument through his friendships with the violinists Eduard Remenyi (born Eduard Hoffmann), with whom he toured as a young pianist in 1853, and Josef Joachim, the great violin master and composer.

 

Both of Brahms’s first two sonatas for violin and piano were written in three movements; however the D minor sonata is in four movements. It opens with a lyrical theme of shimmering beauty played by the violin while the piano accompanies with syncopated rhythm creating a feeling of urgency. The syncopated rhythm or its variant (where the weaker beats are emphasized more than the stronger ones) persists throughout the movement. Also of interest is the development section where the ostinato (a short musical phrase or melody that is repeated over and over, usually at the same pitch—in this case a bass note that is repeated), on the piano continues for a very long time—forty-six bars.

 

The middle two movements offer great contrasts of tuneful simplicity and nonchalant humor. In the second movement, Adagio, Brahms takes ample time with elegiac pondering. The almost sentimental Scherzo, Un poco presto e con sentimento, follows in duple meter (2/4), rather than the expected, more conventional, triple meter.

 

The Finale, Presto agitato, offers fire and excitement, and is the most symphonic of all the movements. Syncopations are again a characteristic element. The work builds up to a climactic, if somewhat tragic, ending in the home key of D minor.

 

During his lifetime, Brahms was greatly respected and admired, although he had his share of detractors, including Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and George Bernard Shaw (in his time a highly regarded music critic), all of whom took exception to his work. However, Brahms also had a dedicated group of followers, who included Robert and Clara Schumann and Hans von Bülow, the conductor and pianist to whom the D minor Sonata was dedicated. The work was premiered in Budapest on 22 December 1888 by the Hungarian violinist Jeno Hubay, with the composer at the piano.

 

(August 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

RICHARD DANIELPOUR: As Night Falls on Barjeantane

RICHARD DANIELPOUR
(born 1956 in New York City, currently resides in New York City)

As Night Falls on Barjeantane (2001)

 

Richard Danielpour is one of the most successful American composers of his generation. His works are full of color, often with wide-ranging dynamism and bold romantic gestures. His lyrical writing in particular is complemented by mysticism and has the capacity to transport listeners to a world of tranquility, passion, and enchantment.

 

Danielpour has written several works specifically for the violin: the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: A Fool’s Paradise (2000); the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra: In the Arms of the Beloved (2001); and As Night Falls on Barjeantane (2001).

 

Danielpour spent the early summer of 2001 in the medieval village of Villecroze in southern France, where he gave master classes at the Académie musicale de Villecroze, the musical arm of the Fondation de Treilles. Here selected young professional musicians come together for 11 days of intensive study and retreat. The setting – fantastic views of the Provence Alps and the Cote d’Azur – and direct contact with master teachers like Danielpour are ideal for concentrated learning and artistic inspiration.

 

Barjeantane is the name of a house on the grounds of the Academie. In Danielpour’s own words, “The period of twilight-dusk to darkness in the south of France is particularly long and beautiful in summer. This work is an evocation of that period in such a place.”

 

Commissioned by the 2002 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, As Night Falls on Barjeantanewas performed in the semi-finals by every contestant. The work is dedicated to Anne Postel-Vinay, president of the Fondation de Treilles and the Academie musicale de Villecroze, as well as the granddaughter of Anne Gruner Schlumberger, who founded the two organizations in 1989.

 

As Night Falls on Barjeantane is Danielpour’s only composition for violin and piano. It opens with a brief, somewhat dramatic piano introduction. The shimmering vocal quality found in As Night Falls on Barjeantane is particularly suited to the inherent character of the violin. After the sublime violin entrance, the melody is doubled by the piano with octaves. Simple, distant, subtle, yet beautiful, the violin theme sets the tone for the entire work, the main melody returning several times throughout the piece. In the end, mystery triumphs as the music quietly fades away into the distance.

 

(January 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MARIO DAVIDOVSKY: Duo Capriccioso

MARIO DAVIDOVSKY 
(born 1934 in Médanos, Argentina, currently living in New York City)

Duo Capriccioso (2003)

 

Born to a Lithuanian-Jewish family living among Argentina’s predominantly Catholic population, Mario Davidovsky’s background and childhood were defined by the constant challenge to reconcile these contrasting elements at play in his life. This life-long quest has shaped his identity as a composer and is reflected in his music where musical lines, sounds, and textures are embedded and intertwined with everything else.

 

Davidovsky was already a composer of note when he moved to the US in 1960 to learn about the new field of electronic music. Two years previously, as a composition fellow at the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood), he had worked with Milton Babbitt and Aaron Copland. Babbitt told him of the imminent opening of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York and Copland encouraged him to move to New York City. Once in New York, Davidovsky became an important shaper, associate director and, eventually, director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

 

Rather than highlight its novelty, Davidovsky adopted electronic music as an additional tool to serve the composer and his ideas and as a means to expand composers’ vocabularies. For a time, Davidovsky wrote only electronic music, resulting in intense examinations of certain aspects of sound pressure such as attack, decay, and articulation, some of which have now become his signature identity as a composer. Although he has written solely for acoustical instruments since the 1970s, the effect of Davidovsky’s history with electronic music is paramount and has had no small impact on the canon of contemporary compositions.

 

Throughout the history of classical music, composers have explored the relationship between the violin and the piano/keyboard, fundamentally distinct instruments so often positioned as counterparts, collaborators or foils to each other in the oeuvre of duo literature. Davidovsky, who had his early musical training on the violin, also experimented with the dynamic between these two instruments. His Duo Capriccioso takes on this task and uniquely succeeds in revealing how embedded the two instruments are to each other and in uniting their sounds without the benefit of relying on a harmonic language of tonal music. In his own writings about the work, Davidovsky conceptualizes the instrumental distinction biologically, calling the violin a “fly” and the piano an “elephant”.

 

The piano writing in the Duo Capriccioso is especially remarkable – it almost feels like an extension of the violin, or vice-versa. While one hand plays the keyboard, the other pulls strings inside the piano, mimicking the violinist’s pizzicato. By disguising the borders between the two instruments, Davidovsky creates diverse textures giving a multi-dimensional feel to the music. His unconventional yet careful use -or non-use -of the left pedal produces delicacy and nuanced changes in timbre.

 

While the Duo Capriccioso requires the pianist to use some extreme methods of producing sound, the violinist utilizes more ordinary ‘special effects’ such as harmonics and ponticello (playing near the bridge, producing a hoarse or almost hissing sound), muted passages and pizzicato. Both parts have traditional notations, but the dynamic markings are precise and range widely, from pppp to fff (pp to ff is more conventional). These techniques seem to allude to electronic music, with effects such echoes and reverb. Unsynchronized rhythmic figures give a sense of independence but, of course, by blending the two instruments’ sounds, it is as if Davidovsky wrote the work with an electric mixing board in mind.

 

The sound palette is very influenced by the electronic music–such gives an almost out-of-this-world type of this sonority, perhaps from outer space. While the tempo is not always fast, the overall pace is quick and the sections are seamlessly intertwined. The range also seems to hint at the idea of a Dolby sound with multi-track setup versus an analog with a single track. While the work is clearly influenced by the synthetically produced sound, the work is not devoid of emotional aesthetics. The music definitely takes one to a ‘different place’ and such an uprooting experience is quite emotional for listeners and players alike.

 

Duo Capriccioso was premiered at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall in March 2004 by violinist Curtis Macomber and pianist Aleck Karis.

 

 

Notes © 2010 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MARIO DAVIDOVSKY: Synchronisms No. 9

MARIO DAVIDOVSKY

(born: Médanos, Argentina, 1934)

 

Synchronisms No. 9 (1988)

 

Mario Davidovsky wrote Synchronisms, a set of twelve compositions, between 1963 and 2006. Each piece features a pre-recorded tape of electronic sounds composed by Davidovsky to “synchronize” with the live performance of an acoustical solo instrument or an ensemble. (The sixth of the series, scored for piano and electronics, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1971.)

 

Davidovsky originally hails from Argentina, coming to the United States in 1958 to study at the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood) with two profoundly different composers, Aaron Copland and the modernist mandarin, Milton Babbitt.  Both championed his work, Babbitt helping the young man find a position at the pioneering Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Davidovsky found a home at the center, serving it as its Director between 1981 and 1993, and the pre-recorded parts of the Synchronisms series are indeed products of this highly regarded electronic musical lab. He wrote the first eight of the Synchronisms in a dozen years, after that abandoning electronics for well over a decade, during that time only writing for traditional instruments.  Davidovsky returned to his “electroacoustic” work in 1988, with Synchronisms No. 9, for violin and tape. The last four of the Synchronisms series are, in fact, the only compositions employing electronic sounds that Davidovsky has written over the last forty years.

 

Nonetheless, the Synchronisms are historically significant for their brilliance in marrying two profoundly differing sound worlds, one of “acoustic” instruments, played “in real time,” by live musicians, and the other of electronic sounds, created by computers and taped.  Davidovsky’s genius has been in writing idiomatically for both types of forces, while making his live and taped music fir together in an alert, compelling manner.  Davidovsky has always been keen on melding sounds that seem to be rooted in rather different places. His works seem, to me, to be extremely elegant and sincere, always respectful of their instruments’ basic characters and capacities.

 

Synchronisms No. 9 is a duo for violin (the instrument Davidovsky studied in his youth) and electronic sounds. This ninth of the Synchronisms succeeds, as do its mates, in sounding like the latest advance in classical music, not a departure from that tradition. The wonder of Synchronisms No. 9 may lie in how “normal” a piece of music it actually is. Davidovsky’s rhetoric is certainly modern, but he is doing what composers have always done, telling a coherent musical story, not merely providing a showcase for unusual sounds. (As such, the title, Synchronisms No. 9 – that plural – is something of a misnomer.  The work is one unified whole – seemingly one extended “synchronism” – not a grouping of gestures.)  This is a finely wrought composition, a pensive, sensitive work, typified by gracious, emotionally resonant interplay between the violin and electronica.

 

A violinist’s challenge in interpreting Davidovsky’s work lies in establishing a functional ensemble between the instrument and the tape. Despite the seeming paradox of a live musician engaging in dialogue with a tape produced from a machine, the electronic sound should be considered nothing less than an instrument. Both parts are conceived to blend and interact with each other. However, once the tape begins, it is unchangeable. No adjustments can be made. Yet, there is something so collaborative about playing the acoustical part as if one were dancing around the tape, truly responding to a kind of music-making previously unimaginable, in a revolutionary kind of partnership.

 

Think of Synchronisms No. 9, then, as Davidovsky’s violin sonata, albeit with a pre-recorded, cybernetically generated accompaniment.  And think of Mario Davidovsky as the composer who has done the most to bring electronic sounds fully within the parameters of the classical music canon.

 

Notes © 2015 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

CLAUDE DEBUSSY: Sonata

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
(born 1862 in St. Germain-en-Laye; died 1918 in Paris)

Sonata for Violin and Piano (1916)

1. Allegro vivo
2. Intermède, fantasque et léger
3. Finale: Très animé

 

Debussy’s Violin Sonata presents a superb balance of sweetness, fire, humor, and nostalgia. It is a work imbued with deep melancholy that also embodies other characteristic traits that make Debussy’s work distinguishable from others: a sense of fantasy, freedom, and affective depth. Written at the very end of the composer’s life, the Sonata is one of the finest examples of Debussy’s compositional and artistic dexterity. At the time of this composition, Debussy was already ill with terminal cancer. He had continued to write despite his failing health, partly for financial reasons. It was in 1915 that he began a project of writing six sonatas for various instrumentations; the Violin Sonata was the third in the set, and the last work he completed before his death.

 

Lionized by Ravel and detested by Saint-Saens, Debussy was a patriotic Frenchman, who worked hard to protect and preserve French culture. His opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, produced in 1902, was a landmark of French music that strongly influenced both his contemporaries and younger composers. Considered the first and foremost Impressionist composer, Debussy had a style marked by Japonism and innovative harmonies and tone color that was also characterized by understatement and emotional warmth.

 

The challenge for the violin-piano duo in the Violin Sonata is the collaboration of senses and spirit. Unlike sonatas from earlier periods, or other sonatas of Debussy’s time, the two instruments do not accompany each other per se; rather, one instrument leads with a pulling energy against the counter melody or motif of the other. Ultimately, this creates a different kind of sonority and texture; the two instruments challenge one another but their arguments ultimately bring them closer together.

 

The poignant opening chords of the first movement of Debussy’s Violin Sonata, Allegro vivo, played by the piano, immediately transport the listener into a subdued atmosphere, enveloped in nostalgia and sadness. The movement is filled with rhythmic and harmonic ambiguity with an ongoing momentum, regardless of speed. In contrast, the middle movement, Fantasque et léger, as indicated by its marking, is mostly light and fantastic, capricious with a hint of coquettishness and with a second theme as surprisingly melodious as it is sensuous.

 

Debussy finished the final movement, Très animé, in October 1916, four months before he completed the preceding two movements. It begins with running notes in the piano, punctuated with a melodic emphasis from the second theme of the previous movement. The violin then enters in a slightly modified handling of the nostalgic theme from the beginning of the sonata. The main bulk of the movement, however, is a showcase of agility with a splash. In particular, Debussy uses the maximum pitch range available on the violin, going from the open G (lowest possible note of the instrument) to a C-sharp at three octaves and a half-step above the middle C. For the piano, he demands a tremolo-like speed with atmospheric lightness of touch.

 

(August 2004/2006)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Revised 2006
Referential sources available on request.

ANTONÍN DVORÁK: Mazurek Op. 49 B89

ANTONÍN DVORÁK
(born 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia; died 1904 in Prague, Czechoslovakia)

Mazurek, B89 (Op. 49) (1879)

 

A mazurek or mazurka is a musical style that originated in Polish folk dance and became a popular form of instrumental composition with the success of Frederick Chopin’s 50 mazurkas for piano. Instantly popular and praised, Chopin’s mazurkas encouraged other composers to follow suit, and Dvořák was one of many.

 

Dvořák’s Mazurek, written in 1879, was dedicated to the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. Two versions exist, one for violin and piano, the other for violin and orchestra. While the piece does not occupy the mainstream repertoire today, Mazurek remains a fine example of Dvořák’s musical personality, filled, as it is, with folk-like elements and tuneful elegance.

 

The work’s rustic character is immediately revealed in the opening, which is played almost entirely in double-stops by the violinist, something that is not easy as it requires astute pitch awareness and agile left-hand fingers and strength. Amidst the intermittent recurrences of the first subject throughout the work, is the melodious second theme. Eloquent and beautiful, as well as typically Dvořákian in its sweetness, innocence, and hum-ability, it contrasts with the dance-like sections, offering charm and calm.

 

Nostalgic and earthy simultaneously, the work is written in the traditional triple-meter. And by occasionally requiring the performers to emphasize beats other than the usual third, Dvořák adds ‘spice’ to his already intriguing tunes.

 

Dvořák came under considerable pressure from his publisher, Simrock, to produce marketable works filled with Bohemian and Slavonic melodies. This was not a problem, as he loved his country, its music, and its people; the ever-popular Slavonic Dances and the Mazurek are perfect examples of such compositions. However, this is not to say that these works lack artistry or creativity just because they have an instant appeal; Dvořák always succeeded in finding an irresistible mix of folk, classical, and Romantic elements, a style that became the signature of his musical identity.

 

(January 2005)
Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ANTONÍN DVORÁK: Sonatina in G Major Op. 100 B183

ANTONÍN DVORÁK
(born 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia; died 1904 in Prague, Czechoslovakia)

Sonatina in G Major, Op. 100 (1893)

1. Allegro risoluto
2. Larghetto
3. Scherzo (molto vivace)
4. Allegro

 

The legacy of Antonin Dvořák includes some very “popular” tunes with universal appeal. The charm of his music is in its simplicity combined with a typically sunny disposition. The sounds of Nature–of the earth and soil, rather than of sophisticated cosmopolitan life–fill his works. Dvořák was a villager at heart, who coveted the rustic country life; his Bohemian heritage proved to be the bread-and-butter of his music.

 

Dvořák was the eldest of nine children. His father kept an inn, as well as a butcher-shop, and groomed his first child to become a licensed butcher. The young man’s training went as far as an apprenticeship before he was able to go to Prague and devote himself exclusively to studying music.

 

In 1892, Dvořák left Bohemia for New York City’s urbane bustle to become the Director of the National Conservatory. He wrote a number of important works during his three-year sojourn in America including the Cello Concerto, Humoresque, New World Symphony, and the “American” Quartet.

 

The Sonatina, Op. 100, in G major, which was also composed in America, is dedicated to Dvořák’s children. A celebratory work for a special opus, in four movements, it expresses the sweetness of American life as experienced by the Bohemian composer during his extended visit. The opening movement, marked Allegro risoluto resembles a fanfare, set in the sonata form of a-b-a. The secondary melody in the movement, in E minor rather than the closely related D major, is sometimes said to resemble “The Valley Below Nove Zamky,” a Moravian Folk Song.

 

The second movement, Larghetto, was first sketched out on Dvořák’s shirt sleeve in a moment of inspiration during the composer’s visit to Minnehaha Falls, near St. Paul, Minnesota. His publisher, Simrock, sold the movement separately, without Dvořák’s consent, for various instrumental arrangements. Fritz Kreisler played it in his recitals, popularizing it under the title ‘The Indian Lament.’

 

The Scherzo movement that follows has an undeniably rustic character. Although marked molto vivace, it does not sound hectic. Rather, it gives poise and elegance to the otherwise unsophisticated movement.

 

The final movement, Allegro, is high-spirited for the most part as it expresses a characteristic longing for the composer’s homeland.

 

When Simrock published the Sonatina, Dvořák indicated that it was “intended for young people (dedicated to my children) but grown-ups, too, let them get what enjoyment they can out of it.” The work was conceived, sketched, and completed between September and early December 1893. It received a ‘special’ premiere at home in his New York apartment by two of his children.

 

In recent years, performers have often downplayed the credibility of the work, claiming it too simple a work for a mature composer. (Dvořák was 52 at the time he wrote it.) I find the challenge of the piece in its unsophisticated elegance, unadorned loveliness, and a particular innocence of a happy childhood. To quote Dvořák again, “a thought comes of itself, and if it is fine and great it is not our merit. But to carry out a thought well and make something great of it, that is the most difficult thing, that is, in fact, art!”

 

So, here is the Sonatina, Op. 100, a work of Bohemian roots with an American inspiration, turned into a work of art through the genius of our beloved Dvořák.

 

(May 2002)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ANTONÍN DVORÁK/KREISLER: Songs My Mother Taught Me

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
(born 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia; died 1904 in Prague, Czechoslovakia)

Songs My Mother Taught Me (1880) from Gypsy Songs
Arranged by Fritz Kreisler

 

Dvořák wrote Songs My Mother Taught Me in 1880 as the fourth of his Seven Gypsy Songs (Zigeunerlieder). By this time, his Slavonic Dances (1878) were a great success and he was quickly becoming a celebrated composer, although many of his greatest works were yet to come. In the vocal genre, Dvořák had already produced the song cycles Cypresses (1865), Evening Songs (1876), and three sets of Moravian Duets (1876 and 1877), as well as the full-scale Stabat Mater (1876-77).

 

The Gypsy Songs are set to poems by Adolf Heyduk in German. Heyduk’s poetry conveys the romantic notion of gypsy life with an emphasis on the spontaneity of their love for music and song. Dvořák’s musical treatment is warm and folk-influenced.

 

Songs My Mother Taught Me quickly became one of the most beloved and frequently played Dvořák tunes. The accompanying figures are filled with rolled chords while the main line is lyrical, ambiguously tragic, and indefinitely hopeful. The melody in 2/4 meter with the accompaniment in 6/8 creates a cross-rhythm. Fritz Kreisler arranged the song for violin and piano, furthering its popularity.

 

Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MANUEL DE FALLA/Kochanski: SUITE POPULAIRE ESPAGNOLE

MANUEL DE FALLA
(born 1876 in Cádiz, Spain; died 1946 in Alta Gracia, Argentina)

De Falla/Kochanski: Suite populaire espagnole.

1. El paño moruno
2. Nana
3. Canción
4. Jota
5. Asturiana
6. Polo

 

The early 20th century was a golden period of violinists, full of ‘greats’ that included Heifetz, Huberman, Kreisler, and Ysayë. An incredible number of active performers raised the standard of violin-playing, which continued to be passed on to later generations in the century and beyond.

 

In such an artistically vibrant period, Paul Kochanski (1887-1934), fitted quite comfortably among the violin giants. A violinist well known for distinct musicianship and character without calling much attention to his fabulous technique, he was also well respected and admired among his colleagues. Of particular importance were his collaborations with and influences on composers, who included, most decisively, a fellow Pole, Karol Szymanowski, as well as Prokofiev and Stravinsky.

 

Paul Kochanski’s talents also lay in transcribing and arranging works of other composers to be played on the violin and the piano. His transcriptions always retain the beauty of the original work yet the idiomatic use of the instrument is unchallenged. They never sound as if the violin is a poor substitute for the original instrument.

 

Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas, originally a set of miniature pieces for voice and piano, were arranged for violin and piano in a collaborative effort with Kochanski. Of all Kochanski’s collaborations these songs are the most popular in concert today. In an appreciative gesture for Kochanski’s involvement, de Falla re-dedicated the newly-transcribed work to Kochanski’s wife.

De Falla was a leading Spanish composer of his time, along with Albeniz and Granados. Interestingly, it was Grieg, the Norwegian composer, who inspired de Falla to take up folk material as a compositional source. Born in Cádiz, in southern Spain, de Falla was the son of an Andalusian father and a Catalonian mother.

 

De Falla studied in Paris where he came under the influence of Debussy. He returned to Spain on the eve of World War I and wrote Siete Canciones shortly afterwards in Madrid.

 

Not all of the songs are derived from folk material. While Polo (a Flamenco dance) and Jota (a dance from Aragon) are written entirely in the style of folk music, de Falla has based the rest, El paño moruno(Moorish Cloth), Asturiana (a lullaby from Northern Spain), Nana (a lullaby from Andalucia), and Canción on popular sources but has given them fresh readings with original harmonic accompaniments. These songs are haunting at times and provocative at others. The nasal, closed quality of the intervals (and the lyrics of the original version), lend poignancy, potency, and fire to the Latin-Moorish temperament.

 

Kochanski’s transcriptions for violin and piano (Suite populaire espagnole) include only six of the seven songs (omitting the Seguidilla murciana). The order in which they are played is freely determined by the performer.

EDWARD ELGAR: Salut d'amour, Op. 12

EDWARD ELGAR
(born 1857 in Lower Broadheath, England; died 1934 in Worcester, England)

Salut d’amour, Op. 12 (1888)

 

Edward Elgar was an English composer who helped to create a school of characteristically modern British composition, yet his best-known work for chamber forces has a French title: “Salut d’amour” – the words translate as “love’s greetings.”  This miniature, written originally for violin and piano, but since performed in various transcriptions, was one of his first works to achieve wide renown, and was in fact inspired by love of the woman who was to become his wife.

 

English music received little attention in the nineteenth century, dominated by German composition from Beethoven to Brahms.  Starting in late Victorian and in Edwardian times, Elgar was instrumental in changing that picture, some of his compositions finding great international recognition, particularly the Enigma Variations, the Cello Concerto, and his ubiquitous, patriotic Pomp and Circumstance marches.

 

In the class-driven British society of his day, the man who became Sir Edward William Elgar, Baronet, started out as something of an outlier.  Roman Catholic in Protestant England, the small-town son of a piano tuner and violinist, who owned a local music shop, Elgar was largely self-taught, and sensitive to his tenuous place in his nation’s culture.  Elgar was in his thirties when he married his onetime student, Caroline Alice Roberts, the daughter of a distinguished army officer.  She was disinherited for marrying beneath her station and, while her efforts to bring him into genteel society met with limited success, their marriage became the focal point of their lives, Alice serving as manager of his career and a valuable in-house champion and critic.

 

Elgar’s violin-piano duet was published under the title “Liesbesgruss” — his future wife spoke fluent German and he was a close student of German musical culture – though its title was subsequently changed to the French, which assisted its international appeal and sales.  It was an engagement gift to his fiancée, the music love-saturated but not morbidly hyper-romantic, as were so many German works of its era.  Salut d’amour touches listeners with an immediate appeal; it is approachable and likable without challenge, simple yet sweet and graceful.  Written in duple meter and in bright E major, the violin maintains the melody pretty much throughout.  Dedicated “à Carice” – a combination of Caroline Alice’s names – it premiered in its orchestral version, in London, in 1889.

Notes © 2016 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

GEORGES ENESCU: Sonata No. 3 in A major Op. 25

GEORGES ENESCU
(born 1881 in Liveni; died 1955 in Paris)

Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in A major, Op. 25 “dans le caractère populaire roumain” (1926)

1. Moderato malinconico
2. Andante sostenuto e misterioso
3. Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso

 

The Romanian composer Georges Enescu wrote his folk-idiom-filled Third Violin Sonata in 1926. Of three violin sonatas, it is the most popular, and while not considered part of the “standard” repertoire, it has enjoyed a consistent presence in concerts given by, among others, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, and of course, Enescu himself.

