Friday, September 25, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Septet In E-flat Major Opus 65

Camille Saint-Saëns composed the Septet at the request of a chamber music society called La Trompette, and Saint-Saëns (perhaps tongue in cheek) included a part for trumpet in the work. The trumpet is not often thought of as an instrument to be used in chamber music, but Saint-Saëns added it along with two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano. This rather odd combination of instruments is handled by Saint-Saëns with his characteristic fine craftsmanship as the bright tone of the trumpet does not dominate the work. Rather it is used for color and to punctuate the music.

Saint-Saëns was not only a great composer and performer, he was also a music historian and did much to revive the music of the past by editing and arranging modern editions of older composers, particularly French composers. The Septet was written in 1880 and takes the form of an 18th century suite of dances, music that he was very familiar with.  It is in 4 movements:

I. Préambule -  This was the first movement Saint-Saëns composed and it was originally meant to be a Christmas present to the music society and it was played at the January concert in 1880. Everyone was so pleased by the short work that Saint-Saëns promised to add more movements and complete the work. The finished work was first played in December of 1880 with Saint-Saëns at the keyboard. The movement begins with a flourish by the strings and piano, with the trumpet entering shortly. This changes to a section where a march-like theme is treated fugally. A calmer theme then is heard with a slightly restless accompaniment. The march returns and leads to the trills of the trumpet, the flourishes of the piano and the final chords of the movement.

II. Menuet - The trumpet takes the initial theme until the strings play a calmer second theme which the trumpet softly accentuates. The trio section is a masterful combining of the strings and trumpet over a piano accompaniment. The first section is repeated.

III. Intermède -  After two bars of introduction for piano and trumpet, the piano begins an accompaniment that continues through most of the movement while a somber theme is traded off between instruments.

IV. Gavotte et Final - The piano takes the lead in this dance that shows Saint-Saëns kept his piano technique (which was formidable). The theme is played over pizzicato strings. The trumpet enters with motives that sound like bugle calls that the strings take up. The gavotte returns until the piano and strings pick up the pace with a short fugue using material from the first movement. All the instruments join in a rush to the end.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cherubini - String Quartet No. 1 In E-flat Major

Among all the composers alive Cherubini is the most worthy of respect. I am in complete agreement, too, with his conception of the 'Requiem,' and if ever I come to write one I shall take note of many things.
So said Beethoven when asked who, aside from himself,  he considered the best of his contemporary composers. High praise indeed from an artist that could be notoriously blunt in his opinion of others. Unfortunately, Cherubini's opinion of Beethoven was not as favorable. The two met in Vienna where Cherubini was staging one of his operas. Cherubini went to the premiere performance of Beethoven's opera Fidelio and was not impressed. He remarked in French that Beethoven was too rough for his taste.

Luigi Cherubini was born in Italy and was a child prodigy. He wrote operas at the beginning of his career, and after feeling stifled by the operatic traditions of his native country, he traveled to England and finally settled in France in 1790. He found the freedom his creativity needed in Paris and his operas became very popular for some years. The opera scene of the time was always in state of flux. What was popular today could become a flop tomorrow. Cherubini's operas felt the fickleness of the opera public as his operas fell from favor. He then turned to music for the church and chamber music. Cherubini was appointed director of the Conservatoire de Paris in 1822.  He was known to be somewhat of a cantankerous man and did not show as much of a gift for teaching as he did as a composer.

He composed 6 string quartets and a quintet from 1814 to 1837. His First String Quartet was written in 1814 but wasn't published until 1836. The quartet has very little in it from the quartet tradition of Haydn and Mozart, but is more of a reflection of Cherubini's operatic writing. Schumann reviewed the work after its publication and thought the form of it somewhat difficult to understand. It is in 4 movements:

I. Adagio - Allegro moderato -  A slow introduction prefaces the movement until the somewhat nervous first theme begins. Short snatches of motives weave in and out of the exposition until a secondary theme is played. The motives return and the exposition is repeated. Themes and motives are dramatically explored in the development until the recapitulation begins. and the movement ends in the tonic E-flat major.

II. Larghetto sans lenteur - The second movement is in B-flat and is a theme and variations. The theme is gentle in nature as are most of the variations except for a more dramatic outburst in the middle of the movement. After that, the music mostly stays quiet and calm until it ends in a gentle mood.

III. Scherzo: Allegretto moderato - The scherzo begins in G minor and has a subtle rhythmic drive that propels it along at a steady pace until it reaches the trio that is in G major and features rapid 16th notes in the violins. The scherzo returns and ends the movement.

