CMS: Defining Voices program notes

CMS: Defining Voices program notes 2014-06-27T15:04:59+00:00
BEETHOVEN Piano Quartet in E-flat Major for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 16
MARTINŮ Duo No. 1 for Violin and Viola, "Three Madrigals"
FAURÉ Quartet No. 1 in C Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 15

Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Quartet in E-flat Major for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Opus 16


Born December 16, 1770, Bonn

Died March 26, 1827, Vienna

Among the works with which Beethoven sought to establish his reputation as a composer after settling in Vienna in 1792 was a series of pieces for wind instruments — the Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn (Op. 87), the Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello (Op. 11), the Sonata for Horn and Piano (Op. 17), the Septet (Op. 20, by far his most popular composition during his lifetime), and the Quintet for Piano and Winds (Op. 16). These works enabled him to demonstrate his skill in the traditional modes of chamber music without broaching the genre of the string quartet, then still indisputably dominated by Joseph Haydn. The Op. 16 Quintet drew its inspiration and model from Mozart’s exquisite Quintet for Piano and Winds of 1784 (K. 452), which Beethoven heard performed in Prague in spring 1796 during a concert tour that also took him to Dresden and Berlin. He apparently began his Quintet in Berlin and completed the score later that year in Vienna. The piece was first given at a concert on April 6, 1797 at the palace of Prince Joseph Johann von Schwarzenberg, which was also to be the site of the première of Haydn’s The Creation the following year and The Seasons in 1801.

The Op. 16 Quintet is one of Beethoven’s most sonorous creations, and the original scoring limited the music’s suitability for the burgeoning home market that provided a significant source of income for both composer and publisher. Beethoven therefore made an arrangement of the work for the popular (and easily salable) configuration of the piano quartet — piano, violin, viola, and cello — that was issued simultaneously with the original wind version. The musical substance remains unaltered in the quartet version, though the string lines, especially in the slow movement, are given more elaborate figurations and sometimes asked to play a few additional phrases where the wind players are allowed a little breather to rest lip and lung. The piano part is unchanged.

The work opens with a slow introduction whose stately tread and pompous rhythms recall the old Baroque form of the French overture. With its sweeping figurations and full scoring, the piano announces its intention to be primus inter pares in the music to follow, and, indeed, appropriates for itself the principal theme of the main body of the movement, a sleek triple-meter melody made from a quick upward leap and a gently descending phrase. The strings are allowed to dabble in this melodic material before more bold piano scales and arpeggios lead to the subsidiary subject, a lovely, flowing strain in even note values. The development section busies itself with some piano figurations before settling down to a discussion of the main theme. A long scale in the piano reaches its apex at the recapitulation, which returns the earlier thematic materials to lend this handsome movement balance and formal closure. The Andante is a richly decorated slow rondo (A–B–A–C–A) which touches upon some poignant proto-Romantic sentiments as it unfolds. The finale is a dashing rondo based on a galloping theme of opera buffa jocularity.

Duo No. 1 for Violin and Viola, “Three Madrigals”

Bohuslav Martinů

Born December 8, 1890, Polička, Bohemia

Died August 28, 1959, Liestal, Switzerland

Bohuslav Martinů was born in the Czech village of Polička in the church tower where his father was watchman and keeper. As a boy, Bohuslav took violin lessons, but his real interest was in composition. He started composing at age ten, and studied first at the Prague Conservatory (from 1906 until 1910) and then privately with Josef Suk before winning a small scholarship that enabled him to settle in Paris in the summer of 1923. Martinů lived there in great poverty for 17 years, but he was invigorated by the heady artistic atmosphere of the French capital. One of the surprising results of his Parisian residence was a new-found interest in the music of his homeland — ironically, it was only when Martinů left Czechoslovakia that he became a nationalist
composer. Blacklisted by the Nazis, he fled from Paris in June 1940, and emigrated to America the following year. Though his popularity and the demand for new works spread quickly in the New World, Martinů’s heart remained in Czechoslovakia. An invitation to teach at the Prague Conservatory came after World War II, but he was unable to accept it because of the establishment of the communist regime in 1947. Instead, he took a summer teaching post at Tanglewood,
and joined the music faculty of Princeton University the following year. He left that post in 1953 and moved to Nice for two years, but returned in 1955 to teach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. The following year he accepted a faculty position at the American Academy in Rome. He died in Liestal, Switzerland in 1959.

