Since his dramatic 1997 Van Cliburn Gold Medal triumph, Jon Nakamatsu has become a clear favorite throughout the world both on the concert circuit and in the recording studio. He has performed widely in North America, Europe, and the Far East and has collaborated with such conductors as James Conlon, Philippe Entremont, Marek Janowski, Raymond Leppard, Gerard Schwarz, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Osmo Vänskä. Numerous summer festival engagements have included appearances at the Aspen, Tanglewood, Ravinia, Caramoor, Vail, Sun Valley, Wolftrap, and Britt festivals. In 1999, Mr. Nakamatsu was invited to the White House to perform for President and Mrs. Clinton. Among the numerous chamber ensembles with which Mr. Nakamatsu has collaborated are the Brentano, Jupiter, Tokyo, Prazak, St. Lawrence, and Ying String Quartets. He also tours frequently with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet and in 2008 debuted on the Philharmonic’s chamber music series performing with the Quintet and members of the orchestra. His long association with clarinetist Jon Manasse, as part of the Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo, continues in the 2011-12 season with tours throughout the US. In 2008, the Duo released its first CD (Brahms Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano) which received the highest praise from The New York Times Classical Music and Dance Editor James R. Oestreich, who named it a “Best of the Year” choice for 2008. The Duo’s most recent recording (American Music for Clarinet and Piano), released by harmonia mundi in 2010, received overwhelming praise by such publications as the International Record Review and The Mercury News, who listed it among their Top Classical CDs of 2010. Mr. Nakamatsu and Mr. Manasse continue to serve as Artistic Directors of the esteemed Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, founded by pianist Samuel Sanders in 1979. Mr. Nakamatsu records exclusively for harmonia mundi usa, which has released ten CDs to date. His recent all-Gershwin recording with Jeff Tyzig and the Rochester Philharmonic featuring Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F rose to number three on Billboard’s classical music charts, earning extraordinary critical acclaim. Jon Nakamatsu studied privately with the late Marina Derryberry from the age of six, and has worked with Karl Ulrich Schnabel, son of the great pianist Artur Schnabel. He has also studied composition and orchestration with Dr. Leonard Stein of the Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California, and pursued extensive studies in chamber music and musicology. Mr. Nakamatsu is a graduate of Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in German Studies and a master’s degree in Education. For further information: www.jonnakamatsu.com.
Jon Nakamatsu appears through special arrangement with Bill Capone, Arts Management Group, Inc., 37 West 26th Street, Suite 403, New York New York 10010-1006.
Jean-Philippe Rameau (born Dijon, September 25, 1683; died Paris, September 12, 1764)
Gavotte with six variations, from Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin (composed around 1729-1730)
Jean-Philippe Rameau made his mark by dominating the French opera stage
for the last three decades of his life, even though he did not compose his
first opera until the age of fifty. By then, however, Rameau had
already published three major collections of keyboard works and several of
the innovative theoretical treatises that have served as the foundation of
tonal harmonic theory for two and a half centuries.
Though his father Jean was a prominent organist at several venues in Dijon, France, and was said to have taught Jean-Philippe music before reading, he also preferred that his son become a lawyer. Not until Jean-Philippe was 18 did his parents consent to his choice of music as a career, beginning with a brief sojourn to Italy. From 1702 through 1722, Rameau served as organist for a succession of churches throughout France, rarely serving the full length of any of his contracts. There is a story of questionable authenticity that, in order to be released from a 29-year contract at Clermont Cathedral 21 years early, he purposely performed on an important feast day the most dissonant organ stop combinations he could devise. Soon thereafter, he moved to Paris, where he would remain the rest of his life.
Until scholarly revisions in recent decades, Rameau’s solo keyboard works were thought to have comprised three major collections in 1706, 1724, and around 1729-1730, plus a fourth collection combining accompanied and solo works in 1741. The Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin from around 1729-1730 includes both two-part dance movements that were a traditional part of Baroque suites and more modern sorts of genre pieces. The gavotte, an old French dance form that takes it name from the Gavots of Pays de Gap in southern France, is in 4/4 time, although the phrasing begins on the third beat. The Gavotte in A minor is followed by six increasingly complex variations. Rameau scholar Kenneth Gilbert has suggested that Rameau may have been paying tribute to the Air con variazioni from George Frideric Handel’s Suite in D minor, HWV 428, from roughly a decade earlier. Rameau’s theme mimics the structure of Handel’s and the first three variations of each set have similar textures.
Johannes Brahms (born Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died Vienna, April 3, 1897)
Sonata no. 1 in C major, op. 1 (composed 1852-1853)
Andante (nach einem altdeutschen Minneliede)
Scherzo: Allegro molto e con fuoco
Finale: Allegro con fuoco
In the young life of Johannes Brahms, the year 1853 marked a watershed.
Three years earlier, he’d attended and been entranced by a concert in
Hamburg featuring the renowned violinist Eduard Reményi (1828-1898), who
had fled his native Hungary after the 1848 uprising was suppressed.
When Reményi returned from the United States in 1853, Brahms inveigled his
way into touring Germany with the violinist, picking up firsthand a lasting
fondness for the delightful idiosyncrasies of the Hungarian style.
On this tour, Brahms would meet his lifelong friend and champion, the violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), and become acquainted with Franz Liszt in Weimar. At Joachim’s suggestion, Brahms would leave Reményi’s tour to visit Clara and Robert Schumann on September 30, 1853, in Düsseldorf. When Robert had a nervous breakdown the next February, Brahms returned to assist the family, in the process becoming infatuated with his musical hero’s wife, some fourteen years his senior.
