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Name of Work

Spohr, Louis (1784-1859)
Grand Nonetto in F Major, Op. 31 for strings and winds (2009)

Movements:
Allegro
Scherzo: Allegro. Trio I. Trio II.
Adagio
Finale: Vivace

Performances:


Mar 22, 2009



Mathieu Dufour, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Dennis Michel, Bassoon
Gail Williams, Horn
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Peter Lloyd, Double bass
Yukiko Ogura, Viola


Mar 23, 2009



Mathieu Dufour, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Dennis Michel, Bassoon
Gail Williams, Horn
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Yukiko Ogura, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Peter Lloyd, Double bass

SPOHR-Nonet in F Major, Op. 31

Composed in 1813

BACKGROUND
Louis Spohr enjoyed experimenting with unusual instrumentations. He wrote clarinet concertos when most other composers didn’t, and also created a concerto for string quartet and orchestra. His long chamber-music list includes not only 34 string quartets but also works for less usual forces like sextets, an Octet, and the Nonet.

Famous as an opera composer, he set Faust in 1813, just about the earliest operatic treatment of Goethe’s drama and a forerunner of the romantic movement in the world of German opera. Faust was premiered in Prague in 1816 under the direction of Carl Maria von Weber.

Having begun his career as a virtuoso concert violinist, Spohr eventually specialized in conducting, at the opera house of Frankfurt and finally in the smaller German city of Kassel, ruled by a music-loving Elector who maintained a corps of exceptionally skilled instrumentalists and singers. Spohr found Kassel a congenial environment and he stayed there for 35 years.

Though mostly forgotten now, his operas held the stage in Germany into the late 19th century, and were admired by Wagner -- who was especially influenced by Spohr’s tendency to treat a musical drama as a unified work from beginning to end: through-composition, as opposed to the older method of dividing an opera up into separate “numbers.” Spohr also pioneered the idea of specific themes associated with specific characters and events, a technique Wagner would expand into his complex webs of leitmotives. Suspended in time between Classicism and Romanticism, Spohr seemed to his contemporaries and successors to belong in the end to neither of those worlds, and was dismissed as a second-rater. However, in our own time, there's been a moderate Spohr revival.Two of his works that never completely dropped out of sight are the Octet and Nonet for winds and strings, both characterized by brilliant melodic inventiveness and sparkling solo passages for all the players.

MUSIC
In 1813, guest-conducting at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Spohr met Johann Tost, a rich merchant and amateur musician who had commissioned works from Haydn and, probably, Mozart. Now he wanted a whole group of new chamber works for varying instrumentations, urging Spohr to exploit each contrasting instrument individually to emphasize its particular timbre. The first movement, an Allegro in 4/4 time, presents a calm and lyrical main theme derived from the four-note motive heard at the very beginning. The second theme’s main interest is rhythmic, not melodic, and the ideas are combined in the intricate development section. One of the ways Spohr re-uses his basic four-note motive is as the basis for a brief fugal passage.

The second movement is an Allegro Scherzo in D Minor with two trios. The main theme is once again derived from the four-note motive. The first trio is dominated by a violin solo in the Austrian dance rhythm called Landler, and the other features the winds; the main Scherzo portion is repeated with a coda. Like the Scherzo movement, the ensuing Adagio is in e/r time. It modulates to B-Flat Major. Both main themes are soulful and song-like; the first is presented by the string and wind choirs in alternation, the second is characterized by solo playing.

Since both are based on the four-note motive, this Adagio is clearly linked in structural terms to the first-movement Allegro. It unfolds as a sonata movement without a distinct development section. The Finale is a sonata-form movement with two lively-yet-lyrical themes that are presented and developed soloistically; one of the solos, for oboe, recalls the opening motive one more time. This is an ingenious, tuneful, and virtuosic conclusion that gives all the instruments opportunities to express themselves, yet still be partners in an engaging conversation. Just what Tost had asked for.

Program notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance dates: March 22 & 23, 2009

CCM first performed this work at the March 26, 1995 Subscription Series concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall



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