20-concert series: Mondays at 2pm and 7:30pm
|September 13 Love Triangles
Music by 4 composers whose lives were entwined
Clara Schumann is often first thought of as the wife of Robert Schumann and then as a composer, but there was a time when Robert was best known as the husband of the distinguished pianist Clara Wieck. They became acquainted in 1830 when Robert moved in with the Wiecks in Leipzig to study piano with her father, Friedrich. Ten years later, she married Robert against her father’s wishes. They left Leipzig in 1844 for Dresden, then moved to Düsseldorf where, in 1853, they befriended Johannes Brahms, with whom Clara later had an intimate relationship. And then there was Theodor Kirchner, who was Clara’s lover for a short time after Robert’s death. Apparently, Brahms never suspected. He, too, was good friends with Kirchner.
Theodor KIRCHNER “Nur Tropfen: Ganz kleine Stücke” ▪ 1880s
A skilled miniaturist and undisputed master of the character piece—a short free-form work—the suite was likely written in the 1880s, though not published till shortly before his death in 1903. Superbly crafted, the charming pieces are little gems, little masterpieces. Kirchner wrote hundreds of such pieces, often several at a time, and published them together, each with a different mood and feel and each perfect in its own way. His oeuvre of more than 1,000 compositions are mostly short and for the piano, although he also wrote some very appealing chamber music as well. He was especially influenced by Schumann’s music.
Essentially forgotten, Kirchner (1823–1903) was Brahms’s close friend, from their first meeting in 1865 until Brahms’s death in 1897. He was also Schumann’s protégé, Mendelssohn’s pupil at the Leipzig Conservatory on a royal scholarship, Wagner’s accompanist, Dvořák’s arranger, dedicatee of Reger’s second Violin Sonata, Clara Schumann’s lover (a brief, discreet, unhappy liaison in the early 1860s), and the would-be lover of the poet and writer Mathilde Wesendonck, immortalized by Wagner’s “Wesendonck Songs.” Kirchner was universally admired as a marvelous musician—a celebrated pianist, organist, and composer in his own right—but he could not maintain a job or marriage, and his gambling addiction and spendthrift ways led to destitution in his later years, so much so that his publisher and friends, including Brahms, bailed him out of debt, as did Clara Schumann.
The scholar Julia Nauhaus discovered that “Clara…tried to argue Kirchner out of his passion for gambling. She paid his debts and gave him money which, however, he gambled away again despite his promises to the contrary. Kirchner was one of the few people whom Clara Schumann allowed to address her on first-name terms. After Clara realized that she would not be able to change Kirchner and have any real influence on him, it was no longer possible for her to have a familiar relationship with him. In July 1864, she therefore wrote a letter to him in which she restored the distance and returned to formal addressing. After that, it seems she did not see him ever again. She was deeply disappointed by his behavior and one year later she called Kirchner a ‘big rascal.’”
BRAHMS Clarinet Sonata in Eb Major Op. 120 No. 2 ▪ 1894
The Sonata in Eb Major is the second of 2 sonatas Brahms wrote late in life and dedicated to his new friend. Mühlfeld met with Brahms in Berchtesgaden between 19 and 25 September for the first rehearsals and private performances of the Sonatas. In November, they played them at least seven times in private performances in Frankfurt am Main (at Clara Schumann’s home), in Meiningen, and at Altenstein Castle, the country estate of the Duke of Meiningen. The public premiere took place on 8 January 1895 in two concerts at the Bösendorfer-Saal in Vienna. In appreciation of their friendship, Brahms gave Mühlfeld a monogrammed set of fine silver teaspoons.
Clara SCHUMANN 3 Romances for violin and piano Op. 22 ▪ 1853
Clara wrote the Romances after an inspiring month-long visit with the 20-year-old Brahms, who, after Robert’s death in 1856, became her most beloved friend despite being 14 years her junior. They were among the last pieces she ever wrote. After Robert’s death, instead of composing, she kept his music alive through her touring and editing. Clara performed the Romances with Joachim 6 times between 1854 and 1869 on her concert tours. It was Joachim who introduced Brahms to the Schumanns; and during Robert’s long illness and after his death, Brahms became a stalwart support to Clara, whom he loved deeply, if unrequitedly. Brahms and Joachim remained—a few fallouts aside—two of her closest friends for the rest of her life.
Robert SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in Eb Major Op. 44 ▪ 1842
Schumann composed the Quintet in less than 3 weeks during a creative spurt, with the piano part for Clara in mind. She was unwell, however, when it was first performed at a private party in December 1842, so Felix Mendelssohn was called upon to play the demanding part, which he sight-read. At the Quintet’s first public performance on 8 January 1843 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Clara was the soloist. It was an immediate success. She wrote in her diary that it was “Magnificent—a work filled with energy and freshness.” The Quintet was published on her birthday—13 September 1843. The composer Hector Berlioz, also a leading critic at that time, was visiting from Paris, and his praise for the work did more than anything else to establish Schumann’s reputation throughout Europe. The 20th century musicologist Homer Ulrich viewed the Quintet as “noble, exuberant, and vital.”
|September 27 Imparting Wisdom
Throughout the centuries, the musical universe has had great teachers passing on their knowledge and skills to gifted musicians. This has provided meaningful building blocks to prize pupils who created wondrous and varied compositions. Examples of this process of ”Imparting Wisdom” are evident in Robert Fuchs and Antonín Dvořák teaching Rubin Goldmark, who in turn taught Aaron Copland and George Gershwin.
Robert FUCHS 7 Phantasiestücke ▪ 1896
Although his music was not widely known (he did little to promote it), Fuchs had many admirers, including Brahms, who loved and respected him. Brahms, who rarely praised anyone, said, “Fuchs is a splendid musician, everything is so fine and so skillful, so charmingly invented, that one is always pleased.” The noted conductors Arthur Nikisch, Felix Weingartner, and Hans Richter championed his works when they had the opportunity; and many considered his chamber music his finest work.
Fuchs (1847–1927) was born in Frauental in southern Austria, the youngest of 13 children. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Felix Otto Dessoff and Joseph Hellmesberger. By 1875, he himself was teaching at the Conservatory, eventually rising to the rank of Professor of Composition. He was one of the most famous and revered teachers of his time, retaining his position until 1912. Among his pupils were Mahler, Sibelius, Hugo Wolf, George Enescu, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Erich Korngold, Franz Schmidt, Erkki Melartin, and Rubin Goldmark. He died in Vienna at the age of 80.
Aaron COPLAND “Hoe-down” from Rodeo ▪ 1942
Rodeo, pronounced “RO-dee-o” by Copland, was a smash hit. It was choreographed for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo by Agnes de Mille, who described it to Copland as “the story of The Taming of the Shrew, cowboy style”—a story about a Cowgirl vying with visiting city gals for the attention of the local cowboys, especially the Head Wrangler. Copland used two square dance tunes in the rollicking piece: William Hamilton Stepp’s “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (or “Bonyparte”) and, in Copland’s words, “a few measures of ‘McLeod’s Reel’ played in folk fiddle style.” The “Hoe-down” has remained one of his most beloved works.
Copland (1900–1990) was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. He first learned to play the piano from his older sister. Then, at the age of 16, he studied in Manhattan with Rubin Goldmark, who taught him the fundamentals of counterpoint and composition. At age 20, he traveled to France to continue his studies at the Summer School of Music for American Students in Fontainebleau, where he was tutored by Nadia Boulanger. Copland went on to become one of America’s foremost composers with highly influential music that had a distinctive blend of classical, folk, and jazz idioms.
George GERSHWIN Lullaby ▪ 1919
First conceived at the piano, Lullaby became a favorite at private musicales held by Gershwin’s friends. In 1922, the main theme was reborn as an aria—“Has One of You Seen Joe?”—in his Blue Monday: Opera à la Afro-American (originally performed by white singers in blackface). Forty-five years later, in 1967, the original string quartet received its first public performance by the Juilliard String Quartet at the Library of Congress. When Lullaby was finally published the following year, Ira Gershwin wrote, “It may not be the Gershwin of Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and his other concert works, but I find it charming and kind.”
In 1976 Jens Nygaard purchased Gershwin’s birthplace, intending to restore the house and revive the neighborhood. An article in the Houston Post reported, “Composer George Gershwin’s birthplace has been saved from likely destruction by 45-year-old Jens Nygaard, a pianist, harpsichordist and chamber music impressario [sic]. With $6,000 from friends and relatives, he’s signed a contract to buy the two-story house in the slum-scarred East New York section of Brooklyn to restore it and perhaps rescue the whole neighborhood by doing so. Nygaard doesn’t know what the renovation will cost, but he said his chamber orchestra foundation will coordinate contributions to the house.” Sadly, the house was burned down before he could fulfill his dreams.
Antonín DVOŘÁK Drobnosti Op. 75a ▪ 1877
In a letter to his German publisher Simrock, dated 18 January 1887, Dvořák disclosed, “I am writing little miniatures—just imagine—for two violins and viola, and I enjoy the work as much as if I were writing a large symphony—what do you say to that? Of course, they are meant rather for amateurs, but didn’t Beethoven and Schumann also express themselves sometimes with quite simple means—and how!” Dvořák also rearranged it for violin and piano, calling the new version Romantic Pieces.
Rubin GOLDMARK Piano Trio in D minor Op. 1 ▪ 1892
Although the Piano Trio bears the number Opus 1, it was preceded by many other compositions. Some time after its premiere at the National Conservatory (at 17th Street and Irving Place) on 8 May 1893 by violinist Michael Banner, cellist and composer Victor Herbert, and Goldmark at the piano, Dvořák is reported to have said, “Now there are two Goldmarks!”
Rubin Goldmark (1872–1936), a New Yorker of Austro-Hungarian descent, was a standout among Dvořák’s American students. His father Leo, a lawyer and cantor, was a founder and a singer of the Oratorio Society of New York as well as a cofounder of the New York Symphony Society. His uncle was the famous Jewish-Austrian composer Karl Goldmark. After a year at City College, the 17-year-old studied for 2 years at the Vienna Conservatory, where his teachers were Robert Fuchs and his brother Johann Nepomuk Fuchs in composition and Anton Door in piano. Upon returning to New York in 1891, he studied piano at the National Conservatory with the virtuoso Rafael Joseffy (ex-pupil of Moscheles, Tausig, and Liszt) and composition with Dvořák. After Dvořák left for Iowa in 1893, Goldmark taught piano and theory at the Conservatory till the following year, when poor health prompted his move to Colorado Springs, where he served as director of Colorado College until 1902, when he was well enough to return to New York. For 2 decades, he taught piano and composition privately, and toured across the U.S. and Canada giving over 500 lecture-recitals on music, theory, composition, and Wagner’s music. In 1907, Goldmark cofounded the “Bohemians,” the legendary New York Club of musicians (of which Jens Nygaard was a member). From 1924 until his death, Goldmark was director of the composition department at Juilliard. His compositions include Hiawatha, Samson, Negro Rhapsody, and The Call of the Plains, a favorite of the violinist Mischa Elman.
Today, Goldmark is mainly remembered as a teacher. According to Christoph Schlüren, he “taught a fifteen-year-old Aaron Copland and the young George Gershwin. Though Copland was often critical of Goldmark because he found him ‘too pedantic and academic,’ Goldmark gave Copland a strong foundation which Copland would rely upon for the rest of his career. The young George Gershwin also turned to Goldmark during the composition of his piano concerto. While his Rhapsody in Blue had been orchestrated by Ferde Grofé, he wished to orchestrate his piano concerto himself, and sought Goldmark’s advice.” Among his other pupils was the Italian-American genius Vittorio Giannini.
| October 4 Ties to Beethoven
BEETHOVEN Duetto No. 3 in Bb Major WoO 27 ▪ 1810–1815
Beethoven very likely admired Boccherini as the latter knew Albrechtsberger and was influenced by Haydn, both of whom were Beethoven’s teachers. Beethoven had also met the famous choreographer and dancer Salvatore Viganò (Boccherini’s nephew) in 1800, and was asked to compose the music for the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.
