Into the arms of keyboards
My third concert presents three different instrumental combinations, each having a keyboard instrument in the core of the ensemble sound. Next to the harpsichord and piano, the double bass takes on the role of a fundamental colorist, even though, in the first two compositions the double bass operates octaves above its basic sound range which is used the piano quintet.
Henri Dutilleux (1916 – 2013): Diptyque: "Les Citations"
Les Citations by Henri Duteilleux is an unusual study of the ensemble sound world. It also has an exceptionally long gestation history; Dutilleux composed the work step- by-step, movement-by- movement. The first movement which in effect is the first version was composed in 1985 for the Aldeburgh Festival in Britain, where Dutilleux was the composer-in-residence.
The composition is dedicated to the tenor Peter Pears for his 75th birthday. Pears was hosting the festival with his companion Benjamin Britten, the composer of Peter Grimes and naturally the original leading tenor of the opera got a citation in the new work. The oboe presents the motif of the first-act aria: "Now the Great Bear and the Pleiades, where earth moves, are drawing up the clouds of human grief. Breathing solemnity in the deep night." The original instrumentation of the one-movement work consisted of oboe, harpsichord and percussion.
Soon after the premiere, the composer recalled his composition, but returned to it in 1990. Dutilleux added another movement to the work as well as a double bass into the instrumentation. The new two-movement version was now characterized as a diptych and the two new citations generated a new title, Les Citation.
In the first movement the large cadenzas by the oboe and harpsichord are gradually spun into the sound web of the double bass and percussion. The quoted material in the second movement is partly nested; first, Dutilleux presents a theme by Clément Janequin (1485 – 1558), which in turn lies within the citation of Jehan Alain's (1911 – 1940) variation work.
Typical of his generation of composers, Dutilleux mainly refuses to use the basic sound range of the bass but, in addition to the mandatory harmonics, demands the bass player to reach for the very high end of the fingerboard. Although the composer flirts with serialism and uses very rare consonant harmonies, the composition manages to create a uniquely beautiful sound world. The joint effect of the instruments and their different combinations paint a very rich color palette.
After deciding on the program for this concert, I found out that Dutilleux had composed yet another movement for the work in 2010. Unfortunately, we could not add the new movement to this performance; this version is from 1991.
Paul Hindemith (1895 - 1963): Sonata for double bass and piano
There have been various tries to label Paul Hindemith and his music. Much of his career took place in National Socialist Germany, which provided a rich soil for speculation about his political views and led to underrating his work. A versatile instrumentalist, composer, pedagogue and theoretician was an easy target for categorization.
Critics who have saddled Hindemith's music with the term "Gebrauchsmusik"- "Music for use" (Music composed for social or pedagogical purposes) could not have seen the world through the eyes of viola players, bass trombonists or double bass players. The "Music for use" filled a serious need. Not many musicians or music theorists have understood the true value of a real composer's real sonata for an instrument whose solo repertoire is only a fraction of that for the piano or violin.
The title of this work could as well be Sonata for Piano and Double Bass. Although the composer shows his profound knowledge of the double bass and uses the complete practical sound range of the instrument to the benefit of the thematic material, the piano decisively dominates the piece. The main task of the double bass is to define the overall sound world of the instrumental combination. Nevertheless, the skillful composer made the task interesting and rewarding.
The opening movement follows the traditional sonata form in an admirably compact way. The second movement, a scherzo lets the pianist reveal his expertise. At the heart of the sonata lie the variation series of the third movement, in which the instrumental responsibility is divided rather evenly between piano and bass. A recitative forms a bridge to the last movement, a naïve but hopeful ditty.
A little bit of the history continuum: My Italian double bass professor, Franco Petracchi (b.1937) played the sonata to the composer as a young student.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958): Piano Quintet in C minor (1903)
by Folke Gräsbeck
When Ralph Vaughan Williams composed his Piano Quintet, he was no longer a young man, although the quintet is numbered among his early works. Vaughan Williams developed rather slowly as a composer, but eventually he created the most outstanding symphony cycle in Britain and continued to work actively way after his seventieth birthday. He composed the nine symphonies between the years 1910 and 1958.
Obviously dissatisfied Vaughan Williams recalled and hid quite a few of his early compositions. Luckily, he did not destroy them. Later his widow Ursula, granted individual licenses for performances and gave permission to publish certain works, including the Piano Quintet. After the composer withdrew the work in 1918 it remained unperformed until 1999. Yet, Vaughan Williams did recycle the melodies of the quintet in his Violin Sonata in 1954.
Ralph Vaughan Williams was also very interested in English Tudor music and gathered some 800 folk tunes from the period for his well-known folksong collections.
The ensemble owes its instrumentation obviously to Schubert's Die Forelle. However, the structure of the piece consists only of three movements, a plan also followed by Edward Elgar in his own Piano Quintet op. 84 (1918).
The opening movement Allegro con fuoco follows strongly a late romantic style in ¾ time. It contains several surprising contrasts, for example, the Andante sostenuto passage in Aeolian C- sharp minor/E major. A partly dotted, stoutly accentuated motif returns in each movement, serving as a motto for the complete composition. The gentle, atmospheric Andante movement in E-flat major contains turbulent animando passages. In the finale, Fantasia (quasi variazioni) the composer works further on the dotted basic motif in C major, but returns to ¾ time in a festive mood, also agitated by descending scales in the coda.