IV. Finale: Allegro assai - A short introduction leads to the first theme that is framed in a quirky rhythm. The second theme is a duet between violin and cello. A very short development section full of off-the-beat accents leads to the replaying of the two major themes, and after a short coda the quartet ends with a slight stumble.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Vivaldi - Trio Sonata Opus 1, No. 12 In D Minor 'La Follia' RV 63

For an Italian composer in the Baroque era it was somewhat of a tradition to compose a set of trio sonatas for two violins and continuo as their first published music. Vivaldi carried on this trend with his Twelve Trio Sonatas, Opus 1 published in 1705. They are his earliest known compositions, and with them Vivaldi showed a more impassioned style than his predecessors. Initially he was taken to task for his style by his conservative contemporaries, but after the publication of his Opus 3 set of 12 violin concertos titled L’estro armonico his music became known throughout Europe and influenced many composers with J.S. Bach being the most notable.

The 12th sonata of Opus 1 is a set of variations on the ubiquitous 'La Follia' melody. The melody itself was derived from the original chord progression. Folia (Spanish for folly) first appeared in print sometime in the 17th century, but the original may be considerably older. Over three centuries many composers have used the tune and chord progression, from Jean-Baptiste Lully in the middle of the 17th century to Rachmaninoff in the 20th century have found inspiration in the minor key theme. The actual number of composers who have used it is ongoing. There is a website called La Folia A Musical Cathedral that is attempting to list uses and derivations of the theme with a list of composers that is quite long as well as a history and chronology.

Vivaldi composed the sonata for two violins and continuo. The recording that is linked below has a continuo section that includes cello, keyboard and theorbo.  The theorbo is a long necked lute that made available more bass notes and was usually used as a continuo instrument.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mozart - Sonata For Piano And Violin In E Minor K.304

Mozart had traveled extensively in Europe as a child prodigy, and after visiting many of the capitals of 18th century Europe between the years 1762 to 1773, he settled into a position as court musician at Salzburg. His low wages and discontent at the court prompted him (with full encouragement from his father Leopold) to travel to other areas and look for a new position.

He resigned his position at court and began a trip with his mother in September of 1777. He traveled to Mannheim, Paris and Munich and on this trip he met many other musicians and continued to compose. The trip didn't end up with any new employment, and added to that disappointment was the death of his mother in Paris in 1778.  While he was on this trip he composed seven Sonatas For Keyboard And Violin as well as other music. Six of these sonatas were published in Paris in 1778.

There was once the thought that this sonata in E minor was written after his mother had died, but there is no evidence for that. Out of 36 Sonatas For Keyboard And Violin, it is the only one written in a minor key and the only instrumental work that Mozart ever wrote in E minor. The title of all of Mozart's works in this genre is a reflection of the era in which they were written. These were essentially keyboard sonatas with violin accompaniment, but Mozart and other composers were changing the genre so that the violin was more of an equal participant. The Sonata For Piano And Violin In E Minor is in two movements:

I. Allegro -  Evidence of the equal partnership between keyboard and violin begins straight away with the first theme played in unison by both instruments:
The second dotted rhythm theme delves into G major, but the exposition is dominated by the first theme. The short development section is also concerned with the first theme. The recapitulation has the second theme modulate to the minor, and after a short coda the movement ends.

II. Tempo di minuetto - This movement also begins in E minor and makes excursions into other major keys. But it returns to the contemplative and graceful minuet melody. The middle section is music in the calming key of E major. The plaintive minuet returns and with a short coda the sonata is brought to a close.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Vivaldi - Gloria In D Major RV 589

Antonio Vivaldi spent many years as the master of violin at the Conservatorio dell'Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, an orphanage for displaced boys and girls. The boys were taught a trade while the girls received a musical education. While the boys had to leave the facility when they were 15, the best girl musicians stayed on to become members of the orchestra and choir. It was for this organization that he wrote most of his works, including over 500 concertos for various instruments, roughly half of them for solo violin.

While Vivaldi is most well known for these concertos, he also wrote in other forms, including sacred choral music.  There was evidence of Vivaldi's choral music in other sources but no actual manuscripts were found until the 1920's in the National Library of Turin.

Gloria in excelsis Deoshortened to Gloria, is an ancient text that dates to as early as the 2nd century, and is part of the Catholic Mass. It can be recited or sung to music, and there are hundreds of melodies and musical settings of the text. The Gloria RV 589 In D Major is thought to have been composed around 1715 and had its first hearing in over 200 years in 1939 in Siena, Italy. The work has become a favorite of choral groups since then.

