Digital Playbill

The Romantics

Table of Contents
Premiering January 23, 2021
Music Director: Eric Garcia


Felix Mendelssohn
(1809 – 1847)
Four Pieces for String Quartet, op. 81
I. Tema con Variazioni. Andante sostenuto
II. Scherzo. Allegro leggiero
III. Capriccio. Andante con moto
IV. Fuga. A tempo ordinario

Sergei Rachmaninoff (arr. Johnson)
(1873 – 1943)
Vocalise, op. 34

Franz Joseph Haydn (arr. Johnson)
(1732 – 1809)
Divertimento in D Major, Hob.IV:6
I. Adagio cantabile
II. Allegro
III. Tempo di menuetto

Max Reger (arr. Johnson)
(1873 – 1916)
Serenade in G Major, op. 141a
I. Vivace
II. Larghetto
III. Presto


Katherine Jarvis, Assistant Concertmaster
SPONSORED BY Chris, Takkako, & Maddy Hirose

Geoffrey Hill, Principal Second Violin
sponsored by philip gordon

Lindsay Bohl, Associate Principal Viola

Stephen Mathie, Cello

, Associate Concertmaster

David Johnson, Principal Viola
Sponsored by Tricia Baur & Phil Rogers

Kyla Davidson, Cello

Katherine Jarvis

Geoffrey Hill

Lindsay Bohl

Stephen Mathie

David Johnson

Kyla Davidson


Education and
Program Notes
The Romantics

Felix Mendelssohn / February 03, 1809 – November 04, 1847

Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81

Robert Schumann called Mendelssohn “the Mozart of the 19th century, the most brilliant musician, the one who most clearly sees through the contradictions of the age and for the first time reconciles them.” The “contradictions of the age” to which Schumann alluded refers to the 19th century’s philosophical tug of war between the conservative Classicists focusing on the past, in one camp, and the progressive Romantics, in the other. The Classicists emphasized form over content, the Romantics believed that content should predominate over form. And as Schumann asserts, Mendelssohn’s music represents the best of both camps, respecting graceful classical forms while at the same time filling them with expressive Romantic passion, both blended together with technical mastery. And as you might imagine, however, Mendelssohn took incoming flak from both camps. Some conservatives thought him too modern, but Berlioz said that “perhaps he had studied the music of the dead too closely”. I note that history credits Mendelssohn for reviving J.S. Bach’s baroque music which had largely gone into the shadows over time.

Mendelssohn wrote these Four Pieces over a period of four years, 1843-1847. He produced them not as part of a single work, but each as a stand-alone composition. They had not been published at the time of his death. His unexpected demise at the age of 38 created a demand for his pieces, motivating his publisher to put the four together and to market them as a single four-movement work. The good news is that the marriage is perfect. On occasion they have been wrongly advertised as his String Quartet No. 7.

The first movement is a standard theme and variations, the second a peppy scherzo, the third a caprice, and the fourth a fugue which demonstrates his affinity for the past and his contrapuntal mastery. Like Mozart to whom he has been favorably compared, he was lost to the world way too young. But here we are 175 years later enjoying his marvelous legacy, thanks to the industry and skill of our superb musicians.

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

Vocalise, op. 34 for String Trio (arr. Johnson)

Rachmaninoff was a musical contrarian. He wrote wonderful 19th-century Romantic music in the 20th century which caused him to take considerable heat from many smug critics who were intoxicated with Modernism and its ultimately failed experiments. They dismissed him as an irrelevant throwback to the past. (Name one of them for $1,000.) He said, “I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing music, and I cannot acquire the new. I have made intense efforts to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.” He gave us many clues about the inspiration behind his music: “I try to make music speak simply and directly that which is in my heart at the time I am composing. If there is love there, or bitterness, or sadness, or religion, these moods become part of my music, for music is as much a part of my living as eating and breathing.”

The result is a broadly lyrical style brimming with sumptuous harmonies and passionate melodies that carry us great distances on their wings – much like the melodies of his mentor Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Rachmaninoff was the last great exponent of Russian Romanticism.

Rachmaninoff wrote 85 songs, but ironically the only one to survive the test of time, Vocalise, has no words. He wrote it for piano and solo soprano to be sung with a single vowel sound of the singer’s choice. Songs normally come with vocal lyrics that tell a story or convey something of interest, but here Rachmaninoff eschews words. His purpose is to connect directly with our hearts by eliminating the limitations of language. This process allows his music to kindle in each one of us whatever idiosyncratic personal emotions it might encounter in the recesses of our hearts – if we let it. He said, “What life takes away, music restores. Music should bring relief. It should rehabilitate minds and souls. Music cannot be just color and rhythm; it must reveal the emotions of the heart.”

