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Music@Menlo Festival 2010: Maps & Legends: July 20, 2010

Being Mendelssohn Sampler
Play a FREE "1-Click Concert™"
Maps & Legends Sampler
Play a "1-Click Concert™"

Music@Menlo, the San Francisco Bay Area chamber music festival featured on Classical Archives two months ago, is set to begin its 2010 season on July 23, continuing with a delightful set of concerts through August 14. This season’s festival is entitled “Maps & Legends”, and illustrates the creative programming approach of its Artistic Directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han – the dynamic husband and wife team also behind the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the ArtistLed record label. “Maps & Legends” features seven programs that each coalesce around a particular geography or historic moment – or in the case of the opening concerts, the annual Seasons. Such an approach, as the directors point out, affords an ability not only to highlight unique chamber works, but also to allow the listener to experience connections – musically and aesthetically – that would otherwise be missed.

In celebration of Music@Menlo 2010, Classical Archives is pleased to provide an overview of the new season, along with a 1-Click Concert of works to be featured at the festival. We also highlight once again the outstanding set of recordings from the 2009 season, “Being Mendelssohn”, released on the Music@Menlo LIVE label – including a Free Sampler of tracks from the set for all visitors to Classical Archives.

Below are presented a series of tabs focusing on the achievements of Music@Menlo. The first is an overview of the upcoming Maps & Legends series (July 23-August 14); followed by a set of six tabs each highlighting a different volume of the 2009 festival, “Being Mendelssohn”, released recently on the Music@Menlo LIVE label – along with excellent Liner Notes written by Artistic Administrator, Patrick Castillo.

Also read the fascinating Exclusive Interview with David Finckel and Wu Han conducted by Classical Archives Artistic Director Nolan Gasser.

“Maps & Legends is an endless constellation of musical worlds that invites many possible journeys. The depth of each listener’s discovery is bound only by his or her imagination.”
– David Finckel and Wu Han

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The 2010 season of the Music@Menlo Festival, “Maps & Legends”, is dedicated to exploring works connected by time and geography, and to exploring the subtle ways in which music has reflected and defined the experiences of particular historic eras and places. As such, it expands on the festival’s second season, entitled “Musical Odyssey”, and contrasts with more narrowly focused themes, such as last year’s “Being Mendelssohn”. Below are brief summary of each of the season’s seven principal programs, followed by some short comments from Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han on the upcoming season. 

For further information on the concerts, and to purchase tickets, visit the festival’s website.

Concert 1: The Seasons (July 23)

This opening concert illustrates the power that nature’s seasons have held on composers – and audiences – over the centuries, by juxtaposing two disparate works written some 250 years apart: Vivaldi’s famed Four Seasons and the American maverick George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening (from Makrokosmos III). Both works are performed by a small chamber orchestra, featuring violinist Philip Setzer.

Concert 2: The English Voice (July 25-26)

This concert focuses on the re-birth of the native English musical voice in the late-19th century, under the impetus of composers like Edward Elgar and William Walton – featuring Elgar’s famed Piano Quartet and the Walton’s Piano Quartet, along with Britten’s song cycle A Charm of Lullabies; the concert features the Miró Quartet and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke.

Concert 3: Vienna (July 31, August 1-2)

This concert shines a light on Vienna, among Europe’s most fabled musical cities – in an historical tour from the triumphs it fostered in the late 18th century to the innovations it witnessed at the start of the 20th century; the program – featuring a star roster under the lead of David Finckel and Wu Han – stretches from Haydn to Beethoven to Brahms to Schoenberg, and is sure spark previously unrecognized connections.

Concert 4: Aftermath: 1945 (August 4-5)

This creative program joins together disparate chamber works that collectively reflect an artistic response to the horrors of World War II – “from solemnity to outrage to despair,” as the Music@Menlo program reads. Varied voices – Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Benjamin Britten – illustrate the power of music to convey the bitterness and hope that follows the shock of war; the concert features tenor Matthew Plenk and a host of talented musicians.

Concert 5: La ville-lumière: Paris, 1920-1928 (August 7)

This program highlights the creative explosion that was Paris in the 1920s – host to a tremendous intersection of talents and new ideas in literature, painting, and music – by native French composers, of course, but also American expatriates. The concert includes a wide range of works from Fauré to members of Les Six (Milhaud and Poulenc) to Americans Antheil, Copland, and Gershwin, and even Sergey Prokofiev – who likewise made Paris his home in these years. The concert features the Jupiter Quartet, among others.

Concert 6: Spanish Inspirations (August 9-10)

This concert places focus on Spain’s musical re-birth in the early 20th century, under the lead of such master composers as Isaac Albéniz, Joaquin Turina, and especially Manuel de Falla – all of whom blended the various folk and art traditions of their native land; the concert also features works by the two outstanding French composer who likewise fell under the spell of the “Spanish inspiration”: Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The concert features mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and guitarist Jason Vieaux.

Concert 7: Dvorák’s America (August 13-14)

The final program centers more narrowly on a single composer, Czech master Antonín Dvorák, and his encounter with nescient American “sound” in the late-19th century; the program features Dvorák’s two “American” chamber works and some Spirituals by Henry T. Burleigh that inspired him – as well as songs by two later composers, Samuel Barber and William Bolcolm, who likewise embraced the native American musical voice that inspired Dvorák. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and the Jupiter Quartet once again lead a terrific group of players.

