Program Notes 2024

Our 2024 Season includes five live concerts at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, Maine.

Live at Deertrees July 16

Europe in the 18th century was awash in gifted composers whose names are not household words today – men like François Devienne, who was one of France’s most celebrated flute and bassoon virtuosos, as well as a prolific and popular composer of chamber works and comic operas, and an influential pedagogue. For many years he was a fixture in Parisian orchestras. He first appeared as a soloist in 1782 when he performed his newly composed first Flute Concerto. Two years later he made his debut as a bassoon soloist with his Bassoon Concerto No. l.

Devienne’s output included hundreds of instrumental works, many for winds, but also compositions for a variety of ensembles, plus several flute concertos and a number of bassoon concertos and sonatas. Mozart was a clear influence: Devienne was known as the “Mozart of the flute,” and one of his bassoon concertos was misattributed to Mozart. His 1792 comic opera Les Visitandines (Sisters of the Visitation), which poked fun at religious orders – a popular topic during the anticlerical French Revolution – took Paris by storm and was performed throughout Europe. His accomplishments included an influential and widely-used treatise on flute techniques and performance practices. An admired teacher, in 1795 he was appointed Professor of Flute at the new Paris Conservatoire. His early death in a sanitorium was, according to an obituary, “from a mental derangement which had degenerated into true madness, caused by the various sorrows which he had experienced during the Revolution.”

Devienne’s G Minor Quartet for Bassoon and Strings is the last of a set of three quartets that he wrote for this combination of instruments. Classical in style, it’s an amiable mix of cantabile melody and bassoon bravura. The bassoon opens the sonata-form first movement, Allegro con espressione, with a songful opening theme that is repeated by the violin and followed by increasingly elaborate figurations. While the strings, and especially the violin, play important roles and have their own bravura moments, the bassoon takes the lead much of the time, with the strings providing harmonic support in an engaging collaboration. There’s a darker development section, a recapitulation filled with dazzling bassoon scales and interval leaps, and charm throughout. The bassoon launches the lovely second-movement Adagio with an aria-like melody. This major-key opening section is followed by a minor-key middle section led by the strings and with graceful interchanges among the instruments, after which the bassoon brings back the opening melody, now wrapped in ornamentation. Then it’s on to a good-natured Rondo, with bassoon and strings sometimes trading virtuosic runs and leaps and sometimes playing together, duet-like, before dashing to the end in a whirl of scales.

For irrepressible good cheer, it’s hard to top Francis Poulenc. His musical aesthetic was shaped by Erik Satie’s shocking 1917 ballet Parade, the Surrealistic work that thumbed its nose at the establishment. As Poulenc later described it, “For the first time, the music hall was invading Art with a capital A.” Satie was leading a rebellion that suited Poulenc well. He was one of a group of young composers dubbed Les Six whose goal, Poulenc wrote, was to create music that was “clear, healthy, and robust – music as overtly French in spirit as Stravinsky’s Petrouchka is Russian.” Poulenc set out to capture a French lightness of spirit in works that drew no line between serious music and entertainment.

Poulenc was the quintessential urbane Parisian. As his friend Claude Rostand wrote of him, “He always placed a great value on being regarded as light, charming, frivolous, and flip. He loved risqué jokes and a Rabelaisian way of life. … it was a point of honor for him never to appear serious.” But as Rostand also noted, there was a more troubled side: “Behind this spontaneity, this easy and ironic cutting up, was hidden much inner turmoil….” Perhaps that is what led him back to Catholicism in the 1930s, and to the religious music that he would write in his later years. Through it all, though, he remained true to the cabaret and the dance hall.

Poulenc wrote the Sextet for Piano and Winds as “a homage to the wind instruments which I have loved from the moment I began composing.” It’s an ingeniously constructed work that is filled with jaunty tunes and bouncy intertwining rhythms. It’s not all surface ease and lightness, though. The rapid exchange of short melodic phrases rests on s a complex structure, and there are frequent abrupt shifts in mood, from humor to more weighty emotions.

The Sextet begins with a bang, with loud scales followed by a merry section in which all the instruments exchange catchy phrases. Abruptly the bassoon slows everything down to introduce a moody middle section, featuring a melancholy melody that will recur throughout the Sextet. After this digression, the movement ends with a return to the opening sprightliness. In the Divertissement the pattern is reversed, as sweet and expressive melodies in the outer sections frame a perky interlude. The brash good humor continues in the finale, with its rapid shifts between syncopated jazzy riffs and long-lined lyricism. Suddenly, though, there’s a pause, the bassoon reintroduces the melancholy theme, and Poulenc brings the Sextet to an end with a final dissonant chord. It’s a surprising close to such a carefree work, and it reminds us that there are depths beneath Poulenc’s airiness.

