CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Monday, October 31, 2011 | 8 PM

András Schiff

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
In 1819, publisher Anton Diabelli asked for one variation on a waltz tune for an anthology by various composers; Beethoven wrote 33 and took four years. András Schiff brings his “engrossing … constantly surprising” approach (The New York Times) to bear on this challenging work as the finale of a recital that also includes a sonata by Bartók, the focus of Schiff’s Perspectives residency this season at Carnegie Hall.
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The Program

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Three-Part Inventions, BWV 787–801

About the Composer


From 1717 to 1723, while Kapellmeister for music aficionado Prince Leopold in Cöthen, Bach had few obligations to the church and was afforded time to compose a great deal of secular music. In addition to tackling other genres, he avidly developed several collections of instructional works for his family members and other students. These include the Clavier-Büchlein (Little Keyboard Book) for his wife Anna Magdalena, the celebrated Well-Tempered Clavier, and an earlier Clavier-Büchlein for his nine-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann, out of which he would soon draw the two- and three-part inventions.


About the Work


Bach inscribed the title page of these didactic inventions in 1723, explaining that they were “a clear method not only (1) of learning to play cleanly in two parts, but also with further practice (2) to proceed correctly and well to three obbligato parts, and also to acquire at the same time not only good inventions, but also the ability to develop them well, and above all to cultivate a cantabile style of playing and to gain from the beginning a strong foretaste of composition.”

Bach thus intended for these short works to not only enlighten his students’ keyboard instruction, but also their compositional skill, showing them how to turn good inventiones—or “ideas”—into exemplary music. Likely borrowing the moniker from Francesco Antonio Bonporti’s 1712 Invenzioni for violin and continuo, Bach had never described any of his music in these terms before, and never would again.


A Closer Listen


Whereas The Well-Tempered Clavier dares to progress through all 24 major and minor keys, the inventions only cover 15, omitting those with the most flats and sharps; due to tuning conventions at the time, these keys were not playable on most keyboards. The Three-Part Inventions—or “sinfonias,” as Bach called them—have much in common with the fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier, especially in their clear subjects and skillful imitative counterpoint. Unlike the fugues, however, they rarely begin with a single voice in isolation. Though quite concise (usually between two and three dozen measures each), they express a tremendous range of emotion—a range most obviously felt when the cheery, lilting G-major sinfonia (No. 10) follows the heart-wrenchingly chromatic F-minor sinfonia.


—Jacob Cooper

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

BÉLA BARTÓK
Piano Sonata

About the Composer


Although Béla Bartók is principally known today for his composition, he was also a virtuosic pianist and avid ethnomusicologist, collecting folk songs from Hungarian peasants and incorporating them into his own music. Bartók dismissed others’ fixation with “artistic originality,” and candidly acknowledged the influences of other composers in his work, including Liszt, Strauss, Debussy, and Stravinsky. He also recognized the importance of the two other composers presented on tonight’s program, often remarking that his early works were guided by Beethoven’s focus on harmony, and his later works by Bach’s contrapuntal mastery. Despite these myriad influences, Bartók created highly distinctive music that ranged from percussive to atmospheric, angular to meandering, mathematically rigid to formally unchained.


About the Work


In the three years before composing his sonata for piano, Bartók was rather unproductive compositionally. But after a series of visits to Italy that exposed him to Baroque keyboard repertoire by Frescobaldi and Domenico Zipoli, Bartók was inspired to compose a wealth of piano music, making 1926 his “piano year.” Within the next several months, he composed the sonata on today’s program and his first piano concerto, as well as two collections of short piano pieces and the first installments of Mikrokosmos. The Piano Sonata is infrequently performed, but it stands as Bartók’s only large-scale solo piano work. Along with the other works of 1926, it also represents the point at which Bartók’s compositional outlook shifted away from the profundity of Beethoven and towards the craftsmanship of Bach.


A Closer Listen


The Piano Sonata follows Classical construction: Two energetic movements bookend a slower, more reflective one. Strategically placed accents and grace notes create an appealing sense of imbalance throughout the initial Allegro; Bartók also takes advantage of the extreme registers of the piano. The ensuing movement in ternary (A-B-A) form provides sustained chords as a respite from the energy just released; however, its chromatic dissonances obscure any clear understanding of one grounded key. The Allegro molto is a rondo, constantly returning to a single theme in the home key of E. It begins at a clipped pace and never lets up, ingeniously varying its theme and incorporating folk styles of peasant chanting, peasant flute, and village fiddlers.


—Jacob Cooper

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120

About the Composer


Between 1822 and 1824, after completing his last piano sonata and before delving into his final string quartets, Beethoven finished three massive, transcendent works: the Missa solemnis, Symphony No. 9, and the Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli. Emblematic of his late period, the monumental piece lavishly employs Bach-inspired counterpoint, profound lyricism, and untraditional forms.


About the Work


In 1819, publisher Anton Diabelli asked several Austro-Hungarian composers to pen one or two variations on a waltz that he had written. The goal was to print a patriotic compendium that would raise money for families devastated by the recent Napoleonic wars; several composers—among them Schubert and Czerny—graciously obliged. As biographer Anton Schindler would later report, Beethoven boorishly declined, commenting that the waltz was nothing more than Schusterfleck (“cobbler’s patchwork”)—a simplistic stringing-together of clichés. Yet he must have recognized its potential for adaptation when he returned to the waltz three years later, planning to write a handful of variations but ending up with no fewer than 33. The flabbergasted Diabelli decided to publish the set on its own, declaring it “a great and important masterpiece worthy to be ranked with the imperishable creations of the Classics.”


A Closer Listen


Throughout the collection, Beethoven takes every aspect of the waltz to task, highlighting in turn its chordal repetition, playful grace notes, shifting modulations, melodic outlining of the fourth and fifth intervals, and rhythmic gait. In order to delineate the form and guide the listener, he includes a few distinctive and large-scale “pillar” variations. Of the first 28, the ninth variation is the only one in C minor rather than C major; it obsessively repeats the waltz’s opening motive, morphing its lighthearted grace notes into abrasive gestures. Variation 14, bound by two up-tempo numbers, stands out in its measured, grave e maestoso character.

The Andante fughetta of Variation 24 tips its hat to the counterpoint of Bach, but it is in Variation 31—an expressive Largo strikingly similar to the 25th Goldberg Variation—that most clearly announces Beethoven’s debt to the German forefather. An elaborate fugue follows that is punctuated with prototypical Beethovenian sforzando accents and ultimately arrives on a loud diminished chord. A slower passage segues into the final variation: a minuet that, despite its modesty and serenity, manages to encompass so many of the theme’s elements that have been highlighted throughout the previous hour of music.


—Jacob Cooper

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Perspectives: András Schiff

Part of

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