Basically Beethoven Festival – with program notes

What is Basically Beethoven Festival?

The Basically Beethoven Festival was Fine Arts Chamber Players’ initial concert series. Since 1981, the festival has provided the Dallas public with free chamber music concerts during the month of July, a traditionally slow time for performing arts events. The Basically Beethoven Festival feature musicians of the Dallas Symphony, the Fort Worth Opera, and other professional organizations in concert every Sunday afternoon in July.

At 2:00 pm, Doors open. Come early – the seats are known to fill up!

During this time you can chat with your friends, meet the FACP staff, enjoy Moody Performance Hall, and peruse the various display tables in front of the auditorium. FACP offers tickets for a very popular raffle each year at the Festival.

2:30 – 2:50 pm Rising Star Recital: At every concert we feature a performance by young, emerging musicians who are just beginning to make names for themselves on the Dallas scene.

3:00 – 4:00 pm Feature Concert: The featured artist(s) will perform selections (usually) from the classical repertoire.

FACP events have no strings attached: just show up, enjoy the music and take part in the artistic community!

What to wear:   Jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops are welcome, as well as dresses and ties. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable. Generally, FACP fosters a casual, fun environment at our concerts.

Where to park:  Downtown parking can be tricky, but we’ve got hints and a map for you here on our Venues page.

Punctuality:   If you come a bit late, there is late seating between pieces.

Photography:    Please do not take pictures WHILE the musicians are performing. This can distract them from their music-making! You are free to take them at any other time during the event.

See All Basically Beethoven Festivals

Program Notes by Carnell Simmons

July 31, 2016

Many of Claude Debussy’s (1862-1918) piano works capture the visual beauty of life through sound. L’isle joyeuse (The Island of Joy) is a happy, exuberant, and thrilling work inspired by a Rococo painting titled L’Embarquement pour Cythere (The Embarkation for Cythera) by Jean-Antoine Watteau, which depicts a party of revelers leaving the mythical island of Cythera, the birthplace of the goddess Venus. Debussy’s work has a frenzied, frantic nature but maintains a solid foundation through a strict compositional structure. It opens with shimmering notes that outline the whole-tone scale, a six-note scale pattern that reappears throughout the piece. After the harmonic transition, a sentimental waltz changes the meter but leaves the listeners stuck with the previous pitch center. This piece eventually increases in tempo and texture as it revisits the beginning’s refrain.

Carl Vine (b.1954) is an Australian composer of contemporary classical music. Since 1975, Vine has worked as a pianist and composer with a number of theatre and dance companies, symphonies, and choral ensembles. Sonata No. 1 is a two-movement piece written with virtuosic piano technique and modal chord sequences. In the opening section of the piece, intoxicating chords build into a hypnotic sound cloud that is interrupted by sparse staccato notes. The movement ends with a reprise that acts as deep exhale after the thunderous, fast-paced staccatos.

Throughout his life, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) had a special fondness for Hungarian folk and gypsy music. This influence permeates much of his work, especially the four-hand piano piece Hungarian Dance No. 4 in F Minor. This comes from his first set of dances published in 1869. The work begins poco sostenuto, providing a longing melody that blends rich harmonies and delicate phrases. This beautiful opening transitions to a brisk vivace section that bounces back and forth with the reprise from the first section. This piece, along with others from the set, played a strong role in Scott Joplin’s studies with Julius Weiss and ultimately the creation of ragtime.

While Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was summering at the home of Count Johann Karl Esterházy, a Hungarian noble of the Austrian Empire, he composed Three Marches Militaires. Perhaps the most beloved march within the set is the first, which is commonly referred to as Schubert’s Marche Militaire. The four-hand piano piece is written in ternary form with a central trio in the key of G Major that leads to a reprise of the main march theme in the key of D Major. The piece received a new audience thanks to its inclusion in the classic 1932 Walt Disney animated short Santa’s Workshop.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756-1791) Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), published posthumously, is one of the most cherished works of the classical era. The opening Allegro section begins energetically and is a brilliant example of the sonata form with a well-planned alternation of themes, development, and a complete return to the original form. The second-movement, Romanze, features a beautiful main theme followed by a passionately romantic middle section which sets up the return of the main theme. Minuet and Trio displays Mozart‘s ability to make simplicity beautiful, and follows the common minuet-trio-minuet da capo form. The spirited Rondo finale, like the Allegro, is written in sonata form and concludes the work in a festive manner.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) generated a prolific output of spellbinding music without regard for financial gain or his legacy. Toward the end of his life, even as sickness made him increasingly isolated, Schubert’s music remained fresh. Two months before his death, Schubert composed his final instrumental work, String Quintet in C Major, op. 163, D. 956. This piece has become an essential masterpiece of the string chamber music repertoire. Schubert’s most sublime composition was written for an unusual configuration of two violins, viola, and two cellos, enhancing the richness of the quintet’s lower register and emulating the depth of a full orchestra. The first movement Allegro ma non troppo is expansive, accounting for more than a third of the total length of the four-movement piece and capturing a lifetime of emotion through its use of crescendos and decrescendos, yearning melodies, and unison pizzicatos. The dramatic Adagio movement recalls the calm preceding a storm, before introducing agitated motifs and beautiful sonorities from each instrument’s middle register. After the heart-rending Adagio, a lively Scherzo creates a sound screen that is later interrupted by the Andante sostenuto. The quintet ends with a brilliant Allegretto that quotes Hungarian dance tunes in the main theme and grows increasingly nostalgic. With one foot in Hades and the other in Paradise, Schubert has truly composed a mythical, visionary, frightening, and intoxicatingly beautiful affirmation of his life.

 July 24, 2016

Raga pantuvarali is an ancient melodic scale that has been used for a myriad of compositions in south Indian classical, or Carnatic, music. This 17th century southern Indian Carnatic raga was largely popularized by the works of the 18th century Saint Thyagaraja, a prolific and legendary composer in the Carnatic music tradition. An improvised raga like this is often performed at the beginning of a traditional Carnatic concert and is characterized by its evocative and meditative qualities, as well as its ability to evoke a sense of pathos and desperation. In the raga the listener will hear semi-tone pitches, considered the most harmonically dissonant, that do not follow westernized scale sequences.

Dr. Elizabeth J. Start (b.1959) holds undergraduate degrees in mathematics and cello from Oberlin College and Conservatory, a master’s degree in cello and theory/composition from Northern Illinois University, and a Ph.D. in composition from the University of Chicago. Olden Times is the last movement from Suite (2008) for violin and mridangam; the other movements are Overture/Procession, Tango, and Dalliance. Suite was originally written for Rohan Krishanmurthy on mridangam and Ayano Aishi on violin. Since its premiere, it has been transcribed for cello and mridangam. The suite was patterned on Baroque-era suites which typically contain a collection of dance works in the order of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue. This final movement is reminiscent of a Bach partita and also draws on dance rhythms inspired by music of the Renaissance and Medieval eras.

Though born in Italy, José Bragato (b.1915) has dedicated his life to creating classical music influenced by Argentine and Paraguayan folk music. Bragato joined the Jacopo Tomadini Conservatory in Udine, Italy, to study piano, but due to the aftermath of World War I he and his family emigrated to a village outside of Buenos Aires in 1927. After the move, he began studying cello at the Manuel de Falla National Conservatory of Music. Bragato had a very promising start and began to compose, perform, and travel as a virtuoso cellist. While traveling, he played with some of Argentina’s most outstanding tango orchestras. Because of his exceptional talent, Bragato was asked by band leader Astor Piazzolla to join his Octeto Buenos Aires and his Sextango ensembles in 1954. This marked the first time a cello soloist was part of the ensembles. “Graciela y Buenos Aries” for cello and piano is a prime example of the influence of the Nuevo Tango movement that Piazzolla spearheaded. The piece shows Bragato’s versatility at combining popular and classical music.

Throughout his life, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) had a special fondness for Hungarian folk music and gypsy music. This influence permeates many of his works, especially his Hungarian Dances which were published in 1869 and 1880, totaling 21-pieces. Hungarian Dance No. 17 was originally written for four-hand piano in the key of F-sharp minor. This transcription for violin and piano has been transposed down a half step to the key of F-minor. The piece highlights the violin with a lyrical melody and jaunty flourishes.

Pavane in F-sharp Minor, op. 50 is a slow processional based on a court dance common in 16th century Spain. This piece was composed in the late 1880s by French composer Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and was originally written for piano and chorus. In the summer of 1887, Fauré composed an orchestral version of the piece at Le Vésinet, a commune in a wealthy suburb of Paris. The listener will hear the ebb and flow of harmonies and melodies as the piece climaxes to an optimistic and elegant conclusion.

