Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp (1915) by Claude Debussy
“The musical genius of France is something like a dream in the senses…” The words and music of Claude Debussy certainly cast a long shadow over the music of the twentieth century. The originality of Debussy’s sound world was virtually unprecedented, with only rare glimpses found in Wagner (Parsifal) and Mussorgsky (Boris Goudonov). The Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp was part of a projected cycle of six sonatas planned at the end of Debussy’s life. Only three works were completed - the Sonata for Cello and Piano, the present sonata, and Debussy’s last composition, the Sonata for Violin and Piano. Sketches exist for a fourth sonata for oboe, French horn and harpsichord, an amazing neo-classic combination of instruments. The Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp was composed in September and October 1915 and premiered in April at the Société Musicale Indépendante. Debussy was gravely ill with cancer during the composition of this work, the illness that ultimately led to his death on March 25, 1918. The Impressionistic canvases of compositions like La Mer and Pelléas et Melisande give way to a classical abstraction through normal objects, primarily melodies. The Sonata is the epitome of French clarity and refinement, emphasized by beguiling instrumental pastels. One cannot help but conjecture whether the instrumental grouping for the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp was suggested by Debussy’s exposure to the Japanese koto and shaguhachi during the famous Paris Exhibitions.
Traditional Vietnamese Folksongs
by Van Anh Vanessa Vo
Ascending Dragon (2010) by Pham Minh Thành
Pham Minh Thanh was born in 1978 in Hanoi. He studied piano and composition at the Vietnam National Academy of Music under the tutelage of composer Do Hong Quan until 2000. From 2000-2006, Minh Thanh studied composition at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Professor Konstantin Batashov. The composer writes:
Ascending Dragon was commissioned by Southwest Chamber Music for its Ascending Dragon Music Festival and Cultural Exchange in celebration of the 1000th Anniversary of the city of Hanoi. This composition, inspired by Buddhism, is written for dan bau (monochord), pagoda bells and wood blocks, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass with a structure of slow/fast/slow. Though I don’t use any of the changes or verses from Buddhism, the usage of dan bau as the soloist will create the voice and the peaceful atmosphere that one can find in a pagoda in Vietnam.
by Pham Minh Thánh
String Quartet in F major (1903) by Maurice Ravel
The String Quartet in F major has an all-too-familiar history of being snubbed when new, only to become accepted later as one of the most loved pieces in the string quartet repertory. Written in 1903 while the composer was 28 years old, it is dedicated to his teacher, Gabriel Fauré, who could describe the last movement as “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure.” Needless to say, an extended aerobic workout in 5/8 meter was not the focus of the Paris Conservatory. The quartet became Ravel’s final submission to the Prix de Rome competition, and was summarily rejected by the academic panel adjudicating the prize. But the adversity brought forward lifelong admiration from Claude Debussy, who implored Ravel not to change a note. For many decades the work has been appreciated as one of the pillars of French Impressionist music, with its beautifully unfolding first movement balanced by a Picasso-like guitar pizzicato second movement, languid French eroticism in the third, and the energy of the final movement perplexing the old guard no end.
Program Notes by Jeff von der Schmidt except where noted