Digital Playbill

Rachmaninoff & Dvořák

Table of Contents
Premiering February 6, 2021
Music Director: Eric Garcia

Program

Sergei Rachmaninoff
(1873 – 1943)
Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor

Antonín Dvořák
(1841 – 1904)
String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, op. 96
“American Quartet”

Musicians

Katie Clark, Violin

Stephen Mathie, Cello
Sponsored by Carolyn and Charles Yochum

Del Parkinson, Principal Piano
Sponsored for two years by Dr. G. Robert & Dorothy Klomp and Andy and Elizabeth Scoggin, and Jerry Saltzer in memory of Marlys Anne Saltzer

Chia-Li Ho, Associate Concertmaster
Sponsored by Stephen and Carol Trott

Geoffrey Hill, Principal Violin II
sponsored by philip gordon

Lindsay Bohl, Associate Principal Viola

Lisa Cooper, Cello


Katie Clark

Stephen Mathie

Del Parkinson

Chia-Li Ho

Geoffrey Hill

Lindsay Bohl

Lisa Cooper

Sponsors

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Repertoire
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Program Notes
Rachmaninoff & Dvořák

Sergei Rachmaninoff / April 01, 1873 – March 28, 1943

Trio élégiaque No. 1

It’s hard to believe, but Sergei Rachmaninoff, the man who would become one of the 20th century’s towering pianists and composers, flunked all of his exams as a twelve-year-old at St. Petersburg Conservatory. Acquaintances described him as an “aimless goof off” who specialized in altering his report card to make Fs look like Bs. Fearful for his future, his mother and his cousin, Alexander Siloti, jerked young Sergei out of the lenient St. Petersburg Conservatory and planted him in the notoriously rigorous rival Conservatory in Moscow. Nikolai Zverev, who had a frightful reputation for strictness, accepted him as a pupil. The family’s strategy worked. Rachmaninoff buckled down and graduated in three years as the Conservatory’s star, winning its Great Gold Medal, only the third such award ever granted. Years later, he reminisced about his experience, “Discipline entered my life. God forbid that I leave the piano five minutes before my time of three hours was up! Or one uncompleted note – such cases were capable of stirring him up into a fearsome temper.However, all our achievements and diligence paid off: he drove us, his pupils, to various houses with concerts. When I finished playing, Zverev said: ‘Now that is how one should play the piano!’”

Discipline was not the only gift he received at the Moscow Conservatory. Its most famous professor, Pytor Tchaikovsky, became his teacher, his cheerleader, his mentor, and his father figure. So, it is no surprise that when Sergei composed his Trio élégiaque No. 1 in his final year as a student, he would base its main theme on a memorable motif from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The DNA of this Trio comes from the opening four notes horn motif of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. Rachmaninoff turns Tchaikovsky’s descending four notes into a four-note rising motif – in a minor mode – introduced by the piano. Everyone in the audience at the Conservatory would have been well aware of Rachmaninoff’s unmistakable musical reference. At the time, borrowing an idea from another composer was not plagiarism, it was a show of respect. The issue wasn’t where the idea came from, but what you could do with it, and Sergei did plenty.

This Trio, which he wrote as a nineteen-year-old, already sounds like the Rachmaninoff who years later wrote his powerful piano concertos and his monumental Second Symphony. His characteristic massive chords, captivating sequences, and Romantic washes of color are much in evidence.

The Trio ends with a funeral march. Even at that young age, Rachmaninoff was obsessed with death. Many of his mature works quote the Dies Irae from the Catholic mass for the dead.

Rachmaninoff returned to this format a year later, after Tchaikovsky’s premature death. Trio élégiaque No. 2 is a tribute to his mentor. It, too, ends with a poignant funeral march.

Antonín Dvořák / September 08, 1841 – May 01, 1904

String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, “American”

Fed up with mostly German and foreign classical music filling our concert halls, Jeanette Thurber lured Dvořák to New York City in 1892 to help us develop our own. Who better than Antonín? He had distinguished himself in his native Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) as a “nationalist” composer who could distill the sounds of his country into polished works for the sophisticated stage. Jeanette installed him as the Director of her newly-established National Conservatory of Music, and she gave him his marching orders: Come up with a distinctive brand of American classical music. Whether he complied or not has been a hotly debated question for 120 years. Those who argue that he did point to his customary use of the pentatonic scale that delivers the melodies in his American compositions, a scale involving just five notes. To hear the sound, play the black keys on the piano, one after another. This pleasant scale is characteristic of native American music, but it is also prevalent in Czech folk music and the pieces he composed before coming to the United States; it is indigenous to folk music worldwide.

After he returned to Bohemia, however, he wrote to a conductor who had programmed the New World Symphony and told him to “leave out the nonsense about my having made use of American melodies. I have only composed in the spirit of such American natural melodies”. Dvořák later called all his works written here “genuine Bohemian music”.

In any event, Dvořák wrote this wonderful quartet during the summer of 1893 while on a working vacation in – of all places – Spillville, Iowa. Spillville was an agricultural community whose small population included a robust Czech enclave and surrounded by his family, Dvořák felt right at home. He described his intent as wanting to write “something that is melodious and simple”, and this gorgeous comfortable pastoral music is the result.

In the first movement of his “American” String Quartet, Dvořák presents two principal themes; the resolute first sung with a husky richness by the viola, Dvořák’s instrument; the second, intoned by the first violin, and evokes the spiritual gravity of the “New World Symphony”. Movement two is a yearning reverie. One scholar called it a sort of “Bohemian blues”. Movement three is a dancelike scherzo. Dvořák was an ardent birdwatcher. He loved their songs and incorporated many of them in his symphonies. In this movement, the high violin tune was inspired by the call of a Scarlet Tanager he encountered in Spillville. The Finale is an expression of buoyant good humor, punctuated by hymn-like material.

Unlike many of his composer colleagues, Dvořák was a happy man. He was neither neurotic nor pursued by dark demons. His music reflects his optimistic grateful outlook on life, and let me put it this way: I like it, and I hope you do too. (Come to think of it, I like all music.)

WRITTEN BY THE HONORABLE STEPHEN S. TROTT

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