Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summermusic 2014: Two C Major Quintets - Part 2: Schubert

Schubert in 1825
As Peter Sirotin posted on Facebook today, "Any day which includes [a] performance of  the Schubert Quintet is a good day."

And he gets to perform this work - which he admits is one of his "Top 3" favorite pieces - on the final program of this season's Summermusic, Wednesday at 6pm at Harrisburg's Civic Club.

(You can read more about this concert in general, here, and about the Mozart that opens the concert, here. For information about parking in the area which might seem rather daunting to out-of-towners, check this post.)

Most of this post is a biography of Schubert's last year and especially the time he composed his Quintet in C Major.

But since the premise behind these three concerts has been "inspiration," how composers found inspiration in works by other composers, I want to point out some obvious similarities despite the fact Schubert's work never seems like an imitation, is never derivative and might not even strike the listener as a tribute to a favorite composer.

But Schubert clearly had Mozart's C Major Quintet (K.515) in his mind, directly or indirectly. when he was 19 and heard a Mozart quintet live at a musicale he was also performing at, he described it as a "life-changing experience," more or less ("a day that will stay [with me] forever" as he wrote in his journal. There's no proof (as far as I can tell) that that particular quintet was the C Major, but regardless, it would have ignited a love of Mozart already burning to the point he would study the scores of all the quintets - if not all the works of Mozart - he could get his hands on.

The most obvious fact - though by no means the most significant - is that they're in the same key. But listen to the an excerpt from each first movement:

Mozart's Quintet, the first movement only, with violinist Joseph Swenson and friends. Before you click on "play," please scroll down to make sure you can see the illustration just below the video clip.

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opening of Mozart's K.515
Here's the score of the opening page of the Mozart Quintet. Even those who can't "read" music might notice the rising line of short notes (daaah... bup búp bup bup bup búp bup) in the cello and, in the fourth and fifth measures, the sustained line in the 1st violin, complete with a little figure we call a "turn." Keep those two "gestures" in mind.

Now, to the Schubert (below).

In this historic recording with the legendary Pablo Casals in a live recording made at a summer music festival in 1961, my primary interest is following the performance with the score embedded in the video: again, even if you don't "read" music, try following along (they manage to turn the pages for you). Though it may sound presumptuous to mention the performance is a bit old-fashioned, especially with the use of portamento, the sliding (or slurping) between notes, but it is Casals and a traditional sense of interpretation. Be that as it may...

In the very opening, you'll see a long sustained melodic line (is it a melody?) which looks very similar to the violin part of the Mozart, even down to the "turn." This turn becomes a major element of Schubert's first movement - we'll hear it everywhere.
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While you might be thinking, "so?" So what? Lots of composers can write a line with a "turn" in it and write in the key of C Major.

If you don't have time to listen to the first ten minutes, then, scoot ahead to 9:17. Structurally, this is a very dramatic moment, the return of the opening "theme" in the Recapitulation. But Schubert doesn't just copy out the opening as you'd first heard it. No, he fills it out a little. With what?

Notice the violin part. What was the long sustained note with the turn (the "melody") is in the cello now - it had been in the violin, first time - but what's happening in the violin? A rising line of short notes. Look at the opening cello line in the first measure of the Mozart. Then at 9:40, he switches the parts so the sustained note and the turn are in the 1st violin and the rising short notes are in the cello, just as they are in the Mozart.

Eh? Coincidence? Hmmm...

Anyway, let that suffice as merely one aspect of connection between a specific work by Mozart (written in 1787) and one of Schubert's greatest and most original works (when all is said and done) written in 1828.

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There are so many things that continue to amaze me no matter how many times I hear Schubert’s Quintet.

People have said there must have been a rush to complete as much music as he could before he died, not that anyone would know how much time they have left in one’s life, especially when you’re in your early-30s like Franz Schubert in the 21 months following the death of Beethoven. But that’s the way Schubert was most of his life, writing as much music as he could possible get down on paper: how else do you end up with nearly a thousand pieces in your catalogue in just 18 years?

From November, 1827, to his death a year later, Schubert wrote (if not completed) 36 works, according to Otto Deutsch’s catalogue, including
- Piano Trio in E-flat (D.929, published as Op.100) which we heard on Sunday's concert with this season's Summermusic - November ‘27 (the B-flat Trio had been written the month before)
- Fantasy in C for Violin & Piano (D.934) based on the song “Sei mir gegrüsst”) - December ‘27
- Four Impromptus for Piano (D.935, published as Op.142) - December ‘27
- Fantasy in F Minor for Piano Duet (D.940) - January-April ‘28
- “Auf dem Strom” (D.943), song for tenor, horn & piano - March ‘28
- Symphony in C Major The Great” (D.944) – though it was probably composed two years earlier, there had been evidence it was begun (or more likely, revised) in March ‘28
- Three Impromptus for piano (D.946) often called more generically “Drei Klavierstücke” - May ‘28
- Mass in E-flat (D.950) - begun June ‘28
- Quintet in C for Strings (D.956) - sometime in August-September ‘28
- Fourteen Songs known asSchwanengesang” (D.957) - finished between August & October ‘28
- Piano Sonata in C Minor (D.958) – September ‘28
- Piano Sonata in A Major (D.959) – September ‘28
- Piano Sonata in B-flat Major (D.960) – last page dated 26th September ‘28
- Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (“Shepherd on the Rock”) (D.965) October ‘28

Whether you’d consider them all “masterpieces” or not, this list of fourteen works (really 27, since you should count the songs of Schwanengesang individually as it’s not really a single work per se) does not include nine other songs (two or three written earlier that could’ve fit into the set of “Swan-Songs”), eleven part songs and short choral works (including a setting of Psalm 92 in Hebrew, written for a specific temple’s Sabbath service), four other “miscellaneous” works for piano solo or duet and - oh yes – two large-scale unfinished works, a symphony in D Major (D.936a) and an opera, The Count of Gleichen, listed as D.918 because it was begun the previous summer. And one should also include some “homework assignment” for his counterpoint lessons, which I’ll get to, later.

Look at those works completed if not all written in September 1828, the three last piano sonatas, the C Major Quintet and several of the Swan-Songs (only the first and last are actually dated). While there are sketches that exist for material that ended up in the piano sonatas from earlier that summer, most of the work was done in a matter of three weeks.

But the original manuscript of the quintet has vanished and with it any preliminary sketches, though Schubert rarely “sketched,” his inspiration traditionally described as being “at white-heat” that even if he dropped a page on the floor (so the wives’-tale goes) he would prefer to start over on a new page rather than waste the time to pick it up. Was the quintet a product of “white-heat?” Was it really composed, as several biographers seem to conclude, in two weeks’ time? In addition to the sonatas he was either composing or copying over in final form to send off to publishers, that is one very intense month!

And in less than eight weeks, he died ten weeks shy of his 32nd birthday.

It’s not that he knew he was dying. His health had not been good, off and on, especially after 1822 when, at the age of 25, he began showing the first symptoms of syphilis, presumably in November, not long after he finished... or rather, left unfinished the B Minor Symphony (“The Unfinished Symphony”), the score dated October 30th, 1822, and the virtuosic Fantasy in C, a piano solo known as “The Wanderer Fantasy,” also one of his most dramatic, violent and, at times, pessimistic pieces. Signs of illness may not explain the despair of the fantasy or even why he never completed the rest of the symphony (he had started the third movement but stopped after nine measures), since we normally think of works of art being unhampered by reality, but the chronology is difficult to ignore.

It was at the end of August, 1828, that Schubert, on the advice of his doctor, moved out of his friend Schober’s house in downtown Vienna to take a room in his brother’s new suburban home just outside the city, since the air – and no doubt the quieter life – would be better for his health. And then in the next few weeks he wrote the string quintet and three sonatas. Could there be some correlation between his health and his inspiration? Certainly, the quintet is one of the loftiest works anyone has ever written under any circumstances.

Today, a composer could brag he (or she) doesn’t write anything unless it’s commissioned or would at least have a performance of it already lined up. We’ve lost that romantic notion of the struggling artist writing for the sheer pleasure of creating art, the product of pure inspiration.

To say Schubert was famous may not be entirely accurate but statements about his being unknown are not exactly truthful, either. His music did not bring him a great deal of money, though his short dance pieces for piano were popular and his songs were well-known, probably circulating more in manuscript copies, the early-19th Century answer to ipods and illegal downloads. By a small group of music lovers, he was certainly respected, but he had difficulties getting his works performed, mostly because he was writing things that were not practical for Vienna in the 1820s: keep in mind, things had gotten tough enough, economically, that even Beethoven threatened to leave for new financial possibilities in Paris or London.

