It’s been a long while since I posted on here, but I thought I’d let you know that I’m giving a performance of Schubert’s lovely Arpegionne Sonata, plus Enesco’s fearsome Concertstuck, this Wednesday at 1.10pm in the Younger Hall, St Andrews with my friend and pianist Audrey Innes. This is a great programme – and, oddly, Audrey told me she had heard exactly the same programme broadcast on Radio 3 a while ago, with the recording of the Arpeggione taken from a concert in none other than the Younger Hall by Ukrainian violist Maxim Rysanov! (This was part of the St Andrews music club series and I was present – it was spectacular!)
Just in case you are interested, I’ve included below some short programme notes that will be used on Wednesday.
Other things that have been happening in the long period since I’ve posted a blog include: doing a series of lectures/talks on ‘Listening to Music’ for a local adult education service (quite scary but good for my public speaking), starting to play for a great quartet called the Roxburgh Quartet (we have a concert on 2nd March – more details soon) and an audition for the Halle orchestra in Manchester (I didn’t get in, but was pleased to be asked to audition).
Programme Notes for Wednesday 26th’s lunchtime recital with Audrey Innes, piano
Arpeggione Sonata, D 821
I. Allegro moderato
Franz Schubert is widely known as a prolific composer of Lieder, but also produced chamber music, stage works and symphonies. Like Beethoven, he spanned both the Classical and Romantic periods and was therefore influenced by composers of both eras. His style incorporates expressive lyricism and chromaticism while conforming to classical traditions – all features heard in this sonata. This sonata belongs to the same period as Schubert composed his ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet – near the end of his life when he was suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis.
This sonata was written in 1824 for a new six-stringed, fretted instrument, the Arpeggione, which was similar to a bowed guitar but held between the knees like a viola da gamba. The instrument had been invented the previous year, and Schubert was obviously taken with it, as the sonata was dedicated to the arpeggionist Vincenz Schuster. Unfortunately this instrument was no longer in use by the time of the sonata’s posthumous publication in 1871, due to its awkwardness to play and its unsuitability as a solo instrument with piano (it had a quiet sound which was easily obscured). Since then it has been arranged for the viola, cello and double bass, and even some woodwind instruments and guitar. Transcription has had to address the smaller ranges of these instruments and the use of 4 versus 6 strings, which renders some of the passages very difficult for the viola in terms of string crossing and octaves – these passages were surely much easier on the Arpeggione!
The first movement, Allegro moderato, is characterised by contrasts in mood – the haunting A minor melody at the start demonstrates Schubert’s exceptional melodic gift, while the more animated, almost cheeky second subject suggests a bubbling brook in the repeated semiquavers and yodelling in the octave leaps (from the Viennese Alps). It is in Sonata form (a favourite of Schubert’s), dividing it into four sections: the exposition where the first and second subject are stated, the development where these themes are explored and transposed, the recapitulation where the original ideas are consolidated, and a final coda which returns to the minor – a nice piece of symmetry.
The lovely second movement uses a rising and falling melody, creating long, arch-like phrases which answer each other. There is a curious period towards the end where both piano and viola have long, held notes – static chords which are strange, unless Schubert meant for the players to improvise, but this is not marked. Slow quavers lead us into the last movement – a vivacious Allegretto which uses octave leaps (which are very uncomfortable to play for the viola!), fast passagework and pizzicato, before returning to the opening dotted melody.
Georges Enesco (1881 – 1955)
Concertstück for Viola and Piano
Georges Enesco (also known as Enescu) was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor and teacher who taught a young Yehudi Menhuin. A child prodigy, he entered Vienna Conservatoire aged seven, graduated aged 13, then continued his studies in Paris, where he remained for much of his life. His works are heavily influenced by Romanian folk music and their melodies; his output includes two Romanian Rhapsodies, an opera, symphonies and much chamber music as well as solo works.
The Enesco Concertpiece, composed in 1906, is a rite of passage for young viola players. Technically demanding and virtuosic, is It is often performed as a competition piece to show off the technical abilities of the performer, or to add a final flourish to a recital (as it is used here!)
As well as the gorgeous, expressive melodies in this piece, it utilises various virtuosic techniques to show off the viola (which is not normally a particularly virtuosic instrument!) Ones to look and listen out for whilst listening to the piece include:
– Fast chromatic triplet scales and scalic passages
– Martèlé bowing (heavy, on the string at the tip of the bow)
– Syncopated slurred bowings (only found in Enesco’s music and extremely difficult to do)
– Double-note semiquaver scales
– Double stops in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and octaves, and chords
– False harmonics
– Alternating triplets, semiquavers, semiquaver quintuplets and semiquaver sextuplets
– Very high notes (too high for the viola, really!)