Vivaldi's setting breaks the text into twelve separate movements, each with its own blending of instruments and voice to the text.. He wrote the work for strings, two trumpets, 3 soloists (2 sopranos and contralto) and choir.  The work opens with fast-paced music punctuated with octave leaps in the violins, typical of Vivaldi's opening concerto movements, with the choir adding the richness of the text. The 3rd movement is a duet for 2 sopranos. In keeping with the Baroque era's fascination with counterpoint, Vivaldi shows his skill in writing a fugue for chorus in the 5th movement. Like many composers of the time, Vivaldi usually has either soloists or choir sing in a movement, but he breaks with tradition in the 8th movement where the solo contralto and choir join in response to each other.  The 11th movement is a shortened version of the opening movement's material that leads to the 12th movement, a 4-voiced fugue for choir.

I. Gloria in excelsis Deo
Glory, glory, to God in the highest

II. Et in terra pax
and on earth peace and goodwill to men.

III. Laudamus te
We praise you, We bless you.
We adore you, We glorify you.

IV. Gratias agimus tibi
We give you thanks

V. Propter magnam gloriam
because of your great glory.

VI. Domine Deus
Lord God, King of heaven,
God Father Almighty.

VII. Domine, Fili unigenite
Lord, the only-begotten son,
Jesus Christ,

VIII. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei
Contralto and Chorus
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.
Who takes away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.

IX. Qui tollis peccata mundi
Who takes away the sins of the world
Receive our supplication.

X. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
Who sits at the right hand of the Father,
Have mercy on us.

XI. Quoniam tu solus sanctus
For you alone are holy,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the highest
Jesus Christ.

XII. Cum Sancto Spiritu
With the Holy Spirit,
In glory of God the Father,

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mozart - Two Lieder For Soprano And Piano

The lieder of  Mozart, Haydn, and other composers of the 18th and early 19th centuries were generally strophic songs that were not considered serious compositions, but were meant for the domestic consumption of amateur singers and musicians. That doesn't mean that there weren't fine examples of early German lieder. Beethoven especially set the stage for the development of the German art song as practiced by Schubert. And an early composer such as Mozart was capable of writing fine music in any form he chose, including lieder.

Song of Separation  (Das Lied der TrennungK 519
The Song of Separation was written to a poem by Klamer Eberhard Karl Schmidt, a lawyer and minor poet. The song was written in 1787, right around the same time as the composition of the opera Don Giovanni.  The music of this song is in C minor, and a work in a minor key is usually an indication of a more serious work by Mozart. The words deal with the familiar lost love subject, but Mozart gives an emotional and passionate setting to the words. Most of the song is written in the usual strophic form but there is a section in the song that is through-composed, after which the song returns to the strophic melody of the beginning.

God's angels weep
when lovers part.
O maiden,
how will I be able to live without you?
A stranger to all joys,
henceforth I shall live to suffer.
And you? And you?
Perhaps Louisa will forget me for ever!
Perhaps she will forget me for ever!

I cannot forget her;
everywhere I am plagued by her hands
Klamer Eberhard Karl Schmidt
pressing mine lovingly.
I tremble to take hold of her
and find myself abandoned.
And you? And you?
Perhaps Louisa will forget me for ever!
Perhaps she will forget me for ever!

I cannot forget her;
my heart, wounded by her,
seems to sigh and ask me:
"O friend, remember me!"
Oh I will remember you
until I am lowered into my grave.
And you? And you?
Perhaps Louisa will forget me for ever!
Perhaps she will forget me for ever!

Oblivion steals in hours
what love takes years to confer.
As a hand can turn,
so hearts may change.
The new attentions of others
have banished my image from her mind.
O God! Perhaps Louisa will forget me for ever!
Ah, think of our parting!
May this tearless silence,
may this rising and falling
of the heart oppress you
like a powerful spectre,
should you ever love someone else.
If you should ever forget me,
for get God and yourself.

Ah, think of our parting!
Let this memorial,
imprinted on my lips by our kisses,
judge both you and me!
With this reminder on my lips
I shall come to the witching hour
and present myself with a warning,
if Louisa should forget me,
if she should forget me.

To Chloë  K 524
The style and feeling of this lied is more in keeping with a love song, but Mozart does put his own special feeling into the text with his music. The poem is by Johann Georg Jacobi, a poet whose works were looked down upon by the intellectuals of the time. He was appointed to the University of Freiburg as a professor of letters in 1784, and when he died in 1814 his funeral was attended by many dignataries, citizens and students.

