Ann Aschbacher, piano
Although they were published in 1949, Copland’s Four Piano Blues are four individual pieces written at four different times in his career; each is dedicated to the pianist who performed them. Like the Dvořák trio that closes this concert, these are vernacular, folk music, filtered through a classical composer’s sensibility. In the case of the Blues, one could argue that there’s considerably more Copland than blues (not that more Copland is a bad thing): there’s little trace of some of the traditional hallmarks of the blues—the blues scale, 12 bar structures, swung rhythms, or fluid mixing of major and minor tonality all only make fleeting or abstracted appearances.
Tim Adrianson, piano
Federico Mompou was a Catalan composer, born in Barcelona in 1893, who lived and worked there for the bulk of his considerably long life (he died in 1987, at age 94). However, he initially made his mark in Paris from 1915–25 or so, writing piano works characterized by brevity, deceptive simplicity, childlike wonder, and informed by a unique harmonic and coloristic palette. For this reason, his output was likened to the music of the much older Erik Satie, although their respective “musics” were only superficially similar in aesthetic. His fellow Catalan, the great pianist Alicia de Larrocha, served as “ambassador” for a good deal of his later, more Spanish-influenced, piano music; late in his life, Mompou himself, an excellent pianist, provided recordings of his own compositions from all periods.
These were written in Barcelona in 1920, and are intended to evoke various remembrances of festivals and joyous events from that region.
Mompou wrote 14 Canciones y Danzas throughout his lifetime: if he’s known for anything , it’s most probably these. This one happens to be my personal favorite among those.
This is the last of his Scènes d’Enfants (Scenes of Childhood)—an especially charming sketch that many pianists have used as a short encore piece following a solo piano concert.
Meg Lamm, violin
Evan Evanson, cello
Ann Aschbacher, piano
Dvořák’s two guiding lights throughout his career were Western European classical tradition and the wealth of musical materials in his native Bohemia. At various times he moved closer to one or closer to the other, but his music is at all times a synthesis of those two impulses, even when one is waxing and the other waning. His fourth and last trio, however, is an outlier on that spectrum—unlike the preceding trios, this one plants its flag firmly in the Bohemian camp.
He rejects the traditional four-movement Western European structure for six individual “Dumky”, which are based on a Ukrainian folk ballad style, the duma. Originally a lament of a captive people, nineteenth century composers took over the term and broadened it to cover movements that alternated brooding, introspective sections with more cheerful, exuberant ones. Dvořák had included individual dumky in a handful of previous works, but in this trio he takes the bold move of making it the foundation of the entire piece. Almost as a joking way of placating listeners accustomed to four rather than six movements, though, he connects the first three movements by related keys and stating that they should be played without a break, so in a sense it can be viewed as a four-movement work with a triply large first movement. But at heart these are six jewel-like independent movements, free even of the cyclically recurring motives that he and so many of his contemporaries used to tie pieces together.
Five of the six movements feature the alternation of slower and faster sections typical of the nineteenth century dumka, and all have a constantly shifting range of textures and rhythms, something Dvořák had always been a master of. The first, in E minor, opens with a declamatory cello melody, before sinking into a brooding duet between the strings that flows into a skipping, rollicking trio. The second, in C♯ minor, is a far more hushed and mournful affair, alternating with an accelerating dance-like melody introduced by the violin. The third, in A, is a delicate and exposed movement. Dvořák keeps the instruments separated in groups of one or two, as though they are calling to each other across a chasm, waiting 53 measures before bringing them together for a full three-way dialogue.
The fourth movement, in D minor, opens with the cello sailing serenely over the restless energy of the piano and violin. This melody alternates with an improvisatory-sounding surging and receding section; the contrast between stolid, march-like music and breathless energy continue throughout the movement. The fifth movement, in E♭, is the only one that does not have alternating slow and fast sections—it maintains a (relatively) steady pace throughout. Instead it has continuous, perpetual contrast in the form of simultaneous rhythms in both two and three, a hemiola that almost gives the movement a Spanish feel. Here Dvořák’s ability to constantly shift textures is on full, vibrant display.
The final movement opens with a stern C minor, which gradually accelerates to a driven rhythm that then opens up to a beautiful, languid lament for the violin, seemingly traveling back across the ages to the dumas that inspired this piece. It closes with a triumphant C major melody in the cello (which movie fans may notice is uncomfortably close to John William’s score for E.T.), then races to a raucous ending.
The trio was finished on February 12th, 1891 (123 years and two days prior to this concert!), and was a tremendous success when it was first performed as part of the celebrations for an honorary degree conferred on Dvořák by the Charles University of Prague. It was so popular that it became the centerpiece of a 40-concert tour Dvořák undertook just prior to leaving for America, a three-year visit that inspired, among other works, the American string quartet, the American string quintet, the B minor cello concerto, and the New World Symphony.
Right-click here to download the MP3 file of the first movement.
Right-click here to download the MP3 file of the second movement.
Right-click here to download the MP3 file of the third movement.
Right-click here to download the MP3 file of the fourth movement.
Right-click here to download the MP3 file of the fifth movement.
Right-click here to download the MP3 file of the sixth movement.