Mike Cochran sent along these thoughts about our recent concerts.
There’s a silhouette print of Brahms, stooped, trudging the streets of Vienna, hands clasped behind his back, oversized overcoat draped to his ankles… trudging. Every day, trudging to his favorite haunt, the Red Hedgehog tavern. One glance at the silhouette reveals a man trudging deep in thought. Perhaps he’s deciding the harmonies of another hemiola within the architecture of his current composition as he sits crumpled at a Red Hedgehog corner table, glass of ale half-empty.
It wasn’t music dramas, he was thinking, or tone poems or some Greek legend or an unrequited love… [hhmm well maybe this one…] It was the purity of abstractism and the upholding of tried and true forms that held him. Baroque polyphony, classical sonata form, the rondo, and allied musical genres, were where his imagination took him. Then there were these hemiolas, they were everywhere. Of all the Romantics, only Brahms latched onto these rhythmic three-against-two’s.
In the Baroque era hemiolas showed up regularly, adding tension to polyphony, yet resolving handsomely. Brahms’ Third Symphony, in contrast, begins by diving into a deep pool of hemiolas. The first movement is awash with them. The tautness of the rhythmic structure creates a brooding, reflective, even meandering substance to the movement, which finishes softly, still seemingly searching for resolution.
The second and third movements are lighter and more delicately scored. A folk tune in the second, a scherzo in the third, almost as if a chamber orchestra were performing. The Finale in F minor, marked sotto voce exhibits a typical Brahmsian subdued melody in the strings. Later the trombones introduce a chorale which evolves into a complex development until the return of sotto voce.
“The music floats away into a Brahmsian quietude.” –Roy Saberton.
All the movements end quietly, contemplatively.
“I look at the Third Symphony of Brahms and I feel like a pygmy.” — Edward Elgar.
And Brahms himself: “You’ll never know how the likes of me feels with the tramp of a giant behind you.” The shadow looming over Brahms curtailed his symphonic imagination at four, as if he feared to approach more symphonies, a giant at his back. Like a golfer trying to score 59, Brahms would never reach 9.
Robert Schumann and Clara were Brahms’ first mentors and after Robert’s incarceration, Brahms came closer to Clara. Much closer… helplessly closer. This was reciprocated to some extent by the older Clara, such that closeness, even at a distance, endured for a lifetime. But a formalized closeness at that. Could it be that embracing hemiolas so persistently was Brahms’ way in music to assuage lonely desperation? To my ear there’s a hesitant, searching, irresolute quality to these rhythmic structures. More often than not, it seems Brahms’ three-against-twos resolve ambiguously.
Die Meistersingers Overture with its vast orchestration lets our listeners know what we’re about with this concert. Leitmotif melodies represent the characters of the opera, which surprisingly is Wagner’s only comedic offering. These magnificent melodies on a grand scale (which never end) hardly reflect the light-hearted comedy to come. The lasting popularity of the overture for listeners and performers is an ideal curtain-raiser.
Here are some final thoughts from our brilliant soloist, Brian Yoon, performing Dvorak’s sumptuous Cello Concerto in B Minor:
“The Dvorak concerto is undoubtedly the most important piece in the concert repertoire for cellists. It is joyful, heroic, nostalgic and passionate. I think it reflects both his time in the United States, when he was invited as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, and his longing for home in Bohemia. Along with the New World Symphony, the cello concerto was one of the last orchestral works he wrote in the US before returning to Europe. Since learning it over ten years ago, I have returned to this work every season. Despite it being such a standard piece of repertoire, I continue to discover new details and different ways of shaping a phrase. I am especially fond of the duet with the concertmaster in the third movement. Anne sounded great in the rehearsal! I am really looking forward to the performances.”
As for myself… if there was a Stanley Cup Final for cello concertos, it would be the Elgar vs. the Dvorak.