CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Wednesday, February 15, 2012 | 8 PM

Leif Ove Andsnes

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
“One of the most gifted musicians of his generation” (The Wall Street Journal), Leif Ove Andsnes takes you on a musical trip through the last two-and-a-half centuries. It's a thrilling program that includes works by Haydn, Bartók, Debussy, and Chopin.
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The Program

JOSEPH HAYDN
Sonata in C Minor, Hob. XVI:20

About the Composer


Joseph Haydn spent virtually his entire career either in Vienna or in the idyllic isolation of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s country estate in Hungary. Unburdened by financial worries and blessed with a sanguine disposition, he composed with equal facility for both amateurs and connoisseurs. His 60-odd keyboard sonatas span nearly half a century and offer a capsule overview of his artistic development. Many of them were inspired by women whose friendship Haydn cultivated, in part, to compensate for his own unhappy marriage.


About the Music


Haydn was a skillful player of both harpsichord and piano, and his early keyboard sonatas were designated for either instrument. Although he didn’t acquire a piano of his own until 1788, the dynamic and expressive features of his later works suggest that he had long been writing with that instrument in mind. In fact, Haydn composed almost all his music at the keyboard. As he put it, “I get up early, and as soon as I have dressed, I kneel down and pray to God and the Holy Virgin that things may go well today. After some breakfast, I sit at the Klavier [the generic term for a keyboard instrument] and I begin to improvise.”


A Closer Listen


This tempestuous work in the “dark” key of C minor dates from Haydn’s Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) period of the 1770s. Here there is no question of the appropriate instrument: The abrupt dynamic shifts can only be realized on the piano. In fact, when the sonata was published in 1780, Haydn altered some of the note values to take advantage of the piano’s greater sustaining power. The first movement is restless and tonally adventurous, its headlong momentum twice interrupted by free, cadenza-like passages couched in unsettling Neapolitan harmonies. The Andante con moto, a spacious essay in A-flat major enlivened by syncopations, gives way to a bracing finale full of virtuosic passagework.


—Harry Haskell

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 


 

BÉLA BARTÓK
Suite, Op. 14

About the Composer


Like Stravinsky, Béla Bartók was a trailblazing modernist whose music was deeply rooted in the soil of tradition. His early works were steeped in the lush late-Romantic idiom of Liszt and Strauss. Starting in the first decade of the 20th century, however, his pioneering research into the folk music of his native Hungary and other Slavic lands resulted in a bold new synthesis. Freed from what he called “the tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys,” he forged a leaner, more muscular style—spiced with bitonality and modality—that would define his music for the rest of his life.


About the Music


Composed in 1916, the Op. 14 Suite belongs to a group of technically and stylistically innovative piano pieces that includes the Fourteen Bagatelles of 1908 and the Allegro barbaro of 1911. Isolated in Hungary, Bartók fell back on arranging the folk music he had collected before the war, while exploring its implications for his own style in works like the String Quartet No. 2 and the fairy-tale ballet The Wooden Prince. A composer, he wrote, should aspire to “assimilate the idiom of folk music so completely that he is able to forget all about it.” Of the Suite’s four movements, the first three are characterized by folk-like melodies and driving rhythms, followed by a soft, dreamy finale. (Another slow movement, which Bartók originally put in second place, was later excised.)


A Closer Listen


The opening Allegretto no sooner sets up our expectations than it thwarts them: Four bars of steady oom-pah accompaniment introduce a jaunty tune that might be taken for a folk dance if it weren’t for the wayward harmonies and occasional hiccups caused by “missing” downbeats. In the fleet Scherzo, crisp staccato triplets alternate with pulsing, mildly astringent chords built of seconds, fourths, and sevenths, which Bartók invites us to hear as consonances rather than dissonances. A roiling ostinato bass infuses the Allegro molto with a similarly propulsive energy, now laced with a distinctly ominous tone and leading without a break to the sere, somber lyricism of the Sostenuto.


—Harry Haskell

 

 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 


 

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
Images, Book I

About the Composer


At once radical and traditionalist, Claude Debussy rebelled against the French Wagner cult and the ponderous academic style of establishment composers like Saint-Saëns and d’Indy. At the same time, he urged his compatriots to return to the “pure French tradition” that he admired in the music of the 18th-century composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Debussy first made his mark in the early 1890s with a series of boldly unconventional and quintessentially Gallic works—the String Quartet, La damoiselle élue, and Prélude á l’après-midi d’un faune. Over the next three decades, he produced the opera Pelléas et Mélisande and the great piano and orchestral pieces that came to define musical impressionism in the popular mind.


