Classical composers often incorporated parts for the woodwind instrument in their large-scale pieces but avoided putting them together in small-scale chamber works with the violin, both of which play at relatively high pitches. Although
This was the challenge that
"The number of pieces for this combination of violin, clarinet and piano is relatively small," McNeela says. "So, when you're looking for music, you have to shine your flashlight in to the dark corners."
McNeela unearthed some thrilling pieces for the trio, which will perform at the
One of the scarce works on the program is Waldemar von Baussnern's "Serenade in Four Movements." Before stumbling upon the piece on an obscure publishing website, the incredibly knowledgeable McNeela says he had never heard of the composition or the man who wrote it.
He quickly brushed up on the German-born composer, who died in 1931. He found out that Baussnern drew inspiration from poetry and his compositions were rooted in the styles of the 19th century, with
"A serenade usually implies a sort of light, outdoor music, but this is very much like a
Contrast is a theme that also drives the program's final piece, which fittingly enough, is called "Contrasts." The expressive composition was scored by Hungarian BÉla BartÓk in 1938. McNeela says this BartÓk piece is "one of the great chamber works of the 20th century," and it was actually commissioned by famous clarinet player and American jazz band leader
"Contrasts" itself contains three contrasting movements. The first was literally a recruiting dance executed by a group from the hussar regiments to fetch young Hungarian boys for military service.
"You can hear this marshal cockiness to it," McNeela says with a laugh. "It's as though you can imagine the recruiter in all his color, finery and gold trying to entice people."
The second movement suggests rest and relaxation but has what McNeela calls a "volcanic build." The final movement races along with the asymmetrical rhythms of Hungarian folk music in a wild dance. While the movements sound quite different, McNeela says contrast purveys the piece -- right down to how BartÓk approached the clarinet, the violin and the piano.
"He uses the clarinet in a particular lyrical quality and it races around playing flashy arpeggios. He uses the piano like a percussion instrument as much as he does for creating melodies. And on the violin, he emphasizes classic gypsy playing in the last movement but also the double-stops and the harmonics that only the violin can produce," he explains.
The concert's opener was written by another composer who probably should have earned more fame than he did.
"Can you imagine an evening of that? 'Well, Joseph, you might tweak this note here.' 'Hey Jan, what do you think of this C-sharp here?'" McNeela says with great amusement.
Vanhal probably never earned the worldwide recognition that his peers achieved because he stopped writing symphonies and other grand-scale works in 1780. For the last 33 years of his life, he focused his energy on music for piano, chamber ensembles, Masses and other church music.
Vanhal's legacy lives on through pieces like the "Trio in E Flat Major," which McNeela will perform with Yeager and Badami.
Although names like Vanhal and Baussnern may not immediately ring a bell, those who attend the chamber concert will certainly know of Igor Stravinsky. The trio will perform adapted suites from the Russian icon's "L'histoire du soldat" ("The Soldier's Tale") just before the BartÓk piece on Sunday.
The piece tells the tale of a Russian soldier named Joseph who trades his fiddle to the devil in return for economic gain. But after he becomes wealthy, he begins to feel soulless and pines for his simpler life. When Joseph seeks the hand of a princess in need of healing, he once again encounters the devil and realizes he can only defeat him by playing his violin.
"When the devil plays the fiddle, you can really get into it. It's scratchy and ugly and aggressive and menacing. And the soldier's a little more graceful, but not much because he's a soldier, not a professional fiddler," McNeela explains. "So, in this piece, a little edge in the performance is necessary."
Because the concert will be held in the cozy theater at the
Admission to the concert is free, but a
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