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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685–1750)
Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 1010
- Bourrée I — Bourrée II
Steven Doane, cello
ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Sonata No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 105
- Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck
Dimitri Murrath, viola • Pei-Shan Lee, piano
— Intermission —
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756–1791)
String Quintet No. 3 in C Major, K. 515
- Menuetto. Allegretto
Peter Winograd, Janet Ying, violin • Rebecca Albers, Phillip Ying, viola • Steven Doane, cello
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 1010 (1720)
Before Bach assumed his position as Thomaskantor — that is, music director at St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, a position he held from 1723 until his death — he had a highly mobile career, often auditioning around in efforts to improve his lot. After short stretches at churches in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, in 1708 he was appointed to a role at the court of Dukes Wilhelm Ernst and Ernst August in Weimar, where he composed numerous cantatas as well as works for organ and harpsichord. In 1717, his employers discovered that Bach had accepted another position, without their permission, as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Köthen. For this act of insubordination, they imprisoned him, only to discharge him (dishonorably) of his duties a month later. This allowed him to take up his role at Köthen just in time for the Prince’s birthday celebrations.
It was while in Köthen that Bach is believed to have composed his six Suites for solo cello. Little else is known about the circumstances of their genesis, except that the particularities of his job, including the Calvinist chapel (meaning no use for elaborate liturgical music!), granted him scope to compose abundant instrumental and keyboard music: concertos, overtures, sonatas, partitas, and the like. (Bach also composed the Brandenburg Concertos and the first book of his Well-Tempered Clavier during these Köthen years.) Bach’s patron, Prince Leopold, was a competent instrumentalist, playing most members of the viol family as well as the harpsichord. However, the cello, with only four strings tuned in fifths and no frets to guide intonation, was a different and far more novel beast, with Bach’s works representing the first known solo suites composed for the instrument. Like most German courts around the turn of the eighteenth century, Köthen had a predilection for all things French: the language, the manners, the dances, and the music. Bach educated himself in the principal French dances, including the “Allemande,” which, despite its name (French for “German”), had been significantly transformed from its German origins by the time it returned to Germany.
The Fourth Suite poses unique challenges on the basis of its key, requiring the performer to make tricky decisions regarding tuning (in particular, how to place the E-flat tonic triad in relation to the fixed open G-string) and offering little sympathetic resonance from the other open strings. Yet these challenges also give the suite its unique tonal color, enhanced by the gravitas of the relative minor, resounding on the open C-string in the bass register.
Program Note by Peter Asimov
Sonata No. 1 in A Minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 105 (1851)
Like many of his professional engagements, Robert Schumann’s appointment as municipal music director in Düsseldorf ultimately brought him as much frustration and tribulation as it did opportunity and accomplishment. By the start of his second season, in the fall of 1851, he was forming the best of his singers and instrumentalists into select chamber ensembles, partly as a relief from the squabbles and rehearsal attendance issues with the larger orchestra and chorus.
Unsurprisingly, then, his compositions from that time emphasize chamber music, including two violin sonatas and the Piano Trio in G minor. He wrote the A-minor Sonata in a few days, and although he said that he didn’t like the way it turned out, it has a remarkable freshness and relative concision. Structurally the piece could have been a model for Grieg, but the first movement has the sort of surging 6/8 fervor that became a hallmark of Brahms. The syncopation and play of two beats against three is also Brahmsian. The middle movement is
basically an A-B-A song form, but with quicksilver fluctuations of mood, key, and tempo. The main theme of the finale is a driving perpetual motion machine, but the movement also sums up the lyrical and harmonic impulses of the work, including a ghostly recollection of the opening tune.
Program Note by LA Philharmonic
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
String Quintet No. 3 in C Major, K. 515 (1787)
The year 1787 was difficult for Mozart in several ways. Although he had arrived in Vienna in 1781, Mozart still struggled to find the steady and fulfilling position he sought within the city’s musical world. He had a few years of lucrative success as a composer-performer, premiering several piano concertos each season, but in 1786–87, he turned his attention to larger-scale operatic collaborations. This resulted in a sudden decline in steady income that could not adequately sustain his lavish lifestyle. Moreover, in April of 1787, Mozart learned that his father’s health had significantly worsened, which caused particular anguish as the younger Mozart was unable to take the time to visit Leopold in Salzburg. On a brighter note, Mozart had recently returned from Prague, where the successful production of The Marriage of Figaro led to the commission of a new opera, which was to become Don Giovanni. And by the end of the year, Mozart at last obtained part-time royal patronage as “chamber composer” to Emperor Joseph II. It was not as grand of a post as Mozart may have hoped for, but it proved sufficient incentive for Mozart to remain in Vienna.
These were the tumultuous circumstances surrounding Mozart’s composition of two string quintets, K. 515 & 516, often considered the summit of his chamber music writing. Observing the sharp contrasts between the two quintets, commentators frequently draw a comparison between these and Mozart’s Symphonies No. 40 and 41, composed the following year — a comparison bolstered by the respective key signatures of each pair (C Major and G minor). As though celebrating the addition of a fifth voice to the standard quartet formation, Mozart opens K. 515 with a five-bar phrase pattern, an asymmetrical call and response between the outer voices tightly harmonized by the pulsating inner trio, presaging the many playfully irregular phrases to come throughout the work.
Given the masterful inventiveness and inspired freshness of these quintets, it may seem difficult to fathom that their chief stimulus was likely pecuniary, with Mozart hoping to generate some revenue by marketing the work to amateur ensembles. Their legacy, of course, extends far beyond these immediate needs. Not least, the C Major quintet directly inspired another great C Major quintet (with two cellos, this time), by another Viennese composer, born a decade later: Franz Schubert.
Program Note by Peter Asimov