Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
Lambert Orkis, piano
The Music Center at Strathmore
Lutoslawski’s Partita began with a slight misunderstanding that nevertheless had a profound impact on the music. Lutoslawski was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra to compose a work for violinist Pinchas Zukerman and pianist Marc Neikrug, and because the commission had come from an orchestra, Lutoslawski assumed that he was to write for violin and orchestra. He conceived a piece for violin and an orchestra that had a large piano part, and only when composition was underway did he learn that the commission was in fact for a chamber piece for only violin and piano. So Lutoslawski had to switch gears: he recast the piece just for violin and piano and completed it in the fall of 1984; Zukerman and Neikrug gave the premiere on January 18, 1985 in St. Paul. For the composer, however, the original orchestral conception remained central to how he thought about this music–he came back to this score in 1988 and made an arrangement for violin and orchestra.
The title partita comes from baroque music, where it denoted a form made up of “parts,” usually a collection of dance movements. Lutoslawski explained his choice of that title by noting: “The word ‘partita,’ as used by Bach to denominate some of his suite-like works, appears here to point out a few allusions to Baroque music, e.g. at the beginning of the first movement, the main theme of the Largo, and the gigue-like Finale.” In the published score, Lutoslawski made another connection to the baroque: “The three major movements follow, rhythmically at least, the tradition of pre-classical (18th century) keyboard music.” Yet these allusions should be understood only as a structuring metaphor–Lutoslawski’s Partita does not sound like baroque music, and its idiom is thoroughly modern.
The work is in three major movements–Allegro giusto, Largo, and Presto–but between these movements come ad libitum interludes, which are improvised by the performers from music written out by Lutoslawski; a climactic sequence in the final movement is also performed ad libitum. Lutoslawski was a first-class pianist, and he also played the violin as a young man, so he knew the instruments well. His writing for violin here emphasizes the lyric side of that instrument: he reminds his performer repeatedly to play cantabile and espressivo. Each of the three principal movements is sectional, with strong contrasts between the different sections within the movements. Lutoslawski writes some of the violin part in the first movement in quarter-tones, and that movement rises to a climax before closing quietly. The composer stresses that in all the ad libitum passages, the violin and piano “are not to be coordinated in any way.” The first ad libitumbuilds to a forceful conclusion and plunges straight into the Largo, where the violin sings above steady quarter-note accompaniment. The dynamic here is forte and the atmosphere fierce, but the composer nevertheless stresses that this is to be played cantabile. The same sectional construction leads to another ad libitum interlude, and the music proceeds into the finale, which Lutoslawski described as “gigue-like.” Bach’s gigue finales were usually in 9/8 or 12/8, and Lutoslawski preserves some of that feel here (his metric marking is a very fast 15/8). Both meter and mood evolve somewhat as this movement proceeds, and Lutoslawski breaks its progress with an ad libitum interval marked fortissimo. Some have felt that this represents the climax of the entire Partita, and with this complete the music rushes to its abrupt close on three sudden strokes.
Program notes by Eric Bromberger
Sonata No. 27 in G Major, K.379
Mozart was called to Vienna in March 1781 along with the rest of Archbishop Colloredo’s party to attend the festivities surrounding the accession of Emperor Joseph II. Relations between the composer and the Archbishop had been strained for some time, and after several stormy scenes in Vienna Mozart was finally given his release “with a kick on my arse . . . by order of our worthy Prince Archbishop.” Before his release, however, Mozart had been required to compose music for a party the archbishop gave in Vienna on April 8. In a letter to his father that day, he described the Sonata in G Major as “a sonata with violin accompaniment for myself, which I composed last night between eleven and twelve (but in order to be able to finish it, I only wrote out the [violin part] and retained my own part in my head).” The way the rest of us stay up an extra hour to pay the bills, Mozart stayed up and dashed off this masterful music.
The Sonata in G Major has an unusual form: it is in only two movements, but the Allegro is preceded by a slow introduction so long that it almost becomes a distinct movement of its own. Given the fact that Mozart wrote the keyboard part for himself, it comes as no surprise that that instrument plays so important a role, even if Mozart played the entire part from memory at the Archbishop’s party. The introduction itself is full of florid writing–rolled chords, turns, grace notes–but the mood changes sharply at the Allegro, which moves into G minor. The keyboard again takes the lead, but this time the theme, motto-like in its shortness, is full of snap, of Beethovenian drive. The second subject of this sonata-form movement is canonic, with fragments tossed between the two instruments. Following a dramatic development, the movement draws to a close on its opening theme.