Of the three piano trios in Ludwig von Beethoven’s (1770-1827) first opus, Piano Trio in C Minor, op. 1 No. 3 is considered the boldest and most virtuosic of the set. The trio begins with an Allegro con brio movement, featuring the Sturm und Drang style which was prevalent in German literature and art of the late 1700s. Sturm und Drang translates literally as “storm and drive,” and the aggressive passages in the first movement reappear in the final movement. The second movement, Andante cantabile con Variazioni, is a simple theme with five variations marked by elegance and wit that transitions into the Menuetto & Trio Quasi Allegro. The lightweight and refreshing Menuetto demonstrates the transparent nature of the key of A minor and Beethoven’s lighter side. In the dramatic last movement, Finale: Prestissimo, each instrument seems to compete for emotional intensity. The work eventually settles into a pianissimo that acts as a sweet sigh of release to the pompous finale.

Paul Schoenfield (b.1947), a native of Detroit, is on the music faculty at the University of Michigan. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Arizona and earned a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University. He has traveled and performed around the world. For his compositions, Schoenfield has received several grants from institutions including Chamber Music America and the Juilliard School. His passion for combining jazz and classical elements is heard in his lively Finale from Café Music. He has said about the piece:

“the idea to compose Café Music first came to me in 1985 after sitting-in one night [as] the pianist at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Murray’s employs a house trio which plays entertaining dinner music in a wide variety of styles. My intention was to write a kind of high-class dinner music — music which could be played at a restaurant, but might also (just barely) find its way into a concert hall. The work draws on many of the types of music played by the trio at Murray’s. For example, early 20th century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are all represented. A paraphrase of a beautiful Chassidic melody is incorporated in the second movement. Café Music was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and received its premiere during a SPCO chamber concert in January 1987.”

July 17, 2016

World War I begins on July 28, 1914. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was profoundly affected by the war and was unable to compose for over a year because of it, writing “unless one’s directly involved with the war; it makes thought very difficult.” The French composer, who represents the transition of late romantic music into the 20th century, was in his early 50s at the beginning of World War I. During this time, he composed his Cello Sonata in D Minor: one of the three completed sonatas of his planned “Six Sonatas pour diverse instruments” series. It is divided into three short movements. Prologue is slow, free flowing, and more modal than tonal. It opens with an impressionistic chord structure that eventually develops into a mix of major and minor tonalities. The Sérénade incorporates mandolin-like pizzicato, giving this movement an exotic twist. As the suspenseful Sérénade concludes, the Finale breaks out in a jaunty melody with dissonance and small reminisces of the pizzicato from the earlier movement. Debussy eventually returns to D Minor, giving resolution to this declamatory piece.

One of Spain’s most prominent composers from the early 1900s was Enrique Granados (1867-1916). This neo-romantic Spanish composer lived around the time of Debussy and created masterful works that exuded similar expressive styles. Orientale is the first movement from his composition, Three Spanish Dances. Listen for a light piano motif that is enhanced by strong, connected lines in the cello part.

Giovanni Sollima (b.1962) is influenced by a wide range of compositional techniques. His piece, Lamentatio, is composed in a minimalist style. He incorporates singing lyrical lines and vigorous repetitive themes that almost embody a jazzy bass line. The listener will easily become intoxicated by this exciting style of playing and the high energy of his bombastic melodies.

Danza ritual del fuego, better known as Ritual Fire Dance, is a movement from the El Amor Brujo ballet, which translates to “The Bewitched Love.” This popular piano arrangement is full of fast-paced tempos, trills, and ornamentation similar to that of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was an influential Spanish composer noted for his expressive romanticism. This transcription features the cellist as the solo voice with a piano accompaniment that spans the harmonic depth of a small orchestra. This movement tells of Candela, a gypsy girl who is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband. She performs a ritual to vanquish him and send him forever into the fires of hell. The listener will hear fast paced notes that evoke her continuous whirling and dancing in circles.

When a work is composed without an opus number, it often means that the composer never intended for the work to be published. Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) piece Variations on a Theme by Count Waldstein is an example of a composition that Beethoven did not plan on publishing. While Beethoven may not have considered these variations very important in his compositional repertoire, they are still incredibly creative and show the lighter side of his personality. The piece is filled with repetitive motifs that develop and expand with each variation.

