TCHAIKOVSKY & MENDELSSOHN
Born by the River by Karen Sunabacka ((1975- )
Karen Sunabacka is a composer, cellist and music theorist with deep roots in Manitoba. In demand as a composer she enjoys the challenge of composing, teaching, performing, travelling, and keeping up with the latest science fiction and fantasy book, film or tv series. Her music has been performed in Canada, the US, Brazil and the UK.
Along with pieces about the natural beauty of the prairies, Karen has recently been exploring her Métis and Manitoba heritage through her mother Joyce Clouston’s prose. Born by the River is about her Métis Grandmother Lenore. She has composed other works about her Grandmother, her aunt Beverly Clouston and her great-great Grandmother Mathilda, who suffered from mental illness.
Karen is currently an Associate Professor of Music at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo. She was recently a Mentor Composer for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Composers’ Institute. An active member and past board member of the Canadian New Music Network, she continues on the board of Groundswell, Winnipeg’s New Music Series. She founded Pressure Waves, which is now a regular part of Groundswell’s Emerging Composer program, and the Providence Performing Arts School in Otterburne, Manitoba.
Violin Concerto in D Minor by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, but when Napoleon occupied Hamburg soon after his birth the family’s wealth enabled them to quickly relocate to Berlin. Young Felix was home-schooled by his parents, with piano lessons from his mother. When he showed keen interest in music his parents engaged Berlin’s finest musicians to teach him. He made his piano debut at age nine, and at 11 was composing creditable pieces. He continued to progress at an astonishing rate; by 13 he had written enough composition to require logging them in a catalogue.
The Concerto in D Minor is a lovely example of Mendelssohn’s precocious abilities. Only 13 when he wrote it, the prodigy was purposefully exploring the concerto form, writing a piano concerto as well during the same year, 1822, a double concerto for violin and piano in 1823, and completing two concertos for two pianos by 1824.
In this concerto Mendelssohn was influenced by the works of Viotti and Rode; he wrote it for violinist Eduard Rietz, a frequent guest at the Mendelssohns’ home who had studied with Rode. Most of Felix’s composition in his teens were intended for private performances at home by such guests, and many of them remained unknown to the wider public until after the Second World War. The first modern, public appearance of this concerto did not take place until Yehudi Menuhin performed it in 1952.
Album for Youth, Opus 39 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Orchestra version by Louis Sauter
This collection, first published for piano in 1878, was subtitled “24 Easy Pieces (à la Schumann)”. Tchaikovsky, like Schumann, had the admirable ability to write for young people without writing down to them, producing a suite of charming miniatures. He dedicated the work to his nephew and eventual lover, Vladimir Davydov (1871-1906). The suite contains 24 short movements, the longest of which lasts only 85 bars. The entire set takes only 28-30 minutes to perform.
In an 1878 letter to his patroness and friend Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I decided a while ago that it would not be a bad idea to make a modest contribution to the stock of children's musical literature. I'd like to write a series of small individual pieces for children, each with an appealing title, like Schumann's ".
Several pieces in the suite feature authentic folk tunes, including Oh my poor head, which Tchaikovsky had previously included in his collection of Fifty Russian Folksongs; the popular Russian folk tune Kamarinskaya; a Neapolitan song he also echoed in his ballet Swan Lake; a medley of Italian folk melodies; an Italian tune as the foundation for the piece The Organ Grinder Sings; and a movement titled Old French Song.
The sketches for all 24 pieces were completed on May 4th. Tchaikovsky accepted Nadezhda von Meck's invitation to stay at her Brailov estate until the end of May before spending a few days in Moscow. In the days following his arrival, he polished all the pieces he had written in April and May. The final copy of the Album for Youth was started in July and copying finished by August. The printed album was released in October. Tchaikovsky's manuscript score is now housed in Moscow's Russian National Museum of Music.
Tchaikovsky dedicated the album to his favourite nephew, Vladimir Davydov. Tchaikovsky wrote to Lev Davydov on December 12, 1878: "Tell Bobik that the music has been printed with pictures, that the music was composed by Uncle Petya, and that on it is written Dedicated to Volodya Davydov. The silly little fellow will not understand what dedicated means... Even so, Bobik is an inimitably delightful figure when he's playing, and he might look at the notes, and think that a whole symphony is dedicated to him".