 

Enescu was profoundly gifted as a composer, violinist, pianist and conductor. No less notable was his prominence as one of the great violin teachers of the 20th century with a roster of prodigious students, most famously Yehudi Menuhin. As a composer, Enescu was not especially prolific, with only 33 compositions in print. His perfectionism and his obsessive nature may have led him to destroy his own music before it could even see the light of day, let alone be published.

 

Stylistically, Enescu’s compositions are rather diverse, a likely result of his broad artistic range and multiple vocations. Although his best-known works, such as the Romanian Rhapsodies (1901-2), are influenced greatly by Romanian folk music, he also composed in neo-classical and neo-Baroque styles. Enescu wrote his first composition at age 5 and began his formal music training four years later at the Vienna Conservatory; at age 14, he was studying violin and composition in Paris, where his teachers included Massenet and Fauré. The latter’s chromaticism, as well as the romanticism of Brahms and Schumann, are significant presences in Enescu’s compositions. Deeply devoted to his homeland, Enescu lived in Romania during both World Wars, but moved permanently to Paris after World War II, coinciding with the Communist Party’s assumption of political power in Romania. Nevertheless, the composer’s fondness and attachment to his native country was always with him and highlighted in the music written throughout his life.

 

The opening atmosphere of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 3 plunges the listener into a mysterious world of fantasy storytelling filled with magic, spirits, and a rhapsodic nature; the two instruments alternately oppose and join each other in free form. The next movement is a doina – a meditative, poetic, and often melancholic Romanian folk song. The rejoin is a musical lament of the shepherds, poignant lines wailing with sorrow, executed on the violin with bent pitches and nasal sound quality. The contemplative character progresses to a fantastic climactic segment with shrill moments and flamboyantly improvisational lines from the two instruments. The tumult soon dies down to a final section of increased nostalgia and sentimentality. Here, the violin is muted, giving a feeling of haziness, the lines almost fragmentary. The sounds eventually disappear, bringing the movement to its conclusion.

 

In contrast with the first two movements, the last movement takes on a festive quality with clear, strong rhythmic inflections. In the spirit of a rustic dance, the mood here is humorous, colorful, and light. A semi-cadenza-like moment happens in the middle of the movement: throaty in sound and played with vigor, the rhetorical nature of the hero is imagined. Towards the end of the movement, the frenzy builds, and the work gains the momentum to reach its energetic conclusion.

 

The sonata mirrors the style of standard Romanian folk music with elaborate slides and portamentos, bent pitches and quarter-tones, as well as special sound effects such as harmonics, sul tasto (playing with the bow drawing across at the fingerboard), and ponticello (playing on the bridge). With these techniques, Enescu achieves the sounds of bells, pipes and fiddles typically found in the folk genre.

 

The score for the work is heavily notated with markings for specific sound effects. Even so, the performance must come across as spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment. The idea of barlines, meter, and pitches must all be stretched to accomplish the purpose of a free-form-sounding piece of idiomatic music.

 

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources are available on request.

GABRIEL FAURÉ: Sonata in A Major Op. 13

GABRIEL FAURÉ
(born 1845 in Pamiers, France; died 1924 in Paris)

Sonata in No. 1 in A Major, Op. 13 (1876)

1. Allegro molto
2. Andante
3. Allegro vivo
4. Allegro quasi presto

 

French music underwent a renaissance in the latter half of the 19th century. Not yet under the influence of the impressionists, romanticism flourished, combined with the art of song stemming from the German lieder tradition of Schubert and Schumann. Fauré and his contemporaries who embraced such style composed a great number of songs set on poems by Hugo, Baudelaire, and Molière, among others. Fauré in particular was considered the great master of French song, his 100-plus vocal works leading critics to describe him as the “French Schubert.”

 

After showing early musical promise, Fauré studied at the Ecole Niedermeyer, which was well-known for training organists and choirmasters with its thorough church music curriculum. However, in addition to learning about plain song, Renaissance polyphony, and the organ, Fauré was introduced to the then-modern trends by the young Saint-Saens who took over the piano and the composition classes after Louis Niedermeyer’s death. The ‘new’ composers included Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner.

 

Fauré’s Violin Sonata in A is considered one of his three early masterworks. It was written between 1875 and 1876, and was dedicated to the violinist Paul Viardot who premiered the work in Paris with Fauré at the piano in 1877. The Viardots were a prominent musical family, especially in operatic circles. Paul’s mother, Pauline, was a singer and also a mother of Marianne, to whom Fauré was briefly engaged.

 

The power of lyrical lines, which appear throughout the sonata, is felt immediately from the beginning of the work. The melodies unfold one after another, creating a propelling momentum. The elegance is complemented by youthfulness, and hopeful, refreshing qualities are exquisitely demonstrated. The work is also as exuberant as it is intimate. The second movement is both tender and melancholic, followed by a Scherzo that is light and fast in the outer parts with a rich and gay middle section. This style became a prototype for later scherzo movements by such composers as Ravel and Debussy. The final movement concludes brilliantly, lending slight boldness to a splendid work filled with beautiful, impassioned melodies.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

CÉSAR FRANCK: Sonata in A Major

CÉSAR FRANCK
(born 1822 in Liège; died 1890 in Paris)

Sonata in A Major (1886)

1. Allegretto ben moderato
2. Allegro
3. Recitativo-Fantasia
4. Allegretto poco mosso

 

César Franck’s Sonata in A Major, a classic in the violin and piano sonata repertoire, is filled with beauty, excitement, imagination, poignancy, and drama. While other important works of Franck have fallen in and out of fashion in the years since his death, the Sonata in A has remained popular for performers and audiences alike.

 

Although born in Belgium, Franck spent most of his life in Paris. Hoping he would be a concert pianist, his father enrolled him in the Conservatoire of Liege in 1830. He became a fine pianist, made concert tours, and won awards, but his personality was not suited to the self-promotion necessary to build a successful career as a soloist.

 

Despite the reservations of his father, Franck was interested in composing from an early age but he was only able to turn to it in earnest around the time he became the organist at the Basilica of Ste. Clotilde in 1858. He remained there until his death and also served, from 1872, as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his devoted pupils included Vincent d’Indy, Henri Duparc, and Ernest Chausson.

 

Franck was a Romantic who succeeded in combining chromatic harmonies with the Classical style. He composed his only sonata for violin and piano in the last decade of his life, a period of intense creativity that also saw the creation of his D Minor Symphony, the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra and the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for piano solo. The manuscript of the Violin Sonata was Franck’s wedding gift to the Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaÿe in September 1886, when the first performance took place. The public premiere took place three months later, performed by its dedicatee and Léontine Bordes-Pene at the Musée Moderne de Peinture in Brussels.

 

The sonata is in four movements alternating between slow and fast. As the first movement unfolds, so does the story, filled with unceasing melodies and a rhythmic element reminiscent of the gentle sway of a barcarolle. The second movement is a fireball of passion and energy, with the opening solo passagework on the piano one of the most challenging in the literature. Despite the fast tempos and perpetual motion, the melodic fluency remains prominent, and the great sense of urgency adds to the excitement.

 

The third movement is a fantasy-filled self-reflection. It has a hint of self-indulgence, with a dark and clenching mood as well as an ecstatic melodic line that effectively contrasts with the peace and sense of attainment in the fourth and last movement. The flowing melody of quarter notes is immediately stated at the start of the movement by the piano, which the violin follows in a canon. The two instruments take turns in initiating the canon throughout. The sonata concludes with energetic elegance.

 

(May 2005)
Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV: Entr’acte ‘Andante sostenuto’ from Raymonda Op. 57

ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV
(born 1865 in St Petersburg; died 1936 in Paris)

Entr’acte ‘Andante sostenuto’ from Raymonda, Op. 57 (1896-1897)
(arranged for violin and piano by Konstantin Rodionova)

 

Glazunov showed phenomenal gifts as a composer from an early age. By the time he was 16 years old, his First Symphony had been premiered in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg. Along with his teacher Rimsky Korsakov, Borodin, Scriabin, and a number of others, his career was supported by the patron Mitrofan Belyayev. The so-called “Belyayev Circle” comfortably merged the Russian folk style so prominent in the works of The Five with the European style favored by Tchaikovsky. Perhaps it was this happy middle ground that also helped Glazunov survive successfully during the Russian Revolution and in the wake of creative restrictions later imposed by the Soviet State.

 

The music to the ballet Raymonda was written between 1896 and 1897 on a commission from the great ballet master Marius Petipa whose oeuvre included The Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty, all to music by Tchaikovsky. Premièred at the Mariinsky Theater in 1897, Raymonda is considered one of Glazunov’s best works.

 

The story of Raymonda, written by the poet Lydia Pashkova, takes place during the Crusades and is presented over three Acts: two lovers are parted at the beginning of the ballet as one of them, the knight, goes off on a pilgrimage. While he is away, the girl is pursued by a Saracen warrior but her knight returns just in time to rescue her. The ballet concludes with their marriage and they live happily ever after.

 

In the ballet, this excerpt, which Glazunov marks Andante sostenuto, comes between the first and the second acts. The opening melody is originally scored for two clarinets, and the transcribed version plays both lines simultaneously on the violin in double-stops. The atmosphere is dreamy and enchanted, empowered by the magic in the air. This lovely arrangement for violin and piano was made by Konstantin Rodionova, chairman of the violin department at the Gnessin Institute of Music in Moscow and a contemporary of the great Soviet violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan.

 

I first came across this transcription in a videotaped performance by Leonid Kogan with his daughter Nina at the piano. Because of its immediate beauty, I instantly fell under its spell and began to search for a copy of the score. I am deeply grateful to my good friend Pavel Berman through whom I was finally able to gain access to the sheet music, which had been out of print for some time.

 

(January 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ALEXANDER GOEHR: Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 70

ALEXANDER GOEHR
(born 1932 in Berlin; resides in the UK)

Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 70 (2000)

1. Prelude
2. Rain Song “The days of summer are gone”, with variations
3. Three-part Invention

 

Alexander Goehr, one of today’s most important British composers, has been described as “a politically conscious composer, determined to write music relevant to his age.”

 

Many influences can be detected in Goehr’s music. His father, the celebrated conductor Walter Goehr, had studied with Schoenberg and admired him greatly, yet recognized the limitations of 12-tone technique and the music of the New Viennese School. At one time, Alexander Goehr composed in strict 12-tone or serial style but he came to appreciate his father’s more realistic vision and has said that, although his work is deeply affected by serial music, he feels he has also transcended it. There is certainly a naturalness that makes his lines flow and unfold. Other composers whose work has influenced Goehr are Messiaen, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Janáček.

 

The Suite for Violin and Piano was commissioned by the Harvard Musical Society and was performed there for the first time on 25 April 2000. The work is in three-movements. In the second movement there are raised tritones, poignantly accented dissonances and vocal-type embellishments typical of “Jewish” or “Hebraic” music. The piece is atonal although it is guided by some very strong melodic lines, forms of transpositions and inversions of the motives that can be seen as recurring ideas.

 

The first movement, Prelude, opens with a violin recitative, which introduces all the main ideas for the movement. Each subsequent segment takes something from the opening recitative and spins out different and new material. In this way, the movement is like a set of variations on fragments although Goehr does not specifically call it that. Perhaps the easiest to single out on first hearing is the quintuplet figure at the very beginning of the piece:

 

(Ex.1 – 1st movement opening)
GoehrEx1

This motive returns many times throughout the movement played by both instruments:

 

(Ex.2 – 1st movement b.14-15)
GoehrEx2

(Ex.3 – 1st movement b.42-43)
GoehrEx3

But each time, it presents itself slightly differently. The movement ends with a final statement of the motive:

 

(Ex.4 – 1st movemnt b.72-74)
GoehrEx4

The second movement, Rain Song “The days of summer are gone”, with variations, is based on an anonymous medieval (9th to 11th century) Hebrew acrostic poem. In acrostic poems, the first letter of each line spells out something significant (like an author’s name) and was a common form of poetry in medieval Jewish culture. This particular Rain Song is a joyous celebration of the harvest. The theme is marked by accentuated off-beats. It is rather rhetorical and becomes increasingly ornamented. The final moment of the theme segment is particularly nostalgic, enhanced with the use of harmonics on the violin. Each subsequent variation is marked with distinct rhythmic patterns. Variation 2 particularly challenges the performers with mixed meters and extremely complex compound rhythms that are made denser by offbeat accents (syncopation variant):

(Ex.5 – 2nd movement Variaiton 2 b.51-53)
goehr5

goehr6

This kind of complexity is typical in New Music where un-synchronized rhythm enhances the tension of time.

 

The third movement, Three-part Invention, serves more like a fifth variation of the second movement. By far the shortest movement of the Suite, it is marked by contrapuntal writing and demonstrates Goehr’s masterful manipulation of very traditional musical materials in an individualistic, modern way. Three-part inventions were particularly prominent in the writings of Bach and the ability to write counterpoint well has traditionally been considered an absolutely necessary asset for any composer. Goehr’s three-part invention features three entries with two brief episodes in between. The general feeling is crisp as is typical of contrapuntal writing, and the intensity builds to the very end, a single note played on the piano, giving the impression not of abruptness but of humor.

 

Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

EDVARD GRIEG: Sonata No.1 in F Major Op.8

EDVARD GRIEG 
(born 1843 in Bergen; died 1907 in Bergen)

Sonata No.1 in F Major Op.8 (1865)

I. Allegro con brio
II. Allegretto quasi andantino
III. Allegro molto vivace

 

Edvard Grieg was an aspiring composer of 22 when he wrote his first violin sonata. He was spending the summer of 1865 in Rungsted, near Copenhagen, after several years of study at the renowned Leipzig Conservatory, where he had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the German romanticism of Brahms and Schumann. To this mix was added his emerging interest in the folk traditions of Scandinavia, and in particular, Norway, for which he later became so well-known. Grieg’s most famous works, the Peer Gynt and Holberg suites and his Piano Concerto in A minor, all pay homage to his Norwegian heritage.

 

Grieg only composed six chamber works, of which three are sonatas for violin and piano, written between 1865 and 1887. These sonatas had a special place for Grieg, and he once commented, “they each represent a period in my development: the first, naive, rich in ideas … the second, nationalistic … and the third, a wider horizon. They each have brought me great luck.”

 

Upon seeing the score of Grieg’s first sonata for violin and piano, Franz Liszt was so taken by it that he immediately invited the young composer to visit him. Liszt’s enthusiastic support greatly enhanced Grieg’s reputation and raised awareness of his compositional gifts.

 

Unsurprisingly, in the F Major Sonata, there is a strong presence of German romanticism although it is infused with melodies and harmonies of the Norwegian folk music with which the young composer was rapidly becoming enchanted. After the two quiet opening chords by the piano, the violin immediately launches into the main theme which is both sweet and hopeful. The impression of winds rippling under the current of the melodic lines add to the fantasy and the freshness of the music.

 

Grieg’s music can sometimes be criticized for sounding familiar or derivative. Certainly, there are passages that can make the listener think, “haven’t I heard this somewhere before?” But what distinguishes it is its flow – which is different from how fast or slow the tempo markings are – and its fiery temperamental sections in the midst of which one always finds fantasy and simple, folkloric sentiments. These characteristics are already clear in early works, including the F Major Sonata.

 

The buoyant first movement ends surprisingly quietly, followed by the Scherzo-form second movement in which an old-style dance in A minor sandwiches a festive folk dance in A major. This is unconventional as the scherzo is usually reserved to follow the slow movement. The Allegro molto vivace which serves as the finale of the Sonata returns to an outgoing, more jovial mood. It is even more eager and energetic than the opening Allegro con brio and gives more opportunities for virtuosity in both instruments without ever straying too far from flashes of tenderness.

 

Grieg was very proud of his F Major Sonata. It was first performed in Christiania (now Oslo) in 1865 in the first concert devoted entirely to Norwegian music, but Grieg also continued to advocate it later in his life. The sonata was championed in the composer’s lifetime by the great violinist Josef Joachim, who often performed it with Grieg himself at the piano. Although the violinist Oscar Shumsky later played it on his international recital tours, in recent years it has returned to semi-oblivion. A beautiful and accessible work, it deserves to be better known.

 

Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

EDVARD GRIEG: Sonata No. 3 in C Minor Op. 45

EDVARD GRIEG

(born 1843 in Bergen; died 1907 in Bergen)

Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45 (1886-87)

1. Allegro molto ed appassionato
2. Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza – Allegro
3. Allegro animato

 

The Norwegian cultural scene at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century was vibrant with the likes of Edvard Munch, Henrik Ibsen, and Edvard Grieg. Romanticism was slowly being taken over by Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, and Expressionism. Collectively, Nationalism was a dominating and cohesive force in much of politics as well as in the arts. There was uneasiness and unsettled political conditions, and, artistically, there was a strong, desired affirmation for attachment to the land and to cultural works of the people.

 

Grieg was born into a musical family in Bergen in 1843. He began piano lessons with his mother at the age of six, while also attending local composition classes. At 15, he went to Leipzig for further study. There, he benefited the most from opportunities for direct exposure, through performances, to the works of Schumann (as interpreted by Clara Schumann), Wagner, and Strauss, which had not been as available to him at home.

 

Upon graduating from the Leipzig Conservatory, he moved on to Copenhagen after a brief stop in Bergen. It was in Copenhagen–then the cultural capital of Scandinavia–that he developed a strong affinity for Norwegian culture and folklore as influenced further by Ole Bull and a fellow Norwegian composer, Rikard Nordraak. Immediately henceforth, the Norwegian flavor became an identifying characteristic in Grieg’s works. His love for folk music and the landscape was to remain for the rest of his life.

 

Grieg’s chamber music output is small–only six works, of which three are violin sonatas and one an incomplete string quartet. The Violin Sonata No. 3, completed in 1887, is the most popular and his personal favorite of the genre. Grieg, playing the piano, premiered it with Adolf Brodsky (a dedicatee of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto) the same year in Leipzig.

 

The Violin Sonata No. 3 is a three-movement work in which folk elements can be felt in the melodies and rhythmic patterns, but the harmonies remain in the traditional and Romantic-era style.

 

The first movement opens heroically and boldly with the theme played by the violinist on the deep, robust G string. Melodies and themes appear to be flowing from one to the next, following no particular compositional form. The opening theme, however, appears in a few disguised or masked versions throughout the movement.

 

Example 1: Violin and piano, opening theme, mm. 1-2
musicnote-grieg1-sm

Example 2: Violin, mm. 145-156

musicnote-grieg2-sm

Example 3: violin, mm. 226-233

musicnote-grieg3-sm

Example 4: violin, mm. 247-251
musicnote-grieg4-sm

In the second movement, the first and the last sections are almost identical and in the middle is the Morris Dance, which was a pantomime-like dance popular during the Renaissance. In contrast to the violin-dominated first movement, the second movement opens with a lyrical piano solo all the more eloquent for its solitary quality.

 

The highly energetic final movement follows the form of a sonatina A-B-A-B’-Coda, a form akin to sonata form, but with a development section. Whereas in the second movement the B section was the faster section, in this movement the B section is grand and melodious, in contrast to the vibrant, fast-moving A section.

 

The rather short B section is uninhibited and the romantic air is unstoppable. It is even more so the second time the section is heard, close to the end of the work. This time the piano has consistent running notes, giving the Cantabile added propulsion; this leads to the near-frantic Coda, marked Prestissimo. The work ends in a blaze of excitement.

 

(August 2002)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL: Sonata in E Major Op.1 No. 15 HWV 373

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
(GEORG FRIEDRICH HÄNDEL)
(born 1685 Halle, Germany; died 1759, London)

Sonata in E Major, Op.1 No. 15 HWV 373 from The Complete Sonatas for Violin and Figured Bass

I. Adagio
II. Allegro
III. Largo
IV. Allegro

 

Born in 1685 in the German city of Halle, George Friderick Handel demonstrated musical talent early on in his lessons in counterpoint/harmony, organ/harpsichord, violin, and oboe. His father, a businessman, vehemently opposed his son’s wish for a life in music. However, a family friend, the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, recognized young Handel’s exceptional musical gifts and convinced his father to continue his musical education in addition to his regular studies.

 

Recognized widely today as the composer of Water Music and Messiah, Handel was granted instant acceptance as a composer at the age of 19 with the premiere in Hamburg of his opera, Almira.. More operas followed immediately, as well as an Oratorio based on the Passion of St. John. But Handel did not stay long in Hamburg, the city of his first success as a composer. In the next few years, he spent much time in Italy where he absorbed the Italian tradition of Baroque Opera and acquainted himself with Italian masters including Alessandro Scarlatti, Corelli, and Carissimi.

 

Returning to Germany, this time to Hanover, in 1710, he took a position with the Electoral Court, but he spent virtually no time there. Instead, he spent much time in England, where his employer in Hanover, Elector George, came to the throne of England as George I, succeeding Queen Anne, in 1714. As a result, Handel continued to serve the same person but in London.

 

Handel’s Sonata in E Major, Op. 1, No. 15 HWV 373 was first published as a part in a more extensive set of fifteen pieces: “Solos for German flute, Hoboy or Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord or Bass Violin.” In Handel’s case, the opus numbers are not indicative of the order in which they were written. This is because he not only had the habit of recycling earlier material, but his publisher changed the order (and even exchanged two sonatas for new ones) when he republished the set.

 

In the beginning of the 17th century, violin-keyboard literature was a rather new invention, as the ancestor of the modern violin had just emerged. While the keyboard instrument, the future piano, was to go through major alterations over the next few centuries, instruments in the string family were being transformed from instruments of soft sounds into instruments that could project and sustain the new solo lines that were being composed for them. Of course, Baroque instruments and bows seem different from “modern” instruments, with their more focused attack and sonority and, arguably, different tuning for the open strings. But it is clear that the stringed instruments of the 17th century were the forefathers of what we have today.

 

Musically speaking, there were changes as well. Up until the beginning of the 17th century, music (or musical lines) were written in counterpoint, meaning that the multiple lines were of equal importance and were independent of each other. Gradually these principles evolved into a new musical idea: prominent melodic lines, with the support of an accompanimental harmony. For example, in the early Baroque operas, the expressive melodic line was sung and accompanied by the subordinate lines, played on various instruments.

 

This style of writing (solo line, with support) came to be used in instrumental music, and, because the sound of a violin was the closest stringed instrument to that of the human voice, violin music gained an important place in the Baroque musical literature.

 

Handel’s “Sonatas for Violin and with Figured Bass,” like other Baroque sonatas, are played by the solo violin, accompanied by a bass line, which supplies harmonic continuity. This bass line can be executed by the viola da gamba alone, by the keyboard, or by the two instruments together, to accompany the solo violin line. Basso continuo literally translates as continuous bass, but it is a synonym for figured bass. The instruments usually involved in a Baroque sonata are the violin, and the basso continuo. It is most frequently covered by two musicians, a keyboard player and a lower string player who constantly doubles the keyboardist’s left hand. In some movements, this results in a continuous bass, but in other movements (especially the slow ones), there may be very little bass playing.

 

As one looks at the music for the basso continuo, it is written out with numerical symbols signifying the specific construction of the chord to be played, based on the notation. For the keyboard player, too, the bass line or the left hand is simple, and in addition, occasionally embellishing, improvisatory notes are written as suggestions for the right hand. What is concretely written is minimal. The bass line is provided, under which numerical symbols appear to clarify the kind of harmony that is to be constructed by each individual player. In the right hand, certain embellishments are made to be at the discretion of the player to “realize” the intent. Often the embellishments are in the forms of trills, scales, and appoggiaturas (dissonances emphasized on strong beats). The violinist improvises too, but to a lesser degree. There is a distinct difference between embellishment (adding trills, scales, and appoggiaturas to pre-existing lines) and improvisation. The continuo part requires extensive realization (choosing exactly which pitches to play above the bass line), considerable embellishment, and very little improvisation. To some extent, realization and embellishment add improvisatory effects to the music. The creation of melodic line, the kind of improvisation referred to in the violin part, is of a different flavor. In many slow movements from Baroque sonatas, all that was provided to the musicians was a figured bass. It was the violinist’s responsibility to make-up the music that would appear over this figured bass. Some times the violin would not play at all, and the movement would be a continuo solo, but this kind of improvisation is very different from realizing a figured bass (only by the continuo) and adding embellishments (both violin and continuo may do this depending on their level of skill and comfort.) It is also interesting to note that things are rarely truly improvised. There is not much done on the spot–these melodies are usually practiced and planned out ahead of time. However, their presentation is supposed to be improvisatory.

 

Handel’s music, unlike that of his famous contemporary J.S. Bach, has an open quality about it, with simplified musical components that are not introspective. The Sonata in E Major, Op. 1, No. 15 HWV 373 follows the format of a Baroque Church Sonata, alternating slow and fast movements. In this Sonata, the first movement opens the work with a feeling of simple nobility. Poised and elegant, the movement is written in one continuous, prolonged line. It moves directly into the second movement, Allegro, full of happy, positive energy. In this movement, the two half-sections are repeated, giving the performers a chance to challenge themselves to embellish differently each time. Moreover, the second half begins in the dominant key of B major, typically following the rules of composition popular in the Baroque era, as well as in later stylistic periods. In the third movement, one is reminded of a dirge, or a funeral procession. This is the least written-out section of the piece, and in this movement every performer is likely to realize and to interpret in a most “feelingful” way. The final movement, Allegro, is a gigue in E major. As in the second movement, the two halves are repeated, and the second half is in B major. This is essentially a charming movement.