Gabriel Fauré was a musical innovator whose chamber music, piano music, and songs elevated French music to a new level. His music teems with harmonic and melodic innovation, such as the unusual progressions and modally colored harmonics that distinguish his work. After Fauré became head of the Paris Conservatoire in 1905, his strikingly original ideas – carried forward by students such as Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger — had a major impact on musical development in the first half of the 20th century.

All of Fauré’s strengths and the sources of his appeal are on display in his early Piano Quartet in C Minor. Fauré wrote it at a moment of crisis in his life. After a five-year courtship, he had become engaged to Marianne Viardot, the beautiful daughter of a prominent musical family. Marianne soon ended the engagement, perhaps because the family was displeased that Gabriel wanted to write chamber music instead of grand opera. “Perhaps the break was not a bad thing for me,” Fauré would later write. “The Viardot family might have deflected me from my proper path.” This quartet is proof that he took the right path. It is elegant and spirited, featuring rich, melodic lines, supple rhythms, rapid but nuanced modulations, colorful textures, and subtle, often modal harmonies.

The tripartite first movement, Allegro molto moderato, opens vigorously, with strings playing the robust, modal first theme in unison while the piano adds an off-the-beat rhythm. At once the character of this first theme softens, after which a lyrical second theme is introduced by the viola. In a characteristic technique, Fauré modulates these themes in subtle steps, up and down. The first theme provides the material for a gentle, flowing development that ends with a brief stormy passage and a return to the forceful character of the opening. After another transformation, the more delicate character prevails, and the movement appears to waft away. It’s a perfect lead-in to the second-movement Scherzo, a merry, gossamer, very French confection featuring pizzicato chords, an airy, syncopated melody, and shifting meters. In the change-of-pace Trio, muted chords in the strings carry the melody over the piano’s arpeggios.

With the elegiac Adagio, Fauré turns from playful to melancholy – perhaps a reflection of distress over the broken engagement. The movement is built around two rising themes, the first dark and solemn, the second more expansive and contemplative. While it is the second subject, yearning and nostalgic, that is elaborated upon, it is the mood of the darker first theme that begins and ends this emotionally intense movement. Restless piano arpeggios introduce an electric Allegro molto finale. Filled with rapid shifts in rhythm and mood, the movement melds inexhaustible energy with lyrical grace as it rushes to a triumphant conclusion.

Live at Deertrees July 23

The British musicologist Wilfred Mellers described Lukas Foss’s body of work as “a pocket history of American music during the 20th century.” He was referring to Foss’s strikingly eclectic style. In compositions that ranged from folksy evocations of America to neoclassical works to wildly avant-garde pieces, Foss wonderfully reflected the spirit of American music in all its variety and complexity.

Foss’s love affair with America began soon after his arrival in Philadelphia in 1937. A prodigy who with his family had fled Hitler’s Germany, he enrolled at 15 at the Curtis Institute. There he met Leonard Bernstein, who became a lifelong friend, and Aaron Copland, who had a decisive impact: “I had fallen in love with America because of people like Aaron,” he would say. Foss’s enthusiasm for his new country – by the early 1940s he had become a citizen – inspired two early works that brim with Copland-inspired Americana: the award-winning cantata The Prairie, based on a Carl Sandburg poem, and Three American Pieces, a joyful and optimistic work that Foss first wrote for violin and piano and later arranged both for flute and piano and for violin and orchestra.

Folk tunes, ragtime, blues – you can hear strains of all of them in Three American Pieces. From the opening song, the pieces have that open-air quality that Foss said he learned from Copland. Alternating moods, Foss begins “Early Song” with an expansive, lullaby-like melody, shifts to an infectious Allegro that brims with nervous energy and flute pyrotechnics, then repeats the two sections. Near the end he overlaps the contrasting themes from these two parts in a final vibrant romp (shades of Ives?). In “Dedication,” two blues-tinged, soulful outer sections surround a more animated and jazzy middle. “Composer’s Holiday” is an old-fashioned hoedown, packed with flute and piano razzle-dazzle. In 2022 the conductor Joann Falletta led the Buffalo Symphony in a Carnegie Hall tribute to Foss. Of Three American Pieces she said, “How wonderfully strange it is that it’s immigrants that gave us our country’s sound. Foss had no direct connection to the frontier. But there’s a mixture of folk sounds in there, blues, ragtime. I think it’s so delightful — that Americana style, the affection he had.”

