BMC Artist Faculty I
Monday, June 26, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Ingram Auditorium at Brevard College
HINDEMITH Sonata for English Horn
BRITTEN Six Folk Song Arrangements for Voice and Guitar
SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Trio No. 2
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Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Six Folksong Arrangements for Voice and Guitar
Many British composers have shown a keen interest in folk music—including Vaughan Williams and Britten. Britten would publish many folk song arrangements throughout his life, beginning in 1941. Presumably, the composer's pacifist stance during World War II had something to do with his growing interest in folk songs. In fact, the first published volume was written during his stay in America. His good friend, the singer Peter Pears, also influenced Britten's continued interest in folk songs, as Pears would give voice to his many settings.
Originally published in 1961 asSix English Folk Songs, these settings for voice and guitar became volume six in the sequence of arrangements. Unlike Vaughan Williams's more traditional settings, Britten approaches the folk songs from a fresh, twentieth-century perspective. These songs are not so much arrangements as re-compositions. The accompaniment, in this case the guitar, takes on a central role as a sort of musical and stylistic counterpoint to the vocal line.
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Sonata for English Horn and Piano
Premiered on November 23, 1941, in New York with Louis Speyer playing the English horn and Jesús Maria Sanromá at the piano.
When the Hindemiths settled in New Haven for his appointment at Yale University, it took some getting used to their American environment. Gertrude wrote, "You have no idea how often we sit here in the evenings in our practical, motorized living-room-kitchen and think dismally of you, or how often I have tried to damp down Paul's fury when the publishers' copies and proofs arrive." But there were also good memories—in particular the summers spent at Tanglewood: "The summer went by in a flash . . . badminton matches and lazy baskings in the Berkshire sun."
Hindemith's Sonata for English Horn seems to be an expression of his early experiences in America. Unlike most of his sonatas cast in typical three-movement design, the English Horn Sonata is in six movements. A closer look reveals an integrated double-variation design: the first two movements represent contrasting themes, while the next four movements take turns exploring the themes with two variation movements for each theme. The profound contrasts between the themes seem to reflect Hindemith's experiences of nostalgia and excitement.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67
Premiered on November 14, 1944.
"When I work on new compositions, I always think, And what would Ivan Ivanovich have said about this?" Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky was one of Shostakovich's closest friends. Trained as a musicologist, Sollertinsky had become a sounding board for the composer. Sollertinsky's breadth of knowledge—not only about music history (he is said to have spoken 26 languages and 100 dialects)—provided Shostakovich the kind of intellectual discourse the composer craved. When Sollertinsky died suddenly of a heart attack at age 41, Shostakovich was grief stricken. He decided to complete his recently begun Second Piano Trio in honor of his friend.
The choice of a chamber work to honor this intellectual giant was no accident. Shostakovich explained that "Chamber music demands of a composer the most impeccable technique and depth of thought. I don't think I will be wrong if I say that composers sometimes hide their poverty-stricken ideas behind the brilliance of orchestral sound. The timbral riches which are at the disposal of the contemporary symphony orchestra are inaccessible to the small chamber ensemble. Thus, to write a chamber work is much harder than to write an orchestral one."
The first three movements are what might be expected of a work written by a grieving Shostakovich: dark, expressive, melancholic. But the last movement seems surprising, as Shostakovich incorporated a Jewish tune. Shostakovich's strong stance against anti-Semitism are well known, and since the work was composed during the end of World War II, it might be easy to view this as a political statement. Yet Shostakovich's interest in Jewish music was genuine and deeply seated; it wasn't just something he "used" to give a work political meaning. In fact, Shostakovich might have found self-expression by engaging with Jewish folklore. The composer explained: "It seems I comprehend what distinguishes the Jewish melos. A cheerful melody is built here on sad intonations . . . The 'people' are like a single person . . . Why does he sing a cheerful song? Because he is sad at heart."