Explore some thrilling new music, combined with one of the classic violin sonatas. The concert starts with Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 featuring Daniel Jordan, concertmaster. The intensity builds with Piazzolla’s Four for Tango. This string quartet is aggressive, sensual and mesmerizing. Maslanka describes the first movement of his Quintet No. 2 as fierce, the second movement as elusive, and the third as sweet. Maslanka recently passed away in August at age 73, leaving a legacy of nearly 130 published works.
Thursday | 5:30 pm | Holley Hall
SONATA FOR VIOLIN IN G MAJOR, OP. 78
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
It is common for composers to write music for friends. Mozart, for example, wrote many of his concertos for people he knew, and Johannes Brahms likewise wrote his three violin sonatas for his friend Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), one of the greatest musicians of his time. After meeting Brahms in 1853, Joachim became a major supporter, introducing him to other important figures in the music world including Robert and Clara Schumann. While Robert died in 1856, Brahms’s friendship with Clara, an extremely gifted pianist, continued for decades, and she offered input on and performed many of his compositions. Her connection to the Violin Sonata No. 1 is particularly personal—Brahms completed the work in 1879, right around the death of Clara’s youngest son Felix. In a letter that she wrote to Brahms that same year, she compared Felix’s tragedy to the plight of her eldest son Ludwig, who had been committed to an insane asylum nearly ten years prior. “Such a poor, miserable man lives on now,” Clara said, “and the other, the intellectually gifted, to whom life stood open with all its attractions, dies. Why?” Almost in response to her complex question, Brahms mailed Clara the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major.
Written in three movements, the sonata vacillates between joy and sorrow. Its mercurial nature is sometimes compared to Clara’s state of mind following her son’s death: ardent attempts at optimism, but with depression and sorrow frequently breaking through. The opening Vivace ma non troppo is expansively lyrical and generally sunny, with occasional intense eruptions of angular phrases in the minor mode. The ensuing Adagio is impassioned, full of double and triple stops in the violin (two or three notes played at the same time). At the opening of the concluding Allegro molto moderato, Brahms quotes his own “Regenlied,” a song about lost days of youth, beginning in the minor mode but eventually closing in the major. The final movement spoke to Clara Schumann the most—as she wrote to Brahms, “I don’t believe that one person perceives that melody as blissfully and melancholically as I.”
Program Note written by Jennifer Glagov.
FOUR, FOR TANGO
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Astor Piazzolla’s name has been inseparably associated with the tango. During the Depression, Piazzolla’s family moved to New York, where he studied piano and the bandoneón, a type of concertina with a 38-button keyboard that had become the central instrument in the tango ensembles of his native Argentina. After a stint in Paris, studying composition with no less an eminence that Nadia Boulanger, Piazzolla returned to Argentina to form his first Tango Octet and later his renowned Tango Quintet, made up of the bandoneón, violin, piano, electric guitar and bass.
Influenced by his studies in Paris and classical forms, Piazzolla aimed his compositions a cut above the traditional tangos. No longer dance music, they became concert music, although for the nightclub rather than the concert hall. Nevertheless, the psychological intensity and sophistication of his music so infuriated the traditionalists that Piazzolla was repeatedly physically assaulted and even threatened with a gun to his head during a radio broadcast.
Piazzolla, in turn, has inspired such jazz artists as Jerry Mulligan and Chick Corea. His tangos have been arranged for classical violinist Gidon Kramer and for the renowned and eclectic Kronos String Quartet, for whom he composed Four, for Tango in 1988.
Most of Piazzola’s tangos have a clear melodic element, but Four, for Tango adapts to contemporary sound of the Kronos Quartet, and the series of melodic fragments are sometimes obscured.
Program Note written by Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn.
WIND QUINTET NO. 2
David Maslanka (1943-2017)
One of the qualities of the wind quintet in comparison to its analog, the string quartet, is the diversity of the sound of the instruments and the kind of writing that makes them shine. While they can merge into a seamless blend, they also can produce an acerbic staccato that, frankly, makes some string quartet aficionados cringe. Maslanka exploits both these qualities in the Wind Quintet. There’s a lot going on in this piece – a little romance and a lot of humor.
Maslanka composed the three-movement Wind Quintet No. 2 in 1986 for the Manhattan Wind Quintet. The mood of the work goes from technically challenging and assertive in the first movement, to introspective and even ethereal in the third, which is a chaconne.
The first movement is characterized by an ostinato rhythm that pulses in the slower sections, as in the introduction, and drives nervously into the main idea in the Allegro. The movement vacillates between slightly tuneful and cacophonous.
The second movement alternates two disparate melodies: one a romantic cantilena, the other a jazzy response. It’s somewhat like a dialogue between two people, one who wants to stay home and make love, the other who wants to go clubbing.
They probably stayed home, because the last movement is a chaconne beginning with an achingly romantic – and completely characteristic – oboe melody that puts the second movement to shame. The Quintet ends quietly with a cross between a chorale and a barbershop quintet.
Maslanka’s works for winds and percussion have become especially well known. They include among others, A Child’s Garden of Dreams for Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Concerto for Piano, Winds and Percussion, the Second, Third, and Fourth symphonies, Mass for soloists, chorus, boys chorus, wind orchestra and organ, four Wind Quintets and numerous others. In addition, he has written a wide variety of chamber, orchestral, and choral pieces. His music is Romantic and tonal.
Program Note written by Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn.