Starting at $20
Starting at $20
- Presented by: Artist Series
- Venue: Macky Auditorium
- Macky Auditorium Concert Hall, Boulder, CO 80309
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Performance date and time:
Friday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Franck: Sonata in A Major, FWV 8
Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Nationalism was sweeping through Europe at the start of the 20th century—a fervor that served as a main component leading to World War I. For Bartók, however, pride in his Hungarian homeland translated into a passion for its folk music—those honest, unschooled peasant songs and dances that represented the heart and soul of Hungary and surrounding countries.
At that time, not much was known about the songs and dances of small, inaccessible villages. So, Bartók became a folklorist and took to the road, fresh from his formal training at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Soon after graduating in 1903, he began traveling, dragging with him notebooks and a cumbersome wire recorder, convincing rural musicians
to play or sing into his recording machine. Over the years, he accumulated 800 cylinders and more than 4,000 songs. Some of those melodies were later reworked into piano suites, though most of his collection simply inspired him to compose in the style of these folk melodies.
Along with his fellow folklorist/composer Zoltán Kodály, Bartók traveled all over Eastern Europe—even as far as Turkey and North Africa. His travels from 1910-12 in four regions of Transylvania (now part of central Romania), led to a set of eight folk dances. Completed in 1915 for solo piano, six of them were soon arranged for violin and piano by Bartók's dear friend Zoltán Székely ( rst violinist of the Hungarian String Quartet). Later, the composer recast them for orchestra. The six, played without break, are titled “Stick Dance,” “Sash Dance,” “In One Place,” “Horn Dance,” “Romanian Polka” and a nal fast dance known as a “Mărunțel.” This charming collection of original miniatures forms an unbroken stream of melodies, rhythms and harmonies that stand in stark contrast from the stern, experimental music being composed elsewhere in Europe at the time.
Focused squarely on capturing the uninhibited avor of nearby Romania, the composer did allow his fondness for French impressionist harmonies to appear in some of the dances. The musical language of Eastern European folk music became permanently imbedded in Bartók's works—present even in his nal completed piece, the Concerto for Orchestra. For him, the blending of Eastern European folk music with the rules and structures taught in conservatories seemed natural. In a 1931 lecture, the composer stressed that concert hall music was “nothing but a frame placed around the essential element, the peasant melody, which takes its place there like a jewel in its setting.”
Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Whenever summer arrived back in the late 1800s, many well-to-do Viennese escaped the heat and hustle of the city, traveling to the idyllic countryside for some peace and quiet and to commune with nature. Brahms was among them, although his time was hardly given to passively admiring mountains and rivers.
In fact, during the summer holidays of 1886-88, in the Swiss town of Hofstetten on the banks of Lake Thun 20 miles south of Bern, he wrote or began writing a number of major chamber works: the C minor piano trio, the second cello sonata, numerous songs and the last two of
his three violin sonatas. Earlier summers at other pastoral locales produced three of the four symphonies, the violin concerto, second piano concerto and other important orchestral works. That rst summer in Thun saw the completion of the second violin sonata, Op. 100 and the beginnings of the following D minor sonata.
For whatever reason—most likely Brahms' extreme perfectionism—Op. 108 occupied him for the next two summers at Hofstetten. In fact, he “road tested” the sonata at soirées in the fall of 1888, soliciting the opinions of trusted friends. Perhaps buoyed by the positive response (Clara Schumann praised its warmth and emotional depth), Brahms nally submitted the sonata for publication, dedicating it to his longtime champion, the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow.
Listening to this clearly constructed work, it seems puzzling that it would take so long for the composer to nish it. The only one of his sonatas not laid out in three movements, Op. 108 unfolds with an honesty and directness. Each of the four movements unveils its main melodic idea immediately, without a throat-clearing introduction: The Allegro builds around the violin's warm and simple opening motif; the following hymn-like Adagio avoids any touch of sugary sweetness or owery decoration in o ering one of Brahms' most endearing and heartfelt melodies; the playful syncopation of the third movement (labeled Un poco presto e con sentimento) nds the piano and violin chasing each other, never quite catching up until the nal measure. Clara Schumann was particularly smitten with this movement, describing it in archly romantic terms: “Like a sweet girl toying charmingly with her lover, a ash of deep passion in the middle, and then irting again.”
The restrained middle movements serve as a perfect set-up for the expansive, passionate outpourings of the nal Presto agitato, music so big and orchestral that it's di cult to imagine Brahms would ever feel like tackling a fourth violin sonata. Here he places serious demands on both voices, particularly his keyboard player (perhaps with the virtuoso pianist and dedicatee Bülow in mind). A series of powerful chords at the dramatic beginning sets the tone for an anguished movement that nds only brief moments of relaxation.
Sonata in A Major, FWV 8
César Franck (1822-1890)
As warm and ingratiating as this popular sonata is, the music can't hold a candle to the memorable circumstances of its creation and premiere. The Belgium-born composer wrote it in 1886 as a wedding present for his friend, Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931). The sonata was received on the morning of the ceremony, followed by a hurried rehearsal and a performance at the wedding breakfast.
Its public premiere took place later that year in a late afternoon concert at the Brussels Museum of Modern Painting—and what a legendary reading it turned out to be. Since the museum forbade any arti cial lighting, the violinist and pianist Léontine Bordes-Pène charged into the Franck sonata as daylight faded. Confronted with near-darkness—and a thoroughly engaged audience—Ysaÿe grandly hit his music stand with the bow and ordered that the performance continue, though the players were all but invisible. The young composer Vincent D'Indy, one of Franck's students, observed of this magical occasion, “Music, wondrous and alone, held sovereign sway in the blackness of night.” (Didn't we tell you that the sonata couldn't hold a candle to its premiere?)
This work came in the midst of a urry of important o erings, including the D minor symphony, string quartet and piano quintet—all penned when the composer was in his 60s and near the end of his life. It may seem odd that Franck didn't commit to writing music until 1875, when he was 55. Perhaps his reticence stemmed from the early failure in 1845 of his rst major work,
the oratorio “Ruth.” (His youthful self-image had already been damaged by an overbearing father). Franck's middle years were happily spent teaching and serving as organist in several Paris churches. Though a late bloomer as a composer, he exerted a huge in uence over D'Indy and other promising French musicians.
The Sonata in A Major served as a vivid example of “cyclical unity,” established earlier
by Liszt, in which germs of melodic ideas are introduced and then return, explored and expanded, throughout the piece—a concept also featured in the D minor symphony. The quiet, unassuming phrase that begins the introductory Allegretto acts as a seed for ideas that will bloom in succeeding movements. The ensuing Allegro seems more like an opening movement in its energy and propulsiveness. The third movement, bearing the unusual heading Recitativo- Fantasia, opens with a violin solo, leading to the piano's recalling of the opening movement's dreamy melody. Franck ends his sonata with an inventive device, a strict canon, in which the violin chases the piano before the two switch roles.
Program notes by Marc Shulgold
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