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Chamber Music Festival 2023

This year’s Festival is generously sponsored by
The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation
Norman and Ellen Plummer

Chesapeake Music is grateful for their support.

All program selections are subject to change.

Cultural Crossings

Program Notes for June 9, 2023

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Quartet No. 1 in g minor, K. 478

In 1785, the publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister commissioned Mozart to compose three piano quartets – at the time, a novel musical genre in which a viola augmented the traditional trio of piano, violin, and cello. Hoffmeister intended the commission for amateur musicians. However, audiences found the K. 478 quartet too complex, and they were not accustomed to the dramatic g-minor key, which Mozart later would reserve for his most turbulent musical compositions. Due to poor sales. Hoffmeister cancelled the commission of additional quartets. Today, the K. 478 is considered the first great piano quartet and one of Mozart’s finest compositions.

The quartet is filled with fascinating drama and a sense of opera-like conversations among the instruments. The passionate first movement begins with an assertive main theme played in unison by all. This soon yields to a sparkling exposition but concludes with a turbulent development section and coda. The second movement Andante employs long lyrical phrases and has greater harmonic stability than the first. The finale Rondo is considerably more light-hearted. There is, however, a dramatic middle section in a minor key, recalling the mood of the first movement. But the work concludes with several inventive melodies in a warm and joyous major key.

Paul Wiancko
“Cities of Air” for Flute and String Quartet

The nine-minute “Cities of Air” for Flute and String Quartet was commissioned and premiered in 2021 by New Mexico’s Music from Angel Fire, where Paul Wiancko was Composer-in-Residence and Tara Helen O’Connor and Daniel Phillips are the directors. Wiancko’s music has been described as “vital pieces that avoid the predictable” in which “interlocking melodies swirl and gel, revealing a wealth of colors and textures.” Wiancko, who is both a composer and a chamber concert cellist, has collaborated with artists as diverse as Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, the Kronos Quartet, and Norah Jones and Etta James.

A Washington Post review of Wiancko with the Musicians from Marlboro stated that their performance was “so fresh and full-blooded, so full of earthy vitality and sheer sensual pleasure that it made you happy to be alive.” The same could easily be said of Wiancko’s composition, “Cities of Air.” The piece opens with the flute taking an assertive lead with airy, bird-song like trills, underpinned by the strings. Soon the music turns to ensemble playing, alternating between languid, lyrical passages and bold dialogues among the musicians, all punctuated by pizzicato strings. The piece grows increasingly quiet and ends with a breathy (airy) flute and what sounds like slowly falling raindrops.

Johannes Brahms
String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Opus 36

Brahms was 31 years old when he wrote his second string sextet in 1864/65, during a period when he was particularly productive in the area of chamber music. The work especially exemplifies his masterful skill with counterpoint and a rich string sonority that is almost symphonic.

The first movement in sonata form opens with an exotic-sounding, ghostly murmur in the first viola that persists as a haunting presence throughout the movement, weaving into the lines of the other instruments. The main theme in the first violin, later taken up by the first cello, is appealing and elegant. It is clouded, however, by the recurring ghostly viola figure of the opening, creating a contrasting co-existence of charming but veiled beauty. Reversing the traditional ordering, the second movement is a melancholy, minor-key Scherzo with a contrasting middle Trio section, a boisterous “Hungarian peasant dance” marked “Presto giocoso” (lively, humorous). The third movement Adagio is a set of expressive variations on a principal theme, again displaying Brahms’ contrapuntal mastery. The Sextet concludes with a fourth movement Poco allegro in unhurried perpetual-motion – again displaying an exhilarating contrapuntal tour de force – that alternates with passages of lyricism that radiate with warmth and joy.

Program Notes for June 10, 2023

Franz Joseph Haydn
String Quartet in C Major, Opus 33, No. 3 “The Bird”

Haydn wrote his Opus 33 quartets in 1781, after a ten-year hiatus, and their publication the next year coincided with Mozart’s arrival in Vienna. This coincidence seemingly energized Mozart to return to writing string quartets himself and, in turn, encouraged Haydn to continue to develop the quartet form. The nickname of the third Opus 33 quartet, “The Bird,” comes from the motif of repeated notes interspersed with grace notes – giving the effect of birds chirping – that is introduced by the first violin in the first movement.

