Performance Tuesday, October 25, 2011 | 7:30 PM

Ensemble ACJW

Featuring musicians of The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education

Weill Recital Hall
Join the “prodigiously talented” (The New York Times) young musicians of Ensemble ACJW as they come down with a case of the blues in this program of mournful masterpieces by three Russian Romantics. Cheer yourself up after the show with a free drink and a chance to meet the artists.
Back to Event Details
Print Program Notes

The Program

Trio pathétique in D Minor for Piano, Clarinet, and Bassoon

About the Composer

Considering Glinka’s upbringing, one would not have predicted that this man would eventually become one of the most important figures in Russian cultural history and be remembered as the “father of Russian music.” Glinka was born into a privileged aristocratic family. He was often sick and, because his brother died in infancy, young Mikhail was pampered and protected by his family. Consequently, he became a hypochondriac in his adult years.

Glinka was raised with an expectation to work in public service and eventually manage his family’s vast estates. He received no formal university or conservatory education, but pursued music for recreation. In 1830, as was customary for a young man in his position, Glinka embarked on a four-year European tour. During his travels, he hoped to enrich his education and improve his ailing health in Italy’s warm climate. This leisurely European trip proved to be a turning point in Glinka’s transformation from a wealthy dilettante to one of the most influential figures in Russian music. He heard the music of Franz Liszt on his way through Vienna; he studied counterpoint in Italy, but found it “irksome”; he took composition lessons in Berlin. Finally, in September 1830, Glinka arrived in Milan for what turned out to be a three-year sojourn. He charmed the high society with his piano skills and enjoyed the attention of the young ladies. He also frequented the famous opera house, La Scala, and met with Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Bellini, and Donizetti. He did not compose much, but began experimenting in the chamber music idiom. His first works—Divertimento brillante on themes from Bellini’s La sonnambula and Serenade on themes from Donizetti’s Anna Bolena—are beautiful pieces that draw on operatic themes.

About the Work

In 1832, Glinka composed today’s Trio pathétique for piano, clarinet, and bassoon instrumentation. The score is marked with a personal quotation that implies an unhappy love affair: “I have only known love through the pains that it causes.” Written in four movements, the work is quite short: The first three movements are played attacca (“without pause”), and the last movement is so short it seems to end before it has the time to develop. The Italian influence can be traced in all movements, particularly in the serenade-like third movement and the tarantellaof the finale; the second movement sounds like it could have been written by Schubert. Its lyricism suits the bel canto qualities of the bassoon and clarinet, and showcases the stile brillante virtuosity of the piano. This charming work was written by an immensely talented young man still searching for a distinctive voice as a composer.

Two years after composing the trio, Glinka came back to Russia and decided to devote himself fully to composition. He set out to do for Russian music what Bellini and Donizetti did for Italian: establishing a uniquely Russian voice and style. He did not use direct quotes from folk music, but was able to embody the Russian spirit. His 1836 opera A Life for the Tsar is considered the first national Russian opera. It was a great influence on the Mighty Five—a group of Russian composers that consisted of Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

—Marina Radiushina

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 35

About the Composer

Glinka’s inspired drive to establish a distinctively Russian musical voice was symptomatic of a larger quest for a national identity that permeated all spheres of Russian life and art of the time.

As a result, two main groups of composers emerged. The Mighty Five represented the first group, as they sought to popularize Russian national traditions in classical music; they often relied on Russian history, folktales, and literature in their work. The other group was more cosmopolitan, led by brothers Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein, who founded the Moscow and St. Petersburg conservatories. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who became one of the most prominent representatives of this group, was trained at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The group’s values were rather conservative, and its composers looked for ways to balance Russian cultural influences with European musical ideas.

In his life, Anton Arensky had a varied career as a composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher—among his students were Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. His creative output reflects his experience in both branches of composer groups.

About the Work

Arensky wrote his Op. 35 String Quartet in 1894 after Tchaikovsky’s death as a memorial to the great composer. It is scored for an unusual combination of instruments: violin, viola, and two cellos. The cello-heavy instrumentation contributes to the elegiac mood of the piece. Additionally, the opening Moderato draws its mournful theme from a somber Russian liturgical chant. The music goes through a range of transformations that vary significantly in tempo, mood, and texture.

