Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Arensky - String Quartet No. 2 In A Minor, Op. 35

The music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky came to be a tremendous influence on Russian composers, but that wasn't always the case. Many of the more nationalistic composers within Russia regarded Tchaikovsky as too westernized in his compositional aesthetic. But Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer through and through who helped to integrate Russian music with the music of Europe. One of the younger Russian composers that held Tchaikovsky in high regard was Anton Arensky.

Arensky became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory in 1882 and then met Tchaikovsky, who became a friend and mentor. After Tchaikovsky's death in 1893, Arensky wrote his String Quartet No. 2 In A Minor and dedicated it to the memory of his deceased friend.

This string quartet is unique in the literature, for instead of writing the work for the standard two violins, viola and cello, Arensky uses one violin, one viola and two cellos. This resulted in an increase in the depth of the sonority, something that Arensky used to convey the sadness over the death of Tchaikovsky. It is in 3 movements:

I. Moderato - The opening of the work makes good use of the second cello as a theme is played by muted strings that sound like a Russian Orthodox funeral chant. This theme is briefly extended before a second, gentler theme is played. The developmenet section has both themes elaborated on with many instances of slowing and then increasing the tempo which pushs and pulls the music. The recapitualtion works through the themes again in different keys until the openinig chant returns and the music fades away.

II. Variations On A Theme Of Tchaikovsky - The theme for this set of seven variations is taken from Tchaikovsky's 16 Songs For Children, Opus 54, No. 5 'Legend' :
Arensky retains the original key of E minor and the 8-bar tune is played by the violin. The seven variations run from slow and calm to rapid and scherzo-like with a few variations venturing quite far from the original. The mood turns somber once again as the second movement ends with a coda in quiet music remeniscent of the opening of the quartet.

III. Finale : Andante sustanuto. Allegro moderato - The third movement begins with a short introduction that keeps within the somber mood of the end of the second and first movements. This mood is broken by a Russian folksong played by the viola and used by Mussorgsky in his opera Boris Godounov and by Beethoven in his Rasumovsky Quartet Opus 59, No. 2:
The beginning theme of the movement returns briefly until the second theme whisks it away in a flurry of virtuosity as the short finale ends.

Herzogenberg - Piano Quintet In C Major, Opus 17

Heinrich von Herzogenberg's first major musical influence was Robert Schumann, but he soon became a disciple of the New Music of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. When Herzogenberg undertook a thorough study of the music of J.S. Bach, his musical aesthetic changed again as he turned to the classical tradition and the music of Johannes Brahms.

In 1866 Herzogenberg married Elisabet von Stockhausen, a former piano student of Brahms. Brahms remained fond of Elisabet and she tried to get him to give some words of encouragement to her husband regarding his compositions. But the irascible Brahms gave little encouragement. Despite that, Herzogenberg went on to write a good quantity of music in all varieties of music except opera.

Herzogenberg and his wife carried on a 20 year correspondence with Brahms which makes for interesting reading concerning musical life in the last quarter of the 19th century.  Though Herzogenberg was a champion of Brahms' music, he was a very much original composer. The Piano Quintet In C Major, Opus 17 was written in 1876 and shows Herzogenberg's skill with sonata form as well as chamber ensemble composition. It is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  The piano begins the first movement with a short introduction:
This introduction contains material that is referenced throughout the first movement. After this initial introduction, the strings take up fragments of the introduction until the piano repeats the material in a different tonality. All of the instruments expand the material.  Secondary themes and fragments of themes are interspersed between repeats of the main theme. The development section concerns itself with the main theme which is treated fugally in a short lead up to the recapitulation. Herzogenberg shows considerable skill in keeping everything moving in a way that makes musical sense to the ear. The main theme builds until the end of the movement.

II. Adagio -  The second movement begins in F major with a short introduction from the piano. The first theme is gently flowing in the strings and accompanied by the piano. A secondary theme is in the minor and leads back to a repeat of the initial theme.

III. Allegro - The third movement is an accented scherzo in G major.  The second theme is lighter in character but does contain some moments of  accented, off the beat music. The first theme is repeated.