Musical, humorous, modern, and innovative are all words that come to mind when we think of the sounds of Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Copland first played his Scherzo Humoristique, better known as “The Cat and The Mouse,” at a student performance while he was very young. This etude combines sixteenth notes, glissandi, grace notes, chromaticism, erratic rhythms, and impressionism to evoke the playful nature of a cat and mouse. At this point in his life, Copland was studying in Manhattan with Rubin Goldmark, a well-known but conservative musician who had nothing much to say about Copland’s new “modernist” style of writing. Copland left Manhattan to study with Nadia Boulanger in France, and at the end of his first year in Paris, he was approached by Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy’s publisher, who asked to publish Scherzo Humoristique and pay Copland 500 francs. Copland was astonished at this accomplishment and wrote, “I was so delighted that Debussy’s publisher wanted my piece. I would have given it to him for nothing.”

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) composed The Swan as part of The Carnival of the Animals, and it has become one of the most famous pieces played by cellists around the world. This beautiful, graceful, and somewhat melancholy transcription for duo piano contains a melody that personifies a graceful swan.

Circling overhead, a crow has been following the wanderer. Is it waiting to feast on his carcass? Will this crow, unlike his beloved, stay with him till he dies? This poem titled “Die Krähe,” which translates to “The Crow,” inspired Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who was renowned for composing lied or art songs. Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise, which includes Die Krähe, is famous for its vivid musical portraits of the pains of love, impending death, and loneliness. This piece is an example of the expressive nature of Schubert’s music and the depth of his empathy.

Flight of the Bumblebee was composed as an orchestral interlude by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) for the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. In the original opera there was a vocal line, although the piece is almost never performed with a vocal line today. Flight of the Bumblebee is recognizable by its fast pace, frantic style, and nearly uninterrupted sixteenth notes. It is frequently performed as a showpiece to display a musician’s dexterity.

Composed in the early 1900s, Oiseaux Tristes (which translates to “Sad Birds”) is the second movement from Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) Miroirs. This piece, dedicated to and premiered by pianist Ricardo Viñes, is regarded as one of Ravel’s major works, not only because of its duration, but because it conveys his creative and expressive style of Impressionism.

Franz Liszt (1811-1866) was born in eastern Hungary (present day Austria). Despite spending most of his formative years in Paris, Liszt had a deep love for his homeland and was fascinated by gypsy music. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is a dazzling interpretation of gypsy melodies, and is the second of 19 rhapsodies that Liszt composed over the course of his life. Liszt borrowed the term “rhapsody” from literature in an effort to indicate the “fantastic epic quality” of his music, and based his composition form on the style of the Hungarian national dance, the czardas. Listeners will recognize this piece from its many uses in cinema and cartoons, most notably Tom and Jerry and the dueling pianos scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The piece was originally written for piano in 1847, but was quickly scored for orchestra once its popularity soared.

When ragtime music is combined with Broadway tunes, tap dancing, rock ‘n’ roll, and suggestions of impressionism, you get William Bolcom’s (b.1938) The Serpent’s Kiss from The Garden of Eden. This is one of four pieces that tells the biblical story of the fall of man. Through the use of ragtime, the work conjures images of the infamous serpent as he surveys the destruction of the world.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed the Firebird Suite between November 1909 and May 1910, it was first performed as a ballet by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Paris Opera in June 1910. By chance, Diaghilev had heard Stravinsky’s music for the first time just two years earlier, at a concert in St. Petersburg. Diaghilev immediately invited the 20-year-old composer to assist in orchestrating music for the 1909 ballet season in Paris. This dazzling music by the daring young composer was Stravinsky’s first large-scale commission, and since it was an immediate hit, it was quickly followed by two more large-scale works for ballet and orchestra: Petrushka, which enhanced his reputation, and The Rite of Spring, which brought him notoriety. Though The Rite of Spring made Stravinsky revolutionary, the Firebird is a work of such brilliance that even if he had written nothing else, Stravinsky’s name would still be known today. This transcription features two pianos and six hands in an energetic and virtuosic adaptation by Basically Beethoven Guest Festival Director Alex McDonald.

July 10, 2016

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic Era. During his short life, he wrote waltzes, mazurkas, nocturnes, and other piano pieces. Chopin is credited as the innovator of the musical ballade; a short, simple song of natural construction, usually in the narrative or descriptive form. It formerly had a wider description and was applied to music set to a romance or historical poem, and also to a light kind of music used both in singing and dancing. Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, op. 23 is a beautiful example of a ballade with expressive musical lines that exemplify the three stanzas and envoi that recur throughout the poem format. It is one of only four ballades composed by Chopin. His inspiration came from Adam Mickiewicz’s poetic ballads about Polish history and folklore. The piece is filled with nostalgic waltz-like themes, passionate interludes, and virtuosic leaps.

