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Bloch, Schmitt, Tartaglia, & Strauss


Friday, Jun 30, 2023 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm EDT


Studzinski Recital Hall
12 Campus Road S Brunswick, ME 04011

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ERNEST BLOCH (1880–1959)
Baal Shem Suite 

    1. Vidui
    2. Nigun 
    3. Simchas Torah  

 Ani Schnarch, violin • Tao Lin, piano 

Suite en Rocaille, Op. 84 

    1. Sans hâte
    2. Animé
    3. Sans lenteur 
    4. Vif

 Linda Chesis, flute • Kurt Sassmannshaus, violin • Natalie Brennecke*, viola • Jeffrey Zeigler, cello • June Han, harp 

JOHN TARTAGLIA (1932–2018)
Fantasia on Themes of Marais  

Dimitri Murrrath, viola • Jeremy McCoy, bass 

— Intermission — 

Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 18  

    1. Allegro, ma non troppo
    2. Improvisation. Andante cantabile
    3. Finale. Andante — Allegro  

Ayano Ninomiya, violin • Pei-Shan Lee, piano 





ERNEST BLOCH (1880–1959)
Baal Shem Suite (1923)

Ernest Bloch’s musical voice was fashioned in part by the peregrinations of his early career: born and raised in Geneva, Bloch spent his adolescence at the Brussels Conservatoire, followed by stints in Frankfurt, Munich, and Paris, absorbing diverse currents of modernist experimentalism before returning to Switzerland to help run his father’s souvenir shop. In 1916, Bloch set out once again, now with his wife and children—first to New York City, where he became the first composition professor at the Mannes College of Music, and then to Cleveland, where he became the founding director of the esteemed Cleveland Institute in 1920.

Despite his upbringing in an active Jewish milieu—his father had even trained to be a rabbi before pursuing a career in business—Bloch showed little interest in Jewish identity or religious practice until his mid-twenties. It was, Bloch recounted, a review of his work by Robert Godet, which contained an anti-Semitic remark characteristic of the French critic, that sparked the composer’s righteous pride and interest in his own Jewish heritage. He began studying Hebrew and rereading the Bible: as he wrote in a letter to writer Edmond Fleg, “I read the fragments about Moses. And an immense pride has been surging within me! My entire being reverberated. It’s a revelation. I found myself there.” Bloch committed himself to cultivating what he described as “Jewish music”—reclaiming Godet’s epithet as a source for artistic empowerment.

The Baal Shem Suite, subtitled “Three Pictures of Hasidic Life”, illustrates Bloch’s notion of “Jewish music”. These vignettes—whose titles translate to “Contrition”, “Improvisation”, and “Rejoicing”, respectively—were inspired by Eastern European Jewish communities, toward whom Bloch felt a certain warmth, having witnessed during childhood the disdain they endured from wealthier, more assimilated Western European Jewish communities. As musicologist Joshua Walden describes, Bloch was “extremely affected” by first encounter with Hasidic music, which took place at a Saturday morning service in New York City in 1918. The composition, completed in 1923 and dedicated to the composer’s mother, became a major success on the concert stage. “Nigun”, in particular, quickly became a favorite of prominent Jewish violinists, championed by Joseph Szigeti and Yehudi Menuin—who described Bloch in terms the composer might have appreciated, as “essentially a Jewish composer, in his deep and guttural feeling for the Jewish cry of despair.”

Suite en Rocaille, Op. 84 (1935)

Florent Schmitt was recognized in the early twentieth century as one of the towering talents of his generation, often mentioned in the same breath as Debussy and Ravel. Why has his posthumous reputation not matched the stature he enjoyed during his lifetime? It may be due to his fiercely independent streak, his refusal to align himself with established artistic groups or movements. It may also be due to his unsavory political leanings, increasingly nationalistic during the interwar period; his support for the Vichy regime led him to be sanctioned by the French government for a period after World War Two. It surely has nothing to do with the quality of his music: for those yet to discover it, Schmitt’s output promises a trove of sumptuous harmony, radiant orchestration, and enthralling drama.

