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Arthur Zankel Music Center • Saratoga Springs, NY • February 16, 2013

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Zéphyros Winds

Arthur Zankel Music Center
Helen Filene Ladd Concert Hall

Saratoga Springs, NY

With Elizabeth Huntley, harp

February 16, 2013

Program:

Maurice Ravel Le Tombeau De Couperin for Wind Quintet and Harp

August Klughardt Wind Quintet in C Major, Op.79

Paul Pierné Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent

Elliot Carter Esprit rude/esprit doux for flute and clarinet

Endre Szervánszky Fúvósötös
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Program Notes by James Roe

Overview
The wind quintet had its quiet birth in 1803, with the publication of three works for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, by an Italian composer living in Paris named Giuseppe Maria Cambini (1746-1825).  During this period, chamber music for winds, called harmoniemusik, fulfilled a courtly function and generally was written for an octet comprising pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons.  The euphonious sound created by the blending instrumental pairs was all the rage with European aristocracy from the mid-18th century through the 1830s.  These ensembles played both original music and transcriptions of the latest operas and symphonies and were the standard musical accompaniment for meals, parties, and hunts. A music critic of the time noted of wind music that, “out of doors it sounded better than strings; indoors it could hold its own against the clatter of dishes.”

The reason Cambini produced his three quintets remains lost to history, but the new genre drew its converts.  Two 19th-century composers made significant contributions to the development of the wind quintet: Czech-born Parisian, Antoine Reicha (1770-1836) wrote over two dozen quintets, and German composer, Franz Danzi (1763-1826) produced nine.  Yet, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the wind quintet gained widespread recognition from composers and audiences. With the new century came a cultural optimism for the innovative, the colorful, and the populist. The string quartet’s long reign as the preeminent vehicle for chamber music faced challenges from diverse instrumental groupings. Wind instruments, with their advancing technical brilliance and timbral variety led the charge. The wide-ranging tone colors produced by flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn was a disadvantage in the 18th and 19th-century musical aesthetic, but became the ensemble’s central strength in the 20th. Zéphyros’ program is drawn largely from the first half of the last century, a period that was the “Golden Age” of the wind quintet.

August Klughardt (1847-1902)
Wind Quintet, op. 79 (1898-1901)

German conductor and composer, August Klughardt, was born in Cöthen on November 30, 1847 and died suddenly at the age of 54 in the small town of Roßlau, near Dresden, on August 3, 1902.  Living in a time when German art music was at its zenith, Klughardt was successful though ultimately overshadowed by a critical mass of geniuses.  In 1871, he sought out the mentorship of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), who led a radical movement of composers known as the “New German School.”  Rejecting traditional musical genres, the “New Germans” favored the rhapsodic “tone poem” over the formal constraints of the symphony, seeking musical inspiration in literature and visual art. Under the influence of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), they wrote through-composed musical dramas, and expanded their musical vocabulary to include more daring and frequent chromaticism. The young Klughardt associated himself with this movement, yet just as their innovations entered the mainstream in the 1880s, his own music took a decidedly conservative turn.  By the end of his life, his catalog showed not tone poems and music dramas, but rather symphonies and chamber music in the traditional forms he had rejected as a young man.  Today, Klughardt’s music is almost entirely absent from the concert hall, except for one work, his Wind Quintet, op. 79.

Klughardt began composing his quintet in 1898 and published it in 1901.  Sneaking as it does into the 20th Century, his wind quintet provides the genre its major work of German Romanticism.  Consistent with Klughardt’s mature style, this work has more in common with Brahms and especially Mendelssohn than with the musical avant-garde shaking the major capitals of Europe at the turn of the century.  Symphonic in scale, the piece is in four movements.  The expansive first movement opens quietly and features long melodic lines and rich harmonies.  The rustic scherzo that follows pays tribute to Mendelssohn.  Intimate and nostalgic, the third movement explores various instrumental pairings, weaving a gossamer web of interlacing passagework.  The Finale opens with a dramatic slow introduction, and then takes flight, making great virtuosic demands on the ensemble.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914–17)
(Setting for Wind Quintet and Harp by Mason Jones and Zéphyros Winds)

