Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Composing a Program

Schubert / Dvorak: The relationship between the two is the focus of my current recital series.  Next up is a program featuring the A minor Sonata, Op. 42.  The main difficulty I face performing this work is that I know it too well, having studied it  50 years ago.  In those days it was unthinkable to consider Schubert as anything but a Classical composer with Romantic tendencies.  It did not occur to anyone to discuss his use of the sonata to explore instability rather than stability, or to see in his rhythms anything beyond their repetitive surface.

Having once learned to hear a work in terms of its stability it is difficult to turn the page, to discern the elements that tip it out of traditional harmonic and structural terms and allow it to make its own context. 

I know, to begin with, that A minor is a particularly dramatic key for Schubert.  The Arpeggione Sonata, one of my all-time favorite duo sonatas, is in A minor, as is the song Der Leiermann (The Hurgy-gurdy Man) from Winterreise.  (Just how dramatic it is was made vivid to me when, having paid a lot of money for the privilege, I sat in a box seat to hear a renowned pianist perform the cycle with a singer of his choosing.  Though I do not have perfect pitch I was alarmed when they came to that song to miss the jarring black-key G-sharp that makes it so eerie: He had transposed the piece, as if that were possible.  In disgust and disillusionment I left the hall.)

The jarring elements that expose the fragility of tonality are especially apparent in Schubert's little-known Ecossaises cycles, upon which Dvorak expanded to make his Scottish Dances.  I find myself moving through these simple works back into the sonata, enlivened and enlightened.