Montgomery Philharmonic 2014 - 2015 Concert Season – SINGULARITY
Chamber Music – Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ravel - String Quartet (1903)

About Maurice Ravel –
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer, pianist, and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with Claude Debussy, his elder contemporary, although both composers rejected the term.
Ravel went to the Paris Conservatory as both a pianist and a composer and won his first prize for piano in 1891. He studied harmony with Émille Pessard and composition with Gabriel Fauré. It is said that he was an average student both in piano and composition. In 1895, Ravel was expelled from the Paris Conservatory because he had been there for several years and was no longer winning any prizes. At about this time, Ravel’s father introduced him to Erik Satie. Ravel recognized Satie’s genius and was a champion of his music.

Born: March 7, 1875, Ciboure, France
Died: December 28, 1937, Paris, France
Compositions: Daphnis and Chloe ballet, Bolero, L’Infant et les sortilèges, Rhapsodie Espagnole for orchestra, String Quartet, many works for piano alone and two pianos, Le tombeau de Couperin, Sonate for violon et violoncelle, 2 sonatas for violin and piano, Chansons madécasses for soprano, flute, and piano, La Valse for Orchestra, several pieces for voice, chorus, and orchestra, Piano trio in A minor
Siblings: Édouard Ravel
Parents: Marie Delouart, Joseph Ravel
Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) – String Quartet (1903)
Ravel completed this beautiful string quartet in early April 1903, at age 28, specifically as an entry for the Prix du Rome and dedicated it to his teacher, Gabriel Fauré. The Heyman Quartet in Paris premiered the quartet on March 5, 1904. The piece was rejected as a prize composition for the Paris Conservatory and also by the jury of the Prix du Rome. Even Fauré, his beloved teacher, called the fourth movement “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure.” As a result, Ravel left the Paris Conservatory in 1905 and the rebuff was forever called the “Ravel Affair.”

His friend Claude Debussy had a different opinion, however, and in 1905, wrote the following to Ravel: “In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.” Ravel's String Quartet in F Major stands as one of the most widely performed chamber music works in the classical repertoire, representing Ravel's early achievements and rise from obscurity. On CD, it is often coupled with Debussy’s own string quartet. This makes some wonder just how close Debussy and Ravel were socially, because every string quartet musician knows this story and the two are now inexorably linked.

Ravel was asked to tour the United States in 1927, and his works enjoyed terrific response from both audiences and the music critics. In the same year, he oversaw the first recording of his String Quartet in F Major by the famed International String Quartet (Andre Mangeot, Boris Pecker, Frank Howard, and Herbert Withers).

The form of the string quartet is a look back at the classic era string quartets, with Ravel’s language throughout. The first movement is a reimagining of sonata form—the three-part structure that governed instrumental music of the late 18th century. Musical themes are presented, then taken on an adventure, and finally brought back home again. The listener will notice that all of the elements of sonata form are there, but are disarticulated: The harmonies are logical, dissonant pitches are left hanging in the air, and chords of four and five notes replace standard triads. The second movement breaks from the mold of typical fast-movement forms by referring to fandango guitar playing. The third movement is a hybrid of instrumental and vocal gestures, its three main sections interrupted by passages emulating Fauré’s arias. The fourth movement—a rondo—recalls the themes of the previous movements to provide structural cohesion for the quartet as a whole, while complicating its own internal logic.
Instrumentation – 2 violins, viola, cello

Nielsen – Quintet for Winds

About Carl Nielsen –
Carl August Nielsen was a Danish musician, conductor, and violinist, widely recognized as his country's greatest composer. Nielsen’s parents were talented amateur musicians who encouraged him to study music. As a youngster, he played trumpet in a military band and also studied the violin and piano. Nielsen enrolled in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen in 1884, where he studied composition with Niels Gade, violin with Valdemar Tofte, and music theory with Orla Rosenhoff.
His compositions display energetic rhythms, brilliant orchestration, and his individual voice. Nielsen’s musical voice included sweeping rich melodies and harmonic vitality that included lots of flattened sevenths and minor thirds. This harmonic language is said to have been typically Danish.
Although Nielsen died well before World War II, it was not until after the war that his compositions became popular. In 1962, Leonard Bernstein recorded his fifth symphony, which was the beginning of Nielsen’s popularity worldwide. In 2015, the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert, completed recordings of Nielsen's six symphonies and three concertos.

