Tapas Program Notes

Thanks again to the wonderful Kathryn Bacasmot for providing a literary amuse-bouche in advance of this weekend's feast: Tapas. An appetizer or snack; something that both satisfies and stimulates the palate. This program, and its arrangement, is a nod to historical concert protocol. In the late 18th and into the 19th century, it was not uncommon to attend a concert where the movements of a work were not performed in sequence, but presented piecemeal, interspersed with movements from other works, or short works of other genres (a vocal work juxtaposed with movements from a work for chamber or full orchestra, for example). An even older practice was that of improvising at the keyboard before launching into a set work. These improvisations, when put on the printed page, became known as “ricercar” (to seek/search), and “prelude” (an introduction/preliminary). Here, the Françaix preludes, which were intended to be performed consecutively, serve a more original purpose of whetting the musical appetite for what is to follow. In this case, Hindemith, Grieg, Rossini, and Corelli. The first prelude welcomes us to the show, followed by the second which introduces the first act, and similarly with the next three, and then the sixth, both a finale, and prelude to the rest of the evening.

Michael Unterman, the Crier who designed the program, expounds on the concept: “The second prelude, Elegia, is a cello solo which avoids the anguished part of most elegies, but instead inhabits a dusky and mysterious thing, which I thought blended well with the Hindemith. The Scherzo is playful and jumpy, and in G major which goes great with Holberg. The Intermezzo is an especially perfect pairing with the Rossini, as both feature extremely charming bass solos and upbeat characters. Sogno means dream, and is the prettiest movement of the bunch, and so I decided it could use some cheering up with the Corelli, which opens up gently and sweetly before becoming exuberant. It’s kind of been a secret goal of mine to end a program with Corelli, because he’s really the godfather of the string orchestra, and was such a huge influence on composers that came after him. And this particular concerto grosso is ostensibly in his “suite” format with dance movements etc, which should sort of... recall the Hindemith, Grieg and Françaix, which are all suites of sorts, and of course the Rossini owes a lot of its style and lineage to his fellow Italian predecessor."

JEAN FRANÇAIX 1912-1997 :: Six Preludes “Les cinq russes, les six français et M. Satie,” wrote Henri Collet, the French composer and critic, in a January 1920 article for Comoedia. Thus was coined the famed nickname for a cluster of young French composers that associated with each other under the auspices of Erik Satie, and the collective need to create a new musical dialect in the wake of Wagnerian excess. Appropriating the nickname given “The Five” in Russia (Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodine, Ciu, and Balakirev), “Les Six” included Honegger, Milhaud, Tailleferre, Auric, Durey, and Poulenc. It was the tradition of Les Six, and Poulenc in particular, that Jean Françaix would dovetail in his own compositional career, carrying on the great French tradition of neo-classic wit and overt revelry in pleasure for the sake of pleasure, whilst leaving serialism and atonality (his oeuvre has been described as “resolutely tonal”) to others. His style and aim was succinctly summed-up in his own words: “To avoid the premeditated wrong note and boredom like the plague.”

PAUL HINDEMITH 1895-1963 :: Fünf Stücke für Streichorchester Experienced as a performer and prolific as a composer, Hindemith also had the distinction of being a music educator. The term, Gebrauchsmusik, or “music for use,” was closely associated with Hindemith, who was less concerned about creating a monument to history in the shape of his music, and more concerned with what music needed to be written for a specific, and immediate, need. One need was music for amateur ensembles, and these Five Pieces for String Orchestra were written as studies (perhaps a variation on the etude) for those groups. Far from being easy, Hindemith intended the works he wrote for amateurs to be challenging: “...one cannot require that music written today and for today’s needs be such that it can be sight-read straight off by everybody. Here the amateur is given some hard nuts to crack.”

EDVARD GRIEG 1843-1907 :: Holberg Suite The subtitle to Holberg Suite is “suite in the old style.” Historically, the musical structure of a suite stretches back to the 16th and 17th centuries and always consists of a prelude or overture followed by a sequence of music for a variety of dance forms. Grieg chose sarabande, gavotte, air, and a rigaudon, a slight departure from the more standard selections of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue.

Grieg composed the suite in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ludvig Holberg, a Danish-Norwegian playwright born in 1864. It has been noted that Holberg was born one year before Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti (1685 was a very big year for music). Though it is not known for sure if this historical fact influenced Grieg to write a Baroque style suite, it certainly would make sense for Grieg to have made that compositional connection. Originally written for solo piano in 1884, Holberg Suite was arranged for strings the following year.

GIOACCHINO ROSSINI 1792-1868 :: String Sonata #2, in A major We think of Rossini as the composer of operas, and it is usually brushed over in conversation that he was just as precocious a youngster at composing as were Mozart, Beethoven, or Mendelssohn. These sonatas were written over a summer spent with a wealthy patron, Agostino Triosso. Rossini was twelve years old. In the sonatas, the rising popularity of the double bass, due to the popularity of its virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti, is evidenced with the omission of the viola in favor of the bass (Triosso was also an amateur double bass player, cementing the motivation for the instrumentation).

Rossini wrote of the sonatas, reminiscing that the “First violin, second violin, violoncello, and contrabass parts for six horrendous sonatas composed by me at the country house (near Ravenna) of my friend and patron, Agostino Triossi, at the most youthful age, having not even had a lesson in thorough-bass. They were all composed and copied in three days and performed in a doggish way by Triossi, contrabass; Morini (his cousin), first violin; the latter’s brother, violoncello; and the second violin by myself, who was, to tell the truth, the least doggish.”

Arcangelo Corelli 1653-1713 :: Concerto Grosso op. 6, no. 11, in B-flat major An Italian violinist and conductor of “unparalleled” influence, Corelli enjoyed popularity during his own lifetime. As Michael Talbot has noted, “Corelli’s influence and reputation spread as much through the dissemination of his works, which coincided with the remarkable boom in music publishing around 1700, as through his teaching. The sheer number of reprints of his collections is unmatched before Haydn: op.1, for example, went through 39 known editions between 1681 and 1790 (not counting collective editions of opp.1–4 and innumerable arrangements, selections and pastiches for all manner of instruments and even voices). The most popular opus was the fifth, of which at least 42 editions had appeared by 1800. In England, particularly, his op.6 concertos were regarded as classics; they continued to be played, and preferred even to those of Handel, well into the 19th century.” He was, “the first composer to derive his fame exclusively from instrumental composition,” particularly the genres of trio sonata, sonata, and concerto.

The Baroque seconda pratica (“second practice”) was the era of purposeful dissonances, heralding the use of music as illustrator of abstract, intense, emotions. Though his music may not strike our modern ears as particularly novel, his occasional use of rubbing together dissonance before its release into consonance was immortalized with the nickname, “Corelli Clash.”

The first eight of Corelli’s 12 concerti grossi are modeled after the so called “sonata da chiesa,” or church sonata, whilst the final four are in the style of the “sonata da camera,” or chamber sonata, and include popular dance forms one would also find in suites (in the case of no. 11, the allemande, sarabande, and gigue). Concerti grossi are about textures and depth perception. The interplay of concertino (smaller groupings of instruments or true solo passages) and ripieno (the entire ensemble) shift the focus, like a watching a film go from wide establishing shots to zeroing in, highlighting specific conversations.