Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda Selections from Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, O

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Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Selections from Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83
Max Bruch

Born January 6, 1838 in Cologne.

Died October 20, 1920 in Friedenau, near Berlin.
Composed in 1909.
Duration: 19 minutes
Max Bruch, widely known and respected in his day as a composer, conductor, and teacher, received his earliest music instruction from his mother, a noted singer and pianist. He began composing at 11, and by 14 had produced a symphony and a string quartet, the latter garnering a prize that allowed him to study with Karl Reinecke and Ferdinand Hiller in Cologne. His opera Die Loreley (1862) and the choral work Frithjof (1864) brought him his first public acclaim. For the next 25 years, Bruch held various posts as a choral and orchestral conductor in Cologne, Coblenz, Sondershausen, Berlin, Liverpool, and Breslau; in 1883, he visited the United States to conduct concerts of his own choral compositions. From 1890 to 1910, he taught composition at the Berlin Academy and received numerous awards for his work, including an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University. Though Bruch is known mainly for three famous compositions for string soloist and orchestra (the G minor Concerto and the Scottish Fantasy for violin, and the Kol Nidrei for cello), he also composed two other violin concertos, three symphonies, a concerto for two pianos, various chamber pieces, songs, three operas, and much choral music.

Bruch composed his Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83 in 1909, in his 70th year, for his son Max Felix, a talented clarinetist who also inspired a Double Concerto (Op. 88) for his instrument and viola from his father two years later. When the younger Bruch played the works in Cologne and Hamburg, Fritz Steinbach reported favorably on the event to the composer, comparing Max Felix’s ability with that of Richard Mühlfeld, the clarinetist who had inspired two sonatas, a quintet, and a trio from Johannes Brahms two decades before. This was indeed sweet praise to Bruch, since Steinbach had been Music Director at Meiningen before moving to Cologne and knew Mühlfeld’s playing intimately. Like Brahms’ late works for clarinet, the Eight Pieces favor rich, mellow instrumental hues in the alto range and an autumnal maturity of expression, deeply felt but purged of excess. Clarinet and viola are here evenly matched, singing together in duet or conversing in dialogue, while the piano serves as an accompanimental partner. Bruch intended that the Eight Pieces be regarded as a set of independent miniatures of various styles rather than as an integrated cycle, and advised against playing all of them together in concert (tonight’s selections are Nos. 4, 6, 5, and 7). The Pieces (they range from three to six minutes in length) are straightforward in structure — binary (A–B) or ternary (A–B–A) for the first six, compact sonata form for the last two — and are, with one exception (No. 7), all in thoughtful minor keys. Though Bruch was fond of incorporating folk music into his concert works, only the Rumanian Melody (No. 5, suggested to him, he said, by “the delightful young princess zu Wied” at one of his Sunday open-houses; he dedicated the work to her) shows such an influence. “The Eight Pieces are the product of one aspect of the 19th-century cultural climate,” wrote Gordana Lazarevich. “In their display of lyrical effusiveness where each piece is based on an extensive melody, and in their rhapsodic treatment of the material, the compositions epitomize those aspects of Romantic thought which glorified the sensual, the emotive, and the sentimental.”

Trio in E-flat major for Horn, Violin, and Piano, Op. 40
Johannes Brahms

Born May 7, 1833 in Hamburg.

Died April 3, 1897 in Vienna.
Composed in 1865.

Premiered on December 12, 1865 in Karlsruhe.

Duration: 31 minutes
For many years, Brahms followed the sensible practice of the Viennese gentry by abandoning the city when the weather got hot. During his later years, he spent many happy summers in the lovely hills and lakes of the Austrian Salzkammergut and in Switzerland, but during the 1860s he preferred the ancient German spa town of Baden-Baden for his retreats. The periods away from Vienna were not merely times of relaxation for him, however, but were actually working holidays — some of his greatest scores (the Violin Concerto; the Second, Third, and Fourth Symphonies; the Piano Concerto No. 2; the Haydn Variations; the Tragic Overture and many others) were largely realized during his various summer junkets. Late in the spring of 1865, Brahms took comfortable rooms in Baden, which, he wrote to a friend, “look out on three sides at the dark, wooded mountains, the roads winding up and down them, and the pleasant houses.” It was while walking upon the sylvan hillsides above the town that the idea for the Horn Trio occurred to Brahms. (On a later visit, he proudly pointed out to his eventual biographer Albert Dietrich the exact spot where the inspiration for the piece struck.) He began the Trio that summer and continued it after his return to Vienna in the fall, but did not finish the score until November, when he was in Karlsruhe to play his D minor Piano Concerto and to see his friends, the conductor Hermann Levi and the engraver Julius Allgeyer, and in Switzerland for additional concerts. The composer was joined in the work’s premiere in Karlsruhe on December 5, 1865 by two musicians known to history only as Strauss (violin) and Segisser (horn).

