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PROGRAM NOTES: Ning Feng, violin

by Eric Bromberger

Sonata for Piano and Violin in B-flat Major, K.378 (1779)
Allegro moderato
Andantino sostenuto e cantabile
Rondeau: Allegro

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna

This sonata dates from the period of Mozart’s move from his native Salzburg to Vienna–the evidence is unclear whether he wrote it in Salzburg or just after his arrival in Vienna in 1781. In any event, it was published as part of a group of six violin sonatas in Vienna on December 8, 1781, almost ten years to the day before the composer’s death.

This group of six sonatas represents a sudden advance in Mozart’s writing for violin and keyboard. His early violin sonatas had been largely piano sonatas with violin accompaniment, but here the violin becomes a more equal partner in the enterprise. The Sonata in B-flat Major is especially impressive for the richness of its ideas, for the music seems continually alive with new themes, new moods, new ideas, and these often stand in dramatic contrast to each other. It is also extremely vital, almost scintillating music–energy seems to boil out of every measure.

The Allegro moderato opens simply. The graceful main idea is heard immediately in the piano, with the violin accompanying it, but the roles quickly reverse as the violin takes up the melody. The exposition is full of striking features–key shifts, romantic turns of phrase, rapid runs–with an extended development that begins in the unexpected key of C minor.

Mozart’s marking for the second movement– Andantino sostenuto e cantabile–is important. He rarely marked a movement cantabile–he assumed that all music should sing–so that when he specifies cantabile, it should be taken seriously. This truly is lyric music, an extended aria for violin rather than voice. It is built on contrasting episodes–the first melodic, the second dramatic–and these alternate before the quiet close.

The concluding rondo-finale is brief but brilliant. The piano announces the rondo theme, which then goes through several varied episodes including sixteenth-note runs, flying triplets, dotted dance rhythms, and hunting horn calls before the final return of the rondo theme and the dash to the concluding cadence.

The six sonatas–offered by Artaria, Mozart’s new publishers in Vienna–were enthusiastically received by the critics there. Listening to this supremely accomplished music two centuries later, it is easy to understand why.

Sonata in C Minor for Violin and Piano, Opus 30, No. 2 (1803)
Allegro con brio
Adagio cantabile
Scherzo: Allegro
Finale: Allegro

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born December 16, 1770, Bonn
Died March 26, 1827, Vienna

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in C Minor is one of the set of three that he wrote in the small village of Heiligenstadt outside Vienna during the summer and fall of 1802. This was a period of extraordinary distress for the composer, for it was during the months at Heiligenstadt that Beethoven was finally forced to accept the inevitability of his deafness. The choice of key for this sonata is important, for C minor was the key Beethoven employed for works of unusual intensity. The recently-completed “Pathétique” Sonata, Fourth String Quartet, and Third Piano Concerto were in C minor, and in the next several years Beethoven would use that key for the Funeral March of the Eroica, the Fifth Symphony, and the Coriolan Overture. The musical conflict that fires those works is also evident in this sonata, which is–with the Kreutzer Sonata–the most dramatic of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas.

The opening movement is marked Allegro con brio, the same indication Beethoven would later use for the opening movements of the Third and Fifth Symphonies, and the sonata’s first movement has a dramatic scope similar to those symphonies. It opens quietly with a recurrent brooding figure that ends with a sudden turn, like the quick flick of a dragon’s tail. The violin soon picks this up and also has the second subject, which marches along clipped dotted rhythms. There is no exposition repeat, and Beethoven slips into the development quietly, but soon the energy pent up in these simple figures is unleashed–this dramatic music features massive chording by both instruments and drives to a huge climax.

By contrast, the Adagio cantabile opens with a melody of disarming gentleness, once again announced by the piano, and much of this movement sings gracefully. As it develops, however, the accompaniment grows more complex, and soon these murmuring runs begin to take over the music; Beethoven makes sharp dynamic contrasts before bringing the movement to a quiet close. The brief Scherzo: Allegro is full of stinging accents and rhythmic surprises; its trio section is a subtle variation of the movement’s opening theme, here treated in canon.

The Finale: Allegro returns to the mood of the opening movement–again there is a quiet but ominous opening full of suppressed energy that will later explode to life. This finale is in modified sonata-rondo form, and despite an occasional air of play and some appealing lyric moments, the movement partakes of the same atmosphere of suppressed tension that has marked the entire sonata. Beethoven brings it to a suitably dramatic close with a blazing coda marked Presto that remains resolutely in C minor.

Suite Populaire Espagnole (1926)
El paño moruno (Allegretto vivace)
Nana (Calmo e sostenuto)
Canción (Allegretto)
Polo (Vivo)
Asturiana (Andante tranquillo)
Jota (Allegro vivo)

MANUEL DE FALLA
Born November 23, 1876, Cádiz
Died November 14, 1946, Alta Grazia, Argentina

Falla had moved from Madrid to Paris in 1907, but returned to Spain at the beginning of World War I. The Seven Popular Spanish Songs, completed in Paris in 1914, was his final work before his departure. It comes from a period of unusual creativity: El Amor Brujo would follow in 1915 and Nights in the Gardens of Spain in 1916. In arranging that collection of songs, Falla took the unaccompanied melodic line of seven Spanish popular or folk songs and harmonized them himself, occasionally rewriting or expanding the original melodic line to suit his own purposes. Several years later the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski arranged six of the songs–with the approval of the composer–for violin and piano and published them as Suite Populaire Espagnole (Kochanski also rearranged the order of the movements in his arrangement).