Pedro (Pere, in Catalan) TINTORER Un Souvenir de Beethoven ▪ 1840s
Tintorer (1814–1891) was born in Palma de Mallorca to Catalan parents who emigrated to Barcelona, where he studied music theory, piano, and composition with Ramon Vilanova, music director of the Cathedral. In 1823 he continued his studies at the Barcelona Conservatory; and in 1830, at age 16, he entered the Real Conservatorio Superior de Musica in Madrid to study piano with Pedro Albéniz and composition with Ramón Carnicer. He then studied with Pierre Zimmerman for 2 years at the Paris Conservatory, and remained in Paris until 1836. Tintorer then settled in Lyon where he taught at the Conservatory for 14 years. During this time he also studied privately with Franz Liszt. In 1849, Tintorer returned to Barcelona, where he founded the city’s first piano school. Among his pupils was Joan Baptista Pujol, who later taught Enrique Granados. His last position was at the Liceu Conservatory, where he became principal director for piano in 1883. Tintorer’s honors include a silver medal, awarded in 1853 by Empress Eugenie for the composition of the Mass to celebrate the Day of the Assumption; the Cross of Isabella the Catholic, bestowed from the hands of Queen Isabella II for his Stabat Mater, dedicated to the Queen; and he was named a Night of the Legion of Honor. Tintorer also composed his “Te Deum” to mark the birth of Napoleon III’s son.
Luigi BOCCHERINI “Fandango” Quintet in D Major G. 448 ▪ 1798
The Quintet was cobbled together from 2 previous quintets for François de Borgia, Marquis of Benavente, who was a great admirer of Boccherini as well as an accomplished guitarist. The Catalan nobleman held musical gatherings at least twice a week in Madrid, and in order for Boccherini to meet the demand for new music, he resorted to skillful arrangements of his own works. The “Fandango” Quintet is from G. 270 (1771) for the Pastorale and Allegro maestoso, and G. 341 (1788) for the Grave assai and Fandango. Boccherini himself suggested that castanets be used in the Fandango.
Boccherini—a virtuoso cellist and one of the most prolific Italian composers of the 18th century—came from a family of considerable artistic gifts in Lucca. His father Leopoldo was a cello or double bass player, his brother Giovan Gastone was a poet and dancer who wrote librettos for Salieri and Haydn, and his sister Maria Ester had a distinguished career in Vienna as a ballet dancer. He spent some time in Vienna and Paris, and from 1769 lived and worked in Spain for the rest of his life. In the 1770s he flourished under the patronage of Don Luis, the Spanish Infante. He died in 1805. As an accomplished cellist, Boccherini could play much of the violin repertoire on the cello at pitch, a skill he learned when he substituted for a sick or absent violinist in the court orchestra during his time in Vienna.
Georges ONSLOW Grand Sextuor in A minor Op. 77b ▪ 1946
Franglais son of the English Lord Edward Onslow and noble French woman Marie-Rosalie de Bourdeilles, Onslow lived his entire life in France. He won the prestigious directorship of the Académie des Beaux-Arts over Berlioz, who remarked, “Since Beethoven’s death, he wields the scepter of instrumental music.” Indeed, Onslow’s work was admired by Beethoven and Schubert; and Schumann and Mendelssohn regarded his chamber music on a par with that of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. His 36 string quartets and 34 string quintets were, during his own lifetime and up to the end of the 19th century, held in the highest esteem, particularly in Germany, Austria, and England, where he was regularly placed in the top rank of composers. Publishers such as Breitkopf & Härtel and Kistner were among many that competed to market his music. Onslow’s reputation, based on the excellence of his chamber music, was so high that he was elected to succeed Cherubini as Director of the Académie in an opera-mad France that had little regard for chamber music.
|October 18 Expats in France
Ignace PLEYEL Piano Trio in D Major B. 445 ▪ 1793
Pleyel was not only famous in his day as a piano builder and music publisher, he was equally acclaimed as a composer. Mozart praised the Austrian-born French composer’s merits in a letter to his father: “If you are not yet acquainted with Pleyel’s new quartets, it’s worth the effort. They are very well written and very pleasant. Perhaps one day Pleyel will be able to fill the place of our dear Haydn.” Pleyel (1757–1831) was the 24th child (out of 38!) of an impoverished schoolteacher. He was admitted to the class of the composer Vanhal while very young, and in about 1772 he became Haydn’s pupil and lodger in Eisenstadt. According to the New Grove Dictionary, “his annual pension [was] being paid by Count Ladislaus Erdődy, whose family at Pressburg was related to Haydn’s patrons, the Esterházys. The count showed his pleasure at the progress of his protégé by offering Haydn a carriage and two horses, for which Prince Esterházy agreed to provide a coachman and fodder.” Initially a rival of Haydn’s, Pleyel made his peace with the older composer and for several years they enjoyed a close and fruitful relationship as teacher and prized pupil. In his heyday, Pleyel was all the rage in Europe, and there was even a Pleyel Society in Nantucket.
On 26 February 1832, Chopin, at age 21, made his highly anticipated Paris debut at the Salons de Pleyel—the tony concert hall of the Pleyel Piano Company. The German composer and pianist Ferdinand Hiller, a friend of Chopin’s and a participant in the concert, recalled that the star of the evening performed several Mazurkas and Nocturnes as encores (likely from the future collections Opp. 6, 7, and 9).
CHOPIN 3 Mazurkas arranged for violin and cello by the great Hungarian pianist Zoltán Kocsis
The mazurka, named for the Mazur people of Mazovia, is a lively Polish folk dance in triple time. Chopin’s numerous mazurkas (over 50) raised the dance form of his native Poland to a high art and brought them into prominence.
Mazurka in C Major Op. 24 No. 2 ▪ 1833
Mazurka in C Major Op. 56 No. 2 ▪ 1843
Mazurka in G Major Op. 67 No. 1 ▪ 1835
Thomas Dyke Acland TELLEFSEN Piano Trio Op. 31 ▪ 1861
Tellefsen (1823–1874), born in Trondheim, first studied with his father (an organist at the Cathedral) who instilled in him a comprehensive knowledge of Baroque music and the Bach tradition, which he later used extensively in his revival of earlier music. In 1842 he went to Paris, where he became a pupil of Charlotte Thygeson, and later attended some of Friedrich Kalkbrenner’s classes. From 1844 to 1847 he was taught regularly by Chopin, who also became his personal friend and had considerable influence on his musical taste, style of playing, and compositions. After his extremely successful Paris debut in 1851 and during his lifetime, Tellefsen was widely regarded as one of the outstanding pianists of his day, and was especially admired as an interpreter of Chopin’s music. He attracted many pupils, particularly among the upper classes, and after Chopin’s death, he took over some of his teacher’s pupils. Besides composing (mostly for the piano), Tellefsen performed as a concert pianist and chamber musician. He also held frequent concerts and social gatherings at his large house in Paris.
The Fryderyk Chopin Institute provides details of Tellefsen’s relationship with Chopin. “Already one year into his residence in Paris, Thomas Tellefsen decided that Fryderyk Chopin—‘the divine Chopin’—was the greatest of pianists and that he wanted to be his student. However, to the struggling Tellefsen, Chopin long seemed unattainable as a teacher—until, on his return trip from Norway in November 1844, he met by chance his compatriot, the court assessor Peter Hersleb Smith, in Le Havre. Smith gave him a letter of recommendation to the poet [Émile] Barateau, who knew a friend of Chopin, Henri de Latouche (1785–1851), a French novelist, poet and editor of Le Figaro. The very next day after receiving the letter, de Latouche arranged Tellefsen’s first meeting with a direct friend of Chopin, who happened to be George Sand. Soon, she organised a first meeting with Chopin, and from December 1844 until May 1847 Thomas Tellefsen had regular lessons with the Polish composer. The choice of Chopin as teacher proved to be fortunate in every respect. Chopin immediately recognized his Norwegian pupil’s talent and met with him three times a week for the price of a single lesson. That period seems to have marked a great improvement in Tellefsen’s playing technique and composition skills. Also in financial terms, Tellefsen’s situation changed for the better; Chopin employed him as one of his copyists, and his status of a student of Chopin resulted in better paid jobs for Tellefsen as a teacher of music. Unfortunately, Tellefsen left little information about his studies with Chopin, but various reviews from his concerts point to the great influence exerted by his master. Around 1847, he found his way of playing as a pianist, and later he just improved on it. His interpretations were notable for the richness of dynamic nuances in the whole palette of volume and for the strong diversity of details. Also his rubato was described as ‘totally in the spirit of Chopin.’”
Friedrich KALKBRENNER Quintet in A minor Op. 81 ▪ 1826
It was Kalkbrenner who (with Camille Pleyel) was instrumental in launching the career of the unknown Chopin in 1832 through a concert he promoted. The recital at Salons Pleyel was the talk of the town, attended by celebrities that included Liszt, Mendelssohn, the Farrencs, Friedrich Wieck and his daughter Clara, and Madame Marie Pleyel, one of Kalkbrenner’s star pupils.
Kalkbrenner (1785–1849) was born allegedly in a post chaise during a trip his mother made from Kassel to Berlin. Other highlights of his life are summarized by Radio Chopin: He “first found fame in England, and then went on to even greater fame—and fortune—in Europe, first as a barnstorming piano virtuoso, and then as an investor and promoter in the Pleyel piano company in Paris. Besides writing an influential piano method, Kalkbrenner also launched what he called ‘A Factory for Aspiring Virtuosos.’ When he first met Kalkbrenner in 1831, Chopin was dazzled, ‘I am in very close relations with Kalkbrenner, the 1st pianist in Europe, whom I think you would like,’ he wrote his family in September of 1831. He later described the other piano virtuosos in Paris (famously including Franz Liszt) ‘zero beside Kalkbrenner.’ But Chopin was evidently sufficiently confident of his own abilities to turn down Kalkbrenner’s invitation to join his ‘virtuoso factory,’ which would have required a three-year commitment on the part of the young Polish virtuoso. Later historians suspect that this was partly a move by Kalkbrenner to keep Chopin out of the public eye. Chopin seems to have been torn by the dilemma. Three months later, in December of 1831, he wrote to his old friend Titus Woychiechowski: ‘....Many friends advise me not to take lessons; they think that I play as well as Kalkbrenner, and that he only wants me as a pupil out of vanity. That is absurd. Anybody who understands music must appreciate Kalkbrenner’s talents…. I can assure you there is something superior about him, to all the virtuosi whom I have hitherto heard. I told my parents so, and they quite understood it, but [his old Warsaw piano teacher Jozef] Elsner did not; he considered that Kalkbrenner found fault with my playing out of jealousy.’ Either out of awe or political astuteness, Chopin dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 1 to Kalkbrenner, though there is no evidence that the older composer ever played it. And even though Kalkbrenner did not succeed in getting Chopin into his Pleyel ‘factory,’ he did help to arrange Chopin’s first recital in Paris...on a Pleyel piano. A cholera outbreak claimed Kalkbrenner’s life in the summer of 1849. Chopin was to die a few months later. But while his compositions are rarely played today…there hardly is any other composer who lives on in so many anecdotes and stories as Kalkbrenner.”
