PROGRAM NOTES

TIMO ANDRES
Tides and Currents
Composed 1986
Duration ca. 15 minutes
Scored for 2 pianos and percussion

Timo Andres is one of the leading figures among the younger generation of American composers and an accomplished pianist who has given distinguished performances of new music. He has received commissions and performances from the Boston Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Takács Quartet, Music Academy of the West, and other esteemed ensembles and soloists.

Tides and Currents is scored for two pianos (Andres will be a featured pianist in this performance) and two percussionists, an ensemble Bartók famously employed in his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Yet Andres’s work sounds nothing like that piece. Whereas Bartók used his pianos in a robust, percussive manner, Andres has created piano parts whose shimmering figuration, soft harmonies, and rhythmic fluidity create watery textures containing a wealth of canons, or melodic echoes. The continual rising and falling patterns of the piano parts, the composer says, “looked like waves in the score.”

The first portion of the composition traces a long crescendo built from a gradual accumulation of sonority as the piano parts become ever more full and sonorous. Andres writes of wanting “to give large reverberant instruments a sense of geological change over a relatively short time-span.” Following a conspicuous pause, the second portion focuses more minutely on some of the composition’s melodic motifs, thereby “revealing a gentler play of interlocking canons,” the composer notes. A figure of three quick chords also assumes increasing prominence, and a strong peroration in the final minute brings the composition to a vigorous close.

                                                                                   

FRANZ SCHUBERT
Auf dem Strom, Op. Post. 119
Composed 1828
Duration ca. 9 minutes
Scored for high voice, horn, and piano

Franz Schubert’s approximately 600 songs are the foundation of the Lieder repertory, the rich literature of German art songs. Schubert scored nearly all his songs for voice and piano. But in the last year of his life he wrote two songs that add a second instrument to the ensemble. We hear one of these, Aus dem Strom (On the River), which has a prominent horn part.

The song’s verses constitute a traveler’s farewell to his beloved as he embarks on a river journey that ultimately will lead him “far from every smiling coast,/where no island is seen.” The speed and insistence with which the river bears him away seem to auger a fatal destiny, for he is seized with trembling, and in the final lines he looks forward to seeing his love in a celestial realm.

Schubert establishes the horn’s importance from the outset. It sounds a broad introductory melody over a rippling accompaniment in the opening measures and plays nearly continuously thereafter, providing counterpoint to the vocal line and taking the lead in several interludes between stanzas. It also helps direct the music from the feeling of wistful tenderness that prevails during much of the song into the stormy expression of the penultimate stanza, and from there to Romantic resignation at the end.

 

ANDRÉ PREVIN
Trio
Composed 1994
Duration ca. 19 minutes
Scored for oboe, bassoon, and piano                  

Over the course of a career that has spanned more than 70 years, André Previn has distinguished himself in a wide range of musical endeavors. As a symphonic conductor, Previn has directed most of the world’s major orchestras. An expert jazz pianist, he has performed and recorded with some of the legendary practitioners of that music, but he is equally at home classical repertory. Early in his career he established himself in Hollywood as an outstanding composer, conductor, and arranger of film scores. He subsequently turned to writing operas, songs, and concert pieces, one of which we hear now.

This work, the Trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano, adopts the venerable form of three movements in a fast-slow-fast pattern. The first begins in energetic fashion, with a theme that initially pits the two wind instruments against the piano. After some rough-and-tumble interplay, the tempo relaxes and the piano gives out a nostalgic-sounding melody. Later, these two contrasting ideas combine in counterpoint.

A stately, contemplative theme sounded by the piano begins the second movement, the oboe and bassoon answering in turn. The rest of the movement follows the pattern thus established: propositions by the piano and responses from the woodwinds. Except during a pair of slow interludes, the finale is both “jaunty,” as Previn promises, and rhythmically bracing.

