2018-2019 Get Cozy Chamber Series
Mary Towse-Beck performs two major 19th century masterpieces: the Schubert A major sonata and Schumann C major fantasy.
- Klavierstucke No. 1 in E-flat minor, D. 946 Franz Schubert
- Fantasy in C Major, Opus 17 Robert Schumann
- Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen; Im Legenden-Ton
- Mäßig. Durchaus energisch
- Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten
- Sonata in A Major, D. 959 Franz Schubert
- Scherzo. Allegro vivace – Trio
- Rondo. Allegretto – Presto
Pianist Mary Towse-Beck has been a performing artist for the past twenty-five years. Equally at home as both soloist and collaborative artist, she has performed throughout Europe, Australia and the United States. She has been a featured artist on Australian National Radio and her 2013 release of The Impressionists not only received critical acclaim but also extensive airplay throughout North America. Recently, she gave a solo recital at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and appeared as soloist with the Portsmouth Symphony.Mary received her Masters and Bachelors of Music from Indiana University where she studied with James Tocco and Edward Auer, and also received coaching from many renowned teachers including Josef Gingold, Janos Starker and Gyorgy Sebok. She attended Eastman School of Music as an undergraduate studying with Rebecca Penneys, after having studied with Jerome Rose in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio. After completing her Masters, she continued her studies in London with Norma Fisher and Benjamin Kaplan.After having lived in England for twenty years, Mary returned to the United States in 2007 and now resides in New Hampshire. She maintains a large teaching studio in her home in Kensington, NH, and also continues to perform chamber music and solo recitals.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Schubert’s short life of thirty-one years was filled with frustration. He was constantly eclipsed by the awe-inspiring presence of Beethoven, a fellow Viennese resident; he lacked artistic recognition and financial success, his efforts were thwarted by his own timid and self-effacing personality; his health was unpredictable due to syphilis, which finally took his life in November, 1828. In spite of his the many impediments in his life, his artistic output was staggering: more than 600 secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. Composed in May, 1828, Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946, are often referred to as Schubert’s third set of impromptus, less known than his impromptu sets Opus 90 and Opus 142. They were not published until 1868, edited by none other that Johannes Brahms. The first, in E-flat minor, contains a controversial C section, or a second trio, which Schubert clearly crossed out in his autograph but editor Brahms reinstated. Some modern performers include that deleted trio, bowing to Brahms’ wisdom. Today you will hear the shorter version in ternary form, as this performer feels that Schubert made the right decision in removing his C section, that the clear ternary form that remains is perfectly constructed, and that today’s program is long enough already!
Also written during the last months of his life, Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, D. 959, is the middle work of what is often referred to as his trilogy of sonatas. All three of these last sonatas were composed on a grand scale, attempting to stretch the form of the Classical sonata to its breaking point. The A Major is boldly experimental in its cyclic structure, its dramatic expansiveness and daring harmonies. The first movement opens with grand chords, giving way to a gently cascading arpeggios. The development section uses a small motive that appears at the end of the exposition and weaved through surprising and unexpected harmonic modulations. The movement ends restating the opening chords in a pianissimo and hesitant manner, in preparation for the haunting theme of the second movement.
The second movement is arguably one of the most beautiful, yet strangest, movements in all of Schubert’s sonatas. The first theme of the A section is mysterious, brooding, and plaintively inward looking. This gives way to a meandering, somewhat improvisatory middle section which ventures from one unexpected harmony to the next, giving the listener no clues as to what to expect next. It seems a violent outpouring of the pent up pain of the opening theme, and has been described as a “composed hallucination”, a “panic attack”. It is Schubert at the height of his creative and expressive powers. The third movement, a traditional scherzo/trio, abruptly casts aside the preceding dark and gloomy mood. Though Schubert maintains a traditional structure, his harmonic choices are anything but traditional and constantly surprising. In the middle of joyous playfulness, an abrupt C-sharp minor descending scale hearkens back to the stormy middle section of the andantino. The final movement, a lyrical Rondo with its lieder-like main theme, book-ends this sonata perfectly, reflecting the length and expansiveness of the first movement. Being in sonata-rondo form, there are multiple restatements of the main theme along with a meaty development section, which alludes to both the development of the first movement and the wild “B” section of the second movement. The final moments of the rondo restate the main theme in that same halting fashion that ended the first movement, followed by an energetic coda. The opening chords of the first movement closing out this epic work.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Schumann, often considered a quirky, problematic genius, was not only a composer, but also a pianist, an influential music critic and author. His love of music, philosophy and literature began at an early age, fostered by his father, a bookseller/ novelist, and his passionate, sometimes unstable, mother. The Universal Journal of Music 1850 supplement included a biographical sketch of Schumann that noted, “It has been related that Schumann, as a child, possessed rare taste and talent for portraying feelings and characteristic traits in melody — ay, he could sketch the different dispositions of his intimate friends by certain figures and passages on the piano so exactly and comically that everyone burst into loud laughter at the similitude of the portrait.” He entwined his literary imaginings with his compositions, often referring to his cast of characters: Eusebius and Florestan (his introverted and extroverted selves), He most likely suffered from bipolar disorder, and the final two years of his life were spent in a mental asylum.”
There is little doubt that Schumann will remain a canonic figure, though if quality of work is the only gauge, his importance has long been overrated. His abilities, at times, fell short of his ambitions, but he brought enthusiasm and a rare poetic genius to everything he attempted. As a critic he was remarkably astute in some judgments, wildly off the mark in others, and in all cases generous. He never became a great pianist, was a failure as a conductor, and at times was not even a very good composer. But his entire being was music, informed by dream and fantasy. He was music’s quintessential Romantic, always ardent, always striving for the ideal.” (Ted Libby, NPR)
In June 1836, during a period of enforced separation from his beloved Clara, Schumann composed a single-movement Fantaisie to which he gave the title ‘Ruines’. Later in the year, in an effort to raise funds for the erection of a monument to Beethoven, he added two further movements, called ‘Trophaeen’ and ‘Palmen’, and proposed to publish the three together as a Grosse Sonate … für Beethovens Denkmal. The movement subtitles of “Ruins, Trophies and Palms” eventually became “Ruins, Triumphal Arch and Constellations”, and then were removed altogether when it was published in 1839. It was published with a dedication to Franz Liszt and a quote from Friedrich Schlegel: Durch alle Töne tönet/ Im bunten Erdentraum/Ein leiser Ton gezogen/Für den, der heimlich lauschet. (“Resounding through all the notes/In the earth’s colorful dream/There sounds a faint long-drawn note/For the one who listens in secret.”)
The highly rhapsodic and emotive first movement, initially conceived as a stand-alone work, is described by Robert to Clara as “the most passionate movement I have ever composed — a deep lament for you.” It is episodic in nature, with contrasting and seemingly unrelated ideas juxtaposed against one another, a new idea beginning without the previous resolving. Its form is a departure from the traditional “sonata-allegro” both thematically and harmonically; perhaps Schumann found it necessary to break away from formal traditions in order to fully express the nature of his love for Clara and his passionate frustrations. The second movement is a triumphant rondo based on a majestic march. It ends with the notoriously treacherous coda, requiring the performer to leap octaves in opposite directions (hence the dedication to Liszt, one of the few performers of the age with the technical ability to do it justice), The third movement is a contemplative, nostalgic Adagio, offering emotional resolution to the passionate first movement and the ebullient second. It is arguably one of the most beautiful movements of all of the Romantic piano repertoire.