Program Books/Danish String Quartet (Apr 29)

Danish String Quartet

Frederik Øland, violin
Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, violin
Asbjørn Nørgaard, viola
Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, cello

Friday, April 29, 2022, 8pm
Zellerbach Hall

The Danish String Quartet has recorded for ECM, DaCapo, and CAvi-Music/BR Klassik.

Major support provided by The Bernard Osher Foundation.

This performance will last approximately 90 minutes, including intermission.

From the Executive and Artistic Director

Jeremy Geffen

As many of you already know, last week, Cal Performances announced details of its upcoming 2022–23 season. Beginning in September, with the brilliant Miami City Ballet and its legendary production of George Balanchine’s iconic Jewels (1967), and continuing into June 2023, when the ever-popular Eifman Ballet arrives at Zellerbach Hall with its lavish, fully staged Russian Hamlet, it’s a schedule packed with extraordinary opportunities to experience the very best in live music, dance, and theater.

And what a schedule! More than 70 events, with highlights including the return of the legendary Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under conductor Christian Thielemann; the beloved Mark Morris Dance Group in Morris’ new The Look of Love: An Evening of Dance to the Music of Burt Bacharach; revered South African artist William Kentridge’s astonishing new SIBYL; a rare Berkeley performance with the San Francisco Symphony and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen; and a special concert with chamber music superstars pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and cellist Yo-Ma. And these are only a few of the amazing performances that await you!

Illuminations programming next season will take advantage of Cal Performances’ unique positioning as both a renowned international performing arts presenter and a part of one of the world’s top-ranked public research universities. Each season, Illuminations takes up a pressing theme reflected in both the arts and scholarship, and offers the public a multifaceted understanding of the issue by connecting research on the UC Berkeley campus with exceptional performances. This third season of Illuminations centers on the theme of Human and Machine,” investigating how technology continues to catalyze and challenge creative expression and human communication. Through programming that includes performances, public events, artist talks, and symposia, we’ll be engaging communities on and off campus to examine the evolution of musical instruments, the complex relationships between technology creators and users, technology’s impact on the creative process, and questions raised by the growing role of artificial intelligence in our society.

This concept of “Human and Machine” has never been so pertinent to so many. Particularly over the course of the pandemic, the rapid expansion of technology’s role in improving communication and in helping us emotionally process unforeseen and, at times, extraordinarily difficult events has made a permanent mark on our human history. Throughout time, our reliance on technology to communicate has—for better or worse—influenced how we understand others as well as ourselves. During this Illuminations season, we will investigate how technology has contributed to our capacity for self-expression, as well as the potential dangers it may pose.

Some programs this season will bring joy and delight, and others will inspire reflection and stir debate. We are committed to presenting this wide range of artistic expression on our stages because or our faith in the performing arts’ unparalleled power to promote empathy. And it is because of our audiences’ openness and curiosity that we have the privilege of bringing such thought-provoking, adventurous performances to our campus. The Cal Performances community wants the arts to engage in important conversations, and to bring us all together as we see and feel the world through the experiences of others.

Please make sure to check out our brand new 44-page season brochure and our website for complete information. We can’t wait to share all the details with you, in print and online!

Finally, thank you for joining us for today’s concert. It’s great that we’re all back together again, enjoying the pleasures and rewards of live performance.

Jeremy Geffen
Executive and Artistic Director, Cal Performances

Jeremy GeffenAs many of you already know, last week, Cal Performances announced details of its upcoming 2022–23 season. Beginning in September, with the brilliant Miami City Ballet and its legendary production of George Balanchine’s iconic Jewels (1967), and continuing into June 2023, when the ever-popular Eifman Ballet arrives at Zellerbach Hall with its lavish, fully staged Russian Hamlet, it’s a schedule packed with extraordinary opportunities to experience the very best in live music, dance, and theater.

And what a schedule! More than 70 events, with highlights including the return of the legendary Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under conductor Christian Thielemann; the beloved Mark Morris Dance Group in Morris’ new The Look of Love: An Evening of Dance to the Music of Burt Bacharach; revered South African artist William Kentridge’s astonishing new SIBYL; a rare Berkeley performance with the San Francisco Symphony and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen; and a special concert with chamber music superstars pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and cellist Yo-Ma. And these are only a few of the amazing performances that await you!

Illuminations programming next season will take advantage of Cal Performances’ unique positioning as both a renowned international performing arts presenter and a part of one of the world’s top-ranked public research universities. Each season, Illuminations takes up a pressing theme reflected in both the arts and scholarship, and offers the public a multifaceted understanding of the issue by connecting research on the UC Berkeley campus with exceptional performances. This third season of Illuminations centers on the theme of Human and Machine,” investigating how technology continues to catalyze and challenge creative expression and human communication. Through programming that includes performances, public events, artist talks, and symposia, we’ll be engaging communities on and off campus to examine the evolution of musical instruments, the complex relationships between technology creators and users, technology’s impact on the creative process, and questions raised by the growing role of artificial intelligence in our society.

