CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Friday, March 23, 2012 | 7:30 PM

Yefim Bronfman

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
The inestimable Yefim Bronfman—Grammy Award winner, former Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist, one-time Daily Show straight man—returns to Carnegie Hall with a program that features music that captures the essence of three distinctive styles, from elegant, expressive Classicsim to dark, yearning Romanticism to steely, virtuosic Modernism.
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The Program

JOSEPH HAYDN
Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:50

About the Composer


Joseph Haydn spent some 30 years in the service of the Esterházy family; he bitterly lamented that they lived for the majority of the year in a cultural wasteland, located well outside of Vienna. Nevertheless, Haydn managed to build an international reputation, and when Prince Nikolaus died in 1790, his successor granted Haydn the freedom to pursue an independent career. Concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon seized the opportunity to book a London tour for the composer in 1791, followed by a second in 1794.


About the Work


Haydn’s Sonata in C Major is a late work composed for pianist Therese Jansen, a personal friend, whose playing he admired. Judging by this sonata, along with two others composed at the same time and also dedicated to her (Hob. XVI:51 and Hob. XVI:52), Jansen was a formidable performer on the exceptionally modern fortepiano of that time period.


A Closer Listen


The first movement combines the tripartite structure of sonata-allegro form—exposition, development, and recapitulation—with a theme-and-variations structure. The laconic main theme hops along in the right hand, with abrupt answers in the left; a first variation follows with rolled chords and little frills that fill in the silences. There is no second theme (Haydn is known for his monothematic sonatas), but a new key emerges that is marked by a skipping octave motif that moves to the left hand. After a brief nod to the minor mode, the exposition section is capped by decisive-sounding chords. Variations continue throughout the development section, starting out in the minor key and then modulating to a remote major key. Three chords close the section, and the recapitulation repeats the sunny opening.

The second movement also relies on variation procedures and showcases Haydn’s skill in embellishing simple material with lavish ornaments. The unusually brief finale, in triple meter, is a scherzo of good humor and “Beethovenian vigor,” according to musicologist László Somfai. Haydn manifests his famous musical wit in the odd phrase lengths, indecisive repetitions, and unexpected pauses.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 


 

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5

About the Composer


“Sooner or later,” composer Robert Schumann imagined in 1853, “someone would and must appear, fated to give us the ideal expression of the times.” Indeed the time had come: Beethoven’s heir had arrived. “His name is Johannes Brahms, from Hamburg,” Schumann declared of the young pianist and budding composer in an article for his influential music journal. At the time, Brahms was just five years past his solo debut, and his earliest extant compositions date only from 1851. He worked first in the more intimate genres of the piano sonata and lieder, saving the most exalted public forms of the string quartet, concerto, and symphony for later. The F-Minor Piano Sonata—his third and last in the genre—was composed under the sway of Schumann’s remarkable endorsement.


About the Work


Brahms’s piano sonatas make a case for the continued life of the genre after Beethoven, whose 32 sonatas cast a long shadow across the entire 19th century. In the Third Sonata, Brahms adapted Beethoven’s Classical model, but updated it by adopting the newer Romantic idiom, most notably expanding the form to five (instead of the usual four) movements. The second movement, a typically Romantic character piece, is prefaced by lines from poet Otto Inkermann:


The evening is coming, the moonlight shines,
Two hearts are united in love
And embrace each other blissfully.

A friend and admirer of Brahms described the music as “one of the most beautiful moonlight poems ever created.” The fourth movement Intermezzo looks back to this movement, wrapping its theme in funereal garb.


A Closer Listen


The opening movement presents two closely related themes: The first, aggressive and insistent with dramatic leaps, is repeated immediately in a more restrained, meditative vein; the second theme is introduced after a turn to the major mode. The leaps persist in the accompaniment, but above is a rich, dark chorale with a poignant echo in the higher register that leads to a songlike melody. A sweet cadence in the major is all too brief; the stormy opening returns.

The Andante looks at once both forward and backward: forward to Brahms’s own major works (particularly the Fourth Symphony) in building a theme from a simple series of intervals, and backward to Bach with the delicate trills that cap the descent.

The third movement Scherzo is nearly Lisztian in its technical demands and volatile virtuosity. The fourth movement returns to the theme of the second—hence its title, Rückblick (“look back”). And as in the opening movement, the Finale features a stark contrast between a dramatic, impetuous first theme and more lyrical material.