Three sections of Maurice Ravel’s evocative suite for solo piano Le Tombeau de Couperin are heard here in a setting for Wind Quintet and Harp created by Zéphyros Winds from an arrangement by Mason Jones, the former principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The title literally means “The Tomb of Couperin,” and refers to the French Baroque composer François Couperin “the Great” (1668-1733).  The term, Tombeau, generally meant homage or memorial, rather than an elegy, and Ravel’s title takes on many layers of this meaning.  Not only does this work pay homage to Couperin himself, but to Baroque music in general.  Its form, a suite of dance movements, was the common configuration for instrumental music in the Baroque era.

Ravel dedicated each movement to a friend who had died fighting in World War I.  Ravel himself served in the war as an ambulance driver and was wounded in the process. The movements are:

I. Prélude  “To the memory of Lieutenant Jacques Charlot” (who transcribed Ravel’s four-hand piece Ma Mère l’Oye for solo piano)

II. Menuet  “To the memory of Jean Dreyfus” (at whose home Ravel recuperated after he was demobilized)

III. Rigaudon  “To the memory of Pierre and Pascal Gaudin” (brothers killed by the same shell)

Yet for all the somber subject matter, the work is not at all mournful, but of a lighthearted, if reflective, cast.  When Ravel was asked about this incongruence of mood, he replied, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence.”

Paul Pierné (1874-1952)
Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent (1900)

L’abeille et la fleur
Nuit sur la plaine
Les oiseaux et le chat

Little is known about French composer and organist, Paul Pierné. In fact, he does not even have an entry in the 29-volume New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He was born into a musical family, and received his first music lessons from his father, Charles, who had studied harmony with César Franck and was the organist at St. Paul-St. Louis Church in Paris. Paul’s cousin Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937) was a well-known conductor and composer.

In 1905, Paul Pierné succeeded his father as organist at St. Paul-St. Louis, a position he would keep for nearly half a century until his death in 1952. He composed a large body of work that included opera, ballet, symphonies, tone poems, chamber music, religious choral works, and pieces for organ. His musical language is refined and evocative, as demonstrated in his Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent. The piece is in three movements and, as the title suggests, each creates a vivid picture in music.  In the first movement, “The bee and the flower,” Pierné conjures the image of a meandering bee in the comingled sounds of flute, oboe, and clarinet. The flower is represented by lyrical, arching melodies led by the oboe. Dark and mysterious, “Night on the Plane” begins with an unaccompanied bassoon that is answered by the English horn (the tenor member of the oboe family) and then the flute.  The subtly blended sounds of this quiet movement are reminiscent of the composer’s primary instrument, the pipe organ. The work ends with a spirited encounter between a feline predator and its intended avian prey.

Elliott Carter (1908-2012)
Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux for flute and clarinet (1984)

On November 5, 2012, the music world lost one of its most compelling and innovative voices, when American composer Elliott Carter died in his Manhattan apartment at the age of 103. Individual members of Zéphyros were fortunate to have worked with Carter at various points during their careers and so we dedicate this piece to his memory.

Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux was written in 1984 for the 60th birthday celebration of French composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez. Carter even uses the letters of the dedicatee’s last name to determine the order of notes in the work’s opening and closing melodies. This compositional device may not be readily apparent to the listener, but it added a charming, personal touch to this musical gift. The title translates as “rough breathing/smooth breathing,” a reference to the pronunciation of ancient Greek words beginning with a vowel. When an aspirated “H” was indicated, it was called “rough breathing,” its absence was “smooth breathing.” Indeed, the intricacies of speech seem to be at the very heart of this piece. Hearing it performed is like eavesdropping on a fascinating, animated conversation in a language you do not speak.  You might only recognize a word here or there, but you certainly get the gist.  And since the speakers are so engrossed, so are you.

