Program Notes: Grieg & Beethoven

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

3:00 PM Proctors Theater, Schenectady

Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Edvard Grieg(1843-1907)

Morning Mood

The Death of Åse

Anitra’s Dance

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Piano Concerto, A minor, op.16 Edvard Grieg

Allegro molto moderato

Adagio / Allegro moderato molto e maestoso; quasi presto; Andante maestoso

Christopher Reynolds, soloist


Symphony No. 7,  A major, op.92 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 Sostenuto; vivace Allegretto

Presto; assai meno presto

Allegro con brio

American pianist Chris Reynolds has performed across the country in solo recitals, chamber music concerts, and with orchestra as well as winning top prizes in regional, national, and international competitions. Currently pursuing his undergraduate degree at the Juilliard School as a student of Choong-Mo Kang, he is the recipient of the Alumni and the M. & E. Cohen scholarships. At Juilliard he took part in PianoScope, which in April 2013 was a survey of the late piano works of Johannes Brahms. Recent performances include those at Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Aspen Music Festival, the Manhattan School of Music, the Colburn School, Union College, and Ithaca College. In masterclasses, he has performed for and received guidance from many eminent artists, including Emanuel Ax, Richard Goode, Jerome Lowenthal, Martin Canin, and Andre-Michael Schub, among others. Major awards include top prizes at the American Fine Arts Festival and the MTNA. He is also a top prizewinner in the Luzerne Music Center Concerto Competition, the BVMC Chopin Competition, the Louise deFeo Parillo Piano Concerto Competition, the Heddy Kilian Competition, and the Tchaikovsky Competition of Albany. He is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Division, where he studied with Jeffrey Cohen. Prior to this he studied with Aniko Szokody and Findlay Cockrell. He has attended summer festivals at the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and the Luzerne Music Center. This season includes the premiere of his piano sonata at the Juilliard School, a recital benefiting the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra at Union College, as well as other performances around New York City. He is currently undertaking a project to perform the complete song cycles of Robert Schumann, beginning with Dichterliebe this fall. An avid collaborator, he recieves coaching from esteemed professor Margo Garrett and works with singers within Juilliard and elsewhere.

Program notes

Piano Concerto, A minor, op.16 Edvard Grieg

The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, composed by Edvard Grieg in 1868, was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of his most popular works and among the most popular of all piano concerti.

The concerto is in three movements. The first movement is noted for the timpani roll in the first bar that leads to a dramatic piano flourish. The movement is in the Sonata form. It finishes with a virtuosic cadenza and a similar flourish as in the beginning.

The second movement is a lyrical movement in D-flat major, which leads directly into the third movement.

The third movement opens in A minor 4/4 time with an energetic theme (Theme 1), which is followed by a lyrical theme in F major (Theme 2). The movement returns to Theme 1. Following this recapitulation is the 3/4 A major Quasi presto section, which consists of a variation of Theme 1. The movement concludes with the Andante maestoso in A major, which consists of a dramatic rendition of Theme 2 (as opposed to the lyrical fashion with which Theme 2 is introduced).

The work is among Grieg’s earliest important works, written by the 24-year-old composer in 1868 in Søllerød, Denmark, during one of his visits there to benefit from the climate, which was warmer than that of his native Norway.

Grieg’s concerto is often compared to the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann; it is in the same key, the opening descending flourish on the piano is similar, and the overall style is considered to be closer to Schumann than any other single composer. Incidentally, both wrote only one concerto for piano. Grieg had heard Schumann’s concerto played by Clara Schumann in Leipzig in 1858 (1859 is given by alternative sources), and was greatly influenced by Schumann’s style generally, having been taught the piano by Schumann’s friend, Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel. Compact disc recordings often pair the two concertos.

Additionally, Grieg’s work provides evidence of his interest in Norwegian folk music; the opening flourish is based around the motif of a falling minor second followed by a falling major third, which is typical of the folk music of Grieg’s native country. This specific motif occurs in other works by Grieg, including the String Quartet No. 1. In the last movement of the concerto, similarities to the halling (a Norwegian folk dance) and imitations of the Hardanger fiddle (the Norwegian folk fiddle) have been detected.

The work was premiered by Edmund Neupert on April 3, 1869 in Copenhagen, with Holger Simon Paulli conducting. Some sources say that Grieg himself, an excellent pianist, was the intended soloist, but he was unable to attend the premiere owing to commitments with an orchestra in Christiania (now Oslo). Among those who did attend the premiere were the Danish composer Niels Gade and the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein, who provided his own piano for the occasion. Neupert was also the dedicatee of the second edition of the concerto (Rikard Nordraak was the original dedicatee), and it was said that he himself composed the first movement cadenza.

The Norwegian premiere in Christiania followed on August 7, 1869, and the piece was later heard in Germany in 1872 and England in 1874. At Grieg’s visit to Franz Liszt in Rome in 1870, Liszt sightread the notes before an audience of musicians and gave very good comments on Grieg’s work, which influenced him later. The work was first published in Leipzig in 1872, but only after Johan Svendsen intervened on Grieg’s behalf.

