- This event has passed.
REBECCA CLARKE (1886–1979)
Meg Freivogel, violin • Kirsten Docter, viola • Jeewon Park, piano
BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945)
Contrasts, Sz. 111
Ricardo Morales, clarinet • Nelson Lee, violin • Jon Nakamatsu, piano
— Intermission —
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 90, “Dumky”
- Lento maestoso — Allegro quasi doppio movimento
- Poco adagio — Vivace non troppo — Vivace
- Andante — Vivace non troppo — Allegretto
- Andante moderato — Allegretto scherzando — Quasi tempo di marcia
- Lento maestoso
Mikhail Kopelman, violin • Denise Djokic, cello • Pei-Shan Lee, piano
Born in outer London to a German mother and an American father, Rebecca Clarke was a pioneer on several fronts. Having shown significant promise as a violinist in her youth, she became the first woman to enter the Royal College of Music, where she transitioned from violin to viola and studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. Cast out of her parents’ home by her hostile father, Clarke pursued viola performance in order to gain an independent source of income. Success was not far behind: in 1912, she was invited to join London’s leading orchestra at Queen’s Hall by its conductor, Henry Wood — an exceptional achievement, given how few women were offered opportunities for professional advancement in the orchestral industry. By the end of the decade, she was touring extensively as a soloist across the United States and Hawai’i. Despite many high-profile successes as a performer and composer during her lifetime, however, Clarke faced enduring trouble acquiring the confidence of publishers, who believed — in self-fulfillingly defeatist fashion — that publishing compositions by women was too risky a venture.
With the outbreak of World War II, Clarke happened to be in the U.S. once again, visiting her two brothers who lived in New York. As she was suddenly unable to return to the U.K. due to wartime travel restrictions, her relatives set her up with a piano, and Clarke composed prolifically. It was in these circumstances that she composed Dumka: the somewhat unusual instrumental combination suggests that she composed the work to perform with nearby family. Unlike her earlier and more famous chamber works such as the Viola Sonata (1919) and Piano Trio (1921) — rich in experimental harmonies that reflect her admiration for the music of Debussy and Ravel — with Dumka, Clarke revisited the canon of Central European chamber music she learned growing up. Foremost is the music of Dvořák, who based an entire piano trio around the “dumka” (to be performed on the second half of this evening’s program). But allusions to Dvořák’s mentor, Brahms, are also present: the voicing of the opening bars recalls the famous Eastern European–inspired Finale of Brahms first piano quartet, Op. 25. Far from being a derivative work, however, Clarke’s own imprint on the musical texture is striking, in the shimmery textures, virtuosic string writing, and rhythmic dynamism.
Despite her wartime productivity, Clarke effectively ceased composition after World War II. While “stranded” in the U.S., she rekindled a friendship with James Friskin, a professor at Juilliard. The two married, and she settled happily with him in New York, where she died in 1979.
Contrasts, Sz. 111 (1938-1940)
In 1938, Bartók received a letter from his U.S.-based compatriot, violinist Joseph Szigeti, conveying an enticing commission from famed clarinetist Benny Goodman. Goodman, despite his sensational career in jazz and swing, liked to keep a foot in the world of “classical” music (later in his career, he would commission a concerto by Aaron Copland, and record chamber works by Beethoven, Brahms, Weber, and others). Szigeti, on the other hand, was a lifelong friend of Bartók’s; Bartók had first composed for him in 1928 (Rhapsody No. 1); and in the 1940s Szigeti would spearhead fundraising efforts to support Bartók after he had been forced to emigrate from Hungary to the U.S. during World War II.
The new composition requested by Goodman and Szigeti was to comprise two short movements in Hungarian styles to fit onto the two sides of a 78 record (i.e., approximately three minutes each). The musical material ballooned, however; two movements became three, and each twice as long. The first movement,
“Verbunkos,” takes its name after a Hungarian style of dance derived from military recruiting rituals — also a favorite style of Liszt’s. The second movement, “Pihenő” (usually translated as “relaxation”), is exemplary of Bartók’s “night music” style, capturing a mysterious atmosphere inspired by the rustlings of the natural world, birds and insects in particular. In the final movement, “Sebes” (“fast”), Bartók calls for an unconventional violin tuning, a technique called scordatura; the dissonant new tuning is brazenly displayed in the movement’s opening double-stops, setting off a feverish thematic whirlwind.
Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 90, “Dumky” (1890-1891)
Coming of age in Bohemia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Dvořák was expected to assimilate the compositional forms and styles of the classical Austro-German tradition — indeed, he demonstrated his masterful proficiency with these techniques in the early chamber music that won him several Austrian State Stipendia in the 1870s. But Dvořák’s breakthrough in popularity came less from his contributions to the concert music of the Viennese metropolis, and more from his embrace of the folk musical styles of his native regions. It was his sets of Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances that first caught the attention of the Berlin-based publisher Simrock (through the intermediary of Brahms), catapulting him to international stardom in 1878, at a time when German and Austrian palates were piqued by the perceived novelty of Eastern European dances and tunes. The success of these folk-inspired collections led him to experiment fusing Eastern European vernacular styles and traditional chamber music forms.
The undisputed epitome of this fusion is Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4, Op. 90. Sonata-Allegro form, and indeed the entire traditional four-movement mold, are subordinated to a succession of so-called dumky. Dvořák had previously integrated dumky into works such as his Sextet (Op. 48), his String Quartet No. 10 (Op. 51), his Violin Concerto (Op. 53), and his Piano Quintet (Op. 81). But in these cases, the dumky were limited to one of the internal movements — never did they serve as the basis for an entire chamber work, from start to finish, as they do here.
But what are dumky? The origins of dumky (plural of dumka) are typically traced to Ukraine, where the word referred to a genre of nostalgic folk ballad. As the term spread across Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century, its meanings expanded, and the moniker became used more freely, becoming “a musical symbol of pan-Slavonicism,” according to one expert. Though Dvořák has become the dumky’s most famous exponent, the form inspired composers from all corners of Eastern Europe — from Chopin and Liszt earlier in the century to Tchaikovsky and Balakirev near the turn of the twentieth. Dvořák’s dumky tend to feature slow themes that retain something of the sense of lament from the term’s original usage, alternating with faster, more energetic sections. Most of the Trio’s six dumky movements operate in this way, resulting in an efflorescence of contrasting and memorable tunes.
Program Notes by Peter Asimov