The Cleveland Museum of Art The Cleveland Octet Erich Elchhorn, violin Mark Dumm, violin Lisa Boyka, viola Charles Bernard, cello Lawrence Angell, double bass Theodore Johnson, clarinet Ronald Phillips, bassoon Alan DeMattia, French horn
Wednesday, October 21, 1992 Gartner Auditorium
Jean Françaix (1912- ): Octet (1972) Moderato--Allegrissimo Scherzo Andante Mouvement de valse
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Quintet in A major, K. 581 for clarinet and strings Allegro Larghetto Menuetto Allegretto con Variazioni
Dedicated to the memory of James E. Chapman, chairman of The Cleveland Octet's board trustees from 1984-1992
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20 Adagio--Allegro con brio Adagio cantabile Tempo di Menuetto Tema con Variazioni Scherzo: Allegro molto vivace Andante con moto alla Marcia--Presto
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
"Chamber music" is a broad term indicating compositions for an ensemble that might comfortably perform in a room within a residence, rather than in the open or in a large public hall. This typically restricts the number of performers to one per musical part. The transparency of chamber music demands of both composer and performers the utmost understanding of the advantages, quirks, and timbres of the individual instruments, and a sensitivity to delicate nuances of balance quite different from a large ensemble. Furthermore, because each member of the ensemble is exposed to the listener's scrutiny, he or she must function with the security of a virtuoso and as part of a tight-knit team. Each player must fully and uniformly understand the musical content of the work and participate in the interpretation of the music as a single body, in most instances without a conductor to guide the performance.
Given the special possibilities and problems associated with chamber music, composers have approached the genre with several concerns. For many, writing chamber works was a kind of essay, giving practical experience on a small scale prior to embarking on the larger genres, or was a vehicle for experimentation, for exploration of unusual structures or techniques in a controlled environment. The chamber work was often presumed to be a relatively private experience within an intimate space for the performers and the listeners, such a work provided the composer a rather more personal expression, with subtler nuances, than any large ensemble might accommodate. The works on this evening's program reflect in some way each of these concerns.
Jean Françaix began composing at the age of six. His mother's interests were singing and choral music; his father Alfred, a pianist and composer, was Jean's first teacher. He studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he took first prize in piano and later studied composition with Nadia Boulanger.
Françaix is recognized as a virtuoso pianist. He has also contributed a host of compositions to the literature of the twentieth century. Among his numerous chamber works, many understandably include piano. He has also written operas; ballet scores; film scores; songs, cantatas; oratorios; and larger orchestral works including suites, concertos, a double piano concerto, and a concerto gross for wind quintet, string quintet, and orchestra (1976).
Surrounded with the radical changes in music during this century, Françaix works might be expected to have a strong dose of severe dissonance or perhaps at least some exploration of the innovations of his own time. On the contrary, his music is strongly influenced by the whimsy and charm of Poulenc and Satie. His style has been described as gracious, fresh, and spontaneous; not labored; and not preoccupied with structural problems.
Françaix's Octet calls for a string quintet of two violins, viola, cello, and double bass with clarinet, horn, and bassoon. It is dedicated to the Octet of Paris and composed in "venerated memory" of Franz Schubert, who also wrote a stunning wind/string octet.
The first movement begins Moderato, leading to an Allegrissimo. Early on, the lightness of Françaix's texture is evident in the highly imitative, almost canonic entrances of the clarinet and bassoon. The movement continues with a charming melody exchanged between the violin and clarinet; later, all instruments form a more solid texture.
The second movement, a Scherzo with trio, begins with a very open texture, very light on its feet, and features sections where the strings contrast with the woodwinds. The third movement opens Andante and moves quickly to an Adagio for the strings, another Andante for winds, and, finally, a full Adagio with fast wind ruffles against the string quintet. The final movement, a full-sounding waltz, makes more homogeneous use of the ensemble.
Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, is an excellent example of a work that served the composer's private expression rather than as a study piece. Completed in September 1789, it is one of Mozart's "late" works, since the thirty-three-year-old composer died less than two and a half years later; the style of the music is also typical of his last works. He had written twenty-one string quartets and numerous other works for string combinations prior to this quintet, and he would compose two more quartets the following year. He had also used the clarinet extensively in earlier works- notably the Serenade (No. 10) in B-flat, K. 361 (called the "Gran'Partita"), and in the obligato for the Countess's aria "Porgi amor" in his opera Le nozze di Figaro three years earlier, to name just two of the many well-known instances. The clarinet concerto, K. 622, would be completed in early October 1791, only two months before his death, it is the particular blending of the string quartet with the clarinet that marks this work as unique in Mozart's output and in the literature for these instruments.
Mozart wrote the clarinet parts for both the clarinet concerto and quintet for his friend Anton Stadler, who, with his younger brother Johann, had joined the court orchestra in Vienna in 1791. Both brothers also played the bassett horn, the lower-pitched relative of the clarinet which Mozart included in many Masonic works, Die Zauberflöte, and the Requiem. Anton Stadler was renowned for his chalumeau or lower-register playing. To enhance the chalumeau on his own instrument in A, he devised an extension that would permit lower-than-usual chromatic pitches down to low C (concert A). It was for Stadler's modified instrument that Mozart wrote the clarinet quintet and concerto.
Stadler is thought to have been in financial straits; he unfortunately sold the manuscript of the quintet sometime during the early 1790s, before it had been published in its original version. Consequently, when the publisher André brought out the first edition in 1802, the clarinet part took for granted a standard instrument in A without the extension; the lowest pitches of Stadler's modified instrument were accommodated in a higher octave, and their astounding rich sounds were lost altogether. Subsequent performances of the quintet and concerto by a modern clarinet in B-flat would be even further removed from the timbre conceived by Mozart and Stadler.
Mozart lavished considerable attention on his clarinet quintet. There are four movements, and there is an extra trio for the minuet. The first movement, in typical sonata process, opens like a concerto with the larger ensemble introducing thematic information; unlike a concerto, however, there is only one exposition. The clarinet appears as a kind of surprise partner to the string quartet when it supplies the theme in the new key of the exposition. The clarinet hits its stride in the development, displaying its specialty--a long ranged arpeggio--as the musical material prepares to return to the original key.
The second movement is one of the miracles of Mozart's output. The violins are muted, allowing the clarinet dynamic space for a long, quiet, subtly phrased melody. Mozart's ineffable sense of color is evident in the combination of reed and muted strings. The movement is serene, poised, and tinged with melancholy--a true sibling of the clarinet concerto's second movement.
The third movement, a minuet with two trios, begins with the clarinet as a soprano voice of a homophonic unit. The first trio is for strings only, in parallel minor. The second is a lovely Ländler in which the clarinet and violin alternate the melody.
The final movement is a set of six variations on a folk-like theme.
Beethoven's Septet, in E-flat major, Op. 20, might be considered an extended study piece in that it immediately preceded, or even coincided with, his first symphony. When he wrote the septet in 1799-1800, however, Beethoven was no tyro. He had been in Vienna since 1792 and had already finished ten piano sonatas, two (if not fully three) piano concertos (not including an early one that survives only in the piano score), and abundant chamber music for strings and winds in various combinations. The septet, then, had the benefit of his considerable experience. Yet, in spite of its unique number of movements and constituency (an irregular string quartet of violin, viola, cello, and double bass with B-flat clarinet, bassoon, and horn), the work belongs to Beethoven's "early" mindset. It is dedicate to the Empress Maria Theresa--not the memorable Austrian, mother of Joseph II and Leopold II, but rather the Neapolitan wife of Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor, who was Leopold II's son. The style of the septet is a mild-mannered as would befit such a courtly dedicatee, further identifying it as an "early" work.
The first movement opens with a fanfare, Adagio and in triple-meter, which is noble and dignified in gesture. This leads into the main Allegro section, which opens with the theme in the three upper strings. The bass joins when the woodwinds enter to respond to the strings. Brief flashes of independent wind choir pepper the exposition, hinting at possibilities for that portion of the ensemble which become increasingly prominent in the remainder of the movement. Beethoven highlights the cello and bass (doubled in a melodic passage in the recapitulation) and the horn (in a lovely melody in the coda).
The second movement is a graceful Adagio cantabile in the gentle subdominant, A-flat. The first two themes are given by the clarinet and answered by the violin, but when the main theme returns, the roles are reversed. A new section, in the surprise key of C, appears to be a development of the main theme, offered first in the strings. A horn solo contributes to the retranslation to the original key, in which the clarinet brings back the main theme.
The third movement, a minuet with a trio, opens with a famous theme which Beethoven had included in his 1795-6 sonatina in G, published in 1805 as Op. 49, No. 2. The trio contains more "folk" elements--a hunting horn call and a clarinet Ländler.
Beethoven continues with a theme and variations in B-flat, based on the Lower Rheinland folksong "Ach Schiffer, Bieber Schiffer." The typical rounded-binary structure of the theme, with its sectional repeats, allows for interesting contrast among instrumental groupings in the variations. The fourth variation is minor and features a horn countermelody to the violin. The fifth variation, again major, is close to the original theme but goes into an extended coda to end the movement.
The next movement is a Scherzo with a trio, balancing the third-movement minuet but at a much more reckless pace and with minor-key associations. The trio features the cello with a more lyrical theme that the violin finally joins in duet; except for the bassoon doubling the string bass, the winds are silent.
A march-tempo introduction with a noteworthy transition passage in the horn opens the final movement: Beethoven would have been using a natural, valveless horn, which would have had to produce the chromatic pitches by stopping (using the hand in the bell to close off the tubing). Immediately following the horn flourish, the main Allegro begins. It mirrors the first movement's sonata form but is quite merry, in the manner of Haydn. Beethoven inserts some quixotic rhythms and harmonic surprises. Features in the development, particularly, mark this as truly Beethovenesque: octave displacement, chromatic passages, and syncopations abound. A long, written-out violin cadenza prepares us for the recapituatlaiton, which also has its share of surprises to end the work brilliantly.