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Concerts notes from June 2018

Posted by on Jun 17, 2018 in News, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Welcome all to a new venue for us and the last concert of the Saratoga Chamber Players’ 31st Season, given the elfin title “String Quintets on Parade.” I say ‘elfin’ because there are but two quintets in our parade, albeit quintets composed by two monumental, nay, Rushmorian figures, Beethoven and Brahms. And the first of the two quintets will be introduced by a well known and delightfully Schuberty piece for string trio. Then, after intermission, to achieve a slightly elfin uniformity, the other quintet will be introduced by a string duo. Now if you add these two introductory pieces together, duo & trio equal an arithmetical kind of quintet! Furthermore, the whole of the concert is performed by five very fine lady artists,
while the two actual factual quintets on the program are each one of the greatest of all chamber works in the repertoire and quite interestingly early Beethoven and mature [not to say “late”] Brahms.

Originally, as many of us have been informed, the program was to have begun with one of the four separate pieces for string quartet opus 81 that Mendelssohn left unpublished when he suddenly died. “The true successor to Beethoven is not Mendelssohn, whose artistic cultivation was quite incomparable, also not Schumann, but Schubert. It is unbelievable, the music he put into his songs.” “There is no Schubert song from which we can’t learn something we need to know.” Johannes Brahms, to music students (1893) “Truly, there dwells in Schubert a divine spark” Ludwig van Beethoven (1827), shortly before he died.

Saratoga Chamber Players performed this unfinished String Trio D. 471 16 years ago to open the concert of Oct 27 2002 but that is all but irrelevant, for the reason that this piece is one of those serene works that makes you feel you’ve known and loved it forever, even if you’ve never heard a note of it before. Schubert — more like Mozart than like Beethoven or Haydn — got a very early start at composing. His father, Franz Theodor Florian, who was a school teacher but one who played a wicked Cello, taught our Fränzl the violin as soon as he could hold it in his hands and then the viola, because the two oldest brothers played violin and he himself was, of course, the cellist and they needed a viola to make a family string quartet. Little Fränzl began to compose string quartets for the family from the time he was 7 or 8 (1804/5). His father was so unlike Beethoven’s abusive drunk-of-a-father who wanted only to exploit his son Ludwig as a “2nd Mozart.” Ludwig himself always identified strongly with his grandfather, who been the admired Kapellmeister at the Bonn Court and had also been godfather at his christening in 1770. Although the elder Ludwig van Beethoven had died three years later, our Ludwig always claimed that he remembered everything his namesake had ever said to him. Oh well, Tolstoi claimed that he remembered being born.

Schubert, age 19, started composing this our piece in September 1816, but only finished the first movement. In 1890 this movement was the only content of Series VI, Trio für Streichinstrument of the Alte Gesamt-Ausgabe, and was as such republished by Dover Editions in 1965. As most of us know, one of Schubert’s most played chamber works is the famous “Quartettsatz” [quartet movement;] also known as the string quartet #12 in C minor, D. 703)] and his best known symphony is #8 in B minor, D.759 the famous “Unfinished Symphony…” a work “everybody” knows and a phrase which has entered standard vocabulary. Our Franz composed a dozen or so youthful string quartets for his family quartet at home or his school mates at the great Cathedral school that he, like the Haydn Brothers before him, had been chosen to attend. At least ten years separated these initial teenage efforts from the three late quartet masterpieces of 1824-1826. Schubert’s mind–and his pen– were little occupied with string instruments between these two peaks, but he did find time in his astonishly busy schedule to come up with two string trios, D. 471 and D. 581, both in B flat major and both composed during the month of September: D. 471 in 1816 and D. 581 in 1817. The String Trio in B flat major, D. 471, albeit an incomplete piece — comprises only the sonata allegro 1st movement and some thirty-nine bars of a 2nd, slower one. It is nonetheless a much-loved piece of music in which we can fully hear the nineteen-year-old composer’s deep admiration for the music of the Viennese masters whose legacy he inherited–Haydn somewhat, Mozart especially, and somewhat Salieri, Schubert’s teacher until the end of 1816, but the court composer, from the time of Emperor Joseph II.