Ironically, the first public, largely professional concert of Schubert’s music was also his last. It took place on March 26th, 1828, the first anniversary of Beethoven’s death as it turned out, and included the E-flat Piano Trio, several songs and part-songs including “Auf dem Strom,” after opening with a movement of (presumably) the not-yet-performed G Major String Quartet. The attendance was good, the response, since it was mostly of Schubert’s many friends and acquaintances, enthusiastic, but there was no critical mention of it in the press because all of Vienna (in fact, all of Germany, apparently) was taken up with the five concerts being given by the then-all-the-rage violinist Nicolo Paganini, performances which brought in about 5600 florins per concert. While I have no idea what a florin in 1828 might be worth today, it’s enough to mention that Schubert’s concert brought in 320 florins total, less than 6% of Paganini’s box-office take. For him, he thought he’d done fairly well – not enough as he’d’ve liked, but he was feeling flush enough to plan a couple of summer vacations. Unfortunately, these never came about.

Schubert was convinced that the path to monetary success and artistic recognition was through the operatic stage. For a composer who could write such intensely dramatic songs and telling psychological miniature portraits in his songs (you only need to point out Gretchen am Spinnrad, written when he was 17, to prove that), he couldn’t write a theatrically successful opera if, not to press the analogy, his life depended on it, but he persisted. Even at the end of his life, he continued working on The Count of Gleichen with its lame, cliché-ridden plot and badly written libretto by one of his closest friends. He filled 36 large pages and 52 smaller-sized sheets with sketches and completed sections but it didn’t seem to matter the censors had already rejected the story – shockingly, it included a benign view of a bigamous hero – so even if he might manage to finish it, it wasn’t going to be taken up by any theater in Vienna.

The unfinished D Major Symphony, usually numbered the tenth – there’s no room here for the story of why there had been no 7th Symphony for so long and why the “Great C Major” has appeared as the 9th, 7th and sometimes the 8th – apparently was begun in October ‘28, fragments of three large-scale movements sketched in a “short score” format (like a reduction playable at the piano, but with occasional orchestrational cues written in). The 2nd movement was the “most complete” section but the 3rd movement, labeled a “scherzo” which would imply there would be a 4th movement finale, seems to have morphed into a combination scherzo-and-finale with several large patches of fugal writing, very unusual for Schubert.

Which brings me back to those “counterpoint lessons” Schubert had set up just before he died. When he was working on the Mass in E-flat earlier that year, he had been studying Handel oratorios: Messiah, he’d said, was one of his favorite works. A few months before his death, Schubert told friends about these Handel scores, realizing “Now for the first time, I see what I lack.” He arranged to take lessons with organist Simon Sechter to “make good the omission.”

What was it that Schubert, at the age of 31 and who’d been composing since before he was 13, lacked?


Usually, this is assumed to mean “the writing of fugues,” something that by 1828 was pretty old-fashioned already. Composers might insert “a fugal section” to show that they know how to do something academic, that they’ve learned their craft. It might not always sound natural, given the flow of things: Beethoven aside (who at least admitted he approached it “with some license”), I often feel like we should do The Wave whenever a 19th Century composer breaks into a “learnéd” fugue midstream (there’s one in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony of 1885 that usually reduces me to a puddle of giggles).

It's possible the "writing of fugues" was what concerned him, though. In 1826, he had applied for (and not gotten) a post as assistant court composer for church music and had, no doubt, written the Mass in E-flat as an audition piece. But he was passed over for a more senior and more professionally successful composer, Josef Weigl, primarily an opera composer. Perhaps they figured "Schubert - he's what, 29 years old? Let him try again next time..."

When I listen to Schubert’s quintet, it amazes me that he felt so insecure that he had to go study counterpoint. I’m not familiar with his masses – at least the last two “mature” ones – and I’ve heard the Unfinished D Major Symphony (No. 10, D.936a) once or twice on the radio, enough to remember there’s a lot of fugal writing going on in that last movement (though how much of it is what Schubert sketched and how much is part of Brian Newbould’s realization of it, I couldn’t say), but fugues aside, the art of writing melodically and rhythmically independent lines that are interdependent harmonically – a broader definition of counterpoint – is not something Schubert was lacking!

All you have to do is listen to the opening of the second movement.

Here's a live performance with Pinchas Zukerman and friends recorded in Germany in 2006:
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Long slow notes in two- and three-part harmony in the inner voices (as they’d be called, regardless of the fact they’re instruments), with rhythmic filagree-like patterns in the 1st violin that remind me of birdsong, and one cello plucking along on what sounds like the downbeat with the harmonic underpinning. These are three fully defined layers of easily identifiable ‘sound’ – the long slow notes actually turn out to be the melodic layer – that becomes clearer the second time around, about 2½ minutes later, when the “bird-calls” of the 1st violin are replaced by plucked chords answering the cello’s bass line. Then, having taken about 5 minutes to run twice through this theme – speaking of expansive – there’s a sudden change of mood: the violins now have the decidedly more dramatic theme, here, the cellos’ bass-line now more insistent, turning back over on itself, and the middle voices now playing an agitated pattern, filling in the harmony but completely separate, rhythmically, from the outer parts, a far cry from the relaxed contemplation of the first theme.

Why would anybody who could create passages like that feel that insecure about needing to study counterpoint?

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what impact those lessons with Simon Sechter would have on Schubert’s later music. He only took one lesson – on November 4th, 1828. He had already complained of feeling sick the week before but managed to walk the four or five miles to the church where his brother Ferdinand’s Requiem was being performed, not counting a three-hour walk they and the choirmaster took afterwards before walking home (no public transportation to the suburbs in those days). Complaining of feeling tired, understandably, Schubert still felt well enough to walk the mile-or-so to and from his teacher’s house for the counterpoint lesson the next day. That weekend, Schubert attended a friend’s dinner party where much wine was drunk and everybody thought he was feeling pretty good (in any number of ways). By Tuesday of that week, then, he “took to his bed,” did not make it to the next lesson - in fact, never left the house again.

Another friend showed up with a copy of his setting of Psalm 23 which needed some corrections. There was no real anxiety – he had been ill before and had recovered before – and Schubert himself complained only of feeling tired, not of any pain. A few days later, he sat up in bed to make corrections on the publisher’s proofs for the second half of the Winterreise songs – keeping in mind the final song, “Der Leiermann” (“The Hurdy-Gurdy Man”), one of the most desolate songs in the repertoire. He wrote to his friend Schober, asking if he could borrow any books by American author James Fennimore Cooper which he hadn’t read yet.

Two days later there was, as they say, “a turn for the worse,” presumably after friends came and played Beethoven’s C-sharp Minor Quartet, Op.131, for him at his request. By the end of the performance, he had become so excited and his condition had deteriorated so rapidly, they put him back in bed. His friend the librettist of The Count of Gleichen came by to visit the next day or so: Schubert had continued to work on it up until that week, and they even talked about another collaboration once he finished this one. Apparently, in these first two weeks of November, he also worked on the sketch for the slow movement of the D Major Symphony, before things got so bad, he was unable to work at all. A few more days passed: on the 18th, Ferdinand wrote later, Schubert began hallucinating, then died the following day. As his friend, the poet Grillparzer wrote for the epitaph, “The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but far fairer hopes.”

So it is impossible – for me, at least – to listen to this quintet and not dwell on things deeper than the acquisition of contrapuntal skills or on the expansion of harmonic and structural techniques to create a work that lasts between 50 and 60 minutes. Schumann, who didn’t know the quintet existed then, wrote about the “heavenly lengths” of the Great C Major Symphony which Ferdinand showed to him during a visit in 1839. The Quintet, equally heavenly, somehow didn’t surface until 1850. Like the symphony, it was just too long – for the audience but also for the players – and both were first performed in heavily cut, shortened versions.

Igor Stravinsky was never one to mince words about other composers (of Benjamin Britten, he said, “He’s an excellent accompanist”), but when someone asked him if he weren’t “sent to sleep by the prolixities of Schubert,” he replied, “What does it matter if, when I awake, it seems to me that I am in paradise?”

- Dick Strawser

Summermusic 2014: Two C Major Quintets - Part 1: Mozart

(Mozart medallion, 1788)
The third and final concert of Summermusic 2014 is Wednesday evening at 6:00 – yes, that's six o'clock – at the Civic Club of Harrisburg with two great quintets by Mozart and Schubert on the program – Mozart's String Quintet in C, K.515 from 1787 and Schubert String Quintet in C, D.956, one of the greatest works in chamber music (and probably, by many accounts, music in general) and one that was directly inspired by the Mozart quintet on the first half.

If you've been to the two earlier concerts, you've already heard four of our performers – violinists Peter Sirotin (artistic director of Market Square Concerts) and Leonid Ferents (a friend of Peter's from schooldays in Moscow, Leonid's also a violin-maker and recently finished both the violins he and Peter will be playing), violist Michael Stepniak (Dean of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music) and cellist Cheng-Hou Lee (a member of the Avalon Quartet, he'll be back with his colleagues for our November concert) – and to this we'll add two more: the violist Nicole Sharlow (a.k.a. Principal 2nd Violinist in the Harrisburg Symphony) in the Mozart and the cellist Nadine Trudel (principal cellist of the Sarasota Orchestra who recently premiered her husband's concerto for cello and bass in San Jose) in the Schubert.