For more on Kalkbrenner, including anecdotes and stories see https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/c.asp?c=C321
|October 25 Opus One
If ever there was misleading information, it’s found in the opus numbers of musical compositions. Thus, don’t always believe that an “Opus One” number indicates a composer’s first work.
Franz BERWALD Quartet in Eb Major for piano, clarinet, horn, and bassoon Op. 1 ▪ 1819
Although the Quartet bears the opus number “1,” there is evidence of Berwald’s serious creative activity as early as 1816, when he wrote Theme and Variations for violin and orchestra in imitation of one by Pierre Rode. In 1817 he composed Fri fantasy on a national theme for orchestra (now lost), a concerto for two violins, and a septet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass (the same instrumentation as Beethoven’s Septet). The 3 pieces were well received at a concert at the Hovkapellet in Börssalen (the grand hall of the Stockholm Stock Exchange) on 10 January 1818, with the double concerto played by the composer and his brother Christian August. Later in 1818 Berwald wrote 2 string quartets—in G minor and in Bb major (now lost)—and in the fall he began publishing a Musikalisk Journal, which he maintained for 2 years. Its 6 issues include his own songs and piano pieces. In addition to a concert tour of Finland and Russia in 1819, Berwald wrote orchestral variations on the song “Göterna fordomdags drucko ur horn” (also lost after its performance on 7 December) and the “Op. 1” Quartet for piano and winds. The Quartet’s premiere took place in Stockholm in 1821 with 3 virtuoso wind players—Bernhard Crusell on clarinet, Johann Hirschfeld on horn and Franz Preumayer on bassoon—but it was attacked by conservative Swedish critics for its original style and “avant garde cacophony.”
Berwald, born in Stockholm in 1796 to a long line of musicians, is considered Sweden’s foremost composer, the founder of Romanticism in Sweden, and its first important symphonist He was, however, unable to earn a living as a musician, and became a successful orthopedic surgeon in 1835. In 1850 he took over the management of a glass factory, then launched a saw mill, and was also active as a polemicist from about 1856. He began composing again after his move to Vienna in 1841, the 1840s being his most productive musical years. In 1866, at the age of 70, he was finally acknowledged for his musical achievements with the award of the Swedish Order of the Polar Star, but it was not until the 20th century that his work became more widely recognized.
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Piano Quintet in G minor Op. 1 ▪ 1893
After its premiere at a concert on 9 October 1893 devoted entirely to the composer’s works, the critic of the Croydon Advertiser called the Quintet “astonishing.” Coleridge-Taylor was in his third year of studies at the time. He had entered the Royal College of Music in 1890 at age 15 as a violin student. His “music class” taught by Walter Parratt, however, went badly and he slid from “fair” to “irregular” to “very irregular” by December 1891. Yet he wrote an anthem, In thee, O Lord, which was immediately published by Novello in 1891. As he continued to be uninspired by Parratt, young Samuel received the comment “bad” at the end of the Easter term in 1892, after which he dropped the class and studied harmony with Charles Wood, who reported, “his work has been in every respect excellent.” Just weeks after his 17th birthday, he also started studying composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and replaced his violin studies with the piano. By March 1893 he won the first in a succession of composition scholarships. Stanford regarded Coleridge-Taylor as brilliant—especially his flair for melody—and reported at the end of the Easter term of 1895: “Invariable” for Regularity and Punctuality,“Indefatigable” for Industry, and “Indisputable” for Progress.
Known as the “Black Mahler,” Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912)—the son of a Sierra Leonean Creole father and English mother—was named Samuel after the poet. Much admired in his day for his prodigious talent and refined musical taste, his greatest hit was the cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. Coleridge-Taylor was proud to be “an Englishman” even though he suffered intense racism. On several occasions he visited the United States where he was warmly received; he met Booker T. Washington and President Theodore Roosevelt, who invited him to the White House. He was an ardent supporter of the Pan-African Movement, and was intent on establishing “the dignity of the Black man.” In 1912 he contracted double pneumonia and died at the age of 37. He left two children, Hiawatha and Gwendolyn, both of whom had distinguished careers as conductors and composers.
Antonín DVOŘÁK String Quintet No. 1 in A minor Op. 1 ▪ 1861
The String Quintet is the first of Dvořák’s extant pieces of chamber music he thought well enough of to assign an opus number. Brimming with musical ideas, it was written at age 20 during the summer of 1861. Its public premiere took place 17 years after his death in 1921, and it waited another 21 years for publication in 1943. Dvořák had likely written a large number of works before 1861, none of which were performed. He was extremely self-critical and destroyed the majority of his scores. When he graduated from the Prague Organ School in July 1859 with a public concert, he performed a Bach prelude and fugue and also two of his own works—Prelude in D major and Fugue in G minor—among his first pieces to survive as autograph manuscripts.
Dvorák (1841–1904), the first of 9 children, was born to a family of butchers and innkeepers in the village of Nelahozeves, some forty miles north of Prague. Although it was assumed that he would take over the family business as the eldest son, Dvorák was destined to develop his exceptional talent. (Even his own father later abandoned the trade and earned somewhat of a living playing the zither.) However, before embarking on his musical studies in earnest, before his 12th birthday, Dvorák spent a year, rather reluctantly, learning butchery. In 1857 he attended the Prague Organ School for two years, then played viola in a band led by Karel Komzák, an ensemble that was to form the nucleus of the Czech Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Such was the setting for the String Quintet.
|November 8 Showstoppers
BACH Praeludium und Fuge BWV 1001 ▪ 1720
The Adagio movement begins with imposing grandeur and develops into “the quintessence of the high-Baroque with its austere character, highly decorated ornamentation, and taut counterpoint,” in the words of Nicolas Goluses, professor at the Eastman School of Music. Bach wrote the Violin Sonata when he was the music director at Köthen.
Lionel TERTIS Variations on a Passacaglia by Handel for 2 violas ▪ 1935
The showpiece was first performed at Wigmore Hall by Harry Berly, possibly his most gifted pupil, with Tertis on second viola. Later that year, Tertis performed it with William Primrose, the Scottish violist revered as the greatest violist ever, and said to be the only violist who could keep up with Heifetz.
In the estimation of English Heritage, “Tertis (1876–1975) singlehandedly transformed the status of the viola as a musical instrument, rescuing it from its hitherto lowly reputation as the Cinderella of the orchestra, an instrument of refuge for ‘down and out’ violinists. Tertis made it his mission to change this state of affairs. During his lifetime, composers as eminent as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst wrote pieces especially for the performer. Born in Hartlepool to Polish-Jewish immigrants, Tertis grew up in Spitalfields in the east end of London, ‘a place,’ he remembered ‘of such intensity and squalor that I wonder that I have lived to tell the tale.’ He left home at 13 and after a period as an itinerant pianist, he went to study at the Royal Academy of Music in 1895. It was there that Tertis took up the viola to help make up a string quartet. Tertis later wrote that, even on an old cut-down instrument, ‘I loved the timbre, I loved the quality from the moment I studied it, and from that time I worked at it myself, for the simple reason that there were no pedagogues for the viola.’ By 1900, at the age of 26, the Royal Academy had appointed him to the newly created post of Professor of Viola. He played in chamber ensembles with many distinguished musicians, including the pianist Artur Rubinstein, who called Tertis ‘the greatest glory in England in the way of instrument or players.’ Beauty of tone and expressive intensity were Tertis’s hallmarks: the word ‘passionate’ often used to describe his playing.”
Joachim RAFF String Sextet in G minor Op. 178 ▪ 1872
Raff was pleased with the première on 13 December 1872 at a private concert in the Court Chapel of Sondershausen Castle, telling his wife Doris Genast, “We did the Sextet yesterday, after dinner. It proves to be a piece in which wit finally outstrips humor.”
Joseph Joachim Raff (1822–1882) was born in Lachen, on Lake Zurich. The first half of his life was afflicted by poverty and obscurity. His family was poor but his father gave him a basic education, furthered by studies at the Jesuit Seminary in Schwyz where he won prizes in German, Latin, and mathematics. While he struggled to make a living, his piano pieces opp. 2–6 were printed in Leipzig in 1844 at the recommendation of Mendelssohn who wrote, “The composition is elegant and faultless throughout and in the most modern style.” In 1845, Raff got a significant break when he made a pilgrimage to hear his idol Liszt perform in Basle, about 50 miles away. As recounted by music critic Mark Thomas, Raff could not afford the fare and “walked there from Zürich through driving rain. He arrived just as the concert was about to begin to find that all the tickets were sold. Luckily Liszt’s secretary Belloni noticed the dejected, disappointed Raff and told Liszt, who decided not only that Raff should be admitted, but insisted that he should sit on the stage with him amidst a widening pool of water from his wet clothes. ‘I sat there like a running fountain,’ Raff wrote later ‘oblivious to everything but my good fortune in seeing and hearing Liszt.’ Raff benefited from Liszt’s legendary generosity. His new mentor took him with him on the remainder of his tour through southern Germany and the Rhineland with Raff making the concert arrangements. When the tour ended, Liszt found Raff a job in Cologne.” Although he encountered other obstacles, opportunities arose as well, including a lifelong friendship with Hans von Bülow and a job in Hamburg (through Liszt) making arrangements for Shuberth, the music publisher. And from 1850, for almost 7 years, he slaved away for Liszt as his assistant and secretary.
After he freed himself from Liszt’s overbearance in 1856, the second half of Raff’s life was blessed with growing fame and public and critical recognition. He married Doris Genast in 1859 and became extremely productive as a composer in almost every genre. He also became highly esteemed as a teacher and administrator—as director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, a post he held until his death. He was as progressive an educator as he was a composer. He quickly persuaded Clara Schumann to teach piano, the only woman on the faculty; and soon found others to join her. He even oversaw the creation of a class for women composers—the first of its kind in Germany. In his day, Raff was regarded by his contemporaries as the peer of Brahms and Wagner.
MENDELSSOHN Sextet in D Major Op. 110a ▪ 1824
While Felix’s education included the study of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart, the effervescent Sextet reveals the influence of Beethoven and foreshadows Romantic sensibilities. Composed in less than 2 weeks, it was dashed off for one of the Mendelssohn family Sunday morning musicales, which gave Felix the chance to play the virtuoso piano part. These concerts had acquired an almost mythical status in Berlin. The guest lists reveal that Spohr, Spontini, Hummel, Weber, and Moscheles all came, and Felix listened carefully to their opinions.
|November 22 A Russian Spectrum
TCHAIKOVSKY Lensky’s aria from Eugène Onegin Op. 24 ▪ 1877–1878
“Kudà, kudà, kudà vi udalitis” is the opera’s most famous aria from the duel scene at the end of Act II—a supremely poignant moment of reflection and resignation. In the words of John Henken, “Lensky contrasts the happy days of his youth with his current predicament, in a scandal that neither he nor Onegin wanted. Their quarrel was over Onegin’s attentions to Olga, Lensky’s sweetheart, and it is the loss of Olga that Lensky most regrets, now caring little whether he lives or dies in the imminent duel.” Work on the opera occupied Tchaikovsky during the period of his disastrous marriage as did the composition of his Fourth Symphony.
Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition ▪ 1874
Hartmann had died from an aneurysm in the summer of 1873 at age 39, causing Mussorgsky profound grief and despair. The following spring, the art historian and critic Vladimir Stasov organized a posthumous exhibition of Hartmann’s drawings, paintings, and architectural sketches at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. By the 22nd of June Mussorgsky completed his tribute, having worked intensely and quickly for six weeks. He had disclosed to Stasov, “Hartmann is seething… Sounds and ideas float in the air and my scribbling can hardly keep pace with them…. The transitions are good (on the ‘promenade’). I want to work more quickly and reliably…. So far, I think it is well turned.” Mussorgsky selected ten images from over 400 on display—some of them showcasing Hartmann’s imagination, others reflecting his travels. He saw himself “roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly thinking of his departed friend.” Mussorgsky (weighing about 300 pounds) also said, “My physiognomy can be seen in the interludes.” The listener is led to promenade from picture to picture—in pausing before each artwork, he takes us into Hartmann’s world. Mussorgsky (1839–1881) was one of five Russian composers known as “The Five” or “Mighty Handful” whose mission was to create a national school of Russian music, free of the stifling influences of Italian opera, German lieder, and other European forms.
The pictures depict Gnomus (a gnome in the form of a nutcracker), Il vecchio castello (Hartmann’s beloved old castle in Italy), Tuileries (the Parisian gardens), Bydlo (a huge Polish cart driven by oxen), Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (a ballet costume design), portraits of Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, Marketplace in Limoges, Catacombs, Baba Yaga’s Hut on Fowl’s Legs, and the Great Gates of Kiev.
Sergey TANEYEV Piano Quintet in G minor Op. 30 ▪ 1911
The magnificent Quintet, as described by Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, is “The crowning glory of Taneyev’s chamber works with piano, permeated with profound thought and inward pathos.” Dark and densely textured, there is an abundance of soaring melodies and impassioned lyricism.
Taneyev (1856–1915) came from a cultured family with aristocratic connections. He was given his first piano lessons at age 5, and from the age of 9 to 18, he studied at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his teachers were Tchaikovsky (in composition) and Nikolai Rubinstein (in piano). He became a brilliant pianist, graduating in 1875 with a gold medal in composition and performance—the first in the history of the Conservatory to achieve this honor. Taneyev became close friends with Tchaikovsky and was held in such high regard that Tchaikovsky sought and appreciated his opinions and musical suggestions. He was trusted with giving the first Russian performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto as well as performing as soloist for the Russian premieres of Tchaikovsky’s other works for piano and orchestra. In 1878, upon Tchaikovsky’s resignation, Taneyev was persuaded to take his teacher’s place, but he consented to teach only the harmony and orchestration classes. In 1885 he reluctantly became the Conservatory’s director. Among his pupils were Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Glière, Medtner, and Grechaninov. At his death from a heart attack in 1915, he left a large body of work including 4 symphonies, keyboard and choral works, and many chamber pieces. Taneyev has been called the “Russian Brahms” and he may also be a “Russian Bruckner.” Tchaikovsky had even dubbed him the “Russian Bach” (Bach was one of his early inspirations).
|December 6 French Romanticism
RAVEL Pavane for a Dead Princess ▪ 1899
Eugène YSAŸE Caprice d’après l’Etude en forme de valse Op. 52 ▪ 1900
An audience favorite in its day, Ysaÿe played the Caprice numerous times throughout his career with great success. It is an “example of the flourishing Franco-Belgian violin technique of the late nineteenth century.… It conveys the spirit and style of the belle époque, and brings together two leading musical personalities of the era—the much-venerated composer Saint-Saëns, and his younger colleague, the celebrated violinist, teacher, and composer in his own right [Cynthia Miller].”
Born in Liège, Belgium in 1858, Ysaÿe first studied with his father at a very early age, then became a pupil of Henryk Wieniawski and later, Henri Vieuxtemps. He settled in Paris in 1882, and by his early 20s he was making a name for himself and proceeded to dominate Parisian musical life. He also began touring extensively as a soloist throughout Europe and eventually in the United States. He died in 1931 in Brussels.
Henriette RENIÉ Trio in Bb Major for violin, cello, and harp ▪ circa 1901
Renié made an indelible mark as one of the finest harpists, an exceptional teacher, and a revolutionary pioneer in modern harp composition at the turn of the 20th century. She elevated the status of the harp from an instrument for dilettantes to an important solo concert instrument; she taught several renowned harpists; and she expanded the harp repertoire through original, virtuosic compositions for her own performances and simpler pieces for beginning harpists, and through transcriptions for solo and ensemble harp. Born in Paris in 1875, the prodigy first studied the piano, but was drawn to the harp like a magnet after hearing a concert by Alphonse Hasselmanns, who became her teacher. By 1887, at age 12, she won the Premier Prix, graduated from the Paris Conservatory, and had her own students. She later became Hasselmanns’s assistant and also studied composition with Théodore Dubois. Her career, however, was stymied, being a woman with religious beliefs at a time when women were supposed to stay at home, and when France was trying to separate church and state. When the government prevented her appointment as harp teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, she started her own international competition, the Concours Renié, and created her own Méthode pour la harpe, which is still held in high regard to this day. Among her pupils were Marcel Grandjany and Harpo Marx. She also continued performing until about six months before her death in March 1956.
A photo of Harpo and Henriette may be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/SpanishPeaksInternationalCelticHarpRetreat/posts/2161389483916400/
Sylvio LAZZARI Piano Trio in G minor Op. 13 ▪ circa 1886
Musikland-tirol hears his preference for “the grand gesture, full of pathos and almost operatic drama. This passionate expressiveness contrasts particularly in the slower movements featuring spiritualized pictures of moods with tonal colors full of sensual warmth.” Well-received at its premiere, the Trio was often played in France until the First World War.
Sylvio Lazzari (1857–1944) was born of Austrian and Italian parents in Bozen, Southern Tyrol, now part of Italy. After studying law in Austria he visited Paris in 1882, following the advice of Ernest Chausson and Charles Gounod, then studied with Ernest Guiraud and César Franck at the Paris Conservatoire. During this period he wrote 3 pieces that were performed to acclaim: the Trio, a Quatuor—the first string quartet ever composed in the “modern” school (it whetted the appetite of French musicians and concertgoers for chamber music), and an Octuor for winds. In 1894, two years before he became a French citizen, his Sonate pour piano et violon was premiered and made famous by Eugène Ysaÿe, who played it all over the world up until his last performances. Lazzari composed in most genres and is occasionally remembered today as a composer of five operas. He also held several positions in Paris, including president of the Wagner Society and choirmaster at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. He died of a pulmonary embolism at his home at Suresnes.
|December 20 Czech This Out!
Ottokar NOVÁČEK Perpetuum mobile “Perpetual motion” ▪ 1895
Nováček (1866–1900), the Austro-Hungarian composer of Czech descent, was first taught by his father, then later studied at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he won the Mendelssohn Prize in 1885. He played in the Gewandhaus Orchestra and was a member of the Brodsky Quartet, originally as second violin and later as viola. When he emigrated to the United States, he played in the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Arthur Nikisch (1891) and was principal viola in the Damrosch Orchestra in New York (1892–1893). He also played in the re-formed Brodsky Quartet. In 1899, after a heart condition forced him to retire from playing, he devoted himself to composition. His works include a piano concerto (1894) dedicated to and premiered by Ferruccio Busoni.
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) Three Madrigals ▪ 1947
The Czech composer of Modern classical music was born and raised atop the bell tower of St. Jacob’s Church in the Czech-Moravian Highlands village of Polička, where his father was the fire watchman and tower keeper. There are 193 steps to the room of his birth where he lived till he was 11-and-a-half years old. It is said that for the first 6 years of his life he never came down to street level. No wonder, as he explained later in life, the objectivity of his music from this early experience was from the perspective of seeing people and places only from afar. From the age of 7 he attended school and took violin lessons with the local tailor, making rapid progress. In 1906 Martinů studied at the Prague Conservatory, but he was a hopeless pupil and was eventually dismissed in 1910 for “incorrigible negligence,” after which he continued to study on his own. He did, however, return to the Conservatory to study briefly with Josef Suk before going to Paris in 1923, living there until France capitulated to Nazi Germany in 1940, when he fled, first to the south of France and then to the United States in 1941, settling in New York with his French wife. He taught at Princeton University and also composition at Mannes College from 1948 to 1956, when he returned to Europe—to Paris, then Rome, and finally to Switzerland, where he died of stomach cancer in 1959.
Josef SUK Elegy Op. 23 ▪ 1902
One of the most gifted Czech composers, Suk was Dvořák’s favorite pupil and in 1898 married his daughter Otilie, with whom he had a very happy family life until her early death in 1905 at age 27. Suk formed the celebrated Bohemian Quartet (later Czech Quartet) in 1891 with fellow students. From 1922 he also taught at the Prague Conservatory; among his pupils were Bohuslav Martinů and the pianist Rudolf Firkušný.
Antonín DVOŘÁK Piano Quartet No. 2 in Eb Major Op. 87 ▪ 1889
William Hertz explains why the year 1889 was one of the most fulfilling of Dvořák’s life. “After years of struggle, his music, with its infusion of Czech folk elements, was being played all over Europe, and performing groups vied for the premiere performances of his new works. Dvořák himself was conducting before enthusiastic audiences in England and Germany…. Still to come were his three years in the United States as director of a new conservatory in New York City and where he would compose his Symphony ‘From the New World.’ Thanks to the interest of his new friend Tchaikovsky, Dvořák was invited to conduct the following spring in Moscow and St. Petersburg…. Another friend, Brahms, kept up his efforts to persuade Dvořák to move to Vienna, the music capital of Europe and, Brahms argued, a more appropriate location for a composer of Dvořák’s international stature than the cultural hinterland of Bohemia. And finally, notwithstanding his nationalist loyalty to Czech culture, Dvořák was awarded the Austrian Order of the Iron Cross and a personal audience with Emperor Franz Joseph.” In spite of his busy schedule, Dvořák somehow found time in July and August to compose two major works—the Symphony in G Major and this Piano Quartet—a work marked by melodic invention, structural mastery, harmonic richness, and irresistible high spirits. He wrote to his friend Alois Göbl, “The melodies just surged upon me.” It was premiered at a concert funded by the Prague Artistic Circle on 23 November 1890.
| January 10 Maestri en Paris
Luigi CHERUBINI Trio No. 2 in C Major
The Trio was actually a 3-part teaching exercise written for training Cherubini’s singing pupils at the Paris Conservatoire—originally No. 84 of Solfèges pour servir à l'étude dans le Conservatoire de Musique. Its demands in both range and contrapuntal complexity must have filled his students with dread. The Solfèges was a massive 2-volume set of exercises and pieces created toward the end of the 18th century. Its value was so great that it became famous throughout France where it is still used today; and it is still in print, though not in its entirety. There were several contributors, including Cherubini, who produced 15 such pieces. His part writing is excellent, and is one reason why he was so esteemed during his lifetime. A solfège is a singing exercise in which the names of the scale, sol and fa, are used instead of text. This method, based originally on polyphonic singing, continues to be used at the Paris Conservatory for both singers and instrumentalists as it is thought that instruments are an extension of the voice.
Cherubini (1760–1842), born in Florence, studied at the conservatories in Bologna and Milan. He remained in Italy until 1788 when he moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. He gained notoriety as an opera composer, but by 1805 Parisian tastes had changed, leading to the demise of interest in his operas. He then turned to composing religious and instrumental music. Cherubini served as director of the Paris Conservatory from 1822 until his death. He was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery, 13 feet from his friend Chopin; his tomb is adorned by a bas-relief by Augustin Dumont, the brother of Louise Farrenc. Cherubini was regarded as one of France’s leading musicians. Beethoven, for one, wrote in 1817 that he considered Cherubini the greatest living composer.
