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Sonata a tre No. 4 in G Major    Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)

Cathy Peterson fluteInés Voglar Belgique, violin
Victoria Wolff, celloCraig Hanson, organ

If Leopold had not been Wolfgang’s father, he would still be more than a footnote in Western music history. This bookbinder’s son raised himself to the upper-middle ranks of the Austrian musical establishment through industry and talent. He wrote a widely-used violin method and his compositions were performed throughout German-speaking Europe.

L. Mozart’s interests ranged beyond music to literature and natural science. Upon his death, his friend Dominicus Hagenauer, Abbot of St. Peter’s, Salzburg, noted in his diary:
Leopold Mozart, who died today, was a man of much wit and wisdom, and would have been capable of good services to the state beyond those of music … He was born in Augsburg, spent most of his days in court service here, and yet had the misfortune always to be persecuted and was far less beloved here than in other great places of Europe.
We don’t hear enough of Leopold’s music, I suspect; much of it has been lost. (I, for one, would like to encounter his Sinfonia da caccia, for four horns, shotgun and strings). The present nine-minute sonata is so rarely played that it barely exists on the internet. It probably dates to the 1740s.
You might be wondering: If it’s a Sonata a Tre – a trio sonata – why are there four musicians? In Baroque practice, the cello and continuo (organ, in this case), are treated as a single element.
Tom Strini. Source: Cliff Eisen’s article at Oxford Music Online.

The Voice of Desire (2003): four songs    Judith Weir (b.1954)

Erica Brookhyser, mezzo soprano     Lauren Servias, collaborative pianist
Weir, a celebrated British composer with seven operas to her credit, ranged far and wide for her texts in this 11-minute, four-song cycle for mezzo and piano. She set poems by Robert Bridges (1844-1930), a British poet laureate known as much for his hymn texts as for his poems; a traditional Yoruba hunting poem, translated by Ulli Beier; Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”; and John Keats’ “Sweet Little Red Feet.”
All involve birds and human interactions with them and meditations upon them. In the first song, a man encounters a nightingale and praises its beauty and freedom. Not so fast, says the nightingale; we’re stuck in a dead-end night shift. In the second, the blue cuckoo and red coucal warn passing hunters of impending war. Next, an aging, decrepit thrush sings its beautiful song into a winter gale in a bleak landscape. Finally, an innocent cannot understand why a captured dove, tethered by its little red feet, died and could not live happily under its captor’s loving but clueless care.
Weir’s music is tonal in the way of Benjamin Britten’s, that is, adventurous within traditional harmony. Here, Weir is subtly illustrative. Glittering, twittering high arpeggios erupt from the piano between the exuberant opening lines of the first song. Then, the piano drops and quiets to respect the nightingale’s gloomy reply. The Yoruba song quick-marches ahead in off-kilter meters and violent syncopations, as if soldiers are trooping over a rutted path studded with exposed roots. In the third song, geysers of high arpeggios divide declamatory vocal phrases; the piano is Hardy’s thrush, and the singer its sober observer. In the briefest of finales, the direction to the pianist to play “semplice, leggiero” embodies the naïvete of the captor of Keats’ dove. Weir wrote this song in 2/4 but grouped and placed its eighth notes to suggest 5/8 alternating between 2+3 and 3+2 – a sweet little waltz has gone deeply wrong.
Tom Strini. Libretto and score sources: musicsalesclassical.c

Pie Jesu (1918)    Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)

Erica Brookhyser, soprano     Erin Furbee, violin     Shin-young Kwon, violin
Joël Belgique, viola     Victoria Wolff, cello     Craig Hanson, organ
 In just 24 years of life, Lili Boulanger established herself as one of the greatest musical talents of the 20th century. When she was 2, family friend Francis Poulenc recognized her perfect pitch. She became proficient at piano, violin, cello, harp and organ, and she sang very well.
And she composed, with unique vision, great skill and exquisite taste. She was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, as her accomplishment was undeniable even in a musical culture shot through with sexism.
She suffered from chronic illness all her life and fell fatally ill in her early 20s, most likely from Crohn’s disease (identified then as “intestinal tuberculosis.”) She dictated “Pie Jesu” from her deathbed to her composer sister, Nadia, who went on to become the greatest composition teacher of the 20th century. (Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Elliott Carter, Quincy Jones, Roy Harris and Astor Piazzolla are among the luminaries who made the Paris pilgrimage to her class.)
A profound economy of means distinguishes “Pie Jesu,” as Boulanger packs deep meaning and compositional sophistication into four minutes and relatively few notes. Boulanger evokes early church music at the outset, with a chant-like vocal line loaded with fifths as the organ lays down an undulating passacaglia doubled in thirds. It rises and falls in half-steps from G to C and back down. Meanwhile, the strings fan out in long tones as they track the voice in a vague way, like the wake behind a yacht gliding over a glass-calm sea.
The harmonies gradually grow more complex and Impressionist-dreamy as the harp enters and the strings become more active. The voice remains placid throughout. The singer drops out entirely as the instruments thicken the harmony and build to a highly dissonant climactic chord (A-flat, A, F, F-sharp, C, D, E-flat, widely spaced and doubled).  Then, the passacaglia disappears as we briefly enter a paradise of sustained harmony, gentle singing and a few bars of lilting 6/4. They suggest a heartbreaking memory of a ballroom. The passacaglia returns, but transformed from a relentless driver into a string of cushioned clouds of caressing harmonies, each held for a f
ull measure. As the Amen sounds, we arrive, along with Lili, in a heavenly realm.
Tom Strini. Historical sources: Wikipedia pages for Lili Boulanger and Nadia Boulanger; Classical FM’s page on Lili.

