Bethel United Methodist Church Hall
January 27, 2007
August Klughardt Wind Quintet, op. 79
John Harbison Quintet for Winds
György Ligeti Six Bagatelles
Guilia Briccialdi Quintet, op. 124
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.