Music Notes for May 15, 2022



Sunday, May 15, 2022

Keyboard Sonata in G minor, Wq. 65/17 (1746)

C.P.E. Bach
Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 (1837)

Mit Humor
Sehr rasch
Nicht schnell
Sehr rasch
Mit Humor
Wild und lustig
Zart und singend
Mit gutem Humor
Wie aus der Ferne
Nicht schnell
Robert Schumann

Four Album Leaves, Op. 28
Waltz-Caprice Op. 37 No. 2

Edvard Grieg
Eleven Variations on an Original Theme in D major, Op. 21 No. 1 (1857)
Scherzo, Op. 4

Johannes Brahms
Schatz-Walzer Op. 418 (1885)

Johann Strauss
(arr. Freidman, 1825-1899)

Program Notes

CPE Bach (1714-1788) Keyboard Sonata in G Minor, Wq 65:17

Johann Sebastian Bach fathered twenty children, ten of whom survived to adulthood, and all were musically gifted in some way. Four of the brothers, all initially trained by their father, went on to become successful professional musicians.

Carl Philipp Emanuel was born to Bach and his first wife, Maria Barbara, in 1714, and his godfather was the composer Georg Philipp Telemann. He was among the most gifted of Bach’s offspring, and was certainly the most prolific, becoming a highly original composer of numerous symphonies, choral and keyboard music. After attaining a university degree in law (which he never formally used), CPE became one of the foremost clavier players in Europe. His famous Essay on the True Art of Keyboard established him as the leading keyboard teacher of the time. Although he did much to preserve his father’s music, in his own compositions he eschewed Bach’s “old-school” counterpoint and polyphony in favor of developing the new Classical style. He formed a musical bridge between the Baroque and classical eras. Of Carl Philipp Emanuel, Mozart said, “He was the father, we are the children.”

The Keyboard Sonata in G Minor, Wq 65:17 was written in Berlin in 1746.

Schumann (1810-1956) Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau, Germany in 1810. The son of an author, publisher, bookseller and editor, Schumann spent much of his youth immersed in the newly-penned romantic writings of Byron, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Jean Paul Richter. He also studied piano and organ, composing his first pieces when he was seven. His aspirations of becoming an author and poet were eventually eclipsed by his attraction to music, but after the death of his father in 1826, his mother determined that he needed a more profitable and respectable vocation. At her insistence Schumann made an attempt to study law; however after one year of school in Leipzig, he sent a letter to her declaring his irrevocable decision to embark upon a concert career, writing, “If I follow my genius, it directs me to Art, and, I believe, the right path.”

At the age of twenty, Schumann began studying with the esteemed piano pedagogue, Friedrich Wieck, whose nine-year old daughter Clara was already performing concerts throughout Europe. Schumann boarded with the Wiecks for some time, and viewed Clara as his precocious little niece. All that would change within a few years.

From 1829-1831 Schumann progressed in both piano and composition, but in 1831 his hopes of becoming a concert pianist were dashed when he crippled his fourth finger trying to strengthen it with a device of his own making. After this devastating disappointment he started to channel the whole of his musical talent into composing.

The following year Schumann manifested the first serious symptoms of the mental illness that would plague him; after suffering a bout of severe depression coupled with fainting spells, he tried to throw himself out of a window. This marked the beginning of the auditory hallucinations and neurological disorders that would progressively worsen and drive him to madness. There was also a genetic predisposition to mental disease in his family. Sadly, his condition was undoubtedly exacerbated by the crude treatments his doctors administered, which included increasingly larger doses of mercury.

Fortunately, in his twenties Schumann was still capable of improving, and by 1834, he seemed to be back on a more even keel. That year he launched, along with a small group of friends, a periodical called the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik (New Journal for Music). In the ten years he served as editor and chief critic, it became the most important voice for progressive musical ideas and developments in Germany. His articles hailed two relatively unknown young artists: Frédéric Chopin and Johannes Brahms, who would become an important figure to both him and Clara.

