January 13, 2008: AARON BRASK horn

featuring ...

BEETHOVEN: Sonata for Horn and Piano in F major, op. 17
SCHUMANN: Adagio and Allegro for Horn and Piano, op. 70
POULENC: Élégie for Horn and Piano, Op. 168
GUARADLI: Selected Works


ABOUT THE COMPOSERS & MUSIC -- Program Notes by Ed Lein (©2008)

The music of the transcendent German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) formed the culmination of the Classical style and the foundation of the Romantic. Although recently rivaled by Mozart, Beethoven has remained the best known Western classical composer for two centuries, but when his Sonate pour le Forte-Piano avec Cor was first performed in 1800 it was the horn virtuoso Giovanni Punto (1746-1803) who attracted the audience rather than the then relatively unknown composer and pianist. Punto specialized in “low” horn playing, so with him in mind Beethoven made good use of the wide leaps and rapid arpeggios often required of the “2nd Horn” in orchestral works. Beethoven wrote the virtuoso piano part for himself to perform, so perhaps not surprisingly the piano often takes the lead in presenting thematic ideas.

The hopes of the great German Romantic composer Robert Schumann (1810- 1856) to become a concert pianist were dashed in his early twenties when he permanently damaged his hand, so he redirected his energies to both composing and music criticism. From childhood he was torn between literature and music, but he managed to combine these two loves even in some of his purely instrumental music by using poetry and dramatic narrative to color and direct the musical discourse, and his keen literary sensibilities made him one of history’s greatest songwriters. The Adagio and Allegro, op. 70, is among the numerous and varied works Schumann composed in 1849, and it takes advantage of the then “new” valve horn’s ability to play chromatic half-steps. Although the technical demands place the work well beyond the capabilities of the amateur players Schumann had hoped to reach with it, the success of the piece among professional horn players inspired the composer to complete his Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra, op. 86, later that same year.

Before he had any formal training as a composer, Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was already famous as one of Les six, a group of young Parisian composers and pals who were linked to Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie, and who were regarded by their admirers as the antidote to the perceived excesses of both Germanic Romanticism and Gallic Impressionism. Of their group (the others being Honegger, Milhaud, and the virtually forgotten Auric, Durey, and Tailleferre), Poulenc’s music remains the most frequently performed. Although the musical influences of Stravinsky and the Parisian dance-hall are often present, Poulenc’s unpretentious style remains clearly his own, characterized by effortless melody, distinct rhythms, and novel yet gorgeous diatonic harmonies. Poulenc’s affinity for the human voice makes him Fauré’s successor in the realm of the French art song and places him at the fore of the greatest choral composers of the 20th Century. He also had a special affinity for wind instruments, and Poulenc’s mature chamber works featuring winds are among the most gratifying for both performers and listeners. Something of an anomaly among Poulenc’s works in that it flirts ever so gently with serialism (by way of Stravinsky more than Schoenberg), the 1957 Élégie is a darkly attractive and understandably somber tribute to the truly extraordinary British horn virtuoso Dennis Brain who, at age 36, lately had died in a car crash.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) composed immediately recognizable music for the popular televised holiday cartoons based on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip characters. Although Linus and Lucy is his most famous piece, Guaraldi was a Grammy Award winning jazz pianist prior to beginning the Peanuts project. He died at age 47 from a sudden heart attack not long after completing the soundtrack for It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.

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