FROM VIENNA WITH LOVE!
Sonata in A Major (1765) Marianna Martines (1744–1812)
- Rondo: Adagio
- Tempo di Minuetto
Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 7 (1797) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
- Allegro motto e con brio
- Largo, con gran espressione
- Rondo: Poco Allegretto e grazioso
Fantasien über Gedichte von Richard Dehmel, Op. 9 (1898) Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942)
- Stimme des abends
Nachtstücke Op. 23 (1839) Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
- Mehr langsam, oft zurückhaltend
- Markiert und lebhaft
- Mit großer Lebhaftigkeit
- Ad libitum—Einfach
Impromptu in F Minor, Op. Posth. 142, D 935 (1827) Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
FROM VIENNA WITH LOVE! Program Notes
Sonata in A Major (1765) by Marianna Martines (1744–1812)
Marianna Martines was born in Vienna to an Austrian mother and an Italian father of Spanish descent. The precocious young girl was afforded exceptional educational opportunities thanks to her father’s close friendship with the renowned librettist Metastasio, who resided in the same building along with the young Joseph Haydn. Trained as a singer and keyboardist, Marianna won the favor of Empress Maria Theresa and proceeded to show notable skills as a composer. Some of her teenage compositions were performed at Vienna’s Michaelerkirche, the chapel of the emperor’s court. The following decades saw her reputation growing beyond her native town. Important recognition came in 1773 when Martines was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, the first woman composer ever inscribed in the membership rolls.
Martines never married. As an adult woman of considerable means she held salons—parties devoted to music and art—in her home. She had a wide circle of acquaintances, and portraits show her to have been attractive. Martines and Mozart were apparently well acquainted and frequently performed together (Mozart may have written his Piano Concerto No. 5 for her to perform). Early cataloguers listed some 150 compositions, of which about 65 are extant today. Her last surviving composition was a chamber cantata for solo voice, dated 1786. Owing to the destruction of much of her work it is difficult to know whether her compositional activity ceased at that time, and information from her later years is sparse. After her death she was almost completely forgotten. A new wave of musical scholarship in the 1990s led to a rekindling of interest in her music.
The early Sonata in A Major is Haydnesque in its energy, though a personal lighter voice emerges. Formally it adheres to an early Classical Sonata mold: a lively first movement with tender moments is followed by a melancholy slow Rondo, then a jaunty Minuet. Of note is Martines’ use of repetition: she often repeats only the second half of a phrase, resulting in asymmetrical phrase construction. In other instances an innocuous repeat would lead to a sudden turn of thought. Nuanced harmonic shadings add emotional depth to the music, though youthful flair abounds.
Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 7 (1797) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
The three decades separating the creation of Martines’ Sonata and Beethoven’s Op. 7 saw a steady evolution of the Fortepiano, along with a sea-change in musical winds, now approaching romantic volatility. Beethoven was in his late twenties when he wrote the work; he titled it ‘Grand Sonata’, and dedicated it to his 16-year-old student Babette, the Countess Keglevich (he was visiting her family’s palace in Bratislava at the time). Along with the much later Hammerklavier Sonata Op. 106, it is one of his longest and most demanding piano sonatas. Its key of E-flat major lends itself naturally to large heroic works (the Emperor Concerto, Op. 73 is a case in point), and its four movements offer a rich emotional tapestry.
Noticeable immediately are the full-bodied texture and the relentless rhythmic energy of the opening Allegro con brio. It calls for tumultuous virtuosity, achieving an orchestral effect with repeated notes, sweeping scales and a wide register span. In shimmering passages combining a tremolando right-hand with an accented off-beat left-hand Beethoven uncannily prophesies late 19th century pianistic bravura.
Moving from E-flat major to a serene C major (an unusual key pairing), the Largo borrows its two-chord theme from the preceding movement, making for narrative continuity. It is regal and expressive but not sad. A middle section in a darker A-flat major offers some violent bursts but returns to the calm. The last phrase with its steady repeated notes is a beautiful farewell, providing a charming answer to the opening two-chord theme.
The Allegro 3rd movement (not a Scherzo, as would have been expected) gets back to E-flat major. Dolce (sweet) is the prevailing sentiment, though the minore middle section is a disturbing interlude. The frenzy is reminiscent of the tremolando passages in the first movement, as are the repeated notes.
Sweetness continues in the last movement, a Poco Allegretto e grazioso. In typical Rondo fashion it offers conversational detours, including a turbulent C minor section. Towards the end there is a moment of confusion when everything goes up by half a step, only to return with a smile (Beethoven will use this same device in the Emperor Concerto a decade later). A sunny summation of all that has happened is finally offered, ending an epic journey with a muted adieu.
Fantasien über Gedichte von Richard Dehmel, Op. 9 (1898) by Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942)
Born in Vienna and raised in the Jewish faith, Zemlinsky was a graduate of the Vienna Conservatory. Mentored by the elderly Brahms, he admired Hugo Wolf, was a protégé of Gustav Mahler and a close friend and eventually brother-in-law to Arnold Schoenberg. A celebrated conductor, educator and composer, Zemlinsky wrote operas, chamber music and songs. Considering his own abilities as a pianist, the scarcity of works for piano is unfortunate. Most of his piano music was written in the early part of his career, and the work on this program was his last for the instrument.