It was some years after boarding at the Wieck home, that Schumann began to take notice of Clara, who was growing into a lovely young woman. Up until then he had not heeded the fact that she’d always been enamored of him, and now she became more demonstrative about her affection. He finally relented, and in 1835 they embarked upon what was to be one of the most ardent and arduous love affairs in the history of music. When Friedrich Wieck realized what was happening, he was outraged; perhaps it was a combination of protectiveness towards his daughter and doubts about Schumann’s prospects and sanity, or perhaps it was tinged with the reluctance of losing Clara’s considerable performance income. For four years Wieck attacked their romance with every weapon at his command, doing his best to ruin Schumann’s reputation, but throughout the forced separation the lovers sustained their relationship with letters, secret meetings, and above all, music. In the end love prevailed, and they were wed in 1840.

This titanic struggle gave rise in Schumann to a creative surge that resulted in many piano works for which he is known today: Carnaval, Fantasie, Davidsbündlertänze, Kreisleriana and Kinderszenen. Not only are they some of Schumann’s best compositions, but they are also some of the finest piano music ever written. He called Clara his “guardian angel,” and she was certainly his muse.

Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6, written between 1834-1836, celebrated his reunion with Clara after a 16-month estrangement. Comprised of 18 segments which are more character pieces rather than true “tanze” (dances), The Davidsbund, or League of David, is the imaginary spiritual brotherhood of like-minded artists who Schumann invented to combat the modern-day Philistines of the time. Their goal was to replace the shallowness of contemporary cultural and musical life with art that was meaningful and sincere. Schumann, whose dual personality was not only recognized by himself but willfully cultivated in both his music and his writing, speaks through his two selves; the impetuous and passionate Florestan, and the sensitive poet, Eusebius. Each piece in the set is attributed to one or the other, and occasionally both. Davidsbündlertänze is, in fact, an unprecedented and disarmingly open study in self-portraiture. Schumann’s music issued from the wellsprings of his own experience, and was consciously designed to refudiate all compositional restraints and unnecessary conformities, thus creating his own exciting new forms and emotional expression.

Describing the two opposite sides of Schumann in Kinderszenen, the pianist Vladimir Horowitz remarked: “we have the Schumann who was, all throughout his life, preoccupied with a pianist virtuosity which he himself never attained; on the other hand we have the poet.”
Unsurprisingly, Schumann and his music were often misunderstood—even by those who favored him. The quicksilver shifts of mood and unconventional structures were baffling to most of his contemporaries. Even his wife Clara once implored, “won’t you for once compose something brilliant, easily understandable, without titles, a complete coherent piece, not too long and not too short?”. It was not until much later, after Schumann’s death, that she would champion his works in her concerts.

Schumann’s personality was possibly the most complex and multi-faceted of any of the great composers, leading to attempted suicide and a prolonged incarceration in a hospital for the insane until his death at the age of 46. His life was deeply tragic, but gifts he left us remain; music that is thoroughly unique, profoundly beautiful and timeless.

Grieg Four Album Leaves, Op 28
Waltz Caprice , Op. 37 No. 2

Among the most popular nationalist composers of the late nineteenth century is the Norwegian Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Grieg was born in Bergen, and showed a strong interest in music at a very early age. After encouragement from the violinist and composer Ole Bull (1810-1880), Grieg attended the Conservatory in Leipzig at 15 years old, where he received his fundamental musical training. After Leipzig, his studies took him to Copenhagen, and it was there that his reputation as a composer started to take hold. Grieg eventually settled in Oslo, but spent much of his time on concert tours. Despite his rather fragile health, he continued doing concerts throughout most of his life.

Grieg’s work, most of it in shorter genres, is marked by graciousness of effect, lyricism, and wistful harmonies. Thinking mainly of his piano music, Hans von Bulow called Grieg “the Chopin of the North.” During his lifetime he enjoyed tremendous success with the many volumes of pieces he wrote for the amateur pianist. His music was strongly influenced by Norwegian folk music which he integrated into all genres, solo piano, orchestral and songs. To this day, his dramatic Piano Concerto in A Minor is one of the staples of the concerto repertoire. It represents the essence of the Romantic Concerto in music that reflects the grandeur of Norway itself.

The Four Album Leaves, Op. 28, was published in 1878, having been written over the previous four year period. Critics have shown an appreciation for the fourth movement, but little if any understanding of the other three, which are lovely and lyrical poetic pieces, worthy of attention. Grieg described his experience writing the Album Leaves: “I could suddenly hear faint music in the distance, which came from musicians who were rowing a boat up the fjord. The tones harmonized wonderfully with my piece, and gave me the inspiration for the middle section.”