If you're unfamiliar with the location or need directions, see the previous post – also if you're wondering what those K. and D. numbers mean. It also has video clips – further down – with live performances of both complete works as well as some background information.

Check here for information about parking in the Civic Club area.

This post is more about the 'biography' behind Mozart's Quintet and the time in his life it was written. You can read the post about Schubert's Quintet, written 41 years later, here. (I mean, the quintet was written 41 years later: the plan is to finish the Schubert post this afternoon.)

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Mozart finished writing this quintet and added it to his “thematic catalogue” on April 19th, 1787. It was to be the first of three such string quintets – they would be offered to the public as a subscription which meant, basically, he would advertise them in the Viennese papers for sale, people would buy or “subscribe” to them and when the works were ready and printed, they would receive their copies of all three quintets. Today, it might be the equivalent of pre-ordering an up-coming release of a best seller on-line. Having completed the C Major, he immediately went to work finishing the G Minor Quintet.

But there were other things going on in Mozart's life at the time.

Perhaps the overriding concern was, as usual with Mozart and his wife, money. Another child – Johann Thomas Leopold – had been born the previous October and Constanze was occasionally ill. They lived in an apartment they could barely afford in Vienna's “Inner City,” a fashionable address close to everything important for Wolfgang's musical life as well as their social life. And Mozart's professional reputation was slipping a bit.

The previous year saw the premiere of his opera The Marriage of Figaro, a very bold new direction for opera at a time when most plots dealt with mythological settings and the main characters were either Greek gods or allegorical figures from the old myths. Even though Figaro is set in the castle of a Spanish nobleman of the 18th Century, the primary movers of the plot are the servants and – to make matters worse – it's the servants who win by outsmarting the aristocrats. The original play by Beaumarchais had been banned in Paris, so the Austrian court of Joseph II, Austrian and Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, was not pleased when the Emperor allowed Mozart's projected opera based on it to go forward.

Keep in mind this fact: Mozart's opera premiered in 1786 and the Bastille fell in 1789.

The storming of a political prison in Paris marked the opening of the French Revolution after a long period of simmering dissatisfaction with the king's government and the wide separation between the aristocrats (say, the 1%) and the middle and lower classes. Also, keep in mind the queen, Marie Antoinette, was Joseph II's younger sister, whether she ever said “let them eat cake” or not. Plus, of course, there was the very real fear that if the French king would lose his throne, such events could spread to other countries across Europe.

Just briefly, the situation in the Austrian Empire – which covered a good deal of Central and Eastern Europe from what is now the Czech Republic and parts of Poland to northern Italy, Hungary and the Balkans to the borders of what was then the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) which also controlled Greece, Bulgaria, much of Romania and Serbia. In addition to an expensive, on-going war against Turkey, there was constant unrest in the Netherlands (part of the Austrian Empire brought about by those Renaissance marriage-treaties) and Hungary (which would continue simmering through the mid-19th Century until the Austrian Empire officially became the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867).

Emperor Joseph II
Joseph II was an “enlightened ruler” who initiated numerous reforms that – in our eyes – seemed progressive and necessary: freedom of speech and thought, religious toleration, “shattering the chains of serfdom,” improving medical care, “making bishops Imperial subjects” plus numerous economic and social reforms (even concerning burial practices) but which fought against centuries-old traditions.

In the mid-1780s – Mozart had arrived in Vienna permanently in 1781 – there were frequent protests against these imperial reforms from the city's conservative factions and it was difficult to avoid political pamphlets being distributed among the people bearing titles like “Why is the Emperor Not Belovèd by his People?”

(If any of this should strike a modern reader as somewhat familiar, you can read more about it in Volkmar Braunbehrens' Mozart in Vienna: 1781-1791, p.312, for more details: if you can find a copy of this book, I highly recommend it.)

In 1786, there had been a popular outcry against Franz Zallheim, a dissolute nobleman and convicted murderer, which resulted in his public execution in gruesome medieval fashion and took place in various locations of Vienna's Inner City. (The fact this went against the Emperor's reforms was also a topic of debate: attacked for his reforms, he was attacked by his supporters for allowing something that went so strongly against his reforms.) Supposedly, it was witnessed by 30,000 people.

The first stage – the reading of the sentence and the application of hot pincers to his flesh – took place a few hundred yards from Mozart's apartment. From there, Zallheim would be led to the “usual place for execution” to be broken on the wheel “from the legs up” until he died, his body then displayed on a gibbet.

That day, Mozart composed two new arias to be added to an impending revival of his 1781 opera, Idomeneo. It's unlikely he would not have been aware of what was happening on his own doorstep.

Mozart had been working on The Marriage of Figaro since the middle of the previous year. Its premiere would take place about seven weeks after Zallheim's execution, meaning the opera was not yet finished and the sprightly overture – one of the happiest pieces in the repertoire – was so far just a gleam in his brain.

Unfortunately, Figaro was not a great success, running for nine performances but not going over well with the bulk of the audience – members of the aristocratic class who, given memory of the popular reaction against Zallheim, one of their own even if he was a murderer, did not feel comfortable seeing another one of their class – the hapless if fictional Count Almaviva – made a fool of by his valet and his wife's maid.

Lorenzo da Ponte, New York, 1830
Fortunately, Mozart was invited to produce Figaro in Prague where, in fact, it was so great a success (fewer aristocrats in the audience, if nothing else) Mozart composed his “Prague” Symphony in gratitude and promised them a new opera for the following year, a second collaboration with a Jewish-born Italian priest who had a penchant for women and gambling named Lorenzo da Ponte (did you know he eventually emigrated to America and was, briefly, a merchant in Sunbury, PA?)

Once back in Vienna, Mozart set to work to rebuild his finances. 1786 had not been a good year, earning 2600 florins, a 30% drop from 1784 which had been a good year. In the fall of '86 he had taken up the idea of a German or English tour but with two small children, this was a challenge.

Then somebody mentioned to him something that had been going on back home in Salzburg, which brings us to the second major issue affecting Mozart's life at this time.

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Leopold & his Children
Leopold Mozart was one of the most (in)famous “stage parents” in music, exploiting his two children – Wolfgang and his sister Maria Anna known to history as Nannerl – taking them around to perform before the crowned heads of Europe from Vienna to Paris and London and the Netherlands. There were numerous trips to Italy, Munich and again Paris – not to mention frequent visits to Vienna – in hopes of finding Wolfgang, now a teenager having outgrown his prodigyhood, a cushy court job (ostensibly a cushy court job for Leopold which would include, as a bonus, his brilliant son). Nannerl, by this time, had gone from being a piano prodigy to being a girl with no professional prospects.

When Mozart broke away from his father in 1781 to move to Vienna (Leopold could not risk following him for fear of losing his job with the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg who, despite history's view of young Mozart, was glad to be rid of the upstart Wolfgang). When Leopold found Wolfgang was interested in marrying a daughter of the Weber family, his primary concern seemed to have been the potential loss of the fortune Mozart might make, the influence the Webers would have over his son instead of him, which was then followed by the concern what dissipation married life might bring would lessen that potential fortune in the second place.

Needless to say they had a serious falling out. Their correspondence was often strained and less frequent.

Meanwhile, Nannerl married a much older nobleman already twice widowed with five children who had an estate outside Salzburg. When her son was born, he was named Leopold after his grandfather, and who remained in his grandfather's house while his mother returned to her husband to raise her five step-children. It was her father's idea to turn “Little Leopold” into another Mozart prodigy: this was to keep this a secret from her brother.

A friend from Salzburg, unaware of this secrecy, mentioned to Wolfgang in passing about his nephew (born in July, 1785) still living with Mozart's father a year later. Whatever Mozart's reaction was to this, it was like the presentation of a solution: he and Constanze could go off to England and leave their two children with Leopold (along with some money and a servant to help cover expenses).

Curiously, the father who planned on turning his daughter's son into a New Mozart was not interested in raising his son's son. In fact, he wrote to Nannerl he was incensed at the idea: why, he fumed, they might decide to stay in London or they might die and he would be stuck with them, and so on in similar fashion.

Now, it's easy to turn Leopold into a monster – certainly Maynard Solomon's biography of Mozart makes the case for it and Peter Schaffer's play and the film based on Amadeus would indicate Mozart had psychological reasons to fear his father. But in these letters, it's quite clear – aside from missing the point of having his own prodigy's son to turn into the Next Generation Prodigy – he was more concerned about the expense of raising his grandchildren than his son dying at an early age in a distant country!

Leopold's response was firm and no doubt disappointing. Plans for a London visit – keep in mind, Haydn's first trip to London wasn't until 1790 – had to be put off if not canceled.

For whatever reason, Mozart did not inform his father of the death of his own recently born son, also named after his father, a second “little Leopold” who suffocated in his crib barely a month after his birth.

