Works for violin and piano by Ravel, Debussy, and Saint-Saens performed by Paul Huang, violin and Jessica Osborne, piano on December 1, 2013.
- Ravel: Piece en forme de Habanera
- Debussy: La plus que lente
- Saint-Saens: Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75
The turn from 19th to 20th century was a fertile moment in French music. In the space of a few decades, artistic norms shifted dramatically, from beautifully formed, pleasingly symmetrical classicism to the mistier depictions of Impressionism.
The last piece we’ll hear is Saint-Saens’ Sonata No. 1 in D Minor. Though penned by a Frenchman in 1885, the piece sounds remarkably similar to the chamber music of Beethoven, with its substantial scale and recurring musical themes.
Before the sonata, we’ll hear two pieces that were written just a few years later, but sound like they come from another musical world. First is Ravel’s “Piece en forme de Habanera,” a work infused with the same Spanish flair that would later characterize the composer’s most famous piece, Bolero.
After the Habanera, we have another piece from early 20th century France: Debussy’s “La plus que lent.” Originally written for solo piano, this piece, too, spawned many adaptations, including the violin and piano version we’ll hear. Debussy, like Ravel, was inspired by dance: in his case, the waltz.Listen
Work for string quartet by Beethoven performed by Belcea Quartet on November 4, 2012.
- Beethoven: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132
In April of 1825, Beethoven became seriously ill. Bedridden, and in declining health, he feared his end might be near. As his health worsened, he wrote many of his so-called “Late Quartets” – his incredible final contributions to the art of the string quartet.
But as the weeks passed, Beethoven made a remarkable recovery. The piece we’ll hear today—his fifteenth string quartet—celebrates his return to health.
The piece’s center—emotionally, musically, and structurally—is the third of its five movements. The movement is subtitled, “Heiliger Dankgesang,” or in full: “A holy song of thanks to the divine, from one who has been healed.” The movement begins with chorale-like chords and depicts a slow but steady move from weakness to vitality and health. It is a radiant hymn of gratitude from a person who’s been given a second chance at life.
The recording we’ll hear features the Belcea Quartet, from a performance in 2012. In full, the piece runs about 45 minutes.Listen
- Brahms: Sapphische Ode, Op. 94, No. 4 arranged by David Geringas
- Brahms: Lerchengesang (Lark Song) arranged by Zuill Bailey
- Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99
In September 2014, cellist Wendy Warner played a recital at the Gardner Museum, joined by pianist Irina Nuzova. The program had a distinct focus on Brahms, and on this podcast, we’ll feature three of the Brahms works.
First come two arrangements for cello of Brahms lieder. First is the languidly beautiful “Sapphische Ode,” a love song. The second song we’ll hear is “Lerchengesang,” the Song of the Lark. This is another of Brahms’ love songs, a remarkably sweet, tender melody, about hearing a lark’s song and being reminded of a special spring moment long ago.
Then, we get to the meat of the program: Brahms’ Sonata for cello and piano No. 2, in F Major. The piece opens with an exuberant first movement, with tremolos in the piano and soaring melodies in the cello.
The subsequent movements of the sonata explore a variety of different keys, harmonies, techniques, and moods. The slow movement starts curiously, with the piano voicing the main theme while the cellist plucks along, pizzicato. The final allegro is a quick, light romp, perhaps a somewhat abrupt ending to such a major piece, but one that cleverly leaves the listener wanting more.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in C Major, RV 114
- Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Oboe, Strings and Continuo, RV 450
- Veracini: Overture No. 6 in G Minor
- Telemann: Overture in A Minor, TWV 55:a1
In April 2014, the Gardner welcomed one of the most acclaimed early-music groups in the world: the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known to friends and fans by the nickname Akamus.
Formed in 1982, the group has won every major international accolade for their recordings, including the Grammys, the Cannes Classical Award, and the Gramophone Award. They have also collaborated with dance companies and directors to create innovative multidisciplinary performances, and have won acclaim for their opera recordings. In the United States, they are regulars at Carnegie Hall.
We’ll hear them play three short works by the Italians Vivaldi and Veracini, followed by an overture by the German Baroque composer Telemann. All were recorded at their April 6, 2014 performance at the Gardner.Listen
Work for string orchestra and voices by Caroline Shaw performed by A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth on May 11, 2014. Work for chamber orchestra by JS Bach performed by the Gardner Chamber Orchestra on December 9, 2007.
- Shaw: Music in Common Time
- Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
When is a soloist not a soloist?
Today, we’ll hear two pieces that feature performers in soloist-like roles, but as part of a group. Both works take inspiration from the concerto grosso style—the Baroque form which contrasts small groups of players with a fuller ensemble.
The piece we’ll hear on the podcast is called Music in Common Time, and it was Caroline Shaw’s first commission, written for a “super-group” formed by combining the forces of Roomful of Teeth, Shaw’s vocal group, with A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber orchestra in residence; throughout the piece, the singers take on a concertino-like role, standing out from the texture while still unified as a group.
In Bach’s fourth Brandenburg concerto, for two flutes you’ll quickly notice that the flutes are not alone: though they do have an important role, the violin also vies for attention. On this recording, “team flute” has a champion in their corner: flutist Paula Robison, a renowned soloist and frequent leader of the Gardner Chamber Orchestra, the group heard on this recording from 2007. Whoever you decide is the “true” soloist, you’re sure to enjoy the ride.
First, Caroline Shaw’s Music in Common Time.Listen
Works for piano by Franz Schubert and Adolf Schulz-Evler performed by Charlie Albright on September 29, 2013 and October 31, 2010.
- Schubert: Moments musicaux, D. 780, Op. 94
- Adolf Schulz-Evler: Concert Arabesques on "The Beautiful Blue Danube"
Schubert’s Moments musicaux, a set of six piano pieces, are among his most beloved piano works. And, as it would happen, they were also among his last. It is both incredible and saddening to imagine what he might have done, had he continued to compose for several decades more, but Moments musicaux stands as an admirable, if premature, final accomplishment, with its six contrasting movements, recalling everything from Eastern European dances to Bach-like passagework.
Perhaps there is an emotional truth to the title Moments musicaux, if not a temporal one: within the little world Schubert creates in each movement, one can easily imagine losing track of time.
The pianist we’ll hear on this podcast is Charlie Albright. And he’ll close out the program, after the Schubert, with a piece that really allows his incredible technical gifts to shine: Adolf Schulz-Evler’s Concert Arabesques on “The Beautiful Blue Danube.” Wait a few moments: you’ll easily pick out the tune once the dazzling introduction is through. The eleven-minute piece flies by in a cloud of technical wizardry. Expect fireworks.Listen
- Beethoven: Variations on an original theme in f Major, Op. 34
- Beethoven: Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11
They say variety is the spice of life. It’s also a major theme in the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven seems to have never met a theme he couldn't work with—whether he wrote it himself, or borrowed it, from classical or popular music.
In the first piece on our podcast—the Variations on an original theme, opus 34—Beethoven penned the theme, as well as the variations that follow. Each of the six variations is in a different key—a novel feature for the time.
Next up is Beethoven’s piano trio in B-flat Major, opus 11. This piece is a variation, times two. Originally composed for a trio of clarinet, cello, and piano, Beethoven later created a “variation” of the work for the more traditional piano trio: violin, cello, and piano—which is the version we’ll hear, performed by the Eroica Trio.
But the variations don’t stop there. The final movement of the piece is in the form of a “theme and variations,” based on a tune from an opera by Joseph Weigl, a tune so popular, in its day, that is could be heard throughout the streets of Vienna.Listen
- Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de fantasie, Op. 3: Elégie, Prelude in C-sharp minor, Melodie in E Major
- Rachmaninoff: Etude-Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 1-No. 5
- Kreisler: Liebesleid
Most composers have the ability to perform their own music. Many play several instruments. But there are a few who stand out, in music history, as having especially prodigious performing skills, talents that were more or less commensurate with their abilities as composers.
Rachmaninoff is perhaps the best-known composer in this category. He was, by all accounts, a uniquely gifted pianist and needless to say, he wrote piano music often. We’ll hear two such works: the first three movements of his Morceaux de fantasie, including the Prelude in C-sharp minor, which you may well recognize; and the first five of his Etudes-Tableaux. Both were performed at the Gardner by 25-year-old pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, an Armenian virtuoso who has won prizes at more than 18 major international piano competitions.
After Nareh’s performance, we’ll hear another piece composed by a virtuoso, for his own instrument. In this live recording, violinist Bella Hristova and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute play the Liebesleid of Fritz Kreisler, a brief, lyrical work that is, like the Rachmaninoff pieces, a perfect embodiment of the unique gifts of its author. Kreisler cultivated a sweet, singing, expressive sound that was widely recognized as uniquely “his.” In our podcast, we’ll hear another young violinist developing a voice of her own.Listen
Work for string quartet by Schubert performed by musicians from Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute on March 30, 2014.
- Schubert: String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D. 887
Schubert had a gift for miniatures. His art songs offer, often in just 3 to 5 minutes, small slices of life. Their diminutive size belies the richness of their musical and poetic depth.
But, as the string quartet we’ll hear demonstrates, Schubert could also scale up, writing chamber works on a scale more often associated with symphonies.
His 15th string quartet in G Major, is a perfect example. Performances of just the first movement can often stretch to 20 minutes; the performance we’ll hear today clocks in, in its entirety, at just under 50 minutes. We’ll hear it performed by three young musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, joined by violinist and program director Miriam Fried.
This quartet was one of Schubert’s last, followed only by his monumental string quintet in C Major. The piece, like much of his later work, seems to move between extremes, from passionate outbursts to touchingly lyrical passages.
With a piece this rich, it’s probably best to let it speak for itself. Here, Schubert’s String Quartet # 15, in G Major.Listen
Works for piano trio by Suk and Smetana performed by the Eroica Trio on September 14, 2014.
- Suk: Elegie, Op. 23
- Smetana: Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15
We’ll first hear Josef Suk’s Elegie, a piece written for a memorial celebrating the writer Julius Zeyer, an important influence and close collaborator of Suk’s. Suk saw the Elegie as a musical tribute, specifically, to Zeyer’s epic poem Vysehrad, a work based on Czech national legends. A violinist by training, he wrote a great deal of chamber music, including this lovely trio, a brief work of about five minutes.
Our second piece in this “duo of trios” is the Piano Trio in G minor of Bedřich Smetana. The loss that inspired this piece was even closer to home: Smetana wrote this trio in the wake of the death of his eldest daughter, who passed away at age four from scarlet fever. Even as a young child, she showed promise as a gifted musician, and Smetana was understandably devastated by the loss. He dedicated the piece to her memory, and though there is no descriptive “program” to the work, Smetana’s mourning is palpable in the music.
Both pieces were recorded at the Eroica Trio’s recent performance at the Gardner Museum, in September 2014.Listen
Works for string orchestra by Ives and Dvořák performed by A Far Cry on December 8, 2013.
- Ives: Hymn: Largo Cantabile from A Set of 3 Short Pieces
- Dvořák: Quintet Op. 97 American Arr. by Blaise Dejardin
On this podcast, we’ll hear two selections that, to our ears, sound like America.
Only the first was actually written by an American, though: a piece called “Hymn: Largo Cantabile” from Charles Ives’s Set of 3 Short Pieces.
Ives was the son of a musician, a bandleader for the United States Army, and he studied music as a student at Yale. His music pushed harmonic boundaries far beyond what he would’ve learned at the Yale music department. But it always retained a distinctly American flavor, often incorporating popular music and, as in this piece, traditional hymn tunes. The music is a bit mysterious, and it is unmistakably Ives.
Next, we have Dvořák’s “American” Quintet, opus 97, arranged for chamber orchestra. It, like the Ives, was performed at the Gardner Museum by A Far Cry. This arrangement was composed for the group by cellist Blaise Dejardin.
The Dvořák, like the Ives, draws on traditional American tunes, incorporating several snippets of American Indian songs. Like Ives, Dvořák took these tunes and embedded them within his own sound world, creating a piece that is certainly rooted in Native American music, but rendered in Dvořák’s own unique voice.Listen
- Blitzstein: Emily, from The Airborne Symphony
- Rorem: A specimen case, from War Scenes
- Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4
The 20th century was an eclectic one for classical music. Today’s podcast traces just a few of the many strands.
The piece written first is actually the final one we’ll hear: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. Many of us closely associate Schoenberg with serialism, the formalized system of atonal music composition that he developed with his protégés Berg and Webern. But Verklaerte Nacht embraces dissonance and extended harmonies, and it is luscious and rich music, overtly late-Romantic in language, inspired by a poem about the profound depths of love.
The podcast begins with a piece that comes several decades later, by the American composer Marc Blitzstein. A Philadelphia native, Blitzstein studied locally at the Curtis Institute of Music and then set off for Europe, where he worked briefly with Schoenberg himself. The brief and touching song depicts a young soldier’s note home to his sweetheart, Emily.
After the Blitzstein, we have a piece from the next generation of 20th century American composers: Ned Rorem, who just celebrated his 90th birthday in 2013. Rorem also takes up war as his subject in this, a movement from his cycle War Scenes, based on Whitman poems.Listen
Work for voice and string orchestra by Bach performed by Rebel Baroque Orchestra on November 10, 2013. Work for string orchestra by Bach performed by A Far Cry on December 5, 2013. Work for piano quartet by David Ludwig performed by Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute on March 30, 2014.
- Bach: Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hugel, Aria in A Major from St. John Passion
- Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048
- David Ludwig: Aria Fantasy for Piano Quartet
During the past century, classical music has explored many new and far-flung territories. But it would be a mistake not to recognize the profound influence of earlier music – in particular, that of Bach.
This influence has been felt in many ways. One significant development has been the emergence of historical performance: using centuries-old instruments. The first selection on our podcast, comes from this tradition: the Baroque orchestra Rebel performing an aria from Bach’s St. John Passion, with tenor Rufus Mueller. The historical instruments lend a brightness and transparency that is quite unique.
We’ll then go to a modern performance of an historic work: the chamber orchestra A Far Cry playing Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto. They bring a unique perspective to the music of Bach, playing it on modern instruments.
Finally, we arrive at the most modern work of the bunch: contemporary composer David Ludwig’s Aria Fantasy for Piano Quartet. It takes some careful listening to hear, but the piece is actually based on Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations; you may hear quotes from the various movements creep in throughout the work.Listen
- Haydn: Sonata in C minor, No. 33
- Haydn: String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 1
In the 1770’s and 80’s, Haydn found himself in a situation familiar to many artists: how to balance his day job with his budding career? Granted, Haydn’s day job was musical as well. He was the Kapellmeister, the musical leader, of the Esterházy musical establishment.
But this steady gig came with strings attached: Haydn’s contract prohibited him from accepting commissions from any external source. The piano sonata written in 1771 demonstrates Haydn’s continuing musical growth. It was his very first piano piece to bear the “sonata” title, and it was longer and displayed more serious emotion than many of his earlier works.
In 1779, Haydn renegotiated his contract to allow him to accept outside employment, and things began to change. His Opus 50, number 1 string quartet was among the fruits of this highly creative and productive period. The Opus 50 quartets were commissioned in 1784 by Haydn’s new publisher, though it took him a while to complete them. He finally delivered the manuscript to his publisher in 1787.Listen
Works for solo piano by Beethoven and Schumann performed by Paavali Jumppanen on April 13, 2008 and May 4, 2014.
The pianist Paavali Jumppanen is a longtime Gardner Museum favorite, and this podcast features him performing two piano works that show that opposites attract: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90, and Schumann’s Humoreske in B-Flat Major, Op. 20.
Beethoven considered titling this sonata “Struggle Between Head and Heart,” and there is a feeling of opposing forces throughout much of the first movement, labeled (in German) “With vivaciousness, and continuous sentiment and expressivity.” The music starts powerfully, with bold chords, but this muscular, strong emotion is repeatedly interrupted by gentler motifs in a minor key. At only 13 minutes, the sonata is one of Beethoven’s shorter works, but there is much musical delight packed into this diminutive piece.
We’ll then hear Schumann’s Humoreske, a set of short piano pieces, each about 3 to 5 minutes long, designed to be played together. The piece is likewise a study in extremes. The piece vacillates from joy to melancholy to great tenderness, and sometimes in the space of less than five minutes. In all, the set lasts some 25 minutes. It’ll be preceded by the Beethoven sonata.Listen
- Dvořák: Cypresses for String Quartet B. 152
- Burleigh: A Birthday Song
- Burleigh: Little David Play on Your Harp
- Burleigh: Stan’ Still Jordan
- Burleigh: Steal Away
- Burleigh: O Rocks, Don’t Fall on Me
An advance warning: this podcast program may have you humming all day long. Our program features eminently sing-able works by two composers: Dvorak and Harry Burleigh.
We’ll start with Dvorak’s Cypresses for string quartet, an instrumental piece based on a set of songs the composer wrote as a young man, settings of the poetry of the Moravian writer Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky The poems are steeped in the emotion of young love. Some movements also touch on the deep pain felt when a first love is lost. The string quartet arrangement has 12 brief movements, totaling about 20 minutes. The performance we’ll hear is by Musicians from Marlboro.
Then, we have performers from the New York Festival of Song, offering up a number of short works by the African-American composer and arranger Harry T. Burleigh. In the 1920’s, Burleigh’s songs and arrangements of spirituals were immensely popular recital fare. The selections we’ll hear include both originals, such as the first piece “A Birthday Song,” and arrangements, including “Steal Away” and “Stan’ Still Jordan.” The podcast ends with all three singers—sopranos Julia Bullock & Dina Kuznetsova, and baritone James Martin—performing “O Rocks, Don’t Fall on Me.”Listen
Works for violin and piano by Vitali, Debussy, and Szymanowski performed by Angelo Xiang Yu, violin, and Dina Vainshtein, piano on April 20, 2014.
- Vitali: Chaconne in G Minor for violin and piano
- Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor
- Szymanowski: Nocturne and Tarentella, Op. 28
Today, we’ll introduce a violinist who we think you’ll be hearing much more about: Angelo Xiang Yu. He swept a number of major competitions, winning the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2010. He attended New England Conservatory here in Boston for his undergraduate education and Artist Diploma and, this fall, will continue studying there for his Master’s degree.
For his Gardner Museum recital in April 2014, he brought with him a program that, as we’ll hear today, showcased his breadth and virtuosity.
The Vitali Chaconne has a notable history with virtuoso violinists. In fact, Jascha Heifetz chose this piece as the curtain-raiser for his own American debut, at Carnegie Hall in 1917. But according to modern scholars, it’s quite unlikely that this work was actually written by its supposed Baroque-era author, Tomaso Antonio Vitali, a violinist from Bologna. The piece has a distinctly Romantic flavor for a work that supposedly hails from the early 1700’s.
We’ll hear the Chaconne first, followed by the Debussy Sonata – one of the composer’s final works – and finally the Szymanowki Nocturne and Tarantella, all performed by violinist Xiang Yu and pianist Dina Vainshtein.Listen
- Schumann: Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70
- Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
The pianist Jeremy Denk has a funny, thoughtful, beautifully written blog. On it, he memorably described Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze–the piece we’ll hear him perform on this podcast – as “a meal of German, evocative, romantic, elusive tapas.” A series of musical “small plates.”
Before we dig in to that piece, we’ll enjoy another little morsel of Schumann: the Adagio and Allego for cello and piano, performed by cellist Colin Carr and pianist Thomas Sauer. This piece came out of a tradition called “House Music” – pieces for amateurs to perform in the home. It is an appealing, successful piece; one can easily imagine why amateurs (or any musician, for that matter) would be eager to play it.
Next we’ll move to the collection of 18 short piano pieces known as Davidsbündlertänze, which is one of Jeremy Denk’s personal favorites.
Denk is not alone in his admiration; the piece is widely considered to be among the greatest Romantic piano works, and one of Schumann’s personal “bests”. It is a work of contrasts. The composer begins the score with an old German adage that sets us up for the contrast to come: “In each and every age,” he says, “joy and sorrow are mingled: remain serious in joy, and courageous in sorrow.”Listen
- Beethoven: Variations in E-flat Major, WoO 46 on Mozart's "Bei Mannern welche Liebe fühlen" from The Magic Flute
- Beethoven: Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2
“A great composer doesn’t imitate; he steals.” You may have heard this quote—or some version of it—attributed to Stravinsky, and though the sources are a bit sketchy, it’s one of those lines that has stuck. It’s funny, and surprising—which is surely part of the appeal—but it also has a bit of the ring of truth.
On this podcast, we’ll hear a couple “stolen” tunes as reinvented by Beethoven.
We begin with the variations for cello and piano on Mozart’s aria “Bei Maennern,” from The Magic Flute. The original tune is a charming duet between the opera’s heroine, Pamina, and the comic lead, Papageno, about the blissful rewards of married life. The piece is performed by cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova.
The borrowed tune in the work that follows—Beethoven’s string quartet No. 8 in E Minor, the second of the “Razumovsky” quartets—is a Russian theme, in honor of the count to whom they were dedicated. In this particular quartet, a well-known tune crops up in the third movement, one that was also used by both Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in their works. We’ll hear the Borromeo String Quartet perform the piece.Listen
- Handel (three works): Overture to Agrippina in G Minor HWV 6: Total Eclipse; Your Charms to Ruin: Tune Your Harps; His Mighty Arm
- Haydn: String Quartet No. 43 in G Major, Op. 54, No. 1
Ask a New Yorker what H&H means, and they’re likely to tell you about bagels. But ask a classically inclined Bostonian the same question, and chances are they’ll have a more musical answer: Handel and Haydn, the namesakes of one of our local Baroque orchestras. On today’s program, we’ve got both H’s: vocal music by Handel, and a string quartet by Haydn.
We begin, fittingly, with an overture: Handel’s overture to his opera Agrippina, performed—as are all of our Handel selections on this podcast—by the Baroque orchestra Rebel. Then, they’ll be joined by the English-German tenor Rufus Mueller for a series of arias from Handel Oratorios, including Samson, Esther, and Jeptha.
Then, our second “H”: Haydn’s string quartet No. 43 in G Major, the composer’s Op. 54, No. 1. This piece is almost as much of a solo vehicle as the oratorio arias that come before it. The quartet was written by Haydn for the violinist Johann Tost, and there is a definite emphasis throughout on the first violinist. We’ll hear a performance by Musicians from Marlboro. But first, the Handel.Listen
Works for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry with guest violist Hellen Callus on February 2, 2014.
- Bach: Concerto in E Flat Major for Viola, Strings, and Basso Continuo
- Elgar: Introduction and Allegro, Op, 47
The Elgar, though written as an introduction, will come second on our podcast. Clocking in at about 14 minutes, the piece is a rich work of post-Romantic passion, written for string quartet and string orchestra – a sort of modern concerto grosso. In another nod to earlier styles, Elgar also inserts a devilishly difficult fugue, which comes around the middle of the Allegro, in place of a more conventional development section.
Before the Elgar, we’ll hear Bach’s Viola Concerto in E-flat Major. This is a somewhat curious piece. There’s substantial evidence that Bach did, in fact, write a viola concerto made up of these movements—or ones very much like them—but the manuscript itself was lost. The score we’ll hear performed is actually a reconstruction, assembled by a contemporary musicologist, from three surviving Bach works that are believed to contain fragments of the lost concerto. The performance we’ll hear of this rediscovered and little-known piece features the sought-after violist Helen Callus, whose performance makes a compelling case for this work’s place in the repertory.Listen
Works for solo piano by Mozart performed by Jeremy Denk on January 12, 2014.
- Mozart: Piano sonata No. 15 in F Major K. 533/494
- Mozart: Piano sonata No. 8 in A Minor K. 310
As the The New York Times puts it, “Mr. Denk, clearly, is a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs.” Today, we’ll hear Jeremy Denk play a bit of music from the classical era, two sonatas by Mozart: number 15 in F Major and number 8 in A minor.
The A minor sonata – written when Mozart was just 22 – is one of very few minor-key sonatas by Mozart, and it’s not surprising that he wrote it during a trying time. Mozart had left his job as a court musician in the summer of 1777, and he spent the next year traveling, performing, and trying to find a suitable position. His mother fell ill and passed away in the summer of 1778, right around the same time Mozart was composing the piece. The emotional, even angry tone of this piece is not surprising, given the context. But even within this tumultuous piece, there are moments of lightness, particularly in the second movement.
