Vibrant sounds of the flute, harp, cello, and piano are on display in a unique program of trios. Travel through time as Soyeon Kate Lee returns to the Linton stage to join CSO principal musicians Randolph Bowman, Gillian Benet Sella, and Ilya Finkelshteyn.
Arthur Foote (1853 – 1937) – At Dusk for Flute, Cello, & Harp
Arthur Foote’s legacy as a composer is often viewed in terms of those that followed him. His music is widely considered “Romantic” and “European,” almost entirely by virtue of the fact that he lived before the later generation of American composers – including Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, and William Schuman – who helped develop a recognizably American sound for classical music. This reputation was reinforced by Foote’s role as an educator and advocate for classical music, in which he was a champion of the music of Brahms and Wagner and promoted performances of their music in his native Boston.
This connection to older European composer, rather than a commitment to creating his own distinct sound, is perhaps one of the reasons that Foote’s name is not remembered among the list of America’s most influential composers despite the quality of his chamber music. In explaining this, The Chamber Music Journal (2002) perhaps put it best, “If his name is not entirely unknown, it is fair to say that his music is. This is a shame. Foote’s chamber music is first rate, deserving of regular public performance.” Today, we shall let the music speak for itself.
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764) – Pieces de clavecin en concert for Flute, Cello, & Harp
Rameau got a relatively late start as an operatic composer – completing his first opera in 1733 at age 50. Nevertheless, by the time he completed Pieces de clavecin in concert eight years later, he had composed five operas altogether and had developed quite a knack for theatrical composition. It should be no surprise, then, that although this work harkens more closely to the solo harpsichord works that defined his early career, they develop a number of musical themes that Rameau revisited in his later operas.
The work is organized nontraditionally. The typical French suite of the time was made up of six or seven movements. Here, Rameau instead organizes his “concerts” into shorter suites of only three to five pieces. Furthermore, rather than being titled with the names of dance steps, Rameau labeled his Pièces with descriptive titles whose meanings are often rather obscure.
Rameau’s writing here is unusually demanding for all the players, but especially for the keyboard. The obbligato part requires a tour de force of technical skills with an extensive emphasis on keyboard virtuosity including hand-crossings, fast scale passages, numerous patterns of arpeggiation, and wide leaps. In order to achieve a heightened awareness of each player’s part, Rameau published the Pièces de clavecin en concerts in score form and suggested that the musicians play from it. This level of collaboration is essential to work through the virtuosic lines and achieve the proper blend and balance of sonority that allows the other instruments to amplify the harmonic and melodic intentions of the keyboard part (played by the harp on this performance).
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) – Trio for Flute, Cello, & Piano in G Major
Haydn was nothing if not prolific. In the 1790’s, he wrote seventeen piano trios, including four sets of three trios, each set dedicated to a woman whose talents are reflected in the piano parts. Even this late in the eighteenth century, chamber music was not defined by a distinctive quality or by musical equality amongst the parts, but instead more so by its social function. Almost all chamber music was written for private performance and for the pleasure of the performers, and composers tailored their works to the tastes and skills of specific players. This trio was first published in 1790, written for John Bland’s series Le Tout Ensemble. It is one of the two trios Haydn wrote for piano, flute and cello. Here we see Haydn’s attempt to liberate the strings from their conventional function as accompaniment for the keyboard instrument.
This work is very relaxed Haydn with no special surprises in the trio form. He presents three movements in a fast-slow fast sequence, and the work as a whole is generally characterized by wit and variety of mood. In the first movement, the flute part develops the theme from the beginning and the piano provides accompaniment. In the Andante, Haydn develops a true dialogue between the flute and the piano, but continues to use the cello in subsidiary role, closely following the bass line of the piano. The trio concludes with an Allegro moderato defined by a four-measure rising theme presented in sequence and interspersed with recitative-like passages.
Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) – Sonatine en Trio for Flute, Cello, & Harp
Maurice Ravel’s popularity as a composer grew steadily throughout the period of 1900 – 1905. Yet despite this public success, Ravel faced repeated professional disappointments as he tried and failed to win the prestigious Prix de Rome each of these five years. While somewhat humiliated by these public losses, Ravel nevertheless flourished creatively, completing two masterpieces for piano in the same year as his final attempt: Sonatine (1903 – 05) and Miroirs (1904 – 05).
The Sonatine is in three movements – Madéré, Mouvement de menuet, and Animé – and in many ways reflects the history of the great keyboard works that inspired Ravel. The first movement is distinctly Ravel: deliberate, with its lyrical opening theme broken up by the rhythmic melodic textures in the inner voices that signify the composer’s mature piano works. The second movement’s minuet is a clear homage to the gallant roots of the piano sonata, with accented syncopations that recall the gamed minuets of Haydn. Here, Ravel rethinks the ancient dance, infusing it with elements of intellect and wit that add to its charm. The finale, Animé, goes back further in time to the keyboard works of Rameau and Couperin, finishing the work with a brief but virtuosic toccata, the difficulty of which was such that Ravel himself was reluctant to play it in public.
Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826) – Trio for Flute, Cello, & Piano in G Minor
Weber is perhaps best remembered today as the quintessential romantic composer. His operas, Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon pushed the use of Leitmotif to new extremes and helped shape the history of Romantic opera in Germany. Yet for all the emotional Sturm und Drang of his best-known works, his 14 chamber works reflect a much more Classical sensibility and highlight his cultivated elegance as a composer. Today’s trio ably demonstrates this. Despite its G minor tonality, it is characterized by charm and lightness more than anything else.
Admittedly, the trio begins in a relatively dark place. Long, singing lines from the cello and flute decorate a pattern of eighth-note chord progressions in the piano. Yet this opening darkness quickly gives way to a completely contrasting second theme. Now in a major key, it moves into the much brighter resonance of the upper range of both the flute and the piano with the cello taking on a mostly accompanying role. A short development section leads to a recapitulation that deviates from tradition by stating the movement’s second theme, now in G major. Weber then brings back the opening material, as the music expires softly.
The Scherzo opens with a terse motive but soon breaks into a spirited waltz. Weber weaves the two subjects together to form the fabric of the wild, unpredictable movement. The Andante espressivo, which the composer subtitled “Shepherd’s Lament,” begins with the principal theme played by the flute over a restrained piano accompaniment. This folk-like forms the basis for a set of variations that are punctuated, at the very end, by some strikingly dissonant interjections from the piano. The Trio ends with a Finale that, like the first movement, cannot stay in the minor for too long. With its lively writing for the three instruments, it brings to a close a work filled with melodic invention of the most agreeable kind and opportunities for the three players to impress the listener with their virtuosity.