Foss went on to have a storied career as a composer, conductor, and pianist. As a composer he tried out serialism, minimalism, electronic music, improvisation. As a conductor he was an energetic programmer of new music. But he never lost his zeal for Americana. Throughout his long life – in works like American Cantata (1976), which included texts by Whitman and Thoreau, and Central Park Reel (1987), which Foss described as “a country fiddle piece” – he continued to compose in the style that Aaron Copland inspired.

In late 19th-century Russia, a country awash with Romantic composers, young Anton Arensky was one of the bright rising stars. The son of a pianist mother who was his first teacher, he had begun composing by the time he was nine. At the St. Petersburg Conservatory he studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov and graduated with high honors in just three years. At the age of 21 he became a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, where he remained for many years, teaching, among many others, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin (Rachmaninoff dedicated an early composition to “my dear professor Anton Stepanovich Arensky”). At the same time, Arensky was pursuing a career as a much-admired composer, conductor, and pianist. He composed steadily – songs, piano pieces, orchestral and chamber works, opera. For years he was one of the luminaries of Moscow’s vibrant musical life. Tchaikovsky had become a friend and a mentor, and his impact on Arensky’s style was great. But Arensky was an alcoholic and a gambler, and his addictions took their toll. Debilitated, he died of tuberculosis at the age of 45.

Arensky’s lyrical gifts and technical adroitness are abundantly apparent in the String Quartet in A Minor, a work that he wrote a few months after Tchaikovsky’s death as a memorial to his friend. The Quartet is unusually scored for two cellos, and the reason for that choice is clear from the opening notes: A muted, somber theme that sounds like a Russian Orthodox psalm is given sonorous depth by the addition of the second cello. The opening mood is tempered by a lyrical second theme, and these two themes are developed throughout a dramatic movement that ranges between tenderness and passion before closing with a return to the funereal opening.

The second movement is Arensky’s direct homage to Tchaikovsky. Taking as his theme the fifth song, “Legend,” from Tchaikovsky’s “16 Songs for Children,” Arensky presents seven wonderfully varied and inventive variations that showcase his distinctive rhythmic and melodic style and his feeling for instrumental color. The variations travel from the simple canon of the first variation, through cantabile melodies, vivacious pizzicatos, tranquil andantinos, driving rhythms, sweeping arpeggios, and a final simple melody before ending with a coda that brings back the Tchaikovsky theme as well as the chant that opens the Quartet.

Like the first movement, the Finale begins with a dirgelike hymn. But this time the mood quickly turns celebratory as Arensky launches into a robust patriotic folksong. If the tune sounds familiar, that’s because Mussorgsky used the same one in Boris Godunov, and Beethoven used it in the second ”Rasumovsky” Quartet. Arensky treats it fugally and ends with an outburst of virtuosity – a satisfying ending to this very Russian, appealingly lyrical work.

After Beethoven, the question for 19th-century Romantic composers was what to do next. For Robert Schumann – whom Charles Rosen called “the most representative musical figure of central European Romanticism” – one answer was to pay homage, which he did in this Piano Quartet.

Schumann composed obsessively, one genre at a time. His pattern was to work in huge bursts of energy until, pushing himself to the point of exhaustion, he collapsed. In his twenties he focused almost exclusively on composing solo works for the piano, producing a body of work that included all the masterpieces that are part of the standard repertoire today. In 1840 he married his great love Clara Wieck, after which – or more likely because of which – he spent the following year writing one masterful song cycle after another. Next, at Clara’s urging, Robert, the master of the miniature, turned to large-scale orchestral works, writing his first symphonies in 1841. In 1842, it was the turn of chamber music. In a way, Clara was again responsible. While she was away on a concert tour, Robert, alone and depressed, passed the time at home studying the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and especially Beethoven, whose work particularly inspired him. Then, in a great creative burst, over the next six months he wrote three string quartets, his famous piano quintet, and this jewel of a piano quartet.

Beethoven’s influence is palpable from the very beginning of the impassioned, rhythmically driven E-Flat major Quartet. Not only is it in the same key as Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 127, but it begins the same way, with a slow, solemn sostenuto that is followed by a lively Allegro whose first theme is derived from the introduction. The slower sostenuto reappears twice in the movement, before the development, and again before the coda. Although the movement is in sonata form, Schumann twice bends the rules, focusing on just the first theme in the development section, and having the cello introduce a new theme in the coda.

