OLD WORLD TO NEW WAVE
Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm
Pontifical College Josephinum
Marc Moskovitz, cello | Cora Kuyvenhoven, cello | Nat Chaitkin, cello | Joel Becktell, cello Online and Phone sales are now disabled. Tickets can only be purchased in person at the Josephinum starting at 4pm.
G. Gabrieli - Canzona per sonare No. 2
Vivaldi - Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, No. 11
Mozart/Johnstone - Ave Verum Corpus
Fitzenhagen - Ave Maria
Debussy/Watkins - The Girl with the Flaxen Hair
Bartok/Varga - Hungarian Peasant Songs
Sousa/Moore - The Stars and Stripes Forever
Joplin/Thomas-Mifune - The Easy Winners
Sinatra/Rogers - My Way
Piazzolla/Johnstone - Libertango
Mercury/Maximoff - Bohemian Rhapsody
Walker - Squaretet
Canzona per sonare No. 2
For the quarter century before his death, Giovanni Gabrieli was the leading musical figure of Venice and, therefore, one of the most influential musicians in Europe. His work is the highpoint of Venetian Renaissance music, an art of color and richness and brilliance, created to celebrate God and the Venetian state. The principal musical establishment in Venice was at the basilica of St. Mark, the lavish private chapel of the Doges. Giovanni was “first organist” there from 1585 until his death.
The structure of St. Mark’s, with choir galleries on either side of the high altar, encouraged the development of works performed in a stereophonic effect by divided choirs and instrumental ensembles. Rather quickly, composers at St. Mark’s began to exploit these opposing forces, writing echo effects, sometimes with sudden shifts of instrumental color. Though the characteristic texture of Renaissance music is contrapuntal, the use of divided choirs encouraged a more frequent use of chordal effects, often tossed back and forth in echo, as well as the linear interweaving of melodic lines.
In 1597 Giovanni Gabrieli published a large collection entitled Symphoniae sacrae (“Sacred symphonies”), consisting of over forty sacred motets and sixteen instrumental works, nearly all planned for two or more divided choirs. The instrumental works were called “canzoni,” a shortened form of the full term “canzone da sonar.” This literally means a song, or chanson, to be played on instruments (rather than sung).
The Sonata No. 2 to be performed here comes from a later publication of 1608, but it is another work of the same kind.
Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, No. 11 (RV 565)
Vivaldi’s life is full of ironies and contradictions. Born into humble circumstances as the son of a Venetian baker turned violinist, he rose to the heights of European fame only to descend again to poverty and interment in a pauper’s grave. He suffered ill health from birth, yet traveled tirelessly in a day when international travel was exhausting and risky. Though ordained a priest, he soon gave up saying Mass and later caused scandals by traveling with two sisters, Anna and Paolina Giraud, the first of whom, at least, was almost certainly his mistress as well as his singing pupil. He was notoriously vain and hard to work with, yet his talents were such that employers willingly put up with his vagaries.
For some fifteen years, between 1703 and 1718, he worked on and off (between travels and arguments with supervisors) in various capacities at the Pio Ospedale della Pieta, a charitable, state run orphanage. The girls were given special training in music. This expensive education was not offered out of a sheer love of art, but simply out of a practical desire to get the orphans off the public rolls by educating them and making them suitable marriage partners or, at worst, fitting them for a career as a professional musician (a line of work that was still rare, but possible, for a woman). It was for the remarkably talented girls in this institution that Vivaldi composed most of his sonatas and concertos. (The boys in the orphanage were taught more practical skills such as carpentry and horseshoeing.)
Having used a Venetian publisher for his Opus 1 (twelve trio sonatas) in 1705 and his Opus 2 (twelve solo sonatas) in 1709, Vivaldi turned for Opus 3 to an Amsterdam publisher, Estienne Roger, who engraved the music, rather than printing it from movable type, as most Italian printers had been doing for nearly two centuries. The result was more elegant in appearance (Vivaldi himself acknowledged this in his preface); but it also testified to an active interest in his music in the far reaches of northern Europe. Roger showed foresight in accepting this large publication, for Vivaldi’s Opus 3 became the most influential musical publication of the first half of the eighteenth century. Vivaldi may not have invented the ritornello form of the Baroque concerto, but these twelve compositions—only a tiny percentage of his more than 500 concertos—did more than any others to establish the form all over Europe. From the tip of the Italian boot up to England and Scandinavia, composers attempted to imitate the directness of Vivaldi’s pregnant themes and the energy of his rhythms, not to mention his highly refined ear for orchestral color.
The ritornello form is an efficient organizing principle; the basic material of the movement is set forth by the full orchestra in a passage that returns in various keys before being restated in the tonic at the end of the movement. These frequent restatements justify the term “ritornello” (“that which returns”); their function is like that of the piers of a suspension bridge, supporting the airy span of the soloist’s (or soloists’) line. So effective is the ritornello that it was adopted as the formal principle for everything from concertos to opera arias in the ensuing decades.
A bon mot of our day has it that Vivaldi composed the same piece 500 times. This is, naturally, a great exaggeration. In any case, his work attracted the attention of the greatest musical intellects of his day. Chief among them was J.S. Bach, who was bowled over by Vivaldi’s Opus 3. This music was available to the court orchestra at Weimar, where Bach was working, soon after its publication. Bach devoted himself to the study of Vivaldi’s work, transcribing violin concertos into works for keyboard and orchestra (the best known of these is the B-minor concerto, Vivaldi’s Opus 3, No. 10, for four violins, which Bach converted into a concerto in A minor for four harpsichords). The qualities that Bach learned from Vivaldi—clear melodic outlines, crisp contours of the melody and bass lines, rhythmic conciseness, unified motivic treatment, and clearly demarcated plans of modulation—are the qualities for which we can still appreciate the directness and imagination of the prolific Italian composer. The published title of Opus 3, L’Estro armonico is hard to translate, but “The Harmonic Fantasy” is a more or less literal equivalent. Vivaldi most likely intended a sense more general and more grandiose—something like “The Musical Imagination.” In any case, within this volume of twelve concertos—four each for one violin, two violins, and four violins—Vivaldi’s fantasy caught the attention of musical Europe.
WOLFGANG AMADÈ MOZART
Ave Verum Corpus, K.618
Ave verum corpus is one of those rare and astonishing works of utter simplicity and consummate mastery. For all the best reasons, it is one of Mozart’s most frequently performed compositions; it is not beyond the capacity of even the smallest school chorus or church choir, yet in its forty-six measures it achieves an intensity of expression rarely found even in works lasting an hour or more, and a perfection of shape almost unmatched.
The great Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein wrote about the general problem of style in the church music of Mozart’s day—the fact that, owing to tradition and the survival of older practices in the liturgy, old and new musical types were often slapped together without regard for sense or musical sensibility, simply because it was “traditional” to have a fugue here or a change of texture there. Every classical composer, including Haydn and Mozart, had to contend with this situation and find his own solution. But in Ave verum corpus, said Einstein, “ecclesiastical and personal elements flow together. The problem of style is solved.” The work is shaped in four phrases, each growing progressively in harmonic intensity, and the last becoming ever-so-lightly contrapuntal in building to the climactic word of the text (“mortis”) then gently dying away.
Mozart completed the motet on June 17, 1791. It was probably first performed at Anton Stoll’s choir school in Baden, just outside Vienna, on the feast of Corpus Christi that year. Mozart surely had no inkling, as he was setting the words about “a foretaste of the trial of death,” that he himself would not see the end of that year.
| WILHELM FITZENHAGEN
Ave Maria, for cello ensemble
Fitzenhagen was a distinguished cellist and composer who is best remembered as the player for whom Tchaikovsky wrote his Rococo Variations. His own works, many of them quite attractive, have largely been forgotten. In addition to concertos for cello, he also wrote a substantial number of smaller works, some of them for cello quartet. The Ave Maria is a sweetly prayerful composition suggesting a religious context, but with no attempt to set the ecclesiastical words.
The Girl with the Flaxen Hair
Debussy was a superb pianist, and he composed important piano works all his life. In 1910 and 1913 he published two books of preludes, relatively short, colorful works identified by a term already honored in music history, particularly from its use with the “preludes and fugues” of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and the Préludes of Chopin. Bach’s and Chopin’s preludes were purely abstract compositions, each growing from a single musical idea or gesture and with no verbal indication of its significance or inspiration. Unlike his predecessors, Debussy quietly appended a word or phrase to each of the movements in his preludes, making more explicit the image that the music might be expected to conjure up. La fille aux cheveux de lin (“The girl with the flaxen hair,” Book I) was for a long time the most popular piano piece Debussy ever wrote, and it exists in many transcriptions. The title comes from a collection of Scottish Songs by Lecomte de Lisle that had attracted Debussy’s attention two decades earlier.
