VERDI & FRANCK
Piano Quintet in F Minor by César Franck (1822-1890)
Orchestra version by Nurhan Arman
This work is the first of César Franck's significant late works. In spite of the celebrated composer Camille Saint-Saens’ participation playing the piano part when it was premiered in January 1880, the Quintet met with a cold reception, and was only performed a few times more during the composer's lifetime. Only in the twentieth century did audiences and critics recognize it as a masterwork of French chamber music. One critic described the work as having "torrid emotional power," and composer Édouard Lalo called it “an explosion."
Franck wrote the Quintet in the winter of 1878-1879, when some biographers believe he was in love with one of his students. It is an intensely expressive work - it contains more ppp (extra soft) and fff (extra loud) markings than any other piece of chamber music – which may have been inspired by his romantic passion. That could also account for his wife's public disdain for the piece.
The work’s late-Romantic harmonies, searing emotion and unbridled sensuality caused Saint-Saens - who had been sight-reading his part - to walk off the stage in protest at the end, and stunned the audience. On a positive yet condescending note, Liszt exclaimed that such mastery was unexpected from an "organ loft composer.”
Franck was a musical prodigy but never became the star piano virtuoso his father had desired. Born in Belgium, he spent most of his life in Paris as one of several composers involved in a late 19th century renaissance of French instrumental music. His organ classes at the Conservatoire were celebrated forums for harmony and composition, with a cult following in the next generation of composers, including d'Indy and Debussy. He gradually gained fame for his improvisations as organist, while focusing his compositional skills on monumental oratorios and operas. Franck had admired Wagner's Tristan und Isolde's Prelude to Act I, which he heard in 1874. He took Wagner’s tonal innovations a step further, treating harmony like colour. His late works included symphonic poems, chamber music, and the famous “Organ Symphony,” all displaying his distinctive tonal advances and intensely chromatic harmony.
Mu-Qu-La (Moonlit Lake) by Wayne Toews
A violinist from the age of four, Wayne Toews played in the Saskatoon Symphony for six seasons, studied composition with Murray Adaskin. and has had a distinguished career as a music educator, leading many prize-winning student ensembles including the Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra, founding various Saskatchewan educational initiatives. He has published curriculum guides, instrumental instruction books, two computer programs for musicians as well as his compositions, and gained renown as an international exponent and teacher of the Saito Conducting Method. After retiring from teaching for the Saskatoon Public Board of Education he has remained active as an arranger, adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor and composer.
Mu-Qu-La is inspired by a mask. Wayne Toews explains: “The name MU-QU-LA appears on the back of a Moon mask that Awasaklas gave me in appreciation for my having taught his granddaughter to play violin.” Awasaklas, also known as Russell Smith, was a notable artist from the Kwakiutl First Nation, direct descendant of six chieftain bloodlines.
Symphony for Strings by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Orchestra version by Lucas Drew
Originally written as a string quartet, Verdi’s only mature chamber music work is a brilliant composition on a symphonic scale that has attracted many conductors, including Toscanini, who made an orchestra arrangement of the quartet and performed it all over the world.
The catalogue of Verdi’s purely instrumental works in almost vanishingly small. He wrote six concertos and some overtures during his teens, but their quality was not high. At the age of 18 he was actually denied admission to the Milan Conservatory because he had not demonstrated sufficient musical talent!
Concentrating on opera for most of his life, Verdi composed the quartet within a single week while waiting for a soprano to recover from a cold and continue rehearsing one of his operas. Music-lovers ever since have been grateful for the soprano’s temporary loss of voice. Verdi only wrote one chamber work, which can be explained by the fact that in Italy, opera was everything, and chamber music was not of much importance. A successful opera brought fame and fortune. A successful chamber music work did little for an Italian composer's reputation or wallet.
Verdi’s operatic imagination is evident throughout the quartet. The first movement is full of dramatic tension and aria-like melodies. The lyrical momentum of the second movement, Andantino, and the bursting energy of the scherzo, which follows it, reveals a master steeped in the 19th-century practice of including dance interludes in operas. The work builds to a ringing conclusion through a fugue with dramatic dynamic contrasts and virtuoso challenges for the musicians.