Finally, Classical Archives Artistic Director Nolan Gasser posed two written questions to David Finckel and Wu Han on the insights they’ve gained in creating this program, and the outstanding roster of artists gracing the Music@Menlo programs this year:

Nolan Gasser: In taking this unique approach to the 2010 Festival – focusing on various historical-geographical-natural nexuses as uniting threads to create rich musical programs, I’m sure it’s brought into focus various musical and/or stylistic connections among and between the selections that you may not have noticed previously – for example, something distinctively “Viennese” in all 4 works on that program (from Haydn to Schoenberg), or how the aftermath of War impacts the musical gestures and language of composers of diverse backgrounds, etc. Can you share some of these insights you’ve gained as you’ve prepared for the Festival’s start?

David Finckel and Wu Han: One of the most fascinating things for us in putting this season together has been thinking about how different musical cultures inform one another – for example, the influence between Spanish and French composers on our "Spanish Inspirations" program. One of the more unexpected delights of this season was putting together Concert Program 2, "The English Voice." Most of us (at least in this country) don't know nearly as much about English music as we do about, say, German or French music. But England has such an interestingly nuanced musical tradition. English composers in the early twentieth century absorbed everything from German Romanticism to American jazz. But what makes their music English is how they took those elements and made them their own. The Elgar Piano Quintet, for example, is obviously influenced by Brahms, and yet there's something so distinctly and wonderfully un-Brahmsian about it. It's expressive in a way that's so specific to Elgar and the English voice. In fact, hearing "The English Voice" and our "Vienna" program back-to-back should be one of this summer's most enlightening listening experiences.

NG: Can you share with us some thoughts on the particularly roster of artists – and lecturers – coming to the Festival this year, and things the audience should keep a special eye (or rather ear) out for?

DF / WH: Since the beginning of this festival, we have been committed to introducing our audiences to exciting new artists each season. Every year, roughly one third of our artist roster are musicians making their Music@Menlo debut, and we're tremendously excited about the artists we're introducing this season. To name just a few: the Jupiter String Quartet is one of the top young chamber ensembles in the industry today. Alessio Bax is one of our favorite pianists, and we're excited to have him taking part in the main concert series and giving a Carte Blanche Concert. And we have three outstanding singers joining us: Sasha Cooke, who has been taking the opera world by storm; Matthew Plenk, a rising star at the Metropolitan Opera; and Randall Scarlata, whose Winterreise performance promises to be one of this summer's highlights.

The first disc in the series explores the formative influence of previous composers on Mendelssohn’s musical development – most notably J.S. Bach and his masterful fugues, as well as Mozart. The program concludes with two early works by Mendelssohn, including his ambitious Sextet, Op.110 from 1824 – written when the composer was 15.

This concert was recorded on July 18, 2009 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, California. Recording producer and engineer: Da-Hong Seetoo.

Liner notes

No composer exercised a more formative influence on Mendelssohn than Johann Sebastian Bach, whose musical integration of formal perfection and expressive ideal would guide Mendelssohn throughout his creative life. Of especial importance to the young Mendelssohn was the discovery and rigorous study of Bach’s masterful fugues. Disc I traces the illustrious musical lineage from Bach, through Mozart, to Mendelssohn, who deeply absorbed the lessons from his musical forebears. The disc culminates in the Mendelssohn Sextet, the beginning of the young composer’s journey into the Romantic era.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685–1750) Selections from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 (before 1742, rev. ca. 1745, 1748–1749) Among Bach’s final works, The Art of Fugue and Musical Offering serve as the composer’s valedictory statements, demonstrating what might be considered the heart and soul of Bach’s music: his mastery of counterpoint and fugal writing. The fourteen fugues, two mirror fugues, four canons, and incomplete quadruple fugue that constitute The Art of Fugue derive from a modest twelve-note soggetto, stated at the outset of the first fugue in succession by each of the four voices.

What Bach creates over the course of The Art of Fugue from this simple subject is nothing short of miraculous. The cycle represents an exhaustive exploration of the contrapuntal possibilities contained in one musical idea. After Bach’s death, the composer’s obituary noted: “Once he had heard a particular theme, he could grasp, as it were instantaneously, almost anything artistic that could be brought forth from it.” The Art of Fugue is the crowning testament to this claim.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH Ricercar à 6 from Musical Offering, BWV 1079 (1747) In 1747, Bach visited the court of Frederick the Great. Widely hailed as an enlightened monarch and a devoted patron of the arts, Frederick was moreover a talented flutist and composer. Bach’s reputation as a great theoretician and contrapuntalist preceded him, and upon the occasion of his visit, he was given a difficult theme, composed by the king— hence known as the King’s Theme—to improvise on at the keyboard.

Bach rose to the occasion and then some: two months later, he published the Musical Offering, a set of various compositions based on the King’s Theme, which he dedicated to Frederick the Great. The complete work comprises ten canons, a trio sonata for violin and flute (presumably in tribute to Frederick’s flute playing), and a three-part and six-part ricercar.

Like The Art of Fugue, the Musical Offering serves to summarize the depth of Bach’s mastery of counterpoint and fugue. Bach biographer Martin Geck writes: “The dedicatee of the Musical Offering, Frederick the Great, was the greatest representative of secular power in the German-speaking lands: as such, he was being honored with a work which in Bach’s view would be at the highest level of musical composition.”

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756–1791) Adagio and Fugue in c minor, K. 546 (1788) Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue began life as the Fugue in c minor, K. 426, for two keyboards. Composed in 1783, that work appeared as part of a flurry of new pieces the composer produced after his arrival in Vienna in 1781. During this time period, Mozart’s productivity seems to have known no limits. But in the late 1780s, Mozart’s popularity (and, consequently, his income) took a downward turn. In order to generate much needed income in the summer of 1788, Mozart composed at a furious pace, completing a symphony, a violin sonata, a piano trio, a piano sonata, and this arrangement of the Fugue in c minor, with the added Adagio introduction, in the span of only a few weeks.

