Program Notes: Rachid Bernal, Piano – April 10, 2021 – 2:00 Performance

Sonata No. 18, K. 576, D major

Duration: 15 minutes

The Composer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1781)

The History

The Piano Sonata No. 18 in D major, K. 576, was composed by Mozart as part of a set of six for Princess Frederica Louise of Prussia in 1789. It is often nicknamed “The Hunt” or “The Trumpet Sonata”, for the hornlike opening.  The sonata is Mozart’s last.  In a letter to a fellow Freemason Michael von Puchberg, dated 12 July 1789, Mozart wrote “meanwhile I am working on six easy piano sonatas for Princess Friederike and six quartets for the King.”  Though Mozart claims this to be an easy sonata to perform it is demanding to play, often considered one of Mozart’s hardest sonatas, due to its technically difficult counterpoint passages.  Though Mozart claims to be written 6 sonatas only this sonata dates from that year.  Though difficult, the sonata is tuneful throughout and lighthearted.  These characteristics are contrast to what was going on in Mozart’s life at the time, as he was struggling with mounting debts.  Far from being sombre, the sonata is Mozart at his sunniest.

The World – 1789

George Washington is unanimously elected the first President of the United States, by the United States Electoral College.

The French Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille.  In rural areas, peasants attack manors of the nobility.

The University of North Carolina the oldest public university, in the United States, is founded.

Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79

Duration: 15 minutes

The Composer

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

The History

The Rhapsodies, Op. 79, for piano were written by Brahms in 1879 during his summer stay in Portschach, when he had reached the maturity of his career. They were inscribed to his friend, the musician and composer Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. At the suggestion of the dedicatee, Brahms reluctantly renamed the sophisticated compositions from “Klavierstücke” (piano pieces) to “rhapsodies.”

Despite the title, both movements have very clear formal structures. The first movement is in a ternary form (ABA). The bombastic ‘A’ section travels through a mix of major and minor keys before the start of the slower, more melodic ‘B’ section. This central section stands as a drastically different interpretation of the opening themes, which are now set in B Major. The return to section A is quite literal and includes a coda that resolves the B‐section melody to the tonic. An arpeggiated triad opens the second Rhapsody, set in G Minor. In many ways the piece is the most traditional of Brahms’ late piano works, cast in a straightforward sonata form. A majestic heaviness pervades the second movement, even in its most transparent passages.

The World – 1879

Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time, in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

William Denny and Brothers launch the world’s first ocean-going steamer to be built of mild steel, the SS Rotomahana, on the River Clyde in Scotland. On October 2 they launch the first transatlantic steamer of the same material, the SS Buenos Ayrean; on December 1, she makes her maiden voyage out of Glasgow, bound for South America. 

Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance, opens at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City. 

Rapsodia Mexicana No. 2

Duration: 8 minutes

The Composer

Manuel Maria Ponce (1882-1948)

The History

Ponce’s work as a composer, music educator and scholar of Mexican music connected the concert scene with a mostly forgotten tradition of popular song and Mexican folklore. Many of his compositions, like the Rapsodias Mexicana, are strongly influenced by the harmonies and form of traditional songs.  In the history of Mexican classical music, he is rivaled in importance only by Carlos Chávez.

The World – 1913

Pancho Villa returns to Mexico, from his self-imposed exile in the United States.

The Treaty of Bucharest is signed, ending the Second Balkan War. Macedonia is divided, and Northern Epirus is assigned to Albania.

Nocturne, Op. 33

Duration: 4 minutes

The Composer

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

The History

Barber, with characteristic individuality, wrote a nocturne that was neither entirely in the Romantic style of Chopin, nor in the modern style of his twentieth century contemporaries. Dedicated to John Field, an Irish composer credited with writing the first nocturne, Barber’s Nocturne blends Romantic and twentieth century styles to create a graceful, expressive, and haunting work. An arpeggiated accompaniment provides the harmonic background for a chromatic, ornamented melody that unequivocally sounds like the 20th century. In the first half, the intensity builds up gradually until a climax is reached. A brief pause, and the music begins again in similar fashion, only that this time instead of building up intensity, it fades into nothingness. 

The World – 1959 

Motown Records is founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. in Detroit. 

American President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Hawaii Admission Act, granting statehood to Hawaii. 

Sonata No. 6, Op. 82, A Major

Duration: 27 minutes

The Composer

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

The History

Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 is the first of the three “War Sonatas” (Nos. 6, 7, and 8) written between 1939 and 1944 while the Soviet Union was at war with Nazi Germany. The Sixth Sonata was completed in 1940 and demonstrates well the obsessive rhythmic drive, percussive attack, and dissonance-encrusted harmonies that characterize Prokofiev’s style of piano writing. The work comprises four movements which, given the extreme modernity of their musical language, are laid out in a surprisingly traditional pattern: sonata-form first movement, second movement scherzo, slow third movement, and rondo finale.

The sonata opens with an arresting ‘motto’ that descends three scale steps, doubled with first a major and then a minor 3rd (C natural then C #), creating a brilliantly colorful bitonal effect that, even if it weren’t stutteringly repeated almost 40 times in the course of the exposition, would be memorable. A more tranquil second subject offers a contrasting vision of where things are going, but both are put through the wringer in a development section peppered with repeated notes before the opening motto returns in a recapitulation of brutal directness enacted over a keyboard range of more than six octaves.

The Allegretto second movement has been called a “quick march” and with a dependable four staccato beats to the bar its metrical regularity comes as a welcome relief after the chaotic events of the first movement. Its espressivo middle section adds a more expansive note of mystery and wonder to the proceedings. This movement ends almost humorously as its colorful harmonic pulses veer into port in the very last bar.

The slow waltz Tempo di valzer lentissimo, while lacking any real Viennese sense of lilt, has a wonderful vulnerability about it that is quite touching despite, or perhaps because of the searching quality of its constantly shifting inner voices, even in the more turbulent middle section.

The work closes, like the other two War Sonatas, with a toccata of breathless drive that scampers playfully between tonal centers like it owned them all. It becomes increasingly haunted, however, by the thematic ghosts of the first movement and ends firmly in the grip of the opening motto.

The World – 1940

The British and French navies, together with large numbers of civilian vessels from various nations, complete evacuating 300,000 troops from Dunkirk, France to England.  Winston Churchill tells the House of Commons, “We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight on the beaches…on the landing grounds… in the fields and the streets…. We shall never surrender.”

The city center of Coventry, England is destroyed by 500 Luftwaffe bombers; 150,000 fire bombs, 503 tons of high explosives, and 130 parachute mines level 60,000 of the city’s 75,000 buildings; 568 people are killed. The city’s cathedral is gutted.