We thank Kate Morics for her hard work in advance for writing these notes!
Serenade in Eb Major, K. 375 by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote his Serenade in Eb Major in October 1781 for St. Theresa’s day. The first version of the Serenade, originally scored as a sextet for two clarinets, two bassoons, and two horns, premiered about nine months after the composer moved to Vienna. According to letters he wrote to his father, violinist and composer Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), he initially wrote the piece as a way to build connections with members of the Austrian court, as the piece premiered in the home of court painter Joseph Hickel. In 1782, the piece was re-scored as an octet with the addition of two oboes. At the time, the Harmonie (established wind ensemble) Emperor Joseph II had in his employ was a wind octet – this no doubt was a motivating factor in the ambitious young composer’s decision to rearrange the piece.
Today, you will hear the octet version of the Serenade, whose Eb major key is firmly established in the first four measures of the stately Allegro maestoso, which feature a triumphant repetition of the tonic chord. Mozart’s characteristic elegant use of established Classical forms is evident in his ability to distinguish each movement while staying firmly within the home key of Eb major. The clarinet introduces the theme in the pensive Adagio, which ends quietly with a coda featuring the oboe. The following Minuet begins with a jovial dance between the upper and lower winds, which gives way to a lighter and more playful trio section, before returning to the primary theme. The final Allegro provides plenty of opportunities for virtuosity as the melodic runs in each part propel the piece to its satisfying conclusion.
Waltz No. 2 from the Suite for Variety Orchestra by D. Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was one of the most prolific Soviet-era Russian composers of the 20th century. His unique compositional style and approach to tonality, as well as his complicated relationship with the Soviet government, has led to his work being admired by audiences and scholars alike. This waltz appears as part of a larger suite comprised of a number of the composer’s previous works. The London Symphony, under Mstislav Rostropovich, premiered the collection previously misidentified as Jazz Suite No. 2, as the Suite for Variety Orchestra in 1988. The suite’s Waltz No. 2 originally appeared as part of the composer’s original score for the 1955 Soviet film The First Echelon. American audiences may remember the waltz from its appearance in the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut. The Waltz demonstrates the contrasts that characterize much of Shostakovich’s work – composed in a ternary ABA form, the C-minor A sections feature a melancholy minor-key melody that feels almost timid. This timidness is absent from the confident B section, which moves between Eb and Ab major, before returning quietly to the minor theme in the final A section. The version being performed today was arranged for wind quintet by composer and trumpet player Steven Verhaert, and is being performed today as a wind quintet.
Pavane by M. Gould (1913-1996)
Morton Gould (1913-1996) was an American composer who was prolific throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Comfortable with both classical and vernacular forms of composition, Gould composed for radio, television, film, and broadway. This Pavane originally appeared as part of a larger orchestral work, American Symphonette No. 2, originally composed for a radio show in 1938. The Pavane, originally the Symphonette’s second movement, is perhaps the work’s most popular movement, and it demonstrates Gould’s ability to draw on classical as well as popular musical styles. The title and form of the movement reference its classical influences – the pavane is a stately processional dance, often composed in a slow duple meter, popular in 16th century European courts. In this quintet version of the Pavane, arranged by Robert E. Sheldon, the oboe introduces the charming principal melody over a jaunty bass line provided by the bassoon and assisted by the French horn. A secondary rhythmic motif is introduced by the ensemble in the secondary section of the movement, which adds texture to the oboe’s restatement of the melody in the conclusion. Throughout the piece, listeners will recognize Gould’s jazz influences in his harmonies, as well as the syncopation of the melodic lines.
