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boris berman peter frankl wei-yi yang

horowitz piano series Boris Berman, Artistic Director February 19, 2014 • Morse Recital Hall

Robert Blocker, Dean


Horowitz Piano Series

berman • frankl • yang Wednesday, February 19, 2014 • 8:00 pm • Morse Recital Hall Boris Berman, Artistic Director

Robert Schumann 1810–1856

Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), WoO 24 Wei-Yi Yang

Johannes Brahms 1833—1897

Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann for piano four hands, Op. 23 Thema: Leise und innig Variation I. L’istesso Tempo. Andante molto moderato Variation II. Variation III. Variation IV. Variation V. Poco più animato Variation VI. Allegro non troppo Variation VII. Con moto. L’istesso tempo Variation VIII. Poco più vivo Variation IX. Variation X. Molto moderato, alla marcia Peter Frankl and Boris Berman

As a courtesy to the performers and audience, silence electronic devices. Please do not leave the hall during selections. Photography or recording of any kind is prohibited.


Berman · Frankl · Yang

Brahms

Variations on a Theme by Haydn for two pianos, Op. 56b Thema. Chorale St. Antoni. Andante Variation I. Andante con moto Variation II. Vivace Variation III. Con moto Variation IV. Andante Variation V. Poco Presto Variation VI. Vivace Variation VII. Grazioso Variation VIII. Poco Presto Finale. Andante Peter Frankl and Wei-Yi Yang

intermission

Brahms

Sonata in F minor for two pianos, Op. 34b I. Allegro non troppo II. Andante, un poco Adagio III. Scherzo: Allegro IV. Finale: Poco sostenuto—Allegro non troppo Boris Berman and Wei-Yi Yang


Artist Profiles

Boris Berman • piano

Peter Frankl • piano

Boris Berman is well known to the audiences of close to fifty countries on six continents. He regularly appears with leading orchestras, on major recital series, and in important festivals. He studied at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the distinguished pianist Lev Oborin. An active recording artist and a Grammy nominee, Mr. Berman was the first pianist to record the complete solo works by Prokofiev (Chandos). Other acclaimed releases include all piano sonatas by Alexander Scriabin (Music and Arts) and a recital of Shostakovich piano works (Ottavo), which received the Edison Classic Award in Holland, the Dutch equivalent of the Grammy. The recording of three Prokofiev concertos with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Neeme Järvi conducting (Chandos), was named the Compact Disc of the Month by CD Review. Other recordings include works by Mozart, Beethoven, Franck, Weber, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schnittke, Shostakovich, Joplin, and Cage. In 1984, Mr. Berman joined the faculty of the Yale School of Music, where he is professor of piano, coordinator of the Piano department, and Music Director of the Horowitz Piano Series. He also conducts master classes throughout the world. In 2005, he was named an honorary professor of Shanghai Conservatory; and in 2013, an honorary professor of the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen. In 2000, Yale University Press published Mr. Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench; since then, the book has been translated into several languages. In 2008, the same publisher released Mr. Berman’s new book Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer.

Pianist Peter Frankl made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in 1967. Since that time he has performed with many of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw, Orchestre de Paris, Israel Philharmonic, all of the London orchestras, and the major American orchestras. He has collaborated with such conductors as Abbado, Boulez, Maazel, and Solti. His many chamber music partners have included Kyung Wha Chung, Ralph Kirshbaum, and the Tokyo, Takács, Guarneri, and Fine Arts quartets. Among his recordings are the complete works for piano by Schumann and Debussy, Bartók and Chopin solo albums, a Hungarian anthology, concertos and four-hand works by Mozart, the two Brahms piano concertos, the Brahms violin and clarinet sonatas, Bartók pieces for violin and piano, and the piano quintets of Brahms, Schumann, Dvorák, Martinu, and both Dohnányis. Mr. Frankl was awarded the Officer’s Cross by the Hungarian Republic, and on his seventieth birthday he was given one of the highest civilian awards in Hungary for his lifetime artistic achievement in the world of music.


