Austria to France

Sunday, January 20, 2019 @ 3:30 PM

We’ll open our season in the 18th Century in the capable hands of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and listen to his Duo for Violin and Viola in Bb major, K 424. His wide variety of lyrical ideas and rich harmonies create a work of substance where it’s hard to believe only two are playing. Franz Joseph Haydn’s most popular trio, his Piano Trio No. 39 in G major, “Gypsy Trio” is elegant and perfectly crafted, and gains its nickname from the gypsy folk tunes of its spirited finale. This concert culminates in Cesar Franck’s magnificent Piano Quintet in F minor, Op.34. This monumental and emotional work is written in lush textures and soaring melodies.

Piano Trio No. 39 in G Major, “Gypsy Trio”
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

  • Andante
  • Poco Adagio, cantabile
  • Rondo a l’Ongarese: Presto

Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn wrote 45 piano trios during his long celebrated career and brought the form from a harpsichord dominant chamber work, to a form of greater significance where the other instruments began to be given more prominence. In this his Piano Trio No. 39 in G major written in 1795, the violin takes a more important role than in his earlier works. At this time, Haydn was in London and was at his happiest and most productive. He loved the new English Broadwood piano for which this trio was intended, and he dedicated it to his English love interest, pianist Rebecca Schroeter.

It’s written in three movements. The first movement, Andante, presents a theme with alternating major/ minor variations. The violin is featured in the fourth variation with a brilliant display. The second movement, Poco adagio, offers a beautiful flowing melody, utterly charming with the violin featured in the middle cantabile section. These two movements seem to set the stage for the finale, marked Presto, very fast. It’s based on the verbunkos military recruiting dances whose melodies were of Hungarian gypsy origin. This spirited finale’s driving energy will take us on a wild romp and leave us exhilarated.

Duo for Violin and Viola in B flat major, K. 424
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

  • Adagio – Allegro
  • Andante cantabile
  • Tema con variazioni

Mozart and Michael Haydn, beloved younger brother of Joseph who followed in his brother’s footsteps as a Viennese musician and composer in his own right, shared great mutual admiration of one another. And so, during the summer of 1783 in Salzburg, Mozart undertook to assist Haydn in the commission of a set of six string duos for Archbishop of Colloredo, and he composed two of them for his friend.

A momentous and musically intense Adagio opens the Duo for Violin and Viola in B flat major leading us into a lively yet graceful main Allegro section with abundant melodic ideas. The second movement, Andante cantabile, features an extended violin melody with viola accompanying in double notes, underpinning in perfect harmony a continuous melodic line. The third movement, Tema con variazioni, presents a simple theme with a set of contrasting variations where the violin and viola continually vie for the spotlight. It culminates in a lively German dance as coda. The entire work makes us marvel what depth and richness Mozart could elicit from only two instruments.

Piano Quintet in F minor, Op.34
Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

  • Molto moderato quasi lento – Allegro
  • Lento con moto sentiment
  • Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco

Though Cesar Franck was born in what is now Belgium, then Netherlands, he moved to Paris to further his music studies when he was 15. He ended up spending most of his career in France concertizing across the country where he became known as a formidable improviser on the piano and organ. He was also a respected teacher, gaining a position at the elite Paris Conservatoire in 1872. As a composer, his output was relatively small, yet he was able to capture an international reputation through only a handful of symphonic, chamber and keyboard works that have entered the standard repertoire and stood the test of time.

The Piano Quintet in F minor, a masterpiece of chamber music, is a work of monumental proportions. Despite initial skepticism from the critics and Saint-Saens to whom the piece was dedicated, the piece became hugely successful.

The first movement, Molto moderato, opens with a slow dramatic introduction by the strings in dialogue with a more subdued, almost ethereal piano response. This directly launches into the stormy Allegro, a roller coaster of extreme emotional intensity. Yet the movement dies away to nothing at the end, as if all energy is spent. The second slower movement, Lento, opens with a plaintive falling figure by the violin accompanied by repeating chords on the piano. As textures thicken, the message of longing becomes ever more evident. There is a tragic beauty to this music of dynamic fluctuating textures that seems to epitomize the romantic pathos of the era. In complete contrast, the third movement, Allegro non troppo, opens with slow octaves in the piano over a restless rhythmic figure in the strings. The entire finale that follows maintains that same agitated, relentless and fiery drive through to its concluding unison notes, ending arguably the most powerful piano quintet ever written.