May 27th, 2012, 3:00pm
Hall, 35 Hazelton Avenue, Toronto
$25 (adults), $18(students and seniors)
12 and under admitted free
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more information, phone (416) 833-0251
Fox, clarinet and tárogató
on Hebrew Themes
Kodály, arr. S. Fox
This afternoon we serve up
a feast of musical dishes from Eastern Europe, pierogi to palacsinta,
old favourites and delicacies never yet tasted.
In 1919, Sergei Prokofiev
(1891-1953) was living in New York, and had established a reputation as
a brilliant pianist and composer of piano music. His Overture
on Hebrew Themes was the result of a commission by Zimro, an ensemble
of Russian Jewish emigré musicians (under the leadership of clarinettist
Simeon Bellison) who were undertaking a concert tour to raise funds for
the founding of a conservatory of music in Jerusalem. They wanted
a composition in a style that would reflect their mission, and which would
combine all the members of their group (piano, clarinet and string quartet).
As source material they gave Prokofiev a collection of Eastern European
Jewish tunes, what would nowadays be called “klezmer music”, though in
North America in the early 20th century that term was shunned since it
connoted lack of sophistication and formal musical education. Though
he initially turned down the commission, Prokofiev changed his mind when
he played the tunes and was carried away by their nostalgic beauty.
The Overture, based on two of the melodies, was premiered in its
original sextet form in New York the following year, and its enthusiastic
reception encouraged Prokofiev to transcribe it for orchestra. Its
melodic appeal and evocative spirit have kept both versions of the piece
firmly in the concert repertoire ever since.
(1906-1962) was born into the tradition of Liszt and Brahms, was educated
in the shadow of Bartók and Kodály, and worked in the atmosphere
of government-fostered nationalism and populism in art in Hungary.
Born and spending his bulk of his life in Budapest, he attended the Academy
of Music there, where his composition teacher was János Koessler,
with whom Bartók, Kodály and others of their generation also
studied; his graduate studies were undertaken in Germany. As a condition
of winning a composition prize, he was required to spend a period collecting
folksongs in the Hungarian countryside; Hungarian folk materials were subsequently
incorporated into his work, though he disagreed with the orthodox interpretation
of such music as presented by Bartók and Kodály, reverting
instead to 19th century models. From 1945 to 1948 he was director
of music for Hungarian radio, and he taught at the Academy of Music until
1962. He was untouched by the radical change in Hungarian "serious"
music in the late 1950s, which opened up the field to broader western influences
and thoroughly repudiated the previous, nationalistic, easily accessible
approach of which Kókai is an example.
Along with his violin concerto
which likewise dates from 1952, the Quartettino for clarinet
and strings is one of Kókai’s best known works, relatively speaking.
There is no disguising the country of origin; folk-like melodies, modes
and rhythms are heard throughout the four movements - Sonatina, Scherzino,
Canzonetta and Finaletto - of this concentrated and highly entertaining
Originally from Kraków,
Poland, Norbert Palej has been increasingly recognized for his “first-rate
and genuinely original work” (American Composers Orchestra), and a musical
language that generates “visceral excitement” (The Boston Globe).
He has been Assistant Professor of Composition at the University of Toronto
since 2008, and he serves as the director of the University of Toronto
gamUT chamber orchestra, and as coordinator of the annual New Music Festival.
The recipient of numerous awards and commissions, he holds composition
degrees from Cornell University (DMA), the Juilliard School (MM), and the
New England Conservatory (BM). He studied conducting at the Academy of
Music in Kraków and at the Juilliard School. Palej is also
an active concert pianist.
"dance house") is a casual Hungarian folk dance event (as opposed to stage
performances), an aspect of the Hungarian roots revival of traditional
culture which began in the early 1970s, which remains an active part of
the national culture in Hungary and in émigré communities
which along with the cimbalom is emblematic of Hungarian musical culture,
was originally a fierce, keyless single reed shawm, as much a ceremonial
noisemaker and a battlefield signalling device as a musical instrument.
The modern tárogáto, designed in the 1890s, is quite different,
having a single reed mouthpiece and German clarinet-style keywork; it could
be described as either a clarinet with a conical bore, or a soprano saxophone
with a wooden body. The hope of its original maker was that it would
be embraced by composers of “serious” music of a nationalistic character;
sadly, for the most part that never happened, but instead it was adopted
by folk musicians (mostly in Romania rather than Hungary), and, in recent
years, by klezmer musicians. Occasionally it makes its way onto the
“classical” music stage, and we are pleased to add to its repertoire with
the Táncház Fantasy for tárogató,
violin and piano.