 

(May 2002)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

STEPHEN HARTKE: Netsuke

STEPHEN HARTKE 
(born 1952 in New Jersey, USA; currently lives in California)

Netsuke  (2011)

 

Stephen Hartke, a master of a range of compositional styles, is one of the most respected American composers of his generation. He does not follow trends or fit into the mold of any compositional school, and his influences are as widely varied as bebop, Stravinsky, and medieval music. Each of his works is unique unto itself, not resembling his other compositions. Thus there is no “signature style” for Hartke, making the experience of hearing his works as intriguing as it is satisfying, both intellectually and emotionally. The pluralism of his influences and styles is truly wondrous.

 

Netsuke, written in 2011, is a set of six short movements inspired by Japanese artifact sculptures. “Netsuke” are miniature carved figurines that date to 17th century Japan; from functional beginnings they developed into far more artistic, aesthetically inspired objects. They were used to fasten a small bag, in which a person could keep personal belongings, onto a kimono’s sash or obi. While originally serving that utilitarian purpose, over time netsuke became rather elaborate in design and construction. They were typically made from delicate materials such as ivories and lacquer, while the subjects they depicted often derived from Japanese folklore.

 

Hartke’s composition, Netsuke, is inspired by six figurines in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They are, in order:

 

1. Tengu, the shapeshifter that feeds on the falsely holy.
2. Tadamori and the Oil-thief.
3. Tanuki playing the samisen.
4. Baku, the monster that devours nightmares.
5. Demons carrying a rich man to hell.
6. Jewel of Wisdom with mountain pavilions.

 

The following is excerpted from Hartke’s own notes on the piece:

 

“In the first movement, a tengu, a hawk-like goblin, takes on the appearance of a monk to lure a religious hypocrite to his doom. The second carving, Tadamori and the Oil-Thief, is a wonderfully kinetic depiction of a midnight scuffle between a samurai and a poor servant whom he has mistaken for a thief.

 

A tanuki is a raccoon-like creature thought to have the power to change its appearance. In this small sculpture one is seen dressed in a robe quietly playing the samisen. In my piece, I found myself thinking of the samisen duels that one frequently hears in Japanese theatrical music. While quite fearsome looking, with the head of an elephant and a lion’s mane, the baku is a shy creature that performs the useful service of protecting sleepers from nightmares.

 

In the carving that inspired the fifth movement, a rich man has apparently set off on a journey, but instead of being carried by his usual bearers, seven demons have hijacked his sedan chair and gleefully cart him down to Hell.

 

The final netsuke shows a serene mountain landscape intricately rendered in a water-drop-shaped piece of ivory. Gnarled wind-blown trees and the verandas of handsome pavilions can be discerned through the mist.”

 

Netsuke is a composition of considerable humor and great craftsmanship. While the music hints of the origins of its inspiration – some sense of the “oriental” – it never sounds gimmicky or anything less than tactful. Hartke’s writing for both the violin and piano is extremely inventive and imaginative. He never falls back on convention, his work proving that long-held notions of what constitutes “good” sound can in fact be redefined. Each movement’s tone nimbly reflects the characters being portrayed, rather than merely adhering to (typically Western) conceptions of correctly pleasant musical beauty.

 

The first movement, Tengu, opens with a mischievous, speedy piano run, distinguished by a wide registral disparity between the two hands. The violin enters over these quick notes with chordal, chorale-like gestures. The roles reverse in the middle of the movement, with the violin taking on the fast notes, and the piano the chords. Toward the end of the movement, mischievousness wins out, the music finally disappearing as though it were smoke.

 

Tadamori: Extremely fast notes from both instruments – almost frantic in character – begin this movement. The music is technically challenging for each instrument, owing to its speed and to the regularly changing (rather unconventional) meter, both factors posing ensemble issues. The influence of jazz can be discerned at times (a Hartke hallmark). In contrast to the movement’s two earlier sections, murmuring and whispering characterize its final portion. The glissandi, portamenti, and quarter tones called for in the violin part all contribute to this effect.

 

Tanuki: This movement is notable for its unusual special effects, and is perhaps the most “oriental” in its feel. The entire main section requires the violinist to play various types of pizzicato, including Bartókian and plucking the strings, not with a finger but with a guitar pick. This latter closely resembles the sound of the shamisen (a three-string traditional Japanese instrument, held to be played like a guitar). For the pianist, the very opening of the movement requires hitting of the strut inside the piano.

 

Baku: The composer asks for a noise-like, garish tone to portray a monster devouring and savoring dreams, the gnashing, highly evocative music depicting this creature saving humans from their own nightmares.

 

Demons: Demons swagger, then proceed to take a rich man on a ride to Hell – but at the end, it is as if nothing ever happened. The commotion of a hair-raising run to the other world, evinced with jazzy and improvisatory flair, is exciting and memorable, demanding the utmost virtuosity from both instrumentalists. Gestures and expressions are exaggerated to grotesque dimensions, to make the composer’s point.

 

Jewel of Wisdom – particularly after the heat of the previous movement – is a picture of serenity, calm and contentment, yet it is also haunting and mystical. The movement’s opening, played by piano alone, is in complex meter, but because of its slow-moving quality, it feels almost completely free and non-metered. The harmonies are rich and luscious.

 

Commissioned by the McKim Fund, Netsuke was given its premiere in 2011 by Matt Albert and Lisa Kaplan, both members of the new-music ensemble eighth blackbird, at the Library of Congress.

 

 

Notes © 2014 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MICHAEL HERSCH: “the wreckage of flowers” – Twenty-one Pieces After Poetry and Prose of Czesław Miłosz

MICHAEL HERSCH 
(born 1971 in Washington D.C; currently resides in Philadelphia)

“the wreckage of flowers” – Twenty-one Pieces After Poetry and Prose of Czesław Miłosz (2003)

 

Completed in 2003, the wreckage of flowers is a set of 21 short pieces accompanying writings of the Polish-born 1980 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004). Individually, the pieces are laconic and to the point; together they create a reflection of the composer in conversation with Miłosz’s writing.

 

Michael Hersch has risen to prominence relatively quickly, becoming one of the best-known American composers of his generation. His musical language hovers between atonality and tonality, while intricate clusters of pitches and sudden rhythmic transitions underlie a striking intensity of expression. Particularly recently, his works tend to have multiple movements emphasizing economy of material and a more focused, often severe expression, distinguishing them from the large scale or few-movement works he wrote in his twenties.

 

Czesław Miłosz was one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. He often explored humanity’s seemingly endless capacity for cruelty, and its tragic consequences, witnessing much of it first hand. However, compassion was always important in his works, as well. Born in Lithuania in 1911 his family moved frequently during World War I. During World War II Miłosz survived the Nazi occupation of Poland and afterwards joined the diplomatic service. In 1951 he defected to France and eventually became a professor of Slavic Languages at the University of California-Berkeley. He died 14 August 2004.

 

Hersch has based the 21 short pieces of the wreckage of flowers on 19 text fragments of Miłosz’s prose and poetry, the two remaining texts being repeated. Rather than setting the words to music, as in a traditional song setting, Hersch has taken the fragments and reacted instrumentally.

 

All the pieces are short and contain few traditionally melodious moments. Throughout the half-hour work the violin and the piano remain virtually independent though cohesive at the same time. Although the score is thick with expressive indications, the work is to be played with a degree of spontaneity; the rhythmic and dynamic instructions from the composer must be taken as guidelines rather than strict dictates.

 

In simple terms, the wreckage of flowers combines open and tightly knit sounds, extended pedaling on the piano, hushed tones of col legno (special effects technique on the violin where the wooden part of the bow used to draw its sound rather than the hair), and the use of extreme registers of both instruments. The intensity can be felt in part through flourishes of notes among densely contrapuntal notations. The music also relies heavily on voice leading; navigating areas of atonality and tonality with the same degree of purpose, offering new and distinctive sounds as opposed to deviations from classic or traditional textures.

 

The wreckage of flowers was commissioned by Midori and was premiered in the 2004-2005 season in performances by violinist Midori and pianist Robert McDonald. Michael Hersch studied at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and at the Moscow Conservatory in Russia; he was also a fellow at the Tanglewood Institute. As a pianist Hersch has performed in the U.S. and Europe. A recording of Hersch’s chamber music was released in 2003 on the Vanguard Classics label. A new disc featuring Hersch performing music of Morton Feldman, Wolfgang Rihm, Josquin Des Pres and his own work is also available on the same label.

 

(October 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

PAUL HINDEMITH: Sonata in E-flat Major Op.11/1

PAUL HINDEMITH
(born 1895 in Hanau; died 1963 in Frankfurt)

Sonata in E-flat Major, Op.11/1 (1918)

1. Frisch
2. Im Zeitmass eines langsamen, feierlichen Tanzes

 

Paul Hindemith was a versatile musician who also had a flair for music administration. Artistically, his most active years were between the two World Wars, when he made his mark as a performer on the viola, violin, and clarinet, as well as in conducting and composing. An important theorist, Hindemith was also active as a teacher and an arts administrator. In the latter role, he served the Donaueschingen Festspiele and the Turkish government.

 

Hindemith’s activities in his native Germany were prematurely curtailed by the rise of Nazism. He was forced to relocate to the United States, where he eventually secured citizenship in 1946. He returned to Europe several years later and remained there until his death. His musical curiosity was as diverse and eclectic as his talents, and he had a life-long dedication to the advocacy of medieval and Renaissance music and to early instruments.

 

Hindemith composed his Op.11 set of sonatas between 1917 and 1919. The original Opus 11/1 of 1917 was destroyed. The sonata in E-flat of 1918 was therefore re-numbered Op. 11/1. Moreover, the current Op. 11/1 seems to be incomplete, as Hindemith never wrote what should have been the last movement.

 

In this two-movement work, the dominating compositional style is one of “free atonality.” The atonal factor seems only secondary and while the analysis clearly points out the elements deviating from the classic style, upon first hearing, the listener notices the directness and the immediacy of the main themes. The general effect of atonality in this work, complemented by rhythmic jauntiness, is that of a pleasurable oddity which is strange, curious, and appetizing.

 

The form of the first movement (Frisch) is palindromic, formed of large sections that occur in the pattern A-B-C-B-A. The A section that opens and closes the movement enters with a heroic sweep. The base chord for this section is an augmented E-flat triad, a chord made up of E-flat, G, and B. In the tonal tradition, it would be, instead, E-flat, G, B-flat for a major chord or E-flat, G-flat, B-flat for minor. However, the augmented one is a combination of two major third intervals, and addition of one more major third to the triad divides the octave from E-flat to E-flat (or D-sharp) into three equal parts. Such even divisions of an octave were a compositional technique that gained popularity in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century.

 

Whereas the opening section was full of wide jumps between notes, the more songful quality of the second section is created by the uses of step-wise motion. The G-sharp minor mode which started the section eventually becomes the A-flat Major key, the G-sharp of course being the same pitch as A-flat.

 

Next comes a transitional section. It is rather difficult to determine how the harmonies are moving toward the eventual return of the second theme, except that they are indeed on their way to somewhere. When the second theme returns, the energy is full but quickly quiets down, sweetly and tenderly, making way for the final contrast back to the opening material. At the height of the excitement, the movement concludes with the E-flat Major chord.

 

The second movement (Im Zeitmass eines langsamen, feierlichen Tanzes), which was originally intended only as a middle movement, begins with two E-flats played as an octave on the piano. Ostinato-like, it nonetheless sets up the rhythm similar to a dirge. The entire movement is played with the mute on the violin, which contributes to the pseudo-romantic impression.

 

With analysis, one realizes the extensive use of half-step motions in the outer sections and arppegiation in the middle sections. At the close of the movement, the semi-chromaticism brings back the tonic E-flat. However the atmosphere remains rather inconclusive, giving way to the eeriness of character that is fully perfumed with incense.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

PAUL HINDEMITH: Sonata in C Major

PAUL HINDEMITH
(born 1895 in Hanau; died 1963 in Frankfurt)

Sonata in C Major (1939)

1. Lebhaft
2. Langsam – Lebhaft – Langsam, wie zuerst
3. Fuge

 

Paul Hindemith was a multi-talented person whose contribution to the music world extended beyond composing to musicology and arts administration. He was also an active and versatile performer as a violist, violinist, and conductor. In an era where modernist music was embracing a philosophy of “art for art’s sake,” Hindemith was a supporter of Gebrauchsmusik, or “utility music,” which called for works to be composed for specific and practical purposes and often to be played by amateurs.

 

Written during a self-imposed exile in Switzerland, the Sonata in C Major (1939) is one of four sonatas that Hindemith wrote for violin and piano. Cast in three movements, the sonata’s language bears some resemblance to that of Mahler.

 

The fanfare-like first movement, Lebhaft, evolves from the main theme at the beginning of the work. This theme provides the basis for the rest of the movement, which Hindemith constructs as if with building blocks. It begins in a low register in a bold, declamatory way, and eventually develops to a rather high register at the end of the movement.

 

The second movement, Langsam – Lebhaft – Langsam, wie zuerst, is written in considerably thinner texture than the first. Its ubiquitous canonic element contrasts dramatically with the bombastic energy of the previous movement. Divided into three parts (the two outer portions are derived from the same material with a distinctly different one between them), the second movement sustains a hint of Baroque character throughout. Additionally, the middle section is purposefully nonchalant, but playful and teasing. The music consistently dances, although it is in the odd meter of 5/8 in the middle section. In the final section, the simpler 2/4 meter returns as it was at the top of the movement.

 

Solemnity best describes the effect of the 3-voice fugue of the last movement. The form of the triple fugue demonstrates Hindemith’s complete mastery over this compositional technique consisting of three themes or subjects with three sections, all smoothly converging at the end. The disciplined character of angular and unrelenting verticality comes to a pointed and grand conclusion.

 

Notes © 2007 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

PAUL HINDEMITH: Sonata in E

PAUL HINDEMITH 
(born 1895 in Hanau; died 1963 in Frankfurt)

Sonata in E(1935)

1. Ruhig bewegt
2. Langsam – Sehr Lebhaft

 

The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the composer Paul Hindemith. As this is also a special year for Wagner, Verdi, Lutoslawski, and Britten – and also as it is not a Hindemith centennial – the celebrations of his achievements have been relatively few and tempered. Nonetheless, this anniversary presents an opportunity to bring a major artist back into the wide consciousness his vast achievements merit.

 

Paul Hindemith was a multi-faceted figure – a violinist, a world-renowned violist, a conductor, a composer, a festival organizer, an administrator, and a noted teacher – in truth, he was one of the most versatile musical personalities to have ever lived. In every aspect of his career, Hindemith made an incredible impact on the world of music that is felt to the present day, partially through the achievements of his many prominent disciples.

 

A compelling figure during tumultuous times, Hindemith, an iconoclastic German, had a complex, fraught relationship with the Nazis, who saw the Germanic musical legacy as their special province. Hitler and his propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, regularly commented on the arts, music in particular, championing and condemning artists, often in line with their racial theories.

 

A great controversy, “the Hindemith Case,” coalesced around an article written by the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1934, after Furtwängler led the premiere of the symphonic version of Hindemith’s opera, Mathis der Maler. The Nazi regime had already been unhappy with Hindemith’s occasional artistic irreverence, and with his marriage to a half-Jew and his working relationships with Jewish and part-Jewish instrumentalists. After the uproar caused by Furtwängler’s defense of Hindemith, Goebbels publicly condemned the composer as an “atonal noisemaker.”

 

Governmental pressure played a decisive factor in pushing Hindemith and his wife into an itinerant life. They first decamped to Turkey in 1935, to Switzerland in 1938, settling in the U.S. in 1940, where he became a renowned professor at Yale University. It was a deeply unsettling time for Hindemith, and a wife whose life was endangered by her partially Jewish heritage, a reality hardly made more bearable by the fact that many other creative masters went into self-exile from Germany and other European nations during that era.

 

Through all, Hindemith was a prolific composer. By the 1930’s, his compositional style had passed through several different phases – from the neo-classical and the contrapuntal, as well as late romantic and expressionist styles, to a unique blend combining years of experimentation and artistic development with elegance, confidence, and ease. It is astonishing that Hindemith could continue to write in a period of profound personal turmoil, and that his Sonata in E manages to sound almost untouched by the stresses of his daily life.

 

While Hindemith is known for being favored by violists, his own musical education began on the violin. This two-movement, ten-minute-long piece is his third composition written for violin and piano, the earlier two sonatas dating from 1918. Beyond that, this work serves as the first in a series in which Hindemith set out to write one sonata for every instrument; in the course of the following twenty years, he produced 26 such compositions.

 

Written in the summer months of 1935, following the Hindemith Case and the premieres of both the operatic and symphonic versions of “Mathis”, the sonata is a pure distillation of the Hindemith style. It features three-voiced writing, contrapuntal and canonic, with flowing lines and clearly contrasting sections of differing moods. The opening is spring-like and sweet, and the lines are almost vocal. In the middle section, a shadow of ominous clouds seems to sweep in, threatening but never bursting. The movement closes with a hint of both nostalgia and quiet humor. The second movement, which is really the main body of the sonata, is made up of contrasting sections, one solemn and grave, a latter section resembling a lively tarantella. The slow portion is dirge-like, yet it soars in a romantic, emotional intensity at its height. By contrast, the dance-influenced section is thrilling in feel, at times jovial and at other times a bit anxious. In the coda, Hindemith combines elements from both sections and concludes in a hopeful, decisive E major.

 

The Sonata in E was premiered in Geneva by Stephan Frenkel and Maroussia Orloff in February 1936.

 

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

TOSHIO HOSOKAWA: Vertical Time Study III

TOSHIO HOSOKAWA 
(born 1955 in Hiroshima, Japan)

Vertical Time Study III (1994)

 

“Music is the place where notes and silence meet.” – Toshio Hosokawa

 

In his early twenties, Hosokawa studied in Berlin for several years with the exiled Korean composer Isang Yun, and the post-war European style remains a major influence of his music, alongside intrinsic Eastern aesthetic principles. Yun, along with Toru Takemitsu, encouraged the incorporation of Japanese traditions and challenged his protégée to further develop this cultural balance in his compositions.

 

The Vertical Time Study is a three-part series which challenges the conventions of the performers and the listeners by focusing not on the chronological sequence of sounds, but on examining all the tones and colors of each single note and the gaps between them.

 

In his own writings on Vertical Time Study III, Hosokawa describes this work in terms of calligraphy; the violin is the brush, while the piano is the canvas background upon which the ink is spread. A defining characteristic of Hosokawa’s music is the interplay between sound and silence, and both elements are weighted with equal importance. The silence, to Hosokawa, represents the boundless, infinite possibilities of humanity and the natural world.

 

(December 2009)

Notes © 2009 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO, Ltd.
References available upon request.

LEOŠ JANÁČEK: Sonata

LEOŠ JANÁČEK
(born 1854 in Hukvaldy, Moravia; died 1928 in Ostrava, Moravia)

Sonata for Violin and Piano (1914; revised 1921)

1. Con moto
2. Ballada: con moto
3. Allegretto
4. Adagio

 

Leoš Janáček was born in Moravia in 1854 amidst the growth of nationalism and political unrest. He was intensely attached to his homeland and inevitably his music reflects the folk influences of his background. Having spent most of his active life as a choirmaster, teacher, and specialist in the ethnomusicology of Moravia, he also developed a keen interest in speech patterns and voice inflections as dictated by the context. His study eventually led him to a theory of speech-melody; as a result, pitch fluctuations of words and sentences are a part of his musical lines.

 

Janáček’s recognition as a composer came quite late. In his 60s, and already partially in retirement, the productions of his opera Janufa in Prague and Vienna finally put him on the international map. The general style of his works is that the most intensely felt psychological interior is portrayed with extreme vividness. At times, the emotions are raw, hair-raising and excruciating; at other times, tragic, tender and despondent. While one might call his music disturbed and mad, another would re-cast it as severely honest in confronting the pains and fears of human life.

 

The Violin Sonata, one of Janáček’s most popular instrumental works, was first sketched in 1914 and finally completed in 1921, after numerous revisions. A four-movement work, it alludes to the violence and the unsettling circumstances of World War I.

 

The first movement, Con moto, opens boldly with an introductory violin solo which is almost immediately followed by the first theme. Throughout the movement, fragmentary and cryptic motives intertwine with longer phrases. As the movement nears the end, tension builds up but finally it concludes, surprisingly peacefully, with a comfortable Db major triad.

 

Next, in the Ballada, the impression is one of tenderness and simplicity. The most lyrical movement of the sonata, the notes seem to flow from one another with ease. An improvisatory, anxious episode briefly interrupts the mood towards the end of the movement, but serenity soon returns.

 

The Allegretto is in the form of a scherzo. In this three-part movement, the first section (which is the same material as the last section) begins with the piano playing a bouncy folk melody over a buzzing series of trills. The violin intermittently interrupts with a shrieking chromatic figure. The middle section is almost pseudo-Romantic.

 

The final movement, Adagio, is the most rhapsodic of the Sonata. The main motif is of repetitive interruption, played ferociously in the violin, at times muted. It is a severe disruption of the poignant piano line. Interjected into the main thematic motif are two contrasting ideas. One is a sunny melody filled with hope and eagerness for life and another is what Janáček described as the majestic entrance of the Russian liberating Army into Moravia. The work ends as the main motif dynamically fades away while the ever-increasing tension of inevitable disaster scents the air.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FRITZ KREISLER: Caprice Viennois, Liebesleid and Liebesfreud

FRITZ KREISLER

(born 1875 in Vienna; died 1962 in New York City)

 

Caprice Viennois

Liebesleid

Liebesfreud

 

Fritz Kreisler ranked near the pinnacle among the legendary violinists who graced the late 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. Known for his melting tone and sweet, sentimental expression, he was surely one of the most beloved classical performers of his day.

 

Born in Vienna, Kreisler showed prodigious violinistic talents early and went on to study at the famed Paris Conservatoire, winning its “Premier Grand Prix de Rome” when he was only twelve years old, while besting an array of “peers” all close to twice his age. His initial tour to the US, while still in his early teens, was only somewhat successful, and upon his return to Vienna, Kreisler met with rejection in his attempt to become a member of the Vienna Philharmonic. As a result, he turned to medicine and art for further study, and it was only a decade later, in the late 1890s, that he returned to performing in public. An engagement with the Berlin Philharmonic and new American tours met with great success, and his reputation was set. He concertized widely after that, except for his honorable Austrian Army service during the First World War and a self-imposed hiatus during WWII, until his retirement in the late 1940s.

 

Kreisler’s legacy extends beyond his fame as one of the greatest violinists of his day — if not of all time – as a composer of ever-beloved miniature violin works, as well as some arrangements and transcriptions. (He also composed larger-scale works, but those did not find comparable favor to the miniatures.) The shorter character pieces remain popular, admired and cherished among both professional and amateur violinists, and they occupy a truly distinct place in the violin literature.

 

Kreisler often attributed his own compositions to more notable composers in an amusing ruse to lend his writing initial credibility. He frequently introduced these compositions as his “discoveries” – or at least terming the works “in the style of.” These include some of his most famous works, such as the Praeludium and Allegro in the style of the 18th century virtuoso and composer Pugnani (that was initially introduced as Pugnani’s work).

 

The three works presented in this performance are Caprice Viennois, Libesleid and Liebesfreud (which translate as “Love’s Sorrow” and “Love’s Joy,” respectively) published in 1902, and 1910 for the latter two. Caprice Viennois is typified by an element of fantasy and, indeed, capriciousness. There are a few different sections within the 5-minute piece, and the variety and contrasts of moods range from humorous and excited to tender and bittersweet, the piece closing as if it were rising and disappearing into smoke. The slow Ländler section is particularly memorable for its almost perfumed melancholic sweetness.

 

The two other miniatures, Liebesleid and Liebesfreud, are written in the style of Viennese waltz. These, along with Schön Rosmarin, are the most popular of Kreisler’s output. Liebesleid is highly sentimental, summoning the nostalgic spirit of bygone days. Written in simply binary form, commitment to warmth of tone is critical to its performance. In Liebesfreud, evocations of gorgeousness, glitter, and luxury dominate, lifted by an enthusiastic energy, gaiety, and aplomb.

Notes © 2016 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

GYÖRGY KURTÁG: Tre pezzi Op. 14e

GYÖRGY KURTÁG
(born 1926 in Lugoj, Romania; currently resides in France)

Tre pezzi per violino e pianoforte, Op. 14e(1979) 

I Öd und traurig
II Vivo
III Aus der Ferne: Sehr leise, äusserst langsam

 

György Kurtág’s early life was inevitably influenced and shaped by unstable world conditions. Romanian-born, he moved to Budapest in 1946 to study with Sándor Veress and Ferenc Farkas (composition), Pál Kadosa (piano) and Léo Weiner (chamber music) at the Academy of Music, He was confined to Hungary after the Communists took over; the country became heavily censored and protected by the ruling authorities from progressive artistic developments and whatever was considered ‘bourgeois.’

 

In the brief opportunity when he was able to travel abroad, Kurtág went to Paris (1957-1958), where he studied with the art psychologist Marianne Stein as well as with Darius Milhaud and Oliver Messiaen. It was Stein who made the greatest impact on Kurtág ‘s creative identity. She encouraged him to explore expressing himself within clearly-defined limits–such as a few notes.

