ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Hailed by The New Yorker as “destined for great things,” when the members of the Horszowski Trio (Hor-SHOV-ski) played together for the first time, they immediately felt the spark of a unique connection. Many years of close friendship between the players — Jesse Mills, Raman Ramakrishnan, and Rieko Aizawa —created a deep trust, which in turn led to exhilarating expressive freedom.
Two-time Grammy-nominated violinist Jesse Mills first performed with Raman Ramakrishnan, founding cellist of the prize-winning Daedalus Quartet, at the Kinhaven Music School over twenty years ago, when they were children. In New York City, they met pianist Rieko Aizawa, who, upon being discovered by the late violinist and conductor Alexander Schneider, had made her US debuts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Their musical bonds were strengthened at various schools and festivals around the world, including the Juilliard School and the Marlboro Festival.
Ms. Aizawa was the last pupil of the legendary pianist Mieczysław Horszowski (1892-1993) at the Curtis Institute. The Trio takes inspiration from Horszowski’s musicianship, integrity, and humanity. Like Horszowski, the Trio presents repertoire spanning the traditional and the contemporary. In addition, they seek to perform works from the trove of composers with whom Horszowski had personal contact, such as Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Bohuslav Martinů, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Enrique Granados.
The Trio’s 2012-2013 engagements included the People’s Symphony and New School Concerts series in New York, the Phillips Collection in Washington, the La Jolla Athenaeum, the Friends of Chamber Music in Troy and Fullerton, the University of Texas, the Bard and Cooperstown festivals, Bargemusic in Brooklyn, and several concerts in India.
The 2013-2014 season included debut performances in Japan and Hong Kong. Engagements in the United States included Chicago’s Dame Myra Hess Series; the Friends of Chamber Music in Kansas City; the Chamber Music Societies of Melbourne, FL, and Yellow Springs, OH; Music in Deerfield, MA; and a residency for Pro Musica in Joplin, MO.
Some of the 2014-2015 season’s highlights included return engagements at the Bard Festival and the Friends of Chamber Music of Troy; and prestigious chamber music societies across the country, from upstate New York to Las Vegas, NV. Electric Earth Concerts, a festival in New Hampshire, commissioned a new work for the Horszowski; Eric Moe’s Welcome To Phase Space was premiered in June 2014.
Their debut recording, an album of works by Fauré, Saint-Saëns, and D’Indy — all composers Mieczysław Horszowski knew personally — was released by Bridge Records in the fall of 2014. They have also recorded Joan Tower’s For Daniel for a series of recordings celebrating the composer’s seventy-fifth birthday.
Based in New York City, the members of the Horszowski Trio teach at Columbia University and the Longy School of Music of Bard College.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Robert Schumann went through cycles of great creativity, often in specific genres. In 1840, the year he married the renowned pianist Clara Wieck, he concentrated on songs, producing one hundred eighty-six in a single year. The following year was devoted to orchestral works, with two symphonies, an orchestral overture, and a piano concerto. Switching genres once again, he spent the next few years working on chamber music, including the Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80.
Schumann was the ultimate Romantic composer, and his small forms—lieder, keyboard fantasies, and collections of miniatures—were his best means of expressing the floods of feelings that welled up inside him. He studied the music of Johann Sebastian Bach at length. Like Bach, Schumann based his written music on the free flow of ideas that came to him while extemporizing. Although they compose in very different musical idioms, both Bach and Schumann use a wide range of textures and techniques within a small work. Schumann also used melodic imitation or echoing, a form of Baroque-style counterpoint.
In the Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80, as in many of his works, Schumann marked his movements in German rather than the customary Italian—perhaps in a nationalistic spirit, perhaps because he felt his native language expressed his feelings more precisely. The opening movement (Sehr lebhaft: Very lively) is in 6/8 time, an unusual metrical choice for a first movement, one that expresses an upbeat quality that is both march-like and dancing. A second theme provides lyrical contrast, with instruments imitating each other’s lines in an interwoven texture.