This concept of “Human and Machine” has never been so pertinent to so many. Particularly over the course of the pandemic, the rapid expansion of technology’s role in improving communication and in helping us emotionally process unforeseen and, at times, extraordinarily difficult events has made a permanent mark on our human history. Throughout time, our reliance on technology to communicate has—for better or worse—influenced how we understand others as well as ourselves. During this Illuminations season, we will investigate how technology has contributed to our capacity for self-expression, as well as the potential dangers it may pose.

Some programs this season will bring joy and delight, and others will inspire reflection and stir debate. We are committed to presenting this wide range of artistic expression on our stages because or our faith in the performing arts’ unparalleled power to promote empathy. And it is because of our audiences’ openness and curiosity that we have the privilege of bringing such thought-provoking, adventurous performances to our campus. The Cal Performances community wants the arts to engage in important conversations, and to bring us all together as we see and feel the world through the experiences of others.

Please make sure to check out our brand new 44-page season brochure and our website for complete information. We can’t wait to share all the details with you, in print and online!

Finally, thank you for joining us for today’s concert. It’s great that we’re all back together again, enjoying the pleasures and rewards of live performance.

Jeremy Geffen
Executive and Artistic Director, Cal Performances

PROGRAM NOTES BY THOMAS MAY

Last fall, the Danish String Quartet launched its multi-season Doppelgänger Pro­ject, which com­bines four chamber music milestones by Franz Schubert with contemporary responses and reactions commissioned by the ensemble. [See accompanying essay on pp. 7–8.] The first program paired Schubert’s final Quartet in G major, D. 887, with the Danish composer Bent Sørensen’s new Doppelgänger Quartet.

The DSQ now continues with a program focused on the most famous of Schubert’s works for the medium, known by its nickname Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden), and the contemporary “twin” that the Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski has dreamed up. Using the Danish word that is an equivalent of “Mädchen,” she has titled her new work Pige. You are among the very first audiences to get to hear this music as part of this series co-commissioned by Cal Performances. The DSQ gave the world premiere just over a week ago at Carnegie Hall.

For all the finality of its relentless, headlong, diabolical conclusion—ending with  a massive, quadruple-stop ensemble chord of D minor as grim as a freshly sealed tomb—Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 is the sort of masterpiece that is never really “over.” Certainly for its performers, but also for its listeners, every encounter promises another round of discoveries. And for Lotta Wennäkoski,  Death and the Maiden leaves some very important questions unanswered—an ideal springboard for creative re-engagement with this profoundly influential composition.

Shrouded by Darkness: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden

A whole mythology has arisen around the 14th of Franz Schubert’s 15 completed string quartets. Death and the Maiden has inspired not only other works of music (classical and popular) but paintings (such as a famous canvas by Egon Schiele from 1915) and literature. The Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman used the title for his best-known play (1990), which Ro­man Polanski made into a film in 1994 starring Sigourney Weaver. Set in the context of an unnamed Latin American country coming to terms with the reign of terror of a recently ended dictatorship, Dorfman’s drama turns the Schubert source into a horrifying trigger for its protagonist’s traumatic memories of torture under the former regime. It was this music, written by her favorite composer, that her tormentor, a sadistic doctor, had forced her to listen to—an emblem of civilization twisted into depraved cruelty.

The quartet exists as part of a larger constellation that includes the earlier song from which it derives its nickname, “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (“Death and the Maiden”). The song (D. 531), which dates from February 1817, sets a text by the German poet and journalist Matthias Claudius, who went by the pseudonym Asmus. The 20-year-old Schubert created a compact, dramatically vivid song from the scenario depicted in the two-stanza poem. The DSQ will round out this evening’s program with their own arrangement of the song for string quartet.

Following an eerily subdued introduction on the piano in D minor, the first stanza presents the words of the young woman as she pleads, in a state of agitation: “Vorüber, ach, vorüber!” (“Pass me by! Oh, pass me by!”). In the second stanza, Death personified responds by singing, to the music of the introductory passage, in montones. Deep in the singer’s range, Death offers  a message of consolation, claiming to be a “friend” rather than a force to be feared as meting out punishment. With his last line—“Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen!” (“Softly shall you sleep in my arms!”)—Death heralds a shift to D major, leaving the final gestures to the piano.

Schubert drew on this song for the slow movement of his string quartet, thus locking in the association. Having composed the bulk of his quartets in his teenage years—the young composer typically joined in as violist to perform these works with family members—he returned to the medium in 1824, after a lengthy gap, and produced two substantial works, one right after the other: the Quartet in A minor (Rosamunde) and the D minor Quartet. The epic Quartet in G major, Schubert’s last, appeared in 1826, two years before his death at 31. The only quartet to be published during Schu­bert’s lifetime was the Rosamunde.