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Then news arrived from Salzburg that his father was ill and, it eventually came out, dying. Leopold was 67 and though not well, he described himself in a February letter to Nannerl as just getting older. Even in early May, he wrote to her that he was “no worse” and looking forward to warmer weather and fresh air.

Mozart, recently affected by the death of a fellow Mason, wrote to his father with some alarm and urging him not to keep any news from him, that he would “fly to your arms as quickly as is humanly possible.” This letter was dated April 4th, 1787.

Mozart was not always good about keeping his correspondence so no reply to this letter survives. At any rate, it was the last letter he wrote to his father.

He finished the C Major Quintet on April 19th and on May 16th, the G Minor Quintet, a stormy work as you'd expect in that key (if C Minor was Beethoven's “stormy” key, G Minor was Mozart's – he wrote only two symphonies in a minor key and they are both dramatic and indeed stormy works in G Minor).

Leopold Mozart died on the 28th of May. Though we don't know how long it took the news to reach Vienna, there is no record of Mozart's reaction or his grief, but several days later, there was another death in the Mozart household: his pet starling, the one who could whistle the rondo theme from his G Major Piano Concerto K.453 (although with an inserted sharp where it didn't belong). On June 4th, he wrote a poem about the bird – and was working on a serenade known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Shortly after receiving news of his father's death, he wrote its companion piece which he called Ein musikalischer Spass, “A Musical Joke.”

Don Giovanni, punished
The main work of the summer was the new opera, a tragi-comedy called Don Giovanni or Il dissoluto punito which was premiered in Prague at the end of October. In the romantic 19th Century, this was perhaps Mozart's most famous work with its dark undercurrents and especially the whole business of the Statue of the Commendatore (killed by Giovanni in the first act) coming to life and dragging his killer off to Hell.

Enter the pop-psychologists (no pun intended)...

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Anyway, back to the quintet. I had mentioned it was being written for this subscription but as he was finishing up the G Minor quintet in May, Mozart was forced to realize his reputation has sunk far enough that, as a business venture, his offering up three – count 'em, three – major pieces of chamber music, following on the success of the six quartets dedicated to Haydn published in 1785, there was not enough money coming in to warrant continuing the offer.

So he had take to the humiliating route of placing an ad in the newspaper announcing the subscription was canceled.

He did not bother writing a third quintet!

What was happening to Mozart? Though Figaro was a success in Prague, it went over poorly in Vienna. He was giving fewer concerts now and his income had fallen sharply – by 30%, as I'd mentioned, comparing figures from 1784 and 1786. Given the initial success of Abduction from the Seraglio and his having written other if shorter operas, he was still only the seventh most performed composer in Vienna – unfortunately, I can find no record in the biographies I have that mention who the top six were. Certainly they won't be names we would've heard in our modern concert halls and opera houses much less even recognize.

But that's for a continuation of the story – perhaps the C Major Quintet is one of the last happy pieces he could compose in happy circumstances.

Five days after he completes K.515, he, Constanze and his surviving son, Karl Thomas, moved into more affordable quarters in a still stylish but cheaper suburb of Vienna.

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Oh, and one other event occurred between April 4th, when he wrote that last letter to his father, and April 19th, when he completed the Quintet in C Major.

A young fellow from Bonn arrived in Vienna on April 7th, a 16-year-old pianist and composer (and apparently quite an impressive improviser) named Ludwig van Beethoven. Too young to be on his own, yet, Beethoven's primary goal from this trip was to make himself known, meet Mozart and play for him and perhaps arrange at some future point a chance to study with him.

Mozart had, after all, taken on a young pianist – Johann Nepomuck Hummel, an 8-year-old prodigy – as a live-in student during the previous year.

Unfortunately, before two weeks had passed, Beethoven received a letter from his father saying his mother was dying and so the trip was cut short: Beethoven immediately returned to Bonn.

Whether Mozart actually heard Beethoven play is not known though there are many legends about it – especially from some of Beethoven's friends, though Beethoven himself never mentioned it. And surely, if he had, wouldn't you think he'd be bragging that even the great Mozart had said of him, “Surely here is someone who will someday make a noise in the world”?

By the time Beethoven was able to settle things with his family (his father, being incompetent and an alcoholic, was unable to care for his three sons and so Ludwig became the family bread-winner), he once again planned on going to Vienna to study with Mozart. Only by that time, Mozart had died. So he did the next best thing – he studied with the other great composer we know from this period, Franz Josef Haydn.

But it's very clear, looking at Beethoven's early works between 1792 and 1800 (if not beyond) that he learned much more from studying and performing Mozart's music.

And how did Mozart's C Major Quintet – on the first half of Wednesday's concert – impact Franz Schubert's C Major Quintet on the second half?

Read the post about Schubert's Quintet here, including an example of "borrowing" from the Mozart Quintet.

- Dick Strawser

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image credits: the original Mozart boxwood medallion from 1788 disappeared during World War II - this photo is of a copy made from the original; the portrait of Lorenzo da Ponte, painted in New York in 1830 by Thomas Morse, hangs in the New York Yacht Club and was found at the DaPonte Center's website in Austria; the photo of the Commendatore's visit to Don Giovanni's for dinner is from the Metropolitan Opera production of Mozart and Da Ponte's opera and was found (apparently uncredited) at Minnesota Public Radio's 2012 posting re:the Met broadcast.

Parking for Wednesday Night's Concert at the Civic Club

- Dick Strawser (added 7/24/2014 9:48pm)
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Since last summer, the parking rules have changed in downtown Harrisburg.

Many drivers know the new multi-space parking meters, which are concentrated downtown and near the capital complex, are enforced till 7pm now.

There is unregulated parking at the waterworks building, just north of the Civic Club.

There is limited parking on the grass in the park, at the stone wall just south of the Civic Club but not very much and, well, it's on the grass...

There is also abundant metered parking on State St, about 1/2 block from the Civic Club, that requires payment until 7pm at $3.00/hr (keep in mind you'll be parking before the concert starts at 6pm). Considering the River Street Garage (see next) charges $5 to park for the two-plus hours, perhaps the meters will be a good option. (Certainly cheaper than having to park if you're going to a concert in NYC...)

The River Street garage at 218 N. Second Street charges a flat-fee of $5 to park after 5 p.m. The garage closes at midnight Monday through Wednesday and 3 a.m. on other nights.

The entrance can be hard to find, but driving up 2nd Street, look for it on the left just after Sawyer's.

Currently, the automated payment machine only accepts cash. A sign on the machine says to pay the exact amount, but the machine will provide change.

(I tried this last weekend for an afternoon event and it was very confusing trying to pay the fee: there's an attendant where you enter but apparently none where you leave...)

A warning: DON'T ARRIVE EVEN ONE MINUTE BEFORE 5pm! or you will get stuck with the daily rate for your entire visit. Someone reported having arrived at 4:58 p.m. one night to attend a city council meeting and later faced a $16 parking tab.

The South Street parking garage at 220 South Street charges cheaper hourly rates than the other parking garages BUT IT CLOSES AT 7pm and the concert will be longer than one hour.

The Concert is at 6pm (if I haven't mentioned that before) with Mozart and Schubert string quintets on the program. You can read more about the concert (in general) here, and specifically about the Mozart, here, and the Schubert, here.

- Dick Strawser

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summermusic 2014: Two Quintets - An Introduction

Summermusic 2013 Glazunov Quintet at the Civic Club
The final concert of this year's Summermusic is Wednesday evening at 6:00 at the Civic Club on Front Street in Harrisburg and will feature two great string quintets – one by Mozart, the other by Schubert – and both in C Major.

And the personnel for this third concert also expands if not exactly geometrically, at least from the opening string trios to the six people required for these two quintets: in addition to violinist Peter Sirotin, violist Michael Stepniak and cellist Cheng-Hou Lee, now add violinist Leonid Ferents, violist Nicole Sharlow and cellist Nadine Trudel.

But first, let's clarify the location: if you already know where it is, scroll ahead...

The Civic Club is, historically, the only building on the river side of Riverfront Park in Harrisburg, located below Forster Street and the Harvey Taylor bridge to its north and State Street and its plaza (with that man who sits on a park bench in all kinds of weather) to its south.

If you're approaching from Harrisburg and points east, be aware you can't make a left turn onto Front Street from Forster (for out-of-towners, this is for some reason pronounced Foster). To approach the Civic Club from Forster Street, it might be better to turn right onto 2nd Street, left onto Boas Street (Boze to the natives) and then left onto Front. (Like I'd heard back in the '60s, "all the streets in Harrisburg are one way the wrong way," the local variant of the New Englander's "you can't get there from here.")

The Garden at the Civic Club
 Parking is also limited – and a reminder that recent changes in the city's Parking Authority rules mean the new parking meters will be in effect until 7pm, so be advised. On-street parking is available on State Street and on 2nd Street as well as other side streets – at least, it's not a club nite – but we are told there will be limited parking available on the grass in the park itself just below the stone wall of the Civic Club.

