Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ann Schein in Harrisburg, Part 2: Master Class and Recital

If you hadn't heard Ann Schein's performance with the Harrisburg Symphony this past weekend – or heard the buzz about it: check this link to read three reviews – you missed an incredible performance and an amazing collaboration between soloist, conductor, orchestra and composer.

Malina & Schein after Chopin
And if you stayed for the “talk-back” after the concerts, you probably heard her talk about the importance of teaching, not only in her own teachers but also in how she teaches her students.

So, here's something to consider: you can hear Ann Schein play some more right here in Harrisburg this coming weekend with Market Square Concerts at 8pm Saturday at Whitaker Center, where she'll be playing more Chopin (his 3rd Sonata) as well as Beethoven (his famous Les Adieux Sonata) and works by Liszt, Debussy and Ravel.

And you can also, in a manner of speaking, hear her teach.

On Friday afternoon, she'll be offering a Master Class at Messiah College's new performing arts center in Grantham – it begins at 5:00 but it's free and open to the public. Students from around the mid-state will be playing for Ms. Schein and she'll listen and give advice. It's a chance for the young pianist to have a “mini-lesson” with a master and sometimes you can impart an amazingly significant bit of information in such a short amount of time than can affect how you approach that piece or this technical detail or the way you practice in general. It can be very inspiring and, for these young artists, I'm sure it will be a great memory.

This is an event sponsored by both the Harrisburg Symphony and Market Square Concerts, part of a “mini-residency” with Ann Schein in Harrisburg.

And the common denominator in these two organizations is Peter Sirotin, artistic director of Market Square Concerts and also the concertmaster of the orchestra. His wife, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, executive director of Market Square Concerts, had been a student of Ann Schein's when they were both attending Peabody. Sirotin refers to Ann Schein as an important mentor in his own life, not just as a musician.

Schein, her husband, and Rubinstein
So when Peter and Ya-Ting had the idea of bringing Ms. Schein to Harrisburg for a concert, was there something else you could do? I mean, she's not only a famous teacher and but she's also studied with some of the great pianists of a tradition now nearly forgotten, like Arthur Rubinstein and Mieczysław Munz as well as Dame Myra Hess. (These links will take you to video clips of some of their performances of Chopin and I highly recommend them.)

And if you've heard the Chopin concerto she played, you heard how wonderfully transcendent that tradition can sound, compared to the way a lot of pianists today perform this very intimate music. For a diametrically opposed concept of Chopin, check out this video which is from a video and CD recording that will be seen and heard by more people than have heard of Ann Schein, who will think this is the way classical music (or at least Chopin) should be played.

Here is a new article about the recital from Mike Argento of the York Daily Record over at flipsidepa with a lot of wonderful background about Ms. Schein's family. (Do you remember Dick van Dyke's side-kick, comedian Morey Amsterdam? A cousin - who played the cello!)

Let me quote from two articles that appeared last week to promote the symphony's concert, “Schein on Chopin,” which also mention the master class and recital coming up this week:

Ellen Hughes wrote in the Patriot-News
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"She's a musician with equal comfort as a soloist, chamber musician and concerto performer," HSO concertmaster and Market Square Concerts' artistic director Peter Sirotin said of Schein. "It's hard to find a musician who can cover this range."

She's articulate, sophisticated and unpretentious," he continued. "Besides being a great musician, she's one of the nicest human beings I've ever met."

When he and his wife, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, were students at Peabody Conservatory, Shein taught Chang and coached them both in chamber music. Sirotin and Chang, executive director of Market Square Concerts, still consider Schein a mentor, and its through that relationship that this mini-residency came to be.

"She's had a life in music. She brings a richness of experience through the multiple facets of a mature artist." Echoing Malina, Sirotin said, "She continues the great transition from Rubinstein to the present day."

"A half-century of playing this music means that her interpretations are a profoundly moving musical experience. Her timing and use of color create the feeling that the music has just been composed on the spot," he added.

Sirotin strongly urged me, and anyone else for that matter, to attend Schein's master class. "She uses a higher order of thinking to help students solve technical challenges," he said. "It's rare to experience such an intelligent guide. Attending the master class will open doors to music that are not possible to open while attending a concert," he said.

"I love this program," Schein said about her Market Square Concerts recital, when I spoke to her last week. "I've been doing it on and off for several seasons. Each work has a mini-story. I love all of them for reasons that become obvious."
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David Dunkle, in his article for the Carlisle Sentinel, included this personal anecdote:
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Why is Schein suddenly shining her talents on the greater Harrisburg area?

Part of the answer is HSO concertmaster Peter Sirotin, a violinist who nonetheless considers Schein one of his most important musical influences.

“She was one of my mentors at Peabody,” Sirotin said. “She’s very dear to me personally. She’s also one of my favorite musicians.”

Peter Sirotin & Ya-Ting Chang
Sirotin, along with his pianist wife, Ya-Ting Chang — another Peabody graduate and a Schein protege — are co-directors of Market Square Concerts.

And to complete the loop, Sirotin and Chang, along with HSO principal cellist Fiona Thompson, comprise the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, the ensemble-in-residence at Messiah.

“Yes, there is a link there,” Schein said of her friendship with Sirotin and the Taiwan-born Chang. “Ya-Ting was one of the finest pupils I ever had. One day, she told me she had met a young violin student. With her parents back in Taiwan, I was her surrogate mother. Unless I approved, she wouldn’t go out with him.”
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So you see, a teacher can have a big impact on a person – not just in the way they play the music!

The master class is being held in the High Foundation Recital Hall of Messiah College's new performing center. For directions, click here. For a campus map, click here  (the High Center is #5 on the map). The recital hall is toward the back of the building.

The recital on Saturday – at Whitaker Center in downtown Harrisburg at 8pm – will include Ravel's Sonatine, Debussy's L'isle joyeuse, and the Tarantella from Franz Liszt's musical holiday in Italy, Venezia i Napoli. The program opens with Beethoven's Les adieux Sonata and closes with Chopin's 3rd Piano Sonata.

If you've heard the symphony's concert, then you can still hear more great music making from this artist. It's an opportunity we don't often have in our community, something to take advantage of and treasure.

Please note: the Master Class is free to everyone and anyone may attend to observe; for students, the tickets for Saturday's Whitaker Center recital are $5 for college students with ID and FREE for students K-12 (an accompanying parent or relative or a teacher can purchase a ticket for $5 for bringing a K-12 student).

