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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lessons Learned

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By his middle years as a composer (often dubbed his "Heroic Period"), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) had found his own voice to the extent that he was no longer considered a mere extension of Mozart and Haydn. In 1808 he produced two groundbreaking symphonies (the Fifth and Sixth), as well as a set of piano trios (Op. 70), that represent a return to the intimacy of chamber music that Beethoven had set aside for grander forms. Of the Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2, noted scholar Donald Tovey observed that Beethoven had achieved "the integration of Mozart and Haydn's resources, with results that transcend all possible resemblance to the style of their origins."

Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but nevertheless the E-Flat Trio is a lyrical, intricate work possessive of fairly free harmonies, a set of allegretto variations instead of the traditional slow movement, an extensive third movement scherzo, and a highly virtuosic finale.

In their next concert, the Prometheus Trio (Scott Tisdel, cello, Timothy Klabunde, violin, and Stefanie Jacob, piano) performs Beethoven's E-Flat Piano Trio. Also on tap is French composer Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937), whose music similarly reflects the lessons of his teachers (though they were far more divergent talents than Mozart and Haydn had been). Pierné gained a seriousness of purpose from his studies with Belgian organist-composer Cesar Franck and a lighter, more lyrical flavor from Jules Massenet. The Prometheus Trio performs his Trio, Op. 45 (1922), one of a handful of post-World War I works that show Pierné's effort to retain classical restraint in the face of the emotionally charged atmosphere of a war-ravaged France.

Finally, the Prometheus Trio (and guest bassist Dan Armstrong) performs two works by Jason Seed (b. 1972), Where the Corners Meet (2007) and Vlad and the Voivods (2008). Seed's compositions combine elements of 20th-century pop, jazz, rock and world folk music. The Prometheus Trio concert takes place at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music on April 20-21.

The Florentine Opera's final production of the season is the beloved singspiel The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Mozart (1756-91). This is an all-new production combining contemporary and classical visual elements, and sung in English via New Yorker critic and writer Andrew Porter's translation of the libretto. At Uihlein Hall on April 17-19.