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764) Premier Concert en Sextuor ▪ 1824-1826
The Premier Concert for string sextet is the first of a set of six, in three movements. “La Coulicam” refers to Thamas Kouli Khan, a Persian king in the exotic novel, Histoire de la dernière révolution de Perse by André de Claustre. “La Livri” is a tombeau (memorial piece) for the Comte de Livri who died in 1741 (he was a patron of musicians, actors, and playwrights). “Le Vézinet” recalls a town with a fashionable promenade in the countryside west of Paris.
Four years after Rameau’s death, Jacques-Joseph-Marie Decroix (1746–1826), a lawyer and fan of Rameau, made an awkward arrangement for strings from the Pieces de Clavecin—originally conceived for harpsichord with accompaniment by violin or flute and bass viol. Subsequently, the six Concerts (suites) were preserved in the National Library of France. Toward the end of the 19th century, Saint-Saëns made a superior arrangement of the Concerts when he edited the first collection of Rameau’s entire keyboard music as part of a complete edition of the composer’s works—the first collected edition devoted to any French composer—published by Durand in 1895. Since the bass part of the Concert is divided into two voices at times, Saint-Saëns added the term “en Sextuor” to the title. The monumental edition contributed to the rediscovery of Rameau, as did Saint-Saëns’s involvement in the celebrations for the centenary of Rameau’s death, as well as a concert devoted to his works in 1876. Born in Dijon, Rameau moved to Paris in 1722; he was buried in the Church of St Eustache the day he died.
Camille SAINT-SAËNS Septet in Eb Major Op. 65 ▪ 1880
After repeated pleas over many years, Saint-Saëns eventually gave in to Émile Lemoine’s request to write a piece that included the trumpet for the Parisian Chamber Music Society, whimsically called “La Trompette.” Founded in 1867, Saint-Saëns regularly performed at the Society with other well-known colleagues. He had once replied in jest, “I could compose a concerto for you for 25 guitars, but for trumpet—impossible!” After the Septet’s success, he confessed in October 1907, “When I think how much you pestered me to make me produce, against my better judgment, this piece that I did not want to write and which has become one of my great successes, I never understood why.” The Septet proved to be the forerunner of numerous works in the neoclassical style.
Born in Paris in 1835, Saint-Saëns died at age 86 in Algiers where he was wintering. His body was brought back to Paris, and after a state funeral at the Madeleine he was buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery.
Ernest CHAUSSON Concert in D Major Op. 21a ▪ 1889–1891
Neither a sextet nor a concerto, the lush Concert is deeply individual, dramatic, and resplendent, laden with new sonorities. It was dedicated to the Belgian violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe, who premiered it in Brussels in 1892 with pianist Auguste Pierret and members of the Ysaÿe Quartet. Ruthlessly self-critical and pessimistic, Chausson ruled it “Another failure!” But the Belgians thought otherwise, as revealed in his diary, “Never have I had such a success! I can’t get over it. Everyone seems to love the Concert.”
Chausson (1855–1899) earned a law degree upon his father’s insistence before he studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where his teachers were Jules Massenet and Cèsar Franck. He also visited Germany to hear Wagner. As stated in the New Grove Dictionary, “Although he absorbed traditional harmony as taught at the Conservatoire, Chausson was clearly influenced by Wagner and ‘Franckism’.... Indeed, Chausson was to become...one of the most prominent and influential members of the Franck circle...[and a] Wagnerian....” He later developed his own sumptuous late Romantic style, which influenced Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré, among others. Born in Paris to an affluent bourgeois family, Chausson died tragically at the age of 44 from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident while staying in Limay at one of his country retreats. He was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
|January 24 Terrific Trios
Hermann BERENS String Trio in C minor Op. 85 No. 2 ▪ 1871
Berens (1826‑1880) was born in Hamburg and was first taught by his father Karl, a flautist and composer. He next studied piano and composition with Carl Gottlieb Reissiger, who was the music director and chief conductor in Dresden, followed by studies with Carl Czerny in Vienna. In 1847, he settled in Sweden where he earned a reputation as a pianist playing chamber music concerts in Stockholm. He was also proficient on the violin. After serving as music director to the Hussar regiment in Örebro from 1849 to 1860, he returned to Stockholm to become music director of the Mindre Teatern, a popular drama theater. In 1861 he served on the faculty at Stockholm Conservatory, teaching composition, and was appointed Professor in 1868. For a time he was also Queen Lovisa’s piano teacher. In addition to chamber music, Berens wrote several operas in Swedish and a considerable amount of piano music. His collection of piano studies, Neueste Schule der Geläufigkeit, modeled after Czerny’s studies, remained popular for many years.
Louise FARRENC Trio in Eb Major Op. 44 ▪ 1844
Prominent in 19th-century French music circles, Farrenc was best known as a brilliant concert pianist. She was a contemporary and admirer of Mendelssohn, and her music, like Mendelssohn’s, is driven by poetry, lyricism, and rhythmic lightness. The Trio was dedicated to the noted French clarinetist Adolphe Leroy and issued in 1861 by her husband’s successful publishing house, Éditions Farrenc. The instrumental combination of clarinet, cello, and piano was rare in her day, numbering no more than five when her Trio was written.
Farrenc (1804–1875) was a descendent of a long line of royal artists (including several women painters) and a sister of the award-winning sculptor Auguste Dumont. The piano prodigy studied with Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles, who also taught Mendelssohn. At age 15, she added composition to her studies at the Paris Conservatoire—with Anton Reicha. Her early piano music, written in the 1820s and 1830s, was praised by Schumann. Of her Air russe varié, he felt that “one must fall under their charm, especially since a subtle aroma of romanticism hovers over them.” By 1842, having established a rock-solid reputation, she was appointed professor of piano at the Conservatoire, where she taught for 30 years. Farrenc was the only woman musician at the Conservatoire in the 19th century to hold a permanent chair of this rank and importance. Evidence of her excellent teaching is reflected in the high percentage of her pupils graduating with the Premier Prix. Her 30 Etudes also became compulsory study for all piano classes in 1845. The New Grove Dictionary concludes that “she merits recognition as a pioneering scholar and a forerunner of the French musical renaissance of the 1870s.”
MENDELSSOHN Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor Op. 66 ▪ 1845
A masterwork of his fullest maturity, the Trio was first performed on 20 December 1845 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where Mendelssohn served as its orchestra’s conductor. The orchestra’s concertmaster Ferdinand David and cellist Franz Karl Witmann rounded out the trio. Although the published score bears a dedication to Spohr, Mendelssohn presented the Trio as a birthday present to his sister Fanny.
|February 7 Two Titans
BEETHOVEN Quintet in Eb Major Op. 16 ▪ 1796
Beethoven’s young friend and piano pupil Ferdinand Ries, upon hearing the Quintet at a gathering, recounted an amusing incident that occurred during the performance: “In the last Allegro a pause occurs several times before the theme returns; on one of these occasions Beethoven began to improvise, taking the Rondo as his theme, pleasing himself and those listening for a considerable time, but not pleasing the other players. They were annoyed, and the oboist even enraged. It really looked highly comical when these gentlemen, expecting the movement to be resumed at any moment, kept putting their instruments to their mouths, but then had to put them down again without playing a note. At length Beethoven was satisfied, and started up the Rondo again. The whole assembly was delighted.” This Quintet is Beethoven’s only work for piano and winds.
Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG 3 Polonaises ▪ 1749
It is thought that Goldberg (1727–1756) was a student of Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann, in Dresden, and he also studied with J.S. Bach in Leipzig. By the age of 10 he was already a virtuoso keyboard player with exceptional sight-reading facility. As to his compositional skills, “Goldberg’s extant compositions show a musical style varying with genre and hypothetical chronology, from a style very close to J.S. Bach’s…to one far more galant and accessible to the Dresden audience (the polonaises…) and, perhaps finally, to an ambitious modern style calculated for Count Brühl’s orchestra and possibly influenced by the style of C.P.E. Bach…. It is not surprising that in approaching the works of this young and facile man it is difficult to find his ‘real’ musical style, though a love for syncopation, for wide-ranging melodies and especially for chromaticism runs through his works [New Grove Dictionary].”
BACH Goldberg Variations BWV 988 ▪ published in 1741
Long regarded as the most important set of Baroque variations, it was praised in 1774 as “the best variations” by one of Bach’s pupils, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, and in 1802 as “the model according to which all variations should be made” by Johann Nicolaus Forkel, Bach’s first biographer. The Variations were named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who was 13 at the time of its composition. Dmitry Sitkovetsky is a Soviet-Russian-born violinist, composer, and arranger.
|February 21 Mozart Connexions
MOZART “Kegelstatt” Trio K. 498 ▪ 1786
During his journey to Berlin in 1789, Mozart made a detour to Leipzig twice. He arrived on 20 April and stayed for 3 days. On the 22nd, he visited the Thomaskirche (where Bach had been the most famous cantor from 1723 till his death in 1750) and played the organ for an hour, assisted by Cantor Doles and the organist Karl Görner, both manipulating the stops. In his honor, the choir of the Thomasschule performed “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied” by Bach. Delighted with the motet, Mozart copied the choir parts after perusing the autographs. He then went to Potsdam and returned to Leipzig on the 8th of May. This time, Mozart presented a concert of his own compositions at the Leipzig Gewandhaus 4 days later on the 12th. The concert, however, had not been widely publicized and was a financial fiasco as it was poorly attended. In a letter to his wife Constanza he reported, “From the point of view of applause and glory this concert was absolutely magnificent, but the profits were wretchedly meager.” He also gave various excuses for lingering in Leipzig, but finally left for Berlin on 17 May.
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL Piano Quintet in Eb Major Op. 87 ▪ 1802
The chamber music critic Rudolf Felber declared the Quintet for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass a masterpiece: “...the first movement, Allegro e risoluto assai, at once captivates and impresses the hearer with its power and passion. The peculiar principal theme is of a somewhat martial character.... After this follows the Minuetto, Allegro con fuoco, a mixture of animation and exuberance with a melancholy strain.... The finale, Allegro agitato, is full of light-hearted merriment and ends with a brilliant and effective close.”
Hummel (1778–1837)—the greatest piano virtuoso in Europe for more than two decades—was born in Pressburg, Hungary, then a part of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy. At age 8, he was given free lessons by Mozart, with whom he lived for 2 years in Vienna; and, like Beethoven, he studied with Salieri and Haydn, as well as with Albrechtsberger in composition. In 1787, he made his public debut in a concert that Mozart gave in Dresden. At ten he had a string quartet performed, and shortly afterwards he played a Mozart piano concerto in London. In 1804 he succeeded Haydn as Konzertmeister and later as Kapellmeister at the court of Esterházy in Eisenstadt. Hummel and Beethoven were also close friends for many years until their falling out in the late 1810s, but a remarkable reconciliation took place at Beethoven’s deathbed in 1827. At his funeral, Hummel was a pallbearer and Schubert, a torchbearer. Although ill health his last 3 years reduced his activities, he died a rich man after a long and successful career, then faded into obscurity with the arrival of Romanticism. His death was marked in Vienna by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Hummel was greatly admired as a true classicist by Chopin and Schumann.x
SCHUBERT Overture in C minor D. 8 ▪ 1811
Five years later, Schubert confided in his diary, “As from afar the magic notes of Mozart’s music still gently haunt me…. Thus does our soul retain these fair impressions, which no time, no circumstances can efface, and they lighten our existence. They show us in the darkness of this life a bright, clear, lovely distance, for which we hope with confidence. O Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, oh how endlessly many such comforting perceptions of a brighter and better life hast thou brought to our souls!”