O, what was it in Rachmaninoff’s heart that he poured out to us in this haunting masterpiece? That’s for each one of us to decipher. If I were to try to decode it using words, I would be violating his attempt to eliminate any intermediation between us and his heartfelt message.

Rachmaninoff’s melody is so enthralling that it has been transcribed for every imaginable combination of instruments, including saxophone and trombone – but not piccolo. The version we will hear is David Johnson’s divine transcription for the Langroise Trio.

Franz Joseph Haydn / March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809

Divertimento No. 1 in D major, Op. 38 (arr. Johnson)

Haydn began his storied musical career at the age of seven as a boy soprano in the choir at the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. When his voice cracked as a teenager, causing the Empress Maria Teresa to complain that he “sounded like a crow”, the choirmaster threw him out on the streets to fend for himself. Haydn moved to a garret above a friend’s house. To put bread on his table, he hustled as a street musician and gave lessons to the children of aristocrats. In his free time, he studied music theory and composition. Along the way, a succession of aristocrats hired him to be their house musician, and at the age of 29 he landed a plum job with the immensely wealthy Esterházy family on their estate – which rivaled Versailles – in rural Hungary. He had a superb orchestra at his disposal, an ornate 400 seat theater, and the task of entertaining the Princes Esterházy and their guests with his own works. Haydn held this beneficial position for nearly 30 years during which he produced a flood of compositions in all genres, including 104 symphonies, 23 operas, and 83 string quartets. Prince Nicolaus was an accomplished musician as were many of his guests. Haydn also wrote many ensemble works for them, filling in as a colleague when needed. In this process, he became proficient at writing chamber music of high artistic quality, adding “Father of the String Quartet” to his characterization as the “Father of the Symphony”. It might be an exaggeration to say that Haydn perfected the high classical style, but only a slight one. Both Mozart and Beethoven owe much to Haydn’s innovations.

A “divertimento”, or “amusement” in Italian, is just what its title suggests, a lighthearted distraction from the travails of everyday life. Haydn wrote this type of music to entertain his audiences, not to confront or to inveigh against the Fates. D major is a bright and festive key. It fits perfectly with a divertimento as well as Haydn’s music in general. He used D major for 23 of his 104 symphonies. So sit back, come with us to the Hungarian Versailles, and enjoy opulent entertainment at its finest.


Max Reger / March 19, 1873 – May 11, 1916

Serenade Op. 141a (arr. Johnson)

During just two decades, he wrote over 1,000 compositions, gave 150 piano and organ concerts a year, and became a full professor at the Royal Conservatory in Leipzig. In his day he was very popular with the public and much in demand as a performer and a composer. Arnold Schoenberg regarded him as a genius, and many identified him as the next in line behind Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler in the great Germanic tradition. Some called him “the second Bach of Leipzig.” But what happened? Have you ever heard any of Max Reger’s works? Unfortunately, most of us have not. Six years after his death, Professor Ernest Brennecke wrote: “All that Reger’s name can now evoke is a raised eyebrow on a shrugged shoulder.” What an unpredictable fate for a man Paul Hindemith called “The last giant of music.”

Reger came of age at the dawn of the 20th century, just as the Romantic Age was giving way to Modernism. Not surprisingly, he had his musical feet in both camps, one in the past, one in the future. Reger saw himself as the rightful heir to the tradition of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, but he borrowed extensively from the rich chromatic harmonies and style of Richard Wagner and his acolytes, sometimes dipping into the musical vocabulary of Schoenberg and Berg. The result of Reger’s amalgam of such different styles was to make much of his music quite controversial. The traditionalists did not like his adventurous avant-garde leanings, and the modernists balked at his roots in the past. This situation made Reger the subject of harsh criticism by critics who favored one camp over the other. One called him a “musical cyclops”, “an ogre of composition” who writes “intellectually overthought music of the clever man, largely about nothing.” Another opined that his pieces “look like music, sound like music, and might even taste like music; yet it remains stubbornly, not music.” Did Reger take this abuse lying down? Hardly. To one of them he wrote, “I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.” He remarked to a friend that “Bach should be glad he’s dead already or critics would excoriate his harmonic development.”

But do not despair! This masterly serenade sits comfortably on our 21st century ears. Reger wrote it in his later years when he had turned to a simpler compositional style. It succeeds in deftly combining the best of both worlds. One second it sounds quite traditional, but the next he modulates between keys using chromatic notes that add passion, unexpected color, and variation to the fluid journey. Two moods predominate in the first and third movements, one jaunty, good natured, and playful, the other slightly blue and reflective.  Reger provides a tangy contrast to both Haydn and Rachmaninoff between whom he finds himself sandwiched.

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