Saturday, February 21, 2009
Occasionally my research for program notes will lead me to a good story – which sometimes is relevant to the notes and hand and sometimes isn’t! In this case, Ravel’s Tzigane led me to its dedicatee, the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi.
Jelly d’Aranyi (1895-1966) was a grand-niece of Joseph Joachim and a pupil of both Hubay and Bartok, and was one of the many Hungarian artists who settled in London in the 1920s. By all accounts, Jelly was an exciting player, with wonderful technique and no small amount of gypsy flair. Early in her career she formed a sort of artistic partnership with Bartok, performing memorable sonata recitals, one of which led to her meeting with Ravel. She was a dedicatee of Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Academico and, with her sister Adila Fachiri, Holst’s Double Concerto for two violins. Jelly maintained a career as an active soloist and chamber musician, performing in a piano trio and as a duo partner with Myra Hess.
Jelly d'Aranyi and Dame Myra Hess
Jelly d’Aranyi was also instrumental in the resurgence of Robert Schumann’s presumably lost Violin Concerto, and here’s where the story gets really interesting. The concerto was written in 1853 for Schumann’s friend (and Jelly’s great-uncle, remember) Joachim. This was Schumann’s Dusseldorf period, and evidence of the composer’s impending madness was mounting; less than a year later he would attempt suicide. Joachim thought the work morbid and never performed it, eventually depositing it in the Berlin State Library with instructions that it should not be performed until 100 years after Schumann’s death, or 1956.
In 1933 however, Jelly claimed to have been visited during a séance by Robert Schumann himself, who asked her to find his concerto (of which she claimed no prior knowledge) and give its first performance. Allegedly Joachim also appeared to her, pointing her to the Berlin State Library, but it seems just as likely that she was able to locate it through professional and personal contacts. I’m not sure what happened at this point, but it was four years before a copy of manuscript left the library, going first to Yehudi Menuhin. He wanted to give the first performance in San Francisco, but was blocked by both Jelly and the German Nazi government, who held the copyright. They wanted it to be performed first in Germany by a German; George Kulenkampff gave the world premiere in Berlin on November 26th 1937. Menuhin performed it at Carnegie Hall with a piano reduction on December 6th and then with the St. Louis Symphony on December 23rd. Jelly did manage to give the London premiere with the BBC Symphony, although her performance was apparently not a universally acclaimed success; the critic Robert Elkin remarked, “of this dismal fiasco, the less said the better.”
An oil portrait of Jelly by Charles Geoffroy-Dechaume
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Boston Globe critic David Perkins reviewed Sunday afternoon’s performance.
Read the full review at Boston.com.
“Chameleon turns in a fresh, playful program”
“There are moments in music when you know the composer is as surprised as you are at what’s just occurred. In Chen Yi’s “Qi,” a Chinese gong is struck and the note seems to reach out until it is answered, almost sympathetically, by the flute and the piano: three instruments fusing into one. In Bedrich Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, after a lot of romantic bluster, the piano settles into a reverie, rippling out a series of arpeggios that sound as if they are played on bells. We sometimes forget that composers are playful creatures, as fascinated by sound as a child is by mud and streams.”
“Fortunately, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, led by Deborah Boldin, is here to remind us. This team of young, spirited, and highly skilled musicians, now in its 11th year, performed at the Goethe-Institut on Sunday and, once again, opened the windows and let in some air on a department of classical music that is either heavy with tradition or vacuously avant-garde.”
“Boldin is continually looking for big but little-known works – new, recent, and old – and putting them together in intriguing, organic combinations. The cross-references are not just intellectual; you can feel them in your body.”
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
We wanted to pause for a moment to thank everyone who came to our concerts at the Goethe-Institut this past weekend. Let us know what you thought. We’d love to hear from you!
Thursday, February 12, 2009
When I researched Judith Weir for the notes on the February 2009 concerts, I was intrigued to read about the inspiration she draws from folk music generally, and the music of her own Scottish heritage in particular. Bio information about her discusses her use of forms inspired by Piobaireachd, or Pibroch.
Pibroch is the classical music of the Scottish Highland Bagpipe, a tradition centuries old that was the profession of generations of families. initially passed down in an oral tradition, a system of notation was devised and the tunes written down. Structurally, Pibroch is theme and variations, although the theme is essentially never presented without embellishment, and the variations generally follow a fairly strict structure.
I won’t go into more detail here, in large part because the more I research Pibroch the more confused I get! But I did find some interesting recorded excerpts (and thoroughly obscuring “explanations” that appear to have nothing to do with the visual examples!) here.
Having listened to these examples and listened to and looked at the score of Judith Weir’s Airs from Another Planet, it seems to me that the most direct link in this particular piece is in the last movement, Bagpipe Air, with Drones. And it’s clearly not the sound of the pipes that she reproduces in this movement but a rhythmic character unique to Pibroch, a sense that there is a strict rhythmic undercurrent that is carefully and deliberately paced – but that continually surprises and keeps the listener guessing and resists traditional musical notation.
Scottish Country Dancing
The first and third movements of Airs from Another Planet are directly related to the tradition of Scottish Country Dancing, social dancing usually done in mixed-gender groups. The steps are quite stylized and often complex, and each dance, of course, has a specific musical form associated with it. The Strathspey is a slow and stately dance either preceded or followed by a Reel, a fast dance that either involves faster steps in place or “traveling” steps with the group moving in a circle. Many Jigs – another fast dance – are in 9/8 time, as Judith Weir’s is…basically.
As with Pibroch, the more I read about Scottish Country Dancing, the more I realize exactly how little I understand! Suffice it to say that Judith Weir is drawing from a deep well, and she acheives an amazing balance in her music: familiarity of basic musical elements, but through a strongly individual prism that keeps it from ever sounding contrived or derivative.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Don’t miss the preview of Chameleon’s February concert program “a tale that’s told in ancient song” in a LIVE broadcast from WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio, Friday, February 13 from 1-2 pm.
The broadcast will feature works by Maurice Ravel, Judith Weir, and Manuel de Falla plus interviews with the artists.
Tune in to WGBH Boston 89.7FM or stream the program from http://www.wgbh.org/classical/
Chameleon is profiled by David Weininger in the “Classical Notes” section of this Friday’s Boston Globe.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Chamber Music Hero
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
It’s only Tuesday and there are already two composer milestones for which we must pause:
Felix Mendelssohn turns 200 today, February 3. To celebrate, we recommend spending some time with his under performed Piano Quartets. Our favorite is Op. 3 No. 3 in b minor, completed just before his 16th birthday. There is an exciting recording available on Naxos.
On Sunday, composer and major figure in American music, Lukas Foss, passed away at the age of 86. Allan Kozinn wrote a beautiful obituary for the New York Times. To us, his music represents the perfect blending of tradition and innovation, intellect and expression. In fact, this blogger came of musical age during Mr. Foss’ tenure as Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony, her home town, and can barely remember a time when his music was not part of her life. He will not soon be forgotten!