Santa Barbara Music Club

Holiday Concert

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Saturday, December 19, 2015
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

First United Methodist Church

Program Summary

Works for Two Pianos

  • Darius Milhaud: Scaramouche
    Bridget Hough, piano
    Christopher Davis, piano
  • Brahms: Sonata in F minor, Op. 34b
    Betty Oberacker, piano
    Eric Valinsky, piano

Notes on the Program

by Betty Oberacker

One of the highlights of Santa Barbara Music Club’s concerts is the opportunity for audiences to hear great music from a variety of historical periods, with a diversity of musical forms, performed by excellent artists. This concert features music for two pianos from the Romantic and Contemporary periods.

The program opens with pianists Bridget Hough and Christopher Davis performing the ebullient Scaramouche, Op. 165b by Darius Milhaud. The suite’s title is not taken from the fictional character created by Rafael Sabatini, but from the Theâtre Scaramouche, headed by Henri Pascar, which specialized in productions aimed at children and for which the composer had contributed music for Moliére’s Le medécin volant (The Flying Doctor). Responding to a request from Milhaud’s pianist friends Marguerite Long and Marcelle Meyer to compose a work for them to perform at the 1937 Paris Exposition, he recycled parts of Le medécin volant to form the outer movements of the suite (Vif and Brazileira-Mouvement de Samba), then extracted part of a piece he had written for Jules Superville’s 1936 play Bolivar for the middle movement (Modéré).

As it turned out, Scaramouche became so popular that Milhaud was pressured to create numerous arrangements for publishers, and the effervescent vitality and charm of the music has made it an audience favorite and one of the mainstays of the piano duo repertoire.

Pianists Betty Oberacker and Eric Valinsky conclude the program with one of Johannes Brahms’ most magnificent – yet seldom performed – creations: the Sonata in F minor, Op. 34b. Interestingly, Brahms had originally formulated the work for string quintet, but then destroyed that score after converting it to this two-piano format and giving the premiere performance with the virtuoso pianist Carl Tausig. He subsequently arranged the two-piano score for the version in which it is now known, his Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (but with this this history notwithstanding, the two-piano version is typically considered an arrangement of the Piano Quintet, and is even listed as such on the title page of the two-piano score!).

The sonata’s four movements comprise a compendium of not only Brahms’ incredible romantic beauty and compositional mastery, but a massive structure of symphonic scope: from the secure assurance of the exciting “Allegro non troppo” through the velvet texture and yearning melodic passion of the “Andante, un poco adagio,” through the wild syncopation and relentless brooding of the “Scherzo: Allegro,” through to the mysterious introduction bursting into the triumphant outburst of the Hungarian-inspired “Finale: Poco sostenuto-Allegro non troppo” we experience a singularly powerful affirmation, a dark, mighty work of tremendous substance and import.