Erich Korngold, String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 34

January 23, 2021

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)

String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 34, 1945

Erich Wolfgang Korngold The Austrian, Jewish composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was arguably one of the very last European Romantics. Born in Vienna just before the turn of the 20th Century, the son of a prominent music critic, Korngold was soon identified as a startling child prodigy and proclaimed the Mozart of a new age. While still very young, his music astonished some of Europe’s finest Avant-garde composer including Mahler, Strauss and Puccini. At only 11 years old, his ballet "The Snowman" became a sensation. His first published opus was sophisticated piano trio from his 12th year. The noted pianist Artur Schnabel championed Korngold’s second piano sonata composed when he was merely 13. One success after another propelled Korngold forward as a composer as well as a conductor of first-rate opera and other stage works as he also managed to become a professor at the Vienna State Academy.

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César Franck, Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 14

January 9, 2021

César Franck (1822-1890)

Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 14 (1879)

César Franck César Franck was Belgian but spent the majority of his life in Paris as one of several composers in a Renaissance of French instrumental music towards the end of the 19th century after the Franco-Prussian war. A child prodigy, he entered the Paris Conservatoire at the tender age of twelve when he astonished the faculty with his virtuosity at the piano. After a short career as a touring, performing musician, Franck settled into the organ loft of one or more Parisian cathedrals where he once again dazzled others with his improvisations earning the admiration of no less than Franz Liszt. Frank eventually acquired a faculty position at the Conservatoire where his organ classes became celebrated forums for harmony and composition establishing a cult following among a younger generation of composers including Vincent d’Indy and Claude Debussy.

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Gabriel Fauré, 2 Mélodies transcribed for piano quartet

November 1, 2020

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Les berceaux, Op. 23, No. 1 (1879)
Notre amour, Op. 23, No. 2 (c.1879)

Gabriel Fauré Gabriel Fauré is especially celebrated for his contributions to French “art song” known specifically by the word mélodie, essentially the French equivalent to the German Lied. The history of French song is, naturally, long, rich and complex, but the undisputed masters of the late Romantic and early modern French mélodie are Fauré, Henri Duparc and Claude Debussy during the a period that precisely corresponds with late 19th Century flowering of French instrumental chamber music, really two side of the same coin. With his gifts for melody, exquisite pianism, harmonic color and textural clarity particularly within an intimate ensemble, Fauré was perfectly suited to write music for voice and piano. Between 1861 and 1921, from the age of 16 to 76, Fauré composed over 100 mélodies, often grouped into sets and, in the latter period, thematically interrelated into remarkably innovative song cycles.

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Beethoven's Cello Sonatas

March 6, 2020

A Beethoven Celebration: The Complete Cello Sonatas

Ludwig van Beethoven 2020 is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and effulgent celebrations abound. Among the symphonies, concertos, chamber music and piano sonatas (to name only the most obvious), there is ample, if not endless, music to explore: music not just for a year, but also for a lifetime. For chamber music lovers in particular, nearly every year features Beethoven’s extraordinary output comprising ensembles from three to eight players centering most especially on his unparalleled “cycle” for string quartet. But Beethoven also wrote numerous “duo sonatas” (for featured instrument and piano) including a rich trove of ten violin sonatas. But the special program tonight focuses on a wonderfully unique and most appropriate showcase for this Beethoven celebration: the complete sonatas for cello and piano. Comprising five individual works, a performance of the complete set remarkably fits within the compass of a single concert. And magically, unlike the violin sonatas, the cello sonatas span the three traditionally named periods of Beethoven’s creativity (early, middle and late) thereby representing, in a single microcosm, the totality of his musical life.

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Prokofiev, Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op. 56

February 16, 2020

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op. 56 (1932)

Sergei Prokofiev Sergei Prokofiev came of age in the 20th century and has remained both a popular and critical favorite especially as a Russian/Soviet composer along with the elder Stravinsky and the younger Shostakovich. A child prodigy, he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 13 and caused a sensation with his intensely percussive piano playing with a startlingly modern rhythmic vitality that would characterize his mature work. Prokofiev launched a career as concert pianist, composer and conductor and, shortly after the revolution, left Russia for a few decades living the United States and then Paris where a combination of misfortunes including lukewarm reception and a worldwide economic depression left Prokofiev feeling unfulfilled and unappreciated. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1936 where, despite some newfound success, he would endure WWII and then the devastating state censure accusing him (along with several other composers) of “degenerate formalism.”