The inspiration for Fantasien Op. 9 came from poems by Richard Dehmel, one of Vienna’s most prominent Secessionist poets. Each of the four captures a mood: in Stimme des Abends (Voice of the Evening), marked ‘Very quiet and quite calm’, Zemlinsky conveys an ethereal, brooding quality. In Waldseligkeit (Woodland rapture), the flowing opening contrasts with a hymn-like rejoinder, building in intensity (Waldseligkeit was also set to music by Alma Mahler, to whom Zemlinsky was engaged around that time). The third, Liebe (Love) is of a rapt expression, and the fourth, Käferlied (Beetle Song) is the lightest, its waltz-like gait rounding off the set in beguiling elegance.
In the first few decades of the new century Zemlinsky, who converted to Protestantism in 1899, had a productive professional life, relocating to Prague and Berlin for conducting appointments. With the rise of the Nazi Party he fled back to Vienna in 1933, and moved to the United States In 1938. While other refugee composers (such as Schoenberg) were celebrated in their adoptive land during the 1930s and 1940s, Zemlinsky remained virtually unknown. He fell ill, ceased composing, and died of pneumonia in Larchmont, New York. In recent decades his music has been gradually regaining lost ground.
Nachtstücke Op. 23 (1839) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Schumann came to Vienna in 1838 to explore the city as a possible residence for himself and his wife-to-be Clara Wieck. A few months later, with little to show for his efforts, he writes—“…always I saw funeral processions, coffins, unhappy and despairing people; often I was so distraught that tears flowed and I didn’t know why…”. He began working on a set of piano pieces titled Leichenfantasie (Corpse Fantasy), when he received the devastating news that his brother Eduard lay dying. He set off for Germany in early April, but arrived a day after his brother’s death.
Deeply despondent, Schumann finished the four works, each of which initially had a programmatic title: Trauerzug (Funeral Procession), Kuriose Gesellschaft (Odd Assembly), Nächtliches Gelage (Nocturnal Revel) and Rundgesang mit Solostimmen (Roundelay with Solo Voices). However, Clara convinced Schumann to remove the disturbing titles; the work was published in Vienna in 1840 as Nachtstücke, Night Pieces.
The musicologist Ernst Herttrich suggests that Schumann was aware of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s eponymous collection, published in 1816-17. In it, Hoffmann juxtaposes the dark and horrific aspects of humanity with a lighter ironic side, following in the tradition of painters from Caravaggio to Rembrandt who used sharp contrast between brightness and darkness for dramatic effect. Schumann was deeply attached to literature, both as reader and writer, and this would not be the first time he would draw on Hoffmann’s work: his Op. 16, Kreisleriana and the various Fantasiestücke were similarly inspired.
In her notes for a previous performance of this work at the Hop, Kathryn Libin aptly wrote: “…The slow, halting dotted rhythm and descending steps of the melody in the first piece create a clearly funereal mood. The second features strongly marked offbeats and harmonic ambiguities, while the third offers a wild festival atmosphere. The final piece is also the most peaceful, with lute-like arpeggiations and gentle dialogue between the voices.” Clara Schumann thought highly of the work and played it on many occasions. Stripped of their disturbing allusions, the four Nachtstücke come off as one of the composer’s more introverted works, the understated sibling of Schumann’s exuberant Faschingsschwank aus Wien, which he also began during his Vienna stay.
Impromptu in F Minor, Op. Posth. 142, D 935 (1827) by Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Schubert, that most Viennese of composers, was remarkably prolific, though recognition eluded him. In his late twenties he was starting to flourish, the strain of poverty was lifted and publication had been moving more rapidly. Nevertheless, after completing a set of eight Impromptus in late 1827 he had little success in placing them with a publisher. The firm Schott reported that its Parisian contacts found the works “too difficult for little pieces and therefore unmarketable.”
An Impromptu—an “unpremeditated, spur-of-the-moment inspiration without studied care”, to quote scholar John Daverio—was supposed to be a benign work, negotiable by amateur pianists. Schubert’s Impromptus were of a different order, cast for the most part in larger forms, and posing greater challenges to players and listeners.
Op. 142 was finally published posthumously by Diabelli in 1839, the year Schumann met Schubert’s brother in Vienna and made a pilgrimage to his grave. An ardent champion of Schubert, Schumann was one of the first to review the set in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. He wrote that the first, second, and fourth Impromptus gave the world “one more beautiful memory of Schubert” (for some reason he dismissed the third). He also conjectured that the four Impromptus could be construed a Sonata in disguise. No doubt such an assertion was meant to elevate the work’s stature, though Schubert wrote plenty of Sonatas. More likely, Schubert was capturing ‘the moment’ in these musical gems.
An exquisite sad-happy melody is heard in the opening of the Allegro Scherzando Impromptu. An emotional escape is offered in the impatient bursts of angst which follow it. With fast-finger runs, the central section in A-flat major (the relative key) offers some relief but returns to the sadness, though the ending is decisive. A strikingly similar sad-happy F minor theme is heard in Schubert’s earlier Moment Musicale No. 3, Op. 94, D 780, a perfect encore for this evening’s musical journey. It is not uncommon for composers such as Schubert or Beethoven to keep engaging with an attractive musical idea: what a wonderful way to capture an impromptu Viennese moment!