  1. El paño moruno or “The Moorish Cloth” (Allegretto vivace) is based exactly on the famous song, and Kochanski’s arrangement makes imaginative use of harmonics and pizzicato.
  2. Nana (Calmo e sostenuto) is an arrangement of an old Andalusian cradle song, and Falla said that hearing this melody sung to him by his mother was his earliest memory. The violin is muted throughout, and the piano accompaniment is quietly syncopated.
  3. Canción (Allegretto) repeats a dance theme continuously: the entire middle section is performed on artificial harmonics.
  4. Polo (Vivo) The polo is a specific form: an Andalusian folksong or dance in 3/8 time, sometimes with coloratura outbursts. This particular polo, while based on Andalusian elements, is largely Falla’s own composition.
  5. Asturiana (Andante tranquillo) is a tune from Asturias, a province in the northwest part of Spain. Here the violin, muted throughout, plays the melodic line above a quiet sixteenth-note accompaniment.
  6. Jota (Allegro vivo) is the best-known part of the suite. A jota is a dance in triple time from northern Spain, sometimes accompanied by castanets. Slow sections alternate with fast here, and the extensive use of chorded pizzicatos may be intended to imitate the sound of castanets.

Much Ado About Nothing Suite, Opus 11 (1919)
The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber
Dogberry and Verges: March of the Watch
Scene in the Garden
Masquerade: Hornpipe

ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD
Born May 29, 1897, Brno, Czech Republic
Died November 29, 1957, Hollywood

It is easy for American audiences to think of the man who won Oscars for the scores to The Adventures of Robin Hood and Anthony Adverse as a film composer, but Erich Korngold wrote for the movies for only about a decade (1934-1946). The rest of his career was dedicated to “serious” music (which somehow implies that film music is not serious): Korngold wrote five operas, a great deal of symphonic and instrumental music, and a number of songs. Some of his works, including the opera Die tote Stadt and the wonderful Violin Concerto (composed for Heifetz and based on themes from Korngold’s film scores), have achieved a measure of popularity. Much good music by Korngold remains–and deserves–to be heard.

Korngold wrote incidental music for a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing in Vienna in 1919, the year before the première of Die tote Stadt. The original version was scored for chamber orchestra, and Korngold then drew two suites from this music, one for orchestra and one for violin and piano. Shakespeare’s comedy, with its sharp-tongued lovers Beatrice and Benedick and the evil plot against the innocent Hero, has always been a favorite, and Korngold’s music captures some of the magic of the play. Particularly memorable are the bumbling constables of the night watch, Dogberry and Verges, and Korngold depicts the stumbling antics of the night watch in the sturdy and comic little march that comprises the second movement of these excerpts. The Garden Scene is soaring and melodic, and Korngold rounds the suite off with a Hornpipe (appropriately, a dance of English origin) that zips briskly along its 2/4 meter.

Carmen Fantasie (1947)

FRANZ WAXMAN
Born December 24, 1906, Chorzów, Poland
Died February 24, 1967, Los Angeles

Franz Waxman began his career as a pianist in Berlin cafés but soon gravitated to what was then a new path for music–film scores. He arranged the music for Friederich Holländer’s Der blaue Engel in 1930 but fled Germany three years later when Hitler came to power. Waxman arrived in the United States in 1934 and quickly established himself as one of Hollywood’s leading composers–among his many films were Magnificent Obsession, Captains Courageous, Rebecca, Suspicion, Sunset Boulevard, and A Place in the Sun. Waxman also wrote “concert” music, and these works were often based on material from his film scores. A first-rate conductor, he founded the Los Angeles Music Festival in 1947 and directed it for the final twenty years of his life; with that festival, he presented the West Coast première of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

Georges Bizet’s Carmen offers such intoxicating music that it has haunted musicians ever since its 1875 première, and Bizet’s music has re-appeared in many forms, from a Busoni sonatina to Shchedrin’s arrangement for strings and percussion to countless virtuoso paraphrases. The most famous of these are the many arrangements for violin and orchestra by Sarasate, Hubay, Zimbalist, and others. Waxman wrote his Carmen Fantasie in 1947 for Jascha Heifetz, who was one of his neighbors in Hollywood. This ten-minute virtuoso showpiece does not need to be analyzed or “explained” to listeners, who may simply sit back and enjoy one more evocation of Bizet’s memorable tunes, all stitched together with some very fancy fiddling (the imprint of Heifetz’s virtuosity is evident throughout). Along the way, we hear such favorites as the Habanera, Seguidilla, and Intermezzo, as well as a few tunes that do not usually appear in Carmen paraphrases, including the Card Song from Act III.

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