Creative State {College of Liberal & Creative Arts}

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Morrison Artists Series: ARTefact

Sunday, November 4, 2012
3:00pm
Photo collage of ARTefact
Hailed for extraordinary technical skills and musicianship and their "special feel for the music and a sense of communication that could not be missed," the members of ARTefact are at the forefront of their respective fields, yet play together "as if this was something they had been doing for a quarter of a century," the Calgary Herald writes. Based in Canada, ARTefact views the ensemble as an opportunity to present pieces from the broad and vivid repertoire for clarinet, violin, cello and piano from all periods, and as a fount of varied, versatile repertoire for smaller combinations within its instrumentation, including piano trio, clarinet trio, instrumental sonatas, duos and solos. Pre-concert talk: November 4, 2pm. Master class: November 5, noon, Knuth Hall. Free.
Directions: 
Creative Arts Building, McKenna Theatre

Program

  • Hindemith (1895–1963): Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (1938)
  • Takemitsu (1930–1996): Quatrain II (1977)
  • Intermission
  • Brahms (1833–1897): Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114 (1891)

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Program notes

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963): Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (1938)

Paul Hindemith, a towering musical figure of his time, left a distinctive imprint in several realms. He is arguably one of the great German composers, having composed such masterpieces as the opera Mathis der Maler, along with a large output of orchestra, chamber, choral and solo literature. As an educator he taught at the Berlin Hochschule and was a successful reformer of the music education system in Turkey. As an instrumentalist he was an accomplished violinist and violist, and also left his mark as a groundbreaking music theorist, penning textbooks on harmony, composition and musicianship which are still in use today.

After writing his first works in a late Romantic style, he turned to expressionism, somewhat in the vein of Arnold Schönberg. Hindemith later developed a contrapuntal language all his own, which did not reject tonality in the traditional sense, but rather enlarged upon it. A great melodist, he nonetheless avoided clear harmonic references to major and minor triads.

After repeatedly falling in and out of favor with the Nazi regime in Germany, Hindemith emigrated to Switzerland in 1938 and, two years later, to the United States. Hindemith was, on the one hand, attacked vehemently by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and, on the other, defended by conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler as an example of a modern German composer writing in the tonal idiom whose music also made frequent references to folk music.

Hindemith wrote the Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano just after he completed a U.S. tour in 1938. He wrote in a letter to his wife: “The tour has to be regarded as a success in every respect, and will form the basis for a series of future undertakings which hopefully will bring us much joy....I am going to get to work and write something for clarinet or bassoon quartet.” In another letter, he wrote: “The clarinet quartet does very well for itself. It is a considerable chunk of music, sounds very nice and ought to make a good impression.”

Premiered in New York in 1939, the quartet is indeed a masterpiece of great amplitude and force. It explores a vast variety of moods and colors: acidic, obsessive and violent at times, lyrical and heartfelt at others. The slow movement in particular is an example of intensity and passion that is often neglected by critics of Hindemith’s music.

Tōru Takemitsu (1930–1996): Quatrain II (1977)

A decade and a half after his death, Tōru Takemitsu remains Japan’s most celebrated composer and music theorist. Predominantly self-taught, at the age of 16 he became fascinated, while recovering from an illness, with the Western music that was much heard in his environs during the post-war U.S. occupation of Japan. He was especially open to the exploration of Western music at that time in his life because, as he recounted at the New York International Festival of the Arts, for him the traditional music of his country “always recalled the bitter memories of war.” He began to compose soon after, studying briefly with Yasuji Kiyose, and quickly became attracted to the idea of electronic music and mixed media. In 1951 he helped to establish the Jikken Kobo, or “experimental workshop,” which focused, like its counterparts in Cologne, Paris and Milan, on innovative music, experimental techniques, and the use of recording technology and electronic synthesis.

Takemitsu composed one of his best-known works, the Requiem for string orchestra, in 1957 and, with the help of Igor Stravinsky, who heard the work during a visit to Japan, rose to prominence shortly thereafter. He went on to compose works for, among others, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. In addition to hundreds of musical compositions and 20 books, Takemitsu created more than 90 film scores for notable films such as Kwaidan, The Woman in the Dunes and Black River.

Takemitsu composed Quatrain for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and orchestra in 1975, for the virtuoso American ensemble Tashi (Richard Stolzman, clarinet; Ida Kavafian, violin, Fred Sherry, cello; and Peter Serkin, piano). In 1977 he reworked the piece, this time without orchestra, resulting in Quatrain II. The influence of Olivier Messiaen is evident in Takemitsu’s choice of instrumentation, which is the same unusual combination Messiaen uses in his celebrated Quartet for the End of Time. Formally, Quatrain II is also meant to mirror a form of Japanese painting called emaki, characterized by a sequence of autonomous yet interrelated images depicted on a scroll.

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897): Trio for clarinet, cello and piano in A minor, Op. 114 (1891)

In 1890 Brahms retired from composing. That same year he closed a letter to his publisher by writing, “With this scrap of paper you can take your farewell from my music.” That “scrap of paper” was a piano four-hand version of his String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111.

On March 13, 1891, Brahms took a week-long trip to Meiningen that would change music history. Since the mid-1880s, Brahms had been aware of the Meiningen clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, but during this trip he arranged for a private performance including Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Brahms was extremely impressed, and he and Mühlfeld discussed the clarinet at length. Inspired by Mühlfeld’s artistry, Brahms fell in love with the clarinet. Brahms’ biographer Jan Swafford writes: “Here was a musician who could make his instrument sing like a violist or a mezzo-soprano, and so Brahms recognized another incarnation of the kind of dark, soulful voice that had always seduced him….Perhaps the clarinet pieces are the only true love songs to an instrument Brahms ever wrote.”[1]

Brahms was so moved and excited by Mühlfeld’s playing that he wrote both the trio and the Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, in two months. Three years later, he completed his catalogue with the two sonatas, Op. 120, for clarinet and piano.

Brahms, Mühlfeld and cellist Robert Hausmann of the famed Joachim Quartet gave the premiere performance of the trio on Nov. 24, 1891, in a private concert for the duke of Saxe-Meiningen and his guests at Meiningen Castle. The public premiere took place with great success and acclaim Dec. 12 at the Berlin Singakademie.

Although the clarinet certainly inspired the work, the fact remains that the cello often leads the game, with the clarinet winding its way around the main melodic material. The first movement opens with a simple ascending figure and a quasi-improvised melody on the cello. The Adagio evolves in a meditative atmosphere and offers many sumptuous melodies. The mood lightens in the more relaxed third movement, marked Andantino grazioso. Its middle section takes the form of a playful Viennese waltz. The flamboyant finale, marked Allegro, is written in the Gypsy style that particularly captivated Brahms.

Endnote

1. Swafford, Jan, Johannes Brahms: A Biography, Vintage Books, 1997, p. 574.

The Morrison Chamber Music Center is supported, in part, by a generous gift from the May Treat Morrison Chamber Music Foundation.

The Morrison Chamber Music Center is supported, in part, by a generous gift from the May Treat Morrison Chamber Music Foundation.

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