Magisterra at Museum London
La Belle Epoque - November 9, 2023
Program Notes by Dr. Joseph Gilbert
La Belle Epoque
Tonight’s concert celebrates a period of Western European history; 1870 to 1914. There was regional peace after the Franco-Prussian War leading to economic prosperity, expansion of European colonialism, and technological and scientific innovation. In the realm of Arts and Culture there was the creation of masterpieces in music, painting and literature.
It is said that in this time music was characterized by salon music, short compositions accessible to everyone, but certainly there were serious compositions of which we are the beneficiaries even today: Works by Massenet, Franck, Saint-Saens, Faure, Debussy, Ravel in the French sphere. As well there were compositions by Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, Edouard Grieg, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak and Gustav Mahler among others.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Quartet in a minor (1876) for piano, violin, viola and cello.
Nicht zu scnhell -Not too fast (about 10 minutes)
The Mahler family was originally from Bohemia. Gustav played the piano from childhood: was adequate to be admitted to the Vienna Conservatory. He was most interested in conducting especially opera.
Mahler was both a revered conductor and exacting composer. He rose to fame during his lifetime as he took on greater and more demanding conductor roles. First in small towns, then in Prague, Leipzig then Budapest. As a secular Jew he converted to Catholicism in order to be appointed as Conductor to both the Vienna Opera Orchestra as well as the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. He and his Bother -in -Law Arnold Rosé, the orchestra’s concertmaster were known as musical royalty in Vienna. Over time in the late 1890s, antagonism to Mahler was fomented by the antisemitic mayor, Karl Lueger. He was not popular among his orchestral players nor the administration., Later Mahler was invited to New York and the Metropolitan Opera.
He had a turbulent married life with Alma Schindler, a woman 20 years his junior. Much has been written about these two people. Gustav died in 1911 from a heart condition whereas Alma married 2 further times and dies in New York in 1964.
There is a London Ontario connection in that although Mahler died in 1911, his nephew, the son of Justine Mahler, Gustav’s sister and Arnold Rose lived here with his wife post World War II as a Professor of Opera at Western University.
(The Mahler Rosé Museum which contains many memorabilia from Mahler and Family is housed at the Weldon Library on the University campus)
Mahler, famous early in the 20th Century had his music banned by the Nazis, was somewhat “forgotten” until the 1960s when promoted by Leonard Berstein. Latterly his compositions have influenced many 20th Century composers. His works particularly the 9 (10) symphonies represent characterization of the world, and man’s life experiences. The music requires multiple hearings and often has a profound effect on the listener.
This composition, the quartet was written when Mahler was just 15 years old and is his only chambre work. He had started another but it was never finished.
The quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello was premiered at the Vienna Conservatory in 1876 while Maler was a student. He played the piano. The manuscript was then lost: found by Mahler’s widow Alma and next played in 1964. It came to further prominence as it was used in the film Sutter Island; a film by Martin Scorsese, 2010.
The CD cover of a recording (Praga) of the quartet, shows a painting by Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), that is very interesting. It shows a couple (Oskar and Alma Mahler) lying together that is a “signature” by the artist of his muse Alma Mahler. They had a torrid affair in1912-1914.but Alma chose to marry a second husband, the Bauhaus painter Walter Gropius.
Camille Saint Saens (1835-1921)
Trio No 1 in F major op18 (1864) for violin, cello and piano (about 30 minutes)
Allegro vivace- fast , lively
Andante -walking pace
Scherzo.Presto- Light, playful, Very fast
Saint Saens learned to play the piano at a very early age, appearing in public as a child. At age 13 he entered the Conservatoire studying composition and the organ. He was prolific as a composer wrote in many genres; concertos for cello, violin, organ; opera, Samson and Delilah and others; musical suite, Carnival of the Animals. His style of composition was conservative; and he opposed the style of the the works of Richard Wagner., As a teacher later, one of his students was Gabriele Faure (see below).
He was a very curious person with broad interests.. He was enthusiastic about French literature, science, divinity, Philosophy and astronomy. He maintain an interest in the latter in his later years..
He had married but after his 2 children died he abruptly left his wife and he remained alone for the remainder of his life. He travelled extensively to Britain, to the United States, to South America, to Asia. He did return to Paris at the end of his life. Throughout, he was a dear friend and uncle to Fauré and his family. Saint-Saens Was one of the founders of the Société Nationale de Musique Francaise which support composers like Fauré. He died while overseas in Algiers but is buried in Paris.
The composition to be performed, one of 2 piano trios, is charming and delightful, youthful and joyful. Saint Saens was travelling when he conceived the music; contains some folk music of southern France (? Basque).
Gabriel Fauré 1845-1924
Quartet No 1 in c minor, op.15 (1879) for piano, violin, viola, and cello (about 35 minutes)
Allegro molto moderato- close to but not quite allegro
Scherzo. Allegro vivo
Allegro molto- slightly faster and livelier than allegro
Fauré was born in the south of France, into a non musical family. He was sent to Paris to study, to become a choir director and organist. He was mentored by Saint-Sans to learn piano music. Later he became choir master at the Eglise Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The composition we are to hear was first performed under the Société in 1879. He admired the music of Richard Wagner but was not influenced by him. He composed a famous piece, the Requiem as a religious offering. He married late, continued composing which served as a bridge between the 19th century Romantic style and a more modern approach 20th century music.
He later suffered from ill health but was admired by the younger French composers known as “les Six”.
The music we will hear is lyric, melodic and entirely enjoyable. Fauré rewrote the finale after a few years. His second piano quartet is less well known.