With apologies to Shakespeare and to Schubert (‘Who is Sylvia…?’) we dare ask up front a question that is probably on many minds. Zdeněk Fibich was born in 1850 (Vseborice, Bohemia)–of a Czech father and Viennese mother–and died in 1900 (Prague). He is best associated with fellow countrymen Dvořák and Smetana who are better known because they wrote in a more patriotic style as the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to a close. “Fibich’s music is not very obviously Czech although folk melodies and rhythms occur in the chamber music; folk music is not an organic part of his music.” (Grove Dictionary) Fibich is said to have written a nationalist tone poem that Smetana later acknowledged as inspiration for Má vlast, preceded some of Dvořák’s narrative tone poems, and anticipated international subjects later set by Janáček. Although considered a precocious talent who received superlative training reflecting influences from Bach and Mozart to Mendelssohn and Wagner, he is today treated as a missing link between Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček in the history of Czech music.
His Quintet for Violin, Clarinet, Horn, Cello and Piano, Op. 42, a late work from 1893, continues our season of piano quintets and concludes our February program. This performance will be a first for BCMS and a second for Mihae Lee, pianist and William Purvis, horn, who played it last summer in Maine.
Sound clips for Fibich’s Quintet for Violin, Clarinet, Cello, Horn and Piano
1st movement: Allegro non tanto
2nd movement: Largo
3rd movement: Scherzo
4th movement: Finale: Allegro con spirito
So far this season we’ve heard and enjoyed piano quintets by Sofia Gubaidulina (for her 80th birthday), Robert Schumann (the first ‘popular’ piece of chamber music), Webern’s arrangement of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, and one by Korngold (based on a song from his Abschiedslieder). The Schoenberg and Korngold were presented as part of our Exiles to Hollywood Winter Festival and Forum series with pieces spread over three concerts.
That series ends with the performance on this concert of Ingolf Dahl’s Concerto a tre, a sassy tour de force, by the brilliant Swiss pianist-composer who joined many other Hollywood exiles and émigrés in making lasting contributions to American musical culture and scholarship while working in the recording and movie studios of Hollywood. Dahl helped to translate Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music lectures delivered at Harvard, played celeste in Spartacus, worked on the Twilight Zone, made musical arrangements for Tommy Dorsey, gave classical lessons to Benny Goodman, and taught San Francisco Symphony Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas. As a pianist he supplied the performance of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata for the 1969 animated film A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Concerto a tre was performed by BCMS in 1984, 1992 and 2003.
Sound clips for Dahl’s Concerto a tre
Assai moderato, esitando –
Our program opens with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D, Op. 70 No. 1, known as the “Ghost.” Last performed by BCMS in 1983, 1989, 1994, 2001 and 2003. It’s movements are labeled Allegro vivace e con brio, Largo assai ed espressivo, and Presto. The brilliance of the outer two frames the darkness of the slow movement that prompted the nickname “Ghost.”
The Largo, has been called highly original, even prophetic ‘night-music’ forecasting acoustic effects that became synonymous with portraying the fantastic in both Romanticism and Impressionism. According to one writer “at the time he wrote it, Beethoven was sketching an opera about Macbeth!” Much of the affect comes from Beethoven’s use of the tremoli, or trills, especially in the lower register of the piano that produce a quiet rumble with the help of the sustain pedal. When taken up by two string players the effect turns to a roar before all dissolves with the coming of day. The Presto finale erases the gloom and doom in a lighthearted, straight-forward mood that persists to the close of the Trio.