- Dick Strawser

photo credits: the 1st photo was taken at Saturday night's HSO concert by marketing director Kim Isenhour; the other photos can be found at Ann Schein's website.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ann Schein Visits Harrisburg: Concerto, Recital and Master Class

Let's begin with a critic's comment about Ann Schien playing Chopin:
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Ann Schein: An Artistry Rarely Heard
“In 1980 she played all the major works of Chopin at Lincoln Center in a series of six concerts that affirmed her status as one of the composer’s most thoughtful and musical interpreters… Chopin’s set of Preludes, Op.28, closed the program. ...There were many beauties… a radiantly autumnal No. 17… a performance of No. 23 that was as delicate and as intricately woven as spun sugar.”
Tim Page, Washington Post, 2002
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Central Pennsylvania audiences have a chance to hear her on three occasions:

(1.) a performance with the Harrisburg Symphony at the Forum (Saturday ay 8pm, Sunday at 3pm) playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor

(2.) a master class held at Messiah College on Friday, March 28th at 5pm in the new fine arts center's High Foundation Recital Hall (free and open to the public) 

(3.) a solo recital with Market Square Concerts at Whitaker Center (Saturday, March 29th at 8pm, with a program of Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata, Chopin's Sonata No. 3 in B Minor and, in between, works by Ravel, Debussy and Liszt.

Here is Ann Schein performing Frederick Chopin's Ballade No. 4 in F Minor from a faculty recital at the Aspen Music Center when she was teaching there in 2012.
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You can read more about her visit in Ellen Hughes' column for the Patriot-News here, and David Dunkle's article for the Carlisle Sentinel here - and more about the Harrisburg Symphony concert in my earlier post at the symphony blog, here – which also includes an audio-clip excerpt from her recording of the Chopin 2nd Concerto's 1st movement (recorded when she was 19) as well as the complete concerto performed by one of her teachers, Arthur Rubinstein (recorded in 1975 when he was 88).

Growing up in Washington DC and starting piano lessons at the age of 5, she went to Peabody to study with Miecyzsław Munz, made her first recordings in 1959 (when she was 18 and 19 years old), then began studying with Rubinstein in 1961. The following year, she made her Carnegie Hall debut as an artist represented by the legendary Sol Hurok, then playing at the White House in 1963 for President and Mrs. Kennedy (see photograph with Vice-President's wife, Lady Bird Johnson).

Though she may not be as familiar a name on the performing circuit as others in today's limelight, Ms. Schein has performed frequently in recitals and concerts around the world. For instance, she has given over 100 performances of Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto since the beginning of her career. Though now retired from Peabody where she began teaching in 1980, she continues to be an inspiring teacher – for instance at the Aspen Music Festival since 1984 – and is a much sought-after adjudicator across the country.

This radio interview, coinciding with her teaching and performing at Aspen in 2012, may be a bit long in today's world of the sound byte but it is well worth the time as she talks about her life as a “quartet wife” with violinist Earl Carlyss and his colleagues of the Juilliard Quartet, to her early career and what it was like studying with Munz and Rubinstein (and how it differs from teaching students today).

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(please ignore the video stamp for the Apsen [sic] Music Festival...)
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Since I posted the first movement of the Chopin F Minor Concerto on the Harrisburg Symphony Blog's post, here is the third movement – again released in 1960 on the Kapp label, recorded when she was 19 with Sir Eugene Goosens conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
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Recording w/Goosens
Again, the sound of transferring an old LP to a digital audio file on YouTube is not ideal, but it gives you an idea of the performance.

More recently, Tim Page, then music critic with the Washington Post, wrote this about a 2005 performance which included two great works by Frederic Chopin:

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“…It was one of Chopin’s late masterpieces, the ‘Polonaise-Fantaisie’ Op. 61, that began Sunday’s program. The celebrated opening …chords followed by ethereal, harp-like ascending passages that reach the highest register of the piano…could not have been more luscious and poetic…the dance passages, with their strict rhythms, had all the worldly pomp one could have asked for. The program closed with Chopin’s Sonata in b minor, Op.58. I was especially taken with the tiny, gossamer Scherzo and the way Schein made its middle section almost Grieg-like in its songful sentiment. Time stood wonderfully still in the great Largo; one had the sense that Chopin and Schein were going to spin out this rapturous melody forever, which made the transition into the disconsolate finale all the more tragic and arresting.”
(Tim Page, Washington Post, 2005)
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She will be playing Chopin's 3rd Sonata at her Market Square Concerts' performance on Saturday the 29th at Whitaker Center.

This performance of Chopin's Nocturne, Op.55/2, is one of the most beautiful I've heard in a long time and can also give you an idea what Tim Page is writing about, trying to describe her sound in words:
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That was recorded at Aspen in 2012. Here is her early recording (again from 1959) of Chopin's Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op.10/4, for those who measure virtuosity in the number of notes per second:
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(again, the disclaimer about sound quality and digital transfer applies...)
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One of the thing she stresses in her playing and teaching is the approach to sound, in particular capturing the identifiable sound of a great artist like Rubinstein or Myra Hess (with whom she also studied) and the opportunity of hearing these great artists playing live. But these days, there are only their students left to carry on the legacy and in that sense, Ms. Schein is an important link carrying this tradition from one Golden Age into the next, making the transition to her own students with this on-going continuity of and sensitivity for great playing.

Her teacher, Miecyzsław Munz – listen to her Aspen radio interview (above) as she tells the sad story of this great pianist and teacher – recorded six of Chopin's Op.28 Preludes in the 1920s on piano rolls:
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While all of us (as young people now or once upon a time) like to think we need a new way to approach everything (and that our way is better than that old-fashioned way), we eventually discover it is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel.

It would be important for any student who's going to be playing for Ms. Schein at Friday's Master Class at Messiah College to keep in mind not only is he or she listening to a teacher standing there with advice and lots of experience to back it up, but also that this is a pianist who studied with a man who had been 4 years old when Joseph Joachim heard him play in 1891 – the same violinist for whom Johannes Brahms wrote his violin concerto – and thought if he worked hard, “this boy” (Arthur Rubinstein) “may become a very great musician—he certainly has the talent for it.”

So the legacy is long – and the continuity, important.

Now, Ann Schein does perform music by composers other than Chopin: here is the Ravel Sonatine which she recorded at Aspen in 2012 and which will be included on the Market Square Concerts program:
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And because I love Elliott Carter's Piano Sonata from the mid-1940s and always tell any pianist who plays Franz Liszt's B Minor Sonata they should look at this because in a way they're not all that different (they even both have fugues!), here is a clip from the 1st movement of Carter's sonata recorded at that same 2012 Aspen recital.

Listen, again, to how she brings a sense of color and sound to the different lines and chords that make up this often complex work and makes it sound less fearsome than it is often assumed to be:
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The New York World Telegram wrote of Ann Schein in 1962: “Among the season’s most artistic memories will be the Carnegie Hall debut of Ann Schein… [it was] a revelation! Poetic feeling that made every phrase a joy to hear.”

...and the New York Times continued, “After the intermission she turned to Chopin. Here, too, one admired her grasp of style, her technical fluency, her ability to make a melody sing out clearly above (the) ornamentation, and the independence of her hands.”

A reviewer, quoting a student after Ann Schein's performance at North Carolina's Elon University in 2008, wrote "I have never been to a performance at Elon that moved and inspired me more than Ann Schein's performance in Whitley tonight," then continued, "Schein's performance received three total standing ovations: one before intermission, another at the end and another after her encore."

Now, who would want to miss any of that?

