Program Notes for THE MEDITERRANEAN
Front Range Chamber Players, September 27, 2016
Guitar Quintet, Op. 143 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Allegro, vivo e schietto
Scherzo. Allegro con spirito, alla Marcia
Finale. Allegro con fuoco
Born in Florence, Italy, Castelnuovo-Tedesco studied piano and composition at the conservatory there, a composition student of Ildebrando Pizzetti. The composer Alfredo Casella became an early champion and encouraged Mario’s efforts. First works included compositions for piano, guitar, concerti, an opera and many songs. Despite success with his earlier compositions, his works were banned from performances in public and on the radio – Castelnuovo-Tedesco was Jewish and he openly opposed persecution of Jews. Supported by the guitarist Andres Segovia and the conductor Arturo Toscanini, he left Italy in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. He and his family moved to the United States, first to New York, soon relocating in Beverly Hills, California. There he continued to compose for a variety of media, particularly scoring films for major studios. (Jascha Heifetz helped him secure a contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studios.) He worked on scores (sometimes as a ghost-writer) for over 200 films during a period of 15 years. Beginning in 1946 he served on the faculty of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. There his students included Andre Previn, Henry Mancini, John Williams, Nelson Riddle, Jerry Goldsmith and others. He continued to compose opera, concerti, sonatas, oratorios, almost 100 works for guitar, and more during the rest of his life. He died suddenly of a heart attack in Hollywood in 1968.
The great guitarist Segovia was asked to play a chamber music concert in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. He agreed to do so if the chamber music society would commission a work from his friend Castelnuovo-Tedesco for the occasion. The society and the composer came to an agreement, and in early 1950 the composer produced the Guitar Quintet, Op. 143. It was given its premiere on April 26, 1951, at the Music Guild of Los Angeles, performed by Segovia and the Paganini Quartet.
The quintet consists of four movements. The Allegro invokes Schubert, with lilting sections alternating with a tragic melody on the bowed strings. The Andante mesto features a sad viola solo, with a guitar theme labeled “Souvenir d’Espagne,” a tribute to Segovia’s homeland. The third movement is a spirited Scherzo in a march idiom, with two trios. All five instruments join for a tongue-in-cheek chorale just before the end. The Finale is in rondo form, very contrapuntal, with the guitar featured in a flamenco theme, settling into a habanera – very Spanish indeed.
In his memoir the composer wrote, “It is a work of which I am particularly fond: clear, simple, smooth, almost a Schubert-like lyricism. … I count the Quintetto among my best works.” The work is dedicated to Andres Segovia, and it is a lasting contribution to the literature for the guitar.
by Roberta Mielke
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy spent most of his life in Paris, except for a few years abroad as winner of the Prix de Rome. Both his success as a composer and personal life in his early years were erratic. Some orchestral works, his string quartet, and piano compositions written near the turn of the century received eventual recognition but never settled his unstable financial situation. He performed as a pianist and did some conducting to make ends meet. In 1909 the illness that eventually caused his death was first diagnosed. He was profoundly affected by the subsequent war (as well as his health), but he remained productive until his final year of life. As a reaction to the war, in 1915 he wrote En blanc et noir for two pianos, dedicating each movement to a friend killed in action. In 1916, he proposed six chamber sonatas. He completed three: a sonata for cello and piano, one for flute, viola and harp, and (after some serious surgery) this work – his last composition.
With violinist Gaston Poulet he premiered the violin sonata on May 5, 1917 in Paris. The two gave a second performance in September at St.-Jean-de-Luz (curiously, just across a bay from Maurice Ravel’s birthplace). This was his last concert. Returning to Paris, he took to bed permanently. He died March 25, 1918 while Paris was under bombardment by German planes. Three days later he was laid to rest at the Père Lachaise Cemetery during a shelling that killed several worshipers. Later the body was moved to the small cemetery at Passy, in northwest Paris. His tombstone consists of a simple black granite slab marked by the words “Claude Debussy: musicien francais” – the same inscription published on his last compositions, ostensibly his way of expressing his loyalty to his home country.
Debussy preferred that music convey feeling, not action, and he declared a dislike of excess intellectualism. He used rhythms that blur the bar line, and his harmonies and melodic lines can’t always be assigned to a specific key. Regarding interpretation, he told a fellow pianist to “never sacrifice the harmony for the melodic line” – that is, acknowledge harmonic underpinnings.
The Violin Sonata is in G major or minor, deliberately ambiguous. The first movement (generally in g minor), marked Allegro vivo, changes themes, keys, moods, and tempi often. The piano writing is (as always) imaginative, and the violin technique is varied – even intended to mimic the musical saw in one brief moment The second movement, Intermède, is rather impish or capricious, resembling a cakewalk, a style well-known to Debussy. It is interrupted in the middle by a dreamy chromatic melody. The Finale has occasional recollections of themes from the previous movements, vaguely in a rondo form. The pace is breathless, relieved briefly by a middle section that has been described as a “drunken waltz.” Back to the quicker pace, the violin utilizes its maximum range and considerable technique.
