Friday, February 9, 2024 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 11, 2024 2:00 p.m.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
Flute Quartet in D major
On December 10, 1777, Mozart wrote from Mannheim to his father in Salzburg that a wealthy Dutch admirer named De Jean was offering him a generous commission for five new works for the flute: three “small, easy, short little concertos,” and two quartets. This commission may have led Mozart to write the G major flute concerto, K. 313—though it is scarcely the “small, easy, short little concerto” that seems to have been requested. Identifying the two flute quartets written for this commission is less problematic; they are undoubtedly the one in G major, K. 285a, and the present work in D major, which Mozart completed on Christmas Day.
Mozart bases much of the first movement on the sprightly idea that opens the quartet. The following Adagio is one of Mozart’s very few movements in the key of B minor. It consists only of one beautiful but sombre melody that leads directly into the following movement. The rondo finale returns to the cheerful mood of the first movement; the form is ABACABA. Throughout the work the flute has the greatest share of the musical interest, with plenty of brilliant passagework. One hopes that De Jean paid Mozart well for the piece; he certainly got his money’s worth.
String Trio in B-flat major
Every composer leaves some works unfinished, and some—notably Mozart—have left us an enormous number of promising fragments that have inspired generations of admirers to attempt completions. Schubert, though, is unusual among the major composers in that he abandoned a large number of works after having completed one or more entire movements. We all know the two-movement “Unfinished” symphony in B minor; there is an earlier one in E major with all four movements drafted but only the first orchestrated. The unfinished piano sonatas nearly outnumber the completed ones. Schubert’s most important unfinished chamber works are the splendid string quartet in C minor, D. 703, and this trio in B-flat major. Both consist of a complete first movement and the beginning of a second movement, and both have made their way into the repertory as single-movement works.
This trio dates from September, 1816, when the 19-year-old Schubert was composing a great song nearly every day and writing the beautiful Symphony no. 5 on the side; he had already completed about a dozen string quartets to play with his father and brothers. His sense of musical form, however, was still developing, and this movement has trouble getting started. The charming opening phrase simply repeats itself, and the louder interjection that follows also repeats itself. Another pair of repeated phrases follows, and it is only at the end of the second of these that Schubert breaks the symmetry and starts creating a sense of forward motion. Once underway, the youthful Schubert manages quite capably and shows himself able to develop a short motif at considerable length. The result is a tuneful little piece that is particularly popular with amateur chamber musicians.
La Cheminée du roi René
The title of this piece is not easy to translate: “cheminée” can mean “chimney,” “fireplace,” or any of several related things. Good King René, more formally known as René d’Anjou (1409-1480) was a high-ranking French nobleman who reigned as king of Naples from 1435 until he was ousted in a war in 1442. He spent the rest of his life in his lands in the South of France, finally settling in the city of Aix-en-Provence. He has been commemorated with statues and a postage stamp and is remembered as a great patron of the arts. A number of theatrical works (including Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta) and movies have been set at his court. For a 1940 film titled “Cavalcade d’amour” (available on YouTube), director Raymond Bernard enlisted two composers of the group known as the Six, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger, to provide music, which consisted of short segments rather than a continuous score. Milhaud was particularly happy to be involved in the film because he had been born in Aix-en-Provence and grown up with tales of King René. He later arranged some of his contributions as a set of seven small but colorful pieces for wind quintet, and in this form it has been widely performed. Most of the movements are quite short; the longest and most memorable one is the concluding Madrigal nocturne.
In the 1920s Hindemith composed a series of seven works titled “Kammermusik”—“Chamber Music.” These were mostly concertos with small accompanying forces, but in connection with the first of the series in 1922 he composed this engaging quintet for winds, the “Little Chamber Music.” There are five short movements. A jaunty march and a hesitant waltz (with the flutist switching to piccolo) begin the piece. The central movement is the longest: the main idea is a songful melody, while the middle section is marchlike. The brief fourth movement leads directly into a bouncy finale.
Schoenberg’s most important early composition, composed in three weeks in 1899, is the last in the great series of string sextets composed in the second half of the nineteenth century (the others including two by Brahms and one each by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky), though it is most often played in a string-orchestra version Schoenberg made in 1917. Schoenberg had not completely broken with traditional harmonic practice at this time, although he was stretching the key of D minor to or even beyond its limits in this work. It was inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel: a couple is walking through a cold wood with bright moonlight shining through the bare branches; the woman tells the man that she became pregnant before meeting him, having taken a lover just in order to have a child. After a short time the man assures her that he will accept the child as his own, and the couple walks on together through the bright moonlight.
The piece is a single long movement, each section leading into the next. Due to its subject as well as its technical and harmonic difficulties it was not performed until 1902, and its reception was mixed, though Dehmel loved it. It gradually made its way into the repertory and is now probably Schoenberg’s best-known work.
Born in 1981 into a musical family in Hangzhou, China, Zhou moved to the US when he was 19. Trained at the Curtis Institute (B.M.), the Juilliard School (M.M.), and the University of Southern California (D.M.A.), he studied with some of America’s finest composers, including Jennifer Higdon and Christopher Rouse. He is associate professor of composition at Michigan State University.
One of Zhou’s Curtis contemporaries was flutist Mimi Stillman, who has been an important advocate for his music. Viaje (Spanish for Voyage) was commissioned by Stillman’s Dolce Suono Ensemble with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and premiered at Curtis in 2015. More recently he has composed a four-movement flute concerto that Stillman has performed with orchestras around the country since giving its premiere in 2022.
Zhou says, “Experiencing Spain for the first time and learning about the stories of Spanish legend El Cid inspired me to compose this 9-minute thrill ride. I was particularly drawn to the relationship between El Cid and his two daughters as they went through an innocent childhood, separation, distrust, and finally, reunion. I imagined the flute as the voice of the daughters, and the cello as the voice of their father. A musical dialogue between the two emerges in the middle of the piece, as if recalling a long-overdue conversation between father and daughters. It wasn’t until the piece was finished that I realized that I had unconsciously married my musical roots as a Chinese-American with my new-found love of Spanish music.”
As this description suggests, the piece consists of lively opening and closing sections with a quieter interlude in the middle.
Jennifer Haas, violin
William Polk, violin
Kerri Ryan, viola
Marvin Moon, viola
John Koen, cello
Ohad Bar-David, cello
Olivia Staton, flute
Richard Woodhams, oboe
Samuel Caviezel, clarinet
Mark Gigliotti, bassoon
Jeffrey Lang, French horn