- Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 (1720)
Arnaud Sussmann, violin • Sooyun Kim, flute • Tara Helen O'Connor, flute • Bella Hristova, violin • Francisco Fullana, violin • Richard O'Neill, viola • Dmitri Atapine, cello • Xavier Foley, bass • Hyeyeon Park, piano-harpsichord
Johann Sebastian Bach (Eisenach, 1685 – Leipzig, 1750)
Though Bach practically defined Baroque music as we know it today, he met with a surprising number of setbacks in his own lifetime. The Brandenburg Concertos were one such unsuccessful attempt for recognition. They were named after Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, who Bach only met once—in 1719 during a trip to Berlin. The Margrave asked for some of his music but it took two years for Bach to deliver, at which time his employer, Prince Leopold of Cöthen, was having financial difficulties and Bach was probably looking for leads on a new job. Bach gathered six concertos with vastly different instrumentations, made revisions, and sent them to the Margrave. Not only did Bach not get a job, there is no record the Margrave ever listened to them or even acknowledged Bach’s gift. The Brandenburgs remained virtually unknown until the Bach revival of the mid-19th century.
The Fourth Brandenburg Concerto features a violin and two flutes accompanied by strings (two violins and viola) and continuo (cello, bass, and piano-harpsichord). In the first movement, the flutes take the lead playing the ritornello melody while the violin has virtuosic passages in the episodes. The second movement is a feature for the flutes while the violin alternately accompanies them and joins the string section. The last movement is a series of lively fugal sections separated by episodes of graceful flute collaboration and fiery violin virtuosity.
It’s hard for me to believe that this performance marked the ten-year anniversary of my relationship with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. It was fitting to celebrate with the Brandenburg Concertos of J.S. Bach, as I performed them in my first Alice Tully Hall concert with CMS ten years before. The one-of-a-kind Brandenburgs always sound fresh and vital to me, with their wide assortment of melodies, both lively and stirring, and incredibly varied combinations of solo instruments and sections that bring together a large, diverse cast of artists. I never get tired of studying, rehearsing, and performing these pieces and I so enjoyed sharing the stage with all of the wonderful musicians for this performance.
The "Gould" Piano
You will notice the presence of a concert grand piano on the stage. The “Gould” piano, as we have come to call it, was discovered by us in a marvelous performance, found online, of the great Bach interpreter playing the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto on an instrument modified to combine the sonorities of both harpsichord and modern piano. All of the instruments in this performance have been improved over the ages. Violins made in Bach’s time have been altered to increase projection and widen coloristic palette. Winds and brass have gained the keys and valves that enable accuracy and perfect intonation. We decided last year to add the “Gould” piano to the mix, as we believe it is an excellent complement to the rich sound that CMS has brought to the Alice Tully stage for 50 years.
–David Finckel and Wu Han
From the moment I took my first music lessons, I never really looked back. I left home when I was 14 years old to go study in Lyon, then Paris and finally New York in 2001.
Ernest Chausson (Paris, 1855 – Limay, France, 1899)
Chausson lived at a transitional time in French music history. Wagner’s music was omnipresent in France and Chausson was initially drawn to it (he even honeymooned at Bayreuth) but ultimately rebelled from it. Chausson complained about “the terrible Wagnerian ghost” as he struggled to create distinctly French music. Writing chamber music, which was making a comeback in France after a century of neglect, was a natural way to try to sidestep the influence of Wagner’s music dramas. Chausson composed slowly with many doubts along the way, and he wrote this unusual piece over the course of two years while working on his opera Le roi Arthus. It premiered in Brussels on March 4, 1892 under the auspices of Les XX, a group of Belgian visual artists whose yearly exhibition included concerts and lectures. The performers were violinist Eugène Ysayë, pianist Auguste Pierret, and the Crickboom Quartet.
Chausson looked back to the French Baroque, the heyday of French chamber music, for inspiration. He gave this work the French title ‘Concert,’ which was used in the 17th and 18th centuries to describe various small ensemble pieces. This work’s unusual instrumentation—violin and piano accompanied by a string quartet—may have been a late Romantic reimagining of the Baroque trio sonata, with two melody instruments and continuo. Chausson simply described the violin and piano parts as “projections against the quartet background.” The first movement is thoroughly modern, dominated by a three-note motive first stated in the opening Décidé section. The emotional intensity is high throughout—it starts elevated and climbs higher with only short respites in the course of the movement. The short second movement breaks the tension with a calm Sicilienne, a poised, pastoral Baroque dance form. The third movement, actually the first to be composed, is an ingenious study in chromatics with a descending line in the violin solo and a hauntingly beautiful piano theme. The last movement recalls themes from the previous movements while building to a triumphantly intense finale.
Program notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
My violin was made by Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi around 1760 in Milan, Italy. It has a wonderful provenance, which I learnt about after a gentleman sent me a care package at the Chamber Music Society office a few years ago.
This instrument was purchased by the great American entrepreneur George Eastman and loaned to David Hochstein, an American virtuoso violinist from Rochester, New York. Hochstein’s life and career were tragically cut short as he was killed in October 1918 during the last major Allied offensive of the Great War.
I’ve been teaching at Stony Brook University since 2014.
I absolutely love teaching and I think it’s one of the most important and rewarding aspects of being a musician. What I find particularly interesting is the idea that music can really only be passed down from a mentor to a student. No book or recording can convey all the intricacies of music making. My two main teachers were Boris Garlitsky in France and Itzhak Perlman in the USA. One can trace their lineage all the way back to Joseph Joachim (Brahms’ favorite violinist), Giovanni Battista Viotti, Leopold Auer, to name a few.