When love shines out
from your bright blue eyes
Johann Georg Jacobi
I gaze into them
and my heart pounds and glows.

I hold you close to me
and kiss your warm red cheeks.
Sweet girl, I hold you
trembling in my arms.

Dear girl, dear girl,
I hold you close to me,
and not until the last moment
can death separate us.

A dark cloud casts a shadow
over my enchanted gaze
and I sit next to you,
exhausted but contented.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Requiem Opus 54

The text of the Catholic Requiem Mass began to be sung to music as far back as the 9th century when Gregorian chant melodies which were monophonic were used.  The earliest surviving polyphonic Requiem is from the 15th century. Early Requiems used various texts until the Council of Trent in the 16th century set the texts that were to be used in the services of the Church.  There is an amount of freedom of choice within the allowed texts to be used in the Requiem, so many of the later Requiems have differing combinations of text.

The dramatic nature of the text has attracted many composers, with some Requiems being more suited to the concert hall than a church. Verdi's Requiem is an example of a highly dramatic setting of the text and has been criticized for being more like an unstaged opera than a Requiem.  In contrast, Saint-Saëns Requiem was intended for use in a church service. He kept the length of the work to a little over 30 minutes, a short time for a Romantic era Requiem.

He wrote the Requiem for Albert Libon, a friend and patron that had died a year earlier. Originally Libon included in his will 100,000 francs to Saint-Saëns with the intent to allow the composer to quit his position as church organist and devote his time to composition with the stipulation that Saint-Saëns compose a Requiem in his honor to be performed a year after his death. Before he died, Libon removed that stipulation. Saint-Saëns received the 100,000 francs upon Libon's death but felt compelled to write a Requiem to honor his friend anyway. He traveled to Switzerland in April of 1878 and while staying in a hotel he wrote the Requiem in a mere eight days. He wrote to his publisher, "Fear not, this Requiem will be very short. I’m not just working hard, I’m working flat out!"

Saint-Saëns wrote a Requiem that is not free of drama, but the drama is more subdued. The writing for orchestra and organ is lyrically powerful, and he has written music for the chorus and soloists that shows his mastery of writing for the voice. A recurring motive in the work is the chromatic 'sighing' that can especially be heard in the fourth movement.  In later life Saint-Saëns turned from a total religious believer to an absolute non-believer, but he respected the tradition of the church and continued to write religious music for the rest of his life.

I. Kyrie
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
You shall have praise, O God, in Zion,
and a prayer shall go up for you in Jerusalem.
All flesh shall come before you.
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

II. Dies irae
This day, this day of wrath
shall consume the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sybil.
What fear there shall be,
when the judge shall come
to weigh everything severely.
The trumpet, casting its wondrous sound
across the graves of all lands,
summons all before the throne.
Death and nature shall be astounded
when mankind arises
to give account before the judge.
The written book shall be brought
in which all is recorded
whereby the world shall be judged.
When the judge takes his seat
all that is concealed shall appear,
nothing shall remain unavenged.
What shall I, a frail man, say then?
To which protector shall I appeal
when even the just man is scarcely safe?

III. Rex tremendae
King of awful majesty,
who freely saves those worthy of salvation,
save me, fount of mercy.
Remember, gentle Jesus,
that I am the reason for your earthly life,
do not cast me out on that day.
Seeking me, you sank down wearily,
you have saved me by enduring the cross:
such travail must not be in vain.
Righteous Judge of vengeance,
award the gift of forgiveness
before the day of reckoning.
I groan, like the sinner that ?I am,
guilt reddens my face:
spare the supplicant, O God.
You, who pardoned Mary
and heeded the thief,
have given me hope as well.
My prayers are unworthy,
but you, who are good, in pity,
do not let me burn in the eternal fire.
Give me a place among the sheep
and separate me from the goats,
let me stand at your right hand.
When the damned are cast away,
and consigned to the searing flames,
call me to be with the blessed.

IV. Oro supplex
Bowed down in supplication I beg you,
my heart as though ground to ashes,
help me in my final hour.
This day of tears
when from the ashes arises
guilty man to be judged:
have mercy upon him, O Lord,
Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant him rest.

V. Hostias
We offer to you in praise, O Lord,
sacrifices and prayers:
accept them on behalf of those souls
whom we remember this day:
Lord, make them pass
from death to life,
as once you promised Abraham
and to his seed.

VI. Sanctus
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!

VII. Benedictus
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

VIII. Agnus Dei
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them eternal rest.


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