During his visits to Weimar and Düsseldorf, Brahms had presented his Sonata no. 1 in C major, op. 1 both to Liszt and to the Schumanns. Liszt and Brahms, bearing opposing temperaments, didn’t hit it off. But Brahms so impressed the Schumanns that, in an article in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Robert would praise him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven.
Its numbering notwithstanding, the Sonata no. 1 was most likely the fourth that Brahms had composed, following two he had destroyed and the Sonata no. 2 in F-sharp minor, op. 2. Brahms dedicated the Sonata no. 1 to Joachim on its publication by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1853.
Listen to the opening bars of the Allegro and a reason Schumann might have thought of Beethoven becomes immediately clear: They evoke the power of Beethoven’s Sonata no. 29, op. 106, known as the “Hammerklavier.” Brahms based the theme of the Andante on what he believed was “einem altdeutschen Minneliede,” an old German troubadour’s song, Verstohlen geht der Mond auf (“Secretly the moon is rising”). Subsequent research has questioned the authenticity of the song, suggesting that it was likely the work of Andreas Kretzschmer and Anton Wilhelm Florentin von Zuccalmaglio, the compilers of the popular collection of German folksongs in which it appeared. Whatever the theme’s provenance, it serves as the basis for one of Brahms’s earliest excursions into the variation form. Then building on a motif from the Andante’s coda, the Scherzo (marked Allegro molto e con fuoco) follows without pause. The Finale: Allegro con fuoco borrows material from the first movement for its rondo theme. The second of the two contrasting episodes takes its inspiration from Robert Burns’ My Heart’s in the Highlands.
Franz Liszt (born Raiding, Hungary, October 22, 1811; died Bayreuth, July 31, 1886)
Four selections from Années de pèlerinage, 2e année, Italie
Sonetto 47 del Petrarca (Benedetto sia ’l giorno)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Pace non trovo) (composed 1846-1858)
Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (I’vidi in terra angelici costumi) (composed 1846-1858)
Après une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi sonata (composed 1837)
As a child wonder on the piano, Franz Liszt was steeped in musical
history. His father, Adam Liszt, was an amateur cellist and in the
employ of the Esterházy family, the former patrons of Joseph Haydn.
Adam had known Haydn as well as other Esterházy musicians, including Luigi
Cherubini and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Franz himself would study with
Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri, and would meet and play for both Beethoven
and Schubert. By the time he was twelve and moved to Paris, Liszt was
famous. During the next dozen years, he became Europe’s foremost piano
virtuoso, the nineteenth century equivalent of a rock star.
In 1833, Liszt began his liaison with the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, estranged from her considerably older husband Charles. Together, Marie and Franz produced three children, the most notable of whom was their daughter Cosima, born in 1837 and the future wife of Hans von Bülow and then Richard Wagner. The years Marie and Franz spent together were among Liszt’s most productive, during which time he toured the continent and gathered material for the first two of his three collections entitled Années de pèlerinage (“Years of Pilgrimage”). Depicting natural scenes in Switzerland was the theme of the first book of Années de pèlerinage, whereas the second was inspired by various works of Italian art and literature.
At the center of Années de pèlerinage, 2e année, Italie, are the Tre sonetti di Petrarca. The medieval poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), among the first to write in vernacular Italian, wrote 366 sonnets to his female ideal, Laura. During his 1838-1839 sojourns in Italy, Liszt set three of those passionate sonnets for high tenor with piano accompaniment. In 1846, he published solo piano versions, revising them again for the 1858 publication of Années de pèlerinage, 2e année. Later still, he published simpler versions of the solo vocal works.
Generally considered the least successful of the three, Sonetto 47 del Petrarca (“Benedetto sia ’l giorno” or “Blessed be the day”) exudes the warmth and sadness of young love, tracking the original song closely. In the piano version of Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, Liszt again follows both the meter and the alternating moods of the poem, Pace non trovo, e non da far guerra” (“I find no peace, nor reason to make war”). Only in its final measures does it achieve a sense of repose. That calm carries over into the introduction of the Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (“I’vidi in terra angelici costume” or “I saw on earth angelic grace”). Here, Liszt grows less dependent on the original, instead ornamenting the tune with symbolic references to the text.
In the longest piece of the entire Années de pèlerinage, Liszt wanted to re-create in music the terror of The Divine Comedy, particularly The Inferno. Popularly known as “The Dante Sonata,” Après une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi sonata (“After reading Dante”) concludes Book Two, although Liszt later added a supplement. Liszt borrows the title from a poem by Victor Hugo. The tritone, the so-called devil in music, dominates the opening, after which the howls of hell’s tortured residents are heard. Liszt does offer several glimpses of heavenly relief.
Just as both the Sonetto 104 del Petrarca and the “Dante Sonata” embraced opposites, so did Liszt’s life itself. He had years-long affairs with married women and carried on with other women decades younger than he. And yet, after retiring from the concert hall, he received minor orders to become Abbé Liszt in April 1865 after years of religious study. In these later years especially, he composed numerous sacred works, including the massive oratorio Christus. Go figure.
-- Program notes by Jay Weitz, Senior Consulting Database Specialist for music, OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Dublin, Ohio. He is a contributing performing arts critic for the weekly alternative newspaper Columbus Alive (http://www.columbusalive.com).