IV. Presto - The final movement begins in A minor, and like the previous movements the piano is the dominating presence. The strings add color and variety to the music as a lively theme keeps moving steadily throughout. There are fragments of other themes heard sandwiched between the driving main theme, including a reference to the main theme of the second movement. After this is heard, the music builds to a driving conclusion with the initial theme of the movement in the home key of C major.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Schubert - Piano Trio No. 2 In E-flat Major D.929

The list of works that were published in Franz Schubert's lifetime ran to about 100 opus numbers, with most of them being lieder. it wasn't until many years after his death in 1828 that the full compass of his compositions became clear. When the Austrian musicologist Otto Erich Deutsch published his catalogue of Schubert's collected works, his numbering system went as high as 998.

Schubert was most well known in his lifetime for his songs and a few larger works. Most of his works were not played or heard by Schubert in his lifetime, but the Piano Trio No. 2 In E-flat Major was an exception as it was played at a private engagement party in January of 1828 for one of his friends shortly after its composition in November of 1827.  The work was also published before Schubert's death in November of 1828.

The 2nd Piano Trio is like other of the last works of Schubert in that it is expanded in length. This is true no matter the genre of a particular late work. The Symphony In C Major lasts an hour, the Piano Sonata No. 21 In B-flat Major 40 minutes, as well as the 1st Piano Trio (which was written at about the same time as the 2nd Piano Trio) which lasts about 40 minutes. This lengthening of playing time is due at least in part to Schubert's remarkable gift of melody. He drew from an inexhaustible store of themes and melodies and used them in his later works where they were used in a musical texture that resulted in a longer time needed to work through all of his compositional expertise with them.

The 2nd Piano Trio is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro - The first movement begins with all three instruments stating a theme that outlines the E-flat major triad:

This first theme is elaborated on until a short section leads to the second theme. Musicologists differ as to the number of themes in the exposition, with some saying as many as six. Whether these themes are truly independent themes or not, there does seem to be a relationship between them. The exposition is repeated, which adds to the length of the movement but with such a wealth of thematic material, a repeat is most welcome. The development section modulates into keys far and wide but Schubert keeps everything coherent with the return of themes. The recapitulation continues the weaving of themes and Schubert ties up all the loose ends as the movement ends with a final flourish followed by a more quiet final statement.

II. Andante con moto - The quiet ending of the first movement leads perfectly to the second movement where the piano begins in C minor and the cello joins with a melancholy tune:

According to one of Schubert's friends, this theme is based on  a Swedish folk song that Schubert heard, the title of which is 'Se solen sjunker' (The sun is down). The second theme is of a more gentle character for contrast, but this theme reaches two climaxes that makes the ear question its true gentleness. These two themes alternate until the funeral march-like opening theme ends the movement.

III. Scherzando. Allegro moderato - The theme of this movement begins in the piano and is imitated by the violin and cello. The trio is a more robust country dance that includes a reference to one of the themes of the first movement.

IV. Allegro moderato - A movement that has elements of both sonata form and rondo form as three themes are played. A development section is introduced by the return of the primary theme of the second movement in an altered guise that foreshadows the embracing of cyclic form by Berlioz and Liszt.  It is played again by the cello with accompaniment by piano and pizzicato violin. The other three themes of the movement continue to be varied as the music moves to the end of the movement. The second movement theme enters one last time but remains in its minor key form but briefly until it shifts into the major mode. The music ends in a final short statement of the opening theme of the movement.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, Nos. 1-6

In the world of art and artists, The Well-Tempered Clavier of Johann Sebastian Bach occupies a lofty position of influence.  The work consists of two volumes, each containing 24 preludes and fugues written in all the major and minor keys.  Bach wrote a preface to the work that reveals he meant it to be used by students as well as an amusement for the already skilled keyboard player -
The Well-Tempered Clavier, or Preludes and Fugues through all the tones and semitones both as regards the tertia major or Ut Re Mi and as concerns the tertia minor or Re Mi Fa. For the Use and Profit of the Musical Youth Desirous of Learning as well as for the Pastime of those Already Skilled in this Study drawn up and written by Johann Sebastian Bach. p.t. Capellmeister to His Serene Highness the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen, etc. and Director of His Chamber Music. Anno 1722.
What Bach meant exactly by his use of the term well-tempered is still being discussed almost 300 hundred years after it was written. The tuning of keyboard instruments was far from standardized in Bach's time. There were various methods and tuning systems in use that attempted to make it possible to play in tune in all the keys, which was not possible if the instrument was tuned exactly to pitch. For example, the key of C major has no sharps or flats, so if there was any change of key within a piece of music, it could only modulate to closely related keys. The further away from the home key, the more dissonant the sound became. Closely related keys for C major would be F major (one flat), G major (one sharp) A minor (no sharps or flats).

