Program Notes | Dr. Christopher Williams: MH Chamber Music Series 2022-23 Season - VI
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor, D. 821
Franz Schubert 1797-1828
With some notes from my graduate research paper: No Love for the Guitar of Love
Franz Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione (D 821) is a piece that evokes several questions. What is an arpeggione? Why did Schubert bother writing an entire sonata for it? Why is it that transcriptions of this work are so popular? The arpeggione was originally called the “guitar-violoncello” or “guitar d’amour” when it was invented by Viennese instrument maker Johann Georg Staufer in 1823. The name “guitar d’amour” was derived from the dark and rich sound the instrument produced, which was associated with love. The name of “arpeggione” is rumored to have been coined by Schubert because of the instrument’s ease of playing arpeggiated passages, although this cannot be confirmed. Unfortunately the instrument was somewhat of a passing fad in musical history, but its brief popularity was enough to capture the composer’s attention. He made acquaintance with a virtuoso performer of the instrument in 1824 by the name of Vincenz Schuster. Inspired by Schuster’s performance, Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano was finished in November of that year- sadly too late to have any chance at becoming popular on an instrument that was being quickly forgotten. The work was not published in his lifetime, and did not appear in print until 1871. While the composition of this work is considered by some scholars to be an apparent flub for the composer, Schubert may have had other intentions in mind during his creative process, as this is one of the most adapted/borrowed string pieces ever written. A somewhat bittersweet triumph is the irony that the work was ultimately a huge success… on every instrument but the arpeggione.
I would like to include a QR code on the program notes that links to my full research paper should anyone be interested in learning more about the piece
link to “No Love for the Guitar of Love”
Chahagir for Solo Viola
Alan Hovhannes 1911-2000
Program notes courtesy of Elizabeth Knaub-
Alan Hovhaness, an American composer with Armenian and Scottish heritage, began composing at the early age of four. He studied at the New England Conservatory, where he was introduced to Eastern music by Boston musicians. Musicologists divide Hovhaness’ music into many compositional periods, the most notable being his second period, referred to as the “Armenian Period” lasting from 1943-1951. He was inspired to write in this style by his meditation practices and the music of priest-composer Komitas Vardapet. His new style gave him a good reputation in the 1950s after his first compositional period drew criticism from the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.
Chahagir, or “torchbearer,” is based on an Armenian folk song. The dark, rich tone of the solo viola is well-suited to the somber mood of the piece, which has an overall processional feel. Being as short as it is, there has not been much scholarly research done on the work despite its prominence as one of the first pieces in Hovhaness’ most prolific compositional period.
Sonata for Viola and Piano-
Rebecca Clarke 1886-1979
Program notes courtesy of Alex Burns of classicalexburns.com-
Remembered today as one of the finest chamber music composers of the twentieth century, Rebecca Clarke’s (1886-1979) Sonata for Viola and Piano is a staple in viola repertoire. Although her compositional output wasn’t large like some of her contemporaries, the works that were composed were praised for their integrity, artistry and complexity. Today, Clarke’s work is kept alive by The Rebecca Clarke Society, which champions the study and performance of her works.
After studying at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London, Clarke became one of the first professional female orchestral musicians. Her main instruments were violin and viola, and under the tutelage of Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College, her compositions started pushing for these instruments to take solo roles. In 1916, Clarke moved to New York to pursue her performing career, which is where she composed her Sonata for Viola and Piano.
Composed in 1919, Sonata for Viola and Piano was initially entered into a competition supported by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (Clarke’s neighbor and a major patron of the arts). With a whopping 72 entries into the competition, Clarke tied first place with a composition by Ernest Bloch. What’s more is that Bloch was then declared the winner by Coolidge, with reporters speculating that ‘Rebecca Clarke’ was a pseudonym for Bloch himself. It was not believed, at the time, that a woman could write music as challenging and powerful as the sonata. Its first real premiere was the Berkshire music festival in 1919, and the response was largely positive towards the work.
The score for Sonata for Viola and Piano has a quote on the inside page, which is taken from the poem La Nuit de mai, by French poet Alfred de Musset:
“Poète, prends ton luth; le vin de la jeunesse – Poet, take up your lute; the wine of youth”
“Fermente cette nuit dans les veines de Dieu. – this night is fermenting in the veins of God.”
The work is set in three movements, each accentuating Clarke’s engaging and creative musical style. With homages to composers such as Claude Debussy, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Maurice Ravel, Sonata for Viola and Piano is deemed today as one of the best works for viola.
UPDATED Bio for use in recital
Christopher Williams is a violist specializing in the performance of new and innovative music. His debut solo album, Viola Voltage (2018), features electroacoustic works for solo viola and various electronic media, including world premiere recordings of several pieces. He has performed with orchestras in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, Alabama, and Texas. He received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Georgia in 2018, as well as his Master’s Degree in Music Performance from UGA in 2014. He was awarded the Director’s Excellence Award from UGA in 2016 and 2017 for his performances in numerous graduate chamber ensembles. His past teachers include Maggie Snyder, Idalynn Besser, Seanad Chang, Scott Rawls, Erika Eckert, and Rebecca Bull. Chris is currently an active solo, chamber, and orchestral performer in the Houston area. He most recently played principal viola in Copland’s Appalachian Spring for Chamber Orchestra with the Cypress Chamber Orchestra.
Christopher has over 20 years private teaching experience and has worked with students of all ages and skill levels. Chris is in high demand as a private teacher, sectional coach, and master class host in the state of Texas. His highly adaptive and grounded teaching style keeps his studio full. His students enjoy success with top rankings at TMEA Region competitions in several divisions. They have won auditions at each level of the Houston Youth Symphony, Katy Youth Symphony, Texas Music Festival, Athens Youth Symphony, and the University of Georgia viola studio.