Classical Music as Tour Guide
Frankly Music opens its season with Tchaikovsky, Strauss
Like many of his fellow
Russian composers, Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) reveled in his home country’s
folk idioms and traditions, but escaped its frigid winters for warmer
climes—locations that inspired gloriously colorful music. An 1880 trip to Rome, for example,
brought about his orchestral gem, Capriccio Italien, Op. 45.
When the St. Petersburg
Chamber Music Society commissioned a string sextet from him for their 1889-90
season, he was deeply involved in composing his latest opera, Pique Dame.The Society’s deadline was
missed, but on a subsequent trip to Florence
he found the proper inspiration and focus. The result was Souvenir de
Florence in D Major, Op. 70. The work has the overall sunny disposition one
would expect, but not without its moments of Russian pensiveness. The first
movement is cheerful and possessive of a bubbly coda, the second lyrical in
mood, the third a scherzo with a melancholy streak, and the rondo-sonata finale
inclusive of lively folk-like melodies.
Toward the end of his
life, Richard Strauss’ (1864-1949) music took on much more of a personal and
philosophical tone. Was it the advancing years that made him so reflective, or
was it the fact that he had lived to see his beloved Germany throttled in two world
wars? Perhaps some of both.
Among the most striking
of his late works is Metamorphosen, Study for Solo Strings, Op. 142 of
1945—a meditation on the bombing of Dresden that took some 130,000 lives. This
work is so far removed from his extroverted and exuberant tone poems like Till
Eulenspiegel, Don Juan
and Ein Heldenleben that it almost appears to be a work of some other
composer entirely. In contrast to those earlier works, Metamorphosen is wholly tragic and more intimate than anything
Strauss had ever composed. It unfolds in one long movement, and introduces a
number of motifs that gradually—as the piece’s name suggests—transform into
different themes. Though composed for string orchestra, the work achieves an
even more intimate feel in its sextet guise.
Frankly Music—violinists Frank Almond and Ilana Setapen; violists Toby Appel and Anthony Devroye; cellists Edward Arron and Peter Thomas; and bassist Zachary Cohen—performs these two works Sept. 27-28 at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.