Artist Profiles

Wei-Yi Yang • piano Pianist Wei-Yi Yang has earned worldwide acclaim for his captivating performances and imaginative programming. Most recently, he was praised by the New York Times as the soloist in a “sensational” performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie at Carnegie Hall. Gold Medal winner of the San Antonio International Piano Competition, Mr. Yang has also performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and across Europe, Australia, and Asia. A dynamic chamber musician with a diverse repertoire, Mr. Yang has collaborated with the Pacifica, Cassatt, and Tokyo String Quartets; as well as Frederica von Stade, Clive Greensmith, and Richard Stoltzman, among numerous others. Mr. Yang has curated inventive interdisciplinary projects, including a collaboration with actress Miriam Margolyes as part of the “Dickens’ Women” world tour; lecture-recitals on the confluence of Czech music and literature; and multimedia performances of Granados’ Goyescas with projections of Goya’s etchings. He has given world premieres of new works by contemporary composers, including Howard Boatwright, Jonathan Cole, Daniel Godfrey, and Ezra Laderman. Mr. Yang studied first in the United Kingdom and then with Arkady Aronov in New York. Under the guidance of Boris Berman, he received his D.M.A. from Yale in 2004. Wei-Yi Yang frequently presents master classes and performances in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Korea, and at Princeton University, Ithaca College, and the Hartt School. He has adjudicated the Isidor Bajic Piano Memorial and the San Antonio International piano competitions. Mr. Yang regularly appears at festivals across the United States, from Norfolk to Napa Valley, and abroad, including Germany, Serbia, Montenegro, Mexico, and Scotland. In 2005 he joined the faculty of the Yale School of Music.


Program Notes

robert schumann Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), WoO 24 Robert Schumann’s final years were spent steadily declining into a state of madness. In 1854, at just 44 years of age, he jumped into the Rhine river, with the intent of ending his life. He was rescued by a passing fisherman, and afterwards begged to be sent to an asylum, out of the fear that he might harm his wife Clara or their seven surviving children, one as yet unborn. He would remain there for two years, before succumbing to illness, and was visited only once by Clara, just before his death. Much of Schumann’s music from his final years was destroyed by his wife following his death, out of loyalty rather than out of passion. Clara wanted to preserve her late husband’s legacy in its best light, and feared that the music he had written while stricken with mania was inferior, and would tarnish his artistic reputation. When she and Brahms – the Schumann family’s close confidante – compiled the complete edition of Robert’s music, they intentionally left out sketches from very late in his life. One work that was published, however, was the very piece that Schumann was writing just before he attempted suicide: The Geistervariationen, or “Ghost Variations.” He had jotted down the theme just before his plunge into the Rhine, and completed the variations in the brief span between his rescue and departure to the mental hospital. Schumann claimed that the theme of this brief and poignant set for solo piano was given to him in a dream by the ghosts of Schubert and Mendelssohn, hence the title of the work. He was enthralled by his encounter with spirits, but these beings, over time, turned to demons, mocking and haunting him, and disfiguring the theme into a macabre refrain. This manic shift between

rapture and terror represents the culmination of what was likely a lifetime of bipolar disorder. Schumann was a complex figure, torn between radicalism and traditionalism, passion and reason, humor and melancholy; this dichotomy between extroversion and introversion is manifested in the two “characters” that he derived from his own personality: Eusebius and Florestan. This duality is also manifested in the theme itself: simple and pleasant yet somehow tinged with melancholy. Rather than reaching ever upwards, the theme begins with two descending gestures, relaxing downwards like sighs or laments. This sense of falling remains intact throughout the entirety of the theme, and brief touches of minor tonal color near the end of each phrase add to this sense of poignancy. The five variations that Schumann completed preserve this theme with striking clarity. It haunts the music with its omnipresence, just as it haunted its composer. Schumann embellishes the theme by floating it atop undulating, somewhat disorienting waves of chromatic triplets in the first variation. In the second, he splits it into two lines in canon fragmenting, though never totally obscuring his subject. In the subsequent third variation, the chromatic triplet motive makes its return, though it has moved to the right hand, and the theme has deepened low into the left hand. Its descent in range is a macrocosmic expansion of the inherent descending gestures of the theme. The fall continues in the fourth variation, in which the minor coloration from the theme is expanded into the dark tonality of G minor, transforming the subject into its most sorrowful guise. The fifth and final variation, the most technically demanding and in many ways the most “Schumannesque” of the set, begins to obscure the theme behind the mask of chromaticism that had risen to the fore over the duration of the work; the theme seems to evaporate in this cloud of obscurity. One cannot


