Monday, July 25, 2022

Summermusic's Conclusion: Two Guitars on a Summer Night (Indoors)

Well, at least two guitarists... (Who knows how many guitars will be involved in this program?)

The last of this summer's programs with Market Square Concerts' Summermusic series takes place Tuesday night at 7:30 at St. Michael Lutheran Church on the 1st block of State Street in downtown Harrisburg, right in front of the Capitol. The varied program will take you through the Baroque to the Present Day, all the way from Italy to Spain but by way of France, Germany, the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Iceland, and Japan! 

Our performers call themselves Linü - or at least half of them do. This is a guitar duo consisting of South Korean guitarist JiJi and Icelandic guitarist and composer Gulli Björnsson but Mr. Björnsson was unable to make the trip to Harrisburg and so JiJi called upon Brooklyn-based guitarist Neil Beckmann to fill in (this happens often enough in the wider touring world of Classical Music even without a pandemic). Neil, in addition to being a guitarist and teacher, is also an "instrument builder" and "an arts worker interested in creating an expansive life in music for himself and others." An internationally acclaimed performer and a teacher as well, JiJi admits to enjoying cooking in her spare time and "creating weird sounds on Ableton."

"Performing on both classical and electric guitars, their classical training and contemporary influences all come to fruition as they present unique programs of classical music, improvisations, arrangements and new compositions."

Once again, I bow to the performer's own program notes to explain the ideas behind the program: 

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Antonio Vivaldi - Prelude & Corrente, RV64 - Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), born on March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy, was a prolific composer who created works in the hundreds. He became renowned for his concertos in Baroque style, becoming a highly influential innovator in form and pattern. Vivaldi sought religious training on top of musical instruction. At the age of fifteen he began studying to become a priest and was ordained in 1703. Due to his red hair, Vivaldi was known locally as "il Prete Rosso," or "the Red Priest." Vivaldi's career in the clergy was short-lived. Health problems prevented him from delivering Mass and drove him to abandon the priesthood shortly after his ordination. The Prelude and Corrente is from a set of sonatas for two violins and basoon [sic] continuo written in 1705.

J. S. Bach - Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, “Air on a G String” - J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) famous “Air on a G String” originates from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Orchestral suites, or Overtures, as they were often called, were immensely popular in Germany during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. The Air (for strings alone, as it was originally composed) features a “walking bass line” that keeps the momentum from being slowed by the subtle interweaving of inner lines. This is one of the most famous movements in all of Bach’s compositions. It achieved bon-bon status thanks to the violinist August Wilhelmj, who, in 1871, published it in an arrangement for solo violin under the title “Air on the G String” (since his transcription was meant to be rendered entirely on the violin’s lowest string).

Jean-Philippe Rameau - Suite in D major, RCT 3 8: Les Cyclopes (Rondeau) - Jean-Philippe Rameau (baptized September 25, 1683, Dijon, France—died September 12, 1764, Paris) was a leading French composer of his time that made tremendous contribution to the field of musical theory and particularly, Baroque compositions. Rameau spent the initial part of his life as a professional organist in Clermont Cathedral. In the early 1720’s, he moved to Paris where he composed and published many of his famous harpsichord pieces that went on to become legendary. He wrote three books of Pièces de clavecin for the harpsichord. The first, Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin, was published in 1706; the second, Pièces de Clavessin, in 1724; and the third, Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin, in 1726 or 1727. Les Cyclopes (Rondeau) is from the 2nd Pièces de Clavessin, written in 1724.

[French-American harpsichordist Justin Taylor performs Rameau's original version.]


Heitor Villa-Lobos - Cadenza: Quasi allegro – Andante – Quasi allegro – Poco moderato (from Guitar Concerto, W501) - Heitor Villa-Lobos (born March 5, 1887, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—died November 17, 1959, Rio de Janeiro) was a Brazilian composer and one of the foremost Latin American composers of the 20th century, whose music combines indigenous melodic and rhythmic elements with Western classical music. Besides being a composer he was a skilled conductor, cellist, pianist, and guitarist and has been described as "the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music". The Guitar Concerto, W501 Cadenza is in four unmetered sections with different tempo markings (Quasi allegro – Andante – Quasi allegro – Poco moderato) and is so substantial in length that it functions as a separate movement and even as a solo guitar piece.

Philip Glass – Mad Rush - Philip Glass, (born January 31, 1937, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.), is an American composer of innovative instrumental, vocal, and operatic music. After studying composition at the Juilliard School of Music and in Paris, under Nadia Boulanger, he became acquainted with the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar who decisively affected Glass’s compositional style. He began creating ensemble pieces in a monotonous and repetitive style. These works consisted of a series of syncopated rhythms ingeniously contracted or extended within a stable diatonic structure, now referred to as a kind of minimalist music. Mad Rush was written to honor the occasion of the Dalai Lama visiting North America in 1979. The opening three-voiced texture emphasizes two-note patterns playing against each other through a “two-against-three” polyrhythm. It is contrasted by a four-bar idea of rapid 16th notes that add two extra beats during the fourth bar.

[JiJi and Gulli Bjornsson perform Mad Rush.]  

