Edward Arron & Friends

Fri, June 26, 2015, 8:00pm

Overview

Alumni of Caramoor’s Rising Stars mentoring program join cellist and Artistic Director Edward Arron for inspiring chamber music in the Spanish Courtyard open to the summer evening air. Arron is recognized worldwide for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances, and creative programming.

Hummel Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 87
Strauss  Metamorphosen (version for String Septet)
Beethoven  Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 ‘Eroica,’ arranged for Piano Quartet by Ferdinand Ries

Leigh Mesh, bass
Jeewon Park, piano
Arnaud Sussmann, violin
Tessa Lark, violin
Nicholas Cords, viola
Mark Holloway, viola
Edward Arron, cello
Alice Yoo, cello

arronEdward Arron

Edward Arron has garnered recognition worldwide for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances, and creative programming. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Mr. Arron made his New York recital debut in 2000 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Earlier that year, he performed Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos with Yo-Yo Ma and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at the Opening Night Gala of the Caramoor International Festival. Since that time, Mr. Arron has appeared in recital, as a soloist with orchestra, and as a chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

The 2012-13 season marked Mr. Arron’s 10th anniversary season as the artistic director of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, a chamber music series created in 2003 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Museum’s prestigious Concerts and Lectures series. In the fall of 2009, Mr. Arron succeeded Charles Wadsworth as the artistic director, host, and resident performer of the Musical Masterworks concert series in Old Lyme, Connecticut, as well as concert series in Beaufort and Columbia, South Carolina. He is also the artistic director of the Caramoor Virtuosi, the resident chamber ensemble of the Caramoor International Music Festival.

Mr. Arron has performed numerous times at Carnegie’s Weill and Zankel Halls, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully and Avery Fisher Halls, New York’s Town Hall, and the 92nd Street Y, and is a frequent performer at Bargemusic. Past summer festival appearances include Ravinia, Salzburg, Mostly Mozart, BRAVO! Colorado, Tanglewood, Bridgehampton, Spoleto USA, Santa Fe, Seattle Chamber Music, Bard Summerscape, Seoul Spring, Great Mountains, and Isaac Stern’s Jerusalem Chamber Music Encounters. Mr. Arron has participated in the Silk Road Project and has toured and recorded as a member of MOSAIC, an ensemble dedicated to contemporary music.

Edward Arron began his studies on the cello at age seven in Cincinnati and, at age ten, moved to New York, where he continued his studies with Peter Wiley. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he was a student of Harvey Shapiro. Mr. Arron has served on the faculty of New York University since 2009.


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Leigh Mesh

Leigh Mesh, Associate Principal Double Bass, joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 1993.  A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, he began his professional career with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and later played with the Indianapolis and Chicago Symphony Orchestras.  He has taught master classes at the New World Symphony in Miami, the Cincinnati Conservatory, the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.

Mr. Mesh is the double bass coach of the UBS Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra in Verbier, Switzerland. He has been a guest artist with the Verbier Festival, Linton Chamber Music Series, the Pensacola Classicfest, the Chamber Music Society of Martha’s Vineyard, the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego, and the Salt Bay Chamberfest.  Mr. Mesh has performed with the MET Chamber Ensemble, the Caramoor Virtuosi, and the Brentano and Tokyo String Quartets.  Mr. Mesh was a faculty member of the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles during the 2009/2010 school year. He joined the faculty of Bard College in the fall of 2010.

He lives with his wife, Nancy Wu, Associate Concertmaster of the MET Opera Orchestra, and their two children, Guinevere and Wolfram in Pleasantville, New York. He pursues cycling and skiing whenever he can.  Mr. Mesh is an exclusive artist for Thomastik-Infeld Strings.

 

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Jesse Weiner Photography

Tessa Lark

Winner of the prestigious Naumburg International Violin Award in 2012, Tessa Lark is one of the most captivating artistic voices of her time. She has been consistently praised by critics and audiences alike for her astounding range of sounds, technical agility and musical elegance.

Tessa was recently named the Silver Medalist of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, making her the highest-ranked American-born winner in the Competition’s history. She is a recipient of a career grant from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts. Other awards include the first prize in both the 2008 Irving Klein International Strings Competition and the 2006 Johansen International Competition for Young String Players; and top prizes in the 2012 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition as part of her piano trio, Modêtre, and the Michael Hill International Violin Competition in 2009.