Schubert most likely played the Overture at home. He learned to play the viola so that the family could play string quartets together—his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violin and his father on cello. Visiting friends and neighbors would augment the quartet. For the Overture, Megan Lang explained that Schubert “reused the piano introduction to his song Hagar’s Klage for the opening, and modeled the work on an orchestral piece by Cherubini. This relationship with an orchestral work reflects a tradition during the 19th century of performing chamber pieces as orchestral works, and vice versa, and the conception of such pieces for both large and small ensembles.”
Max BRUCH String Octet in Bb Major Op. posth ▪ 1920
In spite of serious ill health the last year of his life, Bruch was encouraged by his friend and violin virtuoso Willy Hess to write chamber music—the result was 3 string quintets. The third quintet was rescored into the String Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, cello, and double bass. After its completion on 6 March, Hess and his pupils played the Octet for Bruch before he died on the 2nd of October.
Born in Cologne in 1838, Bruch was awarded the prestigious Frankfurt Mozart Foundation Prize at the age of 14, and was well aware of Mozart’s importance. The Prize was recommended by the acclaimed composer and conductor Ferdinand Hiller, founder of the Cologne Conservatory. Hiller had heard a number of his works while visiting the Bruch home on occasion. The prize allowed Bruch to study composition with Hiller as well as piano with Carl Reinecke. At the age of 14, Bruch also wrote a symphony, and he later conducted orchestral and choral societies in Mannheim, Koblenz, Sondershausen, Berlin, Bonn, Liverpool, Breslau, and Wraclaw. His importance as a composer and to German musical life was finally acknowledged in 1890 when he was given a professorship and a master class in composition at the Hochschule für Musik (Berlin Academy), where he taught until his retirement in 1910. He died in Friedenau (now part of Berlin) in 1920. Bruch is best remembered for his Scottish Fantasy, Kol Nidrei, and 3 violin concerti.
Willy Hess first studied with his father, who was a pupil of Louis Spohr, and then with Joseph Joachim. Born in Mannheim, Hess was also a notable teacher, with posts in Rotterdam, Manchester, Cologne, London, and Boston (concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra). Since 1910 he assumed the position as the premier violin instructor at the Berlin Academy.
|March 7 Viva Brasil
Francisco MIGNONE Três Valsas Brasileiras ▪ 1968
The 3 Brazilian Waltzes are transcriptions of earlier works for solo piano from his nationalist period—“Doze Valsas de Esquina” (12 Corner Waltzes) written between 1938 and 1943. Alexandra Mascolo-David explains, “All of his waltzes carry the influence of his youthful practice of serenading in the streets of São Paulo, improvising chôros (popular songs, often with a nostalgic character) on his flute, to the accompaniment of cavaquinhos (ukuleles) and violões (guitars).” Although the waltz is a European dance, it was popular in Brazil, and is often associated with nostalgic feelings that can be described by the Portuguese word saudade, a feeling of nostalgic remembrance of people or things absent or lost forever, accompanied by the desire to see or possess them once more.
The son of an Italian immigrant musician in São Paulo, Mignone (1897–1986) began flute and piano studies with his father. After graduating from the São Paulo Conservatory in 1917, he entered the Milan Conservatory in 1920, returning to Brazil in 1929. His first compositional style is influenced by his Italian background and training. The second of Mignone’s 3 periods—nationalist—is described by the New Grove Dictionary as follows: “Mignone was strongly attracted by the ideals of nationalist music eloquently propounded by [Mário de Andrade (1893–1945)], and about 1929 he began a new period of intensive creativity drawing on all manner of Brazilian folk and popular traditions, a period that lasted until around 1959–60. Andrade reportedly said, ‘In Italian music, Mignone will be one more among a rich and numerous school, to which he does not add anything. Here, he will be of indispensable value.’” Between 1962 and 1968 Mignone turned to twelve-tone and serial composition.
Alberto NEPOMUCENO String Quartet No. 3 in D minor “Brasileiro”
Although virtually unknown outside of his native land, Nepomuceno (1864–1920) is a luminary of Brazilian music. He was born in Fortaleza, the son of a violinist, chapel master, and music teacher. After completing his early music studies, he left for Europe in 1888 to further his education—with Giovanni Sgambati in Rome, and Heinrich von Herzogenberg and Theodor Leschetizky in Berlin. In 1893 he married Walborg Rendtler Bang, one of Grieg’s pupils. After the wedding they lived in Grieg’s house. The friendship with Grieg was instrumental in convincing Nepomuceno to write nationalist music in the face of fierce resistance, and to establish a Brazilian national school of composition. Several key works were composed during this time, including his third string quartet—one of the earliest works to incorporate Brazilian folklore into European musical forms. In 1894, Nepomuceno returned to Brazil where he taught at the National Institute of Music. In 1910 he gave a series of concerts in Belgium, France, and Switzerland. When he visited Paris he met Saint-Saëns and Vincent d’Indy, and became good friends with Debussy. After returning to Brazil he continued to fight for using Portuguese in opera and art songs. He also championed works by Brazilian composers and taught many students, including Heitor Villa-Lobos, whom he also encouraged. Despite its manifest influence, Nepomuceno’s music remains little known outside Brazil. The String Quartet No. 3 was not even published until 2005.
Júlio MEDAGLIA Belle Epoque en Sud-America ▪ 1994-1997
Born in São Paulo in 1938, Medaglia studied at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany, and privately with Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Sir John Barbirolli, with whom he worked as assistant conductor. After returning to Brazil in 1966, he established a reputation as a conductor, eventually working with all the major orchestras in the country, and as an arranger and composer of music for film and theater. In the 1960s he was also an important inspiration for the Tropicália movement—one of the most significant cultural movements in Brazil encompassing music, film, visual arts, and theater. In 1970 he worked with conductor Gunther Schuller in the United States, then went to Germany for further studies. Concurrently, he made several arrangements of Brazilian popular music and composed more than 100 scores for German television films. He returned to Brazil in 1974, and has since worked with several musical and cultural institutions in the country, and composed film scores for hundreds of Brazilian movies, plays, and television programs. Among the institutions he has directed are the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, the Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Municipal in Brasília, and the Festival de Inverno de Campos do Jordão in São Paulo. He was also the artistic adviser for Rede Globo, the largest television network in Brazil, and is the founder and director of Amazonas Filarmônica, the resident orchestra at the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus.
Henrique OSWALD Piano Quintet in C Major Op. 18 ▪ 1894-1895
Of Swiss descent, Oswald (1852–1931) was born in Rio de Janeiro. At the age of one he sailed by ship to Santos with his mother en route to São Paulo, where his father had opened a beer factory and, in 1857, a piano store. The ill-fated ship caught fire, causing Henrique to remain traumatized throughout his life by the sound of explosions. His mother was his first piano teacher. In 1868 he moved to Florence, where he lived for 30 years, assimilating European culture. There, he studied piano with Buonamici and Henri Ketten and composition with Grazzini and Maglioni. At Buonamici’s house he met Brahms and Liszt. In 1886, the year of Liszt’s death, Oswald spent a few days with the virtuoso, playing some of their works for each other. Oswald’s long stay in Florence was enabled by a generous allowance from the Emperor Pedro II. After winning 500 francs in a composition competition for his piano piece Il neige, he returned to Brazil in 1903 and became director of the National Institute of Music. After 3 years he resigned to teach privately, dividing his time between Brazil and Europe until 1911, when he settled in Rio de Janeiro permanently. For the last 20 years of his life Oswald played a prominent role in Rio’s musical life. He taught as professor at the National Institute of Music, training a generation of pianists and composers; and his house became an influential center for chamber music (Darius Milhaud, for one, was a frequent visitor). While Oswald’s extensive compositions show a strong European influence, particularly of Fauré and Debussy, and to a lesser extent, Saint-Saëns, his works also reveal his individuality in craftsmanship and refinement.
|March 21 German Romantics
Ferdinand THIERIOT Piano Quintet Op. 80 ▪ 1903
Wilhelm Altmann, one of the most perceptive chamber music critics of the time, praised the North German composer: “Thieriot’s chamber music is without exception noble and pure. He writes with perfect command of form and expression.” The music editor Bernhard Paüler further notes: “Thieriot, who was a friend of Brahms...possessed the enviable gift of being able to combine in his output great melodic invention with compositional and stylistic currents and elements drawn from such diverse sources as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Spohr and Bruckner…. He was also skilled at displaying the tonal and technical assets of each instrument to best advantage.”
In addition to composing, Thieriot (1838–1919) was a cellist, teacher, and choral conductor. Born in Hamburg, he studied with Eduard Marxsen, who also taught Brahms in Hamburg, and with Josef Rheinberger in Munich. He performed as a soloist and as a member of several prominent string quartets; and he taught music and was a music director in Hamburg, Ansbach, Leipzig (1867), and Glogau (1868–1870). After Brahms became his friend, he recommended Thieriot for the position of Artistic Director of the Styrian Music Association in Graz, a position he held from 1870 to 1885. From 1902 onwards, Thieriot returned to Hamburg, where he lived until his death. His compositions were performed at the Hamburg Philharmonic and Singing Academy as well as in Leipzig, where he obtained a post at the Directorium of the Bach Gesellschaft (a society formed to publish the complete works of Bach) in 1897.
Robert KAHN Jungbrunnen “Fountain of Youth” Op. 46 ▪ published 1906
Although Kahn studied with Rheinberger at the Berlin Musikhochschule, he was affected by Brahms, who was so impressed with Kahn he offered to give him composition lessons. The young man, however, was too overawed to accept. As Kahn explained in 1947, “From my early youth I felt a deep love and veneration for Brahms the musician. To that was added, now that he welcomed me so warmly in Vienna, a deep, even rapturous love for Brahms the man. It filled my entire heart, but I kept it carefully hidden from him in shyness and restraint.” After his early success as a composer, Kahn won respect as a performer and teacher as well until his vilification by the Nazis, who suppressed his work. In 1938 Wilhelm Kempff persuaded him to flee to England, where he lived in obscurity in Biddenden, Kent. His creativity unfettered, he continued to write over 1000 piano pieces. From a distinguished family of bankers and merchants, Kahn’s seven siblings included Otto Kahn, the financier and chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Opera; and Felix Kahn, a banker, director of Paramount Pictures, and noted violin collector.
BRAHMS 2 Songs
Friedrich August KUMMER Concert Duo for violin and cello Op. 67 No. 2 ▪ 1841
Kummer (1797–1879) is worth becoming acquainted with even though he is unknown today. According to the New Grove Dictionary, “He was the most important member of a musical family that flourished in Saxony in the 18th and 19th centuries. …he developed into a fine cellist under the supervision of Friedrich Dotzauer…. In 1852 he succeeded Dotzauer as principal cellist [of the court orchestra], a position he held until his retirement in 1864. Kummer lived through momentous years in the musical history of the city of Dresden under the leadership, at various times, of Weber, Marschner and Wagner…. He gave frequent chamber music concerts, notably with the younger Franz Schubert…and Karol Lipiński…. He was praised for his consistent strength and beauty of tone in every playing position…. He taught the cello both at the Dresden Conservatory and privately, and, together with Dotzauer and Friedrich Grützmacher, was responsible for the high reputation of Dresden cellists in the 19th century.”
