Program Notes by Dr. Lorne Tepperman
Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 33 no. 2 "The Joke” by Josef Haydn (1732-1809)
Orchestra arrangement by Nurhan Arman
Haydn is known as “the Father of the String Quartet" for good reason. He composed nearly 70 quartets, and as they appeared his innovations were widely debated and imitated by other musicians, including Mozart.
In December 1781 Haydn sent letters to potential sponsors describing how his six new Opus 33 quartets were written in a novel, unique way. His earlier quartets had been full of storm and stress, expressed in counterpoint and dark harmonies, whereas the quartets in Opus 33 were in the balanced Classical style that we now associate with mature Haydn. This six-pack of quartets was in the end dedicated to the Grand Duke of Russia, so they are commonly called the "Russian" quartets. They are also called ”the Joke Quartets” in part because Haydn replaced the previously-standard minuet movement with a scherzo - "joke" or "playfulness" in Italian.
Haydn did much to standardize the quartet form we know today, and we can also often detect his surprising sense of humour. The humour in the Joke Quartet, Op. 33, No. 2, like all good jokes, is most evident at the end.
Following an Allegro moderato cantabile first movement, the second movement Scherzo and a Largo sostenuto third movement, the finale dances through presto themes. Then comes the coda, and everything changes. The melody concludes and we are repeatedly left in silence, followed by some chords, some silence, the dance melody again, and more silence. It almost seems that the performers are unsure if they have finished. A final anxious pause is followed by a soft whisper. Is this finally the end? Haydn keeps leaving listeners in suspense… audiences may hesitate to start applauding, so unsure one may be about the ending.
Op. 33 contains many other surprises and humorous effects. What Haydn had in mind when he referred to a "new and special way" of writing was about violating our expectations: for example, elaborating themes quickly, then exploding them into small fragments to recombine in a variety of ways. The Opus 33 quartets are a significant musical turning point in this regard, and a new approach to string quartet writing.
Ave Maria by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
This small, expressive Ave Maria is based on an Italian version Verdi adapted from the "Credo di Dante," a long poem containing statements of faith. The author, according to recent research, was likely not actually Dante. It is one of four songs which make up the set Quattro pezzi sacri, Four Sacred Pieces, written separately during Verdi’s last decade but published together in 1898.
Verdi wrote this piece in response to a musical puzzle proposed by a professor at the Bologna Conservatory in a Milan journal in 1888: to compose a satisfying piece using the so-called “enigmatic scale.” The scale’s ascending version starting on C would be: C, D♭, E, F♯, G♯, A♯, B, C. The lack of a perfect-fourth and -fifth above the home note, C, means the basis of standard chord progressions in Western music from 1600 to 1900 is absent. A piece written with this scale will violate the most fundamental convention in Western music before the 20th century.
So, is Verdi’s Ave Maria satisfying? Perhaps much more so now than in 1889 - one contemporary reviewer described as an “almost incomprehensible gliding of harmonies into one another." The scale also ppears as a cantus firmus (or ground bass) in long notes in the bass part and then in each next higher accompaniment line.
Aria and Scene, ‘No, non turbati’ by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1809)
Beethoven set this text from Metastasio's cantata La tempesta (1724) while he was still studying with Salieri. Though he wrote it in 1802, it was not performed in public until 1814.
The aria's text, abridged from the Italian, tells a tale of love: “Don't worry, Nice; I'm not going to talk to you about love again. I know you're sorry; that's all there is to it. The sky is threatening a sudden storm. So, let’s take shelter in this cave; I will stay with you. I will not speak of love to you while lightning strikes, but I will be with you, beloved. I've always wished for such a sweet moment. Oh, if only it were the fruit of your love, not your fear! That laugh, that flush, says it all. I've found us a haven during this violent storm. May the sun never rise again, for there is no brighter light than this. This is how I want to live my life; and this is how I want to die.”
After arriving in Vienna in 1792, Beethoven quickly mastered the Viennese style of Haydn and Mozart) and made it his own, writing his first two symphonies, first two piano concertos, six string quartets and the first dozen or so of his piano sonatas within a decade. But he was less sure of his abilities as a vocal composer: "When sound stirs within me, I always hear the full orchestra; I know what to expect of instrumentalists, who are capable of almost anything, but with vocal composition I must always ask myself: can this be sung?" Yet Beethoven did write some great works for voice; only in quantity does his choral output compare poorly with the output of Haydn, Mozart, Handel, and Bach.
Maiblumen Blühten Überall , “May flowers bloomed everywhere’ by Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)
Listening to this song about passionate and troubled love, you might wonder if you are hearing an early draft of Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht. You would not be far wrong: Alexander Zemlinsky, was Schoenberg’s brother-in-law and a musical influence on the younger Schoenberg. Zemlinsky also gave Schoenberg lessons in counterpoint, becoming the only formal music teacher Schoenberg would ever have.
Zemlinsky began piano at a young age, was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory in 1884 and began composing around 1892. Brahms was impressed with the young composer and recommended his Clarinet Trio for publication. His conducting career took place in Vienna and Prague as he also continued composing and teaching. His pupils included Erich Korngold, who would go on to become a famous composer of scores for Hollywood movies.
Although Zemlinsky had converted to Protestantism in 1899, in 1933 his Jewish ancestry meant he had to flee Berlin for Vienna, and then in 1938 to New York. In the US he was neglected and virtually unknown. Falling ill, he suffered a series of strokes and stopped composing. He died of pneumonia in 1942.
This song sets a poem written by Richard Dehmel, a German poet who often wrote about love and sensuality. He was tried for obscenity and blasphemy in the late 1890’s, around the time this piece was composed.
