MEDIA PARTNER

Friday, June 23, 2017

PROGRAM SCHEDULE  •  SUN 18  •  MON 19  •  WED 21  •  FRI 23  •  SUN 25

Sherman Library & Gardens, Central Patio Room, 8 p.m.

Beyond Baroque

This concert was underwritten through
the generous donation of Ike Kempler

David Shostac, flute
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
Timothy Landauer, violoncello
Andrew McIntosh, violin, viola
Lara Wickes, oboe


Giuseppe Cambini (1746–1825)
Quintet in G major, Op. 8, No. 1

Allegro
Rondo: Allegro


Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736–1809)
Trio in F major, Op. 9, No. 3
for strings

Allegro moderato
Menuetto — Trio
Finale: Presto


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Oboe Quartet in F major, K. 370

Allegro
Adagio
Rondeau: Allegro

 

Intermission

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285

Allegro
Adagio
Rondeau


Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Divertimento in B minor, Hob. V:3
for string trio

Adagio
Allegro
Tempo di Minuetto


Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782)
Quintet in D major, Op. 11, No. 6

Allegro
Andantino
Allegro assai

 

 Reception in the Gardens


Only occasionally do we know many details about the lives of Baroque composers. If the composer was successful, his contemporaneous critics, historians and fans wrote about him. If he was obscure, even assiduous research by modern scholars often comes up short. Record-keeping was unreliable across the board, and of course many records, articles and letters have been lost over the centuries.

It is nonetheless somewhat surprising to discover how much of the biography of the much later Giuseppe Maria Cambini, who was very well known in his lifetime, is peppered with large empty stretches and dubious details. Cambini himself turns out to be responsible for some of the misinformation; he falsely claimed to have worked with Manfredi, Boccherini and Nardini, and to have been a personal friend of Haydn. More colorfully, and equally falsely, the notable music critic and theorist François Fétis two generations later spread the inexplicable fiction that Cambini and his betrothed had been kidnapped by Barbary pirates and ransomed by a music-lover.

Whomever Cambini studied with, he learned to compose well enough, targeting the prevailing taste for unchallengingly pleasant music with great success. His music reminds me a wee bit of the child Mozart’s, being formally clear, using melodic conventions effectively, but not displaying any great emotional reach. BACK

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Austrian Johann Georg Albrechtsberger is principally remembered for his writings on music theory and for being one of Beethoven’s composition teachers, schooling him thoroughly in the mastery of strict counterpoint. His abilities in this regard are nicely on display in his string trios, which achieve an admirable and rewarding balance of light thematic material and contrapuntal complexity.

Oddly, three of our composers this evening share a cathedral, St. Stephen’s in Vienna. The young Haydn sang in the boy’s choir there, Mozart’s wedding and memorial service were held there, and Albrechtsberger became the cathedral’s assistant Kapellmeister in 1791, the year Mozart died. BACK

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Having commented above that the young Mozart was wanting in depth, we turn to one of his mature masterpieces, the Oboe Quartet in F major, composed for the virtuoso first oboist of the Munich orchestra when Mozart was 25. (Yes, for Mozart, 25 was mature. And a good thing, too, as he was dead at 35.)

The first movement is winsome and comfortably free-flowing, with a remarkably lovely development section made of new thematic material. The beautiful Adagio feels more like a concerto movement than a quartet, complete with a brief cadenza, and with strings almost exclusively in an accompanying role. Its passionately melancholy character recalls the slow movement of his Sinfonia Concertante composed less than two years earlier. The final movement is a felicitous blending of the quartet and concerto genres, in rondo form.