Compelling dialogue and an expertly calibrated sense of drama reveal Mozart the opera composer at work in the Adagio. The movement closes in a mood of great tension and anticipation, and the cello introduces the angular fugue subject. As in the fugues he had arranged from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier in 1782, Mozart—still under the Baroque master’s spell—demonstrates a complete mastery of fugal technique. The Fugue serves simultaneously as an homage to Bach and as an announcement to the Viennese musical community of the arrival of a compelling and individual compositional voice.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809–1847) Sinfoniesatz no. 13 in c minor (1823) Much of Mendelssohn’s compositional activity during his early adolescence was devoted to polishing his craft via the string symphony genre, which offered the advanced student composer a medium where he could become proficient in symphonic form and practiced in managing large ensembles, as well as opportunity for further practice at counterpoint.

The c minor Sinfoniesatz—the last of Mendelssohn’s thirteen essays in the genre, composed when he was just fourteen years old—betrays the young composer’s immersion in the music of Bach immediately from its slow, neo-Baroque introduction. The main body of the work comprises an adeptly constructed double fugue. (In both its structure—slow introduction, fast fugue—and content, the Sinfoniesatz likewise echoes Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue.) But while the Sinfoniesatz relies on Bachian counterpoint, so, too, does it foreshadow the influence of Beethovenian drama.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN Sextet in D Major, op. 110 (1824) By 1824, Mendelssohn’s seduction by the dramatic force of Beethoven’s language was complete. Though no less under the spell of Bach, the music composed during Mendelssohn’s fifteenth year increasingly foreshadows Romantic sensibilities.

The well-to-do Mendelssohn family regularly staged Sunday morning musicales at their home throughout Mendelssohn’s youth as a vehicle for Felix’s blossoming gifts, and the Sextet was composed for and premiered at one of these events. In addition to showcasing Felix the composer, the Sextet, which Mendelssohn designed as a virtual mini piano concerto, was likewise intended to spotlight Felix the piano virtuoso.

The work’s most compelling moment comes near the end of the finale. Channeling Beethoven, Mendelssohn uses a dramatic device learned from the master’s Fifth Symphony (which premiered about a month before Mendelssohn was born): in the midst of the contentedly Mozartian recapitulation, an agitated theme, heard earlier in the third movement minuet, makes an unexpected return, like a mischievous rabble-rouser crashing an aristocratic salon. Listeners at the Sextet’s premiere—still struggling in 1824 to absorb the breadth of Beethoven’s fierce creativity—must have been astounded by young Felix’s audacity. For all its graceful elegance, the Sextet did much more than announce Mendelssohn as a delightful child with a charming gift. Western music’s next great artistic voice had arrived.

Liner Notes by Patrick Castillo, Artistic Administrator of Music@Menlo, and an active composer, vocalist, producer, and writer based in New York.

The second installment in the series features two enduring masterworks by Mendelssohn: his incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (here in a 2-piano rendition) and his Octet, Op.20 – written at the age of 16, and remaining one of the composer’s most beloved chamber works. In between these two is the String Quartet, Op.18, No.6 by Beethoven – another key artistic model throughout Mendelssohn’s life.

The concerts for this recording took place on July 24, 2009 at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, and July 29, 2009 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, California. Recording producer and engineer: Da-Hong Seetoo.

Liner notes

Disc II features two quintessential works from Mendelssohn’s oeuvre. Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream endures among the composer’s most beloved creations; the Octet, composed when Mendelssohn was only sixteen years old, testifies to the miraculous precocity of the young prodigy. In between these comes the Opus 18 Number 6 String Quartet by Beethoven, who served as one of Mendelssohn’s lifelong artistic models. Beethoven’s groundbreaking Opus 18 quartets, with which the young firebrand from Bonn first announced himself to Vienna’s musical community, pushed the boundaries of Classicism and predicted the Romantic age.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809–1847) Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1843), arr. for piano, four hands Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has become a habitual point of reference in the discussion of his compositional language. When scholars describe that chimerical dimension of Mendelssohn’s music—marked by fleet-footed tempi and featherweight, staccato textures—it has become instinctive to refer to it as his Midsummer Night’s Dream music. The work itself has become, more than a Mendelssohn signature, one of the true landmark pieces of the Romantic period. (Mendelssohn’s four-hand piano arrangement of Midsummer was likely composed concurrently with the orchestral work.)

The Nocturne accompanies the end of Act III, in which Puck, the mischievous servant to the fairy king Oberon, sprinkles a magical love potion on the eyes of the sleeping Lysander. The Scherzo highlights Puck’s first appearance at the outset of Act II. The lithe, breathless character of this music is the hallmark of a vintage Mendelssohn scherzo.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827) String Quartet in B-flat Major, op. 18, no. 6 (1798–1800) The six string quartets of Beethoven’s Opus 18 date from the composer’s early years in Vienna, where he had arrived in 1792 from his native Bonn in order to, in the famous words of his patron Count Waldstein, “receive the spirit of Mozart from Haydn’s hands.” Not only did these works forcefully announce Beethoven’s arrival to Western Europe’s musical capital but more importantly they represent the young composer’s first attempts at the quintessential chamber music genre, which his eventual cycle of sixteen would ultimately redefine.

