Musically Speaking from New England’ preeminent chamber ensemble

Chamber music in 3D—rooted, informed and opened to the sky

Dohnányi Serenade in C for String Trio, Op. 10 (1902)
Debussy String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 (1893,4)
Dvořák String Sextet in A major, Op. 48 (1878)

Beethoven’s real teaching…was not to preserve the old forms, still less to follow in his early steps. We must throw wide the windows to the open sky; they seem to me to have only just escaped being closed forever. The fact that here and there a genius succeeds in this form is but a poor excuse for the laborious and stilted compositions which we are accustomed to…

Claude Debussy (writing as Monsieur Croche, The Dilettante Hater)

Our first program of the New Year features three composers who drew from the exclusive past to create a more inclusive future. Ernő Dohnányi, Claude Debussy, and Antonín Dvořák each came of age as musicians and composers in times and places where the dominance of Viennese and Germanic public taste and traditions in chamber music had ceased being unquestioned. How to prove personal mastery, create timeless music, court international public taste, yet remain true to one’s own national identity was on the minds of each.

Two seasons ago, when we performed the new and great String Trio by John Harbison in six movements, we learned of his admiration for Mozart’s K. 563 Divertimento for string trio, which he refers to as the ‘once and future king’ of the genre. To honor tradition and to make the string trio his own, John adopted the overall six-movement serious vs. popular scheme as had Mozart, and wrote music that best matched of his experience of the ‘serious’ vs. the popular–the canon, and the blues.

For Dohnányi’s Serenade in C, Op. 10 the historic model that seems most adaptable to his purpose was Beethoven’s Serenade in D major, Op. 8 for string trio. It also begins as it ends–with the same short, jaunty March–includes a set of variations, and ethnic music. In Beethoven’s Serenade the ‘outsider’ music is in a movement entitled Allegretto alla Polacca, i.e., Polish. Dohnányi actually is the Hungarian outsider, (the very one often invoked by the Viennese as in the Brahms’s Gypsy music we played to conclude our November concert), the outsider looking in!

Debussy’s String Quartet appears in our Sanders series for the first time, marking the 100th anniversary of his passing and the changes in sound and taste he brought to music. Much of his life spanned the creation of societies and movements in France determined to promote the resurgence of greatness in French music, visual arts, literature, and to challenge the political, artistic and social dominance of Germanic taste. Debussy sought and reflected influences from outside music, outside Europe, and outside the era of the great Germanic tradition to throw wide the windows to the open sky. While accepting the four-movement scheme and a home key in which to anchor his quartet, he broadens the harmonic palate by using scales, harmonies, note patterns and rhythms used in Asian and/or Early music which allow for more evocative, dream-like impressions, exalted moods and earthy scenes. He is acknowledged today as the single greatest influence on all who followed.

Dvořák’s String Sextet, Op. 48 (1878) follows the two sextet masterworks by his mentor Johannes Brahms (Op. 18, 1862 and Op. 36, 1866), who championed the publishing and playing of Dvořák’s music beyond his native Prague. In seeking success on the world stage dominated by Viennese tastemakers, Dvořák’s earliest struggle was to insist that his first name, Antonín, be abbreviated to the more ambiguous Ant. rather than shortened to the more Germanic Anton. Of the three composers on our program, his is the only one to identify the folk Slavonic origins of his movements–the Dumka (2) and the Furiant (3).

Today’s pieces, new to an established tradition, have stood the test of time by being as rooted in that tradition as they are informed by those on the outside, who opened it to the limitless sky.



Finding Their Way: Schumann, Brahms, and Schoenberg

“In every era there presides a secret alliance of kindred spirits. Ye who belong together, close your ranks ever more tightly, that the Truth of Art may shine more clearly, diffusing joy and blessings over all things.”

Robert Schumann for the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1853 

There comes a time in the life of every artist when the path that must be taken is recognized—seen dimly, or presented boldly—in the work of a kindred spirit. Our third program of the thirty-fifth anniversary season highlights music and other actions that resulted from perceived kinships.

