Robert Schumann (1810-1856) Märchenerzählungen Op 132. (‘Fairy-tale tellings’) for clarinet, viola & piano (1853)
Lebhaft, nicht zu schnell
Lebhaft und sehr markirt
Ruhiges Tempo, mit zartem Ausdruck
Lebhaft, sehr markirt
In September 1853, the 20-year old Johannes Brahms arrived unannounced at Robert and Clara Schumann’s house bearing an introduction from their mutual friend the violinist Joseph Joachim. Robert Schumann’s mental health was deteriorating, but Brahms’ arrival stimulated Schumann to new compositions: a happy collaboration between Schumann, Brahms and Schumann’s close friend Albert Dietrich produced the triple-authored F-A-E violin sonata dedicated to Joachim, and then in three days from 9 – 11 October 1853 Schumann wrote Märchenerzählungen which he dedicated to Dietrich. ‘Predominantly cheerful pieces, written with a light heart’ he told his publisher. The tautological title ‘Fairy-tale tellings’ stands in contrast to his Märchenbilder (‘Fairy-tale pictures’) for viola and piano written four years earlier.
Schumann doesn’t tell us what fairy tales he had in mind, so you can have fun imagining what they were – most of Grimm’s fairy tales were published by then. You might also try projecting onto the pieces the characters of Schumann’s alter egos – Florestan and Eusebius: Eusebius an introverted but compelling poet (perhaps in the third movement) and the exuberant and extroverted Florestan (in the last?); maybe there is also room for the third of Schumann’s persona Meister Raro (ClaRA-RObert) the wise mediator?
Charlotte Bray (b. 1982) ‘Blaze and Fall‘ for clarinet, viola and piano (2017)
Charlotte Bray studied composition under Joe Cutler and Mark Anthony Turnage; she won the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize in 2010 and the 2014 Lili Boulanger Prize. Her many commissions include an orchestral work for the Proms, song cycles for the Aldeburgh, Aix, Verbier and Oxford Lieder Festivals, chamber operas and a variety of chamber works.
Today’s work, which lasts about 10′, was commissioned and premiered by the Jacquin Trio. It builds on a line of ‘Homages’ which originated with the Schumann piece we have just heard. Märchenerzählungen inspired György Kurtág’s Hommage à Robert Schumann, which in turn inspired Marco Stroppa’s Hommage à Gyorgy Kurtág. Bray says of her work:
‘Openly embracing the limitless creativeness of Schumann, the enviable precision of Kurtag and the intrepid inventiveness of Stroppa, I have sought to shape their separate offerings into my own voice. Taking themes inherent in the Schumann and Kurtag: night, sun, clouds, cycles, anxiety and love to inspire (as did Schumann) the imaginary world of the piece.
‘The most obvious influence drawn from Kurtag is structural, following his pattern of five short movements succeeded by a sixth that is far longer than the five put together… For each of the first five movements, I borrowed a ‘cell’ of material from Kurtag as a starting point, a harmony or figuration for instance. The final movement was approached more freely, although as the base I inserted a chord structure consisting of an ascending and then descending bass line, which repeats in transposed variations throughout. This technique was influenced by Kurtag’s use of Isorhythm, which he borrowed from the medieval French composer Machaut. The Fibonacci sequence, which attracted Kurtag, plays a part in organising chords, intervals, rhythms and structures.’
Colin Matthews (b. 1946) Two Miniatures (World Premiere)
Colin Matthews and his elder brother David provided each other’s initial training in composition. Colin progresed to Nottingham University where he read classics and subsequently composition. In the 1970s he taught here at the University of Sussex collaborating with Deryk Cooke to produce a performing version of Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony and a related PhD thesis.
Paul Griffiths describes Matthews as: ‘…the Isambard Kingdom Brunel of contemporary music: master of great time machines, steamy with energy derived from pulse and from massive, surging harmony, and openly displaying their structural engineering, all finished with a craftsman’s care’ – a description which perhaps applies more to his numerous large-scale works than to today’s Two Miniatures.
Matthews himself says of his new work which lasts about 5′:
‘The eloquent combination of clarinet, viola and piano, first established by Mozart, has become an increasingly popular one for composers in recent years, and the Jacquin Trio’s contribution to the medium has been a substantial one. I was delighted by their performance of my Three Interludes a few years back, and offered to write more for them – here are the first two of what I hope will grow into a group of Miniatures, one of them quite dark, the other more lyrical.’