The first two movements of the B-flat Quartet, op. 18, no. 6, follow straightforwardly enough the example of Haydn and Mozart. The opening Allegro con brio begins to demonstrate Beethoven’s developing penchant for such forceful dramatic devices as jarring sforzandi and unexpected silences but does so within the Classical mold of Haydn’s quartets. The slow second movement does likewise; its leisurely pace equals with patience what the first movement suggested of Beethoven’s restless energy.

The delicious rhythmic confusion that begins the scherzo points more decisively towards Beethoven’s innovative bent. But it is on account of the remarkable final movement, titled “La Malinconia” (melancholy) by Beethoven, that many consider the B-flat Quartet the most powerful of the Opus 18s. The movement’s slow, gripping introduction continues to employ shocking dynamic contrasts, here, to punctuate melancholy with outbursts of despair. Further deepening the sense of anxiety, the music wanders from one tonality to another, as if searching helplessly for its way back to the home key. The main body of the finale responds to the gravity of its introduction with a carefree country-dance. But the gaiety of the dance remains haunted by recurrences of La Malinconia, even until the quartet’s blazing Prestissimo finish.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, op. 20 (1825) Mendelssohn’s reputation as Western music’s greatest prodigy could rest on the Opus 20 Octet alone, for it far exceeds any accomplishment of Mozart, Schubert, or any other wunderkind by the age of sixteen. But the Octet is more than an impressive show of precocity: it is an impeccable work of art irrespective of the composer’s age. Over time, it has come to occupy a place in the literature alongside such works as the Beethoven string quartets and the Schubert Cello Quintet as one of Western music’s most perfect creations.

Among the Octet’s most striking moments is its unforgettable opening, featuring a soaring theme in the first violin above expectant tremolando. A crooning duet between the fourth violin and first viola introduces the lyrical second theme; as Mendelssohn develops this idea, the first violin continues to comment with fragments of its cavalier opening melody. The movement’s development section is rife with Beethovenian Sturm und Drang; tentative syncopations build to an exhilarating crest, as all eight players come together in a fortissimo sixteenth-note run to the recapitulation. The thoughtful Andante provides a foil for the first movement’s forward thrust, as Mendelssohn pares down the octet texture to achieve heartrending subtlety and delicacy.

The scherzo movement offers further example of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream style. Thanks to Fanny Mendelssohn, we have insight into the creative impetus behind this movement. In the scherzo, Fanny writes, Felix “set to music the stanza from Walpurgis-Night’s Dream in [Goethe’s] Faust

The flight of the clouds and the veil of mist

Are lighted from above.

A breeze in the leaves, a wind in the reeds,

And all has vanished.

…To me alone he told this idea: the whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo with shivering tremolos and lightning flashes of trills. All is new, strange, and yet so familiar and pleasing—one feels so close to the world of spirits, lightly carried up into the air. Indeed one might take a broomstick so as to follow the airy procession. At the end the first violin soars feather-light aloft—all is blown away.”

An arresting fugue launches the Presto finale, its barreling subject introduced by the second cello, followed by the first cello, and then the second and first viola, and so on, to the first violin. But just as Mendelssohn’s deft counterpoint and fugal technique remind us of his deep study of Bach, so does the symphonic breadth of the Octet’s finale reveal further the influence of Beethoven. Near the end, Mendelssohn borrows a move from Beethoven’s playbook: he reintroduces the scherzo melody, transporting the listener back to the enchanted world of the third movement before bringing the magnificent Octet to its thrilling conclusion.

Liner Notes by Patrick Castillo, Artistic Administrator of Music@Menlo, and an active composer, vocalist, producer, and writer based in New York.

The third disc contains works by three composers whose works in some ways reflect or compliment Mendelssohn’s style and musical aesthetic – a mix of grace, lyricism, and intense expression. The program begins with two works from latter 20th century – the 6 Bagatelles for Wind Quintet by György Ligeti (1953) and the more recent Piano Trio by American composer Pierre Jalbert (1998); the work concludes with a more direct heir to Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, and his second Piano Quartet, Op.26.

The concerts for this recording took place on July 29 and August 5, 2010 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, California. Recording producer and engineer: Da-Hong Seetoo.

Liner Notes

GYÖRGY LIGETI (1923–2006) Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet (1953)

Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles are his own wind quintet arrangements from his Musica ricercata, a cycle of eleven short piano pieces composed between 1951 and 1953. In addition to this work, these early years of Ligeti’s career (prior to his flight from Budapest in the wake of the failed 1956 revolt against Stalinist rule) also produced his seminal First String Quartet, Sonata for Solo Cello, and numerous choral works on traditional Hungarian themes. The choral music fulfilled the societal expectations for Ligeti as an artist under despotic rule; his more daring instrumental works, including the Musica ricercata, for the time being remained under lock and key.

Ligeti wrote of the Six Bagatelles:

As a student in Kolozsvár and Budapest I was a confirmed believer in the folkloristically oriented music of the “New Hungarian School”; Bartók was my compositional ideal. I wrote eleven piano pieces in Budapest between 1950 and 1953, in an attempt—initially fruitless—to find a style of my own. This was Musica ricercata in the true sense of “ricercare”: to try out, to seek. When the eminent Hungarian wind ensemble the Jeney Quintet asked me for a piece in 1953, I arranged six of the eleven piano pieces for flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, B-flat clarinet, F-horn, and bassoon. Four pieces from this cycle are “pseudo-folkloristic”: no actual folk songs are quoted, but nos. 2 and 5 have a “Hungarian diction” about them (no. 5 depicts mourning bells in memory of Bartók); no. 4, with its “limping” dance music, is Balkan; and no. 3 depicts an artificial hybrid of Banat-Romanian and Serbian melodic idioms.

