ITZHAK PERLMAN, VIOLIN ROHAN DE SILVA, PIANO SATURDAY, JANUARY 14, 2017 • 8PM
PROGRAM NOTES Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, op. 2, No. 2 (R. 31) (published in 1709) ANTONIO VIVALDI (Born March 4, 1678 in Venice Died July 28, 1741 in Vienna) Vivaldi obtained his first official post in September 1703 at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, one of four institutions in Venice devoted to the care of orphaned, abandoned and poor girls. As part of its training, the school devoted much effort to the musical education of its wards, and there was an elaborate organization of administrators, teachers and associates who oversaw the activities of the students. Part of his duties as violin teacher required Vivaldi to compose at least two new concertos as well as other instrumental pieces each month for the regular public concerts given by the Ospedale. The featured performers in these works were occasionally members of the faculty, but usually they were the more advanced students—the difficulty of Vivaldi’s music is ample testimony to their skill. These programs offered some of the best music in Italy, and they attracted visitors from all over Europe. Among the many notable foreigners who attended Vivaldi’s concerts at the Pietà was King Frederick IV of Denmark, who installed himself and his retinue of some 70 attendants in Venice for two months during the Carnival season of 1709. (The weather was so cold that year that some of the smaller canals froze over. The locals joked that Frederick had brought the frigid temperatures with him from Scandinavia.) A regatta on the Grand Canal was staged in his honor, and he frequented the city’s many theaters, stocked up on Venetian glass, and had his portrait done by Luca Carllevarijs, the noted painter and engraver who pioneered capturing Venice’s breathtaking cityscapes. Frederick found the program at the Pietà, he said, “very much to my taste,” and Vivaldi, eager to spread his reputation and music beyond the Alps, petitioned the King to accept the dedication of the set of 12 violin sonatas he was planning to issue as his op. 2 at that time with the Venetian publisher Antonio Bortoli: “Welcome therefore, O great King, not the offer which is in no proportion to your person, but consider the heart that brings it,” read the mandatorily obsequious dedication. Frederick did, but there is no record of Vivaldi receiving any reward as a direct result of the exchange, though the royal imprimatur did give the ambitious composer a significant marketing advantage. The op. 2 sonatas were indebted in form and style to the works of Arcangelo Corelli, one of the Baroque’s most influential composers, who was still active in Rome in 1709, teaching, preparing his op. 6 Concerti Grossi for publication and enjoying his substantial collection of paintings. The A-Major sonata (op. 2,
No. 2; No. 31 in Danish musicologist Peter Ryom’s authoritative 2007 catalog of Vivaldi’s works) follows the model of the sonata da camera, the “chamber sonata” that was light in expression, comprised four movements, had little counterpoint, and included dance-based sections. The A major sonata opens with a “Prelude in the Manner of a Caprice,” with two fast fanfare-like sections punctuated by slow cadences and a more lyrical closing stanza. (Vivaldi, not known today for his vocal works, composed his first opera four years later and went on to write more than 50 of them.) The angular lines of the following Corrente mirror the running and jumping motions of the original dance. The Adagio is succinct and poignant, qualities Vivaldi later used in his stage works. The closing Giga was derived from a lively English folk dance that became popular as the model for instrumental compositions by French, German and Italian musicians when it migrated to the Continent in the mid-17th century. Sonata No. 5 for Violin and Piano in F Major, op. 24, “Spring” (1800–1801) LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (Born December 16, 1770 in Bonn Died March 26, 1827 in Vienna) Among Beethoven’s early patrons in Vienna was Count Moritz von Fries, proprietor of the prosperous Viennese banking firm of Fries & Co. and treasurer to the imperial court. Fries, seven years Beethoven’s junior, was a man of excellent breeding and culture. A true disciple of the Enlightenment, Fries traveled widely (Goethe mentioned meeting him in Italy) and lived for a period in Paris, where he had himself painted by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (remembered for her famous portraits of Marie Antoinette and Mme. de Staël) and, with his wife and baby, by François Gérard (court painter to Louis XVIII). Fries’ palace in the Josefplatz was designed by one of the architects of Schönbrunn, the Emperor’s suburban summer residence, and it housed an elegant private theater that was the site of frequent musical presentations. In April 1800, Fries hosted what developed into a vicious pianoplaying competition between Beethoven and the visiting German virtuoso and composer Daniel Steibelt (1765–1823), which Beethoven won in a unanimous decision. Following that victory, Beethoven composed for Fries two sonatas for violin and piano (op. 23 and op. 24) and the String Quintet, op. 29, whose dedications the Count eagerly accepted. Fries remained among Beethoven’s most devoted patrons, providing him with a regular stipend until he tumbled into bankruptcy in 1825 following the Napoleonic upheavals; the Seventh Symphony of 1813 was dedicated to Fries. The F-Major sonata, “Spring,” one of Beethoven’s most limpidly beautiful creations, is well characterized by its vernal sobriquet.
