Archive for October, 2011

Beethoven, Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 97, “Archduke”

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 97, “Archduke,1811

Ludwig van BeethovenAs with nearly every genre he touched, Beethoven radically transformed the piano trio through a series of evolving works culminating in a grand utterance of vast proportion and emotional depth. He completed his seventh and final multi-movement piano trio in 1811 at the age of forty-one, the Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 known as the “Archduke” after Beethoven’s dedication of the work to Archduke Rudolph, the emperor’s brother and a regular piano student of Beethoven’s. But this “Archduke” epithet seems to encompass more than merely its dedicatee: the music is grand and noble, broad and beneficent, the composition itself one of the great aristocrats among piano trios. Though this would be Beethoven’s last piano trio, it falls within his middle “heroic” period characterized by many of these same traits and, here, his contribution to the genre ends. Inaugurating his published catalog with a set of trios in 1795 and “peaking” with the “Archduke” some sixteen years later, Beethoven would leave the piano trio behind during his final “late” period explorations. The “Archduke” is thus the magnificent end of a dynasty, yet another fruitful association with its multi-layered nickname. (more…)

Smetana, Piano Trio in g minor, Op. 15

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Bedřich Smetana, 1824-1884

Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15, 1855

Bedřich SmetanaBedřich Smetana emerges as the first truly nationalistic Czech composer. A generation older than Dvořák, Smetana participated in revolutionary protests against the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs, emigrated to Sweden for a time, and ultimately returned to Prague a prodigal son, celebrated for his numerous operas, orchestral and piano pieces reflecting Czech culture and identity. His personal life was very difficult. Smetana buried his first wife as well as three of his four daughters who died during infancy. In his mid-fifties, Smetana developed tinnitus, eventually became deaf and ultimately succumbed to madness most likely from syphilis. But to the chamber world in particular, he bequeathed two amazing works: a late string quartet and an earlier piano trio, both passionate epics of romantic expression deeply reflecting these personal tragedies. (more…)

Mozart, Piano Trio in G Major, K. 564

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

Piano Trio in G Major, K. 564, 1788

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart“In my boyhood, each time I played Mozart for my Grandma Clara, she said, in a flat voice, “Sounds just like water.” One day, on a picnic, she announced factually that the creek sounded just like Mozart.”
— W. A. Mathieu, The Musical Life

The classical piano trio came of age in Mozart’s hands. The full transition from the harpsichord to pianoforte coincided almost perfectly with Mozart’s life. He was a superb pianist – among history’s very first. He contributed mightily to the young instrument’s essential repertoire. Several composers before Mozart wrote for the ostensible ensemble of keyboard, violin and cello, fabulous works by skilled composers such a C.P.E. Bach, Schobert and Haydn. But there were at least two differences between their compositions and Mozart’s. First, they wrote for “keyboard”, possibly conceived with harpsichord in mind. Mozart wrote specifically and idiosyncratically for the piano itself. Second, the string parts were either “ad libitum” (optional), or quite secondary within music conceived primarily for the solo keyboard. With Mozart, the classically balanced triumvirate of piano, violin and cello finds its first blossom, indeed, an exquisite bouquet of compositions for this nascent ensemble soon to become a centerpiece at the heart of the chamber music literature. (more…)

Pocket Ranch Haiku

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Music speaks to me.
Can I transmute it to words?
(Why would I do this?)

In Between
Hijacked by software:
Elegant, abstract patterns.
A byte is a meal.

Bytes about music.
earsense joins the internet:
world-wide web of words.

Bartók, String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Belá Bartók (1881-1945)

String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91, 1928

Belá BartókIn a manner often compared to Beethoven, the string quartet was absolutely central to the creative lifeblood of Béla Bartók. After an early quartet written at the age of seventeen, Bartók produced a monumental cycle of six mature quartets over a span of thirty years. Plans for a seventh quartet remained unfulfilled by his death in 1945. Uniquely among 20th century works, Bartók’s quartets have become essential to the repertoire defining an important chapter in the history of this indefatigable genre of musical thought and expression. Of the six quartets, each a distinctly individual milestone in Bartók’s evolutionary journey, the fourth is the most celebrated. The Bartók scholar Halsey Stevens wrote, “The fourth quartet comes close to being, if it does not actually represent, Bartók’s greatest and most profound achievement.” (more…)

Schumann, String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41, No. 3

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Robert Schumann, 1810-1856

String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41, No. 3

Robert Schumann tended to compose in short, concentrated bursts, intensively focused on one genre at a time. 1842 became his “year of chamber music” where he miraculously produced three string quartets, the glorious piano quintet and the equally superb piano quartet. Schumann wrote his three string quartets, Op. 41, in a space of five weeks with the third dashed off in only a few days. His letters and journals demonstrate his methodical preparation by studying the quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven including the latter’s “late quartets” with which Schumann was particularly enthralled. The bulk of Mendelssohn’s quartets predate Op. 41 and Schumann was without a doubt familiar with them as well as quartets of lesser composers that he would have reviewed as a founding critic for the important journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Indeed, Schumann dedicated Op. 41 to his friend and contemporary, Felix Mendelssohn. History has since highlighted the first and third of the quartets with the String Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No 3 becoming the favorite. (more…)