Endre Szervánszky (1911-1977)
Fúvósötös (1953)

Wind music did not take a foothold in Hungary until after World War II.  Before that time, the violin reigned, both in concert and folk music. Endre Szervánszky’s immensely appealing Fúvósötös (Hungarian for “wind quintet”) was one of the first of its kind.  It comes out of the nationalistic movement led by the scholar-composers Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) and Béla Bartók (1881-1945), and uses folk-inspired melodies and harmonies to evoke a rustic musical landscape.

The first movement opens with a brief slow introduction that rises through the lowest registers of the ensemble to introduce the spritely opening theme of the Allegro. Played first by the oboe, and then flute and clarinet, this melody is characterized by a short accented note followed by a longer one. This rhythmic device is idiomatic to traditional Hungarian music and echoes the accented first syllable in the spoken language. The rousing second movement has a robust, gypsy flair and a contrasting, almost liturgical middle section.  Some of the most expressive and passionate music ever written for wind quintet is found in Szervanszky’s lyrical third movement, which builds to a climax in the high register of the clarinet before coming to a quiet, touching close. The piece ends with a virtuosic evocation of a fast peasant dance that features characteristic and melodies and driving rhythms.

University of Nevada Las Vegas Chamber Music Series • February 14, 2013

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Zéphyros Winds

UNLV Chamber Music Series
Dr. Arturo Rando-Grillot Recital Hall
Lee and Thomas Beam Music Center
Las Vegas, Nevada

With Kim Glennie, harp

February 14, 2013

Program:

Maurice Ravel Le Tombeau De Couperin for Wind Quintet and Harp

August Klughardt Wind Quintet in C Major, Op.79

Paul Pierné Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent

Elliot Carter Esprit rude/esprit doux for flute and clarinet

Endre Szervánszky Fúvósötös

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Beijing May Festival 2010 • National Centre for the Performing Arts • May 27, 2010

Beijing National Grand Theater, The Egg, Tiananmen, Beijing, China

Zéphyros Winds

May Festival 2010
National Centre for the Performing Arts
Beijing, China

With Xun Pan, piano

May 27, 2010

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Giulio Briccialdi Quintet for Winds, Op. 124

“PAN & SYRINX”
Benjamin Britten Pan for solo oboe
Claude Debussy Syrinx for solo flute

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Quintet in E-Flat Major for Winds and Piano, K. 452

Darius Milhaud La cheminée du Roi René

Traditional Chinese Folk Songs arranged for Wind Quintet

Paquito D’Rivera  Aires Tropicales

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Zéphyros Winds on The Great Wall early one morning in China.

 

Merkin Concert Hall • “Writing Jazz” • May 30, 2009

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Zéphyros Winds
Anthony de Mare, piano
Lark Chamber Artists

“Writing Jazz”
Merkin Concert Hall
Kaufman Center for the Arts
New York City

May 30, 2009

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World Premiere
David Rakowski Stolen Moments for Winds, Strings, and Piano

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James Roe in discussion with Gunther Schuller backstage at Merkin Concert Hall.

 

 

 

Merkin Concert Hall, New York City, February 19, 2008

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“RE:invention”

Zephyros Winds

Merkin Concert
Kaufman Music Center
New York City

With Richard Faria, bass clarinet

February 19, 2008

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Darius Milhaud La Cheminée du Roi René

“PAN & SYRINX”
Benjamin Britten Pan from “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid” for Oboe Solo, Op. 49
Claude Debussy Syrinx for Solo Flute

Endre Szervánszky Fúvósötös

György Ligeti Six Bagatelles

Leoš Janáček Mládí (“Youth”)

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“Reinvention in Early 20th-Century Music for Winds” by James Roe

Building on Merkin Hall’s theme for the 2007-2008 season, RE:invention, our program of Milhaud, Debussy, Britten, Szervánszky, Ligeti, and Janacek, explores the process of reinvention in six works for winds.

