Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ravel - Tzigane For Violin And Luthéal

Music is an art that goes through stages and fads like any other art. Turkish or Janissary music was a fad that saw Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven among other composers write music in that style. In the style of is an important phrase, for these composers and others Westernized the traditional music of Janissary bands to make it more suitable for their audiences. They used the rhythms and (for the time) the exotic sounds of drums, bells, and cymbals.

Another fad that lasted even longer was Gypsy music, although this was most often referred to as Hungarian such as Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies and the Hungarian Dances of Brahms. This too was in the style of Gypsy music, and didn't necessarily mean that authentic gypsy melodies were used. The Roma people tend to adapt the native music while also adding their own unique textures and rhythms to the mix. This mixture of cultures and styles is what came to be known as Hungarian music in the Romantic era. It wasn't until the research of musicians and ethnomusicologists such as Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály that the differences between Hungarian music and Gypsy (Roma) music were delineated.

Maurice Ravel was in the vanguard of modern composers of his generation, most often lumped into the category of Impressionist. But he explored different styles as well, and Tzigane has him looking back to the virtuosic violin works of Romanticism for inspiration. It was composed in 1924, and was originally for violin and luthéal. The luthéal was an attachment for grand piano that added a mechanism that could be lowered on the strings that would give the approximate sounds of a harp, harpsichord or cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer used in Gypsy music). The luthéal was invented by a Belgian organ builder in 1919, and Ravel wrote Tzigane for the instrument and used it in one of his operas.  The attachment proved to be unreliable and sensitive. It required constant adjustment and soon disappeared. The original score of Ravel's composition lists the instrument as well as the stops to be used, but the piece was usually played on the piano with out it. There was an original luthéal found rusting away in the museum of the Brussels Conservatory that was restored. There has also been a copy made.

Roughly half of the length of the work is a violin solo that uses virtuiosic techniques to create a sound world of a master Gypsy violinist. When the piano with luthéal enters, it does sound like a cimbalom, but with possibilites that the cimbalom doesn't have.  The title of the work itslef is a European term meaning Gypsy, but as other composers, Ravel writes in the style of Gypsy music and uses no gypsy themes.

Ravel orchestrated the work shortly after he wrote it, and it is most often heard in that version. The chamber version for violin and piano are heard, but the rarity of the luthéal makes a performance of Ravel's original as rare as the attachemnt itself. The video included below is a recording of the original version including the luthéal attachment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Haydn - Piano Trio No. 45 In E-flat Major, Hob. XV:29

The two visits Joseph Haydn made to London in the late 18th century inspired him to compose works to be performed while he was there. Both trips were highly successful, and concerts were sold out for performances of his works. But Haydn was a composer in all genres, and not all of his music was written to be performed in public concert. The drawing rooms and parlors of the elite English served as locales for his chamber music as well.

Haydn met many musicians during his tours of London, with one of them being Therese Jansen Bartolozzi, a German pianist that had been a student of Muzio Clementi, a piano virtuoso, piano maker and music publisher that settled in England. Therese had moved to London with her family when she was still young.  Her and family attended some of the concerts given by Haydn during his first tour of London. Her reputation as a performer must have been formidable as she received dedications of compositions by Clementi, Dussek, and Haydn. 

Haydn dedicated three piano sonatas to her, and what is believed to be the last three piano trios Haydn composed. Piano trio No. 45  Hob. XV:29 is the last of the three and is in three movements:

I. Poco allegro -  The movements begins with an E-flat major chord and a theme taken up by the piano and violin. As is often the case with Haydn's piano trios, the cello usually doubles the bass line of the piano part. The piano of Haydn's day was not the concert grand audiences know of today. The tonal qualities were not as robust, but had plenty of character. Haydn composes the trio with a solid knowledge of what the piano of his day could accomplish as the piano writing keeps to separate lines instead of chordal passages. He blends the piano and strings into a pleasant and expressive whole. The movement has elements of sonata form and theme and variation. The short first section consists of a theme (the only real theme of the movement) that is dominated by a gentle dotted rhythm and is repeated. The next section develops the theme somewhat, is longer and is also repeated. The 3rd section is in E-flat minor, and shortly has the return of the original theme in E-flat major. This theme is elaborated upon in a fourth section that serves the purpose of a recapitulation. Haydn was 65 years old when he wrote this trio, and his creativity was still sharp as a coda brings an end to a expertly crafted movement.

II. Andantino ed innocentemente - As the tempo indication indicates, this music is of an innocent feeling, but that doesn't mean it's boring. It is written in B major, quite distant from the home key of E-flat major. Haydn was not only a master (and stretcher) of form, his harmonic structure can be unique as well. The movement doesn't last long, as Haydn shows his harmonic mastery again by modulation back to the home key as the final movement begins straight away.

III. Allemande - Presto assai -  Again, the tempo indication gives an advance of the nature of the music, for it is a German dance, a ländler. Haydn was fond of rapid finales, and this movement moves at a brisk pace. There are hints of the gypsy music he no doubt heard at Eszterháza, the estate in Hungary where he was employed by Prince Nikolaus Esterházy for many years. The movement ends in high spirits.