PROGRAM NOTES

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, Op. 16
Composed probably 1797
Duration ca. 27 minutes
Scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and piano

Beethoven most likely wrote his Quintet for piano and wind instruments in the spring of 1797, for it was performed in Vienna on April 6 of that year, with the composer at the keyboard.  On this and subsequent occasions, Beethoven improvised elaborate cadenzas, rhapsodic solos for the piano. He did not, however, extend to other pianists the right to alter the music. When his pupil Carl Czerny added ornamental figuration and octave doublings during a performance in 1816, Beethoven openly reprimanded him, and the next day sent Czerny a letter describing himself as “a composer who would have preferred to hear his work exactly as he wrote it, no matter how beautifully you played in general.”

Beethoven’s model for this composition was Mozart's Quintet, K. 452, which is in the same key of E-flat major and employs the same instrumentation of piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. The broad formal outlines of Beethoven’s quintet also correspond to those of Mozart’s: an opening movement prefaced by a slow introduction, a song-like Andante, and a finale in rondo form.

As in the Mozart Quintet, the first movement is most grave in its opening section. Here the initial martial figures lead to dramatic and harmonically rich developments. The ensuing Allegro is, on the whole, more genial. Both of its principal themes are first given out by the piano and quickly repeated by the winds. The second subject implies contrapuntal echoes, a feature Beethoven does not fail to exploit.

The slow movement features a gracious theme that also is announced by the piano, then passed to the winds. This is heard three times, its appearances separated by a pair of digressions that begin with plaintive melodies for the oboe and horn respectively.

The closing movement, like many of Beethoven’s finales, is a rondo, a form predicated on a recurring main theme that alternates with episodes of material distinct from, but often connected to, that principal idea. Indeed, the second episode here consists of development of the initial theme. The music rides a rapidly flowing stream of lilting rhythms, and the rondo melody gives a clear suggestion of hunting music, a suggestion Beethoven makes explicit in the horn calls at the end of the movement.

 

JEREMY TURNER
Suite of Unreason
Composed 2017
Duration ca. 15 minutes
Scored for clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion

This is the Music Academy of the West’s 70th season. To commemorate that anniversary, the Academy has launched a Commissions and Premieres Program, which will include world premiere performances of Music Academy commissioned works by guest composers Caroline Shaw, Matthew Aucoin, James Stephenson, Joseph Tompkins, Joshua Roman, and Jeremy Turner. The first of these to be performed is Jeremy Turner’s Suite of Unreason.

This composition is a musical response to poems by the American writer Jim Harrison (1937 - 2016). Though best known for his novellas and screenplays (his Legends of the Fall is a famous example of both genres), Harrison considered himself a poet first and foremost. Suite of Unreason takes its title and inspiration from Harrison’s penultimate book of poetry, Songs of Unreason, published in 2011. That work consists of a long poem called “Suite of Unreason,” composed of many brief and seemingly unconnected vignettes, as well as shorter poems. The first five movements of Suite of Unreason consider specific stanzas of “Songs of Unreason;” the sixth movement addresses book’s the final poem, “Death Again.” 

Jeremy Turner notes that “Harrison writes in one of his poems, ‘Why does the mind compose this music, well before the words occur?’ I did exactly the opposite by reading his poetry and then creating a musical landscape of those words in my mind’s ear.” The composer comments on that musical landscape:

The first movement, “Fish,” opens with an aquatic pattern in 7/4 time, played by piano and glockenspiel, leading to the entrance of the clarinet, a descending line shadowed by bowed crotales, and the arrival of the cello (a fish?). The movement concludes with a small and distant splash. 

A heartbeat played on the bass drum begins Ghosts, the second movement. It slows to a stop; then a languid stroll begins with simple and dirge-like piano music. The spirit passes by, and all that is left is a faint echo, sounded by a super-ball dragged across the bass drum.

Mark tree bells, brushes on the drums, and air blown through the clarinet’s bell help create the sound of a breeze gaining momentum. “The Violent Wind” has begun. Soon the wind is upon us, as cello and piano weave ferocious passagework and snare drum intimates the windows rattling. Trees sway with great strength until one crashes with a thud.

“Soul Brush” is a playful movement full of competition. Piano, clarinet, cello, xylophone, and vibraphone offer up a vision of one’s soul: hopes and dreams to start the day, to head out the door and walk down the street with confidence. And then there is the brush. A conversation must be had; a delicate balance must be kept.