Astor Piazzolla – Libertango - Another student of Nadia Boulanger, Astor Piazzolla (in full Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla) was born on March 11th, 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and died on July 4th, 1992 in Buenos Aires. He was an Argentine musician and a virtuoso on the bandoneón (a square-built button accordion). Having won a composing contest with his symphonic piece Buenos Aires (1951), he went to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. She urged him to remain true to himself and to continue his experiments with the tango. Henceforth he combined his two musical passions, despite much criticism from tango traditionalists. Libertango is a composition from 1974 and marks a change in style for Piazzolla from classical tango to nuevo tango. He revolutionized tango music, by breaking the rules of traditional tango and fusing together elements of jazz and classical music into his tango compositions. He freed his country’s iconic music and dance form from the socially defined context of its origins and brought it to international concert halls. Perhaps it is best described by this short quote from the composer himself: “Libertango stands for the freedom which I allow for my musicians. Their limits are defined solely by the extent of their own capabilities and not through any exterior pressure.”

Gulli Björnsson – Bergmál - [Gulli Björnsson is 'a guitarist, composer and programmer from Iceland whose music typically ties electronics, live instruments and visuals to experiences in nature. His music has been described as “hypnotic” (News Gazette) “a knockout – wondrously inventive” (Soundboard Magazine) and “Virtuosic, modern, occasionally discordant, but still accessible” (Classical Guitar Magazine).' The composer writes,] “My composition Bergmál, Icelandic for echo (direct translation, “Rock-Language”) is a piece that I have recomposed for many different instruments and it is the only composition of mine I have treated this way. As a composer I am interested in the idea of looping and Bergmál is a great example of that. The core of the piece is 18 bars of counterpoint. The counterpoint is based on 4 melodic (horizontal) ostinatos (a continually repeated musical phrase) with fixed rhythm that loop continuously against each other. By looping these ostinatos, that are all of different lengths, and letting them clash against each other they create a surprisingly rich harmonic (vertical) matrix of chords that keep evolving, despite being fundamentally very repetitive. Bergmál is in two movements; the first movement is clear while the 2nd movement is blurry.”

[Listen to the Aizuri Quartet playing the version for “string quartet and mix-patch.” Notes provided with the video mention “About the audio effects: The string quartet is live processed through a max-patch. In the first movement it is subtle, with a reverb creeping in while the second movement is more wild using poly-rhythmic delay, reverb and a harmonizer.”]

Isaac Albeniz - Asturias - Isaac Albéniz, (born May 29, 1860, Camprodón, Spain—died May 18, 1909, Cambo-les-Bains, France) was a composer and virtuoso pianist and a leader of the Spanish nationalist school of musicians. Albéniz was a piano prodigy who studied with Felipe Pedrell, father of the nationalist movement in Spanish music, Vincent d'Indy and Paul Dukas. Albéniz’s fame rests chiefly on his piano pieces, which utilize the melodic styles, rhythms, and harmonies of Spanish folk music. Among his most notable works are Iberia and the Suite Española which contains the infamous Asturias. The piece, which lasts around six minutes in performance, was originally writtenfor the piano in G minor. The first guitar transcription of thepiece was probably by Severino García Fortea, although Andrés Segovia transcription is the most famous and influential. Robbie Krieger of The Doors famously reworked the melody from this classical piece in Spanish Caravan that features on their 1968 album Waiting For The Sun. [Listen here to Francisco Fullana playing an arrangement for solo violin.]

Claude Debussy - Suite Bergamasque: IV. Passepied (Gieseking) - Claude Debussy (born August 22, 1862, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France—died March 25, 1918, Paris) was a French composer whose works were a seminal force in the music of the 20th century. He developed a highly original system of harmony and musical structure that expressed in many respects the ideals to which the Impressionist and Symbolist painters and writers of his time aspired. The Passepied is the last movement of the solo piano suite: Suite Bergamasque. Although Gulli’s arrangement stems from the original solo piano composition, he was inspired to arrange it after listening to the brilliant arrangement of Passapied by the American Modern-classical bluegrass band Punch Brothers.

Lili Boulanger – Prélude en Ré - Lili Boulanger (Marie-Juliette Olga Boulanger) was born into a musical family and a sister to Nadia Boulanger. Lili, as she was called, suffered from chronic illness; beginning with a case of bronchial pneumonia at age two that weakened her immune system, leading to the "intestinal tuberculosis" that tragically ended her life at the age of 24. She was the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. The Prelude in D Flat is originally for solo piano and was composed in 1911, one of Lili Boulanger’s earliest compositions. The arrangement by Jiji for two guitars is a world premiere.

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - Ryuichi Sakamoto is a Japanese composer, singer, songwriter, record producer, activist, and actor who has pursued a diverse range of styles as a solo artist and pioneered a number of electronic music genres. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a 1983 British-Japanese war film directed by Nagisa Oshima starring David Bowie. The film marked Sakamoto’s debut as an actor and a film-score composer; its main theme (which we are performing in an arrangement by Jiji) became an international hit. The film is based on Sir Laurens van der Post's experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II as depicted in his books The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970). Sakamoto's score won a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music in 1983.

