and the Fine Arts Quartet
The Island of Joy (piano solo)
String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1
Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
(arranged for piano and string quintet by Ignaz Lachner in the 19th century)
APRIL 8th, 2017
Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
and the Fine Arts Quartet
The superb Israeli-American pianist Alon Goldstein, who has performed for the Chicago Chamber Music Society twice as a member of a piano trio, will be collaborating with the Fine Arts Quartet to perform Mozart’s piano concerto No. 23 in A major, K 488. Founded in 1946 in Chicago, the Fine Arts Quartet has recorded over 200 works and continues to tour throughout the world. Both the first violinist, Ralph Evans, and the second violinist, Efim Boico have been members of the quartet for 33 years, while the cellist, Robert Cohen, joined 4 years ago and the violist, Juan-Miguel Hernandez joined soon thereafter. They have been called “The Dream Team” and were declared by the Washington Post “one of the gold-plated names in chamber music.”
L’ isle joyeuse (for solo piano)
Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
L’isle Joyeuse, one of Debussy’s most extroverted compositions for the piano, was completed in 1904 while the composer had exiled himself from Paris in Dieppe on the coast of Normandy. Debussy wrote to his publisher, Jacques Durand: “My God! It’s hard to play”.… “This piece seems to me to bring together every different way of striking the piano, since it unites force and grace.” For the first edition, Durand used a design based on an oil painting by Jean-Antonine Watteau, L’embarquement pour Cythère (The Embarkation for Cythera). The painting belongs to a genre of paintings, fète galante, expressing the enchantment of love reflected in an idealized landscape of parks and gardens where young people make music and dance at the water’s edge. “Air and lightness and grace” are central to L’Isle joyeuse.
If there is an element of biography in this work, it is the celebration of love. Debussy was in the midst of a scandalous divorce. He had left his wife for a married woman, Emma Bardac, and together they fled to England via the Channel Island of Jersey.
String Quartet Op. 41, No. 1 in A minor
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
The three quartets that comprise Schumann’s Op. 41 were composed in less than two months during the summer of 1842. It was his “Chamber Music Year” and included the composition of the Piano Quartet, Op. 44, the Piano Quintet, Op. 47, and the Phantasiestücke, Op. 88 for piano trio. This rapidity of composition, a characteristic Schumann working trait, obscures the mental preparation that went into their creation. Schumann articulated his aesthetic vision for the string quartet. He prized the intimate conversational quality of independent voices and eschewed “symphonic furor.” Schumann believed quartet composition must reflect a deep understanding of the genre’s history while avoiding the slavish imitation of older models. Schumann wrote his publisher, Raimund Härtel, in December 1847: “My quartets which you published have taken on a special meaning for me through the death of Mendelssohn to whom they’re dedicated. I still view them as the best works of my earlier period, and Mendelssohn often expressed a similar opinion to me.”
The quartet begins with an introduction, Andante expressivo, that is highly contrapuntal and reflects Schumann’s intimate knowledge of the music of J. S. Bach. The main body of the movement is an Allegro in sonata form in the key of F major. The flowing primary and subsidiary themes are similar in the stress they place on the offbeat of the measure.
The Scherzo is firmly anchored in the key of A minor. Its brusque galloping character recalls one of Schumann’s short piano pieces from his Album for the Young. The Intermezzo serves as a trio section and is in C major. The first violin plays a sinuous descending figure over the sustained harmonies of the accompanying strings followed by a reprise of the Scherzo. The third movement, an Adagio, is introduced by three measures that have the characteristic of a recitative. This is followed by a beautiful nocturnal theme played first by the first violin and then by the cello. A contrasting middle section makes use of material from the recitative. The principal theme returns with an embellished accompaniment and the movement closes with the opening recitative. The final movement, marked Presto, built on a rhythmic gesture, short-short-long, followed by a rapidly descending flourish, is firmly set in the key of A minor. The second theme of this sonata form movement ascends over a rustic pedal point played by the cello. The development of these elements abounds in counterpoint. The music pauses with a musette-like passage in A major and is followed by a resumption of the main theme and a dazzling finish in A minor.
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
In March 1781 at age 26, Mozart’s troubled employment with Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg was severed with a swift kick to his backside. Mozart would establish himself in Vienna with the composition of The Abduction from the Seraglio that same year. Opera and subscription concerts featuring his piano concertos were the principal means by which Mozart placed himself before the Viennese public. Mozart set a precedent for arranging his piano concertos for piano and strings when he published the three concertos he had written for the 1782–1783 season in Vienna in a version for piano and string quartet. It is in such an arrangement that we will hear Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto played tonight.
The Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488, was written during the period when he was at work on The Marriage of Figaro and entered in his catalogue of works on March 2, 1786. The first movement of the concerto is set in a standard double exposition form that Mozart used in his concertos. The strings introduce the principal theme with a simple eloquence that is the hallmark of the movement. The second subject has an amiable conversational manner. When the piano enters, rather than introducing new material, the principal theme is repeated with subtle embellishment. A third subject introduced by the strings towards the end of the exposition lends itself to rich contrapuntal treatment. The slow movement of the concerto, an Adagio, is in the key of F-sharp minor, one seldom used by Mozart, and features a siciliano rhythm. Melancholy dispelled, the Rondo that follows is one of his most exhilarating movements. The music is brimming with life and energy. In Rondo form the movement is a true moto perpetuo filled with a cornucopia of melodic treats; the music speaks for itself.
Program notes by James L. Franklin, M.D.