ALIAS November 2005

November 16, 2005, 8:00 PM
Turner Recital Hall, Blair School of Music

Selections from the Musical Offering, BWV 1079 J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
  1. Thema Regium
  2. Canon a 2 cancrizans
  3. Canon a 2 Violini in unisono
  4. Canon a 2 per Motum contrarium
  5. Canon a 2 per Aigmentationem, contrario motu
  6. Canon perpetuus super Thema Regium
  7. Canon a 4
  • Zeneba Bowers, Jeremy Williams, violins
  • Christopher Farrell, viola, Christopher Stenstrom cello
Klid (Silent Woods) for cello and piano Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
  • Matt Walker, cello
  • Roger Wiesmeyer, piano
Black Angels: Thirteen images from the dark land George Crumb (b. 1929)
    1. Threnody I: Night of the Electric Insects
    2. Sounds of Bones and Flutes
    3. Lost Bells
    4. Devil-music
    5. Danse Macabre
    1. Pavana Lachrymae
    2. Threnody II: Black Angels!
    3. Sarabanda de la Muerte Oscura
    4. Lost Bells (Echo)
    1. God-music
    2. Ancient Voices
    3. Ancient Voices (Echo)
    4. Threnody III: Night of the Electric Insects
  • Jeremy Williams, Zeneba Bowers, violins
  • Christopher Farrell, viola
  • Christopher Stenstrom, cello
– Intermission –
Music for violin and harp (1960) Sergiu Natra (b. 1924)
  • Alison Gooding, violin
  • Licia Jaskunas, harp
Trio in a minor, op. 114, for clarinet, cello, and piano Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Andantino grazioso
  4. Allegro
  • Lee Levine, clarinet
  • Michael Samis, cello
  • Melissa Rose, piano

Proceeds from this concert benefited Dismas House.

Program Notes

Bach: Selections from the Musical Offering, BWV 1079
During a visit to Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1747, Bach improvised a three-part fugue on a theme composed by the king, who was an avid musician. Bach went on to compose a series of works based on this “royal theme” and dedicated it to Frederick. It is not known how the Musical Offering was intended to be performed, if it is complete, or even if the royal theme is in fact the one composed by Frederick. In a typical canon, two instruments play the exact same music but with one starting later. In Bach’s “puzzle” canons, there is often a twist on this idea. In the a canzicrans (“Crab”) canon, the two violins play the same music, but one starts at the end of the piece and reads backwards. In the canons in contrary motion, the later players turn the music upside down, always moving in the opposite direction from the first part. Canons were frequently intended as theoretical exercises, but this collection shows the musical depth and energy that Bach could achieve even within the strictest limits of form.

Dvorak: Klid (“Silent Woods”), op. 68
Dvorak was something of a “crossover artist” in the 19th century. His music, while generally following the traditional Western classical molds, is almost always infused with Eastern European folk rhythms and pentatonic harmonies; he was one of a trio of composers (along with Janacek and Smetana) who led the musical nationalist movement of late 19th century Czechoslovakia. Klid (“Silent Woods”) was originally one movement of Ze Sumavy (“From the Bohemian Forest”), a piano duet written in 1884. Ten years later Dvorak arranged it as a cello solo with either piano or orchestra, one year before he composed the great cello concerto.

Crumb: Black Angels (Images I): Thirteen images from the dark land

Things were turned upside down. There were terifying things in the air … they found their way into Black Angels. – George Crumb, 1990

Black Angels is probably the only quartet to have been inspired by the Vietnam War. The work draws from an arsenal of sounds including shouting, chanting, whistling, whispering, gongs, maracas, and crystal glasses. The score bears two inscriptions: in tempore belli (in time of war) and “Finished on Friday the Thirteenth, March, 1970”.

Black Angels was conceived as a kind of parable on our troubled contemporary world. The numerous quasi-programmatic allusions in the work are therefore symbolic, although the essential polarity – God versus Devil – implies more than a purely metaphysical reality. The image of the “black angel” was a conventional device used by early painters to symbolize the fallen angel.

The underlying structure of Black Angels is a huge arch-like design which is suspended from the three “Threnody” pieces. The work portrays a voyage of the soul. The three stages of this voyage are Departure (fall from grace), Absence (spiritual annihilation) and Return (redemption).

The numerological symbolism of Black Angels, while perhaps not immediately perceptible to the ear, is nonetheless quite faithfully reflected in the musical structure. These “magical” relationships are variously expressed; e.g., in terms of length, groupings of single tones, durations, patterns of repetition, etc. An important pitch element in the work — descending E, A, and D-sharp — also symbolizes the fateful numbers 7-13. At certain points in the score there occurs a kind of ritualistic counting in various languages, including German, French, Russian, Hungarian, Japanese and Swahili.

There are several allusions to tonal music in Black Angels: a quotation from Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet (in the Pavana Lachrymae and also faintly echoed on the last page of the work); an original Sarabanda, which is stylistically synthetic; the sustained B-major tonality of God-Music; and several references to the Latin sequence Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”). The work abounds in conventional musical symbolisms such as the Diabolus in Musica (the interval of the tritone) and the Trillo Di Diavolo (the “Devil’s Trill”, after Tartini).

The amplification of the stringed instruments in Black Angels is intended to produce a highly surrealistic effect. This surrealism is heightened by the use of certain unusual string effects, e.g., pedal tones (the intensely obscene sounds of the Devil-Music); bowing on the “wrong” side of the strings (to produce the viol-consort effect); trilling on the strings with thimble-capped fingers. The performers also play maracas, tam-tams and water-tuned crystal goblets, the latter played with the bow for the “glass-harmonica” effect in God-Music.

Natra: Music for Violin and Harp
Israeli composer Sergiu Natra was born in Romania and studied at the Bucharest Academy of Music before settling in Tel-Aviv in 1961. Of his work the composer says:

… I have tried to synthesize the specific elements of my last compositions; that is to strive to be entirely free from any constraints in form and to be true to my deep interest in the neo-baroque as well as polytonal and polymodal harmonies. One could ask: ‘Is this looking back or is it exploring the future?’ Clearly the manner of using chords on the harp and sonorities that sound well with string instruments – and I do not refer to consonance versus dissonance – influenced my writing. Is this not, perhaps, just the way we have found our direction in the entire development of music over the last twenty years?

Brahms: Trio in A minor, op. 114, for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano
Like Mozart, Johannes Brahms did not explore the virtuosic potential of the clarinet until late in his life. In 1891, Brahms’ creative drive was spurred by the playing of clarinetist Richard von Muhlfeld, even though the composer was officially in the process of retiring in Meiningen. The opus 114 trio, along with the celebrated quintet for clarinet and strings from later that same year, exemplifies the deeply expressive yet noble and autumnal qualities of Brahms’ later works. The sonorities created by this unique instrumentation of the trio help create this atmosphere, with the clarinet and cello lines so neatly woven together that Eusebius Mandyczewski, friend and musical scholar, once wrote about the work in a letter to Brahms, “…it is as though the instruments were in love with each other.”