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Opus 76: V is for Victory

Midwest Trust Center Series 2020-2021
Virtual Event
Thursday, Jun 17, 2021 at 7:00 PM (CT) to Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021 at 10:00 PM (CT)

The concert will be available on demand June 16 through June 30, 2021.

The Midwest Trust Center and Opus 76 Quartet will present a new virtual chamber music series, Eat, Drink, and Play! These fun “date night in” concerts will be approx. one hour in length and will feature both lively performances as well as engaging programming including cameos from some beloved KC chefs offering unique wine pairings to accompany the performance and more. Concert portions will be filmed in Yardley Hall.

A YouTube link will be sent to ticket buyers within 24 hours of the premiere date. The concert will then be available on demand through June 30, 2021

This unique "date night in" is approximately one hour in length and features the quartet’s performances, filmed in Yardley Hall. Chef Aaron Prater, Assistant Professor Hospitality Management, JCCC, will be making a classic Ragù Bolognese and the video will be addressing the concepts and techniques around mantecatura, the process of emulsifying the fat in a sauce to make a smooth, glossy sauce that evenly coats a pasta. His recipe will be sent to ticket purchasers prior to the broadcast.

Program Notes

Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 by Johannes Brahms

Featuring Julie Coucheron, piano

January 1862 saw the publication of Brahms’s first music for strings alone, the Op.18 sextet. Freshly enthusiastic, he started a quintet for conventional string quartet plus cello, the combination immortalized by Schubert in a posthumous edition the preceding decade. Brahms revered Schubert to the point of preserving as a relic the ink-drying sand he found on the deceased master’s manuscripts, and the harmonic relationships of Schubert’s quintet find echoes in Brahms’s.

The new piece was sent with an entreaty for both secrecy and frank criticism to his two closest friends and advisors, violinist-composer Joseph Joachim and pianist-composer Clara Schumann. They were both effusive but couldn’t shake nagging doubts about the string setting, which Joachim felt the composer should hear in person as evidence of defects. This occurred in spring 1863 and Brahms duly commenced adapting the music as a sonata for two pianos. At age thirty he was still a concertizing pianist so required just a single partner for the reworked version a year later. At one reading that comrade was Clara and she again intimated the need for a revision, this time specifically mentioning orchestra, probably thinking of her late husband Robert’s observation that Brahms’s piano music seemed symphonic.

Brahms didn’t take the bait on specifics but combined elements of both previous scorings to make a quintet for piano and string quartet without structural changes from the sonata; the strings are often massed as a unified entity in contrast to the piano. Brahms relocated to Vienna, the city that as for Beethoven and Schubert would be his final home. Eager to compose, he gave up his youthful trade of choral conducting with its attendant administrative tasks. “I have three quite small rooms (in Vienna), up seven flights of stairs, on the fourth floor,” he related, where the quintet “never allowed an hour’s peace” that autumn.

This time the arrangement was persuasive but more serious qualms of musical substance emerged regarding the ending. Clara impugned “passages which seem cold and dry to a warm heart.” One could imagine impatience from Brahms by this time, and indeed only small changes were made prior to submission for publication in 1865. While he destroyed the string original, the piano setting retained his confidence and was published in 1871. The manuscript was gifted to dedicatee Princess Anna of Hesse (who repaid him with Mozart’s copy of the celebrated 40th symphony!).

Listeners can easily hear the challenges posed to the musicians, however distinguished, who grappled with the quintet at initial hearing. The key of F minor had austere and intense emotional associations through the Classical era and it lives up to that reputation here. Only the second movement is consoling with its prevalent consonant harmonies, though even it is hardly decorative, recalling the profound reflection of Brahms’s first piano concerto. Certainly, the composer had personal anxieties during this period of change in his life, sometimes commenting on the domestic contentment of friends. His parents separated in mutual poverty, adding their sustenance to his responsibilities. The grim resolve evinced in much of Op.34 is probably intentional and Joachim’s remark on its lack of Klangreiz (“attractive sonority”) would have drawn an unsurprised nod from Brahms.

By Michael Keelan, for The Opus 76 Quartet

Mentoring Program

Opus 76 Quartet: Sunrise Program

This mentoring initiative by The Friends of The Opus 76 Quartet provides four talented musicians, high school age or younger from the Kansas City Metro area, with:

Free in-person quartet coaching and mentoring from members of the quartet
Free coaching from eminent classical musicians from around the world
Two feature performances at Opus 76 Quartet concerts during the 2020/21 season
This program identifies and nurtures talented musicians who aspire to a career in classical music and gives successful applicants the opportunity to experience being in a professional string quartet – from the practice room to the stage.

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