While the first part of the nimble Scherzo shows the influence of Schumann’s friend Mendelssohn, the movement’s second trio, with its series of syncopated chords, is pure Schumann. Robert’s gift for song is on full display in the Andante cantabile, whose ardent main melody is played in turn by each of the instruments. The movement ends with a strikingly original coda: the cellist tunes the low string down to B flat, then sustains the tone as a low drone while the other instruments anticipate the opening of the last movement. This ebullient Finale demonstrates Schumann’s skill at contrapuntal writing as he spins out theme after wonderful theme – one fugal, another lyrical, a third recalling the Scherzo. It’s an exhilarating end to a quintessentially Romantic work, rich in grand themes, emotional expressiveness, and surprising developments. Clara Schumann, who played the piano part for the Quartet’s premiere, loved it, referring to it as “this beautiful work, which is so youthful and fresh; as if it were his first.”

Live at Deertrees July 30

(For Flute, Violin, and Keyboard)

If Bach had not met Frederick the Great, one of his greatest masterpieces never would have seen the light of day. In 1747 Bach traveled to Frederick’s Potsdam court to visit his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, a musician employed by the king. Frederick, a flutist, was about to begin the evening’s chamber music performance when Bach arrived. Frederick immediately announced, “Gentlemen, Old Bach is come,” cancelled the performance, and began escorting Bach on a palace tour of his collection of the new forte pianos.

As Bach tried out one instrument after another, Frederick gave him a difficult 21-note theme and asked him to improvise a 3-part fugue. Bach, a master improviser, responded with a dazzling fugue, at which point Frederick asked for a six-part fugue – a close to impossible request, given the awkward nature of Frederick’s theme. Bach demurred, returned home to Leipzig, and set to work. Two months later Frederick received a package containing the Musical Offering, an epic work dedicated to the king that included not just a brilliant six-part fugue on the royal theme, but the original three-part fugue, 10 canons on the theme, and a sublimely beautiful, four-movement Trio Sonata.

James R. Gaines speculates that Bach surely knew Frederick disliked canons, disliked the four-movement, slow-fast church sonata format, and in general disliked the complexities of Bach’s contrapuntal style. So Bach wrote fugues and canons that are monuments to contrapuntal complexity and arcana, then added a Trio Sonata featuring the newer, melodious gallant style that Frederick favored. It’s as if Bach is saying that not only could he write in the modern style, but he could do it better than anyone else. In what was perhaps more sly mischief-making, Bach featured Frederick’s instrument, the flute, but wrote an exceptionally challenging flute part.

Whatever Bach’s motives, the Trio Sonata is filled with melodic and polyphonic riches as Bach agilely melds new style with old. In the melodious, pathos-tinged opening Largo, the flute and violin begin an elegant musical dialogue that continues throughout the Sonata. Bach follows an energetic second-movement Allegro with an Andante that, while structurally simple, is wonderfully atmospheric thanks to its arresting rhythms and striking harmonies. The Sonata ends with a delightful gigue-like Allegro, full of graceful phrases. In each of the movements, an occasional downward scale in half-steps hints at the royal theme; you can hear it, for example, at the start of the last movement. If the canons are music for the intellect, the Trio Sonata has an almost sensual appeal – another indication that, as Christoph Wolff said, Bach “did not just dreamily follow esoteric arts, but was still the brilliant virtuoso musician and the master of all compositional methods.”

Folk music meets jazz in Contrasts. The piece is an infectious example of the way in which Bartók assimilated Eastern European folk melodies, modes, and rhythms into his distinctive musical personality. It also swings.

Bartók was in Switzerland when he received a request from the Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, a good friend. Szigeti, who had emigrated to the United States, had persuaded Benny Goodman – the jazz icon who was a patron of “serious” composers — to commission a work for clarinet, violin, and piano. It was to be in the lassú-friss (slow-fast) format that Bartók had used in an earlier Hungarian-style rhapsody for violin and piano. Szigeti specified: “If possible, the composition should consist of two independent parts…and, of course, we hope that it will also contain brilliant clarinet and violin cadenzas.” Goodman asked that each of the two parts be just a few minutes long – short enough to fit on the two sides of a 78 rpm record. As it turned out, the new work had three parts and ran around 17 minutes. Bartók joined Szigeti and Goodman in Contrasts’ Carnegie Hall premiere. The three also recorded the work in 1940.