That's a very simplistic example, but the point is that whatever Bach's exact tuning method, his goal was to give examples of pieces that would be in tune on the keyboard in all the major and minor keys. The Well-Tempered Clavier had to wait until 1801 for its first publication, but there were hand written copies circulating among musicians during the 50 years between Bach's death and publication. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were profoundly influenced by The Well-Tempered Clavier as well as many other musicians.

The first six preludes and fugues of Book One -

Prelude and Fugue No. 1 In C Major BWV 846 -   The pedagogical nature of The Well-Tempered Clavier begins with the C major prelude which is comprised entirely of arpeggiated chords.
With the absence of any kind of theme, this prelude is an example of how a constant pattern of music can be made beautiful by shifting harmonic content. This is the simplest of preludes, but that doesn't mean that it is easy to play. This prelude is one of Bach's most well-known and many a piano student has played it.

The 4-voiced fugue flows along with many repetitions of the subject (the theme that begins a fugue and that returns in different keys and voices throughout it) or the answer (the repeat of the subject in a different key).  There are no episodes (a short section that does not contain either subject or answer) in this fugue, a feature that makes it a little easier to understand aurally, but not any easier to play.

Prelude and Fugue No. 2 In C Minor BWV 847 -  The beginning of this prelude was originally written in a notebook for Bach's oldest son Wilhelm Friedmann, with Bach adding material to the end of the original. The pastoral feeling of the first prelude is not to be heard in this agitated and tense prelude of running sixteenth notes in both hands.
A sense of dramatic tension builds over 24 measures until single line arpeggios play a section that ends on a low G in the bass. Bach then marks the next section with a rarity in any of the pieces of The Well-Tempered Clavier, a tempo designation. The tempo changes to presto (which gives an indication of what the tempo of the previous 24 measures should be) as the hands return to the running sixteenth notes of the beginning.  Then there is a one-measure cadenza and another tempo change, this time to adagio. The tempo changes yet again to allegro as the prelude winds down chromatically until it ends in C major.

A 3-voiced fugue follows with the subject played in the soprano register of the keyboard. The fugue develops and includes six episodes where the subject is not heard. A striking feature of this fugue occurs in the 28th measure. The three voices are occupied with the summing up of the fugue, all three voices are halted abruptly with the insertion of an eighth rest:

The voices then continue to move to the end of the fugue in C major.

Prelude and Fugue No. 3 In C-sharp Major BWV 848 - With all the notes in the C-sharp major scale being raised a semitone, the key signature of seven sharps must have been rather daunting to many musicians in Bach's time. C-sharp major was thought of as being more of a theoretically possible key than a practical one. But Bach continues his chromatic climb through the keys with this prelude that has a two-part structure, at least what on the surface appears to be a two part structure. The right hand plays a motive that is drenched in C-sharp major while the left hand plays a simple accompaniment. This motive is seven measures long, and after two measures of transition, the motive is taken up by the left hand in G-sharp major while the right hand takes up the simple accompaniment. Bach modulates through many of the sharp keys, major and minor in this prelude and creates interest and contrast. The magic of the piece occurs in the 87th measure as the two lines converge and transform into a section that has a syncopated feel to it. The music proceeds to arpeggios and the final cadence.

The 3-voiced fugue that follows begins with the two-measure subject. This subject is heard numerous times along with other counter-subjects (a secondary motive that is played in counterpoint with the subject) and episodes. Bach uses all of these in creating interest, tension, and resolution in all of the pieces in The Well-Tempered Clavier. How he uses them makes each of them a work of art.

Prelude and Fugue No. 4 In C-sharp Minor BWV 849 - Many editions of The Well-Tempered Clavier had tempo indications added by editors. Bach's use of them was very limited. He tended to use them when there was a marked contrast within a prelude that he wanted to make sure the player did not miss (as in the C minor prelude). The nature of music in Bach's time was such that a piece of music revealed the tempo it should be performed at when the player studied it. This interpretive skill was taught by Bach and other teachers, so tempo indications were not necessary within the style of the times. This prelude is an obvious example of a piece that contains the secret of the proper tempo within the music itself. Time signatures also gave a further clue to the tempo of a piece, and this prelude has a time signature of 6/4, which is a variant of two beats in a measure. Thus the tempo should not be too slow, but in a moderately slow tempo and a calmness of mood.

