From the blog

Notes on our January 5 concert, “Time”

– By James Wilson, CMSCVA Artistic Director

I know, I know….The concept of musical programming around the concept of “time” seems obvious. What is music anyway but the ordering of sounds in time?

But the more I thought of the concept as a way to organize this season’s Society concerts, the more complex it became. As a classical musician, I spend much of my life interpreting and performing historical music, in essence keeping it alive beyond it’s own time. This is a huge responsibility and pleasure, especially in these days when the world so intent on the here-and-now. So in comparison with our concert on January 7, which focuses on the destruction of time, this program serves to highlight the role of musicians as torch bearers and interpreters of the past.

Joseph Haydn’s Symphony number 101, obviously contains this program’s most literal time reference: its tick-tocking slow movement inspired the nickname “The Clock.” The Symphony was arranged by Johann Peter Salomon, a German-born violinist and composer who lived for most of his professional life in London (and coincidentally was born in the same house in Bonn that Beethoven would later be born in). One of Salomon’s most important contributions to history was in his role as a musical impresario. He brought the music of Joseph Haydn and Mozart to the full attention of London audiences, and inspired the creation of many of Haydn’s most wonderful works – the opus 71 and 74 string quartets. the Sinfonia Concertante, and symphonies numbers 93 to 104. Salomon was concertmaster when the 12 “London” symphonies were written and performed and so he have had great insight into Haydn’s musical intentions.

Hearing this piece of music is a journey back in time, not only to the classical world of Haydn’s music, but to a time when most people reveled in the pleasure of live music-making. Salomon’s arrangement of several of Haydn’s symphonies were immensely popular in their day and allowed this wonderful music to be played in smaller rooms without the massed forces of an orchestra. This arrangement was lost for a couple centuries, and rediscovered by the English conductor Christopher Hogwood: we will be playing from his edition dating from 1999, the first printing since 1798.

A look back in time is also provided by the renowned modern Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and his deeply personal arrangement of the “Autumn Song” from the set of piano pieces, The Seasons, by Peter Tchaikovsky. This deeply nostalgic, melancholic piece is a simple setting for one of Tchaikovsky’s most well-known melodies. In arranging the piece for clarinet quintet, Takemistu brings an element of darkness and richness to the piece. Although apparently simple, the arrangement shows the mastery of a modern composer whose music is famous for it’s obsessive detailing in timbre and texture.

A composer from our own time, Roger Zare, provides a significant addition to the chamber music repertoire with his thrilling quintet On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. About this piece, Mr Zare writes:

On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” is titled after Albert Einstein’s famous 1905 paper in which he describes his theory of special relativity. This work was commissioned by Wilhelmina Smith and the Salt Bay Chamberfest in 2012, and all concerts that year were programmed under the theme “time passing.” To connect with the theme, I focused on creating a musical representation of time dilation, a mind-bending effect that happens when two objects are moving at extreme speeds in relation to each other, causing each to observe the other as moving at a slower rate of time. I am fascinated by science and love to write music about my amazement for various scientific concepts, and while I only superficially understand the premises of special relativity, I hope that this piece of music reflects the excitement that I feel while learning about the incredible scientific ideas of Einstein.

The music captures an imaginary journey that begins slowly and approaches relativistic speeds by the end. Beginning ethereally, disparate musical elements gradually coalesce into a jaunty melody. A repeated descending chord figure always occurs at the same rate of time, while the other melodic elements of the music are wildly varying in speeds at the music progresses. I use numerous downwardly bending pitches to mimic the more earthly doppler effect that occurs when a quickly moving object moves away from a listener, and even this concept gets stretched out as the piece progresses. As the overall acceleration reaches a frenetic speed, the instruments begin to pull apart, some speeding away while others become slower and heavier until one final outburst, marked in the music as “hyperspace.”

Onutė Narbutaitė is one of the many fascinating “neo-romantic” contemporary composers from Lithuania, writing music from a wholly original new angle, often spiritual in nature. Narbutaitė also often incorporates references from historical composers. Winter Serenade dates from 1997, and is based on motifs of Schubert’s song Gute Nacht from Winterreise. Formally, this brief trio is constructed from three sections of non-rhythmic slow music that are interrupted by energetic outbursts. Although the composer uses Schubert’s motifs as a jumping off point, she doesn’t rely on recreations of 19th century music, or dramatic contrasts between musics from the past and today. Rather, Schubert’s fragments become the building blocks for her own organic style. A powerful exception to this occurs where the composer uses a literal quote to end the piece – it is amazing how jarring and strange Schubert’s music can sound after such a brief time in Narbutaitė’s fascinating sound world.

One of the delights of any Chamber Music Society concert is the opportunity to discover chamber that is rarely performed. Indeed, the major work on tonight’s program is by Austrian composer Carl Frühling,  another example of a composer whose music was almost lost forever. Frühling was born in Lemberg, Austria (at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now L′viv in the Ukraine). He studied piano and composition at the Gesellschaft für Musikfreunde in Vienna, and worked as an accompanist to such famous performers as Bronislav Huberman, and Pablo de Sarasate. After World War I the rampant inflation in Austria bankrupted him, he spent his final years in poverty, and his music was soon forgotten.

Luckily, some of Frühling’s music has been rediscovered and the Trio in A minor is one his pieces to reenter the concert repertoire. Typical of his style, the trio is romantic in nature, eschewing the modernism found in much of the early 20th century music in radical pre-war Vienna. But Frühling’s music also displays his Slavic/European roots in surprising and delightful ways. The charming second movement, in the form of a Viennese ländler dance, has a contrasting section more typical of Tchaikovsky than Brahms. And then there is the exotic slow movement, with its touches of Orthodox chant, and  perfumed with “orientalism.” The Russian influence reappears in the last movement, a delightful pastiche of dance-like tunes that could form the grand finale to any of Tchikovsky’s ballets.