Happy 200th Birthday, Schumann!


Ludwig Van Beethoven
TRIO in C minor
for Violin, Viola and Cello, Op. 9, No. 3

Robert Schumann
FANTASY PIECES for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 73
Schumann's 200th Birthday (1810-1856)

Astor Piazzolla/Bragato
for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1965)


September 19, 2010 7:00 PM
Fox Valley Presbyterian Church
227 East Side Dr., Geneva IL
September 22, 2010 7:30 PM
Roosevelt University, Ganz Memorial Hall
430 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL
October 3, 2010 7:30 PM
Music Institute of Chicago Nichols Hall
1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston IL

Program Notes


Trio in C Minor, Op. 9, No. 3 for Violin, Viola, and Cello (1797)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven is sometimes referred to as a German composer, but even though he was born in Bonn, his music represents the consummation of the Viennese Classical music style so clearly established in Austria by Haydn and Mozart just prior to the young composer’s arrival in Vienna at age 22.  Compared to Mozart, Beethoven developed slowly, but his skills as a pianist—especially his skill at improvisation—thoroughly impressed the musical establishment of what was to become his new home.  He was able to study for a brief time with Haydn and those few months were enough to leave an indelible “Classical” mark on the rest of his compositional career.  Beethoven’s strong “Romantic” individuality was equally evident throughout his entire lifetime.  His genius is something that can tangibly be experienced in every piece he wrote, from the earliest works to the last.  The mood of excitement and urgency of his compositions lies in the conflict between Beethoven’s intellectual veneration and commitment to the Viennese Classical style and his own emotional Romantic impulses.  The manifestation of these conflicting internal stylistic tendencies is what has led many people to think of Beethoven as the most disruptive figure in music history.

The String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9, no. 3, written in 1797, belongs to the first of his three major stylistic periods.  This first style period is primarily represented by a large number of chamber music compositions and his Symphony, no. 1.  An argument could be made that the Trio in C Minor, Op. 9, no. 3 is Beethoven’s first truly great composition.  One feature this work has in common with other Beethoven masterpieces is the key of C minor, which is shared by some of his greatest works, including the String Quartet, Op. 18, no. 4, and his Symphony no. 5.  Another feature of this work that identifies Beethoven with the Viennese Classical tradition is its four- movement design.

Beethoven centers the harmonic language of this piece around C minor, but he continually contrasts it with related major tonalities.  The tension he creates between major and minor modes can readily be heard by even the untrained ear and creates a gripping psychological progression of emotional events in all four movements.  His handling of the chamber music texture is always masterful.  While Beethoven exploits instrumental colors and the somber character inherent in the minor mode throughout the piece, the final movement ends triumphantly in C major.  This movement away from C minor to the parallel major key of C major in effect represents the quintessential Romantic view of the victory of major over minor with its inherent humanistic message that optimism ultimately wins over pessimism.  This new type of musical language is what made Beethoven a hero in the eyes of his contemporaries.  Today’s performance of the String Trio in C Minor amply demonstrates why this early vision of Beethoven music holds fast, even into the twenty-first century.

Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.73 (1849)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann is a German composer and music critic.  His most highly acclaimed works include solo piano music, Lieder, and his four symphonies.  In addition to his work as a composer, his literary efforts as an editor and writer made him an important proponent of musical Romanticism.  His ability to identity and then promote the leading Romantic composers of his time remain among his most lasting legacies.

The three short movements that make up the Fantasy Pieces for larinet and Piano were originally conceived as character pieces that Schumann described as “Soireéstücke,” types of “Night Pieces.”  This unusual instrumentation for a character piece, usually associated with solo piano or else solo violin and piano, is an example of Schumann’s experiments to expand the concept of Romantic music genres.  This type of music genre for clarinet and piano did not really develop until well after Schumann’s time, but it does represent the individuality of his creative efforts.

The Fantasy Pieces are in three movements are: 1. Zart und mit Ausdruck (Delicately and with expression), 2. Lebhaft, leicht (Lively, Light), 3. Rasch und mit Feuer (Quick and with Fire).  The individual movements are like songs without words that reflect the emotions and mood swings more commonly realized in his Lieder pieces.  These ‘fantasy pieces” offer us a rare glimpse into an early manifestation of an instrumental music genre that was only at its very beginnings. The movements are united by their key areas.

Four Seasons of Buenos Aires for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1965-1970)
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Astor Piazzolla is regarded as the composer who singlehandedly reinvented the tango during the second half of the twentieth century.  Piazzolla’s musical output is linked with the tango music genre, as opposed to tango, the dance.  The dance genre has been colorfully described as the vertical representation of horizontal desire.  Because of the dance’s sophistication and complexity, it is the mature dance of choice for those over 40, as memorably represented by Al Pacino in the movie “Scent of a Woman” (1992) and even more poignantly in the lesser-known Spanish film “Tango” (1998) by Miguel Ángel Solá. The nuevo tango as reconstructed by Piazzolla redefined the dance concept of the tango into an instrumental music genre that used instrumental virtuosity to express the wide ranges of mood and sophistication inherent within the dance genre.

Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, but at the age of three his family immigrated to New York.  In his youth he became exceedingly proficient as a performer on the bandoneón, a traditional Argentinean instrument similar to the accordion.  To make ends meet, he worked as a tour guide, translator, and an occasional performer.  Piazzolla’s musical career was transformed by his studies with Alberto Ginastera and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.  When Piazzolla showed his numerous early compositions to Nadia Boulanger she responded by saying that they were very well written, but she could not find Piazzolla in them.  After he performed some tangos for her, his “individuality” was uncovered by her and his previous 10 years of compositions were simply discarded—in less than two seconds, as the story goes.

Although his tangos are often described as café music they are always imbued with a depth of conception that illustrates the serious compositional work he did as a student striving for classical perfection in form and style.  His Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, for example, draws the inevitable comparison with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  The movements of Piazzolla’s Four SeasonsOtoño Porteño (Fall), Invierno Porteño (Winter), Prima Porteña (Spring), and Verano Porteño (Summer) do bear a strong resemblance to Vivaldi’s well-known work for solo violin and orchestra.  But, instead of each season being represented by three concerto movements, Piazzolla’s Seasons are one movement each.  And while the music remains instrumental in concept it is now changed to a chamber music format.  Originally, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons were scored for violin, electric guitar, piano, bass, and bandoneón.  Each movement was written as a separate entity over the years between 1965 and 1970.  The arrangement we are listening to today was made by Piazzolla’s good friend and Argentinean compatriot José Bragato.  Other compositions of Piazzolla’s were rescored by this cellist/composer, and Bragato was honored with a 2002 Grammy award for these arrangements. 

—notes prepared by Dr. David Pituch