Fiddlers Program Notes

The old fiddler
The old fiddler

Program notes for this weekend's concert "Fiddlers" are here. Thanks, Kathryn!

Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) :: Pelimannit (“The Fiddlers”) A work from the student days of Finnish composer, Einojuhani Rautavaara, The Fiddlers is an ode to both the folk music, and also the stories of the musicians—the fiddlers—he found in a book, Album of Tunes, by Samuel Rinda-Nickola.

An ebulliently dissonant opening illustrates the arrival of the fiddlers. Kopsin Jonas, portrays the fiddler who preferred to practice out in the woods, alone. Klockar Samuel Dikström (“Bell-Ringer Samuel Dikström”) was not only a fiddler, but also an organist. Here, we find him practicing Bach. Pirun polska (“Devil's Schottische,” a dance like the polka) is both foreboding, and melancholic. Hypyt (“Jumps”) is a playful dance, brief but packed with vivacity.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) :: Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, RV 580 Vivaldi’s L'Estro Armonico (“Harmonic Inspiration”) op. 3, was one of the more influential collections of concerto form, and further elevated Vivaldi’s reputation from the music teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, a home for orphaned and abandoned girls. Johann Joachim Quantz, flute instructor and court composer for Frederick II of Prussia, “The Great,” reportedly praised the set with the statement, “as musical pieces of a kind that was then entirely new, they made no small impression on me. I was eager to accumulate a good number of them, and Vivaldi's splendid ritornelli served as good models for me in later days.” Johann Sebastian Bach, an admirer of Vivaldi’s work, transcribed six of the twelve Vivaldi’s L'Estro Armonico concertos for keyboard.

The Concerto in b minor for four violins is the tenth (no. 10) of the twelve concertos (all of which are written for numbers of soloists ranging from 1, 2, or 4). The Italian Baroque concerto grosso (“big concert”) form featured in a small group of soloists (concertino) pitted against the larger ensemble (ripieno). This brilliant gem of a piece sparkles in agile, elegant strands of melody that each soloist guides, weaving in and out between each other and the ensemble like ribbons around a maypole.

Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) :: Two Tangos (1952) Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla was born March 11 1921 to Italian parents living in Argentina. At age 3 he moved with his family to New York City where he experienced listening to all kinds of music including jazz and the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach. At age 13 he acquired and began to master the bandoneón, an instrument related to the accordion (it features buttons rather than a keyboard), which is a standard, and prominent, instrument in a tango orchestra.

In the late 1930’s the Piazzollas returned to Buenos Aires. While there the pianist Artur Rubenstein suggested Ástor study music with Alberto Ginastera (who had studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood). Between going to observe orchestra rehearsals during the day and playing in tango clubs at night with his own newly formed Orquestra del 46, Piazzolla composed the score for the film Bólidos de acero (1950) a romantic comedy revolving around tango, and eventually won a grant in 1954 to study composition in Paris with the renowned Nadia Boulanger. She encouraged him to develop his compositional style incorporating his tango background. Piazzolla recalls:

…She kept asking: “You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?” And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I thought, “Then she will throw me from the fourth floor.” Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: “You idiot, that's Piazzolla!” And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) :: Romanian Folk Dances One of the greatest contributions Bartók made to the music world, besides his own array of works, was the magnitude of field recordings of traditional folk music he gathered, collected, and organized over the course of his life. His discovery of their tonal world also was reflected in the scope of his output: “The outcome of these studies was of decisive influence upon my work because it freed me from the tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys. The greater part of the collected treasure, and the more valuable part, was in the old ecclesiastical or old Greek modes, or based on more primitive (pentatonic) scales, and the melodies were full of the freest and most varied rhythmic phrases and changes of tempi. It became clear to me that the old modes, which had been forgotten in our music, had lost nothing of their vigour. Their new employment made new rhythmic combinations possible.”

Realizing that much of the folk music that had found its way into the Romantic music of Liszt, for example, had little to do with the original songs, Bartók set out to write simple accompaniment for the songs, altering the original tunes as little as possible. Thus, rather than dismantling them and repurposing the parts, he simply provided frames in which to showcase the content. Originally written as a work for piano in 1915, he arranged it for string orchestra in 1917.

William Walton (1902-1983) :: Sonata for Strings The Sonata for Strings was written as an expanded version of Walton’s second string quartet, at the suggestion of the conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

The work is a study in concentration and diffusion, portrayed through Walton’s unique musical language (a result of his own endless curiosity toward genre and style), which here blends lush, English pastoral sonorities with Wagnerian tension/resolution, and injects it all with sharply modern gestures. It opens like sheets of organza, billowing, aligning, entangling, sometimes transparent, other times thick with rich tonal color. Then, the reveries crystallize into a ferociously urgent journey through passion, jabbing, and angular—suddenly evaporating, disappearing like an apparition back into the opening material. The work then tumbles forward on a wave of energy over a pedal tone of anxious, obsessive staccato. Following is a melancholic third movement. Elegant, and dark, like a Black orchid, or porcelain the shade of deepest night, undulating with a force field tension of magnets held at a minor distance. It concludes in a frenetic haze out of which occasionally emerge gorgeous threads of melody pulled out from the fabric.