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Name of Work

Ligeti , György Sándor (1923-2006)
Hommage à Brahms for horn, piano, violin

Andantino con tenerezza
Vivacissimo molto ritmico
Alla Marcia
Lameno. Adagio


Mar 22, 2009

Gail Williams, Horn
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Brian Connelly, Piano

Mar 23, 2009

Gail Williams, Horn
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Brian Connelly, Piano

LIGETI-Trio: Hommage à Brahms (1982)

Composed in 1982

Hungarian-born composer György Ligeti was a leader of the European avant-garde movement in the second half of the 20th century. Though specifically intended as an homage to the Brahms Horn Trio, Ligeti’s Trio sounds nothing like it. “[Brahms’] horn trio hovers in the musical heavens as an unequalled example of this genre,” Ligeti wrote. “All the same, one finds neither quotations nor influences from Brahms’ music in this piece. Composed in the late twentieth century, my trio is -- both in construction and expression - music of our time.”

The first movement is in a tender, gentle mood, and sets a pattern for the three instruments that will persist until the finale: they give the impression of going very much their own ways. Ligeti identifies the violin’s opening motives as a pattern that is used in all four movements. Playing double stops, the violin sounds a major triad, a tritone (diminished fifth), and a minor sixth (equivalent to middle C-A Flat on a piano keyboard). The piano echoes the violin with increasingly elaborate and emphatic chords. Frequently these ring out strongly from the keyboard’s highest register. Meanwhile, the horn has an ongoing theme the composer described as “a non-tonal diatonic melody”: non-tonal meaning that it doesn’t tend toward any key center, diatonic in that it doesn’t include chromatic half-steps, moving in whole tones, fourths and fifths (frequently augmented or diminished ones), and wide athletic leaps. The gradual elaboration of the horn’s line dominates this movement. The violin plays ethereal, high-pitched harmonics at the movement’s end; as Ligeti put it, “a very distant, gentle, melancholic music resounding through atmospheric crystallizations.”

Vivacissimo is one of the fastest tempos imaginable, and the second movement proceeds as a wild, noisy, virtuosic dance. The composer explains its complex rhythmic structure as a division of a basic pattern of eight beats into patterns of three, two, and three: “In each of the three instruments a different grouping [of 3-2 groupings] simultaneously occurs.”

It comes across to the listener as a procedure of headlong perpetual motion. After the violin opens with a pizzicato motive, a piano melody emerges, to be followed by a theme for the violin, while the horn enters with unrelated material, more complex and chromatic than its serene theme in the Andantino. Briefly the violin and horn engage in a duet, but soon they take up their own patterns again and go their separate ways, linked only by the complicated interlocking rhythms. Surprisingly, after so much breathless agitation, the movement ends quietly.

In Alla Marcia, the horn is briefly silent while violin and piano present a marching theme whose rhythm quickly becomes syncopated. A high-register chord signals the entrance of the horn and a quieter section, which ends with the horn in its lower register and the piano in its upper. A short recapitulation features the violin-piano duo with fanfare-like commentary from the horn.

After a sudden stop, the Lamento takes us into a slower-paced minor-mode passage from which develops a mournful piano melody, then a wandering, chromatic solo for the violin, leading to a lyrical violin-piano duet in striking contrast to the dissonant clashes we’ve heard throughout most of the preceding music. As the duet reaches its climax, the horn enters, very high, and the piano begins a low-register passage of percussive chords, accompanying the violin in its highest register and the horn as it explores virutally its entire range.

A violin solo and bell-like piano chords, supported by sustained horn tones, form a contemplative coda. In Ligeti’s words once again: “like the photograph of a landscape which in the meantime has dissipated into nothingness.”

Program notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance dates: March 22 & 23, 2009

This is CCM’s first performance of this work.

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