Impressions JANUARY 19, 2024

Suite for Two Violins (1943)

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)

I. Allegro

II. Andante

III. Vivo

IV. Tempo di menuetto

V. Allegro

VI. Andante. Fughetta

VII. Allegro

Grażyna Bacewicz is widely considered one of the best Polish composers of the 20th century. She was the only woman to be accepted as such by her male colleagues.

Born in 1909 to a musical family, she began music study at a young age. She studied violin, piano, and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1932, she attended the École Normale de Musique in Paris studying composition with Nadia Boulanger and violin with André Touret. Though she lived only to age 59, Bacewicz was a very prolific composer, having produced over two hundred compositions including four symphonies, seven violin concertos, seven string quartets, five sonatas for violin and piano, concertos for piano, two pianos, viola and cello plus numerous works for chamber orchestra and for full orchestra.

Written in 1943 during the German occupation of Poland, the Suite for Two Violins is among Bacewicz's most well-known works. Cast in seven short movements, the work shows a composer of great depth writing for an instrument she knew very well.

Two Pieces for Viola and Cello (1930)

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979)

I. Lullaby

II. Grotesque

Clarke’s duo for viola and cello was originally written to be played as a concert piece by the composer and her friend, May Murkle, and is set in two contrasting movements. The duo was a contemporary composition to Clarke’s more famous Viola Sonata and uses much of the same impressionistic language, though on a smaller scale. The “Lullaby” begins with a very simple harmonic structure that gets more complex and the melody rises and falls, first in the viola line, then passed to the cello. Despite the apparent flow of the pieces, the technique needed to play the piece successfully is strict, with the viola moving to the upper ranges of the instrument, and the cello employing left hand pizzicato while bowing other notes.

The “Lullaby” is sharply contrasted next to the “Grotesque.” While “grotesque” has come to generically mean, “unpleasant” or “monstrous,” the meaning here would be closer to “fanciful” and “extreme,” as both instruments are forced to play in ways that, for the period, were uncommon and awkward, including running harmonics, ricochet, and odd leaps and jumps by both the right and left hands. The movement is mischievous and playful and is quite fulfilling to play.

Program notes by Kristina E. Willey

move it (2020)

Carlos Simon (b. 1986)

“The pandemic of COVID-19 has continued to influence my social, professional and personal life in ways that I never imagined. I’ve been frustrated by not being able to function in normal routine of life, but also grateful to have the time to think and explore ideas and thoughts that I would not have done normally. This piece is meant to represent my desire to get out and MOVE."

Andante Festivo (1922)

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Originally scored for string quartet in 1922, Andante Festivo was later rescored for string orchestra and optional timpani in 1938. The piece was premiered on New Year’s Day in 1939 as part of a live worldwide broadcast for the New York World Exhibition. Sibelius, often recognized as Finland’s greatest composer, conducted that premiere performance with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra as a greeting to the world from Finland. The recording now serves as the only existing record of the composer interpreting his own work. Andante Festivo was clearly an important work to Sibelius, and it was in stark contrast to his larger form orchestral works that had dominated most of his career. The 1939 premiere was his last performance as a conductor, but the music stayed with him until the end. The piece was played at his funeral.

Suite for Harp and Wind Quintet (1951)

Wen-chung Chou (1923-2019)

In his early works of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Chou was grappling with the challenge of fusing the East and West: How may Chinese material be developed with Western techniques yet remain intrinsically Eastern? The solution is found in the Suite for Harp and Wind Quintet (1951) and the orchestral work Landscapes (1949), composed with the principle which, according to Chou, is to recapture the color, mood and emotion implied in the seemingly simple folk material, by means of its own transmutation without adding whatsoever that is not aurally present in itself.

The principle as applied to this work is: The melodic material generates the structural elements of form, rhythm, sonority and instrumentation. For instance, certain melodic intervals within a phase may be assigned to different registers on particular instruments to achieve the sonorities and colors that are already implied by the melody itself. Thus a change in interval may bring about a concurrent shift in tonality, timbre, register, and color. This work uses as raw material five traditional Chinese melodies (of which three are also used in Landscapes) cast in five continuous movements, each of a contrasting character.

Program noters from composer website

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Arr. by Paolo Fradiani

Ed. by Robert J. Ambrose

Debussy adored painting and poetry, and his deep immersion in those arts is fundamental in searching for meaning in his personal musical style. His æsthetic was rooted in the French nineteenth-century literary movement known as “symbolism.” While many today know and speak glibly of “impressionism,” and associate Debussy with that style in painting, it is with the much less familiar concept of “symbolism,” specifically that in French literature, that informed almost all of his music. Symbolism is traced by most to the poet, Charles Baudelaire, as well as to the imagery and themes of Edgar Allen Poe, whose works in French translation were of great popularity and influence in France. Later, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine were the central figures of the movement, and whose influence on Debussy it would be difficult to overestimate.

Essentially, symbolists were interested in spirituality, dreamlike imprecision, and the indefinite nature of the imagination. They deplored artistic trends of the time that focused on nature, reality, objectivity and the like. The imagery in their poetry was elusive and indirect. Those familiar with movements in the visual arts will find more affinities in the Pre-Raphaelites, for example, than the Impressionists. In the former, a gauzy impression of an object or scene is not the intent, but rather a depiction of something apparently clear in perception but heavily laden with veiled meaning. An evocation of a feeling, rather than an impression was sought. Moreover, symbolist poetry was highly dependent upon the sound of the French language and the possibility of aural ambiguity.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the poetry of Mallarmé. His poem, L’après-midi d’un faune (1876), is the subject of Debussy’s one-movement “tone poem” and is his most recognized work. While the text concerns the awakening of a faun from a drowsy mid-afternoon nap, and his reflections on his memories of his adventures with nymphs that morning, the narrative is not straightforward and linear—and neither is Debussy’s score. A faun, of course, is a creature that is half goat and half man, symbolic in literature of untrammeled natural spirits.The nymphs are young, nubile, free spirits who sing and dance their way to amorous freedom.

A tone poem in the hands of masters such as Liszt, Smetana, and Strauss generally focused on very specific images and the stories behind them. But, this genre in the hands of Debussy (under the influence of the symbolists) approached the text in a much different way. His Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894), from the immortal opening languid, sensuous flute solo, creates an episodic series of feelings, atmospheres, and reflections rather than a story. The faun, half-dulled by the afternoon heat thinks random thoughts of “. . . enervating swoon of heat, which stifles all fresh dawn’s resistance,” “… girls sleeping, with their reckless arms around each other:” and “…my speechless soul and heavy-laden body succumb at last to noontime’s ceremonial pause.”

For these thoughts and moods Debussy crafted perfect orchestral colors, melodies, and harmonies. While not a follower of Brahms—nor, on the other hand, of Liszt, Wagner, and Strauss, either—Debussy, with this first great success, opened the door to the twentieth century in music, and it was never the same thereafter.

Program Notes by Dr. William E. Runyan, ©2022