Schumann course culminates in performance

Prof. Michael Friedmann

School of Music Prof. Michael Friedmann’s course Schumann’s Chamber Music: Performance and Analysis, which is open by audition to instrumentalists studying at the School of Music and at Yale College, focuses on combining analytical research with practical performance issues. The class culminates in a performance of what Friedmann describes as “a precious and surprisingly undervalued body of repertoire.”

Friedmann, Professor of Musicology and Theory at the Yale School of Music, specializes in the music of Schoenberg, Schumann, and Beethoven, analysis of post-tonal music, ear training, and chamber music coaching. He received a special citation from the Society of Music Theory for his 1990 book Ear Training for 20th-century Music (Yale University Press).

“My approach links analysis to performance,” Friedmann said, “because performers usually rush to get performances ready without the opportunity to make genuine contact with all dimensions of the phrase structure, relation of tonal design and thematic form, and motivic interaction. They also learn how to distinguish the principal elements from countersubjects or other secondary elements. Moreover, a refined awareness of emotional content, and mercurial shifts of emotional ‘topic,’ which directly affect sound and pacing, is often bypassed in favor of a monolithic rendering of the notes.”

Friedmann concentrates on Schumann’s chamber music because “students may not immediately get the opportunity to play this repertoire as they would comparable music of Brahms, Beethoven, and others.”

This year’s concert, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 12, at 7:30 pm at the Whitney Humanities Center, will feature performances of Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, Op.132; Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110; Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105; and Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80.

Published December 12, 2017
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YSM percussionists to perform faculty composer’s double marimba concerto

Sam Um, left, and Georgi Videnov

On Friday, October 27, percussionists and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winners Sam Um ’17MM ’18MMA and Georgi Videnov ’15MM ’17MMA will perform YSM faculty composer Martin Bresnick’s concerto for two marimbas, Grace, with principal conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke recently with Sam and Georgi about preparing and performing Bresnick’s concerto.

Q: Grace was composed in 2000 for Yale Percussion Group Director Robert van Sice. How has working with Prof. van Sice informed your approach to the concerto? Has the piece changed at all since Prof. van Sice first performed it?

SU: Working with Prof. van Sice is always an exciting and illuminating experience. From the stories of how this piece came to life to his experiences of playing this piece in various places in the world, those stories influenced a lot of perspective and gave us more of a sense of attachment to the piece.

GV: In the case of Grace, Prof. van Sice usually uses it as a teaching tool by playing the first marimba part himself and giving the other to a student. This time, by working on it from the outside, he focused our attention on issues such as balance, stylistic approach, and interpretation. Even though the piece itself hasn’t changed, I believe that the relationship between each of the performers creates a unique version of it every time it’s played.

Q: Have you talked at all with Prof. Bresnick about the piece and, if so, what have those conversations yielded?

GV: Sam and I had the pleasure of playing it for Prof. Bresnick in a coaching and during my recital. One of the important aspects for him was to differentiate the “roles” of the two soloists — such as there is clearly a puppeteer and a puppet — as Heinrich von Kleist reflects on this relationship in his essay The Puppet Theatre.

SU: Prof. Bresnick and Prof. van Sice’s attention to the sound of the instrument was crucial in our process because we came to realize that the sound world of this piece is just so beautiful and complex. The idea of echo, nostalgia, and groove made us view the piece in an entirely different way.

Q: What unique aspects of the instrument and mallet technique does the piece exploit?

 GV: The piece exploits a number of techniques utilizing the entire five-octave range of the marimba. In its climactic points, Sam plays in the low register of the instrument, while I cover its high register, allowing the marimba to express its sonorous qualities to its fullest potential. What I find particularly interesting is the interlocking gestures that both marimbas have between each other to create a continuous texture.

SU: In order to achieve a huge sound without being aggressive requires a mature approach to the instrument. Trying to find that balance of making it sound weighty was a special technique, which was very challenging.

Q: What are the most challenging aspects (either technically or musically) of the piece? And what are the challenges of performing the piece with an orchestra?