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Lera Auerbach, Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 28

February 1, 2020

Lera Auerbach (b. 1973)

Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 28, (1992/1996)

Lera Auerbach Living composer Lera Auerbach is a multi-dimensional creative force of nature. Composer, concert pianist, poet and visual artist, she was born in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on the border of Siberia. While on a concert tour of the United States in 1991, she defected and remained in New York to pursue an education and a subsequent career. Despite her lack of financial resources as well as her inability to speak English, Auerbach persisted, studying at the Manhattan School of Music and earning degrees in composition and piano from Juilliard. To date, she has composed a rather astonishing catalog of music including two operas, four symphonies, numerous concerti and, for chamber music, at least nine string quartets and five piano trios.

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Chopin, Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op. 23

December 15, 2019

Frédéric Chopin, 1810-1849

Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op. 23, 1831-1835

Frédéric Chopin Frédéric Chopin was a perfect miracle for the flowering of art music for the solo piano. His life almost perfectly coincides with the perfection of the instrument and its universal adoption as the solo instrument par excellence. But unlike the numerous performers and composers brandishing thundering feats of technical virtuosity that pushed the instrument and performer to their physical limits, Chopin brought only pure musical expression employing virtuosity and technique as means to an artistic end. With a fresh, novel approach to the piano, Chopin astonished and confounded the musicians of his day, essentially revealing a whole new domain of keyboard music uniquely his own becoming known as the “poet of the piano.”

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Alban Berg, String Quartet, Op. 3

November 10, 2019

Alban Berg, 1885-1935

String Quartet Op, 3, 1910

Alban Berg Alban Berg’s first string quartet is an extraordinary work for many reasons and, without reservation, an important work in the “canon” of great string quartets if not music in general. Historically, it is a milestone of the early 20th Century as it is the first feature-length quartet written in a strikingly new language of pervasive atonality. Despite its radical departure from a nearly 300-year-old tradition of music anchored in tonality, it leverages a consistent tradition of music for the string quartet including formal underpinnings, the centrality of the “motive” and a dense conversational web of imitative counterpoint. Fundamentally, it sounds almost like a late Romantic string quartet. Emotionally, it is among the most intense string quartets ever written.

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Joseph Haydn, String Quartet Op. 74, No. 3, "The Rider"

November 10, 2019

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

String Quartet in g minor, Op. 74, No. 3, "The Rider", 1793

In 1790, Haydn essentially retired with a pension from his decades-long service as Kapellmeister to the Hungarian Esterházy family. He soon made arrangements with the impresario Johann Peter Salomon to travel to London where he was fêted as the greatest living European composer. At the height of his powers, Haydn witnessed his symphonies and string quartets performed before a huge public audience in a large theatrical setting, a far cry from the exclusive Esterházy salon. Inspired by this new kind of grandeur, Haydn prolifically composed a fresh series of symphonies and chamber music realizing the glorious apex of his career in what can be called the “London Years.”

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Édouard Lalo, Piano Trio No. 3 in a minor, Op. 26

March 24, 2019

Edouard Lalo

Édouard Lalo, 1823-1892

Piano Trio No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 26, 1880

For much of the Classical and early Romantic eras, the outstanding French composers were primarily consumed with music for the theatre: opera, ballet and orchestral extrapolations. As such, a substantial tradition of French chamber music did not emerge until the late 19th century especially at the hands of such composers as Franck, Saint-Saëns and Fauré followed in a subsequent generation by Debussy and Ravel. There are numerous other composers in the historical mix but Édouard Lalo is particularly important. General music lovers will know him for the Symphonie espagnole and perhaps his cello concerto while, within France, he is famous for his grand opera Le roi d'Ys. But Lalo was among that first generation of French chamber music composers producing three piano trios, a string quartet, and a number of chamber duos including sonatas for violin and cello.

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Rebecca Clarke, Piano Trio

March 24, 2019

Rebecca Clarke, 1886-1979

Piano Trio, 1921

Rebecca Clarke Slowly but surely, Rebecca Clarke is being rescued from obscurity through sporadic performances of her chamber music works. The sum of her compositions for chamber music, chorus and solo song is about 100 yet only 20 were published during her long lifetime. She composed mostly from her 20’s through her 50’s but due to various discouragements, a change of lifestyle when she married and perhaps a change of heart and mind, she ceased composing almost completely for the last 30 years of her life. Despite her pioneering professional career as a world-travelling violist and the outstanding craft and originality of her compositions, particularly during the 1920’s, it seems that she was indeed of her time: essentially under recognized and thwarted as a woman in a field dominated by men and a culture that could not quite recognize her achievements.

