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2016 Chamber Music Series Concludes with the Music of Paganini and Schumann

By Master Sgt. Kristin duBois | United States Marine Band | May 16, 2016

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May 16, 2016 -- style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;">The Spring 2016 Chamber Music Series will conclude with an all-string performance at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 22 at the John Philip Sousa Band Hall in southeast Washington, D.C. Viola player Gunnery Sgt. Tam Tran, who coordinated and programmed the concert, was inspired by the inevitable influence composers have on each other. “I didn’t have the intention to program music that would be closely connected, but the 12-tone serialism of Arnold Schoenberg influenced several of Arvo Pärt’s compositions,” he explained. “The performing pyrotechnics of Niccolò Paganini inspired so many musicians and composers, including Robert Schumann. I also couldn’t help but wonder: are the arpeggios that begin Paganini’s Caprice No. 1 musical material that may have inspired the beginning of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for violin and piano?” 

Tran said that Pärt’s ideas and views on the spiritual aspect of music and life really resonate with him. In particular, he is moved by how Pärt talks about “tintinnabuli” in his own words:

“Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers-in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning...Tintinnabulation is like this. Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements—with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of the triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.” 

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht is innovative, partly because it was one of the first truly programmatic pieces of chamber music. The music can be divided into five sections that correspond to the five stanzas of the poem. Although there are clear changes of mood and themes between the sections, there are no breaks in sound. While some specific correlations can certainly be made between the music and the poem, it is much more important for the listener to follow the emotional progression from despair to forgiveness to transfiguring love and joy.

“As far as Paganini is concerned, he had such a mysterious yet fascinating aura to his life and music,” Tran said. “His name will forever be synonymous with virtuosity. Regarded as the greatest violinist of all time, his influence extends far beyond the violin. Even today, musicians of all instruments strive to be dubbed the ‘Paganini’ of their medium, whether it’s the ‘Paganini’ of the steel drum or the ‘Paganini’ of the electric guitar. He led the rock star life that we think of today as a flashy showman on stage, a heavy drinker, a gambler, and a womanizer. His virtuosity was considered so extraordinary, it was rumored that he made a pact with the devil.” Written between 1802 and 1817, Paganini’s set of twenty-four Caprices for solo violin was his first published and best-known work. The first Caprice, nicknamed “Arpeggione,” is in E Major. It uses a technique called balzato, or leaping, to accentuate the individual notes of each rapidly changing arpeggio. While this technique was used by musicians long before Paganini, it was Paganini’s technical flair that set him apart from all previous composers.

In one especially creative year, 1842, Schumann composed all of his principal chamber works: three string quartets, a piano quartet, and a piano quintet. Completed in less than six weeks, the Quintet in E-Flat for Piano and Strings, Opus 44, was immensely popular and immediately received critical acclaim. Today, it is still considered one of Schumann’s best-known works and is regarded by many music scholars as one of the greatest masterpieces in Western music. For the performers, there are technical and musical challenges that are intellectually and artistically rewarding. For critics and composers, Schumann demonstrates his command of form, lyrical lines, and contrapuntal writing. In fact, the Quintet left such a strong impression in the music world, that many composers including Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvořák, Cesar Franck, Gabriel Fauré, and Dmitri Shostakovich created works with the same instrumentation. While Schumann’s work made a significant impact on musicians, composers, and music critics, the Quintet, above all else, represents an expression of Robert’s love for his wife, the noted piano virtuoso Clara Wieck. Clara was the daughter of Schumann’s teacher, Friedrich, and was considered one of the foremost pianists of her day. The prominence and difficulty of the piano part in the Quintet is a testament to Clara’s prowess at the keyboard. “The Piano Quartet and Quintet are some of my favorite pieces of music to listen to and to play,” Tran said. “It’s simply great music.”

The concert is free, tickets are not required. For the full program and notes, please click here. The performance will also stream live at www.marineband.marines.mil.
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