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Program for Ives Collective

Sunday, October 24, 2021 at 4 pm

Download a copy of the program here.

Ives Collective

Roy Malan, violin
Susan Freier, violin & viola
Stephen Harrison, cello
Gwendolyn Mok, piano

Program

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912)
Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio, Op. 59, No. 1 (1906)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
            I Was Way Down a Yonder
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel
They Will Not Lend Me a Child
My Lord Delivered Daniel

Erwin Schulhoff (1894–1942)
Duo for Violin and Cello, WV 74 (1925)
Moderato
            Zingaresca: Allegro giocoso
            Andantino
            Moderato

Intermission

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60 (1855–1875)
            Allegro non troppo
            Scherzo: Allegro
            Andante
            Finale: Allegro comodo

About the music

Samuel Taylor-Coleridge Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio (1906)
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor had an enormously prolific and successful career in turn-of-the-century England. He was best known for large-scale vocal works, with his greatest hit the 1898 cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (he also named his son Hiawatha). Although Afro-British, he took a great interest in political and cultural developments in the United States. Coleridge-Taylor was motivated by the heritage of his father, who was descended from American slaves freed by the British after the American Revolution and resettled in Nova Scotia, eventually moving to a British colony in Sierra Leone.

Coleridge-Taylor made three tours of the United States in the early 20th century, and the first of these tours inspired his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies for solo piano, published in Boston in 1905 (by your commentator’s great-great-great grandfather). Booker T. Washington contributed a preface to the publication, in which he praised Coleridge-Taylor for giving “permanence to the folk-songs of his people by giving them a new interpretation and an added dignity,” and for preserving them at a time when interest seemed “to be dying out with the generation that gave them birth.”

There is a direct line from Coleridge-Taylor’s Negro Melodies to the subsequent tradition of concert performances of spirituals. The Melodies themselves were very popular, not only with African American performers, but also with white musicians like the violinist Maud Powell, who frequently performed an arrangement of Coleridge-Taylor’s version of Deep River around the time of the First World War. In addition, the first layer of arrangements of spirituals as art songs are indebted to Coleridge-Taylor’s example. The arrangement of Deep River for voice and piano by Harry Burleigh (who was the baritone soloist when Coleridge-Taylor conducted Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in America) is essentially a reworking of Coleridge-Taylor’s piano version, and this is the arrangement later made famous by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.

The Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio were freely adapted from numbers in the piano collection by Coleridge-Taylor in 1906. The five songs are both linked thematically (two songs refer to children, two to the deliverance of Daniel) and also follow a familiar sequence of characters. The bouncy and bluesy Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? (from the repertoire of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers) functions as a sort of scherzo, followed by a lamenting slow movement in They Will Not Lend Me a Child (collected by a Swiss missionary and ethnographer in South East Africa). The affirmative My Lord Delivered Daniel brings the set to a joyous close.

Erwin Schulhoff Duo for Violin and Cello, WV 74
Erwin Schulhoff’s relatively short life encompassed a bewildering array of experiences, musical styles, and political commitments. Schulhoff went from a child prodigy pianist encouraged by Antonín Dvořák to traumatic experiences serving in the First World War, to reorientation to Socialism in politics and expressionism in music, and onward to involvement with Dada, jazz, and neoclassicism before ending as a Communist composing socialist, realist works. Schulhoff died in a Bavarian concentration camp, where he had been interned for having adopted Soviet citizenship (although his Jewish heritage would presumably have doomed him regardless of his political orientation).

The Duo for Violin and Cello was composed in early 1925, when Schulhoff was living in Prague, and in the midst of his more neoclassical period. The work was composed for the violinist Stanislav Novák and the cellist Maurits Frank, with whom Schulhoff had formed a short-lived piano trio. The work is dedicated to Leoš Janáček, about whom he had published an enthusiastic and laudatory essay the year before. While Schulhoff was clearly deeply and genuinely moved by his recent discovery of Janáček’s music, it did not seem to affect Schulhoff’s compositions, either in terms of more national or regional expression or of specific technical devices.

The great compositional problem for duos without piano tends to be the inevitable restrictions of the richness of the musical texture. For the most part, Schulhoff does not address this by having his two players attempt to simulate the sound of a larger group, but rather by creating a great variety of sound colors by making extensive use of artificial harmonics, left hand pizzicatti, striking the strings with the wood of the bow, and other coloristic effects.

