Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zuill Bailey & Awadagin Pratt, Together Again (Part 1)

This Sunday, cellist Zuill Bailey returns to Harrisburg and Market Square Concerts for a performance at Whitaker Center with friend and frequent collaborator, pianist Awadagin Pratt in a program featuring sonatas by Beethoven and Brahms and the three Fantasy Pieces of Robert Schumann as well as some of Brahms’ songs transcribed for the cello.

This performance is Sunday afternoon at 4pm EDT – and I stress the “EDT,” there, because Sunday, March 11th is also the first day of Daylight Saving Time! So if you forgot to “spring forward” not only will your entire Sunday be off, you’ll be showing up an hour late for the concert. So… consider yourself reminded!

Both performers are well known to Central Pennsylvania audiences: Awadagin Pratt played the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Harrisburg Symphony back in the ‘90s and, having appeared in recitals throughout the region, returned in 1996 as the Music Director of the “Next Generation Festival” which Ellen Hughes had founded through WITF. With musicians from Awadagin’s wide-ranging circle of friends and colleagues, “Next Gen” gave us a chance to hear the Cypress Quartet a few times when they’re were still a “new group” – they’ll be returning to Market Square Concerts again for a performance next month on April 28th – as well as Zuill Bailey.

Zuill’s last appearance at Market Square Concerts was in November of 2009 – you can read about it here – when he and Robert Koenig played Brahms' 2nd Cello Sonata.

Since then, he and Awadagin have recorded the “complete” Brahms cello music and then some (including the Scherzo from the F.A.E. Sonata originally for violin, one of Brahms’ earliest surviving works, and seven song transcriptions ranging from the gorgeous “Wie Melodien zieht es mir” to the universally beloved “Lullaby” or “Cradle Song” which you can hear in this unfortunately bad sounding live recording (possibly pirated) with Christa Ludwig and Leonard Bernstein at the piano).  

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The program opens with the three Fantasy Pieces originally for clarinet but which Schumann also adapted for violin or cello (the publisher’s assumption was there weren’t as many clarinetists around, but more string players would mean more sales). He originally called them “Night Pieces” written in just two days during February of 1849.

The term “Fantasiestücke” or “Fantasy Pieces” was something he’d used before – specifically a set of piano pieces from 1837, published as Op.12 – a generic approach to those short character pieces which offer, in a brief amount of time, a musical “image” sometimes with poetic or literary titles (think “Scenes from Childhood” and its famous Träumerei) or something merely suggestive of a mood without benefit of a guiding title. The earlier pieces each bore titles – Aufschwung (Soaring) or Traumes Wirren (Dream’s Confusion) – but these, only tempo marks that are more like emotional descriptors: Tender, with expression; Lively, light; Quick, with fire.

Here’s a young Armenian-born cellist, Narek Hakhnazaryan, recorded at a Ravinia Festival Master Class when he was 19 or 20, playing the three Fantasiestücke on Zuill and Awadagin’s program:

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Beethoven wrote five cello sonatas. There are 32 piano sonatas written throughout his career but all but one of the 10 violin sonatas were written before he completed his Eroica Symphony. The first two cello sonatas (Op.5) are early works and the last two (Op.102) were composed in an otherwise dry spell in 1815 just as the period of his “Late” Sonatas was taking shape. The middle one – a single work – was composed mostly in 1808, shortly after he completed a pair of symphonies (No. 5 and No. 6) and while he was working on a pair of piano trios (Op. 70) including the well-known “Ghost” Trio.

