Program Notes for July 12th, 2010

21Program Notes By Ed Rutschman

 

Luigi Boccherini

Luigi Boccherini

Cello Sonata No. 6 in A major (publ. 1772)
Luigi Boccherini (b. Lucca, 1743; d. Madrid, 1805)

Boccherini was a cellist and composer who began his career in Italy, worked in Vienna and Paris, and flourished in Madrid. At the age of thirteen he made his debut playing a concerto. Within two years, he was playing at the imperial court theater in Vienna, along with his father, who played the double bass. After his father died, Boccherini went on a recital tour that included Paris, where he made important publishing contacts. He spent most of his career, nearly the last forty years, in Spain. Boccherini wrote several hundred compositions, including about thirty cello sonatas. He composed several dozen string quintets with two cellos, in order to satisfy the interests of his Spanish employer. The 1980 edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians succinctly described Boccherini as “the chief representative of Latin instrumental music during the Viennese classical period.”

In 1772, the London publisher Bremner issued six of Boccherini’s cello sonatas, and other editions of the same pieces appeared as well during the composer’s lifetime. In the case of the Sonata No. 6, the modern performer has a choice of several versions. Boccherini himself produced a second version of Sonata No. 6, scrambling the order of movements and replacing one movement entirely. All versions feature a combination of lyrical melodic writing and faster, virtuosic possibilities. With his combination of gifts, perhaps the real surprise is that, while Boccherini played in the orchestra pit many times, he only composed two operas himself.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Das Veilchen, K. 476 (1785)
Ab endempf indung, K. 523 (1787)
Un moto di gioia, K. 579 (1789)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. Salzburg, 1756; d. Vienna, 1791)

“Das Veilchen,” Mozart’s only setting of a text by Goethe (1749-1832), is an allegorical scene: a little violet yearns to be picked by a young shepherdess; when the shepherdess unknowingly tramples the flower, however, the violet still finds consolation. Mozart’s musical setting tracks the violet’s reactions with powerfully chilling precision. Goethe’s text was part of his libretto for Ervin und Elmire (1775), a play in which spoken dialogue alternates with singing. Goethe got his plot from Oliver Goldsmith’s novel The Vicar of Wakefield (publ. 1766). Taking their own turn, Gilbert and Sullivan lampooned the characters in Trial by Jury (1875).

The poem “Abendempfindung” (“Evening sentiment”), attributed to the German lexicographer Campe (1745-1818), explores several metaphorical images – sunset, the final curtain, pilgrimage and the dance of life. The speaker exhorts “you” (first plural, then singular, an elegantly simple distinction in German), to mourn and to pick a violet (“ein Veilchen”). Mozart conveyed the gentleness and the pathos of the poem, insisting persuasively that a mournful tear is really a crown jewel. When he composed “Abendempfindung,” he had recently mourned his own father’s death but had also written his sister to argue that he had the greater need for the inheritance. Perhaps “Abendempfindung” reflects something of these circumstances. Or perhaps not. Mozart also composed at this time his Ein musikalischer Spass (“A Musical Joke”), a very clever parody of various types of musical incompetence.

Mozart once said that he wrote arias to fit particular performers, just as a tailor would measure new clothes. “Un moto di gioia” is a replacement aria for the 1789 revival of The Marriage of Figaro, in which Adriana Ferrarese del Bene took over the role of Susanna, Figaro’s fiancée. The composer played to Ferrarese’s vocal strengths, since her acting was less admired. Although Susanna, as Mozart composed her in this aria, is a bit worried about the success of a plot that she is helping to concoct, she hides it well. The author of the text was probably Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s original librettist and Ferrarese’s lover.


André Previn

André Previn

Four Songs with texts by Toni Morrison (1994)
André Previn (b. Berlin, 1929)

Sir André Previn’s triple-threat career as composer, conductor and pianist has ranged extensively through the concert hall, the theater and jazz venues. The winner of numerous Grammy Awards and four Academy Awards, Previn has held music director and principal conductor positions in London (both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), Houston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Oslo. His opera A Streetcar Named Desire (1995) has been widely performed. Previn was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996, awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in 1998 and honored with London’s Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

Toni Morrison’s novels are widely read and well received critically. Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 for her novel Beloved and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In 1996 she gave the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the U.S. government’s highest honor for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. Her libretto for the opera Margaret Garner (1995, music by Richard Danielpour) uses the real-life name to tell the story of the escaped slave represented as Sethe in Beloved.

