Friday, June 20, 2014

Tuesday Serenade : April 21 @ 7pm

Scott Watkins, piano
Jacksonville University Faculty Artist

Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat major, K. 570
       I. Allegro - 
       II. Adagio - 
       III. Allegretto 

Transcendental Etude No. 9 in A-flat major, "Ricordanza"
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (from Swiss Years of Pilgrimage)
Piano Sonata in A minor, Op. 11 (comp. 1918)
       I. Andante espressivo: Quietly with sincerity - 
      II. Heroic Elegy: Slowly, quietly, and with finality - 
      III. Triumphal Ode: Allegro marziale, with vigor

Scott Watkins, Assistant Professor of Piano at Jacksonville University, is well known to First Coast audiences for his appearances with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, his numerous solo recitals, and his frequent collaborations with many of the areas finest singers and instrumentalists. His 1985 U.S. debut, an all-Bach recital given in Chicago, was broadcast live nationwide, and has been followed by a steady flow of solo and concerto performances in North and South America, Europe and the Caribbean. He has been heard often in the United States and Canada on National Public Radio and Television, and in South America and Europe on The Voice of America. Performances have included the world premieres of Elie Siegmeister’s From These Shores and Ned Rorem’s Song and Dance.

An active chamber musician, Dr. Watkins has appeared with the LaSalle Quartet and violinist Eugene Fodor, and a performance with violinist Hillary Hahn was broadcast on NPR's Performance Today. Much in demand as an accompanist, he has appeared with soprano Elizabeth Futral and baritone Steven White, and released a disc of late romantic lieder with White. Watkins also released two solo discs, one featuring works from his New York debut at Carnegie Hall, and another, Christmas Cards, featuring music for the holiday season, with works by Bach, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Grainger, and others.
A champion of new music, Watkins recently recorded An American Sonata for two pianos and percussion by noted American composer and pianist Gary Smart.

Dr. Watkins is the recipient of numerous awards, including the John Philip Sousa Award for Outstanding American Musicians, Rotary Club of Florida's Annual Artistic Merit Award, and France's Jeunesse Musicales. In 1985, he became the youngest winner ever of The U.S. Department of State's Artistic Ambassador Award. His degrees include a Bachelor of Music from the University of Cincinnati, Master of Music from University of South Carolina, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from Florida State University.

Notes on the program, by Dr. Scott Watkins

Mozart's Piano Sonata, K. 570 dates from 1789, an otherwise barren year for composition by his prolific standards, the only other major works produced being the final Piano Sonata in D major, K. 576, the first of the "Prussian" string quartets (in D major, K. 575), and the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581. It was also the year of the composer's speculative journey to Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, a tour that failed to alleviate Mozart's by-then desperate financial straits. Prior to setting off for Germany in the spring, he composed the B flat Sonata, entering it into his thematic catalog during February. His entry for it specifies the work as being a sonata auf Klavier allein (for piano alone), but curiously the sonata was long known in a version for violin and piano. This originated with the first published version, which appeared in Vienna in 1796 with a violin part so lacking in invention that it must have been composed by someone else. It seems likely that, like its immediate predecessor, the so-called "facile" Sonata in C major, K. 545, the sonata was composed for didactic purposes. The opening Allegro is quite light and fluid in character; although on an altogether more modest scale than the sonatas composed earlier in the decade, it is masterful in the way it wrings various structural and contrapuntal implications from its deceptively bare opening. E flat Adagio is a rondo with two episodes that sets out to beguile rather than convey profundity. The final Allegretto bubbles with humor and surprise effects; it is one of the many finales in which Mozart evokes the world of opera buffa. Musicologist Alfred Einstein called the work "perhaps the most completely rounded of...all [the Mozart piano sonatas], the ideal of his piano sonata." Each of the three movements contains repeated notes, an unusual feature in Mozart’s keyboard music.

Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes are a series of twelve compositions published in 1852 as a revision of a more technically difficult 1837 series, which in turn were the elaboration of a set of studies written in 1826. The Transcendental Études are revisions of his Douze Grandes Études. This third and final version was published in 1852 and dedicated to Carl Czerny, Liszt's piano teacher, and himself a prolific composer of études. The set included simplifications, for the most part: in addition to many other reductions, Liszt removed all stretches of greater than a tenth, making the piece more suitable for pianists with smaller hands and less technical skill. However, the fourth étude of the final set, Mazeppa, is actually more demanding than its 1837 version, since it very frequently alters and crosses the hands to create a "galloping" effect.

When revising the 1837 set of études, Liszt added programmatic titles in French and German to all but the Études Nos. 2 and 10. Editor Ferruccio Busoni later gave the names Fusées ("Rockets") to the Étude No. 2, and Appassionata to the Étude No. 10; however, Busoni's titles are not commonly used or well known. Busoni described Étude No. 9, Ricordanza, as "a bundle of faded love letters." Ricordanza is essentially a love poem with outbursts of passion alternating with delicate and complicated passagework. Liszt's original idea was to write 24 études, one in each of the 24 major and minor keys. He completed only half of this project, using the neutral and flat key signatures.
Franz Liszt’s Italian Years of Travel is a suite for solo piano, much of it derived from his earlier work, Album d'un voyageur, which was his first major published piano cycle. The original suite was composed between 1835 and 1838 and published in 1842. Italian Years of Travel is widely considered a masterwork and summation of Liszt's musical style. The title Years of Travel refers to Goethe's famous novel of self-realization, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, and especially its sequel Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years (whose original title Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre meant "Years of Wandering" or "Years of Pilgrimage," the latter being used for its first French translation). Liszt clearly places the work in line with the Romantic literature of his time, prefacing most pieces with a literary passage from writers such as Schiller, Byron or Senancour, and, in an introduction to the entire work, writing:
Having recently travelled to many new countries, through different settings and places consecrated by history and poetry; having felt that the phenomena of nature and their attendant sights did not pass before my eyes as pointless images but stirred deep emotions in my soul, and that between us a vague but immediate relationship had established itself, an undefined but real rapport, an inexplicable but undeniable communication, I have tried to portray in music a few of my strongest sensations and most lively impressions.

According to a note on the first page of the manuscript, Hanson himself performed his Piano Sonata on April 7, 1919. Neither the circumstances under which the performance was given nor the location is known. In 2000, pianist Thomas Labé, in an excellent performance, produced a recording of what was then thought to be the only (and incomplete) version of the work, supplying his own effective completion of the score. The recording on the present disc is a world premiere performance of the work whose manuscript was discovered in 2005 by The Eastman School of Music and subsequently published in 2011.

The Sonata appears to have been with Hanson while he was studying and composing in Italy after winning the Prix di Roma and while living at the Academia Americana. The Sonata’s first movement is an expansive, dramatic work with essentially one thematic idea: a rising step, followed by a rising leap, a falling step and falling leap. The harmonies are lush and orchestrally conceived, while the piano writing is idiomatic, despite at times feeling in the hands like an orchestral transcription. The second subject is treated like a gentler variation of the first with softer harmonies and harp-like arpeggiated chords. A dramatic coda recalls the opening theme in its original form.

The second movement might have been inspired by World War One and has the programmatic title Heroic Elegy. The repeating bass figure is reminiscent of funeral drums for a fallen soldier and the whole movement carries the weight of sadness and loss. In the final bars, Hanson has repeated bass octaves (A) including the lowest key on the instrument – almost as a “gun salute” to the fallen.

As final movement’s title suggests, Triumphal Ode is a somewhat “heart-on-your-sleeve” musical tribute to victory (perhaps another inspiration from WWI’s conclusion in 1918, the same year the Sonata was composed). Within its pages are soaring melodies and heart-wrending, surprising harmonies which would become hallmarks of Hanson’s compositional style. The work ends “triumphantly” in the key of C major.

Triumphal Ode is thought to be a transcription of a work by the same name for concert or military band, although Hanson chose to leave out a short 12-bar passage at the end of the development sections for French horns and timpani.

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