“There are in the world of chamber music,” wrote Daniel Gregory Mason, “few more completely satisfying, more unforgettable experiences than the opening theme of Brahms’ Horn Trio. For many of us, the first hearing of it remains all our lives a sort of symbol of all that is romantic in music.” This opening movement, written in a leisurely Andante tempo, is disposed in an unusual form; rather than the traditional sonata-allegro, it employs two alternating strains (A–B–A–B–A) whose relaxed structure is the perfect vessel for this amiable music. The energetic Scherzo, almost symphonic in its breadth and tonal variety, is countered by the lyrical melody of the central trio section, one of Brahms’ most limpid thematic creations. Adagio mesto — “mournfully” — Brahms marked the following movement. Woven almost imperceptibly into the horn and violin lines soon after the return of its opening strain is the echo of a folk song that Brahms sang as a child, In der Weiden steht ein Haus (“In the meadow stands a house”), which, transformed, becomes the principal theme of the finale, a joyous and life-affirming answer to the sad plaint of the preceding music.

Sextet in C major for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano, Op. 37
Ernő Dohnányi

Born July 27, 1877 in Pozsony, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia).

Died February 9, 1960 in New York City.
Composed in 1935.
Duration: 30 minutes
Ernő Dohnányi was among the 20th-century’s foremost composers, pianists, teachers, and music administrators. Born on July 27, 1877 in Pozsony, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia), he inherited his musical interests from his father, a talented amateur cellist, who gave him his first lessons in piano and theory. At 17, he entered the newly established Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, the first Hungarian of significant talent to do so. The young composer was honored with the Hungarian Millennium Prize for his Symphony No. 1 in 1895, and two years later he received the Bösendorfer Prize for his First Piano Concerto. He graduated from the Academy in 1897, and toured extensively for the next several years, appearing throughout Europe, Russia, the United States, and South America. From 1905 to 1915, Dohnányi taught at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, a position he assumed at the invitation of his friend, the eminent violinist Joseph Joachim. He returned to Budapest in 1915, becoming director of the Academy in 1919 and musical director of the Hungarian Radio in 1931. He served as conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic for the 25 years after 1919 while continuing to concertize at home and abroad and remaining active as a composer. In addition to his work as a performer and composer, Dohnányi’s contributions to the musical life of his homeland included inspiring and performing the works of younger composers (notably Bartók and Kodály), reforming the Budapest Academy’s music curriculum, guiding the development of such talented pupils as Georg Solti, Géza Anda, and Annie Fischer, expanding the repertory of the nation’s performing groups, and serving as a model in musical matters through the strength of his personality and the quality of his musicianship.

In 1944, Dohnányi left Hungary, a victim of the raging political and militaristic tides that swept the country during World War II. He moved first to Austria, then to Argentina, and finally settled in Tallahassee in 1949 as pianist and composer-in-residence at Florida State University, where his students included the prominent American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and his grandson, conductor Christoph von Dohnányi. Though in his seventies, Dohnányi’s abilities remained unimpaired, and he continued an active musical life. He appeared regularly on campus and in guest engagements; his last public performance was as conductor of the FSU Symphony just three weeks before his death. He died in New York on February 9, 1960 during a recording session.

The Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano is a work of intense lyricism in Dohnányi’s heightened Romantic style that draws its structural strength from the music of Brahms and its sense of continual motivic development from Liszt. The opening movement is based on two themes: the first is a broadly arched melody presented by the horn; the other is a more tender strain initiated by the viola. The second movement (Intermezzo) begins and ends with soft, chorale passages, but uses as its extended central section music of a more dramatic character, marked in the score “in the manner of a march.” The following movement is a series of free variations on the folk-inflected melody first given by the clarinet. A transition based on the first movement’s arching main theme acts as a bridge to the spirited Finale.

©2012 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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