Julian Bliss and Bradley Moore performing Flight of the Bumblebee
Julian Bliss is one of the world’s finest clarinetists excelling as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, jazz artist, masterclass leader and tireless musical explorer. He has inspired a generation of young players as guest lecturer and creator of his Leblanc Bliss range of affordable clarinets, and introduced a substantial new audience to his instrument. Born in the U.K., Julian started playing the clarinet at the age four, going on to study in the U.S. at the University of Indiana and in Germany under Sabine Meyer. The breadth and depth of his artistry are reflected in the diversity and distinction of his work. In recital and chamber music he has played at most of the world’s leading festivals and venues including Gstaad, Mecklenburg Vorpommern, Verbier, Wigmore Hall (London) and Lincoln Center (New York).
As soloist, current performances include concerts with the Sao Paolo Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Paris, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia and London Philharmonic. In 2012 he established the Julian Bliss Septet, creating programs inspired by King of Swing, Benny Goodman, and Lan music from Brazil and Cuba that have gone on to be performed to packed houses in festivals, Ronnie Scott’s (London), the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) and across the U.S. Recent album releases receiving rave reviews from critics, album of the week spots and media attention, include his recording of Mozart and Nielsen’s Concertos with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Recent chamber discs include a new piece for clarinet & string quartet by David Bruce – Gumboots – inspired by the gumboot dancing of miners in South Africa and a recital album of Russian and French composers with American pianist, Bradley Moore.
Wister Quartet: The Philadelphia-based Quartet was named to honor Frances Anne Wister, founder of the Volunteer Committees of The Philadelphia Orchestra. It has performed throughout the Eastern United States including concerts at Haverford, Swarthmore, Gettysburg, Ursinus, and Gloucester County (NJ) Colleges and has also appeared in concert in China, South America and Europe.
The Wister Quartet appears frequently on established series such as those presented by The Chamber Music Society of Bethlehem, the Laurel Hill Concerts by Candlelight in the historic Philadelphia mansion of that name in Fairmount Park, the Glencairn Museum, and Arcadia University. Since its earliest days, the Wister Quartet has been featured on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Chamber Music Series, and since 1991 in performances on the Lenape Chamber Players Summer Festivals and at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center chamber series.
In 1993 the Wister Quartet established its own Chamber Series of five Sunday afternoon concerts in the historic headquarters of the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. These feature the great quartet literature as well as unusual and rarely-played works.The Quartet is also the core group of the popular Philadelphia chamber ensemble, 1807 & Friends. They’ve played with world-renowned artists including Yefim Bronfman, Alicia de Larrocha, Christoph Eschenbach, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Nancy Bean was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1983 and was its Assistant Concertmaster for 23 years before retiring in 2009 to devote herself to chamber music. She is the Artistic Director of 1807 and Friends chamber ensemble, director of The Liberty String Orchestra, and violinist with the Amerita Chamber Players, Florian Trio, Trio Montage, Barnard Trio, Duo Parisienne, Duo Paganini and Wister Quartet.
Davyd Booth is a master of many instruments, including violin, celesta, piano, and harpsichord. He joined the Philadelphia Orchestra violin section in 1973. He made his professional debut at the age of 13, touring the United States for four years and touring Mexico at the age of 16. He is currently on the faculty of the Temple University Preparatory Department, where he serves as conductor of two student orchestras. He is co-music director and harpsichordist for the Amerita Chamber Ensemble and the Wister String Quartet.
Pamela Fay is substitute violist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and is a member of the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia. She was a member of the Toronto Symphony and the LeClair String quartet, and is currently violist for 1807 and Friends and the Wister Quartet. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto.
Lloyd Smith, Cellist, was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1967. He was named Assistant Principal in 1988 and Acting Associate Principal in 2002 before retiring in 2003 to devote himself to chamber music and composing. He is the cellist of 1807 and Friends chamber ensemble, the Florian Trio, Trio Montage, the Barnard Trio, the Amerita Chamber Players, and the Wister Quartet.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in f minor, Op. 120, No. 1
Andante un poco adagio
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581
Allegretto con variazioni
A Peanut and Two Chestnuts
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34
A major composer of the 20th century, Prokofiev graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After the Revolution of 1917, he left Russia for the United States. In September 1918, a Russian sextet called the Zimro Ensemble, having just arrived in America from the Far East on a world tour sponsored by the Russian Zionist Organization, commissioned Prokofiev to write a piece for their ensemble. The members played the instruments in this work’s instrumentation and were led by their clarinetist, Simeon Bellison. He too had trained in Moscow, served as principal clarinetist of the Mariinsky Theatre, and would soon become principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic. He gave Prokofiev a notebook of Jewish folksongs, though the melodies Prokofiev chose for his overture have never been traced to any authentic sources. Bellison may have composed them himself in the Jewish style.
