Dialogue with Beethoven, Gordon, Moravec and the Enso

April 7, 2018

Paul Moravec (born 1957)

Dialogue, 2015

Paul Moravec Founded in 1930 and ostensibly the longest running summer chamber music festival in the United States, Music Mountain launched a five-year commissioning project in 2015. For the first year, they commissioned a work for the Enso String Quartet who recommended composer Paul Moravec. The theme for the commission was to create a dialogue with the past, specifically including a connection with the festival’s founder Jacques Gordon, violinist and leader of the Gordon String Quartet. Jonathan Yates, music director for Music Mountain at the time writes:

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Josef Suk, Elegie, Op. 23

March 10, 2018

Josef Suk (1874-1935)

Elegie for Piano Trio, Op. 23, Under the Impression of Zeyer's Vysehrad (1902)

Josef Suk When Josef Suk was born, Dvořák was in his early thirties and would become an important father figure to Suk in many ways. Suk grew up in a Bohemian village where his father, a choirmaster, taught him piano, violin and organ. Entering the Prague Conservatory when he was only eleven, Suk studied violin, theory and chamber music graduating in 1891 with an impressive piano quartet as his first official opus. Still merely eighteen, he remained at the conservatory for another year to study with Dvořák who had just joined the teaching staff. Thus began a multi-dimensional relationship that lasted until the end of Dvořák’s life. Dvořák considered Suk his favorite pupil and in 1898 became his father-in-law when Suk married his daughter Otilka.

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Kurtag, 6 Moments musicaux for string quartet

March 5, 2018

György Kurtág (born 1926)

6 Moments musicaux, Op. 44 (1999-2005)

György Kurtág György Kurtág, a living composer now in his early nineties, is widely regarded as one of the most important avant-garde composers coming into prominence in the second half of the 20th century. Kurtág was born of Hungarian parents but grew up in a part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that became part of Romania in 1918. Speaking Hungarian at home and Romanian at school, he moved to Budapest in 1946 to study music at the Franz Liszt Academy and soon became a Hungarian citizen. Kurtág graduated with degrees in piano, chamber music and composition and established his initial reputation as a pianist. Despite the disastrous uprising of 1956 and a brief yearlong sojourn in Paris in 1957/8, Kurtág chose to remain in Hungary and has been cited as the only composer to live through the communist regime (lasting until 1989) and achieve an international recognition.

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Schubert, Quartettsatz

February 24, 2018

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 12, “Quartettsatz”, D. 703 (1820)

Franz Schubert Franz Schubert wrote at least 17 works for string quartet, the bulk of which he composed for the practical purpose of playing chamber music at home with his family. These earlier works, designed for his father, brothers and himself, are skillful, winning and, due to the technical limitations of his family members, suitable for amateur players. This all changed with the so-called “Quartettsatz” (a posthumously applied title meaning “quartet movement”) of 1820 written when Schubert was in his early 20s.

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Webern, Fünf Sätze for String Quartet, Op. 5

February 19, 2018

Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Fünf Sätze (Five Movements) for String Quartet, Op. 5 (1909)

Anton Webern 100 years after Beethoven’s “Harp” quartet, as the hallowed history of the string quartet reached its 150 year anniversary, the few years of 1908-1909 witnessed the beginnings of a tectonic shift in the genre and, indeed, classical music in general. Arnold Schoenberg, the founding father of the radical Second Viennese School, completed his infamous second string quartet in 1908 and self-published it the following year. The first bold innovation was adding a human soprano to sing song texts in the third and fourth movements. The second more radical departure was Schoenberg’s abandonment of tonality in the finale, the first important instance of atonal music for string quartet. Significantly, the text from a poem by Stefan George begins “I feel the air of a new planet.” The premiere caused a scandal.

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George Enescu, Octet for Strings

February 2, 2018

George Enescu (1881-1955)

String Octet, Op. 7, 1900 (published in 1905, premiered in 1909)

George Enescu Enescu was a true musical prodigy of the rarest kind. He started playing violin at 4, composing at 5, became the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory when he was 7, graduated when he was 13, spent 4 years at the Paris Conservatory while premiering his first mature composition at the age of 16. As he would spend much of his life and earn much of his fame in Paris as well as Romania, Enescu is also widely known by the French version of his name, Georges Enesco. While he thought of himself first and foremost as a composer, over time, Enescu blossomed into one of the most complete musicians in history: a virtuoso concert violinist (one of the finest of his generation), superb pianist, conductor, teacher, mentor, dedicatee of numerous extraordinary masterworks emerging from the best composers of the day, and finally, as well, a truly original and astonishing composer.

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George Enescu, Aubade for String Trio

February 2, 2018

George Enescu (1881-1955)

Aubade in C Major for String Trio, 1899

George Enescu Enescu penned his Aubade for string trio one year earlier than the stunning Octet and there is no more perfect contrast for a mini-showcase of Enescu’s fine art. Concise, charming and so skillfully crafted, this little lilting scherzo and trio is a lovers’ goodbye kiss, an aubade being the opposite of the serenade: one at night, one in the morning, both sharing the lovers’ impetus to woo with music. At the other end of the spectrum from the sprawling epic for octet, this little ditty for spare string trio still projects a layered, rich texture possibly evoking a joyfully whistling lover departing on loping horseback to the accompaniment of a country fiddle, a rustic Romanian folk tune in a fresh, new morning after love.

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Bartók, Romanian Folk Dances

February 2, 2018

Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 BB 68, 1915

Béla Bartók The great 20th century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók needs no introduction to most music lovers. It is a wonderful thematic coincidence that he was born the same year as Enescu. Their deeper connection is a shared Eastern European heritage and, specifically for our Fantezie program, Bartók’s famous setting of six Romanian Folk Dances. Bartók’s profound musical legacy stems from two different but interrelated aspects of his identity as both an early 20th Century avant-garde composer of art music, and a skillfully devoted ethnomusicologist cataloging a diversity of Eastern European folk musics which he sensed would quickly disappear in the modern world.

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Eugène Ysaÿe, Ballade for Enescu

February 2, 2018

Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)

Sonata in d minor, Op. 27, No. 3, Ballade, 1923 (Dedicated to George Enescu)

Eugène Ysaÿe Eugène Ysaÿe was at least generation or so older than George Enescu. A Belgian violinist, composer and conductor, Ysaÿe was widely regarded as among the greatest violinists of his age particularly as an exponent of the Franco-Belgian school. Known as the “King of the Violin” and even “The Tsar”, famous musicians and composers lauded him with superlatives. He performed and taught throughout Europe receiving eminent praise in the form of composers’ dedications for such works as César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A and Ernest Chausson’s Poème while, as a member of the Ysaÿe Quartet, he premiered Claude Debussy’s String Quartet. As his technique faded with age, Ysaÿe turned to teaching, composing and serving as artistic director with the Cincinnati Orchestra at which time he made some recordings.

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Fauré, Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor

October 31, 2017

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45 (1886)

Gabriel Fauré It has been said that Gabriel Fauré was the most important French Composer between Berlioz and Debussy, particularly in the genre of instrumental music. Opera dominated the French music scene for much for much of the 19th century until Saint-Saëns, Franck and a whole generation of late-Romantic French composers turned to writing sonatas and quartets. Over time, they established a new emerging school of French chamber music culminating in Debussy and Ravel with the turn of the 20th century. Fauré may well have been the most important force in this history. Within France, he is highly regarded; beyond France, he is known for a handful of beautiful pieces, but is otherwise elusive, a less than major composer that slips through the cracks.

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