This season also marks both the conclusion and continuation of two cycles we have over three years. The Brahms Violin and Piano Sonatas, played one each over the last three years in Sanders Theatre, will reach their conclusion with the performance of the Scherzo from the F.A.E. Sonata on our new Arlington Street Church Series on Saturday morning at 11:30. The performance of Schumann’s Piano Trio in F major, Op. 80 (1847) on Sunday evening at Sanders Theatre, will take us into the second annual playing of one of his three piano trios in the fall.

Schumann’s statement above, from a magazine essay entitled Neue Bahnen (New Paths), was written the same year he recognized genius and heaped praise on the young Brahms, introducing him to a wider audience and to his own private insecurities:

“The public praise that you have deigned to bestow upon me will have so greatly increased the expectations of the musical world regarding my work that I do not know how I shall manage to do even approximate justice to it.”    (Johannes Brahms)

Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25 (1861), a clear favorite with our audiences and others, is said (by the great violinist Joseph Joachim) to have been started and played in private as early as 1857, but required further gestation before its final version that we all know and love. It was not, however, well received by many of Brahms’s most trusted musical advisers who considered its themes insignificant!

For Arnold Schoenberg, the path toward composition with twelve equal tones (atonality, serialism) is paved right through this piano quartet and its companion in A major that concluded our concert last May. Schoenberg chose to arrange it for orchestra—a time-honored way of studying a ‘curiosity’ by copying it out in detail by hand.

Coming late in his career after abandoning tonality for atonality and serialism around 1920-1923, Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte for reciter and piano quintet, Op. 41 (1942), Schoenberg’s setting of Lord Byron’s poem of the same title, gives him the opportunity for a new path, bending his technique back towards allowing hints of tonality within atonal works. After a little more than fifteen minutes of serialism, the Ode ends triumphantly in E-flat major!

(Left) The Coronation of Napoleon, by Jacques-Louis David. (Right) Napoleon abdicated in Fontainebleau, 4 April 1814, by Paul Delaroche

The work was written during the height of WW2, when larger than life personalities inspired their populations to think first of their own national interest. The message of Byron (to Napoleon) and Schoenberg (to others) was that of the Way of Art: speaking Truth to Power.

Reflect. Enjoy.


On the G String: Beethoven, Prokofiev, Dvořák

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!



Seconds, please!

Our thirty-fifth anniversary season at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre opens with three significant works, from very different places and times, written by masters in their prime. Each is the second and final musical statement in its format within the composer’s corpus, less often heard, and not as popular as the ‘firsts.’ Each shows the same confidence and brilliance of the earlier works, and adds something new to the way a composer begins a piece.

Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, K. 493 was to have been the second of three contracted by Hoffmeister, his publisher, and a fellow composer. But the first was not received as expected and the parties mutually agreed to cancel the contract for the remaining two. The reasons may have been stylistic—the first was too virtuosic, or too deep for the intended audience; or economic—that it did not sell well at a time when the publisher needed a sure winner. The E-flat piano quartet had already been completed before the cancellation. Its creation would not be subject to public taste or market pressure. Mozart readily found another publisher. If anything, Hoffmeister’s reputation as composer, publisher and colleague has suffered for not recognizing, supporting or promoting the qualities that make both quartets popular to this day. It opens with a sustained E-flat chord above a driving bass of repeated octaves in the piano bass. Could this be the origin of rock and roll?

