Opus 1

(Sept 2016)
schubert erlkonig
Autograph of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig (1815), The Morgan Library.

The Opus 1: A composer’s first published work. It is certainly not a composer’s first piece. Rather, it is their calling card to the world, the child designated (and distributed) to bear the name of its genitor.

What pushes this – as the pianist Glenn Gould once described them – “fragile” lot of creators from the safety of paper and ideas toward the critical eyes and ears of the public realm? For generations, composers’ works were catalogued for them. J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, W.A. Mozart, and the countless composers that pre-dated them, worked under the auspices of the Church or a patron. Their pieces were therefore collected and published, for the most part, with postmortem modesty. However, for the freelance musician (roughly from Beethoven onward), the burden of self-promotion lies squarely on their shoulders, and therefore the Op. 1 is seen as their debut into society.

The pieces on this program range from prodigious student ventures (Berg and Fauré), to grand projects (Schubert), to works birthed by the partnership of musical intelligence and commercial shrewdness (Beethoven). Still, all serve as a promising first yield in their designated plot – cultivating a new harmonic language, predicting a penchant for certain forms, acting out idiosyncrasies. For some (even fine) composers, their Op. 1 is a distorted echo they wish would fade into the canyon walls. But for these, they are heralding tones that would mark their authors as the musical prophets of their age.

Piano Sonata • Alban Berg
Erlkönig & Gretchen am Spinnrade • Franz Schubert
Le papillon et la fleur & Mai • Gabriel Fauré
Piano Trio in E-flat Major • Ludwig van Beethoven

Fri, Sept 23rd @ 8 p.m.
National Opera Center • Scorca Hall
330 Seventh Ave (betw 28th/29th)
Tickets: $20 cash only, at door

Katherine Whyte, soprano
Sean Clark, tenor
Patricia Davis, violin
Roland Gjernes, cello
Suna Chung, piano

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La Bonne Chanson

(April 2016)
Camille_Pissarro_-_Boulevard_Montmartre_-_Eremitage
Le Boulevard Montmartre, après midi, soleil (Camille Pissarro) 1897

Paris was a city under construction. Since the mid-1800s Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s vision of a cross-marked city, complete with green spaces and an expanded sewer system, was becoming a reality. The final phase of its development was interrupted by the firing of Haussmann and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). But, just as the city continued its reconstruction under the new government of the Third Republic, so too were the Arts being overhauled by ‘republics’ of their own.

In visual art, the subculture of the Anonymous Society of Painters (later called Impressionists) threatened the crusty Académie des Beaux-Arts and its darling annual Salon by hosting an exhibit of their own. In music, the Second Empire’s appetite for spectacle in opera and theatre were passed over in favour of a more serious and particularly French-faced music, thus making room for the Société Nationale de Musique. Gabriel Fauré was a founding member and Ernest Chausson served as secretary of this society that banded together with the purpose of championing French instrumental music. “Ars gallica”, versus (one might assume) Germanic, was the motto of the society.

This program features instrumental chamber music in the surprisingly rare form of the piano quintet (piano + string quartet). Though both string quartet and piano trio had been established in the Classical period in the hands of composers like W. A. Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn, the piano quintet takes root much later, the first great example being Robert Schumann’s Op. 44. The Société’s decision, therefore, to write instrumental music amounted to a foray into fields well-populated by the Viennese masters. Further encroaching on German territory is this concert’s presentation of art song. Lieder (German art song) had been practised (and perfected) since the 19th century by the likes of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms, but French art song (mélodie) was a newer endeavour. However, the combination of voice with piano quintet has no well-known precedent.

Some see the Société’s creation as an anti-Germanic reaction, others that France of the Third Republic was maturing beyond opera (who had money for such frivolity after the war anyway?), and others that it was another example of nationalism in the 19th century. Whatever the cause, the society boasted the greatest composers of its generation. And, just as their Impressionist counterparts conceived of colour and light in new ways, so are these pieces stamped in their transparency, texture, and harmonic language with a uniquely French quality. Vive la Société.

