Program Notes for A CHILD'S RELIQUARY
Front Range Chamber Players, March 8, 2016
Richard Danielpour: A Child’s Reliquary
Born in 1956, Richard Danielpour is an American composer who studied at the Oberlin and New England Conservatories, and the Juilliard School. In his early career his music leaned toward the prevailing styles of his time, but in recent years his distinctive American voice has become part of a neo-Romantic heritage, with influences from such composers as Britten, Copland, Berstein, and Barber. “A Child’s Reliquary” is an expression of the composer’s grief following the sudden death by drowning of Cole Carsan St. Clair, the eighteen-month-old son of the conductor Carl St. Clair, who was one of Danielpour’s close friends. The composer began work on the trio just a few weeks after the accident, in the summer of 1999. Danielpour later wrote, “I know of nothing more tragic or heartbreaking than the death of a child. … The work was intended as a kind of Kindertotenlieder without words – and everything in the piece, including references to the Brahms “Cradle Song”, relates to its initial inspiration.” Composed for the eminent Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, this work has three deceptively simple movements that are a reflection of both the weight of the tragedy and the innocence of the young child himself.
I. Moderato, un poco misterioso
The first movement opens with an immediate emotional quality, both sweet and haunted. It sets a somber, almost religious mood, with melodies that evoke the sounds of floating chants for the dead. These open with a descending scale line featuring a 2-bar rhythmic motif, almost a motto, introduced in solo string lines and answered by calm, rising arpeggios in the piano that seem to represent moving water. A mysterious, ominous transition is created by the piano’s low rumblings and fleeting tremolos in the strings. A shorter dotted motive follows, upward moving and dynamically inflected, a sympathetic response in the strings. The opening scales return, now more developed. A contrasting second section brings more agitated motion in the piano, building to an abbreviated climax of grief. This is succeeded by a return of the calmly somber opening section, this time more concentrated and brief.
II. Vivace e leggero (playfully)
The second movement evokes vivid images of the living child; it is playful and happy, even mischievous, with swiftly shifting variants of mood. The composer uses the traditional structure of a scherzo to explore these aspects of childhood. A single idea dominates the first part, its skipping motion traded back and forth between the instruments. The piano embellishes some of these appearances with skittering upward scales. The middle section is a sad waltz, moving at a more leisurely pace and with a contemplative quality. The opening Vivace returns, now more elaborated and developed, its mood a bit darker. The slower waltz is heard again, sad and somehow sweeter, followed by a final return to the original dance. Swirling activity builds to a climax and, momentarily, to a new theme. With the fleeting, ecstatic reappearance of his musical idea, the spirit of the child soon skips away into thin air.
The finale brings the work to a close with an even more powerful expression of inner anguish. Here the music seems to confront the actual drowning but with even slower motion. The melody from the first movement is interwoven between the string instruments; first answered, then joined by the piano’s arpeggios that evoke deep, moving water. The scene shifts as repeated piano chords underlie more extended solo string lines that seem to search for an adequate response to the tragedy. The piano introduces its low, haunted rumblings, but then motives from the first movement are brought back, moving forward in mutual excitement, then losing hope in shorter and shorter expressions of grief. Hidden in the haunting close are fragments of Brahms’ Alto/Viola song, “Geistliches Wiegenlied”, as well as clearer quotations of his even more beloved “Cradle Song”, heard floating in sixths above the low bass of the piano, as if suspended above the depths of distant water. Robert Molison
David Popper: Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano, Op. 66
Popper (1843-1913) was born in Prague, the son of that city’s Cantor. He studied at the Prague Conservatory with Julius Gottermann. Popper was widely considered the greatest cellist of the last decades of the nineteenth century, and toured Europe as a soloist for nearly 30 years. He knew nearly all of the leading composers of his day, including Wagner, Bruckner, Liszt, and Brahms, who was his close friend. Franz Liszt, founder of the Budapest Conservatory, personally selected Popper to be his Professor of Cello. Popper composed prolifically for his instrument, including four cello concertos (seldom heard today) and many salon pieces, mostly for cello and piano. His “High School of Cello Playing” is a book of 40 etudes that every advanced young cello student will certainly encounter, even today.
