MUSICAL OFFERING PROGRAM NOTES
for January 22nd, 2017, at Sundin Hall
by Jackson Bryce, Board member &
Carleton College Professor Emertius
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (Salzburg, January 27, 1756 – Vienna, December 5, 1791), Austrian composer, was deeply influenced by musical elements from around the world, which he blended into a unique mixture that became the high point of the classical period in Vienna. He excelled in every musical medium of his time and, to quote Grove’s Dictionary of Music, is “regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.” His father, Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (1719-87) was a violinist, composer and theorist working for the Salzburg Archbishops; his mother, Anna Maria Pertl (1720-78) was the daughter of a local administrator and jurist. Wolfgang and his extremely gifted pianist sister Maria Anna, known as Nannerl (1751-1829), were their seventh and fourth children, the only ones to survive to adulthood. They were educated by their father in music, mathematics, literature, languages, dancing, and religion.
Father Leopold made Wofgang’s career a prime occupation, taking him with Nannerl on concert tours to Munich and Vienna in 1762, when Wolfgang was six and Nannerl eleven, and then from 1763-6 to Germany, France, the Low Countries, England, and Switzerland. In 1767 the family visited Vienna; from 1769 to 1773 Leopold and Wolfgang toured Italy three times. Hieronymus Colloredo was now Archbishop of Salzburg, a difficult employer; in 1777 he fired both of the Mozarts. Seeking new opportunities, Wolfgang went with his mother to Mannheim, where today’s Quartet was written, and to Paris, where she died unexpectedly to the horror of her husband and son. Collaredo took Mozart back in 1779, but the relationship ended permanently in 1781; Mozart wrote that he was released “with a kick on my ass by order of our worthy Prince Archbishop.” He moved permanently to Vienna, married Costanze Weber in August 1782, and continued to write sonatas, chamber and symphonic music, opera, and concerti; he also taught, and published widely, but he struggled for money. At his death from rheumatic fever just before 1 a.m. on December 5, 1791, his last work, the Requiem, was still unfinished.
The Quartet in D major for flute, violin, viola, and ’cello, K. 285, was completed on Christmas day of 1777 at Mannheim. The Allegro first movement is extremely cheerful, but with a more thoughtful and quite lovely midsection, and a deceptive pause near the end. The Adagio is in minor mode, pensive and eloquent, with a sad, nostalgic major section in the middle. As I listen I find I am getting lulled more and more by this movement, and thinking maybe of a little nap… but all of a sudden out of nowhere our mischievous composer begins his jolly Rondo and races, in the cheery manner of the opening Allegro, to a breathless conclusion.
FRANÇOIS DEVIENNE (Joinville, Haute-Marne, January 31, 1759 – Paris, September 5, 1803) taught, composed, and played the flute and bassoon in Paris. Details of his life and career are sketchy, but we know that he played his concertos for both instruments at the Concerts Spirituels in the 1780s, where he performed as soloist 18 times before leaving Paris for a time. Upon his return he became principal bassoonist of the Théatre Feydeau, and joined the Paris National Guard band in 1790, becoming a sergeant in its administration. He married a Mlle Maillard in about 1790 and they had five children. He began writing operas, and his Les Visitandines of 1792, about the nuns of the order of the Visitation, was enormously successful; there were more than two hundred performances in the 1790’s and it was still being performed in Paris as late as 1920. He wrote a famous flute method, and became a flute professor at the newly established Paris Conservatoire in 1795. Sadly in May of 1803 he entered the mental hospital at Charenton where he died in September.
His Quartet in G minor op. 73, #3, for bassoon, violin, viola, and ’cello, begins with a splendidly expressive movement, Allegro con espressione; it features compelling, athletic melodies for the bassoon and shows a wonderful energy, alternating between minor and major in the traditional fashion. Much of the movement is actually in major mode. The slow movement, Adagio non troppo, features a soulful song in C major. It has an equally soulful mid-section in A minor for strings only, until the bassoon enters subtly in the last few measures. The final movement, marked Allegretto poco moderato, is a Rondo. The rondo form requires that the pert main theme keeps returning after other material is introduced, so that the form is A-B-A-C-A-D etc. The intervening sections often feature the strings, giving the bassoonist a little break. After a series of intriguing vignettes, there is a delightfully fast and exciting conclusion.
