Saturday, August 14, 2021 – 7:30PM
Not a word, O friend of mine, Op. 6 No. 2
None but the lonely heart, Op. 6 No. 6
Why did I ever dream of you? Op. 28 No. 3
The Fearful Moment, Op. 28 No. 6
Can it be day? Op. 47 No. 6
Composers and Compositions
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky) [1840 – 1893], has been named the most popular Russian composer of all time. He was born in Votkinsk, Russia and from an early age, he proved to be a music prodigy composing his first piano song at age four. His music has been described as tuneful, full of open-hearted impressive harmonies, and colourful, picturesque orchestration, all of which evoke a profound emotional response.
Tchaikovsky’s work includes symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, and chamber music. In 1880 he composed what it seems to be his most famous piece, the 1812 Overture – cannons at the ready! Between 1871 and 1876 he produced a series of great works, like Swan Lake (1876) and the First Piano Concerto (1875), which established him as Russia’s leading composer.
The same way we are going through the COVID-19 pandemic, Tchaikovsky suffered terrible consequences during the cholera pandemic. Nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, cholera seems to have put an end to his life from ingestion of contaminated water, although there are a variety of thoughts on what actually brought on his demise.
Mostly known for his large-scale works, Tchaikovsky also excelled at chamber music and his gift for melody served him well in his song writing.
Henriëtte Bosmans was a Dutch composer of the first half of the twentieth century. From a musical family, she studied piano and composition. She had a successful performing career with solo orchestra concerts in Europe and North America. During the German occupation in WW2 in Amsterdam, she was unable to concertize so, in order to support herself and her mother she turned more to composing, one of her songs becoming somewhat of an anthem for the liberation of Holland. She died of cancer in 1952.
Impressions for cello and piano
This work was dedicated to Gerard Hekking, the principal cellist for the Concertgebouw Orchestra, a post her father had before him. It is a collection of three ‘encore’ pieces influenced by past German Romanticism and the more recent French Impressionism. His music can draw from other cultures with colourful and sensual harmonies.
Amy Beach was an American composer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She was the first American female composer to gain notoriety composing large-scale pieces. As a pianist, she was successful both in the United States and in Europe. With early studies in Boston, she began her performing career there in 1883. Her marriage at age 18 hindered her performance career, as was typical of the time and she focused more on her self-study in composition. In the early 1900s, she had success with her compositions in and around the Boston area. She wrote over 300 works in many genres with many art songs and vocal chamber music.
String Quartet, Op. 89
The String Quartet is one of Beach’s more mature works and is, interestingly, in one movement divided into three parts. It incorporates e different Inuit melodies obtained from a book of Alaskan Inuit tribes by Franz Boa. The work exhibits some modern tendencies while being rooted in German Romanticism. It was premiered in 1929.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (April 1st, 1873 – March 28th, 1943) was a Russian composer whose career took place during the late Romantic period. He graduated in 1892 from the Moscow Conservatory where he had already composed various piano and orchestral pieces. Rachmaninoff was a phenomenal pianist and conductor as well and had influences such as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and other Russian composers. Later on, he adopted a more personal song-like melodic, expressive and rich orchestral style for his pieces.
Rachmaninoff took the opportunity of a concert tour of Scandinavian countries to free Russia and its Revolution and left with his family in 1917. An opportunity to move to the United States was made available to him and in November of 1918, Rachmaninoff sailed for New York. Soon after, he and his two daughters fell ill to the ‘Spanish’ flu. He did recover and needing money, immediately embarked upon a number of concert appearances against the orders of his doctors. In fact, he had not fully revoked when his tour began. Luckily, he had a mild version of the flu. He lived until 1943 at age 69.
This song was originally conceived as the final song in the ’14 Romances’ Op. 34. The first thirteen were written in 192 and he added ‘Vocalise’ in 1915. It is written for high voice and there are no words – the performer is able to select the vowel to use for the entire song. It has been transcribed for many instruments and has become one of his most recognizable and popular works.
Prokofiev was one of the most important composers of the first half of the 20th century. He composed and excelled in most of the musical genres of his day writing memorable works such as the opera Romeo and Juliet, Lieutenant Kiji and a variety of concertos and sonatas. He began composing when he was young and was one of the youngest students at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Originally, he was well known as a pianist, writing his two difficult piano concertos for himself.
After the Russian revolution in 1917, Prokofiev left Russia going first to the United States, then to Germany and Paris working as a composer, a pianist and a conductor. In 1932 he returned to Russia as opportunities following the depression had slowed in Europe and the United States. He had considerable success back in Russia even as he faced criticism for pandering to Stalinist artistic conservatism. Prokofiev had the ill fortune of dying the same day as Stalin, delaying and overshadowing that of his own.
Prokofiev’s arrival in the United States after some hops along the Pacific for concerts came at a bad time. Concerts were cancelled as the ‘Spanish flu’ made its way through the population and large-scale productions such as ballet and opera were put on hold. ‘To fly from the Bolsheviks to die from Spanish Flu! What sarcasm!’ He did not actually get the deadly flu himself, but suffered from a lack of funds, with little work presenting itself. He remained in America for almost two years before deciding to go to western Europe, seeking better fortunes.
Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34
The unusual instrumentation of the work is a result of Prokofiev’s commissioning from a Russian Ensemble who was in the United States on tour. Prokofiev had recently arrived in New York in September of 1918, and he knew the members of the group from his time at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. They presented him with a notebook of Jewish folksongs as source material for the piece. Prokofiev completed the piece in a day and a half. The premiere was in early 1920 with the composer as pianist. Later, he was reluctant to arrange it for chamber orchestra.