Martinů first became acquainted with the genre of the Elizabethan madrigal in the early 1920s, when the touring English Singers performed in Prague. He was attracted to the rich textures created by the madrigal’s interweaving lines, and polyphonic devices are given greater prominence in his works of the following years. In 1937, he stretched the original vocal associations of the title to instrumental music by applying it to a four-movement trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon to denote the work’s multi-voiced fabric. In 1942, he wrote a Madrigal-Sonata for Flute, Violin, and Piano, and a year later composed the Five Madrigal Stanzas for Violin and Piano. For chorus, he created sets of Czech Madrigals in 1939 and 1948; the Four Madrigals on Moravian Folk Poetry were among his last completed compositions. One of Martinů’s most delightful chamber works — the Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola — was written in New York in 1947 for the American brother-sister virtuosos, Joseph and Lillian Fuchs. The three movements (arranged fast–slow–fast) are marked by buoyant sprung rhythms, a melodic style that hints of the composer’s eastern European origins, and a collegial equality between the participants.

Quartet No. 1 in C Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Opus 15

Gabriel Fauré

Born May 12, 1845, Pamiers, Ariège, France

Died November 4, 1924, Paris

In 1872, Gabriel Fauré was introduced to the Viardot family by his teacher and mentor, Camille Saint-Saëns. The Viardots were among Europe’s most prominent 19th-century musical families: Pauline, head of the clan, was one of the day’s leading mezzo-sopranos (her sister, Maria Malibran, was an equally celebrated singer); her daughter Louise enjoyed a successful career as a singer, teacher, and composer in Russia and Germany; her son, Paul, was a noted
violinist and conductor. Fauré, then organist at St.-Sulpice and composer of a growing number of finely crafted songs and choral works, became friendly with the Viardots, and he conceived a special fondness for Pauline’s younger daughter, Marianne. Love blossomed sufficiently during the following years that their engagement was announced in July 1877 — only to be suddenly broken off in October. Fauré was deeply wounded by the affair, and he never revealed
the exact cause of the falling out, except to say in later years that “perhaps it was not a bad thing for me. The Viardot family might have deflected me from my proper path.” The path the Viardots would have preferred for the budding composer would have led, of course, through the opera house, but Fauré’s genius lay not in the large public forms of opera and symphony but in the intimate genres of song and chamber music. By the time that his first important
chamber work, the Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, was premièred successfully in Paris on January 27, 1877, he was already well advanced on his next instrumental composition — the Piano Quartet in C minor. This gestating work confirmed the creative direction Fauré chose to follow, so the collapse of his engagement to Marianne may have been occasioned as much by fundamental and apparently irreconcilable differences in artistic philosophy as by any breach of
romantic sentiment.

The Piano Quartet No. 1, whose creation wrapped around this affair of the heart, opens with a modally inflected melody in dotted rhythms for unison strings that provides much of the movement’s thematic material. Wide-ranging piano arpeggios lead to the complementary subject, a descending stair-step theme of brighter countenance that is passed from viola to violin to cello. The development section is a masterful working-out of the main subject that climaxes with a brief but stormy passage of rising scales to provide the gateway to the recapitulation of the principal themes. A gentle coda closes the movement. The Scherzo is music of ethereal delicacy whose gossamer rhythms are buoyed by subtle shifts of meter; the central trio is spun from a lyrical string theme in chordal texture. The Adagio, the emotional core of the quartet, follows a broad three-part form (A–B–A) based on two motives derived from an ascending scale: the first (A) is halting and fragmentary; the other (B) is flowing and expansive. The sonata-form finale begins with a theme that recalls both the Adagio in its rising scalar contour and the first movement in its dotted rhythms. The lyrical second theme, introduced by the viola, provides contrast. The development, grown almost entirely from the second theme, reaches an impassioned climax before subsiding for the recapitulation. The quartet ends with a brilliant coda.

Dr. Richard E. Rodda