- Dick Strawser



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beethoven, Kreutzer and Bridgetower: Together Again

This Wednesday's program with Market Square Concerts features violinist Ray Chen and pianist Julio Elizalde at Whitaker Center – concert-time, 8pm – with a sonata written by a 22-year-old Mozart and another written by Beethoven at 32 (he was, by comparison, a bit of a late-bloomer, genius-wise). In between there's Pablo de Sarasate, one of the great 19th-Century virtuosos represented by his gypsy showcase, Zigeunerweisen or “Gypsy Airs.”

On the previous post, here, you can hear clips of the Mozart and Sarasate played by Gil Shaham, plus hear Chen play the finale of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and some Paganini as well as talk about his “digital music stand” with its foot-powered page-turning device.

Beethoven in 1803
This post is about the Beethoven sonata on the program, as he called it on the manuscript's title page, “Sonata for Piano and Violin obligato in a very [brilliant] concertante style like a Concerto.” He soon crossed out the word “brilliant.”

It was published as the Violin Sonata in A Minor, Op.47. We know it as the “Kreutzer” Sonata.

When we think of “masterpieces,” we tend to imagine a composer taking his time with its creation – a great deal of forethought, careful planning, deep thoughts and considerable artistic concentration and conviction. Imagine Beethoven – with his wild hair, wilder expression, the Titan wrapped in Divine Inspiration. Think of “masterpieces” like his 5th Symphony, not to mention his 3rd or 9th...

Here's how it came down with this particular violin sonata.

First of all, there's the A Major Sonata, Op. 30, No. 1 – you can hear a classic performance with David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin, here  – composed between 1801 and 1802, shortly after he'd finished his first six string quartets and the 1st Symphony. It might not seem a very “great” work, compared to the one published as Op. 47, more in the tradition of Mozart and, to an extent, his teacher Josef Haydn.

The third movement is the key, in this connection.

Originally, Beethoven had composed a much larger, much more powerful and far less “classical” finale, a sonata-form movement of, by comparison, epic proportions, and it made the whole sonata lop-sided, so he put it aside and wrote the less assuming set of variations that now concludes this delightful work.

But what to do with this “rejected” movement? It needed a more powerful couple of movements to make sense of it and it clearly required a better class of performer when it came to that.

In early 1803, he met George Bridgetower, a “mulatto” violinist born in Poland but of English paternity.

Bridgetower in 1800
Bridgetower's father was of West Indian (possibly Barbadian) descent employed as a servant in the court of Prince Esterhàzy, the same Hungarian prince who employed Haydn. With a nod to “Fifty Shades of Downton Abbey,” Bridgetower's mother was a domestic servant in the household of a German princess who had married a Polish prince and it was at Prince Radziwill's estate in the fall of 1778 (some sources say 1779) that Bridgetower was born, most likely within the requisite time after a visit by the Radziwills to the estate of Esterhàza.

The term “mulatto” was a generic word for “mixed-race” and today, Bridgetower is usually referred to as an “African-English” violinist whose father was from England's American colonies, whose mother was German and who was born in Poland (borders being much more flexible politically than culturally in the 18th Century). Let's leave it at that.

He was already concertizing in 1789 – do the math – and by 1791 had gone to London where the Prince Regent (later King George IV) took an interest in his education. The Prince employed him as a violinist in his orchestra. Bridgetower gave 50 solo concerts in London during this decade. There is also mention of a performance given in Paris that was attended by the American, Thomas Jefferson (presumably without Sally Hemings in his entourage).

In 1802, young Bridgetower, now 24, visited his mother who now lived in Dresden with another son who was a cellist. While there, he traveled to Vienna to give some concerts and was introduced by one of his patrons, Prince Lichnowsky, to another artist the Prince supported, the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

They apparently hit it off quite well.

They agreed to give a recital, scheduled for May 24, 1803, at Vienna's “Augarten,” a combination park and restaurant that often gave public concerts. This particular concert was set for 8:00am. That's “a.m.” as in morning. I can't imagine any self-respecting free-lance musician these days agreeing to play a concert at 8am even if it involved a free breakfast, but these were different times.

These were, however, quite popular concerts and were organized by no less a musician than Ignaz Schuppanzig, one of the best-known violinists in Vienna and leader of a quartet that would later premiere works by both Beethoven and Schubert. They were well attended and usually well received: performing at one of these concerts was a major public appearance.

Thank God that tradition has not survived, but I digress...

Anyway, how much time they had given themselves for this program seems to be lost to history – or for that matter, what else may have been on the program. But it remains famous because Beethoven decided to recycle that abandoned finale and write two new movements for a violinist as talented as Bridgetower, one who could match the virtuosity this discarded finale required.

Now, there are sketches for ideas that ended up in this sonata dating back to 1801 but that doesn't mean he began “writing” it then – that was not Beethoven's way. His piano student Carl Czerny said the first movement of this sonata was written in four days – very possible: we know Beethoven was on a tight deadline with Bridgetower's concert, but it might have been easier if he'd had some ideas already knocking around in his sketchbooks.

What he did with those ideas is where the creative process came into play.

But four days?

This would be called “white heat.” Listen to the first movement and imagine what it would have taken to get all this down on paper – long before the days of computer programs and the ability to cut-and-paste – in four days.

In this performance, Nathan Milstein is joined by pianist Georges Pludermacher:
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Watching performers live is always a revelation: what did Pludermacher not like about the chord he played at 10:12?

This brings to mind the anecdote Bridgetower later relayed about that early-morning premiere. Near the beginning, Beethoven played a great wash of an arpeggio – at 1:48 in this performance. Though Milstein doesn't take the repeat, imagine that he played a big arpeggio the second-time-around at 1:38 instead of what's written, imitating what Beethoven would do a few measures later?

That's what Bridgetower did and, according to him, Beethoven looked up, rather surprised, but smiled his approval. (Notice, however, he didn't leave it in...)

So now he had a first movement and a last movement (the recycled finale from last year's Op. 30 No. 1 Sonata). All he had to do was finish a 2nd movement.

Given two sonata-form movements, the slow middle movement needed to be, for best contrast, a set of variations. Unfortunately, white-heat or not, the night before the recital, Beethoven had still not completed this movement.

In fact, it wasn't until 4:30am that Beethoven called in his student Ferdinand Ries and told him to get copying – Bridgetower needed his violin part for a concert scheduled to begin 3½ hours later.

Unfortunately, the part wasn't finished in time and so Bridgetower sight-read the part from Beethoven's hand-written score, standing behind him and looking over his shoulder.

Now, I've seen photos of Beethoven's original handwritten manuscripts and I can't imagine, writing at this speed, he was any neater than usual: here's the opening page of this sonata but whether it's the sketch or the later “fair copy” sent to the publisher isn't known. The original manuscript is reported as “lost” in other sources, so I'm guessing this is his “careful” hand-writing.

opening page of "Kreutzer" Sonata MS
Here's a manuscript of the Cello Sonata Op. 69 written a couple of years later which is more typical of Beethoven's calligraphy. Imagine trying to sight-read this?