Check this post for information about parking in the area around the Civic Club.

If I haven't mentioned it before, the concert is at 6:00.

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Though the concert is indoors, the weather forecast is, unfortunately, not a pleasant one – the hottest day of the week with a possibility of scattered afternoon storms – so dress accordingly and bring the umbrella (you never know). We've been lucky with the weather for the first two concerts – a far cry from the sweltering festivities at the Glen Allen Mill when, as I recall one Sunday afternoon, it was in the upper-90s with humidity to match and more people were probably thinking about going swimming in the Yellow Breeches Creek than listening to quartets played by musicians who looked like they already had...

Like the 2nd concert with its Schubert Piano Trio and the Schumann Piano Quintet (you can read previous posts about those works, here), two major works which made it feel like a concert with two second halves, this program features two of the great works of the string quintet repertoire – Mozart's Quintet in C Major, K.515 and Schubert's Quintet in C Major, D.956.

Usually, a quintet is a “string quartet plus one.” The Schumann Piano Quintet adds a piano just as Mozart's Clarinet Quintet adds (obviously) a clarinet.

But string quintets are not so obvious: five strings, but which strings? Actually, if it weren't for the Schubert Quintet we'd probably just say “a string quintet is 2 violins, 2 violas and a cello.” But Schubert wrote his for 2 violins, 1 viola and 2 cellos, upsetting the definition or breaking the mold. The thing is, even the most familiar string quintets that came later are still primarily “viola quintets” (the otherwise little-known Glazunov Quintet performed at last year's Civic Club Summermusic Concert notwithstanding). Schubert's is the exception but it is, in every way as well, an exceptional work.

For those used to things like Op., K. and D. numbers, scroll ahead...

You're probably used to seeing something like “Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op.44” or “Beethoven's String Quartet in C Major, Op.59 No. 3.”

The Opus Number – usually assigned by the publishers – refers to a work in a composer's catalog where works would be listed in the order they're published. This developed during the 19th Century when music publishing became part of the “music business,” bringing a composer's music to a wider audience. In many cases, it's not really necessary to identify a work – Beethoven's 5th Symphony is always Beethoven's 5th Symphony, and he only published nine of them, anyway.

But there are 41 symphonies by Mozart and many of them in C Major, so how to tell them apart? The most famous one has been nick-named the “Jupiter” and other C Major Symphonies could be known by their numbers – No. 34 – or by other nicknames, like the “Linz.”

With Schubert, some of his works were published during his lifetime but most of them didn't see the light of day until well after his death. Keeping track of so many pieces – almost 1,000 written between the age of 11 and 31 – was a nightmare.

Enter two famous catalogers: for Mozart, it was an amateur botanist-turned-musicologist named Ludwig Köchel; for Schubert, a man named Otto Deutsch. Therefore, works in the Mozart Catalog by Köchel, published in 1862, are given numbers like K.515; works in the Schubert Catalog of Deutsch, published only in 1951, show up on programs as D.956.

That means these two string quintets are the 515th work in the more-or-less chronological catalog by Köchel, and the 956th work in the mostly chronological catalog by Deutsch.

To a non-musician, overhearing music-lovers or performers saying something like:
“Did you hear them do 59 #3?”
“Yes, but a mess in the development of 515!”
must sound like they're eavesdropping on spies speaking in code...

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Since the basis of the programs this summer has been “composers and their inspirations” (fairly difficult to describe, actually), the premise here is that Schubert was inspired to write his C Major Quintet by Mozart's C Major Quintet.

It doesn't mean that you'll hear imitations of Mozart in Schubert's work – completed only about two months before he died, this is about as mature as Schubert gets and by this time in his life, he had assimilated a lot of what had come before him and what was going on around him.

If you remember the string trio program (which you can read about here), hearing Schubert's student trio – he was 19 at the time and studying with Antonio Salieri (yes, that Salieri, the one traditionally accused of murdering Mozart) – which even though it might be imitative of Mozart's style is never derivative.

Just before Schubert composed that little one-movement (otherwise unfinished) trio in the summer of 1816, he had performed at a music salon where he heard other performers play a Mozart string quintet.

In his journal (one of the few journal entries he made – he was not one to leave only symphonies unfinished), he began by saying “A clear, bright, fine day” that “will remain [with me] throughout my whole life... O Mozart, immortal Mozart...” before continuing about the quintet he heard at this musicale, writing (as Elizabeth McKay writes in her biography) “he wrote of its power to raise the spirits, to lighten darkness with hope and confidence, bringing 'comforting images of a brighter and better life...'”

Though he was a “classical” composer out of the 18th Century traditions of Mozart and Haydn – and, of course, his teacher, Salieri – he was writing down the thoughts of a “romantic” composer of the 19th Century. “Classical” is basically inspired by logic, balance, proportions (essentially, the intellect and abstract forms) and “Romantic” in this context is basically inspired by the emotions, personal reactions and a greater flexibility with if not outright disregard for the old standard-operating-procedures of the previous decades, music that is often pictorial, suggesting images or stories (we call this, basically, “program music”) but above all meant to evoke an emotional response.

Both Beethoven's and Schubert's careers fall clearly around the end of the Classical Era and the beginning of the Romantic Era, starting in the traditions of the one before they became composers with the newest ideas of what was then “contemporary music.” In many respects, they weren't really the followers, then: Beethoven certainly was a trail-blazer (much to the dismay of his old-fashioned contemporaries) and Schubert was still in the process of figuring out where his own voice fit into all of this.

Had both of them lived longer, who knew where this trail might have taken them? Beethoven was 57 when he died, but Schubert, dying the next year, was not quite 32. And who can possibly imagine what Mozart might have been writing if he were still alive in 1827, the year Beethoven died? Mozart would have been 71 – imagine! Haydn, after all, lived to be 77...

I'll write more about the background of each piece in a later post, but here is a complete performance of Mozart's Quintet (with its two violas), K.515, one of Mozart's most expansive chamber works. It's performed by members of the Delft summer festival in the Netherlands:

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Without getting into too much detail, listen to the “textures” Mozart creates from his five instruments – violin melody, cello bass-line with frequent bouts of dialogue (as at the very opening, sometimes exchanging roles later on) while the other three chug away playing the inner harmonies; violins moving in pairs; violas moving in pairs and sometimes a dialogue between violin(s) and viola(s).

If you can't sit and listen to the whole piece and read the blog, though I'm loathe to suggest it, you can always let the video play in this window and open up the second post in another window and read along. At least this way you'll “hear” the music while you're “reading” about it which is better than just having it on in the background while you balance your checkbook or scroll through Facebook (oh, look, that's not a real puppy, is it?)...

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Schubert's Quintet is usually described by many musicians as “one of my favorite pieces” – whether it's a top 10 list or, as Peter Sirotin mentioned at the last concert, one of the Top 3. Certainly, it's one of mine, as well. If the “Great” C Major Symphony earned its nickname only because it's technically “ein grosse Symphonie” in the sense of being written for a larger than normal orchestra (which in the late-1820s meant “with trombones”) – people are usually disappointed to discover the origin of that nickname – one could call this quintet the “Sublime” Quintet because that is probably the most frequently heard adjective used to describe the slow movement.

While I'll write more about the historical and biographical background of the piece in a subsequent post, here's the Harlem Quartet (playing Strads for a Chamber of Congress concert) joined by New York Philharmonic principal cellist, Carter Brey:

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First Movement

Second Movement, Adagio

Third Movement, Scherzo

Fourth Movement, Finale

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Why did Schubert use two cellos instead of the usual two violas – especially if he was “inspired” by Mozart's quintet?

There's not much precedent for a quintet with two cellos – Boccherini wrote several but then he was a cellist and most of them are essentially little chamber concertos for a cello with the accompaniment of a string quartet. Also, Boccherini (who died in 1805) was well-known for his ability to play in the highest register of the instrument – so it was more a counterpart to the prominent, often concerto-like first violin part.

Whether Schubert knew the Boccherini Quintets, I don't know – I doubt they were very well known in Vienna (Boccherini lived in Madrid and Paris and performed for the cello-playing Prussian King in Berlin) and it's unlikely there were other cellists around at the time up to the mark to play them.

The best known cellists in Vienna then were the Krafts, father and son – Anton Kraft had been Haydn's principal cellist at Esterhazy (for whom Haydn composed at least his D Major concerto). Anton Kraft was the cellist in the first public performance of Mozart's Divertimento, the string trio K.563 from Summermusic's first concert and either Anton or his son Nikolaus played the first performances of Beethoven's Op. 9 trios in Vienna in 1798.

But we know that Josef Linke was the cellist who premiered both of  Schubert's piano trios - the E-flat trio at least three times after it was completed and once more at a memorial concert following Schubert's death later that year. Linke had long been a member of Schuppanzigh's quartet, premiering several Beethoven quartets and also the Op. 70 trios. Did Schubert have Linke in mind for some performance of this new quintet?