Contrasts is aptly named. The very different timbres of the instruments make for a striking contrast, although not a unique one – this particular combination is one that composers from Mozart to Stravinsky have used. The performers themselves came from the two different worlds of classical music and jazz. Contrasting tempos shape the movements, which overflow with contrasting meters, moods, and styles. Stravinsky’s influence can be heard, and so can Gershwin’s.

The first movement (Verbunkos – recruiting dance) is based on a stately 18th-century Hungarian dance performed by uniformed officers to entice young men in villages to join the army. Bartok’s ingratiating verbunkos is introduced by the clarinet after some opening violin pizzicatos — an idea borrowed, according to Szigeti, from the blues movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata. The movement includes a texturally dense second theme. It also includes, as requested, a clarinet cadenza near the end; the violin gets its cadenza in the middle of the last movement. The nocturne-like second movement (Pihenõ – relaxation) is a slow, atmospheric interlude, with a piano part that at times suggests a gamelan. The folk-inspired third movement (Sebes – fast dance) opens with an attention-getter: a second violin, retuned so that the violinist can play diminished fifths on open strings. These intervals — which were considered sinister in western music but found frequently in central European folk music as well as in jazz and blues — set the tone for a bouncy, jazz-inflected movement that includes a rhythmically complex middle section and ends flamboyantly with a raucous series of outbursts from the clarinet.

The riches in Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Quintet are so bountiful that it is hard to know what to focus on first: The ingratiating melodies? The wonderful way in which Mozart blends clarinet and strings? The congeniality of the musical conversation? Or simply the pleasure of savoring a work that leaves one smiling from beginning to end? Written just before Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte, the Quintet offers a wealth of aria-like music, reflects Mozart’s genius for drama, and is distinguished by the emotional range that marks his last works.

Mozart wrote the Quintet for his friend and fellow Freemason, the clarinetist Anton Stadler. Stadler may have been a less than admirable character – he allegedly borrowed money that he never repaid, and Mozart’s sister-in-law described him as one of the composer’s “false friends, secret bloodsuckers, and worthless persons.” However, he was a brilliant clarinetist. As one critic wrote of his playing, “One would never have thought that a clarinet could imitate the human voice to such perfection.” Stadler experimented with extending the clarinet’s range, inventing an instrument that added four low notes. This instrument, the basset clarinet, is thought to be the one for which Mozart originally wrote his Quintet, although Mozart’s manuscript for the Quintet has disappeared. Stadler gave the Quintet’s first performance, with Mozart playing the viola, in December 1789, at a benefit in Vienna for the widows and children of musicians.

The Clarinet Quintet’s superb first movement, with one genial theme after another, sets the tone for the entire work. The strings introduce each of three themes, with the clarinet responding in a different way each time: it adds embellishments to the first theme, repeats the second theme in a minor key, and completes the strings’ statement of the third theme. In the relatively short development section, all the instruments pass arpeggios back and forth, creating rich sonorities. The clarinet comes to the fore as a singing instrument in the spacious Larghetto, a long cantilena played over muted strings. All the instruments get their turn in the Menuetto – the strings in the minor-key first trio, the clarinet in the second, a ländler-like peasant dance. The expansive last movement – a theme and five variations – features a satisfying variety of moods and textures, beginning with the first variation, where the clarinet plays in counterpoint to the strings’ restatement of the theme. The second variation focuses on rhythm. In the third, in A Minor, the viola takes the lead. The clarinet gets a virtuoso turn in the fourth variation, after which the music slows to a lyrical Adagio for the final variation. Then it’s back to Allegro for a lively coda that brings the Quintet to its cheerful end.

Live at Deertrees August 6

Today’s program features two late-Schubert favorites plus an intriguing 20th-century homage to his work.

While Classical music was heard mainly in the homes of the aristocracy, by Schubert’s time music was being taken up by the bourgeoisie. Middle-class families often included members who played instruments, households frequently had a piano, and domestic musical evenings flourished. Schubert’s amiable band of friends – they called themselves the Schubertians – gathered frequently to hear his music, in evening get-togethers that became known as Schubertiads. Of course there were songs for these evenings, often with Schubert singing (his friends described his voice as “weak but very agreeable”). There were also many solo works for the piano, including marches and duets for four hands. In May 1828, Schubert and the composer Franz Lachner performed the composition that one critic called the “crowning glory” of Schubert’s piano duets: The Fantasie in F Minor.