The Franz Liszt Academy presented the first Festival of New Hungarian Music at the end of September 1956. My Bagatelles were finally performed at the instigation of the Jeney Quintet. At that time they were called Five Bagatelles, since no. 6—despite the thaw in the political climate—still contained too many minor seconds. (Dissonances and chromaticism were still “cosmopolitan” and “hostile to the people,” just somewhat less so than previously.) The audience of intellectuals and musicians was at a loss as to whether or not they were permitted to enjoy the music or to applaud. One of my earlier teachers tried cautiously to congratulate me on my “success”: he shook my hand but shifted his weight from one foot to the other in embarrassment.

PIERRE JALBERT (b. 1967) Piano Trio (1998) Composer’s Note This work is in two movements of extremely contrasting character. The first movement, Life Cycle, consists of four sections. Each section contains the same quick pulse; while the music changes considerably from section to section (and includes a jazz riff ), the basic pulse or beat remains constant. (I heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time a few months into my wife’s pregnancy and was very surprised at how rapid it was. This rapid pulse became the basis for the first movement.)

The second movement, Agnus Dei, represents the sacred and is mysterious and lyrical in character. The structure of the movement is modeled after the three-part form of the Agnus Dei prayer:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

It opens with a violin melody, full of pitch bends, played over a cello drone. This melody is then passed on to the cello, finally cadencing with all three instruments. This material is then repeated (much like the repetition of the second line in the prayer) but at a different pitch level. The music then moves on to a more developmental section, still containing the original tune, but ultimately ends up in a different place (much like the last line of the prayer). The movement is dedicated to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833–1897) Piano Quartet no. 2 in A Major, op. 26 (1861) The Piano Quartet no. 2, op. 26, dates from 1861; scholars widely refer to this stage of Brahms’s career as his first maturity, in which the composer was able to fully assimilate the influence of such predecessors as Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert into his own distinct compositional voice. Significantly, this period was heralded by numerous outstanding chamber works, including two string sextets; the Opus 34 Piano Quintet; the Opus 38 Cello Sonata; the Opus 40 Horn Trio; and the first two piano quartets, opp. 25 and 26. While these works mark Brahms’s early career, they nevertheless are all acknowledged masterpieces and reflect a fully developed language. The Opus 26 Quartet is a work of grand and quintessentially Romantic scale, flush with eloquent melodic ideas. The Allegro non troppo begins on a note of Brahmsian warmth, nevertheless tinged by the first theme’s unsettling rhythmic sway. Despite the movement’s tender character, a subtle rhythmic tension underscores the entire movement as steady eighth-note and triplet patterns vie for supremacy. The breathtaking Poco adagio presents an unassuming melody in the piano atop a gently rocking accompaniment played by muted strings. Mysterious arpeggios interrupt the movement’s dream-like serenity; the music steadily escalates to more impassioned heights but never exceeds Brahms’s sure-handed restraint. The third movement is similarly under-stated, blithesome without the wild-eyed freneticism typically associated with scherzi. Brahms backloads the quartet’s most boisterous energy into the finale, whose folk dance–like subject mildly recalls the Opus 25 Quartet’s famous Gypsy rondo.

Liner Notes by Patrick Castillo, Artistic Administrator of Music@Menlo, and an active composer, vocalist, producer, and writer based in New York.

The fourth disc contains two major works by two composers who issued great personal influence on Mendelssohn: the “Kreuzter” Violin Sonata by Beethoven and the “Gran Nonetto”, Op.31 by Louis Spohr, a long-time friend and colleague of Mendelssohn.

The concerts for this recording took place on July 29, 2009 and August 5, 2009 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, California. Recording producer and engineer: Da-Hong Seetoo.

Liner Notes

Disc IV pairs two composers of great significance to the life and art of Felix Mendelssohn. Beethoven catalyzed Western music’s transition from the Classical period into the Romantic era and served as an artistic model and inspiration for Mendelssohn throughout his career. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, a landmark of the violin sonata literature, was a work that Mendelssohn—one of his generation’s most outstanding pianists—loved dearly and performed often. Louis Spohr was a close friend and valued colleague of Mendelssohn’s, renowned throughout the Western musical community as a violinist, conductor, and the composer of such colorful works as the Opus 31 “Gran Nonetto” for Winds and Strings.


Violin Sonata in A Major, op. 47 (Kreutzer) (1802–1803)

The Kreutzer Sonata, the ninth of Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano, has long been the most famous of the ten owing equally to its bold dramatic design and its fiendish writing for both instruments. Beethoven noted in his sketchbook that the sonata is “written in a highly concertante style, almost in the manner of a concerto.” Tolstoy’s novella of the same name, in which the sonata’s volcanic energy precipitates a jealous murder, has likewise contributed to the Kreutzer’s notoriety. Upon hearing the sonata, Pozdnyshev, the novella’s cuckolded tragic hero, observes “that entirely new impulses, new possibilities, were revealed to me in myself, such as I had not dreamed of before. Such works should be played only in grave, significant conditions, and only then when certain deeds corresponding to such music are to be accomplished.”

Beethoven composed the sonata in the spring of 1803 for a concert he was to give in Vienna with the Ethiopian-Polish violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Although the performance was a resounding success, Beethoven rescinded the dedication to Bridgetower, apparently following a disagreement over a lady. The sonata’s surviving dedication honors the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who, despite his own highly touted virtuosity, found the work too difficult and never performed it.