Before that, we’ll begin the program with the F Major sonata, Mozart’s fifteenth, unique in its transparent, finely wrought contrapuntal textures and its liberal use of dissonant clashes, particularly in the slow movement.Listen
- Ljova: Vjola Suite
- Brahms: Clarinet Trio in A Minor, Op. 114
On our podcast today, we have a pair of musical melting pots: pieces that combine diverse musical influences.
We’ll begin with a performance by A Far Cry of Vjola Suite, a fun contemporary dance suite by a young Brooklyn-based composer and performer who goes by the pen name “Ljova”. This suite was inspired by Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s experiences living and playing in New York City, with its myriad cultures. The piece draws on the folk music of Eastern Europe, West Africa, Cuba, and the Middle East. It is – as the composer puts it – “a collection of lively dances, for which the steps have not yet been choreographed.”
After the suite, we’ll hear some more dances, in Johannes Brahms’ clarinet trio in A Minor, Op. 114. Brahms’s dances aren’t quite so geographically diverse, but they are, in their own way, a melting pot of then-contemporary influences as well. There is a flavor of the gypsy tunes, the refined Viennese waltz, and the more raucous Austrian Ländler, which features a spirited solo for the clarinetist. Performing the Brahms we’ll hear a trio of musicians from the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute.
First, the chamber orchestra A Far Cry performing the Vjola Suite.Listen
Works for solo piano by Schubert and an improvisation by Albright, performed by Charlie Albright, piano on November 17, 2013.
- Schubert: Sonata in C Minor, D. 958
- Albright: Improvisation
Our program today has as its centerpiece Schubert’s final notes – his sonata in C minor, D. 958, one of the last three sonatas he wrote.
Schubert had been suffering from health problems for some time, likely complications of syphilis, but in the fall of 1828 he took a turn for the worse. He moved to his brother’s house outside the city, hoping the fresh air might alleviate his illness. He never recovered, but he also never stopped writing music. He composed up until the very end.
Whether Schubert knew quite how serious his condition was at the time he was writing these sonatas is debatable, but it is tempting to read these final three pieces as a musical reckoning with death. The sonata we’ll hear is the first of the group, and it is perhaps the most emotionally stormy of the bunch.
The pianist in the recording we’ll hear is Charlie Albright, a young musician whose performances we’ve featured previously. After the sonata, we’ll hear some of Charlie’s own music: an improvisation in the style of Schubert recorded at the same recital, in November of 2013.Listen
Work for string orchestra and voice by Handel performed by Rebel Ensemble with Derek Lee Ragin on October 2, 2005. Work for string quartet by Beethoven performed by the Borromeo String Quartet on January 30, 2011.
Loss is a topic that has often been explored in great works of art. Today, we’ll hear a couple of pieces inspired by losses of varying sorts.
First, we have Handel’s aria “Cara sposa” from the opera Rinaldo, performed by counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin and the early-music ensemble Rebel. As the aria begins, Rinaldo’s fiancée has just been abducted by the powerful sorceress Armida. He laments her disappearance and his sorrow and pain is evident in Handel’s writing, which contains moments of wrenching dissonance.
Then, we’ll hear Beethoven’s Ninth String Quartet, in C Major, performed by the Borromeo Quartet. We cannot know exactly what Beethoven was thinking when he wrote this piece but the writer and composer Robert Simpson has suggested that the piece can be viewed as a literal narrative of Beethoven’s coming to terms with his deafness: the tonally unmoored, dissonant opening chords a depiction of deafness itself; the following consonant sections a representation of the discovery that Beethoven could still “hear” music in his head; and the finale a defiant triumph.
First, we’ll hear Handel’s lament, “Cara sposa,” from Rinaldo.Listen
Both of the works on today’s program have literary roots.
We begin with Franz Liszt’s virtuosic Ballade No. 2 in B minor, a piece thought to have been inspired by the German author Gottfried Bürger’s influential poetic ballad Lenore. The piece embodies a similar sense of drama, and the ominous beginning is very much in keeping with the suspenseful emotional climate of the poem. We’ll hear it performed by Martina Filjak, a Croatian pianist.
Next, we’ll hear a piece that was dedicated outright to an important writer: Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite for String Orchestra, opus 40. Grieg had been commissioned to write a work in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ludvig Holberg, one of the most important forefathers of modern Danish and Norweigian literature.
In response, Grieg wrote this piece, subtitled “From Holberg’s Time,” intended as an evocation of the music of the Baroque. Grieg’s piece is modeled on a Baroque keyboard suite and though originally composed for piano, we’ll hear the version that Grieg adapted for strings, performed by A Far Cry.
First, the Liszt Ballade.Listen
- Mozart: Viola Quintet in B-flat No. 1 K. 174
- Mozart: Serenade in G, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, KV. 525
“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is probably Mozart’s most famous composition– and arguably one of the most famous pieces of classical music today. The phrase does translate literally as “A Little Night Music,” but in Mozart’s day, the word “nachtmusik” was a fairly common musical description, often substituted for the more familiar “Serenade.” Indeed, the piece most of us know as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is more properly known as the Serenade in G, K. 525.
This work is inherently appealing and supremely fun to listen to. We’ll hear it played by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber orchestra in residence.
Beforehand, we’ll hear another lovely little ditty of Mozart’s, the first viola quintet, in B-flat, performed by the Orion String Quartet and guest violist, Ida Kavafian. This string quintet is often referred to as a “viola quintet” because the violist is the “special guest”. It was a somewhat unconventional choice (other composers more often added an extra cello, rather than a viola) but Mozart returned to this quintet configuration several more times.
We’ll hear the quintet first, followed by that very famous serenade.Listen
- Tchaikovsky: Nocturne
- Tchaikovsky: Pezzo Capriccioso
- Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48
On today’s podcast, we’ll have the lovely experience of being serenaded by Tchaikovsky for the next 40 minutes or so.
The star of the program is the piece you were perhaps already expecting, given that introduction: Tchaikovsky’s beautiful and beloved Serenade for Strings in C Major, as performed by A Far Cry, a young, conductor-less ensemble based in Boston.
The heart-on-your-sleeve passion shines through in nearly every note of the piece, which contains luscious harmony, tender melodies, and spirited passage work. The chorale-like theme introduced at the very beginning of the piece returns time and time again, lending the piece a sense of groundedness, and making for an incredibly satisfying conclusion, when the theme returns for one final time.
We’ll have a couple brief musical appetizers before we dig into the Serenade, two works for cello and piano: Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne and his Pezzo Capriccioso. The Nocturne has a beautiful, singing melody and the “Capricious Piece” (as the Italian translates) changes mood on a dime, from dark drama to rising melody. We’ll hear both of these brief pieces as performed by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera.Listen
- Schubert: Impromptus, D. 935, Op. 142
- No. 1 in F Minor
- No. 2 in A-flat Major
- No. 3 in B-flat Major
- No. 4 in F Minor
With a title like “Impromptus,” one expects this set of four piano pieces by Schubert to be a bit spontaneous. But anyone expecting a Keith Jarret-like improvisation will be surprised to discover how structured and planned these “Impromptus” feel.
Indeed, there was some disagreement, after the fact, about the justification for the title “Impromptus.” Robert Schumann – a friend of Schubert’s – apparently maintained that the piece was really a four-movement sonata in disguise, broken up and named by Schubert’s publisher in an effort to encourage more sales.
The four Impromptus are varied in character and structure, but each does seem to create a particular mood or emotional landscape, and then explores that landscape, whether through the straightforward theme-and-variations structure of the third impromptu or the more structured, sonata-like form of the first impromptu. And in this way, at least, it’s perhaps not so far off from the idea of improvisation.
We’ll hear these works performed by Charlie Albright, a talented young pianist who recently graduated from New England Conservatory and Harvard’s joint degree program and is now earning his Artist Diploma at Juilliard.Listen
- Dvořák: Gypsy Songs, Op. 55
- Dvořák: String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 77
For our 185th podcast program, we’ll hear from Antonin Dvořák, focusing on two of his chamber works.
We begin with Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs, opus 55. The cycle of seven songs is based on Czech poetry by Adolf Heyduk about the lives of Slovakian gypsies. But Dvořák chose to premiere and publish the songs in a German translation of the original text. The cycle was fairly successful; in particular, the song at the heart of the cycle—the fourth of seven—has become one of his best-known, usually translated in English as “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Throughout, the songs are both lyrical and spirited, combining the flavor of gypsy music with the sophistication of Western art song.
After the songs, we’ll turn to Dvořák’s second string quintet, opus 77. Written in 1874, the string quintet is among Dvořák’s earliest mature works. At the time of its composition, he had been working in relative anonymity in Prague. The music itself, though, reveals a composer already in possession of a unique and self-assured voice, with a gift for melody and a wonderful knack for writing spirited, dance-infused passages.Listen
- Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73
- Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9
Robert Schumann was really the quintessential Romantic composer—with a capital ‘R’. Not content to write music that was focused on formal brilliance or technical sophistication, he wanted his work to capture and convey emotion, to unify music with other art forms—especially the written word. In many ways, he wanted his music to tell a story.
But his stories were rarely simple. His favorite plots often involved fictional characters or archetypes, but most frequently two somewhat abstract characters of his own invention: Florestan and Eusebius. They were his alter egos, depictions of two different aspects of his own self: Florestan, the passionate, extroverted side, and Eusebius, the reflective, introverted side. We’ll hear from both today when we listed to Schumann’s opus 9, Carnaval for solo piano, in which he depicts not only Florestan and Eusebius but also a gaggle of literary and real-life personalities.
Before we dive into that somewhat unruly work, we’ll listen to something a bit more straightforward, also by Schumann: his Fantasiestucke, opus 73. You’ll hear this performance by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. The piece is lyrical and fairly brief, at about 10 minutes—a good foil for the carnival to follow.Listen
Works for piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen.
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 12, Op. 26 "Funeral March"
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a "Das Lebewohl"
On today’s podcast, we’ll hear Beethoven’s two most famous “farewells” for solo piano: his 12th and 26th piano sonatas, nicknamed the “funeral march” and “lebewohl” sonatas, respectively.
First is the earlier sonata, Beethoven’s 12th piano sonata, opus 26, often called the “Funeral March” sonata because of its dirge-like third movement. By placing the slow movement third, Beethoven flips the traditional sonata structure a bit on its head. Typically, the piano sonatas of Beethoven’s era began when an upbeat movement is placed third rather than second, and in this spot it provides a sort of springboard for the finale, which seems all the more dazzling because of its proximity to the funeral march.
Next we hear Beethoven’s 26th piano sonata, often called “Das Lebewohl,” or—in French—“Les Adieux.” There is some disagreement as to the authenticity of the subtitles given to the three movements of this sonata, which translate into English as “The Farewell,” “The Absence,” and “The Return.” The descriptive titles stuck, though, authentic or not, probably because they seem such a good fit for the music.Listen
Work for solo piano performed by Cecile Licad:
- Liszt: Années de pèlerinage, Premiere année: Suisse, S. 160
I hope you’re ready for a journey.
This week, we’re packing up and accompanying Franz Liszt on a journey through Switzerland—in the form of the first part of his massive piano suite Années de pèlerinage or “Years of Pilgrimage.” Year One, “Switzerland,” will comprise the entirety of our podcast, running a bit more than 45 minutes in its entirety.
The work is an undeniable product of the Romantic era, a sort of musical “bildungsroman”—a coming-of-age journey—inspired by the composer’s own, real-life travels.
The movement titles are evocative: The Chapel of William Tell, At Lake Wallenstadt, Pastorale, Beside a Spring, Storm, Obermann’s Valley, Eclogue (a type of bucolic poem), Homesickness, and, finally, The Bells of Geneva.
Each movement begins a few lines of poetry. The passage that precedes the final movement perhaps sums it up best. Liszt writes, quoting the narrative poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “I live not in myself,” “but I become / Portion of that around me.”
We’ll hear this monumental work played by pianist Cecile Licad.Listen
Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.
This week, we’ll hear two crowning achievements by two great composers: piano trios by Mozart and Mendelssohn.
Mozart’s fourth piano trio, K. 542 was written about three years before the composer’s death, in the middle of an especially rough period. He managed to write, in that same year, his final three incredible symphonies and his last three piano trios; this trio was the first of the group.
However musically brilliant, this trio was an imperfect fit for the classical music market at the time, which desired chamber pieces that could be easily picked up and performed off-the-cuff by amateurs as after-dinner entertainment. This piece was not really intended for that sort of casual sight-reading.
Next, we’ll hear Mendelssohn’s second piano trio, in C minor. This trio, like Mozart’s, was written near the end of Mendelssohn’s life, one of his final chamber works. By turns dramatic and tuneful, the piece ends with a rousing finale that is always sure to bring audiences to their feet.
The double-bill we’re hearing today was recorded live at a September 2012 recital by the Claremont Trio.Listen
Today’s program focuses on two pieces that use small forms to create rich, vivid scenes: J.S. Bach’s first suite for solo cello, and Robert Schumann’s Carnival Scenes from Vienna.
We begin with cellist Colin Carr—a Gardner Museum regular—performing Bach’s first solo cello suite, the prelude of which is arguably the best-known solo string piece Bach ever wrote. While the pieces do make use, from time to time, of chordal harmonies (in the form of double- and triple-stops), much of the harmony is implied, suggested by the shape of the players’ solo lines.
Schumann’s scenes are a bit more literal: his piece, typically translated in English as “Carnival Scenes from Vienna,” was inspired by the sights and sounds of a trip to Vienna during Carnival season. Schumann’s scenes are more of an evocation of the festive spirit that pervaded Vienna during the season than a literal depiction of Carnival. We’ll hear these “scenes” as depicted by pianist Martina Filjak in a 2012 recital.Listen
Works for voice and piano and string quartet by New York Festival of Song: James Martin, baritone and Michael Barrett, piano, sopranos Dina Kuznetsova and Julia Bullock, and Michael Barrett, piano; and Borromeo String Quartet:
- Dvořák: Bože! Bože! Píseň novou, from Biblical Songs No. 5, Při řekách babylonských, from Biblical Songs, No. 7, Zpívejte Hospodinu píseň novou, from Biblical Songs, No. 10
- Dvořák: A já ti uplynu, from Moravian Duets, Op. 32, No. 1
- Dvořák: String Quartet no. 14 in A-flat Major, Op. 105
We’ve heard fairly regularly from Antonin Dvořák on the podcast, but today’s program offers a unique opportunity to hear works from both the beginning and the end of his fruitful career as a composer.
First, there will be excerpts featuring the baritone James Martin, all taken from Dvořák’s Biblical Songs. These were the composer’s final set of songs, though he would go on to write operas and choral music.
Situated right in the middle of the program we have the first of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets for female voices. These duets, written fairly early in the composer’s career, were Dvořák’s entry ticket into European musical society. The duets became Dvořák’s first international publication and truly launched his career in Europe.
The duet we’ll hear is sometimes translated as “The Fugitive.” It is a playful text, telling the tale of two lovers engaged in a fanciful pursuit in which they transform from fish to doves to stars, chasing each other through the sea, sky, and heavens. We’ll hear the duet performed by sopranos Dina Kuznetsova and Julia Bullock, who appeared at the museum with the New York Festival of Song.
Then we have Dvořák’s last string quartet, number 14 in A-flat Major, and by broad consensus one of his greatest. In this work, Dvořák was able to bring together his flair for lively, Bohemian dance music, which animates the quartet’s second movement, with his sophisticated craftsmanship and gift for melody. We’ll hear the piece as performed at the museum by the Borromeo String Quartet back in 2006.Listen
On today’s podcast, we’ll take a turn for the poetic, with two selections for cello and piano by French composers.
We’ll begin with Fauré’s beloved Elegie, a bittersweet, rhapsodic work. The piece is just seven minutes long, but it makes a big impression with its dramatic arching form—building from a haunting beginning to a passionate climax that all but dissolves into a beguiling ending.
After that little teaser, we’ll hear another incredibly evocative work: Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major, performed in a transcription for cello by the same artists who played the first work: cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. The Gold Medalist in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, Narek was mentored by the late, great Rostropovich, and recently received his Artist Diploma studying at Boston’s own New England Conservatory, just down the street from the Museum.
This version of the Franck violin sonata, arranged for cello, is just one of the many versions that have proliferated—including arrangements for flute, saxophone, tuba, and even choir—but it is the only one that the composer himself approved. Like the Elegie, this sonata is just full of poetic little moments of great delicacy and beauty.Listen
This week, we’ll hear a pair of string quartets—one from the father of the genre, and the other from a relative newcomer.
We begin with Papa Haydn, the author of nearly 70 string quartets, and—by broad consensus—the father of the form. Haydn’s quartets are as varied as they are numerous.
The selection we’ll hear today is Haydn’s 22nd string quartet, opus 17, number 5. The piece plays for 17 minutes, beginning cheerful and sunny, passing through a cloudy patch, and emerging—in the finale—in a blaze of joy. Performing it are players from Musicians from Marlboro.
Then we’ll move to 21st century quartet writer: composer Fred Lerdahl, performed by the Daedalus Quartet. The germ of the idea that fueled the three Lerdahl quartets is the chord heard at the very beginning of this first quartet. It flashes by in about a second, but within that chord lies the source of all the ideas that Lerdahl develops throughout the entire twenty-plus minute work, through a technique he calls “expanding variations.”
One hears flickers of the chord throughout the piece, but the form is less a literal “theme and variations” than an organic expansion; from that brief chord, the ensuing variations expand, each one and half times the length of the preceding one.
We start with the seed of the quartet genre itself: Haydn.Listen
Works for violin and piano by Benjamin Beilman, violin and Yekwon Sunwoo, piano and wind quintet by Stephen Taylor, oboe; David Shifrin, clarinet; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; William Purvis, horn; and Gilles Vonsattel, piano.
- Mozart: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major
- Mozart: Quintet in E-Flat Major
It’s a curious thing: today, when there is a piano part in chamber music, we tend to think of it as the “accompaniment” to whatever instrument or voice it is paired with. But that was certainly not the case in Mozart’s time, as we’ll hear in the two pieces on today’s podcast.
We start with Mozart’s 19th Sonata for piano and violin, in E-flat major. The sonata was published in 1778, when Mozart was 22, as part of a set of six sonatas.
These sonatas were actually rather progressive for their time. In the 18th century, it was the norm for the piano to dominate in settings for keyboard and other instruments—sonatas were for “piano and violin,” not the other way around. But in this set Mozart made an effort to treat the instruments more as equals, giving both players a crack at the main themes. Performing the piece, we’ll hear pianist Yē kwon Sunwoo and violinist Benjamin Beilman.
In the second work on the program—Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds—often feels like a miniature concerto, with the piano taking the starring role and the wind instruments providing backup. The recording features Gilles Vonsattel on piano with Stephen Taylor on oboe; David Shifrin on clarinet; Peter Kolkay on bassoon; and William Purvis on the French horn. Mozart himself premiered the piece in 1784 and called it, in an oft-quoted letter to his father Leopold, “the best thing I have written in my life.”
Mozart was not alone in finding it an especially fetching piece. About a dozen years later another quintet appeared on the scene in Vienna, scored for the same instruments, by a young admirer: Ludwig van Beethoven. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.Listen
Songs for voice and keyboard by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Christopher Cano, piano:
- De Falla: Siete Canciones populares Españolas: El Paño Moruno, Seguidilla Murciana Asturiana, Jota, Nana, Canción, Polo
- Liszt: Pace non trovo, Der du von dem Himmel bist, Oh! Quand je dors
Today, we'll take a little trip around the world in song, hearing Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas and three songs by Franz Liszt. All the recordings we'll hear today were taken from a recital last year by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and pianist Christopher Cano. (And to answer the question you're probably all asking yourselves right now, yes, the two are husband and wife.)
We'll begin with the de Falla set, a delightful and varied collection of Spanish folksongs that is quite possibly the single most popular piece of classical Spanish vocal repertoire out there. The songs vary, from lovelorn laments to intimate lullabies to spirited dances, but all share an incredibly sensitive and evocative approach to the piano accompaniment—creating a sense of place and mood, while putting the traditional tunes front and center.
Next, we'll hear a selection of three songs by Franz Liszt, the composer and virtuoso pianist. Liszt's songs are less familiar than his piano music, but he wrote a good many of them: about six-dozen in all. As a song composer, Liszt was a bit of a chameleon. His accompaniments were often dense and complex—likely owing to his own experience and skill as a pianist—and he experimented with many different types of poetry, as you'll hear from today's selections.Listen
Songs by Antoine Tamestit and Ying-Chien Lin, and Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute:
- Clarke: Sonata for Viola and Piano (1919)
- Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor
This week, we’ll hear two works by young composers who benefited mightily from various efforts to support the creation of new chamber music—one in 20th-century Massachusetts, and the other in 19th-century France.
First up is the Sonata for Viola and Piano by Rebecca Clarke, a name that is likely new to many of us. She was an accomplished violist, and after leaving home in 1910, she supported herself by performing throughout England, the British colonies, and the US.
In 1919, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge—an influential patron of contemporary chamber music—invited Clarke to enter a composition competition she sponsored each year through the Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music. A work by Ernest Bloch won, but Clarke’s viola sonata went on to earn an enduring place in the viola repertoire. Clarke, alas, wrote relatively few works over the course of her career; in total, about 100 works survive, and of those only 20 were ever published. Looking back, Clarke called the viola sonata “my one little whiff of success.” We’ll hear it performed by violist Antoine Tamestit and pianist Ying-Chien Lin.
Next, we’ll hear a chamber work from a more familiar source: Gabriel Fauré. The composer himself premiered the work with the National Music Society—an organization dedicated to the presentation of new chamber music, founded by Saint-Saëns in 1871. The founding of the society brought new opportunities for the performance of instrumental chamber music, and with it the impetus to compose such works. On today’s podcast, we’ll hear it performed by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute. We begin, however, with Rebecca Clarke’s viola sonata.Listen
Songs for voice and keyboard and string quartet by Dina Kuznetsova and Michael Barrett, and the Borromeo String Quartet:
- Dvořák: 3 Songs: Ó, duše drahá, jedinká (“Oh Dear Soul, the Only One”) from Love Songs, Op. 83; Dobrú noc, má milá ("Goodnight, my Dear, Goodnight”) and Ej, mám já koňa faku ("Hey, I have a Powerful Horse that Bears Me Well”), both from In Folk Style, Op. 73
- Dvořák: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96 ("American")
The centerpiece of today’s program is probably the only chamber work of Dvořák’s that most classical music lovers recognize immediately: his twelfth string quartet, known as the “American” quartet.
Dvořák was smitten with the country’s traditional music, African-American spirituals and Native American songs in particular. They shared one important attribute: the pentatonic scale that tugs at the heartstrings, and is the backbone of many old American tunes. Dvořák’s “American” quartet makes use of the scale as well as the rhythms of American music.
We’ll hear a few “love letters” to the folk music of Dvořák’s native land: a group of three Czech songs. The first song is a devoted outpouring of affection. In the second song, the protagonist wishes his beloved a night of sweet dreams. Third, we get a story of love gone wrong. In the song, translated as “I have a powerful horse,” the narrator’s initial exaltation of the things he has quickly turns to a reminiscence of the things he doesn’t--most importantly, the sweetheart who has left him.Listen
- Schubert: Nachtstück D. 672B; Wanderers Nachtlied, D. 768
- Schubert: Sonata No. 17 in D Major D 850
On today’s podcast, we’ll hear three Schubert works with connections to the mountains.
The meat of our program is the composer’s 17th piano sonata, in D Major, written during a sojourn in the Austrian town of Gastein with singer Michael Vogl. One outcome was this sonata, which was the composer’s 17th but would become only his second to be published. It is a charming piece--far more work for the performer, who must make it through a few speedy movements, than it is for the listener, who can merely sit back and enjoy Schubert’s gift for melody and his way with harmony.
