Hamel Summer Series
August 24 — 8 p.m.
Venue: Charles Mosesian Theater
Rondo for Cello and Piano, Op. 2 (1819)
Two Songs for Voice, Clarinet and Piano
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song)
Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I Saw Him)
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) for Voice, Clarinet and Piano, D. 965
Piano Trio in B-flat major, D. 898
Hyunah Yu, soprano
Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet
Steven Copes, violin
Ronald Thomas, cello
Mihae Lee, piano
“One glance at Schubert’s Trio and the troubles of our human existence disappear and all the world is fresh and bright again.” So wrote Robert Schumann of the work that ends this program. The Summer Series finale features the great Franz Schubert and his friends in Vienna. Voříšek’s Rondo that opens the program reflects the young bohemian composer’s interest in the music of Beethoven and Schubert, while the two songs by Franz Lachner, a well-known and prolific composer in his day, are based on poems that are known by many listeners from their famous settings by Mendelssohn and Schumann, respectively.
Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek (1791-1825)
Rondo for Cello and Piano, Op. 2 (1819)
Vienna in the early part of the 19th century was a musically vibrant city on the cusp of change. One of its greats, Beethoven, already had broken boundaries as he moved music away from strict Classicism. The other, Schubert, continued the revolution with his freer, more lyrical style. Among Schubert’s many friends was the Czech pianist and composer Jan Václav Voříšek, who appeared to have a bright future before he died of tuberculosis at the age of 34. Voříšek left behind a small number of compositions that showed him to be a gifted musician whose work was inspired both by Beethoven’s handling of Classical structure and by Schubert’s lyricism.
Voříšek was a child prodigy in his native Bohemia. Sent to school in Prague, he worked with the highly regarded teacher Václav Tomásek. By the time he entered the University of Prague to study philosophy, mathematics, and law, Voříšek was developing a reputation as a fine pianist and had also begun to compose. Moving to Vienna a few years later, he soon became renowned as a piano virtuoso. It was there that he met his idol Beethoven, who heard Voříšek’s lyrical Rhapsodies and, impressed, encouraged the young composer to continue. Well accepted in Viennese musical circles, in 1819 he was one of 50 composers who wrote a variation on publisher Anton Diabelli’s waltz. In 1822, Voříšek wrote piano miniatures that his publisher suggested he call “impromptus”—the first time that term was used to describe this particular type of piece. A few years later, when Schubert wrote a set of similar pieces, his publisher suggested that he too call them impromptus, thus giving rise to a new genre. Although eventually Voříšek finished his law studies and took a civil service job to support himself, in 1822 he won the job of court organist and was able to devote the rest of his short life to music.
Voříšek’s output included a symphony, a violin sonata, a mass, and many pieces for solo piano, all beautifully crafted. The Rondo for Cello and Piano is a good example of his engaging and imaginative style. Written in the brillante style popular in Vienna at the time, it begins with a slow introduction that pits contrasting styles against each other: the piano begins with somber disconnected chords, to which the cello responds with a lyrical cantabile. As the Andante gives way to an Allegretto, the key changes from E minor to E major, the meter from 3/4 to 4/4, and the mood from sober to cheerful and sunny. The cello continues its melodious way (although with plenty of virtuoso moments), while the piano drives forward with rapid figurations and Beethovian broken chords. A cantabile section in a new key breaks the momentum, but the vigor and drive of the opening soon return. What is especially striking, aside from the cello’s lovely singing lines, is the virtuosic, glittering piano part, much of it in the upper registers of the keyboard. Voříšek’s energy, exuberance, and the melodic richness of his music are hard to resist.
Franz Lachner (1803 – 1890)
Two German Songs for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song)
, Op. 23 (1832)
Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I First Saw Him), Op. 82 (1846)
Schubert was surrounded by a large circle of friends who loved, admired, and supported him, although even they often failed to recognize the extent of his genius. Many years after Schubert’s death, Franz Lachner—a member of Schubert’s inner circle who went on to carve his own distinguished career as a conductor and composer—reportedly said, “Too bad that Schubert hadn’t learned as much as I did, otherwise he would have become a master, for he was extraordinarily talented.” Nevertheless, Lachner was an affectionate friend. In a memoir of Schubert that he published in 1881, he described “an uninterrupted, almost daily, association and a warm friendship….We both shared with one another, Schubert and I, the projects for our works and frequently went for walks….Schubert was often in my apartment….There we played for the first time his glorious Fantasy in F minor, for pianoforte duet, and many of the other works written at that time.” Lachner and another close friend, the playwright Eduard von Bauernfeld, were the last to visit Schubert before he died. Although Schubert was bedridden and delirious, Lachner reported that he had a brief period of lucidity, during which the three men discussed the libretto that Bauernfeld had written for an opera. To the very end, Schubert’s mind was on music.
After several years in Vienna Lachner moved to Munich, where he built the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra into an outstanding ensemble. Although he performed Wagner’s music, his conducting career was cut short by none other than Wagner himself. After Lachner’s patron, Maximillian II of Bavaria, died, his successor lured Wagner to Munich with the promise of complete creative freedom. Wagner promptly dismissed Lachner, replacing him in 1864 with his protégé, Hans von Bülow. Ironically, although Von Bülow conducted the premiere of Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, it was Lachner whose long stewardship of the orchestra had whipped it into shape to play Wagner’s difficult score.