The wind quintet had its quiet birth in 1803, with the publication of three works for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn by a now obscure Italian composer living in Paris, Giuseppe Maria Cambini (1746-1825). At that time, chamber music for winds—called “harmoniemusik”—generally was written for an ensemble comprising pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons. The euphonious sound produced by these blended instrumental pairs became ubiquitous in aristocratic European courts from the mid-1700s until the 1830s. Wind ensembles were perfectly suited to entertaining at banquets and out of doors, their sound carried better than strings over the din of dishes and across vast lawns. Harmoniemusik repertoire included transcriptions of operas and symphonic works as well as original music by no lesser lights than Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart. The famous on-stage appearance of a becostumed wind octet in Mozart’s Don Giovanni perfectly underscores the ensemble’s cultural function, performing a transcription of the composer’s own “Non più andrai” from Le nozze di Figaro (along with music of Sarti and Soler) during the Don’s dinner. (Upon recognizing the Figaro aria, Leporello comments, “I know this one all too well!” Mozart’s self-referential jest reveals a post-modern wit, premature only by a few centuries . . . )

Whatever inspired Cambini to disentangle the customary harmoniemusik instrumental pairings in his three quintets is lost to history, but the new genre found fervent converts. Two 19th-century composers made significant contributions to its development: the Czech-born Parisian, Antoine Reicha (1770-1836) wrote over two dozen quintets, and under his influence, German, Franz Danzi (1763-1826) produced a body of nine. Yet, it was not until the 20th Century that the ensemble would gain sustained attention from composers and audiences. With the new century came a cultural hunger for the novel, the colorful, and the populist. The string quartet’s long reign as the preeminent vehicle for chamber music faced challenges from diverse instrumental groupings. Wind instruments, with their advancing technical brilliance and, especially, their distinct timbral variety, led the charge.

This afternoon’s program is drawn from the first half of the 20th Century, a period that comes the closest to being a “Golden Age” for the wind quintet. Our theme is that of musical reinvention. In each work, the composer reinvents historical raw materials, creating new music for winds.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
La Cheminée du Roi René (1942)

Among the major artistic inventions of the 20th Century, cinema enjoys unchallenged pride of place. Our program opens with film music by Darius Milhaud. Cavalcade d’amour (1939) by French filmmaker, Raymond Bernard (1891-1977), explored the theme of love in three periods: the Middle Ages, the Romantic Era, and the 20th Century. La Cheminée du Roi René is drawn from the music for the first section. The music for the other eras was composed by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) and Roger Désormière (1898-1963), respectively.

The work’s title refers to the 15th-century court of King René of Provence (1409-1480). For his portion of the film score, Milhaud uses winds to evoke music from the time of the Troubadours and their songs of “courtly love.” This work reveals the composer at his most lyric and least mischievous; his characteristically pungent bi-tonality leaving no trace in this score. Each movement creates a specific scene with vividly picturesque music. Historic influences mix with the harmonies of early jazz (a major influence on Milhaud), and the spiky sonorities of French Modernism. This film score fragment reinvents ancient music, producing something that sounds both new and old at the same time.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
“Pan & Syrinx”

There are two sides to every story. How often those sides divide down gender lines is matter for social scientists, not musicians, nevertheless we now present two musical treatments of the myth of Pan and Syrinx. In this case, Pan’s point of view (roughly that of the man, albeit half goat) is pleaded by the oboe via Benjamin Britten and that of Syrinx (the ill-fated but lovely female nymph), by Debussy and the flute. Since the story is by Ovid, there are neither winners nor losers, only metamorphosis. In this pair of works, the composers reinvent the mythological storyteller in the form of a solo woodwind player—a Greek vase painting come to life—and in so doing, each dabbles in Ovid’s transformative magic.