The Suite en rocaille is something of an exception in Schmitt’s output, exemplifying a certain neoclassical aesthetic that Schmitt had little to do with but quite clearly mastered. The description “en rocaille” (French for “rococo”) betrays a certain nostalgia for the courtly opulence of the Ancien Régime—who better than the harp to conjure the shimmering surfaces of the palace of Versailles?—while the crystalline rhythms evoke the gallantry of ballroom dances.

Schmitt wrote his own short program note for the piece, affecting a coy deprecation that chimes with the spirit of rococo pastiche:

“A small suite worth less than four cents… The first movement is built on two themes, tinged with archaism. The second takes the form of a scherzo, also with two themes. The third has the particularity that it may be played in one of two tempi: moderato or lento (the composer opts for the first); this movement has two themes. Finally, the fourth movement is a sort of Rondo with refrains, in an homage to Haydn. It’s very easy.”

JOHN TARTAGLIA (1932–2018)
Fantasia on Themes of Marais (1985)

John Tartaglia supplies the following program note, written by William Schrickel, the double bassist who commissioned and premiered the work:

“In the summer of 1983, I heard a tape of a hauntingly beautiful string trio by John Tartaglia. I asked him if he would like to write a duo for viola and double bass, and his answer was a yes – with one reservation. John had never written for the bass, and he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to compose idiomatically for the instrument. We decided that John would borrow an inexpensive bass that was gathering dust in my basement – he felt that actually playing on a bass would be the best way for him to become familiar with the instrument’s capabilities and limitations.”

The resulting work, in one movement, incorporates four dance themes of Marin Marais 1656-1728): “L’Agréable,” a charming cantabile introduced by the viola; “La Musette,” with its characteristic pedal point; “La Matelotte,” energetic and exuberant in cut-time; and “Le Basque,” in a sprightly allegro. Between each of the original dance themes John has interjected material of his own invention, providing an expanded network of moods as well as technical challenges along the way. To Marin Marais’ old French dances John introduces a tango theme of his own that serves as the introduction and reappears in the coda.

Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 18 (1888)

Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata belongs to an early period of the composer’s career, prior to the operas or indeed the principal orchestral “tone poems” for which he is most loved today. Rather, it is best understood in relation to Strauss’s early musical formation, under the thumb of his father, Franz. Talented and precocious as a child, young Richard began private lessons in piano from the age of four, in violin from age eight, and in composition from age eleven. But amid all these teachers, it is Franz’s penchant for the Viennese classics — Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven — that is most detectable in his son’s early sonata ventures, namely the Piano Sonata (Op. 5) and the Cello Sonata (Op. 6), both composed in the early 1880s.

By the time of the Violin Sonata (1888), however, Strauss was just beginning to exercise resistance to past molds and embrace modernist ideals of musical progress. This change of heart was largely due to a short but pivotal stint Strauss spent in 1885 as court music director in Meiningen — Strauss, recall, was also a distinguished conductor, as well as a composer. It was while in Meiningen that Strauss made the acquaintance of Alexander Ritter, a fervent Wagnerian. The encounter prompted Strauss’s early dabblings in “symphonic poems” — such as Don Juan, also composed in 1888 — inspired by the experimental orchestral works of Franz Liszt, whom Strauss, thanks to Ritter, also came to hold in the highest regard.

Although Strauss chiefly embraced symphonic formations for his compositions thenceforth, the Violin Sonata exhibits the composer’s consummate skill in chamber music, writing challenging yet idiomatic parts for the two instruments he had studied intensively since early childhood. It was, however, to be Strauss’s last “sonata” by name, as he came to conclude that with Brahms sonata form had reached its apogee, with little more to offer the modern composer.


Jun 30, 2023
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
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Studzinski Recital Hall
12 Campus Road S
Brunswick, ME 04011
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