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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Adagio and Fugue

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, director and violin

Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue began life as the Fugue in C minor for two keyboards. Composed in 1783, that work (to which Mozart would add the Adagio introduction when preparing the string arrangement) appeared as part of a flurry of new pieces produced upon Mozart’s arrival in Vienna in 1781. Mozart’s productivity during these years knew no limits. Between 1781 and 1785, he completed numerous piano concerti and symphonies; important chamber works including violin sonatas, the Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452, and the six “Haydn” Quartets; the Mass in C minor; and the operas Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze di Figaro.

The string quartet version of the Adagio and Fugue came about under less than auspicious circumstances. By the late 1780s, Mozart’s popularity—and, consequently, his income—had taken a downward turn. Although Le nozze had been acclaimed in Prague, its Vienna premiere was received poorly. The following year, Don Giovanni likewise failed to please: It was criticized as being overly learned, too sophisticated for the general listener. In order to generate much-needed income in the summer of 1788, Mozart composed at a furious pace, completing a symphony, violin sonata, piano trio, piano sonata, and this arrangement of the Fugue for piano duo, with the added Adagio introduction, in the span of only a few weeks. (The work is frequently heard today, as on this evening’s program, played by string orchestra.)

The work’s character is unrelentingly severe. The opening dialogue between cellos and upper strings establishes a majestic rhythmic feel. Using an uncompromising pattern that continues for the rest of the introduction, Mozart intersperses music that serves to contrast the aggressive opening measures. This material—as mysterious as the opening is obvious—infuses the Adagio with an ominous atmosphere. It is Mozart the opera composer at work: introducing a shady character who puts everyone en garde. As the stentorian sections remain the same length, the shadowy phrases grow longer, leaving the Adagio in a mood of great tension and anticipation.

The cellos again have the first say as the angular fugue subject breaks in. As in his quartet arrangements of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart, still under the Baroque master’s spell, demonstrates here a complete mastery of fugal technique. The Fugue serves simultaneously as an homage to Bach and as an announcement to the Viennese musical community of the arrival of a singular compositional voice.

Patrick Castillo ©2014

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Tigran Mansurian

Concerto No. 2 for Violin and String Orchestra, Four Serious Songs

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, director and violin

Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian composed his Violin Concerto No. 2 in 2006 for the violinist Levon Chilingirian. The work’s subtitle, Four Serious Songs, alludes to Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121: dark, introspective, and deeply personal meditations on death, set to Biblical texts, and undertaken as a means of creative catharsis after Clara Schumann suffered a stroke in 1896. Mansurian’s own Four Serious Songs, inspired by the same Biblical passages, likewise shares something of the character of Brahms’s Opus 121—wandering, as violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (one of the Concerto’s most avid champions) has remarked, along the edge of the abyss.

The opening Andante con moto begins the work on a note of keening lyricism. The solo violin line is at once halting and searching, enveloped by a spare string accompaniment. The desolate atmosphere is amplified by an extended solo section; this can hardly be called a cadenza, given its barrenness and utter restraint from any soloistic flair. “Everything extraneous was expunged from this ascetic work,” writes German musicologist Wolfgang Sandner: “virtuosity, richness of timbre, brilliance. What remained was spirit, magic, music pure and simple.”

The Andante mosso, agitato heightens the Concerto’s intensity, while retaining the austerity of the first movement, propelling the work’s inexorable drive towards its compact climax: The third movement is an impassioned, minute-long violin soliloquy, corresponding, in Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge, to that composer’s “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” (“O death, how bitter thou art”).

The Concerto’s final movement transports the listener to a higher, ethereal plane. In this tranquil response to the agitated music that has come before, we might hear the hopefulness and comfort of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as set by Brahms to conclude his own Vier ernste Gesänge: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Patrick Castillo ©2014

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Béla Bartók

Romanian Folk Dances

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, director and violin

The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók ranks alongside the likes of Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg as one of the most original and influential composers of the twentieth century. His viscerally compelling musical language drew from a wide range of influences, from Bach and Beethoven to his own contemporaries and even American jazz. But the most distinctive and arguably most consequential aspect of Bartók’s art is his interest in, and avid championship of, Central European folk music. Generally regarded as history’s first ethnomusicologist, Bartók traveled extensively throughout the Central European countryside, listening to and recording Hungarian, Romanian, and Slovak peasant music; his deep study of this music was the most important influence on his own work. His absorption of peasant music and his integration of it into his scores truly distinguish his musical language and have established Bartók as the central figure of modern Hungarian music.

