The two works of Beethoven heard today possess relatively close opus numbers (81b and 95), and the earlier work was published the year the latter was composed (1810). But while the two pieces might seem like they would have traits in common based on this timeline, the septet was composed in 1795 and might as well have been written by another composer. The tone of the septet resembles the jovial divertimenti of Mozart and Haydn, a masterpiece originally intended as a light diversion for the aristocracy.
The septet has for most of its life been known as a sextet for 2 horns and string quartet. Recently, it was noted that an early edition produced under Beethoven’s oversight labeled the cello part “Violincello and Basso,” meaning that the cellist would be supported by a double bass player in certain passages. The addition of a bass player lends a more orchestral texture over which the solo horns might project; this is the version performed today.
The F minor String Quartet opus 95 takes us to another period of Beethoven’s creative output. The first work to truly experiment with techniques that would become the hallmark of Beethoven’s late style, the quartet reveals an inner emotional world that defies expectations. In fact, Beethoven even declared in a letter to a friend that he never intended for the work to be heard in public. This was one of the first pieces he composed after Napoleon’s invasion and occupation of Vienna, and gone here is the heroic paradigm of Beethoven’s earlier music in favor of a terse, idiosyncratic approach to musical narrative.
Of the Micro-Concerto, Steven Mackey writes: “Several years ago I witnessed a ninety-minute clinic on state of the art techniques for playing crash cymbals. I confess that there was something humorously esoteric about the event, but I left inspired to imagine particular ways to coax sound out of pieces of percussion instruments instead of simply hitting things. I’m fascinated by the one-man-band mentality of juggling contrasting timbres produced by a gamut ranging from finely crafted instruments to kitchen utensils, and hobby shop paraphernalia. In addition to providing a virtuoso “vehicle” for the percussionist, Micro-Concerto also explores a variety of more complex roles that the individual can play in relation to the ensemble.”
Morris Rosenzweig was born 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, as well as in Denmark, Sweden, Holland, France, Germany, Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Israel. Among the noted ensembles who have brought these works to life are Speculum Musicae, “Piano and Percussion-Stuttgart”, The New York New Music Ensemble, the Chamber Players of the League-ISCM, EARPLAY, Philippe Entremont with the New Orleans Symphony, and Joseph Silverstein with the Utah Symphony.
He writes, “.....snip, snip..... was commissioned by NOVA for their 40th season. Because I’ve often been asked by various groups to write pieces that had the same instrumentation as well-known masterworks with “unusual” instrumentation (Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Brahms’ Horn Trio, Bartók’s Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion, the Schubert “Trout” Quintet), we decided that this piece would have its own unique scoring, and somehow what came out of our conversation was clarinet, horn, piano, prepared piano, and string quartet.
As my bio notes, I descend from a long line of tailors, some of them everyday artisans, some real artists. I obviously hold the profession in high esteem, and pleasurably recall the sensation of going to my uncle’s shop in New Orleans with its endlessly long tables and masses of cloth bolts. So, .....snip, snip..... refers to my working out, “tailoring” the material that is meant to unfold as a six-section, 15-minute narrative, which sometimes features the piano and sometimes has it do handwork in conjunction with the rest of the ensemble.”