A passionate chamber musician, she has been invited to many summer festivals including Marlboro, Yellow Barn, Steans Institute for Young Artists at the Ravinia Festival, the Perlman Music Program’s Chamber Music Workshop, and Music@Menlo. Tessa Lark is a member of the Caramoor Virtuosi and has participated in the Music in the Vineyards Festival, the Wadsworth Chamber Music series, the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival and Caramoor’s Rising Star Series. She has collaborated with a long list of renowned artists including Itzhak Perlman, Miriam Fried, Donald Weilerstein, Pamela Frank, Kim Kashkashian and Ralph Kirshbaum. Tessa also participated in the 2012 Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute concert tour.

Tessa started playing violin at age 6 studying with Cathy McGlasson. She joined the Starling Strings Program at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music in 2001 and studied with Kurt Sassmannshaus. She entered New England Conservatory in the fall of 2006 to begin studies with Miriam Fried and completed her Master’s degree in May 2012 under the tutelage of both Ms. Fried and Lucy Chapman. In addition to her busy performance schedule, Tessa has served on the faculty of the Great Wall International Music Academy in Beijing, China and as resident faculty at Lee University School of Music. As a From the Top alumna, Tessa plays an active role in their arts leadership program as a performer and educator.

Keeping in touch with her Kentucky roots, Tessa enjoys playing bluegrass and Appalachian music. She collaborates frequently with Mark O’Connor and is included in his CD “MOC4,” released in June 2014.

Lark plays the 1683 ex-Gingold Stradivari violin on generous loan from the Josef Gingold Fund for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.

 

Alice Yoo_Photo1Alice Yoo

Cellist Alice Yoo has performed extensively throughout the United States and abroad as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician, performing in prestigious venues such as New York’s Weill and Zankel Hall, Boston’s Jordan Hall, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

A passionate chamber musician, Alice has collaborated with distinguished artists including Itzhak Perlman, Mitsuko Uchida, Donald Weilerstein, Pamela Frank, Miriam Fried, Midori Goto, Kim Kashkashian, and Jonathan Biss. She has been invited to esteemed festivals including Marlboro Music Festival Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute for Young Artists, Music@Menlo, Caramoor Rising Stars, and IMS Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music.

From 2012-2014, Alice was a member of Ensemble ACJW, a program of Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School of Music, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. As a member of Ensemble ACJW, Alice performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, SubCulture, Trinity Wall Street, as well as in treatment facilities and schools in all five boroughs of New York City. Alice regularly appears with premiere ensembles, including New York Chamber Players, The Knights, and A Far Cry.

As winner of the USC 2009 String Concerto Competition, Alice performed Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto with the USC Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Jorge Mester with the performance later featured on KUSC radio. She has won top prizes in the Holland-America Music Society Competition, Schadt International String Competition, and Klein International String Competition. Alice has appeared as soloist with the USC Chamber Orchestra,Cleveland Philharmonic, Billings Symphony, and the Bozeman Symphony. Her performances have been featured and broadcasted on Los Angeles’ KUSC Chicago’s WFMT, and Boston’s WGBH.

Passionate for new music, Alice has worked closely with many composers including, Gyorgy Kurtag, Samuel Carl Adams, Andy Akiho, and Michael Brown. She has recently recorded Pierre Jalbert’s String Trio for Music at Copland House.

A native of Bozeman, Montana, Alice earned a Bachelor of Music Degree from New England Conservatory, studying with Paul Katz. Under the tutelage of Ralph Kirshbuam, she received a Post-Graduate diploma from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England and a masters degree from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. Past teachers include Dr. Ilse-Mari Lee and Richard Aaron. Alice currently resides in New York City and is on the cello and chamber music faculty of Bard College’s Preparatory Division.

 

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Jeewon Park

Praised for her “deeply reflective playing” (Indianapolis Star) and “infectious exuberance” (New York Times), Korean-born pianist Jeewon Park has garnered the attention of audiences for her dazzling technique and poetic lyricism. Since making her debut at the age of 12 performing Chopin’s First Concerto with the Korean Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Park has performed in such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, 92nd Street Y, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kravis Center, and Seoul Arts Center in Korea.