Pyotr’s Dream by Andrew Balfour (1967 - )
Of Cree descent (member of Fisher River First Nation) and now a Toronto resident, Andrew Balfour is an innovative composer/conductor/singer/sound designer with a large body of choral, instrumental, electro-acoustic and orchestral works. He has been commissioned by the Winnipeg, Regina and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Ensemble Caprice, Groundswell, Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, Winnipeg Singers, Kingston Chamber Choir and Camerata Nova, Luminous Voices, and Chronos Vocal Ensemble among many others, and by Tafelmusik for Pyotr’s Dream. His work across a broad spectrum of media and on many Indigenous creative projects has been recognized with honours including the Mayor of Winnipegʼs Making a Mark Award and the Canadian Senate Gold Medal for artistic achievement.
Andrew Balfour on composing Pyotr’s Dream: Tchaikovsky himself believed in the “poetic charm” of the church, revelling in the music and liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Pyotr’s Dream is based on Tchaikovsky’s Hymn of the Cherubim, a choral composition he composed in 1878, taken from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. It is considered one of the most celebrated of the Eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church and suggests a certain romantic ritualistic protocol which is familiar to me as the son of an Anglican priest.
This work expands beyond the particular beauty of choral music in church and embraces an appreciation of music as a spiritual truth. Strings lend themselves to a singing tone, echoing the voice of the choral tradition, and help create a heightened sense of spirituality that is a universal beyond any church, religion, or ritual.
String Quartet Opus 95, “Serioso” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1809)
Orchestra version by Nurhan Arman
Beethoven wrote his Opus 95 in 1810. It is the only quartet he gave a subtitle: "Serioso." Heused the term "serioso" to describe this work for good reason. The music reflects his deep despair over distressing personal issues, including the recent failure of a love affair. The quartet premiered in 1814 with Beethoven’s dedication to Nikolaus Zmeskall, an amateur musician and friend. In a letter Beethoven wrote that "the Quartet [Op. 95] is written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public."
War was also upsetting Beethoven. In May 1809 Napoleon invaded Vienna for the second time in four years. Beethoven remained in the city, though all his aristocratic patrons had left. During the French bombardment he hid in the cellar of his brother's house. The French occupation of Vienna that followed disrupted cultural life and the work of Beethoven's publishers. It also compounded the emotional effects of Beethoven's worsening deafness, precarious health, and financial insecurity.
The first movement Allegro con brio in F minor seems to many listeners to express feelings of rage and fury. The second movement, an Allegretto rather than the usual Andante, alternates between lyricism and fierce intensity. Perhaps to increase a sense of disorientation, its key of D major is startlingly distant from the first movement’s F minor, and the third movement Allegro assai vivace ma serioso ventures through F minor, D major, and C minor.
The quartet's exhilarating fourth movement transcends all the preceding tensions. This light and bouncy ending stands in welcome contrast to the piece's otherwise dark, stormy, introspective mood. This "comic-opera ending" is "absurdly and deliberately unrelated to the 'quartet serioso' - the true Shakespearean touch that provides the final confirmation of the truth of the rest," according to one commentator.
The quartet is also an experiment in techniques that Beethoven would later employ in other works. They include metric ambiguity, shorter-than-usual development sections, greater-than-usual tonal freedom, unexpected shifts in dynamics, and unexpected silences.
Lynn Isnar is an Armenian-Canadian soprano known for her “firecracker coloratura,” (Opera Canada, John Gilks) and “terrific stratospheric high notes,” (Opera Canada, Joseph So).
Ms. Isnar started off the 2021-2022 season by recording with Sinfonia Toronto for Canadian composer, Colin Eatock’s, upcoming CD works. She will continue the season by performing concerts with various organizations around Toronto, including OperaFest, followed by singing the title role of Harapshilli in Conan and the Stone of Kelior with Mightier Productions. During the 2020-2021 pandemic season, Ms. Isnar was fortunate enough to join the Glenn Gould School as a guest artist to sing the role of Female Chorus in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia in a virtual concert. She later joined the Amici Chamber Ensemble in their virtual concert Armenian Treasures where she sang works by Amirkhanyan and Aznavour. Ms. Isnar also performed in the A.G.B.U. “Solidarity in Song” Online Concert Series. Past roles performed by Ms. Isnar include Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), Susanna (Marriage of Figaro), La Marchesa (La Cecchina), Katya (Katya Kabanova), Emma (Khovanshchina), Nanine (The Widow), Daphne (The Beautiful Helen), Lydia/Veronica (Perchance to Dream), Katya (Katya Kabanova), Valencienne (The Merry Widow) and Adele (Die Fledermaus).
Sinfonia Toronto now in its 24th season, has toured twice in Europe, in the US, South America and China, receiving glowing reviews. It has released four CD’s, including a JUNO Award winner, and performs in many Ontario cities. Its extensive repertoire includes all the major string orchestra works of the 18th through 21st centuries, and it has premiered many new works. Under the baton of Nurhan Arman the orchestra’s performances present outstanding international guest artists and prominent Canadian musicians.
Maestro Nurhan Arman has conducted throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada and the US, returning regularly to many orchestras in Europe. Among the orchestras Maestro Arman has conducted are the Moscow Philharmonic, Deutsches Kammerorchester Frankfurt, Filarmonica Italiana, St. Petersburg State Hermitage Orchestra, Orchestre Regional d’Ile de France, Hungarian Symphony, Arpeggione Kammerorchester, Milano Classica and Belgrade Philharmonic.
Sinfonia Toronto respectfully acknowledges that we work in the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee peoples