The American Chamber Players Elisabeth Adkins, violin Miles Hoffman, viola Loren Kitt, clarinet Julia Lichten, cello Ann Schein, piano
Wednesday, April 4, 1990 Gartner Auditorium
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Trio in E-flat major, K. 498 ("Kegetstatt") for clarinet, viola, and piano Andante Menuetto Ronda: Allegretto
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971): Suite from L' Histoire du Soldat (1919) for clarinet, violin, and piano Marche du soldat Le violon du soldat Petit concert Tango-valse-rag Danse du diable
Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Quintet in A major, D. 669 ("The Trout") for piano and strings Allegro vivace Andante Scherzo: Presto Andantino (Tema con veriazioni) Finale: Allegro giusto
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
Mozart completed his only trio for viola, clarinet, and piano, K. 498, on August 5, 1786. It is a delightfully cheerful work, following a series of equally vivacious compositions such as the string quartet in E-flat, K. 493; the concerto in E-flat for horn and orchestra, K. 495; a piano, violin, and cello trio in G, K. 496; a suite of duets for two wind instruments; and that crown jewel, The Marriage of Figaro, which had been so successful that the demand for encores impelled the Emperor Joseph II to prohibit repetition of solo arias in stage works and so "prevent the excessive duration of the operas." Riding on this crest, Mozart wrote a number of lighthearted smaller works for close friends. The mixed trio in E-flat, K. 498, was originally written for Anton Stadler, the acclaimed clarinetist in the "actual service" of the emperor and an artist who was to remain a friend and an inspiration for Mozart's late clarinet works, and Franziska von Jacquin, Mozart's talented piano pupil and the sister of his friend Gottfried von Jacquin. Mozart wrote himself into the trio as the violist.
This trio acquired the nickname "Kegelstatt" sometime after its composition. "Kegelstatt" means "skittles alley" or, in more familiar (if not technically accurate) terms, "bowling alley." The story, unsubstantiated in hard fact, is that Mozart composed the work while engaged in a game of skittles or ninepins. Biographers such as John Burke take a conservative, dim view of the likelihood that even Mozart would have been able to produce this little gem in such an environment. However, I would postulate that, if he did not literally compose the work there, Mozart may well have used some of his (probably extensive) skittles-alley experience in composing it elsewhere, and that not only the organization but also the content of the trio have characteristics that make this a plausible theory. Let us imagine and consider...
The trio is set up in three movements: a modified sonata-form andante, a menuetto in B-flat with its trio in G minor; and a rondo, again in E-flat. The rondo, with internal repeats, is by far the longest at 222 measures (not counting the repeats) against the 158 written-out measures (without repeats) of the second movement or the 129 measures of the first. In point of fact, there are no written repeats in the first movement: the exposition ends with a struck suspension; its resolution is followed by a fermata over almost half a bar of rests, ad the development-recapitulation is not given a repeat indication. However, the second movement with repeats as indicated for the minuet and trio yields 398 measures, and the third movement with repeats yields only 268. while this does not reflect actual elapsed time of performance, it does suggest an interesting design: namely, that the second movement has been given the greatest physical or numerical dimension of the work. Furthermore, the trio in the second movement is 117 measures of writing, or 234 with repeats, against the minuet's 41 measures or 82 with repeats. This makes the trio the dominant section in the longest movement.
Is this merely "bar tending?" Let us consider further...
The game of skittles lays out nine wooden "pins" in a diamond shape, thus:
From head on, the arrangement in perspective might look like five, not nine, pins, with the center pin largest. Given this perspective, the relation to the trio's structure of movements (with all repeats taken) has an interesting profile of measures, as matched against the five visible pins:
The content of this section is even more interesting than the fact that the central movement of the structure (that is, the Trio) is outstanding for its minor key orientation. It contains two different occurrences (each five measures long and repeated in context) of a remarkable chromatic passage in the piano. The passage is built on imitative entrances of the trio's curious, tightly-curved motif, moving upward one-half step, downward one step, and returning upward one-half step to the first note. The conclusion of the passage consists of opposite motion between left and right hand, the bass as single note progressions continuing down a fifth then up a fourth while the right retains the general outline the melodic motif. The effect of the intense chromaticism and tightly-controlled motion of the pitches suggests a chain reaction precisely analogous to the scattering motion of the five visible pins once one of them tumbles into another. Against this drama in the piano, the viola (Mozart's part) takes up a long line of triplets that "nudge" the piano's pitches to their final goal in a kind of sonic "body English."
How close to reality is this reading of the "Kegelstaff" trio? Well, we know that Mozart was excellent at billiards, which has the same cause-and-effect reaction in it as skittles, and we know he was a master at working out in music equally complex inter-personal relations (as in the operatic world of Figaro, which preceded this trio by only a few months.) We know, furthermore, that he did incorporate physical gesture into his music: witness the grandiose salute and bow that opens the "Haffner" symphony and the challenge and sword fight in Don Giovanni to mention just two examples. Circumstantially, at least, we may be experiencing yet another example of Mozart's game-loving and theater-oriented mind at work in this trio; one would hesitate to call it a case of beer and skittles.