Reportedly, Beethoven hadn't completely written out everything in the piano part, so whole measures were often blank (try following that!) but that didn't mean he was making it up on the spot: he knew how it would go, so he could just fill in the blanks.

Not so for the violinist...

Anyway, here's the 2nd Movement of the sonata, in this performance with Pinchas Zukerman (mispelled in the YouTube posting) with pianist Marc Neikrug:
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Whatever we might imagine – the sight-reading, the calligraphy, the hour of the performance – the second movement went well enough.

The finale, of course, had been completed a year earlier and was already copied out and ready to go.

In this performance, it's Gidon Kremer and Marta Argerich:
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Seeing that this is the Violin Sonata No. 9, it's easy to think it's a fairly late work – after all, he only wrote 10 violin sonatas, didn't he?

But it's actually a fairly early work, written when he was 32: composing it for this 1803 concert, he had just finished a large-scale oratorio in March, Christ on the Mount of Olives, and was at work on a new symphony, at this stage to be called the “Bonaparte” Symphony and which, after its completion, would be rechristened the Eroica.

Some sources call it the Sonata in A Minor and others, the Sonata in A Major. Truth is, the bulk of the first movement is in A Minor but it begins with a slow introduction where only the first four measures are clearly in A Major. So, technically, it should be the “Sonata in A Minor.”

More important might be the name we know this sonata by: the “Kreutzer” Sonata.

Admittedly, citing the low-level Austrian monetary unit at the time, the kreuzer which was the equivalent of 4 pennies, I nearly convinced a colleague that the sonata was written to repay a friend of Beethoven's who'd bought lunch.

There was also the famous catcall made at the premiere of the Eroica – “I'll give you another kreuzer if you'll make it stop!” Another time, I joked that remark had been made about this particular sonata and that's why it's called that - it's quite possible somebody would believe it.

And that was before the days of the Internet.

No, really, the sonata is known as “The Kreutzer Sonata” because Beethoven had a falling-out with Bridgetower not long after the premiere.

The original manuscript was not only dedicated to Bridgetower, he even light-heartedly inscribed on the score, “Sonata per un mulattico lunatico.”

But they were hanging out (perhaps right after this performance) when Bridgetower (himself a tall, handsome man) made an off-color remark about a woman it turns out was a friend of Beethoven's, and the composer, a man of conservative morals (witness his issues over his brothers' private-lives and especially the incident of the Sister-in-Law he nicknamed the “Queen of the Night”), took offense at this.

In fact, he was so offended, he asked to have the manuscript of his sonata back and threatened to withdraw the dedication when it would be published.

Despite all Bridgetower's protests and apologies, that's exactly what Beethoven did when he sent it to his publisher in 1805.

When dedications were often a way to “curry favor” among the aristocracy, the wealthy or the simply famous, “name-dropping” in the best (or worse) sense of networking, Beethoven apparently figured “Who was Bridgetower, after all?” and decided he would dedicate this grand sonata to the greatest violinist of the day – who happened to be Rodolphe Kreutzer.

Kreutzer
Now, Kreutzer lived in Paris and it seems, at this time, Beethoven, tired of the backwater that Vienna seemed to be becoming, was thinking he might pull up stakes and move to the French capital. He was writing a Bonaparte Symphony in honor of the French consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, and certainly an inside track with the city's foremost violinist wouldn't hurt.

Two things happened: Bonaparte became the Emperor Napoleon, the direct opposite of Beethoven's political inclinations, and the Symphony was recast as the Eroica instead.

Kreutzer, for his part, examined this odd piece sent to him and thought it unplayable (despite the fact it had already been played), claiming that Beethoven hadn't the least idea how to write for the violin. Consequently, he never performed it.

Today, Rodolphe Kreutzer is primarily known for having Beethoven's violin sonata dedicated to him. And George Bridgetower, who inspired at least the first two movements, died in poverty and completely forgotten, remembered today only in conjunction with this sonata's origins.

But of course, other sources indicate that when Bridgetower died, he left his rather considerable estate of ₤1,000 to his daughter, so who knows...?

(I'd give a kreuzer to know the facts...)

But hardly the stuff you'd expect would yield a masterpiece...

By the way, you can read my post about the novella written by Leo Tolstoy (a climactic moment in the plot takes place during a performance of this sonata, giving the book its title) and also the string quartet Leos Janáček composed inspired by it - at my blog Thoughts on a Train.

Dick Strawser

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ray Chen & Julio Elizalde: Take a Break from Winter


Had enough winter? Me, too. But here's Ray Chen, playing the 2nd Movement from Antonio Vivaldi's “Winter.” Maybe this will help us through the next visit of the Dreaded Polar Vortex.

Ray Chen
Wednesday night at 8pm, violinist Ray Chen and pianist Julio Elizalde perform at Whitaker Center with Market Square Concerts' February program. It will include a Mozart sonata Chen recently recorded with Christoph Eschenbach (part of his third recording for SONY, this one with Mozart's 3rd & 4th Violin Concertos and the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra) – some shorter works by Pablo de Sarasate including the ever-popular Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) and what is easily the greatest of Beethoven's Violin Sonatas and therefore one of the greatest violin sonatas in the repertoire, the one known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata.

This is nearly the same program Chen will perform in April at Paris' legendary concert hall, the Salle Gaveau.

Maxim Vengerov, one of the best-known Russian violinists of the day (hard to believe he turns 40 this year), recently described Chen as 'a very pure musician with great qualities such as a beautiful youthful tone, vitality and lightness. He has all the skills of a truly musical interpreter.'

Daniel Kepl, reviewing a performance last October for CASA, wrote “With the remarkably sensitive collaboration of pianist Julio Elizalde, whose playing through the evening was thoroughly supportive, Chen opened his program with Mozart, the Sonata in A Major, K.305. An exquisitely delicate performance from both artists highlighted the work's compositional perfection. Later in the program, Chen's tastefully idiosyncratic interpretation of Bach's solo Partita No. 3 in E Major bathed the audience once again in his glorious sound and made clear Chen's love for his instrument and its capacity to mesmerize.

“Three dazzlingly virtuosic Sarasate show-pieces performed perfectly by Chen and Elizalde... would have been enough to satisfy.” For this performance in Santa Barbara, they included the Prokofiev 2nd Sonata rather than Beethoven's Kreutzer.

Not only great music, you can also hear Chen play a 1702 Stradivarius violin, the one known as the “Lord Newlands” (see left).

And he's also a model for Giorgio Armani, so not only will he sound well, playing a Strad on loan from the Nippon Foundation, he'll look good, too.

Here, he plays Paganini's 21st Caprice as an encore after a concert with the Israel Philharmonic:



In 2009, at the age of 20, he won the Queen Elisabeth (of Belgium) Competition, one of the most prestigious and difficult music competitions in the world. This performance of the last movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto is from the final round of the competition:




Chen talks about his iPad music stand with its hand-free page-turner (placed on the floor, you press a pedal with a foot to turn the digital page forward or backward) – in addition to saving a lot of time and not having to worry about pesky, badly-placed page turns, he doesn't have to carry as much 'physical' music (bricks-and-mortar sheet music) plus it lets him buy more books when he's touring.