Mozart and Mendelssohn were each introduced to the world as the greatest musical genius of his time. They also share the distinction of meeting Goethe as children nearly sixty years apart. As Goethe tells it, Mendelssohn bore “the same relation to the little Mozart that the perfect speech of a grown man does to the prattle of a child.” Current opinion, based on their entire opus and the test time, recognizes Mozart’s primacy and Mendelssohn’s debt to him. Mozart’s six Quintets for string quartet and extra viola dating from 1773 to 1791 served as a formidable model for the transparency of Mendelssohn’s first viola quintet, Op. 18 in A major (1826-32). His String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 87, started nearly twenty years later in 1845, employs a robust, orchestral tremolando accompaniment texture to open the first movement. When this stormy accompaniment appears again at the start of his final chamber work String Quartet in F minor, Op. 81 (1849), it is seen as a significant new direction in his writing.

Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45 (1885-6) closes our program coincidentally in the same dark key as Mozart’s first piano quartet. Like the preceding works on the program, it begins with a strong chordal opening in which the components of the chord are repeated or broken. (In the Mozart it is with octaves in the bass; in Mendelssohn the tremolando of the lower strings.) In the Faure the piano part is a bariolage, i.e., rapid alternation among all the notes of the accompanying chords, a technique associated more with string music of Bach or Vivaldi, as is an Alberti figuration with keyboard. In each case the effect is to create a cloud of harmony through which the principal theme emerges from the lowest registers of the strings, well within the spacing of the hands of pianist’s hands in the quartets, as though fighting for melodic independence from the established harmony. The coming independence and interaction of equals is well worth the wait.

I’ll have seconds, please!!



Announcing our new teaching artist program

We are pleased to announce the start of the BCMS Teaching Artist Program at the Somerville High School, a cooperation with the Somerville Public Schools Music Department that will provide weekly sectional rehearsals led by five BCMS teaching artists for the high school’s string orchestra during the academic year. Additionally, BCMS will perform a free concert on Friday, October 20 at the high school’s auditorium for the Somerville community at large to generate additional interest in the cooperative program and the school’s music offerings; the five teaching artists will perform for the students at the end of each semester; and all string orchestra students will receive complimentary tickets to attend our regular concerts and open rehearsals at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre.

The five teaching artists—members of the Denovo Quartet (MaeLynn Arnold and Michael Hustedde, violins; Amberley Lamphere, viola; Daniel Dickson, cello) and double bassist Jury Kobayashi-Baxter—were chosen by a committee whose members included BCMS Artistic Director Marcus Thompson, Somerville Public Schools Music Director Richard Saunders, and the high school’s String Orchestra Director Andrew Blickenderfer, among others. The weekly TA-led sessions will start in September 2017.

The Somerville High School String Orchestra is made up of students who choose to participate in an offering that introduces them to the joys and challenges of making music as it introduces them to their peers. All orchestra members are Somerville residents. Nearly two-thirds of them come from homes in which English is the second language, and several are in their first year at an American public school. Few have had formal musical training; participation is open to anyone eager to spend 4 hours per week making music together. All stringed instruments are furnished by the school. In addition to being enjoyed and appreciated for its own sake, music becomes a means for building a supportive, inclusive, student community.

On learning of the musical and community building mission of the orchestra, members of the BCMS staff and board visited the school several times in late 2016 to meet with key members of the school’s music faculty. After both sides recognized the orchestra’s most urgent need was to have weekly sectional rehearsals led by qualified musicians, BCMS proposed creation of the Teaching Artist Program to help meet that need and to help realize several goals of our own mission: to foster the understanding and appreciation of the chamber music art form, making it more accessible to all.

The program allows BCMS an opportunity to promote a new residency program to engage an emerging local ensemble of quality, and a potential audience at an age when habits of civic and cultural engagement are formed.

Currently the program is funded in part by the BCMS Foundation, a separate, supporting organization of the Boston Chamber Music Society, and a grant from the Hamilton Company Charitable Foundation. We are seeking additional funders to fully support the program with the aim of growing it into a multi-year project.

BCMS teaching artists, from left to right: members of the Denovo Quartet (Amberley Lamphere, violist; MaeLynn Arnold and Michael Hustedde, violinists; Daniel Dickson, cellist) and Jury Kobayashi-Baxter, double bassist.

