@ Sanders, Concert Calendar

February 18 — 3:00 pm

Venue: Sanders Theatre

Ludwig van Beethoven
Serenade in D major for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op. 25

Claude Debussy
Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, L. 137

William Walton
Piano Quartet in D minor


Featured Musicians

Paula Robison, flute
Jennifer Frautschi, violin
Marcus Thompson, viola
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Andrew Armstrong, piano
Jessica Zhou, harp

 

Intro by the Artistic Director

Playful entrances, colorful exits, and the lightness of being

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The flute sings the first theme of Beethoven’s Serenade in D major for Flute, Violin and Viola, which the strings cheerfully mimic. Despite the challenges inherent in the trio form, the piece dances around the room in nimble exuberance. Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp was the second of three pieces that Debussy was inspired to write amidst the turmoil of World War I. The trio looks back in time: its timbres suggest the ancient, and the nostalgic Pastorale introduced in the first movement cloaks the entire work in a fog of reflection. Fresh from six years of choir school and precocious, Walton wrote his Piano Quartet in D minor at the age of sixteen. While his youth shines through in the piece’s heavy romanticism, the quartet’s meticulous construction, insistent articulation, and rhythmic momentum presage the distinct style that would later define Walton’s best work.

Read Program Notes
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -1827)
Serenade in D major for Flute, Violin, and Viola, Op. 25 (c. 1797-1801)

While the actual date of composition is disputed, Beethoven’s Serenade is a clear reflection of his early years in Vienna in its Classical style and attention to form. The only piece that Beethoven wrote for this particular combination of instruments, it was later arranged (reportedly by Franz Xaver Kleinheinz, but “approved” by Beethoven) for piano and flute or violin, and catalogued as Opus 41. As Lewis Lockwood notes, Beethoven was rather prolific in the mid-to-late 1790s, producing a large number of smaller works (later catalogued without opus (WoO)) as a reflection of his multiple dealings with smaller Viennese publishing houses.

The Serenade is akin to a Mozart divertimento, as was typical since the genre had long been divorced from its nocturnal amorous associations of the medieval period. That said, the intermittent use of pizzicato at times recalls the strumming of a guitar, and it would not be too far a leap to hear a morning hornsignal in the homophonic opening of the final movement (complete with bird-like trills).

Beethoven opens the work with an “Entrada” that exhibits more whimsy than regality. Having established the D major key center, the second movement moves into a Minuet with two trio sections. The flute carries the graceful melody of the minuet theme, while the first trio features impressive arpeggiations and scalar flourishes in the violin, which are then echoed by the flute in the second trio. While the ensuing 3/8 movement is not a formal minuet, its binary construction recalls this form, with an A section in D minor, and a B section in D major. The core of the work is the fourth movement Andante con variazioni, which opens with the lyricism and pathos that marks so many of Beethoven’s slow movements.  The change of key to G major also helps center the focus on this movement. Beethoven’s three variations work through a variety of textures before the flute signals the theme one last time to introduce the short coda that includes the surprise of a rising arpeggio to seal the cadence. The playful nature of the opening movement returns in the Allegro scherzando e vivace with a galloping melody in D major that gives way to a quieter and more lyrical trio section in the parallel minor. The final movement opens with the aforementioned morning call as a slow introduction before recalling the spirit of the scherzo and the tumbling cascades from the second movement in a showcase of virtuosity from all three instruments.

 

Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)
Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, L. 137 (1915)*

The Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, was one of the three late sonatas that Debussy was able to finish before he died, out of six that he had planned. As with other composers writing during this period, Debussy was interested in extending older Baroque and Classical forms, and this sonata maintains formal coherence while exploiting timbre in a way that has become distinctly associated with the composer.  The opening Pastorale exploits the timbral contrast between the flute and the viola, and explores both the “dolce” and “mélancoliquement” characters of the instruments. The flute begins with a meandering melody, referencing a traditional “pastorale.” Harmonics and special attention to dynamics mark the viola’s participation, and its initial entrance, marked “doux et pénétrant,” demands introspection from performer and listener alike. Debussy also groups the instruments together in different combinations, as in the “Affretando” section near the end of the Pastorale. Here the viola and harp trace a descending four note melody, but each instrument fills out the descent with rhythmic filigree–the viola with rocketing arcs of sixty-fourth notes, and the harp with slower sixteenths. In addition to providing immense challenges to the ensemble, the aural effect of this rhythmic interplay is riveting.