Robert VOLKMANN Piano Trio No. 2 in B minor Op. 5 ▪ 1850
While influenced by Beethoven as well as Mendelssohn and Schumann, the Trio was thought of as a “New Path” because of its highly unusual structure, which was a clear break from the standard four movement trios of Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. It won over Liszt and Hans von Bülow, both of whom performed it several times throughout Europe; and whenever Liszt wanted to give a guest great pleasure, he played it with Joseph Joachim and cellist Bernhard Cossmann. Volkmann settled in Budapest in 1858, teaching composition at the newly founded Budapest Academy, where Liszt was the director. He also became close friends with Brahms after meeting him in Vienna in 1868.
| April 4 Both Sides of the Pond
Ludovic LAMOTHE 2 Piano Pieces
Lamothe (1882–1953) was born to a prominent musical and literary family in Port-au-Prince. In 1910 he went to Paris for a year to study with Louis Diémer at the Paris Conservatoire. Upon returning home, he gave piano lessons and held private salon concerts on Sunday afternoons. He came by his nickname after performing a commemorative concert for his favorite composer, Chopin, at the Rex Theatre. In writing exclusively for the piano, his compositions were inspired by his classical training as well as Haitian Vodou ceremonial music, Haitian méringue and other dance forms, and Haitian carnivals and peasant culture. Wikipedia notes that “His fusion of styles and class influences in his music were regarded by scholars as reducing the polarization in classes in the early to mid-twentieth-century Haiti and giving them a unique shared identity through a musical spectrum.” The selection of Piano Pieces reflects the influence of Chopin on Lamothe.
For more on Lamothe see https://africlassical.blogspot.com/2008/08/ludovic-lamothe-1882-1953-haitian.html and https://kreolmagazine.com/culture/features/ludovic-lamothe-the-black-chopin-of-haiti/#.YOScAjZucTU
Béla KOVÁCS Hommage à Paganini ▪ 1990
Kovács (born 1937) has been hailed as the finest Hungarian clarinetist of his time. After studies at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, he became a member of the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra at age 19, and later, its principal clarinetist. He was also principal clarinetist of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1956 until he retired in 1981. The Liszt Prize was awarded to him in 1961. As a teacher, he served on the faculties of the Liszt Academy, University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, Austria, and the Conservatorio Statale di Musica in Udine, Italy.
José (aka Joseph) Silvestre WHITE xLa bella Cubana ▪ 1860s
The Afro-Cuban composer (1835–1918) was born in Matanzas. His father Don Carlos White, a Spanish amateur violinist, was his first teacher. At his public debut in 1854, he played themes from Rossini’s William Tell and two of his own compositions, accompanied by the American pianist-composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was visiting Cuba. Impressed, Gottschalk raised money to finance White’s violin studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won the First Grand Prize for Violin in 1856 after only a year of study. It was reported that “White showed himself [so] superior that there should have been created a grand exceptional prize in his favor. He performed with an extraordinary animation, not like a pupil but as a great artist who commands his audience. The jury itself was electrified.” In 1858 he began a tour of Europe, the Caribbean, South America, and Mexico. When his father became gravely ill, White returned to Cuba, but resumed his studies in Paris in 1860. After his graduation, his teacher Jean Delphin-Alard invited him to play concerts with the Societe Alard-Franchomme, and when Alard became ill, White briefly substituted for him at the Paris Conservatoire. During the 1860s White was especially productive—he wrote Six Grandes Etudes pour Violon, Op.13, which the Conservatoire adopted for instruction; he performed La Bella Cubana at numerous concerts; in 1867 he completed his Violin Concerto in F# minor, which was well received; and he gave 4 public performances that attracted much attention and praise. Rossini wrote enthusiastically, “The warmth of your execution, the feeling, the elegance, the brilliance of the school to which you belong, show the qualities in you as an artist of which the French school may be proud.” In 1875 and 1876 White toured the Americas—he was a guest soloist with the New York Philharmonic and also performed with orchestras in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. One critic called him “The best violinist who has visited this country.” From 1877 to 1889 he was director of the Imperial Conservatory in Rio de Janeiro, where he served as court composer for the Emperor Pedro II. In 1889 he returned to Paris, where lived out his life. Among his pupils were Jacques Thibaud and George Enescu. His instrument was “The Swan Song” Stradivari made in 1737.
Giovanni BOTTESINI Gran Quintetto in C minor Op. 99 ▪ 1858
The Italian composer and conductor was one of the earliest virtuoso bassists. A contemporary witness reported, “How he bewildered us by playing all sorts of melodies in flute-like harmonics, as though he had a hundred nightingales caged in his double-bass!” Born in Crema, Bottesini (1821–1889) was taught the rudiments of music at an early age by his father Pietro, who was a clarinetist and composer. He also sang in the local choir and played the timpani and violin. In 1835 he received a bass scholarship to study with Luigi Rossi at the Milan Conservatory. When he graduated 4 years later with a prize of 300 francs for solo playing, he bought a 3-stringed Carlo Giuseppe Testore bass in 1838. The mighty bass is reputed to have been found under a pile of trash backstage in a marionette theater. Bottesini’s successful debut at the Teatro Comunale in Crema led to many engagements in Italy and Vienna. He was also appointed principal bass at the Teatro San Benedetto of Venice, where he met Verdi. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. Bottesini played abroad as well. He was principal bassist at the Teatro Tacón in Havana, Cuba, and his first opera, Cristoforo Colombo, premiered there in 1847. His tour of the United States in the 1840s was greeted with great acclaim in New Orleans and New York. A jeweler even made a pin in his likeness. Returning to the continent in 1849, he performed in London and all over Europe. Although his writings date back to the 1840s, Bottesini spent more time composing and conducting in the 1860s and beyond. In 1871 he conducted the premiere of Aida in Cairo in honor of the opening of the Suez Canal. He is now remembered, however, “for his contribution to the technique of the double bass…. He extended the range of the instrument beyond its recognized compass, and even today his many double bass compositions are seldom performed on account of their great difficulty [New Grove Dictionary].”
CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11 ▪ 1830
The Concerto was completed at age 20, before Chopin left Poland to tour Europe, finally settling in Paris, never to return to his homeland. It was actually written a year after his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, but published later. Chopin was the soloist at its premiere on 12 October 1830. The Kurier Warszawski (Warsaw Courier) reported that it was “a success.... a full house” with “an audience of about 700” gave it a “thunderous applause.” Seven weeks later Chopin performed it for the first time in France at the Salle Pleyel, again to acclaim. He played the solo at its premiere in Warsaw on 17 March 1831 and was proclaimed a national hero; a year later, on 26 February 1832, he made his first appearance in Paris, again performing this concerto, garnering praise from Liszt and Mendelssohn. The review by François-Joseph Fétis in La Revue musicale the next day observed, “There is spirit in these melodies, there is fantasy in these passages, and everywhere there is originality.” In 1836, Robert Schumann reviewed both concerti for the Neue Zeitschrist für Musik, noting that “Chopin introduces the spirit of Beethoven into the concert hall” with these pieces.
|April 11 Bellissimo
Alfredo d’AMBROSIO Suite Op. 8 ▪ 1900
Born in Naples, d’Ambrosio (1871–1914) lived a short life, dying at the age of 43 in Nice. Eusebio Dworzak von Walden and Ferdinando Pinto taught him the violin at the Conservatory of Naples, where he also studied composition with Enrico Bossi and Camillo de Nardis. From 1889 to 1890 he continued his violin studies with Pablo de Sarasate in Madrid, and with August Wilhelmj in London from 1891 to 1892. He then spent most of his life in Nice, where he became a prominent teacher and leader of the Ambrosio String Quartet. Several of his works for violin were made widely popular by violinists such as Sarasate, Heifetz, Misha Elman, and Fritz Kreisler. Besides numerous works for violin, including two concertos, he wrote the opera Pia de Tolomei, a ballet Ersilia, a string quintet, and a string quartet.
The English composer Wilfred Bendall sheds light on the relationship between d’Ambrosio and the dedicatee Antonio Gautier (1825–1904) in an account that appeared in The Musical Times on 17 December 1903: “Last evening I was present at a soirée probably unique in musical annals. Sixty years ago Monsieur Antonio Gautier, with his brother, who still plays the violin, started meetings for the performance of string quartets in his house, situated in the old Italian quarter of the town. These meetings have been continued every winter without cessation up to the present time. Last night he gave a grand soirée to celebrate the opening of the sixtieth season. M. Alfredo d’Ambrosio (who is already well known in London by his charming violin pieces) played his new Violin Concerto, accompanied by pianoforte and quatuor. The programme also included Svendsen’s Octetto, as well as several small pieces by d’Ambrosio. All musical Nice was present. M. Gautier has an immense library of string music as well as a most remarkable collection of stringed instruments of all sorts and periods. M. Gautier rigorously excludes the local press from his musical meetings, but I thought a notice in The Musical Times would be of interest to your readers—as the circumstances seem to me without parallel—and it might be pleasing to him.” Visitors today may see Gautier’s collection of instruments at the museum in the Palais Lascaris in Nice.
Ferrucio BUSONI Concerto in D minor Op. 17 ▪ 1878
Born in 1866, the Italian prodigy met Brahms and Anton Rubinstein at age 9. Upon the urging of Brahms in 1886, Busoni moved to the cultural center of Leipzig, where he met Tchaikovsky, who took a keen interest in him. When he won the first Rubinstein competition, Tchaikovsky described the 24-year old laureate as “remarkably interesting” and with a “brilliant mind,” who “will soon be talked about....”
Alessandro ROLLA Duet No. 3 in Bb Major for violin and viola Op. 13 ▪ 1827
Rolla (1757–1841), born in Pavia, was an influential figure, held in the highest regard as a man and as an artist. In his long life of 84 years, his career over 60 of those years was very stable, and he remained quintessentially “classical” in his tastes and craftsmanship. From 1782 to 1802 he was employed by Ferdinand I of Bourbon-Parma, Duke of Parma, first as principal viola, and later as principal violin in the Orchestra Reale. He was then appointed to the most prestigious music position in Italy—orchestra director or “Primo violino, Capo d’orchestra” of La Scala Orchestra in Milan, where he remained for over 30 years. In 1808 he joined the faculty of the Conservatoire of Music in Milan as the violin/viola professor. The assumption that he taught Paganini in Parma has been refuted. He helped to promote the viola as a prominent solo instrument through his contributions to the viola repertoire and development of technique. A prolific composer, he wrote more than 500 works in nearly every genre. As stated in the New Grove Dictionary, “Rolla’s works are unfailingly idiomatic, with brilliant figuration and sensitive fluent melodic writing….The extent and quality of his achievements testify to a continuing instrumental tradition in a country then largely dominated by opera.”
Charles (aka Karl) VOLLWEILER Trio concertant sur des thèmes italiens Op.15 ▪ 1846
The German composer was born in Offenbach in 1813. His only teacher was his father Georg Jacob Vollweiler, a distinguished musician who also taught a young Ferdinand Hiller counterpoint and harmony before he went on to study with Hummel in 1825. After Karl completed his music education he moved to St Petersburg, living there for a few years as a teacher, then spent the last years of his life in Heidelberg, where he died at age 34. His main works are a symphony, two trios for piano and string instruments, variations on Russian themes for string quartets, a sonata for piano, six lyric studies, six melodic studies, and other compositions for piano.