The Kreutzer Sonata fulfills Beethoven’s remark in 1803 that “I am not satisfied with what I have composed up to now. From now on I intend to embark on a new path.” Among the violin-and-piano literature, the Kreutzer’s ambitious scale represented a novel conception of the medium’s dramatic capacity. The equal partnership between violin and piano throughout the sonata furthermore yields a discursive element likewise new to the duo repertoire. The Adagio sostenuto introduction—the only slow introduction among Beethoven’s violin sonatas—immediately establishes a declamatory dimension unprecedented in the sonatas of Mozart. Moreover, the work’s formal design, irrespective of genre, signals the audacity of Beethoven’s “new path.” Presaging the motivic construction of the Fifth Symphony, the half-step gesture that coquettishly closes the Adagio introduction germinates into the Presto’s subsequent thematic material. The breadth of the middle movement, an elegant theme with five variations, further extends the Mozartian model; the unexpected piano recitative that heralds the final variation injects a narrative quality quite distinct from the standard variations form. The concluding Presto movement, originally composed as the finale to the Opus 30 Number 1 Violin Sonata, more fittingly caps the Kreutzer’s grand design. A tarantella in rondo form, the movement is propelled by an insistent iambic gait to a dazzling finish.

LOUIS SPOHR (1784–1859)

Nonet in F Major, op. 31 (1813)

Although his renown has flagged since his death in 1859, the German composer Louis Spohr was regarded by his contemporaries as an equal to Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Musicologist Clive Brown notes that both Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde were composed within the span of Spohr’s lifetime and that “his own work looks, Janus-like, towards both the formalism and clarity of the Classical tradition, and the structural and harmonic experimentation associated with nineteenth-century Romanticism.” Like Mendelssohn, with whom he enjoyed a great mutual respect and advocacy for each other’s music, Spohr was a famous multihyphenate: a widely acclaimed conductor and violinist, as well as one of his generation’s most famous composers.

Spohr composed his Opus 31 Nonet for Winds and Strings in 1813. He had recently been appointed Kapellmeister of the orchestra of Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, where, among other important developments, he became friends with Beethoven. He also received a curious commission during this time from the prominent arts patron Johann Tost (a highly skilled dilettante himself who had served as Haydn’s second violinist for five years at the Esterháza court and who later received the dedication of Mozart’s String Quintet in D Major, K. 593, and String Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 614). From Spohr’s autobiography:

Word had hardly gotten around Vienna that I was to settle there when one morning a distinguished visitor presented himself: a Herr Johann von Tost, manufacturer and passionate music lover. He began a hymn of praise about my talent as a composer and expressed the wish that, for a suitable emolument, everything that I should write in Vienna be reckoned as his property for a period of three years. Then he added, “Your works may be performed as often as possible, but the score must be borrowed from me for each occasion and performed only in my presence…I have two objectives. First, I want to be invited to the musicales where your pieces will be played, and therefore I must have them in my possession. Secondly, I hope that on my business trips the possession of such treasures will bring me the acquaintanceship of music lovers who, in turn, may be useful to me in my business.” The appropriate documents were drawn up and signed accordingly.

The Opus 31 Nonet was one of the works composed for Johann Tost. Tost’s commission also resulted in four string quartets, two quintets, and the Opus 32 Octet for Clarinet, Two Horns, and Strings. Spohr’s Opuses 31 and 32 (and also the Opus 147 Septet for Winds, Strings, and Piano) rank among the finest of his chamber works and suggest that unusual combinations of instruments especially piqued his imagination. The broad palette of instrumental colors afforded by the ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass endows the Nonet with its particular charm. Befitting Spohr the virtuoso violinist, the Nonet moreover features a concertante part for the violin.

Liner Notes by Patrick Castillo, Artistic Administrator of Music@Menlo, and an active composer, vocalist, producer, and writer based in New York.

The fifth disc contains selections from two masterworks by Mendelssohn – a sampling of pieces from his brilliant piano set Songs Without Words and the String Quintet in A, Op.18, written at age 17 and; separating these are the Piano Trio in D-, Op.63 by his great contemporary Robert Schumann.

The concerts for this recording took place on July 24, 2009 at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, and July 29, 2009 and August 5, 2009 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, California. Recording producer and engineer: Da-Hong Seetoo.

Liner Notes


Lied ohne Worte in g minor, op. 19, no. 6, Venezianisches Gondellied (Venetian Boat Song) (1830); Lied ohne Worte in a minor, op. 85, no. 2 (1834); Lied ohne Worte in C Major, op. 67, no. 4, Spinnerlied (Spinning Song) (1845)

The Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words)—of which Mendelssohn composed eight volumes comprising six songs apiece over his career—provide an essential snapshot of Romanticism. They are, first and foremost, a paean to the sovereignty of melody. They also reference, in an abstract way, the Romantic generation’s preoccupation with poetry, as reflected in the lieder of Schubert, Schumann, and others; Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words succeed in capturing the clarity and expressivity of sung texts, but they do so relying solely on musical character, without the aid of poetry. Mendelssohn biographer R. Larry Todd writes that the Songs without Words “broached in a different way the ability of music to convey extra-musical ideas.” Indeed, Robert Schumann surmised that Mendelssohn originally composed them as songs with words and then withdrew the texts. Todd continues: “The new genre, which blurred the lines between the song and the character piece, later enjoyed great success and became synonymous with Mendelssohnism.”