About the Music


By the time he published his first book of Images for solo piano in 1905, Debussy and his aesthetic principles—loosely subsumed under the rubric “Debussyism”—were forces to be reckoned with in French music. (An earlier set of Images was composed in 1894, but not published until the late 1970s.) He whimsically predicted that the three pieces would “take their place in the piano literature” either “to the left of Schumann or the right of Chopin.” In actuality, the Images have very little to do with either composer, or with 19th-century pianism in general. Debussy’s approach to the keyboard was unique. In choosing a title with visual connotations, he invited listeners to focus more on the music’s sound than on its structure, although all three pieces are constructed with the greatest care and artifice.


A Closer Listen


“Reflets dans l’eau” (“Reflections in the Water”), with its diaphanous textures and delicately rippling cascades of notes swelling to a raging cataract in the middle, sounds so exquisitely apposite to modern ears that it is hard to remember how revolutionary it was a century ago. “Hommage à Rameau” (“Homage to Rameau”) pays tribute to the French Baroque tradition in the measured tones of a stately sarabande—not a stylistic counterfeit, to be sure, but a richly harmonized reinterpretation in Debussy’s own language. The character of “Mouvement” (“Movement”) is summed up in the composer’s performance instruction: “with a capricious but precise lightness.” A dazzling display of kaleidoscopically shifting figurations, it leaves an indelible impression on the mind’s eye.


—Harry Haskell

 

 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 


 

FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN
Waltz in F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2; Waltz in G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1; Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3; Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42; Ballade in A-flat Major, Op. 47; Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1; Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23

About the Composer


Franz Liszt memorably characterized his friend (and sometime rival) Frédéric Chopin as “one of those original beings” who are “adrift from all bondage.” Chopin demonstrated an uncompromising independence as both composer and pianist. In fact, it was arguably the unparalleled range and subtlety of his keyboard technique that enabled him to cast off the shackles of musical convention so successfully. Contemporary accounts of his playing attest his phenomenal powers. One witness marveled at Chopin’s effortless arpeggios, “which swelled and diminished like waves in an ocean of sound.” Another recalled how the pianist’s apparently delicate hands “would suddenly expand and cover a third of the keyboard. It was like the opening of the mouth of a serpent about to swallow a rabbit whole.”


About the Works


Just as Chopin’s virtuosity defined a new school of romantic pianism, so his dozens of waltzes, ballades, nocturnes, and other solo piano works gave new meaning to the term salon music, the lightweight fare popular in Parisian drawing rooms of the 1830s and ’40s. Even today, it is astonishing to reflect that Chopin achieved artistic maturity less than a decade after the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert. The gulf that separates his music from theirs runs so deep that it almost marks the boundary of a separate world. To be sure, Chopin was firmly grounded in tradition: Bach and Mozart were his favorite composers. But his radically unconventional conception of the piano, and his unique blend of classical discipline and romantic freedom, made him one of the authentically revolutionary figures in music history.


A Closer Listen


Chopin composed some 20 waltzes between 1829 and 1848, at the height of Europe’s waltz craze. Although they are stylized dances, intended for the salon and concert hall rather than the ballroom, they evince the intoxicating lilt that drew people of all classes to Europe’s popular dance halls. The three Op. 70 waltzes display the basic features of the form: a steady oom-pah-pah accompaniment in the left hand, onto which the right hand superimposes an inexhaustible store of melody in the rhythmic give and take of tempo rubato (literally, stolen time). The Op. 42 Waltz, sometimes called “Grande valse,” is more expansive and elaborate in structure. It is also more metrically adventurous, with a first section that plays on the tension between triple and duple time. 

Chopin had a special affinity for the wistful, romantic character of the nocturne, a genre developed by the Irish composer-pianist John Field, whom he greatly admired. The tenderly ruminative B-Major Nocturne boasts an unusual A-flat midsection and a profusion of the composer’s trademark filigree. Chopin worked on a larger scale in his four ballades, which can be thought of as tonal dramas, extended multi-section works built on sharply characterized themes and tonal contrasts. Indeed, a large part of the pleasure of listening to the A-flat Major and
G-Minor ballades lies in following the imaginative transformations of the melodic material, a happy marriage of lyricism and virtuosity such as only Chopin could have created.


—Harry Haskell

 

 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Duff and Phelps 115 x 31
The Carnegie Hall Live broadcast series is sponsored by Duff & Phelps.
This performance is part of Keyboard Virtuosos I, and A Golden Age of Music.

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