After the introduction of the “chirping birds,” the first movement’s development section quiets these bird-calls, creating a mysterious and haunting moment in the quartet. The second Scherzo movement (in reality, a Minuet and Trio) begins quietly in the lower registers with an almost prayer-like mood that is interrupted in the Trio with more “chirping birds” in a duet for the two violins. The third movement introduces a serene melody that is developed as variations that bring back the “chirpy” grace notes of the first movement. The finale Rondo is energetic and tightly wound – a boisterous romp – until the final measures where it seems to dissipate into almost nothing in the pianissimo of the viola.

Johannes Brahms
Piano Trio in c minor, Opus 101

Brahms’ dramatic c-minor Piano Trio is one of his most intense scores – tightly wound, moody, and nervous. Composed in 1886, it combines superb melodic invention with masterful rhythmic complexity. However, despite the sense of disquiet that pervades the entire work, Brahms’ friend, Clara Schumann, wrote of the Trio in her diary: “No other work of Johannes has so entirely transported me; so tender is the flow of the second movement which is wonderfully poetic.”

The opening four-note rising motif in the piano becomes the seed for the first movement’s powerful thematic development. Indeed, the dramatic intensity of this movement never falters, even in the more lyrical second theme. By contrast, the tragic, albeit delicate second movement has a hushed quality with muted strings and a pianissimo dynamic. The serene Andante grazioso movement has a melancholic middle section that amplifies the sense of disquiet that pervades the entire Trio, in large part due to Brahms’ unstable rhythm. The scherzo-like Finale, filled with remarkable melodic invention, remains dark in the c-minor key until, unexpectedly, in the ending coda, the soaring melody of the violin releases the tension as the tonality morphs to the warm C major. The work ends as powerfully as it began.

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 130

The Opus 130 string quartet is unusual in that it has six movements, and tonight’s performance includes the work’s original final movement, the Grosse Fuge. Performed as originally written, this late quartet is a profoundly personal and transcendent masterwork, rich in emotional content, humor, and beauty.

The opening movement begins with a slow, solemn Adagio that alternates with a fast-paced, playful Allegro before the music closes with a ringing fortissimo. The energetic second movement is uncharacteristically brief, a rushing Prestocontrasting more circumspect outer sections with a wild and rustic middle Trio. The third movement exhibits gentle humor (the evocation of a mechanical clock) before ending quickly with a sudden rush of energy. A manic German dance follows, a seeming parody of unsophisticated peasant music. The operatic Cavatina is simple but haunting. Its expressive, but quiet “aria” in the first violin shockingly changes to a “recitative” passage of unsettling anguish marked beklemmt (oppressed, stifled). The Grosse Fuge movement, a double fugue on an immense scale, passes two complex subjects among all the instruments, combining edgy dissonances with complex rhythms. The Opus 130 string quartet, concluding with the Grosse Fuge, is a testament to Beethoven’s genius for musical development and emotional and intellectual invention.

Program Notes for June 11, 2023

Luigi Boccherini
Flute Quintet in B-flat Major, G. 429, Opus 19, No. 5

Boccherini’s six Opus 19 flute quintets were written in 1774 for the royal chamber ensemble of Prince Luis Antonio de Borbón, the youngest son of King Philip V of Spain. The ensemble must have had a talented flutist, as the writing is technically very difficult. Much of Boccherini’s chamber music is “orchestral” in conception (octave doublings and full chords, for example), and the Opus 19, no. 5 quintet is no exception, almost as if this were a flute concerto. However, although the solo flute is emphasized, the writing for the string quartet is fully integrated into the work’s texture.

The two movements of the quintet, Allegro moderato and Presto assai, progress from “fast” to “faster,” concluding with the breathtaking Presto. The solo writing for the flute is highly florid and expressive, and there are moments of explosive drama that seem even more effective when a fortissimo bursts from an otherwise calm moment. The quintet also has surprising harmonic shifts that give to the work a sense of sensuousness, passion, and drama. In all, the music of this quintet for solo flute and string quartet has great charm, vitality, and brilliance.

