Chopin's Chamber Music

NOVA Artistic Director Jason Hardink dicusses the works he chose to pair with chamber music by Chopin on this weekend's concert.

Lyricism in Chopin's Chamber Music

Frédéric Chopin composed a great deal of music during his short life. Much of his creative energy was directed towards writing for solo piano; only on a few rare occasions did he compose for orchestra (always as accompaniment to a piano soloist) or chamber ensemble. On Sunday’s NOVA concert, we will hear two of Chopin’s chamber works (there exists only one other piece of chamber music by Chopin: the cello sonata of 1846). This program pairs these works with music of Chopin’s contemporaries along with a work by a gifted Polish composer of the early 20th century, Karol Szymanowski. (One could mention here that if you want follow up and hear a more recent Polish composer, the Utah Symphony is performing Lutosławski’s Symphony No. 4 in Salt Lake City on March 7 & 8.)

Chopin composed the Polonaise of his opus 3 (the Introduction was written in Vienna several years later) and the Piano Trio, opus 8, during 1828-9 while he still lived in Poland. These works are among the few published compositions from Chopin’s Warsaw years; in 1830, he left for Vienna and then Paris, never to return home. Both the trio and polonaise suffer from a certain amount of ignominy. Biographers and critics, rather than marvel at the unique and beautiful qualities of these scores, tend to focus on what they perceive to be Chopin’s “mishandling” of sonata form, or his “inept” writing for the string instruments. The opus 3 Polonaise, for example, exists in various adaptions with the sole purpose of transferring virtuosity found in the piano part to that of the cellist. This treatment of the piece arises from the myth that Chopin wrote the piano part for himself and the cello part for an amateur cellist.  Chopin in fact wrote the piano part for the daughter of the intended cellist, Prince Radzwiłł. While she was in fact Chopin's student, there are no accounts of her playing being far superior to that of her father, which means that Chopin’s division of labor- melodic material played by the cello, ornamental virtuosity played by piano- is entirely intentional. Chopin’s unique approach to instrumental chamber music in this instance creates a beautifully vocal line for the cellist; the color achieved by the two instruments sounds unlike anything else in the chamber repertoire.

Chopin’s Piano Trio also treats the string instruments in a vocal manner. The melodic lines of the violin and cello are often heard in conversation with each other and/or with the piano. As in the Polonaise, little effort is made to give the strings virtuoso writing that competes with the piano. Rather, the violin and cello almost always present unadorned lyrical lines that encourage the players to impersonate the human voice. The dialogue between instruments found in the Adagio is particularly operatic. The instruments are treated like characters in a drama, with each voice presenting melodic material from a differing perspective.

 To further highlight the lyrical elements heard in Chopin’s chamber music, two important vocal repertoires of Chopin’s period, bel canto aria and German lied, are represented on this concert. Chopin’s approach to lyrical writing for the piano was largely shaped by his exposure to Bellini and the bel canto style of Italian opera. Simple accompaniment and extreme musical focus on the expressive qualities of melody were a hallmark of bel canto and are found in Chopin works like the Nocturnes. Also, a work such as the opus 3 Polonaise is indebted to the slow introduction/fast cabaletta form of many bel canto arias. Robert Schumann greatly admired Chopin’s music and was influenced by his highly personal approach to the piano. While it is clear that Chopin may not have reciprocated Schumann’s adulation, both composers were masters at delivering an intensely vivid portrayal of mood and affect in miniature.

 JH, 2.28.14

An Interview with Cellist Walter Haman

Utah Symphony cellist Walter Haman discusses his upcoming NOVA performance of Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise brillante, opus 3.

Beethoven and Rihm: Part II

This weekend the NOVA Gallery Series presents the 2nd installment of our complete cycle of Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano and solo Klavierstücke of Wolfgang Rihm. While this pairing provides a great deal of musical contrast, the composers themselves each offer us a pair of diametrically opposed works on this concert.

Beethoven composed his opus 23 and 24 sonatas in late 1800 and early 1801 during an extremely prolific period of his career. On three occasions around this time, he wrote to friends, confessing both the symptoms of hearing loss and his resolve to “seize Fate by the throat- it will certainly not crush me completely.” Italianate sensibilities dominate the opus 23 sonata. The precipitous drama found in both the first-movement tarantella and the fiery finale finds respite in a comedic second movement reminiscent of Mozart’s operas. The opus 24 “Spring” sonata (a nickname bestowed long after Beethoven’s death) is a more lyrical work that prefigures a style of music Schubert would embrace 25 years later.

Rihm’s Klavierstücke Nos. 4 and 5 inhabit extremely different spiritual and emotional realms. No. 4 is an introspective and poetic work. Composed in 1974, this piece evokes a sense of mystery and religiosity. Cast as six short movements that run seamlessly together, Rihm’s preoccupation with resonance, bell tones, and repetition invites the listener to a contemplative state.

Rihm composed Klavierstück No. 5 the following year; the work was written for and dedicated to the great German pianist Herbert Henck. Just four years older than Rihm, Henck was responsible for bringing a great deal of American modern music, especially that of Charles Ives, before German audiences. The wild nature of Klavierstück No. 5 is quite possibly indebted to the improvisatory yet structured narrative found in Ives’ ‘Hawthorne’ movement of the Concord Sonata. Rihm adapts the stream-of-consciousness tone of Ives’ music to his own Germanic disposition. References to Schumann, Beethoven, Debussy, Schoenberg, and Messiaen, many of which will be unnoticeable on a first hearing, fly by in cascades of virtuosity. This work consists of three movements; a short and raucous opening that presents material that will later be reprised as a quiet chorale (mvt. 3). The second movement is a chaconne that implodes after six variations, dissolving into a free exploration of the materials heard thus far. A brutal climax in the bass register is followed by a chorale that resolves on “C”, the opening sonority of the work. The word “resolution” here describes a harmonic function that Rihm undermines with a disturbing realization: 7 sffffz iterations of octave “C’s” spaced over irregular intervals of time.

JH, 2.22.14

Late Beethoven and New Complexity Discussed

Jason Hardink discusses the selection of repertoire on our February 9, 2014 NOVA concert.

Commissioning Eckardt's pulse-echo

A discussion of NOVA's latest commission, Jason Eckardt's pulse-echo for piano and string quartet.

Performing Eckardt's Echoes' White Veil

Artistic Director Jason Hardink discusses performing and preparing Jason Eckardt's virtuosic masterpiece, Echoes' White Veil