Suk, Fantastic Scherzo
Mozart, Symphony No. 29
Saint-Saëns, Piano Concerto No. 5
Juho Pohjonen, Piano
One of the brightest young instrumental artists to recently emerge from Finland, Juho Pohjonen has attracted great attention as one of his country’s most intriguing and talented pianists. Widely praised for his broad range of repertoire from Bach to Messiaen, Mr. Pohjonen collaborates with the world’s foremost conductors and orchestras. Mr. Pohjonen has performed in venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, as well as a number of renowned festivals including Lucerne, Grant Park, and Aspen. A committed chamber musician, Mr. Pohjonen appears regularly with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Mr. Pohjonen has recorded for the Dacapo label.
“Juho Pohjonen played the fiendishly difficult piano part brilliantly, conquering its technical challenges and highlighting myriad colors, as well as contrasting the exuberant elements with moments of introspective clarity,” declared The New York Times.
Fantastic Scherzo, Op. 25, Josef Suk (1874-1935)
Czech composer and virtuoso violinist Josef Suk studied at the Prague Conservatory during the years 1885 to 1892. His primary teacher of composition there was the great Antonin Dvořák(1841-1904), and Josef quickly became Antonin’s favorite pupil. As a result, Antonin was a major influence in Josef’s music, and that influence can easily be heard, especially in the Fantastic Scherzo. Much of the style and characteristics of Dvořák’s music can be explained by his upbringing in Bohemia and his exposure to the music that played such an important role in the lives of the people. He was captivated by the essence of the folk melodies, rhythms and harmonies he played and heard, and the result was that his own music was imbued with those qualities. It is important to note, however, that Dvořák did not use direct quotes from folk music, but rather captured the spirit and the flavor of it with his own creative writing. But capture it he surely did, which accounts for the appeal and influence so much of his music had throughout the world.
The Czech composer’s masterful way with inspiring combinations of song, dance, rhythm, and colorful orchestration, all coupled with moments of quiet repose and thrilling energy, also became essential characteristics in many of Josef’s pieces. The two musicians became very close, and Josef became close to the family, so close that he married Antonin’s daughter. These were the happiest times in Josef’s life. He formed a string quartet, which became well known, as did his masterful performances as a solo violinist.
Josef Suk’s Fantastic Scherzo, first performed in Prague in 1903, follows traditional form of the scherzo, the tripartite ABA in fast 3/4 time, which Beethoven is credited with establishing as a change from the earlier, classical Minuet and Trio as heard in works of Haydn and Mozart, which were cast in a much more formal, slower tempo, although also in 3/4 time. This work is bright, engaging and energetic, while featuring a romantic, wonderfully contrasting section near the final measures. There is, however, a return to the strong rhythmic beat and rich orchestration which closes the Scherzo.
Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart and Haydn, the two great classic composers of symphonies in the 18th century, represent an era of formality and clarity, marked by a culture that separated the artist’s personal feelings from his art. It was with composers such as Weber, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt and Chopin, followed by so many others of the “Golden Age” of Romanticism, that inroads were made to the creation of symphonic musical art that expressed the inner, private feelings of the composers to the public.
Mozart and Haydn wrote music for occasions and commissions, and in some cases, for their own appearances. The vast difference is that their symphonic and chamber music is based on the authority of the music for its own sake; absolute music was the rule of their day, as compared to the heavily involved personal emotions in the Romanticist’s day. One thinks of these differences when comparing Mozart’s formality in the Symphony No. 29 with the searing emotional intensity of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique.”
And yet the music of Mozart and Haydn has an undeniable appeal, just as meaningful to us as that of the Romantics. Perhaps the abundance and charm of Mozart’s melodies, and the wit and ingenuity of Haydn’s ideas, account for this. The lines of communication and understanding are just as open with clarity as with emotional display, producing equal rewards for the listener.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 makes a good case for the direct appeal of formality and clarity. The first movement, in particular, is such a clear example of the sonata-allegro form that it could be used as a textbook study for Form and Analysis 101. Yet Mozart’s genius was such that this movement, and indeed the entire four-movement symphony, rather than being dulled by formal adherence, is one of inspiration, craftsmanship and lyrical beauty. It was among a group of eight symphonies that he composed in the winter of 1773 to 1774 in Salzburg, a group that marked the arrival at a new level of his immense gifts. The fact that he was only eighteen years old is still astonishing.
Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 103, Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
A most prolific composer, Saint-Saëns, whose broad output of compositions spanned fifty years, including five piano concertos and countless other major works of all kinds, was greatly influenced by Franz Liszt (1811-1886). He was also much admired by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Similar to Mozart, Saint-Saëns was an astounding child prodigy. He gave his debut piano recital at age ten, at which his encore was to perform any one of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas from memory. He had absolute pitch and total recall of any music he heard or book he had read. He also grew to become one of the great pianists and organists of his time.
In his mature years the composer was writing in an environment that included Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Prokofiev and other groundbreaking leaders of the musical avant-garde. Amazingly, he was not in the least bit influenced by the work going on around him. A case in point is his countryman Claude Debussy’s landmark orchestral piece, Jeux (1912), which is intentionally devoid of melodic symmetry and harmonic resolution.
Saint-Saëns would have none of the impressionistic elements in this piece. As well, Romantic emotionalism, which was then followed by German twelve-tone advocates and the Russian revolutionists, such as Stravinsky, with his shattering Le Sacre du Printemps (1912), were of no interest to him. As he stated, his credo was as follows: “For me, art is form. Expression and passion seduce the amateur above all. For the artist it is different. An artist who is not fully satisfied by elegant lines, harmonious colors and beautiful harmonic progressions has no understanding of art.” This is a perfect reflection of Saint-Saëns’s traditional values as related to clarity, restraint and order in melody, harmony and orchestration, all characteristics prevalent in his music.
This final piano concerto of Saint-Saëns is remarkable for its compelling, engaging qualities, which serve to showcase the piano and the symphony orchestra in all their superb musical adventures. The work consists of three movements: Allegro animato, Andante, and Molto allegro. It was completed in 1896, and the composer was the featured piano soloist at its première, as was the case in each of his piano concertos. The concerto and the performance were a critical and popular success, undoubtedly owing partly to the spectacular power heard in the demanding solo passages in this concerto.
Because it was composed in Luxor while Saint-Saëns was on vacation in Egypt, this piece has received the nickname “The Egyptian.” The concerto also reflects influences of Middle-eastern music, particularly the Nubian love song, heard in the second movement Andante.
– Richard Wolter
Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m.
Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center
Pre-Concert Lectures with Assistant Conductor Joshua Bavaro Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.