Chanson perpétuelle, Op. 37 • Ernest Chausson
La Bonne Chanson, Op. 61 • Gabriel Fauré
Piano Quintet no. 1, Op. 89 • Gabriel Fauré

Sat, April 30th @ 8 p.m.
National Opera Center • Scorca Hall
330 Seventh Ave (betw 28th/29th)
Tickets: $20 Cash only, at door

Jee-Eun Hong, soprano
Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano
Wendy Case, violin
Anna Luce, violin
William Frampton, viola
Jennifer Lee, cello
Suna Chung, piano

 

The Diary of Robert and Clara Schumann

(June 2015)Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.44.31 PM

The union of Robert and Clara Schumann was long awaited, hotly opposed, and celebrated by generations since. The two kept a joint diary for the first four years of their marriage, a weekly exchanged collection of their thoughts, business of the past week, and beyond. On the first day of their marriage, September 13, 1840, they signed a statute to keep this co-journal:

If you agree with all this, wife of my heart, then sign your name underneath mine….

I am truly your sincerely loving husband Robert, and you?

I too, your wife, Clara, who is devoted to you with her entire soul.

This program presents songs from Robert Schumann’s Myrthen, Op. 25, as well as their one cooperative compositional effort – Robert’s Op. 37 and Clara’s Op. 12. In Myrthen we find inside jokes and gems, some composed while his future with Clara was yet uncertain. Robert had this “bouquet of songs” beautifully bound and gave it to Clara as a wedding present. The act of gifting one another music became a tradition in the Schumann household, and prompted Robert’s desire that they should do something together. The result is the intertwining Op. 37/Op. 12, all which use the poems of Friedrich Rückert.

The diary provides an intimate portrait into the lives of these artists: “our wishes, our hopes shall be recorded therein…it should also be a little book of requests that we direct toward one another whenever words are insufficient”. These songs reach this same mark, where words are insufficient. Happy 175th Anniversary, dear Schumanns.

Mon, June 1st @ 7:30 p.m.

The Concert Space at Beethoven Pianos

211 W 58th Street (betw Broadway and 7th Ave)

Tickets @ door: $20 regular admission/$10 students (cash only)

Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano; Magnus Billström, baritone; and Suna Chung, piano

Voices of World War I

(Nov 2014)
Gunner Wilfred Cove's daughters, Marjorie and Betty (Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library)
Gunner Wilfred Cove’s daughters, Marjorie and Betty (Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library)

 

This Veterans Day, NYPS marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of The Great War. Voices of World War I presents songs and solo piano music from composers & poets of this time, as well as first-hand accounts of the war in the form of letters, poetry, and other writings from people trapped in this conflict.

Tues, November 11th @ 7:30 p.m.
Klavierhaus Concert Hall
119 West 56th Street (ground floor), betw 6th Ave & 7th Ave
$20 regular admission/ $10 students cash only

with Michael Kelly (baritone) and Suna Chung (pianist)

Readers: Rebekka Kehlenbrink, Stefan Stankovic, and Kelly Strandemo

Brahms, Brahms, Brahms

(May 2014)

brahms9cropped 2cropped

Brahms once responded to a singer, who planned on presenting Brahms’ entire Magelone Romanzen in a single concert (a set of 15 songs lasting some 90 mins), that “the only thing allowed to fill an entire evening’s Lieder programme by one and the same composer was Die schöne Müllerin”.  This assortment of songs and chamber music circumvents the composer’s humble injunction while upholding his taste for coherent programs.  Moreover, in his last song bouquets – groups of songs published together – Brahms favoured grouping by tessitura.  (The line that furrows its way through all of the pieces here, of course, is that extraordinary, earthy colour of the mezzo-soprano and viola.)  Thus, it is our hope that Herr Brahms would not be displeased by the collection of works presented.

Tues, May 20th, 2014 @7:30 p.m.