Zuill discusses recording Beethoven’s works for cello and piano with the pianist on this project, Simone Dinnerstein:

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This recording of the A Major Sonata by the legendary Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim was recorded in 1970 and even though it is accompanied by a still photograph, I want to share this live performance with you:
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Narek Hakhnazaryan is back again for the final movement (with its slow movement/introduction) accompanied by pianist Michael Mizrahi, also from Ravinia.
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Considering it’s such a sublimely noble-sounding work with such a joyful conclusion, Beethoven inscribed the dedication copy of the A Major Cello Sonata Inter lacrymas et luctus (“amid tears and sorrow”) when he presented it to his friend, the amateur cellist Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein in 1809. One of the closest of Beethoven’s friends at the time, Gleichenstein had helped him negotiate the settlement of his annuity a few days earlier, one which guaranteed him an annual income of 4,000 florins contributed by three of his principle patrons, Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky and the Archduke Rudolph.

Much of the past year had been taken up with thoughts about the reality of his financial security in Vienna, not having any official position but relying, to turn a phrase, on the kindness of aristocrats.

In the fall of 1807, around the time he presumably began work on the cello sonata, he petitioned the Imperial Royal Court Theater (whose board included several of his biggest aristocratic fans) to offer him an “employment contract” with a fixed annual income of 2,400 florins in return for his writing a new opera every year in addition to other works! In the absence of a favorable response, he rather heavily hinted that he would have to consider leaving Vienna to find better conditions – perhaps Paris .

By the end of the year, the minutes of that Board meeting read “Beethoven is not to be engaged.”

Original Manuscript for the A Major Cello Sonata
While working on the Pastoral Symphony and the cello sonata – finishing both during a summer spent in Heiligenstadt, a place that had proven so traumatic a few years earlier – Beethoven considered several possible operatic topics, including a setting of Macbeth (music sketched for the Scene with the Witches eventually found its way into the “Ghost” Trio). The possibility of the subject The Founding of Pennsylvania may more likely come from 1820 or later, but Beethoven knew, despite the failure of the public to appreciate Fidelio, this was where composers made their fortunes – in the opera houses.

Perhaps it was a consolation that they offered the theater to him for his benefit concert of December, 1808, a marathon program lasting four hours which saw the premiere of his two latest symphonies, the 4th Piano Concerto and movements from the recently completed C Major Mass, among others.

Perhaps the “tears and sorrow” Beethoven alluded to in his dedication had less to do with the time the sonata was written than the time of the official dedication in early 1809? In February, his doctor, Johann Schmidt, who’d been treating him since 1800 – he was the doctor mentioned in the Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802 – and Beethoven was deeply affected by this loss as much as he was concerned about the prospect of finding a new doctor, one could help him find a cure for his deafness. It was Gleichenstein who suggested Dr. Johann Baptist Malfatti.

There are also unproven rumors that, between 1806 and 1810, Beethoven was “secretly engaged” to Teresa von Brunswick (for more if not too much more information on Beethoven relationships with women, read an earlier post, here). It appears he may also have been having an affair with Countess Anna-Marie Erdödy in 1809 – he had been renting rooms in her palace in Vienna (as earlier, he had lived in the palace of Prince Lobkowitz as a lodger) – and he dedicated the two Op. 70 piano trios to her: they were first performed at a concert in her house. Whatever details of the affair’s ending may be, involving an unpleasant scene with one of her servants, they did not become friends again until 1815, at which point Beethoven dedicated his two new cello sonatas (Op. 102) to her.

At any rate, in March 1809, shortly after handing his friend Gleichenstein his dedicatee’s copy of the A Major Cello Sonata, no doubt in thanks for helping him arrange his annuity, Beethoven wrote to him that he had another task for him: having helped him find a doctor, now he asked his help in finding him a wife – preferably one “who would now and then grant a sigh to my harmonies.”

Some of the sources I have refer to his newest love interest then as the daughter of and others as the niece of Dr. Malfatti – Theresa Malfatti. The next year, Beethoven was riding in a coach with her one afternoon and apparently blurted out without any other overt form of courtship that he would like to marry her. He was refused.

Ironically, Gleichenstein married her older sister, Anna, in 1811.

I’ll continue with a separate post about the Brahms Cello Sonata that concludes this Sunday’s program.

- Dick Strawser

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