May 22, 2022 7:00 PM
Brahms & Woody: Lullabies & Waltzes
Johannes Brahms’s beloved Lullaby, Waltzes for piano, and Songs for voice, viola and piano, are juxtaposed with the world premiere of Jonathan Woody’s “nor shape of today,” commissioned by Byron Schenkman & Friends with text by Raquel Salas Rivera.
“..gorgeous voiced mezzo-soprano”
— Broadway World
16 Waltzes, op. 39, for piano
Polonaise in C (c.1820) for piano
Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga:
Tango in F Minor “Sospiro” (c.1881) for piano
nor shape of today for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano
Romance in A Minor, op. 21, no. 1 for piano
Impromptu in E Major (c.1844) for piano
Hebrew Melody in G Minor, op. 9, no. 1 for viola and piano
Lullaby, op. 49, no. 4, for voice and piano
Two Songs for alto, viola, and piano, op. 91
“warm-hearted playing and mellow tone.”…”
— THE STRAD MAGAZINE
Notes on the program by Byron Schenkman
Throughout music history composers have sought inspiration in works from the past. This could mean borrowing an earlier compositional style, for example Georg Philipp Telemann’s 1735 Sonates Corellisantes, inspired by the 17th-century trio-sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. Melodic material could be borrowed, as in Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, 20th-century variations on a 19th-century theme. And sometimes it is the choice of voices and/or instruments, such as the highly original instrumentation of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1913 Pierrot Lunaire which became a standard ensemble in the later 20th century. For tonight’s program we commissioned the brilliant young composer Jonathan Woody to write a companion piece to the Two Songs, op. 91, for voice, viola, and piano, by Johannes Brahms. See below for Jonathan Woody’s notes on this exciting new work.
Johannes Brahms composed some of the best loved orchestral and choral music of the 19th century. He also wrote lots of wonderful music for more intimate settings, including many songs and short piano pieces. His Waltzes, op. 39, were published in three versions: for piano duet, for piano solo, and then for piano solo in a simpler version for amateur pianists. In our concert, Charles Enlow will play the more difficult solo version. These waltzes are Brahms’s contribution to a vast repertoire of 19th-century dance music for piano.
Born in Warsaw to a Polish family of Jewish origin, Maria Szymanowska was one of the most famous pianists of the early 19th century. She was among the first to tour internationally, playing public recitals from memory, and her music likely influenced that of her younger compatriot Frederic Chopin, whose music in turn influenced that of Johannes Brahms.
Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga was a mixed-race Brazilian pianist, composer, and conductor of the later 19th century. Besides composing over 200 works including songs, piano music, and many theater pieces, Gonzaga was an activist for women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, and copyright protection for Brazilian artists.
Clara Schumann was a child prodigy who grew up to become one of the most influential European musicians of the 19th century. She was an early champion of the music of Johannes Brahms, to whom she dedicated her Romances, op. 21, for piano. In addition to her solo performances, Schumann toured extensively with the Hungarian Jewish violinist and violist Joseph Joachim. Joachim’s Hebrew Melodies, op. 9, were inspired by the Hebrew Melodies of Lord Byron, a collection of 30 secular poems intended to accompany transcriptions of Jewish liturgical music by Isaac Nathan. Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs, op. 91, were composed for Joachim and his wife, the singer Amalie Weiss.
Composer’s Notes by Jonathan Woody
In composing this piece, I very much wanted to consider it a companion to Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, op. 91. The Brahms songs deal with longing–the longing for stillness, for respite from the tormented mind, and in the case of the second Brahms song, Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby), the longing of Mary to protect her child from the tribulations he eventually must face. In our twenty-first century existence, many individuals still experience a longing for a place to belong, and I was struck by the similarity between these Romantic sentiments and the experience of trans and non-binary individuals, who face relentless pressure to conform to outdated norms surrounding gender and identity in our supposedly modern world. The poet Raquel Salas Rivera writes in a deeply moving and eloquent way about these experiences, and his poetry struck me as perfectly situated to answer the Brahms songs on poems by Rückert and Geibel (a paraphrase of a poem originally in Spanish by Lope de Vega). Rivera writes in both English and Spanish, and the fluidity between the two languages was an inspiration to me in creating this song. I attempt to emulate Salas Rivera’s fluidity in gender and language by incorporating a fluidity in musical idiomatic expression; at times nor shape of today sounds like Romantic music, like Baroque music, and like music of the 21st century. While I don’t share the experience of those with trans and non-binary identities, I hoped to capture the sense of longing that so many human beings feel to belong, to be loved, and to be safe.