D. 471 certainly does not showcase Schubert’s unique musical personality in the same
way that the Lieder of 1815 and 1816 do; it seems to have been more Schubert’s intent to draw a piece of music from the crystal-clear waters of true musical Classicism as he had absorbed it during his childhood in Vienna. It is music of sparkle and no little wit, to be played with a smile and a even a wink or two. The opening theme is given by the violin without introduction of any kind, to an accompaniment of oscillating eighth notes in the viola and a long-held B flat in the cello that soon enough breaks off to imitate a more articulated idea played by the violin in the second bar of the theme. After repeating this four-bar, pianissimo thought, Schubert moves on to offer up some light-hearted triplets in the violin
and a rich twelve-bar transition, built around a B flat pedal-point in the viola part, to the second theme. In this second theme area (in F major) Schubert finds room for both some happy, spiccato [= sound made by bouncing the bow on the string] mini-cadences and some brilliant, forte descending scales in octaves. The coda to the exposition is in three sections (the last of which is really a codetta to the coda!), the sum total of which take up just as much time as the entire exposition-proper did.

Development is simple and straightforward in D. 471: most of the fifty-four-bar
development section is spent making one or another use of the melodic gesture by which Schubert closed the final bar of the exposition (the main themes don’t really appear at all, save the first theme in vague rhythmic outline and the second in one fleeting reference). In the recapitulation, all is as a Classicist would expect it to be it to be. [Partly derived from an internet piece by Blair Johnston] Otto Erich Deutsch (5 Sept 1883 – 23 Nov 1967) was an Austrian musicologist, known for
compiling the 1st comprehensive catalogue of Schubert’s entire oeuvre. It was first published in 1951 in English, with a revised edition in German published in 1978. It is from this catalogue that “D numbers” are used to identify Schubert’s compositions. Thus our string trio, although the work of a 19 year old, is shown to have been preceded by 470 Schuberty works. In my opinion, Fränzl’s lovely piece has been an ideal introduction to the Beethoven Quintet!

Beethoven‘s String Quintet in C Major is an unusually calm, even serene work from this frequently turbulent composer. The addition of a second viola allows for greater sonority and a richer harmonic palette than is possible with the standard string quartet. The result is a composition that is among Beethoven’s most graceful creations.” The man wrote 17 string quartets and just this one original viola quintet opus 29 in C1800-01) [Note: ‘viola quintet’ = string quartet + 2nd viola; ‘cello quintet.’ = quartet + 2nd cello.] In 1795 he made a thoroughly reworked transcription of his own delightful wind octet, composed in Bonn probably in 1792. The octet is a wonderful work in it’s original windy form: yet it was published only in transcription as the viola Quintet in E-flat op. 4 in Vienna 1796, because so many more people played stringed instruments both for themselves and to take jobs playing for wealthy music lovers…and so many fewer played wind instruments. The original wind version that we enjoy today was not published until 1830 as op.103, but posthumous by 3 years! — this version has become a standard repertory piece for
wind players, while the string quintet version of 1796 sleeps. Then in 1817 some guy
named Kaufmann was paid to make a viola quintet transcription of Beethoven’s Piano Trio #3 in C minor, opus 1 #3; Ludwig was furious! Got hold of it, reworked it & published it as his own opus 104. I rather like both of these string quintet versions (the early one in E-flat and the late one in C minor), although I do admit that they — the Octet & the Piano Trio — are more effective in their original scorings and prefer to hear them that way, much as I like string quintet sound.
In 1818 Beethoven wrote a little fugue in D major, scored for string quintet &
published as opus 137; also another fragmentary one in D minor, known as Hess 40. There are two fragments of another Quintet in C from Beethoven’s deathbed in the early Spring of 1827, possibly his last musical thoughts. I like to think he was remembering how satisfied he was with “our” Quintet all those years ago, and was planning to write another, as his envoi.