The first movement opens with a deceptively simple melody for the violin, with the cello answering in close conversation. The brief movement goes through many moods, including some impassioned improvisatory passages, and it features some particularly striking uses of artificial harmonics, before ending with a hushed reminisce of the opening. The second movement is labeled “zingaresca,” but doesn’t seem to evoke any of the familiar devices of concert music associated with Roma people. Instead, the primary sound is much closer to the ethnically unspecified fiddling found in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. This movement does have an example of Schulhoff using two instruments to create a trio, as the cello plucks on the strong beats and bows on the off-beats, perhaps suggesting bass and drums. The third movement is the most consistent in texture, comprising almost entirely long melodies for both players against “walking” pizzicato accompaniments. The finale brings back the main material of the first movement, but this time accelerates to an emphatic conclusion by way of some fancy bounced bowing for the cello.

Johannes Brahms Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60
Brahms’s C minor piano quartet contains music composed during very different stages of the composer’s life, with the earliest and latest layers of music separated by almost two decades. He began the work in 1855, and seems to have completed a version by spring 1856. Brahms destroyed this first incarnation of the work, and let the piece sit until 1873, when he began to revise and complete it. It is probable that the first movement of the published quartet is very similar to the original version, and that the eventual second movement (the scherzo) is either the original finale, or based on it. The third and fourth movements were newly composed between 1873 and 1875.

This would all be dry musicologist trivia were it not for the enormous changes in Brahms’s life between the mid-1850s and the early 1870s. In 1855, Brahms was just beginning to establish himself as a composer. He had met Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853, and Robert Schumann had already published his notorious article New Paths that essentially proclaimed the young and unknown Brahms as the true heir to Beethoven.

If Brahms was still finding his way as a creative artist in 1855, his personal life was even more complex and fraught. He was clearly well-nigh obsessed with Clara Schumann, obviously moved both by artistic admiration and by romantic desire. When Robert Schumann consigned himself to a mental asylum after his 1854 suicide attempt, Brahms essentially moved into the Schumann home, caring for the Schumann children when Clara was on tour, and forming part of the household when she was home.

Both musical clues and later letters and accounts make it clear that at least the early version of the piano quartet was in some sense about Clara. The musical clue comes near the beginning of the first movement. After the strings enter with two sighing figures, the violin plays a longer line that descends for four notes before rising for the fifth. This is a motive that Robert Schumann invented as a musical analog for Clara’s name, and that both he and Brahms used in a number of works (some commentators also hear the sighing figures as invocations of Clara’s name: “Cla-ra, Cla-ra”). This musical cipher would only have been intelligible to the members of the Schumann circle, but when Brahms returned the piece years later, he repeatedly told both friends and his publisher that the piano quartet was connected to Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Given that Werther in this novel falls in love with Charlotte, who is married to a man more than a decade older, mapping Goethe’s doomed couple onto Brahms and Clara Schumann required no special insider knowledge.

By 1873, Clara Schumann remained a close friend and trusted musical advisor, but the possibility of a romantic relationship had long since passed. Knowing what we do about the gestation of the piece, it is tempting to hear the piano quartet as falling into two halves, with each half in a different style. It takes little effort to hear the first two movements as the product of youthful impetuousness and passion. The mysterious opening of the first movement, sounding like a slow introduction, even though it is in the main tempo, the many sudden agitated outbursts and textures that push the instruments to their limits, as well as the incessantly driving scherzo (without the expected contrast of a trio) are all easy to reconcile with this idea. Meanwhile, the serene and expansive slow movement and the contrapuntally intricate Finale are similarly easy to hear as the work of an older and calmer man. Perhaps, however, we should resist this temptation. No less an authority than Clara Schumann wrote that “it is strange how the mood remains unified, despite the quite different dates of the various movements.”

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.

Born in New York City, Gwendolyn Mok has appeared in many of the world’s leading concert halls, including the Barbican, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, and the Hong Kong Performing Arts Center. She is frequently invited to play and record with major international orchestras, such as the London Symphony, the Philharmonia, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra and the Residency Orchestra of the Hague.

Ms. Mok began her studies at the Juilliard School of Music, completed her undergraduate work at Yale University, and earned her Masters and Doctorate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is currently Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at San Jose State University and maintains a busy performing and recording schedule. Ms. Mok is a recording artist for Nonesuch/Elektra, Musical Heritage Society, Musician Showcase Recordings, Cala Records, and EMI.

As a chamber musician, Ms. Mok appears regularly in the San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music Series, as well as in the San Jose Chamber Society and the Sacramento Chamber Society series. A popular soloist with the Symphony Silicon Valley, Ms. Mok co-produced and appeared in four sold-out performances of The Gershwin Radio Hour. In 2016 Ms. Mok was named President’s Scholar by San Jose State University, the highest honor given to an outstanding faculty member for their scholarship and research. She was also presented a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 by the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Association.