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2021 PROGRAM NOTES

PROGRAM NOTES for the individual concerts are posted here as they become available.

SHANGHAI QUARTET
performing a virtual concert May 16, 2021–May 23, 2021

Hailed as one of the foremost chamber ensembles world-wide, the Shanghai Quartet was formed thirty-seven years ago at the Shanghai Conservatory.  The group came to the United States to complete its studies and has continued to be based in the U.S. since then with a residency since 2002 at the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University.  The ensemble also holds residencies at the Tianjin Julliard School and with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

 

Performing widely both in the United States and abroad, recent venues have included Carnegie Hall, the Festival Pablo Casals in France, Wigmore Hall, the Budapest Spring Festival, and concert halls throughout China.  The Shanghai’s discography includes more than thirty recordings.  Their collaborations with fellow artists include among others the Tokyo, Julliard and Guarneri Quartets and soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, Menahem Pressler, Peter Serkin and pipa virtuoso, Wu Man.

The Shanghai Quartet has commissioned any number of works from contemporary composers and has particular interest in compositions that juxtapose Eastern and Western music.  

 

There is a personal connection to the central New York community in that cellist Nicholas Tzavaras’s mother hails from Rome, New York! 

 

The Shanghai Quartet will perform LIVE for the CMSU audience on 09 January 2022.

 

 

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)                                   Crisantemi (Chyrsanthemums) (1890)

 

Puccini came from a family of musicians in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. His great-great grandfather (also named Giacomo) was the Maestro di Cappella and organist at St. Martin’s Cathedral there from 1739 until 1772, composing music for all manner of events both sacred and secular. Antonio Puccini succeeded him, working in much the same capacities, followed by Domenico Puccini who composed sacred music and a number of operas. Michele Puccini wrote mostly sacred music, composing only two operas of which one is partially extant. The younger Giacomo might have become the fifth generation in this patrilineage but for his decision to concentrate on opera.

 

Crisantemi is one of Puccini’s very few nonoperatic compositions.  an elegy on the death of his friend Amadeo di Savoia, Duke of Aosta , King of Spain. Often played as a memorial either by a string quartet or string orchestra, it is a beautifully poignant Andante Mesto movement in ABA form, opening with a notable chromatic motif in contrary motion. Puccini incorporated some of its melodies into his first successful opera Manon Lescaut, as he did with his two early minuets for string quartet. 

 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)                    String Quartet Op 59 No 2 in e (1805-6)

I   Allegro                                                        III   Allegretto

II  Molto Adagio                                            IV   Finale: Presto

 

Count Razumovsky was the Russian ambassador to Austria in Vienna, an amateur violinist and music patron who enjoyed assembling musicians in his residence to play chamber music, especially of Haydn and Mozart.  He brought together and funded the first professional string quartet, the Schuppanzigh Quartet, the group that premiered nearly all of Beethoven's quartets. Razumovsky commissioned the three opus 59 quartets with the request that each should contain a Russian theme. Beethoven dedicated the quartets to him; hence they are called the Razumovsky quartets.

 

Beethoven’s earlier opus 18 quartets adhered to classical norms and were generally well received.  By opus 59 Beethoven had been exploiting newer ways of expression and construction.  These later quartets were met with perplexity more than dislike, people found them challenging. It is said that when the Schuppanzigh quartet first read through opus 59 no.1 they reacted with laughter, thinking that Beethoven was playing an elaborate joke on them.

The Allegro of opus 59 No.2 is an example of motivic construction used to create a spontaneous, almost improvisatory character. The technique encompasses extremes without losing coherence.  All the material is related to the initial cells – two declamatory chords, an empty measure, a rising eighth-note arpeggio, falling sixteenth-notes, another silence, a transposition a half-step higher. These are spun out to create a dynamic exposition that in classical terms is more like a development section.  Yet the movement is overall still a sonata-allegro with an extended development section, recapitulation and coda.

 

In the Molto Adagio continuity and depth of expression are the objective.  The notes of the slow hymn- like beginning provide a kind of “cantus firmus” supporting a series of melodies at first rhythmic, then florid, then ever more melismatic. Inspired by a night sky and contemplation of the “music of the spheres”, it is a work of great serenity, nobility and otherworldliness. Beethoven added an explicit instruction after the tempo indication to play the piece with great feeling.

 

The Russian folk tune makes its appearance in the trio section of the Allegretto third movement, after a scherzo-like first part. It is “Glory to the Sun”, the same tune later used by Mussorgsky in the coronation scene from his opera Boris Godunov. Beethoven rather puckishly presents it as the subject of a contrapuntal exercise, such as a student might be required to write. All goes swimmingly until the canonic imitation gets a little too close, resulting in a brief ridiculous sounding pile- up just before the section concludes.  As if to ensure no one misses this little joke (?) Beethoven directs that the trio be played again by making the movement a five-part ABABA rather than the usual ABA form.

 

The Finale has no pretentions to be anything but a show piece designed to make an audience stand up and cheer. It begins with a martial equestrian theme on the first violin accompanied by snappish dotted rhythms. This tune is repeated four times, followed by two transitional passages to a slower second theme in simple quarter notes.  The main theme returns after a lightning-fast exchange of eighth notes, this time with elaborations so all can have their moments of ferocious virtuosity.  A reprise of the second theme then transitions to the final round -- the main theme, a coda, and piu presto ending.

Notes by Raymond Zoeckler Information from the New Grove Dictionary, Harvard Dictionary, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary, Wikipedia, YouTube