“I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched person in the world,” confided Schu­bert in a letter of March 31, 1824—just as he was composing his Death and the Maiden Quartet. “Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair over this always makes things worse and worse, instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the felicity of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain, at best… is he not a miserable, unhappy being?”

The cause of Schubert’s distress is believed to be a recent outbreak of the syphilis he contracted in 1822, likely from a male or female prostitute. (His premature death six years later resulted, according to some interpretations, from the mercury treatment that was inflicted on patients in that era rather than the disease itself.) The psychological as well as physical pain of Schubert’s condition seems to have altered his outlook artistically, leading to a new level of intensity and ambition.

The composer even quotes the words from one of his own lieder in his letter, the lines from Goethe’s Faust he had set in “Gretchen am Spinnrade” in 1814: “My peace is gone, my heart is heavy, peace shall I find nevermore.” And in the D minor Quartet, he similarly quotes his music from the 1817 song “Death and the Maiden.” While the song is not quoted until the second movement, the Quartet No. 14 begins and ends in D minor, the key of the lied. This was the key of pathos for Schubert’s idol Mozart. (None of Beethoven’s quartets is in D minor, though he chose that tonality for his Ghost Trio, Op. 70, No. 2.) Indeed, all four movements of Schubert’s quartet are in the minor—the figure of Death personified in the song casting his shadow across the entire work, in one guise or another.

The sense of ambition and enlarged scale that found expression in such works as the “Great” C major Symphony (sketched in the following year) is already apparent in the D minor Quar­tet—both in its overall architecture and in its sound world. The piece starts off with boldly dramatic, sweeping unison gestures in the introductory section. A triplet figure that plays a significant role throughout the quartet is immediately introduced. Fortissimo attacks are contrasted with soft, chorale-like phrases, while Schubert alternates between a kind of violent compression in the first theme and relaxed, lyrical sweetness in the second—though even here, the accompanying figures weave in a spirit of restlessness. For all their contrast, these elements are combined as the movement continues. It ends in an uneasy sotto voce.

The song “Death and the Maiden” makes its entrance in the Andante con moto—but transposed from its original D minor to G minor. Schubert homes in on the music associated with Death, a persistent, dirge-like rhythm coursing through a repeated harmonic sequence. It’s not really a melody so much as a series of shifting harmonic colors. Of the five variations on this theme, the fourth is the only one to turn to a major key, as if to imply Death’s consoling promise of peace.

Schubert foreshadows the doggedly hammering motif of the Nibelung blacksmiths from Wagner’s Ring cycle in the driving rhythms that propel the Scherzo; these even intrude, albeit in subtler form, into the trio section. For his finale, Schubert plugs back into the relentless urgency of the first movement. Another driving rhythm serves as the motor of the finale—this time, a pattern associated with the tarantella folk dance of South Italy—so called because, according to lore, it was the hysterical dance resulting from (or perhaps intended to cure) a spider’s venomous bite.

The second, chorale-like theme has been linked to the music Schubert wrote for his early lied “Der Erlkönig”—yet another song about the specter of death haunting and speaking to its young victim. Violent contrasts between loud and soft as well as rhythmic disorientation intensify the musical drama. Schu­bert accelerates the frantic tempo still more in a coda that promises a resolution into D major, only to slip tragically back into the minor as the players hurtle toward their ominous, final cadence—back into the darkness with which the quartet began.

Changing the Subject: Lotta Wennäkoski’s Pige

“I don’t know where they are, the young girl and this Death who is following her—I suppose somewhere in the dark,” says Lotta Wennäkoski about the scenario conjured by the combination of poetry and music in Schubert’s song. An important impulse for her new string quartet was the first stanza of the song, in which the “maiden” voices her fear. The agitated music from this section, she points out, does not play a role in his quartet of 1824. “I wanted to include the her song in my piece, whereas Schu­bert uses only Death’s song.”

Wennäkoski, who was born in Helsinki in 1970 and is based there, spent a period studying violin at the Bartók Conservatory in Budapest, where she developed an abiding fascination with Hungarian folk song. One of her hobbies is to arrange this material, which she enjoys performing in a family duo. She earned her composition degree at the Sibelius Academy, where  Eero Hämeenniemi and Kaija Saariaho were among her mentors, and she also studied with the late Louis Andriessen in The Hague.

Wennäkoski emerged on the scene around the turn of the century with compositions featured at various new-music festivals, as well as scores for radio plays and short films. She has written chamber and orchestral music and works for the stage, such as the opera Regine (about Søren Kierkegaard’s fiance, Regine Olsen), which she recently completed on a commission from he Savonlinna Festival. Bay Area audiences can hear her 2019 orchestral work Helsinki Variations in a June concert with the San Francisco Symphony under Ruth Rein­hardt.

