Program Notes

 

 

PROGRAM NOTES

 

Flow and Composition for solo piano is inspired by Asian calligraphy and is constructed of varied shapes of sonified dots, strokes, and lines, which are fundamental patterns in this historic visual genre. The piece begins with several ‘dots,’ which are rolled chords (in and out): a dot in Asian calligraphy is never an actual dot but a dot-stroke which has attack, short stroke (body), and ending.  Sparsely placed dots create spaces with energy/tension from which the musical drama can grow naturally. Both the shape of dot-strokes and the concept of creating flow by placing objects/events correspond to the idea of employing the natural flow of energy, (pronounced as ‘shí’ in Chinese; written as and pronounced as ‘seh’ in Korean). It is one of the prominent virtues in ancient Asian culture (music, visual arts, literature, politics, war strategies, and so on) and is still pervasive in modern (South) Korea.

In the first half of the piece, lines are more fluid/curvy as they are in the form of trills that also become tremolos and bisbiglandos (rapid repetitions of notes in a given set), reflecting changes of thickness of lines, another essence of Asian calligraphy. In the second half, the lines become ‘dashed’ in that they are primarily comprised of repetition of notes (or ‘dots’ as in Ben Day dots, the hallmark of American visual artists Roy Lichtenstein), again, with varied thickness.  Wavy or dashed, many lines in this piece display the basic envelope of lines in Asian calligraphy: beginning AND ending with accents.  (Korean sentences, similarly, when spoken, often begin with accents due to the lack of articles in the language, and end with relatively stronger syllables.)  Various elements interwoven in this piece would, hopefully, effortlessly convey a convincing drama or flow, with occasional plot twists.

Embracing the Asian visual art form of calligraphy and the concept of shí/seh, with which I feel almost innately familiar, is my attempt to identify elements of my identity – an opportunity for which I stay immensely thankful.  This ten-minute piece is commissioned by and dedicated to pianist Soyeon Kate Lee, who premièred this piece at the Bachauer Concert series on October 8th, 2021.

 

Trio for violin, cello, and piano (2021)            Mathew Fuerst (b. 1977)

World Première

The Trio for violin, cello, and piano was commissioned by Hyeyung Yoon and Gregory Beaver in 2019. The composition of the trio had many starts and stops between 2019 and 2021. A combination of creative uncertainty along with anxiety caused by the politics in the country and then the beginning of the pandemic led to the completion of this work to be delayed.

For many years, I have been interested in writing chaconnes and experimenting with how I can use the repeated chord progression in ways that go beyond the traditional approach. I often will modulate to various tonal centers in my chaconnes (not something traditionally done), and the new tonics will reflect the root of the chaconne progression. In other words, the chaconne progression is expressed both in the moment to moment chordal changes as well as the larger scale structure. For the trio, I wanted to experiment further with chaconne variations. In an earlier work, Broken Cycles for percussion and piano, I started with one harmony, and added to that in each variation so that towards the end the listener finally hears the entire chaconne progression. The first movement, “Disappearing Chaconne”, is essentially the opposite of that. It is a very long chaconne in which one chord is eliminated with each variation until only one harmony is left, after which is one last statement of the entire progression at a faster tempo before the music evaporates.

The second movement, “Nocturne, Variations, Coda”, takes a bit of formal inspiration from Saint-Saëns, particularly in works like the Symphony No. 3 and the Piano Concerto No. 4 where he combines two movements into one continuous movement. The musical material is mainly derived from Hyeyung’s, Greg’s, and their children’s names. The majority of the pitch material was generated using a “French” method (purely diatonic) of spelling of the children’s names in a method similar to what Ravel used in Minuet sur le nom d’Haydn. The secondary musical idea, first introduced in the piano, is all that remains from the original four movement version of the trio. The rhythmic material was generated from the Morse code rhythms of Hyeyung’s and Greg’s names. This decision was influenced by pieces that also use Morse code to generate rhythmic material: Greg’s own music and Boulez’s Messagesquisse. The movement starts slowly and gently, and progressively gets more energetic before ending quietly again.

The work lasts approximately 15 minutes.

 

Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1846)           Felix Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn completed his second Trio for piano and strings in 1845, and sent it to his publisher early in 1846. He dedicated the work to his close friend and mentor Ludwig Spohr (one of the most respected, in his time, and today most neglected instrumental composers of the 19th century.) The C minor trio was one of the last works Mendelssohn saw through to publication, completed amidst a grueling schedule of travel, performances, composing, and development of new projects. Like his revered predecessors Mozart and Schubert – to both of whom Mendelssohn was frequently compared – Mendelssohn, whose career ended tragically at only thirty-eight, did not have the luxury of cultivating a late-period style. Nevertheless, in this late chamber work can be heard a resumé of compositional strategies, and even evocations of earlier compositions, that characterize the Mendelssohn style, from his teen-age years to his final works.

The opening movement begins with a repetitive and stormy theme in the piano, accompanied by a pedal point in the strings. This writer was immediately reminded of the opening of the concert overture‚ The Hebrides, (subtitled Fingal’s Cave), a depiction of the wild Atlantic coast of western Scotland. In that work, the pedal point is heard in the high winds; here, in the lowest string range, but the sense of loneliness and wildness remains. And as in the Overture, the stormy first theme is followed by one of serene lyricism in the relative major key; here, in E-flat. Both Trio and Overture follow a similar and clear path in sonata-allegro form, with development focusing on both themes, and recapitulation with the lyrical second theme in the parallel major key of C major.

Movement Two similarly evokes the style one of the composer‚ most beloved instrumental genres, his Songs without Words. The song‚ in this case, is a beautiful lullaby, whose first phrase is given to the solo piano, then to the strings accompanied by the lilting figure in the piano. Later, following a more anguished middle section, the opening melody returns exquisitely orchestrated for all three instruments.

Anyone familiar with the scherzo movements of Mendelssohn’s first masterwork, his Octet, written at sixteen, or his brilliant scherzo from the incidental music written for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or his fourth symphony, nicknamed “Italian”, will recognize at once the characteristic Mendelssohn style of the third movement of op. 66. It is a golden thread of delight that persisted throughout his instrumental composition: the continuous variety of orchestration, the perpetual motion rhythms, and the deft use of counterpoint among the voices.

The final movement, a rondo in format, presents a similar minor-key stormy opening to movement one, follows it with another serene and lyrical second theme, and then: the surprise. The third section presents a melody, first in the piano and then in the strings, that will be familiar to many in the audience, as “the Doxology” or “Old 100th” hymn-tune. (Listeners are respectfully requested to refrain from standing and joining in.) Mendelssohn incorporated a chorale, much as he did in other works of his life-long faith journey, most notably in his Symphony no. 2 “Lobegesang” and in many sacred works, perhaps to signal the central place of faith in his creative life. Even after the rondo has reached its completion, the doxology melody lingers, as the last word in an extended coda.

And, finally, in this work, as in nearly all his instrumental works created during his short but intensely productive career, Mendelssohn held fast to the classical period forms and harmonic structures he inherited and cherished but invested in them persistent small and delightful surprises: in harmonic treatment, in expressive lyricism, and‚ obviously‚ in his supreme technical accomplishment, orchestration.

In 1832, Mendelssohn wrote to his beloved sister and fellow-composer, Fanny: “I should like to compose a couple of good trios.” He certainly fulfilled that wish, first with his Trio no. 1 in D minor (1839) and then in this evening‚ masterly work.

                                                                                                                      – Pamela F. Starr