The 5-voiced fugue that follows is one of the most complex ones within The Well-Tempered Clavier. The subject consists of only 4 notes:
This subject appears in the fugue 29 times, according to  musicologists. Combine that with Bach's imagination, uses of episodes and counter-subjects, this piece would be amazing enough. But consider that this piece is also considered a triple fugue. That is, a fugue with three distinct subjects! This fugue is like an intricate, decorative knot with different colors and textures of thread woven through it, but Bach is a master weaver of notes instead of thread. I don't pretend to understand all of the intricate workings going on, but a good listener attuned to the art of music doesn't need a limitless understanding of the technical machinations of the art of fugue. Bach helps our ears, if they are keen enough, to make sense out of it all whether we can explain it or not.

Prelude and Fugue no. 5 In D Major BWV 850 -  Running sixteenth notes in the right hand are accompanied by a bass line of a repeating eighth note-eighth rest figure. The 2nd and 4th bass line eighth note can give the impression of combining with the fifth and thirteenth note in the right hand to make a two-note chord:
The music continues until it reaches the last line of the prelude. After a rapidly arpeggiated chord, the right hand plays a cadenza that increases the tension and leads to two large chords. The tension is finally releases with the final cadence and tonic chord.

The 4-voiced fugue that follows is in the French Overture style with a subject that is just a little over a measure long:
The impression given by the subject as well as Bach's treatment of the other components of the fugue suggest a stately tempo.

Prelude and Fugue No. 6 In D Minor BWV 851 -  Another prelude that is developed by harmonic means rather than melodic. There are snatches of motives that come through, but it is the harmonic shifting that gives this piece its drive. It sounds like a dramatic gigue to my ear as the relentless right hand continues right into a chromatic section that provides the final cadence in D major.
  The 4-voiced fugue has a subject that is two measures long. This subject is repeated many times throughout, and Bach manipulates this subject by inverting it, that is the notes of the subject go in the opposite direction as the original. When the notes go down in the original, they would go up an equal distance in the inversion. That is a very simplistic explanation and not exactly accurate in all cases, but it does give the listener a general idea of one of the many ways Bach created variety and interest within a fugue:

Subject D Minor Fugue

Inversion of Subject
In the next to the last measure of the fugue, dotted half note D's are held while thirds in contrary motion lead to the ending in D major.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Haydn - Piano Trio In G Major, No. 39 'Gypsy' Hob.XV:25

Near the end of  Haydn's second trip to London in 1795, he composed three piano trios. Piano Trio No. 39 In G Major was the 2nd one of this set which was dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, a widow that lived in London. Haydn had met her on his first trip to London when she requested music lessons from him.

Despite Rebecca being twenty years younger, she soon fell in love with Haydn, as she had previously done with Johann Schroeter, a German composer and pianist that she married 16 years before. There were numerous letters back and forth between the two and Haydn had dinner with her at every opportunity. There was no possibility of marriage between the two as Haydn was already married (in what traditionally has been considered an unhappy one) and divorce was not allowed by the church.

Haydn wrote 45 piano trios in his life. His first trio was written in 1760, the beginning of the Classical era of music that saw the obsolescence of the basso continuo in favor of separate parts for specific instruments. Even with that, the piano dominates as the titles reflect with the piano being the first instrument mentioned: trios for piano, violin and cello. The violin accompanies and on occasion has the melody trusted to it while the cello mainly reinforces the bass line.

But this doesn't mean Haydn's piano trios are fluff. The early ones are simpler in texture and are more like serenades, but Haydn's imagination and skill is used to good effect, especially in the later piano trios. Piano Trio No. 39 is in 3 movements:

Rebecca Schroeter
I. Andante -  The first movement is not in sonata form, but rather a set of variations on a simple theme that is stated by the piano and violin while the cello doubles the bass. The variations alternate between major and minor modes. The andante tempo is held throughout, but the shorter note values of the final variations give the illusion of a faster pace.

II. Poco adagio, cantabile -  The gentle second movement is in E major. After the initial statement of the theme by the piano, the violin gets the spotlight in the middle section as the piano and cello accompany.