As a recitalist, soloist with orchestra, and chamber musician, Ms. Park has appeared at major concert halls across North America, Europe and Asia. Recently, she performed as a soloist in the inaugural festival of the IBK Chamber Hall at the Seoul Arts Center, in addition to engagements at such venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, Vilar Performing Arts Center, and Kumho Art Hall, among others. Ms. Park regularly returns to the Caramoor International Music Festival where she first appeared as a Rising Star in 2007, and is a frequent performer at Bargemusic in New York. Following her performance of the Mozart Concerto K. 453 with the Charleston Symphony, the Post and Courier stated that “Park demonstrated rare skill and sensitivity, playing with a feline grace and glittering dexterity…. lyrical phrasing and pearly tone quality.”

A passionate chamber musician, Jeewon Park has performed at prominent festivals throughout the world, including Spoleto USA, Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, Seoul Spring Festival, Great Mountains Music Festival, Appalachian Summer Festival, Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival, Taos Summer Music Festival, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Eastern Music Festival, the Emilia-Romagna Festival (Italy), the Music Alp in Courchevel (France), and the Kusatsu Summer Music Festival (Japan). She has collaborated with members of the Guarneri, Juilliard, Brentano, Tokyo, Fine Arts, and Miami Quartets. Currently, she is the co-artistic director, along with her husband, Edward Arron, of the Performing Artists in Residence series at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA

Ms. Park has been heard in numerous live broadcasts on National Public Radio and New York’s Classical Radio Station, WQXR. Additionally, her performances have been broadcast nationally in Korea on KBS television. She came to the U.S. in 2002, after having won all the major competitions in Korea, most notably Joong-Ang and KBS competitions. Ms. Park is a graduate of The Juilliard School and Yale University, where she was awarded the Dean Horatio Parker Prize. She holds the DMA degree from SUNY Stony Brook. Her teachers include Young-Ho Kim, Herbert Stessin, Claude Frank and Gilbert Kalish. For more information, please visit www.jeewonpark.com.

 

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Nicholas Cords

Violist Nicholas Cords is deeply committed to the advocacy of music from a broad historic and geographical spectrum. This past season, he gave his New York City recital debut at Bargemusic, including works by Joachim, Takemitsu and Ligeti. Other recent solo appearances include St. Petersburg’s famed White Nights Festival, and the Vail International Dance Festival, where he participated in a revival of a rare Balanchine choreography (with the great Brazilian ballerina Carla Körbes) to Stravinsky’s Élegie for solo viola.

His widely praised solo recording, Recursions, features solo works that range from Biber to Irish traditional to his own compositions for multi-track viola. Mr. Cords is a founding member of Brooklyn Rider; a intrepid string quartet that the LA Times referred to as “one of the wonders of contemporary music.” The group has collaborated with artists ranging from banjo phenomenon Béla Fleck to soprano Dawn Upshaw, commissioned and premiered dozens of works, and their seven studio albums have received praise from virtually every corner of the music industry.

Mr. Cords is also an original member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and serves as the organizations programming chair. Mr. Cords appears on all five of the ensemble’s albums; Silk Road Journeys, Beyond the Horizon, New Impossibilities, Off the Map, A Playlist Without Borders as well as a live concert DVD; Live from Tanglewood. As a concerto soloist, he gave the New York premiere of John Harbison’s Viola Concerto with the Juilliard Orchestra, and has also appeared as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra. A committed teacher, Mr. Cords is Viola Artist-in-Residence at Stony Brook University.

 

Holloway_Mark _Photo credit – Matt Dine_150120-180x295Mark Holloway

Violist Mark Holloway is a chamber musician sought after in the United States and abroad. He has appeared at prestigious festivals such as Marlboro, Music@Menlo, Ravinia, Caramoor, Banff, Cartagena, Taos, Music from Angel Fire, Mainly Mozart, Music at Plush, and the Boston Chamber Music Society. Performances have taken him to far-flung places such as Chile and Greenland, and he plays regularly at chamber music festivals in France and Switzerland, and at the International Musicians Seminar in Prussia Cove, England.