Whoever he wrote it for or whatever occasion it might have been composed for, Schubert's Quintet was never heard until 1850, some 22 years after his death, and it wasn't published until three years after that. So if there was a personnel consideration for including a second cellist, it did not help get the work performed shortly after it had been completed.

In terms of sonority, it certainly gives the ensemble a “bass-heavy” sound, darker that it would be with just one cello. It also gives Schubert another way of subdividing his instruments – remember how Mozart handled his quintet with layers of duos? – again with 1st violin and 1st cello paired melodically, while the 2nd violin and the viola fill in the harmony and the 2nd cello carries the harmonically important bass-line. But there are also violin duets and cello duets, making for a richer, deeper contrast.

Remember, Schubert was using Mozart's quintet not as something to imitate but as a starting point: if anything, it inspired Schubert to even greater heights.

Read the posts about the Mozart Quintet here... which also includes a link for the post on the Schubert Quintet.

- Dick Strawser

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summermusic 2014: Schumann's Piano Quintet, Up Close & Personal

The second program in this season's Summermusic with Market Square Concerts – Sunday at 4 at Market Square Church – features two works: Schubert's Piano Trio in E-flat and Schumann's Piano Quintet which is also in E-flat.

The performance of the Schumann will feature pianist Stuart Malina (a.k.a. Music director of the Harrisburg Symphony) joining violinists Peter Sirotin (a.k.a. Concertmaster of the Harrisburg Symphony but also artistic director of Market Square Concerts) and Leonid Ferents, violist Michael Stepniak and cellist Cheng-Hou Lee.

Sirotin, Ferents, Malina, Stepniak & Lee rehearse Schumann
 You may have heard Stepniak and Lee in the first concert of the series, Friday night's program of string trios by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, which you can read about, here.

This series of three concerts was inspired by the idea of what inspired these composers to the write these pieces: Mozart's string trio inspiring both Beethoven and Schubert; Schubert's Piano Trio inspiring Schumann when he later wrote this Piano Quintet; and, on the third concert - Wednesday at 6pm at Harrisburg's Civic Club - how a Mozart string quintet inspired Schubert when he wrote his own string quartet.

You can also read a few of my thoughts here about the importance of inspiration for a composer, looking especially at some influences on a composer familiar to the midstate, Jennifer Higdon.

The Schubert E-flat Piano Trio was one of Schumann's favorite pieces and he wrote about it in the music journal he founded. You can read more about his connections with Schubert and his music in this earlier post.

In this post, I thought I'd take you “up close and personal” with the piano quintet he wrote when he was 33, part of that productive summer of 1843 which also saw three string quartets and the piano quartet as well.

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Here is a video of the Schumann Piano Quintet (complete in one clip) with pianist Daniil Trifonov and the Ariel String Quartet at the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition (Tel Aviv) in 2011. The Ariel Quartet will be performing on Market Square Concert's first concert of the new season, September 27th!
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(Incidentally, Trifonov won the competition and also the special prize for "best chamber music performance")
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You could probably say Robert Schumann was the first blogger - at least about classical music. The magazine he started in 1834, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, literally the New Journal for Music, was mostly a new music journal dealing with issues of the day, published twice weekly with four two-column pages per issue. Rather than focusing on writing reviews (at least in the traditional sense), he wrote about issues and concerns in the music world, countering the Philistine influence of the day’s stuffier critics. He and his writers, otherwise lacking the internet since Al Gore hadn’t been invented yet, offered a great deal of commentary and opinion. Schumann even supplied a few short stories now and then, often satirical, like the thinly disguised attack on his then ex-girlfriend Clara Wieck and her new boyfriend, Carl Banck.

Among the 300 articles he wrote over a period of ten years were discussions on musical and literary aesthetics by his alter-egos, Florestan and Eusebius. It was here he published his famous articles announcing the arrival of such new talents as Chopin and Brahms. Considering what the role of criticism has been in the traditional world of newspapers (and at least those today that still have music critics on staff), that’s more the sort of thing you’d find in the blogosphere, isn’t it? Sort of.

Schumann may never really have intended to be a composer any more than most pianists in those days wrote music for themselves to play. He only seriously began focusing on composing after he had injured his hand with one of Friedrich Wieck’s mechanical contraptions designed to strengthen the weak 4th finger during hours spent practicing. If he couldn’t keep him from marrying his daughter, Wieck at least managed to, however inadvertently, ruin Schumann’s career as a performer, so in a perverse way we owe thanks to him for knowing Schumann today as a composer.

All the music Schumann published in the years before his marriage were for solo piano, much of it intended for Wieck’s best pupil, Clara. There were also things like the little piece based on the letters ASCH, transformed into a musical theme (S is the German equivalent of E-flat, and H is B-natural), which was the home town of another piano student, Ernestine von Fricken, to whom he became secretly engaged while on the outs with Clara. This became a section of the suite Carnaval. A rather morose march by her father became the basis of the Symphonic Etudes which are really a set of variations (and even though Symphonic Etudes may be a slightly misleading title, it beats being known as the Fricken Variations). By the way, the engagement was broken off when Schumann and Clara got back together and when Schumann realized Ernestine was officially illegitimate (not that he was making much headway with this girl’s father, either).

Clara & Robert Schumann, 1850
After he and Clara were able to overcome the various legal hurdles her father put in their way, they were married in 1840, the day before her 21st birthday. So it’s rather surprising that he suddenly started composing other things than just piano music but all in concentrated bouts of feverish creativity – 1840 was a year of songs, followed by one of symphonies. And the next year, chamber music.

In his day, Schumann was probably better known as a writer about music than a composer of music. Actually, he was probably better known as Mr. Clara Schumann, trailing along on her fame to appear at her performances when she’d play some of his music. It was after one such tour resulted in a rather severe bout of depression that he composed his Piano Quintet. And also three string quartets and a piano quartet, all in about six months’ time, swinging from depression to a productive “manic” phase.

They had gone off together for a tour across northern Germany when it really hit him, this being in the shadow of his wife, so after a month he returned to Leipzig and his journal while Clara went on to Copenhagen without him. During her month-long absence, he studied fugue and counterpoint (again) and examined quartets by Mozart and Haydn, then later those by Beethoven. And he also drank a lot, slipping into a period of depression during which Old Wieck managed to spread the rumor that they’d separated and were heading for a divorce. Thoughts of a tour of America were shelved when Clara returned in April.

By June 2nd, he was sketching “quartet essays” and two days later began the 1st String Quartet. On the 11th, he began the 2nd Quartet even before the first one was finished. In between the 2nd and the 3rd Quartet, not begun until July 8th, he wrote a scathing article about Clara’s ex-boyfriend Carl Banck and his new composition (it was so nasty, Schumann did not include it later when he re-published most of his articles) and also ended up in a libel case which netted him a 6-day jail sentence which was commuted to “a five thaler fine” (whatever a thaler was worth, then, but an 1841 thaler recently sold on E-bay for $270). The 3rd Quartet was finished on July 22nd, seven weeks after he’d begun work on the first.

During August, there was a bit of a summer vacation - I should mention, without getting too personal, the Schumann’s second child was born nine months later - then back to Leipzig for rehearsals of the three quartets in early September. On the 23rd, then, he began work on the Piano Quintet which, after sketching it out in just five days, he completed on October 12th, 19 days after he started. Twelve days after that, he began the Piano Quartet which he finished in a month. In the next month, he also composed a piano trio which he later recast as the Phantasiestücke (Op. 88) and a work for two pianos, two cellos and horn that later became a set of variations for two pianos (Op. 46).

All of that in seven months! 

One of the curious things that most people forget today is that, before Schumann’s, there were no famous Piano Quintets. To Schumann’s, we would add those by Brahms and Dvořák, both famous (and equally over-played) but both later, as would be the less-well-known one by Cesar Franck and the most famous 20th Century one by Shostakovich. But when I mean “over-played,” it’s only because – how many masterpieces can a pianist and a string quartet, combining for a performance, play? There are no Piano Quintets by Mozart or Beethoven, though they wrote piano quartets, much less by their also-rans. Except for one by Prince Louis Ferdinand, who published one in 1803.

Also-ran he may be, but this prince, a nephew of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (a great general and talented if not so great composer himself), played the piano “not like a prince but like a real pianist,” according to Beethoven (who dedicated his C Minor Piano Concerto to him). The Grove Dictionary entry for “piano quintet” indicates he was a student of Beethoven’s, but the dictionary’s biographical entry on the prince does not mention that fact.

Prince Louis was also considered a brilliant soldier, dying on a Napoleonic battlefield in 1806 about a month before his 34th birthday, killed by a French soldier after he refused to surrender. He wrote thirteen published works, his Piano Quintet in C Minor being his Opus 1, his only work published in his lifetime. There are three piano trios and two piano quartets, as well.