Manuel de Falla - Spanish Dance No. 1, “La Vida da Breve” - Manuel de Falla (born November 23, 1876, Cádiz, Spain—died November 14, 1946, Alta Gracia, Argentina) is perhaps the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. Falla took piano lessons from his mother and in 1905 he moved to Paris, where he met Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, and Maurice Ravel. Subsequently Falla won two prizes, one for piano playing and the other for a national opera, La Vida Breve (first performed in Nice, France, 1913). The critics raved! Among the opera’s most popular numbers is “Spanish Dance No. 1,” a lively jota, which has since been arranged for a plethora of instrumental combinations, including two guitars. In the opera, the dance is performed as part of the betrothal celebration for Paco and Carmela, the girl of his own class that he must marry instead of his beloved Salud, a Gypsy maiden. 


Notes by JiJi

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Summermusic #2: Ode to an Earworm

When you see Saturday night's concert of MSC's Summermusic 2022 at St. Michael Lutheran Church on State Street is called “ODE TO AN EARWORM” and features Tabea Debus, recorder, and Paul Holmes Morton, theorbo & guitar, a few questions might run through your mind.

“Isn't a recorder one of those things I was subjected to in elementary school?”

“I know what a guitar is, but what's a theorbo?”

Not to mention, “How can you build an entire program around something like the theme from 'Gilligan's Island'?”

Just like the piano lessons many of us may have taken when our legs couldn't quite reach the pedals, the recorder was something music teachers used to introduce many of their students to the basics of making music. It was more accessible and less complicated than a piano and it was cheaper, easier to obtain results, and far more merciful (at least to the parents) than a violin.

And just as there's a long way between “Chopsticks” and Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto, there's also a long way between toddlers toodling on a plastic recorder and a concert artist like Tabea Debus playing an instrument that was the predecessor of the flute before the early-18th Century.

Here she is, playing two short selections: the first one is a fantasy by Baroque composer Georg Phillip Telemann and a more modern work from 2017 by British composer Dani Howard called “2½ Minutes to Midnight.” 

The Recorder Family

You'll also notice these are not the same instrument though both are recorders. Like many instrumental groups, they come in assorted shapes and sizes, and, more importantly, ranges: the smallest are the equivalent of a piccolo, the highest of the flutes, and the largest are the deepest of the family, the equivalent of a bassoon.

Going back to the 14th Century (if not before), the recorder (generically) was the standard instrument before the modern flute came along and began replacing it in the early-1700s, analogous to earlier stringed instruments, the viols, being replaced by modern violins around the same time. Since recorders were also called “flutes,” the confusion between the old and the new meant the modern flute was called the transverse flute.

(We don't need to get into that in any more detail, here – that and how the different recorders were voiced, like singers, as soprano/alto/tenor/bass and how they were pitched in different keys, like clarinets and saxophones, because then I should also try to explain the “tablature notation” used by lute players in the Renaissance and nobody in their right minds wants to go there...)

Which brings me to the guitar and its family of instruments. Here, it's often a national identity: yes, the guitar is the most familiar of these plucked-string instruments, but there are also banjos, vihuelas, ukeleles, balalaikas, and, neither least nor last, the lutes, among numerous others. Essentially, the guitar instruments originally were the popular music's instrument, and the lute, starting even before the 11th Century troubadours and going through the Baroque.

Which brings me finally to, specifically, the theorbo

Basically, it's a bass lute that was primarily used in the Baroque era to play the “continuo,” that curious combination of (usually) harpsichord and cello playing the harmony in an ensemble with the cello emphasizing the bass-line of the chords. The idea was “one instrument to play harmony (chords), usually a keyboard, plus one melodic instrument (like cello, bass, or bassoon) to play the bass-line.” But guitars and lutes can play chords, too, and depending on the situation, a composer wouldn't specify which instruments were to play the part: in a church, they'd use an organ; depending on the acoustics, they might prefer a bass viol (string bass) or bassoon. In an opera, it wasn't unusual to have several different instruments to be used in different combinations to create a variety of sounds.

All that aside, here's Paul Morton playing a theorbo in a dance by French baroque composer Charles Hurel which is on Saturday night's program: If you're wondering if he has a bionic arm extension to play to the end of that fingerboard, you'll need to come to the concert and see for yourself. (I imagine the first several lessons on the theorbo are about how to carry it without knocking everybody over...)

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Usually when I write posts for the blog, I take you “behind-the-scenes” with the music and how the works fit into the composers' lives and they times they lived in – and with any luck what connections might be made between them. In this case, that's not going to be very helpful, being a “concept” program in which the connections are in the selections and the individual biographies are less significant.

Given that, there's no point my reinventing the worm so I will quote from Tabea Debus' program notes as she delves into what was in her mind when she created this program.

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Ohrwurm explores how tunes and dances wormed their way into
many aspects of music-making in 17th and 18th century Europe –
and, in traversing the centuries, contemporary compositions testify
to the earworm’s secured place in modern life.

Writing in 1668, Samuel Pepys describes something that we all know too well, the tendency for music to “get stuck” in our minds: “I was unable to think of anything, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musick hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me.”

Such tunes, so-called “earworms,” are known to most of us. They go round and round in our heads; sometimes we can literally feel them burrowing deeper and deeper as if our minds were made of soil. And while this might suggest some sort of transhistorical closeness to Pepys, the concept of earworms can perhaps freshly illuminate our understanding of music publishing, memory and repetitive musical structures in a historical period far from our own.

In other words, what are the traces of earworms in musical practices? This programme explores how tunes and dances wormed their way into many aspects of music-making in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe.

