NOVA NOTES

Defiance and Protest: Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon

Sunday's NOVA program includes two works from very distinctive periods of Arnold Schoenberg’s life. His first published works included several sets of songs for voice and piano, composed during his twenties while living in Vienna, while the Ode to Napoleon was written over 40 years later in California, during his tenure as a professor at UCLA. His Two Songs, opus 1, reflect both his love of dense, rich sonorities found in Brahms and the sensual chromatic harmonies of Wagner. The isolation and ennobled suffering experienced by Karl von Levetzow’s scorned lover resonated deeply with Schoenberg; he would come to identify himself as rejected by society and the establishment throughout his career.

While Schoenberg spent much of his first 50 years in Vienna, he accepted a position at the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin (1926). Born into Jewish family, Schoenberg had converted to Christianity as an act of self-preservation during the swelling tides of anti-Semitism witnessed in turn of the century Vienna. Schoenberg lost his post in Berlin soon after the Nazi’s came to power in 1933. His Jewish heritage and avant garde music made him an easy target, and he became the most famous among composers writing music the Nazis considered “degenerate.” He formally reclaimed membership in the Jewish religion at a synagogue in Paris and would come to write a number of compositions celebrating his faith over the coming decades. In 1933, he and his family fled to the United States, where he first held a position in Boston followed by a move to California.

Schoenberg became a U.S. citizen in 1941. Soon after America entered World War II, he set Lord Byron’s poem to music in condemnation of tyranny and a German dictatorship he saw bearing an uncanny resemblance to that of Napoleon. The poet Lord Byron, upon learning that Napoleon had surrendered his empire to the Allies and agreed unconditionally to exile on the island of Elba,  wrote his “Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte” in April of 1814. Byron’s view of Napoleon was complex and ever shifting. For much of his political and military career, Napoleon exerted an irresistible influence over the poet. But at the moment of his abdication, Byron found little sympathy for the man he once deeply admired. Not since the fall of Lucifer had one so great fallen so far, and in Byron’s eyes the general had twice betrayed Europe, not only through military aggression and a bottomless appetite for power and but also in his cowardly choice of a nameless life in exile over suicide.

Schoenberg composed his Ode over a three month period (March 12-June 12, 1942). He stated the following about this work: “I had at once the idea that this piece must not ignore the agitation aroused in mankind against the crimes that provoked this war… I knew it was the moral duty of intelligentsia to take a stand against tyranny.” Scored for a reciter (who speaks in rhythms and inflections marked by the composer), string quartet, and piano, the music escalates the sarcasm and hysteria found in the poetry. Due to the complexity of Byron’s imagery and the speed at which some of the text is declaimed, a link to the original poem can be found here for those NOVA patrons who would like to read it before Sunday’s concert.

NOVA’s performance of Schoenberg’s music this weekend commemorates the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's capitulation at the close of WW II (May 8, 2015).

An Interview with Special Guest Timothy Jones

Click the link below to listen to a preview discussion of Sunday's NOVA concert, including an interview with special guest Timothy Jones, who discusses everything from finding a career as a singer, collaborating with composers, surviving cancer, and how all these topics tie in with our May 10th concert.

Program Notes on Beethoven & Rihm, Part IV

NOVA concerts on this weekend's Gallery Series represent the final installment in a cycle featuring all ten of Beethoven’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano, programmed alongside Wolfgang Rihm’s six solo Klavierstücke. The works performed at this event represent a culmination of each composer’s efforts in a given medium. Beethoven’s opus 96 violin sonata is the final work of his middle period; during the following three years, he sank into a depression and composed no music of consequence. Rihm’s Klavierstück No. 7 addresses the subject of finality as found in Beethoven’s opus 111 piano sonata and signifies the end of a process and a leave taking (Rihm has composed no further Klavierstücke in the intervening 35 years).

Each Beethoven sonata performed today was shaped largely by the artists they were written for. His famous opus 47 sonata, the “Kreutzer,” was composed for a performance by the flamboyant, young virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower with the composer at the piano. One of the few celebrated European virtuosi of the 19th century of mixed race (his mother was from Poland, his father from Barbados), Bridgetower arrived in Vienna in 1803 and quickly befriended Beethoven. The two hit it off and spent many a drunken evening together. The violinist asked for a sonata, and Beethoven obliged as fast as he could. He had discarded the original finale to an earlier sonata in A Major because its virtuosic and driving tone did not mesh with the other movements. Beethoven built the new sonata for Bridgetower around this pre-existing finale, preceding it with a stormy first movement and an Andante theme and variations. Beethoven spent much of his life pushing musicians beyond their perceived limits, but in this case he clearly met his match. The violin and piano take part in an exciting dialogue of poetic discourse and dazzling one-upmanship. (The original subtitle of the work included the phrase “in the style of a concerto.”) Shortly after the premiere in May of 1803, Bridgewater insulted the honor of a female friend of Beethoven, and the composer changed the dedication of the work to Rodolphe Kreutzer, a French violinist who disliked Beethoven’s music and found this sonata “ outrageously unintelligible.”