We should remember that Mozart wrote 23 string quartets and then 6 viola quintets.
The last four of these — the wonderful C major K.515 and the famous G minor K.516 at the end of 1788 & beginning of 1789 and the D major and charming E-flat in the year before he died, 1790. Once the young Beethoven had entered old Haydn’s territory with his 6-pack of string quartets op. 18, I think he began to be mindful of the departed Mozart’s Quintets. But What I hear is not the influence of the C major quintet K. 515 (ja, from the Don Giovanni period!) but a broad lyricism achieved with the simplest of means. This gives us the feeling that Beethoven has indeed “received the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn,”(if I may so adapt the prophetic benediction Count von Waldstein gave Beethoven when he left Bonn for Vienna nine years before completing this Quintet). I also find that Beethoven has integrated the fifth voice with no difficulty in finding its chamber music felicities. However, he also seems to sense something symphonic, as well as something concertante, in the larger format. The Quintet in C employs a standard Mozart/Haydn 4- movement sonata format.

The opening allegro is in unproblematic sonata form, the contrasting adagio, long and soulful, the ‘peasant’ scherzo, short & kept subdued so that the Presto rondo finale may have its full Beethovenian effect. Everything works so well in this excellent work that I can’t think that anything can say about it will benefit any of us. My favorite movement is the wonderfully soulful Adagio: molto espressivo is right! But isn’t this partly because of the moderato quality of the opening sonata allegro movement and its marking ‘moderato?‘ And then the cheerful dancing good temper of the scherzo, no joke but a lot of fun! Bravo-bravo Lodovico! The first third of the 19th Century has been splendidly represented today by Lord Ludwig and his magical pageboy Franz! And all of this made real for us by the five ladies of our superlative quintet! Too many adjectives? The Quintet itself demands them!

A generation later, Schubert wrote 15 String Quartets and one cello quintet. Brahms is said to have destroyed 13 string quartets before publishing three. As a young man under the influence of his beloved Schubert, Brahms wrote a cello quintet in F minor but dissatisfied with it, transformed it into the popular Piano Quintet in F minor op. 34. Much later, he returned to the genre to produce two of his finest chamber works: the viola quintets, in F major op. 88 and G major op. 111.
Some of the composers of excellent string quartet cycles never attempted a string
quintet: Haydn 68+, Bartók 6, Villa Lobos 17, Hindemith 8, and Shostakovitch 15:
And here, instead of the aforesaid music, are some words about program notes (my act, so pay special attention!) please…? “I have given up analyzing my works in detail. A composition is a whole and the public should listen to it as a whole. To follow such details as motif, subject, countersubject, development, etc., does not help very much, and explains nothing. They are so evident that it is not worth while to make a new story about them. Such an analysis is a puzzle; it is not as
a puzzle that I have composed the symphony and I do not want people to listen to it as a puzzle…” Bohuslav Martinu, program note to his own Symphony #4, 1945
Then Bohusch proceeded to write pages of analysis of his new Symphony so that no one
would miss the subtle musical wonders he had crafted throughout the work.

Bohuslav Martinu (b. Polichka, Bohemia 8 Dec. 1890, d. Liestal, Switzerland 28 Aug. 1959) was born in the church bell tower high above a small town near the Bohemian-Moravian border. His father was a shoemaker moonlighting as clock & bell keeper and fire watch. He scarcely left this parapeted nest until he was 13, filling the time with reading , dreaming and the theater (his father’s great love), yes and playing the ‘violin’ he had made from two pieces of wood which he scraped together–god knows what music he was making in his untutored head all this time. When he finally began violin, he made such progress that the town fathers sent him off at 16 to the Prague conservatory to become a great virtuoso and bring fame to the little town. After seven years of what was perceived as failure at everything, during which the painfully inward but formidably gifted lad devoured great gobs of literature, theater and musical influences as disparate as demigod Dvorak and the great Satan Debussy, he landed a job in the Czech Philharmonic. After a decade of soaking up repertoire under its adventurous conductor Vaclav Tallisch and having made it to third desk in the second violin section, he jumped ship while on tour in Paris in 1923 and, impecunious and without much French, began his career as a free lance. Life was cruel at first, but supported by the needle of a French seamstress, the good woman who later became his wife, he turned out a succession of dazzling orchestral and theatrical pieces in virtually every style then current in the Capital — Surreal, Dada, Folk, Neoclassical, even Expressionist (but not atonal and certainly not Viennese dodecaphonic!) — thus attracting the attention of world-class conductors: Paul Sacher, Charles Munch, Koussevitsky, Metropoulos, even Toscannini.

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