Rising, for flute and string quartet (2010)     Joan Tower (b. 1938)

Cathy Peterson, flute     Erik Peterson, violin     Erin Furbee, violin
Jessica Lambert, viola     Noah Seitz, cello
In her own program note on “Rising,” Joan Tower wrote: I have always been interested in how music can “go up.” It… can have so many variables: slow or fast tempos, accelerating, slowing down, getting louder or softer — with thick or thin surrounding textures going in the same or opposite directions. For me, it is the context and the feel of the action that matter… One can’t, however, just go up. There should be a counteracting action which is either going down or staying the same to provide a tension within the piece.
The main theme in Rising is an ascent motion using different kinds of scales — mostly octatonic or chromatic — and occasionally arpeggios. These upward motions are then put through different filters, packages of time and varying degrees of heat environments which interact with competing static and downward motions.
Tower’s note instructs us well on how to hear this piece. She gives us further clues toward a listening strategy in the opening bars. The flute alone plays D, E-flat and F; then D, E-natural, F and G; next, a seven-note scale rises from G-sharp against grating sustained tones in the violins; the strings become more active as the flute launches an 11-note sequence, again from G-sharp.
Over the next 15 minutes, Tower builds episodes great and small, gentler and boisterous on these four opening cells. (The string writing reminds me of Bartok’s quartets, especially of the nocturnes.) Though Tower’s episodes vary in character, all of them are tense. When she takes them as far as they can go, she typically wipes the slate clean and starts over with one of those opening scales or something recognizably related to them. In this way, she unifies infinite, free-ranging variety.
Tom Strini

Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, K 581         W.A. Mozart


Allegro con variazioni
Abby Raymond, clarinet    Shin-young Kwon, violin    Inés Voglar Belgique, violin Joël Belgique, viola    Victoria Wolff, cello
Mozart first heard the clarinet as a boy of eight, but his love affair with the instrument really blossomed in 1778, when he first used it in an orchestral work.  Although a few earlier composers, notably Jean-Philippe Rameau, had introduced the clarinet sporadically in orchestral compositions, it was Mozart who made the clarinet a fixture
in the symphony orchestra.
1789 was a hard year for Mozart. Read this letter to a friend:
Great God!  I would not wish my worst enemy to be in my present position.
And if you, most beloved friends and brother, forsake me, we are altogether
lost, both my unfortunate and blameless self and my poor sick wife and child.
….Instead of paying my debts, I am asking for more money!  I need not tell you once more that owing to my unfortunate illness, I have been prevented from earning anything.
Yet, life must go on, and Mozart’s work brought him in contact with another Viennese musician named Anton Stadler, the leading clarinetist of his time.  Mozart wrote his clarinet quintet with Stadler in mind; in another letter, he referred to “Stadler’s Quintet.”  The quintet is the acknowledged masterpiece in its genre, unchallenged for a full century until Brahms, in response to his own admiration for a latter-day nonpareil clarinetist named Richard Muhlfeld, wrote a superb clarinet quintet.
Although Mozart gives the clarinet the lead, the parts are so neatly balanced that they seem to meld in perfect symmetry.  When one hears the finished product, it is hard to believe that Mozart actually wrote and threw out a different finale before settling on the
theme and variations that close this work.  Indeed, he left another sizeable fragment that may also be a discard from this quintet.
Mozart finished writing the quintet in September 1789; three months later he and Stadler
participated in its first public performance.  Unfortunately, no one taped it.
Craig B. Leman, for the 2003 Chintimini Chamber Music Festival