Handel-Halvorsen - Passacaglia for Violin and Cello in G Minor

Johan Halvorsen was a prominent figure in Norwegian musical life at the end of the 19th century. While most of us are unaware that Norway might have a strong musical scene, let alone one that might create a “prominent figure,” this duo by Halversen, one of his best known works, certainly shows that Norway was doing something right. Based on a theme of Handel, this piece was originally written for violin and viola (Halvorsen was a wise man and knew what instruments to feature in compositions). Some less intelligent souls decided that violists couldn’t handel the pressure of the Passacaglia and arranged it for violin and cello. It still sounds pretty good.

As a side note, one of Halvorsen’s other well known pieces is called Bergensiana; it is a set of variations for orchestra on the popular Bergen melody "I Took Up My Newly Tuned Zither." Really, Halvorsen?


Schoenberg - Transfigured Night, Op. 4.

Transfigured Night (Verklärte Nacht) is considered Schoenberg’s earliest important composition. Don’t recoil at the idea of hearing an atonal mess, however – Transfigured Night is a beautiful work that often surprises listeners with its accessibility (unlike Schoenberg’s later works which are noted for their impenetrability). Though often making the piece more enjoyable for audience members, it can be troubling to players who find that they can no longer hide their mistakes behind the thin veil of atonality (“It doesn’t even sound right when I play it right so no one will notice….right??”). We play every note right. Always.

This sextet is based on a poem of the same name by Richard Dehmel (translation below). Schoenberg divides the single-movement piece into five sections which correspond to the five stanzas of the poem: a cold, barren forest with two figures, the self-loathing words of a woman speaking to her lover, a brief return to the forest, comforting words of the man, and, finally, a return to the wood, transfiguration complete. Note the length and frequency of mute use: very angsty.

Two People are walking through the bare, cold grove;

the moon accompanies them, they gaze at it. The moon courses above the

high oaks; not a cloud obscures the light of heaven, into which the black

treetops reach. A woman’s voice speaks:

I am carrying a child, and not of yours;

I walk in sin beside you.

I have deeply transgressed against myself.

I no longer believed in happiness

and yet had a great yearning

for purposeful life, for the happiness

and responsibility of motherhood; so I dared

and, shuddering, let my body

be embraced by a strange man,

and have become pregnant from it.

Now life has taken its revenge,

now that I have met you.

She walks with awkward step.

She looks up: the moon accompanies them.

Her dark glance is inundated with light.

A man's voice speaks:

Let the child you have conceived

be no burden to your soul.

see, how brightly the universe gleams!

There is a radiance on everything;

you drift with me on a cold sea,

but a special warmth flickers

from you to me, from me to you.

This will transfigure the other’s child;

you will bear it for me, from me;

you have brought radiance on me,

you have made me a child myself.

He clasps her round her strong hips.

Their breath mingles in the breeze.

Two people go through the tall, clear night.

(Translation:1992 Lionel Salter)

W.A. Mozart - String Quartet in D major, K. 155

Once more, Brattle takes you back in time when Mozart was 16 years old composing music in the key of D (see Brattle 11/12/06 program notes). As one of Mozart’s early quartets and clocking in at a whopping nine and a half minutes, there is not too much independent information on this quartet. However, we do know that Mozart wrote this quartet in October 1772, possibly while staying at the Sun Inn in Bolanzo, Italy. Thank you, European Mozart Ways Member Guide (and Google.com, future employer of Jenn Chang) for providing this kernel of knowledge!! A typical (but it’s Mozart, so, really, what is typical?) early Mozartian foray into the quartet genre, jazzed up by replacing the cello part with bass – our idea, not Mozart’s. Have fun.

Mendelssohn Octet

Yet another composition by a 16-year-old prodigy. And yet another piece that, at one point, had double basses inserted into it (courtesy of Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1947). This octet, written for double string quartet, evokes an almost symphonic sound within a chamber setting. Given the number of instruments, there are always enough players to have a melody, one or two countermelodies or supporting lines, with plenty of room left over for orchestral rhythmic figures or colorings.

Mendelssohn considered this piece one of his favorite works and was quoted as saying that he had a “lovely time writing it.” This is an immensely popular chamber work. Because of the size of the ensemble and the breadth of love for this rollicking composition, it is particularly popular for musicians to get together and sight-read the piece on occasions where eight or more string players happen to be gathered. As a result, many a butchered, ridiculous rendition of this piece occurs. This is not one of them.