Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Intermezzo Sunday Concert, 4/15/2012 @ 2:30 p.m.

Lawrence Quinnett, piano

  • Ligeti: Etudes, Book I
        No. 1: Désordre - No. 2: Cordes à vide -
        No. 3: Touches bloquées - No. 4: Fanfares -
        No. 5: Arc-en-ciel - No. 6: Automne à Varsovie

Lawrence Quinnett is currently in the D.M. program for Piano Performance at Florida State University. He completed his B.M. from Methodist University and M.M. from Converse College. His formative teachers have included Carolyn Cloud- Absher, Ann Clem, Jon Maisonpierre, Jane Gardiner, Douglas Weeks, and Read Gainsford.

Mr. Quinnett won first place in the FSU Chapman Competition in 2011, the South Carolina Music Teachers’ Association Young Artist Piano Competition in 2008, and the Southeastern College Piano Competition in Whiteville, North Carolin in 2006. While at Methodist University, he received the Willis C. Gates Music Award for Excellence two years in a row.

Solo and chamber music engagements have taken Mr. Quinnett to various cities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida, to St. Kitts in the Caribbean, and to England, with concerts in Harlaxtan, Peterborough, Coventry, Mundford, and London. He has participated in master classes with Simone Dinnerstein, Elizabeth Pridinoff, Miles Hoffman, Igor Resnianski, Carl Cranmer, Zenon Fishbein, Epifanio Comis, Anton Kuerti, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Cavani String Quartet, Frederick Moyer, Shai Wosner, and Randall Atcheson, among others.

PROGRAM NOTES, by Edward Lein, Music Librarian

Genial Austrian composer (Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is the musician most credited with establishing the “Classical” style that his two most famous younger contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven, built upon, and by the time of his death "Papa" Haydn had become the most widely celebrated composer in Europe. Known as both “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet,” Haydn started out as a choirboy and never developed into a keyboard virtuoso, so his 52-62 keyboard sonatas (depending on who's counting) were mostly composed in the early part of his career as a court musician.

Haydn's Piano Sonata, H. XVI:34 (aka, No. 54, in the Robbins-Landon listing), was written in the early 1770s, and is one of only seven he wrote in a minor key. Haydn's first and third movements are both in the home key of E minor, and the middle movement is in the relative G major. But, unusually, the key of the second movement changes to E minor before it concludes, and then stops on an open-ended dominant chord in the new key. This leads immediately into the finale, thus providing a direct link between the movements that is really very unusual for Haydn. The sonata is from his "Sturm und Drang" ("Storm and Yearning") period, and it demonstrates an energetic rhythmic drive and economy of thematic development that cleared the path from which Beethoven journeyed to ever greater heights.

In 1943, the music education of the Hungarian-Jewish composer György Ligeti (jerj LIGG-itty, 1923-2006) was interrupted when he was forced into a labor camp for the hellish months preceding the end of World War II. His 16-year-old brother and parents were wrenched from their comfortable home into Nazi concentration camps, and when the blood-red cinders had settled, György and his mother were the only members of his immediate family who had survived the Holocaust. After the war, Ligeti resumed his studies in Budapest, which he completed at the Franz Liszt Academy in 1949. He spent a year after graduation conducting ethnomusicological research, but then he returned to the Academy as a professor of harmony, counterpoint, and musical analysis. By that time the Communists had replaced the Fascists, so Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe suffered isolation from artistic developments in the rest of the world. And as Ligeti's music moved from a fairly romantic style influenced by folk music (and Bartók) into 12-tone atonalism, it escaped less and less the censor's pen. Shortly after the failed Hungarian Revolution in October and November of 1956, Stalin's brutal fist fell hard on the Hungarian Nationalists, but Ligeti was able to slip through the Iron Curtain, hidden in mail bound for Austria. As a refugee, he first joined up with avant garde darling Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) in Germany, and eventually, in 1968 Ligeti and his wife became Austrian citizens, by which time he was already garnering recognition as one of the world's most distinguished composers. Ligeti had a brief professorship in the United States, at Stanford University in 1972, but returned to Europe as a music professor in Hamburg, Germany, from 1973 until his retirement in 1989. He died in Vienna at age 83, after having spent his last years confined to a wheelchair.

In 1968, besides gaining Austrian citizenship, he unexpectedly got a widespread, international audience when Stanley Kubrick sneaked some of Ligeti's music into the groundbreaking motion picture, 2001, a Space Odyssey -- even though Kubrick had failed to ask the composer's permission. The selections by Ligeti used in the film (Atmospheres, Kyrie from Requiem, Lux aeterna, and an altered version of Aventures) demonstrate the dense, appropriately monolithic "micropolyphonic" style that is still perhaps most closely associated with the composer. But Ligeti's work actually was constantly evolving, often humorously absurdist, and, although he never returned to the unabashedly tonal idiom of his youthful works, in the 1990s he once again did return to his native folk music for inspiration. But even by the early 1980s Ligeti's music had allowed for major and minor chords to help break the unrelenting microtones, halftones and tritones that washed through the musical mainstream of the 1950s through the 1970s, creating his own harmonic landscape that he described as neither tonal nor atonal. Regardless, his polyrhythmic vitality, inspired in part by folk music of Central Africa, engages a broader audience in ways lesser modernist composers might envy.