Piano Trio in d minor, op. 63 (1847)

Robert Schumann stands among the quintessential symbols of the Romantic era. Just as his music exhibited the hallmarks of Romanticism, so did the events of his life. When he was eighteen years old, he traveled to Leipzig to study with the pianist Friedrich Wieck, whose nine-year-old daughter, Clara, was also a gifted pianist. Robert and Clara developed a close friendship, which blossomed years later into an intense love affair. After a protracted legal battle with Clara’s forbidding father, the two were married in 1840. By the mid-1840s, Schumann’s physical and mental health both began to decline. He battled bouts of depression, insomnia, and, eventually, psychosis. Following a suicide attempt in 1854, Schumann was sent to an asylum in Bonn and never saw his children again. He starved himself to death two years later; Clara was not permitted to see her husband until the day before he died.

The Piano Trio in d minor, op. 63, is the first of Schumann’s three piano trios (not counting the Opus 88 Fantasiestücke, also scored for violin, cello, and piano) and has endured as the most beloved of the set among concertgoers. Schumann composed the work in 1847, the same year as Mendelssohn’s death. The trio bleeds Romantic pathos throughout its four movements. Even in its tempo instructions, Schumann sees a chance for poetry; the first movement is not merely Allegro but Mit Energie und Leidenschaft—with energy and passion. The movement does nevertheless offer a salient moment of respite from the intense d minor Leidenschaft when, after extending each of the themes from the exposition, the development comes to an abrupt halt and introduces a new musical idea. Schumann creates a fragile sonic texture: in addition to marking themusic pianississimo, he instructs the pianist to depress the soft pedal and the strings to play sul ponticello (bowing near the bridge, thus producing a thinner, rarefied tone). After a full recapitulation, Schumann briefly recalls this optimistic interlude before the movement’s tragic conclusion. Following the jaunty scherzo, a breathlessly long phrase in the violin sets the weeping tone for the third movement, marked Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung—slowly, with intimate feeling. A brighter melody appears midway through the movement to contrast the elegiac character of the opening theme. R. Larry Todd notes that the ensemble texture at the outset of the finale—lyrical theme set against shimmering chords in the piano—recalls the “sparkling, effervescent virtuosity” of Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata in D Major, op. 58. The vast emotional terrain that Schumann traverses—from the tragic first movement, through the lively scherzo and brokenhearted slow movement, and finally arriving at the triumphant finale—illustrates the archetypal Romantic journey. The trio’s impulsive rhetoric and great emotive breadth confirm Schumann’s place among the definitive voices of his generation.


String Quintet no. 1 in A Major, op. 18 (1826)

Mendelssohn composed the String Quintet in A Major while a seventeen-year-old student at Berlin University. The work originally comprised four movements as follows: an Allegro first movement, followed by a scherzo, a minuet and trio, and a concluding Allegro vivace. Six years later, while traveling in Paris, Mendelssohn had an opportunity to hear the quintet read by a crack pickup ensemble, led by the eminent French violinist Pierre Baillot. Mendelssohn held his colleagues in sufficiently high regard to seriously consider their one criticism of the work: the conspicuous absence of a slow movement. By unhappy coincidence, Mendelssohn received word around this time of the death of Eduard Rietz, his violin teacher and collaborator in staging the celebrated 1829 performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Mendelssohn mourned his dear friend by composing a Nachruf, or memorial, which would make its way into the quintet and satisfy Baillot’s sole qualm with the work. The Quintet in A Major was published in 1833 as Mendelssohn’s Opus 18 with the Nachruf as its second movement; Mendelssohn eliminated the minuet and retained the scherzo as the third movement.

The opening theme of the triple-meter Allegro con moto recalls the gracefulness of a Mozart minuet. Following the equally amiable second theme, the exposition ends with quick, staccato whispers, colored by pizzicati in the lower strings—a texture that has become specifically associated with Mendelssohn and in particular with his incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mendelssohn scholar R. Larry Todd describes this passage “as if an otherwise conventional sonata form momentarily fell under the spell of an elfin world.”

The Nachruf, Mendelssohn’s heartfelt memorial to Eduard Rietz, serves as the quintet’s emotional centerpiece. In obvious homage to the artistry of his friend and teacher, Mendelssohn casts the first violin in a concertante role.

The Midsummer Night’s Dream character of Mendelssohn’s music returns in the third movement scherzo, now combined with the composer’s fascination with Baroque counterpoint to embark on a five-voice fugue. The closing Allegro vivace lets go of the fantastical aura and full-tilt scherzando of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music but hangs on to its whimsical air.

Liner Notes by Patrick Castillo, Artistic Administrator of Music@Menlo, and an active composer, vocalist, producer, and writer based in New York.

The sixth and final installment contains among Mendelssohn’s most beloved chamber works: his two Piano Trios, Op.49 and 66, written in 1839 and 1845, respectively – when the composer was at the height of his creative powers.

The concert for this recording took place on August 8, 2009 at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park. Recording producer and engineer: Da-Hong Seetoo.

Liner Notes

In 1832, Felix Mendelssohn modestly uttered to his sister Fanny: “I should like to compose a couple of good trios.” The works that resulted went far beyond satisfying this yen. Disc VI features Mendelssohn’s two majestic piano trios, works that showcase the Romantic master at the height of his powers. These touchstones of the composer’s chamber music oeuvre have endured as perennial favorites among music lovers since their acclaimed premieres late in Mendelssohn’s life.