The dark and low registers of piano and cello paint a patient growl. “The Lion” evokes waiting and the passage of time, symbolized by temple blocks and recollections of a theme from “Fish” and “The Violent Wind.” It leads directly into the final movement …

A monotonous alarm sounds in the piano, echoed by the celesta as if, perhaps, a memory of childhood. “Death Again” recalls themes from earlier in the piece, though in modified form. The music descends into dark waters, one last shimmer of sunlight presented by the bowed crotales is heard, and then silence.

Jeremy Turner is an exceptionally accomplished, multifaceted musician. An outstanding cellist, he joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at age 21 and rose to its Associate Principal chair. As a soloist and chamber-music player, he has performed at major festivals and with musicians ranging from Renée Fleming to Paul McCartney. An active composer of cinema and concert music, he has written scores for short, feature, and documentary films, and for live theater, art installations, and the Seattle Chamber Music Festival.

Jim Harrison: Songs of Unreason

Fish

Azure. All told a year of water.
Some places with no bottom.
I had hoped to understand it
but it wasn’t possible. Fish.

Ghosts

Recently ghosts are more solid than we are,
they have color and meat on their bones,
even odor and voices. You can only tell them
by what’s missing. A nose, ear, feet on backward,
their hair that floats though the air is still.

The Violent Wind

The violent wind.
The violent wind.
The violent wind.

Soul Brush

The brush I scrub my soul with each morning
is made of the ear-hairs of a number of animals:
dogs, pigs, deer, goat, raccoon, a wolverine,
and pinfeathers of particular birds, a secret.
Brush too hard, your ambitions will be punished.

The Lion

In Africa back in 1972 one day I studied
a female lion with blood on her fluttering whiskers,
traces of dark blood on her muzzle. A creature died
as we all must. In my seventies I see the invisible
lion not stalking but simply waiting, the solution
of the mystery I don’t want to solve. She’s waiting.

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

 

GABRIEL FAURÉ
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45
Composed 1866
Duration ca. 34 minutes
Scored for piano, violin, viola, and cello

Gabriel Fauré completed the second of his two piano quartets in 1886 and played the keyboard part in the first performance, which took place in Paris on January 22, 1887. Nothing more is known of the circumstances surrounding the genesis of the piece. It would seem that Fauré composed it simply for publication, and out of his own interest in the possibilities offered by the piano quartet medium.

In this work, Fauré follows a classical four-movement plan, with an initial Allegro followed by a scherzo, slow movement, and finale. The first movement begins with a surging theme that suggests why Fauré has been described as the French Brahms. But the composer’s individuality also is evident. The restive piano figures that accompany the initial subject would be a bit too dramatic for Brahms; the ambiguous harmonies in the passage bridging the first subject to the more lyrical second theme lie well beyond what a German composer would have ventured; and the second theme itself intimates a calm and decidedly Gallic sensuality that was one of Fauré’s signature traits. The composer’s sophisticated play with these melodic ideas in the central part of the movement proves fascinating and utterly convincing, and the movement’s quiet conclusion provides another original touch.

Fauré’s unique voice is even more apparent in the ensuing scherzo. In the opening measures, the left-hand figures of the piano combine with pizzicato phrases to produce a jangling cross-rhythm, and the melody line that the piano soon lays over this texture has a modal contour. The strings answer with phrases equally unusual in their harmonic implications, and the piano introduces an element of complete tonal uncertainty with a three-note figure built on consecutive tritones, the most ambiguous of musical intervals. Fauré spins these brief thematic gestures into a flow of music whose momentum never slackens, all the while evoking a rather fantastic character.

Fauré grew up in a small town where, on calm evenings, he could hear the sound of church bells floating across the fields from a neighboring village. The composer recalled that childhood experience in the opening moments of the third movement. An air of nostalgia and reverie suffuses this part of the work. Or perhaps something more is intimated here. Émile Vuillermoz, Fauré’s student and eventual biographer, described this music as an example of “Fauré’s metaphysical lyricism,” which seems right.

After this idyllic slow movement, the finale returns to the dark harmonic region of G minor and something of the volcanic energy of the opening (thanks largely to some extremely energetic passagework for the piano in the initial moments). At first, the prevailing rhythms give the impression of a waltz by dancers possessed, but as the movement unfolds, the music accelerates and throws off energy that seems born of sheer exultation.