Around New York City, he frequently appears as a guest with the New York Philharmonic and Orpheus. Mr. Holloway has been principal violist at Tanglewood and of the New York String Orchestra, and has played as guest principal of the American Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Camerata Bern, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He has performed at Bargemusic, the 92nd Street Y, the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, and on radio and television throughout North and South America, and Europe, most recently a Live From Lincoln Center broadcast. A member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Mr. Holloway was a student of Michael Tree at The Curtis Institute of Music and received his bachelor’s degree from Boston University.

Mark Holloway participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars program during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He most recently appeared at Caramoor in 2009. Mr. Holloway is a member of Edward Arron & Friends, which receives generous support from The Maximilian E. & Marion O. Hoffman Foundation.

 

Sussmann_Arnaud_141211-MCArnaud Sussmann

Winner of a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Arnaud Sussmann has distinguished himself with his unique sound, bravura and profound musicianship. Minnesota’s Pioneer Press writes, “Sussmann has an old-school sound reminiscent of what you’ll hear on vintage recordings by Jascha Heifetz or Fritz Kreisler, a rare combination of sweet and smooth that can hypnotize a listener. His clear tone [is] a thing of awe-inspiring beauty, his phrasing spellbinding.”

A thrilling young musician capturing the attention of classical critics and audiences around the world, Arnaud Sussmann has appeared with the American Symphony Orchestra, Stamford Symphony, Chattanooga Symphony, Minnesota Sinfonia, Lexington Philharmonic, Jerusalem Symphony and France’s Nice Orchestra. Further concerto appearances have included a tour of Israel and concerts at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Dresden Music Festival in Germany and at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Mr. Sussmann has been presented in recital in Omaha on the Tuesday Musical Club series, New Orleans by the Friends of Music, Tel Aviv at the Museum of Art and at the Louvre Museum in Paris. He has also given concerts at the OK Mozart, Moritzburg, Caramoor, Music@Menlo, La Jolla SummerFest, Mainly Mozart, Seattle Chamber Music, Bridgehampton and the Moab Music festivals.

Arnaud Sussmann has performed with many of today’s leading artists including Itzhak Perlman, Menahem Pressler, Gary Hoffman, Shmuel Ashkenazi, Wu Han, David Finckel, Jan Vogler and members of the Emerson String Quartet. He has worked with conductors such as Robert Moody, Anu Tali, Peter Bay and Leon Botstein. A dedicated chamber musician, he has been a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2006 and has regularly appeared with them in New York and on tour, including a recent concert at London’s Wigmore Hall.

Born in Strasbourg, France and based now in New York City, Arnaud Sussmann trained at the Conservatoire de Paris and the Juilliard School with Boris Garlitsky and Itzhak Perlman. Winner of several international competitions, including the Andrea Postacchini of Italy and Vatelot/Rampal of France, he was named a Starling Fellow in 2006, an honor which allowed him to be Mr. Perlman’s teaching assistant for two years.

A frequent recording artist, Arnaud Sussmann has released albums on Deutsche Grammophon’s DG Concert Series, Naxos, Albany Records and CMS Studio Recordings labels. His solo debut disc, featuring three Brahms Violin Sonatas with pianist Orion Weiss, was released in December 2014 on the Telos Music Label. Arnaud Sussmann was recently signed for world general management with Charlotte Lee at Primo Artists. For more information on Arnaud, visit www.arnaudsussmann.com.

About the Music

 

Johann Nepomuk Hummel/1778-1837/Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 87

 

How greatly reputations change—both in the positive and negative directions—as times change! Johann Nepomuk Hummel was regarded in his lifetime as one of the greatest pianists and composers in Europe. He was a child prodigy who began to study with Mozart at eight and, as was normal in that time, lived as a member of the Mozart family. In 1792 he became acquainted with Haydn in England; later in Vienna in 1793 he studied with Albrechtsberger and Salieri, with both of whom Beethoven also studied. He was regarded as a rival to Beethoven, at least among piano virtuosos, but the two maintained a long, if sometimes difficult, friendship. In 1804 he signed a contract to serve as “concert master” to Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy; this put him in the unenviable position of being successor to the immensely popular Haydn. (It was during his service to the Esterhazy family that he became a successor to Haydn in another way—by composing the only Classical trumpet concerto after Haydn’s to be a popular concert work in the 20th century.)

