October 14 & 15, 2018

Masterworks for Strings

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Artists

Jaime Laredo, violin
Cathy Meng Robinson, violin
Hsin-Yun Huang, viola
Misha Amory, viola
Sharon Robinson, cello
Keith Robinson, cello
 

Program

Mozart

Schoenberg

Schubert

Prelude & Fugue after Bach for String Trio

Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)

Quintet for Strings in C Major


The 40th Anniversary season opens with quintessential masterpieces for chamber strings. This ensemble of distinguished artists will perform Schoenberg’s warm and expansively romantic sextet and Schubert’s sublime quintet.

Program Notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Prelude & Fugue in F Minor after Bach for String Trio, K. 404a

Recomposing the music of Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier into an original work is the type of exercise that might cause many composers to hesitate. Yet when a patron challenged the then 26-year-old Mozart to do so, he easily rose to the challenge, several times over. The set collectively labeled K.404a includes three transcriptions of Bach fugues arranged for string trio.

Mozart’s arrangements of Bach originated in 1782, when he and friends would regularly attend Sunday morning gatherings at the home of Baron van Swieten, a diplomat and music lover. It was in this setting that Mozart first studied Bach’s music, as he and others in attendance performed keyboard works from the Well Tempered Klavier on string instruments. When asked by van Swieten to compose a set of string trios, Mozart looked to these Bach transcriptions for inspiration. While the fugues are adapted from Bach’s work, Mozart composed new preludes to complement the source material.

The F Minor trio opens dramatically with a prelude that is distinctly Mozart. Dramatic harmonies support a relatively short theme based on Bach’s fugue subject as it winds its way through all three instruments exploring the harmonies of Bach’s original work in new ways. The ensuing fugue is simply Bach at his best – masterful counterpoint which translates as well to string instruments as it does to the keyboard.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)
Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4

Despite being remembered as one of the forefathers of “modern” music, Schoenberg’s musical sensibilities were rooted firmly in late romanticism, most notably Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler. This connection is perhaps never more evident than in the composer’s best-known early work, Verklärte Nacht.

Inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name (see the original text below), Schoenberg musically mirrors the spiritual metamorphosis implied by the text. In turns agitated, compassionate, and ecstatic, Schoenberg’s rich instrumentation reflects the mood of Dehmel’s text throughout.

Over a slowly treading repeated note in the cellos Schoenberg presents a mournful first theme that begins as little more than a single reiterated phrase and slowly builds to an initial climax. An important new theme now is sung by cellos and repeated by violins as the woman of Dehmel’s poem begins her confession. Here and throughout the work Schoenberg maintains richly contrapuntal textures, with different groups of instruments continually in dialog with each other. Passing through varying degrees of agitation and resignation, the music at last subsides to a spare passage using only solo violin and viola. Schoenberg then returns to a variant of the work’s opening minutes, followed by a hymn-like figure as the woman’s companion answers her with love and compassion. In remarkably shimmering sonorities, Schoenberg conjures the moonlight through which the couple passes as the music grows increasingly rapturous. A closing episode brings music of ineffable tenderness, with even the dirge-like theme of the opening minutes transfigured into something comforting.

Zwei Menschen gehn durch kahlen, kalten Hain;
der Mond läuft mit, sie schaun hinein.
Der Mond läuft über hohe Eichen;
kein Wölkchen trübt das Himmelslicht,
in das die schwarzen Zacken reichen.
Die Stimme eines Weibes spricht:
Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood;
the moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze.
The moon moves along above tall oak trees,
there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance
to which the black, jagged tips reach up.
A woman’s voice speaks:
“Ich trag ein Kind, und nit von Dir,
ich geh in Sünde neben Dir.
Ich hab mich schwer an mir vergangen.
Ich glaubte nicht mehr an ein Glück
und hatte doch ein schwer Verlangen
nach Lebensinhalt, nach Mutterglück
“I am carrying a child, and not by you.
I am walking here with you in a state of sin.
I have offended grievously against myself.
I despaired of happiness,
and yet I still felt a grievous longing
for life’s fullness, for a mother’s joys
und Pflicht; da hab ich mich erfrecht,
da ließ ich schaudernd mein Geschlecht
von einem fremden Mann umfangen,
und hab mich noch dafür gesegnet.
Nun hat das Leben sich gerächt:
nun bin ich Dir, o Dir, begegnet.”
and duties; and so I sinned,
and so I yielded, shuddering, my sex
to the embrace of a stranger,
and even thought myself blessed.
Now life has taken its revenge,
and I have met you, met you.”
Sie geht mit ungelenkem Schritt.
Sie schaut empor; der Mond läuft mit.
Ihr dunkler Blick ertrinkt in Licht.
Die Stimme eines Mannes spricht:
She walks on, stumbling.
She looks up; the moon keeps pace.
Her dark gaze drowns in light.
A man’s voice speaks:
“Das Kind, das Du empfangen hast,
sei Deiner Seele keine Last,
o sieh, wie klar das Weltall schimmert!
Es ist ein Glanz um alles her;
Du treibst mit mir auf kaltem Meer,
doch eine eigne Wärme flimmert
von Dir in mich, von mir in Dich.
“Do not let the child you have conceived
be a burden on your soul.
Look, how brightly the universe shines!
Splendour falls on everything around,
you are voyaging with me on a cold sea,
but there is the glow of an inner warmth
from you in me, from me in you.
Die wird das fremde Kind verklären,
Du wirst es mir, von mir gebären;
Du hast den Glanz in mich gebracht,
Du hast mich selbst zum Kind gemacht.”
Er faßt sie um die starken Hüften.
Ihr Atem küßt sich in den Lüften.
Zwei Menschen gehn durch hohe, helle Nacht.
That warmth will transfigure the stranger’s child,
and you bear it me, begot by me.
You have transfused me with splendour,
you have made a child of me.”
He puts an arm about her strong hips.
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night.

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
Quintet for Strings in C Major, D. 956, Op. 163

The C Major quintet was Schubert’s final chamber work. Completed just two months before the composer’s death, he never saw it receive a public premiere. In fact, the work went unperformed for over twenty years, premiering in 1850 and first being published in 1853. Nevertheless, the quintet has become known as one of the true pinnacles of the chamber repertoire and perhaps the greatest example of Schubert’s unparalleled gift for melody.

As in other late Schubert works, the quintet’s opening movement is expansive; accounting for more than a third of the work’s total duration. Here Schubert lays his skills on full display as he presents an astoundingly beautiful introduction that gives way to a second theme in the cellos which is juxtaposed with the other three instruments for the remainder of the movement. The second movement, a rare Adagio, presents a simple ternary form which begins and ends with an other-worldly melody played in the inner voices. The contrasting second theme is full of intense turbulence that builds until the return of the opening theme is finally heralded by running 32nd-note passage in the second cello. This second theme firmly establishes the exploration of musical contrasts which Schubert employs throughout the work.

This exploration continues in the Scherzo. The movement opens with a bouncy and high-spirited romp broken only for a brief repose during the movement’s quiet trio. The finale presents a sonata-rondo which opens on a heavily Hungarian-influenced dance theme. Later, Schubert harkens back to his earlier movements by again using the cellos in duet to present a solemn and broad musical line which is set against scampering counterpoint from the higher instruments. As the quintet draws to a close, the final movement continues Schubert’s exploration of contrast through its salient shifts between major and minor keys.

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Schubert Quintet
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