Program Notes

help but feel – without a clear return of the theme from this vaporous state – a lack of completeness and closure. We yearn to hear more from Schumann, and indeed we expect him to continue with his idea. Sadly, the composer was never able to finish his “final thought,” and we are left with the suspension of not knowing what might have been.

johannes brahms Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann for four hands, Op. 23 The ties between Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms run deep, and their relationship spanned perhaps the most difficult and tragic period of both composers’ lives. Brahms met Robert and his wife Clara when he was just twenty years old. Schumann, fifteen years Brahms’s senior, was impressed by the younger composer’s immense talents, and had praised Brahms in his critical journal the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik as the new voice of music, proclaiming that he was “destined to give ideal expression to the times.” He invited Brahms to visit his home in Düsseldorf, where the young composer learned from his elder, becoming his protégé, and many postulate – though with little certitude – growing romantically attached to his wife, herself fourteen years older than Brahms. In 1854, following Schumann’s suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization, Brahms lived in an upstairs apartment in the Schumann home, helping Clara to raise her children – one of whom had been born after Robert’s confinement. He was able to visit Robert in the sanatorium, where Clara was forbidden, and relayed messages between the steadily declining composer and his devoted, mournful wife. Schumann’s death in 1856 allowed Brahms to return to more routine composition, from which

he had been distracted in the preceding years. Clara and Johannes would remain close companions for life, with Clara promoting and performing her friend’s music regularly, just as she promoted her husband’s. Brahms treated Clara as something between a mentor and a muse, always seeking her advice and approval, and dedicating a number of works to her. His undying loyalty can be traced in the correspondence between the two, much of which has now been published, though, it must be confessed, with Clara’s approval; any overt evidence of romance was therefore likely suppressed. Brahms wrote the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann for four hand piano in 1861, with the memory of Schumann’s final years still fresh in his mind. Its theme is known as Schumann’s “Letzter Gedanke” or “Final Thought.” It is the very theme that Robert had claimed was given to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn, and upon which he based his own Geistervariationen for solo piano. This subject, the last thing Schumann had written down before his suicide attempt, provides the basis for a poignant tribute to a friend and mentor. Just as the theme had haunted Schumann in his fragile state, it seems to have haunted Brahms as well; perhaps his completion of these variations provided a cathartic means of coping with the grief of the loss of Schumann. That he conceived of the work for four hands on one instrument is fitting, as one might imagine it providing a medium through which both Clara and Brahms could somehow share in playing this tribute together. In fact, Brahms dedicated this first foray into four-hand works to Julie Schumann, the couple’s daughter, to whom the composer was very attached. In another sense, it is as though Brahms is completing Schumann’s final thought. Though he likely intended to write more, Schumann only completed five brief variations


Program Notes

on his theme before his suicide attempt. Brahms expands these poignant twenty-eight bars across ten re-imaginings. In this way, the composer is providing some completion and closure to Schumann’s artistic life, allowing his spirits to rest at last in peace. To hear both Schumann’s and Brahms’s variations in proximity allows us to note the deep musical ties between these two artists. Brahms preserves the structure and melodic contour of the theme for most of the set. However, unlike Schumann’s somewhat conservative, almost classicist embellishments in his own variations, Brahms is decidedly more adventurous in his, straying noticeably farther from the confines of the theme throughout. In this way, Brahms’s compositional style is more like that of a young, experimental Schumann, rather than the more traditional style that he adopted later in life; Brahms himself was quite eager to experiment in his younger days. At the opening statement of the theme, the composer simply divides its components between the two players, choosing not to embellish or fortify it in any way. The result is a sound as close to Schumann’s original theme as possible: a careful and delicate expansion across two sets of hands. With eyes closed, one might never know that there were four hands playing. Brahms ventures into a wide range of styles and key areas throughout the subsequent variations, and divides the focus and melodic interest evenly between the two instrument. The variations reach their triumphant climax in the ninth, wherein rapid runs and energetic dotted rhythms embellish the first part of Schumann’s theme with bright swaths of filigree. The tenth and final variation, however, is a suitably melancholic close to the set, a transfiguration of Schumann’s theme in the guise of a funeral march. Here is the last artistic expression of mourning from a protégé to his mentor, advocate, and friend.

