CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Friday, April 26, 2013 | 7:30 PM

Till Fellner

Zankel Hall
The New York Times has described Till Fellner’s playing as “thoughtful and surprising”—that he is “turning out to be one of the great musical chameleons.” In this recital, Fellner presents Schumann’s poignant Symphonic Etudes, as well as sonatas by Haydn and Mozart, and music by Bach.
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The Program

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Preludes and Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II

About the Composer


Johann Sebastian Bach is known to us today not only as a towering composer of sacred vocal music (the Passions, cantatas, and B-Minor Mass) and courtly instrumental music (the "Brandenburg" concertos and orchestral suites), but also as a dedicated pedagogue who wrote a plethora of works—chief among them The Well-Tempered Clavier—that were primarily designed to instruct his keyboard and composition students.


About the Works


The first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, autographed in 1722, clearly reveals this intention, donning the description "for the use and advantage of young musicians eager to learn." The second book, compiled two decades later, carries no such branding, but, like the first, chromatically progresses through all 24 keys. Giving equal weight to all keys was extraordinarily unique at the time, as the predominant "mean-tone temperament" created significant tuning discrepancies between different keys. Recent instrumental advances, however, encouraged Bach to write for the "well-tempered" tuning system, which—though not quite as uniform as our modern-day "equal temperament"—made such a democratic venture possible.


A Closer Listen


Tonight's recital presents the first four installments in Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier. As occurs throughout both volumes, each includes a fugue (a contrapuntal piece in two or more voices that follows a strict form) that is preceded by a prelude (a freer work that adopts elements of dances, songs, and other genres at will). While each key presents notable music in its own right, the C-sharp–minor pair stands out for the sheer breadth of its prelude and the extreme stylistic contrast between the prelude's languid trills and the fugue's rapid scalar passages.


—Jacob Cooper 

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 533 / K. 494

About the Composer


Mozart was predominantly a "freelance" composer, making ends meet (often barely so) through isolated commissions and piano performances. Less than four years before his death, however, he was finally appointed to a court post, earning the position of Kammermusicus ("Imperial Chamber Composer") for Emperor Joseph II; the Piano Sonata in F Major was one of the first works he completed in this new capacity.


About the Work


One of Mozart's less-performed works, the F-Major Sonata curiously carries two "K" numbers (i.e., two numbers in the index created by cataloguer Ludwig Ritter von Köchel), since the last movement is a revision of his earlier stand-alone Rondo (K. 494). It has been suggested that after breezing through composing the first two movements, Mozart found himself stuck on the third. Eager to please his new royal employer without delay, he and his publisher decided to round out the work with an adaptation of the Rondo, which was not yet known to local audiences.


A Closer Listen


Adopting the familiar three-movement form, the sonata surrounds a harmonically daring Andante with two upbeat movements. The work, and especially its opening movement, is defined by a manifest incorporation of the "learned" style in which various voices interweave in contrapuntal combination, much as they do in a fugue—a texture that Mozart may have called upon to prove he was worthy of his esteemed appointment. At the same time, however, the sonata's prevailing use of regular phrasing and inclusion of popular-style tunes make it thoroughly enjoyable for all.


—Jacob Cooper

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

JOSEPH HAYDN
Piano Sonata in B Minor, Hob. XVI: 32

About the Composer


When Haydn composed his B-Minor Sonata in 1776, he was at the midpoint of his 30-year employment in the Esterházy court, Hungary's wealthiest family. That year marked a significant change in his creative output, as the court introduced a regular opera season, compelling him for several years to write, arrange, rehearse, and conduct operatic works rather than produce and direct the chamber music for which he is now so well known.


About the Work


It is widely recognized that Haydn published his string quartets in sets of six, but he was inclined to do so for his piano sonatas as well, publishing three such sets during the 1770s. The middle group, known as the "1776 Sonatas," closes with the B-Minor Sonata. The most fiery and only minor-key member of the set, it is often considered exemplary of Haydn's Sturm und Drang style.


A Closer Listen


Haydn fashions two fast movements around a central Menuet. From the outset, with its eccentric chromatic trills and emphasis on dissonant intervals, the sonata declares itself as something wholly different from the standard lighthearted fare of its 1776 companions. The Menuet introduces a lighter mood reminiscent of the popular courtly dance, but its agitated trio section prevents us from remaining at ease for too long. A frenzied Presto finale engenders all its thematic material from the opening repeated-note motive, presenting it in a multitude of ways that culminate in a brusque, forceful statement in octaves.


—Jacob Cooper

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

ROBERT SCHUMANN
Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 (with posthumous etudes)

About the Composer


Music historians often speak of 1840 as Schumann's "year of song," 1842 as his "year of chamber music," and, less frequently, the year in between as his "year of orchestral music." There is, of course, never talk of a "year of piano music" because the genre was so central to his output for so long, especially in his early years. In fact, one might be inclined to refer to the 1830s as Schumann's "decade of piano music," responsible for his famous collections of such miniatures as Papillons, Carnaval, Davidsbündlertänze, Fantasiestücke, and the Symphonic Etudes.


About the Work


From 1834 to 1835, Schumann was briefly engaged to Ernestine von Fricken, a fellow piano pupil of Friedrich Wieck (who, incidentally, would later become his actual father-in-law). Hoping to garner the respect of Fricken's family, Schumann employed a melody written by Ernestine's father, an amateur flutist and composer, as the theme of his Symphonic Etudes. The work's title is rather curious, pointing both to a rigorous technique-driven virtuosic genre (like the celebrated etudes that had recently been published by Chopin), and the orchestral palette that defines symphonic works. At the same time, the form of the collection is more accurately a "theme and variations," as nearly all of its movements are based on Fricken's opening melody. (The exception is the finale, which, in a nod to the work's English dedicatee, is derived from a theme from a contemporary opera set in England.)

Working within this unprecedented framework, Schumann never seemed quite satisfied with the organization of his Symphonic Etudes, deleting and revising several movements in a variety of editions, and even cycling through alternate titles such as "Fantasies and Finale on a Theme by Baron de Fricken," "Etudes in the Form of Variations," and "Variations pathétiques." This evening's version presents all 12 etudes along with the five so-called "posthumous variations"—movements that were excised by Schuman but, after his death, were compiled in a retrospective compendium by his friend Brahms.


A Closer Listen


Beyond the above-mentioned alternate titles, Schumann flirted with yet another title for Op. 13: "Etudes of an Orchestral Character from Florestan and Eusebius." As is well known, the two names refer to Schumann's alter egos—Florestan a fiery extrovert, and Eusebius a delicate introvert—whose presence grace much of the composer's output from this period. The listener is indeed in the company of both characters throughout the Symphonic Etudes: The collection opens with a lyrical, melancholy mood indicative of Eusebius, but ultimately—as might be expected in the midst of such virtuosity—Florestan prevails with brash exuberance in the extensive Allegro brillante finale.


—Jacob Cooper

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

This concert is made possible, in part, by the A.L. and Jennie L. Luria Foundation.
This performance is part of Keyboard Virtuosos III: Keynotes.

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