W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) Trio for clarinet, viola & piano in Eb (‘Kegelstatt’), K 498 (1786)
Mozart entered this piece into his own list of works as “Ein Terzett für klavier, Clarinett und Viola” with no mention of a skittle alley (Kegelstatt). However, a few days earlier he had noted composing 12 duos for French horns (much less complex music) while playing skittles. The alleged skittle-alley provenance of the Trio was added by later publishers. The piece was dedicated to a piano student of Mozart’s – Franziska von Jacquin – after whom today’s Jacquin Trio are named. Franziska came from a family with whom Mozart was close friends. Her father was a distinguished professor of botany after whom two genera of Central American plants were named (Jacquinia and Jacquinella); her brother Gottfried had the rare distinction of having Mozart compose two Lieder for him with the express purpose of Gottfried passing them off as his own work. Franziska gave the first performance of Mozart’s trio in the Jacquins’ house with Anton Stadler on clarinet and Mozart himself on viola. It was one of three pieces inspired by Stadler’s playing of the relatively new clarinet, the others being the Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto. The piece was originally published by Artaria in 1788 with the clarinet part (also given as an alternative) arranged for violin; it is usually performed in its original form.
All three movements, unusually, have similar gentle tempi which bring out the lyrical possibilities of both clarinet and viola. Throughout, the viola and clarinet are equal partners, Mozart perhaps showing that his viola was capable of matching the wonders of Stadler’s new clarinet (or vice versa?). In contrast to the underlying gentle tempo, the opening dotted crotchet has a spectacularly rapid written-out turn which squashes four hemi-demi-semiquavers (64th notes) into its final semiquaver (16th note). This rapid turn, which is comparatively easy to play on the viola, recurs in the expanded theme soon introduced by the clarinet and then keeps popping out at the listener as the theme is developed and tossed between the instruments. A similar contrast occurs in the Trio of the second movement where the viola takes off in energetic triplets in reply to a calmly innocuous enquiry from the clarinet. The structure of the Rondeaux third movement is AB–AC–AD–A. “A” is one of Mozart’s perfectly balanced soaring themes, which is contrasted with other episodes of differing mood and energy. Again the viola gets to show off in triplets.
Charlotte Bray (b. 1982) Chant for violin, clarinet & piano (2017)
The title for this new work is taken from the poetic novel, Les Chants de Maldoror, by the Uruguayan-born French writer Isidore-Lucien Ducasse (1846-1870). The piece comprises a series of cantos with diverse bizarre scenes, vivid imagery and extreme shifts in tone and style. Ducasse had a major influence on 20th Century artists and writers, especially the Surrealists, such as Salvador Dalí and André Breton. Dalí, who expressed his thoughts and dreams in remarkable and sometimes-controversial scenes, would seem the perfect artist to depict the book’s iconoclastic imagery, and one of his illustrations (1934, p96) inspired Chant. Click here to see it.
Bray says of the Dali :
‘In the foreground, set on blocks, are two elongated figures: on the left a sinuous female figure, reminiscent of a classical ‘goddess’, hands clasped together, stands next a lumpen, grotesque torso with no discernible limbs (excepting a claw-like foot) perched on the hip of a thick skeletal leg, supported in turn by a thin, bony crutch. Its ghostly face looks adoringly, or perhaps pleadingly, at the robed ‘goddess’ whose face is unseen. In the middle distance, two tiny human forms, an adult and child, stand hand-in-hand. Dwarfed by the frontal figures, the adult appears to be waving at them, possibly to attract their attention. In the distance, a village nestling in the foot of rolling hills in mid-summer, the sun beaming through a soft layer of cloud, completes the picture. Everything in the illustration is drawn to the goddess, she commands total attention.’
And of her own Chant which clast about 5′:
‘At its best, the ensemble is essentially three solo, virtuosic voices that complement each other yet retain a sense of independence. Focusing on sound quality, I wanted to create a unique, somewhat experimental palette through which the musicians discover their own individual voice. Within the piece, passages of ethereal serenity contrast with a more direct and fiery quality. Stratospheric extremes in register are important, with two combinations: high violin, low clarinet and piano far above and below; clarinet and violin as low as possible with piano beneath both. Including register, extremes in dynamics, tempi, timbre, and vibrato are also explored.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Soldier’s Tale: Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1918)
1. Marche du Soldat
2. Le Violon du Soldat
3. Petit Concert
5. La Danse du Diable
The tale in question is taken from a collection of over 600 folk tales collected in the mid-19th century by Alexander Afanasyev, who hoped that disseminating native Russian folk tales would help promote the Russian language against the aristocratically-preferred French. Stravinsky’s text however is a French retelling by the Lausanne writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz to whom he had been introduced in 1915 by the conductor Ernest Ansermet. Stravinsky and his family were then living in exile in the Vaudois Alps, a move necessitated by his wife developing tuberculosis following the birth of their fourth child. Ramuz and Stravinsky worked closely together on French libretti for Reynard (1916) and for Les Noces (1917), and then, both strapped for cash (no royalties or estate income for Stravinsky from revolutionary Russia), turned to the idea of a small travelling theatre production: small cast, small orchestra, small space. The patronage of the piece’s dedicatee, the philanthropist and amateur clarinettist Werner Reinhart of Winterthur, allowed their idea to be realised.
