Program Notes (Winter 2012)

Elliott Carter

Night Fantasies for Piano Solo

Elliott Carter’s masterpiece for the piano, Night Fantasies, was commissioned by a quartet of legendary 20th century pianists – Charles Rosen, Paul Jacobs, Ursula Oppens (who gave the first performance), and Gilbert Kalish. It is performed here by Charles Rosen.

“Night FantasiElliott Carteres is a piano piece of continuously changing moods, suggesting the fleeting thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind during a period of wakefulness at night. The quiet, nocturnal evocation with which it begins and returns occasionally, is suddenly broken by a flight series of short phrases that emerge and disappear. This episode is followed by many others of contrasting characters and lengths that sometimes break in abruptly and, at other times, develop smoothly out of what has gone before. The work culminates in a loud, obsessive, periodic repetition of an emphatic chord that, as it dies away, brings the work to its conclusion.

In this score, I wanted to capture the fanciful, changeable quality of our inner life at a time when it is not dominated by strong directive intentions or desires — to capture the poetic moodiness that, in an earlier romantic context, I enjoy in works of Robert Schumann like Kreisleriana, Carnaval, and Davidsbündlertänze.”

— Elliott Carter

Charles Rosen“To this, I might add just a few observations. Night Fantasies is full of melody, even some long melodic lines, but it has no themes, and no motifs–no tune is ever played twice. Textures recur, however, and so do certain intervals and chords, each with a recognizable periodic interval of its own. The rhythms belong to two sequences, which are almost incompatible with each other: the basic ratio is 24 to 25; we hear the rhythms that begin together, draw gradually apart, and then return. This means that the rhythm of the bar lines can never be heard in this piece, and that gives the work its impression of improvisation and freedom. In its variety of moods and expression–lyric, satiric, brutal, dramatic, contemplative and light-hearted–it is perhaps the most extraordinary large keyboard work written since the death of Ravel.”

— Charles Rosen (from the liner notes to the Bridge CD “Elliott Carter: The Complete Music for Piano”).

John Holland


for the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birthday

(samples from John Cage’s Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard (1950) No. 1 with Annelie Gahl, Violin, Klaus Lang, Fender Rhodes and from Music for Amplified Toy Pianos (1960), Juan Hidalgo, Walter Marchetti, Gianni-Emilio Simonetti, Toy Pianos (with plastic cow); with hand-held percussion, nature sounds (bullfrog, yeast*), and original electronic sounds by John Holland)

The sparse sounds of the violin and electric piano, written and dedicated to painter Joseph Albers and his wife Anni in 1950, were randomly mixed with samples from Music for Amplified Toy Pianos composed in 1960. I added hand-held percussion, nature sounds, and electronic samples. There are six tracks altogether. The segments on each track were arranged independently of one another and of other tracks, and separated by silences.

* (you can hear the whistling-like sounds of the yeast at about the 2-minute mark)

Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet in B-flat major op. 130 (including the Grosse Fugue)

Many consider the late Beethoven quartets to be a precursor of 20th Century music, especially the Quartet in c# minor op. 131. Because of its dimension and vision, the B-flat Major Quartet, Op. 130 originally containing the Grosse Fugue also fits nicely into this category.

Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major Op. 130 is one of the legendary late quartets played here by the Melos String Quartet. The Grosse Fugue in B-flat Major Op. 133, published separately, was originally intended by Beethoven as the last movement of the Op. 130 quartet. It is heard here in that original version.

For late Beethoven quartet enthusiasts, there is a 2012 reissue by Sony (originally Columbia Records) of the Budapest String Quartet playing the complete cycle of quartets.

— J. H.

Click below to read The Heiligenstadt Testament that Beethoven wrote at the young age of 31. The touching letter to his brothers was intended to serve as his last Will and Testament.

The Heiligenstadt Testament