Program Notes (Summer 2014)

Charles Ives Studio (Redding, CT)

(The James and Holmstrom piano that Charles Ives used to compose his music at his summer home in Redding, Ct.)

‘Charles Ives’ Sonata No. 1 has its genesis in improvisation: upon leaving Yale in 1898, Ives moved into a flat in New York City with some of his fellow graduates. There was a piano, and Ives spent many hours pounding out what his roommates referred to as “resident disturbances.” Ives stated that most of the Sonata was written in 1900-1904. The second movement incorporates the “First Ragtime Dance” for theater orchestra of 1899, also known as “In the Inn.” The fourth movement contains the last music written for the sonata in 1911, although Ives further overhauled the fifth movement in 1914-1917. At some point, Ives had a clear ink copy made of the sonata, loaning it to a friend. This score was never returned and has been lost.

The “finished” formal scheme would be 1) Adagio con moto, 2a) Allegro moderato-Andante, 2b) Meno mosso con moto (“In the Inn”), 3) Largo-Allegro, 4a) no tempo given, 4b) Allegro-Presto, 5) Andante maestoso. At about 42 minutes, this is Ives’ longest work for the piano, and is written at such a level of difficulty that few pianists undertake it. One pianist who became strongly identified with the Ives Sonata No. 1 was William Masselos, who premiered it on February 17, 1949, recorded it in two variant versions in 1950 and 1967, and helped edit the Sonata’s first two editions. Masselos’ collaborator in these publications was composer Lou Harrison, forced to work without the lost fair copy; certain sections of this work are incomplete save for some practically illegible sketches. Ives left only a hint of what he had in mind for this Sonata; “[it’s] mostly about the outdoor life in Connecticut villages in the [18]80s and [18]90s.” Not to second-guess Ives’ intentions, but there is clearly a lot of New York City in this work as well, particularly in its liberal use of ragtime rhythm and even a boogie-woogie styled left hand part in the last movement. There are some amazing, even mind-boggling, technical innovations achieved throughout the whole work, for example the opening chromatic and contrary ostinato, which is counterpoised with single notes falling from the treble range; just like something out of Schoenberg’s 12-tone piano music. Also worth noting is the passage which opens “In the Inn” where a frantic, rushing figure stated in sixteenth note quintuplets are played against a 3/4 accompaniment stated in 4/4 bars.

William Masselos once wrote “(The Sonata No. 1) always seems like an inspired improvisation, with each performance having a character quite its own. I can never predict how I will play it on any given night.” Indeed, the Sonata contains so many ideas and shifts through them so rapidly that different details come to light with each listening. So Ives’ Sonata No. 1 is still essentially unfinished, but true to the improvisational spirit in which it was conceived.’

Uncle Dave Lewis (www.allmusic.com)

Robert Schumann

‘A secret engagement, a composer as prospective father-in-law and several rival publishing houses – it was against this backdrop that the Symphonic Etudes was composed. His youthful and passionate love for Ernestine von Fricken was short-lived, but it occasioned Schumann in 1837 to write the “intensely emotional variations” on a theme of her father’s, which were eventually to become the “Orchestral etudes”. Fifteen years later a new edition was published, authorised by Schumann, containing such important changes that we have included both versions.’

– excerpt from the Urtext Edition of the Symphonic Etudes, published by Henle

The Symphonic Etudes  Op. 13, is a set of études for solo piano by Robert Schumann. It began in 1834 as a theme and sixteen variations on a theme by Baron von Fricken, plus a further variation on an entirely different theme by Heinrich Marschner.

The first edition in 1837 carried an annotation that the tune was “the composition of an amateur”: this referred to the origin of the theme, which had been sent to Schumann by Baron von Fricken, guardian of Ernestine von Fricken, the Estrella of his Carnaval Op. 9. The baron, an amateur musician, had used the melody in a Theme with Variations for flute. Schumann had been engaged to Ernestine in 1834, only to break abruptly with her the year after. An autobiographical element is thus interwoven in the genesis of the Études symphoniques (as in that of many other masterpieces of Schumann’s).

Of the sixteen variations Schumann composed on Fricken’s theme, only eleven were published by him. (An early version, completed between 1834 and January 1835, contained twelve movements). The final, twelfth, published étude was a variation on the theme from the Romance Du stolzes England freue dich (Proud England, rejoice!), from Heinrich Marschner’s opera Der Templer und die Jüdin, which was based on Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (as a tribute to Schumann’s English friend, William Sterndale Bennett). The earlier Fricken theme occasionally appears briefly during this étude. The work was first published in 1837 as XII Études Symphoniques. Only nine of the twelve études were specifically designated as variations. The sequence was as follows:

  • Theme – Andante
  • Etude I (Variation 1) – Un poco più vivo
  • Etude II (Variation 2) – Andante
  • Etude III – Vivace
  • Etude IV (Variation 3) – Allegro marcato
  • Etude V (Variation 4) – Scherzando
  • Etude VI (Variation 5) – Agitato
  • Etude VII (Variation 6) – Allegro molto
  • Etude VIII (Variation 7) – Sempre marcatissimo
  • Etude IX – Presto possibile
  • Etude X (Variation 8) – Allegro con energia
  • Etude XI (Variation 9) – Andante espressivo
  • Etude XII (Finale) – Allegro brillante (based on Marschner’s theme).

Other titles had been considered in September 1834: Variations pathétiques and Etuden im Orchestercharakter von Florestan und Eusebius. In this latter case the Études would have been signed by two imaginary figures in whom Schumann personified two essential, opposite and complementary aspects of his own personality and his own poetic world. ‘Florestan and Eusebius’ then signed the Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6; but only in the 1835 version of the Études symphoniques were the pieces divided so as to emphasize the alternation of more lyrical, melancholy and introvert pages (Eusebius) with those of a more excitable and dynamic nature (Florestan). In the 1837 version Florestan prevails.

Fifteen years later, in a second edition (Leipzig 1852), the 1837 title Études symphoniques became Études en forme de variations, two etudes (Nos. 3 and 9) that did not correspond to the new title (not being exactly variations) were eliminated, and some revisions were made in the piano writing.

The entire work was dedicated to Schumann’s English friend, the pianist and composer William Sterndale Bennett. Bennett played the piece frequently in England to great acclaim, but Schumann thought it was unsuitable for public performance and advised his wife Clara not to play it.

In 1861, five years after Schumann’s death, his father-in-law Friedrich Wieck published a third edition under the editorial pseudonym “DAS” (an acronym for Der alte Schulmeister). This edition attempted to reconcile the differences between the earlier two, and bore both the previous titles XII Études Symphoniques and Études en forme de variations.

On republishing the set in 1890, Johannes Brahms restored the five variations that had been cut by Schumann. These are now often played, but in positions within the cycle that vary somewhat with each performance; there are now twelve variations and these five so-called “posthumous” variations which exist as a supplement.

The five posthumously published sections (all based on Fricken’s theme) are:

  • Variation I – Andante, Tempo del tema
  • Variation II – Meno mosso
  • Variation III – Allegro
  • Variation IV – Allegretto
  • Variation V – Moderato.

Two sections, including the Allegro brillante, were orchestrated by Tchaikovsky, and have been recorded.

– excerpt from Wikipedia

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