Julio Elizalde, Chen's collaborator in this performance, has been praised for his "cat-like ease" at the keyboard by the New York Times and is gaining wide-spread recognition across the country for his "musical depth and creative insight." In addition to Chen, he has also performed with violinists like Pamela Frank and Robert Mann as well baritone William Sharp. He made his concerto debut playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 with the Juilliard Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall.

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The Mozart Sonata, part of a half-dozen set written during the summer of 1778 in Paris, is in two movements rather than the more traditional three. The opening is one of Mozart's happier concoctions and the second movement is one of his more soul-searching set of variations.

Here are Gil and Orli Shaham in this performance of the Sonata in A Major, K.305:




This trip to Paris was one of Mozart's many “tours” not just to concertize but to locate a good position in the wider music world – this, in the day when an appointment as a court musician was the only way for a professional musician to earn a secure living. So the idea was to perform but also write, perform and publish music to get noticed. Unfortunately, Mozart had no business sense – his father had been his agent, but since he was unable to get away from his own job as a musician at the Archbishop of Salzburg's court, his mother went along primarily as chaperone. Not only did the experience in Paris not result in anything remotely successful, his mother also died in July during their stay, around the time these six sonatas were composed.

Listening to this music, you would hardly know what was going on in Mozart's life at the time. It says a great deal for being able to compartmentalize.

Not much is known about Anna Maria Mozart, the composer's mother. His father, Leopold, of course, gets the lion's share of the attention, for better or worse, but certainly she must have had something to do with who Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became, don't you think?

I always recommend this novel – a fictional biography of Mozart's mother – “Stitches in Air” by Liane Ellison Norman. You can read about it at my blog, Thoughts on a Train.

Mozart was a violinist and pianist as well as a composer and this sonata, written when he was 22, pays more attention to the piano part that was usually given to an “accompanist,” making the keyboard player more of a collaborator.

This became especially important to Beethoven who, though he played the violin, was famous as a pianist in the early part of his career. You can read more about his “Kreutzer” Sonata in a subsequent post, here.

A century after Mozart wrote the Sonata K.305, one of the great violin virtuosos of the 19th Century, Pablo de Sarasate, composed what is easily his most enduring showcase (if not his masterpiece), Zigeunerweisen, which makes considerable hay out of the craze for Hungarian Gypsy music made popular by the rhapsodies of the Hungarian-born Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms' dances. Here, the focus is entirely on the violinist and the responsibility of the pianist, largely unnoticed, is primarily to keep up with the soloist.

Once again, a performance with Gil Shaham recorded in Japan in 2007 with, in this video posting on You-Tube, a typically uncredited pianist:



In addition to season sponsor Capitol Blue Cross, this particular concert is also made possible by Martin and Lucy Murray who, in addition to their "real" lives (Lucy well known to Market Square Concerts audiences as its founder and long-time director, program annotator and frequent page-turner), are both avid amateur musicians, and have been known to enjoy Mozart's sonatas among their music-making. It's wonderful they can also bring this love of music for Harrisburg audiences to enjoy.

- Dick Strawser

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Calefax Is Coming to Town!

While it looks like we'll be back in the Deep Freeze this week – at least (knock on plastic laminated, artificial wood substitute) no snow storms in the immediate forecast – here's a performance that will warm your heart and soul with some great music on the next program from Market Square Concerts, Thursday night at 8pm at Temple Ohev Sholom in uptown Harrisburg.

Calefax will be performing Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin and Bach's Goldberg Variations which might make you think Mr. Calefax is a pianist.

Not quite. Calefax is a “reed quintet” that is not your standard woodwind quintet – in fact, it consists of an oboist, a clarinetist, a saxophonist, a bass clarinetist and a bassoonist.

While even a standard woodwind quintet has a small repertoire of masterpieces compared to a string quartet or a piano trio, a seemingly ad hoc group like Calefax would have even less – so they have spent much of their time commissioning new works and arranging old ones, and often presenting them in fresh and unconventional ways. They've often been described as “a classical ensemble with a pop mentality.”

Last year, when I first saw the name on the roster for the current season, I assumed Calefax was a new group. I'd never heard of it before.

But it's actually been around for 28 years and they have recorded some 17 CDs – how did I miss this?!

Peter Sirotin told me, when he'd mentioned that Calefax would be appearing on our 2013-2014 season, the flutist of the Four Nations Ensemble, performing here last spring, said any performance by Calefax was an event not to be missed. Sounds like a good endorsement to me!

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First of all, let's let them introduce themselves. This is one of those TED talks but after a brief intro, it's more performance than talk. I think you'll realize why this is not your grandfather's wind quintet...

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They start their American tour leaving from Amsterdam and arriving in Harrisburg for their concert at Temple Ohev Sholom this Thursday before traveling to New York City for a three-concert-in-one-day marathon before heading off to Harrisonburg VA (which would be confusing enough to a European traveler: let's hope their travel agent figures out the difference).

The program begins with Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations and ends with Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin. In between, there's a short and largely unknown work by Leoš Janáček, his “Zdenka Variations.”


So let's begin with the Janáček, a very early work and one of his few solo piano pieces. It's a short set of variations written for a young student of his – he would marry her the following year but unfortunately it was not one of those happily-ever-after marriages. But let's leave the future out of it as we listen to this delightful work written in 1880, the year after Brahms premiered his brand new Violin Concerto. And while they may sound thoroughly conventional (more like Schumann with a dash of Smetana) compared to the original voice we'd know from his later works (much of it written after what we consider “retirement age”), Janáček was 25 when he wrote this. It's his Opus 1, his very first published piece.

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Rudolf Firkusny
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Ravel wrote a suite of pieces for piano that, on the outside, celebrate an earlier century of French culture – the great Baroque master François Couperin. He would later orchestrate them himself – so Calefax's treatment of this piano piece is not entire unprecedented – and reveal a hidden subtext.

He began composing them in 1914 though they weren't completed until three years later. The word tombeau is not so much a tombstone as it is a memorial and if we recognize the dates of its compositions from our history lessons, you'll understand his selection of the word.

Ravel was too short and light-weight (as well as too old and in weak health) to enlist in the French army (he wanted to become an aviator) at the outset of what became World War I in 1914. Eventually, he served as an ambulance driver at the Verdun front in 1916. At 11 months, it was one of the longest battles in human history, with an estimated 970,000 casualties on both sides.

While it is impossible to imagine the horrors of this experience against the music you will hear, Ravel noted that each movement was dedicated to the memory of his friends killed in the war – for instance, the lively Rigaudon to a pair of brothers killed in November by the same bomb.
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Jean-Philippe Collard, pianist
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On the outside, a tribute to the French baroque keyboard suite – on the inside, something much deeper - and darker.