Hummel’s life changed when the leading diplomats of Europe assembled for the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) to straighten out the political and geographical questions left by the fall of Napoleon. His pianistic ability made him the favorite performer of powerful European leaders.

But in order to support his growing family, he accepted a post as Kapellmeister in Stuttgart in 1816 and moved on two years later to a better job in Weimar, one of the leading cultural centers of Europe. (Goethe was already its most distinguished resident and continued to be so until his death fourteen years later.) The new position offered Hummel three months’ leave at the height of the social season, so that he could tour widely, from England to Russia, renowned as the leading pianist in Europe.

By the 1830s, however, a new generation of virtuosi emphasizing speed, flash, and power (rather than the elegant brilliance of the earlier generation) left Hummel behind, and he came to be regarded as a relic of the late Classical era. His compositions, though, remained popular through the 19th century, though they were gradually forgotten.

A Hummel revival began modestly in the 1970s and continues to this day, as more and more of his music is performed and recorded.

Among the finest of these is the Piano Quintet in E-flat major for the unusual ensemble of piano, violin, viola, cello, and doublebass. Many lovers of chamber music will suddenly exclaim at this, for the instrumentation is identical to that of Schubert’s much-loved “Trout” Quintet—and seems to be otherwise unknown. Is there a connection between the two works?

This question is not easily answered. The manuscript of Hummel’s quintet bears the date October 1802, it seems. But it was not published until 1822, a surprising delay for a work of this quality. Perhaps the manuscript dating is an error, and that it was actually composed in 1820? Hummel’s work has been called the piece that inspired Schubert to write the “Trout” Quintet—but that happened in 1819. And if the Hummel work remained in manuscript until 1822, Schubert would almost certainly not have seen it before writing his popular piece. (But he might have been influenced by a quintet version of Hummel’s popular Septet, composed in 1816.)

Whatever the case may be (and we are unlikely ever to solve the conundrum), Hummel’s Quintet was one of his most popular pieces, reprinted many times in its original form and also arranged for the popular home-music-making combination of piano duet.

The first movement unfolds largely through various treatments of the opening four-note figure, sometimes dark and minor in character, and at other times sunny, sweet, and lyrical. Though Hummel does not aspire to Beethoven’s stormy and dramatic treatment of such tiny figures, he nonetheless builds an effective shape from this musical atom, which is never absent for long.

The racing tempo, Allegro con fuoco, for the Minuet movement suggests that Hummel had been listening to Beethoven’s “minuets”—which were moving far away from the stately formal dance of the classical era. Before long Beethoven began giving the title Scherzo to such movements, and Hummel could have used that term with perfect justice here. The Trio is a jaunty respite from the somewhat more stormy character of the Minuet.

The slow movement features the piano (Hummel’s own instrument, of course) with ornately decorated figuration over and against more sustained and atmospheric parts in the strings. Up to this point, the double bass has not been given much to do (players of the instrument in Hummel’s day simply weren’t virtuosos!), but the instrument gets a freer rein in the finale, an energetic and driving Allegro agitato.

 

 

Richard Strauss/1864-1949/Metamorphosen (version for String Septet)

 

Richard Strauss was among the most politically naive and disengaged of composers. When World War II began and many artists left Germany, whether out of necessity for self-preservation or in political opposition to the Nazi regime, Strauss remained behind. For this he has been roundly castigated. Yet it is worth noting, in his defense, that he was already seventy years old at the time Hitler took power and over seventy-five when the war broke out. It is easy to see why someone in his position might find it nearly impossible to uproot himself at that stage of his life. He withdrew to his home in Garmisch, amidst the beauties of the Bavarian Alps, and progressively withdrew from the world as the barbarism and horror commenced.

Strauss was shocked out of his ostrich-like withdrawal by the bombing, on October 2, 1943, of his native city, Munich, with the attendant destruction of the National Theater, where (as Strauss recalled in a letter to his publisher Willi Schuh) Wagner’s Tristan and Meistersinger had been premiered, where he himself had first seen Der Freischütz seventy-three years earlier, and where his father had sat for many years as first horn in the orchestra. In an immediate reaction to the shock, he noted down a brief fragment of musical theme labeled “Trauer um München” (“Mourning over Munich”), but did nothing further with it for the moment.

