TUE, JUL 24, 2018, 8:00 PM
Lincoln Performance Hall, PSU
1620 SW Park Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201
Haydn, Beethoven & Brahms
Get back to the classics with works by Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms. Performed by world-class artists including Cho-Liang Lin, Jon Kimura Parker, and the Miró Quartet, these timeless pieces take on a new life.
HAYDN Quartet for Strings in B-flat Major, Hob. III:44, Op. 50, No. 1
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Joseph Haydn dedicated his Opus 50 string quartets to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, as would Mozart with his own “Prussian” Quartets. The two composers often converged in the string quartet genre; they played quartets together, and Mozart dedicated an earlier set of quartets to the older composer. Upon first hearing these “Haydn” Quartets, Haydn lauded Mozart as “the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” Such an enthusiastic reaction makes it no surprise that the creative influence would flow both ways, and indeed, Haydn’s quartets bear conspicuous traces of Mozart’s compositional footprint.
Haydn’s String Quartet for Strings in B-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 1, opens curiously with unflinching, repeated B-flats in the cello before Haydn sprinkles terse melodic fragments from the higher strings on top: a measure-long, fleeting breath of lyricism in conversation with nimble triplet figures. The rest of the spirited first movement unfolds like an exercise in compositional virtuosity as Haydn deftly threads together these meager slivers of melody into a cohesive whole. Along the way, Haydn’s impish chromaticism and breathless deceptive cadences bespeak an unmistakable dialogue with the younger composer’s style.
The second movement is a set of courtly variations fit for the quartet’s regal dedicatee. The trio section of the graceful minuet rejects the notion of melody once more, like an impudent parody of the fragmentary first movement, favoring instead choppy arpeggios that would be almost banal if not for Haydn’s dry wit. This humor reaches its height in the multiple false endings of the Vivace Finale, as Haydn tries to goad the audience into premature applause.
EETHOVEN Violin Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30, No. 2
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Allegro con brio
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote nine of his ten sonatas for violin and piano in his late twenties and early thirties, from 1797 to 1803. This was still fairly early in his musical development, so to modern audiences the sonatas often seem less grandiose, less convoluted, and less revolutionary than the works for which he is best known today – the fifth and ninth symphonies, the late quartets, etc.
Yet Beethoven essentially redefined the entire genre of the violin sonata over those seven years. After Beethoven, a violin sonata could have four movements rather than three. It could last three-quarters of an hour rather than fifteen minutes, and it could be challenging enough that no amateur could possibly play it. And, most critically, after Beethoven a violin sonata could not be a piano sonata with an optional or secondary violin part – it had to be an equal collaboration between both players.
Unable to cure an incessant ringing in his ears, Ludwig van Beethoven authored the anguished “Heiligenstadt Testament” lamenting the demise of his hearing, and thus his performing career, but also describing his resolve to resist his fate, to keep writing music in spite of his deafness.
Beethoven’s choice of key for his Violin Sonata in C Minor, Op. 30, No. 2, is significant not only as it relates to the rest of his oeuvre, but also in the context of his masonic associations. For freemasons, C minor represented a symbol of death, and was reserved by earlier composers for only their very darkest works. Beethoven’s proclivity toward C minor has led some scholars to consider his stormy works in that key the most faithful to his artistic spirit, while others criticize a reflexive levity in choosing that key as a default mode of passion.
The Allegro con brio quietly presents a one-measure figure twice in the piano before the violin reiterates, stern, ominous, but measured. This movement is gruff, with angst and agitation built in through percussive chords, phrase shapes made angular by sforzandi, and martial dotted rhythms. Like several of its C minor first movement cousins, the Adagio second movement is cast in A-flat major, and also shares with them a plaintive tenderness, gentle pangs of sorrow like the beautiful dissonance above its first downbeat. The lighthearted Scherzo provides a breath of fresh air from the gravitas of the surrounding movements before the Finale resurrects the first movement’s character. But unlike the romantic triumph of the major mode in some of Beethoven’s other C minor works, this sonata races to a furious finish in the dark key of its opening.
© Ethan Allred
BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Andantino - Presto non assai, ma con sentimento
Johannes Brahms had retired from composing by the time he heard the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, but was so inspired by his playing that he came out of retirement expressly to write for the clarinet. The resulting chamber music includes the Clarinet Trio, two Clarinet Sonatas, and the poignant Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115, all some of his final, most mature works. Written as they were in the twilight of Brahms’ life, these works have a reflective quality, highly emotional, but experienced from the remove of memory.
The Clarinet Quintet seems to straddle two opposing sides of a coin. The conspicuous lack of tonic in the violins’ opening gesture creates a momentary ambiguity between B minor and D major, an early herald of the duality that will outline the work’s affective trajectory. The three-note motive that the clarinet sings in the Adagio is the same that forms the pillars of the movement’s rhapsodic middle section. The third movement is similarly constructed on two contrasting sections — a melancholic scherzo in B minor between the pastoral spaciousness of the D major Andantino areas — both mosaicked with the same two motives. Even the fourth movement sources its opening material from the Andantino, but this time the turbulent B minor casts a shadow of malaise on the sunny repose that ended the third movement. The final variation’s collision with reprised music from the first movement signifies a sort of communion, a coming full circle that seems to acknowledge this material as the bookends of a unified story. The realization of this goal allows the piece to finally come to rest, but not before the final upset of the forte penultimate chord: Brahms’ harrowing last gasp right as the curtain falls.
—© Graeme Johnson