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8.557121 - Violin Recital: Frank Huang
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Violin Fantasies • Frank Huang

Violin Fantasies • Frank Huang

Schubert • Ernst • Schoenberg • Waxman

 

Franz Schubert wrote his Fantasy in C major, D.934, relatively late in his short career. The son of a Vienna schoolmaster, he had served as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, left after his voice had broken to qualify himself as a schoolteacher, and thereafter spent much of his time in the company of like-minded friends. Prolific, particularly in his composition of songs, he had begun to achieve some public success by the time of his death, with the first official concert devoted to his music given in 1828 and growing interest from music publishers. The Fantasy was written towards the end of 1827 for Josef Slavik, one of the first great Czech violin virtuosi, who died in Budapest in 1833 at the age of 27. Slavik gave the first performance of the work in January 1828 with Carl Maria von Bocklet, when the demands it made on the audience persuaded some, including critics, to leave before the end, in spite of a virtuoso element in the writing that was calculated to appeal to contemporary taste. The work is in four sections, marked respectively Andante molto, Allegretto, Andantino and Allegro, before moving to a reminiscent Allegretto and a final Presto, with a key pattern that moves from C major to A minor and A major, and then, in the third section, to A flat major, a key recalled after a return to C major, to which the final Presto returns.  The violin first enters above the tremoli of the piano, both suggesting, as so often, a song of serenity and passing sadness. A violin melody of another kind opens the A minor Allegretto section, violin and piano taking turns with the melody. Moving into A major, the music becomes rapider, hinting often at Austrian popular musical traditions, before the A minor theme returns. There are shifts of key as a preparation for the Andantino, with three variations on the song Sei mir gegrüsst, the heart of the work. The fourth version of the theme ends with a cadenza-like passage for the violin, followed by a brief return of the opening, before the cheerful Allegro, its violin tremoli leading to a moment of tranquillity in the mood of the song and variations. The respite is short-lived, capped soon by a final virtuoso Presto.

 

The violinist and composer Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst was born in Brno in 1814 and after early study in his native city entered the Vienna Conservatory in 1825 as a pupil of Böhm and of Seyfried. He heard Paganini in Vienna three years later and soon abandoned his studies, after disciplinary action against him for unauthorised absence. Setting out on a concert tour, he made his way to Paris, where he was able to hear more of Paganini, whose unpublished compositions he played by ear, in 1837 anticipating Paganini’s arrival in Marseille by giving his own concert there. He continued to appear throughout Europe until about 1857, when he turned his attention rather to chamber music, collaborating from 1859 with Joachim, Wieniawski and Piatti in the Beethoven Quartet Society. In 1864 he retired to Nice, to find some relief from gout, and died there the following year. His Fantaisie brillante sur la marche et la romance d’Otello de Rossini was published in 1839. Rossini’s opera Otello had first been staged in 1816 and was later revised. It is very loosely based on Shakespeare’s play. Ernst’s Fantaisie starts with an Introduction in which the march and romance are both heard. A cadenza leads to the return of the march, announced by the violin in multiple stopping. The first variation calls for all the technical command of a Paganini. The second variation gives the violinist wide leaps to high harmonics, before a change of key into the romance, itself to be varied before a cadenza leads to the third variation, in which the solo violin ornaments the march with its own intricate elaborations. There is a return to the more lyrical material of the Introduction before an elegantly virtuosic final section.

 

With Schoenberg’s Phantasy for violin with piano accompaniment, an accurate description of the work, there is a move into very different musical territory.  Born in Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg spent much of his earlier career in Berlin, until the rise of Hitler made it necessary to take refuge elsewhere. He made his final home in America, where he died in 1951. His influence on the music of the twentieth century was very great, in particular through his development and promulgation of theories of composition in which the unity of a work is provided by the use of a predetermined series of the twelve semitones of the octave, their order also inverted or used in reverse form, with octave displacement, the use of notes of the same name in a higher or lower register. This serial music, coupled with atonality, the avoidance of a key or key centre, if such a thing were possible, found much favour, and was extended by some into other aspects of music. The Phantasy, Op.47, written in 1949, was the last of Schoenberg’s instrumental works. It is based on a series of the twelve semitones, the first six notes inverted to give the second half of the series. These are stated by the violin at the beginning, while the piano, which has a generally subsidiary rôle, offers notes of the inversion of the series either as chordal clusters or in rapid proximity. Although it is often difficult to follow the form of works of this kind aurally, it may be possible to distinguish the three short episodes that make up the opening section, marked Grave. The second episode starts with a glissando and the third with a heavy piano chord and a wide violin leap to a high harmonic. A passage of nine bars follows, marked Più mosso, furioso. A Lento is succeeded by a Grazioso section which leads to a Scherzando and a Meno mosso that is followed by a return to the opening Grave and a further reference to the Più mosso.

 

Like Schoenberg, Franz Waxman was also a refugee from Hitler’s Germany. Born in 1906 in Upper Silesia, Franz Wachsmann was the son of an industrialist and had to contend with paternal opposition to his choice of such an insecure profession as that of musician. After a brief period working in a bank, he saved enough money to study in Dresden and Berlin, finding work as a café pianist and, notably, a collaboration with a jazz group known as the Weintraub Syncopators, for which he also made arrangements. He found additional employment arranging music for films and a meeting with Friedrich Holländer, later known in America as Frederick Hollander, led to his orchestration of the latter’s score for the Josef von Sternberg film

Der blaue Engel. As a refugee from Germany, where he had had personal experience of the brutality of the supporters of the new régime, he moved to France and then to America, settling in Los Angeles. Here he found a place in the film industry, leading to a position with Warner Brothers, one of a group of gifted composers in Hollywood that included Korngold. It was for the 1946 Jean Negrolescu film Humoresque in which the rich socialite Joan Crawford pursues the indigent but talented violinist played by John Garfield that Waxman, as he now was, wrote the score, nominated for an Academy Award. The film brings the inevitable composition of the same name by Dvor˘ák, but the score also includes the Carmen Fantasy, using themes from Bizet’s opera. The work opens with the toreador’s march, as heard in the opera Overture. There follows an embroidered version of the famous Habanera and melody after melody, including Carmen’s Seguidilla and a characteristic Spanish dance, all woven together into a coherent whole, a virtuoso work that undoubtedly aptly served its original dramatic purpose.

 

Keith Anderson


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