Altogether, Ligeti wrote 18 Études for piano solo, grouped into three Books, completed in 1985 (Nos. 1-6), 1994 (Nos. 7-14), and 2001 (Nos. 15-18), respectively. They are regarded by pianists as an exploration and extension of piano technique, bringing forward the tradition of Chopin, Liszt and Debussy through the late 20th Century into the 21st.

    Études, Book I
  • No. 1. Désordre ("Chaos," Molto vivace, vigoroso, molto ritmico), explores fast polyrhythms (i.e., two or more distinct rhythmic units played simultaneously), but also with the right hand playing only white keys and the left only black.
  • No. 2. Cordes à vide ("Open strings," Andantino rubato, molto tenero), starts out with simple, languid arpeggiations that mimic the perfect-fifth tunings of a violin's open strings, becoming quicker and more complex as the subtly impressionistic étude progresses.
  • In No. 3, Touches bloquées ("Blocked keys," Vivacissimo, sempre molto ritmico - Feroce, impetuoso, molto meno vivace - Feroce, estrepitoso - Tempo I), one hand depresses shifting "blocks" of piano keys that prevent the depressed notes from sounding when the other hand plays chromatic figures around and over them.
  • No. 4, Fanfares (Vivacissimo, molto ritmico, con alegria e slancio) is another polyrhythmic study, with an ostinato pattern in 8/8 time (subdivided as 3 + 2 + 3).
  • As the title suggests, No. 5, Arc-en-ciel ("Rainbow," Andante con eleganza, with swing), rises and falls in arching patterns that the composer likens to a rainbow.
  • The title of the elegiac No. 6, Automne à Varsovie ("Autumn in Warsaw," Presto cantabile, molto ritmico e flessibile), refers not so much to the season, as to an annual contemporary music festival in the Polish capital, called "Warsaw Autumn." The study offers a constant, polyphonic transformation of a descending figure introduced as the piece begins. This same "lamento motif" was first heard in Ligeti's Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano (1982), written to be performed in celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), and it uses the unusual instrumental combination that Brahms had pioneered. Ligeti's Trio shares a deeper, emotional connection with its inspiration in that both works reflect the sadness each composer felt following the loss of their respective mothers, and Brahms had also used a melodic gesture that is referred to as his "lamento motif."

The Polish-born pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) was the first composer to make full use of the expressive qualities and coloristic potential of the piano when it was a still-developing keyboard instrument, and he rightly has been called the "Poet of the Piano." Much of all piano music by subsequent composers shows his influence, and his revolutionary use of chromatic harmonies and unusual key relationships profoundly influenced composers of symphonic music and operas as well, such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner--thus Chopin's importance in the development of the "Romantic" style in general cannot be overestimated.

Among the five Polish national dances, the polonaise (stately 3/4 time) and mazurka (lively 3/4 time) are the best known, thanks to Chopin having written so many of them both. (The three lesser-known dances are Kujawiak, krakowiak and oberek -- the polka was widespread throughout Central Europe and not exclusively Polish, in case you're wondering.) Chopin's earliest known compositions were two polonaises written when he was seven years old, probably before he could even reach the pedals, and his last work in the genre, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, was written three years before he died. Among Chopin's 18 (or so) polonaises, the "Military" Polonaise, Op. 40, no. 1 (1838), and the "Heroic" Polonaise, Op. 53 (1842, sometimes nicknamed "Drum"), are the most-recognizable by the general public. The "oh, that one" main tune of the "Heroic" is preceded by a flurry of rumblings and chromatic scales. The polonaise in general has been described as being like a march in triple meter, and that is certainly the case in this piece. Although it holds true to its 3/4 time signature throughout, the middle "B" section, with its descending 4-note ostinato, is especially martial. The music suddenly becomes rather delicate, almost waltz-like, before an ocatve run leads into the triumphal return of the principal tune from the beginning.

César Franck (1822-1890) was a Belgian-born composer, organist and teacher who became a central figure of late French Romanticism. But this was not exactly what had been expected early on.

As a lad, César-Auguste was quite the piano prodigy, and his father, Nicolas-Joseph, did his best to provide for the best music education in order to capitalize on his son's talent. Papa Franck got César-Auguste into leading conservatories, first in their hometown of Liège (until 1837), and later in Paris (until 1842). The elder Franck, it seems, was determined that his son would become the next Mozart, and gain fame (while providing fortune) tracing the footsteps of Chopin and Franz Liszt (1811-1886) through Europe's fashionable salons. However, the big-footed Liszt had the opportunity to witness a teenaged César-Auguste perform and Liszt cautioned Franck Père that, although Franck Fils definitely had the talent, he didn't seem to have the flamboyant temperament needed to fill Liszt's enormous shoes, and trot off hobnobbing with countesses and such. Papa Franck was undeterred, but Liszt proved to have the keener insight. César-Auguste ultimately left the Paris Conservatory, and reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting, it seems, from the unrealistic demands dumped upon him by his overbearing father, who had required César-Auguste to concertize and teach, on top of trying to keep up with his studies.