About the Denovo Quartet
Since its debut at the Deer Valley Music Festival in 2015, the Denovo Quartet has quickly established a creative presence in the greater Boston area as performers, collaborators, and pedagogues. Mentored by the Muir Quartet at Boston University, the Denovo Quartet has been featured on numerous recital series performing both classic and contemporary repertoire. Recent engagements include performances at the Alcyon Chamber Music Series, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Brookline Library, Hopkinton Center for the Arts, Musical Chairs House Concert Series, Parish Center for the Arts, and upcoming concerts at Northeastern University and the New England Chamber Music Society. Members of the quartet are prize-winners in several national competitions and have performed in master classes for such renowned musicians including William Preucil, Stephen Clapp, Christian Tetzlaff, Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Midori, as well as the Emerson, Tokyo, Arianna, JACK, and Atrium Quartets. They each hold graduate music performance degrees from Boston University and are experienced instructors in private lessons, chamber music and orchestra settings in the greater Boston area, including Sudbury, Concord, Arlington, and Concord, NH.

About double bassist Jury Kobayashi-Baxter
Mr. Kobayashi-Baxter obtained his undergraduate degree in music performance from the University of Toronto where he studied under both Tim Dawson and Paul Rogers and his graduate degree from the Longy School of Music where he studied with Pascale Delache-Feldman. While at Longy, Jury has continued his growth in many different avenues of music, which includes being involved with jazz ensembles, early music ensembles, as well as his new passion taking conducting lessons. During his first year at Longy School he won the Benjamin Franklyn Creativity Foundation Legacy Award. Jury has been able to continue his journey towards blending his love of acting, teaching and music through his involvement with the El Sistema Side by Side Program through the Longy School of Music and with the orchestra program at the Josiah Quincy Public School in Boston. He will continue his graduate study in early music at Longy School in Fall 2017.

Fabulous Founding Flutist, Fenwick

By Marcus Thompson


Despite all the f’s with which he and his life come to mind, BCMS founding flutist Fenwick Smith (1949–July 19, 2017) was probably the quietest person I have ever met. He was a gentle soft-spoken man of few well-chosen words. Had he never played a note in our series he would still be recalled and revered as one of the most visible and prolific artists on the Boston scene for decades.

That he was a noted recording artist and a former member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Flute Faculty of New England Conservatory, and Boston Musica Viva will be properly noted and appreciated in the days ahead. He still holds the record for annual faculty recitals played at Jordan Hall over more than three decades.

What might be less known is his generosity to friends, colleagues and students; his mastery of handwork—from building his own house to making his own flutes—and the ease and quiet humility with which he shared brilliant insights into music with BCMS colleagues and high school students at Boston Arts Academy alike. He was also an entrepreneur: in the mid-1990s he acquired a commercial building that housed an old Masonic temple on its top floor, then spent years in renovation to turn that space into a sumptuous, state-of-the-art recording/rehearsal studio in a city where these are still in short supply.

Up close he was known to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the flute repertoire. In my earliest contact with him, when he still wore his salt and pepper hair in a long braid, we performed and recorded George Edwards’ quintet Kreuz und Quer with Boston Music Viva almost a decade before BCMS. Between 1983 and his retirement from our concert stage in 2011, Fenwick performed with BCMS works by Bach, Telemann, Mozart, Schoenberg, Rorem, Crumb, Jolivet, Duruflé, Debussy, Copland, Diamond, McKinley, Roussel, and Villa-Lobos, among others. He was ‘at home’ in everything he played from very early to recent. He seemed to know and have played everything!

On one occasion I stumbled upon a beautiful and obscure work for flute, viola, and piano that I was hearing in a taxi on a public radio station while on a concert trip to Pittsburgh. My immediate instinct was to ‘alert’ and ‘inform’ Fenwick of my discovery until I learned that the performance was his recording, and that I was playing with him! He also introduced me to duos of Joseph Martin Kraus and François Devienne that we played soon after on WGBH while representing BCMS. We are all grateful for wisdom, beauty, and grace Fenwick brought to all our contacts.

