Monongahela Chamber Winds Concert Set for Oct. 27

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Monongahela Chamber Winds Concert, directed by Dr. Valarie Huffman of the Fairmont State University School of Fine Arts, will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27.

The concert will take place at the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, which serves Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College. Admission is free and open to the public.

The Monongahela Chamber Winds is a new professional ensemble comprised of musicians from Fairmont State University and West Virginia University. The ensemble was created by Dr. Valarie Huffman to expose the public to music composed for smaller chamber wind ensembles that was not previously offered in live performances. Another purpose of the ensemble is to educate music students about music written for wind instruments that they would not have encountered in their musical experiences. 

Members of the ensemble include: Professor Cynthia Anderson and Evan Klein, oboes; Dr. Cheryl Melfi and Christopher Bowmaster, clarinets; Dr. Constance Edwards and Lauren LaPointe, bassoons; and Kim Henry and Kristin Chamberlin, horns. Also joining the performance is Dr. Kate Thompson, Adjunct Professor of Communication and Theatre at Fairmont State, as narrator for Daniel Kallman’s “Sea Creatures.” 

The concert will include the following works:

Rondino in E-Flat for wind octet, WoO 25 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

In 18th century Vienna and the provinces it ruled, not many noblemen were wealthy enough to support a full-scale orchestra, but many of them maintained small cadres of wind performers to play at dinnertime and at whatever festivities might be planned for the rest of the evening, plus occasional events like weddings, graduation parties and the like. The general term for such groups, and the music composed or arranged for them, was Harmoniemusik, and practically every composer of the day made contributions to the genre. Titles of the pieces were indicated in many ways, but whether a piece was called a Divertimento, Serenade, Cassation or Parthia, the purpose was the same: to produce light, enjoyable music for entertainment. In those days before radio, mp3s and the Internet, Harmoniemusik also became a channel to popularize melodies from operas, transcribed for this readily available medium.

Beethoven had no particular talent as a wind player as far as anyone knows (his performance areas were in piano and strings). He learned a lot about Harmoniemusik, through his service at the court of Elector Maximilian Franz in his native Bonn, where wind music was particularly sophisticated, inspired by the elector’s admiration of the life of the larger courts in the great capitals. All Beethoven’s wind chamber works are early pieces, from the early to mid-1790s when he was first living in Vienna. After about 1800, his chamber music output was primarily string quartet and piano trios. He may have found the wind genres somewhat limiting to his growing sense of music’s potential for more expressiveness through formal structural advancements. Or, the decline in popularity of wind music at the time may have diminished any idea of more wind music for purely practical reasons.

The Rondino (Little Rondo) is a highly lyrical Andante whose refrain is stated by the horn. After it is repeated by the full ensemble, the first episodic section features brief solos for clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. The restatement of the opening refrain is a variation on the original; another episodic section modulates to the minor mode. After one more restatement of the refrain, Beethoven changes the color of the music for the coda, by muting the horns and thereby produces a highly unusual sound.

Serenade in C Minor, K.384/388 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Mozart’s three contributions to the original Harmonie repertoire are the standard realization of the ensemble’s inherent musical possibilities. Although all were written within a rather short period (1781-1784) coinciding with the formation of the K.K. Harmonie ensemble in Vienna, there is still much scholarly debate as to the exact dates (and therefore, order) of their composition. It is in the Serenade in C-Minor K.388 (384a) most likely written in late 1782 or 1783, that one finds a stylistic gravity distinct from the remainder of Mozart’s serenades or his eight wind divertimenti. The only serenade or divertimento set in a minor key, this work employs somber conflicts and dramatic juxtapositions of emotion found in his most serious and mature works while closely following the tight-knit, four-movement symphonic form.

Mozart left no indication of the compositional circumstances surrounding K.388. As musicologist Alfred Einstein noted, “we know nothing about the occasion, nothing about the person who commissioned it, nothing about whether this client desired so explosive a serenade or whether that is simply what poured from Mozart’s soul.” However, scholar Robert W. Gutman posits that the Serenade in C-Minor, in all likelihood too serious for Emperor Joseph’s tastes, might have been intended for Prince Alois Joseph Liechtenstein, a musical enthusiast, who ruled his lands by substitute while living in Vienna.

Without introduction, Mozart takes off into the opening movement with dramatic flair. The phrases of the first key area of this sonata form are closely debated, creating an almost neurotic shift in emotional quality which finds resolution only as the transition to the second key area begins. The second key area, in Eb major, contains a singular, more restless oboe theme, augmented by the horn. The fiery debate is re-established during the transition to the close, finding rest in the final cadence of the exposition. The brief development section makes use of imitation which goes between the keys of Bb and Eb major as well as G minor before returning to C minor. In the recapitulation, the transition is extended allowing for a C minor second theme, changing the once restless oboe melody into something far more gloomy in nature.

The second movement, a sonata form in 3/8, has a civil and subtle affect. The Eb major theme in the clarinets contains suspensions reminiscent of the more gentle phrases in the C minor key area of the first movement. The second theme, especially in its ornamented repetition, is the most light-hearted melody of the work. In the transition to the close of the exposition, the clarinets proclaim the return to the nocturne-like atmosphere while the oboe continues the melody. The development unfolds as a series of “unproductive” attempts to return to the original key, attaining Eb major only upon the fourth try.

The minuet, labeled “in canone” masterfully displays Mozart’s skill in counterpoint. The oboes begin, with the bassoons following one measure later. The clarinets take up the hunt in the second section of the minuet, introducing a false return after the emphatic conclusion of their melody. Further demonstrating his contrapuntal expertise, Mozart composes the trio in double canon where the second voice is an inversion of the first. Mozart employs only four voices in the trio - the oboes and bassoons.

The finale is a theme and variations form, which recaptures the gloomy sensibility of the first movement, maintaining it through the first four variations. The intensity of variations one and four act as bookends for the more restrained oboe variation in triplets and off-beat variation for oboe II and bassoon. In the fifth variation, the horns literally signal a shift to Eb major, recapturing, for a moment, the lighter mood of the second movement. The sixth variation, returning to minor, showcases the bassoon in support of the theme in the oboes. The momentum eases off in the seventh variation, where the clarinet’s deconstructed melody allows for a series of building harmonic escalations. The movement closes with a bright final variation in C major.

Divertimento in E-flat for wind octet by Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)

Then, as a very strong contrast to the previous two works, the “Divertimento in E Flat for Wind Octet” by Gordon Jacob, who was a prolific and popular English composer, is a very late example of the genre (1968). In three movements which were often playful and humorous, it calls for highly skilled and well-coordinated players and the group was well up to its virtuoso demands.

“Sea Creatures” for wind octet by Daniel Kallman (b. 1957)

“Sea Creatures” was commissioned by the Halama Wind Octet of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota), a superb group of professional musicians founded and conducted by Marlene Pauley. The original plan was to premiere it for a children’s audience at the Minnesota Zoo’s Discovery Bay. The composer spent a day getting ideas for the work by observing the aquatic life at the Minnesota Zoo. There are six movements, each preceded by a narration that the composer wrote (with a bit of “tweaking” from Mindy Ratner from Minnesota Public Radio who narrated the premiere). The movement titles are: I. The Depths: The Second Frontier; II. Dolphin; III. Puffer Fish; IV. Moray Eel; V. Shark; VI. Epilogue: The Future. “Sea Creatures” is quite challenging both rhythmically and technically for the performers. It is perfect for young people’s concerts but appeals to all ages.