Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summermusic 2012: Erkki Melartin & Richard Strauss

The last of the Summermusic 2012 concerts is tonight, featuring string trios by Beethoven with Lucy Miller Murray's poem, Sonata, read by Cary Burkett, a string trio by a little-known Finnish composer - okay, let's say virtually unknown in this country - Erkki Melartin, whose career was overshadowed by his contemporary, Jean Sibelius, and then concludes with a rarely heard, early work by a very well-known composer, the Piano Quartet of Richard Strauss which the Mendelssohn Piano Trio - Peter Sirotin, Fiona Thompson and Ya-Ting Chang - recorded on the Centaur label with  violist Michael Stepniak.

That concert is tonight at the Market Square Church at 6:00 - that's not a typo: it really is at six o'clock!

Erkki Melartin
While I've dug into the whole idea of how so much of this summer's music has been written by well-known composers "before they became famous" - you can read an earlier post about Beethoven, Poulenc and Britten - it would be unfortunate to leave Melartin out of this simply because he never became famous. His music, what I've heard of it in digging around YouTube, is certainly worthy of examination, whether I'd be convinced he's "unjustly neglected" or not (considering how many composers get performed who should be "justly neglected," but I digress...).

His situation merely points out the fact how much music is out there that is not being heard. When you consider it, there are a lot of composers we hear on a regular basis but in reality that only scratches the surface of all the composers, at what ever level, have tried to climb this mountain we call "lasting fame." Could there be something out there - other composers, other works - hidden from view (or rather, our awareness), who might speak to a later generation of listeners?

After all, if it had been up to Beethoven's contemporaries, we'd never have heard his Violin Concerto if it hadn't been for a teenager named Joseph Joachim who decided to play it 17 years after the composer's death and brought it into the repertoire.

Or if Mendelssohn hadn't been passionate about a neglected work that had never been performed since its composer's death. Of course, someone else might have dusted off Bach's St. Matthew Passion, but the point is, somebody had to.

Peter Sirotin and Ya-Ting Chang, always on the look-out for something new and interesting, heard Melartin's String Trio (Op. 133) at the Bard Festival and decided they wanted to include it on some future program. It was written in 1927, ironically about the time Sibelius 'retired' from composing (though he would live another 30 years and famously destroy many other works including an eighth symphony). Melartin himself died ten years after completing this trio, leaving a 7th and an 8th symphony unfinished.

Yet out of some 185 published works, I'd never heard of him before, myself, and considering my interest in the obscure, that's (frankly) saying something!

So, no doubt, you'll have a chance to discover something you've probably never heard before at tonight's concert.

Here are links to some YouTube videos I found of his music, to give you an idea what to expect: from his 5th Symphony and his 6th Symphony (the last one completed) and his earlier Violin Concerto.

There's much to say about the young Richard Strauss finding his voice - and you can read that over at my other blog, Thoughts on a Train. It also includes videos of the complete Piano Quartet and then links to many of the works Strauss composed before and after it.

Enjoy the discovery!

- Dick Strawser

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