Music manuscripts from the seventeenth century suggest that regular exposure to songs and dances made some of them “stick.” Perhaps it was not only the minds of listeners in which music got stuck, but also their dancing limbs. In the absence of sung text, the repetition of an ostinato bass line, harmonic progression or melodic pattern in works such as the Ciaconna, the Spagnoletta or Diego Ortiz’s Recercadas sobre tenores Italianos imbued music with a mesmerizing rhythmic quality that almost seemed to possess the bodies of performers and listeners.

This is still apparent even when a composition is only loosely based on a dance, a fusion of different styles, or deviates from the original steps. For instance, in his La suave melodia, y su Corrente, the maestro di cappella in Naples Andrea Falconieri turns a “sweet” air into a dance whilst keeping melody and harmony unchanged. In La Monarcha a change of character is brought about by a shift in 16 pulse. Falconieri’s tunes are paired with works for solo theorbo by his contemporary Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, an ambassador of virtuosic music for plucked instruments.

In some cases, it was the combination of melody and text that caused music to stick in minds. Songs resurface throughout Renaissance music compilations with adapted or translated texts, as well as lines of added ornamentation. This layering seems to attest to a repurposing of the earworm through time that made simple tunes both ‘stretch further’ as well as embed themselves deeper into the cultural memory. La Monica (or Une jeune fillette) was one such tune, popular throughout Italy, France, Germany and England from the sixteenth until the eighteenth century. The song inspired variations by many prolific European composers, including Philipp Böddecker, William Byrd, Eustache de Caurroy, Bernardo Storace and Francesco Turini, whose diminutions are featured in this version for recorder and basso continuo. John Dowland’s Lachrimae pavane was (and still is) known around the globe – a fact proven by this beautifully embellished version by German composer and violinist Johann Schop. It was published first as an instrumental pavan, and later as the lute song Flow my tears in Dowland’s "Second Book of Songs and Ayres" (1600).

Music publications in general provide many leads when reconstructing earworms from the past. In A Musicall Banquet complied by Robert Dowland in 1610, he records a ‘varietie of delicious ayres’ from England, France, Italy and Spain, such as Vuestros ojos tienen d’amor (‘Your eyes hold I know not what of Love’). A Musicall Banquet also includes songs by the compiler’s father, John Dowland. Can she excuse my wrongs from his "First Book of Songs and Ayres" (1597) conveys the fluid transformation of madrigal consort pieces into lute songs; indeed, it was published in both forms. Not ten years later, Dowland re-published the song in Lachrimae, or Seven Tears as Earl of Essex Galliard for five-part viol consort and lute.

Other composers and publishers also sought to preserve specific tunes beyond that evening’s performance, and frequently cashed in on their preservation. Amongst these tunes are Greensleeves, allegedly composed by King Henry VIII and the basis of many sets of diminutions for varying instruments, and some of Henry Purcell’s most loved songs such as Fairest Isle from King Arthur to a text by John Dryden.

Naturally musical earworms of the past and present mirror the listeners’ and performers’ tastes and preferences – which is why this program features several personal favorites of the two performers. The name Johann Sebastian Bach will inevitably come up when sharing earworms, and his French Suites seem to have followed Bach throughout his own career, as he reworked them time after time for his teaching purposes. In juxtaposition with ‘true’ French Baroque music of Parisian origin by lutenist Charles Hurel it becomes audible how Bach fused French stylistic influences with his very own compositional language.

In traversing the centuries, one might think that we have little in common with these brain-burrowing tunes and the modes and methods in keeping them alive. But Gareth Moorcraft’s Diaries of the Early Worm testifies to the earworm’s secured place in modern life. Based on fragments from medieval Troubadour songs, the piece takes us on a humorous journey from the early stages of an earworm, charting its increasing intrusiveness and finally our liberation from it.

© Tabea Debus, 2022 

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And my work here is done. Enjoy the concert!

- Dick Strawser 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Summermusic: Spend an Evening with Beethoven and Dohnányi (Part 2)

Dohnányi, c.1900

The second half of the opening Summermusic concert is Dohnányi's Serenade Op. 10, with Beethoven's Op. 8 Serenade on the first half, performed by violinist Peter Sirotin, violist Michael Strauss, and cellist Sophie Shao. The concert is Wednesday night at 7:30 at St. Michael Lutheran Church on the first block of State Street, where the second and third concerts, Saturday and the following Tuesday, will also take place.

Before we get started, a word about the composer's name. You'll see him mentioned either as Ernst von Dohnányi (in the German form) or Ernő Dohnányi (in the Hungarian form). Ethnically, he is Hungarian, not German, which has led modern-day attitudes to use the Hungarian form of his name instead of the Germanic one the composer used throughout his lifetime. Even his tombstone in 1960 is inscribed Ernst von Dohnányi; and his grandson, the conductor, always went by Christoph von Dohnányi.

If you want to read more about this, scroll down to the last two segments of this post in one of those “you might find this interesting” appendices that you don't really need to enjoy the music. The first, about the history behind Dohnányi's ethnic heritage I called “Place-Names: The Place.” The second is about pronouncing the composer's name in Hungarian, or, I guess, “Place-Names: The Name.”

