Join us for a special Sunday-only performance featuring four exceptional musicians in a program that celebrates the sounds and colors of Spain and France through the piano quartet.
Turina – Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola, & Cello in A Minor
Born in Seville in 1882, Joaquín Turina Pérez had an expansive and impressive musical career. Originally trained as a pianist, he moved to Madrid at the age of 20 to study at the Schoala Cantorum – as most Spanish composers did at the time, met Debussy and Ravel in Paris, and became good friends with Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla. He wrote the Abbreviated Encyclopedia of Music and two volumes of the Musical Composition Treaty. He was an active music critic, and in 1931 he became the Composition Chair at the Madrid Conservatory, and after the Spanish Civil War he was named General Commissioner of Music, from which he launched the definitive organization of the Spanish National Orchestra. Finally, he was a prolific composer, equally at home in large and small forms. His music, spanning nearly all musical genres, was always colorful, well-crafted, and infused with his native Spanish (Andalusian and Sevillian) atmosphere.
The Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello in A Minor, Op. 67, was composed in 1931 – the same year he became chair at the Madrid Conservatory. Written in three movements, each movement contains melodic references to an ancient cante jondo, the serious ‘deep song’ of southern Spain.
The opening passages of the Lento – Andante mosso are constrained, mysterious, and distinctly Andalusian. The moody Lento is followed by a somewhat faster Andante mosso led by the cello. Thematic material in varied instrumental colorations suggest equally varied emotional states; episodes of a haunting character suddenly shift into energetic outbursts driven by the piano.
In another direct reference to Spanish folk music, passages of the second movement, Vivo, allude to the guitar through repeated, hammered chords in the piano and pizzicato in the strings. A lively scherzo leads to a contemplative trio section, and Turina effectively balances the two before the violin launches the concluding Andante – Allegretto.
The final movement, Andante – Allegretto, briefly recalls the opening moments of a Bach-like solo sonata before it immediately soars to expressive heights of a distinctly Spanish-Romantic nature. Initiated by the piano and followed by the strings, thematic fragments from the opening movement return to impart a cyclic character to the structure, while impressionist harmonies remind us of Turina’s absorption of Debussy.
Chausson – Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola, & Cello in A Major, Op. 30
Written shortly before his untimely death at the age of 44, Ernest Chausson’s Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello in A Major is unfortunately one of his last works. Initially a follower of Massenet and later an ardent Wagnerite and Franckian, Chausson developed his own sumptuous late Romantic style, which in turn influenced such composers as Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré. He left behind only 39 opus-numbered pieces; while musical creation was a long, painful struggle for him, the resulting quality and originality of his compositions proved to be extremely high and deeply individual. Chausson is also believed to be the first composer to use the celesta.
In four movements, the Quartet has an infectious vitality and undeniable force which was fully appreciated when the work was premiered on April 2, 1898 at the National Society of Music.
The lovely opening movement, Animé, is warm, sunny and bright. Written in 2/2, it develops into three themes between the piano, the viola above keyboard sextuplets, and finally the third, plus lent, which spreads its lilting rhythm over the right hand of the piano. The development then appears as a kind of perpetual modulation essentially based on the first theme, and the other two themes are interwoven to add drama. Finally, at the end of the movement, the second subject undergoes several metamorphoses before the recapitulation of the first theme.
The second movement, Très calme, is lyric and features the viola with a beautiful theme in D-flat major played over long, gentle chords on the piano. Followed by a contrasting theme in F, a radiant calm emanates from this gloriously poetic tune and makes this movement one of Chausson’s greatest achievements.
The third movement, simple et sans hâte, is an intermezzo of sorts that takes place of the scherzo and prolongs the gentle and pleasant mood. The second motif seemingly emerges from the first, with a true elegance accentuated now and again by pizzicati or skillful modulations to give it light and shade.
The finale, Animê, opens in frenetic and disturbed fashion, full of breathless anxiety. After a brief introduction, the piano provides strong rhythmic accompaniment to the first theme before a second appears (alternating between D-flat and C minor). Throughout the development Chausson, true to the cyclical form so beloved of his teacher César Franck, reintroduces the work’s main themes, notably the first and third, while the tenderness of the fourth momentarily softens the impact. The finale, however, is unambiguous, leaving the final word to the first subject which resolves in a dazzling A major.
Fauré – Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola, & Cello in G Minor, Op. 45
Probably the best-known Romantic composer on today’s program, Gabriel Fauré’s music can be properly characterized as restrained, refined, and subtly expressive – the work of an elegant, fastidious musician.
An imposing composition written in 1886 and dedicated to Pyotr Tchaikovsky, his second piano quartet presents Fauré operating within time-honored classical structures to evoke many of the era’s salon “niceties” while engaging an impressive level of emotional intensity. It is his only major work that experiments with cyclic form, an approach that was quite popular in France (thanks to the influence of Cesar Franck and Franz Liszt). Without undue pretension, it makes a deeply-felt personal statement, while the scoring strikes a genuinely equal (and ideal) balance among the four instruments.
The temperamental eruption with which the Allegro molto moderato opens is a genuine ear-opener. Ardent unison strings declaim a forceful melody against agitated harmonic figures in the piano. From these contours, many subsequent themes are derived, while tranquil and lyrical secondary material alternate with the vital main theme to create an atmosphere of high drama (unusual to the generally-held perception of Fauré’s music).
The second movement, Allegro molto, also begins in turbulent fashion. It is almost all quirky, breathless, syncopated activity, with the piano purveying the skittish main theme against its own constantly repeated left-hand accompaniment figure and strong pizzicatos in the strings.
Fauré wrote that the third movement, Adagio non troppo, grew out of his memories of the sounds of bells heard years before in the garden of his family’s home in Cadirac. The serene poetry of the Adagio is in sharp contrast to the preceding movement, which Aaron Copland described as “intensity on a background of calm.” There is much of an elegiac nature here, but when intensity appears it is insistent, broad, and vital. Although the piano is fully deployed, the ethereal quality of the Adagio obtains from the strings, with emphasis on the alto instrument. As Fauré’s student Charles Koechlin observed, “the viola would have to be invented for this Adagio if it did not already exist.”
The high-energy finale, Allegro molto, is full of passion and turbulence. The relentless forward drive of this movement is quite unlike anything else in Fauré: even the finale of the First Quartet manages an occasional pause for reflection. Incredible though it may seem, Fauré manages to keep something in reserve for the coda: an electrifying crescendo, culminating in a massive ‘più mosso’ restatement of the second subject in G major. This movement truly reveals Fauré’s distinctive arsenal of strengths: superior craftsmanship, tastefulness, refined eloquence.