Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
six pieces from Mikrokosmos, Vol. IV Sz. 107, BB 105
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Sonata in A minor, D. 784 | Op. 143 post.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
• Prelude & Fugue in E flat Major, BWV 852
• Prelude & Fugue in C minor, BWV 847
• Prelude & Fugue in B minor, BWV 869
• Prelude & Fugue in D Major, BWV 850
Gavin Gamboa (1984*)
Halcyon Suite, Op. 3 (world premiere)
Teatro Peón Contreras
Mérida, Yucatán, México
November 20th, 2012
Béla Bartók, a Hungarian pianist/composer as well as a proto-ethnomusicoligist, had a profound interest and analytical approach to folk music, as is evident in a distinct style that integrates folk ethos with classicism in the spirit of 20th century modernism. Mikrokosmos is a collection of 153 miniature piano works composed between 1926 and 1939.
It is likely that Bartók envisioned these pieces as a continuation of the pedagogical tradition (and, it could be argued, the philosophical framework) exemplified by J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The wonderful nature of these pieces is that they are meant to demonstrate and to present all sorts of puzzles, specific musical and technical challenges, and introduce new harmonic and melodic understandings. The realizations of Bartók’s unique harmonic awareness (Intermezzo), in the use of polyrhythms and irregular time signatures (Minor and Major), as well as in the distinctly Eastern influence which he cultivated and used as inspiration (From The Island Of Bali) shed light on his historical significance.
Franz Schubert‘s Sonata in A minor was written in 1823 and is a piece of monumentally tragic darkness and melancholy, the first movement resembling nothing more than a skeleton of sonata-allegro form, with minimum harmony and rhythm supplanting themes and melodies. The conventional, comforting ornamental structures of his time are done-away with in order to emphasize very stark key changes and chromatic trajectories. With a deliberate aim to strictly embody the fundamentals, it is unique in its texture and overall composition.
Given these extraordinary qualities, it happens that this Sonata is rarely heard in concert and evokes curiosity behind the foundation of its emotional terrain. In it, the listener can discern a psychological agitation entangled in the haunted and brooding contemplations of one succumbing to the more devastating effects of illness and despair (for Schubert, this would have been contracting Syphilis in 1822). Yet, an evocative counterpoise is assumed in moments of sublime beauty — achieved in the contrasting moments which bring balance and heartfelt longing into devastatingly intimate proximity.
The best known of J.S. Bach‘s clavier works is the famous set of preludes and fugues known as the Well-Tempered Clavier. This musical text was intended to function as a fundamental guide for the understanding of harmony and rhythm. The objective – to introduce the 24 major and minor keys — was a challenging notion at the time; the established traditions of instrumental tuning did not allow for the simultaneous use of many keys with multiple sharps or flats on one instrument. Bach was attempting to integrate a type of tempered tuning that has remained the foundation of musical thought to this day.
Despite being initially implemented as teaching guides for his students, Bach’s complete collection of the preludes and fugues are now highly regarded musical works, not only for how influential they have been but also because of their unique intricacies and complexities. In principle and compositionally speaking, the preludes are lyrical and free; the fugues — strict. All these vary wonderfully in subject, texture, form, and treatment. Indeed, they represent a form of metaphysical sustenance for the spirit and offer a portal into the musical arts. For the 30-year-old Mozart, an encounter with a Bach fugue transformed his creative style. For Beethoven, performance of the clavier works reinforced his early reputation and inspired his musical development. For many others, they remain valuable historical artifacts and tools to understanding tonality and musical invention.
Detroit. February 20th, 2013