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Dohnányi's Serenade is in six movements and inspired by the old 18th Century idea of a serenade as “light-hearted” music for an evening's entertainment and could be for various combinations and numbers of instruments. The term was often interchangeable with Divertimento and the now usually forgotten Cassation, or some other translation of “night-time” like Mozart's Notturno or his most famous serenade, the ever-popular Eine kleine Nachtmusik. This one is “kleine” (a little night-music) because it's only four movements and for four strings; usually they'd have six, maybe eight movements. One of his finest Serenades, better known as the Gran Partita, is in seven movements for 13 instruments.

Beethoven's Op. 8 Serenade is six movements for three strings. And Dohnányi's Op. 10 Serenade is five movements for three strings. You can read about Beethoven's Serenade, composed in 1797, and its place in his compositional development in Part 1 of this post.

This post is about Dohnányi's Serenade which he wrote between 1902 and 1903 and published the following year.

Both composers were in their mid-20s when they wrote them.

Considering the usual forward-looking ideas when entering a new century, the idea of writing something so strongly perfumed by its 18th Century roots at the outset of the 20th Century could look “reactionary,” especially at a time when music was being dominated by progressive Germans like Mahler and Strauss: Mahler was meanwhile working on his 5th Symphony which wouldn't be premiered until the Fall of 1904; Richard Strauss's opera Salome would create a furor at its premiere in December of 1905.

Besides, Brahms had died in 1897, only five years before Dohnányi began this string trio of his. When Brahms had his famous conversation with a young conductor named Mahler, he was quite concerned about the state of music's future, given what he knew of Mahler's and Strauss' earliest works.

While many writers see Beethoven's Serenade as a model for Dohnányi, they're forgetting a century's worth of other serenades written in between: in addition to Brahms' two “proto-symphonies” of his youth, there are famous ones by Dvořák (one for strings, one for winds) and Tchaikovsky (for strings), even Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade (originally for String Quartet) in 1887, and dozens of others by a whole constellation of composers largely influenced by Brahms like Robert Fuchs (who wrote 5 for string orchestra), Heinrich von Herzogenberg, along with Carl Reinecke and others who occasionally appear as the occasional footnote today. Their music was, in their day, quite popular, just not enduring, for whatever reasons.

And another Brahms Influenced Young Composer was Ernst von Dohnányi. Brahms, we often forget, was very helpful to many young composers, especially Dvořák (he could also be very rude and discouraging: there's always the famous story of how his criticism helped send young Hans Rott into a nervous breakdown and eventual suicide in an asylum).

With Dohnányi, Brahms was much impressed by the 18-year-old's Piano Quintet No. 1 which, with Brahms' help, was published as his Op. 1 in 1895. Impressed with the boy's talents as a pianist, he also introduced him to friends who would prove helpful in launching his career beyond his native Pressburg and Budapest, where he had gone to school.

The Serenade was composed while the now mid-20s composer was on a concert tour that took him to London. It was completed in 1903 and premiered in Vienna in January of 1904.

Here's a video complete with score and a performance by violinist Janine Jansen “and Friends.”

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It's in five movements: like Beethoven, Dohnányi opens with a “traditional march” but instead of the usual A-B-A form with a contrasting middle section, Dohnányi keeps it brief with a barely 2-minute A Section with a short march-like motive answered later by a folk-like tune with a drone accompaniment. Even in his maturity, Dohnányi showed less interest in incorporating Hungarian folk elements into his music than did Bartók or Kodály (and Bartók only started his at the end of his 1st Quartet in 1907). But this tune at the end of his march (which he brings back at the end of the Rondo) definitely has a Hungarian feel to it.

Not unexpected: after all, Brahms used Hungarian dance motives in many of his works, the famous piano duets, the “Hungarian Dances” aside: the finales of things like the 1st Piano Quartet, the Violin Concerto, the Op.111 String Quintet, among other works which would've set any Viennese heart to foot-tapping if they too, like Brahms, were fans of the dance bands that played in those smoky taverns he liked to hang out in. The only thing is, this is not “folk music.” This is essentially “urban pop music” comparable more to American jazz bands than the folk songs sung by the people. But that's another story.

Unlike Beethoven, Dohnányi kept his slow movement and scherzo separate: an outright Romanza followed by a rapid-fire scherzo on the verge of chaos. Another traditional facet common to both is a set of Theme and Five Variations. If serenades are expected to be “casual and lacking dramatic moments,” this is the most serious aspect of Dohnányi's work. Instead of ending with a recap of the March as Beethoven did (as Mozart would've expected his live performances to do), Dohnányi concludes with a Rondo that bears some resemblance to the first movement before, by way of balance, it ends up quoting the march's themes in their entirety.

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Now, I'd wanted to call this post “The Beethoven-Dohnányi Connection” because I always like to make those “6-Degrees-of-Seperation” connections between composers most of us think were creating in a vacuum. I've already mentioned how Dohnányi as an 18-year-old gained the Stamp of Approval from Johannes Brahms. And with that, the boy could've gone anywhere to study, particularly Vienna to begin his career there (much as Brahms ended up living there after wandering around various parts of Germany after growing up in Hamburg).

Dohnányi grew up in Pressburg (or Pozsony), and after having started studying music with his father, an amateur cellist, then when he was 8 he began studying with the local organist. At 17, he moved to Budapest to attend the Hungarian Academy of Music (now the Franz Liszt Academy) where he studied piano with a student of Liszt's and composition with a devotee of Brahms. Basically, Dohnányi took his final exams early, passed them with flying colors and, without finishing his course of studies, graduated not yet 20 years old.

