ALIAS October 2006

October 13, 2006, 8:00 PM
Turner Recital Hall, Blair School of Music

Impromptu, op. 86, for solo harp Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
  • Licia Jaskunas, harp
Air on Seurat *Double Take* Stephen Paulus (b. 1949)
  • Matt Walker, cello
  • Melissa Rose, piano
Quartet for clarinet, horn, cello, and drum Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959)
  • Lee Levine, clarinet, Leslie Norton, horn
  • Michael Samis, cello, Christopher Norton, drum
– Intermission –
A Solo by Mr. Finch Called the Cucu Edward Finch (1663-1738)
Sonata no. 10, Imitatione del Cuccu Jakob Walther (c. 1650-1717)
  • Zeneba Bowers, violin
  • Christopher Stenstrom, cello, Roger Wiesmeyer, harpsichord
Siegfried Idyll Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
  • Jeremy Williams, Alison Gooding, violins
  • Christopher Farrell, viola, Matt Walker, cello, Joel Reist, bass
  • Joel Treybig, trumpet, Carolyn Treybig, flute, Roger Wiesmeyer, oboe
  • Lee Levine, Todd Waldecker, clarinets, Dawn Hartley, bassoon
  • Beth Beeson, Leslie Norton, horns
  • Christopher Norton, conductor

Proceeds from this concert benefited Better Decisions.

Program Notes

Gabriel Fauré: Impromptu, op. 86, for harp
Fauré was the foremost French composer of the 19th century; his unique style heavily influenced the likes of Ravel and Debussy. He was an accomplished organist and pianist, but a great deal of his orchestral music included the harp. He wrote two or three small works for the instrument alone, including this Impromptu, written in 1904.

Stephen Paulus: “Air on Seurat” for cello and piano (1992)
Stephen Paulus has written four operas and many works for orchestra, chamber groups, and solo instruments. He wrote “Air on Seurat” for the National Society of Arts and Letters’ cello competition, and the specifications were, according to Paulus, “that the work be about seven minutes in duration, lyrical, and of no more than medium difficulty.” The “Air on Seurat” began, ten years earlier, as the middle song in a song-cycle, a setting of Ira Sadoff’s prose-poem, “Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte,” which is in the voice of the male member of a couple sitting on the lawn in the foreground of Georges Seurat’s masterpiece painting, Un Dimanche Après-Midi a l’Ile de la Grande Jatte.
The cello follows the line of the original song, which, when sung, was, naturally, in the tenor range. The “Air” begins with fluttered notes on the piano, and then the cello plays its first line. The piano repeats; the cello plays another line. As the cello continues, the piano wanders slightly, quietly, settles on two chords, and then leaves as the cello moves to its lower register. The piano part, mostly single notes, arpeggiated notes, could be heard as emulating Seurat’s pointillism. The cello line, representing the male voice, unlike the piano, is not pointed. (Each of us is mostly empty space, dotted with atoms, yet we behave as if we’re whole, solid. Our lines are dots, but we pretend they’re not.)

The poem represents an unspoken monologue by this minor figure in the lower foreground of Seurat’s masterpiece. Thus, we have a single (male) string that is being created, supported, by points – or, in the case of music, notes, notes struck as Seurat’s brush dotted his canvas.

Bohuslav Martinu: Quartet for cello, clarinet, horn, and snare drum (1924)
Martinu was born only 116 years ago on one side of a border between two countries that no longer exist. Bohemia, Martinu’s birthplace, and Moravia are the greater two regions of what is now the Czech Republic. Further, Martinu was born in the village church’s bell tower, where his family lived. His father worked as both a shoemaker and the church’s tower-keeper. Martinu came down from the tower to the streets of Policka at age seven to take violin lessons. Three years later, he began composing, drawing his own music paper in order to write his own compositions.

Martinu entered conservatory twice, at age sixteen, and again at age 34. Each time, he resisted formal education and left without a degree – the second time, deciding that he’d rather live in poverty in Paris than continue steady work teaching piano in Policka. In Paris, he studied with Albert Roussel and became acquainted with Stravinsky and the composers of Les Six, which influenced his work. He began experimenting with different rhythms and colors, which can be heard in his Quartet for cello, clarinet, horn, and snare drum.

Edward Finch: “A Solo by Mr. Finch Called the Cucu” for violin and continuo (c. 1700)
Finch, an unjustly lesser-known Baroque composer, the fifth son of the Earl of Nottingham, worked as copyist, composer, and clergyman, becoming, eventually, a prebendary (a clergyman who is paid a prebend, or stipend, from a church) of Canterbury. As one might expect, Finch composed many pieces of church music and a sequence of eleven solo sonatas. When he wasn’t composing for the greater glory, however, he attended to the beauties of nature, adding this little piece to the baroque conceit of pieces about animals, particularly the cuckoo.

Finch’s “Cucu” begins with the violin playing a theme in honor of the cuckoo. The theme is repeated, played faster at the end. Then, the violin plays a series of variations on the theme. The piece ends precisely as it began.

Jakob Walther: Sonata No. 10, “Imitatione del Cuccu” for violin and continuo (1676)
Excepting their contemporaneity and their admiration of the cuckoo, there is little similarity between Edward Finch, the English gentleman, ecclesiastic, and sometime composer (who was so careless in keeping his pieces that scholars are still not sure where one ends and the next begins), and Johann Jakob Walther, the German virtuoso, who liked to compose intricate challenging music, knowing that perhaps he alone could play it. His “Imitatione del Cuccu” is one of his many playful imitations of birds and animals.
Excluding three years in Florence, Walther lived his entire life in Germany, moving to Mainz at the age of thirty to be clerk and “Italian secretary” (an important post, working as liaison between a European city and the center of culture and faith, Rome) and living there for the rest of his life.

Walther’s “Cuckoo,” also written during the heyday of the bird-call piece, is twice as long as Finch’s (or one could say that Finch’s is twice as compact). Walther’s begins much more slowly but, all in all, is a less consistent piece (or, one could say, a piece with more variety). The violin plays an opening theme as the continuo supports it with chords. The violin then announces a second theme, as the continuo helps in counterpoint. The violin returns to the first theme and plays variations on it. The sonata, as a whole, is in short parts that refer to one another but that also act as tiny, discrete movements within a single-movement work.

Our twentieth-century ears hear Walther’s violin demands as looking forward to violin-work in our time – more so than Finch’s – but Walther writes this partly by refusing to join a more unified “Italian” sonata form that became the standard for the next two hundred years. Walther’s “Cuccu” asks for much more virtuosic playing from both the violinist and the continuo player, which, on the whole, makes the piece more bird-like – or perhaps makes it less so.

Richard Wagner: “Siegfried Idyll” (1870)
Wagner composed the “Siegfried Idyll” in honor of his new wife and their two-year-old son, Siegfried. Wagner used the themes from his opera, Siegfried, which he had been composing since 1855 and finished in 1870. Although frequently performed by orchestra, Wagner gathered a small number of musicians and conducted them himself on the steps of his villa on Christmas morning, 1870, to surprise his wife, Cosima. Tonight’s performance recreates that original instrumentation.