I suppose you could ask, since Schumann knew Prince Louis’ quintet and one could imagine him thinking “here’s a good idea that’s never caught on – take a string quartet and add a pianist,” what prompted Prince Louis to write one?

There are, basically, other works for keyboard and four string players – those by Padre Antonio Soler were intended for the organ, and those by J.C. Bach included the fortepiano or harpsichord more in its role of continuo, the traditional baroque duty of supplying the “harmonic filler” between the melody line and the bass line.

It was also the tradition, in the days before radios, television and stereos when people provided their own entertainment at home, that publishers made piano concertos available to the amateur public. Rather than deal with an orchestra (even the much smaller sized ones in Mozart’s day than the one we think of today), the orchestral part was either arranged or written for three or four string players. The piano here is purely a soloist and not, in the standard sense of chamber music, an equal partner to the strings.

Yes, while Mozart wrote two piano quartets with strings, he did write a quintet for piano and winds (not surprising, since he was delighted with the great wind players he found in Vienna), a work which Beethoven thought so highly of, he imitated it in one, himself. But Beethoven’s publisher also realized there were few opportunities for performances, given the number of wind players as opposed to the number of string players around, so he suggested Beethoven also arrange the work for strings and get more mileage out of it. But curiously, rather than arrange it for four strings, one to each wind part, he reworked it into the more standard format of piano quartet. Perhaps if he had decided on a string quintet, he might have written the first Piano Quintet and decided it was really a good medium and written an original one or two. And others may have come along and done the same. But, alas... another chapter in the great game of “What If...”

By the way, a “Piano Quintet” really means a piano with four other players, though it’s usually defined as a piano plus a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) – or if you’re a string player, a string quartet plus a piano (since it’s more likely you’ll find a pianist being added to a string quartet program than vice-versa). To distinguish them, the two works with winds I mentioned by Mozart and Beethoven are called “Quintets for Piano & Winds.” And since the Trout Quintet by Franz Schubert uses one violin, viola and cello, then adds a double bass, it’s technically not a “piano quintet.” Fortunately, it can just be called the Trout Quintet on the fly rather than the official “Quintet in A Major for Piano & Strings.” But that’s another topic...

Dick Strawser
(reprinted largely from an earlier post in 2008)

Summermusic 2014: Schumann and Schubert's Piano Trio

Sirotin, Chang & Lee
The second performance of this season's Summermusic programs is Sunday afternoon at 4pm at Market Square Church and consists of two works – another work by Franz Schubert, whose String Trio of 1816 was included in Friday night's concert, and the only appearance in this series by Robert Schumann who, as a young man, was much attracted to Schubert's music at a time when it was not well known.

Ya-Ting Chang will be the pianist, joining Peter Sirotin and Cheng-Hou Lee for the Schubert Piano Trio. Stuart Malina will be the pianist, adding violinist Leonid Ferents and violist Michael Stepniak to the mix, for the Schumann Quintet.

(You can read my post about the Schumann, here, as well as earlier posts about the program of string trios by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, here.)

Schubert in 1827
Schubert's Piano Trio in E-flat was written in 1827 in the months following Beethoven's death; Schumann's Piano Quintet, also in E-flat, was only part of an amazing concentration of works composed in the “Chamber Music Year” of 1843.

Schubert was not yet 31; Schumann was 33.

Schubert would die the following year; Schumann attempted suicide when he was 43 and would die alone in an asylum not long after his 46th birthday.

When Schumann was a 16-year-old law student in Leipzig, he had discovered Schubert's music and would improvise every day and even began composing a piano concerto in F minor. The following year, he noted he was probably more enthusiastic about Schubert's music than Beethoven's, and even wrote Schubert a fan letter (“not sent”).

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Pianist Dmitri Vinnik, violinist Sviatoslav Moroz, and the legendary cellist Natalia Gutman perform the 1st Movement of Schubert's Trio in E-flat, recorded in the Kremlin in 2009:

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Schumann as a boy
In mid-August of 1828 – during the time Schubert was beginning the C Major Quintet and finishing a number of songs which would become Schwannengesang – Schumann, now 18, wrote about Schubert's “Wanderer Fantasy” (D. 760, November 1822) that “Schubert would like, in this work, to condense the whole orchestra into two hands, and the enthusiastic beginning is a seraphic hymn to the Godhead; you see the angels pray; the Adagio is a gentle meditation on life and takes the veil from off it; then [in the finale] fugues thunder forth a song of endless humanity and music.”

Despite promising his mother he would focus on his law studies, he improvised or composed every day and rarely (if ever) attended any lectures. That autumn, he began taking piano lessons with Friederich Wieck who had a daughter named Clara.

When he learned of Schubert's death that November, a friend noted that Schumann's sobbing could be heard throughout the night.

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Vinnik, Moroz and Gutman continue with the 2nd Movement of Schubert's Piano Trio in E-flat:

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He started the next year by beginning a “Schubertian” Piano Quartet in C Minor (which he called his Op. 5 though in fact it would never be published).

Then Schumann essentially “transferred” to another law university – this time in Heidelberg – where he continued to study music on his own, writing to Wieck that he was working on a Hummel sonata and asking him to send him all of the two-hand waltzes by Schubert he could find (“there are 10-12 sets of them,” he suggested).

In April the following year, having begun (but never finished) several symphonies, he also composed a series of waltzes clearly inspired by Schubert's.

Schumann's father, who'd died in 1826, had been a book-seller and publisher (as well as an author) and of all the major composers, Schumann was always the most literary-minded. In 1831, he began fashioning ideas for a novel of his own called Die Wunderkinder (“The Prodigies”) with characters like “Zilia” (based on Clara Wieck), her teacher “Master Raro” (on her father, Friederich Wieck) with himself as “Florestan the improviser” and in which Paganini (under a pseudonym) would play a major role.

He also began a series of “Sehnsucht” Waltzes initially called “Variations on a theme by Schubert” which he never finished but which supplied the opening material for “Carnival” which he began in 1833, finished two years later and published in 1837.

Meanwhile, there were more connections made with Schubert's music.

In 1836, he and Mendelssohn were listening to Schubert's “Hungarian Divertissement” for piano duet (D.818) when Mendelssohn “stamped his feet impatiently” at the repetitions. This was one of the few instrumental works of Schubert's available then, a piece which gave rise to numerous negative reactions to his music. An uneven work, it was only intended as an evening's entertainment for the daughters of his summer employer, Count Esterhazy at Zseliz in Hungary, a poor relation of the Princes who graced Haydn's life in earlier generations. It is hardly a masterpiece but it met the publisher's needs for the amateur market and for it, Schubert received 300 florins.

(Not sure by which currency standard this was as in 1811, during the French wars and the bankruptcy of the Austrian state, there was a currency devaluation that wreaked havoc on Beethoven precarious financial state, on his benefactors and the stipend three of them had guaranteed him: if these are “old” florins, it would be almost as much money as he earned from his benefit concert in March, 1828 – 320 florins – which made him feel quite flush, for a change.)

This would be like a future generation judging Beethoven, ignorant of everything else he had composed, solely on one work, Wellington's Victory (which also, by the way, made Beethoven feel quite flush, for a change, as well, following the recent financial devaluations).

Then in 1838: the Grand Duo, the name given the Sonata in C for Piano Duet (D.812, June 1824, in Zseliz), was published (and re-titled) by Diabelli  – “Sonata” being an unwelcome term in Vienna by then, scaring away the amateur market as being too learned, technical and old-fashioned – which the publisher dedicated to the pianist Clara Wieck (not yet Mrs. Schumann) and which prompted Schumann to see in it a “hidden symphony” (he would later call Brahms' first piano sonatas “veiled symphonies”). He was convinced it was Schubert's lost symphony from Gmunden-Gastein (which was probably the first sketches for the Great C Major Symphony which he returned to by March 1828 and completed that summer). Subsequently, Diabelli gave Clara the original MS which clearly indicated it was a duet sonata for piano four-hands but that didn't stop Schumann from thinking that Schubert still thought of it “in his own mind” as a symphony!

Schumann in 1839
By the time Diabelli finally decided to bring out Schubert's last three piano sonatas – all written one after the other in September, 1828 (these three incredible masterpieces all written in less than one month!) – ten years had passed (even though they'd been engraved as early as 1831) and Schubert's intended dedicatee, Johann Nepomuck Hummel (a piano student of Mozart's and the greatest pianist of the age), had died. So instead, Diabelli published them with a dedication to Robert Schumann.

This was probably more a marketing if not political move than an artistic one, given Schumann the influential critic and Schubert fan who would no doubt write favorably about them and boost their sales: otherwise, there wasn't much call for a largely unknown composer's virtuosic sonatas among the amateur market.