Béla Bartók
String Quartet No. 6 in d minor, Sz. 114

Bartók wrote his sixth string quartet in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, at a very dark time in both his life and that of his country, and it was the final string quartet that he would write before his death. The quartet was premiered in 1941 in New York City, where Bartók had emigrated. Like his other five string quartets, the d minor is composed in a striking new musical language of rich, modern sonorities.

Each movement of the quartet begins with variations on a slow melody marked Mesto (mournful). In the first three movements, this sorrowful introduction is followed by a more vigorous development: a sonata in the first movement, a pompous, military-style march in the second, and a sarcastic burletta (burlesque) in the third. However, in the fourth movement, the Mesto subject dominates entirely, creating an extended, unresolved lament that unusually closes the quartet with a slow movement. The Mesto theme introduced by the solo viola in the first movement, marked Più mosso, pesante (more agitated, heavy), provides the germ for the remaining movements. In the second movement, it will be developed by the entire quartet, almost as a canon with ever-changing instrumental pairings. The third movement’s marking, Burletta, probably derives from the use of pizzicato effects and “off-kilter” slides which add some humor to the movement.

Antonin Dvořák
Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Opus 81

Dvořák’s expressive and lyrical second piano quintet, written in 1887, exhibits a hallmark of the composer’s mature style: the inclusion of original song and dance melodies in a Czech folk-music style. Considered a masterwork, the second piano quintet is structured in its movements by a series of musical contrasts: major and minor, fast and slow, loud and soft, boisterous and solemn, and folksy and classical.

The cello and piano open the quintet quietly with a poignant, lyrical theme that is followed by a second, more restless subject introduced by the viola. Both themes undergo elaborate transformations before ending with a rousing coda. The Andante second movement is a folk ballad-inspired Dumka, a musical form that embodies thoughtfulness or melancholy. In this movement, a sorrowful piano theme alternates with fast, joyful passages resembling a lively village folk dance. This movement prominently features the viola, the instrument that Dvořák played. The cheerful Scherzo movement is a Furiant, a fiery Bohemian dance. The Allegro finale dazzles with melodic vitality and lively tempos. The opening syncopated rhythm in the piano leads to a fugue-like development of the theme followed by a stately chorale, marked tranquillo, before the movement rushes to an exuberant, although somewhat bittersweet close.

Program Notes for June 15, 2023

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet in F Major, Opus 18, No. 1

Newly arrived in Vienna, Beethoven wrote his first six Opus 18 string quartets in the last two years of the eighteenth century. Although the F-major quartet, written in 1798, was the second quartet that he composed, it was placed first in the Opus 18 set presumably to showcase Beethoven’s impressive craftsmanship in composing energetic and dramatic chamber music. Reportedly, the second movement was inspired by the tomb scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The first movement in sonata form is brisk and energetic. It begins with a six-note figure that remains dominant throughout, shifting and changing through a series of dramatic contrapuntal developments. In all, the movement is full of lively rhythmic and harmonic variations. By contrast, the second movement is dark and emotionally intense, although not without passages of tender reflection, evoking the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. The following Scherzo and Trio movement has a driving pulse with peasant dance-like syncopated rhythms. Beethoven also effectively employs silence in this movement as a delightful surprise. The entertaining Allegro finale displays a rich infusion of counterpoint, including short passages of fugue, requiring the full involvement of each member of the string quartet ensemble.

Felix Mendelssohn
Concert Piece No. 2 in d minor, Opus 114

In 1832-early 1833, the 23-year-old Mendelssohn wrote two concert pieces, scored for clarinet, basset horn, and piano, for his good friend, the virtuoso clarinetist Heinrich Joseph Bärmann and his basset horn-playing son Carl. These witty compositions came about due to something of a culinary-musical exchange: Mendelssohn penned the first concert piece in exchange for his favorite Bavarian dinner of dumplings and strudel prepared by the Bärmanns. The first work’s success soon led to a second, the d-minor Concert Piece, a pleasing work of almost operatic virtuosity, performed tonight in a clarinet, oboe, and piano arrangement.

