In Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, a song for soprano, clarinet and piano, a wanderer – a shepherd in this instance - pines for his love down in the valley below, as susceptible to hope and despair as the ill-treated travellers in Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The song was written for opera star Anna Milder-Hauptman, who charmed every visitor to Vienna, from the stern Beethoven to Napoleon who dropped in on his journeys of conquest.
In Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) hands the piano trio grew into an epic work of art that reflected the romantic breadth and chamber musical depth of the ensemble. In his B major trio, Schubert achieved a balance that required musicians "of some skill", as the composer noted. The melodic volubility and invention familiar from the works of his youth is still present, but now it's all couched in a grand form that swallows up the epic meandering.
Shostakovich's (1906-1975) eighth string quartet was born in Dresden in 1960. The composer was in town working on music for the movie Five Days, Five Nights. The movie, which dealt with the Allied bombing of Dresden, brought back memories of war. The composer had also become aware of all the great treasures of the arts destroyed in the bombing. Shostakovich dedicated the completed work "to the victims of fascism and war". The composer was doubtless not lacking in sympathy for the victims of fascism, but the dedication smacks of official liturgy, like he'd have wanted to append a reference to the victims of Stalin. The work is far more than just documentation of the Cold War ideological conflict. It tells the story of the oppressed and victimized through the ages.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) left behind six sonatas for harpsichord and violin (BWV 1014-1019). The Sonata in C minor BWV 1017, which he wrote in 1717-23, owes its form to the church sonata, with faster movements following slower ones. The fast movements are contrapuntal, the first them a fugue, but the slower ones are dominated by melancholy and sedate emotions.
"If you wish, you could be the new Bach! At the very least a second Brahms," the famous music historian Hugo Riemann said to Max Reger (1873-1916). It speaks volumes about the composer's ideals. Max Reger is remembered for his solid compositional technique and skillful counterpoint, which he used in an attempt to rejuvenate the polyphonic approach that reached its apex with Bach. The second string trio, completed in 1915, is one of his last works. In its melancholy strains, we can hear the longing and sadness of a life's work cut short.
The piano quartets op. 25 and 26 that Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) completed in 1862 are massive without being symphonic. Brahms' symphonies and chamber music works combine the public with the private and the monumental with intimacy of a chamber music setting. The G minor piano quartet reaches its climax in an extravagant gypsy-style finale. Before the finale the piece is mostly melancholy, but always forward-looking.
Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) Quartettsatz ("Movement for String Quartet", Allegro assai) in C minor was not originally written as a separate work. A brief Andante fragment that was to come after it survives. The C minor movement shares with Schubert's last three quartets their generous proportions, a courageous manipulation of keys and the tendency to assign melodies the task of steering the composition. No one knows why he never managed to finish this captivating work.
Max Bruch's (1838-1920) 8 Pieces for Piano, Clarinet (or violin) and Viola (or cello) were written in 1910, but they are hardly recognizable as products of the early modern age. By the time he came to write his late works, with their changing ensembles, Bruch no longer had anything to prove. They are private by nature, embodying a spirit similar to that found in the works of Mendelssohn. The melodies do not bow to trends of the day and the sound of this music, born in the wrong time as it were, reaches a truly timeless state.
"Walking in a transfigured park, in the cold moonlight, the wife confesses to the husband her misfortune in a dramatic outburst. She has married a man she doesn't love. She was unhappy and lonely in her union, but forced herself to remain faithful and finally, as a result of following her maternal instincts, she has become pregnant to the man she does not love. She considered her deed honorable, as she was fulfilling natural destiny. The strong crescendo in the music symbolizes her self-accusation and sense of guilt."
Arnold Schönberg's (1874-1951) string sextet Die verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night") came out of nowhere in 1899. Schönberg based his work on a collection of poetry called Woman and World by Richard Dehmel. The music follows Dehmel's poem with remarkable sensitivity. Now, in our time, the idealized style of the poem may seem childish and from a female perspective even stupid, but the extreme emotional impact of the music tends to overpower such details.
This terzetto with its unusual ensemble of two violins and a viola received its premier in 1887 and represents the last flowering of domestic music. Two of the performers at the premiere were hobbyists – a doctor and a lawyer. Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) was more than happy to have a legitimate reason to write simple music. "Did not Beethoven and Schumann, too, write simple pieces, and what pieces they were?", he wrote to his publisher Simrock.
trips abroad that he took together wit the tenor Ivanov in 1830 had a pivotal effect on the career of Mihail Glinka (1804-1857). He met many people on his travels, including Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Bellini and Donizetti. Soon his admiration for the western lands turned into a longing for home: "My longing for my country of birth eventually led me to compose in a Russian style, " Glinka wrote in his memoirs (1854). Between 1830 and 1832 Glinka often visited doctor De Filippi in the small town of Varese near the Como and Maggiore. The doctor's daughter was a skilled pianist, whom Chopin himself had paid tribute to. She inspired Glinka to write a sextet for piano and a string quartet augmented with a double bass. The work is not particularly Russian in style. It tends more towards the ecstasy of the bel canto operas.
Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) grand String Quintet in C major D. 956 was completed in 1828, the year the composer died, during a fevered and shockingly fecund race to the finish line. The work is thus forever connected to Schubert's premature death, even though we have no way to determine its exact date of birth.
The ensemble itself generates a dark atmosphere: Schubert didn't use the quintet ensemble utilized by Mozart in his six works. Instead, he uses to cellos to create dramatic tension and some rude, bass energy. Schubert's quintet grasps the beauty of the world with great passion, even as a deathly augury lurks around the corner. Pay attention to the solid drama of the scherzo, as well as the perplexingly light dance of the finale.
Text: Antti Häyrynen