About the Music

Phantasie Trio by Frank Bridge

The program for the next concert will be:

 

Phantasie Trio in C minor by Frank Bridge

Three Nocturnes by Ernest Bloch

Sonata No. 3 for piano solo by Sergei Prokofiev

 

~Intermission~

 

Trio No. 4 "Dumky" by Antonin Dvorak

Three Nocturnes by Ernest Bloch

Ernest Bloch was a Swiss-born American composer who lived around the same time as Frank Bridge (1880-1959). This piece was written in 1924, the same year he became an American citizen and settled, of all places, in Cleveland (he left for San Francisco after a year). Bloch lived in Europe through the same events as Frank Bridge before immigrating to America in 1916. His style is a good example of the direction of Bridge’s style post-war, although with an American rather than British flavour. The Nocturnes are tuneful but much less tied to an obvious sense of a key. Bloch and Bridge were very influenced by French impressionism; the first two of these pieces are very evocative and atmospheric examples of night music. Bloch has the addition of being influenced by American music of the time. He shows the beginnings of jazz influence with his emphasis on interesting and strong rhythms, which comes through in the last of the three Nocturnes.

 

This piece is a total of about 10 minutes long, with three miniature movements of about 3 minutes each.

Frank Bridge isn’t particularly well known; he was an English composer who lived from 1879-1941, and he was part of a wave of English composers (including Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Gustav Holst and John Ireland) that suddenly made England a musically interesting place again. Prior to these composers it had been several centuries of no one much caring what England did. Being a part of this wave is possibly a reason why Bridge never became that famous – he was overshadowed by his contemporaries.

 

Bridge was known for being a pacifist, and his composition style changed drastically after WWI. After the war he experimented with a lot of modern techniques, but before the war his pieces are mostly lovely, easy to listen to, full of happy passion and very reminiscent of the late 1800s. In a nutshell, this is probably exactly the kind of music that should be playing in Downton Abbey.

 

Bridge wrote this piece in 1907, pre-war, when he was still pretty young. It’s one long movement made up a lot of miniature contrasting sections and melodies, and it lasts about 10-12 minutes, depending on how fast we play.

Sonata No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev was born about a decade after Bridge and Bloch (1891-1953) and this piece was composed right in between the Bridge and Bloch pieces, in 1917.  This sonata is subtitled “From the Old Notebooks” – Prokofiev originally produced sketches of it in 1907, the same year that Bridge wrote the piece on this program. The differences are huge for two pieces conceived in the same year; the Bridge is full of passion, while the Prokofiev piece trends towards jagged-sounding wildness. The tunes in the Bridge are easy to sing and lyrical, and the fast sections are playful and joyous. The tunes in Prokofiev are somewhat creepy and nostalgic sounding and the fast sections are mostly insane.  It’s the difference between tea and vodka.

 

What the Prokofiev Sonata has in common with the Bridge pieces, is that they are both single movements, made up of smaller contrasting sections. This sonata is about 7 minutes long.

Trio No. 4 "Dumky" by Antonin Dvorak

Antonin Dvorak is probably the most famous of the composers featured on this program. This piece is similar to the Nocturnes in that it is made up of a few miniature movements. In this case, there are six folksong-like movements, although the first three run right into each other very quickly with no big pause to reset. This piece is nicknamed the “Dumky” trio, after the plural of a kind of Ukrainian folk song called a Dumka. These folksongs are narrative in nature, like family ballads, and they are typically somewhat retrospective. Dumka also may be a derivative of the verb “dumati” which means to recollect. Dvorak accomplishes this by alternating moods of nostalgia and yearning with movements of up-tempo youthful energy, as if his older self is recalling the days of his youth.

 

Dvorak wrote this at the perfect time in his life to be nostalgic. It was 1891 and he was 50 years old and he performed it in a farewell tour of his native Czech Republic before he immigrated (like Prokofiev and Bloch) to the United States. The following year, 1892, while newly situated in New York City, Dvorak wrote what is arguably his most famous piece, the Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” That symphony represents a new chapter in Dvorak’s life, while this piece, the Dumky Trio, represents a closing to a previous chapter, and a fond farewell to his homeland.

 

This piece is approximately 40 minutes long, made up of six short movements. (It actually sounds like one big movement and three shorter movements.)

Antonin Dvorak and his magnificent beard

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)