From there, he studied with another Liszt student, one of the better known pianists of the day, Eugene d'Albert, making his debut in Berlin in 1897 and a year later playing Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto in London to great acclaim. He also took Beethoven's 4th on his first tour of the United States, starting in St. Louis.

The Brahms Connection continued: Joseph Joachim invited him to teach in Berlin where he lived from 1905 to 1915. So basically, on the basis of that connection when Brahms approved of his C Minor Piano Quintet, yes, it was definitely a career-making encounter.

Something similar had happened to Brahms when he was 20, you may recall. He had the nerve to knock on Robert Schumann's door with a sheaf of manuscripts under his arm. Schumann, not only a leading composer but one of the most influential critics in Germany, gave him his stamp of approval even though, in part, calling him the Heir to Beethoven turned out to be something of a curse (not too much pressure, there...). As Brahms had said, “you have no idea what it is like to hear the tread of a giant like Beethoven behind you.” Fortunately, Brahms did not return the favor by crowning Dohnányi the Heir to Brahms.

Dohnányi's Hometown Today

But there is another tenuous connection, however much it might be approved by fans of Kevin Bacon: while Beethoven's Op. 8 Serenade for String Trio was written 105 years before Dohnányi wrote his Op. 10 Serenade for String Trio, a few months before Beethoven composed his piece, he had gone to Pressburg to play a series of concerts at the
Keglevićs' Palace and, as I mentioned in the earlier post, wrote his Op. 7 Piano Sonata and dedicated it to the Count's daughter, the young Countess Babette (as well as the C Major Piano Concerto a bit later on). The Keglević family was one of the major Hungarian aristocratic families since the 16th Century and in Dohnányi's day, they were still financial leaders of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Mozart also performed in Pressburg in 1762 as a child of six, performing at the Pálffy Palace around the corner from the Keglevićs' palace, a stop on the tour arranged by Leopold Mozart to show off his talented children. Prince Esterhazy also had a palace in Pressburg on the same street, and when he was in town, the family's conductor, a fellow named Franz Josef Haydn, was often on loan for special concerts at the Grassalković Palace (it is currently the home of the President of Slovakia). One such concert was specifically mentioned in 1784.

While it seems Pressburg/Pozsony/Bratislava may have a lot of palaces – Wikipedia lists over thirty – not to mention the most prominent, Bratislava Palace which looms over the Danube River (see photo above), I mention this to point out there was an active cultural life in the city so you don't think Pressburg was some backwater when Dohnányi grew up there.

So, as I mentioned, Dohnányi was also friends with Bartók and Kodály, but there's this to consider about the connection with Bartók:

When Bartók, only three years younger than Dohnányi, gave a recital at the Academy in October 1901, a Budapest critic wrote 'Bartók thunders around on the piano like a little Jupiter. No piano student at the Academy today has a greater chance of following in Dohnányi’s footsteps.' Two years later Bartók was a student in Dohnányi’s master class.” That would place Bartók studying with Dohnányi around the time he was composing the serenade on this opening concert of Summermusic 2022.

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He was one of three great Hungarian composers in the first half of the 20th Century, along with Bela Bartók and Zoltan Kodály – and Bartók, along with Schoenberg and Stravinsky, was considered, at least posthumously, as one of the three most influential composers of the first half of the 20th Century. But Central Europe and Hungary in particular is a complicated mix of ethnic origins ever since the days of the Roman Empire and various invasions of waves of barbarians like the Huns from Central Asia (yes, as in Atilla the Hun). Settling further west with each wave, the Huns moved from beyond the Volga into what is now Eastern Ukraine (at the center of the Russian invasion in the news today) into the broad plains of what became known as Hungary.

The major important difference between the Huns and their neighbors is, while surrounded by German-speaking Austrians on the west, they are ringed by Czechs, Slovaks and Poles who are all racially Slavic on the north, Romanians (who trace themselves from a pocket of Latin-speaking Dacians of the Eastern Roman Empire) on the east, and various Slovenes, Croats, Serbs and, further toward the Black Sea, Bulgarians, all once again Slavic in origin, on the south. Bartók who is ethnically Hungarian was born in this area of Ancient Dacia now called Transylvania which was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary that was nominally part of the German-dominated Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time (and by German, I mean “cultural Germans,” not the political entity of Germany we know today). But Bartók's mother was mostly Germanic, speaking Hungarian fluently, but also, as genetic research would show, had Hungarian and Slavic ancestry. But Bartók always identified as Hungarian, in his youth radically so.

Ernst von Dohnányi was born in what was at the time called Pressburg on the Danube River downstream from Vienna. The Austrians called it Pressburg though it was located in Hungary; the Hungarians called it Pozsony. After the partitioning of the old Austrian Empire following World War I in 1918, this area, more ethnic Slovaks than Hungarians much less Germans, became part of Czechoslovakia and Pressburg/Pozsony was renamed Bratislava but became the independent Slovak Republic after 1993 with Bratislava as its capital. Hence the ethnic and linguistic confusion, whether it explains the confusion behind the composer's ethnic (and political) identity.