GV: Due to its nature and the fact that we fill each other’s rests, it is almost harder to play and practice the piece on your own. Early on in the process, Sam and I started rehearsing it together before we even had fully mastered our individual parts to get a sense of how it fits together.

SU: Again, the sound has to be one of the most challenging parts about this piece. To create the beautiful texture and to almost tag-team with different groups of instruments to become one super-instrument will be challenging.

Q: How have you gone about ensuring a consistency of sound and color (between you)?

SU: We did lot of counting work and breathing together whenever we had entrances together. With such responsive instruments like percussion, we have to focus a lot on each other’s ictus and try to match our strokes. In the third movement, where we have passing, flowing lines, we sang those lines out loud to match our dynamics and tempi.

GV:  The marimbas are set up in such a way (facing each other) that allows us to constantly check in with each other, both visually and aurally, on our sound and color. As Sam mentioned, we are quite aware of our stroke preparations and how we feel the groove, both when we are playing and when we have rests.

Q: How would you introduce the piece to audiences who might be new to marimba concerti and even to contemporary music?

GV: Despite the fact that the marimba has found its place in the contemporary solo concerto repertoire, the choices for a double marimba concerto are quite limited. Here is an example that doesn’t try to impress with virtuosity (even though it requires such), but with grace.

SU: I’d love to say that just because it’s new music, it’s not all complicated and difficult to listen to. Contemporary composers are mostly influenced by great musicians people are familiar with such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, and they all share the same vision of making music important in their culture. I strongly believe that experiencing and being exposed to new music can be beautiful, nostalgic, and heartwarming, as well.

Q: What are your thoughts about performing a concerto by a YSM faculty composer here, at YSM, with an orchestra of your peers?

GV: Even though I’d like to share this piece with audiences outside of YSM in the future, I don’t think there is a better place for it than where the piece was conceived and having the opportunity to work on it with our professors and Maestro Oundjian — especially at Yale’s Woolsey Hall!

SU: I am very happy to have this opportunity where we can perform a piece by Martin Bresnick, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers and pioneers of today’s music. And to say that I am part of the same community (YSM) as him defines the great experience that students can have here at Yale. Performing this concerto has become so much more than giving a great concert. As percussionists, we unkowningly become ambassadors of new music and percussion. With this concert, I hope that we’ll be able to soften some opinions and break any barriers and fears that people have toward new music. I am grateful to be a part of the Yale School of Music, where the School provides its full support for the new music scene with concert series and opportunities like this.

Principal conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia will perform in Woolsey Hall on Friday, October 27, at 7:30 pm. The program features the world premiere of the International Bruckner Society’s new edition of the composer’s Eighth Symphony, which was created by Yale School of Music Professor of Musicology and International Bruckner Society editorial board member Paul Hawkshaw. Special offer: tickets are free for all students.

LEARN MORE ABOUT AND BUY TICKETS TO THE OCTOBER 27 YALE PHILHARMONIA CONCERT

Published October 24, 2017
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YSM professor and Brahms expert Paul Berry, on faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Sept. 27 recital program

Boris Berman, left, and Paul Berry

School of Music faculty pianist Boris Berman kicks off the 2017-2018 Horowitz Piano Series on Wednesday, Sept. 27, with an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119. We spoke with YSM Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry, the author of Brahms Among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford University Press, 2014), about the works that Professor Berman will perform, what the music tells us about the composer and his environment, and what the late piano works demand of a performer.

Q: Brahms’ piano pieces, Opp. 116-119, were composed during the last decade of his life. What does that lateness mean in terms of the character of these pieces, and in the context of his career and his personal life? According to our program notes, Lionel Salter said, of Op. 116, “It is as if the composer at the end of his life had compressed the essence of his musical and emotional thoughts into these miniatures.” And Brahms himself described the Op. 117 set as “lullabies of my sorrow.” What, if anything, did Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann say about these pieces?

