The Music, the Composers, and the Violin All the music you hear tonight was created by composers who played the violin or, in the case of Igor Stravinsky, one who collaborated in depth with a violinist. Curiously enough, in constructing the program, Sar and I did not set out with this end in mind, but after discussing lots of musical options these works fell right into place.
W. A. Mozart (1756-1791) and J.S. Bach (1685-1750), roughly two generations apart from each other in the 18th Century, most likely performed these works themselves, each able to play either the violin part or the keyboard part. Although Mozart’s E Minor Sonata was written in 1778, four years before we are certain he had studied manuscripts of J. S. Bach (there is well based speculation that he may have been exposed to and/or studied J.S.’s work before then), when I play it I hear things that suggest Mozart had the specific intention of exploring elements of J.S. Bach’s music. These elements were in his mind’s “ear”, so to speak.
Isn’t it likely that Wolfgang, as a highly trained musician of the time, would have had exposure to J. S.’s music? Perhaps from his quasi-mentor Johann Christian Bach (a younger son of J.S.)? Did Wolfgang’s father, Leopold, use J. S.’s pedagogical works in instructing him? These are interesting questions still under musicological investigation.
In my opinion, when a great composer hears something that catches their ear, they take that element – a phrase fragment, a harmony, a sequence, for example – and transform it into music of their own creation. This is distinctly different than simple imitation, borrowing, or flattery.
Here are a few of the things that catch my ear in the Mozart Sonata and strike me as indicative of his intention: 1) Mozart rarely uses the key of E minor – his choice indicates he had a specific expression in mind. With J.S. Bach E minor and B minor are frequent keys; you can hear tonight how clearly those keys relate to each other. 2) To open the sonata with a unison statement of the theme and immediately repeating it with harmony and a bass line focuses extraordinary attention on it. Why did he make this choice? Throughout the first movement Mozart varies the theme with common counterpoint techniques – canon, chromatic variation, inversion, retrograde. Was Mozart, just like J.S., immediately able to see all the possibilities of contrapuntal treatment of a given theme right from the start? Might this in itself suggest Mozart’s specific intention to create a sonata that incorporated J.S.’s influence? 3) Repeated notes are used as the theme in the 4th movement of Bach’s B minor sonata tonight (echoing a Vivaldi a minor Violin Concerto). And what is the 2nd theme of Mozart’s 1st movement? Repeated tones used thematically.
These are just a few of the Bach-like influences that I hear in the Mozart; what do your ears tell you?
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) used the sounds of the 18th century to create original music for Pulcinella, the 1920 ballet whose story is derived from the 17th century Comedia dell’arte. He took elements from music thought at the time to be by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), and transformed them into his own original style. For me, this suggests a process related to what I think Mozart did with J.S. Bach’s musical elements, in the E Minor Sonata.
The music for Pulcinella was so popular that Stravinsky mined the score repeatedly, creating a concert suite for chamber orchestra (1922), a Suite for Violin and Piano after Themes, Fragments, and Pieces by Pergolesi (1925), then arranged 5 of them into Suite Italienne with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (1932), and re-worked a refined version with violinist Samuel Dushkin (1934). Stravinsky and Dushkin performed it many times together as a duo during their European concert tours.
Georges Enesco (1881-1955) was a musical titan in his day: a powerful violinist and pianist who composed extensively and frequently conducted his own works. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin, accepted by many as one of the greatest artists of his time, viewed Enesco as his Mentor.
When I play Impressions D’Enfance I know what it feels like to be a violinist in their time, what it is like to be under Enesco’s personal influence, what it is like to be inside the musical culture that he helped to shape. This happens because Enesco’s musical markings are phenomenally specific without ever being pedantic or rigid: which finger to make a certain kind of a slide, which combination of imaginative bow strokes to bring to life the Gypsy violinist, what subtle changes of sound and mood to reflect the cool light of Moon Through the Windows, and so on. The violin and the piano are both compelled to express a myriad of specific details, not a single one of which is superfluous. Very few composers give us this much useful information in their scores.
Why is it important to be able to feel inside Enesco’s expression and musical culture? Because when I am able to capture the emotional and spiritual intention resident in great musical works, it gives added potency to the connection I seek to create between the music and the listener. That sense of connection facilitates our entry into a timeless zone where music and art are neither old nor new, where they simply “are”.
Memories and Reflections: combining Georges Enesco’s Impressions D’Enfance with Peter Laytin’s photographic images Memories and Reflections comes out of a 20+ year friendship with Peter Laytin. We spend several weeks together each summer teaching at Art New England and the Chamber Music Conference, enjoying many hours exploring and sharing our insights into art and music. Peter was entranced when I played him Menuhin’s recording of Enesco’s 3rd Violin Sonata. When I myself had the chance to perform Impressions D’Enfance, I proposed the notion of his assembling a group of his photographs that might respond to the music.
The result is a hybrid, expressive language that creates a complex performance space in which the audience can interact on whatever level they choose, as the performers, music, and images create a variety of possible interpretations.
Enesco’s music depicts 10 specific memories from his childhood, circa 1890; the sound and mood is impressionistic, with elements of Hungarian folk music woven in throughout. Though we do not attempt a specific, or obvious, visual representation of the music’s story, in performance Peter’s images and Enesco’s music work together to offer simultaneous experience of two distinct perspectives of the same story, each one layered with emotion and allusion.
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