 

Tre Pezzi per violino e pianoforte is a short work comprising three mini-movements. Reworked for violin and piano from one of three vocal cycles composed in 1979, the piece offers an altered sense of time, space, and sounds. While the work can be deconstructed and analyzed, Tre Pezzi can also simply transport its listeners to a special world and offer a satisfying listening experience.

 

Characteristic of Kurtág ‘s works, Tre Pezzi is highly concentrated and devoid of empty gestures. Note-wise, there are absolutely no frills; the composer chooses his notes sparingly but with utmost attention and concentration, and there is much meaning contained in each note. In a way, one can say that Kurtág’s music is symbolic–individual notes symbolize a myriad of expressions, and works symbolize people. But he does not overstate; true to his inner creative motivation, he writes music that is simple, serious, and direct. He is quoted as having said, “I keep coming back to the realization that one note is almost enough.”

 

In that sense, Tre Pezzi could be compared to Anton Webern’s Vier Stücke, Op. 7 (1910). In both works there is an infinite world contained in each note although Kurtág’s piece sounds much less experimental than Webern’s. While Webern’s challenge is that of compacting messages into a single gesture or a note, what motivates Kurtág is the challenge of communicating without intervening factors getting in the way.

 

Throughout Tre Pezzi, the violin remains muted. The hushed sounds that result are complemented by abundant use of open strings and the timbre brought out of the piano contributes to the mysterious but miraculous sonority. The atmosphere of the three movements is distinctive–from the dream-like first piece to the scherzo second, followed by chant like third–but together, they make a memorable impression of a different quality of ‘reality’.

 

(November 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MAGNUS LINDBERG: Sonatas

MAGNUS LINDBERG
(born 1958 in Helsinki)

Sonatas (1979)

 

Magnus Lindberg’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano, a 12-minute work of bold, dramatic, and audacious character, was composed in 1979. It was Lindberg’s first commission, and came to the 21-year-old composer from the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation. The work was premiered on radio in 1980, and received its first public premiere a year later with the composer at the piano.

 

There are three sonatas incorporated into this one piece; actually three sections with different characteristics presented as distinct variations on similar material. Instead of calling each section a movement, Lindberg refers to each of them as a sonata, borrowing the term from Sonatas for a String Quartet (1967), a 40-plus minute work by the composer Brian Ferneyhough, one of Lindberg’s mentors. Each section has a distinct flavor, and the composer further distinguishes them by marking the beginning of each one in a different language: German, French, and Italian. A reference can be made to each section and its language and to the articulation and the general temperament of the national character.

 

The German sonata begins in a rather nasal and minimalist style, marked Mäßig (moderate). The violinist is required play certain notes specifically without vibrato, enhancing the sense of imposed motionlessness. The movement is markedly stark and slightly angular. The second sonata, the French, starts off more delicately and lightly, aussi léger que possible. Further indications include étincelant and lointant. The Italian section begins with extreme energy and drive, indicated Molto agitato.

 

In this short work the young Lindberg demonstrates an impressive ability to develop the musical dramaturgy and to manipulate time and momentum. According to Lindberg, this was the work in which he explored the difference between progressive and static forms. That said, even in the ‘static’ moments, there is a sense of musical momentum and constant kinetic movement.

 

The harmonic vocabulary of Lindberg’s Sonatas for violin and piano draws on a variety of contemporary traditions; tri-tonic and quartal harmonies, dissonant clusters, whole tone scales, and stark unison writing. The violin part freely exploits glissandi and quarter-tone wavers in pitch, while the pianistic writing is wildly extravagant, using the entire range of the instrument in an often brutal manner.

 

Lindberg also explores acoustical relationships between the instruments, as with violin pitches which arise out of dissonant clusters that are released gradually in the piano part. The music is of uncompromising “modernist” tendencies, which one could perhaps call “post-expressionist.”

 

Magnus Lindberg was born in Finland in 1958. He was first trained as a pianist and a composer at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the preeminent conservatory in Scandinavia. He continued his studies privately in Paris, Siena, and Darmstadt, all centers of progressive modernist compositional trends. He was a member of Korvat auki! and the Toimii Ensemble, modernist groups of Finnish composers and musicians, and it was through experimental work with the two organizations that he developed his musical persona. His musical language has great range and contrast: from simple and classical to extremely complex with use of technology.

 

Since his first commission, the Sonatas, Lindberg has had many successes; his first major breakthrough came with Action-Situation-Signification (1982) and Kraft (1983-1985). The three most recent commissions are Sculpture(premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005), Violin Concerto (to be premiered August 2006 by the violinist Lisa Batiashvili), and a work for choir (to be premiered at the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007).

 

(March 2006)
Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FRANZ LISZT: La Campanella – No. 3 of Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini

FRANZ LISZT
(born 1811 in Raiding, Hungary; died 1886 in Bayreuth, Germany)

La Campanella – No. 3 of Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini (1838)
(freely transcribed and arranged for violin and piano)

 

La Campanella evokes the tinkling of little bells, thus the title. It was originally the last movement of the second violin concerto by the incomparable Italian violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840). Franz Liszt (1811-1886) who greatly admired Paganini, took its main melodies and incorporated them into the third of his fiendishly difficult Paganini Etudes of 1838. Other composers attracted by the immediately likeable theme of the Paganini original included Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), who made a glittering piano solo version, Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), who arranged the original for violin and piano to enable it to be played in recital rather than in an orchestral concert, and Paul Kochanski (1877-1934), who also arranged the work for violin and piano.

 

Paganini’s great gift for catchy melodies inspired many greater composers, including Brahms, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff. A violinist of devilish skill, Paganini’s saving grace was his superb technical command and stage charisma, which went a long way toward making up for his compositional shortcomings.

 

When Liszt heard Paganini perform in Paris, in 1831, he was awestruck. Though himself no stranger to virtuoso-loving circles -and a much more talented composer than Paganini- Liszt was determined to become the ‘Paganini of the Piano’ by establishing new performance standards for the art of piano playing.

 

In 1838, seven years after his first encounter with Paganini, Liszt took six of the latter’s original compositions and remade them into a much grander, more elegant and spectacular set of etudes for piano solo. As a result, La Campanella, the third etude, became instantly famous with its easily recognizable tune blessed by imagination, a few strategic harmonic treatments, and inspired presentations of the recurring theme.

 

The version presented by Midori retains the capriciousness of the Liszt version as well as much of the Paganini original. Requiring superlative left-hand technique from the violinist, the violin part is full of extensive double-stops (thirds, sixths, octaves, etc.), harmonics and pizzicatos, as well as soaring cadenzas, all of which must be executed with accuracy and ease, never calling attention to the difficulty. The audience must be left only with the underlying excitement, grace, and sheer beauty of the line.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FRANZ LISZT: Soirées de Vienne – Valse-caprice No. 6 d'après Fr. Schubert, S427

FRANZ LISZT
(born 1811 in Doborján, Hungary; died 1886 in Bayreuth, Germany)

 

Soirées de Vienne – Valse-caprice No. 6 d’après Fr. Schubert, S427 (1852)

 

Franz Liszt was one of the great, multi-talented musical icons of his century. He was born in Hungary in 1811 in the village of Doborján, to Adám Liszt, an official in the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, and Anna Lager. As a child, Liszt studied and performed across Europe, leading into careers as a supreme piano virtuoso, a composer, a teacher, a conductor, and a prolific writer on subjects including music and religion. The onetime Royal National Hungarian Academy of Music is now the Franz Liszt Academy, to honor his many artistic contributions.

 

To describe Liszt is no simple task, as his personality comprised a most unlikely, self-contradictory combination of characteristics. The most charismatic of performers, who redefined the artistic and technical standards of piano playing, he could appear diabolical, or elegant and romantic, while combining some of the qualities of a Gypsy and a Franciscan. He was famous both for his piano transcriptions and for his highly original compositions for the piano; he was also a pioneer in the creation of symphonic poems. What seems to carry through all these conflicting tendencies are both his riveting mystique and his generosity towards others. His personal relationships, through romantic liaisons and through his children, connected him to Richard Wagner, whom he championed and protected in Wagner’s politically volatile early years, and to Hans von Bulow, Georges Sand, Lola Montez and the French Prime Minister Emile Ollivier, among others

 

Liszt compositions reflected the classicism he learned from his teacher Salieri to the romanticism of his close colleagues Berlioz and Wagner; he also delved deeply into religious music. For all his galvanic qualities, his first hallmark as an artist was probably his selflessly performing and promoting the works of his great contemporaries.

 

The majority of Liszt’s compositions were written for piano and can be divided into original compositions, straightforward transcriptions, and fantasias based on material from other composers, including Paganini, Beethoven, and Berlioz.  In an era before recordings, his brilliant adaptations of the operas of Wagner, Donizetti, and other contemporaries brought versions of their music into homes throughout Europe.

 

By the year 1847 Liszt had retired from the life of a constantly touring piano virtuoso. He settled in Weimer, where he had taken a conducting position. (The music school there has since been named in his honor.) It was in those years that Liszt composed a set of nine works based on the piano waltzes of Schubert, which he entitled Soirées de Vienne. The Valse-caprice is the sixth in the set.  Liszt played this composition in his last public performance, a benefit concert given in 1885, the year before his death. In this piece, Liszt borrowed material from three of Schubert’s waltzes, the Valses nobles Nos.9 and 10, and the Valse sentimentale No.13. This was not the first time Liszt had paid homage to Schubert; in previous decades he had prepared piano transcriptions of entire sets of Schubert song cycles, including Winterreise and Schwanengesang, as well as a piano version of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony.

 

Liszt wrote sparingly for the violin, but given his career proclivities, it seems somehow ‘natural’ to perform a violin-piano version of his fantasia based on Schubert. David Oistrakh, the great Russian violinist, prepared a transcription of the Soirées de Vienne: Valse-caprice No. 6, but that edition omits some portions from the piano original. This “free” transcription augments Oistrakh’s version, to give a fuller picture of Liszt’s composition.

 

The violin-piano transcription poses a technical challenge for the violinist. The entire piece is played almost throughout in double-stops, with the melody going back and forth between the upper and the lower lines. The difficulty lies in maintaining charm and elegance, which are the predominating characteristics of the work, within the technical complexities of playing the lines simultaneously.

 

The entire piece is in triple-meter, the introduction section starting off boldly with a piano solo. The violin enters with a short, contrasting reply, which is followed by another bold statement by the piano. The piano takes the last statement in the introduction to a climax, only to calm down quickly, and after an improvisatory cadenza to proceed into the next section of the waltz. The main waltz section is comprised of two segments from Schubert’s Valse sentimentale No.13 and a coda from Schubert’s Valse Noble No.10. In the characteristic nostalgia of the music, there is a hint of Liszt as an observer of an aristocratic Viennese ball. The Valse-caprice has a strong storytelling component, rich in humor and elegance. It is virtuosic in the most graceful and generous ways. Given its complex parentage, this is ‘memory music’ of the highest order.

 

Notes © 2016 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI: Subito

WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI
(born 1913 in Warsaw; died 1994 in Warsaw)

Subito (1992)

 

Witold Lutosławski is one of the great Polish composers together with Chopin and Szymanowski, yet his creative contribution is like no other and offers a distinctive voice in the language of anti-Romanticism.

 

Lutosławski’s life spanned two World Wars, Stalin’s Communist takeover of Poland, and the fall of Communism that ended the Cold War. He grew up in a politically-active Polish family that faced constant political turbulence, tensions, and tragedy. Lutosławski himself escaped from a POW camp during World War II, and his father and brothers lost their lives in military action.

 

Lutosławski began learning music when he was very young. He began on the piano, and later studied composition and the violin. It was only in 1984 at the age of 71 that he began composing intensely for the violin after being introduced to the artistry of the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The violin pieces written during the composer’s last years are substantial works championed by contemporary violinists, first and foremost by Mutter. Subito, the final work for violin and indeed his last completed composition, dates from 1992, the same year Lutosławski wrote his Fourth Symphony. The piece was commissioned by the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. The composer was in the midst of writing another important work for violin, a concerto for Mutter, at the time of his death.

 

During the years of political oppression in Poland, Lutosławski secretly continued to explore and invent new techniques of composition. Though he was not able to publicly pursue or introduce them, due to the threat of political-cultural silencing, he kept refining these methods, some of which are evident in Subito. Stylistically, this piece is based on his refrain-episode.

 

Subito opens with a set of gestures that become a refrain for the rest of the piece. The refrain returns four times, separated by four episodes. The refrains are easily recognizable by their declamatory boldness. The episodes, on the other hand, are different each and every time, and are, for the most part, in distinct contrast to the refrains.

 

Lutosławski makes chromaticism in the violin the defining characteristic of the refrains. The piano has two vertically symmetrical chords. They are symmetrical because when the distances between the consecutive pitches of the chords are measured, one gets a numerical pattern that remains the same, whether measured from the top to bottom or the reverse.

 

The episodes contain the developments and the transitions of the entire piece. In comparison to most of the refrains, which sound complete and self-contained, the episodes, or ideas, are developed and therefore are more transitory, i.e., more things happen. Moreover, the episodes are longer and more varied than the refrains.

 

However, it is also important and intriguing to note that the initial ideas introduced in the opening refrain are indeed the ones that are expanded upon later in the episodes. These include the afore-mentioned symmetrical chords, which return, played either simultaneously or broken, and the motivic chromaticism of the violin, which reappears in various guises. A final large-scale example of chromatic motion would be that the final note of the piece on the violin is the D-flat, a half-step away from the initial pitch.

 

This brief analysis simply hints at the complexity of Subito’s logic and form. Such craftsmanship of composition and symmetry is a work of the greatest of masters. A continuous and diligent study of the technique only increases the awe of the performer. Most importantly, however, is that even without thorough knowledge of the mechanics of the work, Subito has an unsurpassed freshness and power, an impact that alone is indicative of the strength of the piece.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI: Partita

WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI
(born 1913 in Warsaw; died 1994 in Warsaw)

Partita (1984)

1. Allegro giusto
2. Ad libitum
3. Largo
4. Ad libitum
5. Presto

 

Partita by Lutosławski is a masterpiece for violin and piano. It contains everything one can imagine in a deeply-moving musical work: the life within this music is so powerful that both to play it and to listen to it is an overwhelming experience.

 

Lutosławski composed Partita in 1984 on a commission from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on behalf of its then Music Director, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, and pianist Marc Neikrug. The composer himself commented that it “belongs with my most important compositions.” Partitawas originally intended as a double concerto for violin and piano with orchestra but, because of time constraints, it was completed in its current version. The work was premiered in January 1985 in St. Paul, Minnesota by the Zukerman/Neikrug duo and quickly became a staple work of the contemporary genre. It was further popularized when the composer made a version for violin and orchestra at the request of Anne Sophie Mutter in 1988.

 

Trained both as a pianist and violinist, Lutosławski had a musical education that was greatly challenged by the political situation in his country. For some years, particularly between 1949 and 1955, it was not possible to present his experimental compositional works to the public but after 1956, he succeeded in incorporating such non-traditional techniques as harmonic aggregates, and aleatoric writing in his string quartet, Symphony No. 2, Trois poemes d’Henri Michaux and Livre pour Orchestre. In the remaining 14 years of his life, Lutosławski’s style began to look more to the past and he incorporated more classical elements within his experimental techniques.

 

In the 1980s he composed Partita and two other works for the violin, an instrument he had not written for in over 30 years. At the time of his death in 1994, he was working on yet another major work for the instrument, a Violin Concerto.

 

Partita is in three main parts tied together by two semi-improvisatory ad libitum sections written in the aleatory technique. There are no remarkable gaps in between the portions. Throughout the entire work, passion and drama preside, and the uses of half- step motions outside a tonal context, repeated notes, and cross rhythms abound. However, the result is not a heavy cluster of sounds, atonal chords, and rhythmic confusion but fabulously independent lines that meet and part with both conviction and sensitivity.

 

The Allegro giusto opens with an irresistible sense of momentum, and both the piano and the violin set the tone for the mostly urgent character. Interspersed within the movement are haunting moments of song and poignant mystery, partially conveyed with uses of intentional non vibrato, glissandi, and quarter-tones.

 

The Ad libitum that connects the Allegro giusto and the Largo is the second movement. Here, like the other ad libitum sections recurring later in the piece, is a fine example of an aleatoric passage, where the composer has specifically instructed the players that the “violin and piano parts should not be coordinated in any way.” As such, the performers each execute their parts as if playing an improvisatory cadenza. The intensity of the music continues to heighten, only to climax at the beginning of the Largo.

 

The emotional core of the work is indeed in this Largomovement; the inner strength of the music continues to grow while there is an added sense of the inevitable, which perhaps resembles the dynamic force of life. Another Ad libitum follows the Largo, preparing the way for the last movement where rhythmic irregularities create inner jauntiness and energy. The short middle section, which is reminiscent of Szymanowski’s violin music, has memorable set of harmonics on the violin, as well as the simmering sound color of the cantabile played at the highest possible register. The final Ad libitum immediately precedes the coda section of the movement, which propels the work to a spectacular ending.

 

(August 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JAMES MACMILLAN: After the Tryst

JAMES MACMILLAN
(born 1959 in Kilwinning, Scotland)

After the Tryst (1988)

 

James MacMillan’s compositional output reflects his interest in his Scottish origins and its folk culture, as well as his traditional religious beliefs. Much of his oeuvre makes reference to these elements, and After the Tryst is no exception.

 

In 1984, inspired by The Tryst, William Soutar’s account of an intensely passionate yet expiring love, MacMillan set the poem to music in the style of an old Scottish ballad. A few years later, the composer recreated the folk song’s melody in two classical compositions: the violin/piano fragment After the Tryst in 1988 and, the following year, a larger orchestral work Tryst.

 

After the Tryst is almost rhapsodic in character, accentuated by arpeggiated chords on the piano. The alternations between dream state and near-reality are made clear by the use of sforzando: strong, sudden accents on notes played by the violin. Also notable is the juxtaposition of contrapuntal lines and homophonic chords. In the former, big leaps come in between the notes, often with strong articulation. This is contrasted by notes that are connected by glissandos, or slides, to increase the stretched feeling. Less than three minutes in length, the piece feels like an afterthought; at the conclusion, the music fades as it disappears into the distance.

 

James MacMillan is perhaps best known for his orchestral composition The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, which was premiered at the BBC Proms in 1990. Since then, he has garnered an international reputation for writing profound yet approachable music reflecting the influence of Scottish themes and culture as well as drawing inspiration from Catholicism and liturgical music. Also an active conductor, MacMillan was appointed Composer/Conductor by the BBC Philharmonic in 2000.

 

(April 2008)

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN: Sonata in F Major

FELIX MENDELSSOHN
(born 1809 in Hamburg; died 1847in Leipzig)

Sonata in F Major (1838)

1. Allegro vivace
2. Adagio
3. Assai vivace

 

Felix Mendelssohn was a prodigy, as was his sister Fanny, four years his senior. Born to a wealthy family of Jewish descent, he was surrounded by the best of academe and the culture of his time. He was blessed with strong influential contacts with great minds, such as Hegel and Goethe.

 

By his late teens, Mendelssohn had already composed two of his most important compositions: the Octet in E-flat Major and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His family had a private orchestra, which gave Mendelssohn the unusual privilege of composing and then hearing his creations performed during his developmental years.

 

For a number of reasons, the Mendelssohn family converted to Christianity, and added “Bartholdy” to their last name. The decision was made for mostly practical reasons as the family considered conversion a means of complete assimilation into society, embracing an enlightened life style.

 

Musically, Mendelssohn was a neo-classicist living in the age of Romanticism. Both as a composer and performer, he particularly looked up to J.S. Bach and other classicists. An advocate of counterpoint, his compositional style emphasized logic, the beauty of form, and elegance.

 

The most famous of Mendelssohn’s violin works is the Concerto in E minor, a rather late work which he completed in 1844. He did write another concerto, in D minor, at the age of 13 in 1822, as well as three sonatas; one in F minor and two in F Major that date from 1820, 1825, and 1838 respectively. The 1838 Sonata was only rediscovered in 1952 by the late Yehudi Menuhin.

 

On first hearing the 1838 F Major Sonata, one recognizes melodies and passages that resemble other well-known Mendelssohn creations. While there are substantial contrasts between feeling and effect throughout, the three movements hold together nicely and the work remains coherent.

 

The first movement, Allegro vivace, opens directly with the statement of the first theme in the piano. Exuberant and gay, the sound texture resembles that of a small string orchestra. Note particularly how Mendelssohn keeps the forward motion with the use of a dotted note followed by a shorter one. (Sample 1.)

 

Sample 1

mendelssohn1mendelssohn2

This creates increased motion in the way certain notes are reached, prolonging some notes to make a point. Take two examples:

 

From the opening bars: (Sample 2.)

Sample 2
mendelssohn3

Example 1: To get from the first to the fourth chords of the piece, the second and third chords occur in the second beat. Had Mendelssohn given equal length to all chords, it would take an extra beat to get to the fourth chord. The progression of these chords is nothing extraordinary; Mendelssohn retains the interest of the listener by sheer manipulation of the rhythmic layout.

 

Example 2: The third full bar contains the sforzando F-Major chord. This note is the high point of the phrase, and in order to make the point he prolongs it to a dotted quarter followed by an eighth note, instead of two equal eighth notes, thus emphasizing the importance of the longer note.

 

The use of rhythm (Sample 1) is an important element throughout the movement. In the second theme, here it is again. (Sample 3.)

 

Sample 3
mendelssohn4

The movement becomes increasingly concerto-like for the two instruments with fast-moving sixteenth notes. This is not to say that the music sounds hectic-rather that it has an exhilarating effect. In most of the movement, the dominant and subservient lines are always clearly segregated. But as the end approaches, the consummation of the two parts finally occurs with both instruments playing an upward scale in unison.

 

The second movement, in A Major, is marked Adagio. This indication is more about the musical message than the speed of the notes. It feels peaceful and ‘scenic’-a perfect musical representation of a Corot garden. This serenity is threatened by a mid-afternoon storm in the latter half of the movement, and the music turns somewhat improvisatory and dark, but only fleetingly. The opening melody returns in the piano, accompanied by an echo of the storm in the violin. Perhaps the storm was only a dream.

 

The last movement, Assai vivace, is as light as a feather. The movement is played in one non-stop sweep without ever becoming aggressive. Aristocratic and enlightened in character, the Sonata ends with eloquent brilliance.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN: Spring Song from 'Songs Without Words' Op. 62 No. 6

FELIX MENDELSSOHN (arr. for violin and piano by Guido Papini)
(born 1809 in Hamburg; died 1847 in Leipzig)

 

Spring Song from Songs Without Words Op 62 No. 6 (1842-1844)

 

Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words is a series of eight books of six miniature works each, for piano solo. These sets were composed between 1829 and 1845, and the fifth, of which the Spring Song is the last of the set, was composed between 1842 and 1844 and is dedicated to Clara Schumann. The title Spring Song comes from Mendelssohn himself, not common practice in an era when it was publishers who typically named works to spur popularity and sales.

 

Alongside Mozart, Mendelssohn was music’s greatest natural prodigy. He was an early Romantic composer, although compared to some of his contemporaries such as Berlioz and Liszt he was quite a traditionalist, from some perspectives a reactionary. Mendelssohn was a great admirer of J.S. Bach, whose works had fallen into relative oblivion after his death, until Mendelssohn spurred interest in the great master. In many of Mendelssohn’s works, one can easily discern Bach influence – the counterpoint, the harmonic progressions, and the cleanliness of the form.

 

Mendelssohn, whose first instrument was the piano, was a prodigious talent, not only excelling in composing, but also as a violinist and a conductor.  While still in his teens, he wrote masterpieces such as the ever-beloved Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture and the Octet, really unmatchable achievements. An all-around scholar, adept at languages, while knowledgeable in literature and history, he was an effective administrator and educator, a founder of the Leipzig Conservatory and the music director the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the world’s first professional, non-court-funded orchestra. While a convert to Protestantism, he came from a distinguished Jewish lineage, his grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, a prominent philosopher of uncommon influence in 18th century German culture.

 

Mendelssohn intended that his Songs Without Words could express the emotional directness of songs, his intent more exact than words, which would only get in the way of what he needed to communicate. Spring Song supplies much optimism within its short duration. The character is simple yet light, hopeful, lyrical, and happy. Of all the pieces of the complete Songs, it is one of the most popular. It is sometimes also referred to as Camberwell Green, which is the area in London, England where Mendelssohn composed it. The current version is a transcription for violin and piano by Guido Papini.

 

(October 2015)
Notes © 2015 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
(Referential sources available on request)

OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Thème et Variations

OLIVIER MESSIAEN
(born 1908 in Avignon; died 1992 in Paris)

Thème et Variations (1932)

 

Olivier Messiaen, 20th-century French composer, was well known for his originality. Rhythmic and colorful elements in his musical language are complex, carefully arranged, and come together beautifully.

 

He came from a distinguished line of Franco-Belgian composer-organists, including Saint-Saëns and César Franck, and that influence is certainly felt. His dominant inspiration was Catholicism, however; Messiaen is quoted as saying that to be a musician is to be a “Believer, dazzled by the infinity of God.” As an organist, immediately upon completing his formal musical education, Messiaen became principal organist at La Trinité in Paris, a position he held for forty years.