Dohnányi, Bartók & Kodály
As a result, politically, Hungarian “nationalists” considered someone, Hungarian or not, with a Germanic name “pro-German,” especially during World War I – and again with the rise of the Nazis in the decades that led up to World War II. You might think, beings friends as well as colleagues with Bartók and Kodály, Dohnányi would've adopted the Hungarian form of his name, but even his son (who was murdered by the Nazis, apparently hung using piano-wire instead of rope) and his grandson, the conductor, never did.

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About the pronunciation of Dohnányi's name in Hungarian: first of all, the á is not an accented a but an entirely different sounding vowel. In Hungarian, the accent is almost always on the first syllable: so it's not a three-syllable dokh-NAAN-yi but what's really a two-syllable DOKH-naan+(yi) where the yi is very short, almost more of a “softened n” like a Spanish ñ, so I'm told. The kh is like the ch in Bach rather than a hard k or a voiced h... (To make it more confusing, one source on Hungarian pronunciation says the á should be pronounced more like ai or a long i in file...)

As for the first name Ernő, Hungarian for Ernst, that ő which looks like an over-enthusiastic umlaut is a different form of the vowel o. One source says the o is pronounced like the o in force and the ó like the ō in go (which means Bartok in America rhymes with Bar-Talk, but Bartók should be Bar-tōk). The ö is like the oo in pool but the ő is like the oo in stool. Now, pardon me if I'm wrong, but how subtle is the difference between the oo in pool from the oo in stool?

Now imagine somebody learning English trying to figure why pool does not rhyme with book. But I digress...

So when somebody asks me how to pronounce Dohnányi, I'll say “do you want the Ethnic Hungarian pronunciation or the Typical American Mispronunciation?” After all, who in this country pronounces Mendelssohn so the last syllable rhymes, as it would in German, with “zone”? And let's not even get into all those Russian composers...

– Dick Strawser

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Summermusic: Spend an Evening with Beethoven & Dohnányi (Part 1)

Beethoven, c.1796
A serenade by definition means "evening music" and there are two serenades by two composers in their mid-20s on the first program of MSC's Summermusic 2022. Join us Wednesday night (July 20th) at 7:30 in St. Michael Lutheran Church on the first block of State Street for a serenade Beethoven composed in 1797 and one Ernő Dohnányi completed in 1902 (which you can read about in this subsequent post). Both for string trios, they'll be performed by MSC Director Peter Sirotin, with violist Michael Isaac Strauss and cellist Sophie Shao. 

In this first video, you can follow along with the score as you listen to a classic recording by the Arthur Grumiaux Trio (scroll down if you'd rather watch a live performance).

A classic multi-movement serenade in the 18th Century manner, there are six movements starting with the traditional march. Originally, the idea was for a serenade to be performed "around town" to celebrate graduations or weddings or other community events, and the march would be played while the ensemble literally marched from location to location. Once it became more of a concert-hall piece, there was no need to go marching (no doubt a great relief to the cellists), but they still opened with a march, regardless. 

This short opening movement is followed by a minuet, a slow movement interrupted by a scurrying scherzo (very unusual for its day), a polacca (a bow to the popular appeal of this latest dance craze to hit Vienna) with its little winding-down ending, then a set of variations on a slow, lyrical theme, before rounding things out with the opening march's return (as they'd now start marching off to the next location).


Now, if you're primarily familiar with Beethoven's music from his 3rd or 5th Symphonies of the early-1800s to the rarefied atmosphere of the Late Quartets 24 years later, small wonder his early works might strike you as “Haydn-like.” After all, he studied with Haydn (if not willingly or, for that matter, even successfully) and Haydn was, after all, the Greatest Living Composer of the Day. 

True, the teenaged Beethoven, growing up in the provinces, had dreamed of going to Vienna to study with Mozart, may even have met him on a visit that had been cut short by his mother's last illness; and was making plans to try again a few years later when word arrived that Mozart had died.

Imagine a young composer who idolized Mozart finding out his hero had died – a hero who was only 35 years old! So, a year later, Beethoven tried the “Next Best Thing” – Haydn. As one friend wrote, “may you receive Mozart's spirit from the hands of Haydn.”

If only it were that easy.

What Mozart was writing when he was 35 was a lot different from what Haydn was writing at 60. Heading to London for a second season in 1794 and leaving his pupil to his own devices, Haydn returned the following year with the last of his great London Symphonies. A year later, he produced his last batch of six great string quartets. (Still, from there until 1802, writing more sporadically, he still had in him two more quartets, a handful of masses and the two oratorios, all masterpieces.)

Beethoven, a fairly hot-blooded young man in his mid-20s who approached his future the way a “generalissimo” planned a battle, realized his only real competition was, in fact, Haydn. To avoid comparisons with his former teacher, he produced two piano concertos – realizing Haydn was not a performer (like Mozart was) and did not excel at writing concertos (as Mozart had) – and held off presenting himself as a writer of symphonies and string quartets until he'd honed his style and gained the experience necessary to compete on that level.

So instead of symphonies, he turned primarily to chamber music – piano trios, piano sonatas, and works that might have more popular appeal – but not string quartets. Not yet.

If the atmosphere was a little strained before Haydn left for London in 1794, it burst not long after The Old Man returned, just as Beethoven was presenting his three Piano Trios which he was planning on publishing as his Op. 1. Haydn heard them, heard especially the C Minor one – the one Beethoven wanted to start the set with because he thought it was the best of the three – and advised him not to publish the C Minor one at all, because he felt the public would not understand or accept the piece.