A: Well, the idea of lateness can inform our hearing of these piano pieces in several productive ways. The most obvious is their placement in the composer’s output. In the early 1890s, Brahms was not yet 60, and all his friends constantly commented on his fitness and robust health; he had no idea that this would turn out to be his last decade. But he did know that he would soon retire from public life as a composer. Indeed, he had already retired once, only to return to composition when he encountered the clarinet playing of Richard Muehlfeld. The late piano miniatures are the most abundant fruit of what he planned to be his final harvest. Especially with the example of late Beethoven in the ears of the musical public, a composer would naturally understand that his final works were likely to be interpreted as summations of his craft and emotional range, and compose them with the judgment of posterity in mind. Certainly Brahms did so with these piano pieces.

At the same time, the late piano pieces first surfaced not in published form, but in manuscript copies made for Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists and musicians of the century and Brahms’ oldest and firmest friend. Throughout the summers of 1892 and 1893, he sent her packages containing individual miniatures, some of which were so dramatic in effect that she took them to be the building blocks of a larger piano sonata (a genre Brahms had avoided since his youth). Though she had retired from the concert stage by now, these pieces soon became a dominant focus of her private music-making. In fact, we have accounts from her daughters and grandchildren concerning her renditions of them and, in some cases, the poetic significance she attached to them (Op. 118, No. 5, for instance, seemed to her to represent the emotional landscape of an elderly couple reminiscing about their lives together while their grandchildren play nearby). So from both a professional and a personal standpoint, Brahms’ late works lend themselves to interpretation as late works.

Q: In what historical and political contexts were these pieces composed, and how did Brahms’ immediate environment and the changing world around him inform the music he composed toward the end of his life? What do the pieces of Opp. 116-119 tells us about where composition had been and where it was headed?   

A: Brahms’ political environment was challenging for him and his fellow liberals, who found their longstanding commitment to education, religious tolerance, and upper-middle-class values under assault from populist and overtly religious parties, whose members preferred the more direct musical styles of composers like Wagner or Bruckner. Brahms’ primary musical market was under attack, and these pieces can be understood as speaking to the alternately nostalgic and grumpy impulses of a soon-to-be minority party. Those elements of this music that seem to us now the most forward-looking (daring modulations, hazy tonality, complex interweaving of multiple melodies) may actually have been designed to summon up appreciation for the learned elements of a craft that many already perceived to be outdated and in decline.

Q: Talk if you would about the form, structure, and styles of these pieces and how Brahms might’ve intended them to be performed and presented.

A: Most of these pieces present some variant of ternary, or three-part, form, in which the main material is presented at the beginning, cedes its place to contrasting material in the middle, and then returns to close the work near the end. Brahms’ craft emerges in the seemingly infinite variety of approaches that this ancient musical form elicits from him in each individual context, from the straightforward, almost folk-like simplicity of Op. 118, No. 5, to the complex twists and turns of Op. 117, No. 2. It’s always worth listening for moments of return, when familiar material reappears, and comparing them to one’s memory of that material from earlier in the piece; so many of these works create subtle but remarkable transformations in mood when one encounters the same material in new contexts.

Although these pieces are rightly seen as intimate, private ruminations, this is also virtuosic music, though it usually wears its virtuosity in an understated way. Most of the pieces were premiered in public by the best pianists then performing, and reviewers consistently noted the difficulties that they posed to a pianist’s technique, especially in the faster pieces. The final work on the recital, Op. 119, No. 4, is a good example, with its whirl of gypsy-style rhythms. But the slower works, too, present real technical challenges involving the thickening of texture, and these challenges are often aligned with pivotal moments in the unfolding of the piece: the return of familiar material after a long absence, for instance, is often much harder to play than the initial presentation of the tune. Even the famous lullaby, Op. 117, No. 1, is almost overwhelmed near the end when its fragile voices multiply under the pianist’s hands.

Q: What should audiences listen for in these works as they think about Brahms and his world and the culture in which we live today?