We’ll set the tone a bit with two Schubert songs, each of which alludes to mountainous surroundings. First we’ll hear Nachtstück the German word for “Nocturne,” a setting of a Mayrhofer poem. The first stanza sets the scene, with mist pouring over the mountaintops and an old man playing his harp in the wilderness.
We’ll hear Musicians from Marlboro, John Moore, baritone andAnna Polonsky, piano performing the songs beginning with Nachtstück, followed by pianist Benjamin Hochman, with the sonata.Listen
Songs for piano duo by Christina and Michelle Naughton:
- Mendelssohn: Andante and Variations, Op. 83 in B-flat Major
- Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Op. 56b
What kind of theme lends itself best to variation?
It’s a question worth asking yourself today, as we hear two pieces that take the form of theme and variations: Mendelssohn’s Andante and Variations, opus 83, and Brahms’s “St. Anthony Variations,” both pieces written for a pair of pianists, in the former case playing one instrument, in the latter, two.
The similarities between the two composers’ chosen themes are quite striking. Both use a chorale-like theme--largely homophonic, with chords beneath a single, clear melody. As a listener it means that, even after just one hearing, you’ve got a pretty good grasp of the tune you’re about to hear turned on its head--enough to be able to follow the journey the composers are about to take us on.
Performing on today’s podcast, we’ll hear a duo that is perhaps more perfectly paired than most: pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, 24-year-old identical twins from Madison, Wisconsin. Graduates of the Curtis Institute, the two perform duo piano repertoire together worldwide.Listen
- Bartók: Romanian Folk Songs BB 68 Arr. for String Quartet
- Bartók: String Quartet No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 7
When Bartók composed his first string quartet, in 1909, the idea of Hungarian folk music had already found its way into the musical consciousness of Western Europe. Liszt had his Hungarian Rhapsodies, Brahms his Hungarian Dances--written in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s, several decades before Bartók was even born.
While studying in Budapest at the Royal Academy of Music, Bartók had befriended a fellow pupil, Zoltan Kodály. In 1908, the two decided to travel beyond the cafes of downtown Budapest, deep into the countryside, to hear what they could hear.
It was early the following year that Bartók completed his first string quartet, and it can easily be read as a sort of musical dramatization of his path. We’ll hear the piece played by Gardner Museum regulars the Borromeo String Quartet.
We have a recording by the chamber ensemble A Far Cry of another of Bartók's folk-inspired works: his Romanian Folk Dances, arranged for string quartet. Originally written for piano, the brief piece is a set of six songs, all arrangements of folk tunes.Listen
Song for voice and keyboard by Randall Scarlata and Benjamin Hochman.
- Schubert: Schwanengesang (Swan Song)
If you had to pick one word to describe the sentiment of Schubert’s final song cycle, Schwanengesang (meaning Swan Song), it would have to be sehnsucht. Sehnsucht is one of those wonderful German words, simultaneously quite literal and entirely impossible to translate. It combines the German words for “longing” and “addiction”; it means something like “yearning,” with a healthy dash of “nostalgia”.
And so, Schubert creates these songs, which capture--in beautiful, perfect miniature--both the intensity of young love and the profound disappointment that only one whose heart has been broken can grasp. Both have that sense of longing, for the thing one has not yet enjoyed and for that which has slipped away.
Taken together, the set of 14 songs offers a good overview of Schubert’s palette, venturing from light and hopelessly optimistic to deep and world-weary. We’ll hear them as performed at the Museum’s Calderwood Hall in February 2013, by baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Benjamin Hochman.Listen
- Dvořák: "Goin' Home"
- Dvořák: String Quartet in E-Flat Major, No. 10, Op. 51
Many of us have heard the narrative of “Dvorak: the champion of Czech folk music.” And in a way it’s true: he did popularize Czech--and more broadly, Slavic--folk music, combining it with Western classical forms in a way that made it accessible and appealing to a broad European audience. But, as with so many artists, he was constantly fighting against the very “box” he had created for himself.
The string quartet we’ll hear on today’s program--Dvorak’s 10th--was, perhaps, a halfway point. In it, Dvorak at times drifts fairly far afield from the well-worn terrain of the “Slavonic Dances.” Indeed, the third movement of the quartet could be mistaken for the work of one of Dvorak’s German contemporaries. But at other times--the second-movement “dumka,” for example--Dvorak was clearly playing to the crowd, and giving them what they expected of a composer who was, at the time, still a bit pigeonholed.
We’ll begin with a recording of “Goin’ Home” by the New York Festival of Song, and continue with the complete string quartet in E-Flat Major, performed by the Borromeo String Quartet.Listen
- Mendelssohn: Song without Words, Op. 109
- Mendelssohn: Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20
By most accounts, Felix Mendelssohn had a rather charmed childhood. Compared to other child prodigies of the classical and Romantic eras--Mozart, of course, springs to mind--Mendelssohn had a fairly easy time of it. His parents were encouraging and supportive without being overbearing.
But some unhappiness surely lurked below the surface. For one thing, his sister Fanny, with whom he grew up playing and studying music, was at a certain point forbidden from progressing further as a serious composer, and Felix was at least as involved in the decision to hold her back as her parents. For another, though he was born Jewish, his parents hid his identity, baptizing him into the Lutheran church, and even changing his name.
He wrote his octet in E-flat Major, the second work on today’s podcast, when he was just 16; the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream came about a year later. We’ll hear it performed by the combined Borromeo and Jupiter String Quartets. By the time he wrote the Song without Words for cello and piano, opus 109, Mendelssohn had reached the advanced age of 36. We’ll begin with the Song with Words, played by cellist Colin Carr and pianist Thomas Sauer.Listen
- Gabriela Frank: Folk Songs for Piano Trio
- Ernő Dohnányi: Serenade Op. 10 (String Trio)
We are all, in one way or another, a product of the culture into which we are born. This week’s podcast features music by two composers who built on those roots.
We’ll begin with a recording of the Claremont Trio performing a new work, a piece commissioned for the opening season at the Gardner’s new Calderwood Hall. Simply titled "Folk Songs for Piano Trio", the piece was written by Gabriela Lena Frank. Born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank is deeply interested in identity and culture. In this piece, she was especially inspired by her mother’s Peruvian heritage; the composer describes it as “a series of snapshots of Andean life.” It’s a wonderfully imaginative, engaging work, and one that the Claremont Trio--for whom it was written---will no doubt long enjoy playing.
Next, we have another trio, this one Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio, performed by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Dohnanyi was vitally important to musical life in his native Hungary, sand in this string trio, it is easy to detect the distinct influence of Hungarian folk music, particularly in the first and final movements.
Before our trip to Hungary, though, we’ll begin in the Andes, with Frank’s "Folk Songs for Piano Trio."Listen
Songs for violin and piano by Benjamin Beilman and Yekwon Sunwoo.
- Richard Strauss: Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 18
- Chris Rogerson: Once for Violin and Piano (2011)
This week, we turn our attention to two performers, and two composers, whose music-making exhibits a sort of wisdom beyond their years. The recordings are both taken from a recital presented last spring at the museum featuring violinist Benjamin Beilman and his Curtis classmate Yekwon Sunwoo.
Both of the pieces we’ll hear were themselves the product of youthful composers’ imaginations. We’ll start with Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E-flat Major. Written when Strauss was just 23-years-old, the piece is widely agreed to have been the work of a young man in the throes of first love; he had recently met the woman who would later become his wife, Pauline.
Next, we’ll hear another piece by a 23-year-old: Chris Rogerson’s Once. Rogerson was both a classmate of Beilman’s at Curtis and a fellow member of the Young Concert Artists roster. This piece, as Beilman told audiences at the performance at the Gardner, was conceived during the composer’s residency at the famous MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire.Listen
- Beethoven: 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C Minor
- Beethoven: Quartet No. 10 in E-Flat Major, Op. 74
The ability to create brilliant, complex, sprawling symphonies out of a small musical ideas--essentially, the art of variation--is probably Beethoven’s greatest achievement. In today’s podcast, we’ll listen to two of Beethoven’s more straightforward variations--one, his set of 32 variations on an original theme in C minor, for piano, and the other a part of a string quartet, his 10th.
We’ll start with the piano work, played by Seymour Lipkin. The source material here exhibits Beethoven’s extraordinary economy: it’s just 8 bars, a chord progression in the bass with a little flourish of melody in the treble. After that, we’ll settle into Beethoven’s more generously proportioned string quartet number 10, Op. 74, sometimes called the “Harp” quartet. The nickname, like most of Beethoven’s, was bestowed by the publisher, an allusion to the plucked arpeggios in the first movement that sound a bit like the strumming of a harp. We’re interested in variation, though, and for that, we’ll focus on the final movement, marked allegretto con variazione, or quickly, with variations. We’ll hear the piece as performed by the Borromeo Quartet.
First, the lightning-fast 32 variations in C minor.Listen
- Brahms: Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67
- Lerdahl: Quartet No. 3
We’ll begin the podcast with Brahms’ third string quartet, performed by the Borroemo Quartet. This quartet, Brahms’ opus 67, came some two years after the first two quartets, which were published as opus 51. Brahms himself remarked—with some humor—on the difficulty he faced in writing his first two string quartets, a process he described as a “forceps delivery.” The pieces went through extensive revisions, taking at least four or five years to reach their final form, perhaps even longer. The third quartet, by contrast, seemingly flowed from his pen; it came together in four short months, between August and November of 1875. The piece has a sort of ease about it that one can’t help but attribute to Brahms’ growing comfort with the form—an airy, carefree quality.
Next, we’ll hear another string quartet—in fact, another third string quartet—this one by contemporary composer Fred Lerdahl. And this piece had an even longer gestation than the Brahms. We’ll hear Lerdahl’s Third String Quartet as it was recorded in a Composer Portrait this past October, at which the Daedalus Quartet—for whom the piece was written—played all three of Lerdahl’s quartets in sequence, culminating with this one. We begin our program with the Brahms.Listen
Work for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.
- Schumann: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63
It's no surprise that one of Robert Schumann's great strengths as a composer was his lieder, or songs for voice and piano. Another early love was literature; he read many of the great German poets and philosophers and he wrote about music extensively, even founding a music journal called the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.
We'll hear Schumann's first piano trio, in D minor, performed by the Claremont Trio. Though Schumann gives no intimation that he intended the piece to have any sort of story, or program, it's hard to ignore the qualities it shares with his other, more explicitly programmatic music: rapidly shifting moods, with episodes of great passion and intensity alternating with moments of light, shimmering character.Listen
- Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI: 50
- Haydn: String Quartet in E-Flat Major Op. 64, No. 6
Joseph Haydn had a pretty comfortable life for a musician. He had his first appointment with a Bohemian nobleman at the age of 27, and from then on, he enjoyed a fairly quick ascension to the post of Kappellmeister in one of the richest courts in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed both Austria and Hungary: the Esterhazy family.
But a unique opportunity presented itself after the death of Prince Nikolaus, the second Esterhazy prince for whom Haydn had worked. Haydn received an invitation to go to London and present his work for an entirely new audience. It was an exciting turn of events for a composer that had spent many years rather isolated in the country, and Haydn accepted.
The second piece we’ll hear on today’s podcast, Haydn’s String Quartet No. 52 was written just before that first big trip to London, when Haydn surely would have been busily working up a repertory of work to bring with him on his trip. His first trip was a triumph, and Haydn returned to London a few years later, in 1794, for his second (and last) visit. And the piece we’ll hear first on our program today, before the quartet, dates from that latter visit. We’ll begin with that piano sonata, performed in our recording by the young pianist George Li, an incredibly accomplished teenager studying in Boston at the Walnut Hill School and New England Conservatory. Then, we’ll move on to the quartet, played by Musicians from Marlboro.Listen
Works for string and keyboard and chamber orchestra performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
- Mozart: Violin Sonata in B-Flat Major, K 454
- Mozart: Concerto No. 14 for Piano and Orchestra in E-Flat Major
Many would agree that Mozart is, as a composer, in a class of his own. And so when scholar after scholar and critic after critic calls out a particular work as one of Mozart’s best, it is sure to be quite an extraordinary piece of music. We find ourselves today in the very fortunate position of hearing two such works: Mozart’s 32nd violin sonata, in B-flat Major and his 14th piano concerto, in E-flat Major, both played with great style and panache by the musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Mozart’s Sonata for Violin & Piano no. 32, K. 454, is first on the program, and it is an absolutely exquisite specimen of the genre. The piece is a true partnership of equals—unique among Mozart’s work to date in that respect.
Next comes the Piano Concerto. Written in the same year as the violin sonata we have just heard, the 14th piano concerto was written when Mozart was unanimously regarded as the top pianist in town. It was written for his student, Barbara Ployer, and if the piece is any indication, she must have been a very promising pupil. The piano part is quite virtuosic.Listen
Works for piano and viola performed by violist Beth Guterman , Matan Porat, and Jonathan Biss.
- Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano in F Major, Op. 11 No. 4
- Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16
On this week’s podcast we’ll have several studies in contrast. Written some 80 years apart, the two works on this program date from very different times: a Paul Hindemith sonata from the early 20th century, written in the shadow of World War I, and a Robert Schumann piano piece composed in the heart of the Romantic era. But the idea of contrast is more intrinsic than that: both pieces are exploration of contrast in music.
We start with Hindemith’s rather brief Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 11, Number 4, performed by violist Beth Guterman and pianist Matan Porat. A fairly early work, the sonata was written when Hindemith was still exploring and finding his unique compositional voice, and this particular piece—structured as, essentially, a three-movement exploration of the theme and variations style—gave him ample opportunity to experiment. After the Hindemith, we’ll hear Schumann’s piano cycle Kreisleriana, played by pianist Jonathan Biss. Written in eight movements, the piece is based on the fictional character Johannes Kreisler, from the works of author E. T. A. Hoffman.
So, get ready for quite the musical roller coaster. We begin with the Hindemith sonata, followed by Kreisleriana.Listen
Works for piano trio performed the Claremont Trio.
- Sean Shepherd: Trio
- Anton Arensky: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 32
The Claremont Trio are longtime favorites at the Gardner Museum, and so it seemed fitting that they were part of the opening series at the Museum’s new Calderwood Hall almost exactly a year ago: on January 22, 2012. Their program featured another debut, too: the world premiere of the young composer Sean Shepherd’s Trio for piano trio, written especially for the Claremont Trio. Shepherd says he was inspired by the architecture of the new hall as he wrote the piece: “I was taken with the unusual shape of the hall, a vertical cube with three wrapping balcony levels hovering nearly directly over a square stage,” he writes.
Shepherd’s work is followed on the program by an early recording of the Claremont Trio in the Gardner’s former concert hall, the Museum’s Tapestry Room. We’ll hear their rendition of Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio, a well-loved piece by a little-known composer. The trio has been heard before on the Gardner podcast—in episode 44—but it bears repeating.
We’ll start with Sean Shepherd’s 2012 trio before journeying back in time to Arensky’s, from 1894.Listen
Today’s podcast of music by Handel and Haydn is a real breath of fresh air, a virtual, auditory holiday, the perfect thing to cure the winter doldrums.
We start with Handel’s Concerto Grosso in A Major, the 11th of his opus six set of a dozen concerti grossi. We’ll hear it as performed by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber-orchestra-in-residence.
True to the concerto grosso style, the piece alternates between solos, duos, or quartets (the “concertino” group) and full orchestra sections (the “ripieno”).This concerto was likely the last of the 12 in the set to be composed. After Handel’s delightful concerto, we’ll turn to Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4. Haydn’s Op. 20 was a set of six string quartets, the group that, many scholars agree, firmly established Haydn as the “father of the string quartet.” The last two movements of the fourth quartet, the one we’ll hear today, have a hefty dose of folk influence, featuring “gypsy style” syncopated rhythms and scales.
We’ll hear the Belcea Quartet’s rendition of this quartet. First, the pastoral-sounding concerto grosso of Handel.Listen
- Tchaikovsky, Melodie, Op. 42, No. 3
- Stravinsky, Rite of Spring for 2 Pianos, 4 Hands
Most of us know the story of the premiere of the Rite of Spring--the provocative, primitive dance; the outraged crowd; the din so loud the dancers could scarcely hear the music to keep time. The lesser-known story is: what happened next? How did the piece go from having one of the most infamous (some would say disastrous) of premieres ever to becoming a beloved warhorse of the orchestral repertory?
For those first several years, there was no orchestral score available; it wasn’t published until 1921. There was, however, a reduction penned by Stravinsky himself for piano four-hands. Aside from the score’s historical significance, the piano version is an interesting listen because of this stripped-down aesthetic--an effect some have described as a “black and white” depiction, as compared to the orchestral Technicolor of the full version.
In today’s podcast, we’ll hear the Rite performed by pianists Jeremy Denk and Jonathan Biss, who together manage to evoke an orchestra of 100-plus players with just two pianos and four hands.
Before that, we’ll have a brief little musical appetizer: Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous Melodie in E-flat Major from Souvenir d’un lieu cher. Originally written for violin and piano, we’ll hear it in a version for cello, played by cellist Narek Hakhanzarayan and pianist Noreen Polera.Listen
Works for cello and piano performed by cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova.
- Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2
- Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1
On today’s podcast, we’ll hear not just Beethoven’s first cello sonatas, but indeed (it is widely agreed) the very first cello sonatas ever written.
Beethoven’s first and second sonatas for cello and piano constitute his opus 5, an early work. We’ll hear the sonatas in reverse order: starting with the second, and concluding with the first. The two were written and premiered right around the same time, so the distinction is somewhat arbitrary; both very much inhabit the same musical universe.
Beethoven himself was at the piano for the premiere of the piece at the royal court in Berlin in 1796. The sonatas were dedicated to King Friedrich II, an enthusiastic amateur cellist for whom Mozart and Haydn has also written quartets. Still, Beethoven clearly gives the piano pride of place in these sonatas. When he premiered the pieces, he would have very much wanted to impress the court as not only a gifted composer but also as a virtuosic pianist. When Beethoven wrote the sonatas, at the age of 25, he was in the midst of his first and---as it would happen---only major tour as a pianist, with stops in Prague, Leipzig, and Dresden. The explosive scales and arpeggios from the piano that characterize the finales of both sonatas were no doubt designed to show off his abilities.
We’ll hear both sonatas as played by the cellist Wendy Warner, a student of the great Rostropovich, and the Russian pianist Irina Nuzova. First, the second sonata, in G minor, followed by the Sonata in F Major.Listen
- Johann Strauss II (arranged by Grünfeld and Ivanov): Die Fledermaus
- Kurt Weill: Violin Concerto
Most of us who know the music of Kurt Weill think of him as an important, if somewhat atypical, composer of musical theatre, the writer of such dark show tunes as “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera. But before he set to work revolutionizing music theatre with Bertolt Brecht, Weill was a pupil of one of Europe’s most famous composers, and he wrote a few pieces in more typical classical forms, one of which—his violin concerto—we’ll hear today.
We begin with a little amuse bouche: an arrangement by Grünfeld of themes from Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus performed and further embellished by Gleb Ivanov. Grünfeld was a gifted pianist who worked for many years in the Austrian Imperial Court. His composition was mostly limited to virtuosic works for his own instrument, and he had a particular penchant for Strauss transcriptions. In this performance, Ivanov puts his own stamp on the piece, which is perhaps a bit musically fluffy, but devilishly challenging technically.Listen
- Charles Ives: Largo
- Irving Berlin: "You’d Be Surprised"
- Leon Kirchner: Sonata Concertante for Violin and Piano
This week’s podcast roams far and wide across the 20th century, featuring a lovely little trio by Charles Ives, a little-known song by Irving Berlin, and an engrossing duo sonata by Leon Kirchner.
We begin with the Ives, performed by a wonderful trio of players: clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, violinist Lucy Stoltzman, and pianist Jeremy Denk. A reworking of a piece Ives had composed for violin and piano back in 1901, the trio has a beautiful, languid, evocative atmosphere, with harmonies that were quite modern for 1901.
Written some 18 years later, Irving Berlin’s song “You’d Be Surprised” is still rooted squarely in traditional tonality, but with a clever, cheeky lyric that is provocative enough on its own. We’ll hear the song performed by artists from the New York Festival of Song: soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird and pianist Steven Blier, the festival’s artistic director.
Finally, we’ll close with a piece from a few decades later: Leon Kirchner’s Sonata Concertante for Violin and Piano, performed by violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Jeremy Denk.Listen
Works for solo piano performed by Martina Filjak.
This week’s podcast is all about playing to your strengths. We’ll hear two piano sonatas, each written by composers who were also noted pianists and often performed their own work. We begin with Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in B-flat Major, a familiar work to many listeners, but lengthy and widely considered one of the composer’s most challenging pieces to play. Mozart most likely wrote it for himself, and he almost certainly performed it in concert. Next, we’ll hear Prokofiev’s second Piano Sonata, in D minor, Opus 14. Prokofiev was an accomplished pianist, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his first successes as a composer were with works he himself performed, which often included feats of great pianistic virtuosity. We’ll hear both of these virtuoso works played by a young pianist who is making waves of her own. Martina Filjak won the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2009 and has since been catapulted into an impressive career.Listen
Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.
- Fanny Mendelssohn (Hensel): Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 11
- Helen Grime: Three Whistler Miniatures (World Premiere)
Born in 1805 in Hamburg, Fanny Mendelssohn grew up studying music alongside her little brother, Felix. But as she neared marrying age, she was increasingly discouraged by the men in her family—first her father, then her brother—who thought it improper for a lady to pursue a career as a published composer. In recent decades, however, Fanny Mendelssohn’s music has been published, recorded, and performed with increasing frequency. We’ll begin our podcast today with a performance by the Claremont Trio of Fanny Mendelssohn’s engrossing Piano Trio in D minor, Opus 11, considered by many to be one of her finest works.
After that, we’ll hear another trio, this one by a contemporary female composer, Helen Grime. The three-movement work, titled “The Whistler Miniatures,” was commissioned in honor of the opening of the Gardner Museum’s new concert space, Calderwood Hall, and was premiered there in April 2012. The set of musical miniatures was inspired by three Whistler chalk and pastel miniatures in the Gardner Museum’s collection, all of which can be seen hanging in the Veronese Room at the Museum.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 54
- Beethoven: String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1
In the 18th century, chamber music was—as the name suggests—played almost exclusively in the home. Much of the time these intimate performances featured amateur musicians—people playing for their own entertainment after dinner. The pieces we’ll hear on today’s podcast, however, sat at the crossroads of this shift from amateur to professional chamber-music-making, perhaps intentionally so. We’ll begin the program with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F Major, op. 54. The sonata begins simply enough, with a sweet minuet. Not one minute in, though, the bass thunders in and introduces an assertive passage of octaves that would give any beginning pianist a run for his money. Pianist Paavali Jumppanen plays it with aplomb.
Concluding our program is Beethoven’s seventh string quartet, in F Major, a work that marked a transition in Beethoven’s development as a composer as he moved towards an increasingly complex and expansive Romantic sensibility. The recording we’ll hear features the Borromeo String Quartet, who are more than up to the task.Listen
Our program today pairs a robust Brahms chamber music masterpiece—in this case the First Piano Quartet in G minor—with a piece by the Second Viennese School, examining Schoenberg’s assertion that Brahms was really the original progressive.
We’ll begin with Webern’s Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, performed by cellist Michael Kannen and pianist Steven Beck. Though undoubtedly the work of a young composer—Webern was at the time a 15-year-old high school student—the music contains glimmers of what Webern would become. The listener may be quite surprised by the strong Romantic influence, which is markedly different from later works.
After the Webern, we’ll hear the Brahms First Piano Quartet, played by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Although this piece seems traditional, Brahms is innovating beneath the surface, weaving the four movements together with recurring thematic material. The final movement is perhaps the best known and is particularly delightful—a lively gypsy rondo.Listen
- Debussy: Three Preludes
- Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10
Claude Debussy’s music is so loved by contemporary audiences that it is difficult to imagine him as a rebel. But beneath the seductive, languorous surface of Debussy’s music lies a true modernist, whose experiments with harmony and form ushered in the 20th century.