Born: June 9, 1865, Sortelung, Denmark
Died: October 3, 1931, Copenhagen, Denmark
Compositions: 6 Symphonies, 2 Operas, 19 compositions as incidental music to dramas including Aladdin, Violin Concert, Flute Concerto, Clarinet Concerto, Several miscellaneous orchestra works, 12 Choral Cantatas, 5 String Quartets, 1 Wind Quintet, 3 Violin Solos, Several Solo Piano Pieces, Several Solo Organ Pieces
Education: Royal Conservatory of Music, Copenhagen
Parents: Niels Jørgensen
Spouse: Ann Marie Carl-Nielsen (m. 1891)
Children: Carl August Nielsen, Rachel Siegmann, Irmlin Nielsen, Anne Marie Nielsen, Hans Børge Nielsen
Carl Nielsen – Quintet for Winds, Opus 43 (1922)
Nielsen started composing the wind quintet in the fall of 1921 after hearing four members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet rehearse Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with pianist Christian Christiansen. Nielsen was on the phone with Christiansen and heard them rehearsing in the background. He liked the instrumentation and decided that it was time for him to write a wind quintet. Nielsen was always fond of wind instruments because they reminded him of his love of nature and his fascination for living, breathing things. Because he knew the members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet well, each movement and solo was written to highlight each musician’s abilities..

In a program note, Nielsen provided a description of the work: “The quintet for winds is one of the composer’s latest works, in which he has attempted to render the characters of the various instruments. At one moment they are all talking at once, at another they are quite alone. The work consists of three movements: a) Allegro, b) Minuet and c) Prelude – Theme with Variations. The theme for these variations is the melody for one of C.N.’s spiritual songs, which has here been made the basis of a set of variations, now merry and quirky, now elegiac and serious, ending with the theme in all its simplicity and very quietly expressed.”
Instrumentation – flute, oboe, clarinet, horn in F, bassoon

Spohr – Nonet

About Louis Spohr –
Louis Spohr, born Ludwig Spohr, was a German composer, violinist, and conductor. Highly regarded during his lifetime, Spohr composed ten symphonies, ten operas, eighteen violin concerti, four clarinet concerti, four oratorios, and various works for small ensemble.
His music falls between the Classical and Romantic periods in music and fell into obscurity after his death.
Spohr’s musical inspiration came from his mother, a gifted singer and pianist, and his father, a gifted flutist. He studied the violin with a local violinist named Dufour, who recognized Spohr’s talent as a violinist and composer and persuaded his parents to send him to Brunswick for better instruction. At 15, after his failed concert tour to Hamburg, it was necessary for him to ask Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand of Brunswick for financial help. A successful concert at the court impressed the duke so much that he engaged Spohr as a chamber musician. In 1802, through the good offices of the duke, Spohr became the pupil of Franz Eck, who asked him to accompany him on a concert tour to St. Petersburg. Eck retrained Spohr’s violin technique, and in 1805 Spohr became concertmaster at the court of Gotha. It was there that he met his first wife, Dorette, who was a harpist and pianist. They were married for 28 years.
It is known that Spohr practiced with Beethoven at his home and also did some composing while there. We do not know whether or not Beethoven gave Spohr any advice about composing, but you can hear Beethoven’s influence on Spohr’s music. As a conductor, Spohr was one of the first to stand before an orchestra using a baton. He conducted opera in Vienna, Frankfurt, and Kassel for more than 30 years.