Lachner was a prolific and widely admired composer who wrote his first symphony the year of Schubert’s death. Among his output were more than 200 lieder, many of them set to texts by celebrated poets. (In his reminiscences about Schubert, Lachner talks about gathering at an inn with Schubert to listen to poets who read their works and also supplied the composers with texts.) Not surprisingly, Lachner’s songs show Schubert’s influence. Schubert introduced the clarinet as a third instrument in “The Shepherd on the Rock,” and the Two German songs that Lachner later wrote are scored for the same combination. Unfortunately for Lachner, Mendelssohn later set the Heine poem “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,” to music, while “Seit ich ihn gesehen” was immortalized in Schumann’s famous song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben; so comparisons are inevitable. Judged on their own merits, however, Lachner’s songs hold up very well. Like Schubert’s, they begin with long introductions that give the clarinet a chance to shine. Both songs are melodious and filled with sweet charm. Most significantly, they showcase the important new role bestowed upon the clarinet in German musical life.
Franz Schubert (1798-1828)
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano , D. 965 (1828)
Schubert was not one to bare his soul in words. As Schumann wrote a year after Schubert’s death, “Where others keep a diary in which they record their momentary feelings, Schubert confided his passing moods to music paper; his soul, musical through and through, wrote notes where others resort to words.” Yet it was words that inspired some of his most superb creations: his lieder. Beginning in 1815, when he set “Erlkönig” and more than 30 other Goethe poems to music, Schubert wrote more than 600 songs that set a new musical standard. Until Schubert, songs had been dominated either by the music or by the words. It was Schubert who found an ideal balance, and in doing so he created the modern German lied. In his songs poetry and music blended perfectly, and harmony and accompaniment for the first time became as important as the melody and the poem itself.
The songs Schubert wrote toward the end of his life differ strikingly from one another. On the one hand there is the dark, intensely dramatic song cycle Winterreise, which the soprano Lotte Lehmann called “an epic in sadness.” On the other, there is “The Shepherd and the Rock,” written as a showpiece for the opera singer Anna Milder-Hauptmann, who as early as 1824 had asked Schubert to write a brilliant concert aria for her. The ten-minute, cantata-like song that he eventually produced is the sparkling piece she wanted. It is also one of the first to add a second instrument, the clarinet, as an integral part of a song’s score. The clarinet became increasingly popular as the Viennese middle class took up musical instruments and amateurs began playing together in drawing rooms. As a result, composers began writing for the instrument, and Schubert was happy to oblige.
“The Shepherd and the Rock” begins with a long, lyrical clarinet and piano introduction, establishing just how important the role of these two instruments will be. What follows, in three sections, is a song of many emotions, from the innocent longing of the shepherd calling to his beloved from a mountaintop, to his grief because of their separation, to his outburst of joy as “springtime is coming.” Noteworthy is the way in which the music and the words are interdependent throughout, as well as the way in which the clarinet enhances the text, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly: When the soprano sings of the valley’s echo, the clarinet playfully responds with the same phrase. Melodically, harmonically, and emotionally, this is vintage Schubert. As always, Schubert set a high bar: His beautifully integrated score is a lesson in how such pieces could be written. Composed a month before he died and not performed by Milder-Hauptmann until almost two years later, “The Shepherd and the Rock” spawned a long line of imitators. It remains one of his most popular songs.
Piano Trio in B-flat major, D.898
Benjamin Britten called the last year and a half of Schubert’s life—during which he wrote Winterreise, the C major Symphony, the last three piano sonatas, the C major String Quintet, his last two songs, and a dozen other glorious pieces—arguably “the richest and most productive eighteen months in our music history.” Yet as hard as it is to imagine today, Schubert had great difficulty getting his music played and published in his lifetime. Just as hard to imagine is that he wrote some of his sunniest works while suffering from a debilitating and ultimately fatal illness. Among those works was the B-flat major Piano Trio, the first of the two great piano trios written in the last year of his life. It is one of his most radiant compositions, overflowing with the rich harmonies and ingratiating melodies that make Schubert’s work instantly recognizable. Schumann later said of it, “One glance at Schubert’s Trio and all the troubles of our human existence disappear, and all the world is fresh and bright again.” Yet it wasn’t published until eight years after Schubert’s death, and during his lifetime it was performed only once, privately, at the apartment of a friend who was celebrating his recent engagement. Today it is one of his best-loved works.
The first movement, Allegro moderato, opens warmly and convivially, with an airy first theme introduced by the strings playing in unison. After the piano joins in, this first theme is expanded before the cello introduces an expansive second theme. A typically leisurely development section ends with a striking example of Schubert’s adventurous harmonies: In a surprising modulation, he begins the apparent recapitulation with the violin playing not in the expected key of B-flat major, but in the unexpected key of G-flat major. Eventually the music winds its way back to a real recapitulation in the opening key. Schubert’s melodies don’t get any more beguiling than the one with which the cello begins the Andante second movement. The violin and the cello trade this melody back and forth before the piano introduces a second theme at the start of a more agitated middle section, after which the three instruments recapture the enchantment of the opening with restatements of the first melody. Like the second movement, the playful, contrapuntal third is vintage Schubert, a witty Scherzo built on two of Vienna’s most popular dances, the ländler and the waltz. Schubert called the Finale a rondo, but it doesn’t follow strict rondo form. Instead of repeating the opening theme between contrasting episodes, it is “put through a variety of hoops,” as Schubert biographer Brian Newbould puts it—including a wonderful moment when Schubert shifts from 2/4 time to a three-beat bar, a shift that reappears in the exuberant coda.
Alfred Einstein pointed out that the opening theme of the Finale recalls an earlier Schubert song, “Skolie,” which includes the verse, “Let us, in the bright May morning, take delight in the brief life of the flower, before its fragrance disappears.” It’s a fitting sentiment for this joyful trio.
(c) Barbara Leish