PROGAM NOTES: Gidon Kremer, violin & Daniil Trifonov, piano
by Eric Bromberger
featuring guest artist Giedre Dirvanauskaite, cello
Fantasy in D Minor, K 397
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna
Soon after moving from Salzburg to Vienna in 1781, Mozart began to spend his Sundays at concerts given at the home of Baron Gottfried van Swieten. Swieten, formerly ambassador to Berlin, had brought back to Vienna an enthusiasm for baroque music, and Mozart suddenly found himself interested in the music of Bach and Handel. He arranged a number of Bach fugues for string trio and quartet and began to compose fugues of his own. Mozart’s new interest in contrapuntal music would come to its finest expression the following year in the great fugues of his Mass in C Minor.
The Fantasy in D Minor also comes from 1782, when Mozart was writing a number of practice works in the manner of Bach. While it contains no fugues, this brief Fantasy does show the influence of Bach, particularly at its very beginning, which sounds like some of the preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier.
This Fantasy may also be something extremely rare: a written-out example of Mozart’s extemporaneous music. Virtuoso pianists of this era were expected to be able to improvise freely at the keyboard (Beethoven would establish his reputation in Vienna a decade later through precisely this skill). The Fantasy in D Minor may well represent one of the rare times Mozart wrote down a series of improvisations. This music is extremely episodic: the opening Andante, full of rolling arpeggios, quickly gives way to a somber Adagio full of chromatic tension, which in turn is followed by a great Presto flourish and a return to the opening tempo. The sections continue to alternate, and the Fantasy concludes with a bright Allegretto. It may also have been that, having written down this much of the Fantasy, Mozart lost interest and set it aside. Like some of the other studies from this period (and the great Mass in C Minor), the Fantasy was left unfinished, and the final ten bars have been appended by an unknown hand.
Sonata No.2 for Violin
Born December 8, 1919, Warsaw
Died February 26, 1996, Moscow
The music of Polish-Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg is almost unknown to Western audiences, but it has a devoted following among those familiar with it. The American musicologist Steven Schwarz has been frank in his admiration, describing Weinberg as “the third great Soviet composer, along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich.” Weinberg was unbelievably prolific. He wrote seven operas, 22 symphonies, 17 string quartets, and numerous orchestral and chamber works–his list of opus numbers runs to 192. Weinberg also wrote about forty film scores, including the music for Mikhail Kalatozov’s famous The Cranes Are Flying (1957).
Weinberg (whose name is spelled many different ways, including Moise Vaynberg) may have been a successful and honored composer, but he led a horribly difficult life, and his life reflects many of the currents that ripped through the twentieth century. He came from a musical family in Poland (his father was a violinist and conductor), and as a young man he studied piano at the Warsaw Conservatory. But when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union (his parents and sister, who remained in Poland, died in concentration camps). Weinberg studied at the Minsk Conservatory, but when he sent the score of his First Symphony to Shostakovich, the older composer encouraged him to move to Moscow. Weinberg never studied formally with Shostakovich, but the two became colleagues and friends, and they remained close for the next thirty years. Shostakovich, in fact, risked his own career to intercede on Weinberg’s behalf when the younger composer was arrested and imprisoned in February 1953 on the charge of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism” during the so-called “Doctors’ Plot” against Stalin (Stalin died in March 1953, and Weinberg was released the following month). Weinberg was the pianist at the first performances of Shostakovich’s Seven Verses of Alexander Blok and Violin Sonata and in return, Shostakovich dedicated his String Quartet No. 10 to Weinberg. Weinberg’s final years were difficult: he suffered from debilitating illnesses that left him an invalid.
Weinberg wrote a great deal of chamber music for the violin: eight sonatas, of which five are for violin and piano and three are for unaccompanied violin. The Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin dates from 1967, when the composer was 48. It is somewhat in the manner of Bach’s partitas for unaccompanied violin: a collection of brief movements in contrasting tempos and moods. Weinberg’s Sonata is in seven movements that span just over a dozen minutes. Each of the seven movements has a title that suggests something of its character, followed by an Italian tempo marking. This is virtuoso music, and it requires a superb violinist, one who can play at the very top of the instrument’s range, manage complex passages played simultaneously on three strings, and master the work’s complex rhythmic difficulties. This can be very imposing music, but it has moments of whimsy and humor too.
The opening Monody (marked Allegro moderato) begins with a steady, almost simplistic progression of quarter-notes. Gradually this straightforward line develops rhythmic twists and turns complex. Pauses will bring just that: a number of sudden stops in the flow of music. Marked Andantino grazioso, this movement dances gracefully at first, then begins to offer difficulties, including octave glissandos. The tempo marking for Intervals is Presto agitato, and this music–set throughout at different intervals–is indeed agitated. Remarks begins innocently (Weinberg marks the beginning dolce), but this gives way to what might well be termed “remarks” on that opening: long pizzicato passages and pizzicatos played with the left hand. Accompaniment sounds at first just like that: a musical line that might well be the underpinning to something else, though eventually a flitting, playful melody emerges from this “accompaniment.” Invocation is built on wide intervals, and these strident sounds alternate with material that recalls some of the music from the opening Monody. The movement drives to a fierce close and proceeds without pause into the finale, titled Syncopes (or “Syncopations”). This begins with a fragmentary dance that gives way to rushing triplets. The music gathers strength as it hurtles forward, and the sonata concludes with a most emphatic gesture.
Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Piano, D.934
Born January 31, 1797, Vienna
Died November 19, 1828, Vienna
Schubert wrote the Fantasy for Violin and Piano in December 1827, only eleven months before his death at age 31. The music was first performed in public on January 20, 1828, by violinist Joseph Slavik and pianist Karl von Bocklet, one of Schubert’s close friends. That première was a failure. The audience is reported to have begun to drift out during the performance, reviewers professed mystification, and the Fantasy was not published until 1850, twenty-two years after Schubert’s death.
Hearing this lovely music today, it is hard to imagine how anyone could have had trouble with it, for the only thing unusual about the Fantasy is its structure. About twenty minutes long, it falls into four clear sections that are played without pause. Though it seems to have some of the shape of a violin sonata, the movements do not develop in the expected sonata form–that may have been what confused the first audience–and Schubert was quite correct to call this piece a “fantasy,” with that term’s implication of freedom from formal restraint.
Melodic and appealing as the Fantasy may be to hear, it is nevertheless extremely difficult to perform, and it demands players of the greatest skill. The first section, marked Andante molto, opens with shimmering ripples of sound from the piano, and the lovely violin line enters almost unnoticed. Soon, though, it rises to soar high above the accompaniment before brief cadenza-like passages for violin and then piano lead abruptly to the Allegretto. Here the violin has the dance-like opening idea, but the piano immediately picks this up, and quickly the instruments are imitating and answering each other. The violin writing in this section, full of wide skips and string-crossings, is particularly difficult. The third section, marked Andantino, is a set of variations. The piano alone plays the melody, which comes from Schubert’s song Sei mir gegrüsst (“Greetings to Thee”), written in 1821. Some of Schubert’s best-known compositions–the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet and the “Trout” Quintet–also build a movement out of variations on one of the composer’s own songs, and in the Fantasy Schubert offers four variations on Sei mir gegrüsst. These variations grow extremely complex, and once again the music makes great demands on its performers. At the conclusion of the variations, the shimmering music from the beginning returns briefly before the vigorous final section, marked Allegro vivace. Schubert brings the Fantasy to a close with a Presto coda, both instruments straining forward before the violin suddenly flashes upward to strike the concluding high C.
Piano Trio in D Minor, Opus 9 “Trio élégiaque”
Born April 1, 1873, Semyonovo, Russia
Died March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills
Rachmaninoff wrote two piano trios, and–curiously–both are nicknamed “Trio élégiaque.” The first, in G minor, dates from 1892, and the source of its inspiration has been forgotten, but the second sprang from a painful moment in its composer’s life. On November 6, 1893, Tchaikovsky died, and Rachmaninoff–who had regarded the older composer as mentor and friend–was shattered. That same day, he set to work on a piano trio in Tchaikovsky’s memory, and its composition–a slow and painful process–occupied the twenty-year-old composer for the rest of the year.
When he set out to write a memorial to Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff chose as his model the piano trio Tchaikovsky had written as a memorial to his teacher and friend, Nikolay Rubinstein, the Piano Trio in A Minor, Opus 50. The parallels between the two trios are striking: both are dedicated “To the memory of a great artist,” for instance. Both trios open with a long and grieving first movement; both have a theme-and-variation second movement; and Tchaikovsky’s trio concludes with a final variation marked Allegro risoluto that becomes in effect a brief finale, while Rachmaninoff simply rounds his trio off with a brief finale marked Allegro risoluto. To draw the parallel even more completely, both composers use as the theme of their variations movements a melody each associated with his mentor: Tchaikovsky uses a peasant song he and Rubinstein had heard at a picnic, while Rachmaninoff uses a theme from his own work The Rock, which Tchaikovsky had been scheduled to conduct.
The Rachmaninoff Trio in D Minor has remained much less well-known than its model–the work of a student composer inevitably suffers when compared to the work of a mature and successful composer. As might be expected, Rachmaninoff is much more comfortable writing for piano than for strings, and in his trio the piano frequently dominates textures, while the strings are given subordinate roles and often set in unison. Still, this youthful music can be very effective, and there are many flashes here of the artist Rachmaninoff would later become.
The lengthy Moderato opens darkly with a tolling piano ostinato, and gradually the strings enter to sing their sad song. At the Allegro moderato, the music leaps ahead powerfully–here is one of those moments that sounds like mature Rachmaninoff. The development is very long and turbulent, with much vigorous bowing from the strings; these episodes alternate with slow and dark passages, full of lamentation. Rachmaninoff marks his slow movement Quasi variazione, and piano alone plays the chordal melody that will serve as the basis for variation (in what seems now a strange decision, Rachmaninoff had originally assigned the first statement of this theme to the harmonium, but reversed himself when revising the trio). There follow eight clearly-defined variations, and some of these are quite distinct: the second is for piano solo, the third for racing piano and pizzicato strings, the seventh a dialogue for piano and strings. The concluding Allegro risoluto is extremely dramatic, and at the end Rachmaninoff brings back the lugubrious beginning of the first movement, and his memorial trio–like Tchaikovsky’s before him–marches grimly into silence.