ELSA BARRAINE (Paris, February 13, 1910 – Strasbourg, March 20, 1999) was the daughter of Alfred Barraine, the principal cellist of the Paris Opera orchestra. She studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Paul Dukas, composer of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. She was an admirable student, winning first prizes in harmony, fugue, and accompaniment. Her sacred trilogy, La vierge guerrière or The Warrior Virgin, about Joan of Arc, earned her a Prix de Rome in 1929. Her compositions were highly influenced by literature, for example Harald Harfagard (1930), based on the poetry of Heinrich Heine, the wind quintet Ouvrage de Dame (1931, Women’s Works), depicting the varying personalities of eight fictional women, an anti-fascist symphonic poem Pogromes (1933), Avis (1944, Opinion), and L’homme sur terre (1949, Humans on Earth), based on texts by Paul Éluard, Claudine à l’école (1950, Claudine at School), after Colette’s work exploring women’s sexuality; and Musique rituelle (1967, Ritual Music), inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead. From 1936 to 1940 she worked as pianist, recordist, and head of singing at the French National Radio; during the 2nd World War she was a member of the French resistance and the National Musicians’ Front. She was director of recordings from 1944-47 at the Chant du Monde label. From 1953 to 1972 she taught analysis and sight-reading at the Paris Conservatoire, and then was appointed as Director of Music at the Ministry of Culture.
Her Crépuscules, (Twilights, 1936) for horn and piano, begins with mysterious piano chords; then a horn melody soaring over them hints at whole worlds of meaning. But a bit more than half way through the horn begins to play muted, and the piece changes to a more plaintive and meditative character. Fanfare, also for horn and piano from 1936, begins and ends with fanfares, but between them is a haunting melodic section. Our performers today plan to take some rhythmic freedoms in Fanfare, as well they should.
ANDRÉ LÉON CAPLET (Le Havre, November 23, 1878 – Neuilly-sur-Seine, April 22, 1925) had very poor parents and many siblings, but learned early to manage for himself, working in musical theater in Le Havre. In 1986 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied harmony, composition, fugue, and accompaniment, and after receiving many prizes there won the Prix de Rome in 1901. He began conducting opera and musical theater in 1896, and starting in 1910 conducted six months each year at the Boston Opera, where he became musical director in 1912. He became close friends with Debussy, who employed him as a proofreader and orchestrator. He served with distinction in the first World War, and was wounded twice and gassed, leading to an early death from pleurisy. After the war he relinquished public performance, married Geneviève Perruchon in 1919, and focused on composition; many of his works reflected his growing Roman Catholic mysticism, for example his masterpiece, Le miroir de Jésus, The Mirror of Jesus (1923).
His Quintet for piano and winds of 1898, written at the age of 20, is a lovely, engaging, and mysterious work, full of imagination, harmonic invention, and fervent feeling; and it is of a length (about a half hour) and seriousness that is not, alas, so common in wind music. We are enormously gratefully to Twin Cities clarinetist and publisher John Wilcox, who engaged in research to discover the parts to this remarkable piece; today John appears at intermission to discuss this piece and his work on it with Susan Billmeyer.
In his first movement, Allegro, our youthful composer introduces himself as a musician of remarkable ambition and accomplishment, weaving together a variety of themes and moods that leaves me breathless. The second movement, Adagio, begins with an eerie and evocative introduction that leads to passionate and expressive melodies in a remarkable variety of keys and modes; the muted ending is stunning. The Scherzo, deft and mysterious, expresses a great deal in just four minutes. The Finale begins with a brooding, almost stern introduction that leads to a most complex and meditative movement; to me it suggests life’s endlessly complex journey through periods of confusion, meditation, striving, and triumph.
(These notes are composed, as always, with the indispensable help of Grove’s Dictionary of Music on line, and also some remarkably helpful and thorough articles on Wikipedia.)