Endre Szervánszky (1911-1977)
Fúvósötös (1953)

Wind music did not take a foothold in Hungary until after World War II. Up to that time, the violin reigned in both concert and folk music. A government-imposed cultural shift mid-century favored less formal music making, and in response, Hungarian composers took up wind chamber music in great numbers.

The immensely appealing, Fúvósötös, or “Wind Quintet,” of Endre Szervánszky, was one of the first of its kind, and is an example of artistic achievement blossoming under oppressive edict. Influenced by the work of ethnomusicologist/composers Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) and Béla Bartók (1881-1945), this piece evokes a rustic musical landscape with melodies and harmonies inspired by Hungarian folk music. Szervánszky’s melodic writing is characterized by an accented short note on the beat, mimicking the stressed initial syllable in spoken Hungarian; a device common in music based on traditional Hungarian sources. Though he quotes no actual folk tunes, Szervánszky uses distinctive melodies, characteristic metric formulations, and driving rhythms to reinvent the music of the countryside on the concert stage.

György Ligeti (1923-2006)
Six Bagatelles (1953)

“I am in a prison, one wall is the avant-garde, the other is the past. I want to escape.” —György Ligeti

On June 12, 2006, the music world lost one of its most compelling and innovative voices when Eastern European composer, György Ligeti died in Vienna at the age of 83. With a career that began under Soviet oppression in post World War II Hungary, Ligeti earned a worldwide audience when his music was used for Stanley Kubrick’s movie ”2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968. As Paul Griffiths wrote in his New York Times obituary, “The moon music was indicative of only one of [Ligeti’s] expressive modes. After fleeing Hungary in 1956, he also showed himself to be a master of a fast, mechanical and comic sort of music. Between these two poles — the ‘Clocks and Clouds’ — he created works of exuberant variety and range.”

Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet were written while he still was a young man in Budapest and combine, in his words, “Bartók with a little Stravinsky.” Originally composed in 1951 as part of an eleven-movement work for solo piano called Musica Ricercata, some of the music existed in an even earlier version, a Sonatina for piano four-hands. In 1953, the same year as Szervánszky published his Fúvósötös, Ligeti extracted six movements of the Musica Ricercata to orchestrate for winds. Through this reinvention of earlier work, Ligeti bestowed upon wind players a true masterpiece in miniature. Audiences today will hardly find this music shocking, but the Hungarian government banned its complete premier in 1956, citing musical ‘decadence’ counter to the good of the state. The work would only receive its first complete performance in Stockholm, 13 years after its composition.

Though the title suggests trifles—mere bagatelles—these six movements are diminutive in length only, most clock in at just over 60 seconds, and the longest is just over three minutes. As in the dances of a Baroque suite, each movement expresses a single musical ‘affect,’ and like any good distillation process, the result is intense and memorable. Moods range from playfulness to grief, contentment to craziness. Before one establishes itself, the next appears.

Jeos Janacek (1854-1928)
Mládí (1924)

Reinventing the self, the idea is as attractive as its reality elusive. In his late 60s, Czech composer, Leos Janacek experienced a creative flowering that carried him through the composition of several important operas and, between them, his most significant masterpieces of instrumental music. Among these late works is a sextet for a sui generis ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, and horn. Titled Mládí or “Youth,” this work was published after the composer’s 70th birthday. In fact, his most distinctive and forward-looking music was written during his last decade. As would be expected from its title, Mládí is infused with youthful effervescence and even naïveté. Musicologist Zdenek Skoumal writes, “Janacek recalled the days at the old Brno monastery where he received his early education. There he had been one of the ‘blueboys,’ boys dressed in the monastery’s blue uniforms. The recollections infuse Mládí’s musical content, from the childlike exuberance of the first movement, the monastic solemnity of the second, to the ‘March of the blueboys’ of the third, and the heroic optimism of the finale.”