Today’s podcast shows Debussy working in two stalwart genres of the classical tradition: the piano prelude and the string quartet. Unlike earlier preludes, however, which tended to follow a carefully choreographed progression of keys, Debussy’s two books of piano preludes unfold much more like a parade of miniatures. We’ll hear three of them, performed by pianist George Li: a jaunty depiction of a juggler, called “Général Lavine”; the famous “Girl with the Flaxen Hair”; and the virtuosic “Feux d’artifice”—or, in English, “Fireworks”.
Next, we will hear Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor. Pierre Boulez once said that Debussy freed chamber music from "rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics," a sentiment apparent in this performance by Musicians from Marlboro.Listen
- Chopin: Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2
- Chopin: Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49
- Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35
On February 26, 1832, a young pianist named Frédéric Chopin made his debut at the intimate Salle Pleyel, to a room filled with music-world notables including Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. He would go on to revolutionize the way composers wrote for the piano, and the way pianists played it. We’ll begin with his Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2, as performed by Cecile Licad. Next we’ll hear a slightly longer work, the Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49 No. 2. This more expansive work earns the title “fantasy” from its semi-improvisatory nature—we move through a series of different sections, with different themes, that unfold in succession. The performance is again by Cecile Licad. Finally, we’ll hear Chopin’s Second Sonata in B-flat minor, as performed by pianist Jean-Frederic Neuburger. The four-movement piece roams widely, from the stormy opening to the famous third-movement funeral march, all culminating in a virtuoso perpetual motion finale with rapid-fire triplets.Listen
Works for solo piano performed by pianist George Li.
- Schubert-Liszt: Ständchen von Shakespeare
- Schumann: Abegg Variations, Op. 1
- Schubert: Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 ("Wanderer")
The theme and variations form is one of the oldest in music, and a particularly popular choice for keyboard music. Two of the variations we’ll hear on today’s episode are based on songs by Schubert. The most substantial of these is the last piece on the program: Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, popularly known as the “Wanderer Fantasy.” In this work, Schubert takes his lied, or song, “The Wanderer,” as a kernel of inspiration, and stretches it to an elaborate piece of nearly twenty minutes. The first work is also inspired by a Schubert lied: Franz Liszt’s Ständchen von Shakespeare. Ständchen is one of the lightest pieces in the collection, a ray of sunshine amidst the Sturm und Drang of Liszt’s twelve Schubert lieder transcriptions. Between these two works, we’ll hear Schumann’s Abegg Variations, Opus 1. The piece was inspired by and dedicated to the Countess von Abegg, whose name is literally spelled out in the work’s musical theme—with the notes A, B-flat, E, G and G.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in E Major, Op. 14, No. 1
- Beethoven: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2
Whether it happens right away or many decades later, it’s inevitable: some works in a composer’s oeuvre will become “hits,” and some will never quite get the attention they deserve. In this episode, we’ll focus on two of Beethoven’s chamber pieces that often seem to be in the shadow of more famous counterparts. First, we’ll hear his ninth piano sonata in E Major. Within the context of Beethoven’s complete sonatas, it’s easy to imagine this work being overshadowed by its immediate predecessor, the beloved “Pathétique.” However, the sonata holds plenty of surprise and ingenuity for the attentive listener. The second piece on the program is Beethoven’s E-flat piano trio. The younger sibling of the “Ghost” Trio—which itself is often outshined by the “Archduke,” the most familiar of Beethoven’s trios—the E-flat trio is really quite a lovely melding of old and new. Beethoven seems to nod at his forbears, Haydn and Mozart, while still pushing the harmonic envelope, resulting in a piece that is unassuming on the surface, but surprisingly modern underneath.Listen
In 1933, Arnold Schoenberg—the founding father of atonality, and in many ways the very definition of “progressive”— turned the classical music establishment on its head when he declared Johannes Brahms one of the greatest innovators of the Romantic era. One of the pieces Schoenberg cited as evidence of Brahms’ pathbreaking sensibility is the featured work on today’s podcast: his first string quartet. Schoenberg felt that Brahms’ ability to spin out large sections of music from small motives foreshadowed twentieth-century techniques. We’ll begin with a twentieth-century work: Alban Berg’s Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, a series of brief miniatures. Apparently the piece caused some friction with Schoenberg, Berg’s teacher, who criticized his pupil for writing such small-scale works and encouraged him to think bigger. Interestingly, Berg would go on to become best-known for his operas—which were, without a doubt, larger in conception. Schoenberg’s criticism notwithstanding, the clarinet pieces are actually wonderful little works—atonal but strikingly lyrical.Listen
Works for double bass and pipa, performed by DaXun Zhang, double bass, and Yang Wei, pipa.
- Mozart: Turkish March, K. 331/3
- Trad. Chinese: Ancient Battle Field
- Anderson: Four Short Pieces for solo double bass
- Trad. Chinese: Rainbow Dance and Galloping Horses
- Bach: Invention No. 11 and Invention No. 6
- Handel: Passacaglia (trans. Halvorsen)
In this episode of The Concert, we’ll hear how Western classical music interacts with one of the most ancient classical traditions: Chinese classical music. Today’s podcast features three ancient Chinese melodies, performed by bassist DaXun Zhang and pipa player Yang Wei. Ancient Battle Field shows off the full expressive range of the pipa with strumming and plucking techniques designed to evoke everything from the sounds of army drums and horns to the neighing of horses, the shouting of soldiers, and the firing of cannons. Later in the program, Zhang joins on bass in renditions of Rainbow Dance and Galloping Horses (with yet more neighing!). We’ll also hear the two play Western pieces, including Bach’s inventions, Handel’s Passacaglia, and Mozart’s Turkish March. Another highlight is Four Short Pieces, a contemporary work for solo bass by David Anderson which offers a delightful showcase for this incredible bassist’s expressive range—a musicianship that speaks across national boundaries.Listen
- Porpora: “Alto Giove” from Polifemo
- Handel: “Rompo i lacci” from Flavio
- Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, No. 16
For any composer of vocal music, the text is an important and often driving force in determining musical content and structure. We begin this episode with two early examples from opera, Porpora’s gorgeous “Alto Giove” from his opera Polifemo—a beautiful prayer of thanks to Jove—and Handel’s fiery and melismatic “Rompo i lacci” from Flavio. Beethoven’s use of text is subtler, but just as important in his final string quartet, opus 135, number 16. At the beginning of the final movement, Beethoven scrawls a fateful-sounding title across the manuscript: “The Difficult Decision.” Alongside the beginning chords, he poses a question: “Must it be?” The quartet chews over the question for a while in the introduction until, all of a sudden, the key changes to F Major and Beethoven gives us his answer: “Yes, it must!” Historians and musicologists have batted around many theories as to what Beethoven meant by this ambiguous question and answer.Listen
Works for piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen.
- Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major, K. 332
- Mozart: Fantasy in C minor, K. 475, and Piano Sonata No. 14 in C minor, K. 457
A funny thing happened on July 31, 1990 at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Deep in a storage space, a controller scouring for historical records found the fourteen-page manuscript to Mozart’s Fantasy and Piano Sonata in C minor, an incredibly important autograph edition that later sold at auction at Sotheby’s for some $1.7 million. It’s a rather extreme example of the case that can be made for the enduring significance of Mozart’s music. We begin this episode with Mozart’s Sonata No. 12 in F Major. Those interested in historical performance practice will be delighted to know that Mozart’s own ornamentation of the second movement has been preserved in an extant first edition, offering a glimpse into the sort of embellishments a consummate player would have been expected to add. We then hear that discovery from the seminary vault: Mozart’s Fantasy and Sonata in C minor. Here, too, we find evidence of Mozart’s performance style: the manuscript found in the safe in 1990 offers an entirely different set of ornaments than the previously published edition. As pianist Paavali Jumppanen proposes, it’s likely that the composer himself played the piece a bit differently each time, and that flexibility is reflected in the changes visible between the different scores.Listen
Schubert’s Cello Quintet in C Major performed by Musicians from Marlboro.
- Schubert: Cello Quintet in C Major, D. 956, Op. 163
Let’s play a little word association game. When I say the words “Schubert” and “quintet,” what’s the next word that springs to mind? Perhaps “trout?” It’s fitting that the chamber work many of us may know Schubert for was inspired by one of his art songs, or lieder. Even towards the end of his all-too-brief lifetime, when he was in the prime of his career, Schubert was known more for his songs and piano pieces than his chamber and orchestral works. In fact, that “other” quintet—the one we’ll hear today, his cello quintet in C Major—was rejected by his publisher. A quarter-century went by before it was eventually published, posthumously. But that lack of recognition is no indication of the quality of the work. Today, the cello quintet is widely seen as one of the most important chamber works of the Romantic era, and the pinnacle of Schubert’s own output.Listen
- Bach: Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2
Sometimes, what isn’t there is just as important as what is. It’s a concept that carries across multiple artistic forms—in the visual arts, we call it negative space; in music, it’s rest. In this episode, we examine two pieces that take different approaches to this “negative space.” First, Bach’s third cello suite. There are many reasons the cello suites number among Bach’s most incredible achievements, but his use of implied harmony is surely among the most remarkable. While he does include some multiphonics (two notes sounded simultaneously), more often he relies on the solo lines to suggest the contours of the harmonies—giving us just enough information that our ears fill in the harmonies. In Beethoven’s playful second violin sonata, the instruments switch places after the first iteration of the theme, with the violin playing the melody—only to pass it off to the piano a few bars later. This back-and-forth continues until the very end of the sonata. Keep your ears open—we won’t give away the surprise, but suffice it to say the playful one-upmanship keeps up right through the final bar.Listen
- Janáček: Sonata 1.X.1905
- Dvořák: Sextet in A Major; Op. 48, B. 80
Today, we’ll hear from two important Czech composers: Dvořák, whose idiomatic Slavonic pieces were among the first to put Czech music on the Western classical “map,” and Janáček, whose inventive work brought it into the 20th century. We begin with Janáček’s Sonata 1.X.1905, an emotional epitaph written to commemorate František Pavlí, killed October 1st, 1905, in demonstrations in Brno. The demonstrators were calling on the government to open a university in the city; the peaceful protest turned violent when Pavlí, a carpenter, was bayoneted by soldiers. Janáček’s emotion about the incident, and also his reaction to it, is clear from the music. Next, we’ll hear Dvořák’s String Sextet in A Major. Written in 1878, around the same time as the wildly successful Slavonic Rhapsodies and Dances, the sextet, too, draws on traditional Czech forms and styles. The middle two movements are modeled on two such folk sources: the Dumka, a thoughtful and melancholy epic ballad, and the Furiant, a fiery Bohemian dance.Listen
- Busoni/Liszt: Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro
- Mozart: String Quintet in C Major, K. 515
The late 80’s were good to Mozart. In 1786, his opera The Marriage of Figaro premiered to widespread acclaim; the next year, Don Giovanni opened to similar accolades. The work we’ll hear on today’s podcast, his string quintet in C Major, K. 515, springs from that wonderfully productive time. For this delightful and sunny quintet, Mozart imaginatively adds a second viola to the standard string quartet. He uses this second interior voice to lovely effect in the third movement in particular, as a duet partner to the first violin. We’ll introduce the quintet, fittingly, with an arrangement of themes from Mozart’s then-recent operatic triumph, The Marriage of Figaro. Katherine Chi will perform the Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Composed by Liszt but left incomplete, the piece and was later completed and published by the famous pianist and Liszt enthusiast Ferruccio Busoni. A charming pianistic take on the opera, the piece quotes two arias: “Voi che sapete” and “Non più andrai.”Listen
- Wolf: Six Songs
- Beethoven: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3
Some composers distinguish themselves in a single genre: Hugo Wolf, for example, whose brilliant lieder are like mini-monodramas, containing a whole world of feeling in less than two minutes of music. We’ll start with a selection of six of Wolf’s songs. But our main order of business on this podcast is a composer who can’t be bound by one signature form: Beethoven. Though published as number three in his first set of string quartets, the D Major quartet was in fact the first string quartet Beethoven wrote. Beethoven had waited about eight years from the time he arrived on the scene in Vienna before trying his hand at string quartets; some have postulated that this may well have been due to the shadow that his own teacher at the time, Haydn, cast over the form. When Beethoven finally published the set of six quartets from which this piece hails, he did it right. These quartets aren’t yet the work of a revolutionary, but they demonstrate Beethoven’s complete command of the form, and they clearly positioned him as one of its greatest living proponents. It was an important turning point: in 1802, Haydn fell sick. Though he battled his illness for several more years, he wouldn’t live to complete another quartet. The quartet, it seemed, had a new king.Listen
Works for string quartet and string quintet performed by Musicians from Marlboro.
- Dvořák: Two Waltzes, Op. 54
- Dvořák: String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97, B. 180
Much of Dvořák’s music—including the piece that he’s perhaps best-known for now, the New World symphony—inhabits a sort of cultural limbo. In the case of New World, it’s a musical homage to popular and folk tunes of America, but it’s written by a Czech composer, and at times Dvořák’s own background comes through. Today’s podcast features another of Dvořák’s “American” works, the string quintet in E-flat Major, inspired by the composer’s first long vacation in the States. As the story goes, Dvořák was immediately taken with the simple, pentatonic folk songs he heard during his time in Spillville, Iowa, and this delightful string quintet does indeed sound distinctly “American” from the start, despite its foreign authorship. We’ll set the stage for this piece—which makes up the bulk of today’s program—with another example of Dvořák’s cross-cultural explorations, this one with a more distinctly Slavic accent. The two waltzes, opus 54, apply Dvořák’s sensibility to that classic Austrian form: the waltz.Listen
- Ives: Selected Songs
- Tin Pan Alley Selections
Today’s podcast features a wonderful bouquet of American song—beginning with selection by Charles Ives, and then moving onto works by Tin Pan Alley composers. Though at first blush they may seem like odd bedfellows, it’s important to remember than many of the Tin Pan Alley greats were contemporaries of Ives. The context was certainly different—Ives is often thought of as an under-appreciated (and commercially unsuccessful) pioneer, while the writers on Tin Pan Alley were employed by music publishers, and as such their work was expected to have commercial appeal. But both were masters of their respective domains. We’ll begin with 8 selections by Ives, performed by baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Jeremy Denk. Ives is a master of setting the scene, of evoking a time and place with just a few minutes of music. He does so here with great skill. Scarlata then joins soprano Jennifer Aylmer and pianist Laura Ward to perform 11 tunes from Tin Pan Alley—some familiar, some less so, but all delightful.Listen
Works for mezzo-soprano, strings, and piano performed by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Musicians from Marlboro.
The two works on today’s podcast share a common inspiration: Romantic literature. First on the program, we’ll hear Respighi’s Il Tramonto, or The Sunset, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet or orchestra. Respighi was in his early 30s when he wrote the piece, working on it simultaneously with what was to be his career’s watershed composition, The Fountains of Rome. The work hinges on its text—a 19th-century poem by Percy Shelley that brims with the unfulfilled love and longing that characterize much poetry of the era. The second piece on the program, Brahms’ third piano quartet in C minor, is inspired by another tale of star-crossed lovers: Goethe’s famous Werther. Brahms gave the quartet the subtitle “Werther” himself; apparently, he thought the first movement embodied the protagonist’s sorrow and desperation in finding that his beloved has married another. Interestingly, this piece, like Respighi’s, was an early composition: Brahms began work on it as early as 1855, when he was in his early twenties.Listen
Works for solo piano and string quartet performed by Charlie Albright, piano, and Musicians from Marlboro.
- Haydn: Piano Sonata No. 62 in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52
- Haydn: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 17, No. 4, Hob. III:28
For most of his life, Haydn enjoyed a level of stability and comfort most contemporary composers would envy. For about 30 years, he was resident composer to the Esterhazy court, where he wrote musical works by the dozens and was given his own orchestra to perform them. Although much of his output was dictated by his employer’s needs, some works in his catalogue seem to have been personal projects, or at least destined for players beyond the palace walls. Haydn’s dazzling, ambitious Piano Sonata No. 62 was written for a close friend who was a virtuoso pianist in London, and is designed to show off not only her skill, but also the capabilities of the new, powerful English pianos. There’s no evidence that the second piece on today’s program, Haydn’s String Quartet in C minor, was ever played at the Esterhazy court. Haydn’s quartets were, however, performed in Vienna, where they were apparently a hit with audiences, according to contemporary critical accounts.Listen
- Schubert: Impromptu in E-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 2
- Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810 (“Death and the Maiden”)
Once you get to podcast 131, we figure you earn the right to repeat yourself. And we’re doing just that with this encore performance of one of the great string quartets: Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” In contrast to certain other titled works, which were appended with descriptive names by publishers trying to sell sheet music, the title “Death and the Maiden” was given, in this case, by the composer himself. It was very much intended as a descriptive, alluding not just to Schubert’s quotation of his own song of the same title (which appears in the second movement), but to the thematic content of the entire piece. Written at a time when Schubert was suffering from a prolonged battle with syphilis, many scholars have suggested that the quartet exposes his own longing for the relief of death. Before jumping into this work, we’ll hear Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat Major, a brief keyboard work written a few years after “Death and the Maiden,” near the end of Schubert’s life.Listen
Works for solo piano performed by Cecile Licad.
- Liszt: Two Legends
- Liszt: Three Pieces from Années de Pèlerinage
Perhaps no composer was more skilled than Liszt in his painterly use of the piano, deftly evoking a wide range of images and emotions. We begin this episode with the composer’s Two Legends, both based on the lives of saints. In the first—St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds—swirling, shape-shifting flocks are evoked by high tremolos in the piano. The second Legend tells the story of St. Francis of Paola walking on the water. In a clever musical counterpart to the first, Liszt again uses swirling textures, this time in the bass, meant now to depict rolling waves. Next on the program is a selection of movements from Liszt’s three-volume Années de Pèlerinage, or Years of Pilgrimage. Spanning three hours when performed in full, the pieces range from evocations of the sculpture, poetry, music, and landscapes that Liszt encountered in his journeys to more abstract spiritual meditations. We’ll hear three selections from the first book, about his travels in Switzerland.Listen
Works for violin, cello, and piano performed by the Claremont Trio.
The piano trio—an ensemble of violin, cello, and piano—was one of the great innovations of classical and Romantic chamber music. Before that time, composers wrote for similar groups of instruments, but the pieces rarely gave equal prominence to the three players. Classical and Romantic composers shifted the balance of the trio by giving equal weight to all three players and putting equal thought into each instrument’s part. In fact, Mendelssohn made extensive revisions after completing the first draft of his Piano Trio No. 1, adding more elaborate and technically challenging passagework to up the ante for the pianist. Mozart was a true father of the piano trio genre, and his B-flat trio is considered one of his best contributions, chock full of tuneful melodies arranged with grace and balance to show off all three members of the trio to their best advantage.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp Major, Op. 78
- Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131
It’s always interesting to find out which of his own works a composer particularly loved (or loathed). Today, we’ll listen to two favorites of the great Beethoven, beginning with the sunny Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp Major. A piece of rather diminutive proportions—just two movements, a total of about 10 minutes—this sonata was nonetheless one of the composer’s personal favorites, according to noted Beethoven biographer Maynard Solomon. The next work is altogether different: Beethoven’s seven-movement String Quartet in C-sharp minor. By all accounts a magnum opus, this was one of the composer’s last large-scale works, and though he demurred somewhat when asked to pick a favorite from among his 16 string quartets—saying each had its own merits—he later implied that this was in fact the top contender.Listen
Works for string duo and trio, performed by Musicians from Marlboro.
- Kodály: Serenade, Op. 12
- Kodály: Duo for violin and cello, Op. 7
It’s difficult to discuss Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály without, in the same breath, mentioning his longtime musical compatriot Béla Bartók. Despite their close association, Kodály had a distinct musical voice of his own, which certainly comes across in this program. First, we’ll hear Musicians from Marlboro play Kodály’s Serenade for two violins and viola. Kodály wrote a lot of vocal music, and his proclivity for melody comes through in this piece. Like many of his works, it incorporates scales and folk dance rhythms borrowed from his extensive studies of traditional Hungarian music. Next, we’ll hear violinist Augustin Hadelich and cellist Peter Stumpf of Musicians from Marlboro perform Kodály’s Duo for violin and cello. It, too, exhibits a profusion of passionate melodies and a harmonic language tinged with Eastern European folk scales.Listen
The repertoire on today’s podcast—spirituals paired with a modern violin sonata—might at first glance, and even first listen, seem a bit odd. But we think Charles Ives, the composer of the sonata in question, wouldn’t find it strange in the slightest. Ives often used musical quotation in his works, borrowing and stitching together snippets of tunes, often from traditional American sources like hymns and folk songs, to achieve a layered, patchwork effect. The sonata you’ll hear today, his third for violin and piano, has some wonderful moments, in particular its imaginative interweaving of hymn and gospel tunes. We’ll begin back at the source, with a selection of spirituals arranged for soprano and piano.Listen
Works for solo piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen.
- Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 7 in C Major, K. 309
- Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310
On this program, we’ll hear two piano sonatas by Mozart, composed back-to-back on a trip he took throughout Europe with his mother in 1777 and 1778. Mozart wrote today’s first piece, his Piano Sonata No. 7 in C Major, in the court at Mannheim, where he hoped to secure a respectable position. After an unsuccessful stay in Mannheim, Mozart and his mother headed to Paris, where she fell seriously ill. Around that time, Mozart completed the eighth sonata in A minor, one of just two piano sonatas Mozart composed in a minor key over the course of his life. These back-to-back sonatas are an interesting time capsule, capturing the composer at a critical juncture in his maturation from child prodigy to young adult.Listen
Works for violin and keyboard performed by Caroline Goulding, violin, and Shuai Wang, piano and harpsichord.
- Tchaikovsky: Melody in E-flat Major, Op. 42, No. 3
- Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 2
- Tartini: Violin Sonata in G minor ("Devil's Trill")
- Respighi: Sonata in B minor
The idea of the virtuoso—often a musician who possesses not just exceptional skill, but also great precocity—has been part of the culture of classical music for centuries. Violinist Caroline Goulding fits the profile. An astonishing young musician, Goulding began playing the violin at age 3 ½ and earned a Grammy nomination for her first CD, recorded at age 16. In her Boston debut recital at the Gardner Museum, she took her violin, the General Kyd Stradivarius, through its paces, performing a wide variety of works.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 3
- Beethoven: Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6
The two chamber works on this podcast showcase a somewhat more jovial side of Beethoven. We begin with the perky eighth sonata in G Major for violin and piano, one of the pieces composed in Beethoven's surprisingly productive period following the Heiligenstadt Testament. Although written during the time that Beethoven began to seriously recognize his worsening hearing, the eighth sonata doesn't give any hint of inner turmoil. Next, we'll hear Beethoven's sixth string quartet, Opus 18, number 6, another mostly lighthearted chamber piece that also owes a great debt to Haydn.Listen
Today's podcast is for the unabashed romantic. We begin with songs by the Catalan composer Fernando Obradors. Written between 1921 and 1942, Obradors' songs capture the spirit of the classic Spanish poetry with a freshness and immediacy that has made them an enduring hit, with both singers and audiences. Then we move on to one of the great Romantic piano works: Rachmaninoff's second piano sonata. Just as Obradors' songs seem to have an essential Spanish-ness, Rachmaninoff's sonata has often been called uniquely Russian in its fierce passion and brooding expressiveness.Listen
- Mozart: Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570
- Mozart: Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K. 283
- Mozart: Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, K. 448
Mozart began his musical life as a keyboard prodigy, touring the European courts and performing alongside his sister, both of them encouraged and shepherded from town to town by their father. At age 19, when he penned his first keyboard sonata, he had already written 8 operas and at least 30 symphonies. It's quite likely that the reason for the delay in his keyboard output was at least partly technical: though the earliest pianos had been built decades earlier, it wasn't until the 1770's that the instrument began to achieve a quality and consistency of tone that made it such an attractive option for ambitious solo composition. On this podcast, we'll sample a wide range of Mozart's sonatas: one of his first, one of his last, and a unique sonata for two pianos.Listen
- Elgar: Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20
- Sibelius: String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 "Voces Intimae"
There is something uniquely intimate about chamber music for strings. At times, the ensemble can sound like one enormous instrument, resonating together; at others, the effect is of independent voices, the differences in timbre and register emphasized. Indeed, many composers seem to use the string quartet as a sort of musical depiction of internal struggles, of the life of the mind.Listen
Work for solo piano, performed by pianist Jeremy Denk.
- Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
There are few works in the classical canon as mythologized as Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The story goes that this incredible set of keyboard variations were in fact commissioned by Count Keyserlingk as a sleep aid, something that his court musicians could play for him on the harpsichord when he had difficulty falling asleep. The score, like many Baroque works, lacks much of any tempo and dynamic markings, leaving ample room for interpretation by the performer. The wide range of possibilities has inspired passionate debate, often dividing those who prefer a more historically-informed approach and those who embrace more audacious contemporary readings.Listen
- Mozart: String Quartet in B-flat Major, K. 458
- Mozart: Misera, dove son, K. 369
A prolific opera composer, Mozart was an expert dramatist, and his knack for keeping an audience’s attention and tugging at their emotions extended to his works for the concert hall. At the end of our program today, we’ll hear one of the composer’s concert arias, a sort of opera in miniature. In this aria, the character Fluvia is racked by grief over her father’s treachery, driven so far as to wish for death, begging heaven to send down a thunderbolt to end her suffering. But first we begin with a less narrative but no less captivating instrumental piece. The quartet’s nickname, “The Hunt,” seems irresistibly apt, given the galloping rhythm and hornlike motives in the opening movement. A rollicking finale follows two less rustic inner movements, a lilting minuet and a beautiful adagio.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 3
The image that comes to mind when thinking of Beethoven is probably a stern-faced, wild-haired man, deep in existential angst. But one of Beethoven’s great inspirations, particularly in his early days, was Haydn, that famously jocular father of the string quartet. Today’s we’ll hear that lighter, “Haydn-esque” side of Beethoven through two of his chamber works.Listen
The two works on this podcast have a striking number of similarities. Written at the very beginning of the 20th century, both of these works for strings exhibit a luscious, Romantic sensibility, applied to centuries-old material. Vaughan Williams takes a hymn tune by a British Renaissance composer as his starting point, while Elgar evokes the Baroque more generally, using rhythmic hemiola and incorporating a vigorous fugue. Both works also hearken back to the early form concerto grosso—using a larger orchestra paired with a smaller “solo” group. Both pieces evoke the folk music of the British Isles. Despite all the commonalities, the works undoubtedly have their own distinct character, which makes for an interesting study of the similarities and differences between these two contemporaries.Listen
Works for flute, oboe, viola, harpsichord and chamber orchestra performed by Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center members Paula Robison, Steven Taylor, Andreas Brantelid, and John Gibbons, and A Far Cry.
- Bach: Sonata in D Major for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1028
- Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major for flute, oboe, and continuo, BWV 1039
- Purcell: The Old Bachelor, Z. 607
What better way, in the days before television, iPhones, movies, and all other forms of electronic distraction, to pass the evening than listening to live music? Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba were written at a time when the instrument was waning—most of the great players were in their final years, or had already passed on. The sonata we’ll hear requires particularly incredible technical prowess, and one can’t help but rejoice in the fact that musicians today still perform these wonderful sonatas. Next is another sonata from that same set, an arrangement for woodwinds and continuo that allows the delightfully imitative individual lines to shine. We end with a lovely set of incidental music written by Purcell for the Restoration comedy The Old Bachelor. Though perhaps less familiar than the composer’s operas, Purcell’s theatre music is not at all short on charm or tunefulness; indeed some of his best-loved songs come from this part of his oeuvre.Listen
- Schubert: Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 78, D. 894
- Schubert: Introduction and Variations on “Ihr Blumlein alle”, Op. 160
The name Franz Schubert is virtually synonymous with lieder, the German art song, which he is widely credited with elevating to the highest level, deftly marrying poetry and music. Some of Schubert’s best-known instrumental chamber works are actually adaptations of his songs including the introduction and variations on “Ihr Blümlein alle,” which is one of the final movements of Schubert’s cycle “Die schöne Müllerin.” Schubert wrote 21 piano sonatas, but only three of these were published during his lifetime, and Op. 78 was one of the few to make the cut. The piece was published as a “fantasy”, apparently because the publisher feared that the tranquil first movement was so different from the typical sonata opener that it would confuse customers.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13, “Pathétique”
- Bartók: String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 7
Surely the feeling of the catharsis is one of the great gifts of art. The arc from darkness towards light provides an opportunity for the listener to savor a satisfying taste of peace, and perhaps a chance for the creator to work through his or her own demons as well. Bartok’s first String Quartet was likely the product of the composer’s own grieving process, after discovering that his love for the violinist Stefi Geyer was unrequited. Bartok is often quoted as describing the first movement as a “funeral dirge,” and though the entire work has a sort of abiding angst, the propulsive final movement certainly expresses a strong will to go on. First, though, we’ll hear one of the best-known solo piano pieces of the repertoire, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. A sense of melancholy pervades the piece—which accounts for the title—but the glimmering moments of resolution, particularly in the second and third movements, are so deliciously wonderful that they make it a sort of melancholy worth savoring.Listen
- Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
- Brahms: String Quintet in F Major, Op. 88
Around this time of year in New England, many people are starting to feel ready for a respite from the snowy cold. For today’s podcast we’ll take a musical vacation of sorts, hearing a bit of what Brahms did with his summers. We’ll begin with the composer’s third violin sonata, which Brahms began work on while vacationing in Thun, a beautiful little Swiss lake town with a picture-perfect medieval castle at the foot of the Alps. He put the piece aside for a couple of years, though, and only got to finishing it when he returned to Thun in the summer of 1888. A few years prior, in the spring of 1880, Brahms discovered one of his favorite vacation spots: Bad Ischl, a town high in the Alps that was apparently a popular retreat amongst 19th-century artists, including Strauss and Bruckner. In the summer of 1880, Brahms wrote two chamber works, including the String Quintet in F Major, a luscious, tuneful work.Listen
- Mozart: Serenata Notturna, K. 239
- Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581
Like most composers of his day, Mozart relied on commissions—works written “to order” for patrons and performers. We begin with one of Mozart’s many nocturnes, a sprightly, cheerful style of piece usually commissioned for a special occasion. Written to be played during a party, the nocturne was in a way the “Muzak” of its day, but Mozart turned the form into one of his signatures. It begins with a delightful march, during which the musicians would have likely processed into the room while playing from memory. Second on the program is a piece composed for the virtuoso clarinetist Anton Stadler, a player in the court orchestra in Vienna and a longtime friend of Mozart’s. Stadler often played an instrument called the basset clarinet, which had an expanded low range, and Mozart’s quintet was written with this instrument in mind. The piece has been reworked a bit for the modern clarinet, though some modern musicians have also recorded the piece on instruments created to resemble Stadler’s.Listen
Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.
Written in 1880, when Debussy was just 18 years old, the Trio in G is undoubtedly the work of a young artist, and it is heavily influenced by the Romanticism that pervaded French chamber music of the day. Of interest to Debussy devotees is the fact that this trio didn’t get its first modern hearing until the 1980s, when various manuscript fragments and parts were assembled into a whole. Also active at the same time, Gabriel Fauré was a major influence on the course of music history. As a composer, his music has at times been given short shrift by history, categorized as relatively conservative. But in 1924, when Fauré wrote the Piano Trio in D minor, he was 78 years old and had seen an incredible span of classical music history. This trio, one of his last works, is undoubtedly his voice, but it exhibits a great deal of musical growth from the style of the earliest days of Fauré’s lifetime.Listen
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96
- Beethoven: Sonata in C minor, Op. 111
Revered as he is, it’s easy to think of Beethoven as somehow staid and a bit predictable. It’s easy to forget just how surprising his music can be. Written when Beethoven was struggling to find love and was just about to begin writing his heavier late works, this sonata is surprisingly serene, with singing, lyrical melody more or less throughout, interrupted only briefly by a more spirited third-movement Scherzo and a fleet little coda to bring it to a close. Then, we’ll hear Beethoven’s last piano sonata. The first movement is in C minor, the same key Beethoven used for the famously stormy Fifth, and it has that same moody, tempestuous feel. Suddenly, though, in the second movement, we find ourselves in C major, with the introduction of an incredible, beautifully simple chorale-like theme. From here, Beethoven proceeds through a set of variations, leading the listener ever deeper into the piece.Listen
- Schubert: Sonata in C minor, D. 958
- Schubert: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417 ("Tragic")
Today’s podcast takes us on a journey through Franz Schubert’s life. The smaller forces of a chamber ensemble seem a fitting vehicle for this early orchestral work, the second piece on the podcast, which shows more connection to Haydn and Mozart than Schubert’s contemporary, Beethoven. Schubert was still a teenager at the time and, though the composer’s talent is quite evident, the piece hews closely to the traditional classical structure. Written about two months before his death, Schubert’s final piano sonatas offer a tantalizing glimpse of where the composer’s music was headed, had he lived through his 30’s. By turns stark, witty, serene, and driving, the 19th sonata still uses the traditional four-movement form while covering a wide-ranging emotional and harmonic terrain.Listen
Today we hear two pieces by Eastern European composers heavily influenced by folk music. Many have pointed to the third piano trio as a significant turning point in Dvořák’s style, a moment when his music began to take on the formal heft and cosmopolitan European style of his mentor, Brahms, stepping away from his more folk-inspired earlier works. Before the trio, we’ll hear a brief set by Bartók, another work at the crossroads between folk and art music. One of Bartók’s first experiences with folk music came when he overheard a Transylvanian-born maid singing at a Hungarian resort where he was staying, and decided to write down what he heard. Three years later he traveled to Transylvania to study and transcribe songs there, including the three in this cycle.Listen
- Berkeley Castle, Select Roll 55, England, 14th century: Alma mater/Ante thorum; Benedicta es celorum regina; De spineto nata rosa
- Beethoven: Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130
On this episode, we look back and forward, as we consider the historical context for two very different works. We begin with three works of 14th-century English polyphony. Soprano Anna Maria Friman writes: “It is impossible to know what this music would have sounded like in the middle ages...The members of Trio Mediaeval feel that performing medieval music today gives us the freedom to let our imagination and ideas flow, as though we are creating contemporary music.” The idea of finding contemporary inspiration in earlier music is certainly not new. Beethoven’s final works reflect this duality, drawing inspiration from the old in order to create something assuredly new. We conclude the podcast with one of his grandest, and last, works--the 13th String Quartet in B-flat Major.Listen
Today we explore three pieces intended for a specific patron or performer. Mozart’s Flute Quartet was written at the behest of the wealthy amateur flutist Ferdinand De Jean. Much has been made of Mozart’s purported distaste for the flute, and he struggled to complete the four concertos and six quartets De Jean requested. Listening to this delightful music, though, and the prominent role the flute plays, one can’t help but wonder whether Mozart was being entirely truthful. Kirchner’s Flutings for Paula was originally written for Ms. Robison in 1973. Kirchner reworked it some thirty years later to feature percussion prominently, in the version we’ll hear today. The pairing of flute with vibes and wind chimes creates a verdant, magical mood. Kirchner’s Trio No. 2 was originally written at the urging of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio. This work, the composer writes, is evocative of a bygone era of music, a time when form and feeling were of paramount importance, and inextricably linked.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata in E Major, Op. 109
- Beethoven: Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1
Beethoven took the musical forms and vocabulary he inherited so far that there was nowhere left to go. We’ll take that conjecture as a jumping-off point for listening to two Beethoven works that demonstrate his innovation within the bounds of classical form. The trio concludes our program, but it comes first chronologically. The work has a firm foothold in the classical style espoused by his teacher, Haydn, but Beethoven’s interest in innovation is evident is the work’s unexpected harmonic shifts. We begin the program at the opposite end of Beethoven’s career, with one of his final piano sonatas, where we see the composer at the height of his compositional powers. In three movements, Beethoven explores familiar structures---sonata form, theme-and-variations, intricate counterpoint---but makes them sound entirely new, with adventurous harmonies, unexpected tempo shifts, and sublime melodies.Listen
Works for flute and harp and for voice and chamber ensemble performed by flutists Paula Robison and Sooyun Kim, clarinetist Alexis Lanz, violinist David Fulmer, cellist Eric Jacobsen, harpist Mariko Anraku, and pianist Steven Beck.
Flutist Paula Robison is undoubtedly one of the Gardner Museum’s greatest champions and favorite guests. On this podcast, we’ll hear two of her Gardner performances. Chansons de Bilitis had many lives within Debussy’s own oeuvre: first as a cycle of three songs; then as incidental music for narrator, harps, flutes, and celeste; and finally, rearranged for two pianists. That music, in turn, was arranged for orchestra and—now—flute and harp. It seems a fitting instrumentation—languid and sensual, and also evocative of the poems, which mention the mythical flutist Pan. Ms. Robison puts down the flute for a special performance as the speaker in Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The technique of Sprechstimme had been used in German musical theatre before, but it truly came to life in this work. Rather than vocalizing on pitch, the narrator recites poetry in a semi-song, following Schoenberg’s melodic contours and rhythms to produce a sort of heightened, dramatic speech. One of the piece’s other great legacies is its distinctive five-instrument ensemble, a configuration that would come to be known as the “Pierrot Ensemble,” and which has been employed by a variety of 20th century composers.Listen
- Mendelssohn: Four Songs Without Words
- Mendelssohn: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13
First up: excerpts from the composer’s famous Songs Without Words. The origin of this set of lieder for piano is still a bit mysterious. The New Grove dictionary postulates that it may have been a bit of an inside joke between Felix and his sister, who used to improvise words to their favorite piano pieces. Regardless, they are lovely little gems. Next at bat: String Quartet in A minor. Though it was the second quartet published, this work was actually the first Mendelssohn wrote in the genre. The 18-year-old composer—like many in his generation—was living in the shadow of Beethoven, and it shows. Like Beethoven, Mendelssohn develops a single theme—a quote from his own song “Ist es wahr?”—over the course of the entire piece.Listen
Music is an art of variation. From the cantus firmus masses of medieval Europe to the 12-bar-blues of early 20th century America, the art of the varying and building upon a set theme has a long history. Bach’s famous Chaconne from the D minor partita is regarded as the apotheosis of the genre—a four-bar ground bass, repeated some 64 times with incredibly rich variation. In Bartok’s second String Quartet, the mournful first and third movements draw on intervals from Hungarian peasant music. The contrasting second movement is a driving rondo—another classic form based on a returning, repeated theme. The folk music that inspired this energetic movement was from North Africa. Listen for the rhythmic, repetitive ostinato—inspired by Arabian drumming.Listen
World War I truly changed the way people saw the world around them, and that shift was particularly evident in art and music. On this episode we’ll hear French works from before and after the war. Franck was a full-fledged Romantic who never lived to see the war. His Piano Quintet exhibits the intense passion that characterized music of his era. Biographers have suggested that Franck was infatuated with one of his students at the time—a love that was not returned—and that emotional strife may explain this work’s extremes of feeling. Ravel, on the other hand, experienced the Great War firsthand, as an ambulance driver on the front lines. His La Valse, written just after the war, begins as a seeming homage to the waltz. But, as it progresses, the dance spins further and further out of control, the waltz itself becoming a stand-in for all the excesses of pre-war Austria, and its musical unraveling a metaphor for the destruction wrought by war.Listen
- Chopin: Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 28
In the Romantic era, “preluding” was a common practice. Before or between set pieces on a program, the pianist would often improvise a brief prelude, to establish the mood and key. Chopin was an expert at that art, but his composed Preludes were quite different, and as such somewhat confounding to his contemporaries. The set of 24 short pieces—one in every key—wasn’t intended as a compilation of introductory material, but rather a complete cycle unto itself. In that way, many have noted, they took more inspiration from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier—also a set of keyboard works in every key—than from the traditional Romantic conception of a prelude.Listen
- Brahms: Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79
- Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10
With lush harmony and passionate, singing melody, the Brahms Rhapsodies are textbook examples of the mature Romantic style. As the Romantic era progressed, composers began pushing the harmonic envelope further, and that late Romantic language is typified and further extended by Schoenberg’s Quartet No. 2. The first and second movements exhibit that late Romantic practice of stretching tonality, but they are fairly idiomatic for the time period. It is in the final movement that the real change comes. There is no key signature; the harmonies roam freely across the chromatic scale, in what is considered by many to be the composer’s first real experiment with atonality. It would be a little more than a decade before Schoenberg introduced his 12-tone system, but there is a sense that, with this quartet, the path of modern music has been irrevocably altered.Listen
- Telemann: Gulliver Suite in D Major for two violins
- Pachelbel: Canon and Gigue in D Major for three violins and continuo
- Vivaldi: Sonata in D minor for two violins and continuo, RV 63 (“La Follia”)
- Bach: Trio Sonata in C minor for flute, violin, and continuo from The Musical Offering
Today’s podcast offers up a menu of Baroque treats. Telemann’s suite, a five-movement work inspired by Jonathan Swift’s immensely popular novel Gulliver’s Travels, offers playful depictions of some of the story’s main characters. Next is Pachelbel’s canon, followed by a series of virtuosic variations on a famous 16th century tune and harmonic progression, “La Follia.” The theme has been set by dozens of composers over the centuries, and Vivaldi’s version is one of the most famous. We end with Bach’s Trio Sonata from “The Musical Offering.” This composition builds on a highly chromatic tune given to Bach by Frederick the Great of Prussia, who challenged the composer to use it in a six-voice fugue.Listen
- Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1
- Beethoven: Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3 (“La Chasse”)
Just as in jazz, Baroque music had a “rhythm section” of its own: the continuo group. The gamba or cello played the bass line and the harpsichord or organ improvised the harmonic accompaniment. At the time that Beethoven wrote his first cello sonata it was still relatively rare to feature the cello as a solo chamber music instrument. Also unique was the import Beethoven placed on the keyboard part; its lines are far from mere harmonic accompaniment. Written throughout the course of his career, Beethoven’s piano 32 sonatas were a vital part of the evolution of the solo piano repertoire and they demonstrate the progress of the piano itself, as an instrument capable of a range of colors and dynamics. The sonata we’ll hear today was written about halfway through the group. The jocular mood throughout, and a final-movement theme reminiscent of a French horn call, may have inspired the nickname “The Hunt.”Listen
- Tchaikovsky: Meditation
- Dvořák: String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77
Stravinsky once famously said, “Good composers borrow. Great composers steal.” Today we’ll listen to works by two composers who stole from themselves. “Meditation” began its life as the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, but was rejected and re-cast as the first movement of his Souvenir d'un lieu cher for violin and piano, and finally extracted and published separately, as it is performed in this recording. Dvořák’s String Quintet was originally written as a five-movement work, with an Intermezzo as the second movement, as we hear it performed on this podcast. That movement, however, was cut from the final version of the quintet, and it has had several lives in other arrangements.Listen
- Walter-Küne: Fantasy on Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
- Chausson: Concerto in D Major for violin, piano, and string quartet, Op. 21
Had circumstances been different, Ernest Chausson might well have become one of the most important French composers to bridge the Romantic and modern eras. Chausson led a comfortable upper-class life, studying law at his father’s encouragement prior to taking up composition in his early 20s. He studied with Massenet and then Franck at the Paris Conservatory, and made rapid progress. Still, there was no pressure on Chausson to make a living as a musician, and his output was modest. Chausson did leave behind a number of works that have found a foothold in the repertoire, among them the chamber piece on today’s program. Though it is a work for six instruments, Chausson’s odd title is far more fitting a name than “sextet”. The violin and piano are clearly the stars here, with the quartet acting like a miniature orchestra. Before the Chausson, you will hear Walter-Küne’s Fantasy on Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. A professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Walter-Küne composed a number of fantasies on operatic themes, a number of which remain favorites with harpists today.Listen
- Webern: Two Early Pieces for Cello and Piano
- Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34
Today’s podcast pairs two composers who seem rather different: Anton Webern and Johannes Brahms. Webern’s Two Early Pieces was written in 1899, when the composer was just 15 years old, and is believed to be his very first composition. But the pair of slow movements sound not at all like Webern’s sparsely orchestrated, mostly atonal later works. Brahms had a bit more experience under his belt when he wrote his Piano Quintet in F minor, but it’s still considered a relatively early work. Clara Schumann consulted with Brahms on the many drafts of this piece, which began its life first as a string quartet and then as a two-piano sonata. The result still preserves a sort of satisfying youthful impetuousness, with passionate themes and bold harmonic transitions, if not as much of the formal structure and counterpoint that would characterize Brahms’s later work.Listen
- Haydn: String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 71, No. 3
- Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2
The idea of the underappreciated composer has a strong foothold in popular lore. But, of course, that myth is far from universal. Today, we’ll hear string quartets written by two composers at the top of their game. Haydn’s opus 71 quartets were written with an eye towards Haydn’s upcoming appearances in London. Unlike some of his earlier quartets, this piece is designed for an 800-seat concert hall, not the parlor. The Mendelssohn quartet, his fourth, was an immediate hit. He was just 28 years old and was already leader of the acclaimed Gewandhaus orchestra, as well as a love-struck newlywed. Portions of this quartet are believed to have been written during his honeymoon.Listen
- Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795, Op. 25
Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin is a supreme accomplishment: one of the very first song cycles written, and still one of the most respected. Our narrator begins as a wanderer, without destination, but when a brook leads him to the miller’s beautiful young daughter, he is immediately taken. Yearning gives way to infatuation, a brief and nearly wordless meeting, the joy of possession, and shortly thereafter suspicion, jealousy, and despair. His final dialogue with the flowing brook haunts the listener long after the last notes sound.Listen
- Ravel: Miroirs
- Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45
We go inside the French salon to hear works by two great composers working about the turn of the last century: Ravel and Fauré. First up is a suite of bravura piano of which Chan performs three of the original five movements. The first, “Night Moths,” includes quiet, quick chromatic runs, and the second movement, “Sad Birds,” was apparently inspired by a blackbird’s song. The fourth movement of the suite, “Alborada del gracioso,” is a Spanish-tinged comic serenade. From this highly evocative, programmatic set, we move on to Fauré’s more abstract Piano Quartet. Probably best known for his art songs, Fauré was an expert melodist, which you can hear in the work’s long, soaring lines. And, as in most of his songs, each movement begins with a bit of a piano introduction, setting the scene for the string instruments’ melody.Listen
- Reinecke: Flute Sonata in E Major, Op. 167 (“Undine”)
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in D Major, Op. 28 (“Pastoral”)
Both of the sonatas on today’s podcast have descriptive titles but opinions vary as to the significance of these titles. It’s unknown whether or not Reinecke meant his flute sonata to be explicitly programmatic, but it’s interesting to know the namesake. The tale of Undine is similar to “The Little Mermaid,” but a bit more sinister. After longing for a life beyond her underwater kingdom, Undine marries her prince, but when she disappears and he marries another woman, she returns to kill him—with a kiss. Beethoven’s publisher, Cranz, supplied the nickname for his sonata opus 28, presumably to make the work more memorable and attractive to potential customers. One cannot help but look for reasons for his choice, though. The lilting downward scale and bass pedal in the first movement’s opening seem vaguely rustic, and the final movement has a bit of a barn dance quality.Listen
- Nielsen: Wind Quintet in A Major, Op. 43
- Beethoven: Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 16
Where the string quartet provides a sort of infinite palate with minimal resources—just three instruments, differing chiefly in register—the woodwind quintet offers a much more varied cast of characters: the chipper flute, the dour bassoon, the plaintive oboe, the regal horn, and the smooth clarinet. Carl Nielsen was very familiar with the personalities of not just the instruments in his woodwind quintet, but also the players behind them; the group he originally wrote the piece for was made up of friends. Written in 1922, Nielsen’s work strikes a conversational tone, balancing duets and solos from each of the instruments with more cohesive ensemble sections. Beethoven gained inspiration from a quintet, too—in his case, not an ensemble but a composition by Mozart. Mozart’s 1784 Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn & bassoon in E flat major came some13 years before Beethoven’s, but the young Beethoven’s work is a clear tribute; his piece shares with the Mozart its instrumentation, structure, and even key.Listen