Beethoven tailored his opus 96 sonata to the taste of a violinist with a very different musical temperament, the French musician Pierre Rode. Beethoven had great admiration for the French school of violin playing, but he felt a bit hampered by the fact that Rode did not care for “fairly noisy passages” of virtuoso showmanship. Beethoven responded to this by writing a work pastoral and gentle in nature, almost approaching the transparent sound Schubert was to master in another ten years.

Rihm’s Klavierstücke Nos. 6 & 7, composed in 1978 and 1980 repsectively, offer a study in contrasts. No. 6 was written for the painter Kurt Kocherscheidt after his work “Klavierküste III,” a chalk image where the figure of a keyboard dissolves into a fluid chaos of sinuous lines. No. 6 is the longest and quietest of Rihm’s Klavierstücke, with the music delicately tracing out single melodic lines in a dynamic frequently notated “pppp.” No. 7, on the other hand, is manically obsessed with several figures from Mvt. 1 of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, opus 111. The recurring rhythmic motive of Rihm’s piece is a perversion of the very opening of Beethoven’s work; the anacrusis is heavily accented with the instruction “the second note always like a shadow of the first one.” A few direct quotes from the Beethoven are furtively heard, and the music culminates in an absurd pounding of “fff” E-flat major chords. An empty 5 bars is marked “Come una Aria,” and following a coda of terrifying descending bass trills, the music ends with a flippant send-off.

Interview with Brant and Anne Francis Bayless

Click the link below to listen to a preview of this Sunday's concert with violist Brant Bayless and cellist Anne Francis Bayless.

The World Premiere of Morris Rosenzweig’s String Trio

This Sunday NOVA presents the world premiere of a new work by Utah composer Morris Rosenzweig, his String Trio. What follows are notes by the composer on this new work as well as a short bio that includes upcoming and recent performances of Rosenzweig’s works.

My approach to writing music might best be summed up as direct impulse meshed with reason.

This piece contains a basic underlying narrative which--instead of being diverted by its many changes of texture, mood, tempo, etc.--relies on those apparent shifts in order to ultimately tell its particular type of "story."

In composing this work I intended to write a quickly moving network of interconnected episodes, each of various lengths and types that all contribute to the whole structure. Although not a conscious inspiration, this is a similar approach noticeable in certain paintings by Klee and many other artists, as well as in the work of countless filmmakers, for example.

The piece begins and ends quietly. It contains two fairly extended, uptempo, loud, contrapuntal passages. The first, relatively close to the beginning, the second, relatively close to the end which finishes off the business left open by the first. The other equally important characteristic episodes act as both individual agents whose specific properties connect with others by similar or contrasting association. While there are many temperaments contained in this trio, I intend that an overall sense of balance is achieved: soft/loud, sweet/bitter, high/low, polyphonic/monophonic, and so on.

My deep thanks to NOVA for their interest in my music and for including this trio on today's concert, AND to the remarkable musicians who have worked so hard and patiently to bring this trio to life.

 

Morris Rosenzweig was born October 1, 1952 in New Orleans, where he grew up among the tailors, merchants, and strong-willed women of an extended family which has lived in southern Louisiana since the mid 1890s.

His works have been widely presented throughout the United States and Europe, as well as in Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Israel. Among the noted groups who have brought these works to life are the New York New Music Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, “Piano and Percussion-Stuttgart,” the Leonardo Trio, the Abramyan Quartet, EARPLAY, the New Orleans Symphony, and the Utah Symphony. He has had the pleasure of collaborating with an array of distinguished soloists including Laurence Dutton, William Purvis, Curtis Macomber, Chris Finckel, Steven Gosling, and Daniel Druckman.

Six CDs of his recorded compositions are available on the Albany and New World labels.

Mr. Rosenzweig has received honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Bogliasco Study Center, the Argosy Foundation, two commissions and the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, and support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund.

Recent and upcoming activities include:
- a retrospective concert of his music presented by the Trinity Artists Series, November 2012
- movements from Points and Tales, Florence, Cherubini Conservatorio, December 2013
- premiere of so as to, NOVA Series, November 2013
- performance of Angels, Emeralds and the Towers, Contemporary Music Ensemble, Oberlin, March 2014
- a multi-media collaboration with photographer Savina Tarsitano, (heard through mixtful eyes) premiered in Brussels, July 2014 to be followed by a series of upcoming exhibitions in Japan and Italy
- performance of Da Lives ah da Saints, Sonus Tone Festival, Magdeburg, Germany, October 2014
- performance of Piano Preludes and movements from Points and Tales, Jason Hardink, Libby Gardner Hall, January 26, 2015
- premiere of commissioned piece, A League of Notions by the Orchestra of the League, Miller Theatre, New York, June 11, 2015.