johannes brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn for two pianos, Op. 56b In 1870, a librarian for the Society of Friends of the Music in Vienna was researching a biography on the life of Franz Joseph Haydn. While doing so, he happened upon a number of Feldpartiten. These small suites for wind instruments were meant to be played as outdoor entertainment music at garden or hunting parties. With little evidence supporting his theory, he assumed these anonymous, unpublished manuscripts to be in Haydn’s hand. The librarian, Karl Ferdinand Pohl – who eventually published the first comprehensive biography on Haydn – immediately sent for his friend Johannes Brahms, whose ties to the Society (a guild of wealthy men whose association’s purpose was to “promote music in all facets”) were close. In fact, Brahms would become its director in the following year. The composer was particularly taken with one melody in the B-flat Feldpartita, a simple yet pleasant tune labeled “Choral St. Antoni,” and he jotted it down for potential later use. Brahms was a lifelong student of the old masters, and is known as a traditionalist, respectfully continuing in the lineage of the great German musical tradition as the “third B” following Bach and Beethoven. Against the rising tide of radical new German Romanticism, Brahms stuck to his guns, so to speak, preferring to compose in more classical forms – though with a modern sense of harmony and thematic development – instead of the more avant-garde musical forms of his time: Liszt’s symphonic poems and, most distant of all, Wagner’s music-dramas. One of these traditional forms that continued to fascinate Brahms throughout his life was the theme and variations. Many of his earliest piano works were in this form, popular since the Baroque, and later championed by Beethoven


Program Notes

in his tremendous Eroica and Diabelli sets. Studying older music was Brahms’s way of carefully honing his craft, and sets of variations – which challenge a composer to both deliberately stay bound and true to a theme while carefully and creatively manipulating it over a large scale of multiple reworkings – provided a suitable form through which the relatively young composer could flex his creative and technical muscle. The Variations on a Theme by Haydn for two pianos is a perfect example. Brahms does indeed stay true to the theme, which itself strikes the listener with surprising irregularity. Most subjects of this type from the Classical period were written in eight bars, separated into two halves of four bars each, the first of which ends inconclusively (the antecedent) and the latter ending conclusively (the consequent). This particular theme, however, is not quite so regular, which may explain why Brahms thought to write it down in the first place. Each half consists of five bars, adding to a total of ten. There is something somehow off-kilter about this construction, and it challenges even our modern ears to come to peace with its assymetry. Brahms preserves this ten bar structure throughout each of his subsequent variations, even adhering for the most part to its harmonic structure. This formal constraint that Brahms places on his variations likens it more to a Baroque set, in the vein of Bach’s Goldberg – in which each variation changes mood character and style – as opposed to the more contemporary model of Beethoven’s Diabelli variations, during which the composer departs far, straying wildly and unbound, from his opening theme. The variations are incredibly diverse in their texture, dynamic, and style, with many displaying intricate contrapuntal complexity seldom prioritized by other mid-nineteenth century Romantic composers. Particularly effective is Brahms’s metrical manipulation, in which he regroups the theme

in bars of three beats each rather than two. Examples include the graceful third and rapidfire eighth variation, and are obvious in their waltz-like rhythmic feel, as opposed to the march-like feel of the theme. The Finale is Brahms’s creative piece-de-resistance, and yet in some ways the most “traditional” of the set. It is a passacaglia, or continuing variations over ground bass, a form that was popular even in the early seventeenth century. Brahms has saved the best for last, spinning out a constantly varying transformation of the first five bars, heard in its entirety first in the left hand of the second piano. Over the course of the preceding variations, the pace was constant, though the style frequently shifted. Here, in the passacaglia, Brahms has truncated his form, shifted into a higher gear, and created an accelerating drive to an exciting conclusion. Many will recognize this great work in its later form, an orchestral reworking, which proved to be one of the composers most popular works during his lifetime, as well as in ours. However, this first incarnation of the Haydn Variations, for two pianos, matches the orchestrated version’s brilliance, and deserves to be heard and preserved, just as Brahms felt Haydn’s theme deserved the same. We can thankfully keep secret from Brahms, and from his friend Pohl, the fact that most scholars have long doubted the theme was in fact written by Haydn. Few today would agree with Pohl’s flimsy assumption. The title may be inaccurate, but it makes for a nice story.