The second movement is based on Tchaikovsky’s song “The Christ Child Had a Garden,” from his obscure Sixteen Songs for Children. It consists of seven variations, with the opening chant appearing briefly at the end. This movement was later transcribed by Arensky into its better-known version for orchestra.

The last movement begins with an introductory Andante sostenutothat is based on another borrowed theme from a Russian funeral mass. The next section shifts gear with an introduction of the famous patriotic hymn Slava (Glory), which is then developed in fugal writing. The quartet ends on a triumphant note that celebrates Tchaikovsky’s life rather than grieves his passing.

—Marina Radiushina

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50

About the Composer

Tchaikovsky wrote his Op. 50 Piano Trio as a memorial tribute to Nikolai Rubinstein, his long-time mentor and friend who was also a prominent Russian pianist, conductor, and public figure. Tchaikovsky was encouraged by Nadezhda von Meck, his lifelong pen pal and patroness, to write a piano trio; however, he was apprehensive about composing for this combination of instruments. In his letter to von Meck, Tchaikovsky wrote, “I cannot hear a mixture of piano with violin or cello. It seems to me that these timbres do not blend with each other, and I assure you that it is a torture for me to listen to a trio or a sonata for these instruments.” In 1881, after learning about Rubinstein’s death, Tchaikovsky had a change of heart: He wanted to write a work with a piano part worthy of its dedicatee and now welcomed the challenge posed by this genre. He wrote another letter to von Meck:

Do you know what I am composing now, my dear? You will be amazed. You once asked me to write a trio for piano, violin, and cello, and perhaps you remember my reply? I wrote then that I had an aversion to this combination of instruments. And now, despite this, I suddenly have resolved to attempt what I had avoided in this area until now. The beginning of the trio is already drafted. Whether I will carry it to the end, whether I will succeed, I do not know. I do hope very much that I will succeed. I will not deny that it cost me a great deal of effort to cast my musical thoughts into a form that is new and unusual for me. But I want to come out as a victor from all the difficulties, and the awareness that you will be satisfied spurs me on.

About the Work

The score bears the dedication To the memory of a great artist. Its unusual design consists of two large movements: Pezzo elegiaco and Tema con variazioni. The first movement’s title, which means “elegiac piece,” establishes the mood that permeates throughout the work and has given the trio the nickname “Elegiac Trio.” Filled with warm lyricism, the profoundly sad opening theme is played by the cello, followed by the violin and piano. It reappears several times as a recurrent memory, and most memorably at the climactic closing of the last movement, where it slowly transforms into a funeral march.

The second movement is a generously proportioned set of variations on a Russian theme; the last variation is so grand in scope, it serves as a finale to the entire trio. Tchaikovsky’s choice of form enabled him to present a rich variety of imagery: Each variation is tied to a particular genre or association related to the life of Rubinstein. The main theme is presented by the solo piano; the violin and cello are given a chance to lead in the first and second variations, respectively. Variation three is a scherzo, followed by the fourth variation, in which the violin and cello sing a duet; number five represents a music box, the sixth variation is a waltz. The seventh variation is a heavy, melodious, and somewhat humorous piece that reminds the listener of a working peasant song; the eighth is a vigorous fugue, and the ninth is a mournful elegy. Number 10 is a Chopinesque mazurka, and the 11th variation reprises the theme in its pure form, providing the listener with a moment of tranquility. The 12th and final variation is full of bravura: Its excited energy builds and darkens as it approaches the heartbreaking moment of the “elegiac” melody’s return. The trio ends with a quiet funeral march that gradually draws further away at the score’s last words: poco a poco morendo—“dying out little by little.”

—Marina Radiushina

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Price Waterhouse Cooper smaller version
Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg is sponsored by PwC
Goldman Sachs Gives 48x37
Lead Support of The Academy is provided by Goldman Sachs Gives.

Major funding for The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education—has been provided by Susan and Edward C. Forst and Goldman Sachs Gives, The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation, the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation, The Irving Harris Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Martha and Bob Lipp, Judith and Burton Resnick, and the Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by The Arnow Family Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Nicola Bulgari, The Edwin Caplin Foundation, the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Mrs. Nancy A. Marks, Mr. and Mrs. Lester S. Morse Jr., the Edward John Noble Foundation, The Joe Plumeri Foundation, and Suki Sandler.

Additional funding provided by Breguet, in partnership with Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom.

The Academy is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State.

Part of