As Allied pressure on the German forces tightened, Goebbels decreed the closing of all the theaters on September 1, 1944. The center of Strauss’s life’s work was, for the time being, gone, and he lamented that he had not died the day after the dress rehearsal of his opera Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg that August.

Far worse was yet to come, particularly on the night of February 12, 1945, when Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, was utterly destroyed in an appalling raid that still arouses debate over destruction of purely non-military targets and the loss of civilian lives. For Strauss it was a catastrophe. Dresden had been the site of most of his operatic premieres, the locale of his greatest triumphs. Also destroyed in the bombings was Weimar, the decades-long home of the poet Goethe, who, more than any other literary figure, symbolized a humane German culture that had been destroyed in the previous decade by a madman. A few weeks later Strauss wrote to Joseph Gregor, “I too am in a mood of despair! The Goethe House, the world’s greatest sanctuary, destroyed! My beautiful Dresden—Weimar—Munich, all gone!”

Less than two weeks after penning those words, Strauss began the composition of a new work, conceived for twenty-three solo instruments, incorporating the fragmentary melody he had conceived at the time of the bombing of Munich. The resulting piece, which must have been growing somewhere deep inside for months, poured out of him; he signed the last page barely a month later. It is the most profound of all the remarkable works of Strauss’s old age, the period that his biographer Norman Del Mar calls the “Indian Summer” of his long career; it is a deeply felt threnody for all that had been lost, yet one that (unlike some earlier Strauss compositions) never parades rhetorical elaboration or showy display for its own sake. (The version to be performed here is an arrangement for six strings.)

Strauss gave his new work the title Metamorphosen (“Metamorphoses”), which would seem to suggest that he was employing the time-honored romantic device of thematic development, as it had been perfected by Liszt and Wagner, to allow a melodic fragment to grow, change shape, elaborate itself, and form the basis for still further elaborations. Actually, nothing of the kind occurs in Metamorphosen. The thematic material, though richly intertwined in elaborate contrapuntal textures, remains virtually unchanged in character from beginning to end, a rare (indeed, almost unique) occurrence in Strauss’s work. The title is actually an homage to Goethe, whose works Strauss had re-read from cover to cover during the preceding year, in an effort to recapture some connection with the German cultural tradition at its best. In addition to his literary work, the polymath Goethe undertook scientific researches and produced a number of substantial studies, including a controversial Theory of Color and a more generally respected study Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants, part of a sustained quest for unity and continuity in nature (Darwin recognized Goethe as a forerunner in this). The latter book gave Strauss his title; its poetic sense, implying a kind of organic growth that produces continuity building a unified whole, is appropriate to the score, which otherwise has nothing to do with botany.

Goethe is not the only giant of an older and more humane German culture to be honored in Metamorphosen. Indeed, the very first theme that Strauss notated is remarkably similar to a passage in the funeral march section of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, and it became one of the two principal ideas of the new score. Strauss insisted that this resemblance was purely accidental, but it must have come from deep within his subconscious, for, on the very last page of Metamorphosen, he suddenly makes the resemblance explicit: the lower instruments play the full Beethoven theme, under which Strauss has written the words “IN MEMORIAM.”

Part of what makes Metamorphosen so powerful is its rigorous use of classical contrapuntal technique, and its avoidance of any easy sentimentality. The work simply seems to grow without being poured into any pre-existent form. The opening measures present a somber chorale-like melody (though one that strains its harmonic bearings from the very beginning) in the cellos. Immediately after this, two violas introduce the theme mentioned above, a quiet, halting, C-minor march idea. These form the material for the introductory section, with richly varied textures and free modulation through many keys. The measured tempo of the opening yields to “more flowing” as a new theme appears in the key of G. From this point on, the work becomes a freely developed musical fantasy that gradually increases in its sense of movement (through the use of smaller and smaller note values) and gradually in its tempo. With seemingly endless variety, Strauss builds his central section into a massive climax culminating in a series of urgent canonic entries of the motto theme, piled up on top of one another to a high point, followed by a sudden descent and a return to the original slow tempo. The final section further develops the dark mood of the two principal themes from the opening, arriving finally at what Del Mar calls “the nadir of hopelessness” and the memorial quotation of Beethoven’s funeral march as a last glimpse and symbol of all that has been destroyed.

