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Four Songs for soprano, flute, harp and guitar by Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky's Four Songs for voice, flute, harp, and guitar are instrumentations, made in 19531954, of two songs each from two sets of Russian songs for voice and piano. The first two songs are from Four Russian Songs, written in 1918-1919, and the final two are from Three Tales for Children, from the years 1915-1917.

Though the songs divide historically into two groups of two, they are more easily divided by feeling and atmosphere into a group of three songs and a single contrasting song.  The first, third, and fourth are nonsense songs, while the second is a religious song a spiritual of one of the Russian sects. For this second song the instrumentation for flute, guitar and harp is less an arrangement than a return to the original.  Stravinsky had first written this song with an accompaniment for flute and cimbalom; it's the voice-and-piano version that is the more of an "arrangement."

The song itself is remarkable: beginning with an incantatory description of snowstorms which block the way to the kingdom of God, it shifts midway to a litany of praise in the traditional words of the Russian liturgy ("To God the glory, to Christ the omnipotence ").  Music matches text; obsessive, ritualistic, trancelike throughout, the music of those who would face death and exile rather than lay their religion down.

The other three songs are utterly different but equally Russian: they're nonsense songs about the adventures of anthropomorphic animals.  There's a long tradition of such songs in Russia: in Boris Godunov the Innkeeper's silly song about the drake is such a song, as are the songs the Nurse and the Tsarevich sing to cheer up Boris' daughter.

The first of Stravinsky's songs is, in fact also about a drake; this time the drake is being advised to go home to its family.  The third song (the second song, of course, being the spiritual), concerns a group of wildfowl who decide to was the local insect population. (The insects are, predictably, not grateful for this exercise in social uplift: Robert Craft's hilarious singing translation ends with their declaration "Mon Dieu! I've had enough of bathing.")

The final song, Tilim-Bom, is a true children's book in song, with the animals of the barnyard goat, cat hen, rooster, and some unnamed supernumeraries joining together to put out a fire in Mrs. Goat's goat-shed.  The word Tilim-bom, by the way, is a refrain.  You'll hear it five times in the song; four times as a call to the animals to rescue the goat-shed, the fourth time as a cry of victory the fire is out, Mother Goat and her kids are safe.

Wayne Shirley

Sonata for Guitar and Piano by Charles Wuorinen

Sonata for Guitar and Piano was written for William Anderson and Joan Forsyth in 1995.  This combination of instruments was not uncommon in the early 19th century when pianos had a more delicate sound, one that was less likely than that of modern pianos to overpower the notoriously intimate guitar.  Mr. Wuorinen's Sonata does the seemingly impossible by balancing the guitar and piano through ingenious use of register.  Also built into the piece are opportunities for the pianist to explore the upper limits of the piano's volume in short solo bursts which serve to release accumulated tension.

William Anderson

American composer, teacher and performer Charles Wuorinen's many honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Pulitzer Prize.  His compositions include works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, soloists, ballet and stage.  Recent works include Symphony Seven, the triptych The Mission of Virgil, The Great Procession, and The River of Light for the New York City Ballet, Piano Quintet for Ursula Oppens and the Arditti Quartet, Percussion Quartet, and the Sonata for Guitar and Piano on tonight's program.  He is presently at work on an opera with poet James Fenton based on a novel of Salman Rushdie. Wuorinen has lectured at universities throughout the United States and abroad, and has served on the faculties of Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities, the University of Iowa, University of California (San Diego), Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, State University of New York at Buffalo, and is presently Professor of Composition at Rutgers University.

Reflections by Dina Koston

The composer writes: 
The two meanings of the word "reflection" are encompassed by this work. In the first part we "reflect" on the musical ideas presented at the beginning.   After an interlude made entirely of percussive sounds, the second part agitated is formed by related sound patterns "reflected" in different registers.

Reflections was written for William Anderson, who taught me much about the guitar.  An additional source is the relationship of the guitar to the contrabass: the four lowest strings of the guitar--E, A, D, G--are the same as the bass strings, one octave higher.  In 1995, I wrote a work for left-hand piano, contrabass and drums, Trio basso, and Reflections is related to it, with some identical chordal passages, punctuated by percussive sounds.

Dina Koston is the co-founder with Leon Fleisher of the Theater Chamber Players. She has resumed composing in recent years with a number of chamber works. Her music has been performed at the Yale University Summer Festival (Wordplay with Phyllis Bryn-Julson), at Lawrence University, at Tanglewood, in recital in New York, and in the Washington, D.C. area by the Theater Chamber Players.  She has written for productions at Cafe LaMama and Arena Stage. Trio of Winds, commissioned by Lawrence University will be given its first performance in May 1999, and a Library of Congress commission will be performed in recital in March 2000.

 Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87 by Johannes Brahms.

In the opening waltz-time sonata-form allegro of this wonderful second piano trio Brahms displays mastery of his art with concise surprises.  The violin and cello play together notes accented on the first beat and the piano enters with an "in-three" rhythm that suggests a different emphasis.  The syncopated sonic result is richly complex.  In the development, just when we might expect a dense crowd of sounds Brahms gives us a light-textured dance, with strings playing an augmented version of the first theme and piano agreeably accompanying the couple with triplet figures.  The final measures are a satisfying unison, with the piano at last getting its chance at the brief main theme.

The Andante is a theme and five variations.  Its minor mode, 2/4 meter and first-beat accent in the opening string melody give it a Brahmsian "Gypsy" coloring, for these are the features of nearly all his settings of Hungarian folk songs he called Zigeunerlieder. Both themes one played by the strings, one by the piano are treated to imaginative variation.

The C-minor scherzo in 6/8 moves quickly and quietly, projecting amysterious quality of skittering unpredictability.  Its brief major-modetrio section is a reassuring contrast.

In the 4/4 sonata-form Finale Brahms keeps to his pattern of balancing both string instruments against the piano.  Here robust energy continually increases, so that by the final coda, somewhat demonic-sounding arpeggios in the piano notwithstanding, the curtain seems to come down on a true celebration.  Brahms was uncommonly happy with this work and sent it to his publisher with these words:   "You have not so far had such a beautiful trio from me and very probably have not published one to match it in the last ten years."

Bonnie Jo Dopp


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