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The program opens with Bach's Goldberg Variations, a monumental work that usually closes a concert. It's a set of 30 variations that opens and closes with a gorgeous, slow “Aria” fore and aft. Here are two very different interpretations of the Aria:

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Glenn Gould, recorded in 1981, playing the opening “Aria”


Andras Schiff, recorded live in 2012, playing the “Aria da capo” at the conclusion
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In Bach's day, most works for keyboard were generically for any keyboard instrument – from the “desk-top” clavichord to various types and sizes of harpsichords and even forerunners of the piano as well as the organ – but Bach composed this set of variations specifically for a harpsichord with two manuals.

So, playing it on a piano is already one form of translation, given the differences in touch, pedaling and of course instrumental color between the instruments. Turning it into a work for five wind instruments is only taking it another step further.

I've written two previous posts about The Goldberg Variations which you can read here for more background information – “The Human Side of the Goldberg Variations” and “A Road-Map to the Goldberg Variations.” These were for a piano recital by Matthew Bengtson in 2009, but the information about the piece (and I think most of the video links) would still be the same.

Here are some of those “graphical scores” that might help you visualize how a piece written for keyboard can have different “voices.” This is “counterpoint” made visible. Remember, too, that what is varied here is not the melody (the usual theme) but the bass-line you heard in the Aria over which that beautiful melody flows.

The left and right hand nature of the first variation specifically requires two manuals on the harpsichord: notice how at times they cross over each other.



Here's the first of the canons, Variation #3. Notice how the different melodic lines, represented in different colors, move independently: the canon (the same line played in a second voice at a slight delay) is between the brown line and the green one. Transferring these lines into individual wind instruments is a logical progression.



Here's the 22nd Variation – again, notice how the lines move independently. This is definition of counterpoint and, in this case, move “in imitation.”



The final variation (before the aria returns to conclude the set) is a “quodlibet” (literally, “what you will”) which combines fragments of a number of popular songs of the day playing against each other, all over the “bass-line” that unites the entire set of variations. It sounds simple enough to write – trust me, it's not!



How does this translate for a quintet of reed instruments like Calefax? Here's a brief promo from their recording of the Goldberg Variations with the "Quodlibet":



Here's a preview of a performance they've given with dancers – remember that the initial reason Bach was supposedly asked to write this piece was to help a friend through long sleepless nights – but notice that the instrumentalists, aside from wearing red pajamas, are also playing from memory!





You can also listen to the podcast that Cary Burkett produced which aired on WITF-FM last week and read Ellen Hughes' article in the Patriot-News about the impending arrival of Calefax this Thursday evening at 8pm at Temple Ohev Sholom on the southeast side of N. Front Street & Seneca Streets in uptown Harrisburg.


– Dick Strawser

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Parker Quartet and Jeremy Gill's Capriccio

Saturday night, November 16th, the Parker Quartet concludes their Market Square Concerts program with the Harrisburg premiere of a work by a Harrisburg-born composer, Jeremy Gill, his "Capriccio" which he completed last year. Also on the program will be Franz Schubert's Quartettsatz (which you can read about here) and Mendelssohn's String Quartet in D, Op.44 No. 1. The performance is at 8:00, Saturday, at Temple Ohev Sholom at 2345 N. Front Street, Harrisburg.

While it's unfortunate that neither Schubert nor Mendelssohn were available for this concert, Jeremy Gill will be giving the pre-concert talk beginning at 7:15. So you have a chance to hear a live composer talk about his music - not something we always get to do when attending concerts, these days.

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The Grammy-winning Parker Quartet has a long working relationship with Harrisburg-born composer Jeremy Gill. For one thing, they premiered his “25” which had been commissioned to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Market Square Concerts. So it's not unexpected they'd be collaborating again – this time on a work entitled “Capriccio” which might bring to many any number of associations.

Normally, we think of something that might be light-hearted, “capricious,” and not very lengthy or involved – for instance, Tchaikovsky's “Capriccio italien,” a musical souvenir, or the Caprices of Nicolo Paganini, studies in the ultimate of violin technique from the early-19th Century. Brahms also wrote some Capriccios but I don't think too many people would find them “light-hearted,” as wonderful as they are (at least the ones from Op.116).

As a musical term, “capriccio” originated in the 16th Century with a set of madrigals but the term could also be applied – in that illogical and often confusing sense where the same term can be defined in different ways at different times in music history – to keyboard pieces or something of a “bizarre” nature whether it's for voices or instruments as well as more recent uses of the term more often describing a pieces mood, like Saint-Saens's “Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso” or Dvořák's Scherzo capriccioso (literally, a “capricious joke”).

So I was rather surprised – and then, no, not really surprised – to find out Jeremy Gill's recent “Capriccio” which the Parker Quartet premiered earlier this year is not a particularly light-hearted work nor short. As string quartets go, it clocks in about an hour in length, making it longer at least in duration than any of Beethoven's Late Quartets which are generally considered the Everests of the Repertoire.

His sense of the term is a bit capricious itself, going back to that 1561 original citation and making musical references to other approaches to the term between then and now. It is in several movements – 27, to be exact but they are not the standard length we'd normally associate with a quartet movement – and all of these different movements have different and varied origins as well as “uses.”

at Cumberland Valley High School
Part of the idea was to create a work that could not only operate as a whole in concert but could also be excerpted for use in educational programs. In that sense, this fragmentable nature of the piece came in handy at the educational outreach held earlier today at Cumberland Valley High School, in a program with the composer and the quartet (a program that was co-organized with the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra).

Some of these movements are about the “uses” of music which he describes as “religion, love, community and dance.” Music has been used for religious worship, to express romantic emotions, as well as to create a background to dancing (its title, Terpsichore, refers to the Greek muse of dance).

Three other movements deal specifically with musical textures (monophonic or single-line melody, like Gregorian Chant; polyphonic or multi-voiced, where all voices are independent of each other; and a mixture of lines moving either in parallel motion or at slightly different time-intervals).

Most of the movements examine standard playing techniques of the instruments (perhaps more like Paganini's Caprices are “etudes” dealing with specific techniques). There are some focused on harmonics, or pizzicatos, or bowing – one, which you can hear in the interview clip below, they imitate the sound of a guitar and even hold their instruments like a guitar to accompany the cello.

Then this entire span of all these varied movements is bound by an “up-beat” introduction (in music, called “arsin”) and then, at the far end, by a “down-beat” conclusion (called “thesin”). Up! Down! And everywhere in between!

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Here's a radio interview from Minnesota Public Radio with Gill and the Quartet, talking about putting the work together – from the process of commissioning the piece to giving it its first performance – and they play a few different movements by way of a sample.

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The whole interview and performance is about 24 minutes long – the first half talks about Gill's “Capriccio” but you can listen to them play some Dvořák, too.

For the Harrisburg premiere of “Capriccio,” the quartet will play Schubert's Quartettsatz and Mendelssohn's Quartet, Op.44 No. 1, on the first half of the program.