The piece was originally written for a troupe of three actors (the soldier, the devil, and a narrator), two dancers, and a conductor with 7 instrumentalists: treble and bass strings (violin & double-bass), woodwind (clarinet & bassoon) and brass (cornet & trombone) plus a nimble percussionist. The instrumental line-up is similar to that of the New Orleans Dixieland Jazz band of whose repertoire Stravinsky was aware. Ansermet conducted the first performance in Lausanne at the end of September 1918, with Lausanne University students taking some of the acting roles. Unfortunately, it did not solve Stravinsky’s money worries.
The Suite that we are hearing today appeared the following year (November 1919), preceding another, eight-movement suite for the original instrumental ensemble (1920). It is scored for clarinet in A (with an eye to Reinhart), violin and piano, giving a substantial reduction of timbral possibilities, but allowing many of the novel rhythmic structures to emerge with clarity: “Rhythm and motion, not the element of feeling, are the foundations of musical art” (Stravinsky). Some of the rhythmic complexities are not immediately apparent. The piano’s left hand in the Marche maintains a stubborn left-right, dominant-tonic pulse, which starts obviously enough in 2/4 but then migrates across bar-lines of 3/8 and 3/4 that follow the syncopated melodic line. Other pieces in the suite have more complex jazz-like integrations and disintegrations of rhythms again against an ostinato beat.
The Soldier’s Tale itself is a Faust-like story from peasant recruits to the Russo-Turkish War. Returning to his native village on leave (Marche du Soldat), Joseph is accosted by the Devil disguised as an old man with a butterfly net. Joseph agrees to give the Devil his beloved old fiddle (Le violon du Soldat) in exchange for a book that describes future events. After only three days realising the book’s financial potential, the now rich Joseph returns home to discover that in fact three years have passed: his girl-friend is married with children and his old friends shun him as an apparition. The Devil reappears as a peddlar and sells him back his old violin. But Joseph can no longer play and hurls both it and the wretched book away.
Persuaded by a friend to try his luck at raising the king’s daughter from her sick bed, Joseph is taunted at the palace by the Devil, now irritatingly a virtuoso violinist. The narrator advises Joseph that he could be free of the Devil’s control if he were to lose all his money to the Devil at cards. He does so and is free; moreover he can play the fiddle again (Petit concert)! He moves into the Princess’s bedroom, changes his tune (Tango-Valse-Rag), and cures her. The Devil, now undisguised, interrupts their inevitable embrace. Joseph protects the Princess by manically playing his fiddle (La Danse du Diable), exhausting the compulsively contorting Devil whom they can then drag away. Today’s suite ends here on a musical high note. But in the main piece, the Devil recovers and reappears to warn Joseph that he will return to the Devil’s power if he were ever to leave the bounds of the castle. Joseph eventually does leave, persuaded by the Princess to visit his mother; the Devil is lying in wait at the boundary, playing his violin. Joseph wittingly crosses over. The moral? Don’t sell your violin, and as the narrator warns…
You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.
No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.
One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.
Bela Bartók (1881 -1945) Contrasts, for clarinet, violin & piano, BB116 (1939)
Verbunkos – Recruiting Dance
Pihenő – Relaxation
Sebes – Fast Dance
Contrasts was commissioned by Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman. Szigeti originally wanted Bartók to write a short piece with two movements in the style of the Hungarian lassu (slow) and friss (fast) and a total duration of 6-7 minutes so that a recording would fit onto the two sides of a 78rpm record. The two-movement first version of the work, Rhapsody, was performed in 1939 at Carnegie Hall, by Szigeti, Goodman, and pianist Endre Petri. Bartók subsequently added a middle movement and changed the work’s title to Contrasts, emphasizing the contrasting sounds of the three instruments. Szigeti, Goodman and Bartók first performed the final, three-movement work at Carnegie Hall on 21 April 1940, and subsequently recorded it for Columbia – on two 78s. The work falls between Bartók’s fifth and sixth quartets around the time that Bartók moved to the USA.
The Verbunkos is a recruiting-dance performed by the Hussars to lure soldiers to serve in the Imperial armies. The second movement uses gamelan-like sounds in the piano and evokes the atmosphere of the night. The final fast movement is an improvised dance that the recruits performed before signing on. It opens with a mistuned (G#, D, A, Eb) violin playing devilish tritones on the open strings. The clarinettist also switches instruments to the brighter Bb for the fast outer sections of the last movement.