Josephine G. Winter Chamber Music Series

Chamber Music Series: Farrenc

Mozart – Trio in E-flat major, K.498 “Kegelstatt” for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano
Stravinsky L’Histoire du soldat
Farrenc – Piano Quintet No. 1 in A minor, op.30

Friday, September 22, 2023 | 7:00 PM
First Presbyterian Church

Program Notes

Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) probably discovered the clarinet in 1778 while visiting Mannheim where clarinets had been a part of the orchestra for twenty years. But he didn’t write music featuring the clarinet until after moving to Vienna in 1781 where he met the virtuoso, Anton Stadler. Stadler was the clarinetist Mozart had in mind for virtually all of his most celebrated works with clarinet including the Clarinet Concerto, the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings and the less familiar Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Viola in E-flat, K. 498 “The Kegelstatt.” Though not as well-known as its counterparts, it was composed for performance by one of Mozart’s piano students, Franziska von Jacquin, with Mozart playing the viola, and Stadler on clarinet. In the able hands of this ensemble, Mozart was free to write a work for three independent parts allowing each member of the group, especially the piano, to have opportunities for solo display—even the often-neglected viola. The work is exceptional for its unconventional instrumentation, form, and convivial sense of interplay, perhaps due to the origins of the work being composed for a group of intimates in an informal setting. The name, “Kegelstatt,” meaning skittle alley (Skittle is a version of lawn bowling), is probably mistakenly applied to this work but originally intended for the dedication of another work by Mozart.

In the years immediately preceding the First World War, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) established himself as perhaps Europe’s leading composer. The success of his ballets The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) and the succès de scandale of The Rite of Spring (1913) gave him celebrity and a demand for new works. Unfortunately, history would interfere with Stravinsky’s personal and musical circumstances. As a Russian composer living and working in Switzerland and France, World War I and the Russian Revolution (1917) would have profound effects on Stravinsky’s life and career. Following the large-scale ballets of his Paris years, Stravinsky, for a variety of reasons began to move toward a more economical sound palette, creating scores for works with much smaller instrumental forces. Some of the works he produced during the years immediately after The Rite, such as the ballet Les Noces (begun in 1914), the burleske, Renard (1915), and L’histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) (1918), use spare, almost austere instrumental ensembles. While economics may have played some role in the scaled-down instrumentation of these works, the sparser instrumental palette also reflects a leaner sound that seems to have appealed to the composer as he continued to define and clarify his musical language and anticipates aspects of his neo-classical style that appeared in the 1920s. Musically, The Soldier’s Tale is outwardly a dramatic contrast to Stravinsky’s earlier ballets, but in terms of its melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic language, little has changed.  The more miniature quality of the ensemble and individual sections has caused a kind of distillation of approach, but this music is characteristically Stravinsky and Russian, even in its appropriation of popular and jazz elements.

Faced with forced exile from his native Russia and the devastation of WWI, Stravinsky developed the idea for kind of traveling show that would involve a small instrumental ensemble and a few actors. Together with the Swiss author, C. F. Ramuz, they adapted a 19th century story from the Russian folklorist, Alexander Afanassyev, that echoes the familiar Faustian bargain in which a man encounters the devil and trades his soul for achieving some form of happiness. In the case of the Soldier’s Tale, the exchange involves a war weary soldier trying to return home who is then enticed by the devil to give him his violin in exchange for a book that can bring him wealth. Historically the violin has frequently been a symbol of the devil, but here it seems to symbolize both the devil and the soldier’s soul. As one would expect, things don’t turn out as the soldier had hoped when he realizes that what seemed like three days spent with the devil turns out to have been three years. Reminded of the book and its power the soldier soon learns that money does not bring happiness. After running away to a new town, he learns of a sick princess whom he tries to help by playing the violin for her. Here Stravinsky introduces series of popular dances including a waltz, tango, and ragtime. The princess recovers and she and soldier are married but the devil, who has temporarily been defeated by the soldier’s music warns the couple that they cannot leave the castle or they will once again be under his control. Of course, they attempt to return to the soldier’s village only to fall victim to the devil whose ultimate victory is expressed in the final “Triumphal March” concluding with only the sound of the percussion.

Known primarily as a composer of piano music, Louise Ferranc (1804-1875), was actually a widely respected performer, teacher, and scholar. Descended from a distinguished family of artists and musicians, she married at a young age to a fellow musician, Aristide Ferranc, who published all of her early works. Ferranc was something of a prodigy, entering the Paris Conservatory at the age of 15. Like virtually all women in the arts during the 19th century in Europe, her renown was minimized and overshadowed by men. Despite this prevailing attitude she achieve an exceptional resumé of accomplishments as a musician of her time. Ferranc was the first and only female permanent faculty member of the Paris Conservatory in the 19th century, where she taught for over 30 years. Her diverse musical interests allowed her to contribute significantly to the development of French musical history and pedagogy to a degree that belies her relatively obscure reputation. Among Louise Ferranc’s earliest and most frequently performed works is her Piano Quintet No. 1 in A minor, op. 30. Unusual in its instrumentation, Farrenc’s quintet uses the same instrumentation as Schubert’s famous “Trout” Quintet, a quartet of strings, including double bass, with piano. The work was probably composed in 1839 though not published until 1842. It is her first piece of chamber music, and it appears that she liked this particular grouping as she composed another quintet for the same ensemble shortly after this one.

The quintet, like Schubert’s “Trout” quintet, features the piano prominently, as would perhaps be expected from a composer who was a virtuoso pianist herself. The four movements of the quintet are based on the traditional classical chamber music models of Farrenc’s predecessors. It is full-blooded in its Romantic expression and drama, especially in the charged emotion of the first movement structured in a clear sonata form with opening statement of themes, development of ideas, and a restatement of the opening material. The lovely, lyrical second movement is introduced by a theme first played in the cello. This idea will recur following episodes of new material but each return highlights a different instrument, violin and the viola respectively. A dashing minor-key Scherzo followed by a more relaxed Trio makes up the lively but relatively brief third movement. The finale returns to the fervor and intensity of the opening movement. An ardent first theme is balanced by a more lyrical second idea presented in the piano. The movement overall is marked by a well-crafted balance of the members of the ensemble. ©2023 Robert S. Katz, Ph. D.