Friday, February 21, 2020, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 23, 2020, 2:00 p.m.
Bernhard Henrik Crusell
Divertimento in C major
Though Crusell is best known for his contributions to the clarinet literature. he composed some fine works for other woodwind instruments. This Divertimento is essentially a three-movement work compressed into a short time span with all the sections played continuously. Its cheerful opening might lead us to expect a full-scale first movement, but it is cut short. There follows a plaintive slow section. This also resembles the beginning of a larger movement but is likewise broken off. Next some of the opening material returns, leading to a quicker section that serves as a miniature finale.
Ukrainian-born, Australian-based composer Catherine Likhuta received her training in her native country and has become known internationally for her music for winds. Likhuta’s mother suffrered from multiple sclerosis for many years; Lesions, composed in 2017, is a response to this grim situation. The composer says:
Virtually every family has a loved one who is suffering or suffered from an incurable illness. While this is a very heavy subject, I believe it is definitely worth talking about, for two simple reasons:
- To show those who are affected that they are not alone and that there are millions of people in the world who are going through similar struggles;
- To remind those lucky few who have not been affected that we have to keep looking for cures every day.
Lesions is written in four parts that represent four most common stages of dealing with incurable illness: Sadness, Anxiety, Denial and finally Acceptance. The absence of a pause between the last two movements has an extra-musical meaning: though denial and acceptance are antithetical states of mind, many patients find themselves stuck between these two for a long time, sometimes for the rest of their lives. The
new reality is too difficult to accept, yet the symptoms are just as difficult to deny.
The first three sections grow increasingly agitated before the quieter conclusion, which may represent exhaustion as much as resolution.
Quartet for clarinet, horn, cello and snare drum
Martinů wrote chamber music for a number of unusual combinations, but this quartet, composed in Paris in 1924, probably takes the prize for the most unlikely grouping. As one would expect, the two outer movements are both marchlike, with the snare drum playing a leading role—in fact, it opens the quartet with a solo. The middle movement is lyrical and serious in tone, with the snare drum coming in only for a few notes at the climax.
Three Romances, op. 94
The instrumental romance is a composition in moderately slow tempo with a song-like principal section featuring a regular, lyrical melody. There will be one or perhaps two contrasting sections (in the most familiar example, the second movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, there are two), with the main melody returning after each. Schumann composed these romances quickly in December 1849 in Dresden during a burst of creative activity (interrupted only briefly by a revolution in the spring that had forced the Schumanns to leave the city for several weeks). He intended them for oboe and piano, though the first edition allows for performance with violin or clarinet, and flutists in particular have happily performed them. The tempo indications for the first and third romances simply say “not fast;” that for the middle one says “simple, inward-looking.” Each could well apply to all three; all three are fine examples of Schumann in a quiet, introspective mood.
String Sextet no. 2
Brahms found composing chamber music for strings a particular challenge, and most of his efforts never saw the light of day. Seven works survived his merciless self-criticism: two sextets from the early part of his career, three quartets from the middle years, and two quintets from the last phase.
Brahms wrote this sextet in 1864–65, just after completing the piano quintet, op. 34. He had moved to Vienna in 1863—permanently, as it turned out—and both works reflect Brahms’s admiration for the music of the greatest native-born Viennese composer, Franz Schubert. Both works seem to be responding to the latter’s monumental string quintet in C major, though in different ways. While Brahms’s quintet is intense and dramatic, his sextet shows a relaxed and lyrical—somewhat stereotypically “Viennese”—side of him that would be less evident in later years. Besides the echoes of Schubert, which include reminiscences of specific passages in the C major quintet, other portions of the sextet sound like premonitions of the music of Dvořák, whom Brahms would befriend a decade later.
The sextet opens with a gesture of which both Schubert and Dvořák were particularly fond: the opening phrase begins in G major but slips into G minor almost at once, and then just as quietly returns to the major, giving the theme and the entire movement a wistful cast. Here, as throughout the sextet, the first violin and first cello are the most prominent voices in the ensemble. The second movement falls into three parts, all with a folk-dance quality, with a lively major-key middle section between two gentler, more lyrical ones in the minor mode. The third movement is a set of five variations on an exotically flavored (Gypsy or Slavic?) theme in the minor mode, steadily building to a climax and ending with a long slower, section (the final variation and the coda) in the major mode. The finale scurries along merrily; Brahms marks several passages “very softly and lightly.”