CONCERT BY EMANUELE ARCIULI (3/12/05)
By Lawrence Budmen
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is best known as the father of the symphony and the string quartet; yet he penned numerous sonatas and concertos for keyboard instruments. His "Andante with Variations" in F Minor of 1793 occupies a crossroads in the composer's artistic vision. At once the work looks back at the High Classicism of C.P.E. Bach and forward to the Romanticism of Beethoven and Schumann. Many commentators have attached the term "romantic" to these variations. While that is relative in terms of Haydn, the score does contain a sensitivity and introspection not usually associated with this composer.
In no small way Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was the musical voice of Norwegian nationalism. While he wrote several large scale works - most notably his famous Piano Concerto, Cello Sonata, and a recently revived Symphony - Grieg's most quintessential works are his miniatures. In his piano pieces and songs Grieg creates delicate pastels with an astonishing realm of tonal coloration. In his "Lyric Pieces" (66 short works composed between 1867 and 1901) Grieg synthesizes the short motifs and melodic cells of Norwegian folk music with the Grand 19th century romantic tradition. His very first "Lyric Piece" (from the Opus 12 collection) "Arietta" is a lyrical song without words or vocal line. Two of the most famous Grieg works are the nostalgic "To Spring" (from Opus 43) and the vigorous, folkloric "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen" (the Opus 65 set). Grieg wrote his biographer Henry T. Finck: "The realm of harmony has always been my dream world, and my relationship to the harmonious way of feeling and the Norwegian folk songs has been a mystery even for me. I have understood the secret depth one finds in our folk songs is basically owing to the richness of their untold harmonic possibilities. In my reworking of the folk songs…I have attempted to express my interpretation of the hidden harmonies of our folk songs."
The 32 piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) form one of the monuments of Western culture. By 1821, when he composed his penultimate Sonata No.31 in A-flat Major, Opus 110 - Beethoven was totally deaf. As in the late string quartets, the final piano sonatas inhabit a new musical realm. Beethoven the innovator and the titan speak from deep within the composer's inner consciousness. The contrasting themes of the first movement are studies of mood and tonal color. The harmonic boldness of the second movement Allegro molto has parallels in Beethoven's final three string quartets. For piano music this was nothing short of revolutionary. The Adagio ma non troppo is a recitative and aria - music that is poignant and moving - an operatic scene without text or orchestration. The final movement is a double fugue (a similar device to the finale of the composer's "Hammerklavier" Sonata) with a return to the drama of the Adagio - one of Beethoven's most powerful conclusions in his keyboard scores.
The Canadian born composer Yehudi Wyner (1929- ) has created a diverse body of compositions for chamber ensembles, orchestra, voice and piano. Wyner has composed over 16 Fantasies for solo piano. They are part of a larger body of miscellaneous pieces. Some were "occasion pieces" or gifts to artist friends. Leo Stein, Director of the Schoenberg Archives, has compared Wyner's Fantasies to Schumann's series of works in that genre. Some are studies based on a specific style, group of notes or sonority. Wyner continues to be a prolific composer. Recently his new Piano Concerto was premiered by Robert Levin with the Boston Symphony under Robert Spano.
John Adams (1947- ) is considered one of the founders of "minimalism" in music. He has often been compared to Phillip Glass and Steven Reich; yet Adam's music is much more harmonically intricate. When "Phrygian Gates" was written in 1978 it was the first minimalist work for solo piano. Adams proved in this score that a skillfully composed minimalist work could sustain a solo instrumentalist. With its repetitive rhythms this early Adams work set the stage for such elaborate solo displays as Adams's and Phillip Glass's Violin Concertos.