Pictured below is one of my fondest memories with him: a BCMS Winter Festival performance at MIT with pianist Randy Hodgkinson, of Andrew Imbrie’s Serenade for Flute, Viola, and Piano.


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.


Intensity, Intimacy, and Innovation

The real influence of Mozart and Haydn was slow to show itself in Beethoven’s style, and what did eventually appear was the integration of Mozart’s and Haydn’s resources, with results that transcend all possibility of resemblance to the style of their origins, and are nowhere more transcendent than in a work like the E flat Trio, Opus 70, No.2 where Beethoven discovers new meanings for Mozart’s phrases and Haydn’s formulas.

Donald Francis Tovey, Beethoven (1944)

Our April concert displays at least three attributes of great chamber music making in three ‘new’ works by well-known masters, Ludwig von Beethoven, David Rakowski of Brandeis, and Robert Schumann from Leipzig!?!**

Although not his first, nor considered his greatest, Beethoven’s E-flat Trio, Opus 70, No. 2 is the place where he gave new meaning to long established patterns and extended the life and immediacy of the medium. The work opens with a slow introduction (as might a work by Haydn), seemingly in mid-sentence, with a cello phrase that is immediately taken in response by violin, and by piano. Rather than having the feel of introduction, it feels more like wandering and searching for what will become the dominant character of the movement. His returns to this same tempo and music later in the movement as transition to his second theme and as introductory to the coda illustrate Tovey’s observation of how Beethoven ‘discovered’ new meanings, or uses, for old structures.

David Rakowski’s contribution to the fine efforts of our BCMS Commissioning Club to make chamber music relevant to our time is appropriately entitled Entre nous. He writes:

“Entre nous is cast in a traditional three-movement structure, fast-slow-fast. The first movement begins pizzicato, which speeds up and develops into an antsy fast music where the instruments trade licks like they’re passing around a hot potato. It comes to a suddenly loud close. The second movement is a slow movement designed to highlight oboist Peggy Pearson’s marvelous playing; in it the oboe gets long lines against slow harmony, and, in the middle section, running notes in the strings. The finale is a devilish scherzo that develops entirely out of an opening tutti.”

His title and description of Entre nous remind us of the necessary intimacy of our medium and how a clever opening can lead to surprising conclusion.

Piano Quintet, Op. 44 (1842) by Robert Schumann was the first to combine piano and string quartet. Like Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and the Op. 70, No. 2 Trio, the quintet contains four movements, and is in the key of the E-flat major. Further parallels to the Eroica Symphony includes a slow movement in C Minor that may be heard as a funeral march; a Scherzo movement that some associate with the trio of a Haydn String Quartet (Op. 76, No. 6), and a rousing conclusion with the full weight of all forces that made this one of the first chamber works to be heard to great effect in large halls. **Although dismissed at first as ‘too Leipzigerish’ by Franz Liszt, (Schumann had studied at Leipzig University), the world’s first piano quintet soon gained wide praise and public acceptance. It remains a BCMS favorite.



Hearing the Sublime; “Seeing the Unseen”

“…we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:18

For our March return to Sanders Theatre we offer glimpses of eternity in two sublime works by the divine Mozart: the first of his two duos for violin and viola, in G major, K.423 and his Clarinet Quintet in A major, K.581 which encloses the second of his eight quintet slow movements specifying the use of mutes.

Two Impressionistic works featuring harp will also be heard. Joseph Jongen’s Two Trio Pieces for Flute, Cello and Harp, Op. 80 (1925) will receive its BCMS and Boston debut while Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Flute, Clarinet, Strings and Harp will be heard for only the second time in our series. Our first Ravel performance was in 2001.

