I had the privilege of writing liner notes for a CD of piano and violin works. These would also be considered program notes.
“La fille aux cheveux de lin” from Préudes, Premier Livre Claude Debussy, 1862-1918
La fille aux cheveux de lin belongs to the first book of Debussy’s Preludes, small character pieces originally written for the piano. Arthur Hartmann, an original faculty member of the Eastman School of Music and close friend and confident of Debussy, transcribed the work for piano and violin. The title, loosely translated as “the girl with the flaxen hair,” is printed at the end of the work, allowing Debussy’s characteristic extended-tonal style to create impressions unimpeded by preconceived notions. This potent combination creates an environment that encourages the listener to perceive the piece as if they are remembering a long-forgotten memory. The violin begins unaccompanied, as if the rough sketch of the memory is struggling to be remembered. Then, as the listener “remembers” more, the piano enters, fleshing out the harmony. This detail is incomplete as Debussy’s characteristic tonal style floats between a picturesque pentatonic and traditional harmony. This ambiguity allows the piece to hang in the proverbial mist of the mind, shining and delicate. It is only after reliving the whole memory that the experience is encapsulated, creating a feeling of nostalgia as the piece is remembered by the listener as the title add a new layer of meaning.
Introduction et Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28 Camille Saint-Saëns, 1835-1921
Camille Saint –Saëns wrote Introduction et Rondo capriccioso for the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate in 1863, and it has endured as one of the composer’s most popular compositions ever since. It combines effortless romantic grace with dazzling technical fireworks, requiring both amazing sensitivity and immense technical fluency from the violinist. The syncopated Spanish influence, rhapsodic flourishes and the rhythmic complexity keep the piece moving quickly, astounding all who have the pleasure of encountering this showstopper piece.
Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven “Schön Rosmarin” from Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen Fritz Kreisler, 1875-1962
Fritz Kreisler, along with being one of the world’s greatest violinists, is also know for his musical hoaxes. He wrote miniatures for violin and piano and deliberately misattributed them to other, musically and chronologically diverse, composers. Kreisler’s Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven, however, has always been attributed to the violin master. The work derives its melody from an unpublished Rondo for Violin and Piano by Beethoven, WoO 41; the title Rondino is at once both a technical definition based on the musical form of the piece and a play on the relationship to Beethoven’s work. A colorful, lively and playful interpretation of Beethoven, Kreisler expands upon the material in high classical style, focusing on the delightful melody instead of requiring technical brilliance. Schōne Rosmarin is the third piece in Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen, or Old Viennese Melodies, one of the most well known of Kreisler’s musical hoaxes. At the time of publication in 1905, the work was misattributed to the composer Josef Lanner, know for his role in the popularization of the waltz in the dance halls and music salons of Vienna in the mid-1800s. Schōne Rosmarin is a lively waltz, exuding charm and wit through the rhythmic elasticity and playful lifts in the musical phrases. It captures the spirit of the Viennese waltz so well the authorship of the piece was never doubted until Kreisler copyrighted it in his own name in 1910.
Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 Pablo de Sarasate, 1844-1908
Known the world over for his impressive technical fluency, Pablo de Sarasate also composed a number of works for the violin. His writing is idiomatic, expressive, and technically daring, making his works beloved by generations of violinists. Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, or Gypsy Airs, was composed in 1878 for violin and orchestra. Loosely based on the Hungarian csárdás, it can be broken into four sections: Moderato, Lento, Un poco piu lento, and Allegro molto vivace. The piece begins with the Moderato, broad and dramatic introduction for both the piano and the violin. Rhapsodic and improvisational, the Lento section is peppered with fiery, tempestuous interjections of brilliance. The soulful and melancholic Un poco píu lento section is the emotional calm before the storm with its expansive romantic melody. The Allegro molto vivace is a showstopper with its use of extended violin techniques including harmonics, left-hand pizzicato, double stops and spiccato runs. Color and interest is created by diverse shifts in articulation, ornamentation and a focus on technical showmanship.
Légende, Op. 17 Polonaise Brillante, Op. 21 Souvenir de Moscou, Op. 6 Henryk Wieniawski, 1835-1880
Henryk Wieniawski was a virtuoso violinist at the turn of the last century. Known for his expressive and original playing, his compositions focused on small performance pieces that accentuated his strengths. Wieniawski wrote Légende to convince his soon-to-be in-laws to accept his betrothal to their daughter. The piece manages to capture the nervousness of a young lover with a meandering accompanimental line and combine it with an earnest and romantic melody. The piece ends in doubt, with the violin picking up the restless accompanimental figure, mirroring his predicament with his soon-to-be wife. After hearing this piece, her parents relented and they were married that year. The Polonaise Brilliante is a showpiece, opening with a heavily ornamented and effervescent section that displays the violinist’s virtuosic technique. The center section is more lyrically romantic, and the piece closes by combining the vestiges of a lyric melody with decadent, technically brilliant ornamentation before returning to the opening theme. Sourvenir de Moscu is based on two songs by Alexander Varlamov, and was composed during a concert tour of Russia. The first melody, The Red Sarafan, is woven together with improvisatory sounding passages that display technical fluency and brilliance. The full melody is then presented in a sweeping romantic style, contrasting with the dramatic flourishes that characterized the opening. The melody goes through a series of delicate variations before the second song, I Saddle my Horse, is introduced. It is presented in a peasant-dance style, with further variations that gallop to a thrilling close.
Sonata in A major César Franck, 1822-1890
True to his religious and moral ideals, César Franck rejected the over-emotionalism of the Romantic movement and embraced the structured simplicity of the Classical era. He combined this with chromatic harmonies and a strict adherence to the cyclical transformation to create a new foundational style of French music. His Sonata in A is the most enduring of Franck’s violin works, considered the epitome of his stylistic convictions. The first movement, Allegro ben moderato, uses an understated reflective theme, separating this piece form the music of his contemporaries. The second movement, Allegro, is somewhat more turbulent and mercurial; the violin glides over anxious accompaniment. Improvisatory in feeling and expression, the third movement, Ben moderato, Largamente, never loses the clear, vocal style used throughout, and lacks many of the idiomatic flourishes that fill his contemporaries’ works. The fourth movement, Allegro poco mosso, uses canonic imitation, which could be seen as an influence from his involvement with church music. The Sonata boils over with mature expression, not needing the showmanship and technical fireworks of his contemporaries, instead relying on the genus of his melodic invention and strict application of cyclical principals.