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George Rochberg, one of the unique American minds of the last century, composed in an astonishing diversity of voices. Always personal, his compositional style was at first firmly rooted in the atonal and serial movement. Eventually, it shifted toward neo-baroque and highly romantic. University of Michigan violinist Andrew Jennings, a leading expert on Rochberg's music, joins a group of CU Boulder faculty and friends for a concert celebrating the Rochberg centennial.
Featuring Andrew Jennings and Charles Wetherbee, violin; Matthew Dane and Erika Eckert, viola; Christina Jennings, flute; David Korevaar and Margaret McDonald, piano
Performance date and time:
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m.
George Rochberg: Sonata for Viola and Piano, Caprice Variations, and Piano QuintetRead more
George Rochberg (1918-2005), one of the unique American minds of the last century, composed in an astonishing diversity of voices. Always personal, his compositional style was at first firmly rooted in the atonal and serial movements and eventually shifted towards neo-Baroque and highly Romantic. This move towards tonality was precipitated by the death of his teenaged son in 1964. As a result of this tragedy, Rochberg experienced a personal and artistic crisis that caused a complete reevaluation of his music, eventually culminating in his 1971 String Quartet #3. This landmark composition, along with his Concord quartets #4-#6, featured a dominant use of tonality with clear influences from Beethoven, Mahler, and Pachelbel. In total seven quartets and quintets were written for the Concord String Quartet, in which my father, Andrew Jennings, was the second violinist. This unique music was the soundtrack of my childhood, and I absorbed Rochberg’s distinctive vocabulary during my own musical development.
I have explored Rochberg’s original flute works in two volumes of recorded music on Naxos Records, but his Caprice Variations have long been a subject of fascination for me. This publication is my transcription of the original 1970 collection for solo violin. Entirely based on the theme of Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice, these masterful pieces demonstrate the stylistic compositional variety for which Mr. Rochberg was known. In these pieces we hear clear homages to Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bartok, and Schoenberg. Flutists have a long tradition of borrowing from the violin repertoire; in a similar vein to this project, the 24 Caprices by Paganini have been transcribed by countless flutists from John Wummer to Claire Chase. We dive into this repertoire to play great works with virtuosic flair, to learn new techniques and stretch our own capacity, and most of all to have a little fun! -- Christina Jennings
Rochberg’s Sonata for Viola and Piano dates from 1979, the result of a commission from friends of William Primrose, The American Viola Society, and Brigham Young University in honor of Primrose’s 75th birthday. The work was first performed in July of that year at the Seventh International Viola Congress on the Brigham Young campus. The sonata is a major work in three movements, the first of which begins boldly with a soaring melody in the viola covering that instrument’s highest range. This gives way to a fugato tune, stated first in the piano, and characterized by its heavy accents. After the viola and piano develop the fugato tune, a third melodic component emerges; a heavily dotted, jagged melody which is accompanied by repeated chord clusters. Rochberg combines and develops these three components throughout, and the movement dies away with quiet statements of fragments from the fugato tune. The beautiful second movement is a plaintive song whose melody, stated in the viola, is accompanied differently each time it returns. The closing Fantasia is a short postlude to the sonata. Here, fragments of first-movement themes, both the lyrical opening line and the dotted melody, return in a free, discursive style, as if they are mere recollections of the first movement, tempered by the song which has intervened. – Kendall L. Crilly
There have not been many great works of art whose “birth” happened on talk radio, but George Rochberg’s Quintet for Piano & Strings is one such.
In 1970 Rochberg was chairman of the composition program at the University of Pennsylvania, a highly respected composer who had cut his musical teeth in the style of the great Second Viennese School of Schoenberg (with whom he briefly studied) and more directly with the legacy of Alban Berg. His works were intense, often dense and frequently serial, demanding the greatest focus and intensity from performers and audiences alike. That year two commissions came his way, one from pianist Jerome Lowenthal, for a solo work, and another through the Naumburg Foundation for the debut of the Concord String Quartet (of which I was a member.) The first to be completed was the String Quartet #3 which had its premiere at Lincoln Center in 1972 and in it Rochberg turned his back on what he had been doing for 20 years and instead created a vast pastiche of movements filled with stylistic nods to everything from Beethoven to Mahler, Stravinsky to Berg and “broke the mold of academic music composition.” The piece received a reaction at its premiere reminiscent of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; shouts of “bravo”, screams of approval and disapproval, boos and some bewilderment and a much longer-than-usual intermission with raised voices, as well as an astounding amount of notice in the press. Commissions started to come at Mr. Rochberg in great numbers and he was the “it” composer of the early 70s. The work for Mr. Lowenthal followed shortly, the Carnival Music, which showed a similar brash disregard of what a “normal” composer should be writing. Sometime after its premiere Russell Sherman, then the host of a very popular radio program on the New York Times’ WQXR invited Rochberg, Lowenthal and the Quartet to come on and talk about this new direction in music and to play brief excerpts from each work. I no longer remember exactly where the suggestion to combine the Quartet with Jerry in a single new work came from, but it took root, on the air, and in a very intense, somewhat cocktail-fueled lunch after the show a firm deal was struck to complete just such a work and to schedule performances in New York and elsewhere (as well as to record it for Nonesuch.)
The resulting work, which you will hear tonight, had its official premiere in 1974 at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center and it was again a dizzying assemblage of stylistic references; some of his most acerbic, violent music as well a D-major fugue and wild dances in all vocabularies. It is a virtuoso work for all involved and compelling listening. It is hard to recapture just how revolutionary this piece and its companions sounded in 1976 for the simple reason that they changed the entire landscape of American concert music. Hardly a piece written since then has not benefited from the freedom his works modeled.
The Quintet is a massive work and cast in seven movements in a kind of arch form. The short first movement, Introduction, provides a musical challenge with widely contrasting characters. The final movement, some forty-five minutes later, takes many of the same materials as well as some others from the quintet, but treats them almost nostalgically as if the intensity of the opening has been fully exhausted. The second and fifth movements are large-scale scherzo-fantasias, each have multiple characters, all on the intense side of things. The three middle movements are an arch of their own. The third is a grand fugue in D major that goes by at great velocity. The fourth is marked “sfumato” or shadowed and is for the solo piano. It consists of three phrases rising from extreme bass to extreme treble and growing from pianissimo to fortissimo, each one more dramatic than the last. In fifth position is a set he called “Little Variations.” As a student, George made his living playing cocktail piano in a club in New Jersey and his future wife, Gene, used to meet him there and they would finish out the evening with a popular song called “It’s three o’clock in the morning” That tune, much transformed, is the basis of this stunning movement and also perhaps explains why the Quintet was dedicated to his wife.
Thanks to all my old and new colleagues here at CU for being willing to undertake such a huge project.
Please note: Due to popular demand for Faculty Tuesdays concerts, we advise arriving early to secure a seat. These concerts are general admission on a first-come-first-served basis. House doors open 30 minutes before concert start.
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