In Four Songs (1994), the voice and piano carry the text and suggest a subtext, while the cello provides commentary and reflection. The cello also knows when to remain silent. In the first song, the words “shame,” “desolation” and “death” are prolonged and given instrumental commentary, but a moment of blissful repose belongs to “mercy” (the title word of the song) as it “lies in wait.” Morrison’s title for the second song is “Stones,” and Previn’s instruction to the performers is “bright and sassy.” The third song ranges through mountains, rivers and the forest, finding them all in the title word, “shelter.” “The Lacemaker” enumerates the virtues of pattern lace.


Johannes Brahms


Johannes Brahms

Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op . 38 (1865)
Johannes Brahms (b. Hamburg, 1833; d. Vienna, 1897)

Brahms composed the first two movements of his Cello Sonata No. 1 in Hamburg in the summer of 1862. By this time he had published works in most of the genres for which he would become well known, and he had earned Schumann’s in-print endorsement of him as a “young eagle.” He had toured as a pianist and met colleagues who would become life-long friends and musical advisors, among them the violinist Joseph Joachim and the pianist Clara Schumann. As a twenty-nine-yearold still struggling to break into the musical establishment, he hoped to pursue a career in his native city and procure a conducting appointment.

By the time Brahms completed his sonata, in 1865, he had moved to Vienna to accept a conducting position, and he was becoming established in the city that is mainly associated with his name – and where pilgrims now visit his grave. Between 1862 and 1865, Brahms changed his conception of the Cello Sonata No. 1. A stern self-critic, he destroyed the slow movement that he had composed, leaving the present three-movement structure; he did not compose a new slow movement. Listeners who like to follow the subtleties of sonata form will find much of interest in the way Brahms develops his thematic materials, and how he includes fugue-like aspects in the final movement. Other listeners may prefer to notice how the pensive beginning morphs into the quietly confident end of the first movement, how the “quasi menuetto” second movement shows that Brahms had also mastered the waltz, and how the relentlessness of the third movement propels itself to the end.


Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Six Poemes, Op . 38 (1916)
Sergei Rachmaninoff (b. Oneg, 1873; d. Beverly Hills, 1943)

Rachmaninoff composed his Six Poemes just before the great watershed of his career, his emigration from revolution-torn Russia in 1918; money and property left behind were irretrievable, and he never returned. Rachmaninoff had maintained a very active dual career in Russia and abroad as composer and performer, but his musical life in the U.S. centered on performing as his primary livelihood. He based his Six Poemes, Op. 38, the last of his seven dozen solo songs, on texts of six of his contemporaries, all of them Russian symbolist poets.

Rachmaninoff’s music is a perfect vehicle for the symbolists’ practice of suggesting and evoking rather than stating or describing. To the poet, the sound of a word might be more important than any precise meaning. Just as Rachmaninoff had perfected the art of the miniature in his piano preludes, he knew how to paint a musical song-portrait in just a few gestures. The composer highlights words subtly, supporting the text with a rich vocabulary of harmonies, fluid rhythms and piano writing that ranges from straightforward to virtuosic.

In the six successive songs, a willow weeps inconsolably, a lover cries out an unanswered call, there is delight in the proliferation of daisies, the pied piper makes plans to include a local maiden in his menagerie, the mysteries of sleep are magically explored and the enigma of disappearing laughter leads the protagonist deeper and deeper into a fairy tale.


Ed Rutschman’s musicological articles have been published in the U.S. and Europe, and his compositions have been performed on four continents. A member of the Music Department faculty at Western Washington University, he is a recipient of the Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award and of WWU’s Excellence in Teaching Award. He holds academic degrees in musicology, composition and piano performance.