Friday, August 6 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, August 7 at 5:30 PM
- J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
- Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912)
- Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
David and Amy Fulton
Friday, August 6 Cynthia and Sam Coleman
Saturday, August 7 The Driftwood Fund, in honor of the staff of OICMF
2021 Program Notes Welcome Back!
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052 for keyboard and strings
Bach left us seven concertos for keyboard and strings, but two of these are arrangements of his own violin concertos and one is an arrangement of the 4th Brandenburg Concerto. It is now widely believed that several – if not all of the others – were also arrangements of violin concertos by Bach, which have now been lost. (This has led to a whole “reconstruction” industry, yielding numerous recordings of these “virtual” violin concertos by Bach.)
The three movements of this concerto are in a fairly standard format for Baroque concertos, although Bach “works out” his thematic material at some length, making the concerto a little longer than usual for the era. The first movement is essentially monothematic, but Bach seems to be having great fun coming up with new kinds of figuration and passagework for the soloist. Much of this figuration is of a style which at least seems to suggest violin-writing, providing some evidence to support the theory that this was originally a violin concerto. The second movement continues in a serious mood. A short introduction for the strings alone leads to the aria-like entry of the soloist, whose part becomes increasingly florid as the movement proceeds. The final movement is still in D minor, but has a dance-like quality which – the minor key notwithstanding – provides a real sense of rhythmic buoyancy and joy in the music.
As eminent a musician and scholar as Albert Schweitzer thought that these keyboard concerto arrangements (assuming that is what they are) were made with incredible “haste and carelessness,” but their strong themes, lively rhythms, and even opportunities for virtuosic display have endeared them to musicians and audiences. The D minor concerto is, in fact, the earliest solo keyboard concerto to have a won a permanent place in the standard repertoire.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) – Ballade in C Minor for violin and piano, Op. 73
Born to a father from Sierra Leone and an English mother, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor rose in prominence through his short life to become one of the most performed composers in Great Britain and elsewhere during the final years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries. His father returned to Sierra Leone before Samuel was born and became a prominent administrator in west Africa. Samuel’s parents were not married and he grew up in a working class home which seems to have been loving, supportive of his musical talent and unconcerned by his mixed racial parentage. His mother’s family name was Taylor. She gave him the middle name Coleridge in honor of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He studied at the Royal College of Music, initially on violin then switching to composition, which he studied with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. In 1898, Coleridge-Taylor wrote Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast to text from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Premiered that same year at the Royal College under the baton of Stanford, it was an immediate success, earning the praise of Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir Hubert Parry. Despite the continued success of the work, Coleridge-Taylor had sold the rights to the work outright for a paltry sum, and financial troubles would plague him until his death from pneumonia. The financial injustice he suffered contributed substantially to a growing movement in the early years of the 20th century to protect the financial rights of composers.
The Ballade in C Minor was written in 1907 for Russian-born violinist Michael Zacherewitsch who performed frequently in England and later became a citizen of that country. Some commentators find a Slavic mood in the Ballade – perhaps because of its dedicatee. The opening of the piece, which keeps the violin in its lowest register, certainly has an air of melancholy, but there isn’t any particular Russian “accent” to it. There are, however, aspects of Coleridge-Taylor’s writing in the piece – melodic contours, textures and rhythmic patterns – that are reminiscent of Tchaikovsky, but it would be a mistake to suggest that the music actually sounds like it’s by that composer. The Ballade is freely rhapsodic with a motto-theme heard at the very beginning that recurs throughout the piece, often in rhythmic or tempo transformations. Coleridge-Taylor’s harmonic language isn’t particularly chromatic. Most of his chords are easily analyze-able and on the printed page they look rather unadventurous. However, they support his easy melody-spinning beautifully which, combined with his idiomatic writing for both instruments, gives a real air of freshness to many of the pages of this piece.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) – Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47
In 1839, Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck were married after a lengthy and obstacle-laden courtship. Schumann had completed his major works for piano solo and a number of songs, but he had yet to produce a large-scale orchestral or chamber work. In 1841, with encouragement from Clara, he wrote his First Symphony. He then began to study string quartets by masters of the Classical period: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The fruits of this study followed quickly, as three string quartets, the Piano Quintet, and the Piano Quartet tumbled out in less than two years.
The first movement is in sonata-allegro form. Schumann uses a sustained theme to delineate the structural sections. This sostenuto theme is heard at the beginning and again between the exposition and development. At the recapitulation it provides a thrilling climax to the entire movement.
The G minor Scherzo alternates a scurrying staccato theme with two “trio” sections. The first trio is in fluid quarter-notes. The second, using a device surely learned from Beethoven, begins with block chords that suspend the tempo until the scurrying motif sneaks back in. The Scherzo has been likened to those by Mendelssohn, but where a Mendelssohn scherzo sparkles, this one is more mysterious, even sinister. No elves or fairies dance here – only shadows chasing shadows.
The third movement is in simple ABA form. The principal theme is based on rising and falling sevenths, an interval often used to express yearning. The central section’s theme, removed to a distant G-flat major, moves in a more stepwise fashion. The first theme returns with the viola, while the violin traces delicate embroidery around it. The piano provides a simple accompaniment, suggestive of plucked guitar chords. During this passage the cellist re-tunes the lowest string down a whole-tone to permit a low B-flat octave.
The piano’s final notes in the Andante are a premonition of the bold rhythm that opens the Finale. This is followed by a rapid fugal passage. The movement builds to two climaxes with fast repeated notes and octaves for the strings, the second climax culminating in a fermata (“pause”) before the final rush homeward in the coda.