Janacek kept himself abreast of the musical advances made by the younger avant-garde composers prominent in the 1920s. Though he was older than the last generation of Romantic composers, including Mahler, Wolf, and Strauss, his musical language sounds more modernist than that of his younger coevals. One distinct aspect of Janacek’s style developed from his “speech-melody” theory. Beginning in 1897, he engaged in field research to convert the irregular patterns of common speech into musical notation. The results of this work were immediately evident in his operas, where he sought a “realistic” setting of the text, leaving the orchestra with the work of creating the emotional sound world the singer occupied. This research also influenced his purely instrumental compositions. Mládí famously opens with a melodic realization of the phrase “Mládí, zlaté mládí!” (“Youth, golden youth!”) played by the oboe. Other elements of Janacek’s mature compositional style evident in this work include an expanded tonal palette that functions within 19th-century harmony, development through variation, repetition and accretion, Moravian folk-elements, and surprising rhythmic admixtures. His melodies tend toward the short and easily singable, often encompassing both a small range and duration. (In this aspect, he notably eschews the influence of Mahler and Strauss.) Rhythmic patterns receive idiosyncratic treatment, and sections of contrasting tempo abut without transition or warning.

At times, Janacek’s musical notation evinces conceptual effort, as if he struggled to notate on the page the music he heard in his imagination. Thus, the composer’s initial creative act of invention is left in the hands of musicians to reinvent through the act of live performance.

(copyright James Roe)

Concerts at Tannery Pond • New Lebanon, NY • May 26, 2007

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Zéphyros Winds

Tannery Pond Concerts
New Lebanon, New York

With Pedja Muzijevic, piano
May 26, 2007
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Francis Poulenc Sonata for Oboe and Piano

Ludwig van Beethoven Quintet for Piano and Winds, op. 16

Samuel Barber Summer Music, op. 31

Ludwig Thuille Sextet for Piano and Winds in B-flat Major, op.6

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Baryshnikov Arts Center • The Movado Hour • May 17, 2007

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Zéphyros Winds

“The Movado Hour”
Baryshnikov Arts Center
Howard Gilman Performance Space
New York City

With
Pedja Muzijevic, piano
S. Ryan Schmidt, lighting designer

May 17, 2007

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452

György Ligeti Six Bagatelles

Ludwig van Beethoven Quintet for Piano and Winds, op. 16 (1796)

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Essex Winter Series • March 11, 2007

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Zéphyros Winds
Essex Winter Series
Essex, Connecticut

March 11, 2007

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August Klughardt Wind Quintet, op. 79

John Harbison Quintet for Winds

Paul Hindemith Kleine Kammermusik fur fünf Bläser, op. 24, no. 2

Giulio Briccialdi Quintet, op. 124

Coastal Concerts • Lewes, DE • January 27, 2007

Lewes Delaware Water

Zéphyros Winds

Coastal Concerts
Bethel United Methodist Church Hall
Lewes, Delaware

January 27, 2007

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August Klughardt Wind Quintet, op. 79

John Harbison Quintet for Winds

György Ligeti Six Bagatelles

Guilia Briccialdi Quintet, op. 124

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Program Notes by James Roe

August Klughardt (1847-1902)
Woodwind Quintet, Op. 79 (1901)

German conductor and composer, August Klughardt, was born in Cöthen on November 30, 1847 and died suddenly at the age of 54 in the small town of Roßlau, near Dresden, on August 3, 1902.  Living in a time when German art music was at its zenith, Klughardt was successful though ultimately overshadowed by a critical mass of geniuses.  In 1871, he sought out the mentorship of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), who led a radical movement of composers known as the “New German School.”  Rejecting traditional musical genres, the “New Germans” favored the rhapsodic “tone poem” over the formal constraints of the symphony, seeking musical inspiration in literature and visual art. Under the influence of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), they wrote through-composed musical dramas, and expanded their musical vocabulary to include more daring and frequent chromaticism. The young Klughardt associated himself with this movement, yet just as their innovations entered the mainstream in the 1880s, his own music took a decidedly conservative turn.  By the end of his life, his catalog showed not tone poems and music dramas, but rather symphonies and chamber music in the traditional forms he had rejected as a young man.  Today, Klughardt’s music is almost entirely absent from the concert hall, except for one work, his Wind Quintet, op. 79.