In 1910, Thirteen Preludes for piano, op. 32 was composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). He was born into a musical family and took up piano at age four. At 19, he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and had already composed several piano and orchestral works. Rachmaninoff left Russia after the Russian Revolution and moved to the United States. Prelude in G-sharp Minor, op. 32 No.12, part of the Thirteen Preludes series, is a mournful and intoxicating duet, with the right and left hand each offering a piece of the story. Throughout the piece, ideas are beautifully flourished and the listener can picture the image of a starry night with shimmering light against pristine waters. This idea permeates from the right hand as the left plays a strong melodic line throughout.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was a French impressionist composer, pianist, and conductor. As a composer, Ravel developed his own style by combining elements of Baroque, neoclassicism, and improvisation. Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poème pour piano d’apres Aloysius Bertrand is a suite for piano inspired by the French Romantic poems of Aloysius Bertrand. The first movement, Ondine, is based on the story of the water nymph Ondine who sings to lure a man to her kingdom at the bottom of a lake. The man explains that he is married to a mortal and refuses, then Ondine vanishes into the lake. Ravel incorporates these themes through the progression of the story, introducing and developing the setting and characters.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor who is regarded as one of the major 20th century composers. Prokofiev  graduated from St. Petersburg Conservatory and made a name for himself as a budding composer-pianist. He achieved high praise for his furiously dissonant and virtuosic works. In his late teens, Prokofiev wrote a series of bombastic piano pieces that defied the trend of romantic classical music; one of these compositions was a short 3-minute work titled “Suggestion Diabolique” op.4 No.4. This is an impetuous piece with highly chromatic and dissonant harmonic lines. The listener can easily hone in on the continuous chromaticism, and imagine the sensation of spinning uncontrollably and then ending with an unexpected halt.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was 21 years old when he moved to Vienna from Bonn, Germany, to study with the musical giant Joseph Haydn. Haydn’s guidance, along with the influence of musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, are present in Beethoven’s early compositions, including Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat Major, op.16. The allure of the woodwind serenades coupled with violent contrasting dynamics convey the versatility of the composition and the influence of Beethoven’s mentors. The first movement, Grave-Allegro ma non troppo, begins slowly and solemnly and ends in with a controlled, fast pace. The second movement, Andante cantabile, begins with a moderate tempo while providing a flowing, graceful, and singing nature with full expression. The final movement, Rondo-Allegro ma non troppo, is composed in the rondo form, introducing a prominent theme at the beginning of the movement, then reintroducing the theme several times while alternating with contrasting themes. The piece concludes in the allegro style heard in the first movement.

Jean Françaix (1912-1997) was a French neoclassical composer, pianist, and orchestrator. Françaix was naturally gifted with the ability to add personality to his compositions. Maurice Ravel told young Françaix’s parents, “Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can posses, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither.” Françaix’s virtuosity in performance, pedagogy, and composition bloomed while studying at the Conservatoire of Le Mans and with Nadia Boulanger, teacher to other composers like Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. L’Heure du Berger roughly translates to “Happy Hour” which explains the translated titles of each movement: The Old Dandies, Pin-Up Girls, and The Nervous Children. This piece offers humorous melodies by the wind players that personify scampering children, dancing ladies, and the good ol’ days at the pub.

György Ligeti (1923-2006) was a Hungarian composer of contemporary classical music. Bagatelles are short unpretentious instrumental compositions; his Six Bagatelles for wind quintet are derived from a set of short solo movements from Musica Ricercata, which means “research music.” He wrote these 11 pieces, between 1951-1953, in Communist Hungary. Prior to its performance in 1956, the Hungarian government banned the last movement of the piece. Ligeti moved to Austria later in the late 1950s and began to explore a more avant-garde style of writing that he could not explore while in Hungary. His unique composition style coupled with fervent melodies and driving repetitive rhythmic patterns are what make his Six Bagatelles for wind quintet exciting to listen to. The six bagatelles each have characterizing traits including septuple notes and meters, strong rhythmic unisons, and majestic harmonies that enchant the audience.

Did you know?

Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor op.23 was a crucial element in the 2002 film The Pianist starring Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role.

During one of his American tours, Sergei Rachmaninoff was offered a job as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — which he turned down.

György Ligeti’s compositions Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, and Requiem were used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Fine Arts Chamber Players