After the fury of the Allegro, the final movement returns to the serene G Major of the introduction. This a theme-and-variation movement, with a graceful opening melody marked Andantino cantabile followed five variations. At the close of the fifth variation Mozart repeats the theme verbatim and closes with a brief coda. Each variation is in two parts, with the second section generally the more dramatic. Throughout this movement–by turns gentle and brilliant–the keyboard retains its prominence, as if Mozart were keeping himself firmly at center stage, protesting the Archbishop’s strictures on him even as he served them.
Program notes by Eric Bromberger
Fantasie in C Major, D.934
Schubert wrote the Fantasy for Violin and Piano in December 1827, only eleven months before his death at age 31. The music was first performed in public on January 20, 1828, by violinist Joseph Slavik and pianist Karl von Bocklet, one of Schubert’s close friends. That premiere was a failure. The audience is reported to have begun to drift out during the performance, reviewers professed mystification, and the Fantasy was not published until 1850, 22 years after Schubert’s death.
Hearing this lovely music today, it is hard to imagine how anyone could have had trouble with it, for the only thing unusual about the Fantasy is its structure. About 20 minutes long, it falls into four clear sections that are played without pause. Though it seems to have some of the shape of a violin sonata, the movements do not develop in the expected sonata form–that may have been what confused the first audience–and Schubert was quite correct to call this piece a “fantasy,” with that term’s implication of freedom from formal restraint.
Melodic and appealing as the Fantasy may be to hear, it is nevertheless extremely difficult to perform, and it demands players of the greatest skill. The first section, marked Andante molto, opens with shimmering ripples of sound from the piano, and the lovely violin line enters almost unnoticed. Soon, though, it rises to soar high above the accompaniment before brief cadenza-like passages for violin and then piano lead abruptly to the Allegretto. Here the violin has the dance-like opening idea, but the piano immediately picks this up, and quickly the instruments are imitating and answering each other. The violin writing in this section, full of wide skips and string-crossings, is particularly difficult. The third section, marked Andantino, is a set of variations. The piano alone plays the melody, which comes from Schubert’s song Sei mir gegrüsst (“Greetings to Thee”), written in 1821. Some of Schubert’s best-known compositions–the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet and the “Trout” Quintet–also build a movement out of variations on one of the composer’s own songs, and in the Fantasy Schubert offers four variations on Sei mir gegrüsst. These variations grow extremely complex–some have felt that they grow too complex–and once again the music makes great demands on its performers. At the conclusion of the variations, the shimmering music from the beginning returns briefly before the vigorous final section, marked Allegro vivace. Schubert brings the Fantasy to a close with a Presto coda, both instruments straining forward before the violin suddenly flashes upward to strike the concluding high C.
Program notes by Eric Bromberger
Sonata No. 1 in D minor
Saint-Saëns wrote his First Violin Sonata in 1885. At age 50, he was at the height of his powers. In that same year he wrote his Wedding Cake Waltz, and the following year he would write two of his most famous works: the “Organ” Symphony and the Carnival of the Animals. Although Saint-Saëns did not play the violin, he clearly understood the instrument–already he had written three violin concertos and the famous Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; the Havanaise would follow two years later.
The structure of the sonata is unusual. It has four movements, but the first and second are connected, as are the third and fourth, dividing the sonata into two extended parts. Saint-Saëns’ marking for the opening movement–Allegro agitato–is important, for this truly is agitated music. Beneath its quiet surface, the movement feels constantly restless. Its opening theme, a rocking tune for violin, alternates meters, slipping between 6/8 and 9/8; perhaps some of the music’s air of restlessness comes from its failure to settle into a constant meter. The lyric second idea–a long, falling melody for violin–brings some relief, and the dramatic development treats both these themes. While the second movement is marked Adagio, it shares the restless mood of the first. The piano has the quiet main theme, but the music seems to be in continuous motion before coming to a quiet close.
The agreeable Allegretto moderato is the sonata’s scherzo. It dances gracefully, skittering easily between G Major and G minor. At the center section, the violin has a haunting chorale tune over quietly-cascading piano arpeggios; as the movement comes to its close, Saint-Saëns skillfully twines together the chorale and the dancing opening theme and presents them simultaneously. Out of this calm, the concluding Allegro molto suddenly explodes–the violin takes off on the flurry of sixteenth-notes that will propel the finale on its dynamic way. This is by far the most extroverted of the movements, and it holds a number of surprises: a declamatory second theme high in the violin’s register and later a brief reminiscence of the lyric second theme of the opening movement. At the end, Saint-Saëns brings back the rush of sixteenth-notes, and the sonata races to a close so brilliant that one almost expects to see sparks flying through the hall.
Program notes by Eric Bromberger