 Klughardt began composing his quintet in 1898 and published it in 1901.  Sneaking as it does into the 20th Century, his wind quintet provides the genre its major work of German Romanticism.  Consistent with Klughardt’s mature style, this work has more in common with Brahms and especially Mendelssohn than with the musical avant-garde shaking the major capitals of Europe at the turn of the century.  Symphonic in scale, the piece is in four movements.  The expansive first movement opens quietly and features long melodic lines and rich harmonies.  The rustic scherzo that follows pays tribute to Mendelssohn.  Intimate and nostalgic, the third movement explores various instrumental pairings, weaving a gossamer web of interlacing passagework.  The Finale opens with a dramatic slow introduction, and then takes flight, making great virtuosic demands on the ensemble.

John Harbison (b. 1938)
Quintet for Winds (1978)

The Quintet for Winds by American composer, John Harbison, is one of the true masterpieces of chamber music from the second half of the 20th Century.  In five movements this work of great musical and emotional scope creates a world of images that is arresting and immensely memorable.  It is a favorite of Zéphyros and we have found that it stimulates the most post-concert conversation of almost anything we perform.

The opening movement, “Intrada,” contrasts two musical ideas.  The first is a dramatic and exotic monody, or single melodic line, intoned by horn and bassoon in the highest possible register.  This melody weaves about shifting tonal centers with expressive leaps, grace notes, and odd rhythms that suggest an ancient ritualistic song.  Its unpredictable course seems improvised.  This melody never rests, and is subsequently played by varying groupings of instruments, blending timbres to create new sonorities.  This material is punctuated by episodes of loud block chords.  These roughhewn interjections set off the overall lyricism of  the movement.  Increasingly, these two ideas vie for supremacy, ending in a single, staccato chord.

The “Intermezzo” that follows breaks the serious mood with a lilting, carefree, quirky dance.  Jazz-influenced harmonies and shifting metric stresses dominate its first half.  Toward the middle, a nervous, chirping, almost conversational duet ensues between the flute and oboe.  Below the prattling upper winds, a separate melodic idea bounces about in the other instruments.  The effect is not unlike overhearing several conversations at once.  A final queer chord closes the door on the proceedings.

The emotional centerpiece of the work is the third movement, “Romanza.”  If this is a romance, it certainly is more like that of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” than something published by Harlequin.  The intensity of some of the music suggests the psychological hornet’s nest that so often follows in the shadow of romance’s promise.  Again, two contrasting musical ideas coexist in this movement.  The first is a slow melody that rises from the oboe through sustained notes in the other instruments, like plunking keys on the piano with the pedal down.  This melody seems resigned and sad.  Related material is then taken up by flute and clarinet, who sing a complex duet.  Other instruments join, and the melody becomes more agitated, before winding back down.  The next section is rough and rude, almost drunk in feeling.  When the opening material returns, it seems at first quite calm in comparison.  Listen for a strange and haunting duet for bassoon and horn in this section.  Before long the intensity builds again, leading back into the explosive material of the second section.  The quiet conclusion promises rest if not relief from the preceding turmoil.

A master of contrasts, Harbison next offers a fleet “Scherzo,” which is a tour-de-force for the flute, clarinet, and bassoon.  The perpetual motion of virtuosic passage work is interrupted only briefly by a plangent 18 bars marked, “intenso.”   The flurry of notes races off again, to a sudden end.

The “Finale” is a maniacal circus march full of extremes.  It opens with a short chordal palate cleanser, then launches into a driving ostinato, marked “staccatissimo” in the oboe and stopped horn.  The clarinet leads this jaunty, irreverent parade through numerous twists and turns.  Flutter tongue, tremolo, extreme registers, and daring virtuosic passages propel the piece to its exciting conclusion.

