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DARIUS MILHAUD (1892–1974)
Suite, Op. 157b
- Introduction et final
Derek Bermel, clarinet • Sergiu Schwartz, violin • Jon Nakamatsu, piano
ANDREIA PINTO CORREIA (b. 1971)
Renée Jolles, violin • David Ying, cello • Tao Lin, piano
GEORGE WALKER (1922–2018)
Sonata for Cello and Piano
- Allegro passionato
Denise Djokic, cello • Jeewon Park, piano
— Intermission —
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833–1897)
String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18
- Allegro ma non troppo
- Andante ma moderato
- Scherzo. Allegro molto — Trio. Animato
- Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso
Robin Scott, violin • Russell Iceberg*, violin • Kirsten Docter, viola • Steven Baloue*, viola • Amir Eldan, cello • Isaac Berglind*, cello
Suite, Op. 157b (1936)
Darius Milhaud had little respect for boundaries of genre, or of “high” and “low” art, despite his highly conventional training at the Paris Conservatoire. With the onslaught of World War I, which broke out as he was completing his studies, Milhaud was dispatched not to the frontlines but to Brazil, where he worked as an attaché for the foreign ministry’s propaganda division. The soundtrack of his travels made an indelible mark on his approach to composition. Experimental works like L’homme et son désir, with its large percussion battery, evoke rainforest noises, while his more famous Saudades do Brasil and La Création du Monde pay hommage respectively to popular genres he experienced in Brazil and New York, where he stopped over on his way back to France.
Milhaud saw no conflict in crossing over between, say, incidental music for the theater and chamber music for the salon — as he does in his Suite for clarinet, violin, and piano. The music for the Suite was originally composed to accompany the play, Le Voyageur sans bagage (“The Traveler without Baggage”), written by Jean Anouilh in 1936. The play concerns Gaston, a World War I veteran struck with amnesia, who gradually apprehends, to his own horror, his destructive history; the music accompanied the final scene, in which Gaston must decide whether to stay with his true family and face his past, or pose as a member of one of many other families who lost boys in the war. Nor was Milhaud above an ironic reference, in the final movement, to the popular tune, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” — which is itself an adaptation of an older French folksong, “Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre” (“Malbrough is off to the war”).
Program Note by Peter Asimov
ANDREIA PINTO CORREIA
Night Migrations (2017)
Night Migrations takes as its point of departure the writings of Louise Glück (New York, 1943), in particular the poem “The Night Migrations” from the poet’s Averno series. The composition’s structure consists of four nocturnal movements, each of which features contrasting sections that are continually interspersed; mystical and dark music alternates with fleet, darting episodes that emulate the flight of birds.
Night Migrations was written for the Horszowski Trio and is dedicated with gratitude and admiration to composer John Harbison. This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classic Commission Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.
Program Note by Andreia Pinto Correia
Sonata for Cello and Piano (1957)
George Walker is one of the most distinguished American composers and pianists of the twentieth century. Born in Washington D.C., Walker took to the piano from the age of five, at his mother’s encouragement. A stellar student who graduated from high school at age 14, he did not follow, as many expected he might, in the footsteps of his father — a physician who had emigrated to the United States from the West Indies. Rather, he went directly to Oberlin Conservatory to pursue piano and organ studies, and proceeded from there to the Curtis Institute, obtaining further diplomas in piano and composition.
The trajectory of Walker’s career was shaped on the one hand by pervasive racism which closed doors to him that were available to classmates and colleagues — a topic Walker addressed candidly in interviews throughout his life — and on the other hand by his success and determination in breaking through many such barriers. Walker’s early achievements as a concert pianist, including acclaimed appearances as a soloist with several American orchestras and several European tours, proved short-lived; “a Black pianist playing classical music,” he recalled his agent warning him; “we can’t sell you.” Walker found greater stability, it turned out, as a composer. He obtained a doctorate from the Eastman School, and held academic positions at institutions including the New School, Smith College (where he became the first Black tenured professor), and ultimately Rutgers, where he was on the faculty from 1969 until 1992. He was at once prolific and meticulous, engaging diverse modernist interlocutors from Berg and Stravinsky to Copland and Barber, alongside (often discreetly embedded) homages to Black American music — spirituals, blues, Ellington.
Walker himself wrote a short program note charting the structure of his Cello Sonata, composed in 1957:
The principal theme of the first movement emerges from the ostinato figure in the piano accompaniment. Double stops in the cello part introduce the lyrical second theme. A vigorous closing section follows. A development section precedes a recapitulation of the expository material. The coda completes the classical sonata form evident in this movement. The slow second movement is structured in three sections. The second part contains a canonic dialogue between the piano and the cello. In the third movement, the fugal exposition gives way to a jazz-like section that uses syncopated figures over an ostinato bass in the piano. The final statement of the fugal subject consists of note values one half of those used in previous statements. This precipitancy leads to a brief, but exciting coda.
String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18 (1859-1860)
Despite trying his hand at string quartets during the 1860s, the specter of Beethoven’s quartets continued to loom over the genre. Brahms would not feel satisfied with his attempts until 1873, when he was nearly 40. String quintets, meanwhile, were the province of Mozart (in two viola configuration) and Schubert (in two cello configuration), and Brahms’s early attempts to compose string quintets would prove even more frustrating: his first essay in that genre was eventually reworked as his Piano Quintet, and he would not venture another string quintet until the 1880s.
However, in contrast to quartets and quintets, the string sextet offered unfamiliar ground, with few precedents since the sextets of Luigi Boccherini over half a century prior. Young Brahms, exceedingly conscious of music history and anxious about his place in it, felt more confident experimenting with the larger, less trodden ensemble. He composed this first example at the age of 27, and a second one five years later. His success in these pieces can be measured by the litany of composers — including Dvořák, Dohnányi, Schoenberg, Schulhoff, and Strauss, among others — who, undaunted, took up the form in turn.
The scope of the composition is vast. Brahms spins no end of new melodies, including a theme in the style of a Viennese waltz which returns, in quiet pizzicato, to conclude the first movement. The second movement is a magisterial set of variations on a dolorous theme, introduced first in the lower strings, and then echoed with heightened intensity by the first violin. The third movement, a Scherzo, shows Brahms’s craft in displacing the strong beats of the meter, while in the buoyant Trio (the middle section of the Scherzo), he instead displaces the tonal center from one phrase to the next. And in the Rondo Finale, Brahms pits various subdivisions of the ensemble against each other, introducing the main theme in the lower trio of instruments, after which the upper trio are allowed to respond.
Program Notes by Peter Asimov