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What is Chamber Music?

December 5, 2018

Introduction: A Slight Disclaimer

Kai Christiansen I like to call earsense the chamber music exploratorium. So what exactly is chamber music? The definition varies a bit depending on whom you ask, and it has changed over the many long years of its history (one could claim 500 years). As a chamber music devotee and a passionate, as well as professional advocate, I could write a great deal about chamber music and that, in the end, is really the sum total of earsense itself. But for the purposes of defining a domain (pun intended) particularly for the general music lover who is apt to know little to nothing about it, I would like to offer a reasonably succinct but persuasive overview.

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Haydn, String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, Sun, No. 4, Hob.III:34

November 21, 2018

Joseph Haydn

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772)

Though the Op. 20 set of quartets is essentially Haydn’s fifth such collection, these quartets were especially admired by players and connoisseurs of the day (as well as by Haydn himself) and hailed as a new milestone in the genre. From our modern perspective, centuries hence, we might well consider these the first great string quartet masterworks. Know widely as the “Sun” quartets from an illustration on the cover when published by Hummel, they aptly embody the dawn of a new era.

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Haydn, String Quartet in D Major, Op. 76, No. 5, "Largo"

September 19, 2018

Charles Burney “ . . . they are full of invention, fire, good taste, and new effects, and seem the production, not of a sublime genius who has written so much and so well already, but of one of highly-cultivated talents, who had expended none of his fire before.”

Charles Burney in a letter to Haydn regarding Op. 76

Haydn's string quartet legacy comprises 68 works written over the span of nearly fifty years and includes at least twenty-five unequivocal masterpieces. They were generally published in groups of six (or three) of which there are several landmark sets, each with its own personality, ingenuity and style. Each set tends to reflect a particular phase of Haydn's ever-creative quartet thinking and, rather miraculously, forms a complete universe in itself, so rich and varied are the musical treasures within.

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Shostakovich, Impromptu for viola and piano

July 30, 2018

From The Strad

Shostakovich Impromptu A previously unknown work by Dmitri Shostakovich, a viola impromptu, has been discovered in Moscow’s central archive, it was announced on 25 September [2017], the composer’s birthday.

The short work, consisting of title sheet, a single page for the viola part and one for the piano score, is titled Impromptu op.33. It was found among documents belonging to Vadim Borisovsky (d. 1972), the violist of the Beethoven Quartet for over 40 years.

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Schumann, Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18

April 25, 2018

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18 (1839)

Robert Schumann The quintessential Romantic composer Robert Schumann distinguished himself in all musical genres but may well be most admired for his character pieces for solo piano. At the time he composed Arabesque, he was visiting Vienna where he hoped to make his future home with his love, the extraordinary young pianist Clara Wieck. At the time, however, Clara’s father forbade the union and Schumann would not yet encounter the musical fame he hoped to establish in that eminently musical city. Hence, while composing during his sojourn, the young Schumann oscillated between hope and despair, the ultimate Romantic polarity some commentators find in the emotional makeup of Arabesque itself.

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Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings, Op. 48

April 25, 2018

Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 (1880)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky had such an intuitive gift for melody, rhythm and musical expression in general that many of his compositions have become enduring popular classics including the beloved Serenade for Strings. Unlike many of his contemporary Russian composers who eschewed the Western European classics in an attempt to write music that was genuinely Russian, Tchaikovsky was more than content to emulate the masters, particularly his favorite: Mozart. Tchaikovsky specifically stated that his Serenade was a deliberate imitation of Mozart’s style even though it is more Tchaikovsky than Mozart.

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Beethoven, String Quintet in C major, Op. 29, "Storm"

April 25, 2018

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29, “The Storm” (1801)

Ludwig van Beethoven When Beethoven composed his only full-length string quintet in 1801, he was beginning a transition between his early and middle stylistic phases, moving from Classical mastery towards a new kind of epic innovation that would define his mature artistry. The years of 1801-1802 witnessed Beethoven confronting the ironic and devastating fate of losing his hearing, eventually prevailing with heroic resolve. This transitional period finds Beethoven composing his second symphony, his third piano concerto and the marvelous Op. 29 String Quintet known by the nickname “Storm” (Der Sturm). Overshadowed by the fame of his string quartets and the string quintets of Mozart and Schubert, Beethoven’s quintet is rarely performed, a special treat to encounter.

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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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