Amid the angst Love blossomed. One day, ca. 1846, César-Auguste proposed to one of his piano students, Mme. Félicité Saillot (1824 - 1918). At the time French law required a Father's permission for a son not yet 25 to marry, and Nicolas-Joseph refused his consent. This, finally, was the straw that disabled a poor camel, and César (deliberately dropping the "-Auguste" as a sign of defiance) stormed out with only what he could carry, and moved in with his would-be in-laws. On December 10, 1847, César came of age, and, when he and Félicité got married on February 22, 1848, his by now resolute and reconciled parents did at least show up for the ceremony.

Having abandoned his previous career track, the reticent youth concentrated on the church organ, and kept to his teaching as well. He also continued composing, but contemporary Parisian taste hungered for opera, so Franck's penchant for "absolute" instrumental forms were never exactly eaten up by the public, including even most of his mature masterpieces. But his reputation as a virtuoso organist grew, and from 1858 until his death, Franck held the prestigious appointment as organist at the newly-built Basilica Sainte-Clothilde. His reputation throughout Europe as a virtuoso organist and the master of improvisation was apparently well-deserved, such that after hearing the grownup César improvise, Liszt commented that it was as though J.S. Bach had been reincarnated. In 1872, Franck became also the organ professor at the Paris Conservatory, where, additionally, he had a very devoted circle of student composers, including D'Indy, Duparc, Vierne, and Chausson.

In 1874, Franck finally got around to hearing the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde, the revolutionary opera by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) that had premiered nine years previous. Wagner's pervasive chromatic harmonies seemed to have provided the catalyst that finally brought Franck, then already in his fifth decade, to the top of the heap of late-Romantic composers. Franck's genius was to take Wagnerian chromaticism, combined with Bach's counterpoint and Liszt's cyclic thematic transformations, and shake them all together with Beethoven's sense of formal integrity, to create something uniquely his own in the process. Franck's crowning achievements in orchestral and chamber music include the Piano Quintet in F Minor (1879), Variations symphoniques, for piano and orchestra (1885), Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano (1886), Symphony in D Minor (1888), String Quartet in D Major (1889).

His last years also included two masterworks for solo piano, the Prélude, Choral et Fugue (1884), and Prélude, aria, et final (1887). The former (and present) piece obviously pays homage to Bach, by taking the prelude and fugue combo so identified with J.S. (and otherwise neglected since his death, except by Mendelssohn), and expanding it with the sandwiched chorale, another genre that conjures Bach just by its mention. Rival composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) complained that Franck's "chorale is not a chorale and the fugue is not a fugue," and Franck certainly breaks through the boundaries that Bach had defined. But Franck obviously knew what he was doing, and rather than merely imitating the earlier master, he instead manages a kind of grand Romantic apotheosis of the Baroque forms. In this regard, Franck's work shows an affinity with Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, in which Beethoven's first and last movements demonstrate an expanded prelude-fugue relationship that likewise is interrupted, in Beethoven's case by a march rather than a chorale. Whether or not Franck drew inspiration from Beethoven, the three movements of the Prélude, Choral et Fugue demonstrate Franck's favored cyclic treatment of shared and recurring thematic material, as characteristic elements from the preceding movements join into the Fugue as it races toward its brilliant final gestures.

Russian composer and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was one of the greatest pianists of all time. Although of the 20th Century, Rachmaninoff's music remained firmly rooted in 19th-Century Russian Romanticism. For a time some post-War critics foolishly dismissed him as old-fashioned, but the lush harmonies and sweeping melodies that characterize his music assure it a continuing place in the world’s concert halls. Astonishingly, Rachmaninoff had what might be called a "phonographic" memory in that upon hearing virtually any piece he could play it back at the piano, even years later—and if he liked the piece it would sound like a polished performance!

Lilacs was originally the fifth song in Rachmaninoff's 12 Romances, Op. 21, completed in 1902, and he adapted it as a solo piano piece himself. He composed songs throughout his career, and his melodic talent was perfectly suited to vocal music, so it is surprising that his songs are not better known. What follows is an English translation of the original Russian song text by Ekaterina Andreyena Beketova (1855-1892) that inspired the piece.

      Lilacs --English version ©2011, by E. Lein
      Come tomorrow, at dawn,
Across the dewy lawn,
I shall breathe in morning's freshness;
And in the shade's perfume,
Where the crowding lilacs bloom,
I shall seek my happiness ...
For in this life one joy alone
Would the fates but let me own,
And my joy finds life within that lilac bower;
Among those verdant branches,
Mid fragrant petaled bunches
Goes my poor luck there, to flower ...

1 comment:

Cyndy Clayton said...

Speaking for myself, thank you for posting all this. I missed the show and was upset that I did, so was happy I could at least listen on YouTube and read all about the music & composers, and might be hearing Lawrence Quinnett playing with JSO some day. It was also news to me that JPL offers access to musical scores, so I'll want to take advantage of those resources some day if I ever get a piano like I hope to.