DR. BRICE ADDISON
2022 - 2023
Chamber Music Series
FRIDAY March 31 7pm
SUNDAY April 2 2pm
The bold and brilliant Quartet in C-Major of Dvorak, a lyrical meditation by Suk, and a Schulhoff work that reflects the many styles and cultures that fascinated him.
420 Central Avenue
First Congregational Church
2900 9th Ave S
(1874 – 1935)
Meditation on an Old Bohemian Choral
Violinist and composer Josef Suk was a pupil and son-in-law of Antonín Dvořák, and, with Dvořák, was an important exponent of the national Czech school of composition. The meditation performed here is based on an old Bohemian hymn to St. Wenceslaus (Svatý Václave in Czech). This saint is the same person as the “Good King Wenceslaus” of Christmas carol fame, but the hymn and carol are completely different tunes. Suk composed this prayerful meditation in 1914, as World War I was breaking out. The Austro-Hungarian empire, of which Suk’s native Bohemia had been a part, was soon to be consigned to history. It was a time when composers throughout Europe were seeking ever-stronger connections to their native lands through their art, and Suk’s use of a traditional Bohemian hymn was a part of that changing sensibility.
The hymn is sometimes richly harmonized in Suk’s treatment of it, and at other times is left simple and spare, with the mellow tones of the viola carrying much of the melodic interest. It is by turns melancholy and profoundly hopeful, as befits a meditation written in a time of war.
(1841 – 1904)
String Quartet in C Major
The figure of Antonín Dvořák, looms large in Czech music, in part because he was able to incorporate Czech folk elements into his music in a seamless and completely natural way. With Dvorak, use of folk idioms is never forced or artificial. Although Slavic touches are mostly conspicuous by their absence in the Opus 61 quartet, this piece has all the features of Dvořák’s very best work. It was composed in the incredible span of just three days in November, 1881.
Antonín Dvořák was of humble origins. His father was a butcher who also played the zither in the family’s small hometown outside of Prague. With his father’s encouragement, Dvořák learned the violin as a child and began playing in the village band. All his life, even after gaining international acclaim, Dvořák would continue to think of himself as, at heart, “a simple village musician”, happiest not when navigating the hubbub of Vienna and other musical capitals of the day, but when at home surrounded by family and friends.
The C Major Quartet opens with an ambiguous melody in the first violin that is partly contented, partly heroic and partly tragic. The ascending, snappy rhythmic figure that it features becomes a central motif in the movement. It ends with the same motif, when the spirit of contentment finally prevails. Dvořák was often at his best when writing exquisite slow movements, and this quartet’s second movement is a gem among his adagios. The Scherzo that follows uses a motif similar to the opening of the first movement, but to very different effect. It is reminiscent of late Beethoven in its impetuousness. A charming Trio section in the key of A Major provides contrast. The quartet then concludes with a jubilant, dance-like finale that comes close at times to making it sound like a Czech wedding party is happening on stage.
–Program notes by Thad Suits
(1894 – 1942)
Five Pieces for String Quartet
Alla Valse Viennese
Alla Czeca (Czech Dance)
Alla Tango Milonga
Like Suk before him, Erwin Schulhoff’s career was touched by Dvořák. After hearing the seven-year-old Schulhoff play piano, Dvořák used his influence to gain the boy entrance to the Prague Conservatory for formal study. (The story goes that after the audition, Dvořák rewarded little Erwin not only with praise but with some pieces of chocolate. History does not record which prize the child valued more.)
An even greater influence on Schulhoff’s life came from fighting in World War I. He was drafted into in the Austrian army and saw action both in Hungary and on the Russian front. The experience left him angry and disillusioned. He became a dedicated communist and eventually a citizen of the Soviet Union, fatefully emigrating there in 1941, just a week before Hitler invaded. Almost immediately, the Germans captured and imprisoned him on account of his Soviet citizenship. (Surprisingly, his Jewish ancestry had nothing to do with it.) He was transferred to a concentration camp in Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis the following year.
Schulhoff’s music shows the influence of the many styles and cultures that fascinated him, and these pieces, composed in 1924, are a good example of that. Here he puts his own twist on five different musical traditions: There is biting sarcasm in the Viennese Waltz, nightmarish surrealism in the Serenata, sultry swaying in the Tango, and frenetic dancing in the Alla Czeca, as well as in the lively Tarantella, that closes the work.