III. Rondo a l'Ongarese: Presto - After two gentler movements, the finale begins in a breakneck presto tempo.  Haydn was the first well known composer to use music based on Hungarian tunes in his compositions, which became something of a fad a few decades later. These tunes aren't so much Hungarian but were derived from itinerant Gypsy musicians who were prevalent in Hungary. Haydn would have come in contact with these Gypsy musicians during his tenure as Music Director at Eszterháza Castle where Gypsy musicians often played. This is some of Haydn's most recognizable music and has been transcribed for other combinations as well as solo piano. The movement is a heavily accented, fierce Gypsy dance that shifts from major to minor that is over in a flash.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Beethoven - String Quartet No. 5 In A Major, Opus 18, No. 5

The beginnings of the string quartet, a standard ensemble in classical music that consists of two violins, viola, and cello, are difficult to determine. Some musicologists think the genre originated with the trio sonata of the Baroque era. Despite being called a trio sonata, many times more than three instruments played. The name 'trio' designates the number of voices and not necessarily the number of instruments. Indeed,  J.S. Bach wrote trio sonatas for solo organ where the three different parts were distributed between the hands and feet.

But the basic trio sonata was usually written for two solo melodic instruments and bass continuo, three parts and instruments. In many cases, there would also be in the ensemble a bass instrument such as cello or bassoon that played the single notes of the continuo part, along with the continuo played on an instrument capable of harmony such as a keyboard or lute, and the two melodic solo instruments. Musical styles changed and the practice of basso continuo was considered old fashioned so composers wrote out their music for specific numbers of instruments, with the string quartet becoming a standard ensemble.

Early instances of works for 4 string instruments with no continuo were the sonate e quattro of the
Italian composer Allesandro Scarlatti, written in the early 18th century. From these early examples as well as others written by various composers, Joseph Haydn added his imagination and skill to form a standard that was popular with amateur musicians. Mozart was inspired by Haydn and added his genius to the form as well. It was the standards in artistry set by Haydn and Mozart in string quartet writing that inspired Beethoven to write his own string quartets.

Prince Lobkowitz
Beethoven's Opus 18 consisted of 6 string quartets that were commissioned by his patron Prince Joseph von Lobkowitz and were written  between 1798 and 1800. Beethoven purposefully issued his first string quartets in a set of six to emulate Haydn's practice of doing the same. Beethoven was an ambitious young composer and may have wanted to invite comparison of his quartets with those of Haydn. Beethoven took his role as the new kid on the block very seriously, and he considered the premiere of his string quartets as a right of passage.

The String Quartet No. 5 In A Major of the set was intentionally modeled on a quartet by Mozart (K.464) that was in the same key and followed the same general outline. It is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro - The first theme is a light tune that is contrasted by a second group of themes that delves into the minor and is punctuated by motives that follow one another in counterpoint. There is a summing up before the exposition is repeated. The development section begins with a variant of one of the motives of the second theme group until the first theme is then dealt with. Beethoven seamlessly leads into the recapitulation. A short coda ends the well constructed and tuneful first movement.

II. Menuetto - A graceful minuet has a bit of individuality thrown in by the way of dark minor rumblings towards the end of the first statement.  The trio throws the ear a curve by accenting the third beat in the measure.

III. Andante cantabile - Mozart's example of a set of variations is also followed by Beethoven in the third movement, but the music is all Beethoven. The theme is a simple one in D major that rises and falls, with not much to recommend it as the basis for a set of variations:
The first variation begins with the solo cello and the other instruments enter in contrapuntal fashion.
The second variation has the first violin play an elaborate version of the theme while the other instruments offer a simple accompaniment.
The third variation has the second violin chatter a simple accompaniment while the other instruments comment on the theme.
The fourth variation is a contemplative variation on the theme that is high lighted by passages in the minor.
The fifth variation picks up the pace as the cello oompahs the bass line while the viola and second violin play a rhythmic variant of the theme. The first violin plays trills above them, and joins them a few times.
A coda continues to comment upon the theme in a slower pace until the music rises to a forte. After a brief pause, the first violin slowly plays the theme, the other have their final say, and the music ends pianissimo.

IV. Allegro - The final movement begins with a theme that finds the instruments chasing each other until the second theme group begins in a more hushed tone. The development takes up the first theme and takes it afield in key and mood. Parts of the secondary theme group are interjected until the recapitulation begins. A coda deals with themes once more before the music ends very softly and rather suddenly.