Berceuse for Piccolo, English Horn, and Piano by M. Matthys
Belgian composer Marc Matthys (1956 – ) was classically trained in piano performance and chamber music, and currently composes in classical, jazz, and popular styles. The delightful Berceuse being performed today fits neatly within the classical compositional style. The berceuse is a lullaby form popularized by Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), and later utilized by such late Romantic and 20th-century composers as Jean Sibelius (1965-1957) and Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Like most berceuses, this piece is relatively harmonically simple and composed in a slow 6/8 time. The piano begins the piece by introducing the melodic theme over gentle chords alternating between the tonic and the dominant. The theme is then passed to the horn, and then the piccolo, before the two instruments share the melody. A piano solo in the middle section provides a tonal shift, which is resolved by the return of the main theme in the horn, ornamented by the piccolo. The piece ends as it began, with a quiet conclusion in the solo piano. Throughout the piece, the brightness of the piccolo’s sound provides a pleasing contrast to the more understated tones of the horn and piano.
Trio for Flute, Horn, and Piano by E. Ewazen
Eric Ewazen (1954 – ) is an American composer and music theorist currently serving on the faculty at The Juilliard School, where he received his DMA. His compositions often feature unique combinations of instruments, and sound at once classical and contemporary due to his innovative approach to tonality and timbre. Ewazen’s characteristic combination of classical and contemporary is demonstrated in his Trio for Flute, Horn, and Piano. The piece’s three movements feature titles that reference their familiar musical forms – Ballade, Pastorale, and Dance. The third movement, Dance, will be performed today. The energetic Dance features a vibrant primary theme introduced first by the flute. This primary theme returns throughout the piece between periods of development, in which Ewazen introduces faintly ominous melodic material, emphasized by the rumbling piano line under the dancing wind instruments, as a contrast to the bright and cheerful primary melody. A secondary melody opening with triumphant descending fourths in the flute and horn is introduced halfway through the movement, which returns shortly before the flute and horn join together in a final, joyful unison statement of the primary theme to conclude the piece.
Trio for Trumpet, Violin, and Piano by E. Ewazen
The trumpet is not often seen in chamber music, as the trumpet’s boisterous nature may be assumed to be at odds with the intimacy of chamber music. However, the trumpet feels at home in this richly lyrical trio by Eric Ewazen (1954 – ). Ewazen confronts the challenge of blending the starkly different timbres of the trumpet and violin by having both instruments play with and without mutes at various points throughout the movement, which begins with the muted trumpet introducing the primary theme over alternating octaves, fifths, and fourths in the violin and ethereal trills in the piano. The tranquility of the opening theme is challenged by the middle section, in which Ewazen shifts to a more somber tone. Tension is built throughout this section, as melodic lines shared by the trumpet and violin respond to rumbling figures in the piano. Ewazen’s constant shifts in meter further emphasizes this tension, which is resolved by the return of the primary theme in the movement’s conclusion. Here, the violin and trumpet have switched places – the violin re-states the primary theme in lush octave double-stops over the muted trumpet’s alternating intervals before the piano quietly closes the movement.
Quintet in Bb Major by N. Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908) was a prominent Russian composer perhaps most well-known today for his orchestral works, such as Scheherazade (1888). As a nationalist composer, Rimsky-Korsakov shied away from excess and heavy experimentation in his compositions, choosing instead to rely on established forms. His Quintet for Piano and Winds in Bb Major was written in 1876 for a competition held by the Russian Musical Society. According to his own autobiography, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the first movement of this quintet “in the classic style of Beethoven.” This style can be observed in the movement’s sonata form, a musical structure that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) utilized and experimented with frequently in his symphonic and chamber music compositions. Beethoven’s influence can also be heard in the Allegro’s extensive motivic development. The cheerful movement begins with a primary theme that is passed around between each instrument. The eighth-note pattern in this theme becomes a motif that is repeated throughout the movement, particularly in the development section, in which Rimsky-Korsakov deftly moves the eighth-note pattern through different keys as it is passed between each instrument. After a recapitulation of the primary theme, the piece concludes with a brief coda featuring an almost fugue-like dance in which the primary theme is passed from one instrument to the other until they come together in a final conclusive statement of the theme to finish the movement.