György Ligeti (1923-2006)
Six Bagatelles (1953)

”I am in a prison, one wall is the avant-garde, the other is the past. I want to escape.”  —György Ligeti

On June 12, 2006, the music world lost one of its most compelling and innovative voices when Eastern European composer, György Ligeti died in Vienna at the age of 83.  With a career that began under Soviet oppression in post World War II Hungary, Ligeti earned a worldwide audience when his music was used for Stanley Kubrick’s movie ”2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968.  As Paul Griffiths wrote in his New York Times obituary, “The moon music was indicative of only one of [Ligeti’s] expressive modes, however. After fleeing Hungary in 1956, he also showed himself to be a master of a fast, mechanical and comic sort of music. Between these two poles — the ”Clocks and Clouds,” to quote the title of a later work, alluding to an essay by the philosopher Karl Popper — he created works of exuberant variety and range.”

His Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet were written while still a young man in Budapest and combine, in his words, “Bartok with a little Stravinsky.”  Originally composed in 1951 as part of an eleven-movement work for solo piano called “Musica Ricercata,” Ligeti extracted six of the movements to orchestrate for winds in 1953.  Though to today’s ears this music is hardly shocking, the Hungarian government banned a complete premier in 1956 citing dissonance that posed a danger to the public.  The work finally received its first complete performance in Stockholm 13 years after its composition.  Though the title suggests trifles—mere bagatelles—these six movements are diminutive in length only, the longest being three and a half minutes and most clocking in at just over 60 seconds.  As in a Baroque suite, each movement expresses a single musical ‘affect’ or mood, and like any good distillation process the results are intense and memorable.  The moods are varied and include playfulness, grief, contentment, and pure craziness.  Before you’ve gotten used to one, the next appears.

Giulio Briccialdi (1818-1881)
Quintet, Op. 124 (1875)

When one thinks of the great 19th-century virtuoso performer/composers, the names Paganini and Liszt jump immediately to mind, yet other instruments had their daredevil proponents, as well.  One shining example is the Italian flautist, Giulio Briccialdi (1818-1881).  Even though he was the son of a flautist (Giovanbattista Briccialdi), Guilio was largely an autodidact.  He went on not only to concertize widely in Europe and America, but to become an important innovator in flute design and mechanism.  His most notable, and eponymous, contribution was a special B-flat key for the thumb,  known as the “Briccialdi B-flat.”  Though it caused some controversy (albeit not earth-shattering) in 19th-century flute circles (see Gazzetta musicale di Milano, volume xxix, 1874), the key is now standard on all modern flutes.

In addition to performing—and stirring up trouble in the flute world—Briccialdi composed one opera, Leonora de’ Medici, which flopped, and one symphony, which is totally forgotten.  He found much greater success however as a prolific composer of music for the flute and for woodwinds.  His Quintet, Op. 124 from 1875 exists squarely in the world of Italian bel canto opera, a style rarely heard in chamber music settings.  As might be expected, the flute reigns supreme here, though the clarinet shares much of the spotlight.  This music, full of big melodies and virtuosic display, is pure fun.

Dumbarton Oaks • January 19, 20 & 21, 2007

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Zéphyros Winds

Dumbarton Oaks
Washington, DC

January 19, 20 & 21, 2007

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Franz Danzi Quintett G-Moll, Op. 56, No. 2, to Antoine Reicha

“PAN & SYRINX”
Benjamin Britten Pan, from Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for Oboe Solo, Op. 49
Claude Debussy Syrinx for Solo Flute

Paul Hindemith Kleine Kammermusik für fünf Bläser, op. 24, no. 2

Samuel Barber Summer Music, Op. 31

Maurice Ravel Le Tombeau de Couperin (arr. Mason Jones)

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