Sunday, May 23, 2021 at 4 pm
Download a copy of the program here.
The Ives Collective
Roy Malan, violin
Susan Freier, viola
Stephen Harrison, cello
Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Piano Quartet in C minor, Op.15
Allegro molto moderato
Scherzo, Allegro vivo
About the music
Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478 (1785)
Mozart, like most composers of his time, wrote very few pieces in minor keys. Nonetheless, the minor key pieces stand out as special and moving in distinctive ways. In the case of the G minor piano quartet, only the first movement is in a minor key, but that movement is memorably dark. The first movement opens with one of Mozart’s favorite devices, alternating a loud figure in octaves with a more delicate answer, in this case from the piano (another example is the opening of the “Jupiter” symphony). By the standards of the time, the relationship between the piano and the strings is remarkably equal, and the subsequent passage balances an independent string trio with responses from the piano. It is also true that Mozart was still thinking of chamber music with piano as piano sonatas accompanied by other instruments, and we do not have to wait long for more soloistic passage work for the piano. This movement is unusually long, both because of an extended development section in the middle, and also a coda at its end. Each of these sections lends not only weight but gravity, with the development serious and contrapuntal and the coda stormy and stern.
The middle movement seems to come from a completely different world. Elegant and moderate in tempo, it evokes the sociable salon. There is a slight bit of metric confusion in the opening theme, as the right hand of the piano takes a couple of bars to adjust to the triple meter of the left, but this is resolved quickly, and the movement settles into a primarily quiet mood marked by short lyrical gestures accompanied by flowing scales.
The final Rondo, instead of returning to the minor mode and severe character of the first movement, is cheerful, graceful and resolutely major. The rondo form is clearly delineated, with full symmetrical themes usually alternating between solo piano and the full group. There is one big harmonic surprise very near the end (you’ll notice!), but the shock wears off quickly, and the ensemble dashes off in a happy conclusion.
Fauré Piano Quartet no. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 (1876–79 & 1883)
Most discussions of French music in the last quarter of the 19th century start with the year 1871, which saw both the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the formation of the Société Nationale de Musique by a group of composers that included Gabriel Fauré. One might expect (and can read in some sources) that a society of composers dedicating themselves to creating a “Gallic Art” in the wake of France’s defeat in the war and the unification of a German Empire would attempt to define themselves against German music, but the situation was more complicated than that. The Society did, in fact, wish to promote French composers writing in a distinctively French style marked by clarity and lightness, but they also wished these new compositions to be serious. “Serious” at this time meant instrumental music, both in emulation of the German masters, and also as a rejection of the Parisian operettas so beloved of the recently defeated French Second Empire. In this context, it makes sense that Fauré’s first works performed by the Society would be chamber works, including this piano quartet. Camille Saint-Saëns, a leader and co-founder of the Society (and Fauré’s mentor), praised Gounod as being the first to combine “German science with an abundance of melody and clarity that is completely French.” This sentiment also seems apt for Fauré’s piano quartet which also unites a finely honed craft based on German formal models with a glorious collection of melodies
In the quartet, the melodic burden is largely carried by the strings, whether as a group or as individuals. The very opening is a noble theme played in octaves by the strings over off-beat chords from the piano. The texture quickly changes with the violin repeating part of the theme over rippling arpeggios from the piano, and contrapuntal countermelodies from the viola and cello (German science!). The left hand of the piano controls the flow of the movement, breaking into faster figurations as sections progress, and then returning to simpler patterns for new formal sections. The second theme, first stated by the viola, stands out both as a melody and also because of the more relaxed oom-pah accompaniment in the piano. Similarly, the development section is a new sound, with the opening melody heard in a dreamy fantasia for solo piano, with the left hand in rippling triplets.
The scherzo is lively and bustling. Plucked chords from the strings create an open space quickly filled by a jaunty tune in six from the piano. The strings pick up their bows, and counter with a very different idea in duple meter. This conflict is quickly resolved as both ideas are shared between all of the instruments. The strings are muted for the central trio, before the scherzo returns.
