Thoughts About The Music

Wednesday, June 9

Dvořák – Legends (Arr. Shai Wosner)

I have always loved the Legends, which are some of Dvořák’s most spontaneous and disarming pieces. During the pandemic, as I missed so much playing with other people, I decided to enjoy this music by reworking it into a combination of instruments that I particularly like: clarinet, viola and piano. It is quite the guilty pleasure, as if you step into the composer’s workshop and look at the music from a new angle. In the case of Dvořák’s Legends – originally written for piano 4-hand as well as for orchestra – that angle highlights this music’s inherent chamber music feel, its fleeting dialogues and disarming earnestness and intimacy. – Shai Wosner

Enrique Granados – Sonata H. 127

Granados was a Spanish composer and concert pianist who lived from 1867-1916. This single-movement violin sonata was discovered among other scores in his former home in 1971. During his life, Granados wrote a multitude of chamber, orchestral and theatrical works including the well-known opera and piano suite Goyescas. Over his career, he was known for his seamless blending of romantic music with elements of Spanish improvisatory music. Granados himself lived spontaneously, often composing entire pieces in one surge of inspiration. His violin sonata, one of his most under-appreciated works, could very well be the pinnacle of these inspirational bursts. Because the sonata was published so long after Granados’ passing, the details surrounding its composition remain unclear, other than it was dedicated to his dear friend Jacques Thibault. However, the piece tells a story of its own. The work is centered around a single refrain which grows increasingly passionate and agitated as it progresses. Beginning with elegant pastel piano chords, the piece gives way to luscious chromatic harmonies with inflections of exotic Spanish poetry that are coupled with classic romantic prose. The expressive intricacies of the piano and the fiery amorous lines of the violin evoke a feeling of unconstrained improvisation. Ultimately, the piano leads this work to its conclusion as the violin returns to a soft, elegant murmur ending this burst of inspiration how it began.

Paul Wiancko – American Haiku

It could be said that Paul Wiancko’s fascination with haiku runs in the family. His father, while working as a filmmaker in Japan, became fascinated with the Haiku form, and believed that no Haiku had ever been accurately translated into English. The 5-7-5 syllabic meter was, in his eyes, too simplistic for the deeply emotional nature of authentic Japanese Haiku in which each character could have multiple meanings. A single Japanese Haiku could be a treatise on life itself. After seeking to write a book translating Haiku, Wiancko senior met Wiancko’s mother, a Japanese woman who helped him in the process of translating the poetry. Later, growing up in California, Paul Wiancko’s Japanese American heritage became increasingly important to him as he grew both as a man and musician. Wiancko was enchanted with traditional Appalachian music as well as Japanese folk music. His American Haiku is an attempt to reconcile these vastly different esthetics: an effortless fusion of the broad earthiness that is Appalachian music, with the tender, sparse rhythms of Japanese folk song. What he found is that these two seemingly disparate styles blend together seamlessly. Both draw their roots from the natural world. American Haiku offers it’s listener an elegant rapprochement of two cultures all the while delving into the emotional depths of the three-part Haiku in its three movements: I. Far away, II. In Transit, III. Home. Each movement brings with it percussive rhythms coupled with rich, spacious chords recalling vast, rugged mountain ranges over intricate plucky melodies. The blending of viola and cello also play a crucial role in the composition’s harmoniousness, with the cello and viola overlapping in range and texture allowing the viola to weave poignant melodies over the cello’s foundation. In many ways, American Haiku is a treatise on the life of Wiancko and his journey into his own roots, showing that the universal language of music is perhaps the clearest way to translate the depths of Haiku.

Franz Schubert – Trio No. 2 in E-flat major D. 929

In a detailed 1894 article, Dvorak expressed his debt to Schubert, writing “His chamber music, especially his string quartets and trios, must be ranked among the very best of their kind in all musical literature”. Indeed, Schubert weaves a complex and emotional tonal atmosphere, ranging from spontaneous passion to tranquil contemplation. Schubert came late to the trio form, only writing two near the end of his life. His Trio No. 2 in Eb major was completed on January 28th, 1828, and premiered shortly after on March 26th, exactly 365 days after the death of Beethoven. The Trio No. 2 is a perfect showcasing of each instrument in equality with one another. It begins with a strikingly sporadic first movement. The violent, impulsive nature of this movement evades strict formal analysis, with musicologists counting as many as 6 major themes (as opposed to the traditional 2 themes) in the exposition of the first movement. The cello leads the way through the first section with its swaying melody. Then, the piano offers a delicate contrast of soft rushing melodies and bubbling harmonies. The music intensifies with lurching dance-like rhythms, leading the listener into a stormy atmosphere. Here, Schubert explores keys far and wide as major sonorities are consistently overcome by minor keys. The melodies seem to float along as they interact with one another, as if being carried by the wind. The second movement’s opening is readily recognizable as it has become a statement theme in pop culture and film, most famously in Stanely Kubrick’s movie Barry Lyndon. Evoking the feeling of a funeral procession, Schubert carries this melody through the piano and the movement comes to a deliberately loud, passionate section that hits all the harder when it is repeated a second time. After the climax, the funeral procession theme appears again, this time even more somber. The next movement could not be more contrasting, with the piano leading as the strings joyfully imitate one another in playful repose. The final movement of this work is highly complex, beginning with a strikingly bright theme that is suddenly interrupted by a second, darker theme, almost acting in contrast to the 2nd and 3rd movements. The brooding march from the second movement is played as Schubert takes the listener through a sea of melodies until, miraculously, the second movement theme is played once again, shedding its previous mournful temperament into a triumphant victory.

©2021 Nicole Martin