Also in 1838, Schumann wrote about the Piano Trio in E-flat (D.929, Op.100) in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (or the New Journal for Music): “It is about ten years since a trio by Schubert passed, like the portent of a stormy sky, over the disturbances of the contemporary musical scene.” This trio he finds “more stirring, virile and dramatic” than the B-flat Trio: in the E-flat Trio's 1st movement he saw a “deep indignation and a limitless nostalgia;” in the Andante with its march-like accompaniment and aching cello melody at the opening, there were “sighs that would rise and spread until they swell into the heart's anguish.” He felt Schubert was at his finest in the finale.

(Remember that: I'll get back to this, later...)

While I've not been able to find the original article, the biographer who quoted this tidbit didn't mention the scherzo which, again very Haydnesque, is built on a sprightly canonic theme, not that one would normally associate canons with sprightliness, something that would have been one of Papa Haydn's little jokes, too.

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The Beaux Arts Trio - Menaham Pressler, Daniel Guilet, Bernard Greenhouse - with the 3rd Movement of Schubert's E-flat Piano Trio:

(the illustration for these last two clips is an illustration inspired by the collection of folk tales known as Des Knabens Wunderhorn or 'The Youth's Magic Horn' - it's by Moritz von Schwind, a close friend of Schubert's)
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When Schumann was in Vienna in 1839, he made a point of finding Schubert's older brother, Ferdinand, usually described as a teacher and amateur violinist who looked after his little brother throughout his life, but especially in his final illness. Shortly after Franz's death, Ferdinand tried to locate as many of the manuscripts that his brother had left in other locations – with his friend (and frequent roommate) Franz Schober, with other members of the family and from the home they'd grown up in. Realizing Schumann was the great music critic who'd written glowingly about Franz's music, Ferdinand gave Schumann a box of manuscripts which included, among other things, the “Great” C Major Symphony which Mendelssohn then premiered the following year (players objected to the great length and especially the tiring repetitions in the finale).

(Again, remember this, as well...)

As a composer, then, these are just some of the connections between Robert Schumann and the music of Franz Schubert. Whatever inspired Schumann to compose and however he developed his own voice, Schubert was one of his “favorite composers” and had a direct influence on several of Schumann's early works.

We don't need to fast-forward much, now – to 1843 when Robert has finally been able to marry Clara (that in itself is worth a novel) and he has decided to write some chamber music.

I've written about that amazing summer when Schumann wrote three string quartets one after the other, followed by the Piano Quintet and the Piano Quartet (both in E-flat), all within the space of a few months – you can read a separate post about it, here.

Suffice it to say, Schumann who was considered “manic-depressive” when that term was in vogue – for that matter, the term might also apply to Schubert following his first bout with syphilis in 1825 (around the time he was working on the B Minor Symphony and the “Wanderer Fantasy,” speaking of material for a novel) and he had been experiencing another severe bout of depression when he'd completed this Trio and resumed work on his song cycle, Winterreise. Anyway, Schumann set about preparing for his own string quartets while in one of his "up" periods by studying the quartets of Mozart and Haydn. But was Schubert's music far from his mind? It's quite likely echoes of at least the E-flat Trio could still be buzzing around in his head, more than just the coincidence of the Piano Quartet and Quintet being in the same key.

Listening to these pieces today, I cannot help but think of Schumann the 33-year-old composer who'd written a fan letter to Franz Schubert when he was 18 but which he never sent... He, like many of us in similar situations, might have assumed there would be plenty of time to get in touch with his favorite composer in the future: after all, the man was only 31...

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Remember what I'd said earlier about Schubert's long-windedness (something he and I have in common)?

Even friends of Schubert thought the E-flat Trio's finale was too long, too repetitive, too diffuse.

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The Beaux Arts Trio plays the finale from Schubert's Trio in E-flat (I'm not sure which edition they're using but it feels like the original...)

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“The finale, however, is the weakest movement” was a comment frequently lodged at Schubert's large-scale works, from piano sonatas to symphonies. Was he conscious his finales were “weak”? He was clearly trying to expand the form along the lines of Beethoven just as Beethoven himself was expanding his ideas on form and content with what we call the “Late Period” which began around 1818.

But if so many people thought that at the time, how did Schumann think otherwise?

In most of the “classical era” (the time of Mozart and Haydn as well as early-Beethoven and Schubert), the original idea of a symphony was a sonata movement to begin (usually with a slow introduction), the clear weight of the entire work resting in the intellectual drama of its structure (the material's exposition, development and its resolution in the recapitulation) followed by a slow movement followed by a light-hearted dance movement, a courtly minuet befitting the aristocratic audience for whom these works were composed, in the days before public concerts and which Beethoven replaced with a more down-to-earth scherzo, literally a “joke,” which would be more appealing to the middle-class concert-goer. As slow introductions became less common, the feeling grew that the form needed a more conclusive finale: Haydn added a rondo, still on the lighter side, to conclude. For some reason, Mozart, in writing his last symphony, the “Jupiter,” wrote a finale of intellectual virtuosity that still maintains the high spirits felt necessary for a “happy ending.”

Beethoven, certainly, changed that as he expanded his movements in the first place, especially the finale and specifically with his Third Symphony, the Eroica – the Harrisburg Symphony plays this at their first concert in the newly renovated Forum this fall – and then used the finale to resolve the drama of the first movement in his 5th. Certainly, by the time he got to his 9th Symphony, the massive “Choral” Symphony, in 1825, the finale was the clear goal of the entire piece, even though he had no idea what shape and scope his finale would take when he began work on the opening movement!

Schubert was still in the more Haydn-like mode of an entertaining, light finale often using child-like themes not unlike some of Mozart's last piano concertos – and the Divertimento in E-flat heard Friday night, also. After a dancing third movement (either minuet or scherzo) with a middle trio which often included some of Schubert's most pristine if not sublime moments, his finales were usually Haydn-like rondos that seemed to go on forever with more and more episodes going further and further afield, tonally. And they're also beastly difficult to make sound compelling enough to listen to: I've heard too many performances where it was just “I don't know what's going on here, but let's try to have fun, shall we?”

Only Michael Brown's performance of Schubert's D Major Sonata (D. 850 of 1825) captured (for me) the intimacy and playfulness – and above all the commitment – that made this music compelling and worth listening to. (You can read my comments about that Market Square Performance, here.) If he can do it, why can't other performers? Well, that's what interpretation is all about (ah, sweet mystery of art...).

But that is not something that Schubert should be blamed for, just because we now think the symphony or the sonata is what Brahms and later composers made of Beethoven's model.

Still, in comparison to those first two movements, the last two movements of almost any large-scale Schubert work might seem – in our hindsight – less significant, less intense, even inferior.

Schumann wrote of Schubert's “heavenly lengths” – his reaction to the repetition of Schubert's themes and especially the long, often rambling finales – considering most Germans took issue with these last movements. It might be comparable to people nowadays having issues with minimalism... Certainly in the 19th Century, it went against the general Romantic grid whether it's Mendelssohn's or Wagner's. When Mendelssohn took the “Great” C Major Symphony to London, the orchestra rebelled and refused to play it, as well, and so Mendelssohn retaliated by taking his own eagerly-anticipated music off the program.

So, here was Schubert planning to use one of these two piano trios he had recently completed – we assume the B-flat was written first (even Schubert suggested Op.99 for the B-flat and Op.100 for the E-flat despite when they were actually published years following his death) – and being told by his friends the last movement was too long (something people sometimes tell me about my blog posts, by the way). They'd now had a chance to hear the E-flat Trio twice, once at a December concert at the Musikverein (which for all its high-sounding German means only “Music Club”) and again at a party celebrating his friend Spaun's engagement to be married.

On top of that, his violinist friend Josef Slawjk had recently premiered his new “Fantasy in C” for violin and piano (D. 934) which also went on “forever” and at the end of an already long program, several people walked out of the hall. It turns out Slawjk's technique wasn't up to the piece and it was probably not being well played (frankly, I have heard few performances that kept my interest – even great musicians like Isaac Stern – and more than one violinist friend of mine refuse to play the piece).

Whether it was Slawjk's fault or the composer's, Schubert wanted to avoid having people walking out of his own concert, so he agreed to make cuts. Most sources say he cut 99 measures, others less. The problem comes when Probst of Leipzig published the parts (but not the score) with Schubert's cuts – and still people thought it too long – and then, in 1886, another publisher issued the score with most of the cuts restored. Apparently it was years later when Schubert's original intentions were finally published.

So, apparently, Schumann knew this long finale from the “cut version,” not the original version we're more familiar with today.

But even so, this creates nightmares when gathering musicians together to perform the piece. Peter Sirotin and Ya-Ting Chang, as members of the Mendelssohn Trio, used the “complete” edition, but when inviting Cheng-Hou Lee to join them for this performance, they discovered he uses one of the “not-quite complete” editions which makes it almost like learning a new piece since one player is used to this passage leading to that passage but, wait a minute, what's this?

Chamber Music, you see, is not all fun and games...

And by the way, I made several cuts to the first draft of this post – over 1,000 words – so, there...

Dick Strawser