Presently Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Utah, he has formerly held positions at Queens College and New York University. Mr. Rosenzweig is director of The Louis Moreau Institute for New Music Performance, New Orleans; director of The Maurice Abravanel Visiting Composers Series, and artistic director of Canyonlands Ensemble. He was educated at the Eastman School of Music, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University.

Original Intentions: The Brahms First Serenade as Chamber Music

Events in the life of Johannes Brahms during his 20th year had a profound impact on his career as a composer. He was suddenly cast from obscurity to fame after meeting Robert Schumann, who public proclaimed him to represent the best of German music to come. Young Brahms was very studious, ambitious, and accomplished by the time he met Schumann. His powerful F Minor Piano Sonata of 1853 foreshadows the profundity of expression found in his mature works. But the new mantle laid upon this talented young mind created an acute awareness regarding the importance of reception and legacy, most famously found in the fact that Brahms worked on his first symphony for twenty years before he was satisfied with it.

Brahms composed his first purely orchestral work, the Serenade in D Major Opus 11, at the age of 25; but like many large-scale works of this period, Brahms reworked the piece several times. (The opus 34 Piano Quintet comes to mind as a similar example; first conceived as a string quintet and then a sonata for two pianos, the final piano quintet version of opus 34 represents the third incarnation of this piece.) Originally imagined as a mixed octet and then a nonet, the music of Brahms’ first serenade was intended for the chamber music sound world of analogous works like the Beethoven Septet and Schubert Octet. The nonet version was performed in Hamburg in 1858, and characteristics of the two scherzi added later suggest that they were conceived with this instrumentation in mind. At the advice of his friend Joseph Joachim, Brahms decided to flesh out the instrumentation of his serenade, first to a chamber orchestra of single winds and about fifteen strings. After a performance conducted by Joachim in this chamber orchestra setting, Brahms decided to expand the piece for full orchestra, the version known today.

Several modern composers have been captivated by the original intentions of Brahms music such that they have reconstructed the first serenade in its original nonet instrumentation. Alan Boustead, whose version will be performed on NOVA this Sunday, wrote:

To reduce all the details of the existing orchestral score to a nonet would result in an unacceptable, uncharacteristic work in which all nine musicians would play almost entirely without rests. Rather, the principle of reconstruction has been to discover textures which would have given rise to Brahms orchestrating in the way he did. Many details of the orchestral version have been discarded as being unquestionably added during the re-casting; however, at many other points, the reconstruction is almost certainly exact...[For examples]: Brahms' known preference for the natural, valveless horn makes it possible to discover [that instrument's] original part with near certainty. The almost insignificant second-violin part in the orchestral version can often be discounted; where it is of importance, it seems not unlikely that its music was originally for the viola. The subsequent 'moving-up' of parts, giving more independence to the double-bass, creates a sound very characteristic of the composer.

JH, 2.25.15

Was the World Ready for Mozart?

Mozart’s career straddles an immense sociological shift occurring in the lives of composers at the end of the 18th century. We tend to think of Beethoven as the first composer to be free of the creative constraints placed on court composers, but Mozart was the earliest major figure to defy this tradition. While his break with the Salzburg court and subsequent move to Vienna were events closely tied to a desire for a courtly appointment in the musical capital of the western world, his Viennese career was that of a freelancer. In some respects this experiment was a failure; Mozart died struggling to make ends meet for his family. The successes of this creative and financial venture cannot be overstated; today we still witness the repercussions of Mozart’s public struggle to reconcile the difference between writing music that his public and his patrons wanted vs. that which he felt worthy of his creative abilities. Mozart’s story had an unimaginable impact on the lives of Beethoven and the 19th-century cult honoring starving artists and misunderstood geniuses. Beethoven himself said that Mozart’s K. 464 string quartet was “Mozart telling the world: ‘Look what I could do if you were ready for it!’”

Mozart’s Divertimento in E-flat, K. 563, is one of the works that most cleverly fulfills an obligation to write pleasing music for his audience while serving as a vehicle for the true invention and daring of the composer’s musical imagination. Composed in September of 1788, this is one of Mozart’s few works in the divertimento/serenade vein not commissioned for a specific occasion. The E-flat Divertimento was composed as a gesture of thanks for a friend, and it was premiered with Mozart playing the viola part while on a multi-city tour in Dresden the following April. While the overall tone of this piece is sunny and serenade-like, Mozart imbues this light genre with intensity of intellect and emotion that was surely viewed as inappropriate and rebellious. Right from the opening of the first movement, there is a heightened sense of counterpoint; the voices are equal, with the viola and cello matching the flashy writing of the violin stride for stride. This is not music a gigging musician could show up and sight-read as background music at a party!

In addition to pushing the limits of virtuosity appropriate to an 18th-century divertimento, Mozart lets the affect of his music wander far beyond the trivial and congenial. A notable example of this occurs in the development of the 1st movement, a searching and unstable journey that travels through minor keys before returning to the jubilant music of the opening. The slow movement is also very enigmatic and heartfelt, plumbing depths of expression suitable only for the greatest music of the concert hall or chamber salon.

JH, 2.25.15

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