Our March concert also offers the opportunity to hear the last of five works by British-born composers we promised, from Adés, Bliss, Bax and Elgar to Peter Child, who is a member of our community. His piece was written for the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble in 2013. It bears the title of a scientific film created in 1936 in the lab of legendary MIT engineer Harold “Doc” Edgerton to study the workings of industrial machinery in slow motion with the help of stroboscopic high-speed photography.

Peter describes the mood and temporal quality of the music “whose cheerful demeanor matches the whimsical tone of the film. This transitions into music of extreme slowness in the second half, where, at first, the listener is invited to contemplate the beauty of single notes. Toward the end of the film, the beating of a hummingbird’s wings is transformed from an invisible blur to an angel-like pulsation. Here, rapid figuration, trills, and tremolos in the music are transformed into sustained legato counterpoint, back and forth in antiphonal exchange between woodwinds and strings.”

 “It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it, as the butterfly in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life.”

Richard Jeffries, The Story of My Heart  (1883)



“G” is for Gemütlichkeit

GemGemutlichkeitütlichkeit: 1. cosiness (etc.). 2. cosy (or relaxed) atmosphere. 3. Leisure(liness).

Langenscheidt’s Standard German Dictionary 1993


Our second program at the Fitzgerald Theatre this season features three works in the key of G major, from three masters of Viennese style whose work embodies Gemütlichkeit– its relaxed way of life, social interaction, and the very essence of how and why we play chamber music. Haydn’s String Trio, Op. 53, No. 1 (1767), Schubert’s String Quartet, D. 887 (1826), and Brahms’s Second String Sextet (1866) teach us to do more than “just get along.” Through them we are invited to enjoy “playing well with others.”

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), widely credited as the father of chamber music and the inventor of the string quartet, probably wrote more chamber pieces than anyone before or since. His Trio is very likely an arrangement of one of his earlier keyboard works. In his catalog it joins a number of works for two violins and cello as well as 175 trio divertimentos that included Baryton, a stringed instrument on which his Hungarian patron excelled. The work is in two movements that capture contrasting moods—genial and excited. It pre-dates by decades the works of two of his prodigious students: Divertimento for Violin, Viola and Cello by Mozart (K. 563 from 1788) and the six string trios of Beethoven (Op 3, 8 and 9 from 1792–96).

Of the three works on the program, the quartet of Franz Schubert (1797–1828) has the greatest dramatic contrast, i.e., emotional conflict and resolution in concept and ensemble writing. Schubert’s Fifteenth String Quartet, the last of his four mature quartets, displays every one of his many virtues, melodic and harmonic, at the height of his powers. He goes beyond those into truly inventive writing. From the beginning are the many ways in which he divides and unifies the quartet—one high voice against one low, a trio of highs against a trio of lows—in the same way he divides, antiphonally speaking, the ensemble in his later string quintet with two cellos, three against three. In marked contrast to the divisions are the many ways in which all parts often move lockstep in rhythmic unison. In energy, daring, and emotional range, this quartet is a direct descendant of Beethoven’s late Grosse Fuge, Op. 133 for string quartet.

Johannes Brahms’s (1833–1897) Second String Sextet doubles the size of the forces with which this concert begins. The addition of more players presents Brahms the opportunity to show how a mastery of part writing can achieve luminous transparency and grace from a crowd.

Brahms writes the opening theme against a restless undulating figure in the first viola part that opens the work. That two-note figure, heard as a distinctive pedal tone throughout much of the first movement, is also the source of many other tonal and structural relationships upon which Brahms constructs themes, sections and movements. The work is known to help Brahms work out some of his own relationship issues with an earlier neglected love, Agathe von Siebold. Her first name is spelled out in a closing theme of the first movement against the two-note figure, enlarged to a sigh, in a technique employed extensively during his time by his mentor, Robert Schumann.

The Brahms Second Sextet has the distinction of being the first of his works to be premiered in the United States, here in the Boston area in November of 1866. It has been and remains a cosy gathering point for many seasons since for BCMS’s Brahms lovers.


Marcus Thompson