PROGRAM NOTES CONCERT: PAUL LEWIS
(This concert was scheduled for 5/13/04 but was not performed due to the illness of Pianist Paul Lewis)
Barcarole in F Sharp Minor, Opus 60
Elegy No.2 All' Italia
Elegy No.1 Nacht der Wendung
5 Preludes, Opus 74
Elegy No.5 Die Nachtlichen (Waltz)
Ballade No.4 in F Minor, Opus 52
Piano Sonata No.27 in E Minor, Opus 90
Piano Sonata No.32 in C Minor, Opus 111
By Lawrence Budmen
Few composers were so influential that they decisively changed music history. Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was definitely one of them. It would be difficult to imagine keyboard music, as we know it, without Chopin. Beneath the subtlety and delicacy of his piano writing, Chopin was a bold innovator. Within a simple texture of accompanied melody, Chopin brought surprising variety - often in highly expressive inner voices. His harmony (through excursions into chromaticism) explored dissonance as a musical effect. It would be hard to imagine the piano music of Grieg, Albeniz, Tchaikovsky, or Rachmaninov without Chopin's creative innovations. The "Barcarolle in F Sharp Major," Opus 60 (1845-46) is an evocative Venetian boatman's song with three principal themes. The last of Chopin's four Ballades (in F Minor, Opus 52) is considered one of his greatest works. This masterpiece of the composer's maturity (1842) finds Chopin in total command of melodic variation. There is a sense of mystery to the opening musical phrases. Tumultuous musical paragraphs lead to a dramatic, shattering coda in which new pianistic material is introduced.
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was one of the early 20th century's true artistic visionaries. A friend of Brahms and Goldmark, his creative instincts inclined toward modernism. His seven volumes of Bach transcriptions for piano remain pillars of the virtuoso repertoire. After 1902 Busoni began conducting and playing concerts of contemporary music. (His own pianistic powers were legendary.) While he enunciated a desire to return to the clarity and classicism of Bach and Mozart, his piano compositions are influenced by modernist elements. His Elegies (1907-08) combine elements of Italianate classicism with the influence of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. In his futurist essays, Busoni predicted the use of microtones and electronics in serious musical composition.
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) was a classmate of Rachmaninov at the Moscow Conservatory (1888-92). There his teachers included Taneyev, Arensky (a former pupil of Tchaikovsky), and Safanov. The latter - one of Russia's most important conductors - would lead the premiere of Scriabin's Piano Concerto in 1897. While his early works were deeply influenced by Chopin and the Russian Romantic tradition, after settling in Europe in 1903 Scriabin's music would become increasingly harmonically complex (as in the orchestral score "Divine Poem"). Scriabin associated colors with musical notation. (The pioneering American female composer Amy Beach likewise referred to "blue keys" on the piano.) In 1905 he came under the influence of one Madame Blavatsky and embraced mysticism. His most famous orchestral work "Poem of Ecstasy" is his musical manifesto - a declaration of a new melodic and harmonic language. Likewise the "Preludes," Opus 74 (1914) are totally removed from the Chopinesque salon. These pieces are among Scriabin's last keyboard works. (The composer played three of these Preludes at his final piano recital in St. Petersburg in April, 1915.) Scriabin's mysticism here embraces new harmonic terrain - music that puzzled his initial audiences. The character of each prelude is best summarized by the composer's directions: sad, contemplative, dramatic, undecided, proud, and war-like - the brilliant creations of one of music's true originals!
The 32 piano sonatas of Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) are monuments of the keyboard repertoire. From the Haydn-Mozart influenced classicism of the early sonatas to the highly original musical voice that permeates the later works, Beethoven created scores that set new standards for compositional craft and inspiration. Likewise these works made new, formidable demands on the technique and intellectual perception of the performing artist. The "Sonata No.27 in E Minor," Opus 90 was composed in 1815 and dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky, brother of his patron Prince Karl. The first movement begins with a brief, abrupt five note subject. (The effect is similar to the four note motif in the first movement of the composer's Fifth Symphony. In the 27th sonata, however, the theme's cast is more sober.) There is a more impassioned second theme. The second and final movement is dominated by a lyrical, almost Italianate theme that is one of Beethoven's most inspired creations. Beethoven's final keyboard sonata (No.32 in G Minor, Opus 111) was completed in 1822. Sometimes subtitled "Sonata testament," this two movement work represents the composer's most boldly original and sophisticated creative instincts (as in the final string quartets). A dramatic Maestoso introduction leads to a passionate, tempestuous Allegro con brio ed appassionato. Beethoven introduces fugal elements into the sonata form. (Fugal writing was characteristic of late Beethoven works - i.e. the double fugue in the finale of the "Hammerklavier" Sonata and the Grosse Fugue of the String Quartet No.13, Opus 130.) The Adagio molto semplice e cantabile is a complex theme and variations. This is transformative music. At times the lovely theme is barely perceptible. The music gradually dissolves until it dies away into infinity. This gentle ending marks a farewell by Beethoven to the keyboard sonata. Like all of his works in this medium, the effect of his creative genius is unforgettable!