The slow second movement (Mit innigem Ausdruck: With intimate affection) begins in an unexpected, unrelated key (D-flat major) with a gentle song. In keeping with his miniaturist tendencies, Schumann explores many different textures and moods, while maintaining the mellifluous feeling throughout.
In the third movement (In mässiger Bewegung: Moderate tempo), Schumann again sets the instruments in imitative dialogue with each other, with one answering the other’s questions. He also once again puts the movement in an unusual key, here B-flat minor, moving to F minor. The coda continues the contrapuntal quality.
We finally return to the home key of F major for the last movement (Nicht zu Rasch: Not too quickly). The interweaving of parts continues, as does the improvisatory feeling, but instead of the gentle legato playing, here each note is clearly defined in marcato or staccato separation.
Joan Tower was born in New Rochelle, but spent much of her childhood in South America, where her father worked as a mining engineer. She returned to the United States and earned a doctorate in composition from Columbia. She founded and played piano with the award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players. She was appointed composer-in-residence with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and now serves as the Asher Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College. Tower has been honored with the highest awards, including a Naumburg, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Grawemeyer, and the Delaware Symphony’s Alfred I. DuPont Award for Distinguished American Composers, as well as membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has been the subject of television documentaries on PBS’s WGBH television station in Boston, on the CBS network program, Sunday Morning, and MJW Productions in England.
For Daniel is dedicated to Tower’s nephew, Daniel MacArthur, who passed away in 2003 after a long illness. The composer writes: “The seventeen-minute work tries to convey the imagined struggles associated with someone who is facing a long-term terminal illness. The hopes, joys, depression, anger, deep turmoil, and occasional serenity are in constant juxtaposition in this work, as they were throughout the last years of Daniel’s life. As the end approaches, so does the intensity. In my work, the intensity is loud and fast. Maybe Daniel’s approach was more accepting. May he now rest in peace.”
Beethoven did for the piano trio what Haydn did for the string quartet—he gave the instruments greater independence and the genre itself greater status. This was possible in part because of improvements in the design of pianos, so that they did not require the support of an accompanying cello bass line or a violin to double the top melody. In the Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97, the “Archduke,” each of the three instruments maintains its position as an essential piece of the overall texture. This work, considered by many to be the finest example of its kind, gets its name from its dedicatee, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, a good friend, pupil, and patron of the composer.
The Allegro moderato opens with a broad theme that has become so famous that it can be downloaded as a ringtone for a cell phone. After its introduction by the piano and further exposition by the violin and cello, the theme is immediately subjected to Beethovenian development and transposition. The second theme adds a staccato bounce to the generally legato movement. In addition to the motivic fragmentation of which Beethoven was so fond, the complete theme recurs many times, providing a unifying element.
Before Beethoven, piano trios were usually just three movements in length. Beethoven added the Scherzo, making it not just a longer form but also a more serious piece of music, emulating the form of the string quartet or the symphony. Nonetheless, a scherzo is not a serious movement—scherzo means “joke” in Italian. The lighthearted tune is played by the cello and answered by the violin, then played in full by the piano with pizzicato (plucked) strings accompanying. In the central trio, we hear intimations of Beethoven’s future chromatically intense compositions. As usual, the cheerful scherzo tune returns, and a brief but dramatic coda ends the movement.
Legend has it that Beethoven wrote the slow movement (Andante cantabile) for his mysterious “immortal beloved.” This theme and variations is in a new key (D major). After the piano plays the songlike theme with simple doubling help from the strings, Beethoven introduces variations that explore the melody from different angles—texture (which instruments are playing at a given moment), motion (fast runs, long held notes, staccato or legato playing), tempo (relaxed or bright), special effects (triplets, tremolo, arpeggios), and even harmony, when the final variation dips briefly into the minor mode and shows us another potential treatment. The coda brings the instruments together for a moment of peace, and a quick key change back to B-flat for the finale.
The finale (Allegro moderato) is a rondo (ABACADA), with a lively rondo theme punctuating episodes that range from mysterious to thundering but are virtuosic throughout. Once again, a coda brings the piece together, this time with an exciting flourish.
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at email@example.com.
Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg