Friday, May 1, 2020, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 3, 2020, 2:00 p.m.
Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf
Divertimento in D major
Reversing the usual trajectory of a Viennese composer’s life, Dittersdorf was born in Vienna, where his father worked as a costumer at the court theater, but spent most of his career in the provinces. His symphonies, comic operas, and sacred music were widely performed in the 1760s, 70s, and 80. By 1790, however, tastes were changing, and the last years of his life were spent in obscurity. This divertimento contains clues as to why this happened. Like much of Dittersdorf’s music it is so tuneful and enjoyable it could pass as a work of the teenaged Mozart, but it does not compare in sophistication with the music Haydn and Mozart were writing by 1780. To be remembered as a friend and colleague (and reportedly a quartet partner) of Haydn and Mozart is certainly not the worst fate a composer can suffer, and if Dittersdorf does not reach the heights of those two, he certainly occupies a respectable place in the foothills of Classical music. Like many smaller chamber works from the period, this divertimento begins with a slow(ish) movement followed by a minuet and a quick finale.
Born in Tehran, Behzad Ranjabran came to the U.S. at the age of 19 and has made his career here, primarily as a professor of composition at the Juilliard School. His chamber, orchestral and choral works are widely performed. The Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble premiered his septet Isfahan as part of its 30th anniversary celebration in 2007. Ranjbaran has composed eight concertos for different instruments, including one for each of the four orchestral strings. This Elegy was originally the Adagio cantabile second movement of his 2001 cello concerto, but the composer has arranged it for several other ensembles, including this one, which features the viola. With its rich harmonies and yearning melody, it has a strongly Romantic flavor.
French by birth, Carlos Salzedo graduated from the Paris Conservatory at 16. In 1909 he came to the U.S. as principal harp of the Metropolitan Opera and remained in this country as a performer, teacher and composer. In 1924 he founded the harp department of the Curtis Institute. Besides original compositions, Salzedo made a large number of solo and ensemble arrangements for harp, many for the trio of flute, cello, and harp.
The Sonatine, completed in 1905, is one of the best-known piano works from Ravel’s early years. The name suggests a short work for a pianist of modest accomplishments; it is indeed short, but the florid piano writing renders it much more difficult than a normal sonatina. That and its lush harmonies made it a good choice for transcription. Like many of Ravel’s piano works, the Sonatine refers to dances from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in this case by including a minuet as its second movement. The last movement is based on a theme from the first movement, speeded up and with more brilliant decoration.
Octet in F major
Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, op. 20, of 1799 inspired a number of works by other composers over the next several decades. In the last few seasons we have heard Beethoven’s original work and later pieces in the series by Conradin Kreutzer, Louis Spohr, and Franz Berwald. Schubert’s Octet of 1824, begun in February and finished on March 1, is the best-known of the emulations of Beethoven’s work and in fact is generally regarded as the greater accomplishment. It is more imposing both in scoring (it adds a second violin to the Beethoven combination of clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, violoncello, and double bass) and in length, retaining very nearly the same scheme of movement types and also of keys (though moved one step higher). The Octet has other connections with Beethoven as well. Reportedly it was commissioned by Count Ferdinand Troyer, an official in the household of Beethoven’s pupil and patron Archduke Rudolph; the Count played clarinet in the first performance, which took place in his house. The public premiere in April, 1827, just after Beethoven’s death, was given by an ensemble that included the Schuppanzigh Quartet, the group that premiered the last string quartets of both Beethoven and Schubert. The work did not become widely known until much later, however; the first edition, as Schubert’s op. 166, appeared in the 1850s without the fourth and fifth movements. The octet appeared in complete form only in 1898.
After the Adagio introduction, the main body of the first movement gets underway with a vigorous, ascending march theme played by the whole ensemble in octaves. The next important idea appears first in the clarinet, but Schubert then passes it to the horn, perhaps the least likely member of the ensemble to get a melody (since this piece was written before the invention of valves), showing his ability to make full use of the instrumental colors available to him. The second movement, the most serious section of the Octet, is less ambitious in texture, emphasizing melodies in the clarinet and first violin with the other instruments providing accompaniment and punctuation. Schubert changes Beethoven’s scheme by putting a vigorous scherzo in third place; Beethoven had placed his minuet third and and his scherzo in the fifth position. The fourth movement is a set of variations on a theme from Schubert’s opera Die Freunde von Salamanka (composed in 1815 but not performed in Schubert’s lifetime) that gives the composer another chance to try a wide variety of instrumental colors. The minuet features important melodic solos for all three wind instruments. Like Beethoven, Schubert begins his finale with a mock-solemn minor-key introduction, but the main body of the movement is lighthearted.