Discover the world of dreams in music uncovering the mysteries of the night, including Chopin’s Nocturnes and Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.
John Harbison: Twilight Music
Frédéric Chopin: Nocturnes
Gabriela Lena Frank: Canto de Harawi: “Amadeoso”
Béla Bartók: Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
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Join us before each concert at 2:30pm to participate in a discussion about the music. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the program and increase your enjoyment of the music you'll hear.
About the Music
John Harbison (b. 1938)
horn, violin, piano
Twilight Music was written directly after my first String Quartet: both pieces move toward an abstract and compact way of working, in reaction to the large orchestral works that precede them. The quartet shows obviously, being outwardly tense and without illusions. The present piece shelters abstract structure origins beneath a warmer exterior.
The horn and the violin have little in common. Any merging must be tromp-l’oreille and they share material mainly to show how differently they project it. In this piece the two meet casually at the beginning, and part rather formally at the end. In between they follow the piano into a Presto, which dissolves into the twilight half-tones that named the piece. The third section, an Antiphon, is the crux – the origin of the piece’s intervallic character. It is the kind of music I am drawn to, where the surface seems simplest and most familiar, where the piece seems to make no effort, but some purposeful, independent musical argument is at work.
The final section’s image of separation grows directly out of the nature of the instruments.
This piece was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for performance by David Jolley, James Buswell, and Richard Goode. Such virtuosity as possessed by these artists allowed me to write with reckless subtlety for instruments which I heard meeting best under cover of dusk.
- John Harbison
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
op. 72, no. 1
op. 9, no. 1
op. 27, no. 2
Canto de Harawi: “Amadeoso”
Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)
composed 2005. first performance: 27 January 2006, Cullen Theater, Houston, Texas.
flute, clarinet, piano
As a child, I enjoyed an active dream life which I've sought in vain to reclaim as an adult. So frequent were my night excursions into fantasy that I grew accustomed to actually naming the ones that visited me on a recurring basis. "Amadeoso" was one of these. It grew out of the strong impression made upon me by the film "Amadeus" released in 1984, especially the story's many less-happy and humorous moments. Canto de Harawi: "Amadeoso" is a short tone poem that attempts to portray my childhood dream where I walk hand-in-hand with Mozart, passing through such unlikely scenes as my old backyard garden, a deserted playground, and an ominous cavern that frightened me during a family camping trip. The dream is peculiar in that there is coolness — even distance — intermingled with a sense of impending menace that I, with the naiveté that little children have, want to lead Mozart away from.
This short tone poem takes on the mood and two-part form of a song style native to my Peruvian heritage, that of the melancholy harawi, the quintessential music of the South American Andes. It is particularly distinctive for how the final part of the song sometimes finds its main melody stripped of most of its former accompaniment, starkly dissipating much as a dream might.
- Gabriela Lena Frank
Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
composed 1937. first performance: 16 January 1938, Basel, Switzerland. Béla Bartók and Ditta Pásztory-Bartók, piano; Fritz Schiesser and Philipp Rühlig, percussion.
2 pianos, 2 percussion
I. Assai lento – Allegro troppo
II. Lento, ma non troppo
III. Allegro non troppo
by Jeff Counts
Depictions of night are common in the fine arts and have been for centuries. Whether Starry, Transfigured or simply set in Blue and Gold, these nocturnes have influenced our perception of darkness not just as an absence of light, but as a distinct natural state with its own unique sentience. The term “nocturne” itself was borrowed by composers from Roman liturgy. A “nocturn,” in that earlier context, represents the sections of the canonical office of matins, which typically begins at 2am. It is unlikely that Chopin, Debussy, or Mozart were thinking of 2am when they wrote their Nocturnes and Nachtmusiken, but they certainly meant to evoke the same quiet, devotional intimacy of the moonlit hours.
Written in 1985 on a commission from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Twilight Music was written for a trio of instruments the composer “heard best meeting under cover of dusk.” John Harbison was not the first to join a horn, a violin, and a piano in a chamber music setting, but his iteration was driven most by contrast, stating that the violin and horn, in particular, “share material mainly to show how differently they project it.” He goes on to describe the relationship in more detail by telling us that the “the two meet casually at the beginning, and part rather formally at the end. In between they follow the piano into a Presto, which dissolves into the twilight half-tones that named the piece…It is the kind of music I am drawn to, where the surface seems simplest and most familiar, where the piece seems to make no effort, but some purposeful, independent musical argument is at work.”
Though Chopin was clearly among the earliest and most effective champions of the nocturne form, the honor of creation goes to Irishman John Field. Field lived and taught in Russia for most of his professional life and had a significant influence on the younger Polish genius. In fact, Chopin was said to have judged himself truly successful only when audiences began to comment on the “touch of Field” in his music. This must have been directly related to Chopin’s own Nocturnes, written between 1827 and 1846. The resulting set of 21 works still ranks among the greatest collective utterances in the solo piano repertoire, even though John Field himself seemed not to think much of them. If it is indeed true that he once referred to Chopin as a “sickroom talent,” then we are lucky his minority opinion did not carry much historical weight.
Few nighttime activities have more creative potential than dreaming. Debussy knew this. So did Schubert, Liszt, and Berlioz. Composer Gabriela Lena Frank joined very good company, then, with her own 2005 foray into the unconscious imagination and the music it inspires. Canto de Harawi: “Amadeoso” intended to capture one of the composer’s many “night excursions into fantasy” during childhood. According to Frank, “Amadeoso” tells of a recurring scenario where “I walk hand-in-hand with Mozart, passing through such unlikely scenes as…a deserted playground and an ominous cavern…[t]he dream is peculiar in that there is coolness – even distance – intermingled with a sense of impending menace that I, with the naiveté that little children have, want to lead Mozart away from.” The short tone poem is set in the guise of a harawi, an ancient Andean musical form.
Bartók so thoroughly embraced the idea of night music that it became a signature feature of his output. Though an entire essay could be written solely on the development, refinement, and apotheosis of this important contribution to 20th-century sound, it’s worth noting that the principal attributes included desolate melodies, uncanny harmonies, and the strange, haunting noises of nature after dark. Bartók reserved these conceptual marvels for the slow movements of many of his mature works, and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion includes one of the finest examples. Written for Swiss conductor Paul Sacher in 1937, the Sonata was a logical evolutionary step following the immediately previous Sacher commission Music for Percussion, Strings and Celesta (1936), and it remains one of Bartók’s most performed works.