 

Born in Avignon in 1908, Messiaen set his musical genius in motion and began composing when he was seven. Influenced by Claude Debussy, most particularly by Pelléas et Mélisande, he made the decision that he would make a life in music, and as a composer. This was an unusual career choice for someone not yet ten years old, but he was determined. He began studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was consistently awarded “premier prix” in all subjects, and, while still a student there in 1928, he published his first pieces.

 

Thème et Variations is a 15-minute work from Messiaen’s youth. Composed in 1932, it is a set of five variations on a theme. The tempo indications for each is as follows:

 

Thème: Modéré
Modéré
Un peu moins modéré
Modéré, avec éclat
Vif et passioné
Très lent

 

The theme is only 28 bars of a simple construction, comprised of three materials. Each can be easily grasped by the listener. Though short, the shape of the theme is very clear, with the most outward expressiveness heard in the middle material. The end of the theme as well as all the variations, including the final, is inconclusive. It either segues into the next variation or leaves the sense of an unanswered question.

 

The first variation is straightforward in construction, following the same form as the theme. However, it is slightly faster. The relationship to the theme in the following three variations becomes increasingly difficult to discern. The second variation is contrapuntal in three voices, where each voice is derived from one of the three materials from the theme, but played simultaneously. This second variation is followed by one with the most brilliant sonority. Here, the meter is manipulated to throw off balance the rhythmic symmetry. The fourth variation, which stems out of the third, is the bridge to the climactic final variation. Agitated and increasingly gaining in speed, the latter half of the fourth variation is not dissimilar from the tarantella. The piano part is in perpetual motion, and the violin part re-introduces the theme in snippets. Finally, in the fifth and last variation, the theme returns in the violin in the original form but an octave higher. However, its character has been completely transformed by the intervening variations. Majestic, mystical, and solemn, the violin line soars above the chordal grandeur of the piano part. Romantic in its melancholic treatment of the already-heard materials, the piece ends, without completion, with a sense of inevitability of fate.

 

Many of Messiaen’s works were expressive of his religious beliefs, but a handful portray his feelings toward his family. Thème et Variations was a wedding present to his first wife, Claire Delbos, who was a violinist and a composer.
Since Messiaen wrote Thème et Variations when very young, the piece does not have the careful scholarship he gave to compositions from his later years. However, comparatively naive as it may be, the piece bears the strong roots of Messiaen’s distinguishing musical language.

 

(May 2002)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

DARIUS MILHAUD: Le printemps Op. 18

DARIUS MILHAUD
(born 1892 in Aix-en-Provence; died 1974 in Geneva)

Le printemps, Op. 18 (1914)

 

‘Spring’ and ‘Rebirth’ were favorite themes of the “deeply” French composer Darius Milhaud, as they were with his fellow French artists such as the painters Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso (who, although Spanish-born, lived and worked in France for much of his life). The human need to go back to the beginning, to start over, and to rejuvenate was recognized in ancient societies, but in the south of France it must have taken on a special flair with the specific blessings of Nature found in the environment. For all of his life, Milhaud was strongly attached in spirit to his homeland, and this love guided his musical personality.

 

Milhaud’s output is extraordinary in number. Relative to his last opus, which is 441, written in 1972, Le Printemps is a youthful work dating from 1914. While the composer’s later works are strongly influenced by jazz and the South American carnival music that he encountered while serving in the French diplomatic service in Rio de Janeiro, the impetus in Le Printemps is solely Provençal. This charming short work embodies the spirit of dandelion days, the sun, the sea and the flowers of the Mediterranean culture together with a hint of folk melody.

 

Written in compound meter of 5/8, Le Printemps has a sway within the flow that lends the piece a particular flair. Distanced from the climate of violence and tragedy that consumed the world in the years approaching World War I, Le Printemps offers an enclave of simplicity, tranquility, and serenity.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Sonata in G Major KV. 301

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART 
(born 1756 in Salzburg; died 1791 in Vienna)

Sonata in G Major, KV 301 (1778)

1. Allegro con spirito
2. Allegro

 

In 1777, after coming across six duets for keyboard and violin by the composer Joseph Schuster, in which both instruments had equal voices, Mozart sent the scores to his sister with a note saying that he would like to write six works in the same style. The Sonata in G Major for Keyboard and Violin KV301 was the first in the set.

 

Mozart spent a great deal of his life, from the age of six to his early 20s, on concert tours with one of his parents to earn money and to broaden his musical perspectives. In late October 1777, he and his mother arrived in Mannheim, remaining there until mid-March 1778, when they left for Paris. In early 1778, Wolfgang composed four sonatas for fortepiano and violin: KV 301, KV 302, KV 303 and KV 305. He wrote KV 304 and KV 306 later that year in Paris. His mother took ill in June and died in July, casting a dark shadow over his life.

 

The sonatas KV 301 – KV 306 are two-movement works, typically intended for playing in a household setting, where the violin part could also be played by the flute. They were published in Paris in November 1778 and the composer presented the manuscripts to their dedicatee, Maria Elisabeth, Electress of the Palatinate two months later. For this reason they are sometimes referred to as the ‘Kurfürsten’ or ‘Palatine’ sonatas.

 

KV 301 is a definite departure from Mozart’s earlier sonatas for keyboard and violin, which clearly favored the fortepiano or the cembalo. With KV301 and subsequent sonatas, it becomes apparent that the instruments are no longer interchangeable and are, for the most part, on equal footing.

 

The first movement (Allegro con spirito), opens with a delicate yet joyous melody played by the violin. The piano and the violin exchange the dominating lines for the majority of the movement except when both instruments occasionally double each other.

 

The keyboard takes the opening theme in the second movement (Allegro). The mood is dance-like and a gracious charm prevails throughout. The middle-section, in minor mode, offers a starker atmosphere in the form of a Sicilienne. Somber and nostalgic yet ever so graceful, this middle section is the core of the work and a favorite of this player.

 

 

Notes © 2011 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Sonata in E Minor KV. 304

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART 
(born 1756 in Salzburg; died 1791 in Vienna)

Sonata in E Minor, KV.304 (1778)

I. Allegro
II. Tempo di Menuetto

 

The opening melody in Mozart’s E minor Sonata is one of the most memorable musical themes in the violin-piano duo literature. It is also remarkably simple with the three lines (two hands of the piano and the line of the violin) played in octaves and in unison.

 

The eloquent and sorrowful opening atmosphere never evolves into a contrasting temperament within the movement. If anything, the sadness and the longing become increasingly powerful as the movement progresses. It would be easy to connect the somber mood with the difficult time of his life – his mother had just died in Paris–but Mozart is also known to have written light-hearted works during this period, completely contrary to the expected mood. What matters more in this context is that the sadness conveyed through this music is genuine and deeply moving.

 

The second movement begins with a solo piano theme in a minuet rhythm. The violin enters immediately with the same melody. In this three-part second movement, the outer sections maintain a heartrending character but in the middle, the music transports the listener to a beautiful place filled with graciousness and optimism.

 

Overall, the work is texturally sparse with frequent use of unisons and octaves; but the result is by no means overly simplistic or affected. In fact, with every hearing, one notices new complexities of emotions embedded in this short sonata.

 

Written in Paris in 1778, the Sonata in E Minor was included in a set of six sonatas for keyboard and violin dedicated to Maria Elisabeth, Electress of the Palatinate. Only two of Mozart’s sonatas for clavier and violin are in a minor key. This is one of those two rare gems.

 

Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Sonata in A Major KV. 305

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
(born 1756 in Salzburg; died 1791 in Vienna)

Sonata in A Major, KV 305 (1778)

1. Allegro di molto
2. Tema con variazioni

 

Mozart and his mother stayed in Mannheim for four-and-a-half months in late 1777 and early 1778. In his letters to his father in Salzburg, there are clear signs of the young Mozart trying to break away from Leopold’s control. Wolfgang was, more than ever before, ready to explore and break new ground. In his personal life, he had fallen madly in love with Aloysia Weber, whose younger sister, Constanze, was later to become his wife. Also evident was his growing determination to be primarily a composer, rather than a performer; he saw his first mission in life as writing music. Much to the dismay of his father, he concocted a scheme to travel to Italy with Aloysia, a budding soprano, and to compose an opera that she could perform there. Leopold, quick to exert what was left of his parental authority, promptly sent him off to Paris, as originally planned, to make money and to be away from the Webers. While in Paris, tragedy struck as Mozart’s mother became ill and died.

 

Before leaving for Paris, Mozart wrote four elegant sonatas for piano and violin. He referred to them as Clavier Duetti (with violin) and apparently wrote them for ‘a change of pace,’ looking for a diversion from composing “short, simple” flute concertos and quartets that had been commissioned by a Dutchman named De Jean for the flutist Johann Baptist Wendling.

 

The four elegant sonatas were augmented by two composed in Paris to form the customary set of six sonatas, now referred to as KV301-306, which Mozart later dedicated to the Electress Elizabeth Auguste of the Palatinate. They were all composed in the first half of 1778, but not in the order of their numbering. KV304 and KV306 were the two works composed in Paris.

 

In KV 305, in A Major, the first of two movements is spirited, brisk, and uninhibited, and, as in the other Mannheim sonatas, direct and uncomplicated. The sonority is somewhat symphonic at times, and the relationship between the two instruments is fairly even although leaning a bit more towards the piano in keeping with the tradition of the period. Moreover, the instruments are complementary, engaging in a dialogue throughout the movement.

 

The second movement is a gentle melody followed by a set of six variations. Here, by comparison, the two instruments are not treated equally, the piano being much favored over the violin. In fact, the Theme is for piano with the violin accompanying, and the entire first variation is a piano solo. It is only in the second variation that the violin finally sings above the piano for the first time. The sonoric style of this movement is much like the piano sonatas of the same period. The fifth variation is in a minor mode, giving a short moment of darkness, but with humor. In the sixth and last variation, the two instruments quickly take off, bringing this short, joyful sonata to a close.

 

Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Sonata in B-flat KV. 454

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
(born 1756 in Salzburg; died 1791 in Vienna)

Sonata in B-flat, KV. 454 (1784) 

1. Largo-Allegro
2. Andante
3. Allegretto

 

By 1784, Mozart, formerly a child prodigy, had become THE pianist in Vienna. The great musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon writes that Mozart’s name “was on every tongue.” It was just as well that demand was great for his performances as he had many debts and financial obligations. In order to fulfill his many commitments, he even dropped two opera projects and instead composed six piano concertos (Nos. 14-19) within the period of a year.

 

Mozart’s schedule was very busy indeed. There were concerts almost daily during the month of March 1784. It was a wonder that he managed to compose at all. But within March and April that year, he either composed or completed three piano concerti (KV. 450 in B-flat, KV. 451 in D and KV. 453 in G), the Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds, KV. 452, and the Sonata in B-flat for Keyboard and Violin, KV. 454.

 

The story goes that when Mozart premiered the Sonata, KV. 454 with the Mantuan violin virtuoso Regina Strinasacchi, his own (piano) part was barely in sketch form yet he played it with spontaneous creativity. Moreover, the performance took place in the presence of the Emperor Josef II, which further attests to Mozart’s ample self-assurance.

 

The Sonata is in three movements: it opens with a remarkable introduction, marked Largo in which the two instruments are on an equal footing and in perfect harmony with one other; the beauty is incandescent. The Allegro that follows is in clear contrast. Here the scale and arpeggio-like handling of the notes are playful and exuberant, the momentum both spirited and joyful.

 

The second movement, Andante, is the emotional heart of the work and is quintessential Mozart in its melodic intensity and depth of expression. The two instruments sing so beautifully that they appear to be truly inspired by a miraculous power.

 

In the final movement, Allegretto, the mischievous and fun-loving side of Mozart returns: sforzandi come off the beat and chromatic figures with accidentals appear in the first theme. The movement is written in Rondo form; the sections between the Rondo theme never cease to flow; both instruments portraying a jolly mood. The work concludes with majesty and elegance.

 

Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Sonata in A Major KV. 526

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART 
(born 1756 in Salzburg; died 1791 in Vienna)

Sonata in A Major, KV 526 (1787)

1. Molto allegro
2. Andante
3. Presto

 

The last decade of Mozart’s life was, for the most part, a very fruitful period for him as a composer. The Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major, KV 526, the six string quartets dedicated to Haydn, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and the late, great piano concerti (KV 466, KV 467, KV 482, KV 488), all date from these years. By this time, Mozart was no longer in salaried employment but was his own master.

 

Mozart had never been a great employee and, much to his father’s dismay, had constant problems with his various employers. Perhaps it was his refusal, or inability, to conform to the common musical trends and expectations of his day (which, of course, is a sign of his genius as well), that did not particularly satisfy his employers’ tastes and demands.

 

Mozart had written works for the combination of violin and piano from his youth. His first published works were sonatas for piano and violin. KV 6 and 7 are pieces for piano with rather inconspicuous violin parts. Later in the Palatine Sonatas (KV301-306), the two instruments receive much more equal treatment; nonetheless, the violin part is still interchangeable with the flute.

 

Some twelve years later, the two instruments in KV 526 are showcases for the brilliance of their players. Of the sonatas Mozart wrote for violin and piano, KV 526 is the most virtuosic, requiring of its players versatility of both fingers and mind. Rather than composing this work for amateurs, Mozart likely had himself in mind for the piano part. He was at the keyboard for the work’s premiere although, because of the deadline of an already-scheduled performance, he had not quite finished writing out the piano part and was forced to play from a very basic sketch.

 

The first movement, marked Molto allegro, is written in sonata form, complete with exposition, development and recapitulation. Characterized by off-beat emphases and articulations, the jovial quality can be felt throughout, and the two instruments comfortably take turns in leading and supporting. The outbursts of energy are elegant and tasteful, adding to the liveliness. The eminent musicologist Alfred Einstein commented that this work was “like Bach, yet thoroughly Mozartian” and called it the perfect case of “reconciliation of styles” between the classical and the pre-classical (counterpoint).

 

The middle movement, Andante, has a cantabile quality but Mozart incorporates a singing accompaniment line to the melody. The second theme is mostly in A minor (although he goes in and out of this tonality and touches upon A Major and F-sharp minor). This key relationship is of note because the common practice of the day would have been for the second theme to be in A Major. The second time the second theme is presented it is mainly in D minor, but the movement ends, as it began, in D Major. Alfred Einstein wrote that this movement “realizes such a balance between Soul and Art that it seems God Almighty has let stop all motion for one minute of eternity in order to allow all Righteous ones to enjoy the bitter sweetness of life.”

 

In the final movement, Presto, Mozart immediately “unleashes” the piano. Utterly dazzling, the hands of the pianist literally go for a run over the keyboard. This movement seems to be taken from the Rondo movement of a sonata for violin, cello, and keyboard by Karl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), a close colleague of CPE Bach. Mozart had been in contact with Abel during a tour in his youth and greatly admired his work. Abel died in January of 1787 and Mozart paid homage to him in this movement. Written in sonata-rondo form, the thematic material is presented a handful of times with intermittent new ideas. The recapitulation is in D Major, rather than in the more usual home key of A Major. The movement brings the sonata to a stylish and exhilarating conclusion.

 

 

Notes © 2011 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

KRZYSZTOF PENDERECKI: Sonata No. 2

KRZYSZTOF PENDERECKI
(born 1933 in Dębica, Poland)

Violin Sonata No. 2 (1999)

1. Larghetto
2. Allegretto scherzando
3. Notturno
4. Allegro
5. Andante

 

Krzysztof Penderecki’s Second Sonata will likely be considered as one of the greatest duo works written for violin and piano at the turn of the 21st century. Premiered in April 2000 by Anne-Sophie Mutter and her duo partner, Lambert Orkis, the Sonata exhibits complexities amidst logic, and vice-versa, along with surprises and unpredictability; the combination of these elements highlights the creativity and the craft of the composer.

 

Like his contemporary, Witold Lutoslawski, and other Polish musicians of his generation, Penderecki experienced a turbulent childhood, ravaged by the violence, trials and tragedies of having been born in that particular time and place. As a consequence of German and Soviet occupation during World War II, artistic expressions were heavily censored in Poland until the late 1950s. By the time of Penderecki’s graduation in 1958 from the Krakow Academy (which he had entered initially as a violin student before gradually switching his dedication to composition) the “thaw” had allowed for some freedom and increasing experimentation in music composition. Influenced by Bartók and John Cage, Penderecki tried his hand with sonorities and aleatoric technique. His ‘metamorphosis’ stage came later in the 1970s, when he drastically altered his musical and compositional style. The cutting-edge experimentalism of his early works was gone, replaced by an experimental and more direct approach, clearly influenced by the atonality of Berg and the cynicism of Shostakovich. More recently, and evidenced in the Second Violin Sonata, Penderecki’s style has grown to be a wonderful sum of all that came before; with comfort in his experimentation, building blocks reminiscent of Bartók, atonality of the 20th century masters, and improvisation, all combined to create his own unique language.

 

While the violin was Penderecki’s main instrument as an aspiring musician, and he has written two concertos (in 1976 and 1995) for it, he has not been too active in utilizing the violin in a chamber setting. His first Sonata for Violin and Piano, although published in 1990, dates from his student years, and his Three Miniatures for Violin and Piano is from 1959. The Second Violin Sonata is by far the most substantial and mature work for the violin in the current Penderecki catalogue. The Sonata is an epic, beginning with the birth of ideas that are developed as the work progresses and then gradually terminated at the conclusion. Overall, the two instruments are presented in an equal partnership although the writing is more idiomatic for the violin. Penderecki utilizes a great range of registers, from the very low to the extremely high, and special sound effects are used sparingly – only short sections are muted and besides the more standard pizzicato and harmonies, there is little use of the “gimmicks” often employed by modern composers to explore new sonorities.

 

Cast in an arch form with five movements, the Second Violin Sonata is a grand work with the emotional core in the middle (third) movement. All movements are tied compositionally by the use of half-step motivic material throughout as well as their symmetrical construction. The first two movements are connected (one movement continuing without pause into the next), as are the last two; the third movement is the only self-contained movement, further attesting to the important weight placed upon it.

 

The work opens with a violin monologue, dominated by semi-tone motions, initially in pizzicato. When the piano joins, the music’s urgency increases and reaches its maximum intensity rather quickly; the momentum is then released by the three 4-note chords on the violin and the chord cluster on the piano. This section serves to introduce the movement, which is in itself an introduction of the whole work. The main body of the Larghetto begins with the opening pizzicato material presented in four-voice polyphony. Much of the movement is in a rhetorical, monologue style, and transitions smoothly into the first scherzo of the sonata.

 

The scherzo takes a “Russian” mood, in the tradition of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The playful and sarcastic combinations of moods of the main themes prevail throughout. The second movement almost takes on aspects of a sonata form – where three sections (ABA) state, develop, and restate the opening section. When the last section recalls themes from the beginning of the movement, it has additional components of cynicism and somberness.

 

Notturno, which serves as the epicenter of the sonata, sinks into a dark, tumultuous atmosphere as foreshadowed by the end of the preceding scherzo. Initially characterized by non-emphasis of strong beats (notes are often tied across bar lines on both instruments), there is the impending feel for the mysterious and continuous search. The use of chromaticism adds to the rich sonorities and the unstoppable flow in producing the heavy, ominous mood. After the initial rumbling and stormy section, a haunting chorale-like second theme serves as the emotional climax of the Notturno. In the coda section, Penderecki summons back all of the materials presented in this movement, and even a short snippet from the scherzo, to end the heart of the work.

 

The fourth movement does not start with the half-step motif, but instead with a repeated rhythm of single-note of D’s. Like a tarantella, this movement is fast, a bit crazed and anxious, with sparkles and flashes of excitement. Like a burlesque of the post-war era, there are hints of glitter, fear, surrealism, and agitation, blended with pseudo-romanticism in brief lyrical passages. The movement comes to an excruciating heat and momentum only to be released by a fantastic abruption of the piano cluster and the tremolo arpeggio on the violin. The final note(s) of the movement is a unison D – the same as the opening-trilled and held. As the violin holds this to-the-point note, the opening statement of the entire sonata, this time presented by the piano, marks the beginning of the epilogue or the fifth and final movement. Here Penderecki brings back themes as he did in the coda of the Notturno, all important themes from the entire work, à la nostalgia, in something of a muted trance. With soft rumblings on the piano, taken from the Notturno, the violin ascends to the highest note of the entire work before both instruments disappear into silence.

 

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

SERGEI PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 1 in F Minor Op. 80

SERGEI PROKOFIEV
(born 1891 in Sontsovka, Ukraine; died 1953 in Moscow)

Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 (1936-46)

 

Prokofiev completed his Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80, in 1946, seven years before his death. His Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94a, was actually completed in 1944; however, he first sketched out parts of the F Minor Sonata as early as 1936 and therefore numbered it as the Sonata No. 1.

 

As a young man, Prokofiev enjoyed a privileged life in Tsarist Russia but, while a student of composition, conducting and piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he was known as quite a rebel. Even though Alexander Glazunov, Director of the Conservatory, was sympathetic and supportive, Prokofiev was considered an incorrigible troublemaker by the other faculty and impossible to teach. In spite of Prokofiev’s reputation as an unruly student, his works experienced a degree of success and acceptance from early in his career, and he was able to make a living as a composer and pianist.

 

In the wake of the Communist Revolution, Russia was unsettled, and Prokofiev decided to go abroad, influenced in part by contacts with Stravinsky and Diaghilev, both of whom had moved to the “West”. Prokofiev wished to live where his musical language could be stimulated and accepted. He therefore left Russia in 1918, by way of Siberia and Japan, and spent the next fifteen years abroad, mainly in the United States and Paris.

 

By the early 1930s, however, Prokofiev was itching to go back to his motherland. He was weary of living, however comfortably, as a foreigner and yearned for Russia. Moreover, he wanted to give his two sons a Russian childhood.

 

He seems not have thought deeply about the political situation in the Soviet Union and its impact on the artistic and creative climate. Perhaps he was naive or refused to contemplate the possibility that the government might restrict performances of his music. In fact, productions of many of his works, mostly operas and ballet music, were held back.

 

The Soviet Union in the 1930s was intensely Stalinist. Artistically speaking, it was a critical period in which government control of the creative process was at its height. Formalist music, condemned as bourgeois, was censored. The Union of Soviet Composers had the official authority to approve or disapprove a performance. Prokofiev seemed to have escaped much restriction, at least in the beginning, but later, bureaucrats interrupted and prevented the production of his large-scale works. At times, he had to revise works in order to make them “correct and worthy.”

 

By the 1940s, Prokofiev’s health began to deteriorate, precipitated by a fall resulting in a concussion. When he had completed the Violin Sonata No. 1 in 1946, he was frail and, for the most part, confined to his villa in Nikolina Gora, outside Moscow. There is nothing in the work itself to hint at the weak state of his health. Instead, one notices wit, irony, strangeness of character, energetic outbursts, and somber reflections. The piece has a full range of emotional colors, imbued with virtuosity and lyricism. Prokofiev himself described the Violin Sonata No. 1 as follows:

 

In mood it is more serious than the Second [Sonata]. The first movement, Andante assai, is severe in character and is a kind of extended introduction to the second movement, a sonata allegro, which is vigorous and turbulent, but has a broad second theme. The third movement is slow, gentle, and tender. The finale is fast and written in complicated rhythm. *1

 

It is also crucial to be aware of the description of the First Sonata by Prokofiev’s Russian biographer Israel Nestyev: “…the meditation of an ancient bard on the fate of the motherland; …a scene of brutal encounter between warring forces; …a poetic image of a young girl’s lament; and…a hymn to the might of Russia in arms, a paean to the people’s freedom and strength.*2″

 

For me, the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor is descriptive. In fact, even without specific tangible, literary content, or context, much of Prokofiev’s music stimulates one’s visual imagination.

 

Prokofiev himself was descriptive about his music. In particular, in the last section of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, he said that it should sound “like the wind in a graveyard.” The same material comes to haunt us again at the very end of the work. After having experienced an entire cycle of life within the piece, we are left with the image of the graveyard in the wind. Perhaps, here is the composer’s prediction, in symbolic representation, of music’s future under harsh restraints.

 

David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin gave the premiere performance in October 1946.

 

*1 Abram Loft, Violin and Keyboard: the Duo Repertoire: Volume II From Beethoven to the Present (Portland, Oregon: Amdeus Press, 1973), 288.
*2 Ibid.

 

(May 2002)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA: Dithyrambos Op. 55

RAUTAVAARA, EINOJUHANI
(born 1928 in Helsinki; currently resides in Helsinki)

Dithyrambos, op. 55 (1970)

 

Einojuhani Rautavaara, considered the pre-eminent Finnish composer of his generation, is probably the most performed Finnish composer after Sibelius. Heralded as the “composer of many personas,” he is prolific, writing in many styles and genres. His compositional identity ranges from neo-romanticism and neo-classicism to serialism, and Orthodox mysticism; Rautavaara’s works include operas, concertos, chamber music, and symphonies, as well as music for brass band and for choir.