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.

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.

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Brahms - A German Requiem

The complete title of Brahms' Requiem is A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures, which gives an indication as to the non-traditional nature of the work. Brahms was born and raised in the Northern German seaport city of Hamburg, a city rich in the tradition of self-rule and the Lutheran Church.  Brahms loved the Bible as translated into German by Martin Luther, although his religious beliefs were not strong. He looked upon Luther's translation as great German literature as well as a sacred work, as such Brahms himself put together his own text for his requiem from the German translation of the Bible. Composers who came from the parts of Europe that were Catholic usually used Latin texts from the Roman Missal.

Where the more traditional Requiem Mass (also known as the Mass For The Dead) concentrate on the redemption of the dead from the horrors of hell,  Brahms' Requiem is concerned with comforting and consoling the loved ones of the deceased.  The history of the composition of the work are not completely known as Brahms was not one to divulge any specific inspiration for any of his works. It has been suggested by some scholars that the death of his mother in 1865 and the earlier death in 1856 of his advocate and friend Robert Schumann gave him the impetus to compose the work.

Five movements of the work were completed by 1866 and the first three movements were played in a concert in Vienna in 1867 to mixed reviews. The six movements of the original version of the Requiem were first heard in 1868 in the Northern German town of Bremen. The work was a great success and marked a turning point in Brahms' career. Brahms composed an additional movement later in 1868 and the final seven movement version was first performed in Leipzig in 1869.

A German Requiem has been controversial in a religious sense since the premiere of the first three movements in Vienna. In countries that are predominantly Catholic, the work has not fared as well as in areas that are Protestant. Brahms also strictly avoided using any scripture that dealt with Christian dogma, much to the consternation of a clergyman that wrote a letter to Brahms that mentioned this. Brahms steadfastly refused to change the work and wrote back to the clergyman:
As far as the text is concerned, I will admit that I would gladly give up the 'German' and simply put 'human,' and that I would also with full knowledge and consent go without passages such as John 3:16  From time to time I may have employed a thing because I am a musician, because I could use it, because I cannot dispute or cross out even a 'henceforth' from my honorable poets.
I. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn) 
The German Requiem is the longest work Brahms ever wrote, and it begins with a solemn setting of one of the eight Beatitudes and is notable for the absence of violins in the beginning of the movement. Brahms used texts from the Old and New Testaments and molds them into music of great beauty.

Blessed are they that mourn
for they shall be comforted. [Matthew 5:4]

They who sow in tears
shall reap in joy.
Go forth and cry,
bearing precious seed,
and come with joy bearing their sheaves [Psalm 126:5,6]

II. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as grass) 
The funeral march feeling of the first section is undeniable as the words relate the fleeting nature of life, with a distinguishing feature of the music being that it is not written in the usual 4/4 time signature, but in 3/4 time. The second section lightens the mood until the funeral march appears again. But the movement doesn't end on a somber note as Brahms reassures the listener with music and words of hope that end in glory.

 For all flesh is as grass,
and the glory of manlike flowers.
The grass withers
and the flower falls. [1 Peter 1:24]

Therefore be patient, dear brothers,
for the coming of the Lord.
Behold, the husbandman waits
for the delicious fruits of the earth
and is patient for it, until he receives
the morning rain and evening rain. [James 5:7]

But the word of the Lord endures for eternity. [1 Peter 1:25]

The redeemed of the Lord will come again,
and come to Zion with a shout;
eternal joy shall be upon her head;
They shall take joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing must depart. [Isaiah 35:10]

III. Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord, teach me)
The third movement features a contemplative solo for baritone that deals with the fleeting nature of life. After soloist and chorus ruminate on this, the music flows directly into some of the most remarkable music Brahms ever wrote. The movement ends with Brahms showcasing his mastery of counterpoint with a huge fugue for chorus, which is notable for the pedal point D that is held throughout.

Lord, teach me
That I must have an end,
And my life has a purpose,
and I must accept this.
Behold, my days are as a handbreadth before Thee,
and my life is as nothing before Thee.
Alas, as nothing are all men,
but so sure the living.
They are therefore like a shadow,
and go about vainly in disquiet;
they collect riches, and do not know
who will receive them.
Now, Lord, how can I console myself?
My hope is in Thee. [Psalm 39:4-7]

The righteous souls are in God's hand
and no torment shall stir them. [Wisdom of Solomon 3:1]

IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely are thy dwellings)
After the dramatic first three movements the fourth is one of calmness. This movement acts as a pivot, a center point to the work.

