- Concerto in D major for Four Violins, TWV 40:202 (c. 1720)
Francisco Fullana, violin • Danbi Um, violin • Paul Huang, violin • Sean Lee, violin
- Sonata in E-flat major for Violin and Piano, Op. 18 (1887-88)
Allegro ma non troppo
Improvisation: Andante cantabile
Danbi Um, violin • Orion Weiss, piano
— INTERMISSION (Q&A with the artists) —
Georg Philipp Telemann (Magdeburg, 1681 – Hamburg, 1767)
Telemann was one of the most sought-after German composers of the late Baroque. Towns and courts vied for the honor of having him as music director and he commanded a high salary. After he turned down a job in Leipzig the disappointed city council had to settle for Bach instead. Telemann spent most of his career in Hamburg overseeing the music for the city’s churches. He also had many other sources of income—he was a writer (he wrote three autobiographies), he did freelance composing for other German courts, and he published his own music. He was also tireless as a composer. In an era when composers were expected to produce vast amounts of music, Telemann stands out for his truly immense oeuvre. Other Baroque composers produced hundreds of works but he produced thousands—the exact number is unknown but he is believed to have composed over 3,000 compositions.
Telemann’s wide-ranging output includes all the main genres of the time, including concertos for many different instrumentations such as this Concerto in D major for Four Violins, one of three for this unusual instrumentation. Baroque concertos usually included basso continuo, an accompaniment that provides the harmonies of the piece, but Telemann wrote about 80 pieces without continuo, including this one. The exact occasion and the reason for this particular instrumentation is unknown. The four movements, arranged slow-fast-slow-fast, capture Telemann’s charm, grace, and wit with warm harmonies and clever imitation.
Richard Strauss (Munich, 1864 – Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1949)
When Strauss wrote his Violin Sonata at age 24, he was just finding his path. He was third conductor at the Hofoper in his hometown of Munich. He had recently met his future wife, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, who would prove to be a major source of motivation and encouragement. He had also recently returned from a trip to Italy and was inspired to try an entirely new type of composition: the symphonic fantasy Aus Italien. Strauss had had a very conservative musical education focused on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven and wrote quite a bit of chamber music in his younger years (he was a child prodigy). The Violin Sonata ended up serving as a capstone to that period in his life. After it, he would shift his focus to big, programmatic music—he quickly wrote the tone poems Macbeth, Don Juan, and Tod und Verklärung in 1888 and 1889. He would also go on to write his brilliant operas and dozens of songs but the Violin Sonata was essentially his last word on abstract instrumental music.
And what an ending it is. Strauss eagerly soaked in all the competing influences of 1880s Germany. He went through a brief period of fascination with Brahms that gave way to a lasting involvement with Wagnerism. He also studied German philosophy, including Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The Violin Sonata came at a pivotal time when Strauss was synthesizing all these influences. The two outer movements are impassioned pleas, full of rapid modulations and high flying melodies, while the middle movement is a spontaneous-sounding reflection.
Fauré is best known for his chamber music and his songs and with this piece (along with the Violin Sonata two years earlier) he finds his mature voice in the genre—a perfect marriage of rigorous form and French style.
Gabriel Fauré (Pamiers, 1845 – Paris, 1924)
The young Fauré started down a new path in 1871 as a reaction to the Franco-Prussian War. He helped found the Société Nationale de Musique in Paris on February 25, 1871, whose goal was to promote new French concert music and whose motto was ‘ars gallica.’ The Société concerts gave a platform for him and his fellow members to focus on the previously-overlooked genre of chamber music from a French lens and promote it as part of Parisian cultural life. Fauré had a number of premieres at Société concerts, including this work, his first piano quartet, on February 14, 1880. After revisions to the last movement, it was published four years later and dedicated to Belgian violinist Hubert Léonard, a champion of Fauré and the Société in general. Though Fauré’s professional life was going well, his personal life was more difficult. His relationship with Marianne Viardot, who came from a well-connected musical family, ended when she called off their engagement in October 1877. Fauré was deeply hurt but, not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, little of his distraught state of mind made its way into this piano quartet except perhaps in the profound adagio movement.
The C minor Piano Quartet is an elegant mix of traditional chamber forms and detached French character. The standard line-up of movements—sonata, scherzo, slow movement, and energetic finale—is enhanced with modal twinges, colorful melodies, light textures, and distinctive rhythms. The first movement begins with a modally-inflected melody that visits beautifully distant harmonic territory in the development section before ending in C major. The second movement is a particularly French scherzo with an ethereal lightness created through tripping rhythms, clever melodies, and thin textures alternating between strings and piano. The third movement is a long-breathed adagio, deeply felt and the only fully serious movement of the piece. The last movement, like the first, is another journey from C minor to C major with many intriguingly imaginative detours in between. Fauré is best known for his chamber music and his songs and with this piece (along with the Violin Sonata two years earlier) he finds his mature voice in the genre—a perfect marriage of rigorous form and French style.
Program notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
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