The Classical rondo typically involves four iterations of the opening material — the “rondo” or “refrain” — with three “episodes” or “digressions” inserted between them. The rondo theme is always in the tonic key, the first episode is generally in the contrasting dominant, the second in the relative minor, and the last in the tonic. Mozart follows this form in almost textbook style; the great fun of the piece lies in his handling of the episodes. The first and last are in fact very similar to each other, but the middle episode goes on a totally unexpected and eccentric excursion into polyrhythmicity. The strings carry on in jaunty 6/8, but the oboe veers off into 4/4! Not only that, but as the music moves more deeply into the minor key, the oboe becomes possessed by a wild subversiveness, a sort of Eastern European, gypsy-like spirit. This bizarre and highly amusing intrusion is over too soon; with a proud flourish, the oboe returns to its proper key and meter, leaving the listeners wondering, “What just happened?” BACK

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Mozart composed three of his four flute quartets in late 1777 and early 1778 during his sojourn in Mannheim. They were written for a talented amateur flutist — a surgeon for the Dutch East India Company — and the project was not pleasant for Mozart. He wrote to his father, “I could, to be sure, scribble off things the whole day long, but a composition of this kind goes out into the world, and naturally I do not want to have cause to be ashamed of my name on the title page. Moreover, you know I am quite powerless to write for an instrument which I cannot bear.” And the patron paid him less than half of the agreedupon commission.

The received wisdom that Mozart disliked the flute rests almost entirely upon this one rant, which, in my opinion, is a somewhat shaky foundation. Because Baroque and Classical flutes were not difficult to learn to play, but were difficult to play in tune, there were hordes of execrable amateur flutists whose performances could well have revolted the young genius and soured his attitude.

Whether Mozart seriously meant what he wrote to his father or not, he was most definitely not powerless; he always wrote very beautifully for the instrument. The Quartet in D major is a veritable exemplar of happy Classicism, perfectly proportioned, possessed of a fine gamut of moods, and with enough virtuosity to keep even the least committed listener completely engaged. BACK

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Out of some 165 string trios Haydn wrote, his Divertimento in B minor is one of only five in a minor key. Indeed, the Classical era could almost be called the “Era of the Triumph of the Major Mode.” Baroque composers also leaned heavily on the major mode, but not to the extent seen later. If the early Baroque era oversaw the transition from several modes to just two, the Classical era perhaps saw the establishment of those two modes, major and minor, as diametrically opposed characters: happy/sad, outgoing/introspective, healthy/disturbed, bright/dark.

Minor-key movements are frequently sandwiched between majorkey outer movements, perhaps as a way of quarantining the more troubled mood safely “inside,” and presenting a more conventionally happy public face at start and finish; both of our Mozart quartets follow this pattern. All three of Haydn’s movements here, however, are in B minor. The first movement is indeed disturbed and dark, a sort of extended operatic wail from the first violin. In fact, this whole trio appears to be about a violin with issues. In the agitated second movement, the violin seems determined to break out of its misery, and succeeds somewhat, but in a manic and not entirely convincing fashion. In the closing Menuetto we see a sadder but wiser violin: the wailing and manic tendencies are still there, but are held in check, and this balance seems to suggest a good-as-it-gets acceptance of the situation. BACK

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Music of J.C. Bach, Johann Sebastian’s youngest son, has been performed at this Festival in previous years, but only in company with Baroque music. When heard alongside music of the more mature Classical style, particularly that of Mozart, it becomes evident what a truly seminal figure Johann Christian was in the development of the Classical style. In fact, Mozart met “John Bach,” as he was known in London, in 1764, when Mozart was only eight years old, and the two struck up a remarkable and durable relationship, characterized by lifelong mutual respect. Mozart’s talented older sister Nannerl wrote, “Herr Johann Christian Bach, music master of the Queen, took Wolfgang between his knees. He would play a few measures; then Wolfgang would continue. In this manner they played entire sonatas. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would swear it was one person playing.”

There is no doubt whatsoever that Mozart’s style was strongly influenced by Johann Christian’s music; the gracefulness, charm and cantabile style we associate with Mozart is abundantly present in the older man’s Quintet in D major. The connection is apparent in the suave and tuneful opening movement, but is remarkable in the profoundly sweet Andantino. The closing movement, though not named as such, is a rondo, with three refrains separated by two episodes, a sort of early version of the form. The refrain is notable for a profusion of thematic elements succeeding one another with irrepressible energy. BACK

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock

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