Prokofiev traveled to Germany and Paris and eventually married a Spanish singer, Carolina (Lina) Codina, with whom he had two sons. By the early 1930s, the Great Depression had diminished opportunities for his ballets and operas to be staged in America and Western Europe. Regarding himself as composer foremost, he resented the time taken by touring as a pianist and increasingly turned to the Soviet Union for commissions of new music. In 1936, he finally returned to his homeland with his family. He enjoyed some success
there – notably with Lieutenant Kijé, Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, and perhaps above all with the film score for Alexander Nevsky. Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film was the first to use music as an integral part of the drama rather than as a background.
The move back to Russia to rescue a faltering career ultimately proved disappointing—and then the exit doors closed; he, as did Shostakovich, became a virtual prisoner of Joseph Stalin. Unhappy (and, as we might say now, in midlife crisis), Prokofiev left his wife, Lina, for a student. Shortly afterward Lina was imprisoned for eight years in the gulag. Prokofiev died in 1953 literally unnoticed, because Stalin also died that day and Russians flocked into the streets for days of ceremonies and parades. After her release, Lina spent the rest of her thirty-three years promoting her former husband’s reputation and music. (Think about that for awhile!)
Back to tonight’s overture. It received its premiere at the Bohemian Club in New York in 1920, with Prokofiev as guest pianist. Before they disbanded in 1922, the Zimro Ensemble performed it again at least twice at Carnegie Hall—with their own pianist, Berdichevsky, in 1921 and possibly with guest pianist Lara Cherniavsky in December. Prokofiev regarded the work as conceived essentially for a sextet, and resisted suggestions to arrange it for other forces. In September 1930, he remarked, “I don’t understand what sort of obtuse people could have found it necessary to re-orchestrate it.” Nevertheless, he was persuaded to make a version for chamber orchestra in 1934. The orchestrated version is performed less often, because it lacks the earthiness and distinctive timbral balance of the original.
Prokofiev did not regard the work very highly. When a Scots critic, Andrew Fraser, in 1929 described the overture as “a beautiful and pathetic work,” the composer responded, “…its technique is conventional, its form is bad (4 + 4 + 4 + 4)”. When his friend Nikolai Myaskovsky praised the second theme, Prokofiev retorted, with reference to the work’s coda: “from the musical point of view, the only worthwhile part, if you please, is the final section, and that, I think, is probably the result of my sweetness and diatonicism” (absence of dissonance).
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in f minor
Op. 120, No. 1
Two clarinet sonatas were the last chamber pieces Brahms wrote before his death. They and his clarinet trio and quintet are considered among the greatest masterpieces in the clarinet repertoire, along with the Mozart Quintet that follows it tonight.
In 1890, Brahms vowed to retire from composing. That promise was short lived. In January 1891 he traveled to Meiningen for an arts festival and was captivated by performances of Carl Maria von Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto and Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. He became friends with the clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld. The beautiful tone of “Fräulein Klarinette” (as Brahms would nickname Mühlfeld) inspired him to begin composing again less than a year after he retired. The fruits of their friendship were four remarkable additions to the still modest clarinet repertoire of that time (before Debussy, 1910, and Copland, 1949), including the Clarinet Trio in a minor, Op. 114 (1891), the Clarinet Quintet in b minor, Op. 115 (1891), and two clarinet sonatas. The unplanned interruption of retirement by the clarinet also had the fortunate consequence to bring about other late-life works including cycles of piano pieces (op. 116-19), Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs, Op. 121) and Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122.
