“Mr. Denk, clearly, is a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs, in whatever combination.”—The New York Times

For his only New York solo recital of the season, pianist Jeremy Denk offers a dialogue (of sorts) between the Viennese Schubert and Czech Janáček, whose miniature lyrical masterpieces alternate in an imaginative conversation. In a festive finale, Denk then takes us to Carnaval, Schumann’s musical portrait gallery of revelers at a masked ball—one of his most beloved and delightful works.As Mr. Denk describes the concert:

“On the first half, a Janáček /Schubert “mixtape” about anxiety, regret and ambivalence; on the second half, Schumann's Carnaval, bursting with young confidence—no regrets, no second thoughts.”

Denk is renowned for his multi-faceted artistry: he is a 2013 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award, Musical America’s 2014 Instrumentalist of the Year, winner of the Avery Fisher Prize, the new artistic partner of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, a popular writer and blogger, and librettist of a new opera, The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), which receives its New York premiere in December.

Exclusive New York Solo Recital
Jeremy Denk, piano
2013 MacArthur Fellow

HAYDN: Sonata in C major, H.XVI:50
JANÁČEK: Selections from On the Overgrown Path, Books I & 2 (alternating with)

SCHUBERT: Selections from
      Ländler, D. 366 & D. 790
      Moments musicaux, D. 780
      Ländler & Écossaises, D. 734
      Grazer Galopp, D. 925

MOZART: Rondo in A minor, K. 511
SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9


This concert is approximately one hour fifty minutes long.

 

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Jeremy Denk plays "The Alcotts" from Ives' "Concord" Sonata.

Introduction: Musical terroir
Notes on the Program

by Sandra Hyslop

On the first half, a Janáček /Schubert “mixtape” about anxiety, regret, and ambivalence; on the second half, Schumann's Carnaval, bursting with young confidence—no regrets, no second thoughts.”—Jeremy Denk

The terroir that produces a distinctive wine can also account for cultural phenomena, whose characteristics bear the stamp of the soil in which they come to life. Just as any given wine accumulates the flavors and textures of its terroir environment, so the languages, music and dances of a particular terroir can be mistaken for no other. Just as a Grüner Veltliner would never be mistaken for a Bordeaux Blanc, so the music of Leoš Janáček would never be mistaken for that of his contemporary Claude Debussy. Their native languages—Czech/Moravian and French—and indigenous musics distinguish them beyond any formal training they had as composers.

The terroir of the Austrian-Hungarian lands in and near Vienna produced remarkably similar musical sensibilities in the composers of the music performed on the first half of this evening’s concert—Haydn, Schubert and Janáček. Although their lives were separated by several generations, they shared many characteristics. They made frequent use of the indigenous music of their homelands as a basis for their compositions. They also significantly gave full rein to their senses of humor and play, and they indulged in creative manipulation of formal composition rules. Moreover, despite the fact that none of them had more than passing piano skills, they all wrote expressively for the keyboard, transcribing the music of peasant instruments and voices into published works that brought country sounds into urban drawing rooms. 
2014, Sandra Hyslop

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HAYDN: Piano Sonata in C major, Hob.Xvi/50

JOSEPH HAYDN Born in Rohrau, Austria, March 31, 1732; died in Vienna, May 31, 1809
Piano Sonata in C major, Hob.Xvi/50
Composed in 1794–1795; 17 minutes

To his good friend (and, later, his first biographer) Georg August Griesinger, Haydn once described his approach to composing for the piano:

I would sit down and start improvising according to my mood—whether it was sad or merry, serious or frivolous. If I caught an idea, then my entire effort would turn toward developing and supporting that idea according to the rules of the art [of composition].

