|Classics 2: Beethoven and Dvořák|
A native of Osaka, Japan, Dai Fujikura has spent more than 20 years studying in the UK. He has won many international prizes for his compositions, writing for traditional as well as avant garde ensembles. He has a special affinity for the concerto, having so far written concertos for cello, piano, flute, recorder, horn, bassoon, tuba and double bass.
Banitza Groove!, composed in 2006-7, is considered a departure from Fujikura’s usual style. The work was inspired by Bulgarian dance rhythms. For Bartók aficionados, these rhythms are familiar, but Fujikura maintains the Central European rhythms over a fast, steady pulse. He does not, however, reference the ethnic melodies Bartók integrated into his works. Instead, Fujikura’s melodic and harmonic style is spiky and dissonant with little sense of lyrical line.
Ludwig van Beethoven
|Ludwig van Beethoven|
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
With the composition of the G major Concerto in 1806, Beethoven broke some important new ground. The standard concerto form at the time consisted of the so-called double exposition, in which the orchestra plays the dual role of introducing all the thematic material of the movement as well as building up tension and expectation for the entrance of the soloist. But the Fourth Piano Concerto opens with the soloist – briefly but significantly – stating the opening of the main theme and the rhythmic motive that will pervade this longest of all Beethoven concerto movements. The orchestra then takes up its traditional role but starts off by offering a response to the piano in the distant key of B major and elegantly moves back into G. Thus begins a remarkably complex work in which the two forces continually engage not in the typical echoing phrases back and forth, but rather in a true dialogue with a bouquet of themes. A second theme, introduced by the solo oboe, utilizes the same rhythmic motive. The third theme seems to depart from the signature rhythm, but it returns in the accompaniment. When the soloist enters, it is with a new theme that generates a response of new material from the orchestra.
The second movement has recently engendered quite a bit of musicological controversy. The conversation between soloist and orchestra of the first movement escalates into an argument. The orchestra's demanding fortissimo, answered by the piano's gentle, almost pleading response has been associated with the legend of Orpheus's taming of the wild beasts or even his confrontation with the forces of death to recover his lost Eurydice. The ease with which this program can be applied to the movement has led some scholars to suggest that it might have originated with Beethoven himself, although there is certainly no documentary evidence for the association. Indeed, it is more of an interlude between the two weightier outer movements, more in the style of the Baroque concerto than the Classical model. Just before the end of the movement is an almost anguished cry from the piano, a mini-cadenza that finally subdues the orchestra.
By the time the finale opens, the mood has cleared and soloist and orchestra return to their conversation in a cheery rondo. Again, Beethoven alters the typical structure by beginning this movement with the orchestra, rather than the soloist. The two occasionally interrupt each other. And at times, the orchestra "mumbles" a commentary, reiterating the opening rhythmic pattern, as the piano performs its fanciful elaborations.
Beethoven composed the Fourth Piano Concerto concurrently with the Fifth Symphony, and the first movement of the Concerto shares with that Symphony the same upbeat rhythmic figure, although in a very different mood. The premiere, at a private subscription concert, took place in March 1807 together with the premiere of the Fourth Symphony and the Overture to Coriolan . It was, however, at the historic Beethoven-Konzert of Dec. 22, 1808 that the general public first heard the G Major Concerto, with Beethoven wearing two hats, as conductor and soloist. This was one of those typical monster concerts at which the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Concert Aria “Ah Perfido ” and the Choral Fantasia were also premiered. True to Beethoven’s form, the orchestra was poorly and hastily rehearsed; many of the orchestral parts were not yet ready; Beethoven quarreled with the musicians; and the hall was freezing cold. As deafness descended on him, it was also his last performance as a soloist.
Audiences did not take to the Fourth Concerto at first, preferring the easier Third or more dramatic Fifth Concerto. It fell into neglect until Mendelssohn revived it in 1836 and performed it frequently thereafter. It became a favorite of famed pianist Clara Schumann, who played it all over Europe and also wrote cadenzas for it.
Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60
Given his current stature as one of the foremost composers of the nineteenth century, Antonín Dvořák was something of a late bloomer, but not for want of musical talent and promise. Dvořák’s father was a butcher and had expected his son to go into the family trade. Only after his uncle had agreed to finance the boy’s musical education was he able to follow his passion for music. Although trained as a church organist, his first job was as a performer, playing principal viola in Prague’s new Provincial Theatre Orchestra. During this time, he practiced composition, producing songs, symphonies and entire operas but without recognition – much less appreciation – until he was in his 30s.
After winning several national prizes during the 1870s, however, his work came to the attention of Johannes Brahms, who gave him his first real break. The older composer, whose reputation was at its height, promoted Dvořák to his own publisher, Simrock, who offered the young composer his first commission, the Opus 46 set of Slavonic Dances. Brahms and the music critic Eduard Hanslick urged him to move to Vienna, but his love for his native Bohemia kept him in Prague. Like his older compatriot Bedrich Smetana, Dvořák freely incorporated folk elements into his music, utilizing characteristic peasant rhythms and melodic motives but never actually quoting entire folk melodies.
Another prominent musician who took great interest in Dvořák’s music was Hans Richter, the famed conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. Following the successful premiere of the Slavonic Rhapsody No. 3 (Op.45/3), Richter asked Dvořák to compose a symphony for Vienna. The result was the Symphony No. 6, composed in white heat between August and October 1880 and dedicated to Richter. Sadly, the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic refused to perform a second premiere in two years by the “outsider” from the Bohemian provinces, leaving it to the Prague Philharmonic to do the honors in 1881 (70 years later – even after the collapse of Nazism – the Vienna Philharmonic musicians refused to perform the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, a Czech Jew, until Leonard Bernstein practically forced it on them). Richter finally conducted it in London the following year. It was Dvořák’s first symphony to propel him to international fame. Since Dvořák’s five earlier symphonies had remained unpublished, the Sixth was originally published as Symphony No. 1.
Especially in the sweep of the first movement, The Symphony pays homage to Brahms’s Symphony No. 2; Dvořák spins out a stream of melodies that are accompanied by easily recognizable Brahmsian harmonic progressions. One of the hallmarks of this Symphony is that Dvořák’s practice of developing short motivic fragments throughout an entire movement.
The Symphony opens with a little syncopated ostinato motive in the horns and violas that sets up a cross rhythm against the main theme introduced by an oboe duet with echo from bassoons and cellos. Throughout the movement, the composer makes use of two motives that form part of this theme. and an accompaniment figure in the oboes . A lilting cello theme serves as a bridge on the way to the principal secondary theme introduced by the solo oboe (note that this theme includes the little upbeat figure in ex. 3.) The development casts a shadow on the otherwise sunny atmosphere, beginning by combining the two principal themes in the minor. But most of the development concerns itself with the motive from ex. 3. Dvořák swings back to the recapitulation shortly after the halfway mark of the movement, leaving room for further harmonic wanderings in an extended coda.
The Adagio is built essentially on a single expansive theme that contains within it several shorter melodic ideas. The three-note motive that opens the movement is a hint that the movement will concentrate on variations and transformations of brief fragments, rather than a series of substantial themes. & & At only one point does a burst of anguish break the tranquil mood.
The Scherzo is a furiant, a Czech folk dance and could be easily mistaken for one of the Slavonic Dances. After the repeat of the brief first strain, the second strain is exceptionally long and chock full of new melodies and harmonic wanderings. The Trio is distantly related to a fragment of the Scherzo melody, but instead of the Scherzo’s exuberant rhythm and full orchestration, Dvořák reduces it to an almost Rococo theme for the upper winds with a rumbling accompaniment in the basses. He then adds a second Trio, a melancholy waltz, as a transition back to the repeat of the Scherzo.
The Finale is another sonata form that recalls Brahms even more than the first movement, the opening sounding much like the Finale of Brahms’s Second Symphony. & However, the second, and dominant, theme is a distinctly Bohemian dance. The interplay between the Germanic and Czech motives continues throughout the movement, especially in the fugue of the second theme and breakneck speed of the triumphant coda.
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017|