- Debussy: Premiere Rhapsodie
- Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10
Compared to classical-era composers like Haydn and Mozart, Debussy’s chamber music output was rather small: not counting solo piano or vocal works, he wrote only about a dozen chamber music pieces. His string quartet is nonetheless considered among his top compositions, and one of the important impressionist era chamber pieces. The music is classic Debussy in its search for unique colors and sonorities. Before the quartet, we’ll hear one of Debussy’s shorter chamber works. The rhapsody is the more substantial of two works he composed for clarinet in 1910, written for the conservatory as a tool for evaluating their clarinet students. The previous year, Debussy had apparently been taken with the quality of the woodwind players.Listen
- Beethoven: String Trio in G Major, Op. 9, No. 1
- Ives: Piano Trio
Today we focus on significant trios, from the old and new worlds. A relatively early trio, Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, may have been an experiment with some of the ideas he would later bring to the symphonic realm. Beethoven plays with form in the movements, surprising listeners with stop-and-start repeats in the scherzo and vividly contrasting themes in the final movement. Charles Ives’ Piano Trio, completed in 1911, went unperformed for years, finally unearthed in 1948 by a music faculty trio in Ohio. In typical Ives fashion, snippets of a number of folk and popular songs interject, particularly in the scherzo. Listen for, among others, "My Old Kentucky Home," "Sailor's Hornpipe," "and "Long, Long Ago.”Listen
- Haydn: Folk Songs for voice with violin, cello, and piano
- Haydn: String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 6
It’s easy to forget that chamber music is so called because it was written for performance in one’s own chamber, not the concert hall. The advent of recording and the internet has made it possible for you to listen to this live performance in your car, on the treadmill, or in your living room. In Haydn’s day, though, all music was live. Gathering a few friends to play together in your home was one of the most common ways to experience music. First we’ll hear three folk songs arranged by Haydn for a chamber ensemble of violin, cello, piano, and voice, the sort of instrumentation one could easily imagine gathering together among friends. Then, we’ll hear Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major. Written later in Haydn’s career, these quartets were likely composed for one of the violinists in Haydn’s court orchestra, but they were also intended for public performance in London. Thus they draw on the genre’s history as at-home entertainment but also anticipate chamber music’s future as a concert form.Listen
- Mozart: String Quartet in F Major, K. 590
- Mozart: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K. 478
Written in 1790, Mozart’s String Quartet in F Major was Mozart’s final string quartet, part of an incomplete set written for the King of Prussia, an enthusiastic cellist. The quartets were written to show off the King’s cello-playing prowess, and this one is a charming work, sprightly and full of delightful contrasts. Next is Mozart’s first piano quartet, in G minor, which was commissioned as part of a set by the publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister. Once Hoffmeister saw this first piano quartet, however, he cancelled the remaining commissions, realizing that the music was far beyond the abilities of most amateur musicians, for whom the publication was intended. At the time, Mozart was giving regular performances of his own piano concertos, and the quartet seems almost like a mini-concerto at times, with virtuosic piano writing. The sections in which all four players are on more equal footing, with intricate contrapuntal writing, were equally daunting to amateur players. Though the work may not have been a commercial success, it has become a well-loved gem in the somewhat limited piano quartet literature.Listen
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101
When one thinks of Beethoven, the image that springs to mind is usually of the stern, wild-haired man behind such epic works as the fifth and ninth symphonies, or perhaps the avant gardist who wrote those sublimely philosophical final string quartets. But of course, there’s more to Beethoven than that. As Lewis Lockwood and Mark Kroll write in their book on Beethoven’s violin sonatas, “Although this image is meaningful and enduring, it fails to make room for contrasting dimensions of Beethoven’s art that belong to other aesthetic domains—those of grace, beauty, humor, and restraint, which emerge…in the more intimate world of his keyboard chamber music.” In today’s podcast, we’ll delve into that world, first through Beethoven’s first violin sonata in D Major. Written early in Beethoven’s career, and characterized by those qualities of beauty and lightness, the sonata nonetheless contains kernels of the methods that would characterize his later work. Then, we’ll hear Beethoven’s 28th piano sonata, his opus 101. In the final movement of this sonata, Beethoven again employs a device that would become a signature in his later works: a wonderfully intricate fugue.Listen
- Kirchner: Trio No. 1
- Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 87
It comes as little surprise that Boston, one of America’s oldest cities, has a rich musical history. The Gardner Museum’s own concert series is the longest-running museum music program in the country. But the roots of Boston’s chamber music life stretch even further back, to the famed Mendelssohn Quintet Club, the very first professional chamber music ensemble in the U.S., founded in Boston in 1849. For almost fifty years, the ensemble was a cornerstone of Boston’s musical life. On today’s podcast, we hear one of the works that gave them their name. First, though, we have a work from much more recent history: Kirchner’s Trio No. 1. A longtime Harvard professor, Leon Kirchner was deeply involved in Boston’s new music community, as a teacher and a composer. He also conducted the Gardner Chamber Orchestra from 1995 to 2002, cementing his strong relationship with the museum, which has given performances and premieres of many of his works, some of which have been featured on this podcast. Our recording is taken from a January 2009 concert celebration of Kirchner’s 90th birthday at the Gardner.Listen
- Brahms: Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8
- Brahms: Sonata for violin and piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100
Throughout the history of music, society has been fascinated by the idea of the wunderkind, the child prodigy. Many of us think of Mozart as the archetypal wunderkind, but the subject of today’s podcast is not Mozart but Brahms, a wunderkind of a different sort. Brahms didn’t begin studying composition until age 13, but within seven years he was pronounced one of the most important composers of his generation, the heir to Beethoven. The piano trio that we’ll hear today is one of relatively few early Brahms works that remain. The composer was an infamous perfectionist, and he destroyed many early works that he didn’t think were up to snuff. We’ll begin today’s program, though, with a piece written much later in Brahms’ career, his second sonata for violin and piano. This piece was also somewhat atypical for the perfectionist Brahms, in that it was dashed off rather quickly, much more like the traditional wunderkind. Brahms was in his fifties at the time, but the trip that yielded this work was colored by a flurry of youthful inspiration. Brahms proclaimed the vacation spot where he wrote the pieces “so full of melodies that one has to be careful not to step on any.”Listen
- Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
- Liszt: Der Müller und der Bach, Op. 25, No. 19 (piano transcription of Schubert's song)
- Liszt: Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, D. 774, Op. 72 (piano transcription of Schubert's song)
- Liszt: Concert paraphrase of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto
This week’s program features several works that conjure visual images. First up is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, based on artwork by Viktor Hartmann. Even without seeing those paintings, it’s not hard to imagine the depictions of the dim Parisian catacombs and the majestic gates of Kiev that inspired Mussorgsky’s music. We then get two very different depictions of flowing water, in a set of Franz Liszt arrangements of Schubert songs. The first song, the sorrowful final movement of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, changes character entirely when the voice of the brook enters, bringing with it flowing sextuplets and a major tonality shift. The second work, loosely translated as “To be sung upon the water,” is perhaps a more obvious depiction of water, with a fluid triple meter throughout, the undulating water a constant beneath the singer’s description of a glowing sunset. Finally, we hear Liszt’s concert paraphrase of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, specifically an arrangement of the famous Act 3 quartet.Listen
- Rachmaninoff: Vocalise
- Rachmaninoff: Etudes Nos. 8 and 9, Op. 39
- Songs from Tin Pan Alley
This week we’ll bring you a few works that started off as songs, but have had great success instrumentally. Rachmaninoff’s lyrical Vocalise is undoubtedly one of the best-known melodies in the canon. Originally the last of his opus 34 set of songs, the gorgeous tune seems to have been a more or less immediate hit. Rachmaninoff himself wrote several arrangements, augmented over the years by dozens more. Today, we’ll hear Rachmaninoff’s own arrangement for piano. The Vocalise will be followed by more Rachmaninoff, Etudes nos. 8 and 9 from opus 39. Then, we’ll move to the popular end of the spectrum, with a set of songs from the Gardner’s Tin Pan Alley series. Today’s selections range from the traditional Danny Boy to the marching band hits You’re A Grand Old Flag and When Johnny Comes Marching Home to the ballad Shine On, Harvest Moon.Listen
- Bach: Partita for keyboard No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829
- Beethoven: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2
Today, we’ll hear pieces by two great composers that reflect instrumental developments in their time. Bach was a dedicated keyboardist and composed for nearly every keyboard instrument. His Partita No. 5 in G Major was written specifically for a single-manual harpsichord; therefore, there are very few sustained notes. Instead, Bach uses intricate counterpoint and fugal relationships between the voices to create a densely textured and swirling set of dance movements. Beethoven, a gifted keyboard player himself, was also a pioneer in utilizing the cello as a solo instrument. In his Cello Sonata in G minor – one of the very first cello sonatas ever written – we hear the young composer beginning to realize the full potential of both instruments. He skillfully matches the sustained tones of the cello with rhythmic articulation and cascading notes in the piano. And in the final Rondo-Allegro, the piano and cello take turns carrying the lyrically playful melody and adding sparkling embellishment.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for bassoon, strings, and continuo in A minor
- Schumann: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47
While the bassoon was hardly a common solo instrument at the turn of the 18th century, Vivaldi clearly took it seriously. He wrote over 39 concertos for the instrument, including the Bassoon Concerto in A minor that we’ll hear today. Why was Vivaldi so drawn to the bassoon? Theories abound: perhaps he was inspired by a well-known Venetian master of the dulcian (an early version of the bassoon) or by an accomplished bassoonist at the girls’ school where he taught. Robert Schumann wrote his Piano Quartet in E-flat Major in 1842, a year known as his “Chamber Music Year” for the abundance of chamber works he composed during that time. Why so much chamber music all at once? Part of the answer lies in the genre itself, representing an ideal middle ground between private and public entertainment. This piano quartet has moments of quiet intimacy; yet the overall texture is thick with activity and grand gestures, melding an older chamber music model with a new impulse towards soloistic virtuosity.Listen
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C Major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)
After Beethoven’s death, a curious document was found among his belongings. In this highly personal letter, labeled the “Heiligenstadt Testament,” Beethoven admitted that he was going deaf and revealed the agony that his condition had caused him. Indeed, the loss of his hearing was Beethoven’s greatest fear realized. Beethoven wrote the Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1 just four months before the Heiligenstadt Testament. The Adagio movement holds a beautifully deep sense of melancholy and pathos, perhaps reflecting the composer’s growing despair. By contrast, his ambitious Piano Sonata in C Major, op. 53, nicknamed the “Waldstein Sonata,” was composed a year after the Heiligenstadt Testament. By this time, Beethoven had moved beyond his anxiety and depression into a phase of intense productivity. Featuring compelling motives and strong characters, this sonata is a clear reflection of Beethoven’s personal determination and commitment to his life and music.Listen
- Schubert: Octet in F Major, D. 803, Op. 166
Schubert’s Octet in F Major, the centerpiece of today’s program, is an ambitious piece in every way. Its broad instrumentation—string quartet plus double bass, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn—provides a richness of texture and timbre that is unusual in a chamber work. Moreover, Schubert gives each instrument a place of honor within the piece. Melodies are shared and swapped, making the octet a rich and respectful conversation between eight individuals, where the expressive whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The octet was commissioned by the Archbishop Rudolph of Olomutz, Beethoven’s former patron, who asked Schubert for a work that would complement Beethoven’s 1799 septet. Schubert followed Beethoven’s model closely in the number and structure of the movements as well as in the instrumentation. And indeed, this octet is marked by the strength and fieriness that we associate with Beethoven. But the elegance and lyricality, as well as the intimacy of emotions expressed, are quintessentially Schubert.Listen
- Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice (excerpt)
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”)
Today’s podcast features works by two composers who were committed to devising integrated musical forms in order to create compelling musical experiences. In his opera Orpheus and Eurydice, Christoph Willibald Gluck wanted to unify all elements of the work to create dramatic momentum. By simplifying flashy vocal techniques and making skillful use of orchestration, harmonies, and plot, he created a work that flows smoothly, allowing the audience to become thoroughly absorbed in the music and drama. We’ll hear a selection from the opera, arranged for flute and harp. Monumental in its structure, length, and sheer amount of musical material, Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata is considered one of the most challenging in the piano repertoire. Though each movement has a distinctly different mood, Beethoven too was focused on creating an integrated musical form. Through skillful variation and fugal development, he was able to take a few small melodic units and spin them into a massive, yet elegant, musical structure.Listen
- Chopin: Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat Major, Op. 61
- Chopin: Nocturne-Waltz-Scherzo
- Grieg: Violin Sonata in C minor, Op. 45
Frédéric Chopin and Edvard Grieg came from the periphery of Europe to become two of the most celebrated 19th century composers. Chopin was born in Poland but spent most of his life in Paris. After the Polish uprising against the Russian empire in 1830, he realized that he could use his music to raise awareness of Polish culture. The polonaise - the quintessential Polish dance form - thus played an important role in his compositions. His Polonaise-Fantasy incorporates the polonaise’s martial rhythm while maintaining an organic spontaneity and sustained intensity. An early Nocturne, Waltz, and Scherzo illustrate Chopin’s ability to compose emotional and innovative pieces in a range of genres. Committed to being a Norwegian nationalist composer, Grieg drew on a range of influences, from the intense romanticism of Schumann to the angular rhythms and unusual intervals of Norwegian folk song. His Violin Sonata in C minor displays Grieg’s Scandinavian roots alongside the wider aesthetic influences that affected his music.Listen
- Bach: Partita for solo flute in A minor, BWV 1013
- Schumann: Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110
The first piece on today’s program is Bach’s Partita in A minor, made up of four movements that constitute a typical baroque dance suite. Because the work is for solo flute, with no accompanying instrument to provide the harmonic bass figures, Bach had to conjure meter, harmony and counterpoint in one solo melodic instrument. The result is a challenging piece, demanding frequent leaps between registers to create the effect of multiple voices in just one instrument. Robert Schumann idolized Bach. Throughout his life he collected and studied Bach’s works, especially the Well-Tempered Clavier, which greatly influenced his own keyboard compositions. Even within Schumann’s lush and romantic Piano Trio No. 3, the flowing lines and densely layered voices mask a carefully refined structure, a rigor of form and development that hints at Bach’s central role in Schumann’s musical world.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3
- Mozart: Viola Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 614
Beethoven wrote his Op. 10, No. 3 piano sonata in 1798, six years after moving to Vienna. In its elegance, structure, and charm, Beethoven’s early music is certainly indebted to the work of Haydn and Mozart. Yet the underlying drama and urgency that eventually became the hallmarks of Beethoven’s music can be detected even in the Classical style of this early piano sonata. Mozart’s Viola Quintet in E-flat Major was written in 1791. The viola was Mozart’s favorite string instrument, so writing for an ensemble that had two violas must have satisfied him. The work’s deft combination of virtuosity and melodiousness demonstrate Mozart’s compositional maturity. Sadly, this is the last chamber work the composer was to write; he died later that year.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for Orchestra in C Major, FXI No. 25
- Ives: Sonata No. 2 (“Concord”)
Today’s program begins with Antonio Vivaldi’s very short Concerto for Orchestra in C Major. A prolific composer, Vivaldi often re-used part of one piece in another work – and indeed the second movement of this piece was repurposed in his Double Trumpet Concerto. This borrowing of musical material is a common compositional practice, but no composer is more famous for the quotation and recycling of musical snippets than Charles Ives. The piano sonata that we’ll hear next, officially titled “Concord, Mass. 1840-1860,” recalls the 19th century Transcendentalists. Each movement of the sonata represents one of the great thinkers of the time: Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, and Thoreau. Throughout the piece, Ives draws on a range of musical styles and sounds, from folk songs and austere hymns to ragtime melodies and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, to create these musical portraits.Listen
- Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words
- Mendelssohn: Octet for strings in E-flat Major, Op. 20
First on this program is a selection of short piano pieces from Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words.” Mendelssohn wrote eight volumes of these songlike works between 1830 and 1845. Typical of Mendelssohn, every song is carefully structured and elegantly refined. Even without words, each short piece has a very definite character and temperament, ranging from triumphal to nostalgic. Mendelssohn composed his string octet in 1825, when he was only sixteen years old. This work is considered his first great masterpiece. Scored for a double quartet, Mendelssohn specified that the octet should be played with the dynamics, strength and style of a symphony. Mendelssohn considered the octet to be one of his favorite works.Listen
- Schumann: Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 11
- Beethoven: Cello Sonata in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2
Robert Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 1 is a beautifully structured series of emotional contradictions, from the impish and dark Allegro Vivace to the brooding yet ethereal Finale. It was written at a time of similarly mixed emotions in Schumann’s life: the period in which he experienced his first severe bouts of depression, but also when he began his romance with the brilliant pianist Clara Wieck, whose own compositions inspired this piece. When Beethoven wrote his Sonata in D Major for cello and piano, he was enjoying great acclaim as a composer, but his growing deafness meant the end of his career as a pianist. In this sonata, Beethoven takes full advantage of the instruments’ sonorous possibilities, coupling his characteristic musical strength with rich melodic lines and moments of intimacy and delicacy. This is most clearly heard in the final fugue, where the forthright emotions and unusual harmonies seem to foreshadow Romantic music.Listen
- Dvořák: Terzetto in C Major, Op. 74
- Dvořák: Serenade for Winds and Strings in D minor, Op. 44
Today, we will hear two pieces by the Czech composer Antonin Dvořák, beginning with his Terzetto for two violins and viola from 1887. Besieged with commissions after several very successful trips to England, Dvořák wrote this piece in just one week! Unapologetically melodic, the Terzetto’s themes dovetail and layer between the instruments, always containing a hint of wistfulness. The piece is far more rich, dramatic, and complex than either its title or its simple instrumentation would indicate. One of Dvořák’s earlier works, his Serenade for Winds and Strings, was written over the course of two weeks in 1879, during another period of increased demand for his compositions. Scored for a large ensemble of winds, brass, cello and bass, it nonetheless maintains a simplicity of line and texture. The work’s solidity of sound and honesty of expression convey an integrity that is present in much of Dvořák’s music, especially fitting for a composer who always placed family, homeland, nature, and music above all else.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Op. 79
- Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26
Beethoven called his Sonata No. 25 a ‘sonatine facile’—a simple, or easy, little sonata—and its three compact movements comprise one of his shortest works. Throughout the varying moods of the three movements, this work maintains an air of freedom and innocence. But the readily apparent thematic clarity and easy spirit of this little sonata belie its compositional sophistication and elegant structure. Johannes Brahms moved to Vienna, Beethoven’s adopted hometown, in 1862, seventy years after Beethoven’s death. Brahms idolized Beethoven and was deeply influenced by his work. Upon arriving in Vienna, Brahms was hailed as Beethoven’s musical successor. And Brahms’ very first pieces to be performed in that city were his first two piano quartets, completed the previous year. His second piano quartet, a lyrical counterpart to the muscular first, is quintessential Brahms in its rich and expansive nature, with a still, stationary quality that underlies even the moments of dark rumbling and playful intensity.Listen
- Mozart: Piano Trio No. 5 in C Major, K. 548
- Mozart: String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421
When trying to understand a composer’s music, we often turn to his or her life to learn more about what biographical events might have influenced a particular work or period. Sometimes, though, what we know about a composer’s life and what we hear in a piece seem to be diametrically opposed. Mozart’s Trio in C Major was written in 1788, at a time when Mozart’s wife was battling a serious illness and just a year after his father’s death. Already under financial pressure, Mozart quickly wrote three piano trios in order to secure funds. The C Major trio is short but sophisticated, with a lighthearted spirit that belies the financial and psychological duress that Mozart was under at the time. In contrast, his String Quartet in D minor, written five years earlier when Mozart was recently married and enjoying great popularity and success in Vienna, opens with a melody that is deeply haunting and unsettled. And while Mozart does introduce sunnier themes, he always returns to a dark and brooding atmosphere.Listen
- Bach: Andante from Italian Concerto, BWV 971
- Beethoven: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132
First on today’s program is the Andante movement from Bach’s Italian Concerto. Surprisingly, while the piece is called a concerto, it is only played by one instrument: the harpsichord. Bach took the popular Italian concerto style—usually used for instrumental soloists and an orchestra—and transcribed it for harpsichord. Here, however, the piece is not performed by a keyboard player at all, but a harpist. Our second piece is Beethoven’s monumental String Quartet in A minor. The second of Beethoven’s famous late quartets, it is particularly well-known for its third movement, the “Heiliger Dankgesang,” which Beethoven composed just after recovering from a serious illness. The quartet as a whole is alternately fiery and charming—almost schizophrenic in its quick changes of tonality and temperament. But the “Heiliger Dankgesang” is of another character entirely: simple and austere, with incredible harmonies emerging as the instruments slowly move in unison.Listen
- Debussy: Sonata for cello and piano
- Ravel: Trio
Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are held today as two icons of French classical music. Both were prominent in fin-de-siecle Parisian culture, associating closely with writers, poets, and painters. Both attended the 1889 Paris Exhibition and were fascinated by the musical cultures they encountered there, particularly the Javanese gamelan. Working in almost parallel fashion, both actively sought to create a fluid new sound world, rich in texture and color, and each emerged with a distinctive musical idiom. The two pieces we’ll hear today were written within a year of one another, in the midst of World War I. Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano was composed in 1915, three years before his death. Within its irregular phrasing and rubato, every gesture in the cello conjures a speaking voice, urgently trying to communicate. Ravel’s 1914 Trio is especially notable for its narrative quality, as if a story or panorama were slowly unfolding as the three instruments weave in and out of each other, layering and disassembling strata of sound.Listen
- Chopin: Three Mazurkas, Op. 59
- Webern: Variations for Piano, Op. 27
- Beethoven: Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 69
Though disparate in sound and style, today’s three pieces are similar in that each can be considered emblematic of its composer’s sound and approach. Chopin, frequently discussed as a nationalist composer, expressed allegiance with his Polish homeland by returning to the form of the mazurka, a quintessential Polish folk dance, throughout his career. His Three Mazurkas contain the composer’s hallmark elegance, virtuosity, and structural sophistication. Webern’s Variations for Piano exemplify the twelve-tone row compositional technique to which Webern strictly adhered throughout his life, along with the pointillistic texture, complex rhythm, and sharply disjointed lines that illustrate his sound world. Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A Major is emblematic in that it captures much of the composer’s dedication to a ‘heroic spirit.’ The opening theme contains a fiercely majestic quality and Beethoven’s expansive and demanding use of the cello and piano creates a fullness of sound that surpasses usual expectations for two instruments.Listen
- Kreisler: Miniature Viennese March
- Schubert: Trio in B-flat Major, D. 898, Op. 99
The development of the piano trio is inextricably linked to the evolution of the piano as an instrument. Because the piano’s precursors, such as the harpsichord, had little dynamic range and were unable to sustain notes, composers often used the strings as accompaniment to balance the volume of the three instruments. As the piano’s volume and richness of tone increased, string parts became increasingly substantial and melodic. Written in 1827, Schubert’s intricate and expansive B-flat Major trio is arguably the first piano trio where the cello truly becomes an equal musical partner in the ensemble. Kreisler’s early 20th-century Miniature Viennese March is playful and jazzy, with the violin and cello sharing the lively, sometimes sultry, melody while the piano acts as accompaniment, providing a dissonant offbeat rhythm clearly influenced by popular American music of the time.Listen
- Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel (selections)
- Elgar: Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82
British composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar were the first since Henry Purcell (1659-1695) to have a major impact on British classical music. They, in turn, paved the way for later British composers, leading to a 20th century musical renaissance in England. Vaughan Williams attended some of the best institutions in England, and received instruction from very prominent composers, yet he became best known for his appreciation and use of British folk songs. These three pieces--“The Vagabond,” “The Fireside,” and “Whither Must I Wander”--are taken from his song cycle “Songs of Travel” which uses poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. Elgar, a generation older than Vaughan Williams, was largely self-taught as a composer and gained much of his knowledge by studying scores in his father’s music shop. After his first major success with “The Enigma Variations,” Elgar became known as the greatest English composer since Purcell.Listen
- Beethoven: Fifteen Variations and a Fugue in E-flat Major, Op. 35
- Beethoven: String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4
Both of the pieces on today’s podcast were written by the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven in the early years of his career. Beethoven was a virtuosic pianist who often impressed patrons and audiences by performing his own compositions and then improvising extensively upon them. Today, his Fifteen Variations and a Fugue for solo piano is often nicknamed “The Eroica Variations” because Beethoven re-used the main theme of this piece for the finale of his Eroica Symphony. The String Quartet in C Minor, one of Beethoven’s first string quartets, is elegant and agile, while still displaying strong marks of the composer’s famously dramatic temperament. Right from the opening of the first movement, we hear a stormy melodic line over driving bass notes. The line rises and increases in intensity, spilling over into an abrasive and disruptive series of chords. Even in his early works, Beethoven chose confrontation over simple closure.Listen
- Bruhns: Mein Herz ist bereit
- Bruhns: De Profundis clamavi
- Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht for String Sextet, Op. 4
The two composers that we’ll hear today draw on very different textual materials for their work. Nicolaus Bruhns, a seventeenth century German composer, set Biblical Psalms in his two sacred concerti. Arnold Schoenberg’s string sextet Verklärte Nacht, or “Transfigured Night,” is based on a poem which describes a man and woman talking in moonlit woods. Containing daring erotic and social themes, it was considered risqué even to the modernist circles in turn-of-the century Vienna. Yet despite the historical and textual gap, both composers used their music to link the human and the divine. While the text of Bruhn’s concerti is directed towards the divine, the expressive quality of the gestures and melodies are very human. And although the emotional journey of Verklärte Nacht seems to be entirely of this world, the sustained pure chords in the last measures of the piece indicate that the human element can finally be transcended for the clarity of the night.Listen
- Saint-Saëns: Romance for flute and harp
- Debussy: Chansons de Bilitis
- Saint-Saëns: Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75
Today we will be listening to three pieces written for soprano instruments in the late 19th century by two French composers – Camille Saint-Saëns and Claude Debussy. Saint-Saëns’ Romance for the flute, with its elegant and soaring melodic lines, is the perfect showcase for this quintessential soprano woodwind. “Chansons de Bilitis,” written for high voice and piano, is a set of three poems that tell a mythic tale of lust, betrayal, and abandonment. The last piece, Saëns’ Violin Sonata in D minor, is written for the highest member of the string family. In this fiery sonata, the atmosphere is dark and brooding, interspersed with moments of beauty and playfulness. These three pieces demonstrate that soprano instruments not only embody refinement and beauty, but they can manifest a passion and ferocity that reflect the richness of human emotions.Listen
- Brahms: Sonatensatz for violin and piano
- Brahms: String Sextet in B-flat Major, Op. 18
Brahms played chamber music from a young age, and these compositions demonstrate a deep commitment to and love of the music created by a small number of players. Whether he wrote for two instruments, or for six, Brahms gave each part its own unique character, so that each voice contributes to the structural and emotional integrity of the music. The Sonatensatz was originally the scherzo movement of a sonata that Brahms wrote with his friends, Albert Dietrich and Robert Schumann. It is a true collaboration between the violin and piano, demanding full emotional intensity from both instruments. In the string sextet, Brahms takes full advantage of each member of the ensemble. It is lushly textured; rich in the bass register; and ethereal in the high violin lines. Each voice—whether it is interrupting, sympathizing, questioning or supporting—has an important place within the larger conversation.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for orchestra in D minor, FXII, No. 31
- Schubert: Cello Quintet in C Major, D. 956, Op. 163
To our modern ears, innovation in music composed centuries ago is hard to detect. But both of the pieces in today’s podcast use innovation in instrumentation and style to create a sound that was new for the audiences of their time. Vivaldi’s Concerto is one of many that he wrote for various groups of instruments - in this case, violins, oboes, recorders and a bassoon, accompanied by a small orchestra. While this might not sound unusual, the bassoon was actually a new instrument in the early 18th century, and its prominent inclusion would have been a pleasant novelty for Vivaldi’s audience. This piece also differs from the standard Baroque concerto form by fluidly weaving the solo instrumental parts in with the larger ensemble. Schubert’s Cello Quintet also contains an unusual instrument - a second cello! The standard string quintet uses an extra viola, so this is an unexpected combination. Sadly, this quintet was Schubert’s last instrumental composition. While many of the melodies are lilting and joyful, harmonic shadows are constantly emerging.Listen
- Strauss/Godowsky: Die Fledermaus (Symphonic Metamorphosis)
- Schoenberg: Six Short Pieces for Piano, Op. 19
- Mozart: String Quartet in A Major, K. 464
When Leopold Godowsky, a virtuosic pianist and famous pedagogue, transcribed and arranged themes from Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus” in 1912, he had two goals—to capture the charming and humorous spirit of Strauss' operetta and to extend the limits of pianistic technique. The result is a piece so difficult that it is rarely heard in live performance! Schoenberg's Six Short Pieces, also written in 1912, have a very different sound. The composer was just beginning to experiment with atonality and in these little piano pieces, Schoenberg creates succinct microcosms of music that truly are so short that they have no formal structure. The last selection is Mozart's Quartet in A Major. An original manuscript indicates that this quartet actually caused Mozart more trouble than his others. There are alterations, changes and musical fragments that are unusual for his composing style. The quartet itself, however, flows with so much lyricism and beauty that it is impossible to hear any hint of this compositional struggle.Listen
- Debussy: Preludes
- Fauré: Sonata in A Major for violin and piano, Op. 13
The pieces on this podcast were written by two of the most renowned French composers, Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré. First is a selection of Debussy's piano preludes, some of the most magical and effervescent music ever written. Each can be heard as a small vignette. The first, “Voiles,” evokes a calm evening at the ocean, white sails floating over the sea. Another, “Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest,” is a stormy reflection of the west wind. And “La puerta del vino” is a sensual Habanera dance inspired by a picture postcard from the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. Fauré’s Sonata in A Major is romantic and lush, and sounds much more traditional than Debussy's modal and quixotic piano pieces. But like the Preludes, each movement of Fauré's sonata has a distinct personality. The first movement is excited, if bittersweet; the second, dark and yearning. The third movement is quirky and humorous; and the finale closes the sonata with a flowing, sometimes fiery character.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2 (“Tempest”)
- Beethoven: String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29 (“Storm”)
Both of the pieces on today’s program come from the period of Beethoven’s life when he was beginning to seriously lose his hearing, and both bear the sorts of titles you might expect of music written during this time. Certainly a sort of emotional unrest is evident in both pieces, but just as notable are the musical innovations at work here, as we hear Beethoven moving towards the sort of harmonic and structural creativity that would characterize his later works, in spite of his deafness. In the “Tempest” sonata Beethoven takes a very simple idea—an arpeggio—and transforms it into a sort of backbone for the piece, creating structure and cohesiveness. The use of motive was one of Beethoven’s trademarks. In the second piece Beethoven plays with both tonality and meter, two other areas of experimentation in his music.Listen
- Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, BWV 1051
- Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48
Perhaps Bach’s best-known orchestral works, the Brandenburg concertos are performed often in concert, but this final concerto is not quite as famous as some of its predecessors. Bach chooses a mellow instrumentation for this concerto—all low strings, from viola down to cello and violone, an early bass instrument. But even with the unusual instrumentation, the piece is still signature Bach, with wonderful counterpoint, dance rhythms and variations. Next is Schumann’s famous song cycle “Dichterliebe.” In typical German Romantic fashion, the topic at hand is love, in this case the love of a poet. Our poet starts out optimistic, if not entirely secure, in the first song. But as the cycle progresses, the narrator becomes increasingly disenchanted, going from denial to overt sorrow in the final song, in which he longs to bury his songs, his dreams and his love.Listen
- Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 88
- Brahms: Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 101
Johannes Brahms came to Robert and Clara Schumann’s home on September 30th of 1853, as a young composer just 20 years old, and remained a close friend of both for the rest of their lives. The Schumanns provided the young Brahms with emotional, professional and musical support, and they were instrumental in his early successes. The trios we’ll hear today are among the shortest these composers wrote. First is Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 88. Written just after Robert Schumann’s happy marriage to Clara, the work is generally light in tone, and contains wonderfully catchy melodies. Next we’ll listen to Brahms’s Trio in C minor, a mature work written well after Schumann’s death. In his earlier work, Brahms paid more literal homage to Schumann. In this trio, Brahms is a more established composer, and speaks with his own voice, but his ongoing interest in chamber music was undoubtedly influenced by Schumann.Listen
- Berg: Sonata for piano, Op. 1
- Beethoven: Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”)
At age 19, Alban Berg began studying composition with Arnold Schoenberg, and his sonata shows the influence of Schoenberg’s teaching in its adventurous use of extended harmony and his insistence on a clear and coherent structure in which each of the sonata’s ideas is based on a single, central motive. Of course, the idea of using a motive to structure a piece was one which Schoenberg himself borrowed from the next composer on today’s program, Beethoven. The Appassionata Sonata was composed during one of the most difficult, but productive, periods of Beethoven’s life. During this time Beethoven began to display bold new harmonic ideas, as in the opening of this sonata, in which the phrase is repeated just a half-step higher, placing the sonata suddenly in ambiguous harmonic territory. He also increasingly used these motives to structure longer pieces of music, the idea that so influenced Schoenberg and, in turn, Berg.Listen
- Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes for clarinet, string quartet, and piano, Op. 34
- Brahms: Quintet in B minor for clarinet and strings, Op. 115
The clarinet is a bit of a chameleon. Equally at home as a woodwind section member in Mozart’s classical symphonies or playing solo in Gershwin’s famous glissando at the start of “Rhapsody in Blue,” the clarinet can switch settings with ease. Even within a single piece, the differences in timbre—dusky at the bottom and piercingly bright at the top—can make a single clarinet seem like several different instruments. This week we’ll listen to a couple of different pieces that feature the clarinet, and all its many colors.Listen
- Russian songs by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, and Mussorgsky
- Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence for string sextet in D Major, Op. 70
We often think of classical music as having a specific geographic origin, and indeed there are a lot of generalizations that can be made about the classical traditions of different countries. The French we often think of as expert colorists, the Germans as very structural in approach, and the Italians as melodic masters. But with a piece like Souvenir de Florence, a Russian composer’s memory of Florence, Italy, presented under a French title, those generalizations won’t help you much. Before the sextet, we’ll hear a set of three songs by Russian composers, starting with Glinka’s “Train Song” and ending with Mussorgsky’s famous “Song of the Flea.” In the middle is Tchaikovsky’s aria “Don Juan’s Serenade.” In fact, this song was part of a set begun during one of Tchaikovsky’s trips to Florence. In “Don Juan’s Serenade” we have Spanish character, a Russian poem and an Italian vacation. You definitely can’t pin it down by geography, but when the music is this enjoyable, who cares?Listen
- Webern: Langsamer Satz
- Schubert: Quintet in A Major for piano, violin, viola, cello and bass, D. 667, Op. 114 (“Trout”)
This week, we’re listening to a couple pieces that challenge expectations a little. Some of us start to get a little anxious when we hear those second Viennese school names—Schoenberg, Berg, Webern. But this Webern quartet, an early work written in the first blush of love, is much more late Romantic than early modern. It gets chromatic, but still—if you didn’t already know the piece, you’d be hard-pressed to identify it as Webern. Next we’ll hear Schubert’s “Trout” quintet, one of the composer’s best-known chamber music works that has a pretty unique point of inspiration. After a performance of his charming song “Die Forelle” about the battle between a fisherman and a trout, Schubert was approached by a business man and amateur cellist who commissioned him to write a quintet based on the song. The fact that Schubert could translate his song from a short narrative piece about a trout fisherman into a full-blown chamber music work speaks to the musical strength of his vocal compositions, and his standing as one of the true revolutionaries of lieder.Listen
- Italian love songs by Donizetti, Tosti, and Gastaldon
- Mozart: Divertimento in D Major for horns and strings
Music is often written in celebration—of an emotion, an event, a rite of passage—and today we’ll listen to pieces written to celebrate these occasions. When you talk about Italian vocal music, you are almost always dealing with love. The first song in the set, “Me voglio fa’ ‘na casa” by Donizetti, captures the free spirit of a sailor’s love. The poetry, written in the Neopolitan dialect, adds a folk sensibility to this as well as the next song, “A’ Vucchella” by Tosti. In the last song in the set, “Musica Proibita” by Stanislao Gastaldon, we get perhaps the lustiest declarations, in words so provocative that a mother forbids her young daughter to sing them! After that, a celebration of a very different sort. Mozart wrote this Divertimento in D Major for horns and strings, in part, to mark the graduation of his friend Sigmund Robinig from law school, according to the All Music Guide. The work’s substantial instrumentation—with bass in addition to cello—and its larger-than-average proportions for a divertimento make it a particularly satisfying sample of Mozart’s work in this genre.Listen
- Arensky: Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32
- Tournier: Sonatine for harp, Op. 30
Classical music definitely has its stars, and Beethoven is arguably the biggest. But classical music has its lesser-knowns, too. In this program we’ll listen to two composers who may not have achieved Beethoven’s fame, but who have nonetheless earned a lasting place in the chamber music repertory. Sometimes writing for an instrument that doesn’t have a big repertoire can earn a non-celebrity composer a permanent place on the recital stage. Such is the case with Tournier’s Sonatine. A harpist married to another harpist, Tourier knew the instrument well and had a major hand in developing new techniques and expanding its repertoire. The Arensky Trio is one of this little-known Russian composer’s most-performed works. The New Grove dictionary calls it one of his best, too, and notes the influence of Mendelssohn’s own piano trio, as well as the work’s elegiac third movement, written in homage to the cellist Davidov.Listen
- Bach: Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006
- Schumann: Sonata No. 1 in A minor for violin and piano, Op. 105
Boston, where the Gardner Museum is located, is a big college town. And so every April, we tip our hats to Boston’s student population with a series of concerts by some of the top young musicians enrolled in New England Conservatory’s Artist Diploma program, one of the most prestigious music training programs in the country. This week on the podcast we will listen to two Artist Diploma violinists who have performed here in recent years. First, we’ll hear Bach’s third partita for solo violin. Though neither as virtuosic nor as familiar as the second partita, the third has all the sprightly energy of a dance, with its menuets, gigues and bourées. Next is Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1. The sonata was written relatively late in Schumann’s compositional career, after the bulk of his chamber music works, and it is evident upon listening that, though it is his first work for this particular instrumentation, the music is written by a more experienced hand.Listen
- Mozart: Violin Sonata No. 23 in D Major, K. 306
- Haydn: String Quartet No. 59 in G minor, Op. 74 (“Rider”)
For most contemporary composers, writing a dozen string quartets would be a fairly large feat. Since about Beethoven’s time, and since composers have been writing more for themselves than for a patron or church, the sheer volume of individual compositional output has, for the most part, shrunk. Today, we take a listen to a few pieces from before that time: Mozart’s 23rd violin sonata and Haydn’s 59th string quartet. Haydn wrote 68 numbered string quartets. As a court-employed musician, he composed new pieces for every house concert, soiree and dance party the count cared to throw. Before the Haydn, we’ll hear Mozart’s 23rd violin sonata. In this later sonata, Mozart began to branch out a bit, abandoning the short, two-movement form in use in earlier classical music, and instead writing a more expansive, three-movement piece.Listen
- Schumann: Arasbeske for piano in C Major, Op. 18
- Schumann: Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80
All at once, in 1840, Robert Schumann began writing songs by the dozen. Later called the “Liederjahr,” or “year of song,” this period of extraordinary productivity was brought on, many have speculated, by the composer’s joy in finally winning the hand of his new wife, Clara. In this week’s installment of “The Concert,” we’ll hear a couple of examples of Schumann’s music for his wife’s instrument, the piano. Perhaps these pieces were also inspired, in a different way, by Clara.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1
- Beethoven: String Quartet No. 9, Op. 59, No. 3 (“Razumovsky”)
This week, we’re listening to classic Beethoven, a piece for solo piano and another for string quartet. A relatively early sonata, Beethoven’s opus 10, the 15-minute piano sonata on this program nonetheless contains hints of the composer’s stylistic hallmarks: questioning themes (though, here, often without the requisite “answers”); adventurous development sections, sometimes traveling far afield harmonically and melodically; and a vibrant, striving finale. After the piano sonata, we jump into a later string quartet. Building on the ideas heard in the earlier sonata, this quartet begins on particularly rocky harmonic ground, with an intriguing introduction that meanders through several remote keys before finally landing, part-way through the exposition, in C Major.Listen
- Vivaldi: Flute Concerto, Op. 10, No. 1
- Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81
The first piece on today’s program falls into the category of “program music,” meaning that the notes follow a set “program” or story. And this music delivers: full of vigorous, rushing passages and endless motion, conjuring a storm-tossed ocean. Dvorak’s piano quintet, on the other hand, evokes many emotions without giving name to any of them. Actually his second quintet—he was reputedly dissatisfied with his first—the piece has won a place among the most-loved Romantic-era quintets, and it’s easy to hear why. Warm, lush melodies, colorful Eastern European elements and delicious rhythms—two against three, three against four—make it a great piece to sink your teeth into, even without a storyline.Listen
- Michael Tilson Thomas: Grace
- Strauss: Sonata for violin and piano in E-flat Major, Op. 18
This week on “The Concert,” we’re listening to pieces that reveal different sides of the composers who wrote them, music you might not expect. The meat of the program is Richard Strauss’s violin sonata in E-flat Major. This sonata, written at roughly the same time as the grand, well-loved orchestral “Don Juan,” contains that same sort of melody and lusciousness in miniature. Before the sonata, we’ll hear a newer piece, American composer Michael Tilson Thomas’s charming “Grace,” a jazzy song, intimate in scale, but full of affection. Written in honor of Leonard Bernstein’s 70th Birthday, it seems a fitting homage to that great American composer, a lover of song.Listen
- Bartók: Sonata for violin and piano No. 2 in C Major
- Hemphill: The Moat and the Bridge
- Hemphill: One Atmosphere
This week on “The Concert,” we return to music by Béla Bartók and Julius Hemphill, listening to another set of 20th century works based on folk music and blues. Less traditional in form, Bartók’s second sonata is in just two movements, rather than the standard three, the first movement full of Schoenbergian chromaticism and the second once again infused with folk dance rhythms. After the Bartók, we hear two pieces by Julius Hemphill, infused with the blues but incorporating classical as well as jazz instruments.Listen
- Bartók: Sonata for violin and piano No. 1 in C-sharp minor, Op. 21
- Hemphill: The Hard Blues
Most people have strong musical memories from their childhood: the songs their parents listened to, the music they grew up singing or playing. In this week’s episode, we’ll listen to two composers who took their early roots in music, Hungarian folk songs and the blues respectively, and jumped off to create compositions inspired by, but quite different from, their musical beginnings. Bartók was fascinated by Hungarian folk music, and spent much of his early compositional life collecting, transcribing and setting traditional folk songs. Hemphill was a real revolutionary as a saxophone player, known for his writing for saxophone quartet and, in this case, sextet. The blues tune here definitely has a foot in tradition, but it’s also audaciously modern.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 20 in G Major, Op. 49, No. 2
- Beethoven: Sonata for violin and piano No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2 (“Eroica”)
On this week of “The Concert,” we’ll listen to two sonatas by Beethoven, one for piano solo, and another for violin and piano, that seem about as different as night and day. Written around the same time as Beethoven’s infamous “Heiligenstadt Testament,” an anguished letter about his worsening deafness, the violin sonata’s grim mood is often interpreted as a direct reflection of Beethoven’s sorrow over the loss of his hearing. Before that, though, something much cheerier: Beethoven’s piano sonata number 20, opus 49 number 2, played by pianist Paavali Jumppanen. Though written several years before the violin sonata, this piece wasn’t actually published until a few years later, when Beethoven’s brother apparently sent it off to a publisher without Beethoven’s knowledge. Interestingly enough, though, he thought well enough of this sonata that he used the finale as the basis for a movement of his eighth violin sonata, a curious connection between the two seemingly different pieces on our podcast today.Listen
- Mozart: Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 533/K. 494
- Mozart: Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major, K. 496
It could be said that all art is about communicating, but in music the idea of dialogue is particularly important, especially in the music of Mozart. One thinks right away of his great opera finales, with characters talking to each other, over each other and to themselves in a wonderful cacophony. But Mozart encapsulates this same essential dialogue in instrumental music, too, and even in solos. In the first movement of the piano sonata on today’s program, the allegro, Mozart uses a lot of counterpoint, and you can hear the exchange of ideas between high and low voices. In the piano trio, we hear the beginnings of the type of chamber music which would come to dominate, in which all players are equal partners in the music-making.Listen
- Dvořák: Sonatina for violin and piano in G Major, Op. 100 (arr. for viola)
- Dvořák: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87
It’s odd, but true, that one of the best-known classical symphonies about America was actually written by a Czech composer. Antonin Dvořák’s “New World” symphony was written during a trip the composer took to the states in the 1890’s, and is just one of the pieces that established him as the most distinguished and well-known of Czech composers. During his time in America, Dvořák wrote other pieces as well, including the sonatina that comes first on today’s all-Dvořák program. Then, we’ll return to a Dvořák piece that’s a bit more Old World in style: his piano quartet in E-Flat Major. Written before his trip to America, this piece reflects Dvořák’s connection to European composers, particularly Brahms, who was a strong advocate for Dvorak in building his early career. The folksong-like melodies here are reminiscent not of America, but of Dvořák’s native Eastern Europe.Listen
- Massenet: Méditation from Thaïs
- Debussy: Sonata for violin and piano, L. 140
- Ravel: Sonata for violin and piano No. 2 in G Major
This week, we’ll listen to recordings from a recital by 19-year-old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, who played her Boston debut at the Gardner last April with pianist Julien Quentin. Nicola’s rise to stardom started out in more or less the typical classical fashion—violin lessons from age 5, study at an elite music school in Surrey. But her big break actually came from a pretty unconventional source: the televised “Britain’s Brilliant Prodigy” competition, an across-the-pond equivalent of our own American Idol, more or less. Today we’ll listen to some excerpts from her recital—including two violin sonatas from the 20th century, both by French composers, but pretty different in their approach. Before these sonatas, a little appetizer, actually an encore from the recital: Massenet’s Méditation from the opera Thaïs, a lovely, singing solo for violin, and one of our player’s favorite pieces.Listen
- Kirchner: Sonata No. 2 for piano
- Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44
The use of movements in instrumental music dates back to the late 16th century, and may have its roots in dance—each shift in tempo corresponded to a different set of steps. As time passed, conventions regarding the number of movements a piece should have—three for a sonata, for example, or four for a string quartet—started to become ingrained. Later, composers started to play with these very expectations, using the audience’s assumptions to turn a piece on its head. In Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony, the immediate transition from the end of the third movement to the beginning of the fourth is incredibly exciting, especially if you were expecting several seconds of silence. On today’s podcast, we’ll listen to works crafted both ways, with and without discernable movements. Kirchner’s Sonata shrugs off the standard three-movement classical form, instead opting for a more fluid development of musical ideas, while Schumann’s great quintet is written in standard four-movement form, with contrasting tempos. We’d like to thank music publisher G. Schirmer again for their support in helping us to podcast the music of living composers.Listen
- Kirchner: Interlude I (November 2, 2003)
- Ravel: String Quartet in F Major (March 25, 2007)
This week, we celebrate the one year anniversary of “The Concert” with a program dedicated to music of the 20th century, including our first-ever podcast of music by a living composer. The past hundred years have been a tumultuous time for all the arts, particularly music. We’ve seen an explosion of popular music and the genesis of dozens of new genres, from jazz to rock to rap. It has been a time of tremendous change in classical music, too, and today we’ll listen to some bookends of the century—from the very beginning and the very end. We’d like to thank music publisher G. Schirmer for their support in helping us to podcast the music of living composers, starting with this program.Listen
