Ann Marie Bingham, clarinet
Leslie Petteys, piano
Edwin Bingham, saxophone
The music on today's program consists of works by American and English composers. Gerald Finzi and Gordon Jacob were fixtures in the twentieth century British musical scene. Leonard Bernstein was integral to the development and growth of both the performance and composition of art music in twentieth century America. Edith Hemenway, a resident of Canton, Massachusetts, is still active as a composer.
The term "bagatelle", used by Francois Couperin and Beethoven among others to signify character pieces for keyboard, generally implies that a work is brief and casual. Although Gerald Finzi's Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano are brief, they should not be dismissed as trifles. They are among the most listenable pieces in the clarinet repertoire and are a welcome addition to any performance situation. The Prelude is cheerful and sprightly. The Romance, Carol, and Forlana are song forms and reflect Finzi's genius for writing in vocal idioms. The fifth movement is a small but brilliantly written fugue in which the first statement of the subject is made by the clarinet following an introduction by both instruments.
One day in 1939 the young Leonard Bernstein was rummaging around in a Boston pawnshop and came away with an old clarinet. He was fascinated with the instrument and wrote a sonata for it in 1942. He dedicated this sonata to David Oppenheim, a clarinetist who performed with him at the Tanglewood festival.
The first movement of the sonata is characterized by lovely melodies and a forward moving energy that relaxes into a contemplative ending. The second movement alternates slow and fast sections that strongly foreshadow some of the motives and harmonies of West Side Story.
Even after Bernstein became a world-renowned conductor and composer, he kept his affinity for this very early work. He said, ''I have always loved the Clarinet Sonata, particularly because it was my first published piece. I remember how proud I was of it and, for that matter still am - in spite of a certain student element in the music."
The prolific Gordon Jacob, composer of over 700 pieces and author of several books as well, particularly loved the wind instruments. He was very familiar with their individual characters and technical peculiarities and this is evident in his well-crafted pieces for them.
Jacob's Duo, originally for soprano and alto saxophones, is a standard three-movement form. Movement one is lively and imitative while movement two is slow and lyrical. The third movement is a theme and variations. Jacob wrote, ''The theme of the variations comes from Smallwood's Pianoforte Tutor, much used in Victorian and early, Edwardian days. This little exercise was the first thing I ever learned to play.”
Edith Hemenway was educated at McGill University, Brown University and the New England Conservatory. She has composed music in various genres and is particularly prolific in her vocal writing.
W. S. Merwin, born in 1927, is one of America's most significant living poets. His Asian Figures are translations of Korean, Philippine, Chinese and Japanese proverbs and maxims.
Hemenway's musical settings of the proverbs are quirky yet beautifully descriptive. The texts need no elaboration.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/ann_bingham/6/