The Romanian Folk Dances, composed in 1915 and orchestrated in 1917, are as clear a demonstration of the influence of Central European folk music on Bartók’s oeuvre as anything he composed. They are the most popular works completed during a fruitful “Romanian year,” which also saw piano settings of Romanian Christmas Songs and a Sonatina later transcribed as the orchestral Erdélyi táncok (Transylvanian Dances). Though Bartók typically simulated the character of folk music in his pieces, rather than appropriating actual folk melodies, these six dances derive directly from fiddle tunes that he heard and recorded on his musicological travels. The first movement, Jocul cu Bata (Stick Dance), takes its theme from a tune introduced to Bartók by a gypsy violinist in Transylvania. The following two movements come from the eastern Slovak village of Egreš: the Brâul, or Sash Dance, is named for the waistband that would traditionally have been worn by the dancer; perhaps the most exotic-sounding of the dances is the third of the set, Pe Loc (In One Spot). Following the slow Buciumeana (Hornpipe Dance) and a vigorous Romanian Polka, the set concludes with a thrilling Maruntel (Fast Dance).

Patrick Castillo ©2014

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Felix Mendelssohn

Violin Concerto in D Minor

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, director and violin

Felix Mendelssohn, the grandson of a famous philosopher and the son of a successful banker, took full advantage of the opportunities that came with his family’s position. This was a child who celebrated his 12th birthday with a private performance of his first musical, in a fully staged production at his house in Berlin, featuring members of the royal orchestra! By the age of 14, Mendelssohn had tried out a dozen modest sinfonias at the family’s regular house concerts, and he added his debut symphony in 1824, shortly after his 15th birthday.

Mendelssohn’s first foray into concerto writing came at the age of 13, when he wrote the Violin Concerto in D Minor. It turned out to be a fitting bookend to his much-loved Violin Concerto in E Minor, the last orchestral work he completed before his death at the age of 38. Both concertos arose out of friendships formed in the chamber music readings held at the Mendelssohn house: The early D-minor concerto was written for violinist Eduard Rietz, who was a frequent guest along with his cellist brother; soon another rising star joined their clique, the violinist Ferdinand David, and he was later entrusted with Mendelssohn’s E-minor concerto. After Mendelssohn’s death, his widow gave the unpublished early concerto to David, and it stayed in private hands until it reached the twentieth-century violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin. He finally edited the score for publication and gave the first public performance in 1952.

Mendelssohn took to heart the lessons of his childhood teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter, who introduced the young composer to the formal rigor of J.S. Bach as well as the elegant balance of the Classical masters. The Violin Concerto in D Minor, starting from its muscular first movement, honors Baroque tradition with its bold unisons and crisp counterpoint. The sharp dynamic contrasts and balanced phrasing reflect Haydn and Mozart, while the passionate lyricism and throbbing urgency are all Mendelssohn, as he continued to prove in other early standouts like the Octet for Strings and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The violinist’s main theme in the Andante movement, entering on an unexpected chord after a wistful lead-in, is one of those wise and thoughtful offerings that makes Mendelssohn’s maturity as a 13-year-old all the more mind-boggling. The scampering finale is pure, devilish fun, the kind of playful mood that Mendelssohn carried forward into his many exceptional scherzos.

Aaron Grad ©2016

About This Program

The captivating Patricia Kopatchinskaja began her tenure as an SPCO Artistic Partner in this program celebrating her Twin Cities debut.

Please note: The Welcome Patricia Kopatchinskaja performance on Thursday, November 20 at Temple Israel in Minneapolis is currently SOLD OUT. Please select a different performance date from the remaining options above.