The merry mood of the C-major Piano Sonata that Haydn composed in 1794–95 mirrored his general frame of mind at that time. During two lengthy sojourns in London in the 1790s, he basked in professional successes and personal stimulation. One of the important new friendships that he developed was with the virtuoso pianist Therese Jansen, whose talents inspired several composers to dedicate works to her. Haydn dedicated this and another sonata, as well as three new piano trios, to Mlle. Jansen, and in 1795 he stood as witness to her marriage to the art dealer Francesco Bartolozzi.

An appealing personality and good humor are the hallmarks of the C-major Sonata. The sparkling opening theme, a simple downward leap through the tones of the C-major tonic chord, leads to rich embellishments and fanciful inventions. The theme of the downward leap reappears, notably in a development section in the key of G minor (the dominant minor of C major). Witty and joyful, the Allegro movement sparkles in the hands of a virtuoso, whether Therese Jansen or Jeremy Denk.

The Adagio, written in the key of the sub-dominant, F major, displays Haydn’s inimitable skill in making a structured piece seem improvisatory. It is a fantasia that demonstrates his delight in all the expressive capabilities of the piano: its capacity for dynamic contrasts, varieties of tone color, crisp passagework and warmth of expression.

Following the repose of the closing moments of the Adagio, the third movement springs forth in an ebullient 3/4 measure. Very Ländler-like, the music would nevertheless confound any would-be dancers because of Haydn’s penchant for abruptly suspending motion with unexpected silences. These humorous stops and starts contribute substantially to the verve of the final Allegro molto.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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JANÁČEK: Selections From On the Overgrown Path, Books I And II

LEOŠ JANÁČEK Born in Hukvaldy, Moravia, July 3, 1854; died in Moravská Ostrava (present-day Czech Republic), August 12, 1928
Selections From On the Overgrown Path, Books I And II
Composed in 1900–1911

Leoš Janáček, whose principal instrument was the organ, had written many piano works in various forms during the period 1875–1900, but he began to write publishable piano pieces only in the first decade of the 20th century. An influential figure in the music culture of his home city of Brno, Moravia, Janáček had a small local following of admirers, particularly the Club of the Friends of Art in Brno. (His wider fame as a distinguished composer of operas lay in the future.) These Friends of Art were the first to hear his new works for piano, including his first Piano Sonata, a new Piano Trio based on Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, and the piano suite In the Mists, which had won a competition sponsored by the club.

Ever fascinated by linguistic elements in human affairs, Janáček was particularly attuned to his own language, a Moravian dialect of Czech. He developed a refined sense of the sounds and textures of his language as they emerged in music, not only as an expression of the profound love he had for his own culture, but also as a form of political resistance; Janáček was a patriot who opposed the domination of the Austro-Hungarian rule—and the German language—in Moravia. This sensitivity led to his development of a theory of “speech-melody,” which informed not only his many vocal works, but also all of his instrumental compositions after 1900. Thus, most of his instrumental works—like On an Overgrown Path—carried descriptive titles that emerged intrinsically, along with the music, during composition.

Janáček composed On an Overgrown Path, musical memories from his childhood and youth, over a period of a decade, beginning in 1900. It was published eventually in two books—the first comprising ten pieces with descriptive sub-titles, and the second a collection of five pieces with only tempo indications in place of titles.

These 15 miniatures bear Janáček’s characteristic stamps: the score is laid out without any time signatures—i.e., no 3/4 or 6/8 or 5/4 to guide the pianist. Rather, the music flows with the internal rhythms of speech and dance that guided Janáček in composing it. Further, although the score does indicate key signatures, Janáček forges surprising paths and detours that both contain and confound the originally indicated key of the piece. Melodies abound, frequently very simple in line and structure, but like the rhythms and harmonies, they take the unexpected turns that give Janáček’s music its unique flavor. Using modal scales from Moravian folk music and guided by his own sensibility, Janáček remained true to the late-Romantic compositional traditions that he had studied, while travelling his own, idiosyncratic ways.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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SCHUBERT: Selected Dances

 

Franz Schubert
Born in Himmelpfortgrund, a Vienna suburb, January 31, 1797; died in Vienna, November 19, 1828
Selected Dances
Composed in 1816–1827

The popular iconography that has survived Franz Schubert—drawings, etchings and paintings—leaves a collective impression of a merry band of friends engaged in the unencumbered pleasures of life in Biedermeyer Vienna. The power of these visual images has sometimes overridden the widely available biographical evidence, which reveals that the events of Schubert’s short life ranged far afield of house parties and walks in the countryside.

