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"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
Out of Tragedy, Musical Masterpieces

By Staff Sgt. Chase Baran | United States Marine Band | July 16, 2019

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Great works of music are often products of personal tragedy. In turbulent times, some composers are able to draw upon their emotions to create work which reflects what they feel inside. A concert exploring such works will take place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 20 at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Va.

“All three pieces on [the] program provide an opportunity to feel the depths of human experience,” Staff Sgt. Sarah Hart said; “From the young Franz Schubert’s grave and powerful overture to Ewazen’s meditation on life and death, to Ludwig van Beethoven’s penultimate string quartet, written on a grand scale just a year before his death, with its especially meaningful dedication.”

The Schubert family was no stranger to tragedy. By the time Schubert was born, his parents had lost nine children. The family quartet included three of the five Schubert children who lived past age six. When Schubert was 15, his mother died of typhus, and he wrote the music that would evolve into this overture in the year before her death.

As a youth, Franz Schubert played viola in his family’s string quartet, along with his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violin and his father on cello. The Overture in C minor began its existence as a viola quintet for two violins, two violas and cello. This combination showed special attention to Schubert’s own instrument, with an extra viola part added to the traditional string quartet ensemble. The orchestral version of the piece features the viola prominently, leading from within the texture and lending a gravitas and darkness to the work. It is easy to feel in this music the heartbreak that must have existed in the Schubert home, as well as the beauty of glimpses of light that seem especially sweet after opening oneself to the depths of sorrow.

Down a River of Time was commissioned by oboist Linda Strommen as a memorial tribute to her father. Eric Ewazen, who had lost his father just two years earlier, felt that this oboe concerto was deeply personal. Ewazen describes the piece as follows:

“The first movement portrays that river of time with its ebbs and flows, hopes and dreams. The second movement portrays emotions felt during times of loss—powerful feelings running the gamut from sorrow to resignation to tenderness and peace at the remembrance of happier distant times. In the final movement, those happier memories flood the music, as feelings of strength and determination supersede all else, and the work comes to its virtuosic conclusion with a joyful intensity.”

Staff Sgt. Trevor Mowry will be the performing oboe soloist for this piece.

The concert concludes with Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Opus 131. Beethoven had no biological children; his nephew Karl was the only heir to the family name. After Karl’s father passed away in 1815, Beethoven pursued guardianship of his nephew, resulting in complicated legal battles with his sister-in-law Johanna. Though his treatment of Karl was questionable, the composer called his nephew “beloved” and considered the boy his heir.

In the summer of 1826, Karl attempted suicide. During his recovery, Karl and his uncle decided that the discipline and structure of the military might be beneficial, and Field Marshal Baron Joseph von Stutterheim accepted him as a cadet in his regiment. The String Quartet No. 14, Beethoven’s self-proclaimed favorite quartet, was dedicated to Stutterheim in gratitude for his taking the composer’s heir under his wing during a vulnerable time.

The work’s seven movements are performed seamlessly, with no breaks between. The quartet was never performed in a public concert during Beethoven’s lifetime. In fact, Beethoven himself never heard it, as he was already deaf when he composed it. During that final year of Beethoven’s life, the work was performed for a few small private audiences, one of which included Franz Schubert. Upon hearing the quartet, Schubert is said to have commented: “After this, what is left to write?”

The concert is free; no tickets are required. Free parking is available in the adjacent garage.

Program and Notes

Directions and Parking


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