 

A Dithyramb was a hymn of praise to Dionysus, the god of enthusiasm and ecstasy to the ancient Greeks 2000 years ago. Rautavaara’s Dithyrambos is a three-minute work for violin and piano characterized by humor and wit. Written in 1970, it was premiered the same year during the semi-final round of the Sibelius International Violin Competition.

 

The work reflects the buoyant temperament of Dionysus in an ebullient atmosphere depicted for the most part with a 7/8 meter and its typically jagged rhythm. Both in the first and last sections, perpetual motion dominates, in the violin at the beginning, and in the piano at the end; the middle section features a series of slides (glissandos) in harmonics, creating a memorable sound effect.

 

Rautavaara was originally trained as a pianist, but his violin writing is fluent, treating the instrument in a naturally idiomatic manner. Besides Dithyrambos, his compositions for the violin include Variétude, written for the 1975 Sibelius Competition, and a Violin Concerto (1977), among others. His most recent works include the opera Rasputin (2001-03), Book of Visions for orchestra (2003-05; to be premiered in April 2005), and Manhattan Trilogy for orchestra (2003-05; to be premiered in October 2005).

 

(February 2005)
Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA: Lost Landscapes

EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA
(born 1928 in Helsinki; currently resides in Helsinki)

Lost Landscapes (2005)

 

“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us”
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

 

Commissioned by violinist Midori in 2005, Lost Landscapes by Einojuhani Rautavaara receives its world premiere in Munich’s Herkulesaal on 18 November 2006 in Midori’s recital with pianist Robert McDonald. The work will be performed in further recitals by the duo throughout the 2006-2007 season.

 

Einojuhani Rautavaara has produced a diverse range of compositions in his career, from symphonies to choral works to instrumental pieces ranging in style from semi-religious to mystic to neo-Romantic. His reputation has been comfortably established as a versatile, multi-faceted composer, the most successful Finnish composer since Sibelius. Rautavaara’s most recent works have included the opera Rasputin (premiered 2003) and two works for orchestra: Book of Visions and Manhattan Trilogy (both premiered in 2005).

 

To date, Rautavaara has written five violin works: Dithyrambos and Notturo e Danza for violin and piano, Variétude for solo violin, Varian Dialogue for violin and cello, and a Violin Concerto; Lost Landscapes is his first substantial work for violin and piano. As in many of the composer’s other works, the main musical language is highly personal.

 

Lost Landscapes has four movements, each named for a place where the composer lived and studied during his “wanderer-years.”

 

I: Tanglewood
II: Ascona
III: Rainergasse 11 Vienna
IV: West 23rd Street NY

 

In Rautavaara’s own words, “The four landscapes were important surroundings for me when studying during my ‘Wanderjahre.’ My two summers in the US, 1955 and 1956, were spent at the Tanglewood Music Center, where my teachers were Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland. The following year I went to Ascona, Switzerland to study with Wladimir Vogel, learning 12-tone technique. Rainergasse 11 is the address of the very romantic, decaying baroque Palais Schonburg in Vienna. West 23rd Street was my address in New York City. All these ‘landscapes’ are full of memories and atmospheres, visual as well as auditory – they are musical life-themes for me.”

 

Rautavaara’s fondness for each of these places is evident in his music. Throughout, the sweetness of memory dominates the character in almost sepia-quality flashbacks. So many emotions, so many experiences, so many surprises as well as challenges, are intertwined in a seamless flow of nostalgic memory. While the momentum in the music never lets up, it is always possible to breathe and to contemplate. The fastest movement, almost a perpetual motion, comes at the end, as, perhaps, he remembers the city sounds of the great melting pot that was New York City in the mid-1950s. In the entire work, Rautavaara stays true to the concept that “All memories are tender in their remembrance.”

 

In sum, Lost Landscapes is an expression of sincerity and compassion. Dramatic within its own structural configuration, it should strike a chord with every listener.

 

(September 2006)

Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MAURICE RAVEL: Sonata in G Major

MAURICE RAVEL
(born 1875 in Basses Pyrénées, France; died 1937 in Paris)

Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major (1923-27) 
1. Allegretto
2. Blues: Moderato
3. Perpetuum mobile: Allegro

 

The late 19th and the early 20th centuries brought forth a handful of remarkable violin-piano sonatas by French composers. Starting with Fauré’s Sonata in A (1876), there followed sonatas by Franck, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, and Ravel, an impressive list, all produced within a period of about 50 years, and still among the most popular works of the genre in today’s concert halls.

 

Maurice Ravel was strongly influenced by the Impressionists, and in particular by Debussy. His parents were French and Basque, and he was brought up in the musical environment of late 19th century Paris, a climate characterized by the fashionable trend of the foreign and the exotic. In many of his compositions, Ravel pays tribute to different musical heritages, including jazz, gypsy music, and music from the East.

 

The Sonata for Violin and Piano was a rather late composition in Ravel’s life. The work progressed slowly as a result of ill health and took four years to complete. By this time, Ravel had moved on from Impressionism so it was no longer a prominent characteristic of his compositions; yet the style was so deeply ingrained in him that his Violin Sonata has many clearly impressionistic moments.Regarding his handling of the relationship between the two instruments, Ravel is quoted as having said, “In the writing of the Sonata for Violin and Piano, two fundamentally incompatible instruments, I assumed the task, far from bringing their differences into equilibrium, of emphasizing their irreconcilability through their independence.”

 

The first movement, Allegretto, is in traditional classical form. It opens with a piano solo evoking the atmosphere of gentle swaying winds imbued with a romantic hue. Elegant, poised, and sensual, the movement never stops, as if in a continual sweep. The violin and piano alternate in presenting the main musical ideas. The gentle momentum is punctuated by occasional, memorable countermotives that reappear later in the work.

 

The second movement, Blues: Moderato, incorporates the technique of bitonality but takes its strongest inspiration from the Blues, as suggested by the title. Bitonality was a compositional method of using different keys for different instruments to give each a specific character. In this work, it was most likely also a visual effect, an attempt by Ravel to show that he was doing something new within traditional, more conventional forms. The Blues style component adds a melancholy character. In particular, Ravel utilized the melodic figures prominent in 1920’s Blues. The theme whines like a saxophonist in a slide or a crooner cooing. On the violin, a slow ascent to a note creates a certain nasal-ness, and the prolonged reach to the set note becomes quite exotic.

 

The brilliant last movement, a Perpetuum mobile, tests the limits of the violinist’s virtuosity. Musical ideas from the first movement, particularly the countermotive, shine through the propulsive, uninterrupted 16th notes, which drive the work relentlessly to a blazing, elated end.

 

Ravel dedicated the Sonata to Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, a violinist of great merit. She had originally asked Ravel to write her a concerto but he composed this Sonata instead. Unfortunately, by the time the work was completed in 1927, Jourdan-Morhange’s severe arthritis prevented her performing it. The premiere was undertaken in Paris in May 1927 by the great Romanian composer and violinist Georges Enescu, with Ravel himself at the piano.

 

Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

MAURICE RAVEL: Tzigane

MAURICE RAVEL
(born 1875 in Basses Pyrénées, France; died 1937 in Paris)

Tzigane (1924)

 

Maurice Ravel is one of the most important French Impressionist composers, along with Debussy. In addition to composing he was an accomplished pianist and conductor. As a composer, he was often fascinated with the interpretation of a theme, both musically and content-wise, as demonstrated in his well-known works such as Rapsodie Espagnole, on a Spanish theme, and Tzigane, on a Hungarian theme.

 

Born into a household filled with cultural activities, Ravel’s parents, who were French and Basque, were very supportive of their child’s musical gifts and interests. Though he was born in Basses Pyrénées, he spent his childhood almost entirely in Paris—capital of the intelligentsia and new artistic trends, where the previously considered “exotic” was increasingly becoming the “fashionable.”

 

Tzigane, which Ravel wrote in his forties, was first conceived for violin and piano, but later arranged for violin and orchestra. Today, it is still more often played in the original version of violin and piano. The word tzigane is French for “gypsy.”

 

Dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Jelly D’Aranyi, a great-niece of the legendary violinist Josef Joachim, Tzigane is a work derived from Ravel’s interest in the gypsies and in Hungarian culture. It can be broadly divided in 2 sections: the Cadenza and the post-Cadenza. The Cadenza could be considered a gypsy’s declamatory monologue about his life – his misery, passions, memories, surroundings, and dreams. As the Cadenza ends we are transported into the countryside where the gypsies live. We experience the gaiety of their lives in a section that peaks in a festive, frenzied dance in the form of a loose set of variations, Ravel basically uses two themes: one previously used in the Cadenza, and another introduced only towards the middle of the main section (post-Cadenza).

 

The violinist has plenty of “tricks” with which to demonstrate virtuosity and technical agility in this piece. The greatest challenge is in the interpretation of the Cadenza, however. Poor playing can easily make it interminable. The piece demands a particular blend of spontaneity, uniqueness, and coordination, all of which is more difficult than one might initially assume. Playing the Cadenza with “beautiful” tone does not solve the problem, either; it is as if the performer must completely redefine violin playing!

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

KAIJA SAARIAHO: Calices

KAIJA SAARIAHO 
(born 1952 in Helsinki; currently lives in Paris)

Calices  (2009)

1. Rubato, dolce
2. Lento. Misterioso
3. Agitato

 

The sound world of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is identifiably unique, taking the listener to a world of elegant mystique. As one of most decorated living composers, especially prized for four sensually evocative operas, Saariaho has received awards including the Polar Music Prize, the Grawemeyer Award, and a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. Born in Helsinki and now living in Paris, her early musical training began at the Sibelius Academy on both the violin and the piano. Her tonal language is influenced by her study of electronics at the French new music institute IRCAM, and a large number of her works combine traditional instruments with computer-manipulated and created sounds. She has also written completely for electronics or for traditional instruments alone, but her musical sonorities invariably evoke the sonic capacities of computerization.

 

Calices, written in 2009, was commissioned by the Reina Sofia Music School, of Madrid, Spain. To honor the school’s director, a financial gift secured a number of commissions for Spanish and international composers to write for Reina Sofia’s talented student musicians. The goal was to encourage the school’s young artists to connect to the music of their time, and commissioned composers were allowed total freedom in determining the length, instrumentation, and format their work was to take. Saariaho chose to re-work portions of her 1994 violin concerto, Graal Théâtre, which had been premiered by its dedicatee, Gidon Kremer, with Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the BBC Symphony during the 1995 Proms.

 

The Graal concerto was inspired, in part, by a series of ten plays, the Graal Théâtre, by Florence Delay and Jacques Roubaud. The plays retell the epic story of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail. The cycle begins with the conflict of Joseph of Arimathea and Merlin. That conflict, which is symbolic of two opposites, of the delicate and spiritual (also suggested in the work’s title by “Graal,” i.e. the Grail) versus the profane and physical, i.e. real and tangible, and perhaps superficial at times (as represented by “Theatre” in the title), is mirrored in the construction of Calices.

 

It is worth noting that Saariaho’s much performed opera, L’amour de loin – “love from afar” – is set in medieval times, also evoked by Graal Théâtre and Calices. She explores the mystery of times so different from today’s world by plunging listeners into music inspired by cybernetics, thus the ultramodern transporting modern imaginations to very different realities, in this case to a lost time when magic was key to life.

 

In Calices – the word means “chalices,” or goblets, as was the Holy Grail – a three-movement work totaling about 15 minutes, static sections contrast with rapidly moving, “active,” linear-note (scale-like) areas. The dialectic of stasis versus activity is paralleled by a contrast of the “smooth” and “noisy,” established in this work by several special bow techniques. For the quiet, sul tasto is often utilized, while the impetuous sections are distinguished by – extreme – ponticello and a prominent tremolo. Saariaho’s use of harmonics provides added eeriness and dreaminess. Throughout, the rhapsodic handling of the musical materials – in a somewhat post-serialist manner – enhances Saariaho’s various instructions to either pick up intensity or to calm down.

 

Beyond the walls of the Reina Sofia Music School, Calices’ professional premiere was given in Hamburg, in November 2009, as part of NDR’s Das Neue Werk, Norddeutscher Rundfunk’s contemporary music series, by violinist Carolin Widmann and pianist Dénes Várjon.

 

 

Notes © 2014 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

AULIS SALLINEN: Four Etudes Op. 21

AULIS SALLINEN 
(born 1935 in Salmi, Finland)

Four Etudes, Op. 21 (1970)

I. –
II. –
III. –
IV. –

 

Aulis Sallinen is considered as one of the finest among the distinguished list of Finnish composers of the current era. Having just celebrated his 75th birthday, his early reputation was built on the successes of his operas such as Ratsumies (“The Horseman”, 1974) and The Red Line (1978). Nonetheless, he is a prolific composer with eight symphonies and six operas to date, and with a rich and varied oeuvre, from large-scale operas to miniatures written for fairly standard instrumentation as well as for a wide range of less popular classical instruments, such as the accordion. His writing style is rather conservative and tonal although he did experiment with the twelve-tone system for a short period in his younger years.

 

Sallinen’s early musical life began with violin and piano lessons; as a youngster, he was interested in both the classical and the jazz forms. He later attended the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki where he worked with Joonas Kokkonen and Aarre Merikanto. Upon graduating from the prestigious institution, he joined its faculty and took a position as an administrator with the Finnish Radio Orchestra. Sallinen has dedicated himself solely to composing since 1981, when the Finnish government appointed him Professor of Arts for life. He is the winner of numerous prestigious awards; most notable among them is the Wihuri International Sibelius Prize, given to him in 1983.

 

Sallinen wrote a handful for works for the violin, the most substantial of which is the Violin Concerto, written in 1968 – quite an early work. The Four Etudes date from two years later. Melodic and spiritual, there is an overall feel of nostalgia and romanticism. Each of the pieces is rather short, with the entire set only about 5 minutes. All emphasize repetition or a variant of an element.

 

The piano writing throughout is spare yet hauntingly beautiful. One sees elements of Shostakovich and Bartók in the pianistic style and use of texture. There is a general progression from transparency to thickness as the four etudes unfold.

 

The violin part calls attention to the relationship between pitches. The first emphasizes a somewhat chromatic scale, focusing on the three pitches of the four open strings of the violin: G, D, A. It is essentially a study of different ways of getting between two set pitches.

 

The second etude revolves around the same three pitches of the violin’s open strings, as in the first, but this time in harmonics. Again, this is a lesson in exploring these pitches: Sallinen takes each of the three pitches as a focal point per section and presents the findings in different speeds of rhythm. Also noteworthy are the arpeggiated harmonics/chords played on the piano. Toward the end, the climactic note is reached on the remaining 4th pitch (E) of the violin’s open strings.

 

In the third and shortest piece, a trill is added to the now-familiar idea. Here, the sonority is slightly chorale-like, setting the stage for the final section. The piano opens the fourth etude with soft, chime-like chords and keeps a dotted rhythm every other bar to preserve the direction of the music. The final etude has the violin entirely in octaves, and the sound is sheer haunting mystery. When the violin disappears into mist, the piano continues the chords, pulsing in this placement like a heartbeat over absolute silence.

 

Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS

(born in Paris, 1835; died in Algiers, 1921)

 

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863)

 

Camille Saint-Saëns enjoyed a lengthy life and career spanning much of the 19th Century. His working life extended well into the turbulent 20th.  Saint-Saëns was a noted prodigy, composing his first work at the age of three. At seven, he was delighting audiences with his pianistic skills, and comparisons to Mozart were unavoidable.  But he proved to be no Mozart, his many compositions tending to be more formulaic than groundbreaking.

 

As a young musician, Saint-Saëns won substantial attention, both as a pianist and organist, and as a composer.  Liszt called him the greatest organist in the world, while Berlioz made some fun of the younger man’s easy facility, claiming that Saint-Saëns “knows everything, but lacks inexperience.”  A brilliant student, Saint-Saëns championed new trends in music, such as the work of Schumann and Wagner, while also gazing back at the baroque masters Handel, Rameau and Gluck.  Like Mendelssohn, he was an avid proponent of Bach, intent on reviving interest in the great German’s music.  In his later years, Saint-Saëns became something of a reactionary, horrified by the innovations of Debussy and Stravinsky.  Stated simply, he had outlived his musical era.

 

Dedicated to the Spanish violin virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso was written in 1863.  The widely traveled Saint-Saëns wrote two other pieces in this virtuoso style for violin and orchestra, the Havanaise and the Caprice Andalous.  He also wrote three violin concertos, of which the third, in B minor, is the best known.

 

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso has long been an immensely popular work, a favorite concert piece of Heifetz and Francescatti, while having been featured in films such as They Shall Have Music (with Heifetz) and Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants.  For the entire work, the separation of the solo and the accompanying parts is clear, the solo line always seeming to float above its accompaniment.  The aural effect of the work’s opening bars is analogous to broken chords played on a guitar, this effect being the first in a series of Spanish influences found in the work.  The composition’s minor mode only adds to the music’s Spanish feel.

 

While the opening rhythmic pattern is repeated, the solo violin plays its first theme in a nostalgic voice.  The rondo section follows, introducing itself in a series of intensifying trills.  The violin expresses a nonchalant melancholy above an ostinato accompaniment, that hint of sadness continuing throughout, alongside the work’s technical fireworks.

 

The middle of Saint-Saëns’s rondo section is distinct from the rest of the piece, except that it still carries a rueful quality.  What makes it different is its obvious exotic quality as heard in the harmony Saint-Saëns decided to use.  The Spanish, or Moorish influence is most felt in this short middle section of the rondo.  The scale there is manipulated to lend the music an “Oriental” cast, created by combining characteristics of both the minor and the major mode into one scale.  By invoking non-western scale patterns, this section makes an allusion to eastern cultures, leaving some listeners to imagine a belly dancer, others to think of landscapes in Asia.

 

When the Rondo theme returns for the last time, the accompaniment plays it, this time with the solo violin in a subordinate position, relentlessly playing arpeggios, a virtuoso’s technique that consists of quickly skipping through chords up and down the instrument.  The end of the Rondo section climaxes on a very high “E”, which is followed by a mini-cadenza.  The coda then begins with a lightness and simple gaiety that had not been apparent anywhere else in the work.  While the passage is all but technically impossible for the violinist, it is over in a flash, usually sweeping an audience to its feet at the work’s conclusion.  (If executed well!)

 

Notes © 2016 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS: Sonata No. 1 in D Minor Op. 75

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS
(born 1835 in Paris; died 1921 in Algiers)

Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75 (1885)

1. Allegro agitato-Adagio
2. Allegretto moderato-Allegro molto

 

The French composer Camille Saint-Saëns lived to the ripe old age of 86. To give a bit of perspective, he was born just seven years after the death of Beethoven, lived through the First World War and died in 1921, when Leonard Bernstein was three years old.

 

A person of exceptional talents beyond the field of music, Saint-Saëns was an author and a mathematician – indeed a prodigy – in addition to being an organist, composer and pianist. His compositional output was prolific but although his long life spanned well into the 20th-century, his style was thoroughly 19th-century. He greatly admired J. S. Bach, and like Felix Mendelssohn in Germany, was responsible for the revival of the great master’s works in France. As a young man, Saint-Saëns also supported the ‘avant-garde’ musical styles of Liszt and Wagner although, in old age, he became increasingly dismissive of ‘modern’ trends.

 

Saint-Saëns wrote three concertos, a handful of showpieces, and two sonatas for the violin. The reigning characteristics in a majority of his works are the presence of nostalgia and exotic sensuality; passion, self-indulgence, and outward nonchalance co-exist. In his Violin Sonata in D minor, written in 1885, lyricism is combined with sheer bravura and a last movement that could be considered one of the most exciting in the repertoire.

 

Throughout the work, the interplay between the important lines exchanged by the violin and the piano are quite seamless. The work opens with an undercurrent of tension led by the piano, taken over by the violin and then returned again to the piano. Neither instrument dominates; rather, the piece requires keen ensemble awareness and virtuosity from both performers.

 

There are four movements, the first two and the last two each played without a break. The characteristics of the first two movements most prominently display the musical maturity of the performers, alternating between moods of agitation, alacrity, ecstasy, and reflection. The third movement is in a minuet-like triple-meter and is without any flowering: simple and elegant. When the finale starts, however, the motion is unstoppable. While there are occasional moments of tuneful calm, the music moves at a consistent, forward, pace, and the piece gains momentum until the very end. The final section, which is played in simultaneous octaves by the two instruments, heightens the intensity of excitement bringing the work to a fiery conclusion.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

PABLO DE SARASATE: Zigeunerweisen Op. 20

PABLO DE SARASATE
(born 1844 in Pamplona, Spain; died 1908 in Biarritz, France)

Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 (1878)

 

Pablo de Sarasate established himself as a violin virtuoso while in his twenties, giving concerts on all the great stages of Europe and North and South America. At the peak of his career he was greatly admired by audiences and fellow musicians alike, and particularly by composers. Important composers of his day wrote for him and dedicated their works to him. Saint-Saëns, one of these admiring composers, dedicated two of his three violin concertos to Sarasate, as well as his “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.”

 

Sarasate’s reputation as a violinist was based on his virtuosity. He was known for technical perfection and for the effortlessness with which he handled the instrument. His sound, however, did not receive similar accolades. While the basic sound itself was extremely beautiful, he was criticized for a lack of dynamics, and for rather meager emotional content. As a violinist, he composed to serve his virtuoso purposes. Certainly this was not the kind of profound music which purpose it was to touch deeply the mysterious existence of one’s soul; rather, it was to impress upon the listeners (and viewers) the fantastic virtuoso abilities that he possessed.

 

Spanish by birth and French by training, he was born in Pamplona in 1844 to a humble and musical family. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and became thoroughly attached to Paris, and to France, for the rest of his life. Indeed, he was so fond of the Paris Conservatoire that he bequeathed his own 1724 Stradivarius violin to the school. Adding to his Spanish and French heritage, one can perhaps relate his temperament to those stereotypical characteristics of a Gypsy–nomadic, dark-tempered, impulsive, passionate, and improvisational.

 

Equally impressive as his virtuosity on the violin was his savoir-faire. Known as a boulevardier, and something of a dandy, this reputation did not hurt him socially. Critics claim that his superb social graces were an important factor in establishing himself within the circle of his wealthy and powerful fans.

 

Although he was a prodigy, he was not accepted as a star until well into his adulthood. “Zigeunerweisen” was written in 1878, and given its premiere that same year in Leipzig. Among Sarasate’s works it falls almost in the middle, as the twentieth opus out of 54, and is his most popular and famous piece. The title is derived from Zigeuner, a German word meaning “gypsy,” and weisen, meaning “tune.” The work is equally popular as performed with solo violin and orchestra or in a violin and piano rendition. While artistic substance is lacking, “Zigeunerweisen” is undeniably unforgettable. Ranging from sounds imitating the zither to sounds of birds chirping; and sounds which move from a growl to a sob; and with violin fireworks holding listeners on the edge of their seats, when played effectively, this piece is a winner, nonetheless.

 

This piece is loosely based on the csardas, a Hungarian rustic folk dance which was most popular between the1850s and the 1880s. The csardas is always in double-meter, with frequent syncopated rhythms and is characterized by the alternation of slow and fast sections. The slow sections represent dignity and pride, and the fast sections are the gypsy dances. The piece has been counter-adopted by gypsy musicians and is currently performed at various venues other than concert halls. These appearances hold true to the original use of the csardas, and can be heard at weddings, parties, and at rustic inns, or their modern counterparts, the European cabarets.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ALFRED SCHNITTKE: Sonata No. 1

ALFRED SCHNITTKE
(born 1934 in Engels, Latvia; died 1998 in Hamburg)

Sonata No. 1 (1963)

1. Andante
2. Allegretto
3. Largo
4. Allegretto – Allegro – largo

 

Alfred Schnittke’s First Violin Sonata was composed in 1963 and premiered the following year in Moscow by his champion, the late Mark Lubotsky. In the 1960s, Schnittke composed mostly chamber works, many of them with a prominent violin part. He was an exception in favoring the violin among his avant-garde colleagues at the Moscow Conservatory. Schnittke saw music as a chronicling of human life and of the history that shaped it, and the tone quality of the violin enabled him to express himself most personally because it resembled the human voice.

 

Born to non-Russian parents–his father Jewish and his mother of German descent–in Engels (in present-day Latvia) in 1934, Schnittke claimed no single strong heritage. He grew up speaking German as a Jew in Russia, without any ties to the Jewish culture or religion and also spent a part of his formative years in Vienna. In the last two decades of his life, Schnittke became a baptized Catholic and lived in Germany as a Russian citizen. Perhaps it is because of his diverse contact with a variety of cultural influences that his compositional language is poly-stylistic.

 

Many of Schnittke’s violin works, including the First Violin Sonata, were strongly influenced by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. It was the First Violin Concerto of Shostakovich that made a strong impact on the youthful Schnittke. Composed in 1948 but held back by the composer until its premiere in 1955 by David Oistrakh, it was greatly admired by Schnittke for its dramatic and contrasting moods between movements and between instruments as well as for the conflict felt between the solo violin and the orchestra.

 

Schnittke’s First Violin Sonata opens with a lonesome short soliloquy on the violin, which is constructed on the 12-tone row. Then, the piano enters with staccato notes, again using the 12-tone row, adding to the eeriness of the atmosphere. The climax of the movement is the tone row in reverse, and it is unrelenting and severe, played with held double notes in a high register of E-flat and C. The dynamic intensity is quickly relieved but the uneasy atmosphere remains.