- The Great American Songbook (selections)
At the turn of the last century, it was boom time in the music publishing industry in New York. With over 25,000 new pianos sold each year in America, and more than 500,000 children studying the instrument, there was non-stop demand for new music. For many American families, in this pre-TV era, gathering around the piano to listen, play and sing songs was the most important form of home entertainment. And so Tin Pan Alley was born. Today we’ll listen to some songs from the glory days of Tin Pan Alley. During their concerts at the Gardner, Jennifer and Randy grouped these by themes common to the era, and we’ll hear a few from each category, on topics from modern inventions to romance to immigration and politics. Complete song list: 1. Hello My Baby (Emerson/Howard) / 2. Mind the Paint (Jerome Kern) / 3. The Land Where the Good Songs Go (Jerome Kern) / 4. Home on the Range (Higley/Guion) / 5. Play a Simple Melody (Irving Berlin) / 6. Bill Bailey (Cannon) /I Wonder Why Bill Bailey Don’t Come Home (Fogerty/Woodward/Jerome) / 7. Dixie (Emmett) / 8. I Love You Truly (Jacobs/Bond) / 9. Old Folks at Home (Stephen Foster) / 10. Swanee (George Gershwin)/ 11. Yiddisha Nightingale (Irving Berlin) / 12. Goin’ Home (Dvorak/Fisher)Listen
- Vivaldi: G Major flute concerto, FVI, No. 15 (December 10, 2006)
- Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178 (December 8, 2006)
There is a grand tradition in classical music of showing off. Divas, virtuosos, sadists—call them what you will, but performers who can play incredibly fast, incredibly high, or just incredibly well have always had a place in the arena of the concert stage. Some pieces ask for these sorts of musical Olympics, and today we’ll give a little homage to musical show-offs. In Vivaldi’s flute concerto, the player exhibits skills in not just playing fast written runs, but also adding improvised embellishments in a slow middle movement. Skipping ahead several decades, Liszt’s sonata requires exceptional playing and interpretive abilities.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1 (January 21, 2007)
- Mozart: Violin Sonata No. 26 in B-flat Major, K. 378 (January 29, 2006)
Musicians often speak of the “shadow of Beethoven” as a tremendous force in music history, influencing many of the composers who would follow the great classical master. Schubert once famously asked “who would be able to do anything after Beethoven?” But other composers cast shadows, too, even over Beethoven himself. The shadow of Mozart, for example, seems to hover over the young Beethoven in the piece which opens this podcast. We’ll hear Beethoven’s very Mozartean piano sonata, followed by some original Mozart.Listen
- Schubert: Piano Sonata in B Major, D. 575, Op. 147 (October 14, 2001)
- Brahms: String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 (November 5, 2006)
If you google “romantic music” you’re likely to come up with two very different ideas of what that phrase means, one of which has something to do with the 19th century and the other of which has much more to do with Barry Manilow or the soprano saxophone. Of course, with Brahms and Schubert, we’re talking about the former, Romantic with a capital ‘R.’ Romanticism actually caught hold first in literature and philosophy, a movement that focused on the emotions more than the rational mind. But, in Germany particularly, music came to be thought of as the most perfect realization of the Romantic ideals.Listen
- Mozart: Allegro, K. 497a, and Andante, K. 500a, in G Major for piano, four hands (February 18, 2007)
- Haydn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (December 17, 2006)
Haydn’s sense of musical humor was legendary, and that jovial nature can be found in both the pieces on today’s program. Listen for the lurching bass line in the first movement of the Mozart, and the similarly surprising rhythm of the final movement in the Haydn quartet, a short upbeat pattern that repeats and gains speed steadily only to be abruptly halted at its apex.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata for piano in G minor, Op. 49, No. 1 (January 21, 2007)
- Beethoven: Sonata for piano in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2 (January 21, 2007)
For years, music historians have fixated on dividing Beethoven’s works to fit neatly into three distinct periods: early, middle and late. In this program we’ll listen to two “early” sonatas for piano. Beethoven’s earliest music is about learning, in a lot of ways. He seems to be mastering the music around him, the style he’d grown up hearing, inherited from composers like Mozart. But there are also germs of the middle and late Beethoven: the composer revered for his musical discipline and structure, that architect of symphonic music.Listen
- Three Italian Songs (arr. Robison): Amarilli, O cessate di piagarmi, La Serenata (December 10, 2006)
- Brahms: String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 51 (December 17, 2006)
This week, we’ll listen to music from Italy and Germany, pieces that really encapsulate the sounds of these two countries. Songs have always been a tremendously important part of Italian culture. We’ll be listening today to orchestral music, but the pieces on the program are actually transcriptions of Italian songs. Next, we take a trip to Germany, and hear one of the genres that country is famed for: chamber music. The Germans have a rich tradition of song, too, but Brahms’ chamber music is about as “German” as it gets: full of romance and passion, while always technically precise and structural.Listen
- Bach: Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012 (September 17, 2006)
- Bach: Air on the G String, BMV 1068 (arranged for flute solo)(December 10, 2006)
One of the interesting things about Bach, many singers will tell you, is that he likes to use voices like instruments. On the flip side, Bach also sometimes liked to write for instruments in ways that made them sound like voices, as in this week’s episode. In Bach’s suite, the cellist plays the roles of “soloist” and “orchestra” simultaneously, playing both the long, singing melodic lines and the underlying harmonies. Next on the program is one of Bach’s most famous melodies, in an arrangement for flute solo, played by flutist Paula Robison. The title “Air on a G string” actually wasn’t applied to the piece until much later, when a 19th-century violinist transposed Bach’s work down a whole step so that he could play the entire melody on the G string of his violin, the instrument’s lowest string, giving it the lush, romantic era sonority many of us have come to identify with the piece.Listen
- Schubert: Variations on an Original Theme, for piano, four hands, in A-flat Major, D. 813, Op. 35 (February 18, 2007)
- Rachmaninoff: Suite No. 2 for two pianos, Op. 17 (February 18, 2007)
If you’ve ever taken a beginner piano lesson, you’re probably familiar with music for one piano and four hands—or two people. That’s what the first piece on our program today is: two pianists on just one piano bench, in this case a husband-and-wife team. But, the repertoire that really took off among modern composers is that for two players and two pianos, as in our second piece this week. With two instruments at his disposal, Rachmaninoff’s sound in this piece is much bigger than the Schubert. And, liberated from the shared piano bench, the pianists can exhibit much more virtuosity, given full range over the entire keyboard.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for flute and orchestra in F Major (“Con Sordino”) (April 24, 2005)
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 (“Spring”) (March 14, 2004)
It’s all about spring in this episode. The first piece on the program, by Vivaldi, uses mutes placed on the string instruments, lending the piece a sort of delicacy that evokes spring. Second on the program is a piece subtitled “Spring,” Beethoven’s fifth violin sonata in F Major. This sprightly piece includes gently wafting melodies, undulating harmonic accompaniments, and playful canons and rondos, where the themes recur and overlap. This sonata was also Beethoven’s first experiment with adding the “Scherzo” movement after the slow second movement, expanding on the traditional three-movement sonata form inherited from other classical composers.Listen
- Beethoven: Allegretto in B-flat Major, WoO. 39 (September 10, 2006)
- Mozart: String Quintet No. 4 in G minor, K. 516 (October 15, 2006)
This week, some music of contrast. Beethoven wrote the single movement “Allegretto” piano trio for a ten year old girl from Vienna. He wrote in the dedication that he hoped the piece would bring “encouragement in pianoforte playing.” The simple but showy piano part was probably written by Beethoven to allow the young player to shine. The allegretto will be followed by Mozart’s G minor string quintet. As we heard a few weeks ago, Mozart’s choice to add an extra viola perhaps came from his personal love of viola playing. This quintet was written along with the C Major quintet, in a few weeks’ time, and the two were probably written as a complementary pair. The G minor quintet on this program is the darker and more dramatic of the two, written to follow the beautifully simple last movement of the C Major quintet. In a similar vein to Mozart’s intended pairing, we’ll begin this week with Beethoven’s Allegretto for piano trio.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for orchestra in B-flat Major (April 24, 2005)
- Schubert: Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 (October 22, 2000)
This week, we’re featuring two works with great finales, the kind that make audiences jump to their feet, by Vivaldi and Schubert. The rollicking final movement on Vivaldi’s concerto clocks in at just under one minute from start to finish, with the whole piece, all three movements, adding up to less than four minutes. Then, Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major. Schubert produced an incredible amount of music in his final year of life, editing the song cycle Winterreise from his bed, and playing recitals and attending concerts until his last months. Schubert played this sonata at a musical soiree on September 27th, 1828, just a day after finishing it. Because of the circumstances of its composition, and its melancholy moments, it is tempting to cast the sonata as a contemplation of death. Unlike the sinking end of Winterreise, however, this sonata ends with a brilliant coda. Robert Schumann, a close friend, wrote, “Thus Schubert ends both gaily and cheerfully, as though fully able to face another day’s work.” In an ironic twist of fate, Schubert died two months later, leaving this upbeat finale as one of his last great works.Listen
- Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 97 (“Archduke”) (September 10, 2006)
This week’s episode is dedicated just one piece: Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio. This piece was named for the Archduke Randolph, a student and friend of Beethoven’s for many years. But many performers and writers note that the evocative “Archduke” title seems to fit the music. The words “noble” and “grand” crop up frequently in descriptions of the piece, which is an expansive 45 minutes long and contains, according the authoritative “New Grove Dictionary,” one of the most beautiful slow movements Beethoven ever wrote. The premiere performance of the “Archduke” trio, in 1814, also has the unhappy distinction of being Beethoven’s last public appearance as a pianist. Violinist Louis Spohr, who played with Beethoven in the recital, recalled the experience vividly. “In the forte passages,” he wrote, “the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in the piano [or quiet sections] he played so softly that whole groups of notes were omitted.” But Beethoven’s playing may tell us something else about the piece. It is a sweeping, monumental work, and the immense variation Beethoven was aiming for in loud and soft perhaps hints at the vast territory he was trying to cover in this, his last piano trio.Listen
- Bach: Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 (September 17, 2006)
- Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 16 in A minor, D. 845, Op. 42 (February 18, 2001)
This week, we’ll be listening to two pieces for two very different solo instruments: piano and cello. First on the program, cellist Colin Carr will play one of the six solo suites Bach wrote for the cello. In these pieces, made up of solo melodic lines, harmony still plays a big role. In fact, while you’re listening you may notice your ear filling in notes that aren’t actually played, like connecting the dots on a page. In this suite, Bach gives the listener just enough dots to evoke those harmonies, while still retaining a melancholy sparseness in the music. After the delicacy of the Bach’s cello suites, the opening of Schubert’s A minor piano sonata seems downright bombastic. The first movement shuttles back and forth between declarative chords, like the opening, and longer, poetic lines, a familiar hallmark of Schubert’s style.Listen
- Beethoven: Sonata No.14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”) (October 8, 2006)
- Mozart: String Quintet No. 5 in D Major, K. 593 (October 15, 2006)
Generations of writing teachers have passed down the familiar edict: write what you know. In this week’s episode of the concert we’ll hear two composers who heeded that advice. Beethoven made his recital debut as a pianist at just eight years old, and he studied and played the instrument all his life. Being a baroque keyboard player was a bit like being a modern jazz pianist today; you were expected to have a strong foundation in harmony, so that you could improvise variations or play in ensembles, where the keyboardist created his part from a harmonic score a lot like a jazz lead sheet, rather than having a completely notated part. And it can’t be coincidence that in this famous piece, the Moonlight Sonata, the emphasis is on harmony. It’s the beautiful, undulating harmonies underneath the melody that we remember. Mozart also played both violin and keyboard, but when playing chamber music with his friends the instrument he favored was the viola. And in the Mozart piece on this program the instrument he adds to the standard string quartet is an extra viola. This added richness in the middle range, combined with a string player’s ear for long, singing melodic lines, show Mozart’s inner violist.Listen
- Vivaldi: Concerto for flute, oboe, violin, bassoon, and basso continuo in D Major (“La Pastorella”) (April 24, 2005)
- Brahms: Sonata for cello and piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 (December 4, 2005)
They say every person on earth is connected by, at most, six degrees of separation. This week in our 14th episode of “The Concert,” we’ll listen to some Vivaldi and Brahms, two composers from totally different times and places who are connected by just one degree of compositional separation—Johann Sebastian Bach. Vivaldi was a very prolific composer, and many of his works were relatively unknown after his lifetime. As Vivaldi became increasingly popular, though, people started to realize what an influence he’d had on Bach. It’s no secret that Bach, in turn, had a great influence on Brahms. In the second piece on this program, Brahms’ cello sonata in E minor, you’ll particularly hear the influence of Bach’s fugues in the final movement. And maybe you’ll even hear a trace of Vivaldi’s counterpoint.Listen
- Bach: Sonata for violin and keyboard No. 4 in C minor, BWV 1017 (January 30, 2000)
- Bach: Italian Concerto for harpsichord, BWV 971 (January 30, 2000)
Bach was a talented keyboard player, performing as an organist in many of his church jobs and playing many other keyboard instruments at concerts and social gatherings. He was quite interested in new developments in keyboard instrument-making, and the birth of the two-manual harpsichord was possibly the inspiration for his Italian Concerto. Before this instrument, the harpsichord could only play at one dynamic level, a sort of medium-loud. The only way a composer could create a range of volume was to write more or fewer notes. With this new instrument, though, there were two manuals, on different levels, and they made possible a new variety of dynamics. Taking full advantage of this innovation, Bach set out to write a full concerto, usually an orchestral piece, for harpsichord alone. In the Italian Concerto, he simulates the exchanges between solo instruments and the full orchestra using the new double-manual harpsichord. The result, for the harpsichord player, and the listener, is an incredibly complex piece. Particularly in the final movement, you may need to remind yourself that you’re listening to only one person playing only one instrument!Listen
- Mozart: String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat Major, K. 428 (January 29, 2006)
- Mozart: String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465, “Dissonant” (January 29, 2006)
Both string quartets featured in this podcast were published as part of a group of six string quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, and Haydn’s influence shows. The first quartet on the program, number 16, takes a great deal from Haydn’s string quartets. The first movement begins with a slow, somewhat mysterious, introduction, and moves on to a good-humored romp, full of Haydn’s playful style. The third movement, the minuet, also delights in unexpected hesitations and interruptions. But, while the quartet is inspired by Haydn, it remains distinctively Mozart in sound. The second quartet on the podcast, the “Dissonant” quartet, begins with an even more surprising introduction. The tonality of the piece comes into focus only after this ambiguous start, the source of the “Dissonant” nickname. After this disorienting introduction, the quartet picks up a bright, spirited allegro, now securely in C Major. The minuet of this quartet again recalls Haydn, with its witty rhythmic and harmonic surprises. But its “dissonant” introduction foreshadows something much more modern, even to listeners two and a half centuries later.Listen
- Chopin: Scherzo for piano No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20 (February 16, 2003)
- Chopin: Nocturne for piano No. 13 in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1 (February 16, 2003)
- Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1 for piano, S. 514 (arr. Busoni) (February 16, 2003)
Chopin and Liszt were two of the greatest pianist/composers of the Romantic era, and both got their start at intimate salons and private soirees, where a pianist would play for the small group gathered. A dazzling technique was particularly prized at these recitals. As the piano itself evolved to be capable of making a bigger sound, pieces written for the instrument increasingly called on the pianist to sound like an entire orchestra, with a range of dynamics, emotions and articulations. As master performers, Chopin and Liszt knew exactly what the piano could do. Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” is a particularly good example of the orchestral sounds of Romantic piano music. The waltz depicts a story from “Faust,” in which Mephisto takes up a violin at a countryside inn. We hear his fiddling in the music, complete with tuning and death-defying leaps of virtuosity. As the dance ends, nighttime falls, and a nightingale sings in the far-off woods.Listen
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23 (March 14, 2004)
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 ("Kreutzer") (October 12, 2003)
The “Kreutzer” Sonata is loved by audiences for its thrilling range of emotions and displays of technical daring. For violinists, though, the piece is extremely difficult. Beethoven was urged to write the piece by English violinist George Bridgetower, and the two played the premiere together. Beethoven was so thrilled with Bridgetower’s playing that he actually ran across the stage to embrace him in between movements in the middle of the concert. Elated with their successful debut, Beethoven dedicated the piece to Bridgetower after the recital. Later that evening, though, Bridgetower made a disparaging remark about a woman Beethoven knew. Enraged, Beethoven withdrew the dedication, instead dedicating the piece to Rudolphe Kreutzer, a famous Parisian violin virtuoso, giving the sonata the name it’s had ever since. Ironically, though, Rudolphe Kreutzer never actually performed the “Kreutzer” sonata. Upon receiving the manuscript in Paris, he declared the piece impossible to play. In this program, we’ll hear violinist Corey Cerovsek prove him wrong.Listen
- Mozart: String Quartet No. 14 in G Major, K. 387 (“Spring”) (January 29, 2006)
- Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major, K. 314 (January 29, 2006)
Because Mozart wrote and played music so well from such an early age, there is a commonly held view that he always composed with extraordinary ease, that his works were the product of a sort of divine inspiration. But scholars now realize that, while Mozart did write extraordinary music, it was not always so simple for him. In the dedication of Mozart’s string quartets, he calls them the “fruits of a long and laborious endeavor.” Characterized by adventurous chromaticism and intricate fugal textures, the string quartet “Spring” was not a simple thing for Mozart to write. Neither, apparently, were the flute concertos. Mozart’s second flute concerto, commissioned in a set of three concertos (the third was never completed), is actually a re-working of his earlier concerto for oboe. But, the resulting piece was so beautiful, and so perfect for the flute, that no one pointed out that the piece had been cribbed from the oboe concerto until 1952. Though these were perhaps harder pieces for Mozart to write, the time spent perfecting them seems to have paid off; both are now considered masterpieces of the repertoire.Listen
- Bach: Sonata No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1018 (January 30, 2000)
- Bach: Sonata No. 6 in G Major, BWV 1019 (January 30, 2000)
Johann Sebastian Bach was a prolific composer, who wrote hundreds of works, probably many more than have survived to this day. During the years when he wrote these sonatas, however, he was particularly busy. Bach had just begun a new job in Leipzig, and his time was consumed with writing choral music for four major churches in town. These sonatas for violin and harpsichord are among the few chamber music pieces that survive from this time period. They are particularly notable, though, because in them Bach lay the groundwork for a new kind of chamber music. With these sonatas, Bach elevated the role of the harpsichord from accompaniment to musical partner, a trend that would continue and develop throughout the Romantic era, more than a hundred years later.Listen
- Schubert: Impromptu in F minor, D. 935, Op. 142, No. 4 (February 18, 2001)
- Schubert: Winterreise (“Winter Journey”), D. 911, Op. 89, Part II (January 19, 2002)
The program begins with another of Schubert’s Impromptus for piano, this one in F minor. We then return to the second half of the song cycle Winterreise, beginning with the song “Die Post.” In this song, our narrator sees the arriving mailman and hopes, wistfully and maybe foolishly, that he will bring a letter from his beloved. But as the narrator journeys on, his hopes gradually dim, “falling,” he says, “like autumn leaves from a tree.” “I am finished with dreaming,” he later sings. And by the end of the cycle, he has lost all hope that his love will be returned.Listen
- Chopin: Twelve Etudes, Op. 10 (September 22, 2002)
When you hear Chopin’s etudes, you can tell that he was a virtuosic pianist himself, and intimately familiar with the piano. Etudes are short but challenging studies meant to stretch the pianist’s technical boundaries and develop his technique. But Chopin’s etudes challenged not only his own playing ability, but also his compositional ingenuity. Chopin wrote the first of these etudes when he was only 19 years old, and they were published when he was just 23. Written for the Parisian salons where Chopin played and socialized, these pieces are quite at home in the environment of the Gardner Museum, where Isabella Gardner hosted intimate musical soirees and entertained eminent artists and thinkers. Today, this legacy of patronage, active connection with art and artists, and discourse about the arts continues, with Artists-in-Residence working in the museum and musicians filling the museum with music every Sunday. Like the salons of Paris, this lively artistic setting is the sort of place one might have first heard these etudes back in 1833.Listen
- Schubert: Impromptu in G-flat Major for piano, D. 899/3, Op. 90, No. 3 (October 14, 2001)
- Schubert: Winterreise (“Winter Journey”), D. 911, Op. 89, Part I (January 19, 2003)
This week’s program focuses again on Schubert, and his gift for a singing melody. In the first piece, the lyrical melody in the pianist’s right hand is a tune that could easily be the vocal line of one of Schubert’s songs. The left hand devotedly accompanies the tune, providing harmonic support and rhythmic motion. This idea, of a melodic line supported by an evocative piano accompaniment, figures prominently in Schubert’s songs, including the other piece on the program: Winterreise. This song cycle was written late in Schubert’s life, during a serious illness, and the narrator in the songs contemplates and confronts death throughout. In a particularly poignant moment halfway through this excerpt, in the song “Der Lindenbaum,” the narrator finds a brief respite under the branches of a Linden tree. But, as in much of Schubert’s song, there is perhaps a somewhat unsettling correlation between rest and death. The poems tell the story of a winter’s journey through the cold and snowy woods. You can find the complete translations at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/assemble_texts.html?LanguageId=7&SongCycleId=4, so you can follow the story. Be sure to check back for podcast #6, and the conclusion of Winterreise.Listen
- Schubert: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (“The Shepherd on the Rock”) for voice, clarinet, and piano, D. 965, Op. 129 (March 6, 2006)
- Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810 (“Death and the Maiden”) (May 1, 2005)
This week’s program features two chamber music pieces, one with voice and one without, both written late in Schubert’s life, and both inspired by his love of song. “The Shepherd on the Rock” is longer than most of Schubert’s 600 songs, at about fifteen minutes, and in many ways is more like a chamber music piece than a song. The narrator, a shepherd singing of his far away beloved, moves from wistfulness to despair to hope. In the final section, as the narrator sings of faith in the coming springtime, the clarinet and voice echo each other’s ascending lines, acting as chamber music partners rather than as soloist and accompanist. The string quartet “Death and the Maiden,” ( uses a song as inspiration for an entirely instrumental work. The second movement of this quartet is a set of variations on the theme from Schubert’s song “Death and the Maiden.” By using the melody of the song, he evokes its story, too. In “Death and the Maiden,” a young woman pleads with the personified “death” to spare her life, but as death seductively promises rest and peace he seems to calm her fears, perhaps luring her away. The use of this melody perhaps also reflects Schubert’s own confrontation with death. As he was writing the quartet, he was hospitalized and in poor health. He died only a few years later, at age 31. In 1824, he wrote to a friend, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I hope I will not wake again.”Listen
- Mozart: Violin Sonata No. 21, K. 305 (January 29, 2006)
- Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K. 364 (January 29, 2006)
Join us for two performances celebrating the 250th birthday of music’s most notorious prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. These concerts, recorded live during our Mozart Marathon in January of 2006 , feature some of our favorite soloists as well as the Gardner Chamber Orchestra, the museum’s resident ensemble. To start, violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Jeremy Denk perform Mozart’s delightful violin sonata in E minor. Then, Corey is joined by violist Kim Kashkashian and the Gardner Chamber Orchestra for a fiery rendition of Mozart’s violin-versus-viola showdown, his Sinfonia Concertante. Mozart himself was a violist, like our Music Director (and violist) Scott Nickrenz. Perhaps when he wrote this piece he was trying to settle the age-old rivalry between violists and violinists. Mozart challenges the technical boundaries of both instruments and asks the question: can a violist keep up with a violinist? Can a violist keep up with a violinist?Listen
- Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3 (March 14, 2004)
- Beethoven: Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 (“Ghost”) (March 19, 2006)
In this program, we hear two Beethoven pieces for strings and piano: a tuneful early violin sonata and the famous “Ghost Trio,” written 12 years later. Beethoven wrote the sonata when he was living in Vienna, and “Viennese Classicism,” epitomized in the music of Haydn and Mozart, was all the rage. At the time, Beethoven’s early works were being met with success and enthusiasm, and he was touring Europe as a pianist. More than a decade later, as Beethoven wrote the “Ghost Trio” in 1809, he was rapidly losing his hearing, and he knew that the degeneration that would cause his eventual deafness was probably untreatable. In spite of, or perhaps even because of, this profound change in the way he heard sound, his music showed incredible innovation. In the “Ghost Trio,” so named for the spooky-sounding chromaticism in the second movement, the piano becomes an equal partner of the string instruments, and snippets of musical material are reused creatively, rather than repeated verbatim. This dramatic musical makeover shows Beethoven’s growth as a composer through the lens of his works for strings and piano.Listen