The work was written in a short, three-movement concertino form: fast-slow-fast. The brief opening Presto movement is both dramatic and lyrical, beginning in an agitated manner but then becoming calmer, including cadenzas and cadenza-like passages for the solo instruments. The second movement has a quieter and more somber mood, with the woodwinds playing together in unison or in imitation of one another with a minimal piano accompaniment consisting of continual broken chords. The Spanish-sounding Allegro finale is a scintillating, technically-challenging, dance-like showpiece, including the evocation of castanets, that concludes with a brilliant cadenza duet for the clarinet and oboe.

Antonin Dvořák
String Quintet No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 97 “American”

Dvořák wrote his “American” String Quintet in 1893 during a summer that he spent in Spillville, Iowa, a village with a large Czech community. In this work, he amplifies the traditional string quartet with a second viola. Already famous for incorporating Bohemian folk melodies in his compositions, here he employs Native American folkloric rhythms and “vocal” lines. In Spillville, Dvořák had witnessed several performances of Native American traditional music and dance by Kickapoo and Algonquin tribesmen. Notable influences from these performances include the use of a five-note (pentatonic) scale, syncopated “drum” rhythms, and unadorned melodic lines.

In the first movement, the second viola begins with an imitation of a human singing. This is followed by the introduction of a Native American drum rhythm. In the powerful coda, the strings all play in unison, spanning three octaves, before the movement ends softly. The Scherzo and Trio movement opens again with the viola imitating drum rhythms followed by a broad, leisurely melody introduced by the viola and passed to the violin. The Larghetto takes two melodies, one wistful and one hopeful, and develops them in five variations. The joyful final movement offers three catchy melodies, the first in a syncopated rhythm and the third returning Dvořák to his Bohemian roots.

Program Notes for June 16, 2023

Walter Rabl
Quartet in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano, Opus 1

The Austrian composer Walter Rabl has only a very few chamber works, including a set of fantasy pieces for piano trio and this Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano. Written in 1896, the quartet was awarded first prize by the Vienna Musicians Association, where Johannes Brahms was the head judge and president. Indeed, Rabl’s unusual inclusion of the clarinet in a piano quartet was undoubtedly influenced by Brahms’ four late works for clarinet. Rabl quit composing at the age of thirty, turning to conducting and vocal coaching.

The opening Allegro in sonata form features two soft and lyrical melodies that are introduced by the clarinet before the movement builds to a dramatic development section, marked Vivo (lively, vigorous), and a cheerful climax. The Adagio second movement is based on a somber funereal theme that undergoes several radical variations, including incorporating the rhythms of a mazurka, a fugue, and a triumphal march. The short and charming third movement is song-like in its simplicity and has faint echoes of Viennese waltzes. The finale, Allegro con brio (fast tempo with spirit), also in sonata form, is harmonically complex with a development section of great energy and intensity that is created by striking changes of rhythm and tempo.

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Trio in c minor, Opus 9, No. 3

Beethoven’s powerful String Trio in c minor is the most energetic and passionate of his three Opus 9 trios written in 1797. As he will in later works, Beethoven especially exploits the key of c minor as a means of expressing intense feeling.

The Allegro first movement is marked by dramatic tension and a sense of urgency. A fiendish first theme is introduced in the dark key of c minor, a key that will predominate in all but the second movement. A contrasting, gentler second theme in a major key follows, first in the violin and then in the viola and cello in succession. Nevertheless, the despair of the first theme prevails. By contrast, the quietly lyrical Adagio second movement is peaceful and resigned, composed in the parallel key of C major, and employing a sequence of intertwining duet variations among the three strings. In the two following movements, Beethoven returns to the energy and passion of the first movement. However, in both, he subtly contrasts the “despair” of the c-minor key with, in the third movement Scherzo, an elegant courtly dance Trio in C major, and in the blustery c-minor Finale, a C-major second theme, surprisingly bringing the trio to a close in the cheerful, easy-going C major.

César Franck
Piano Quintet in f minor, Opus 14

The Belgian-born César Franck spent most of his life in Paris where he composed mostly religious works. His instrumental masterworks date only from the last decades of his life. The magnificent Piano Quintet was written in 1878-79.

