Chamber Music

Sunday, January 11, 2015 • 3:00 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church

Members of Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor and piano


Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
String Quartet in B♭ Major, K. 458 (“Hunt”)

Victor Ewald (1860–1935)
Brass Quintet in B♭ Minor, Op. 5


Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
“Per questa bella mano,” K. 612

Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
“Ich bin geliebt,” Op. 74, No. 9
“So wahr die Sonne scheinet,” Op. 101, No. 8

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5

About the Concert

OSSCS musicians will share with you an afternoon of chamber music, featuring works both familiar and obscure in a more intimate concert environment.

Program Notes

“Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name,” said Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) to Leopold Mozart. “He has taste, and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” These comments were inspired by Haydn’s initial hearing of six quartets that W.A. Mozart would dedicate to his older friend and colleague.

Mozart first wrote for string quartet around 1770, when barely a teenager. During 1772 and 1773 he composed two six-quartet cycles, the first set influenced by the “Milanese” style of Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1698–1775), the second set more in the “Viennese” style of Haydn. Mozart then abandoned the form for nearly a decade until he moved from Salzburg to Vienna, where he heard some of Haydn’s 1781 “Russian” quartets. Between 1782 and 1785, Mozart produced a set of six string quartets heavily influenced by Haydn, to whom he dedicated the works now known as the “Haydn” quartets. These include the “Hunt” quartet (a nickname that did not originate with Mozart), so called because of the 6/8 “hunting” rhythm of the work’s opening.

“A father who had resolved to send his children out into the great world,” Mozart wrote in his dedication to Haydn, “took it to be his duty to confide them to the protection and guidance of a very celebrated Man, especially when the latter by good fortune was at the same time his best Friend. Here they are then, O great Man and dearest Friend, these six children of mine. They are, it is true, the fruit of a long and laborious endeavor, yet the hope inspired in me by several Friends that it may be at least partly compensated encourages me, and I flatter myself that this offspring will serve to afford me solace one day. You, yourself, dearest friend, told me of your satisfaction with them during your last Visit to this Capital. It is this indulgence above all which urges me to commend them to you and encourages me to hope that they will not seem to you altogether unworthy of your favor. May it therefore please you to receive them kindly and to be their Father, Guide and Friend!”

While the string quartet has continued to be a mainstay of chamber music since the days of Mozart and Haydn, the brass quintet is largely a product of the 20th century. Frenchman Jean-François-Victor Bellon (1795–1869) composed a dozen brass quintets between 1848 and 1850, but these languished in obscurity for 150 years. Thus Victor Ewald, a Russian composer of German heritage, came to be acknowledged as the father of the brass quintet. Born in St. Petersburg, where he studied cello and composition at that city’s conservatory, Ewald maintained a “day job” as a successful professor of civil engineering while playing cello in an ensemble organized by Mitrofan Belyayev (a violist, timber merchant and music publisher) and widely recognized as the most influential string quartet in Russia.

Around 1888, Ewald—who also played cornet, horn and tuba—composed a quintet in A♭ major for five brass instruments. His B♭-minor quintet debuted a couple years later and became the first—and only—one of Ewald’s four quintets to be published (by Belyayev) during the composer’s lifetime. Ewald created these works for an ensemble consisting of two cornets, a rotary-valve alto horn, a rotary-valve tenor horn and tuba, but today they are generally performed by the standard brass quintet, substituting French horn and trombone for the alto and tenor horns. The melodies in Ewald’s Op. 5 quintet demonstrate the composer’s love of Russian folksong, while, notes David Wright, the “chamber music of Robert Schumann, the German romantic composer most admired by progressive Russians of that era, [serves as] the model for this piece’s vigorous counterpoint, volatile moods, lyricism and classic form.”

Throughout his all-too-brief life, Mozart composed a variety of “concert arias,” some for standalone performance, some designed for insertion into pre-existing operas by other composers. Completed on March 8, 1791, “Per questa bella mano” dates from Mozart’s final year and was written for Franz Xaver Gerl, who in September of that year would sing the role of Sarastro in the premiere of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. Originally scored for solo voice, concertante double bass and orchestra, the aria is heard this afternoon in a reduction for voice and piano.

During 1849, which Robert Schumann described as his “most fruitful year,” the composer turned his attention from Genoveva (his only opera) to chamber works designed to produce more immediate income, among them three sets of Liederspiel: the Spanisches Liederspiel (Op. 74), the Minnespiel (Op. 101) and the Spanische Liebeslieder (Op. 138). While The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines Liederspiel as a “19th-century German dramatic entertainment in which songs, newly composed upon pre-existing poems, are inserted in the drama,” Schumann dispensed with any dramatic plotting, creating song cycles that alternated solo numbers with duets and part-songs (sung by a quartet or small chorus). This afternoon we hear the closing selections from the Spanisches Liederspiel, setting a translation into German by Emanuel von Geibel of a text by an unknown Spanish poet, and the Minnespiel, featuring poetry of Friedrich Rückert.

Of all the varied and magnificent music produced by composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, one work remains—by far—his most popular and widely performed: the fifth (of nine) suites he dubbed “Bachianas Brasilieras,” which fuse the spirit of Johann Sebastian Bach’s style with Brazilian folk melodies and popular music. A cellist himself, Villa-Lobos scored the first of these works (dating from 1930) for an “orchestra of cellos” divided into eight parts. Eight years later, he turned again to this ensemble to accompany a wordless soprano vocalise surrounding a central section setting a poem by Altimarando de Souza (later replaced by a new poem written by Ruth Valadares Corréa, due to a copyright issue with the original text). In 1945, Villa-Lobos added a second movement to the work, a “dance” to accompany the existing “song,” using a poem by his friend Manoel Bandeira about various Brazilian birds (including the irerê, a white-faced whistling duck) indigenous to Santana do Cariri (a municipality in northeastern Brazil).

Jeff Eldridge