 

TOMASO ALBINONI, “transcribed” by REMO GIAZOTTO
Adagio for Organ and Strings
Composed late 1940s
Duration ca. 8 minutes
Scored by Ralph Sauer for 4 trombones

AND

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
“Jimbo’s Lullaby,” from The Children’s Corner
Composed 1908
Duration ca. 3 minutes
Scored by Ralph Sauer for 4 trombones

Our next two pieces provide examples of the arranger’s art, the process of transcribing music from one instrumental medium to another. We hear each of these works not in its original scoring but reconfigured for trombone quartet.

This task has been performed by Music Academy faculty artist Ralph Sauer, who is eminently qualified to do it. In addition to his achievements as a performer, he has made brass-ensemble arrangements of hundreds of compositions by a wide range of composers, an activity he has pursued since the earliest part of his career.

We hear two of Sauer’s arrangements. The first is itself a purported arrangement by an Italian musicologist, Remo Gaziotto, of a fragmentary work of the Venetian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni. It was, however, almost certainly composed entirely by Gaziotto, for it sounds unlike any eighteenth-century music. Rather, its harmonies convey an intense pathos reminiscent of Puccini. Whatever its pedigree, this work has undeniable expressive power. Its lines and harmonies bespeak sorrow and solace, carrying both ecclesiastic and sensual connotations.

The second arrangement we hear is of one of the piano pieces Claude Debussy wrote for his young daughter and collected under the title The Children’s Corner. This piece takes its title from one of the girl’s toys, a stuffed elephant called Jumbo. Debussy apparently mistook the name but wrote a charmingly pachydermian lullaby.

 

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, Quartetto Serioso
Composed 1810
Duration ca. 20 minutes
Scored for 2 violins, viola, and cello

Upon completing his Quartet in F Minor, Opus 95, Beethoven inscribed the manuscript “Quartett[o] serioso — 1810 — in the month of October ....” The composer hardly needed to describe this work. Its nearly every page proclaims its serioso character, suggesting the most earnest thoughts and impassioned sentiments. Through much of the composition, Beethoven offers concentrated offerings of musical materials that yield tremendous expressive tension.

This is especially evident in the opening movement. Here the initial theme is a series of brief and dissimilar gestures. These several component phrases contrast sharply, and the pauses that separate them heighten the sense of dissociation. The movement’s second subject, a descant for the first violin over a lilting line passed among the other three instruments, is more regular and more relaxed. But Beethoven’s interest is not in regularity or stability, and a third theme is both heralded and periodically rent by strong outbursts and wrenching harmonic dislocations.

The second movement also draws on disparate ideas that Beethoven juxtaposes for maximum contrast. The opening measures present a simple gesture, a descending and rising scale figure for the cello alone. This gives way to a song-like melody that ends in a series of soft dissonant chords, a quiet grinding of harmonic gears. The music now turns to a contrapuntal episode that proceeds uninterrupted until a sudden reappearance of the cello’s scale figure; when the contrapuntal discourse resumes, it does so with new urgency. Another recurrence of the cello’s scale figure brings us back to the lyrical melody and from there to a coda passage that leads directly to the third movement.

Here we find a somberness that seems more Slavic than Viennese. The galloping principal idea alternates with a twice-stated section of more relaxed character, the transitions between these paragraphs being not modulated but startlingly abrupt.

Following an introduction in slow tempo, the finale brings a tempest-tossed lament. After running its course, it comes gently to rest, and there the movement might have ended. But Beethoven, who has been anything but predictable in this quartet, now springs his greatest surprise: an effervescent coda in the major mode. The music twinkles in its texture of quickly running eighth-notes, and in a twinkling it is gone, vanished into the ether. What did Beethoven mean by this extraordinary conclusion? Has the tense drama that went before been happily resolved? Was it all some kind of elaborate jest? The impossibility of a definitive answer only adds to the fascination this quartet still holds more than two centuries after it was first heard. that seems born of sheer exultation.