Santa Barbara Music Club

Ave Maria and Martinu

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Saturday, May 4, 2019
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

First United Methodist Church

This afternoon’s roster features the Wenzel Pichl Duo No. 1 in C Major performed by violist Ray Tischer and cellist Jeannot Maha’a. Next, soprano Takako Wakita and pianist Betty Oberacker perform three nineteenth-century settings of the “Ave Maria” text by Charles Gounod, Luigi Luzzi, and Pietro Mascagni, concluded by the famous “Song to the Moon” from Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka. Finally, flautist Suzanne Duffy and pianist Kacey Link present Braunstein’s instrumental arrangement of “Lensky’s Aria” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and conclude with the Sonata for Flute and Piano, H. 306 by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. This concert will be held at First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara. Admission is free.

The Czech composer Wenzel Pichl (1741 – 1805) rubbed shoulders with many fellow composers and patrons in both the Viennese and Eastern European landscapes of the late-eighteenth century. In addition to composing predominantly instrumental music – symphonic, chamber, and solo pieces – he also played the violin, was involved in music theater, and often took jobs copying symphonies of Haydn, Dittersdorf, and Gassmann. In addition, like Haydn, Pichl worked for a time for the Esterházy family. It may come as no surprise, then, that Pichl’s music has an elegance and formal transparency like that of his more well-known contemporaries. This afternoon, violist Ray Tischer and cellist Jeannot Maha’a showcase the versatility of Pichl’s instrumental writing with the Duo No. 1 in C Major. Pichl’s music plays with convention as he imbues into this duet procedures one would normally hear in the concerto. Finally, Pichl balances well the clarity of a galant melodic line with Italianate virtuosic string writing.

Soprano Takako Wakita and pianist Betty Oberacker demonstrate how various composers of the nineteenth century treated the Marian text Ave Maria. The first is by Luigi Luzzi  (1827 – 1878), who, unlike the following two, did not use pre-existing music. While known primarily throughout his life as a composer of melodrama and opera, his setting of Ave Maria consists of ultra-Romantic harmonies supporting a vocal line one might mistake for an aria, as opposed to a liturgical text. The next piece enjoys the reputation as one of the two most popular settings of the text in Western music. When people think of Ave Maria, chances are they think either of the piece by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) or by Charles Gounod (1818 – 1893). The latter shows the composer’s adopting the melody of J.S. Bach’s C-major prelude of the Well Tempered Clavier, Book I. Gounod composes a placid, lyrical melody over the constantly moving notes of the accompaniment. The last setting is an arrangement by Piero Mazzoni of Pietro Mascagni’s (1863-1945) beloved “Intermezzo” from Cavalleria Rusticana. While the first two settings emerge from the Italian High Romanticism, the last one indicates the Romantic movement in decline with Italian verismo (or “realism”). This may explain in part why the “Intermezzo” music supporting the Marian text has a twinge of sadness or melancholy.

The final vocal piece on this afternoon’s program enjoys prestige as one of the most memorable arias in the repertoire, “Song to the Moon” from the opera Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). The opera itself comes from a Czech supernatural fairy tale, which represents the polar opposite of the liturgical Ave Maria text. Rusalka, the water nymph, wants to be human because she has fallen in love with a prince. This aria occurs when she asks the moon to reveal her love for the prince.

The other opera represented in today’s program is the 1879 Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893). Although it took some years to gain affection among audiences outside its native Russia, Eugene Onegin today occupies a place in the standard opera repertory. The opera, based on the verse novel by Alexander Pushkin, is more or less a study in emptiness and remorse. For example, the characters of Onegin and Lensky are best friends. Through a series of unfortunate events – Lensky inviting Onegin to a party under false pretenses, and Onegin exacting revenge by advancing on Lensky’s love Olga – the two characters are embroiled in a gun duel. “Lensky’s Aria,” arranged for flute and piano by Guy Braunstein, adapts the eponymous character’s moment of reflection before the duel with Onegin. He resigns himself to the likelihood of dying and the bitterness of never again seeing his beloved Olga. This afternoon flautist Suzanne Duffy and pianist Kacey Link relay in kind the melancholy and remorse of the aria, so typical of the ultra-realism Tchaikovsky imbued into his operas.

Duffy and Link conclude this afternoon’s program with the evocative Sonata for Flute and Piano, H. 306 by the modern-classical Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů (1890 – 1959). It may or may not come as evident to listeners that Martinů composed the work while in exile. The composer, living in France, fled the country after its occupation by Nazi Germany in 1941, and he settled for some years along the Northeast Coast of the USA – New York City to be exact. While in the states, Martinů composed most of his symphonic music, along with some notable chamber music. He composed the flute and piano sonata around the time he finished his Fourth Symphony, and his Czech Rhapsody in the summer of 1945, which was around the time he visited Cape Cod. As regards his musical style, scholars have documented his adoption of Stravinsky-ian neoclassicism with respect to formal organization. Others have noted Martinů’s sound as a cross between that of Bartok and Prokofiev, respectively the commixture of native folk melodies with pan-tonal harmony.

Image: Bohuslav Martinů