The concerto is the first piano concerto ever recorded — by pianist Wilhelm Backhaus in 1909. Due to the technology of the time, it was heavily abridged at only six minutes.

Grieg revised the work at least seven times, usually in subtle ways, but amounting to over 300 differences from the original orchestration. In one of these revisions, he undid Franz Liszt‘s suggestion to give the second theme of the first movement (as well as the first theme of the second) to the trumpet rather than to the cello. The final version of the concerto was completed only a few weeks before Grieg’s death, and it is this version that has achieved worldwide popularity. The original 1868 version has been recorded by Love Derwinger, with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra under Jun’ichi Hirokami.

Grieg worked on a transcription of the concerto for two solo pianos, which was completed by Károly Thern. The premiere recording of this version was by the British two-piano team of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow.

In 1882–83 Grieg worked on a second piano concerto in B minor, but it was never completed. The sketches for the concerto have been recorded by pianist Einar Steen-Nøkleberg. In 1997, the Belgian composer Laurent Beeckmans elaborated a full piano concerto from these sketches, which was first performed in London on 3 May 2003.

Symphony No. 7, A major, op. 92 Ludwig van Beethoven

The Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, is a symphony in four movements composed between 1811 and 1812, while improving his health in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice. The work is dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries.

At its première, Beethoven was noted as remarking that it was one of his best works. The second movement, Allegretto, was the most popular movement and had to be encored. The instant popularity of the Allegretto resulted in its frequent performance separate from the complete symphony.

The work was premiered with Beethoven himself conducting in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau. In Beethoven’s address to the participants, the motives are openly named: “We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

The program also included the patriotic work Wellington’s Victory exalting the victory of the British over Napoleon‘s France. The orchestra was led by Beethoven’s friend Ignaz Schuppanzigh and included some of the finest musicians of the day: violinist Louis Spohr, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Antonio Salieri, bassoonist Anton Romberg, and the Italian double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti, whom Beethoven himself described as playing “with great fire and expressive power.” It is also said that the Italian guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani played cello at the premiere.

The piece was very well received, and the second movement, the Allegretto, had to be encored immediately. Spohr made particular mention of Beethoven’s antics on the rostrum (“as a sforzando occurred, he tore his arms with a great vehemence asunder … at the entrance of a forte he jumped in the air”), and the concert was repeated due to its immense success.

The work as a whole is known for its use of rhythmic devices suggestive of a dance, such as dotted rhythm and repeated rhythmic figures. It is also tonally subtle, making use of the tensions between the key centres of A, C and F. For instance, the first movement is in A major but has repeated episodes in C major and F major. In addition, the second movement is in A minor with episodes in A major, and the third movement, a scherzo, is in F major.

The first movement starts with a long, expanded introduction marked poco sostenuto that is noted for its long ascending scales and a cascading series of applied dominants that facilitates modulations to C major and F major. From the last episode in F major, the movement transitions to vivace through a series of no fewer than sixty-one repetitions of the note E. The vivace is in sonata form, and is dominated by lively dance-like rhythms (such as dotted rhythms), sudden dynamic changes, and abrupt modulations. In particular, the development section opens in C major and contains extensive episodes in F major. The movement finishes with a long coda, which starts similarly as the development section. The coda contains a famous twenty-bar passage consisting of a two-bar motif repeated ten times to the background a four octave deep Pedal point of an E. The critic and composer Carl Maria von Weber is said to have pronounced Beethoven “fit for a madhouse” after hearing this passage.

The second movement in A minor has a tempo marking of allegretto, making it slow only in comparison to the other three movements. This movement was encored at the premiere and has remained popular since. The ostinato (repeated rhythmic figure) of a quarter note, two eighth notes and two quarter notes is heard repeatedly. This movement is structured in a double variation form. The movement begins with the main melody played by the violas and cellos. This melody is then played by the second violins while the violas and cellos play a second, but equally important melody, a melody described by George Grove as “a string of beauties hand-in-hand.” Then, the first violins take the first melody while the second violins take the second. This progression culminates with the wind section playing the first melody while the first violin plays the second. After this climax, the music changes from A minor to A major as the clarinets take a calmer melody to the background of light triplets played by the violins. This section ends thirty-seven bars later with a quick descent of the strings on an A minor scale, and the first melody is resumed and elaborated upon in a strict fugato.

The third movement is a scherzo in F major and trio in D major. Here, the trio (based on an Austrian pilgrims’ hymn) is played twice rather than once. This expansion of the usual A–B–A structure of ternary form into A–B–A–B–A was quite common in other works of Beethoven of this period, such as his Fourth Symphony and String Quartet Op. 59 No. 2.

The last movement is in sonata form, the coda of which contains an example, rare in Beethoven’s music, of the dynamic marking ƒƒƒ (called forte fortissimo or fortississimo). Donald Tovey, writing in his Essays in Musical Analysis, commented on this movement’s “Bacchic fury” and many other writers have commented on its whirling dance-energy.

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