PROGRAM NOTES FOR CONCERT BY MISHA DACIC (4/15/03)
Piano Sonata in A flat Major, K.127
Piano Sonata in G Major, K.55
Piano Sonata in A Minor, K.188
Piano Sonata in E Major, K.135
Piano Sonata-Reminiscenza in A Minor, Opus 38, No.1
Mazurka in C Minor, Opus 56, No.3
Mazurka in C Sharp Minor, Opus 30, No.4
Introduction et Rondeau, Opus 16
Kreisleriana, Opus 16
Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 "Rakoczy March"
By Lawrence Budmen
Four bold innovators of the keyboard (Scarlatti, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt) are coupled with Nikolai Medtner, a romantic composer who could not have existed without the path breaking originality of his predecessors. To add musical spice to this pianistic feast, we will hear a great 20th century pianist's elaboration of a showpiece by a 19th century master. Each of these scores requires the pianist to become an active creative participant. The range of tonal colors and dramatic intensity embodied in these works can not be satisfied by technical brilliance alone.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) began his career as a composer of church music, secular cantatas, and operas. During his years as composer to the Spanish Court (1729-1757), he turned his attention to writing for keyboard instruments. In hundreds of keyboard sonatas, Scarlatti set about expanding and re-inventing instrumental technique. Among the new virtuoso effects he employed are hand crossings, rapid repetition of notes, and wide leaps in both hands. These technical innovations are wedded to the composer's scintillating melodic inspiration and effervescent rhythms, inspired by Spanish dances. While Scarlatti wrote most of his sonatas for harpsichord, they can be played in an effective manner on the modern piano. Indeed Vladimir Horowitz's performances have made a persuasive case for the piano as the instrument of choice for Scarlatti's remarkable keyboard writing.
Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), like Rachmaninoff, was a 20th century composer with a musical aesthetic steeped in 19th century romanticism. His teachers were Anton Arensky (a pupil of Tchaikovsky) and Sergei Taneyev. At the Moscow Conservatory he still shares gold plaques of honor with Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. A formidable piano virtuoso, Medtner's playing can be heard on a remarkable series of recordings. While his compositional style was greatly influenced by the music of Brahms and Schumann, many of his works are filled with nostalgia and yearning that is typically Russian. The Sonata "Reminiscenza" is the initial piece in his first cycle of "Forgotten Melodies," Opus 38. It is in one movement and is probably based on Pushkin's brooding poem "Remembrance." The three sets of "Forgotten Melodies" were the last works Medtner wrote before leaving Russia in 1921.
In many ways Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was the 19th century's poet of the piano. Inspired melodies, subtlety, restraint, and exquisite delicacy are to be found in virtually all of his music. Composing as an exile in Paris, his mazurkas and polonaises strongly reflected his Polish nationalism. Yet these scores were not meant for the dance (although Jerome Robbins and countless others have choreographed them). These works combine dance rhythms with drama and pianist brilliance. Often Chopin varies or extends the return of the main theme. These are dances for the concert hall rather than the salon or the ballroom.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was the quintessential German romantic. His music is at once lyrical and contemplative and fiery and impetuous. The beauty of his melodies leaves an indelible impression on the listener. During the 1830's Schumann composed a series of piano masterworks: "Davidsbundlertanze," "Carnival," "Phantasiestucke," "Kinderszenen," and "Kreisleriana." Schumann was always interested in literature and turned to the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann for his inspiration for "Kreisleriana." Composed in 1838 and revised in 1850, Schumann was fascinated by Hoffmann's tales of Johannes Kreisler, a "crazy kapellmeister." Hoffmann's stories of art and madness are mirrored in Schumann's own later battle to maintain his creativity against his deteriorating health and mental illness. (In 1854, he entered an asylum. He would remain there until his death in 1856.) "Kreisleriana" is divided into eight sections which alternate between the lyrical and dramatic aspects of Schumann's writing. This score is a formidable test of the pianist's technique and musical imagination.
If Chopin was a poet, Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a firebrand of the piano. He transferred Paganini's spectacular bravura violinistic effects to the piano. His "Transcendental Etudes" are some of the most difficult piano music ever written. He was tremendously interested in making the piano sound like an orchestra in sonority and richness. (This will be fully evident in his "Dante Sonata" at a later concert in this festival.) His "Hungarian Rhapsodies" are virtuoso showpieces. The "Hungarian Rhapsody No.15" - "Rakoczy March" utilizes a familiar theme that provided inspiration for many composers. There is a long and honorable tradition of piano virtuosos elaborating on the work of other composers. Liszt himself did this in his piano-orchestral version of Schubert's "Wanderer Fantasy." Ferruccio Busoni may have actually improved upon Liszt's "Spanish Rhapsody" in his elaborate transcription. Anyone who attended the concerts of that great master of the piano Vladimir Horowitz will not easily forget his fiery; devil may care transcriptions and elaborations of numerous composers' scores. Here Horowitz applied his typical magic to Liszt's pianistic fireworks - an extension of one master pianist's work by another.