Igor Stravinsky's life spanned eighty-nine years of some of the most rapid and far-reaching changes in Western history. Born in Russia, he left his country well before the Revolution of 1917 and settled in Paris. Here he experienced the later years of the impressionists; the ascendance of "Les Six" and their whimsical adaptation of the jazz and popular dance idioms of the music halls and cafes of their era; the tremendous literary influence of Cocteau; the theater and ballet traditions, particularly of the transposed Ballet Russe under Diaghilev's guidance; and, of course, World War I and its aftermath. Each of these factors seems to begin to coalesce in his compositions late in the second decade of the century, and particularly in L' Histoire du Soldat (The Tale of the Soldier) of 1918. By this time, Stravinsky's polytonality and Schoenberg's expressionist atonality had been heard (Erwartung and Pierrot Lunaire) and the enormous performance resources for Guerrelieder and Stravinsky's own Le Sacre du Printemps had been sufficiently exploited. With Les Noces (1914-17) Stravinsky's entire direction had turned 180 degrees to much reduced forces, and with L' Histoire he achieved the intimate combination of seven instruments and three vocalists: a speaking narrator and two characters who both act and speak. Here he also simplified his musical language to a kind of eccentric tonality that included the harmonic dissonance and metrical unpredictability of Le Sacre in much more conservative and subtle manner, achieving a kind of neoclassical language.
After the War, Diaghilev was in difficulty and Stravinsky had relocated to Switzerland. There he developed the libretto of L' Histoire with the Swiss writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, who had written the French version of the text of Les Noces. The idea was to create a theater work that need not rely on the massive forces of Diaghilev's troupe but which could be moved and performed on a portable stage. The piece has a principal figure in the Narrator, and the supporting roles are the characters of the Soldier and the Devil, who principally mime action and only occasionally speak.
The story is about a Soldier who, disenchanted with army life, is going home on leave, He rests beside the road and takes his violin out of his knapsack, but, as usual, finds that it keeps slipping out of tune (it didn't cost very much, and he has kept it with him for amusement.). He tunes the violin and begins to play. The Devil, dressed like an old gentleman with a butterfly net in one hand and a book in the other, interrupts him and offers a trade: the Soldier's violin for the book, which has the secret of enormous wealth. The Soldier can't read the secret writing but trades his violin for the book anyway. When the Devil can't get the violin to play for him, he offers the Soldier a three-day feast at his home, where he will exchange knowledge of reading the book for the Soldier's teaching him to play the violin; and after that, he will see that the Soldier reaches his own home village. The Soldier accepts. Unbeknownst to him, however, the "Three-day" feast lasts three years, and when he finally returns to his village his friends don't recognize him, his mother is frightened of him, and his sweetheart has a husband and children. Bitter and ruing his choice, the Soldier finds the Devin and threatens him. But the Devil is now his master; the Soldier can only accumulate money. Even when the Devil hands him his violin to play, the Soldier can't make it sound. In frustration and anger he throws the violin away and destroys the magic book. He leaves his home town realizing that he longs for the "real, true, good things of life." He comes at last to a new country where the royal princess lies ill in bed and the king, her father, has offered her in marriage to whomever will return her to health. The Solider wants to try his luck, but the Devil is also there as a contender. The Soldier outwits him and, by losing all his wealth to the Devil in a card game and tricking the Devil into becoming intoxicated, takes back his violin and confirms his ability to play it by performing a little concert. He heals the princess by playing three miraculous dances. The Devil is held powerless as long as the Soldier doesn't seek more than his present happiness with the princess and his violin. The Soldier, however, becomes nostalgic and greedy and tries to return to his home and his mother, trying to "have it all," so the Devil wins after all.
Stravinsky arranged five characteristic sections of the score into a suite, which has frequently been performed apart from the full drama. The suite's first version of 1918 is scored for the seven instruments of the full work, but Stravinsky's second version, from 1919, is reduced to violin, clarinet, and piano. "The Soldier's March" is the music of the Soldier's homeward journey, and "The Soldier's Violin" is the music he plays to amuse himself on his way. The "Little Concert" occurs when the Soldier regains his violin, and the three dances heal the Princess. The "Devil's Dance" occurs after the princess is healed, when the Soldier's violin music forces the Devil to dance until he falls down exhausted and defeated.
Schubert's "Trout" Quintet was written in the summer of 1819 while he was vacationing at the country dwelling of his cellist friend Sylvester Paumgartner. The quintet's five instruments are unusual in the literature: a violin, viola, cello and double bass, with piano. The cello part was of course for Paumgartner, and the piano part for Schubert himself. Mirroring the five instruments, Schubert wrote five movements, the fourth being a set of variations on his own Lied "Die Forelle" (The Trout), which describes the shining movement of the fish in the stream and the fascination it holds for the intrepid fisherman (perhaps enjoying a day of vacation?), who eventually succeeds in catching his prize. But this Lied turns out to be only one of many delightful melodies in this work!
The first movement is a sonata-allegro with a twenty-five-meausre introduction. The content grows from three themes in Schubert's own remarkable harmonic process. The anomalous double bass is an interesting feature, for it serves simply as harmonic reinforcement (a "bass") through the exposition, but in the development it takes on an active, melodic role.
The melodically-rich second movement is begun by the piano in F, and is contrasted with a viola and cello duet, supported by the remaining instruments, in F-sharp minor. This material is repeated in other keys to extend the movement.
The third movement is a vigorous scherzo with a forceful, unvarying rhythm created by the piano. By contrast, the Trio begins with softer motions in the violin and viola and is answered lyrically by the piano, bass, and cello in sequence.
The variation movement begins with the Lied, presented in strings along. Each of the successive variations features a particular instrument in turn; the fifth variation offers the cello a lovely variant on the theme, graciously acknowledging Schubert's host. An Allegretto coda presents each half of the theme in two sections, first with piano and violin, followed by the strings along. The piano joins in to conclude the movement.
The fifth movement, A Finale marked Allegro gusto, is a hybrid between sonata form and rondo, but its nature is "laid back," festive, and merry. William Mann's remark, quoted by David Johnson in notes for the recording by members of the Budapest String Quartet with Julius Levine and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, is apt: "if Schubert takes the lazy way out, we may remember that he was on holiday, and that the holiday relaxation of the 'Trout' Quintet has always been its most engaging feature, the inspiration of some of Schubert's most generously captivating melodies."