New York Philomusica

For October 16 & 21, 2004

Our music-loving friend, Sidney Bernstein, a long-time subscriber and patron of these concerts, having attained the rare age of 100 years, and in a happy state of being for himself and for his family and friends, celebrated his accomplishment with the gift to us all of the post-concert receptions. His family is carrying on that generous reflection of his appreciation, and theirs, by continuing the underwriting of the receptions in his honor this season. It will be both in his honor and in his memory, for we report with sorrow that Sidney passed away peacefully on August 30, 2004.

New York Philomusica Celebrates Expressive Strings

Jesse Mills, Naoko Tanaka, violin; Junah Chung, Richard O’Neill, viola; Gregory Hesselink, ’cello

Joseph Haydn
String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74, No. 3 (1793)

Michael Berkeley
String Quartet No. 2 (1983)

Antonin Dvorák
String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97 (1893)

We are granted, and assume the right of appreciation for perfection without having to know anything about its antecedents. This program reinforces the assumption. We are indebted for the grant to ever-evolving tastes in an ever more enlightened cultural environment—the conditions of life among the upper classes of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It fell to circumstance and the entrepreneurial genius of Joseph Haydn, his sustained patronage by Prince Nicolas Esterhazy, and collaboration with other great musicians, especially violinist-impresario Johann Peter Salomon, to reach the artistic and instrumental perfection represented in the great body of literature for two violins, one viola and one ’cello—the string quartet. Haydn scholars, of whom a large number exist around the world today, scrap vigorously with each other over what scholarly records of evolving taste can reveal about the provable elements leading to this result. We’ll enjoy the results without having to credit any of the arguments offered as superior to any other.

Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 74, No. 3 is the sixth, with Op. 71, Nos. 1-3 and Op. 74, Nos. 1-2, written while still in Vienna, intended for performance in public concerts being planned for his impending second visit to London in 1793. The distinction these six works have as compared to everything in the genre by Haydn until then is their projection of greater dimension in every aspect—concertante virtuosity of the first violin, equally important melodic roles of the other three instruments in support of this less intimate flair, and formal structural refinement necessary to secure the attention of listeners not at all sure of what they were about to hear—into the big space of publicly subscribed concerts required of him in the London productions. In the four movements of Op. 74, No. 3, Joseph Haydn achieves a synthesis of all the informal and evolutionary techniques employed until that moment in the history of music that the world would subsequently come to appreciate as “Classic.” His bold use of a grace-noted first theme darting right out at the beginning with no introduction, and in the unlikely meter of 3/4 is only the first peg in his construct. That beginning and the Largo movement that follows owe something to the genius of Mozart, whose 1777 Divertimento No. 15, K. 287 (New York Philomusica Records Cat. No. 10), placed profound elegance into the frame of vigorous outer movements. The minuet-trio of deceptively simple design is a masterpiece of dialogue for the four instrumentalists. The forte blast and subito piano with which the Finale is launched, in con brio 4/4 time, was surely effective in securing the attention of an audience whose patronage for impresario and composer alike was essential to the success of their enterprise. Word traveled fast, even in 1793, fast enough for the 23-year-old Beethoven back on the Continent to know that the genre being heard abroad in Salomon’s concerts was, for the time being at least, owned by the older Joseph Haydn, who was soon to become his teacher. I consider all of the foregoing propitious for the opening of the New York Philomusica’s 33rd Season.

Who owns the genre now? Nobody. And every composer feels compelled to make an entry, even in the shadow of confirmed greatness. Michael Berkeley has every reason to assert his claim for an audience. He began learning his craft at the knee of his renowned father and godfather, Sir Lennox Berkeley and Sir Benjamin Britten, respectively. (You will hear him again in Quartet Study (1988) on our season’s fourth program with Britten’s last work, String Quartet No. 3 written in 1975). Of a total of five quartets, Mr. Berkeley’s most recent was composed in 1997. He has furthermore approached this art of composition with the understandable deference that such a background would presume, evidenced by the fact that although musical in his youth (a chorister at Westminster Cathedral), he didn’t seriously begin composing until he was 28 years old. (When one realizes that he was born in 1948, his 1983 String Quartet No. 2, is a relatively “early” work.) This inspiring lineage and a concomitant appreciation for art have resulted in Mr. Berkeley’s giving freely of his time and his energies to help his wider community appreciate what he already knows—“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” (William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, Act I, Scene 1) In addition to his extensive catalogue of chamber, orchestral and vocal works, including opera, he is well known as a broadcaster on radio and television. Until this year he was the Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music, a post he has held since 1995. In 2001 Mr. Berkeley became Composer-in-Association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for a six-year period.

New York Philomusica’s audiences were introduced to him via his Chamber Symphony (1980) in 2002. The response was highly favorable, indicative of a desire for further hearing. It makes very good sense to thrust a man of such probity and skill into the company of his predecessors, known in their time for similar qualities, onto a program in which each may represent his era, allowing us to experience the differences, both of the men and their era. A curious and serendipitous fact is that these works were composed almost exactly a century apart.

The composer offers this note concerning his String Quartet No. 2:

My second string quartet was written during the autumn of 1983, and is in one movement lasting a little over a quarter of an hour. It begins with a cello solo which, with the intervals created by the entries of viola and violins, form the basis of what is to follow.

I found myself at something of a musical crossroads before and during the composition of the quartet, but in the course of writing it, a new direction began to emerge. This utilises a freer, more random use of thematic material, and indeed, the final bars of the quartet dispense with barlines altogether, though the sound is always very carefully controlled. This last passage contrasts sharply with the central section of the work, which is tight and rhythmic. The quartet consists, therefore, of three interrelated and continuous sections.

The quartet was commissioned by the Merlin Music Society with assistance from the Welsh Arts Council. It was first performed by the Gabrieli String Quartet at a Merlin Music Society concert in Monmouth, on 15 January 1984.

© Michael Berkeley

Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press

Antonín Dvorák’s String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97 (1893) was the final piece in the first program performed during New York Philomusica’s two-year residence in New York State’s Capitol Region, performed on September 29, 1979 with Felix Galimir and Naoko Tanaka, violins; Kim Kashkashian and Danny Phillips, violas; and Timothy Eddy, ‘cello. The piece was written in a burst of inspired effort by Dvorák during his American experience, while on a summer vacation in the tiny community of Spillville, Iowa, in the company of fellow Czech expatriates. One other great work from him is from that time and place, String Quartet No. 12, “The American.” Annotators hasten to remark about the influence of “native” music on him, both Indian and Negro, encouraged by the composer’s assertion that American composers would be well served were they to turn to such sources for inspiration in their craft. This sentiment was ridiculed by American composer Edward McDowell, who had already had occasion to employ Indian melodies: “We have been offered a pattern for an ‘American’ national musical costume by the Bohemian – though what Negro melodies have to do with Americanism in art remains a mystery. Music that can be made by ‘recipe’ is not music, but ‘tailoring.’ Masquerading in the so-called nationalism of Negro clothes cut in Bohemia will not help us.” The mystery referred to by McDowell is at least partially solved by the popularity of the Bohemian’s music in contrast to his own. You are going to enjoy it without my pointing out its structural, instrumental, harmonic and formal beauties. They speak so well without explication. He obviously applied the lessons learned from Joseph Haydn. Would that Edward McDowell had done the same.

© A. Robert Johnson 2004

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