Piano Trio in d minor, op. 49 (1839)

Any attempt to correlate artists’ personal lives with the emotive content of their work makes for tenuous scholarship, and Mendelssohn’s spring and summer of 1839 is a case in point. Mendelssohn very happily spent this time with his family and a coterie of friends and colleagues in Frankfurt. The thirty-year-old composer was at the top of his profession and had recently celebrated his first anniversary with his beloved wife, Cécile, who was expecting the couple’s second child. (This contented period of Mendelssohn’s career also produced the Opus 44 string quartets.) Despite the felicity of this period, Mendelssohn nevertheless produced a string of austere pieces, including a set of three rigorous organ fugues, betraying the continued influence of Bach that had so compelled the composer since his youth.

But the true masterpiece of 1839 is the Opus 49 Piano Trio. Robert Schumann counted Mendelssohn’s Opus 49 among the era’s meistertrios, alongside Beethoven’s Archduke and Ghost trios and the piano trios of Franz Schubert. Mendelssohn drafted the trio between June and July of that year and completed a revision in September. Again seeming to contradict Mendelssohn’s contented lifestyle, the Trio in d minor is a study in Romantic Sturm und Drang, which element is strongly present from the opening measures of the first movement, marked Molto allegro e agitato. Mendelssohn entrusts the initial statements of both the ominous first theme and the lyrical second theme to the cello. Though worlds apart in character, these diametric ideas mirror each other in the arch of their respective melodic contours and consequent Romantic ardor.

For much of the first movement (and indeed throughout the trio), Mendelssohn casts the piano in a concertante role. The pianist Ferdinand Hiller, one of Mendelssohn’s close friends and confidants, apparently steered Mendelssohn towards the work’s more progressively virtuosic style. When shown an early draft of the trio, he remarked that he found the piano writing old-fashioned; Hiller later recalled:

I had lived many years in Paris, seeing Liszt frequently and Chopin every day, so that I was thoroughly accustomed to the richness of passages which marked the new pianoforte school. I made some observations to Mendelssohn on this point, suggesting certain alterations…We discussed it and tried it on the piano over and over again, and I enjoyed the small triumph of at last getting Mendelssohn over to my view.

The middle movements demonstrate two essential dimensions of Mendelssohn’s musical language. The second movement, marked Andante con moto tranquillo, begins in the style of Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte. The piano introduces the lied, thereafter set as a loving duet between the violin and cello. After the movement’s darker, minor-key middle section, the lied ohne worte returns, set now in the violin’s high register above cello pizzicati. The scherzo reflects the Midsummer Night’s Dream character frequently encountered throughout Mendelssohn’s catalog.

The finale begins with a portentous quiet. The dactyl that marks the opening theme drives the entire movement; even the sunnier second theme, introduced by the piano, marches to this rhythm. Underneath an ensuing cantabile section, reminiscent of the second movement’s lied ohne worte, the piano recalls a triplet accompanimental figure used in the first movement. Mendelssohn thus confirms this finale as a thoughtfully wrought summation of the entire work, as well as a dramatically fitting exclamation point. After thorough development of the movement’s various thematic ideas, the work emerges from the brooding key of d minor to the sunnier key of D major and ends with a triumphant hurrah.


Piano Trio in c minor, op. 66 (1845)

Mendelssohn completed the second of his two piano trios, the Opus 66 Trio in c minor, in 1845, six years after the first. Like its elder sibling, this trio exudes Romantic pathos immediately from its opening strains. A serpentine piano melody rises to a forceful cadence, only to return to a nervous whisper in the strings. Mendelssohn extends this theme to another upward arching musical idea in the violin and cello; a frenzy of sixteenth notes in the piano underneath inverts the contour of the theme, quietly sinking lower and lower. The movement’s second theme, introduced by the violin, could be the doppelganger of the first: the heroic counterpart to the tortured opening measures.

The Andante espressivo, analogous to the Andante movement of the Opus 49 Trio, is a vintage lied ohne worte: this music encapsulates Romanticism at its most deeply heartfelt. Of the quicksilver third movement, marked Molto allegro, quasi presto, Mendelssohn yielded that the perilously fast tempo might be “a trifle nasty to play.”

Among the compelling narrative threads of Mendelssohn’s life and legacy is his complicated relationship with religion. He was born into a prominent Jewish family—his grandfather was the distinguished Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn—but Felix’s father, Abraham, insisted that the family convert to Christianity as a means of assimilating into contemporary German society. The hyphenated surname often used in reference to the composer, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, was likewise insisted upon by Abraham Mendelssohn, on the premise that “there can no more be a Christian Mendelssohn than there can be a Jewish Confucius.”

Though it does not bear any explicit program, the Opus 66 finale might nevertheless be heard to reflect somewhat the nuanced role that religion played in Mendelssohn’s life and artistry. The movement begins with a dance-like theme whose shape and articulation (and the opening melodic interval of a minor ninth) suggest Jewish folk music. Later in the movement, Mendelssohn unexpectedly introduces the Lutheran hymn “Gelobet seist Du, Jesu Christ. ”While the piano offers the hymn, the strings play fragments of the opening theme. Music scholar Robert Philip has likened this juxtaposition to “two diminutive figures speaking in hushed tones as they enter a great cathedral.” Extending this juxtaposition of musical ideas—indeed, ultimately reconciling the two—the movement escalates to an ecstatic climax. A radiantly transfigured version of the opening dance-like melody gets the last word, propelling the trio to a riveting final cadence.

Liner Notes by Patrick Castillo, Artistic Administrator of Music@Menlo, and an active composer, vocalist, producer, and writer based in New York.

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