The “Requiem” was originally composed for three cellos and orchestra, and was first performed in London in 1891. It was published in 1892, dedicated to the memory of his good friend and first publisher, Daniel Rahter. This is considered by many to be Popper’s most moving work, with its gorgeous flowing lines, both melancholy and elegiac, and its intense climaxes. The three instruments are each given generous solo melodic opportunities, usually involving the same motivic material. They are deployed in low, medium and high ranges that fully exploit the sound possibilities of the cello, both as soloist and in contrapuntal dialogue involving duet and trio writing. This dominant texture contrasts with passages that move in chords in unison rhythms, often with exquisitely colored harmonies. Overall the harmonic language is highly expressive yet conservative, exploring closely related keys, and leading the listener into the sonic world of Brahms. Marked “Andante sostenuto”, the work’s key center shifts from F sharp minor to B flat major in a central section, after which the cellos return to the original key and review material heard previously.
In Rahter’s memory, the published score had the following prefatory verses:
Tears, turned to music,
True friendship offers.
Love that can never end
True love dedicates.
Friend’s heart, now gone,
Take this little gift:
What a friend’s soul has sung
Sound out, console, refresh!
The “Requiem” was played at Popper’s own funeral in 1913, by his students. Robert Molison
Zoltán Kodaly: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7
Kodaly (1882-1967) was a Hungarian composer, educator and ethnomusicologist. His compositional career spanned 70 years – an exceptionally long period of creativity. His musical development was influenced by his folksong experiences, and the Hungarian folk idiom was a prominent part of his creative career and guided his style. Kodaly excelled in writing chamber music, particularly for strings. This duo was written in 1914, shortly after he returned from one of his many research trips in the countryside. (He was already a tenured professor at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music). The Duo was one of his first compositions to employ the characteristics of Magyar material (native folk songs) in the realm of concert music, and was first heard at a festival of Kodaly’s music in Budapest.
I. Allegro serioso, non troppo
The opening movement is cast in the classical sonata-allegro form, with a bold, declamatory introduction followed by the violin playing a folk-style, pentatonic theme over a repeated, ostinato bass line in the cello. Soon the roles are reversed, with the cello sounding the melody while the violin accompanies. This alternation of roles continues with secondary themes. A dramatic unison descending passage marks off major sections. The development section alternates almost playful moments with passages of great intensity. The cello closes it with a long cadenza, and when the first theme reappears in the recapitulation, it is the cello that plays the first restatement. This kind of protocol marks the entire movement, throughout its many changes of mood, tempo, and meter. The music fades away in an almost improvisatory manner.
II. Adagio - Andante
A languid, mysterious opening mood gives way to intense lyricism, occasionally bursting forth into deep torment. This contrast occurs throughout the movement. The middle section employs a “trio” texture: the cello provides the bowed soprano melody and a plucked bass accompaniment, while the violin spins an active countermelody in the alto range. Toward the end, the emotional extremes of the opening Adagio section are brought back with new intensity in the violin and with the use of quick arpeggios in the cello background.
III. Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento - Presto
The introduction is highly soloistic and dramatic, alternating recitative-like, fiery outbursts with unison plucked arpeggios. This Magyar-styled movement simulates the radical tempo changes of the Hungarian “verbunkos” (recruiting dance) style with its exciting alternation of slow dotted rhythms (“lassu”), and fast and brilliant (“friss”) sections. The instruments toss back and forth terse melodic fragments, sometimes recalling moments from the first movement, using conversational effects ranging from extremely intense to playful. This includes a long passage featuring the alternation of fast repeated notes in one instrument with short, extremely lyrical melodic fragments in the other. A final, fiery peasant dance, begun by the cello’s accelerating pace, hurtles forward. It is interrupted briefly by a flirtatious slower conversation, and then brings the work to an enthusiastic close. Robert Molison