Hungarian Peasant Songs
This set of songs, arranged by Bartók from music that he collected through extensive collecting trips in the villages of Hungary and Romania, first appeared as a set of fifteen such songs for piano (composed between 1914 and 1918). He orchestrated many of them in the summer of 1933 (a colleague had already produced orchestral versions in 1928). His steady work with the traditional songs of his country colored his own melodic language and rhythm deeply. In this collection, he gathered several tunes into two medleys, treating them with different types of accompaniment and elaboration.
JOHN PHILIP SOUSA
The Stars and Stripes Forever
Sousa composed his most famous march while returning from Europe in the fall of 1896. As he paced the deck of the steamer bringing him home, he worked out the details of the score in his head with—as he recalled in his memoirs—“a mental brass band playing the march fully a hundred times during the week I was on the steamer.” Not until he had polished its every detail did he set it down on paper. It was published the following spring and quickly went around the world. When conducting his own famous band—which he did tirelessly until his death—Sousa never listed his own marches in the printed program, but scattered them through the concert as encores to delight the audience. Stars and Stripes was almost always the last music heard in one of his concerts. Sousa himself was never bashful about identifying it in the way that most of the world has come to agree with: “the world’s greatest march.”
The Easy Winners
By the last quarter of the 20th century, the name of Scott Joplin had been forgotten by all but a few devotees of “old time piano rags.” Today he is firmly enshrined in the pantheon of American composers, an American Chopin who turned the gestures of popular instrumental dance music into elegant works of art. The revival of Joplin’s music was as sudden as it was deserved, first in a handful of recordings of the original piano pieces. It reached a huge audience when several of his rags were selected for use in the score of the hit film The Sting. Since then it has showed no sign of fading. The Easy Winners is typical of Joplin’s work, consisting of several different tunes, or strains, with contrasting moods and a jaunty lyrical swing.
CLAUDE FRANÇOIS AND JACQUES REVAUX
My Way (Comme d’habitude)
In his long and hugely successful career, Frank Sinatra recorded many songs that were forever after associated with him. One of the latest and most successful was “My Way,” in which a man late in life contemplates the years that are gone and expresses satisfaction that he had lived life on his own terms. At least that was the content of the song as Sinatra sang it, with the lyrics by Paul Anka. Actually it had an extended history before that.
It was originally a popular song in French, with the title “Comme d’habitude” (As usual), with the music by Claude François and Jacques Revaux, and lyrics by François with Gilles Thibaut. There had been another English version, entitled “For me,” before Paul Anka heard the original French recording while vacationing in France and immediately negotiated the rights to publish an English version. He felt certain that the song would be perfect for Frank Sinatra. When he had finished his lyrics, he called Sinatra, and the rest is history.
The Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and she helped him recognize that he had found his true voice in the tradition of tango. He was extremely popular in his homeland as a composer of dances and songs, but he also extended the concept of tango to a degree not recognized by many purists, who wished to stick with the old fashioned tradition. Indeed, it would be fair to compare Piazzolla to a handful of other composers who succeeded in elevating popular dance genres to substantial works of art—Chopin, Johann Strauss the younger, and Scott Joplin. Each of these composers was able to reveal unsuspected riches in a “simple” dance form. The Chopin mazurkas, which evoke an astonishing range of expression from the most exuberant and extrovert to a dark intimacy, perhaps come closest to serving as an analogy to Piazzolla’s achievements with the tango.
Libertango was recorded by Piazzolla in Milan in 1974. The title is a portmanteau word made by joining libertad (“freedom”) with tango, a signal of the path he has chosen to take, carrying the tango beyond dance music alone but to the concert world as well.
This 1975 song was composed by Freddie Mercury for his English rock band, Queen. At the time it was one of the most elaborate pop record productions ever made. The entire piece required some three weeks to record, with 180 overdubs in some passages. In its elaborate final form, shaped over a period of years before the musicians entered the studio for the recording, the work is laid out with an Introduction, Ballad, Guitar Solo, Opera, Hard Rock, and Outro. The lyrics to the original version were very fatalistic; Mercury refused to explain them. Initial reaction to the song was not enthusiastic at the time of its release, but it eventually established itself as a considerable hit and became one of the most frequently played and highly honored songs in British rock.
Squaretet, for four cellos
Matt Walker is the executive director of the ALIASEnsemble, for which he wrote “Squaretet”; the piece had its premiere in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 23, 2009, at the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University. It is a showpiece for the four cellos, beginning with a rather free adaptation of the opening of Rossini’s William Tell Overture (one of the best known passages in the classical literature for four cellos), but then moves with wit and charm into other musical realms.