Performing this Week
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
Summer 2010 — Week 11
Welcome to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival radio series production blog, home of program out takes, artist commentary, and other related tangents we like to call "web extras."
In Week 11 of our concerts from Santa Fe, composer and violist Brett Dean joins William Preucil, Benny Kim, Michael Tree, Lynn Harrell and Eric Kim to play music by a young German composer and pianist... one Johannes Brahms...! Brahms composed his Opus 18 Sextet In B-Flat Major, in 1860 when he was just 27-years old.
And to start things off, we have pianist Inon Barnaton performing an early work by another composer who was just 'coming into his own' when he wrote it: Darkness Visible by British composer, pianist and conductor, Thomas Adès. Darkness Visible is Adès's 're-composition' of the John Dowland song "In darknesse let me dwell" in which Adès explores — pretty much from the inside out — the sonorities of the piano using the extremes of its range, innovative application of tremolos, contrasting dynamics and tone clusters in a rich harmonic language.
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Please enjoy these items rescued from the "cutting room floor" and the other things found along the way to creating this program from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival radio series.
Thanks for stopping by,
THOMAS ADÈS (b. 1971)
Darkness Visible (1992)
Inon Barnatan, piano
The composer Thomas Adès also plays the piano differently. He peers diffidently at the score as if seeing it for the first time. Meanwhile, his fingers flash up and down the keyboard in a haze of perfectly struck executions. The result is an unusual limpidity in performance, as if the music is being explained as it is played.
Thomas Ades is an IMG artist.
Darkness Visible is a rapt recomposition of Dowland's song "In darknesse let me dwell", and was first performed by the composer in Liszt's house in Budapest in 1992. Here Adès explores the sonorities of the piano using the extremes of its range, innovative application of tremolos, contrasting dynamics and tone clusters in a rich harmonic language.
The explanation of Darkness Visible is that Adès tried to explode John Dowland's lute song, "In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell." In their discussion of the work, Marc tells Kerry its kind of like "putting a grenade into the song and having all the notes flying in the air and then falling on the piano."
In darknesse let mee dwell, the ground shall sorrow be,
The roofe Dispaire to barr all cheerfull light from mee,
The wals of marble blacke that moistned still shall weepe,
My musicke hellish jarring sounds to banish friendly sleepe.
Thus wedded to my woes, and bedded to my Tombe,
O let me living die, till death, till death do come.
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18 (1860)
William Preucil, violin; Benny Kim, violin; Michael Tree, viola; Brett Dean, viola; Lynn Harrell, cello; Eric Kim, cello
"It always saddens me to think that after all I am not yet a proper musician; but I have more aptitude for the calling than probably many of the younger generation have as a rule."
Here is an excerpt from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival performance of the String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18 by Johannes Brahms. This is the Scherzo and players are William Preucil and Benny Kim, violins; Michael Tree and Brett Dean, violas; Lynn Harrell and Eric Kim, cellos.
We so automatically identify Brahms with Vienna that it is easy to forget that he did not move there until he was nearly 30. By that time, he had already written a great deal of music, and some of the best of these early works were composed while he was a court musician in Detmold. About 100 miles southwest of Hamburg, Detmold was a cultured court much devoted to music, and for three seasons (1857–59) Brahms served as a court musician there. These years were quite productive for him musically. With a chorus, orchestra, and good solo performers at his disposal, Brahms could have his music performed immediately and could test his ideas. From these years came his two serenades for orchestra, the first two piano quartets, several choral works, and the completion of his Piano Concerto No. 1.
It was during his final year at Detmold that Brahms began his Sextet in B‑flat Major, completing it in 1860. Perhaps because it is an early work, critics have been quick to detect influences. Brahms’s admirable biographer Karl Geiringer hears the influence of Schubert in the first movement, of Beethoven in the Scherzo, and of Haydn in the finale. But the Sextet already shows Brahms’s unmistakable voice, particularly in its rich sonorities and in the way a wealth of musical ideas grows out of each theme. And in contrast to the clenched intensity of some of Brahms’s late chamber music, the Sextet is full of sunlight.
A Sextet is a string quartet plus additional viola and cello, and Brahms fully exploits these lower sonorities, as well as playing off combinations of instruments impossible in a string quartet. The gentle, rocking main subject of the Allegro ma non troppo, heard immediately in the first cello, is only the first in a number of thematic ideas in this sonata-form movement, but its relaxed and flowing ease sets a tone that will run throughout the Sextet—this is music that proceeds along a mellow songfulness rather than through the collision of unrelated ideas. Brahms’s performance markings tell the tale here: the first theme is marked espressivo; the second subject, for upper strings, is marked dolce and pianissimo; while the third, a winding idea for cello, is marked poco forte espressivo animato. The development treats the first two thematically, but the third is developed rhythmically: Brahms derives a series of rhythmic patterns from this theme that help bind the movement together, and the theme reappears in its melodic shape only in the recapitulation. The lengthy movement closes with a nice touch: the brief coda, played pizzicato, moves gracefully to the two concluding chords.
The second movement, in somber D Minor, is a theme and six variations. The first viola immediately lays out the firmly drawn theme, and the first three variations seem barely able to suppress a sort of volcanic fury that seethes beneath the surface of this music. Even in chamber music Brahms favored a heavy sonority, and at several points in these variations all six instruments are triple‑stopped, creating huge chords played simultaneously on 18 strings. A ray of sunlight falls across the music at the fourth variation, which moves to D Major, while the sonorous fifth is almost entirely the province of the first viola, accompanied by the violins’ wispy octaves. The dark sixth variation serves as the coda—the cello, playing with an almost choked sonority, returns to the D-Minor darkness of the opening and leads the movement to its quiet close.
After these two massive movements, the pleasing Scherzo zips past in barely three minutes. The Scherzo section itself is playful but feels a little subdued in comparison to the slashing, full-throated Trio. This rises to a sonorous climax before the return of the opening Scherzo; Brahms closes with a mighty coda derived from the Trio. The concluding Poco allegretto e grazioso is a rondo based on the first cello’s amiable opening theme. Significant interludes intrude on the course of the movement, which makes use of the same kind of rhythmic underpinning that bound the first movement together so imaginatively. The rondo theme itself undergoes significant variation as this movement proceeds, and Brahms rounds things off with a coda so powerful that it feels virtually symphonic.
Brett Dean says he finds musical inspiration in wife Heather Betts's painting, Fermata, which is pictured at left. (Picture: Cathryn Tremain)
"One of the nice things here in Santa Fe is most of the rehearsals are open to the public..." Benny Kim reflects on the good times and "musical intelligence that happens" between musicians while practicing for their Festival performances. He thinks more people should take advantage of these glimpses into the works in progress.
"It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table."