Julia Hamos, piano
July 28, 2021
Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts
David Schwan, host
Clara Schumann – Romance No. 1 in E-flat minor, Op. 11 (8′)
Frédéric Chopin – Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47 (9′)
Maurice Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit, M. 55 (26′)
II. Le Gibet
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Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Romance No. 1 in E-flat minor, Op. 11 (1839) (8′)
“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose – there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?” – Clara Schumann
The formidable Clara Schumann broke glass ceilings in the 19th century as a leading lady of both pianism and composition. A prodigy, scrutinized and disciplined by her father, she quickly reached such brilliant virtuosic and artistic heights that the European public could look past the fact that she was a woman, one anonymous critic stating, “the appearance of this artist can be regarded as epoch-making.” Composition seemed as vital to her music-making as her own playing–at 11, in 1830, she made her debut in the Leipzig Gewandhaus including her Variations on an Original Theme. What followed was an outpouring of pieces, notably the Piano Concerto in A minor. Praised by colleagues such as Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt, she was perhaps most symbiotic but also in direct challenge with her partner Robert in music itself, as he said in a letter, “You complete me as a composer, as I do you.” The well-known battle between Clara’s father and the two musicians in love intensified in the late 1830s. Written on tour in Paris in 1839, Clara dedicated her Piano Romances, Op. 11 to Robert. As traditional romantic-era character pieces, No. 1 in E-flat minor unfolds in lyricism, modulating in creative and original turns to A Major and D-flat Major in its middle section, returning to its barcarolle-like theme and draws to a close with vulnerable, vocal phrases.
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47 (1841) (9′)
Chopin’s four ballades stand as a hallmark of his creative output. Written in 1841, the third Ballade in A-flat Major emerges in contrast to the other three for its more positive, bright mood, enhanced by its Allegretto tempo marking. At the time of composition, Chopin was in Nohant, spending the summer holidays with his partner George Sand. Perhaps this atmosphere called to mind the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz’s poem entitled “Undine,” or “Ondine,” about love and seduction between a water nymph and a man, upon which this Ballade may be based. It remains clear that Chopin wanted his audiences to draw upon their own narratives listening to the Ballades. Its opening ascends melodically and stepwise, evoking a feeling of opening a fairy tale book, while its darker second theme goes the other way, going down stepwise, foreboding, and leads to a dramatic turn of events that then, slowly and with determination, culminates in the return of the first theme in ecstasy and heroism. Playing this piece feels like turning one page after another in a fantastical story, whatever it may be.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la nuit, M. 55 (1908) (26′)
Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit takes its shape from three poems from Aloysius Bertrand’s collection bearing the same title. The pianist Ricardo Vines, who eventually premiered the work, introduced Ravel to Bertrand’s poems. Ravel immediately became curious about the work for its self-proclaimed “two antithetical faces.” Indeed, one can count more than two faces in the work. Ondine, perhaps the same mythical creature as the one in Mickiewicz’s imagination, murmurs, shivers, sings, swims, all in a dangerous attempt to seduce an unavailable mortal man. Le Gibet haunts and hypnotizes with its ostinato B-flats, the interminable toll of a church bell in the distance mourning a hanged man, or in fact the swing in the wind of the hanged man. And Scarbo is an achievement to play, as Ravel somewhat-creully wanted to make pianists suffer more than they do in Balakirev’s Islamey. The spirit of Scarbo is a tiny devil getting under every nerve possible. Any fear is exacerbated until Scarbo finally, ideally, takes over, taking both performer and audience on an almost impossibly wild and thrilling ride.
Program Notes by Julia Hamos
Don’t miss the Grant Park Music Festival’s Project Inclusion String Fellows next week on the
Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts!
Wednesday August 4, 12:15pm