If we scratch the surface, even of a social event, we discover the grit that hides behind those merry images. According to the host of a winter party in 1822, “I had asked some friends, Schubert among them, including a number of young men and women …. Schubert, who had already played a few pieces, sat at the piano and broke into dances. They all joined in the circle round him, laughing and drinking. Suddenly I was called away; a stranger was announced. It was a Commissioner of Police, who forbade us to go on with the dancing because it was Lent! When I went back to the room and announced what had happened everybody was alarmed. But Schubert remarked: ‘He has done that on purpose. The fellow knows that I like playing dance music!’ ”

Remarkably sociable, Schubert often played the piano for his friends at such private gatherings, where he accompanied singers and created dance music for the guests. No one could know how many dances he made up on the spot, but he jotted down more than 450 short Menuetts, Waltzes, German dances, Ecossaises, Ländler, Valses and Galops that made the transition from ephemeral party improv to solid manuscript paper. That rich printed trove encompasses delightful period dances, some of which were published in his lifetime, but most of which became available only over the decades after Schubert’s death. Interspersing such dances, plus two of Schubert’s “musical moments,” with Janáček’s recollections of his Moravian childhood creates a substantial aural impression of the terroir of the region in the 19th century.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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SCHUBERT: Selections from Moments Musicaux, D. 780

Composed in 1823–1828

Schubert composed the pieces that he called Moments musicaux and submitted them to his publisher Haslinger as a six-part work intended for a fairly advanced pianist. The six pieces cover a wide emotional range, as evidenced by the two selections here. No. 4, Moderato, is in ternary form, ABA, with a shift between C-sharp minor and D-flat major through some ingenious modulations. No. 5: Allegro vivace, is a raucous, stomping 2/4 dance in F minor, unrelenting in its energy, even in its pianissimo sections.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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SCHUBERT: Selections from Moments Musicaux, D. 780

Composed in 1823–1828

Schubert composed the pieces that he called Moments musicaux and submitted them to his publisher Haslinger as a six-part work intended for a fairly advanced pianist. The six pieces cover a wide emotional range, as evidenced by the two selections here. No. 4, Moderato, is in ternary form, ABA, with a shift between C-sharp minor and D-flat major through some ingenious modulations. No. 5: Allegro vivace, is a raucous, stomping 2/4 dance in F minor, unrelenting in its energy, even in its pianissimo sections.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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MOZART: Rondo in A minor, K. 511

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Born in Salzburg, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
Rondo in A minor, K. 511
Composed in 1787; 10 minutes

Mozart frequently turned to the rondo form for individual movements of his larger instrumental works—chamber music, orchestral pieces, concertos—and it was a practiced hand, and ear, that produced this keyboard composition. The Rondo in A minor exposes Mozart’s prescient understanding of the unique expressive capabilities inherent in the piano, which was a new instrument at the time. Composed midway between the two opera pinnacles Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, the ten-minute work evidences similar operatic characteristics such as lyricism and drama, albeit on an exquisite, miniature scale.

