This innovative and touching program presents the music of Schubert’s Octet in dialogue with one of New York’s most distinctive literary voices, Adam Gopnik, who happens to be a great fan of Schubert. In between movements of the exhilarating Octet, Gopnik will read an original narrative about the intersection of music and life. The Octet is a signature piece for St. Luke’s and this premiere presentation of Gopnik’s original material will open new doors of musical meaning for all of us.
St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble
Adam Gopnik, writer & speaker
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Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) is one of America’s most versatile and distinguished orchestras, collaborating with the world’s greatest artists and performing approximately 80 concerts each year—including its Carnegie Hall Orchestra Series, Chamber Music Series at The Morgan Library & Museum and Brooklyn Museum, and the Caramoor Summer Season. In its 41-year history, OSL has commissioned more than 50 new works, has given more than 175 world, U.S., and New York City premieres; and has appeared on more than 100 recordings, including four Grammy Award winners and seven releases on its own label, St. Luke’s Collection. Pablo Heras-Casado is OSL’s principal conductor and the orchestra’s fourth titled conductor; previous music directors and principal conductors are Sir Roger Norrington, Sir Charles Mackerras, and Donald Runnicles. Bernard Labadie’s currently serves as Principal Conductor Designate.
OSL grew out of a chamber ensemble that began giving concerts at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village in 1974. Today, the 21 virtuoso artists of St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble make up OSL’s artistic core.
In its 41-year history, OSL has commissioned more than 50 new works, has given more than 175 world, U.S., and New York City premieres; and has appeared on more than 100 recordings
OSL owns and operates The DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Midtown Manhattan, where it shares a building with the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The DiMenna Center is New York City’s premier venue for rehearsal, recording, and learning, having quickly gained a reputation for its superb acoustics, state-of-the-art facilities, and affordability. Since opening in 2011, The DiMenna Center has welcomed more than 100,000 visitors, including more than 400 ensembles and artists such as Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Valery Gergiev, James Levine, James Taylor, and Sting. OSL hosts hundreds of neighbors, families, and school children at its home each year for free community events.
Through its Education & Community programs, OSL has introduced audiences across New York City to live classical music. OSL brings free chamber concerts to the five boroughs; offers free interactive music programs at The DiMenna Center; provides chamber music coaching for adult amateurs; and engages 10,000 public school students each year through its Free School Concerts. In 2013, OSL launched Youth Orchestra of St. Luke’s (YOSL), an intensive in- and after-school instrumental instruction program emphasizing musical excellence and social development, in partnership with community organizations and public schools in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
A staff writer for theNew Yorkersince 1986,Adam Gopnikwas born in Philadelphia and raised in Montreal. He received his B.A. in Art History from McGill University before completing his graduate work at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. His first essay inThe New Yorker, “Quattrocento Baseball,”appeared in May of 1986 and he served as the magazine’s art critic from 1987 to 1995. That year, he left New York to live and write in Paris, where he wrote the magazine’s “Paris Journal” for the next five years. His expanded collection of his essays from Paris,Paris to the Moon, appeared in 2000 and was called by theNew York Times“the finest book on France in recent years.” While in Paris, he began work on an adventure novel,The King in the Window, which was published in 2005, and which theJournal of Fantasy & Science Fictioncalled “a spectacularly fine children’s novel … children’s literature of the highest order, which means literature of the highest order.” He still often writes from Paris for theNew Yorker, has edited the anthologyAmericans in Parisfor the Library of America, and has written a number of introductions to new editions of works by Maupassant, Balzac, Proust, Victor Hugo, and Alain-Fournier.
His 2006 book,Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New Yorkcollected and expanded his essays from the previous five years about life in New York and about raising two children in the shadow of many kinds of sadness. It includes the much-anthologized essays “Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli,” about his daughter Olivia’s imaginary friend, who is always too busy to play with her, and “Last of the Metrozoids,” about the life and last year of Kirk Varnedoe. In 2009, Gopnik completedAngels and Ages: A Short Book About Lincoln, Darwin and Modern Life, which became a national best-seller and which theTelegraphin London called “the essay every essayist would like to have written.” Shortly after, in 2010, Gopnik published another children’s novel,The Steps Across the Water,which chronicles the adventures of a young girl, Rose, in U Nork.
