In 1766, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy completed a sumptuous summer palace, Esterháza, on the site of a former hunting lodge. The “summers” he and his entourage spent in the country eventually lengthened to 10 months of each year, and the prince expected his Kapellmeister, Haydn, to keep him well supplied with musical diversions. The composer acknowledged the impact of this obligation, writing, “In Esterháza I was forced to become original.”
Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D is a product of that fruitful environment. Dating from 1783, it featured Anton Kraft, principal cellist of the Esterházy court orchestra from 1778 to 1790. Kraft studied composition with Haydn, and scholars long believed the concerto to be by the cellist himself, until a signed autograph copy discovered in 1951 confirmed the music as Haydn’s. The solo part is far more demanding than Haydn’s earlier Cello Concerto in C from the 1760s, so we can suppose that the composer factored in Kraft’s abilities and possibly even consulted directly with him.
The Allegro moderato first movement begins with a relaxed exposition for orchestra. When the cello enters with the melody, the violins double its line down an interval of a third; at the second theme, the violins again join in, this time a sixth above. These duet harmonies would be equally at home in an opera, which was, it turns out, exactly what Haydn was writing for the prince at the time. In this concerto the cello plays all the roles — from basso profundo to soubrette soprano — reaching far into the instrument’s upper range.
The Adagio is an intimate rondo, propelled gently forward by 16th-notes in the accompaniment. For the first statement of the theme, and again in one of its returns, the cello floats over murmuring violins and violas, imparting a special delicacy to the transparent texture. As in the first movement, the finale begins at a gentle piano dynamic, only to return shortly at forte. Haydn’s famous humor animates this movement, with breath-catching holds between phrases, extreme changes in range, and an unexpected detour into the minor mode.
Aaron Grad ©2010
By 1964, when Shostakovich composed the String Quartet No. 10 at a composer’s retreat in Armenia, his life was as settled as it had been in decades. He had recently married for the third time, a decade of “thaw” under the political leadership of Khruschev had brought his music back to the fore in Russian society, and the health problems that plagued his final decade had not yet afflicted him.
The Tenth Quartet—or the variant heard here, an authorized adaptation for string orchestra by the Russian conductor and violist Rudolf Barshai—is a far more congenial work than, say, the Eighth Quartet, composed four years earlier in a nearly suicidal state of despair. The restrained Andante tempo and passing triads of the opening movement exude a quiet comfort, and the scherzo that follows gives the sense that its furioso antics, intense as they are, mean no harm.
A subtle thematic link, with the first phrase of the Adagio picking up a motive still ringing from the preceding movement, helps smooth a path for the stately unfurling of a passacaglia, an archaic form that evokes grounding and constancy. The Allegretto finale tiptoes in over the last wisps of the slow movement, and the quiet strains linger and develop into broad counter-themes that offset the nimble, dancing motives. The movement makes only one sustained push at full intensity, otherwise preferring a hushed palette and nostalgic traces of earlier music.
Aaron Grad ©2014
About This Program
Ruth Crawford Seeger composed Suite for Wind Quintet in 1952, 16 years since writing any significant compositions and a year before she died from cancer. Principal Cello Julie Albers takes the spotlight in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D, the second of two cello concertos composed twenty years apart. Written in dedication to and in competition with his close friend Mieczysław Weinberg, Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 10 will be performed in an arrangement for Chamber Symphony.