NOV 8th, 2018 at 1:30 pm
Desiree Ruhstrat, violin; David Cunliffe, cello and Marta Aznavoorian, piano
Gabriel Faure (1845 – 1924)
Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 120
– Allegro ma non troppo
– Allegro vivo
Daron Hagen (b. 1961)
Piano Trio No. 4: Angel Band
– Waltz:The Violinist on the Pont Neuf
– Blue Chaconne
– Finale: Angel Band
Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992)
Estaciones Porteñas [The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires]
– Otoño Porteño [Buenos Aires Autumn]
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87
– Andante con moto
– Scherzo (Presto)
– Finale (Allegro giocoso)
Gabriel Fauré: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 120
It was Fauré’s fate throughout his career to be an outsider in the music world. The son of minor aristocrats in southern France, he was sent at age nine as a boarder to Niedermeyer’s, a music school in Paris which specialized in church music, training organists and choirmasters. When Saint-Saens took over the piano and composition classes at the school in 1861, Fauré’s education was broadened to include Schumann, Liszt and Wagner, though he remained attracted to the modal harmonies of early music throughout his life.
As an adult, Fauré found himself rebuffed by the musical establishment. Scorned for his ecclesiastical background, the composer was at the same time viewed suspiciously as dangerously modern. When he first applied for a teaching position at the Paris Conservatory, Director Ambroise Thomas had exclaimed “Fauré? Never! If he’s appointed I resign.” But four years later Thomas was dead and Fauré, at 52, was finally a composition professor at the school. Among his pupils were Maurice Ravel, Georges Enesco, and Nadia Boulanger. In another eight years, against all odds, Fauré was appointed Director of the Conservatory. He embarked immediately on much-needed radical reforms at the venerable but hidebound institution. Predictably, the traditionalists were offended, rewarding him with the unflattering nickname “Robespierre.”
At 75 he was nudged into retirement. He did appreciate having more time to compose, and some of his greatest chamber works would come at the end of his life: two sonatas each for violin and cello with piano, a piano quintet, a string quartet, and the Op. 120 trio. He was continuing to write, despite encroaching cacophonic hearing, a malady involving pitch distortion which is especially devastating to musicians. Fauré could hear mid-range tones at the actual pitch, while high notes sounded a third lower and low notes a third higher.
At his death in 1924, it is telling that despite Fauré’s high-profile career as a composer and Director of the Paris Conservatory, as well as recipient of the Grand Croix of the Légion d’honneur, his right to a state funeral was challenged by the French Arts Minister, who demanded haughtily “Fauré? Qui ça?”
Daron Hagen: Piano Trio No. 4: Angel Band
Daron Hagen is a prolific composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music for the concert hall and stage. He is also a stage director, conductor, librettist, essayist, clinician, and collaborative pianist. His music has been described by The New Yorker magazine as “dazzling, unsettling, exuberant, and heroic.” Hagen himself offers this modest insight into his often warmly lyrical music: “As a Norwegian Lutheran, I was brought up not to point to myself. If your head was up four or five inches above anybody else’s in the room, it got batted down. Any sort of intellectual pretention was treated with derision. The upshot is that my music is crafted so that you don’t have to know anything and you’ll have a nice time in the theater.”
The inspiration for this piano trio is the life of violin prodigy Joyce Ritchie Strosahl (1918–2012), who grew up during the Great Depression in the back hills of Kentucky. She studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Illinois Wesleyan College, becoming a successful chamber musician, orchestral player, and the visionary force in the creation of The Seasons Performance Hall and Music Festival in Yakima, Washington.
The cycles of Strosahl’s life are musically and emotionally embodied by the gospel hymn Angel Band, first arranged by William Batchelder Bradbury in 1862, and later interpreted by many artists including Jerry Garcia, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Anonymous 4. Beginning with Youth, proceeding through Experience, and culminating in Old Age, the trio features an evolving series of harmonic languages, musical styles, recurring motives, and, in the Finale, variations on the tune itself. The trio was commissioned for the Finisterra Piano Trio in honor of Strosahl, and was premiered by that ensemble on September 29, 2007 at the Seasons Performance Hall.
Astor Piazzolla: from Estaciones Porteñas [The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires]: Otoño [Autumn]
Almost 250 years after Vivaldi’s Seasons, Piazzolla wrote the first of his Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Piazzolla was born in Argentina to Italian parents, but grew up mostly in New York City. His destiny was sealed when his father spotted a bandonéon (a small, accordion-like instrument, mainstay of the tango band) in a pawn shop and bought it for his son. By age 13 Astor was a prodigy. Renowned tango master Carlos Gardel invited him to join his concert tour. Astor’s father said no, the boy was too young. A fortuitous decision: on that tour, Gardel and his entire band perished in a plane crash.
In 1937 Piazzolla returned to Argentina, where he became a composition pupil of Alberto Ginastera. He won a grant in 1954 to study in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. In his memoir Piazzolla colorfully describes the experience: “When I met her I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: ‘It’s very well written.’ And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: ‘Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but I can’t find Piazzolla.’ She kept asking, ‘You say that you are not a pianist. What instrument do you play, then?’ Finally I confessed that I was a bandonéon player, and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly took my hand and told me: ‘You idiot, that’s Piazzolla.’ And I took all the music I had composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.”
Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87
By all accounts, Brahms was a difficult fellow. Though avuncular in appearance, he was famously deficient in social graces, and managed to reveal only what he wished his contemporaries (and posterity) to know. Whereas Beethoven kept copious, fascinating sketchbooks by which we can track his development, Brahms has left us only a body of highly polished gems, his cherry-picked and painstakingly revised selection of his life’s works. He was known to ignite periodic bonfires devoted to the ruthless excision of anything he considered less than worthy, including many entire compositions as well as preliminary sketches. His personal life was similarly self-edited. Both he and Clara Schumann agreed late in life to destroy all their correspondence (though Clara managed to save a few of his letters), ensuring that we will never really know the particulars of their long relationship.
The numbering of the Piano Trio No. 2 is misleading. Brahms’ first piano trio (Op. 8) was written in 1854, when the composer was just 20, shortly after his fateful meeting with Robert and Clara Schumann. Twenty-four years later Brahms’ publisher Fritz Simrock asked if Brahms would care to revise any of his previously published works. The composer leaped at the opportunity. The “new” Op. 8, a major revision of the original, was published in 1891, nine years after Piano Trio No. 2. Untypically for Brahms, he did not withdraw the earlier Op. 8. The two versions of this trio thus provide one of our very few revelatory glimpses into the workings and progression of the composer’s genius.
In March 1880, Brahms had started two more piano trios, finishing just the first movements of each: Op. 87 and another trio in E-flat major. Though Clara Schumann preferred the latter, it didn’t meet the composer’s notoriously high standards, and he promptly destroyed its one movement. Two more years went by before he wrote the remaining three movements of Op. 87, in July 1882. Brahms was unusually pleased with it, telling Simrock, “You have not so far had such a beautiful trio from me and very probably have not published one to match it in the last 10 years.” Indeed, the composer, at age 49, was at the height of his powers, having already written both piano concertos, the violin concerto, his first two symphonies, A German Requiem, the piano quartets, the piano quintet, the string sextets, and all three string quartets, as well as many songs.