PROGRAM NOTES: Concert by Misha Dacic
By Lawrence Budmen
The Capriccio in B-flat Major "on the Departure of His Beloved Brother" is unique in the compositional output of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). It was that prolific composer's only specific piece of program music - a work that musically depicts a story. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Germany, programmatic works were popular. Bach may well have been familiar with such scores by Biber or Kuhnau. There is some question who actually was the "brother" of the title. It may have been Bach's older brother Johann Jacob, an oboist who went to Sweden in 1704. Some scholars have suggested that the work was written for Bach's friend Georg Erdmann with whom the composer made a trip to Luneburg in 1706 (when Bach was 17 years old). In any case this is music by a prodigiously gifted and imaginative young composer with a surprising gift for musical humor. The opening Aria depicts friends attempting to dissuade the "brother" from leaving. The brief Fugue (Andante) portrays the group warning of potential hazards on his journey through foreign lands. Here the music involves modulations of key that are rare in early 18th century music. Having failed in their attempts, the friends now lament the brother's departure in the Adagissimo. This movement is set in the form of a Passacaglia in F minor - a key that Bach would use on numerous occasions for music of great emotion and sorrow. There is a hint of Italian Baroque opera in this music. In the fourth movement Aria Introduction the friends bid the brother goodbye. The fifth section Aria di postiglione: Adagio poco heralds the arrival of the postal coach. The work concludes with a fugue depicting the brother's departure. Bach accomplishes these final sections with considerable wit. Sir Hubert Parry, the famous British composer and teacher, remarked of this early Bach work: "the most dexterous piece of work of the kind that had ever appeared in the world up to that time." Originally conceived for harpsichord, the work is tremendously effective on the modern concert grand.
The 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven (1770-1827) set an artistic standard that would remain unique in the keyboard literature. The early sonatas are marked by charm, elegance, and spirited humor that are the split side of Beethoven's often monumental, profound musical personality. The "Sonata in A Major," Opus 2, No.2 was written in1794-5. The opening Allegro immediately demands attention with its thematic inspiration and graceful, lively keyboard writing. The Appassionato marking of the second movement suggests a new emotional urgency that heralds a new Romantic Movement. After a playful Scherzo, the sonata concludes with a witty Rondo marked Grazioso. This is not the titanic Beethoven. Here is music by a brilliant twenty something composer that is filled with melodic inspiration and graceful (as the final movement indicates) keyboard flourishes.
Unlike Albeniz and Granados, Manuel De Falla (1876-1946) was not a virtuoso pianist. Yet he composed several famous keyboard works including the piano-orchestral "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" and the "Cuatro Pieces Espagnoles." Falla's musical idiom was greatly influenced by Spanish flamenco. During his time in Paris (when he became part of an artistic circle that included Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, and Stravinsky) his harmonic language took on a new richness and complexity - influenced by both Impressionism and modernist dissonance. In 1919 the great Russian virtuoso Artur Rubinstein commissioned Falla to compose "Fantasia Baetica." This is quintessentially Spanish music. The central section recalls the unique sound of flamenco singing.
The career of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) can be neatly divided into two parts. During his years in his native Russia Rachmaninoff was a prolific composer of works in many genres. A brooding Russian romanticist, Rachmaninoff was clearly the successor to Tchaikovsky. After moving to the West following the 1917 Revolution, Rachmaninoff concentrated on performing. (He would only pen five new works during the remaining years of his life.) The monumental Cello Sonata, Opus 19 dates from 1901. The Andante movement is the work's artistic heart. This deeply passionate music springs from deep within the Russian soul; yet it is marked by Imperial, aristocratic elegance. The famous Russian pianist Arcadi Volodos has transcribed the sonata's slow movement for solo piano. This arrangement is clearly in the pianistic manner of Rachmaninoff.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) wrote numerous organ works. This Fantasia and Fugue is based on the melody of "Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem" from the opera "Le Prophete" by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864). Meyerbeer's massive operatic spectacles were all the rage in the 19th century. Indeed Meyerbeer's large scale theatrical concepts had a great influence on the young Richard Wagner. Liszt frequently transcribed or wrote fantasies on melodies from the popular operas of his day. This organ fantasy and fugue was composed in 1850. In 1897 the remarkable pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni made this version (which is more than a mere transcription) for piano. Of Busoni and his approach to the piano, the Australian pianist-composer Percy Grainger wrote "None of his pupils or other admirers could have admired Busoni as a pianist more than I did, for I admired him without reservations of any kind and reveled in everything he did pianistically. He was not a 'normal' player as Paderewski was and even De Pachmann was, unfolding the music straight and faithfully. Busoni was a twisted genius making the music sound unlike itself, but grander than itself, more super-human." Those unique i qualities are very much evident is Busoni's pianistic transformations of Bach and