johannes brahms Sonata for Two Pianos in F minor, Op. 34b To many connoisseurs of chamber music, Johannes Brahms’s F minor sonata for two pianos will sound recognizable after just a few bars, if not after two or three notes. The work it so


Program Notes

strongly resembles is the composer’s famed F minor quintet for piano and strings, which has become a staple of the Romantic chamber music repertoire, and one of the most beloved works from Brahms’s early to middle years. In fact, this sonata is a fascinating intermediary work, and its very existence is a result of its composer’s obsessive perfectionism and careful, diligent craftsmanship. This is, after all, the man who claimed to have spent twenty-one years writing his first symphony, from its first sketches to its final form, which he only would reveal to the public after he had enough confidence in the work to shake his anxieties over inadequacy. One major source of this anxiety was Beethoven, long dead by the time of Brahms’s formative years yet still a looming figure, somehow challenging any composer, even in death, to match his greatness. Of this ghost, Brahms once said “you have no idea how the likes of me feels with the tramp of a giant like him behind me.” Even this sonata began as a very different work, one which might, had it survived in that form, illicit comparison to another phantom’s music – that of Vienna’s native son, Franz Schubert, tragically young at his death, yet astoundingly prolific in life. The first incarnation of the two piano sonata took the form of a string quintet with two cellos, the same instrumentation as Schubert’s lovely and autumnal C major quintet. Ever one to seek the approval of others, Brahms sent sketches of his work to his close friend Clara Schumann, and to the illustrious violinist Joseph Joachim, who opined that the quintet “is lacking, to give me pure pleasure, in a word, charm.” Brahms reworked the quintet into the sonata for two pianos, and burned the germinal string version, as he did with many unsatisfactory works from his early days. However, Brahms was still unsatisfied with the two piano sonata,

as was Clara Schumann, who remarked that it “cannot be called a Sonata. The first time I tried the work I had the feeling that it was an arrangement.” However, there is something incredibly powerful and alluring about Brahms’s themes, and the brilliant way in which he develops them throughout the work, something which both Schumann and Joachim recognized. There was so much worth salvaging, and Clara begged the composer to “please remodel it once more!” The resulting piano quintet is something of a synthesis between the original form of the piece and this intermediate sonata, presumably combining the strengths of both versions. We are fortunate that either Brahms’s artistic or financial conscience permitted this sonata to be published, as it provides a rare glimpse into the working mind of a genius. Even more fortunately, we can view the sketches of this version, dating from around 1864, at the Morgan Library in New York City. In comparing this version to the renowned piano quintet, one can speculate on how the composer got from point A to point B. In many ways, this sonata actually allows us to hear the composer’s craftsmanship more clearly, as the interweaving of themes throughout each movement somehow stand out more strongly in contrast, like a black and white sketch of a kaleidoscopic painting. Over the four movements of the sonata, this black and white contrast is matched by the duality of darkness and lightness, both on a large scale – over the course of all movements – and on the more intimate level, within each movement. In the first, cast in sonata form, Brahms juxtaposes an ominous opening theme with brighter complementary music, creating a particularly stormy embroilment in the development, which surges to a powerful climax when the opening material returns to mark the recapitulation. The second movement’s placid lyricism provides a welcome respite from the


Program Notes

tragic quality of its predecessor. The following scherzo defies the typically light and playful nature of this form, and Brahms instead provides a nervous rhythmic drive that drives us once more into a state of anxiousness. The trio bookended by the scherzo material, however, triumphs over this anxiety, as Brahms reworks the theme into an exultant guise. The Finale begins with arguably the very darkest music of the entire sonata, an introduction of a brooding quality, saturating the lowest, murkiest range of the pianos with serpentine chromaticism. From this dark place, the composer launches into an allegro with a vaguely gypsy-like style, bringing the sonata to an exuberant close, though never too far removed from the melancholic. This sonata for two pianos so moved a German princess when she heard it performed, that she presented Brahms with a gift: the manuscript of Mozart’s great G minor 40th Symphony. This symphony, one of only two that the composer wrote in the minor mode, similarly ebbs and flows from dark to light, and tragic and comic. In this way, the princess could not have given Brahms a more appropriate gift. – Patrick Jankowski


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Robert Blocker, Dean


Berman, Frankl, Yang