Beethoven Piano Trio in G Major, Op. 1, No. 2 (1794-95)
Prokofiev Quintet for Winds and Strings in G Minor, Op. 39 (1924)
Dvořák Bass Quintet in G Major, Op. 77 (1875, revised 1888)
Our second Sanders concert of the thirty-fifth season offers music from the bread (and butter) of the repertoire, to circus!
Ludwig van Beethoven’s three piano trios, his first published works, owe much to his early contact with Franz Joseph Haydn, the ‘father of chamber music’ and the ‘creator’ of the piano trio genre among others. Beethoven was in Vienna to study with Haydn at the time and to start his professional career by presenting all three trios in concert. (It was for a cello passage at the end of the third trio that Beethoven accepted the player’s suggestion to mark it sulla corda G.)
In this second trio Beethoven follows Haydn’s four-movement scheme, opening with a slow, stately Adagio that proceeds into the fast tempo of the first movement Allegro. Hidden in plain sight in the seriousness of the introduction is the catalog of material with which he will construct all four movements: mostly prominently, the interval of the third, rising and falling often to complete a triad. The slow second movement Largo is in the unrelated and brightened key of E major–a third away from G. Within the first eight measures it contains a surprising winding melodic passage in the pianist’s right hand that this writer recognizes will become part of a viola solo in his Op. 132 string quartet! The Scherzo (used by Beethoven to replace the more traditional Minuet) restores us to G major while its Trio takes us to B minor (a third away) with a motif that anticipates a later use as the fateful opening to Symphony No. 5. The closing Presto Finale is launched with a bubbly triadic-based theme in the violin part worthy of Haydn.
Sergei Prokofiev also showed early promise that caused him to seek greater opportunity, inspiration, and exposure outside his native Soviet Union. Following travels to New York, Tokyo, San Francisco and Brittany Prokofiev settled in Paris in 1920, where Stravinsky had become the most notable Russian composer through his avant-garde ballet scores such as The Rite of Spring, and theater piece The Soldier’s Tale. In 1923 Prokofiev was commissioned to write music for a new ballet about circus life called Trapeze. Given post-war finances and the need to limit the size and portability of the accompaniment, the six-movement work that resulted, Quintet for winds and strings, was scored for a diverse ensemble of five winds and strings that places together the highs of two families–violin and viola/ oboe and clarinet, with a universal bass that might be found in classical or pop music. It is the only piece in the repertoire for these five instruments. In an artistic and musical environment where the repetitive, primitive, rhythmic, ironic and jazz had become commonplace, Prokofiev’s use of the most abrasive and shocking elements in music was probably more at home with his audience than with ours. Nevertheless, this work has proven a favorite of BCMS audiences every time we’ve performed it.
When a single stringed instrument, such as viola or cello, is added to the standard string quartet, whether by Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, or Brahms, the resulting texture is richer and darker. Adding a single bass opens the possibility of a lower octave with its enriching overtones. Dvořák’s five-movement Bass Quintet in G Major, Op. 18 (1875) was revised in 1888 and republished by Simrock, Brahms’s publisher, as a four-movement work, Opus 77 in that year. With the promotion and endorsement of Brahms, Dvořák’s music was receiving wider international exposure and appeal even as Dvořák sought to retain the local flavor of his Czech origins.
****BCMS at Somerville High****
Both works with bass appear on our Sanders program as part of BCMS’ appeal to new audiences. On the Friday afternoon prior to our Sanders performance, we will be performing for music students from throughout Somerville at Somerville High School. Our performance there is to promote BCMS Teaching Artists, a new BCMS community program that sends a young professional ensemble of string players (The Denovo String Quartet and double bassist Jury Kobayashi-Baxter) to Somerville High for weekly sectional coaching sessions with their string orchestra under the direction of the school’s music teacher and orchestra director Andrew Blickenderfer.
Several students in the orchestra are products of earlier El Sistema training, some are new to music, and others new to the Somerville community and the country. Our goal is to augment Somerville’s community-building, music-sharing program with our help, and to encourage each member to feel the importance of his and her unique contribution to the world.
By coincidence, both works with bass were last performed by BCMS on the same program in November 2003 that opened with Beethoven Piano Trio Op. 1, No. 3!