The Danish String Quartet’s commission brought Wennäkoski back to a medium for which she had not composed since the first decade of the century. She describes Culla d’aria (Cradle of the Air) from 2003–04, which has become one of her most frequently performed scores, as “on the one hand, disconsolately ethereal, but on the other, swelling to vigorously Romantic.” Her catalogue also includes Metsä­koulu (2009), a work for “speaking string quartet,” in which the strings not only play but alternate in reciting a text from the children’s writer Albert Sixtus’ Waldschule translated into Finnish.

As a violinist herself, Wennäkoski notes she is especially intrigued by trying out a spectrum of string techniques in her composition. The opening of Pige, for example, juxtaposes random arpeggios and quick slides with harmonics, while also exploring even more extreme versions of the harsh dynamic contrasts that figure in Schubert’s quartet.

As her title Pige suggests, Wennäkoski rejects the implicit male gaze of Death associated with Schubert’s song and quartet, centering the perspective instead on the young girl, whose pleading words in the song’s opening stanza go unheeded. Wennäkoski uses these very words as the subtitle of the first of Pige’s three movements (“Vorüber, ach, vorüber!”). This first movement is based on this often overlooked music from the first half of the lied, where the Maiden’s anxiety is depicted. Wennäkoski distantly quotes Schubert’s melodic material sung by the Mai­­den. The movement ends very quietly, with the cello sustaining a pedal tone and the first violin ascending into its highest reaches. Wennäkoski indicates that the first movement can also be performed separately as a “prologue” to Schu­bert’s quartet.

The second movement, “Daktylus,” is named after the dactylic (long–short–short) rhythmic pattern that characterizes Death’s march-like music; in the Andante of Schubert’s quartet, it accompanies the theme and its variations. Wen­näkoski explores and transforms this rhythm through subdivisions and a wide array of string techniques, such as left-hand pizzicati combined with col legno bowing or “brushing” down and up the fingerboard. The dactyl is always present in some form, yet Wennäkoski grafts lyrically flowing elements onto it.

For the third and final movement,Pigen og scrapbogen” (“The Maiden and the Scrap­book”), Wennäkoski again brings the young woman into the spotlight, where she imagines a lighthearted denouement in which her protagonist is the subject—“somebody who has a good time enjoying life and is not full of worries. I thought a young girl like this might keep a scrapbook where she cuts and pastes things from her life, like a diary.”

Wennäkoski writes joyful, texturally based, energetic music (“Giocoso, molto energico”) that incorporates several musical quotations, including from the Sibelius song “Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte” (“The Maiden Came from Her Lover’s Tryst”) from 1900, which ends with the realization that the young woman’s lover has been unfaithful. Wennäkoski additionally quotes from her 2015 music-theater work Wunderbar for two sopranos, mezzo-soprano, violin, cello, and piano, as well as from her earlier quartet Culla d’aria. In the midst of composing the latter, Wennäkoski had her second child, who is now the age of the “pige” she imagines in her new work.

Looking back over the commission, the composer remarks that she had initially thought she would respond more directly to Schubert’s music in the quartet. “But now I notice that what I grasped onto is mostly the subject from the lied that is not in the quartet. And I found that very moving.”

• • •

Composer’s Comments

Something fierce, something soundless— so have I written in my notebook when planning the string quartet Pige. It has been an inspiring task to write a work to be paired with Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet. The Doppelgänger idea greatly fed my imagination from the very beginning. It’s also been an honor to write music for the hugely expressive musicians of the Danish String Quartet.

The first movement, “Vorüber, ach, vor­über!,” is based on the first half of Schubert’s lied that lies behind his Death and the Maiden quartet. This “maiden’s song” has not found its way to into string quartet, so I wanted to use its material in mine. The second movement, “Daktylus,” borrows its idea from the haunting pulse of Schubert’s chant of Death. Something fierce and something soundless can be heard here—along with other aspects to the dactyl rhythm.

Schubert’s quartet is wonderful music and, of course, an unavoidable boulder, and the  “death and the maiden” motif is a tempting and gloomy one in art history. On the other hand, I just couldn’t help seeing the motif also as the never-ending image of a dirty old man desiring the young female body…. The third movement thus turns its gaze to the girl herself. “Pigen og scrapbogen” (“The Girl and the Scrapbook”) is joyful textural music—compiled of fragments and freely handled quotations that might spring to mind when thinking of a vital girl’s life.

“Pige” is Danish for “girl.” I wish to thank the Danish String Quartet and the co-commissioners for the opportunity to write this music.

Lotta Wennäkoski
March 2022

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