Program Notes: Concert I

Beethoven: Piano Trio Op. 11, the “Gassenhauer”

About the composer // The great German composer, Beethoven lived (1770-1827). His work is marked by three stylistic periods. His early works are classical and the influence of his teacher Haydn is clearly audible. He reaches maturity in his second period which begins with the “Eroica” Symphony and ends with the “Emperor” Concerto. Beethoven was famous by his third period, but his increasing deafness caused him to withdraw from friends and family and become increasingly irritable and morose.

About the music // From Beethoven’s early period, this piece was commissioned by Joseph Beer, a famous clarinetist of the day. However, Beer didn’t find the piece sufficiently flashy and never premiered it. It’s nickname is due to a theme from the third movement. It is nine variations of a theme from a popular opera by Joseph Weigl. ). A “Gassenhauer” means a simple tune that many people (in the Gassen or streets) sing or whistle for themselves. It would be roughly similar to a top 40 hit of our day.

Bartók: Violin and Piano Sonata No. 1

About the composer // An Hungarian composer, Bartók (1881 – 1945) was a child prodigy who supposedly could play by ear on the piano before he could speak in complete sentences. He gave his first recital at 11 and included his own first composition. Bartók studied piano with István Thomán, a former student of Franz Liszt, and composition under János Koessler at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. While there, he became lifelong friends with Zoltán Kodály with whom he would essentially invent ethnomusicology. Bartók quickly became a known composer, pianist, ethnomusicologist, and pedagogue worldwide. Strong opposition to Nazism forced Bartók to the US in 1940. He died there of leukemia in 1945.

About the music // Both of Bartók’s two violin sonatas were composed for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, great-niece of the great violinist Joachim, and she premiered them with Bartok on the piano. From his most dissonant period, the piece demands much agility from both players and their music seems rarely to relate to each other. The first movement is more or less a sonata form, and the second movement is the typical slow movement. Bartók’s interest in Hungarian folk music is apparent in the dance-like intensity of the final movement.

Piazzolla: Piano Trio, the “Four Seasons” 

About the composer // Astor Piazzolla (1921-1990) took the tango out of the dance hall, and into the concerto hall. Born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, Piazzolla and his parents immigrated to New York City at the age 4. It was his father who exposed Piazzolla to the tango orchestras of Carlos Gardel and Julio de Caro as well as jazz and classical music. Piazzolla taught himself to play the bandoneón, an accordion-like instrument used primarily for tango. In 1936, he and his family returned to Argentina and he studied composition with Alberto Ginastera for five years. At Ginastera’s request, Piazzolla entered his piece “Buenos Aires Symphony in Three Movements” for the Fabian Sevitsky Award. The piece won first place and allowed Piazzolla to go to Paris to study with the great Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger encouraged him to stick with tango instead of standard classical composition. Piazzolla did so and enjoyed a stellar career, even earning a Konex Award in his native Argentina.

About the music // Although performed nowadays as a suite, the four movements were actually written independently. “Spring” was composed in 1965, “Autumn” in 1969, and “Summer” and “Winter” both in 1970. The original instrumentation was for violin (doubling viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. The piece exists in many versions, including orchestra. José Bragato (b.1915), a cellist who often performed with Piazzolla, arranged the work for piano trio. The most famous of the four movement, “Spring” gets your pulse moving with a series of intense glissandi. Intensity pervades the “Summer” and “Fall” movements. “Winter” is an expressive and sensual movement that seems to stretch for the sunlight.

Program notes by Crystal Young-Otterstrom, copyright 2017