Mozart states the lyrical principal theme in the tonic key, A minor, varies it in major, and then in good arioso fashion, repeats it, with embellishments, before moving on. The two contrasting sections of the rondo are secured to the pillars of the principal theme and its variations through ingenious transitions. Indeed, Mozart pushes the rondo form so cleverly that he could have reasonably entitled this work a “Fantasia.” Tension increases through the florid melismas that elaborate the third appearance of the melancholy main theme, even as the drama subsides and the Rondo sighs to a conclusion.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9

ROBERT SCHUMANN Born in Zwickau, June 8, 1810; died in Endenich, near Bonn, July 19, 1856
Carnaval, Op. 9
Composed in 1834-35; 28 minutes

Although Robert Schumann’s wife, Clara Wieck—truly the love of his life—inspired the vast majority of his compositions, she was preceded in the role of Muse by a young lady, Ernestine von Fricken, who inspired Schumann’s fanciful Carnaval, published as Op. 9 and bearing the subtitle “Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes” [“Little scenes on four notes”]. In July 1834 Schumann confessed in a letter to his mother that Fräulein von Fricken had captured his fancy. “She is remarkably musical—everything, in a word, that I might wish my wife to be.” The young lady was a fellow pupil of his piano professor, Friedrich Wieck, and she was a boarder in his home. Schumann contrived meetings with the young lady, then proposed marriage and visited her family in the town of Asch, only to eventually jilte her. In the midst of that abortive courtship, Schumann found the inspiration to write one of his most important early piano works.

Choosing the letters of Ernestine’s home town as his motto, Schumann created a musical theme from the four notes Es–C–H–A (the German letters for the notes E-flat–C–B–A). Not only did the letters spell the name of Ernestine’s home town, Asch, but they also were four of the letters that spelled his own family name. This theme was the basis for Schumann’s musical variations, which he imagined as the depiction of a pre-Lenten ball. Writing to his friend Ignaz Moscheles, Schumann said “…deciphering my masked ball will be a real game for you.”

Deciphering though would not have required much detective work once Moscheles saw the score; Schumann gives the whole game away in the ninth movement, entitled “Sphinxs,” four thematic tones in old-fashioned square notes on three short staves. Perhaps this is why Schumann instructs the performer that the movement “sollen nicht gespielt werden” [“should not be played”].

Schumann opened his masked ball with a first-movement fanfare of chords and a grand waltz in A-flat major. To his Carnaval party he invited a circle of friends old and new. His own fictional “Davidsbund,” the Band of David, included the personages Eusebius (the soulful one), Florestan (the fiery one) and Chiarina (the code here for Clara Wieck, who had already attracted Schumann’s attention). Schumann meant Estrella to represent Ernestine von Fricken herself.

In addition, Schumann invited the traditional commedia dell’arte characters Pierrot, Arlequin, Coquette, Pantalon and Colombine. The composers Paganini and Chopin are represented by characteristic music—Paganini’s virtuosic leaps in a violin caprice, and an imitation of one of Chopin’s piano preludes. (Chopin reportedly was not amused by his inclusion in the Carnaval, even though Schumann meant the lovely, lyrical miniature as a tribute.)

For interludes that were scattered among the characters, Schumann composed two waltzes (Valse noble and Valse allemande), the Reconnaissance (in which a love duet suggests, perhaps, a lowering of the masks), Aveu (a series of passionate sighs) and a Promenade (in which the lovers take a walk in convivial waltz rhythm). A reference to his own piano suite Papillons appears here, and Schumann includes the principal theme from that work, undisguised, in the final movement, March of the Band of David against the Philistines. Just as Schumann’s piano suite Papillons concluded with the chiming of a clock, Carnaval concludes with twelve iterations of a clanging A-flat-major chord, as if to say, Twelve o’clock! Party’s over!