The Waltz Caprices, Op. 37, like the Norwegian Dances, Op. 35, were originally written for piano duet in 1883. In 1887 Grieg arranged the pieces for solo piano.

Brahms Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No.1
Scherzo, Op. 4

The abundant pianistic production of Johannes Brahms, himself an accomplished concert pianist, spreads across his entire sixty-year career. Though less central to his total output than that of his friend and champion Schumann, it nevertheless remains of equal significance. Being more equally divided between the different stages of the composer’s creative life, it affords an even better insight into his development. Like the whole of Brahms’s work, his piano pieces are romantic inspirations set in strictly classical forms, enlarged and sometimes modified to fit the composer’s invention, but utterly different from the revolutionary—and sometimes anarchistic – devices used by Schumann and Liszt.

When classified according to their date of compositions, the piano works of Brahms fall into well-defined groups separated by gaps in which no new works for keyboard were created. However, there is no stylistic break between these groups, and the composer’s evolution as a whole is astoundingly slow and steady. The “essential” Brahms is just as present in the large-scale early sonatas as it is in the late intermezzi. If anything, he deepened, rather than broadened his outlook in his later years.

Composed in 1857, the Variations on an Original Theme Op. 21 No.1 was premiered by Brahms’ great friend Clara Schumann in Frankfurt in 1865. Brahms loved variation form, and wrote sets for solo piano, piano duo and orchestra, all of which were based on other composer’s themes; Haydn, Handel, Paganini, Schumann, thus rendering his Op. 21 set unique. Brahms made no secret of the fact that he felt the weight of Beethoven’s shadow, and this piece may have been an attempt to master that form in an entirely original way.

The variations open with a gentle and expansive melody placed over large chords. The first variation has a sixteenth-note arpeggio figure in the left hand with Bach-worthy counterpoint. This cello-like voice continues in the second variation accompanied by rhythmic chords in the right hand. In No. 3, Brahms breaks the theme down into a series of concise cadences using suspension and resolution. Variation 4: a new sixteenth-note chordal pattern appears with an insistent timpani ostinato in the bass. In No. 5, Brahms takes us to a surprisingly intimate place, constructing a canon in contrary motion. No. 6 is a bit of an etude in triplets; the right hand plays broken octaves while the left moves in arpeggios and chromatic steps. No. 7: Brahms strips the music down to a two-voice counterpoint, with large leaps across the keyboard. In No. 8, a stormy new chordal texture shatters the reverie. This is the first variation that begins in the minor key. 9: the mood continues, with new staccato accents; the pedal bass has turned into an ominous, trembling ostinato. Variation 10 completes the D minor trilogy. Variation 11: back into the key of D major for the grand finale. Now the D pedal is a non-stop trill which doesn’t let up for 26 bars. The right hand takes off with a florid triplet pattern. After bringing back the cello-like figure from Variation 1, he slides into a version of the texture from No. 5 as the right hand takes on some treble octaves, and then there’s a slow wind-down to the page long coda, gently easing back to the original melody. Variation form can sometimes suffer from tedium with the pacing and repetition issues, but in the Brahms’ Op. 21 set, the sequence and character of the variations are exquisitely judged.

Although published as Scherzo Op. 4, this unusual piece is actually the first of Brahms’s works with an opus number. Though it is sometimes grouper with his “shorter piano works,” it really belongs to the world of the three piano sonatas, whose scherzo movements display a similar fiery passion on a somewhat smaller scale. The pieces with which it is most often compared are Chopin’s four independent Scherzo, which Brahms claims not to have heard.

Strauss/ Friedman Schatz-Walzer, Op. 418

Johann Strauss’ Schatz-Walzer, or Treasure Waltz, is one of his many Viennese waltzes composed in 1885. The melodies in this waltz were drawn from Strauss’ operetta Der Zigeunerbaron, which premiered to critical acclaim in October 1885. Der Zigeunerbaron, a Hungarian-influenced work, remained Strauss’ best known operetta after Die Fledermaus, and brims with memorable melodies.

Polish pianist Ignaz Friedman, who wrote this arrangement of the Schatz-Walzer, was one of the leading virtuosos of his day as well as a master transcriber. His transcriptions of the works of Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Gluck, Mozart, Mahler, Mendelssohn and a myriad of other composers are a delight for the listener and a challenge for the performer.