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.