Mikhail GLINKA Divertimento brillante on themes from Bellini’s La sonnambula ▪ 1832
Glinka was enamored with Italian culture, befriended Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini, and for a while wrote pieces drenched in the Italianate style of the period. The Divertimento is one such piece. Living in Milan in 1832, he went to the opera at La Scala as often as he could. In his memoirs, he wrote that he had intended the piano part for a Miss Pollini, one of his students who apparently was a superb pianist capable of tossing off the technical demands of the piano part—that of the soaring diva. His passion later blossomed into his own operas—his best known being A Life for the Czar and Ruslan and Ludmila. Glinka is variously called the “Father of Russian Music,” the “Father of Russian Opera,” and the “First National Russian Composer.”
|April 25 Evoking Brahms
Josef RHEINBERGER Quartet in F Major ▪ 1857
In his day, Rheinberger (1839–1901) could hold a candle to Wagner and Brahms. Hans von Bülow called him “one of the worthiest musicians and human beings in the world”—a composer of great taste and craftsmanship. He was an organist of great distinction, whose organ compositions were regarded as the greatest since Bach’s. And von Bülow said that as a renowned educator he was a “truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivaled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject.” Born in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, Rheinberger was a prodigy—by age 7 he was the organist at the parish church in Vaduz, the capital city; a year later he performed his first composition. In 1851, at the urging of the conductor and composer Matthäus Nagiller, his father was persuaded to send young Josef to study at the Munich Conservatory, where he taught shortly after his graduation for nearly 40 years, from 1867 till his death. In 1877, he also became Hofkapellmeister until he retired in 1894. His students included Richard Strauss, Ludwig Thuille, Engelbert Humperdinck (of Hansel and Gretel fame), Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Horatio Parker (teacher of Charles Ives), George Chadwick (among the vanguard of American composers), Wilhelm Furtwängler (the great conductor), and Hans von Koessler (in organ and composition). His output was enormous: twelve masses, twenty organ sonatas, and countless orchestral and other works.
Ludwig THUILLE String Quartet No. 2 in G Major ▪ 1880-1881
Thuille (1861–1907) was both a pupil of Rheinberger, whom he later succeeded as counterpoint teacher at the Königliche Musikschule in Munich, and a lifelong friend of Strauss. Born of Savoyard ancestry in Bolzano (then in Austria, now in Italy), he was orphaned at the age of 11. His stepuncle took him in and oversaw his secondary education in Kremsmünster. There, he served as a chorister in the Benedictine Abbey and studied the organ, piano, and violin. From 1876, he lived with his half-sister’s family in Innsbruck, his expenses paid by the generous widow of Matthäus Nagiller. He continued his studies with Joseph Pembauer and in 1877 met Richard Strauss, who was three years his junior and whose parents were acquainted with the Nagiller family. They became and remained fast friends (interrupted by a quarrel) until his untimely death at age 45. In 1879 Thuille began his studies, steeped in Viennese Classicism, with Josef Rheinberger at the Royal Academy, graduating with honors in 1882. Although he was musically conservative and sternly disciplined by Rheinberger, “a decisive change suddenly occurred in his style through his association with Alexander Ritter, a forceful figure who converted him and…Strauss into rich orchestral colourists in the late Romantic vein. Ritter diverted Thuille’s attention to opera of Wagnerian proportions and encouraged the young composer to cultivate bold harmonic ideas [Grove’s].” Before his death, Thuille made one other contribution: his Harmonielehre—a treatise on harmony that survived into the 1930s.
Richard STRAUSS Piano Quartet in C minor Op. 13 ▪ 1884
At its premiere in Weimar on 8 December 1885, Strauss was the pianist. The next year, it won first prize (among 24 entrants) in a piano quartet competition sponsored by the Tonkünstlerverein of Berlin. Almost 2 decades after its creation, following a performance with the Mannes Quartet in Mendelssohn Hall, a review by the New York Times appeared on 19 March 1904: “It is admirably written for the four instruments, which are treated with great independence…. The work is not without some foreshadowings of what was to come later; there are strains of ‘Till Eulenspiegel’ in the vivacious and tricky Scherzo, which is full of delightful touches and complex rhythms. The andante has a marked kinship with some of Dr. Strauss’s sustained and deeply felt songs, such as ‘Allerseeien.’ It is a work of uncommon interest and value…. Dr. Strauss showed himself to be an extremely skillful and resourceful pianist in his playing...not as a virtuoso and not through seeking the effects of a virtuoso, but with the truly musical insight of a composer. [The piece is] technically difficult...but his mastery of all the problems presented by his own music was unquestionable, and he put great fire and spirit into the performance…. There was an audience of considerable size that showed much interest and enthusiasm in the performance.”
Strauss (1864–1949) came from a musical family (his father was principal horn of the Munich Court Orchestra for 49 years) and spent much time and effort on music in his early years, composing more than 140 pieces by the time he matriculated from the Ludwigsgymnasium at age 18. In August 1882, he entered the University of Munich, where he read philosophy, aesthetics, history of art, and literature; but in 1883, at the age of 19, he moved to Berlin to concentrate on music. He also discovered Brahms in Berlin and got hooked on playing cards, a lifelong addiction. Strauss began composing the Piano Quartet in the spring of 1884 and completed it later that year. It reveals the fusion of the gravity and grandeur of Brahms with the fire and impetuous virtuosity of Strauss at age 20.
May 2 Reicha's Reach
Antoine REICHA Trio in D Major Op. 26 ▪ 1796–1798
Reicha was man of breadth and depth. Born in Prague, he lived in Bonn from 1785 to 1794 and in Hamburg from 1794 to 1799, when he moved to Paris, earning a living by teaching the piano, harmony, and composition, as well as giving flute lessons and writing a variety of pieces. He met Haydn in the early 1790s while in Bonn, and also in Hamburg in 1795, and again in 1801 when he moved to Vienna. Their common interest in canons and variations led to a close friendship. He returned to Paris permanently in 1808. Reicha was also a lifelong friend of Beethoven, and played the violin alongside Beethoven (who played the viola) in the court orchestra in Bonn. Both composers respected Reicha’s music. During his time in Vienna he studied with Albrechtsberger and Salieri, while reading mathematics and philosophy; he also began to reflect seriously upon pedagogy. His treatises are known to have influenced Giacomo Meyerbeer, Schumann, and Smetana. (Schumann once noted, “his often curious ideas should not be entirely dismissed.”) In 1818 Reicha was appointed professor of counterpoint and fugue at the Paris Conservatoire, where he taught Franck, Liszt, Berlioz, Gounod, and a number of lesser known composers whose works have been performed by Jupiter.
Hector BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été Op. 7 ▪ 1841
After years of pursuing the great Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, and even threatening to commit suicide in front of her, Berlioz finally obtained her consent to marry him. Although friends advised against the union, the couple married on 3 October 1833. For several years the marriage succeeded, but as Berlioz rose in fame, Harriet’s stardom was eclipsed, which led to her depression and alcoholism. As their marital bliss faded, Berlioz met his future wife, the soprano Marie Recio. She became his regular companion, and the affair led to his separation from Harriet in 1844, but he continued to support and care for her until her death in 1854, which left the composer free to marry Marie. The song cycle possibly echoes the course of his marriage and breakdown, given its themes of love and loss. Gautier, the poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and literary critic, was a protean figure in French literature.
BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata No. 9 “Kreutzer” Op. 47 ▪ 1803
The Sonata was originally composed for the prodigy George Bridgetower, known as the “African Prince” in London. His father was West Indian or Barbadian and his mother, German. In 1803 Bridgetower met Beethoven in Vienna. Impressed with the virtuoso, Beethoven wrote the Sonata with Bridgetower’s artistry in mind. Both the composition and arrangements for the premiere on 24 May 1803 were done in great haste: Beethoven supposedly completed the piece at 4:30 AM, before the sun rose the morning of the premiere, but the copyist failed to complete the solo violin part in time for the most unusual early concert time of 8 AM. This meant that Bridgetower had to sightread most of the piece, and was forced to read the second movement of the score by looking over Beethoven’s shoulder at the piano! Nonetheless the premiere was a success, but their friendship was soon ruptured when Beethoven was offended by an unflattering remark that Bridgetower made about a woman Beethoven respected. Hence the dedication to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer shortly before its publication in 1805. Kreutzer abhorred Beethoven’s music, declared the Sonata “outrageously unintelligible,” and never performed it. Bridgetower, although embittered by the rededication, kept Beethoven’s gift of a tuning fork, now preserved in the British Library.
|May 16 Standouts
HAYDN Piano Trio No. 41 in Eb minor “Jacob’s Dream” Hob XV:31 ▪ 1795
The 2 movements were composed in reverse order—a long and contemplative Andante cantabile in the unusual key of Eb minor and a short, brisk Allegro. The nickname “Jacob’s Dream” comes from the inscription on the original manuscript—“Sonata Jacob’s Dream by Dr. Haydn”—later removed. Haydn was apparently alluding to Jacobs’s dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder in the story from the Book of Genesis. Albert Christoph Dies, who interviewed Haydn several times in his old age, discloses in his Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn, published in 1810, that Haydn was annoyed by a German violinist “who had acquired the technique almost of a virtuoso; but had the terrible habit of spending a lot of time stumbling about in the highest register. Haydn decided to make an attempt to put the amateur off his atrocious habit.” In the Allegro movement he deliberately wrote virtuosic passages in the high register of the violin, echoing the virtuosity of the piano part, and ending with passages that are both high and impossibly fast. Haydn then sent the Trio anonymously to Jansen, who sightread it at her home with the German violinist, with hilarious consequences. When he faltered, she laughed at how he “now ponderously, uncertainly, stumbling, now reeling, skipping, climbed up and down the ladder.” The Trio remained unpublished until 1803, with a dedication to Magdalena von Kurzböck, a composer and the best pianist in Vienna.
Born in Aachen, Jansen had moved to London and studied piano with Muzio Clementi. Haydn admired her playing so much that he wrote at least 2 of his last piano sonatas for her, as well as 3 piano trios (Hob. XV: 27–29). In May 1795, he served as a witness at her wedding to Gaetano Bartolozzi, a picture dealer and import-export wheeler-dealer whose father, Francesco, had engraved Haydn’s portrait in 1791. The sonatas and trios Haydn composed for Jansen stand at the peak of his keyboard writing in regard to virtuosity (including octaves and hand crossing), the creative use of effects, and harmonic and structural imagination.
Walter RABL Quartet in Eb Major Op. 1 ▪ 1896
The reviewer Michael Wilkinson heard the Quartet as exhibiting “both technical proficiency...and a wonderful ear for the distinctive characteristics of each instrument and also how they might blend. Nothing hurts the ear but charm.” Brahms was so taken by the composition that he recommended it to his publisher and it became Rabl’s Opus One.
In 1896 Brahms was the honorary president of the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein, which was founded in 1885 to support the music and musicians of Vienna. He exerted a strong influence on the society in his endeavor to promote and teach promising young composers; he also served as the de facto head of the competition juries. Eduard Hanslick, Brahms’s longtime friend and music critic of the Neue Freie Presse wrote, “He was a zealous promoter of competitions, especially chamber music competitions, to bring young talents to the fore. When it came to the examination of the anonymous manuscripts that had been submitted, he showed astonishing acuity in guessing, from the overall impression and technical details, who the author was, or at least his school or teacher. Last year Brahms was very interested in an anonymous quartet whose author he was quite unable to identify. Impatiently he waited for the opening of the sealed notice. On it was written the heretofore entirely unknown name: Walter Rabl.” Dedicated to Brahms, the Quartet appears to be the first piece ever written for the combination of clarinet and piano trio. After 1903, Rabl stopped composing and became a conductor and highly regarded vocal coach.
BRAHMS String Sextet No. 2 in G Major Op. 36 ▪ 1864–1865
The English musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey regarded the Sextet as “the most ethereal of Brahms’s larger works.” When Brahms backed out of the impending marriage, he felt guilty and wrote, “I have played the scoundrel toward Agathe,” a singer from Göttingen, for whom he had already composed several lieder. The process of composing the Sextet, however, proved cathartic for him. He confessed, “Here I have freed myself from my last love.” It was completed 5 years after their breakup.
*All programs are subject to change.
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Last updated 11/30/21