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.

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