Born: April 5, 1784, Braunschweig, Germany
Died: October22, 1859, Kassel, Germany
Compositions: 2 operas – Jessonda and Faust, 9 symphonies, 18 violin concerti, 2 string quartets, several miscellaneous chamber works
Parents: Juliane Ernestine Louise Henke, Karl Heinrich Spohr
Spouse: Marianne Pfeiffer (m. 1836–1892), Dorette Schneidler (m. 1806–1834)
Louis Spohr – Nonet, Opus 31 (1813)
The Spohr Nonet was created in 1813 for the wealthy amateur Viennese violinist Johann Tost. Tost played in Haydn’s Ezterházy Orchestra and commissioned several works in the 1780s for string quartets and quintets by Haydn and Mozart. The Nonet had only a small reference relating to this chamber music tradition. Tost commissioned a series of chamber works from Spohr, for which he secured the right to exclusive performance during the first two years before the compositions were given to a publisher to print. Granting permission for exclusive performances was a new way of commissioning, which intrigued Spohr. The slightly bewildered Spohr was given a note that said, “I would like two things. First, I want to be invited to Music Festivals, in which you will present your compositions and second, I am hoping to possess these compositions for exclusive performance rights so I might be able to spread them among music lovers so that I can build them into a business for my benefit.”

Spohr’s harmonies and timbres are novel and fascinating. At the beginning of the Adagio, he uses the lower strings on the instruments, similar to beginnings in works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. Here Spohr developed a new sound, which was the Romantic sound. The compositional mastery of his Nonet is undisputed; each instrument has a solo and at the same time is treated as a voice in the ensemble.

One peculiarity of each movement is noted here. The first movement is in sonata form and modulates; the final movement carries this further with its surprising modulations and fugato. The scherzo, in which the Lower Saxony Spohr has inserted Viennese Ländler melodies, presents in the two trios. The strings and winds are in opposition to each other. In the second trio, Spohr gave his tendency to extreme chromaticism free rein. The highly romantic theme of the Adagio is composed expressively in dialogue between strings and winds, and the finale has the lighter tone of a clean sweep in the style of Italian opera.
Instrumentation – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass

Arnold – Quintet for Brass

About Malcolm Arnold –
Sir Malcolm Henry Arnold, CBE, was an English composer. He gained a reputation for composing light music, film scores, and works for theater, ballets, and symphonies.
Arnold was born in Northampton, England, the youngest of five children in a prosperous Northampton family of shoemakers. He heard Louis Armstrong play trumpet in Bournemouth and decided to take up the trumpet at the age of 12. Arnold studied the trumpet with Ernest Hall and composition with Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music. He joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet in 1941 and was promoted to principal trumpet in 1943.
At age 30, Arnold began to devote his life to composing. He built a reputation for composing beautiful melodies and music that had a light character, and wrote several concert overtures and sets of Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, and Cornish Dances as well. He was also asked to write a lot of film music. His more than 100 film scores included music for “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Hobson’s Choice,” and the score for the St. Trinian’s series. He also wrote nine symphonies, which are rarely heard.

Born: October 21, 1921, Northampton, United Kingdom
Died: September 23, 2006, Norwich, United Kingdom
Compositions: The River Kwai March, Tam O’Shanter Overture, Welsh Dances, Scottish Dances, Irish Dances, 9 Symphonies, several concerti, several chamber works.
Spouse: Isobel Grey (m. 1964–1979), Sheila Nicholson (m. 1940–1964)
Children: Robert Arnold, Edward Arnold, and Katherine Arnold
Malcolm Arnold – Quintet for Brass, Opus 73 (1961)
Sir Malcolm’s Quintet for Brass remains one of the most widely played chamber works. It is one of the absolute classics of the genre, and established the instrumentation of two trumpets, French horn, trombone, and tuba as the standard brass quintet. Because Arnold was a trumpeter, he knew the capabilities of the instruments and the players very well. This made for dangerous composing, since he loved to push the limits of the instruments and those playing them.

The work was written for the New York Brass Quintet, the group which at that time was setting the standard for the rest of the world to emulate; it had an immediate impact and was a success. Listening to the work, one is unprepared for the inventiveness and range encountered in the three-movement, 12-minute work. All sorts of articulation, including soulful legato playing as well as crisp staccato passages, and light and tripping passages as well as the powerful and assertive sound are present in the quintet.
Instrumentation – 2 trumpets, horn in F, trombone, tuba