- Scherzo, WoO 2, from “F-A-E” Sonata for Violin and Piano (1853)
Ani Kavafian, violin • Alessio Bax, piano
- “Andante” from Trio in F-sharp minor for Piano, Violin, and Cello (1952)
Gloria Chien, piano • Ani Kavafian, violin • Mihai Marica, cello
— INTERMISSION (Q&A with the artist) —
Johannes Brahms (Hamburg, 1833 – Vienna, 1897)
The F-A-E Sonata was an unusual joint composition project at the behest of Robert Schumann. The violinist Joseph Joachim came to visit him in Düsseldorf in October 1853, and Schumann rallied two of his young protégés, Brahms and Albert Dietrich, to compose a violin sonata with him. Brahms had only met Schumann the previous month, arriving with an introduction from Joachim, but Schumann was immediately taken with him and the two had become fast friends. Schumann wrote the intermezzo and finale, Dietrich wrote the first movement, and Brahms wrote the scherzo. The sonata is based on the letters from Joachim’s personal motive, Frei aber einsam (free but lonely). Joachim performed it at Schumann’s house on October 28, 1853 with Clara Schumann on the piano and easily guessed which composer had written each movement. After the visit, Joachim retained ownership of the manuscript and allowed Brahms’ scherzo to be published in 1906. This compact, five-minute movement has a fiery main theme interspersed with pastoral episodes that show off the dramatic control of the young Brahms.
The powerful and energetic Brahms Sonatensatz, the Scherzo movement of the F-A-E Sonata, is a staple of the violin and piano repertoire and is one of my favorite short works.
Originally it was written as a collaborative effort by the young Brahms, his friend and mentor, Robert Schumann and Schumann’s pupil, Albert Dietrich. Complete with virtuosity writing for both instruments, a beautifully elegant middle section, and an exciting finish, it stands alone as the most popular movement from the original four movement collaboration. It is a wonderful opening to this short program. It was such a great pleasure working with pianist Alessio Bax as we toured with this work.
Arno Babadjanian (Yerevan, 1921 – Yerevan, 1983)
Arno Babadjanian was a mid-20th century Armenian (and therefore Soviet) composer and pianist who developed his own unique style based on the folk music of his native country. He was initially encouraged by Khachaturian in Armenia, went to Moscow to finish his studies, and then returned to Yerevan to teach at the conservatory there. Not only are the echoes of Armenia folk music audible in his alluring music, but his sense of dramatic pacing is heavily influenced by the country’s epic folk tales and folklore. The slow movement of Babadjanian’s Piano Trio, written while he was a new teacher at the Yerevan Conservatory, starts with an ethereal, shimmering violin solo that nearly makes time stand still. The cello joins later and the two instruments play intertwined meditations with support from the piano, creating a crystalline soundscape that is touchingly familiar yet slightly removed.
I always think about what 5 works one would like to have with them if stranded on a desert island.
For me, the Dvořák F minor Trio is, hands down, at the top of that list. All of us who have experienced performing or listening to the emotional, touching, and the most memorable slow movement of this work cannot forget what we feel each time we hear Dvořák’s melodies. He is a master of the moments in music which gives us, what I call, goosebumps. This is a spectacular piece of music, a performance that I share with my dear colleagues, Carter Brey and Orion Weiss, and one of the highlights of my many years at the Chamber Music Society.
Antonín Dvořák (Nelahozeves, 1841 – Prague, 1904)
Dvorák came late to fame. He struggled to gain recognition outside Prague until his breakout hit Slavonic Dances of 1878. The printed music sold out almost immediately and the orchestral version was performed across Europe and as far away as New York. A prolific composer, Dvorák quickly turned his attention to writing other works that combined German tradition with his native Czech influences for an international audience. Vienna was a particularly important city for Dvorák as it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and home of Brahms, Dvorák’s champion and mentor. But some Viennese saw Czech-influenced music as a threat to German cultural hegemony in the empire. Dvorák’s music was received through the lens of the culture wars of the time. The premiere of the Sixth Symphony, written for the Vienna Philharmonic in 1880, was repeatedly postponed. Years later, the critic Theodor Helm severely criticized the Hussite Overture, “Dvorák’s Hussites obviously want to threaten the lives of us Germans, if only musically for the time being.” Perhaps because of his problematic reception in Vienna, Dvorák wrote more German-sounding music for a while. “Viennese audiences seem to be prejudiced against compositions with a Slavic flavor,” he wrote in 1884.
This piano trio, written in February and March 1883, is one of Dvorák’s decidedly German works, and the one that sounds most like Brahms. The trio is also one of his more dramatic works, perhaps because of the artistic crisis he was facing or because his mother died just a few weeks before he began it. Though it doesn’t have Dvorák’s characteristic Czech sound, the trio does have his many other strengths in abundance, including rousing melodies and a sweeping sense of drama. The piece is one of the heavyweights of the piano trio literature and for good reason. The first movement engages all three instruments to give the movement a big, thick sound. The expected development section is short but colorful developmental moments peek through the recapitulation in various spots. The second and fourth movements are both rousing dance-like movements with busy two-against-three cross rhythms and stomping melodies. The heart of the trio is the slow movement, sweetly melodic, gently wistful, and with the strings echoing each other throughout. Perhaps Dvorák was remembering his mother or lamenting how becoming famous had made his life much more complicated. The movement stays with the listener long after the piece has ended.
Notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
© 2020 Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
The heart of the trio is the slow movement. Perhaps Dvorák was remembering his mother or lamenting how becoming famous had made his life much more complicated. The movement stays with the listener long after the piece has ended.