Veronika Eberle Plays Mozart
- January 23, 2016
After studying at Budapest’s Academy of Music from 1945 to 1949, Ligeti began his career writing in a folk- influenced style indebted to his Hungarian predecessors Bartok and Kodaly. Ligeti fled Hungary in the midst of the Soviet invasion in 1956, and he went on to hone his signature style of micropolyphony in the 1960s, a sound that reached a worldwide audience when several examples appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even during the early Hungarian phase of his career, Ligeti was experimenting with novel ways of organizing notes and ideas. In eleven short movements for piano composed between 1951 and 1953, grouped under the title Musica ricercata, the premise was that each portion would use a fixed number of pitches: two in the first movement, three in the second, and so on, until the final movement used all twelve chromatic pitches. The full piano suite did not receive a complete performance until 1969, but Ligeti arranged Nos. 3, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 into the Six Bagatelles in 1953, and in that form it has become a darling of wind quintets around the globe. A casual listener is unlikely to suspect the rigorous rationale behind these brief and whimsical movements that live up to label of bagatelle, named after the French word for “trifle.”
Aaron Grad ©2019
Admirers of Mozart’s serenades will find much to appreciate in his five violin concerti, which together mark the pinnacle of his music for violin. In the late eighteenth century, the serenade genre, rooted in the tradition of musical courtship (think of the lover, supported by his mandolin-strumming friends, singing beneath his beloved’s window), expanded to include more public celebrations: weddings, graduations, and the like. Per Mozart’s contemporary J.A.P. Schulz: “The title ‘serenade’ is also used for purely instrumental compositions, which, to honor or congratulate specific personages, are performed at dusk in front of their houses… The composer must strive to write simple, flowing melodies, set primarily to consonant rather than dissonant harmonies.”
The violin concerti, all completed in the year before Mozart’s twentieth birthday, might be heard as an extension of the serenades that mark his early years in Salzburg (Eine kleine Nachtmusik, et al.). They are untroubled works, recalling the serenades in both their compositional style and idyllic character. Equally so, the serenades, a number of which feature virtuosic solo violin writing, foreshadow the concerti. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon surmises that the third, fourth, and fifth concerti specifically “are the highest examples of his serenade style after it has been detached from the serenade proper and reconstituted within a separate genre.”
The Fourth Violin Concerto is set in D major: a logical choice of key for the glorification of the violin, as it capitalizes on the instrument’s natural resonance. The opening Allegro bespeaks an irrepressible joie de vivre immediately from its opening measures. The opening theme is as uncomplicatedly ebullient as a nursery rhyme: a martial succession of unison Ds and a giddy outline of a D major chord prepare the way for “simple, flowing melodies, set primarily to consonant rather than dissonant harmonies” indeed. The Andante cantabile second movement responds to the gaiety of the Allegro with sublime beauty. Solomon describes this music as “inhabit[ing] a world of plenitude, [in which] beauty is everywhere for the taking. … [T]he beauties succeed each other with a breathtaking rapidity, their outpouring of episodic interpolations suggesting that we need not linger over any single moment of beauty, for beauty is abundant, it is to be found ‘here, too,’ and ‘there, as well.’” The concerto concludes with a playfully indecisive Rondeau: the meter vacillates between a graceful 2/4 and galloping 6/8 tempo, but the music’s prevailing lightness of spirit is assured.
Aaron Grad ©2015
When I listen to and watch a string orchestra play, I'm reminded of a flock of birds. Visually and aurally, the performers seek unity on many levels: attention to tuning, tone, clarity of rhythm, consistency and pressure of bowing. They glide and dive in formation, soaring together or splitting into layers of counterpoint before regrouping into a single unit. During my year living in Rome, I was often treated to the graceful spectacle of a starling murmuration. Their stunning, geometrical displays of aviation prior to settling down for the night are a humbling sight to behold. In fact, starlings' mass motion suggests "emergence," a concept in Game Theory that explains how simple interactions can engender complex systems.
In Murmurations I attempted to map onto a musical structure some of the behavior I observed in the starlings' flight. Their collective push and pull, swoop, and parallel movement manifests in the opening movement "Gathering near Gretna Green", titled for the Scottish village where starlings frequently assemble. The music hovers and swoops, culminating in a cadenza; the lone concertmaster briefly separates from the flock for a rare individual moment, and is again swallowed up into the mass motion. In the middle movement, "Soaring over Algiers," the melodic line glides alone, then in double, and finally triple layers of counterpoint, over arpeggios in the lower strings. I was inspired to write the third movement, "Swarming Rome," upon learning that starlings signal and sense subtle directional intent to and from their neighbors seven birds distant. Here the notes travel in loose clusters, darting and fluttering, far enough from each other to maneuver through the air, yet close enough to respond to sudden shifts in the murmuration's rhythm and cadence.
Murmurations was co-commissioned by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and partner A Far Cry. For inspiration, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Steve Copes, Jae Young Cosmos Lee, and Chao-Liang Lin; writer Siobhan Roberts and Noah Strycker; mathematician Helmut Hofer; and photographer Richard Barnes. Special thanks to Alecia Lawyer, Parker Monroe, Kyu-Young Kim, Todd Vunderink, Anthony Cornicello, and Elizabeth Dworkin.
Derek Bermel ©2015
Haydn composed his Symphonies Nos. 82–87 between 1785 and 1786 on a commission for the Concert de la Loge Olympique, a Parisian musical society; the commission was funded by Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny, a twenty-something aristocrat who also played cello in the Olympique orchestra. Haydn was by this time Western music’s most celebrated composer, and despite his working in relative seclusion at the Esterházy court, his symphonies had enjoyed tremendous popularity among Parisian audiences since the 1770s.
The six “Paris” Symphonies were no exception. They were premiered in the 1786 concert season to great success, and subsequent editions were quickly published in London and Vienna. Jean-Jerome Imbault, the symphonies’ Parisian publisher, captured the works’ favorable reception in his sales advertisement: “These symphonies… cannot fail to be eagerly sought by those who have the good fortune to hear them, and also for those who do not know them. The name of Haydn answers for their extraordinary merit.”
The particular merit of the Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major, the fourth of the “Paris” set, won the admiration of Marie Antoinette, thereby giving it the nickname La Reine (“The Queen”).
The first movement’s slow introduction—a convention among Haydn’s symphonies by this time—begins La Reine in fittingly regal fashion. As the music enters the main Vivace section, long sustained notes in the violins above a martial descending line in the lower strings preserves the music’s stately manner. Even at its most exuberant, this opening movement retains a dignified air.
The second movement Romance is a set of variations on the French folk tune “La gentile et jeune Lisette.” Haydn, ever inventive, uses this simple tune to explore a wide palette of textures and broad expressive range. Moments of Sturm und Drang pass through these variations, but the prevailing sentiment (aided in large part by the featherweight flute solo in the penultimate variation) is one of carefree delight.
The innocuous Menuetto features a sly turn at the end of its central trio section, as the wind instruments take short solos in succession above a pedal in the horns and pizzicati in the strings—arriving at a piquant texture to close the section. The symphony ends with an arresting Presto finale.
Patrick Castillo ©2015
Wednesday | Jan 20, 2016 | 7:00pm
Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Saint Paul
Hosted by Classical MPR's Steve Seel
Derek Bermel joins us for the second iteration of the Music in the Making conversation season, bringing to St. Paul his signature and vibrantly assorted musical influences. Bermel’s diverse background in ethnomusicology and the study of various folkloric music traditions in addition to his prolific composition and clarinet career are sure to make for an insightful and colorful conversation.