—Elizabeth Bergman

 

 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 

SERGEI PROKOFIEV
Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84

About the Composer


In March 1936, Prokofiev relocated to Soviet Russia, a fateful choice more pragmatic than political. Having endured a peripatetic life as a concert pianist, composing on the fly while in transit, he saw the steady stream of commissions promised by the Soviet government as the means to devote himself to composition full time. He seized the opportunity to shift his base of operations, thinking he could simply exchange one (Paris) for another (Moscow). For a time, this strategy worked. In 1937 and 1938, Prokofiev was allowed to travel to the United States, where he was most warmly met in Chicago. Thereafter, the composer found himself trapped, forbidden to travel abroad, and unable to compose freely. Though valued by the Stalinist regime and supported by its institutions, he suffered correction and censorship, the result being a gradual sapping of his creative energies. While his late ballets and operas often received harsh criticism from cultural bureaucrats, he had much greater success with his piano music and symphonies, receiving numerous official prizes for them.


About the Work


Shostakovich and Prokofiev each composed a wartime trilogy: the former of symphonies (nos. 7–9), the latter sonatas (nos. 6–8). Yet these sonatas, conceived as a set in 1939, address musical and spiritual conflicts—not worldly ones. Musicologist Simon Morrison presents the Sixth Sonata as a “fusion between violent impulse and classical discipline … a dialogue between Neo-primitivism and Neoclassicism,” Romantic passion and Classical logic; the same may be said of the Seventh and Eighth. All three, Morrison writes, “are united in the radiant discord of their melodic and harmonic language, and the willfulness of their rhythmic writing.”

Thus Prokofiev appears to assert in music the tenets of his faith: The composer was a committed Christian Scientist who believed in the divinity of his own talent and dismissed the evils of the temporal world as mere illusion. He believed that traditional structures could not contain the creative impulse; the spirit of music superseded the materiality of its own earthly logic. As Morrison suggests, “the three sonatas transcend their own structural and syntactical constraints, revealing those constraints to be the false postulates of false reasoning” (or false consciousness, if Marx might be invoked alongside Mary Baker Eddy). Always, however, Prokofiev sought to serve the world, not forsake it, and so aspired to the better. Above the stuff of harmony and melody lay timeless truths.


A Closer Listen


The first and third movements abound in conflicts of all sorts—rhythmic, melodic, tonal, textural—as typical of a sonata in the tradition of Beethoven. (The “Appassionata” was an inspiration.) The first theme of the first movement owes its dreamy sweetness to a different—and better—inspiration: It came to the composer while walking with his second wife, Mira.

The second movement, a fantastic mazurka, is something otherworldly, seemingly imagined, slightly unhinged. The bass plods along steadily enough at the opening (although the harmonies are subtly off-kilter), but is soon jolted, as if pushed off balance by an unseen hand. Even as the melody repeats exactly, the bass is offset; melody and accompaniment do not match. Another harmonic shift introduces a new, contrasting section that seems a non sequitur. The opening theme returns with an even more bizarre, serpentine accompaniment, but ultimately the melody itself dissipates altogether. The music comes unmoored from formal constraints as well as from reality.

Although the delusional qualities of the mazurka might be ascribed to spiritual forces or wartime circumstance, the music in fact attaches to fictional events. The second movement of the sonata originated as incidental music Prokofiev composed for Eugene Onegin. There the dance is part of a name-day celebration for Tatyana, who has confessed her love to Onegin. He rejects and admonishes her as drunken dancers swirl around them, oblivious and uncaring. Humiliated by her own heart, she chokes back bitter tears.

The third and final movement begins with a series of little gestures that build up to a furious blur, recalling the composer’s early, feverish Op. 10 Toccata. The texture thins in the slower middle section, which features repeated patterns in the bass continued from the first section (now sounding either ominous or capricious, depending on the interpretation) and chilling quick gestures above that quote from the tragic love theme from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The contrast between the two modes could not be greater; Prokokiev is simply showing off his expressive—and pianistic—range. The pace quickens as the opening material returns, and the music drives farther and faster to a brilliant end.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 

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Sponsored by Ernst & Young LLP
This performance is part of Great Artists I, and Solo Piano - Students.

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