Even though Haydn had some nice things to say about the other two trios, Beethoven was “stunned and outraged” by his reaction to the C Minor. This could only mean one thing: Haydn viewed him as a rival, “jealous and conniving who wished him ill.” Beethoven thought the C Minor Trio would make his name, so why else would Haydn want to suppress it? (Ah, the conspiracy theories the ego is prone to...)

When it was published, the set was dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky who was one of Beethoven's most generous patrons. To us, it would be logical, but in the cultural politics of the day, dedications were often a very courtly ritual, especially first ones. Haydn would no doubt have been stunned to find them not dedicated to him. When the three piano sonatas of Op. 2 were dedicated to Haydn, there was no mention Beethoven had been his pupil, another glaringly obvious omission.

There followed a series of “lesser” pieces, nothing particularly outstanding as far as posterity is concerned: the first string quartets are Op. 16, the first symphony was Op. 21, both putting in their first appearances on the world stage around 1800. But here was this series of five string trios – his Op. 3, Op. 8, and the three of Op. 9 – as well as an octet, reworked as a string quintet and published in 1796 as Op. 4 (the original Octet didn't see the light of ink until Op. 103 many years later).

There was also this large-scale piano sonata, Op. 7 (until the Hammerklavier, Op. 106, it was the longest of his sonatas), written while he was in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia – incidentally the birthplace of Ernő Dohnányi) in November, 1796, to give a concert. Considering what I'd said about the politics of dedications, this sonata – called a “grand sonata” because it was in four, not the usual three movements, though it has a grandeur we would associate with Beethoven's later sonatas – was dedicated to one of his young students, a countess who happened to be Beethoven's current infatuation. Some say this sonata is “so passionate it deserves the subtitle Appassionata more than the famous Op. 57 sonata.” For a time, it did have the nickname “The Belovéd,” not to be confused with The Immortal Belovéd, but I digress...

The Op. 8 Serenade was completed around February of 1797, only a few months later. 

Here is a live performance by members of the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Köln.  

If you have the time and the curiosity, listen to both Op. 7 and Op. 8 consecutively: you'll understand the difference between Beethoven's private, more personal voice, which in this case sounds more like the Romantic Beethoven of the near-future (the great Appassionata is only 7 years away), especially in its first two movements, and the social or public Beethoven, the composer writing for what we might dismiss as “popular consumption,” meant to entertain and please and, ultimately, if not too crassly put, to earn more sales by performing amateurs. The Septet, Op. 20, essentially a serenade in form and style, was definitely a work geared to public appeal: one would not likely consider either this Op. 8 Serenade or the Septet “serious works,” or, on the other hand, the Op. 7 Sonata “charming, delightful.” The fact he even called this string trio a Serenade and not a String Trio (like he did the next three works of Op. 9) meant he didn't take Op. 8 as all that serious a work. Not that there's anything wrong with “charming and delightful and downright appealing.”

Something like the Op. 7 and Op. 13 sonatas we'd look back at and consider “prophetic” of the Mature Beethoven, by comparison to the symphonies he started writing in 1803. But in these lighter works, we can hear Beethoven not only testing his skills but also testing his audience, to see, perhaps as Papa Haydn had warned, how far they'd be willing to go along with him – like that C Minor Piano Trio which, after all, turned out to be more of a success than Haydn was willing to concede (he still would refer to Beethoven as “The Young Turk”).

One such challenge in this Serenade is the 4th Movement which starts out as a slow movement in D Minor but then breaks into a contrasting middle section. Keep in mind, most three-part forms like a minuet or scherzo (marked as an A-B-A Form) would have a fast section and then a contrasting section that's more lyrical or less dance-like. A slow movement usually wasn't an A-B-A form, so imagine what an audience in 1797 was expecting when what they heard was an almost tragic-sounding slow movement interrupted by a boisterous scherzo (not once but twice)! That would've definitely raised some eyebrows! To us, it's just another form of contrast.

But that's part of how Beethoven matured: he rarely worked on one piece and then, finishing that, went on to a new and different piece. When he might have finished something, we might be able to tell, but it was usually hard to figure out when he started a new piece. Examining those notebooks he might have used for his sketches, it's often possible to find a sketch for one piece buried back in the pages where he's working out another piece a year or two earlier. He may have finished the Op. 7 Sonata early in 1797 to publish it the same year, but he also completed the Serenade early in 1797 (one source I can't corroborate said February) and published it in October.

One other thing of note: during the summer of 1797 – he would turn 27 that December – he became seriously ill with typhus which meant, according to Jan Swafford's biography, “weeks of pain, fever, coughing, stupor, even delirium. The disease is a terrific shock to the body and nervous system, in those days often a killer. And it can affect the hearing.”

As soon as he had gotten back on his feet, he quickly composed the three string trios, Op. 9, three short piano sonatas Op. 10, a clarinet trio Op. 11, and the three violin sonatas of Op.12.

Then, during the following year, he reported the first symptoms of hearing loss. He was 27.

So, while you're listening to this “charming and delightful” light-hearted Serenade, Op. 8, keep in mind it was one of the last works Beethoven would complete before he became aware he was going deaf.

– Dick Strawser

Read Part 2, the Beethoven-Dohnányi Connection, here...