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The Parker Quartet won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance in 2011 with their Naxos recording of works for string quartet by György Ligeti. Here's a video made during the recording session:



Given how most musicians tend to tap their feet when performing music that is especially rhythmic, you can appreciate how the engineers were probably suggesting a practicality and were not making a fashion statement.

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It's a busy year for Jeremy Gill: he was recently at the MacDowell Colony working on an oboe concerto for Erin Hannigan, principal oboist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, another Central Pennsylvania native who graduated from Palmyra High School. Another commission will bring a clarinet concerto for Christopher Grymes (who has appeared with Concertante and with Market Square Concerts these past seasons) to the Harrisburg Symphony in the near future.

This past season also saw the premiere of Before the Wresting Tides, a work for chorus, piano solo, and orchestra setting a poem by Hart Crane and featuring Rubinstein Prize-winning Ching-Yun Hu, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. The Philadelphia Inquirer called the work “exhilarating,” and remarked: “the ending is a stunner.”

From his website's biography, there's this about his recordings:

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In 2011 Jeremy released his second CD on the Albany Records label, featuring pianist Peter Orth in Book of Hours and Jonathan Hays and Jeremy in Helian. Fanfare Magazine hailed this new release, remarking on Jeremy’s “keen ear for exotic sonorities,” while the American Record Guide deemed it “grand, serious in mood…work of considerable intensity.” Philadelphia City Paper listed it as #4 on their “Best Classical Releases of 2011.” His first CD of chamber music, released in 2008, included the world premiere recordings of his 25 with the Parker Quartet, Parabasis with Mimi Stillman and pianist Charles Abramovic, and Suite for Brass with the Extension Ensemble. Peter Burwasser, reviewing this CD in Philadelphia Music Makers, wrote that “Gill writes with precision and care, intriguing imagination, and a fearless emotional depth,” and the American Record Guide remarked: “Jeremy Gill has imagination, and his music is well worth hearing, reading about, and investigating.”
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If you haven't recent performances in Harrisburg of his song cycle Helian, the organ work “8 Variations and Toccata on Betzet Yisrael,” songs composed to poems by Lucy Miller Murray for Market Square Concerts' 30th Anniversary or “25” premiered by the Parker Quartet for MSC's 25th Anniversary, or his early Symphony No. 1 when it was performed in 2009 by the Harrisburg Symphony, you really should get to Temple Ohev Sholom Saturday night to hear his latest work to be performed here, “Capriccio.”

- Dick Strawser



Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Parker Quartet, Franz Schubert and His Unfinished String Quartet


The Parker String Quartet returns to Harrisburg for a concert this Saturday at 8pm at the Temple Ohev Sholom at 2345 N. Front Street in uptown Harrisburg. Composer Jeremy Gill will be talking about his new work, “Capriccio,” during the pre-concert talk which begins at 7:15.

A few weeks ago, I was flipping around the TV dial while looking for something worth watching and landed in the midst of an episode of “House” in which one of Dr. House's colleagues was talking with his wife over dinner when she announced the news they've gotten the Parker Quartet to play for the gala. Now, not being a regular viewer, I don't know what the gala was all about to know if I should “get” this, but I thought it was cool a real live string quartet was mentioned rather than their writers having made one up (“the Arglebargle Quartet,” say) or used an obviously famous one (say, “the Juilliard Quartet” which might seriously challenge their gala budget).

But the Parker Quartet has garnered more professional success than a passing mention in a mainstream television program (as an example of product placement in the arts goes). True, the New York Times hailed the quartet as “something extraordinary,” and the Boston Globe has acclaimed their “pinpoint precision and spectacular sense of urgency.” In addition to winning several major competitions, being awarded the Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America brought them, among more prestigious places across the country, to Harrisburg's Market Square Concerts' series, and now they return as one of the more sought-after quartets in a very crowded field.

They've been appointed as Artists-in-Residence at Harvard next year and they've already collected a Grammy Award, winning the “Best Chamber Music Performance” Grammy in 2011 for their second recording which featured the complete works for string quartet by György Ligeti.

They've also had a long working relationship with one of the composers on this concert's program: no, not Schubert who died in 1828 or Felix Mendelssohn who died in 1847 – but Harrisburg-born and still young and healthy Jeremy Gill. They premiered his recent “Capriccio” earlier this year and will be performing it along with works by those other guys I mentioned.

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The Parker Quartet's program begins with a famous work by Franz Schubert, his “Quartettsatz” or “Quartet Movement” in C Minor. A bustling, energetic and above all dramatic work, here's a performance by a quartet who will be appearing on the Market Square Concerts series in April, 2014, the Daedalus Quartet:

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Dr. Dick: Good evening and welcome to Dr. Dick's Market Square Concerts Blog Live. I'm sitting here with Franz Schubert, one of the world's most favorite composers. Welcome to the blog, Mr. Schubert. Your Quartettsatz in C Minor is usually described these days as a one-movement string quartet – which isn't exactly the case, is it?

Franz Schubert: Well, no, not really. You see, I had this habit of leaving things incomplete for one reason or another. You know, my friends used to joke I was so lazy, if I dropped a page while I was writing, I'd just start composing the next piece I had on my mind.

Dr. Dick: They said you composed like an apple tree bears fruit. And yet we're so glad to have at least a few of the windfalls...

Schubert: (What's that supposed to mean...?)

Dr. Dick: Uhm, while your most popular symphony is undoubtedly your “Unfinished Symphony,” there are actually several symphonies you left incomplete, in one way or another – at least four others including one you were working on at the time of your death, not just the famous B Minor Symphony.

Schubert: Yeah, dying is a pretty good reason for leaving something unfinished, but I'd started working on that B Minor Symphony in the fall of 1822.

Dr. Dick: The popular argument is you realized the work was superb enough to stand on its own as a two-movement piece...?

Schubert: Where do you come up with these things? I mean, that's a nice argument, thank you, except there's a sketch for the start of the 3rd movement, a scherzo – and I just suddenly stopped working on it. I don't know why, I just thought it was, you know... maybe not good enough, I guess.

Dr. Dick: And the same is true of this “Quartettsatz” – you started a second movement, an Andante in A-flat Major of, what...? 41 measures, and it, too, just stops.

Schubert: Yeah, well, I had this problem with concentrating, I guess. (He takes a sip of beer.)

Dr. Dick: Around the time you'd begun working on your 6th Symphony – the one in C Major normally known as the “Little C Major” to distinguish it from the bigger and greater “Great C Major” Symphony – it's like you wanted to go in a different direction. Earlier, in 1816, you were scathingly critical about Beethoven, but a few years later, you were talking about expanding the form of not only symphonies but also piano sonatas and string quartets – just like Beethoven was doing.