In the composer’s words:
“Inspired by the Táncház
concept, the Táncház Fantasy explores many different quasi-Magyar
musical styles, ranging from a slow tempo rubato ballad to a quick-paced
dance in craggy rhythms, exploring the tárogató’s ‘exotic’
timbre and embedding it within a musical language infused with stylistic
elements derived from Eastern European folklore. More specifically,
it focusses on the commonalities encountered amongst Hungarian, Polish
and Slovakian music making in the Northern part of the Carpathian mountain
range. My own Polish heritage and intimate knowledge of the music
of the Tatras are a point of departure. Though I have in the past
written music based on North Carpathian folklore, never before have I incorporated
an original instrument from that region.”
If ever a composer deserved
to be called inexplicably neglected, it would have to be Hans Gál
(1890-1987). The composer of a large body of music in many genres
(around 120 published works, plus many unpublished), finely crafted, intellectually
satisfying and completely accessible to traditional ears, he is little
known to the listening public.
Born into a Hungarian-Jewish
family living in Vienna, Gál studied there under Eusebius Mandyczewski
and became established as a teacher and opera composer (his best known
opera is entitled Die heilige Ente, "The Holy Duck"), first in Vienna
and later in Mainz. The coming of the Nazis led to his dismissal,
the banning of his music and subsequently his exile. After a period
in England which included a stint in an alien internment camp, he eventually
settled in Edinburgh and lived there for the rest of his life, working
as a lecturer, conductor and composer; he was one of the founders of the
Gál’s music is so
firmly grounded in the classical Germanic tradition that it might seem
familiar even when it is not; however, although affinities with other composers
can be detected in his work, it would not be correct to say that he imitated
anyone. He remained true to a musical language established in the
1920s, while the musical world around him underwent several generations
of upheaval. This anachronistic attitude possibly accounts in part
for the public neglect of his work.
Op. 93, for the uncommon but welcome combination of clarinet, violin and
cello, was composed in Vienna in 1935, though not published until 1970.
The four movements - Cantabile, Burletta, Intermezzo and Giocoso
- might contain echoes of Strauss, perhaps Nielsen and other composers,
but they display Gál’s distinctive voice, and show masterful handling
of compositional technique, lyricism and wit.
The career of Bohuslav
Martinu (1890-1959) did not have an auspicious beginning. The
son of a shoemaker in rural Bohemia, and a promising young violinist, he
was sent to the Prague Conservatory with funds raised by donations in his
home village, but was expelled for “incorrigible negligence”. A second
attempt several years later was more successful, and he embarked on a career
both as a composer and as a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic.
Dissatisfied by the conservatism of Prague and by the Romantic musical
style, he subsequently moved to Paris, where he was able to develop his
compositional voice, which included elements of impressionism, neoclassicism
and occasionally jazz; throughout his career he also incorporated Eastern
European folk elements in his music, in particular Bohemian and Moravian
nursery rhymes. He went on to become one of the 20th century’s most
prolific composers, producing nearly 400 works in all genres. After
being forced to leave France in 1941 because of his connections with the
Czech resistance, he moved to the U.S.A. where he taught at the Mannes
College and at Princeton University (among his students was a certain Burt
Bacharach), but returned to Europe in 1956.
The Duo No. 2
for violin and viola - an example of Martinu’s particular predilection
for the use of string instruments in his chamber music - was one of three
works (along with the Three Madrigals and the Viola Sonata) written
for the brother and sister team of Joseph and Lillian Fuchs, whom Martinu
met at the Musicians’ Guild chamber concerts in New York in the late 1940s,
and was premiered by them in 1951.
(1882-1967) spent the early decades of his multifaceted career - composer,
collector and analyst of folk music and educator - struggling against entrenched
conservatism and the bureaucracy of various regimes, until the public acclaim
for his Psalmus Hungaricus in 1923 established him as a national figure
and propelled him to international prominence. Shortly afterwards,
in 1925-6, came one of his landmark creations, the comic folk opera Háry
János. Based on the exaggeratedly boastful reminiscences
of an old soldier in the early 19th century (who was a real person, however
fanciful the embroidery of his tales), it incorporated a considerable amount
of the authentic folk music which Kodály had collected. Though
productions of the complete opera are sadly very rare outside Hungary,
the instrumental suite extracted from it is firmly established in the orchestral
Here we present our transcription
for chamber ensemble of one of the movements from the suite, given the
simple title Dál (“song” in Hungarian) by the composer.
It is a setting of the folksong Tiszán innen, Dunán túl
(“This side of the Tisza, beyond the Danube”), sung in the opera by
János and his girlfriend Örzse as they reminisce wistfully
about simple country life in their native land.
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