A: Some elements of our current political scene (the rise of populist ideologies in the United States and abroad, increasingly overt intolerance and suspicion of “elite” attitudes, a pervasive sense of loss and frustration) mirror aspects of Brahms’ own environment in the 1890s. The variety of moods explored in these short piano pieces, from resignation and nostalgia to brooding anger and firm resilience, therefore resonate productively in the present moment.

Q: What, in your opinion, does Professor Berman bring to these works? And what do these pieces require of a pianist, both technically and with regard to scholarship?

A: These works require of a pianist a deep immersion in the intricacies of the composer’s craft and a deep commitment to the emotional world projected in each piece. Professor Berman brings both immersion and commitment to his playing. He also brings a firm sense of clarity with respect to large-scale structure. He does not “lose” his listeners, but guides them through the unfolding of each piece.

Faculty pianist and Horowitz Piano Series Artistic Director Boris Berman performs an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm in the Blocker Room. Learn more and purchase tickets

Published September 25, 2017
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Paul Hawkshaw awarded Fulbright for Bruckner research, residency in Vienna

Paul Hawkshaw

Professor of Musicology Paul Hawkshaw will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in Vienna in the spring of 2018. During his residency, he will teach classes at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology and at the city’s University of Music and Performing Arts, in addition working at the Austrian National Library on a project titled A Bequest and a Complex Legacy: Untangling Anton Bruckner’s Revisions in Later Times, which aims to sort out the many different revisions of Bruckner’s music that have resulted from, in Hawkshaw’s words, “unauthorized tampering in Bruckner’s scores by well-meaning students and friends of his.”

According to Hawkshaw, the International Bruckner Society recently began a new Collected Works Edition under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the Vienna Philharmonic. The New Anton Bruckner Collected Edition will eventually include new definitive scores of Bruckner’s complete works. Hawkshaw, who serves on the society’s editorial board, will work on three of the symphonies: numbers Seven, Eight, and Nine.

“In some cases,” Hawkshaw said, “previous editions had errors as a result of misreading the sources. For others, new, more reliable manuscript sources have surfaced since the older printed scores appeared.” MORE

Published April 5, 2017
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Mario Aschauer lectures on equal temperament April 24

mario aschauerOn April 24, 2013 at 4 pm, Mario Aschauer will present a lecture called, “Has Equal Temperament Really Ruined Harmony?” The event takes place in Hendrie Hall, Room 205. Aschauer is a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Music pursuing research for a book on Anton Bruckner’s compositional procedures.

Has equal temperament really ruined harmony, as R. Duffin’s Book of 2007 suggests? And if yes: how? This lecture will provide the theoretical and acoustical basics necessary to understand the fundamental problem of keyboard tuning and the manifold solutions theorists and musicians have come up with throughout the last four centuries of music history. There will also be a chance to listen to a harpsichord piece played in several historical temperaments.

Austrian scholar-performer Mario Aschauer has concertized extensively as a harpsichordist throughout Europe. His dissertation on German Keyboard Treatises in the Second Half of the 18th Century was published by Bärenreiter Verlag, Kassel, in 2011. For recent new editions of Schubert’s Moments Musicaux, Impromptus, and Late Piano Pieces, Mario developed fingerings and provided notes on performance practice. He received his training as a conductor, musicologist, and harpsichordist from conservatories and universities in Linz, Salzburg and Vienna.

This event is presented by the piano department of the Yale School of Music.

Published April 24, 2013
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Bruckner Society of America to award Joseph Kilenyi Medal of Honor to Paul Hawkshaw

The Bruckner Society of America announced this week that Paul Hawkshaw will be awarded the Joseph Kilenyi Medal of Honor.  This honor is given to individuals whose work exemplifies the understanding and appreciation of the life and music of Anton Bruckner.

Paul Hawkshaw is Deputy Dean of the Yale School of Music as well as Professor in the Practice of Musicology and the director of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

The Board of Directors of the Bruckner Society noted Hawkshaw’s “strong advocacy of Bruckner’s work as seen in the many articles, essays, editions, and addresses [he has] prepared in [his] illustrious career.”  In particular, the organization wrote, “His research on the Mass in F Minor and the Eighth Symphony are milestones in our understanding of Bruckner’s music.”