How lovely are thy dwellings,
O Lord of Hosts!
My soul requires and yearns for
the courts of the Lord;
My body and soul rejoice
in the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house;
they praise you forever. [Psalm 84:1,2,4]

V. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sorrow) 
This is the movement that Brahms wrote and inserted after the first 6-movement version of the Requiem had been performed. It is a solo for soprano and is music of consolation.

You now have sorrow;
but I shall see you again
and your heart shall rejoice
and your joy no one shall take from you. [John 16:22]
Behold me:

I have had for a little time toil and torment,
and now have found great consolation. [Ecclesiasticus 51:27]

I will console you,
as one is consoled by his mother [Isaiah 66:13]

VI. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (For we have here no lasting city)
Brahms begins this movement calmly, but it grows in intensity and power as the baritone soloist relates the raising of the dead and the end of death. A fugue for chorus is the feature of this movement.

For we have here no lasting city,
but we seek the future. [Hebrews 13:14]

Behold, I show you a mystery:
We shall not all sleep,
but we all shall be changed
and suddenly, in a moment,
at the sound of the last trombone.
For the trombone shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
Then shall be fulfilled
The word that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory? [1 Corinthians 15:51,52,54,55]

Lord, Thou art worthy to receive all
praise, honor, and glory,
for Thou hast created all things,
and through Thy will
they have been and are created. [Revelation 4:11]

VII. Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead)
A German Requiem comes full circle in this last movement as it moves towards a reminiscence of music heard in the first movement. Selig (blessed) ends the movement with the same word that began the first movement.

Blessed are the dead
that die in the Lord
from henceforth.
Yea, saith the spirit,
that they rest from their labors,
and their works shall follow them. [Revelation 14:13]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mendelssohn - Die erste Walpurgisnacht

Walpurgis night (Walpurgisnacht in German) is named after an 8th century English woman missionary St. Walpurga who traveled to the Germanic areas of Europe to convert the natives to Christianity. She was canonized on May 1st about 870. The celebration of Walpurgis night on April 30th is taken from the pagan folklore of a meeting of witches on the Brocken, the largest peak in the Harz mountain range in Germany. German poet Johann Goethe wrote the poem Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgisnight) in 1799 which was inspired by German folklore. Goethe wrote to his friend the composer Carl Friedrich Zelter:
...one of our German antiquarians has endeavoured to rescue, and to give an historical foundation for the story of the witches’ and devils’ ride on the Brocken, a legend which has been current in Germany, from time immemorial. His explanation is that the heathen priests and patriarchs of Germany, when they were driven from their sacred groves and when Christianity was forced upon the people, used to retire at the beginning of spring with their faithful followers to the wild, inaccessible heights of the Harz mountains, in order, according to the ancient custom, there to offer prayer and flame to the unembodied god of heaven and earth. And further, he thinks, they may have found it well to disguise a number of their own people so as to keep their superstitious foes at a distance, and that thus, protected by the antics of devils, they carried out the purest of services. I found this explanation somewhere, a few years ago, but cannot remember the name of the author. The idea pleased me, and I have turned this fabulous story back again into a poetical fable.”
Goethe wrote the poem with the intention of having it set to music by Zelter, but after two attempts the composer gave up. Zelter introduced his student Felix Mendelssohn to Goethe in 1821, after which Goethe told Zelter:
"Musical prodigies ... are probably no longer so rare; but what this little man can do in extemporizing and playing at sight borders the miraculous, and I could not have believed it possible at so early an age." "And yet you heard Mozart in his seventh year at Frankfurt?" said Zelter. "Yes", answered Goethe, "... but what your pupil already accomplishes, bears the same relation to the Mozart of that time that the cultivated talk of a grown-up person bears to the prattle of a child."
Mendelssohn took up Goethe's text in 1830 and completed the final version in 1843.  Goethe's poem portrays the tale as a prank between the remaining pagans and druid priests against the Christian guards that prohibit their ancient rituals of Walpurgis night. The cantata is in ten parts and begins with an overture that depicts the bad weather of winter that transforms to the milder weather of spring.

