PROGRAM NOTES Concert Gilles Apap, Bruno Monsaingeon, 
Eric Fernand-N'Kaqua (3/11/04)


By Lawrence Budmen

If Johannes Brahms is viewed as the conservative guardian of the Austro-German musical tradition, his music is infused with the greatest reverence for the creative giants who preceded him. Above all Brahms worshipped Beethoven and was concerned about comparisons between that master's works and his music. Arnold Schoenberg believed that Brahms's compositional procedures marked him as a great progressive who advanced enlightened musical thinking in the 19th century. His rejuvenation of traditional musical forms and the melodic beauty of his thematic material found expression in both large scale and intimate works. The shadow of Beethoven hung over Brahms's chamber music. A mere two dozen chamber music scores survived Brahms's ruthless self criticism although he apparently composed 100 such works. His unwavering sense of form (gained from his worship of Beethoven) shines through all his scores. Although he decided to cease composing in 1890, the clarinet virtuoso Richard Muhlfeld inspired Brahms to write some of his most subtle, deeply felt works for the clarinet. Brahms later transcribed the clarinet part of several of these scores for string instruments (in order to give the scores a wider audience) and it is in that form that the "Sonata in F Minor for Viola, Violin, and Piano" is being presented. The music is quintessential Brahms - filled with rich, dark harmonies and a fountain of melodic inspiration. The warmly romantic melodies and gorgeous harmonies are musical sublimity itself. 

Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was one of the most strikingly original composers of the 20th century. In his symphonies and string quartets, Shostakovich gave voice first to the new Russian revolutionary zeal and later to the agony of the Russian people under Soviet oppression. Yet there was another (less familiar) side to this Russian composer. Shostakovich was a master of three quarter time. His ballet and film scores brim with intoxicating waltzes. He also composed concert waltzes as encores for noted Russian musicians.

Manuel De Falla (1876-1946) was one of the first Spanish composers to win international fame. After initial studies in his native country, De Falla moved to Paris in 1907 where he fell under the influence of Dukas, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Albeniz. He developed a highly personal style that mixed the primitive songs of Andalusia (canto jondo) with modern harmonies and impressionistic tonal coloring. His "6 Popular Spanish Songs" were composed in 1914, a time when the composer was about to achieve renown for his landmark ballet scores "El Amor Brujo" and "The Three Cornered Hat." This colorful, nationalistic tinged music combines elements of flamenco with operatic classicism. Although usually sung by a soprano, this transcription gives the violin the vocal line.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was one of France's most prominent impressionists. Yet his musical interests ranged widely. He was deeply fascinated by American jazz. (While touring America he spent an evening with George Gershwin at Harlem's famous Cotton Club.) The second movement "Blues: Moderato" of his "Sonata for Violin and Piano" (composed between 1923 and 1927) is Ravel's tribute to the "Jazz Age" of the 1920's. The gutsy slides and syncopations of this movement pay tribute to the raw energy of the American jazz musicians he heard in Paris. Yet the discreet tone of the music makes clear that this is definitely "French jazz." Ravel also was deeply interested in other cultures both near and far. His mother was Basque. Spain was a natural musical influence that found voice in such scores as "Rhapsodie Espagnole" and "L'Heure Espagnole." "Alborada Del Gracioso" is the fourth piece in Ravel's 1904-05 piano cycle "Miroirs." Here the composer synthesizes Impressionistic Spanish tinged color with grandly virtuosic piano writing. 

Georges Enesco (1881-1955), Romania's most famous composer, was a musical polymath. Composer, conductor, violin virtuoso extraordinaire, pianist, cellist, and teacher - Enesco was the ultimate musicians' musician. As a composer, Enesco was the creator of music of diverse styles - Romantic, neo-classical, nationalistic. He even experimented with atonality. In the "Sonata No.3 in A Minor" for Violin and Piano, Opus 25 ("In the Popular Romanian Style") Enesco fuses classicism and popular art in a uniquely personal manner. Enesco does not quote original folk tunes. Rather he attempts to recreate the rhapsodic style of a Gypsy folk fiddler in the context of an original composition. In the score Enesco notates glissandos, portamentos, quarter tones or "bent notes", rhythmic irregularities - the essential components of European folk music. The concluding Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso is particularly notable for its Gypsy elements seen through a thoroughly contemporary musical prism. 

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