In addition to his work as a writer, Adam has been an active lecturer. He has given lectures and readings in almost every major American city, and some smaller ones, too, from Jackson, Mississippi to Seattle, Washington. In addition to the Massey series, his more formal and extended lectures have included the New York Public Library/Oxford University Press lectures in New York; the Phillips Lecture in Washington, and the Whitney Lecture in New York, and the Shapiro Lectures at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In 2006, he also hosted and presented an hour-long film about New York, “Lighting Up New York,” for the BBC in London.
In the past five years, Gopnik has engaged in many musical projects, working both as a lyricist and libretto writer. With the composer David Shire he has written both book and lyrics for the musical comedy The Most Beautiful Room in New York.
In the past five years, Gopnik has engaged in many musical projects, working both as a lyricist and libretto writer. With the composer David Shire he has written both book and lyrics for the musical comedyThe Most Beautiful Room in New York, which premiered in May 2017 at the Long Wharf Theater under the direction of Gordon Edelstein. He wrote the libretto for Nico Muhly’s oratorio “Sentences,” which premiered in London at the Barbican in June of 2015. Other projects include collaborating on a one-woman show for the soprano Melissa Errico, “Sing the Silence”, which debuted in November of 2015 at the Public Theater in New York, and included new songs co-written with David Shire, Scott Frankel, and Peter Mills. Future projects include a new musical with Scott Frankel.
He has won the National Magazine Award for Essays and for Criticism three times, as well as the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting, and the Canadian National Magazine Award Gold Medal for arts writing. His work has been anthologized many times, in “Best American Essays,” “Best American Travel Writing,” “Best American Sports Writing,” “Best American Food Writing,” and “Best American Spiritual Writing.” In March of 2013, Gopnik was awarded the medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Republic. Two months later, he received an honoris causa from McGill University.
He lives in New York with his wife, filmmaker Martha Parker, and their two children, Luke Auden and Olivia Esme Claire.
At a Glance
It is one of the mysteries of art that a genius reveals his originality most when trying to imitate an earlier genius as closely as possible. Schubert’s Octet was composed explicitly as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Septet (his most popular work during his lifetime), mimicking the older master’s work so closely in scoring, layout of movements, and musical character that it must have been obvious to everyone who heard the piece.
About the Composer
Despite their great similarity, one important difference between Beethoven’s work and Schubert’s is that Beethoven composed his at a quite early stage of his career, while differentiating himself from his predecessors; it is noteworthy that the Septet was the last Beethoven piece of which Haydn fully approved, and it was his way of working himself up to composing his first symphony.
Schubert’s Octet, on the other hand, is the work of an artist in his prime, one who has already established his compositional profile. He had already written eight symphonies and was working up to his most important orchestral work, the “great” Symphony in C. Schubert was actually a bit younger in years than Beethoven had been when composing the comparable piece, yet he was at a very different stage of a career that was sadly truncated but that nevertheless developed at an astonishing speed. Beethoven had twenty-seven more years to compose and develop; Schubert had only four.
The period of composition has often been described as a time when Schubert was severely depressed, perhaps even suicidal. Certainly he was unhappy with the state of his health. For two years he had been showing signs of syphilis and he knew, of course, that the disease was (then) incurable and often led to insanity. The main evidence for his depression is his letter of March 31, 1824, in which he describes himself as “the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world” because his “health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair over this makes things worse and worse.” Yet at the end of the same letter, he comments on some recent instrumental works: “I have tried my hand at several instrumental works … two Quartets … an Octet, and I want to write another Quartet; in fact, that is how I want to work my way toward composing a grand symphony.” The Octet proved to be part of the pathway leading to the Great C-major Symphony, composed in 1825.
About the Work
Although Ferdinand, Count Troyer, the man who commissioned the Octet from Schubert, may have borne the noble title of count, he was also a clarinetist in the musical establishment of Beethoven’s friend and pupil Archduke Rudolph. In 1824, Troyer evidently requested that Schubert model the work on Beethoven’s Septet. Schubert followed instructions and listeners of the time would have recognized this fact and would have enjoyed it all the more for that very reason.
Schubert began with the same instrumental ensemble as Beethoven, augmented only by the addition of a second violin. This made his ensemble essentially a small orchestra, and he often arrayed his strings in a manner reflecting that, with the two violins in octaves and the double bass doubling the cello at the lower octave. This gave the feeling of greater spaciousness and breadth, particularly when Schubert set the five strings against the three wind instruments in various kinds of contrast and echo.