The Unity Center of New York City

213 West 58th Street, 10019 

Tickets at door (cash only): $20 general; $10 students

A program of songs and chamber music by Johannes Brahms.

Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano; Will Frampton, viola; Nathan Vickery, cello; Suna Chung, piano

 

Reworks

(March 2013)
Les Peupliers (1891), Claude Monet
Les Peupliers (1891), Claude Monet

Claude Monet was known to have painted the same scene many times over, whether the poplars or grainstacks of his series paintings, or the garden at Giverny, which occupied much of his later life.  Composers throughout history have also looped back and re-imagined their writing.  J.S. Bach lifted some of his own music from one work and put it into another: the B minor mass and Christmas oratorio have repurposed sections from earlier cantatas.  (He would have had a bank of cantatas to draw from as the first years of his Leipzig post required a new cantata almost every week.)  Beethoven, too, found a second life for a cantilena from his Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, in his opera Fidelio.  More than this, Beethoven considered changing the glorious, history-altering choral movement of his final symphony into a regular old instrumental movement.  (Not all edits are good ones.  Consider the loss.)

The circumstances of reframing for these composers varied.  Britten took pieces written in his youth and shared them as portraits of his past, including minor touch-ups, “…when the fumblings were too obvious [and] the experienced middle-aged composer [came] to the aid of the beginner” (Britten).  The virtuoso Rachmaninoff transmogrified his own vocal music into solo piano songs, a natural consequence of his skill.  A thwarted commission disappointed Ravel, but did not ultimately rob us of these flavourful songs (intended to be part of a larger group), which would be the last he would compose.  And Berg, is it truly possible that these Sieben frühe Lieder came from the pen of a man in his early twenties, though they remained unpublished for decades?  Whether possible or not, Berg gives us two versions of these wondrous pieces – the earlier paired the voice with a humble piano, while the 1928 publication underpins it with an orchestra, following the pattern of Mahler and Strauss.

So, if the road diverges, choose the path less travelled.  But if time and occasion allow you to retrace your steps, the other path has its own joys, to be sure.

Saturday, March 9th @ 7 p.m.

Greenwich House Music

46 Barrow Street

Tickets at door (cash only): $15 general, $10 students/seniors

A program of songs and solo piano music by Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Alban Berg.

Katherine Whyte, soprano; Sung Chung, baritone; Suna Chung, piano

Isolation, Creation, Transcendence

(Jan 2013)
La nuit étoilée (1889), Vincent van Gogh

Edvard Grieg was the musical champion of Norway, but he had few competitors. Arnold Schönberg sought to find a new aesthetic and artistic impulse, so deliberately broke away from the late-Romantic syntax of rich harmonies and flowing melodies. The poetry of Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs uses the musings of Irish medieval monks – from the odd to the profound, they bear the marks of those whose sentiment was not guided by the goal of comprehensibility. The language of Barber’s Nuvoletta which sets slivers of James Joyce’s final work Finnegans Wake (1938) is also inward-facing, written in the slippery language of the unconscious. Ludwig van Beethoven’s deafness was a misfortune made greater by the resulting crisis of identity as a musician and his withdrawal from society.

Whether by circumstance or by choice, whether separated or severed, these men performed the very human act of creating in an environment of limited human intervention. For some, this quieting of outside influences resulted in work that reached beyond their own world into another. As Friedrich Schiller’s An die Freude – used as the text in Beethoven’s last symphony – entreats us to look up and hope in something outside of our scope, perhaps it was this fading of a present light that allowed their discovery of another: Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt! Über Sternen muß er wohnen. (Seek him above the starry canopy!  He must be dwelling above the stars.)

Saturday, January 12th, 2013 @ 7 p.m.

Greenwich House Music

46 Barrow Street

Tickets @ door (cash only): $15 general, $10 students/seniors

A program of songs and solo piano music from Edvard Grieg, Arnold Schönberg, Samuel Barber, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Adrienne Pardee, soprano; Suna Chung, piano