The Bruckner Society of America was established in 1931, and Medals of Honor have been given to such musical luminaries as Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini, and Paul Hindemith. The medal will be presented to Paul at Yale’s Commencement this spring.

Dean Robert Blocker extended his heartiest congratulations to Hawkshaw, saying, “That he has served the School with extraordinary leadership while continuing his scholarly work with critical distinction is in itself a remarkable achievement.  Most importantly, Paul extends to our community a quiet sense of humanity that enriches us all.”

Professor Hawkshaw’s publications include seven volumes of Bruckner’s collected works (Vienna), which are performed by major orchestras and choruses throughout the world. His articles have appeared in The Musical Quarterly, Nineteenth-Century Music, and the Oesterreichische Musikzeitschrift, and he wrote the Bruckner biography for Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. In 1996 he was invited by the Austrian National Library in Vienna, to give the commemorative address marking the centenary of the composer’s death.

MORE

Published March 3, 2011
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Markus Rathey receives Scheide Research Grant

Markus Rathey, an associate professor of music history at the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music as well as the Music Department, is the recipient of the William H. Scheide Research Grant for 2011.

The William H. Scheide Research Grant, awarded once every two years to a member of the American Bach Society, provides support for a research project on Bach or figures in his circle. The grant will enable Rathey to spend a month in Germany this summer to continue his research on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Rathey will examine Bach’s autograph score of the oratorio in the German National Library in Berlin as well as further sources in Leipzig.

Rathey studied musicology, Protestant theology, and German philology in Bethel and Münster. He taught at the University of Mainz and the University of Leipzig and was a research fellow at the Bach-Archiv, Leipzig, before joining the Yale faculty in 2003. His research interests are music of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the relationship among music, religion, and politics during the Enlightenment. Recent publications include the books Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625–1673): Lebensweg und Schaffen (Eisenach, 1999), an edition of Johann Georg Ahle’s Music Theoretical Writings (Hildesheim, 2007, 2nd edition 2008), and Kommunikation und Diskurs: Die Bürgerkapitänsmusiken Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs (Hildesheim, 2009). He was guest editor of a volume of the German journal Musik und Kirche (2005) on church music in the United States. He has contributed numerous articles to Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the Laaber Lexikon der Kirchenmusik, and to the handbook for the new German Hymnal (Liederkunde zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch). Professor Rathey is president of the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship and serves on the editorial board of the Bach Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Society. Ph.D., Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster.

Published January 6, 2011
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Alumni Spotlight: Robert Stevenson ’39MM

stevensonRobert Stevenson ’39MM is still going strong at the age of 93. A professor emeritus at UCLA, he continued to teach well into the 1990s and is still an active scholar. His most recent book, South American National Anthems and other area studies was published this October.

Upon completing his study at YSM, Stevenson received a $2000 Charles Ditson Fellowship to study with Igor Stravinsky. His 23 private composition lessons – which cost $25 each – took place during the 1939-40 academic year, when Stravinsky was teaching at Harvard.

In addition to his MM degree from Yale, he also holds a PhD in composition (University of Rochester), STB (Harvard), ThM (Princeton Theological Seminary), and BLitt (Oxford). Among his many honors are the Gabriela Mistral Prize (1985), the Award of the Lifetime Achievement Citation by the Sonneck Society for American Music (1999), the Constantine Panunzio Distinguished Emeritus Award (UCLA, 2004), and honorary memberships in the American Musciological Society (2002), the International Musicological Society (2006), and the Society for Ethnomusicology (2007), a unique achievement. He has received the highest faculty award from UCLA, previously awarded only to Arnold Schoenberg, and highest award given by the Yale School of Music, the Sanford Medal.

Stevenson has published 27 books and over 300 articles.  His main area of inquiry has been the study of Latin American colonial music; he has also extensively researched music in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, discovering documents to aid in the reconstruction of cathedral music history.

Published December 7, 2009
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