Because the style and structure are irregular, the work is not exactly a sonata. Critics have described it as a fantasia rather than a sonata. This ambivalence in form is perfectly compatible with Debussy’s inherent language and style. After the premiere performance he humbly wrote (in translation), “I only wrote this sonata to be rid of the thing, spurred on by my dear publisher. This sonata will be interesting from a documentary point of view and as an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war.” by Roberta Mielke
Quatre Pièces Intimes by Dušan Bogdanović
Le Harpe de David
Bogdanović was born in Yugoslavia, and studied composition, orchestration, and guitar performance at the Geneva Conservatory in Switzerland. After having taught at the Belgrade Academy and the San Francisco Conservatory, he is currently Professor of Guitar at the Haute École de Musique (Geneva Conservatory). He has explored musical languages that are reflected in his style today: a unique synthesis of classical, jazz and ethnic music. As a soloist and in collaboration with other artists, Bogdanović has toured extensively throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States.
Quatre Pièces Intimes for cello and guitar was composed in 1980, and it was dedicated to Croatian cellist Valter Despalj. The piece can also be performed by viola and guitar. In this piece you can hear the influence of Balkan folk music and Bogdanović's fascination with additive rhythms. Like much of his music, it synthesizes distinct musical styles. He combines aspects of Levantine music (the region of countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Egypt) with the pentatonicism and complex rhythmic variations of the Bibayak pygmies of Gabon. The musical material is divided between the two instruments and delves deeply into the fascinating sound world that the cello and guitar have to offer. It explores some of the genre’s most interesting coloristic dimensions and textural capabilities.
Like most of Bogdanović’s over 50 published works, this one is short: 10-minutes. It opens with Prière (prayer), solemnly expressed by the cello while the guitar provides sparse accompaniment. The dance-like Mouvement is contrapuntal, with both instruments playing independent lines, including in a middle pizzicato section. Le Harpe de David continues with the cello in a very high register and the guitar picking out chords; the cello then offers another plaintive Levantine melody. Chant begins with a repetitive figure in the guitar and ends with a final somber melody by the cello.
Bogdonavić has recorded this piece, as have the Patterson-Sutton Duo, in their debut album Cold Dark Matter: Music for Cello and Guitar (MSR Classics). Prière from their album. Short samples of each movement and purchase information: Amazon.
Performance by Duo BoRDèl. by David Patton Barone
Guitar Quintet In D, G. 448, “Fandango” by Luigi Boccherini
Boccherini was one of the foremost Italian composers of instrumental music during the late 18th century. The son of a cellist, he learned his father’s instrument early and well, and made his public debut in his native Lucca at the age of thirteen. In subsequent years he became the foremost cello virtuoso of his time, and also contributed in important ways to the literature of his instrument, some of which (the concertos) are still widely played today.
After initial successes in France, Boccherini moved to Madrid in 1768, and became court composer to the Don Luis, the Spanish Infante. The next fifteen years were a time of great security and steady activity, during which Boccherini wrote hundreds of string quintets and other chamber works.
During the late 1790s the composer arranged about a dozen of his existing string quintets for the combination of guitar and string quartet, mostly on commission from the Spanish nobleman Marquis de Benavente. Eight are extant. An early Boccherini biographer explained:
The Marquis excelled on the guitar, an instrument dear to all good Spaniards. He asked Boccherini to provide a guitar part for his own use in those compositions that he liked, in exchange for one hundred francs for each quartet, quintet or symphony. Several other rich amateurs acted in a similar manner, which prompted Boccherini not to compose, as many believed, but to arrange with a guitar part a rather large number of chosen pieces from among his works.
In 1798 Boccherini cobbled the Guitar Quintet no. 4 in D major (G. 448) from the first two movements of his Quintet Op. 12, No. 6, and the Grave and Fandango from the Quintet Op. 40, No. 2, composed in 1788. This is tonight’s work.
- Pastorale arranged from 1st movement of the String Quintet, G. 270
- Allegro maestoso, arranged from 2nd movement of the String Quintet, G. 270
- Grave assai, arranged from the 1st movement of the String Quintet, G. 341
- Fandango, arranged from 2nd movement of the String Quintet, G. 341
Style is important here. Boccherini was a great admirer of the works of Haydn, with their sharp surprise moments, strong emotional variety, and smooth mechanics. His sense of invention leans toward flowing lyric beauty on the one hand and a galant, locally flavored, and almost popular flair on the other. He was not so much concerned in this music with sonata form and developing his materials rigorously as he was with writing pleasing melodies and agreeable harmonies.
The Quintet opens with an ingratiating Pastorale of gently swaying rhythms and vernal mood. The guitar assumes a rippling accompaniment role to the flowing, silken string melodies in the muted strings.
In the vigorous Allegro maestoso, Boccherini lets the strings take the lead, with the guitar content to repeat their themes or to provide chordal accompaniment; this movement also makes striking use of cello harmonics.
The final movement is in two parts: it opens with a slow introduction, of considerable melodic beauty, marked Grave assai. Then the music leaps ahead at the Fandango. This is an old dance of Latin origin in which the tempo gradually accelerates; the accompaniment is usually by castanets or guitar. Boccherini achieves a full sonority from his players in this movement, and the writing, sometimes featuring long cello glissandi, is imaginative, albeit bound by the Fandango’s convention of using only tonic and dominant chordal harmonies. There is also considerable repetition. The composer brings all these elements together in the exciting and colorful conclusion, in which the tempo gradually eases ahead and then rushes to the close, pushed by the explosive interjections of the castanets. by Robert Molison
Program notes draw on open-access web resources.