The deeply-felt slow movement may (or may not) have something to do with a romance that fizzled at the time that Fauré was composing the quartet. Whatever the impetus behind it, it does seem to be the emotional center of the quartet. The movement begins with an especially unusual effect. A melodic fragment is played by the cello over somber chords in the piano. The viola then joins the cello, playing exactly the same notes, as the fragment continues upward. The violin then joins in, still playing exactly the same notes, and creating a sort of super-stringed instrument as the phrase intensifies before ending in drooping sigh. The texture quickly changes for a conversation between the three stringed instruments (now separated again) over gentle undulations in the piano. Both ideas eventually return, with the “super-string” accompanied by piano filagree the second time around.
The final movement was either newly composed or completely rewritten in 1883, four years after the rest of the quarter was completed. The agitated opening gesture is a drastically sped-up version of the slow movement theme. This idea works itself up into a vigorous climax before the tension releases for a new and especially glorious theme, introduced by the viola, which is then joined by the violin. The end of the movement combines both themes (more German science) before culminating in a blaze of C major.
Notes by Dr. Derek Katz
About the musicians
Roy Malan, violin, serves as solo violinist with the California Symphony and Opera Parallèle, and was the long-time concertmaster and solo violinist for the San Francisco Ballet. The founding director of the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, he has an extensive career of performance domestically as well as in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, and Africa to his credit. He is also widely recorded on the Genesis, Orion, and other labels, Roy was formerly a member of Porter Quartet, Stanford String Quartet, Ives Quartet, and the San Francisco Piano Trio, among others. Educated at London’s Royal Academy of Music under Yehudi Menuhin, he also attended Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, where he was a student of Ivan Galamian and Efrem Zimbalist (he authored the latter’s biography). Roy currently serves on the faculty of the University of California, Santa Cruz, plays locally with a string quartet, piano trio, and music festival engagements
Susan Freier, violin/viola, and co-Artistic Director of the Ives Collective, earned degrees in music and biology from Stanford University as a Ford Scholar and continued her studies at the Eastman School of Music where she co-founded the award-winning Chester String Quartet. The Chester went on to win the Munich, Portsmouth (UK) and Discovery Competitions and were the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University, South Bend.
In 1989 Susan returned to her native Bay Area and joined the Stanford faculty and the Stanford String Quartet. She performs with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and has been an artist/faculty member at the Newport Music Festival, Garth Newell, Music in the Mountains, Rocky Ridge Music Center, and the Schlern and Orfeo Music Festivals (Italy). Susan teaches and performs at the Mendocino Music Festival, the SoCal Music Workshop and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival
Stephen Harrison, cellist, has been on the Stanford University faculty since 1983. A graduate of Oberlin College and Boston University, he has been solo cellist of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players since 1985.
Stephen has been on the faculty of the Pacific Music Festival, the Orfeo and Schlern International Music Festivals (Italy) and the Rocky Ridge Music Center. He is currently principal cellist at the Mendocino Music Festival, and performs and teaches at the SoCal Chamber Music Workshop and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival.
Keisuke Nakagoshi, pianist, began his piano studies at the age of ten, arriving in the United States from Japan at the age of 18. Mr. Nakagoshi earned his Bachelors degree in Composition and Masters degree in Chamber Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Graduating as the recipient of multiple top awards, Keisuke was selected to represent the SFCM for the Kennedy Center’s Conservatory Project, a program featuring the most promising young musicians from major conservatories across the United States.
Mr. Nakagoshi has performed to acclaim on prestigious concert stages across the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He has received training from some of the most celebrated musicians of our time – Emanuel Ax, Gilbert Kalish, Menahem Pressler, Robert Mann, Paul Hersh, David Zinman – and enjoys collaborating with other accomplished musicians such as Lucy Shelton, Ian Swensen, Jodi Levitz, Robin Sutherland, Lev Polyakin, Axel Strauss, Mark Kosower, Gary Schocker and also conductors such as Alasdair Neale, George Daugherty, Nicole Paiement, Michael Tilson Thomas and Herbert Blomstedt. Mr. Nakagoshi is Pianist-in-Residence at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the award-winning Opera Parallèle. He resides in San Francisco.