Franck’s extremely sensual quintet has two stormy outer movements that suggest yearning tinged with inchoate tragedy. The first movement’s main theme has two motifs, one suggesting despair (voiced by the strings) and one suggesting love (voiced by the piano). This love/despair theme may be the result of Franck’s ardent feelings for his private composition student, Augusta Holmès. In any event, on first hearing, this musical declaration enraged and disgusted Franck’s wife. The fast second theme of the first movement will recur in various guises throughout the remainder of the quintet, providing thematic unity to the composition. The middle movement, more “chamber music” in its intimacy, offers some repose. Nevertheless, its shifts from minor to major emphasize the persistent mood of unfulfilled longing. The quintet’s fiery finale seems, again, unsettled. The strings carry the movement’s first main theme, while the second theme is given to the piano with string accompaniment. The quintet ends with a strikingly abrupt coda in a major key but hardly with a sense of triumph.

Program Notes for June 17, 2023

Franz Joseph Haydn
Quartet in F Major, Opus 74, No. 2 “Apponyi” (arr. Peggy Pearson)

In 1793, Haydn composed the three Opus 74 quartets (as well as the three Opus 71 quartets), which were all dedicated to Count Anton Georg Apponyi. These bold and powerful works have virtuosic writing for all instruments. And unlike his earlier quartets, which were intended for private performances in residential salons, these late quartets were composed in a more “orchestral” manner for a large public concert hall. There is also, perhaps, something of the young Beethoven’s musical style in these late quartets. If so, this is due to the fact that the 21-year-old Beethoven became Haydn’s student at the time these quartets were written.

The dramatic first movement begins with a fanfare-like opening followed by a prolonged pause before the principal theme of leaping octaves commences. The tuneful Andante grazioso second movement is, indeed, “ingratiating,” and is in theme-and-variations form. The melody in the smoothly-flowing third movement Minuet is also graceful and appropriately dance-like, although the middle Trio section, in a minor key, is somewhat darker. The Presto Finale has an infectious rondo theme in two parts, each repeated, with off-beat accents and dynamic contrasts. The second theme – a Balkan-sounding melody – offers a nice contrast before the movement ends with crowd-pleasing virtuosic playing.

Benjamin Britten
String Quartet No. 2 in C Major, Opus 36

The 32-year-old Britten wrote his C-major String Quartet in 1945, as a commission to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of the English composer Henry Purcell, although it also may have been influenced by his experiences visiting German concentration camps. Considered one of the most important string quartets of the twentieth century, this quartet is original and modern and yet highly accessible and emotionally communicative.

The powerful first movement develops three themes, leading to a climax that unites the themes in a richly complex simultaneity. The development is in the form of theme-and-variations, a compositional device that Britten often employed and which will return in the final movement. The second movement (influenced by the music of Shostakovich) has a brisk but muted intensity. The third movement is titled Chacony (chaconne), the Old English word Purcell used in several of his compositions. The movement is again in the theme-and-variations form, typical of the chaconne. The 21 variations are divided into four sections – almost a quartet within a quartet. The first three sections end with solo cadenzas for the cello, viola, and first violin respectively. In a program note for the premier, Britten wrote: “The sections may be said to review the theme from (a) harmonic, (b) rhythmic, (c) melodic, and (d) formal aspects.”

Felix Mendelssohn
String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat Major, Opus 87

Mendelssohn wrote his second string quintet (a viola quintet) in 1845, two years before his premature death. The unusual addition of a second viola to the traditional string quartet was first brought to prominence by Mozart. Others followed, including Dvořák, whose “American” string quintet was performed in an earlier concert at this Festival.

The exuberant Allegro vivace first movement is full of energy and passion, especially in the tremolo playing of the strings. The first violin is featured prominently (as is the case throughout the quintet) against the nearly “string-symphony” sound of the remaining players. The movement’s second theme, by contrast, is a tender legato melody. The almost nocturnal Andante scherzando movement offers a courtly waltz theme with a delightful pizzicato ending. The sober, seemingly funereal Adagio e lento third movement, in a minor key, is poignant without sacrificing intensity. After the solemn anguish of the principal theme, there is a consoling, intimate second theme in a major key, and toward the close of the movement, major and minor will compete for dominance, again with sonorous tremolo strings. In the brief Finale, the principal theme is developed in counterpoint as a rhythmically fast-paced rondo – with a beautiful contrasting theme for the violas – that sails through to the conclusion.

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