1) Overture
2) May Smiles At Us
Druid (Tenor)
May smiles at us!
The woods are free
of ice and hoarfrost

Chorus of the heathen
May smiles at us!
The woods are free
of ice and hoarfrost.
The snow is gone,
every green place
resounds with songs of pleasure.

Druid (Tenor)
A pure snow
lies on the peaks,
we haste upward,
to celebrate the ancient sacred rites,
to praise there the Father of All.
Let the flame blaze through the smoke!
Upward, upward!
Our hearts will be uplifted.

Chorus of the heathen
Let the flame blaze through the smoke!
Perform the old, sacred custom,
praising there the Father of All.
Upward! Upward!
Our hearts will be lifted.

3) Can You Act So Rashly?
Old woman of the heathens (Mezzo-soprano)
Can you act so rashly?
Do you want to go to your death?
Do you not know the laws
of our stern conquerors?
Their nets are set all around
for the heathen, the 'sinners'.
On the battlements they'll slay
our fathers, our children.
And we are all
nearing this sure trap.

Chorus of women
On the camp's high battlements
they'll slaughter our children.
Ah, the stern conquerors!
And we are all
nearing this sure trap.

4) Whoever This Day Fears To Bring A Sacrifice
The Priest (Baritone)
Whoever this day
fears to bring a sacrifice,
deserves his chains.
The forest is free!
The wood is ready,
prepare it for the burning!

Chorus of men
The forest is free!
The wood is ready,
prepare it for the burning!

The Priest (Baritone)
But we'll remain
in our wooded hideout
silently during the day,
and keep the men on their guard
for the sake of your concerns.
But then, with fresh courage,
let us fulfill our duty.

Chorus of men
Then let us with fresh courage
let us fulfill our duty.

The Priest (Baritone)
Spread out up here, brave men.

5) Spread Out Here Brave Men
Chorus of druid guards
Spread out here, brave men,
through the entire forest,
and watch here silently
as they perform their duty.

6) These Stupid Christians
One druid guard (Bass)
These stupid Christians -
let us boldly outsmart them!
With the every devil they invent
we'll terrify them.

Come! With stakes and pitchforks
and with flames and rattling sticks,
we'll make noise through the night
in these empty rocky gorges.

Chorus of druid guards
Come! With stakes and pitchforks
and with flames and rattling sticks,
we'll make noise through the night
in these empty rocky gorges.
The owls will howl at our racket!

One druid guard (Bass)
Come! Come! Come!

7) Come With Stakes And Pitchforks
Chorus of druid guards and heathen
Come with stakes and pitchforks
and with flames and rattling sticks,
we'll make noise through the night
in these empty rocky gorges.
The owls will howl at our racket!
Come! Come! Come!

The Priest (Baritone)
We've been brought so far,
that by night we
sing in secret to the Father of All!
Yet when it is day,
as soon as we may,
we bring you a perfect heart.

8) Yet When It Is Day
Chorus of druids and heathen
Yet when it is day,
as soon as we may,
we bring you a pure heart.

Priest and chorus
Today indeed,
and many times,
you've granted the foe success.
As the flame is purified in smoke,
so purify our faith!
And even if they rob us of our ancient ritual,
who can take your light from us?

9) Help, Oh Help Me
A Christian guard (Tenor)
Help, oh help me, fellow soldier!
Alas, all hell is coming!
See, how the bewitched bodies
glow with flames through and through!
Werewolves and dragon women,
passing by in flight!

Chorus of Christian watchmen
Frightening bewitched bodies,
werewolves and dragon woman,
Let us flee, let us flee!

A Christian guard (Tenor)
What a fearful scramble!
Let us, let us all flee!
Above flames and sparkles the evil one,
out of the ground
steams a hellish brew.

Chorus of Christian watchmen
What a fearful scramble!
Let us, let us all flee!
Above flames and sparkles the evil one,
out of the ground
steams a hellish brew.

Christian guard and Christian watchmen
Let us flee, let us flee!

Chorus of druids and heathen
As the flame is purified by smoke,
so purify our faith!

10) As The Flame Is Purified By Smoke
The Priest (Baritone)
As the flame is purified by smoke,
so purify our faith!
And even if they rob us of our ancient ritual,
who can take your light from us?

Who can take your light from us?