Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) :: Overture in B-flat major from Les Nations, TWV 55:B5
Count Erdmann II von Promnitz returned from a trip to Paris obsessed by music in the French style. At his court in Sorau (in modern day Poland), he demanded and enjoyed a rich supply of new compositions in that French vein where a grand overture peppered with regal rhythms is followed by a suite of shorter (typically dance-derived) pieces. In the early part of the 1700s that task fell to Georg Philipp Telemann. Having recently deserted studying the career path of a lawyer at the University of Leipzig, Telemann’s appointment at Sorau was an education in the musical stylings of Louis XIV’s court.
In an era before recording technology was available, the ways to become familiar with international musical trends were to make a personal visit, to learn from a master of that style, or have access to the musical manuscripts or copies. At Sorau, Telemann (in his own words) “...got hold of works by Lully, Campra, and other good composers…... I now studied it more closely and completely devoted myself to it, not without good success.” The last half of Telemann’s account seems to be a bit of an understatement, as it is known that he composed no less than 200 overture-suites during a short period of time in the early days of his career, and an estimated total of 600 works in that style over his lifetime.
Some of Telemann’s overture-suites bear nicknames. Les Nations derives its title from the short character pieces that follow the overture and minuets, including the Turks, Swiss, Moscovites, Portuguese, and so on.
Elena Ruehr (b. 1963) :: Piano Concerto No. 1
Writing a piano concerto for one of the best pianists I know, Heng-Jin Park, has been a sustained dream of mine. When approached by A Far Cry about the possibility of writing a concerto for her, we discussed its focus. It was very important to me to write a concerto for Heng-Jin, not just as a pianist but as a person with a complex and interesting story. Heng-Jin’s specific history of how she grew up in South Korea and immigrated to the US at the age of 10, all the while practicing and preparing for a life as a pianist, is both intense and inspiring, and I decided to write a programmatic piece that loosely outlined that story. Although the final work does have an unstated program, what became most interesting to me as I worked was how Heng-Jin’s practice of the great piano literature from Bach to Brahms was the guiding force of her life from her early childhood. It seemed to me that this literature needed to be referred to as part of the story, so, although there are no actual quotes, there are references to the
standard piano repertoire itself that form the basis of this story. The piece follows a narrative that starts with Heng-Jin as a young girl in Korea, moving to the US, growing up and working as a world-renowned musician, all the while practicing, practicing and practicing. As for the title, rather than use a colorful descriptive title, the most important aspect of this work is that it is a story of the concept of a piano concerto, imbued with a sense of history and personal experience.
Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) :: Symphony no. 10
Mieczysław Weinberg was a prolific composer of twenty-six symphonies, seventeen string quartets, and dozens of other works in various genres, who suffered tremendous personal losses at the hands of political tyranny over a number of decades. Several members of his family were executed by the Nazis or the Soviet authorities. Weinberg, himself, was imprisoned for nearly a year in 1953. Still, he wrote music. For many years, that music was far less well known in the West than the works of his contemporaries, Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Recently, that has begun to change.
Sheets of dissonance descend in block chords to open the Symphony No. 10, triggering in the listener’s mind echoes of the initial gestures Tchaikovsky wrote in his Serenade for Strings. This is music of remarkable intensity in both its passion and melancholy. Occasionally, all falls silent but the soliloquy of a solo instrument. There are hints of folk music rhythms. Moreover, Weinberg’s 10th symphony seems to have a life of its own—communicating something deeply intimate to anyone who will listen. May we never experience the level of pain expressed through this music, but use it as a path toward empathy towards those who have lived,, and continue to live, amongst the remains of what could have been a beautiful life.
Notes by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot
Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot is a pianist/harpsichordist, musicologist, music & cultural critic, and freelance writer. She is a graduate of New England Conservatory, and writes program annotations for ensembles nationwide.