At the time he composed Carnaval, Schumann still had hopes for a career as a pianist. One of the several piano works that he composed early in his career, Carnaval contains many of the signature characteristics of his piano writing: lyrical melodic content, rhythmic complexity (including syncopations and hemiolas), chords (as opposed to linear scales) and inventive use of the sustaining pedal. Not overtly virtuosic, Carnaval nevertheless demands an extraordinary range of piano skills to paint its 22 little scenes on four notes.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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Artist Bio

Jeremy Denk, piano

ROBERT SCHUMANN Born in Zwickau, June 8, 1810; died in Endenich, near Bonn, July 19, 1856
Carnaval, Op. 9
Composed in 1834-35; 28 minutes

Although Robert Schumann’s wife, Clara Wieck—truly the love of his life—inspired the vast majority of his compositions, she was preceded in the role of Muse by a young lady, Ernestine von Fricken, who inspired Schumann’s fanciful Carnaval, published as Op. 9 and bearing the subtitle “Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes” [“Little scenes on four notes”]. In July 1834 Schumann confessed in a letter to his mother that Fräulein von Fricken had captured his fancy. “She is remarkably musical—everything, in a word, that I might wish my wife to be.” The young lady was a fellow pupil of his piano professor, Friedrich Wieck, and she was a boarder in his home. Schumann contrived meetings with the young lady, then proposed marriage and visited her family in the town of Asch, only to eventually jilte her. In the midst of that abortive courtship, Schumann found the inspiration to write one of his most important early piano works.

Choosing the letters of Ernestine’s home town as his motto, Schumann created a musical theme from the four notes Es–C–H–A (the German letters for the notes E-flat–C–B–A). Not only did the letters spell the name of Ernestine’s home town, Asch, but they also were four of the letters that spelled his own family name. This theme was the basis for Schumann’s musical variations, which he imagined as the depiction of a pre-Lenten ball. Writing to his friend Ignaz Moscheles, Schumann said “…deciphering my masked ball will be a real game for you.”

Deciphering though would not have required much detective work once Moscheles saw the score; Schumann gives the whole game away in the ninth movement, entitled “Sphinxs,” four thematic tones in old-fashioned square notes on three short staves. Perhaps this is why Schumann instructs the performer that the movement “sollen nicht gespielt werden” [“should not be played”].

Schumann opened his masked ball with a first-movement fanfare of chords and a grand waltz in A-flat major. To his Carnaval party he invited a circle of friends old and new. His own fictional “Davidsbund,” the Band of David, included the personages Eusebius (the soulful one), Florestan (the fiery one) and Chiarina (the code here for Clara Wieck, who had already attracted Schumann’s attention). Schumann meant Estrella to represent Ernestine von Fricken herself.

In addition, Schumann invited the traditional commedia dell’arte characters Pierrot, Arlequin, Coquette, Pantalon and Colombine. The composers Paganini and Chopin are represented by characteristic music—Paganini’s virtuosic leaps in a violin caprice, and an imitation of one of Chopin’s piano preludes. (Chopin reportedly was not amused by his inclusion in the Carnaval, even though Schumann meant the lovely, lyrical miniature as a tribute.)

For interludes that were scattered among the characters, Schumann composed two waltzes (Valse noble and Valse allemande), the Reconnaissance (in which a love duet suggests, perhaps, a lowering of the masks), Aveu (a series of passionate sighs) and a Promenade (in which the lovers take a walk in convivial waltz rhythm). A reference to his own piano suite Papillons appears here, and Schumann includes the principal theme from that work, undisguised, in the final movement, March of the Band of David against the Philistines. Just as Schumann’s piano suite Papillons concluded with the chiming of a clock, Carnaval concludes with twelve iterations of a clanging A-flat-major chord, as if to say, Twelve o’clock! Party’s over!

At the time he composed Carnaval, Schumann still had hopes for a career as a pianist. One of the several piano works that he composed early in his career, Carnaval contains many of the signature characteristics of his piano writing: lyrical melodic content, rhythmic complexity (including syncopations and hemiolas), chords (as opposed to linear scales) and inventive use of the sustaining pedal. Not overtly virtuosic, Carnaval nevertheless demands an extraordinary range of piano skills to paint its 22 little scenes on four notes.
© 2014, Sandra Hyslop

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  • Jeremy Denk, piano

    Date: Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 8 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

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