Caramoor brings in the young guns! Violinist Benjamin Beilman, recipient of a 2012 Avery Fisher Career Grant, recently graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music and has been touring the world playing recitals, concertos and competitions since. Pianist Andrew Tyson, recipient of the same Avery Fisher Career Grant a year later, is a recent graduate of both Curtis and Juilliard and is praised by the New York Times for the “passion and poetry” in his performance. Celebrate the excellence of these two alumni of Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars program.
Dvořák / Sonatina, Op. 100
Debussy / Sonata in g, L. 140
Beethoven / Sonata No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 12
Let us pack your picnic for you! For delicious dining and the ease of ordering a picnic in advance, consider the special picnic menu offered by our caterer, Great Performances. Picnic tables are available, and you may bring your own blankets and lawn chairs if you like. This service is only available Thursday through Sunday on performance days during the summer. Picnic reservations for this event are now closed.
Antonin Dvořák/1841-1904/ Sonatina, Op. 100
In the summer of 1893, Dvořák left New York, where he was the director of the National Conservatory, to visit some of America’s interior. He spent the summer at a Czech community in Spillville, Iowa, where he felt himself immediately at home (and where, in the space of two weeks during June, he composed his most famous string quartet, adding to it by summer’s end a string quintet as well). One of the excursions he made from Spillville was to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was deeply moved by the beauty of the Minnehaha Falls (named after the Indian princess, “Laughing Water,” in Longfellow’s poetic tale of Hiawatha)—so moved that he noted a melody on the starched cuff of his shirtsleeve.
The quartet and quintet composed in Spillville were to be published as his Opus 96 and 97. Once back in the bustle of New York for the fall season, Dvořák began to give thought to what kind of work he would write for his Opus 100. The charming idea struck him to compose something for two of his children, Ottilie and Antonín, who played violin and piano. He created a piece that was simple enough for them to play, but full of warmth and charm, so that it appeals equally to adults (as the composer correctly predicted to his publisher, Simrock). He completed the Sonatina less than two weeks before the hugely successful premiere of his New World Symphony, but he declared that his proudest premiere was when Otilie and Anton junior played the Sonatina in the parlor of his New York apartment.
The works of Dvořák’s American years always give rise to the question as to how much actual American influence can be found in them. Possibly the first movement contains a reference to “My Darling Clementine,” and the slow movement includes the melancholy tune written on his cuff at Minnehaha Falls, though it yields place to a little mandolin serenade. On balance, the question of national influence should not distract us from the delicacy and charm of this score, crafted from a master’s workshop as a loving gift.
Claude Debussy/1862-1918 /Sonatina in g, L. 140
Late in his life Debussy planned a large chamber music project to consist of six sonatas, of which only the first three were actually composed. So sure was he of the overall scope of his plan, however, that the three completed works were published under the title Six Sonates pour divers instruments. Sonata No. 1 was for cello and piano, No. 2 for flute, viola, and harp, and No. 3 for violin and piano. The manuscript of this last work contained a brief note looking forward to the next item in the series. “The fourth will be for oboe, horn, and harpsichord”—but no fourth sonata was ever completed. (If Debussy had indeed finished a work with such unusual scoring, he would have been among the handful of musicians—along with Falla and Poulenc—who contributed to the revival of the harpsichord early in the 20th century.)
The Violin Sonata turned out to be Debussy’s final completed work. He composed it in 1917 and appeared himself as the pianist, along with violinist Gaston Poulet, at the premiere, which took place in Paris on May 5, 1917. That event turned out to be his last public appearance as a performer. The completion of the sonata had given Debussy a good deal of trouble, the finale proving especially intractable. A month after the premiere, he wrote to a friend, during that flush of post‑partum dissatisfaction that often overtakes creative artists after they have brought a new creation into the world, that he had finished the sonata “only to get rid of the thing” at the insistence of his publisher.
The sonata indeed betrays signs of conflicting forces in the composer’s approach, which may account for his decided coolness—whether to follow the demands of form with a “classical” recapitulation in the first movement or a freer treatment of the opening material where recapitulation is expected. Nonetheless the work contains many beauties, starting right at the outset, where the listener can hardly guess that the music is marked Allegro vivo, since the long note values give a first impression of relaxation until the violin really gets underway. The middle movement, in particular, is a splendid exercise in the fantastic (an element that always appealed to Debussy), and the violin writing throughout reveals his familiarity with the virtuoso showpieces of the 19th century.
Ludwig van Beethoven/1770-1827 /Sonata No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 12
In the generation that preceded Beethoven, the violin sonata as we know it barely existed. Works for solo violin and keyboard were usually published as piano sonatas “with the accompaniment of a violin.” The string part did little more than double the melodic line of the keyboard as an occasional enrichment of the texture. This arrangement was designed for the home music-making of amateurs, who might not always have a violinist handy, but who could still play a piece from just the piano part. During Beethoven’s youth, composers like Mozart created a body of violin sonatas that, more and more, liberated the violin from its older restrictions, making it a real partner with and opponent to the keyboard. Beethoven carried this process even further by eventually creating four-movement sonatas that therefore took on the “seriousness” of the symphony in a smaller scale.
Soon after Beethoven arrived in Vienna, he sought instruction from the Imperial Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri (who has been so unjustly accused of being the “murderer” of Mozart). Beethoven particularly wanted advice in vocal composition—which meant Italian opera, the main path to fame and fortune in Vienna. The “lessons” were irregular and unconstrained, usually consisting of Beethoven’s setting of some Italian text brought for Salieri’s criticism. The master-pupil relationship continued in an offhand way at least until 1802, and the friendship between the two musicians can be documented as late as 1809.
It is not surprising, then, that Beethoven should dedicate a work to Salieri. What may be a surprise is that the work in question is not vocal, but rather the three violin sonatas published in 1799 as Opus 12. But the violin sonata in the 18th century was still a light form largely intended for amateur music-making, and the tunefulness of the musical style could be expected to appeal to a composer of the Italian, rather than the German, branch of Viennese musical culture.
In some respects, the third member of the Opus 12 set is the lightest and most traditional of the three, perhaps put at the end of the set when it was published because its cheerful rondo finale was designed to leave players and listeners in a good mood. The opening movement, too, starts out with a jaunty little figure tossed back and forth between the two instruments (after some preliminary washes of arpeggios). The listener’s first reaction is to regard the arpeggios as decoration leading to a more “melodious” theme, but as the movement progresses, the arpeggios become extended into running scales and other figures that generate a kinetic energy extending far beyond the two- and four-measure phrases of the more obviously “thematic” ideas.
The slow movement is the really individual part of this sonata, a work of rapt concentration that is one of the special features of Beethoven’s art. Here the violin sustains flowing lines, utterly violinistic in character, over a wide variety of original piano figurations, often in the lower registers of the instrument so as to heighten the contrast between the two.
The finale’s opening tune leads us to expect nothing more or less than a chipper little rondo, full of wit, perhaps, but otherwise quite straightforward and conventional—and, indeed, the movement can hardly give pause or doubt to the listener. Yet its verve and energy, coupled with the investigation of fairly distant harmonic regions, generates a larger movement than most composers would have dared in the last years of the eighteenth century, yet one that chortles throughout.