By Jim Berkenstock, Artistic Director, June 10, 2023
“Opening with a Flair!” the program book reads. Okay, Great! “But Bartók and Fauré?” you say. So, let me explain. I understand that putting those two composers on the same program may seem strange, but there is reason behind my madness, which I think you will appreciate when you hear why.
A common perception of Fauré is that his music is a bit staid or reflective. Many of us know of him mostly through his Pavane for Orchestra. Or perhaps his Requiem comes to mind. Both works are characterized by a good deal of serenity of a very French kind. But Fauré had another side. Apparently, he was very attractive to the ladies and, despite being married, “his conquests were legion in the Paris salons.” That side of him had to come out in some of his music, and his Piano Quartet is one such work.
Then there is Bartók, that angular, aggressive, even brutal sounding 20th century Hungarian iconoclast. He even has a type of pizzicato named after him that sounds like the violin is going to break apart. Could these two have anything in common to warrant putting them on the same program? Well, as a matter of fact, yes.
First of all, despite the fact that Fauré was Béla Bartók’s senior by almost 40 years, these two works were written within 15 years of one another. They both might be considered fin de siècle works. This was a period of unusual economic and political stability in the latter years of 19th century Europe, but it was also on the cusp of great upheaval soon after the dawn of the new century.
Moreover, both composers were wrestling with how not to be German. The French had long been under the influence of the music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and now Wagner, but they had had enough. They were developing a uniquely French voice. Fauré was leading the way as we can detect in the mature Piano Quartet on this program. Debussy and Ravel would soon follow. Bartók, a young and very talented Hungarian composer, would eventually become an expert on indigenous Hungarian folk music and incorporate that into his compositions, but for now, he was heavily influenced by Richard Strauss. Nonetheless, he was already seeking his own path. As you listen to his fantastic Piano Quintet, notice the many little subtle and unique Hungarian flavorings (paprika anyone?) that Bartók adds to the underlying German language he is already so fluent in. The color and energy are palpable in this ravishing and substantial work. Brahms liked to dabble with Hungarian themes, but Bartók’s use seems so subtle and innate yet, at times, flamboyant.
Within just a few years, Europe would be engulfed in a terrible World War. As that time approached a cultural cataclysm was also developing in the arts. Musically, Strauss’s Salome (1905 – one year after Bartók’s Quintet), Schoenberg’s Erwartung (1909) and Pierro Lunaire (1912), and Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps (1913), would scandalize and forever revolutionize the musical landscape. But for the moment, just before the storm, we can experience two seemingly unrelated geniuses putting their own stamps of individuality and ingenuity in two beautifully passionate and uniquely complementary, resonating works. Suitable Flair for any Opening.
Please join us for our Gala Opening and help us celebrate, this Wednesday, June 14th, at the Donald and Carol Kress Center in Egg Harbor at 7:00. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland will be our special guest emcee, we will toast the new season, and following the splendid concert, enjoy a fine reception with its own special Flair. Additional performances of the same program can be heard on Saturday, June 17, 7:00 pm, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Sister Bay; Tuesday, June 20, 7:00 pm, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Ephraim; and Wednesday, June 21, 7:00 pm, Hope United Church of Christ, Sturgeon Bay. Please call 920-854-7088 or visit www.midsummersmusic.com for more information or to purchase tickets. But don’t wait, some performances are almost sold out.