First Fruits: early offerings of three giants

“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”     Psalms 1:3


Our Season 2016-17 finale program based on some the earliest works of three different masters of late Viennese style shaped by and drawing from the same stream of emotion, gesture and expression. As such, they each reflect aspects of the tradition of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven as they appear in works of many other composers not unlike the aural equivalent of a hall of mirrors.

The first work on the program is the shortest. Cast in a single surviving movement, Gustav Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor dates from his student days at the Vienna Conservatory between 1876 and 1878 when he would have been sixteen to eighteen years of age. It reflects the influence of his teacher, Robert Fuchs, whom Brahms numbered among the five young composers he championed. From this small beginning Mahler would go on to become one of the leading symphonists of his time, both in number and scale.

New to our repertoire and to possibly many Boston listeners will be String Sextet in D Major, Op. 10 (1915) written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold at age eighteen. Even among string sextets we have performed at BCMS–the two by Brahms, Strauss’s Capriccio (from his opera), Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (BCMS’s 1994 CD of the latter two available here)the Korngold stands out as a work of genius in its imagination, awareness, and passion. Its first movement starts mid-sentence with a solo viola invitation to other players to join in and take flight. We find out later in the movement that he is, in fact, quoting the opening motif of Brahms’s second sextet, the one we performed last January at the Fitzgerald Theatre. The slow second movement best reflects the post-Wagner, early Schoenberg world where emotional depths are explored on a mythic scale with surprising harmonic extension and resolution. (Schoenberg’s Sextet, Verklärte Nacht , dates from 1899.) This movement astonishes as the product of the inner life of a child! The third, marked Intermezzo, places us in the midst of the sound world of Der Rosenkavalier (premiered 1911). The marking of the finale says everything we need to know about the movement: As fast as possible (Presto); with fire and humor! (We rarely see characterizations like this in chamber music. More likely in opera!)

Caricature of the Wunderkind Korngold from the Neues Wiener Tagblatt

Caricature of the Wunderkind Korngold from the Neues Wiener Tagblatt

Korngold’s most significant later work would not be heard in the familiar world of theater and concert hall that supported the work of his predecessors and contemporaries. He was to become the inventor of the musical narration of a new artistic medium: commercial film-–in Hollywood. He became a legend and started a tradition of a different kind.

The final work, Johannes Brahms’s Second Piano Quartet in A Major, Op. 26 (1861), written at age 28, before his great symphonies, reflects many of the intimate structural and melodic practices of Haydn and Schubert on a symphonic scale. To this writer it is the earliest work in which Brahms finds his later voice. Each of the three Brahms Piano Quartets has found favor among our listeners for many seasons.

Concert Dedication to Ida Levin

There are many aspects of this programming that make this concert an appropriate occasion to remember the contributions to BCMS of violinist Ida Levin, who passed away last fall following a serious illness.

Ida performed in the Brahms A Major Piano Quartet when it was last played at BCMS. In her many written communications it was she who suggested we do a program of music by Hollywood composers, many whose families she knew growing up in California. That request became our Exiles in Hollywood Winter Festival Forum topic and program concluding with a performance of Korngold’s Piano Quintet led by Ida. Her list of works that we ‘must’ tackle includes the Korngold String Sextet. She was its most ardent champion.

With this concert we recall, honor, and express gratitude for her artistry, intellect, loyalty, and presence.


2 thoughts on “First Fruits: early offerings of three giants

  1. I am grateful for these notes and especially for the words about Ida Levin, whose wonderful talents my husband Perry and I enjoyed over many BCMS seasons.

    An editor by nature, though not by vocation, I cannot resist pointing out that leaves do not whither, as in “Whither goest thou?” but they wither. I hope I am not the only reader to notice this!