 

 

Ludwig van Beethoven/1770-1827/Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55 ‘Eroica’, arranged for Piano Quartet by Ferdinand Ries

 

Around 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte dominated European politics as have few men in all of history. Like many others, Beethoven was fascinated by this man of power and charisma. While writing his third symphony in 1803, he conceived the idea of dedicating it to Napoleon. In May 1804, after the symphony had been composed and the title page of the manuscript headed with Napoleon’s name, Beethoven learned that Napoleon had declared himself emperor and cried out, “Now he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition. He will exalt himself above all others, become a tyrant!” Then he reportedly grabbed the symphony and tore the title page in two. The only surviving manuscript (a copy) has a title page in Beethoven’s hand with the name “Bonaparte” scratched out so violently that there are holes in the paper. Still, Beethoven apparently had second thoughts even then, because he later added the words “Written on Bonaparte” in pencil! When published, the symphony became known with the more general—yet fully suitable—nickname Sinfonia eroica (“Heroic symphony”).

It was one of the truly epoch-making scores in the history of music, inaugurating what is often called Beethoven’s “middle period,” a breakthrough for Beethoven in shaping the creative forces that were virtually exploding within him. His new‑found ability to balance tension and release in a complex, sustained way makes possible the expressive power of the Eroica from the gigantic, nervous first movement, the heart-catching silences of the funeral march in the second, and the scherzo’s whirlwind of energy, to the jubilant closing outburst at the end of the finale’s set of variations. The closing pages release a kinetic energy previously unknown in the symphonic literature. No wonder that the Eroica remained Beethoven’s favorite symphony, for it was there that he truly became Beethoven.

The Piano Quartet version performed here was made by Ferdinand Ries (1784-1833), a friend of Beethoven’s from his days in Bonn and later his pupil and secretary in Vienna. He was himself a prolific composer, in a style that places him between Mozart and Beethoven. Chamber music arrangements of orchestral works were extraordinarily common at this time; they offered music-lovers the opportunity to become acquainted with works that could be heard only rarely in orchestral concerts (and not at all, of course, in recordings). A work like the Eroica particularly benefited from this situation in making this daring work more familiar.

Early listeners were astonished by the symphony’s unusual length, almost twice as long as any written to that date. The first movement of the Eroica has not a single theme that stands complete in and of itself, no melody that runs its course and comes to a full stop. Things begin in a straightforward way but shade off immediately into doubt and ambiguity. The very first theme is Mozartean for its just eight notes (indeed, Mozart used the same idea in the overture to his youthful opera Bastien und Bastienne). But Beethoven’s theme goes continues–and gets “caught” on its tenth note, a C‑sharp not part of the home key. Left dangling uncomfortably and unexplained at the end of the phrase, this C-sharp generates an unusually lengthy musical discourse to explain its meaning. The troublesome note appears in every conceivable context, as if Beethoven is trying to suggest each time, “Perhaps this is its true meaning.” Only at the very end of the movement, do we hear the opening musical theme presented four successive times (with orchestral excitement building throughout) as a complete melody without that troubling C-sharp. Of course, a great deal happens in that monumental first movement, which remains one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in the history of music.

Each of the other movements is justly famous in its own right. The Adagio assai generated heated discussion as to the appropriateness of including a funeral march in a symphony. No attentive listener can fail to be moved by the shattering final measures in which the dark march theme returns for the last time, truncated, broken into fragments in a dying strain: a convincing demonstration of the power inherent in the music of silence. The scherzo’s whirlwind of activity scarcely ceases for a moment. All suggestion of the traditional third-movement menuetto of vanishes before a torrent of rushing notes and irregular phrases. The last movement builds a set of variations from a tune taken from Beethoven’s ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven sometimes used the theme’s bass line, sometimes its melody in variations full of witty and felicitous touches. A fugal section in the center of the movement gives it some density, and the conclusion, with virtuosic outbursts in the horns and energetic fanfares for the full orchestra loses nothing in the way of rousing excitement, no matter how many times we hear it.

 

© Steven Ledbetter