A Closer Listen
Schubert planned his Octet in six movements, fashioned like the old classical divertimento, just as Beethoven had done, with two dance movements in triple meter, a contrasting Trio, and most likely, a theme and variations. These movements all appear in the Schubert Octet in exactly the same location that they held in Beethoven’s Septet. What’s more, though the pieces are in different keys (Beethoven in E-flat, Schubert in F), the harmonic relationships between the movements bear exactly the same relationship. Following the first movement, naturally in the home key (F), the slow movement is in the subdominant (B-flat); the scherzo is in the tonic (F) with the trio in the dominant (C); the theme and variations are in the dominant (C); the Menuetto is in the tonic again (F), with the trio in the sub-dominant (B-flat). The finale drives its way to the conclusion in the tonic (F).
In an age of heavy militarism, marches were constantly heard, and even entirely abstract music like the opening Allegro of the Octet, easily absorbed the spirit of the march, especially in the plethora of dotted rhythms scattered throughout. The frequency with which the clarinet plays a leading thematic role (after the first violin) is no surprise, given the source of the commission, but actually, even with a larger orchestral body, these two instruments would be naturally balanced in opposition between strings and winds.
The Adagio, a tempo mark Schubert rarely used, follows Beethoven, with an opening melody for the clarinet that spreads a broad sense of tranquility. Schubert’s occasional depressions burst out with demonic violence, evoking, what Hugh Macdonald calls his volcanic temper, in the coda. The Scherzo is filled out with an open-air energetic joie-de-vivre.
Most of Schubert’s theme-and-variations movements employ themes from his own workshop. Familiar examples include his songs the “The Trout” and “Death and the Maiden” from the similarly nicknamed piano quartet and string quartet. The Octet also draws on a vocal source, one much less well known: a duet from his opera The Friends of Salamanca, which was never performed in his lifetime. There is a certain comfortable Gemütlichkeit (coziness) here, especially compared to the élan of the Scherzo.
The Menuetto is also in a popular style, but it is graceful, a real dance, like the high social dances of the previous generation. The Trio suggests the more countrified Ländler of a type that before long turned into the waltz. The most striking thing about the movement is the many little harmonic twists that not only color a passage but engineer surprising modulations.
Schubert imitates Beethoven, too, in preparing the finale with a slow introduction in the minor mode—a touch of solemnity that could be a reflection of his bouts of depression, eventually cast aside for the sunny march-character of the final Allegro, which is now clearly some kind of rehearsal for the great energetic expanse of the C-major symphony of the following year.
– Steven Ledbetter
Famed New York Author and essayist Adam Gopnik will be featured as he reads his own thoughts and reflections on the music of Schubert.
Program to include readings from “Schubert in a Life” by Adam Gopnik.
From Adam Gopnik
Entangling my words with Schubert’s music seemed at first consideration absurd—how can any writer, even one of gifts much greater than mine, hope to compete or even adequately complement music as sublime and rich and meaningful as his? But a second thought—made suspiciously easier, it must be admitted, in part by a long-standing admiration for St. Luke’s and a desire to take part in one of their concerts from the other side of the platform—made me realize that the entanglement of words and music are exactly where Schubert lives. My first exposure to Schubert was through the lieder recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, whose still matchless renditions (often of words of much less consequence than the music that lifts them) were my first truthful exposure to classical music—by ‘truthful’ I mean an exposure which was as natural and as much part of my life as any Beatle record, not music overheard but music chosen. I suddenly remembered then that my love of Fischer-Dieskau had led me, in a kind of all or nothing gamble, to ask the prettiest girl I had ever met to a date to hear him sing nothing less daunting that “Der Winterreise.” Many decades, and a long marriage, later, our life still bears the stamp of his rendition of that very cold and melancholy journey. Realizing that in truth Schubert’s music was already entangled with my words—with the words that I use to try to give shape to one person’s many-sided experience of the world, an essayists’ work—I began exploring the forms of verse, letter-writing and of simple prose, to try and shape a response to Schubert that would also be a testament to my own experience of his work within my life. That the music will overwhelm the words I offer is a dead certainty. That the words I offer might spark similar reveries about the actual role that music plays in all our lives—not as a passive injection of pleasure or ‘culture’ but as a kind of golden branch that our lives wrap themselves around to build nests, make sense, find meaning—in other hearts and heads is still my simple Schubertian hope.