The opening movement’s sonata form is initiated by a gently meandering melody first chanted by the violin. The grace-noteembellished subsidiary subject is somewhat more vigorous in rhythm and chromatic in harmony, but maintains the music’s bucolic atmosphere. Wave-form scales derived from the main theme close the exposition. The development section attempts to achieve a balance between a downward striding arpeggio drawn from the second theme and flutters of rising triplet figures. A full recapitulation and an extended coda based on the flowing main theme round out the movement. The Adagio is a quiet flight of wordless song, undulant in its accompanimental figuration and delicately etched in its melodic arabesques. The tiny gossamer Scherzo is the first such movement that Beethoven included in one of his violin sonatas. The finale, a rondo that makes some unexpected digressions into distant harmonic territories, is richly lyrical and sunny of disposition. Fantasiestücke (“Fantasy Pieces”) for Violin and Piano, op. 73 (1849) ROBERT SCHUMANN (Born June 8, 1810 in Zwickau, Germany Died July 29, 1856 in Endenich, near Bonn) Given Schumann’s disposition for veering in and out of depression bordering on mental instability for most of his adult life, it is surprising that he not only weathered the difficult events of 1847–1849 well, but even experienced one of his most productive creative surges during that time. The beginning of the year 1847 found Robert and his wife Clara on tour in Bohemia and Germany, and in Berlin they met and befriended Fanny Mendelssohn, the composer’s talented sister. They seriously considered relocating to Berlin, but Schumann was unable to arrange a situation and the couple returned reluctantly to their home in Dresden in March. Schumann busied himself with the composition of the opera Genoveva, but its progress was interrupted by the distressing news that Fanny had suddenly died in Berlin on May 14th. Only a month later, the Schumanns’ 16-month-old son Emil died after a sickly infancy, but the greatest shock of the year came with the unexpected death of Mendelssohn himself on November 4, 1847. In addition to these personal griefs, political insurrection was erupting throughout Germany in 1848, and Dresden was one of its epicenters. Schumann fled to the country with Clara and their children, but the rebellion was soon quelled and they returned to Dresden after he had composed some small pieces celebrating the republican spirit. Despite the turmoil and sadness of those years, Schumann enjoyed one of the most fertile periods of his life in 1848 and 1849, when he wrote some 30 vocal and instrumental compositions, including the Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet (or violin or cello) and Piano (op. 73). The Fantasy Pieces are wordless songs, lyrical instrumental effusions in Schumann’s most engaging Romantic style. The cycle’s tender mood is maintained throughout, though the second and third movements are possessed of a greater animation than the opening one. A subtle unity of structure is provided among the movements by draping the duple-rhythm instrumental line upon a rippling triplet piano accompaniment.
Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano (1925, 1933) IGOR STRAVINSKY (Born June 17, 1882 in Oranienbaum, near St. Petersburg Died April 6, 1971 in New York City) So successful was the premiere of the Violin Concerto in D that Stravinsky wrote for violinist Samuel Dushkin, on October 23, 1931, in Berlin, that both composer and violinist received invitations to present the piece all over Europe—from Florence to London to Madrid. The resulting series of concerts made Stravinsky realize, however, that a good performance of the Concerto demanded both a first-rate orchestra and an adequate number of rehearsals, circumstances that could not be taken for granted in all cities, so for a subsequent tour with Dushkin he devised several recital pieces for violin and piano that would enable them to play almost anywhere without difficulty. The centerpiece of the tour program was the Duo Concertant of 1931–1932, but to round out the concert together they arranged excerpts from some of his ballets, including The Firebird, The Fairy’s Kiss, Petrushka and The Nightingale. (Dushkin extracted the violin parts from the orchestral scores; Stravinsky made the piano arrangements.) The best known of this set of transcriptions is the Suite Italienne, derived from Stravinsky’s luminous score for Pulcinella, the 1920 ballet based on works of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736), a musical meteor who flashed briefly across the Italian artistic firmament during the early years of the 18th century and created several important instrumental and operatic pieces that laid the foundations of the Classical style. In 1933, Stravinsky arranged several of its numbers for violin and piano as the Suite Italienne. The plot of Pulcinella was based on an 18th-century manuscript of commedia dell’arte plays discovered in Naples. Stravinsky provided the following synopsis: “All the local girls are in love with Pulcinella; but the young men to whom they are betrothed are mad with jealousy and plot to kill him. The minute they think they have succeeded, they borrow costumes resembling Pulcinella’s to present themselves to their sweethearts in disguise. But Pulcinella—cunning fellow!—had changed places with a double, who pretends to succumb to their blows. The real Pulcinella, disguised as a magician, now resuscitates his double. At the very moment when the young men, thinking they are rid of their rival, come to claim their sweethearts, Pulcinella appears and arranges all the marriages. He himself weds Pimpinella, receiving the blessing of his double, who in his turn has assumed the magician’s mantle.” Though the Suite Italienne is a sort of vest-pocket version of Pulcinella, it fully captures the ballet’s wit, insouciance and joie de vivre. ©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Additional works to be announced from the stage.