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Fantasie in A Major, Op. 124 for violin and harp Camille Saint-Saëns
Caterina Szepes, violin; Stacey Shames, harp (1835-1921)
Massenet Meditation from Thais Jules Massenet
Caterina Szepes, violin; Stacey Shames, harp (1842-1912)
Zapatos de Chincha Gabriela Lena Frank
Bruno Eicher, violin; Kari Jane Docter, cello (1972 - )
String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9 No. 3 Ludwig van Beethoven
Bruno Eicher, violin; Mary Hammann, viola; Kari Jane Docter, cello (1770-1827)
Allegro con spirito
Adagio con espressione
Scherzo – Allegro molto e vivace
Finale – Presto
MET Orchestra Musicians Feb 21, 2021
Program Notes by Dr. Natalie Wren
Fantasie for Violin and Harp, Op. 124 Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921)
Up until the turn of the 20th century Camille Saint-Saëns, a gifted pianist and organist, enjoyed a celebrity status as the greatest composer in France. A pioneer for French music, he was dubbed “the French Beethoven” by Charles Gounod, and the name temporarily stuck. Unfortunately, the attention didn’t last. With the new century came a wave of musical creativity with Modernist masters like Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, and Stravinsky. Though he had witnessed Wagner’s ultra-Romantic influence throughout Europe, Saint-Saëns remained unaffected by the hype. Rather, Saint-Saëns adhered to the classical models, upholding a conservative ideal of French music that emphasized polished craftsmanship and a strong sense of form. While today his music is not performed as often as some of his contemporaries, Saint-Saëns is celebrated for his larger works, including his Symphony No. 3, the charming suite Carnival of the Animals, the opera Samson et Delilah, and the symphonic poem Danse Macabre.
Written at the ripe age of 72 for sisters Clara and Marianne Eissler, the Fantasie in A Major for violin and harp is a perfect reflection of Saint-Saëns’ style, with its characteristic clarity and elegance of expression. As the title implies, Fantasie is a through-composed, improvisatory work that shifts rapidly in mood. Comprised of five distinct sections, the harp and violin continuously trade roles between virtuosic soloist and adept accompanist in an ever-changing pas de deux. Beginning in the Poco allegretto, the instruments take on the roles expected of them; a flowing melody in the violin plays over the harp’s cascading arpeggios. From this gentle beginning the music evolves, growing in complexity. In the Vivo 5/4 section, Saint-Saëns offers a fiery drama through virtuosic flourishes traded by both instruments and leads the listener to a Mediterranean-inspired basso ostinato, played by the harp. A memory of the original violin melody returns towards the end, offering a light symmetry to this masterfully constructed piece.
Meditation from Thaïs, Jules Massenet (1842–1912)
“Meditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs is a perfect portrayal of the composer’s sentimental and indulgently romantic style. Although Massenet was especially beloved for his oratorios, cantatas, and song cycles, he is most celebrated for his operas, particularly Manon, Esclarmonde, Werther, and of course, Thaïs. Massenet wrote Thaïs in Paris in 1894; it is based on the scandalous novel by Anatole France which circles around the themes of female sensuality and male obsession. The story takes place in Thebes, Egypt where the beautiful courtesan Thaïs, who worships the goddess Venus, rules the city of Alexandria by the power of her charms. Enter Athaneal, a Cenobite monk who had once been infatuated with her, and who entreats her to denounce her pagan ways for Christianity. After an unsuccessful seduction attempt and some fierce argument, Thaïs eventually follows Athaneal to the desert where she finds salvation at a convent, and soon thereafter dies, leaving Athaneal heartbroken and spiritually conflicted.
“Meditation” is an orchestral intermezzo featuring solo violin, which takes place in Act Two. The stunningly beautiful melody reflects the change of Thaïs’ heart, where she leaves her hedonistic life for religious redemption. This six-minute interlude has become a classic encore piece for violin, having been performed as such by many of the great violinists of our time. Marked Andante religioso, the violin offers an achingly expressive melody that transports the listener from the temporal realm to the pearly gates of heaven.
Zapatos de Chincha, Gabriela Lena Frank (1972 – )
Zapatos de Chincha is the second movement of a larger work, Hilos (Threads, 2010), written for the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, which is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Alluding to the beauty of Peruvian textiles, both in their construction and in their pictorial content of everyday life, the short movements of Hilos are a kind of Peruvian "pictures at an exhibition." Players are mixed and matched in various combinations, and draw on a myriad of sounds evocative of indigenous music. These include fanciful pizzicatos and widely-spaced tremolos suggesting guitar-like instruments, strong attacks and surging releases suggesting zampona panpipes and quena flutes, glissandi and scratch tones suggesting vocal coloristic effects, and so forth.
Zapatos de Chincha (Shoes of Chincha): This light-footed movement is inspired by Chincha, a southern coastal town known for its afro-peruano music and dance (including a unique brand of tap). The cello part is especially reminiscent of the cajon, a wooden box that percussionists sit on and strike with hands and feet, extracting a remarkable array of sounds and rhythms.
— Gabriela Lena Frank
String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9 No.3, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
In 1798 a relatively young Beethoven wrote a set of string trios, dedicating them to an Austrian nobleman named Count Browne. He must have been a fairly eccentric fellow, because the year prior, the Count sent the young composer a horse as a gift for an earlier dedication. Alas, this horse was ridden a few times and then quickly forgotten by Beethoven. Though he was no great equestrian, at this stage Beethoven was already a masterful composer. While his early compositions live somewhat in the shadow of his heroic middle period (cue his Symphony No. 5) and the unearthly quality of his later works, Beethoven’s set of string trios portray an extraordinary gift for expression and imagination.
The String Trio in C Minor is comprised of four movements, following the form of a traditional string quartet, an indication of the composer’s pursuit of more serious ventures. The key of C minor shows up regularly in Beethoven’s later works as a language of conflict and dark intensity. Throughout the four movements, dramatic tension builds through mercurial shifts from C major to C minor, creating a sense of instability and turmoil.
The first movement begins with a sepulchral four-note descent that places the listener right in the middle of the storm. Alternating from the turbulent storm of C minor to cloudless skies of C major, the Allegro paints an internal drama that comes to a thunderous conclusion. Beethoven begins the second movement, Adagio con moto, in four parts by using double stops, giving the illusion of a rich string quartet. With its simple beauty, this graceful Adagio offers a heavenly respite before the fiery, perhaps demonic, Scherzo movement. The Finale again returns to the composer’s battle of darkness and light with abrupt shifts from C minor to C major, concluding with a Haydnesque whimsy. Already in 1798, Beethoven has proven an uncanny ability to turn simplicity into sublimity, foreshadowing the great works yet to come.