 

In the next movement, sarcasm and irony prevail. The two instruments continuously tag along at each other’s heels, never meeting to consummate the partnership. Leading to a climax, the piano solo starts quietly but with nervous energy, repetitively reinforcing the initial theme of the movement. When the climax is finally reached, the violin enters and has an entire measure alone, with shrieking force. The piano only follows in canon but at twice the speed, again making it impossible for the two instruments to meet. The end of the movement is without finality, going in attacca (without any break) to the third movement. It is only here, at the beginning C major chord of the movement, that there is any sense of arrival.

 

The third movement has a solemn quality as well as being the most tuneful and melodious, and here, Schnittke pays tribute to the great composer Bach. As the violin holds the note G (the lowest possible pitch to be played by the instrument), the upper line of the piano plays the notes C-B-D-C#. When the notes B-A-C-H (according to the German pronunciation of the pitches) are raised by a whole-step, they become C-B-D-C#.

 

Exemple 1
musicnote-schnittke1-sm

Exemple 2

musicnote-schnittke2-sm

Exemple 3

musicnote-schnittke3-sm

 

As Schnittke introduces the melodious tune after the repetitive Gs, he calls for a non-vibrato. Such treatment of a pretty melody makes the character of the movement more surreal, only to be heightened further by the use of continuous harmonics at the end of the movement, imitating the sound of a Baroque flute. Again, the movement feels inconclusive.

 

The final movement resembles a burlesque and is a combination of serialism, with the two instruments mock-imitating each other, with themes satirizing the second and third movements. Towards the end, the opening theme of the entire sonata appears as if in a cryptic message, which is followed by the four chords on the piano, of which the upper line is the transposed B-A-C-H. The violin then plays three times, in pizzicato, a fragment from the beginning theme of the last movement, only leaving a sense of mysteriousness and continuity.

 

(December 2002)

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ALFRED SCHNITTKE: Sonata No. 3

ALFRED SCHNITTKE 
(born 1934 in Engels, Latvia; died 1998 in Hamburg)

Sonata No.3  (1994)

1. Andante
2. Allegro (molto)
3. Adagio
4. Senza tempo (tempo libre, ma inquieto)

 

Alfred Schnittke had a special affinity for the violin, an instrument that, to his ear, had a sound close to that of the human voice. His violin oeuvre spans almost his entire career, including three sonatas, four violin concerti, concerti grossi that prominently feature the instrument, as well as assorted solo works and miniatures, etc. Schnittke, a Russian Jew of German descent who converted to Catholicism, is generally described as a “polystylist” – a composer who brought various musical styles, past and contemporary, into complex combinations within a single work. Though that might give the impression that Schnittke’s identity as a composer is indistinctive, on the contrary, his music is always identifiably unique, notable for its combination of cynical mood, simple yet dramatic presence, and emotionally gripping expression.

 

While his works invariably offer something new to explore, both for the listener and the player, and while his language is so much his own, given its multiple cultural and artistic influences, Schnittke can also be considered a type of “classicist”. Schnittke’s musical education began in Vienna, where his family was living when he was a boy, and he considered himself to be a musical child of the Germanic masters, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, rather than the Russian romantics Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Schnittke learned from Shostakovich, particularly in terms of how a modern, Soviet composer might relate to musical history, but his mature sound world answers to his own, complex, worldly perspective.

 

Just as the 1953 Fuga, for solo violin, was one of Schnittke’s first published compositions, the Violin Sonata No.3 lists among his last works. Repeating the form of his first violin sonata, this final sonata, from 1994, is written as a sonata da chiesa (“chiesa” meaning “church”), a slow-fast-slow-fast format following baroque and classical practices. For the borrowing, Schnittke’s sonorities are his own. They can at times be simple, but his music never allows for easy listening. Cynicism, discomfort, passion, and dark nostalgia, imbued with almost irksome humor, co-exist throughout.

 

Alfred Schnittke’s later years were troubled by a series of near-fatal strokes, rendering him partially paralyzed. The physical act of writing became a great challenge and, as a result, this late sonata’s score is sparsely notated for both instruments. It is sometimes so spare, with extremely sporadic markings, that players have to interpret broadly, based on their knowledge of the Schnittke style. The pitches sound to the ear as though they were leaping across registers, but in fact he employs step-wise motions, akin to a chromatic scale, which through skipping registers sound anything but simple.

 

First movement: Basically a series of ascending lines played on the violin that escalate in speed, leading to an increase in tension, while the piano accompanies with dissonant chords. Quarter-tones create an uncomfortable dissonance, as notes glide from one to the next, causing the notes to feel “stretched” and maximized, another manner of increasing intensity.

 

Second movement: An almost Prokofiev-like spirit sounds throughout, wicked mischief tempered by a sense of innocence. Rhythmically jaunty and sprightly, the mood is both comical and dark-humored. The entire movement consists, almost exclusively, of short, articulated notes.

 

Third movement: The most somber and romantic of the four movements, this is the section of the sonata in which the two instruments give their strongest sense of being in dialogue with each other. The movement’s general mood is of quiet passion; its underlying nostalgia never sugar coated.

 

Fourth movement: Schnittke marks this movement “Senza tempo,” the suggested “lack” of tempo creating a quiet tension. Outbursts of energy increase in intensity all the way to the work’s conclusion, those outbursts finally ceding into a nonstop, high-pitched intensity. The movement’s beginning is almost inquisitive, whereas its climax is unforgivingly unrelenting and definitive. The music’s irregularity, its unmooring from time, leaves its listeners with a mood of profound unease and nervousness.

 

Alfred Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No.3 was dedicated to the violinist Mark Lubotsky, who premiered it with the pianist Irina Schnittke in Moscow on October 10, 1994.

 

 

Notes © 2014 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.,Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: Phantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment Op. 47

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG
(born 1874 in Vienna; died 1951 in Los Angeles)

Phantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment, Op. 47 (1949) 

 

Phantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment, Op. 47 is Arnold Schoenberg’s last chamber work. It was premiered by its dedicatee, Adolph Koldofsky, during the composer’s 75th birthday celebrations in September 1949.

 

Much of the general public seems to fear Schoenberg’s music as well as of that of his disciples, including Anton Webern and Alban Berg. True, Schoenberg was the mastermind behind atonal music and the inventor of the 12-tone row method of composition, both of which appear unnecessarily unforgiving; but, to quote the inventor himself, his purpose was clearly different: “Composing with twelve tones is not nearly as forbidding and exclusive a method as is popularly believed. It is primarily a method demanding logical order and organization, of which comprehensibility should be the main result.” (My Evolution, 1949)

 

Schoenberg’s output for the violin consists of only two works: the Violin Concerto and the Phantasy. However, he knew the instrument well, having taken lessons from the age of eight, and having included the instrument in his compositions from very early on his career.

 

The Phantasy can best be described as expressive. Opening with a passionate declamation, the work has a shifting musical character that flows from one section to the next, and within each section, from mysterious, humorous and sweet to dark and serene. The dance-like Grazioso and Scherzando are more folk-influenced than a Viennese waltz, complete with a hint of yodeling as well as spice. The passionate opening theme returns in the Codaand soon brings the work to a virtuosic conclusion.

 

The piece is neatly and meticulously laid out, based on aggregates (all twelve notes of the chromatic scale) that are divided into two groups of six notes each. From the aggregate, Schoenberg has constructed eleven such groupings or divisions. Dissecting the Phantasy in this way enables us to understand how Schoenberg put the work together and to appreciate his ingenuity from an analytical perspective. However, the expressiveness of the music speaks for itself.

 

Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Fantasie for Piano and Violin in C Major D934

FRANZ SCHUBERT
(born 1797, Vienna; died 1828, Vienna)

 

Fantasie for Piano and Violin in C Major D934 (1827)

Andante molto — Allegretto — Andantino — Tempo I — Allegro vivace — Allegretto — Presto

 

Schubert composed his Fantasie for Piano and Violin in C major D934 rather quickly in December 1827, almost a year before his death at the age of 31. It is one of three substantial works he wrote for the two-instrument pairing, the others being the Grand Duo in A major (D574; 1817) and the Rondo Brilliante (D895; 1826). As beautiful and delightful as they are, the four 1816 violin and piano sonatinas are smaller works in scope, most likely to have been intended for amateur players.

 

The Fantasie is a multi-movement work, with a set of variations on Schubert’s song Sei mir gegrüsst taking pride of place in the middle of the piece. ʿSei mir gegrüsstʾ (the title translates as ʿI greet youʾ) was written by Schubert about six years earlier, set to a poem by Friedrich Rückert. Borrowing from his own lieder was a common Schubert practice, at the core of other instrumental works of note such as his Trout Quintet and the Death and the Maiden Quartet.

 

Although poorly received at its first performance (which was given by the pianist Carl Maria von Bocklet and violinist Josef Slavik, in Vienna in January 1828), the Fantasie is one of the most beautiful works for violin and piano to come down to us from the Classical Era. Musical ʿfantasiesʾ were meant to seem ʿimprovisatoryʾ in their nature, and Schubert does not break his music’s flow in a traditional structure of three or four movements. Instead, he appears to be reaching for the sort of free exploration of his Wanderer Fantasy (a work for solo keyboard, premiered several years before by the same pianist, Bocklet), while departing from tradition by writing a fantasia for two instruments, thus adding dialogue to the ruminations central to the form. Themes appear and return throughout the roughly 27-minute work, and there are no definitive movement ends, where a nice breath could be taken to give both the players and listeners a sense of repose.

 

The piece opens with quiet, tremolo-like bubbling from the piano, over which the violin gently soars. The section, which serves as an introduction, is melodious, filled with a sense of wonder, while seemingly bending a listener’s sense of time, as if in an early morning dream of changing colors of the skies. This is followed by a ʿmovementʾ of fast notes, which blaze on for an extended statement, the two instruments engaging interactively, from a canon-like tug-of-war to their functioning together as dancing partners. Waves of differing emotions come and go, the music at times exuberant and at other times coquettish, lending it a rather varied feel amidst the unstoppable fast notes. A quick silence follows, as the music segues into the previously mentioned lied theme and its variations. The variations return to the opening material of the work, again suggesting a moment of wondering, but the Fantasie quickly becomes confident and definitive, rising into the work’s heroic section. While rambunctious at times, the music never loses its charm, as Schubert reprises the ʿSei mir gegrüsstʾ theme, bringing the work to its spirited culmination in a flourish of excitement, heroism, and triumph.

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Sonatina in D Major D384

FRANZ SCHUBERT
(born 1797, Vienna; died 1828, Vienna)

Sonatina in D Major D384, Op. posth.137, No.1 (1816)

1. Allegro molto
2. Andante
3. Allegro vivace

 

Franz Schubert was one of the last exponents of the Viennese Classical School of composition, who helped pave the way to musical Romanticism. He was prolific, composing more than 1000 works in a lifespan even shorter than Mozart’s. Unlike his Austrian predecessor, however, Schubert was neither a prodigy nor a virtuoso, and held no position of any prominence during his lifetime.

 

Schubert is best loved for the melodies and intense lyricism that fill his Lieder but these are equally prominent in his instrumental writing, as are characteristic chromatic modulations, changes of mode from major to minor and pastoral sound language.

 

He composed four sonatinas for violin and piano in 1816. A young man of 20, he had already completed a large number of works, including the wonderful lieder Gretchen am Spinnrad and Die Erlkönig but his greatest compositions, such as the late sonatas and quartets, Die Schöne Mullerin, Winterreise, and the Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9, were still to come.

 

The sonatas, which were called sonatinas to give them greater appeal for amateur musicians, are certainly well written for the two instruments. This is not entirely surprising as Schubert knew the violin and the pianoforte well, having taken lessons from the age of six. He also incorporates dramatic flair, instrumental fastidiousness, and a sense of collaboration and conversation that he had developed in his previous works in other genres, including piano sonatas and chamber music for strings.

 

The initial impression of the first Sonatina, in D Major, is one of spontaneous lyricism and natural melody, of simplicity, sweetness, and elegance. Throughout the work, memorable themes, flow from one section to the next. The tunes alone can be enjoyed by any player; thus the challenge for performers becomes how to make an artistic statement that does not disturb the organic nature of the work. The Sonatina is as compelling for the listener as it is pleasurable for the players. In order to deliver a musical interpretation, one must first recognize Schubert’s subtle yet diverse hues, texture, and intent.

 

A successful execution of the work requires that the players respect the music and acknowledge what it expresses naturally, as well as being alert at all times to honor the delicate, and perhaps understated progression within the musical context from one moment to the next. Like the view from a moving ship in the middle of an ocean, what initially seems like a vastness of water is transformed by the movement of light, wind, and depth.

 

The first movement opens in a very similar fashion to Mozart’s Sonata in e minor, KV 304. Starting with the melody stated in octaves by the three lines, the speed of the movement is comfortably cruising, having been marked Allegro molto, in cut time.

 

In the Andante that follows, the three sections of the movement form an A-B-A structure. In the A sections, the character is rather jovial, and the piano has the right-of-way most of the time in relation to the violin. However, in the middle section, it is the violin that sings, unadorned but with quiet passion.

 

In contrast to the first movement, which opens with both instruments having the theme simultaneously, and the second, which opens with the piano solo, the final movement allows the violin to state the opening theme. The blissful finale is stylishly rustic and lavishly buoyant.

 

Notes © 2006 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Sonata in A minor D385

FRANZ SCHUBERT
(born 1797, Vienna; died 1828, Vienna)

Sonata in A minor D385, Op. posth. 137 No. 2 (1816)

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Menuetto. Allegro
  4. Allegro

 

Franz Schubert, one of the most beloved, supreme composers of the classical-romantic eras, was little known during his brief lifetime of 31 years, beyond a small group of dedicated supporters. Despite his premature death, Schubert left the world no less than 600 vocal works (revolutionizing the Lied genre in the doing), seven extant symphonies, a wide range of chamber music, including 15 string quartets, the Octet, C major String Quintet, and “Trout” Quintet, among many other compositions.

 

Relatively speaking, Schubert’s works for the violin are not considered to be the cornerstone of his oeuvre or of a violinist’s repertoire. However, this should not be considered a reflection of the actual compositional or artistic value of these pieces. That he wrote no violin concertos also seems to help along this perception, but then he wrote no concertos for any instrument, although he did create a small number of works for a solo instrument and orchestra. The musical language that he employs in chamber music and especially in duets features explorations of ensemble blissfulness rather than the contrast, conflict, or excessive competition of concerted music; it is a unique style, and perhaps may reflect his special vision of an ideal way of composing for such instrumental combinations, and thus may have naturally turned him away from writing grand-scale instrumental concertos.

 

Schubert’s violin works include the three sonatas, originally published posthumously as “sonatinas” to promote their marketability – the term should not be taken to suggest that these are lesser works, and it is worth noting that the very reason that they were published under that title, “sonatina,” now leads to their being undervalued and underperformed. Among Schubert’s works that prominently feature the violin are the Fantasy in C major (D934), the Grand Duo (Op. posth., D574), the Rondo Brillante (Op. 70, D895), and Rondo for Violin and Orchestra. The Sonatinas date from 1816, the same year Schubert was working on his fourth and fifth symphonies. Even though he was only nineteen at the time of their composition, these are not the work of an immature artist. Certainly, his style developed further; yet these sonatas demonstrate mastery and security of craft, firm knowledge of the instruments for which they were written, and Schubert’s animating creative genius.

 

The Sonata in A minor, D385, the second in the set of three, is cast in four movements, with great contrasts of moods between those sections of the complete work. It opens with a melancholic piano solo, introverted, though with a singing quality. The violin enters rather dramatically, transitioning quickly into a merry and innocent second theme in C major, which then atypically modulates into F major, only to return to the dominant harmony of the A minor home key at the very end of the exposition. Going from one key into two other modes is rather unexpected in the exposition of a classical sonata. And yet, after the rather quick development section that also starts in an unconventional tonic key, the recapitulation is in yet another key, in D minor, the re-statement of the second theme now in F major, then modulating back to A minor as the movement fades away. The unusual nature of such key and harmonic progressions within a single movement is, in the end, not to be understood as a mere matter of compositional method or cleverness. Rather this is a reflection of Schubert’s bold experimentation, confidence, and adventurous nature, as well as his ability to covertly engage and grip his players and listeners in a truly masterful manner. It is this type of daring expression that helped carry music forward into the modern era.

 

These keys employed in the first movement do, however, lead to the middle two movements cohering more powerfully within the course of the entire work. The slow movement, Andante, in F major, is somewhat reminiscent of the slow movement of Haydn’s “Kaiser” Quartet Op. 76/3, composed in 1797, the year of Schubert’s birth. Noble and proud, simple and assured, this movement again takes listeners through changing modes. The Menuet and Trio which follow in D minor are both confident and a bit wild, but not without charm and humor. In the final movement, Schubert incorporates much drama, albeit quietly. Written in Rondo form, the rondo theme itself somber, the materials that are presented in between the re-statement of the theme are in contrasting characters, between something jolly and other materials imbued with a dark and ominous atmosphere. The final statement of the rondo theme modulates quickly, and while a listener might anticipate a happy resolution, Schubert defies that expectation. Instead, the solemnity of the opening theme is preserved until two concluding cataclysmic chords, which bring the work to its emotionally gripping end.

 

The current “urtext” edition (a printed version intended to reproduce the original intent of a composer as exactly as possible) is based on a combination of sources. The autograph of most of the third and the final movements are no longer extant, therefore the urtext must rely on the first edition, which was published only posthumously, by Diabelli, in 1836.

 

Notes © 2016 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.
Referential sources available on request

ROBERT SCHUMANN: Sonata in A Minor Op. 105

ROBERT SCHUMANN
(born 1810 in Zwickau; died 1856 in Bonn)

Sonata in A Minor, Op. 105 (1851)

1. Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck
2. Allegretto
3. Lebhaft

 

Schumann described Mendelssohn as “a God among men” and called Brahms “a genius.” Schumann’s love for great music was as profound as his respect for colleagues and for the great masters, both among his contemporaries and of the past. Schumann himself was no lesser a composer than the greatest masters in the history of Western music; he is, indeed, in a class of his own.

 

Tortured throughout his adult life by demons within, Schumann was in the last period of his creativity when he wrote his four substantial violin works: the two sonatas, Op.105 in A minor, and Op.121 in D minor, both written in 1851, and the Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 131, and the without-opus Violin Concerto, both from 1853. By the following year Schumann had been institutionalized. He died in a mental asylum two years later.

 

The Sonata in A Minor, Op. 105 written in Dusseldorf, where Schumann had held the post of Director for Orchestra and Chorus from 1850, reaches the core of the true Romantic that was Schumann. His compositions were guided by subjective reflection and intense introspection; one constantly hears his severe self-examination and the resulting turmoil. To hear the music of Schumann is to experience all his experiences magnified twice over. His musical persona as a composer gave definition and long-standing credibility to the term ‘Romanticist.’

 

By the time of his Op. 105, mental illness was beginning to control him, and he was exhibiting alarming mood swings which, of course, took their toll on him, his family and friends. He reported being given orders from Heaven to write down certain melodies, and, too, being threatened by devils. To the rest of the world these were defined as hallucinations; to him these disturbances led to a loss of dignity, and in a few years’ time, a loss of life. One can hear his torments in Op. 105-at times tragic, at others restless and condemning-throughout. Occasional moments of relief and warmth are brief and in the distance.

 

The first movement, marked Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck (with passionate expression) opens with a rich melody in the home key of A minor played on the G-string of the violin, while the piano adds texture with accompanying figures of 16th-notes. By the sixth bar, when the violin line has not even completed its thought, the piano starts with the same tune but starting 6 pitches higher and for a brief moment in D minor, which in turn is taken back by the violin, this time in F Major. These frequent modulations from the very start, usually a trait of the middle (development) section, immediately create a disturbed, restless quality. As in the opening section, the transitions into new material, or returning to old, are seamless and this remains a characteristic throughout the movement. In the coda, the violin has 16th-notes, and the piano has a succession of chords interspersed with the melodic octave lines, leading to the relentless ending.

 

The second movement, Intermezzo, which is in F Major, starts off with two poignant but fragmentary tunes. They are both inconclusive, followed by two short folk-dance-like sequences, returning immediately to the fragmentary opening material. This format is repeated twice. The end of the movement is graced by soft chords on the piano and gentle pizzicatos on the violin.

 

The turbulent last movement is almost entirely in 16th notes for both instruments. However, the ambience is not that of brilliant virtuosity but of painful restlessness and agitation. The suppressed anxiety is relieved only at a few points through the 5 minute movement by the hint of a heavenly hymn-like theme. This tranquility is short-lived, however, as we are quickly returned to the discord of successive 16th-notes. Preceding the coda, a fragment of the opening melody of the entire work is heard, an eerie echo of the beginning. Then, with a sudden doubling of the 16th-note pace in the violin, the work comes quickly to a tragic end.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

CHRISTIAN SINDING: Suite im Alten Stile in A minor Op. 10

CHRISTIAN SINDING
(born 1856 in Kongsberg; died 1941 in Oslo)

Suite im Alten Stile in A minor, Op. 10 (Suite in the Old Style) (1889)

1. Presto
2. Adagio
3. Tempo giusto

 

Christian Sinding was the most important Norwegian composer following the preeminent Edvard Grieg. Together with Grieg and Johan Svendsen, Sinding is considered one of the great composers from the golden age of Norwegian music. Trained as a violinist, he became seriously interested in composing while a student at the Leipzig Conservatory, founded in 1843 by Felix Mendelssohn, which counted Mendelssohn, Schumann, Reger, Grieg, and Ferdinand David amongst its illustrious faculty and students.

 

While Sinding enjoyed immense popularity and respect as a living composer, his fame receded quickly after his death in 1941 as a result of anti-Romantic influences and the inflated reputation bestowed by his colleagues during his life time.

 

Most of Sinding’s compositions have fallen into near-oblivion in the recent times but the Rustle of Spring for piano solo and the Suite im Alten Stile, written in 1889, are exceptions. Thanks to the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz, who kept it in his repertoire, the Suite im Alten Stile has remained in the consciousness of fellow violinists.

 

Cast in three movements, the Suite is composed in “the old style,” which, for Sinding, meant a Baroque style. The opening movement is a “perpetuum mobile,” based on harmonic progressions typical of Bach’s generation. However, many of these harmonies are “dressed up” to reflect the Romantic musical climate in which Sinding wrote. This movement is rather brief and it seems to serve as an antecedent to the expressive second movement. In this middle movement, a Romantic style overpowers the Baroque style and lush tenderness and warmth prevail throughout. In the last movement, the dancing spirit takes over, although it is not exactly light-hearted in feel. The opening melody is in Baroque style, but it soon leads to a more Romantic melody. This movement also features an intricate cadenza, a performance traditional originating from the Baroque era. The work ends with an uplifting A-major chord, a compositional technique typical of the Baroque period in which the minor mode of the work gives way to the major mode at the very final moment.

 

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

RICHARD STRAUSS: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major Op. 18

RICHARD STRAUSS
(born 1864 in Munich; died 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria)

Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18 (1887-1888)

1. Allegro, ma non troppo
2. Improvisation: Andante cantabile
3. Finale: Andante – Allegro

 

Richard Strauss was actively engaged in music-making for most of his life. The son of a professional horn player, he grew up surrounded by music. He started piano lessons at the age of four and his first compositions came two years later. Strauss continued to compose until 1948, a year before his death, when ill health forced him to stop. While we mostly remember him today as a composer, Strauss was also an influential conductor. In fact, he was considered one of the two great German composer-conductors of his time, along with Gustav Mahler.

 

Strauss’s early musical instruction, under the supervision of his father, focused on the works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. The senior Strauss detested Wagner, who was then considered avant-garde and on the cutting-edge. It is a great irony that Richard Strauss later became a strong supporter and interpreter of Wagner’s music. Moreover, by the late 1880s, Strauss was generally accepted to be the most significant and progressive German composer since Wagner.

 

We do not think of Strauss as a prodigy yet it is clear that he was one. By the time he was 16, he was a published and a performed composer. Hans von Bülow, a great musical leader in Germany in Strauss’s day, called him “by far the most striking personality since Brahms.” Later, with his symphonic poems and operas, Strauss re-defined the concepts of symphonic sounds and form.

 

By the time Strauss wrote the Violin Sonata, he was no longer a novice in music or in writing for the violin although he was still in his early twenties. He had played the violin since he was 8, and in 1882 had already written a violin concerto. In addition, some of his chamber music had prominent and challenging violin parts. Needless to say, his thorough knowledge of the instrument was a great asset in composing such a virtuoso piece.

 

The Violin Sonata is considered Strauss’s last “classical” piece. Still under the influence of his conservative father, his chamber output, of which he only left a handful of works dating from before 1890, follows the generally accepted classical patterns.

 

Strauss left only three works in the sonata genre, namely the ‘Cello Sonata, the Piano Sonata, and the Violin Sonata, all early works. The last is considered the most mature work of the three, and his musical language, which was to become so evident in his later works, is already present. The two parts, the violin and the piano, are densely written, and the melodic lines interweave, creating a symphonic texture. Even though it is a sonata, it is almost as if the two instruments are playing a double concerto.

