Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Programme Notes

Sonata n. 31 in A♭, Hob.XVI. 46         Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

i. Allegro moderato, ii. Adagio, iii. Finale: Presto)

Haydn was not himself a great keyboardist (c.f Mozart and Beethoven), but was certainly competent, and composed chiefly at his own little clavichord (an instrument which makes a minute and rapidly fading sound compared with a modern piano, but which is capable of considerably more expression than the harpsichord). His 60 odd keyboard sonatas were mostly written early in his career, and with clavichord or harpsichord in mind (though by 1780 Haydn had a fortepiano). They are nevertheless inventive, carefully wrought pieces in classical form, mostly in 3 movements, with the middle movement in a different (but related) key from the outer movements. Sonata 31 (called a divertimento on the cover) was composed in 1767/8 and is one of the more substantial of this 'middle' period. The outer movements are in A major and thematically related; the middle movement is in D major.

Piano pieces for children: Breeze & Clouds      Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996)

Takemitsu, Japan's best known and best loved composer, wrote some 260 works including 97 film scores. Aged 15 when the war ended, he shunned traditional Japanese style as it "always recalled the bitter memories of war" and he developed his own language which can be seen as bridging Western techniques and Eastern moods. Piano was his favourite instrument (along with guitar and flute). The two short pieces we hear today were written for a piano lesson programme given by the pianist Naoyuki Inoue and shown on national television in 1979.

Miroirs        ————————————      Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)

For 12 years Ravel studied piano and composition at the Paris Conservatoire, but finally left in 1903, having failed to gain a medal in either discipline. He joined a group of like minded artists who called themselves "Hooligans" (Apaches). 'Miroirs', composed in 1904 -1905, followed his first piano masterpieces, 'Jeux d'eau' (1901) and 'Pavane pour une infante défunte' (1902). It comprises 5 sections each dedicated to a fellow Apache and each invoking an image and mood which might be experienced had the dedicatee looked in a mirror.

1. "Night Moths", dedicated to the poet and essayist Léon-Paul Fargue, opens with chromatic pianissimo sound-painting up and down the keyboard.

2. "Sad Birds", dedicated to the pianist Ricardo Viñes who gave the first performance. A lone bird sings its sad song at the beginning. Other birds join in, but the piece ends as it began.

3. "A boat on the Ocean", dedicated to the painter Paul Sordes.

4. "Dawn Song of a Clown", dedicated to M. D. Calvocoressi (music writer and Slavophile of Greek descent). This piece is heavily influenced by Spanish themes, with the introductory chords reminiscent of guitars. (The section of repeated notes is notorious as one of the more difficult passages in the piano repertoire.)

5. "The Valley of Bells", dedicated to Maurice Delage (pianist and composer, and Ravel's first pupil). Numerous bells, and some of Ravel's most striking melodies, can be heard in this piece.


++++++++     Interval of 20 minutes     ++++++++

Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42 — Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943)

On 22 December 1917 Rachmaninov, deprived of his estate, fled St. Petersburg with his wife and two daughters on an open sled, heading for the United States where, from the necessity of earning money, he largely abandoned composition and set himself to carve out a new career as a concert pianist. Opus 42, composed in 1931, was his only composition for solo piano composed after leaving Russia, and represent a drier, less romantic, style (followed in 1934 by his popular Paganini Variations). The theme is not in fact by Corelli but is an old Portuguese melody called "La Folia" used by many composers (including Corelli, Geminiani, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, and many others) as the basis for sets of variations. Rachmaninov's set contains the theme and 20 variations, plus an intermezzo and coda. These can be grouped into three movements: An Allegro/Scherzo section in D minor containing the first 13 variations, an Adagio containing 2 variations (in D major), and a Finale (vars. 16 – 20), again in D minor. Rachmaninov himself never played the whole set; if he thought the audience was flagging, he would skip sections.

Sonata no. 31 in A♭, Opus 110      Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

i Moderato (Cantabile molto espressivo), ii Scherzo (Allegro molto), iii Finale (Allegro ma non troppo)

In 1819 Schlessinger's of Berlin commissioned a set of 3 sonata of which Opus 110 is the second. The opening movement ("in an extremely expressive singing style") has been described as 'orderly', and 'Haydnesque'. (We note, very much in passing, that Beethoven's 31st sonata is in the same key as Haydn's 31st.) After a 4-bar introduction, the cantabile melody sings out over a simple bass line of repetitive semiquavers. Towards its end the 1st movement contains a brief reference to the see-saw theme of the finale's fugue. The Scherzo lives up to the name for it is a cheerful little movement containing two robust (ungenteel) folk songs tunes, repeated after a 'trio' section containing some scary leaps. The deeply moving Finale, a complex but integrated mix of tempi and keys, comprises: recitative, arioso, fugue, arioso, link, inverted fugue, conclusion.        

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