Looking Forward, Looking Back
Saturday, September 27, 2014 - 7:30 p.m.
Horowitz Center-Monteaboro Hall, HCC
After hearing the Cello Concerto of his friend Antoìn Dvořák, Brahms exclaimed that had he known it would be possible to write such a beautiful cello concerto he would have tried to write one himself. While cellists can lament not having a solo Brahms concerto for their instrument, they can at least be thankful for his “Double” Concerto, where the concertante duties are shared with a violinist.
Brahms was not stingy for wonderful cello music however. Not only do his orchestral parts and chamber works allow the cello to shine, Brahms left two full-length sonatas which have become cornerstones of the cello repertoire. (In fact, had it not been for his late-life additions to the clarinet repertoire, Brahms’s sonata writing would have been exclusively for piano, violin, and cello.)
While the First Sonata lives in the brooding mood of E Minor, the Second serves as its joyous F Major foil. The opening Allegro vivace erupts with a main two-note motive (a short note leaping up to a long one) over top of bubbling tremolando figures that permeate the movement. This is answered by a grand second theme, and throughout the movement the cello and piano will reverse roles and echo each other’s part.
The marvelous Adagio affetuoso is in the remote key of F-sharp major, and begins with a walking plucked line in the cello underneath a long-breathed melody in the piano, followed by the two switching parts. This unfolds into an A-B-A form movement whose central section is filled with twists and turns until the plucked notes in the cello announce the return of the calm opening theme.
Unlike the First Sonata (and many others) this work has four movements, the third movement employing the scherzo-trio-scherzo form. Hints of the Hungarian music loved by Brahms are suggested in the stormy rising and falling triplets of the scherzo outer sections, contrasting the more peaceful central section. The cheerful nature of the rather short finale is interrupted only by a dark interlude in the center of the work before returning to its happy opening and finishing with an optimistic flourish.
In his final years, Debussy planned a series of “Six Sonatas for Diverse Instruments” but lived long enough to complete only the first three: the Cello Sonata, the Sonata for Flute, Harp, and Viola, and the Violin Sonata (which was originally to include English Horn!). While the cello sonata is strikingly brief – about eleven minutes – it is regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the cello repertoire, packing great intensity into its short duration.
The bold character of the opening of the Prologue is quickly answered by a softer melancholy melody. While the two themes are developed, transformed, and recapitulated as in most sonata first movements, Debussy’s numerous instructions to the performers on changes of tempo and character may create the impression of free fantasy overlying the classical structure.
A tradition persists that, owing to Debussy’s love of the characters of the Commedia dell’arte, he considered naming the sonata, “Pierrot Angry at the Moon” Though it is not clear if this idea was Debussy’s idea or another’s, the plucked strings of the Serenade movement can easily evoke the image of Pierrot strumming a little guitar in the moonlight, playing melodies which are mocking and lonely in turn.
The second movement proceeds without pause to the energetic Finale. Debussy said he was inspired by the sonatas of Couperin, and instead of the contrast of different themes associated with traditional sonata style, Debussy here seems to spin out various aspects of a single melody, extended through many twists, turns and transformations. A short declamation of the first movement’s opening is heard just before the bombastic coda.
Mark Lanz Weiser’s music has been performed internationally by such groups as the Baltimore and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras, the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Pulse Chamber Music, the Capitol Quartet, the Peabody Orchestra, USC Thornton EDGE, and includes commissions from the American Guild of Organists, Loudoun Symphony Orchestra, and Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. His opera Where Angels Fear to Tread, will be given its professional premiere by Opera San Jose in their upcoming 2014-2015 season. Weiser’s music can also be heard in many award-winning commercial and independent films that have been shown throughout the US, UK, and Canada.
The Stronger Child is the most recent collaboration between Weiser and Jason Love. Weiser wrote the work to include Kyle Engler, another long-time collaborator. The work, with a text by Carla Spataro, is cast in five sections, and Weiser writes of it:
“In 211 CE, Septimius Severus died leaving his two sons, Geta and Antoninus (later known as Caracalla) as co-emperors of the Roman Empire. This led to disastrous results, as the two siblings could not tolerate each other. At the urging of the Praetorian Prefect, Marcus Macrinus, the brilliant and influential Julia Domna, widow of Severus and mother of Geta and Antoninus, requested a private meeting with her two sons to work out their differences.
“Unknown to Julia and Geta, Antoninus stationed his private guards outside of his mother’s rooms. During the meeting, Antoninus called to the guards – they entered, and immediately fell on Geta, killing him. Antoninus stormed from the room, shouting that he had prevented an attempt on his life by his brother, leaving Julia, covered in blood, holding Geta in her arms.
“The following is an imagined monologue by Julia Domna, as she recovers and reflects on the events and their implication for the future of Rome.”
Between 2005 and 2011 Connesson penned a trilogy of sonatas for violin, viola, and cello with piano. While the Two Constellations for viola explore a cosmic theme found in many of his orchestral works, the sonatas for violin, The Songs of Atlantis (2007), and cello, The Songs of Agartha (2008) share another fascination of the composer: lost civilizations.
While the mythical city of Atlantis was to be found under the sea, the legendary city of Agartha lay underneath the Mongolian desert, near the center of the earth. The first movement (“Sous le désert de Mongolie”) represents the underground caverns of Agartha in slowly unfolding phrases arching and accelerating in the middle of the piece as the great city is revealed and dying away at the close.
The second movement (“La bibliothèque de Savoirs Perdus”), a scherzo, depicts the Library of Forgotten Knowledge, home to mysterious books and knowledge lost over the ages. Connesson imagines an explorer opening one book after another hoping to find absolute knowledge. Each time he thinks he is close to his goal he is instead confounded by “unknown objects” represented by solitary chords played by the piano.
The final movement depicts a great dance: “On Main Square, which looked like a gigantic antique forum, was the Throne. There sat the King of the World, with his dark-miened advisers. In front of him, a wild dance was being performed, the dancers progressively putting the throng into a collective trance.” [Some material above is adapted from an interview with the composer give to Louisiana Music available at louisiana.music.dk.]
French composer Guillaume Connesson has become well-known across the globe for his orchestral, vocal, and chamber music. Of this work, the composer writes:
“Disco music, which was much in fashion in nightclubs towards the end of the 1970s, has furnished two elements for this toccata: first the ostinato-like rhythm, and secondly a number of typical melodic 'riffs' played by the guitars. Once I had distanced myself from this source, however, I inserted further ideas using a different time signature which I proceeded to develop along more classical lines.
“The resulting rapid and unceasing movement led me to the baroque toccata form, in which instrumental virtuosity becomes a vehicle for expression in its own right. Since I have always been fascinated by the similarity between today’s popular music and that of the baroque period, I found it an irresistible challenge to blend aspects of both styles within this one short piece.”
About the Concert
Through our partnership with Howard Community College, Music Director Jason Love performs a recital on the HCC Faculty Concert Series in a program combining ancient stories and contemporary ideas.
Pianist Rachel Franklin joins Love for masterpieces by Brahms and Debussy which mine the past while looking towards the future. The rich, often flamboyant music of Guillaume Connesson explores an ancient mythical city on the one hand and modern popular dance music on the other. Finally, the HCC season-long theme of “blood” erupts in Mark Weiser’s work, an ancient power struggle for control of the Roman Empire in a contemporary setting for electric guitar and voice.
Tickets for this event must be purchased from the Horowitz Center Box Office, located in the Grand Hall of Horowitz Center. They can be purchased online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/9942065
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