The second movement Interlude is marked “Tempo di Minuetto” and it is the harp’s responsibility to provide the basic pulse.  All three instruments, however, offer glistening melodies and energetic rhythmic profiles, pulling the movement away from Classical minuet conventions and toward a fantasia-like middle movement. This is supported by the quick changes of key, meter, and character.  However, the gentle and delicate main theme acts as an anchor, imbuing the overall movement with the feel of a minuet.

The resolute Final jolts the listener out of the reverie theme from the Interlude with its pizzicato and accented energy. The viola and harp both serve a percussive function in many places in the movement.  Supposedly, Debussy originally conceived of the work for flute, oboe, and harp, but this final movement would have been far different with that particular instrumentation. Debussy provides a sense of formal symmetry with a reference to opening of the “Pastorale” right before the close of the piece.

* portions of this annotation have previously appeared in previous iterations of program notes by R. Marchand

William Walton (1902 – 1983)
Piano Quartet in D minor (1918-1921, rev. 1955)

Musicologist Byron Adams notes of Walton, “His early discovery of the basic elements of his style allowed him to assimilate successfully an astonishing number of disparate and contradictory influences.” The Piano Quartet, which was written and moderately revised between 1918 and 1921, until it was substantially revised in 1955, supports these observations.  In 1918, Walton entered Oxford University at the age of sixteen, an opportunity largely facilitated by the Dean of Christ Church, where Walton had matriculated as a chorister in 1912. Dedicated to the Dean, Thomas Strong, the quartet surely reveals Walton’s interest in and study of the scores of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. Walton actually met both Stravinsky and Gershwin in the 1920s, and was exposed to jazz at the Savoy Hotel.

While technically a work of juvenilia, at least in its original form, the Piano Quartet reveals much of what would later define Walton’s style. The work is loosely cyclic, in that the first theme of the Allegramente appears in various guises throughout the work. The sonata form of the first movement is subtle; Walton condenses the recapitulation, bringing forth a change in tone, especially in the piano. But at the outset, the gentle modal theme, that also highlights pentatonic structures, is contrasted by brash, angularly articulated piano lines. The movement ends with quiet cascading lines in the strings, setting up a fitting moment of repose before the exuberance of Allegro scherzando.

The opening section of the second movement is gestural and bold before moving to a fugal section built on a motive that recalls the main theme from the first movement. A quiet motive, heard at the very end of the first movement, becomes the developmental material here in diminution—almost indiscernible. Walton explores a freedom to move between modality and tonality that reflects his sensitivity to European trends in music during this time.

The slow movement features harp-like pizzicato, as the violin and cello melodies continue to explore modal/tonal shifts. The harmonics prepare an elegiac lament that is at first merely nostalgic, if not pastoral. The piano transforms the nostalgia into a more serious dirge, in dialogue with lamenting solos from the cello, then viola. This movement hints at the timelessness of Messiaen, and one can appreciate the modernity of Walton’s voice, balanced with the lyricism that would be applauded in his Viola Concerto (1928-9).

If any of the impetuousness of youth remains in this piece, it is in the Allegro molto finale that bursts in with a flourish and offbeat syncopations in the piano that are easily classified as “jazz” in the Parisian modernist sense of the word. The cello plays a more lyrical secondary theme and the middle section is a fugato. The movement returns to a boisterous guise that channels Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” with some modernist flair, ending the work with, as BBC Music Magazine would have it, a movement wherein “Stravinsky seems to grab hold of an English Country Garden.”

 


–Rebeccca G. Marchand, Ph.D.
Musicologist