The intense and emotional Fantasie opens with a memorable melody, ends with a massive fugue, and is marked by dynamic contrasts and moods that range from soulful to fierce. Throughout, it is distinguished by Schubert’s melodic genius and mastery of modulation. The fantasie (or fantasy) genre had its own distinctive format. Unlike sonatas or symphonies, which were divided into discreet sections, the fantasy was written in a single continuous stretch, with sonata-like components that were linked by a common thread. The F Minor Fantasie follows a sonata pattern, with four sections: an opening allegro, a slow movement, a scherzo, and a closing fugue. The connecting thread is the song-like opening melody, which returns several times.

The Fantasie opens simply, with a wistful melody played over a broken-chord accompaniment. The key soon shifts from minor to major – the first of Schubert’s many ingenious modulations – before a sterner second theme is introduced; you’ll hear this melody again in the fugue. The movement ends quietly when the opening melody returns and then leads without pause into a stormy Largo. Again there are dramatic mood shifts, with the stern, chordal opening theme, with its jagged rhythm, briefly interrupted by a carefree, major-key, flowing melody. Schubert builds tension with the Largo and then abruptly releases it with the arrival of a spirited scherzo, which has a charming trio in the middle in the unexpected kay of D Major. Here, as in the rest of the Fantasie, the deftness with which Schubert modulates from key to unexpected key is striking. The opening melody returns once more as the bridge to the Fantasie’s most complex movement: a fugue built from the opening section’s second subject. There is an enormous contrapuntal climax, a pause, and then the exhausted return of the melody that first set the Fantasie in motion. The work ends stunningly with a final bleak cadence.

Schubert died on November 19, 1828. In this ingenious homage, John Harbison – the eminent and prolific American composer of everything from jazz to symphonies to opera – imagines him on a musical journey into the afterlife on the day of his death. Harbison incorporates elements of Schubert’s style throughout the four-movement work, including, in the third movement, a direct quotation from one of Schubert’s compositions. What is striking is how seamlessly Schubert’s harmonies blend with Harbison’s dissonances. In Harbison’s words, “The piece asserts Schubert’s relevance to our present rather than any nostalgia for the past.”

Throughout the work, Harbison imagines Schubert listening to sounds that are both familiar and strange. The first movement – “Introduction: Schubert crosses into the next world” – begins with a fanfare from the strings, described by Harbison as “the trumpet of death,” heard three times. Harbison’s note for this movement perfectly captures the flavor of the entire piece: “Schubert begins his journey haunted by sounds which are not his music, but pertain to his music in disturbing ways.” In the second movement – “Suite: Schubert finds himself in a hall of mirrors” – Harbison continues to lead Schubert into unfamiliar territory. Harbison presents five character sketches: Theme, Écossaise, Moment Musicale, Impromptu, and Valse. Then he treats this very Schubertian concept “in a manner previously unknown to Schubert – everything is played back immediately upside down.”

The third movement – “Rondo: Schubert recalls a rondo fragment” – begins with an unfinished Schubert Allegretto from 1816. As Harbison notes, “Emblematic of a storehouse of ideas which are still to be explored, perhaps even in future times, the short fragment which begins this Rondo is the only one in this piece composed by Schubert in his first life.” Straightforward in its first appearance, the fragment is repeated two more times, each time more extensively altered by Harbison. In between these recurrences are three harmonic and rhythmic transformations that take the rondo into territory Schubert only could have dreamed of.

Harbison’s inspiration for the last-movement – “Fugue: Schubert continues the fugue subject (S-C-H-U-B-E-R-T) that Sechter assigned him” – is intriguing. As he describes it, “Shortly before his death, Schubert went to the theorist Sechter to work on a very specific problem pertaining to the tonal answer of the fugue subject, important to Schubert in the composition of his masses. Sechter, well aware that he was teaching the most extraordinary student who ever came for a lesson, concluded by assigning Schubert a fugue subject on his own name. Schubert was unable to undertake the task; he died about a week later, on November 19, 1828.” So Harbison completes the assignment for him, with not one but two fugues. It’s a fitting ending to this imaginative appreciation.

