Composed: 1932 (age 21-22)
Samuel Osmond Barber II was an American composer, pianist, conductor, baritone, and music educator, and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. The music critic Donal Henahan said, “Probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.”
At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. He began studying the piano at the age of six and at age seven composed his first work, Sadness, a 23-measure solo piano piece in C minor.
Principally influenced by nine years’ composition studies with Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute and more than 25 years’ study with his uncle, the composer Sidney Homer, Barber’s music usually eschewed the experimental trends of musical modernism in favor of traditional 19th-century harmonic language and formal structure embracing lyricism and emotional expression.
The Cello Sonata, Opus 6, is a romantic chamber piece in a clear C minor, it is a profound and passionate cello sonata reminiscent of the examples of Brahms and Pfitzner. The piece was composed between June and December 1932 during a trip to Europe as Barber was finishing his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. The score is dedicated to Barber’s composition teacher, Rosario Scalero, and was officially premiered on 5 March 1933 with the composer at the piano and his friend and colleague Orlando Cole as cellist, at a concert of the League of Composers in New York City. Together with the Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7, this sonata won both a Pulitzer travel stipend and the Prix de Rome of the American Academy in Rome in 1937.
Composed: 1851 (age 40-41)
Robert Schumann was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. His teacher, Friedrich Wieck, a German pianist (who became Schumann’s reluctant father-in-law) had assured him that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing.
Schumann suffered from a mental disorder that first manifested in 1833 as a severe melancholic depressive episode—which recurred several times alternating with phases of “exaltation” and increasingly also delusional ideas of being poisoned or threatened with metallic items. Diagnosed with psychotic melancholia, he died of pneumonia in a mental asylum at the age of 46, only five years after he wrote this beautifully romantic piece.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121, by Robert Schumann was completed in November 1851. Dedicated to the violinist Ferdinand David, the sonata received its first public performance from Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim on 29 October 1853 in Düsseldorf, in a concert that marked the beginning of a long term musical collaboration.
The first movement begins with a stately sequence of chords, the contour of which is then used for the first subject proper. The fourth bar of this theme contains a distinctive syncopated rhythm that plays a role in the link to the second subject, and is also used extensively in the development. The vigorously driving second movement in B minor (♯vi in relation to the home key) is of the scherzo genre, and appears to have influenced the young Johannes Brahms, particularly in the C minor scherzo he wrote for the F-A-E Sonata. Near the end of this movement, the chorale melody “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” is quoted triumphantly in the major. The relatively serene G major third movement is a set of variations, opening with a passage of violin pizzicato triple-stops, mirroring the chordal introduction of the first movement. The finale returns to the key and mood of the beginning, with a long and dramatic trajectory toward an exuberant conclusion in the major.
The two Sonatas presented in this cmh@home concert hold a common beauty that is uncommonly profound and passionate. Samuel Barber wrote his Sonata at the beginning of his career, only 22 years old, with great promise. Yet, Schumann lived only five years after writing his Sonata, and had already begun a mental decline that isolated him from his family and all that he loved. These great composers shared a passion for life that shines through their music. As Barber simply said, “I write what I feel.”
The musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center featured in this program provide an outstanding performance that is a tribute to these Passionate Sonatas. A biography is included for each musician by clicking on their name at the top of this page.
Enjoy the complete notes provided for each piece by clicking on the title listed above!
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