In July 1894, at his Bad Ischl summer retreat, Brahms completed the sonatas. He invited Mühlfeld to join him there, stating enigmatically that “it would be splendid if you brought your b-flat clarinet.” Mühlfeld had other commitments that summer so he delayed, but went to Vienna in September to meet Brahms and to learn the two sonatas. He and Brahms first performed them privately for Duke Georg and his family in September and then for the ailing Clara Schumann, a little more than a year before she died. Their public premiere was in January 1895. Writing his clarinet quintet three years earlier led him to compose the sonatas for clarinet and piano because he preferred the sound over that of the clarinet with strings. The keys of the sonatas—f minor and E-flat major—correspond to the keys of the two clarinet concertos which Weber composed more than eighty years earlier.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581
The clarinet is considered by some to be an exception to the rule that modern wind instruments – the flute, oboe, trumpet, bassoon, and others – evolved from very old ones like the Aulos, a double-reed pipe played in ancient Greek and Etruscan times. Instead, they claim, the clarinet evolved from another instrument that appeared around 1630, the “chalumeau.” That was a folk instrument with a single reed capable of playing only 13 notes. It may have interested shepherds and folk musicians but not most composers.
The other wind instruments, like the recorder, flute, or oboe, could sound higher octaves by means of an octave hole. Opening or closing the octave hole and tightening the embouchure allowed the player to reach the higher register by using similar fingerings for all octaves. But a typical octave hole didn’t work on the chalumeau; you would need more holes than we have fingers. Absent the necessary science, the solution to the problem didn’t come until around 1700.
After having experimented with chalumeaux for a long time, the instrument maker C. H. Denner of Nuremberg, Germany finally managed to build an instrument that would not only play the lower register but also the upper ones. In order to do this, he added two additional holes with keys, later three. The result was an instrument with a wider tonal range than the oboes or trumpets of that time and capable of playing loudly and executing difficult runs and jumps. We still call the lower octave of the clarinet, the “chalumeau” register.
By 1740 Vivaldi had composed for the new clarinet, by 1748 Handel scored for clarinets in an Ouverture, and by 1760 the famous Mannheim Orchestra had a budget for two clarinet players. In 1786 Mozart wrote a trio with clarinet, Kegelstatt, and in 1789 he wrote the technically very demanding Quintet, K 581. He actually wrote the latter for “basset clarinet” that can play a few notes lower than the clarinets in use today.
Today’s clarinets have gone through further development and exist in several systems. Most clarinetists use instruments with the Boehm system. Theobald Boehm, a 19th-century virtuoso flutist and Bavarian court musician, calculated the exact placement of holes for best intonation of the clarinet and added a “ring key” (perhaps actually invented by Aldolfe Sax) to enable closing a hole larger than a finger. A Frenchman, Hyacinthe Klosé, produced the “Boehm” model and the Buffet company started making it in 1839. Boehm also developed the system of most current orchestral flutes — and wrote music and educational treatises for them too. The less-common German system is called “Oehler” and is technically as good as the Boehm system.
A Dixieland clarinetist may use a model derived from the German systems by the Belgian instrument maker, Eugène Albert. The Albert clarinet has survived in jazz and in Oriental music (Turkish, Klezmer). It is still being built today for this purpose. Not surprisingly, Albert was tutored by Adolfe Sax, inventor of the saxophone.
Mozart’s clarinet quintet, also called the “Stadler Quintet” after the clarinetist for whom Mozart wrote it, premiered in December 1789, in one of the four annual Vienna performances of the Tonkünstler-Societät, an organization that existed to fund pensions for widows and orphans of musicians. The feature on that program was a cantata, Il natale d’Apollo, by Vincenzo Righini. Mozart’s quintet filled the silence at the intermission between the two halves of the cantata, perhaps like music piped in over loudspeakers at theater intermissions. Anton Stadler played the clarinet in that “premiere.” Obviously, no one then was aware that it was to be Mozart’s only clarinet quintet, one of the earliest and best-known works written especially for the instrument that would inspire all the clarinet works of Brahms, and even today is one of the most admired of the composer’s works.
In the early days of Music at Gretna, the Audubon Quartet and Konrad Owens played the quintet for our very first benefactor, “Dick” Davis, in the Neurology Library of the Hershey Medical Center on his second post-operative day. He made a good recovery.
Notes by Carl Ellenberger
Author of Theme and Variations:
Musical Notes by a Neurologist