Benjamin Britten called the last year and a half of Schubert’s life arguably “the richest and most productive eighteen months in our music history.” Despite being in the painful final throes of the disease that soon would kill him, during this period Schubert wrote some of his sunniest works, including his great B Flat Major Piano Trio. It is one of his most radiant compositions, overflowing with the rich harmonies, ingratiating melodies, and rhythmic inventiveness that make Schubert’s work instantly recognizable. Schumann later said of it, “One glance at Schubert’s Trio and all the troubles of our human existence disappear, and all the world is fresh and bright again.” Yet during his lifetime it was performed only once, privately, at the apartment of a friend who was celebrating his recent engagement.

The first movement, Allegro moderato, opens warmly and convivially, with an airy first theme introduced by the strings playing in unison. After the piano joins in and this first theme is expanded, the cello sings out a lovely, lyrical second theme. A typically leisurely development section ends with a striking example of Schubert’s adventurous harmonies: In a surprising modulation, he begins the apparent recapitulation with the violin playing not in the expected key of B-Flat Major, but in the unexpected key of G-Flat Major. After a few more false starts, the music winds its way back to a proper recapitulation in the opening key.

Schubert’s melodies don’t get any more beguiling than the one with which the cello begins the Andante second movement. The violin and the cello trade this melody back and forth before the piano introduces a second theme at the start of a more agitated middle section, after which the three instruments recapture the enchantment of the opening with restatements of the first melody. Like the second movement, the playful, contrapuntal third is vintage Schubert, a witty Scherzo built on two of Vienna’s most popular dances, the ländler and the waltz. Schubert called the Finale a rondo, but it is really a hybrid that mixes rondo with sonata form. Instead of the theme being repeated between contrasting episodes, it is “put through a variety of hoops,” as Brian Newbould puts it – including a wonderful moment at the start of the development section when Schubert shifts from 2/4 time to a three-beat bar, a metrical joke that he repeats in the exuberant coda.

Alfred Einstein pointed out that the opening theme of the Finale recalls an earlier Schubert song, “Skolie,” which includes the verse, “Let us, in the bright May morning, take delight in the brief life of the flower, before its fragrance disappears.” It is a fitting sentiment for a work so filled with delights.

Live at Deertrees August 13

(For Flute and String Quartet)

The Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s musical journey took him from the folk music of Argentina’s mountains and plains to the innovations of the 20tth-century avant garde. Like Bartok in Hungary, Ginastera was inspired by his country’s folk traditions and was devoted to capturing Argentina’s folk heritage in his music. Like Bartok, too, increasingly in his compositions he combined folk elements with modernist techniques.

For years Ginastera was an important figure in Argentina’s musical life. By the time he was in his teens, his compositions had started winning him national attention. Two early ballets helped him find a nationalist voice: Panambi (1937), which celebrated Argentina’s Indianist folklore tradition, and Estancia (1941), which celebrated gaucho life on the pampas, with the landscape itself as the focus. In 1941 he traveled to the United States to study with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood, where he and Copland became close friends. Returning to Argentina, he became an influential music educator, heading a conservatory and devising courses of study for budding composers. Tensions with the government – at one point he refused to name his conservatory after Eva Peron – led him eventually to move permanently to Geneva.

Ginastera’s earlist compositions featured a straightforward, tonal approach to Argentinian folk material. By the late 1940s his works were becoming increasingly abstract and dissonant as he moved from tonality to the use of 12-tone techniques, polytonality, serialism, and more. Toward the end of his life, though, he had begun to return to his passion for capturing Argentina’s folk heritage in his music. As he said in an interview, “At the moment I am evolving…. This change is taking the form of a kind of reversion, a going back to the primitive America of the Mayas, Aztecs and the Incas.”

That is the world of one of Ginastera’s first published compositions, Impresiones de la Puna, written when he was 18. In three atmospheric and Impressionistic short pieces, Ginastera draws on the melodies, songs, and dances of the ancient Indian world to evoke the spirit of life on the Puna, the cold, treeless high Andes plateau that was the heart of the Inca empire. The quena was the traditional flute of the Andes and takes center stage in the first piece, “Quena.” The string quartet provides harmonic support for the lonely flutist, who sings a melancholy song in a cadenza that sounds improvisatory. With its slow tempos and sad melody, “Quena” captures the barrenness and solitude of the Puna. “Canción” (“song”), which draws from traditional melodic styles, is languorous and wistful, while “Danza” is animated and alive with Argentinian dance rhythms. With its playful flute, pizzicato strings, and offbeat rhythms, “Danza” adds a festive spirit to these vivid impressions of the Puna world.