Schubert: Don't tell Beethoven about that – we all change our minds as we grow up (I was still a teenager then). But you've got to remember that between 1815 and 1820, Beethoven was going through quite a rough patch. He'd already written his 7th and 8th Symphonies by 1812, his latest string quartet, Op.95, was in 1810 (but it wasn't published until 1816). And he didn't get out of this slump of his – in large part, no doubt, thanks to that nephew business – until he began his “Hammerklavier” Sonata in 1819. He'd already begun his 9th Symphony during this period, but it was going slowly around 1817 and he didn't finish it until 1824. Those incredible Late Quartets? They didn't start taking shape until the early-1820s, you know. So, yeah, it was a pretty challenging time for both of us: he was in his mid-40s to around 50 and I was, like, in my early-20s.

Dr. Dick: But while he was also working on “expanding the form” in his later works, it's curious that you weren't following his lead: you were in a sense anticipating him, weren't you? The only problem is, you never completed any of these “experimental” works of yours from this time. Even when you completed your first two expansive quartets, the Rosamunda and the Death and the Maiden Quartets, Beethoven had just begun work on his Op. 127, the first of his Late Quartets!

Schubert: Well, yeah... but, you know, it was a small town, Vienna. It's just most of the successful composers were making a killing in the opera business. I mean, that's what I really wanted to do, was, like, make my name as an opera composer, you know?

Dr. Dick: We'll get to that, later, but...

Schubert: By the way, these dumplings are really very good – could you get me the recipe? (He reaches for another one.)

Dr. Dick: So this single, brief quartet movement – the first movement of a most likely four-movement work in the traditional manner – was written in December of 1820 when you were a month or so short of turning 24.

Schubert: Who are you calling “short”?

Dr. Dick: I mean, when Beethoven was 24, he hadn't written his first symphony or a published string quartet!

Schubert: That was Beethoven's problem, you know – he was too... uhm, what... methodical? Sketching and sketching... he'd spend months, years working on these ideas of his. Me? I'd rather knock off a few songs and then go out drinking with Schober and the guys...

Dr. Dick: But curiously enough, there's one of these “unfinished symphonies” you were working on at the same time as the “Quartettsatz” – along with another opera that also remained incomplete. This symphony's in D Major (given the Deutsch Catalog No. 708a, and it was only discovered in some Viennese library in the 1970s) – you started it in December of 1820 also and then abandoned it sometime after the New Year. And then, a few months after that, you began another one – also left incomplete – but that one would have been on a much grander scale, judging from you did write down of it.

Schubert: (Shrugs his shoulders) Like I said...

Dr. Dick: Let's listen to the Emerson Quartet play this incomplete Andante which was intended to be the 2nd Movement of a full-length String Quartet in C Minor, D.703...

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(By the way, you can listen to the most complete movement of the symphony D.708a which Schubert began (and abandoned) around the same time, starting here.)

Schubert: That's nice, but you know, every time I hear something like that, I keep thinking what else I could have done instead. That's probably why I left so much unfinished...

Dr. Dick: Now, you grew up in a music-making household. So why did you stop writing string quartets in 1816 or so, and then only write four more – this “Quartettsatz” and the last three masterpieces from 1824 to 1826?

Schubert: What can I say? From the time I was 13 and I'd started composing seriously, my family was very supportive. I mean, Dad loved to play the cello and my big brother Ferdinand was really a very fine violinist. Another brother also played the violin so I ended up, by default, playing the viola – which was actually a lot of fun, you know, sitting there in the middle of the harmony, listening to the melody on one side and the bass-line on the other. I mean, it was good enough for Mozart, right?

So, yeah, I wrote maybe 14 string quartets, give or take, in a period of, what... six years? And my dad, he insisted we play all of them. So we'd get our instruments out and play them for friends who'd come by – little music parties. I guess these were the first of the Schubertiads...

Dr. Dick: So why did you stop writing quartets so often? It would've been nice to have a few more from you.

Schubert: It would've been nice to live a little longer, too, right? But hey... I didn't do too badly for a guy who died when he was 31. After all, not to knock Beethoven, but if he died that young, we'd only have two symphonies and the first six of all those quartets he wrote. (He shakes his head in disbelief.)

Anyway, that was when I moved away from my father's home, went out on my own. There was less reason to write amateur quartets for us to play after that. And I didn't have that many professional friends who were just dying to play my stuff, either... It was a tough town, Vienna...

Dr. Dick: So that was when you began focusing primarily on songs (which were easier to get performed and distributed) and trying to make a name for yourself as a composer of opera.

Schubert: Right. In Vienna then, the true path to financial and professional success was in the opera world. Now, in the months before December, 1820, I'd had two operas in rehearsal and one was such a harrowing experience – all those last-minute changes – it didn't help it turned out to be a failure. I mean, what do these people want, you know? I even started another opera, one I thought might do better with the producers, at least, but, no, they thought it was too... well, I don't know – they didn't like it, either, so I put that one aside, too.

Dr. Dick: Now, there's one other event from 1820 I want to mention. You'd met Teresa Grob back in 1814 when you were 17 years old.

Schubert: (he sighs and takes another sip of beer.) She was a young girl I'd seen in the neighborhood, the daughter of a successful merchant, and she was a soprano in the church choir – lovely voice, too. So I wrote this Mass which the choir was going to perform and I wanted her to sing the soprano solo: I'd written it with her in mind. I was such a dweeb...

Dr. Dick: And you wrote a few other things for her as well, like a little song called Gretchen am Spinnrad...?

Schubert: Everybody says that was one of my best – and she loved it, too.

Dr. Dick: Let's listen to it, here, with Dawn Upshaw, the soprano...

Schubert: Not bad for 17, huh...? (a long sip of beer, here.) Well, I was head over heels in love with Teresa and we wanted to get married, she and I, but you know how it is – her father, a successful merchant like I said, didn't think I, a lowly would-be musician, would ever amount to much, right? Besides, in 1815, the Austrian government had passed a law that prohibited men from marrying unless they could prove they had the means to support a wife and family. Can you imagine that? I mean, there were lots of young men who were going to be forced into celibacy or into, well... gross sensuality – you know, “commercial sex” – and I think if they'd repealed that law and I could've married her, I might not have contracted syphilis and almost died from it when I was 25 years old – that was around the time I wrote my B Minor Symphony and the “Wanderer” Fantasy, too. I really poured my heart out in those pieces... Well, anyway, after I got shot down for that teaching job in Laibach in 1816, I knew there wasn't a chance in hell her father would let us marry. I mean, I was happy not to be teaching – I hated being a teacher, like my dad was – so here I was, then, free to focus on becoming a composer.

Dr. Dick: So, what did Teresa do...?

Schubert: Oh, her father found her some master-baker and they finally got married – on November 21st, 1820, right there in the church where she first sang my music...

Dr. Dick: And then a few weeks later, you wrote this “Quartettsatz,” right?

Schubert: Right. (Say, are you going to eat the rest of those dumplings...?)

Dr. Dick: I'm sorry we're out of time, now, so thank you Franz – may I call you Franz? – for stopping by to talk about your music. This has been Dick Strawser for Dr. Dick's Market Square Concerts Blog. See you Saturday night at 8:00 at Temple Ohev Sholom. Have a great evening.