Augustin Hadelich, Violin

“At 33, Mr. Hadelich increasingly seems to be one of the outstanding violinists of his generation.”

Anthony Tommassini – New York Times, May 2017

Program:

Irving FINE: Serious Song: A Lament for String Orchestra

HAYDN: Concerto No. 1 in C Major, H. Vlla:I

SCHUBERT: Rondo in A Major for Violin and Strings, D.438

TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade for Strings, Op. 48

Get engaged: pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.

 

Notes on the Program

By Aaron Grad

Serious Song: A Lament for String Orchestra [1955]

IRVING FINE

Born December 3, 1914 in Boston, Massachusetts

Died August 23, 1962 in Boston, Massachusetts

Irving Fine studied and taught at Harvard University before he joined the faculty of Brandeis University in 1950, a tenure that lasted until his death from heart disease at age 47. This lifelong Bostonian never enjoyed widespread success, but his champions did include Leonard Bernstein, who praised Fine’s Serious Song as “rich, sensitive, emotional music,” and Aaron Copland, who wrote, “Sureness of musical instinct informed Fine’s every activity.”

Fine composed Serious Song in the summer of 1955 to satisfy a commission from the Louisville Orchestra.  The short, elegiac work uses a rich and supple harmonic language that combines late-Romantic tonality with glints of modern technique. Fine considered the work “essentially an extended aria for string orchestra,” and the melodic contours of this instrumental “lament” exhibit a singing, voice-like quality.

Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, H. VIIa:I [c. 1765]

FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN

Born March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Austria

Died May 31, 1809 in Vienna, Austria

In 1761, the 29-year-old Haydn accepted a job with the Esterházy family, a fantastically wealthy and cultured branch of the Austrian nobility. Over the next thirty years, the music that the inexhaustible Haydn created for his demanding patrons played a defining role in advancing what we now recognize as Classical style.

For his first five years Haydn served as Vice-Kapellmeister, and one of his duties was to produce twice-weekly concerts with the court’s private orchestra. The ensemble was small in those early years, ranging from 13 to 15 players, but each member was a world-class virtuoso. Besides composing about 25 seminal symphonies in that period, Haydn wrote numerous concertos for violin, flute, horn and other instruments, most of which have been lost.

The Violin Concerto No. 1 in C Major is the earliest of Haydn’s three surviving concertos for the instrument, logged into his catalog with a date of 1765. It was a time when Italy dominated the violin world—producing the best performers, instruments, techniques and compositional trends—so it was no surprise that the Esterházy court hired a young Italian violinist, Luigi Tomasini, to be the orchestra’s concertmaster. Haydn put Tomasini’s talents to good use, incorporating many double-stops (i.e. two notes played simultaneously) and rapid arpeggios in the fast first movement. In the central slow movement, pulsing plucks give the accompaniment the quality of a mandolin, like an Italian serenade. The dance-like finale, with its highly varied solo episodes, honors the best of the Italian concerto tradition exported by Vivaldi, but the bold contrasts and rhythmic subterfuge are pure Haydn, pointing toward his bright future.

Rondo in A Major for Violin and Strings, D. 438 [1816]

 FRANZ SCHUBERT

Born January 31, 1797 in Vienna, Austria

Died November 19, 1828 in Vienna, Austria

Schubert enjoyed a childhood rich with music—singing in the court choir, playing string quartets with his family, and participating in the school orchestra—but he only began composing around the age of twelve or thirteen. Like his father and brothers, he trained as a teacher, and at seventeen he began working as a teaching assistant at an elite Viennese school, while also keeping up twice-weekly composition lessons with the local Kapellmeister, Antonio Salieri.

Schubert’s accomplishments in the next two years must rank as the greatest growth spurt in musical history: He composed some 300 songs, plus four symphonies, three masses, five musical dramas, three string quartets, three violin sonatas and dozens of other works. This flurry all come before Schubert reached his twentieth birthday, while he was working full-time, and before the Viennese public had seen or heard a single note of his music.

One genre missing from Schubert’s extensive catalog is the concerto. He was a competent violinist and pianist, and he was known to have a lovely singing voice, but he was never a star performer like Mozart or Beethoven. His most significant work for an instrumental soloist is this Rondo that he composed in 1816 to feature violin, possibly for his brother Ferdinand to perform at the orphanage where he taught. The accompaniment is scored for string quartet, but it makes just as much sense musically to use the expanded sections of a string orchestra; Schubert presumably would have done the same had such resources been available to him.

Schubert’s Rondo mines a similar vein as the violin concertos that Mozart wrote for himself in his own late teens. (In fact, the rising arpeggio that begins Schubert’s slow introduction mimics an identical gesture in Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto.) The violin’s bright and fluid passagework in the fast body of the Rondo points to Schubert’s underutilized talent for virtuosic showmanship, while lyrical episodes celebrate his irrepressible tunefulness.

 

Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 [1880]

 PYOTR IL’YICH TCHAIKOVSKY

Born May 7, 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia

Died November 6, 1893 in Saint Petersburg, Russia

“How fickle my plans are,” Tchaikovsky wrote, “whenever I decide to devote a long time to rest!” Tchaikovsky’s time with his sister in Ukraine turned into a working vacation that summer of 1880, as he confided to his patron and confidante, Nadezdha von Meck. “I had just begun to spend a series of entirely idle days, when there came over me a vague feeling of discomfort and real sickness; I could not sleep and suffered from fatigue and weakness. Today I could not resist sitting down to plan my next symphony—and immediately I became well and calm and full of courage.”

Tchaikovsky’s plan for that music wavered between a symphony and a string quartet, until he landed on something in between: a serenade for string orchestra. The title and form of the work paid homage to Mozart, the greatest composer of serenades, whom Tchaikovsky once praised as “the culminating point which beauty has reached in the sphere of music.” As he wrote in his diary, “Nobody has made me cry and thrill with joy, sensing my proximity to something that we call the ideal, in the way that he has.”

Tchaikovsky wrote the Serenade in little more than a month, even with some of that time devoted to a concurrent project, the 1812 Overture. Again writing to von Meck, Tchaikovsky explained, “The overture will be very showy and noisy, but it will have no artistic merit because I wrote it without warmth and love.” Drawing a comparison, he continued, “I wrote the Serenade on impulse. I felt it deeply, from start to finish, and therefore I dare to believe it will not be without merit.”

The Serenade for Strings merges a Classical sense of order with Tchaikovsky’s own abundant gift for melodic expression. Despite the modest heading that promises a “Piece in the form of a Sonatina,” the first movement establishes a grand and noble tone with a reverent chorale. Instead of a minuet or scherzo, the second movement offers a flirtatious diversion in the form of a Waltz, the quintessential dance of nineteenth-century Vienna and Paris.

The slow movement, labeled an Elegy, takes a more somber turn. The initial motives echo the falling scale fragments that began the work, establishing the sort of thematic integrity that Tchaikovsky so admired in Beethoven, another of his Classical heroes. In the finale, the “Russian theme” promised by the subtitle is an amalgamation of folk material that Tchaikovsky harvested from a printed collection. The main tune from the fast body of the movement traces the same descending contour as the Serenade’s initial chorale, a link that serves to prepare the return of that ceremonial slow music. The related fast theme reignites for a final scamper to the finish.

Learn more about Augustin Hadelich, violin »

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