 

Strauss composed the Violin Sonata under the romantic spell of Pauline de Ahna, who later became his wife. The work is full of youthful energy, hope, and anticipation. The ardent fervor of the song-like lines is evident, especially in the second movement, which often reminds the listener of the songs and operas that were to come later in Strauss’s career.

 

The opening of the first movement is played by the piano. Short and fanfare-like, it is immediately followed by a somewhat sorrowful reflective violin line. But this subdued moment does not last very long as the two instruments quickly rise to a high place. In the second movement, entitled Improvisation, Strauss uses the violin as though it were a lieder singer. Cast in the traditional ternary form of a-b-a, the ‘a’ sections are particularly mellifluous. The ‘b’ section, in the middle of the movement, is capricious and improvisational but forever elegant. A portion of this middle section is played with the mute on the violin. The third movement, after a quiet, yet dramatic introduction, plunges into music that is suggestive of heroism and grandeur.

 

Of compositional interest is the specific rhythmic pattern consisting of the dotted note (an eighth or a quarter) followed by a 16th or an 8th and then by a triplet. In the first and third movements, this fragment can be found throughout. In all the expanded and overlapping melodic lines, this rhythmic motive ultimately holds the movements, and the piece, together.

 

Although it is not considered to be at the pinnacle of violin literature, Strauss’s Violin Sonata has been in the active repertoire of most of the major violinists of the 20th century and it continues to offer its charm and heartfelt melodies to today’s listeners.

 

Notes © 2002 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Revised 2006
Referential sources available on request.

KAROL SZYMANOWSKI: 3 Myths Op. 30

KAROL SZYMANOWSKI
(born 1882 in Tymoszowka, Ukraine; died 1937 in Lausanne, Switzerland)

3 Myths, Op. 30 

(1915)

1. La fontaine d’Aréthuse
2. Narcisse
3. Dryades et Pan

 

The early 20th century was a golden period of violinists, full of ‘greats’ that included Heifetz, Huberman, Kreisler, and Ysayë. An incredible number of active performers raised the standard of violin-playing, which continued to be passed on to later generations in the century and beyond.

 

In such an artistically vibrant period, Paul Kochanski (1887-1934), fitted quite comfortably among the violin giants. A violinist well known for distinct musicianship and character without calling much attention to his fabulous technique, he was also well-respected and admired among his colleagues. Of particular importance were his collaborations with and influences on composers, who included, most decisively, a fellow Pole, Karol Szymanowski, as well as Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Kochanski also transcribed for violin a number of works originally written for other instruments.

 

Karol Szymanowski, five years senior to Kochanski, was born in 1882 in the Ukraine. A central figure in Polish music of the first half of the 20th century, his current legacy lies in his compositions, although in his day he was better known as an important pianist.

 

Szymanowski’s imaginative inspiration came from the ancient literary texts of Arabic-Persian culture, as well as those of Greece. The philosophies of love fascinated him, and he was drawn to and intrigued by matters of passion and ecstasy. In writing for the violin he formed a partnership with Kochanski who provided technical advice and assistance. Together they attempted to create a new color and style that became identifying characteristics of Szymanowski’s violin works.

 

Though impossible to specifically describe their distinctive color palette, in the simplest language, Szymanowski’s phrases soar. They shimmer, at times sensuous, almost suspended, while at other times sinister and filled with suspense. It was in the Myths that this new style was created and solidified; in his own words, “a new utterance in violin playing, something you might call epochal.”

 

In a collection of three musical poems based on characters from Greek mythology, many sound effects recall the classic stories through use of tremolo, trills, double-stops, harmonics and pizzicatti, with or without the mute on the violin, with special effects on the piano, including extended arpeggios, fantastic harmonic chords, and sustained or withheld pedaling.

 

1. Fountain of Arethusa: The water nymph Arethusa loved hunting and the forest more than any man. The river god Alpheus fell in love with the bathing Arethusa. Frightened, Arethusa ran as fast as she could, but, fearing his approach she cried for help from the goddess Artemis, who promptly changed Arethusa into a spring. The spring remains in Ortygia, in Syracuse, Italy.

 

Szymanowski initially treats the constant flow of water with interlocking hands of the piano, over which the violin sings a mystical and fabulous melody. The sound of running water is also hinted at by the use of trills and fingered double-slides throughout the poem. The tempo remains flexible, stretching and accelerating throughout. At the end, the fine bubbling of the spring disappears-ever so quietly and mysteriously.

 

2. Narcissus: Narcissus discovered his image in a pool, fell in love with himself, and not being able to find consolation, -died of sorrow by the same pool. All nymphs grieved him, and when they prepared his funeral pile, they could not find his body; in its place they found the flower that today bears his name. In the musical piece, the atmosphere is presented as dream-like and amorous, and there is a sense of imminent wonder: falling in love. The second section, marked meno mosso, is the magical moment of revelation. The two instruments follow each other, with the music giving a rippling mirror effect, reminding one of the concentric circles which appear after a small stone is thrown into a pond. The poem fades away amidst hints of mystery and of the loss of self.

 

3. Dryads and Pan: Pan was a minor god with a body half- human, half animal. His appearance caused a state of panic to anyone who happened to set eyes upon him. Indeed, the word ‘panic’ is derived from the name Pan. An offspring of Hermes, he was worshipped by goat- herders and shepherds and was constantly in love, usually with tree- nymphs or Dryads. Syrinx, a Dryad, was so horrified at the prospect of being seized by Pan that she asked to be turned into a river- reed, which Pan took and made into a flute and carried it with him always. This flute can also be heard in the musical rendition by the violinist, playing it as harmonics — a special-effect sound created by using the instrument’s overtone mechanism.

 

(March 2003)

Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

KAROL SZYMANOWSKI: Notturno e Tarantella Op. 28

KAROL SZYMANOWSKI
(born 1882 in Tymoszówska, Ukraine; died 1937 in Lausanne)

Notturno e Tarantella for Violin and Piano, Op. 28 (1914-1915)

 

The composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski grew up in an inspired artistic environment. From early childhood, he and his four siblings were exposed to music, literature, and the visual arts. Szymanowski’s early music training came from his uncle Gustav Neuhaus, father of the legendary pianist, Heinrich Neuhaus. However, his strongest and most productive influence was that of a fellow Pole, Pavel (Paul) Kochanski (1887-1934), the well-known violinist and composer.

 

Szymanowski was a key figure in Polish music in the first half of the 20th century; his sound palette is unique with an eclectic and delectable combination of exoticism, delicacy, mystery, and passion. His musical style is also infused with impressionism, expressionism, and romanticism. With Kochanski, he attempted to construct a new sound language, stretching the capacities of their two instruments’ sonorities. Szymanowski’s violin-piano works are indebted to this inspired partnership, which succeeded in achieving some extraordinary fantasy-filled musical effects. Often, the musical lines give the impression of soaring and spinning, of sensuality and opulence.

 

In light of Szymanowski’s nationalism and his attraction to the ancient texts of Greece and the Orient, the clearly Spanish idiom of Notturno e Tarantella initially feels out of place in his oeuvre. However, he was probably influenced by the music of Manuel de Falla, to whom Kochanski had strong ties. De Falla wrote his Siete canciones españolasin 1914, and dedicated them to Kochanski’s wife.

 

The years surrounding the composition of Notturno e Tarantella were among Szymanowski’s most productive as a composer. Cut off from the rest of the world by World War I, he was confined to his family’s estate in Ukraine, where he immersed himself in literature and composition. This period also saw the birth of his First Violin Concerto and of Myths, a triptych for violin and piano based on Greek myths.

 

Notturno e Tarantella begins quietly, the violin muted, with a mysterious and entranced, almost suspenseful atmosphere, evoking smokiness. Soon a Spanish rhythm overtakes the dream-like calm, giving a sparkling shine to the night. In the Tarantella that follows, the dominant characteristic is a crisp, percussive articulation and rhythm. The momentum is unstoppable and there is a fabulous evocation of the festive dances; nevertheless, a sense of elegance is never far away from the gay and brilliant mood.

 

(February 2005)
Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: Mélodie in E-flat Major Op. 42 No. 3

PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
(born 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk [Russia]; died 1893 in St. Petersburg)

Mélodie in E-flat Major Op. 42 No.3
from Souvenir d’un lieu cher (1878)

 

Tchaikovsky was a master spinner of melodies. His works sound as though naturally flowing from a bubbling musical spring. Even with a hint of narcissism and self-indulgence, the force of romanticism remains both powerful and memorable. His music combines passion with elegance; whether joyful or tragic, it is always unforgettable.

 

A precocious child, Tchaikovsky’s artistic gifts were clear early on and his parents gave him piano lessons from the age of five. But his family was not musically knowledgeable and a career in music was not an option; thus, at the age of ten, Tchaikovsky was enrolled in preparatory classes for the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg and he subsequently read law for a few years before turning to serious musical study at the age of 21.

 

As an adult, Tchaikovsky was troubled and unhappy, quite in contrast to the exquisite music he produced. The year 1877 was particularly disastrous for him as a result of his ill-fated marriage to Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova, which lasted only a matter of weeks. After a suicide attempt and a nervous breakdown, his doctors ordered a completely different environment for recovery.

 

Shortly before his marriage, Tchaikovsky had entered into a correspondence with a wealthy widow, Nadejda von Meck, who had become his patroness, offering to sponsor him on the understanding that they never meet. When he needed to get away, Mme von Meck came to the rescue by offering him the use of Brailov, one of her many splendid country estates. Although the mistress of the house was not present, conditions at Brailov were more than comfortable. The house was luxurious, filled with musical scores and instruments, and surrounded by woods and gardens in which Tchaikovsky took refuge.

 

Before leaving Brailov in June 1878, he entrusted Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Remembrance of a Beloved Place) to Mme Von Meck’s chief servant, to be presented to her as a token of Tchaikovsky’s appreciation for her hospitality. The work is a triptych for violin and piano, comprised of three short pieces: Méditation (originally intended as the slow movement to his Violin Concerto but rejected as such and reworked), Scherzo, and Mélodie. Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) later transcribed Souvenir d’un lieu cher for violin and orchestra, but in this concert it is performed in the original version.

 

Mélodie is often performed on its own. It is a charming, sweet, and graceful short piece which succeeds in conveying a sense of calm and nostalgia.

 

(March 2003 and May 2005)
Notes © 2003 and © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: Valse Sentimentale, Op. 51 No. 6 from 6 Morceaux

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY

(born 1840 in Vyatka, Russia; died 1893 in St. Petersburg)

 

Valse Sentimentale, Op 51 No. 6 from 6 Morceaux (1882), transcribed for violin and piano

 

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to gain international recognition. In the 1800s, with a few notable exceptions, Germanic musicians held center stage alongside Italian opera composers. First trained as a civil servant, Tchaikovsky entered the new Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where his education was focused toward western music. Incorporating folk melodies learned in youth, Tchaikovsky forged a unique musical vocabulary and style that won him wide favor throughout Europe, opening doors for his more overtly nationalistic peers, and for subsequent generations of great Russian composers.

 

Tchaikovsky is undoubtedly the beloved king of melodies, the creator of all-time favorite ballet scores, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Yet critics, past and present, haven’t always been fully respectful, claiming that the directness and the overly sentimental tendencies in his music are perhaps signs of a degree of shallowness. Tchaikovsky was a prodigious talent who achieved a successful career, both as a composer and conductor and became the first full-time conductor in Russia. Sadly, despite this success, his adult life was turbulent and troubled and he often isolated himself socially. To a certain extent, he was able to seclude himself because of the dedicated patronage he received from Nadja von Meck (whom he avoided in person), as well as an annual stipend from the Tsar.

 

Tchaikovsky wrote many sets of character pieces for solo piano. The 6 Morceaux set was originally requested by Nikolay Bernard, the editor of the Saint Petersburg journal Nuuvelist. However, Tchaikovsky had to decline as he had an exclusive agreement with Pyotr Jurgenson, who published them in late 1882. Each of the six pieces is dedicated to a woman, including two of his nieces. The sixth piece, Valse Sentimentale, is dedicated to Emma Genton, a French governess for the children of his friends Nikolay and Mariya Kondratyev.

 

A simple yet memorably nostalgic miniature piece, its melody rides over the consistent rhythm of the valse throughout. It is light in character, but with the darkness of a tragic spirit. There are multiple transcriptions available for this piece, but besides the original version, it is most popularly played either on the cello or on the violin, with piano accompaniment. The current edition for violin and piano pulls together the best attributes of various available transcriptions.

 

(October 2015)
Notes © 2015 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
(Referential sources available on request.)

PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: Waltz-Scherzo Op. 34

PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
(born 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk [Russia]; died 1893 in St. Petersburg)

Waltz-Scherzo, Op. 34 (1877)

 

The Waltz-Scherzo is buoyant, swift, and elegant. Originally written for violin and orchestra, it resembles in character the waltzes of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. The air of sophisticated glitter and the flowing melodies effortlessly combine flair and virtuosity. Despite the tortured state of his personal life in 1877, the year of his ill-fated marriage, the musical expression in the Waltz-Scherzo is vibrant and light-hearted.

 

The work was dedicated to Yosif Kotek, the violinist who was also the inspiration for the Violin Concerto that immediately followed it. As in other Tchaikovsky instrumental pieces, the Waltz-Scherzo, written in three sections plus a cadenza (A-B-Cadenza-A), makes great technical demands upon the performer: agility, seamless coordination, and poise, together with a lightness and bounce characteristic of a tri-meter dance. Double-stops in the solo part throughout the work add multiple voices to what might otherwise be a single line, and effectively suggest 19th century cosmopolitan grandeur. The bravura cadenza is both bold and capricious.

 

(March 2003 and May 2005)
Notes © 2003 and © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

HUW WATKINS: Coruscation and Reflection

HUW WATKINS
(born 1976 in Wales)

Coruscation and Reflection (1998)

 

Coruscation and Reflection by Huw Watkins demonstrate moods that are polar opposites. However, as with Yin and Yang, the two works are also complementary in enhancing both the excitement and tranquility in the atmosphere. After the premiere of Coruscation in 1998, performed by violinist Daniel Bell (of the Petersen Quartet), the composer decided that it needed a companion work, hence the birth of Reflection. Each can be performed separately, but they are usually presented as a pair, which is also the composer’s preference. Both works are characterized by the use of the pentatonic scale (five pitches per octave).

 

In Coruscation, the two opening notes on the violin are D and B, Daniel Bell’s initials. The general mood of the movement is jubilant; a sprinkling of hemiolas adds spice. While the forward motion conveys suspense, it has a sense of humor, rather than mystery. The continuous series of escalating patterns, mostly in the violin part, imparts the sensation of non-stop climbing. The piano often serves to put a break in the ascending violin line by being a festive drum-like presence. The drum-beat sounds are alternately humorous, powerful, and adamant in varying degrees, depending on their position in the movement, ultimately ending Coruscation with strength and finality.

 

Reflection, whose title could signify both its mood and style, is largely in reference to the mood. Elements of compositional technique and ideas are clearly taken from Coruscation, but the central characteristic of this movement is a feeling of contemplation. The violin part is almost a monologue and definitely rhetorical. Recurring many times is a rhythmic figure of quick quintuplets of which only the first two notes are expressed. (It sounds like ta-ta-a-a-a.) The arpeggiated chords in the piano part sound like an exotic lyre; most of these come across as open-ended sentiments, perhaps contributing to the feeling of slow motion which permeates the majority of the movement. In the climax, the feeling is that of maximized expansion and emotional intensity, with the violin playing in extremely high register. At the end of the work, the semi-long notes on both instruments (violin plays pizzicato) are reminiscent of the sound of quiet droplets of water falling and then disappearing.

 

In Coruscation and Reflection, both parts are challenging for the players. Nonetheless, they are idiomatic to the instruments and, with due practice, are effective and fun to play. The sound textures are rather disparate, lending to the complementary nature of the two instruments.

 

I first came to know of Huw Watkins’ works at the suggestion of Alexander Goehr, one of Watkins’ teachers, whose work, Suite, I was preparing for the first installment of my New Music Recital Series. Mr. Goehr spoke highly of his protégé, and after listening to Watkins’ music, I knew I wanted to include one of his works in a recital program. Trained as a pianist, Huw Watkins keeps a regular performance schedule, mainly in the U.K., and has given premieres of new music written by his colleagues. For such a young composer, he already has a prolific output and a rigorous schedule of commissioned works. His music speaks to and reflects the world we live in, and it has always been my philosophy that music should be heard in the time in which it was written.

 

(April 2008)

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ANTON WEBERN: Four Pieces Op. 7

ANTON WEBERN
(born 1883 in Vienna; died 1945 in Mittersill, Austria)

Four Pieces, Op. 7 (1910)

 

Anton von Webern was not a prolific composer. He composed only 31 works during his 61 years. If presented in a marathon performance, his entire output could be heard in about four hours.

 

Webern’s first musical training was in the form of piano lessons from his mother. During his childhood and as a young man he surrounded himself with the arts, in particular music and poetry. Throughout his life he kept journals filled with sketches, his own reflections, and excerpts of his own works as well as those of others.

 

1904 was the decisive year in Webern’s life during which he met and began regular composition studies with Arnold Schoenberg. The elder composer possessed one of the most powerful minds of the early twentieth century; his influence can still be felt at the beginning of the 21st. Under his tutelage, Webern was well-trained in the mechanics of composing and musical construction; he also became a life-long Schoenberg devotee with a devotion bordering on the obsessive.

 

The Four Pieces, composed on the family estate of Preglhof, are laconic in length and rich in variety of sound, as well as in composer’s detailed instructions. The expression is succinct with markings such as ppp to kaum hörbar (hardly audible), to col legno (to use the wood of the bow, not the hair, to make sound), gerissen (drawn out), pizzicato (plucking the strings) to ausserst kurz (extremely short). The work is highly concentrated.

 

Each of the pieces lasts less than a minute. They are respectively 9, 24, 14, and 15 measures long. The intensity of the work as a whole is felt as a general response, and in a performance the details can be enriching and refreshing. For the performers, concentration is of supreme importance. To communicate the composer’s intentions with accuracy, while retaining individuality in their expression, the pianist and the violinist must be simultaneously diligent, imaginative, and spontaneous.

 

(January 2003)
Notes © 2003 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

JUDITH WEIR: Music for 247 Strings

JUDITH WEIR
(born 1954 in Cambridge; resides in London)

Music for 247 Strings (1981)

 

Music for 247 Strings by Judith Weir was composed in 1981 at the request of the British violin and piano duo of Paul Barrit and William Howard. At that time, Weir was a professor at Glasgow University whose first published work, a woodwind quintet, had appeared only six years previously. Considered one of the most exciting composers to emerge from the UK in recent years, Weir solidified her reputation in 1987 with A Night at the Chinese Opera, which has since been performed numerous times in the UK, Germany, and the US, and has been broadcast widely.

 

Today Weir has established herself as an eclectic and prolific composer. From early in her career, her keen interest in folklore and folk music, from her family’s native Scotland to that of Iceland, India, and China, have led to a personal and original style blending the familiar and the unfamiliar; she considers it her duty as a composer to expand musical communities.

 

Weir’s musical training, first on the oboe, then in composition, is diverse as well. Her teachers have included John Taverner, Robin Holloway, and Gunther Schuller. However, her music never sounds like that of any of her teachers or, for that matter, like a conglomeration of all of them. Characterized foremost by its satirical irony and humor, Weir’s work is fabulously distinctive, without being indebted to any particular school. Her strongest influences have been from theater music or incidental music with narrative.

 

The request Weir received from the Barrit-Howard Duo that resulted in Music for 247 Strings, was for a piece “that would feature genuine duo-playing.” In most sonatas for two instruments, although the two parts are ultimately of equal importance within the work, one instrument generally dominates at any given time, In Music for 247 Strings, the number 247 being the standard total number of strings of the violin and the piano combined, both parts are of equal importance throughout the composition.

 

The 10-minute work consists of ten short pieces played without a break. Overall, there is much humor-—expressed alternatively with a twinkle in the eye, mocking silence, in secrecy, with innocence, or mimicking grotesqueness. Surprises are common, and the listener is gently tickled. At the beginning of the work, amid rhythmic tightness, there is an immediately discernable musical resemblance to a clever game of ‘Simon Says.’ As the piece progresses, the symbiotic relationship continues but in a more complementary partnership. The listener stops trying to guess which instrument is leading and simply enjoys the combined effort.

 

Other notable elements are the use of reverse dynamics, which contributes to the work’s quiet comical identity, and the range of the register of the three lines in Piece 4, with the violin line in the middle. In addition, there are cross rhythms in Piece 7, and whining glissandos and quarter tones in Piece 8. In the final, Piece 10, there is a strong sense of resolution. The gentle jerkiness of rhythm at the beginning of the work is long gone, and replaced with a content rumble of satisfaction.

 

(August 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

HENRYK WIENIAWSKI: Souvenir de Moscou Op. 6

HENRYK WIENIAWSKI
(born 1835 in Lublin, Poland; died 1880 in Moscow)

Souvenir de Moscou Op. 6 (1852) after two Russian Romances by Alexander Varlamov

 

The brilliant Polish violinist Henryk Wieniawski, “a violinist of genius” in the mold of Paganini, possessed astonishing technical prowess and an intensity of expression that moved his listeners to tears.

 

A prodigy who was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 8 and graduated with First Prize in violin at the mere age of 10, Wieniawski also studied composition under Hippolyte Colet. During his teens, Wieniawski concertized in Europe and Russia, often with younger brother Josef at the piano. He composed Souvenir de Moscou in the early 1850’s when the Wieniawski brothers performed a great deal in Russia.

 

Originally written for violin and orchestra, Souvenir de Moscou is a set of variations on two popular Russian romances, The Scarlet Sarafan (a type of Russian peasant dress) and I Saddle My Horse. by Alexander Egorovich Varlamov (1801-1848). Varlamov was a singing teacher who composed more than 200 songs.

 

The work opens with an extensive introduction in which the Scarlet Sarafan theme is heard in fragments. The anticipation of hearing the complete tune grows gradually and consistently until the middle of the piece. When the theme is finally played in its entirety, there is a sense of sweet arrival. Two variations follow before the work takes a clear turn with the introduction of the I Saddle My Horsetheme, which resembles a peasant dance. There are three quick variations in rapid succession; the music continuously gains momentum until reaching a jubilant finale.

 

Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.

ISANG YUN: Violin Sonata

ISANG YUN
(born 1917 in Tongyeong, Korea; died 1995 in Berlin)

Sonata for Violin and Piano (1991)
(no movement markings)

 

As the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Isang Yun begins, listeners immediately experience a sense of urgency and confrontation. The two instruments interact dramatically with a continuously growing intensity. At the first climax, the violin shrieks, and the piano dictates. The protagonist (the violin) is losing its mind; the antagonist (the piano) enforces the atmosphere of violence.

 

One can argue that music shapes a musician’s life, or conversely, that life experiences shape a composer’s music. An examination of the interplay of Yun’s personal and political background confirms that both arguments are true and valid.

 

Yun was born in Korea at the end of World War I and came of age there at the height of the brutal colonization by imperialist Japan. He became a political activist in his youth and remained one throughout his life. Liberation, democracy, and unification of the Korean Peninsula were the most pressing issues for him. He was abducted and tortured twice for his political activism, first by the occupying Japanese military, and later, in the 60s, by the Korean secret police during the military dictatorship of General Park Chung-hee. Yun was given a death sentence that was subsequently lifted as a result of pressure exerted by the international artistic community, led by Herbert von Karajan and Igor Stravinsky.

 

Yun was already an established and decorated composer in Korea nearing the age of forty when he first traveled to Europe to study in Paris and later in Berlin. Yun said, “I was born in Korea and project that culture, but I developed musically in Europe. I don’t need to organize or separate elements of the cultures. I am a unity, a simple person. It’s a synthesis.” During an interview in 1986, he also contemplated the stylistic origins of his music. While aware that his music might sound “foreign” to European ears, he did not attribute that strictly to his Korean heritage. He pointed out the atonality and rhetorical aspect that is central to his works and commented that he did not write for Korean instruments. Nonetheless, he concluded, “what my music contains in a concrete sense, in terms of its stylistic elements, you definitely have to investigate to find out where that all comes from.”

 

Indeed, connections have been made by musicologists and analysts between Korean traditional (or Chinese/Korean) court music and instruments and Yun’s music. Specifically in the Violin Sonata, references are made to Piri, the Korean oboe-like instrument, as the origin of the numerous trills in the work and to a calligraphic brush stroke as a way to visualize the stroke of the violin bow. Yun never hears a note as stagnant but as full of changing expression and energy.

 

Structurally, the Violin Sonata, which was written in his final years, follows a programmatic and possibly autobiographical line, which is also the form he uses in his String Quartet No. 5 (1990). After the first climax, sweetness and bird songs take prominence albeit briefly. While this section remains rather lyrical for some time, the articulation of the notes continues to bring increasing momentum through the festive section in which the violin, the protagonist of the musical process, is thrown into the maelstrom of life. Searching for liberation, he experiences highs and lows. He eventually finds inner peace in the stillness in the three-part final section in which he accepts the complexities of injustice and the powerlessness of being. This is by no means a happy ending; rather, it is a recognition of the tragedy and the inner tranquility gained through ‘having lived.’ The Sonata fades away with two deep sighs.

 

(October 2004)
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.