In 1795 Beethoven introduced himself as a composer to the Viennese musical world with his Opus 1 Piano Trios. In the years that followed, he consolidated his reputation with performances and compositions in Vienna and elsewhere that won him the applause, good will, and financial support of the music-loving aristocracy. In 1796 he wrote to his brother from Prague, “I am well, very well. My art is winning me friends and respect, and what more do I want? And this time I shall make a good deal of money.”

During these years in which he was promoting himself publicly, he was also hard at work mastering the Viennese Classical style in all its major chamber-music forms. Over the next few years he wrote many piano sonatas, sonatas for cello and piano and violin and piano, string trios, and works for winds. For popular consumption he also wrote easy piano variations, dances, arias, even a sonatina for mandolin and piano. For the most part Beethoven was sticking to the Classical norms established by Haydn and Mozart, honing his skills while writing music that didn’t ruffle the feathers of conservative Vienna. Slowly but surely, though, his own musical personality was emerging.

Although Beethoven already had written a few string trios – a six-movement divertimento modeled after Mozart’s K. 563, and a six-movement serenade — the three Opus 9 Trios were his first and only string trios in the traditional four-movement sonata format. The first of the three is a delight from beginning to end, a witty and buoyant work distinguished by elegant interplay among the three instruments, and by rich and varied harmonies throughout. The Trio opens with a graceful Adagio introduction that teases about where it’s headed before it segues into a spirited Allegro con brio marked by deft conversational and rhythmic exchanges. Among its charms are a second theme in an unexpected minor key, a development section rich with key changes, and a harmonically surprising coda.

The second-movement, Adagio ma non tanto e cantabile, opens with an even bigger surprise: The Adagio is in the harmonically remote key of E Major, a feature that would have disconcerted Viennese audiences who expected to listen to works with predictable key relationships. The violin takes the lead in this wonderfully expressive movement that shifts moodily back and forth between major and minor. The light-hearted Scherzo that follows paves the way for a bravura sonata-form Presto, with Beethoven throwing caution to the wind as violin, viola, and cello giddily chase one another up and down scales and arpeggios. A recurring, more spacious minor-key second theme gives the music some breathing room before it picks up speed and hurtles to its breathless conclusion.

Like his friend Brahms, Dvorák was a Romantic composer who grounded his work within the Classical tradition while introducing innovation and originality into the Classical form. Like his fellow Bohemian composer Smetana, whose folk-inspired music he greatly admired, Dvorák filled his compositions with the melodic sounds and the rhythms of Czech nationalism.

By 1889, the year he wrote the Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, his music was being performed and admired throughout Europe. It had been 14 years since he had written his first piano quartet, and for several years his German publisher, Simrock, had been urging him to write another. Finally, in August 1889, Dvorák set to work. He wrote quickly, telling a friend, “I’ve now already finished three movements of a new piano quartet, and the finale will be ready in a few days. It’s going unexpectedly easily and melodies are coming to me in droves, Thanks be to God!” In addition to its wonderful surge of melodies, the work Dvorák so easily produced is structurally masterful, harmonically exotic, and brimming with high spirits
The first movement, marked Allegro con fuoco, is dramatic from its opening measures. The strings begin somberly, in unison; the piano responds in a lighter mood, as if unwilling to take the strings too seriously, and eventually coaxes them into a buoyant restatement of the first theme. These contrasting moods, plus the addition of a tender second theme introduced by the viola, lay the ground for a fiery development section. Working within the Classical framework of development and recapitulation, Dvorak builds a movement rich in harmonic and emotional contrasts.

The second movement, a melodically fertile, tightly structured Lento, begins with the cello singing a soulful melody. The solo line passes to the violin, which introduces a second, tranquil theme. The piano takes over with an ardent melody, then all join together in a brief, passionate outburst. The piano restores calm with a return to the mood of the opening, after which the entire pattern of five themes is repeated. An entirely different feeling pervades the lilting third movement – the section of the quartet with the most specifically Bohemian references. It begins with a waltz-like peasant dance, then introduces a theme that sounds Middle Eastern, with the piano at one point mimicking a cimbalom, or hammered dulcimer, a popular folk instrument. The tempo increases in the movement’s middle section, providing a spirited contrast to the opening section and its repeat. In the virtuosic Finale, Dvorák returns to the intensity of the opening Allegro, in a robustly brilliant movement distinguished by themes that range from vivacious to lyrical, adventurous modulations, graceful interactions among the four instruments, and an exuberant conclusion.

Deertrees Theatre Audience

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival