What is MOTUS After Dark?
MOTUS After Dark is an initiative created by the Musicians of the Utah Symphony to bring great classical music to underexposed audiences. We accomplish this by scheduling concerts in alternative, less formal, and more intimate venues, and in doing so hope to tear down the “fourth wall” separating the performers onstage from their audience.
What Does the Press Have to Say?
“MOTUS is always on the lookout to bring their music to a wider audience...smaller settings that would be more comfortable for patrons who find the traditional concert-hall experience intimidating or stuffy.“ - Catherine Reese Newton, Salt Lake Tribune, November 7th, 2014
“There is a good deal of music that tries to transcend traditional elements in order to breathe life into a genre that has become set in its ways. None do it better than MOTUS—Musicians of the Utah Symphony” - Seeth McGavien, SLUG Magazine, February 5, 2015
What do we ask of you, our audience?
We ask that you listen with an open mind. You don’t need be mice, but it’s nice if people are quiet enough so that all can appreciate the exquisite detail present in great classical music. We want to you to interact, applaud when you love it and boo when you don’t – after all, that’s what they did in Beethoven’s time, even in the middle of his symphonies!
What are you playing?
I thought you would never ask. We’ve divided it into three sets:
Mozart Oboe Quartet, III
Ysäye Danse Rustique
Villa-Lobos Trio, I
Schubert Death and the Maiden, I
Shostakovich String Quartet no. 8, I & II
Villa-Lobos Trio, III
Dvorak “American” String Quartet, I
Mozart Oboe Quartet, I & II
Ysäye Obsession/Les Furies
Beethoven Opus 131, Final movement
Who are these composers and what makes their music great?
Despite living only 35 years, Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is almost universally regarded as the preeminent composer of the pre-Beethovenian classical era. Art, architecture, literature and music in this period were inspired by the proportion, elegance, and balanced expression of ancient Greek Art. His music exemplifies these qualities, but with a depth and range of expression that reach far beyond those tenants. As pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen wrote: ‘It is only through recognizing the violence and sensuality at the center of Mozart's work that we can make a start towards a comprehension of his structures and an insight into his magnificence.”
Mozart was, of course, prodigiously talented, writing pieces from the age of five, his first symphony at eight, all the while mastering the violin and piano. He was also driven mercilessly by the ultimate stage-parent. Leopold Mozart, a minor composer and violinist who carted the young Mozart (along with his sister) around Europe to perform party tricks for royalty. Mozart suffered serious physical ailments during these trips and throughout his short life, as well as the consequences of quackery offered by the doctors of the time, including mercury treatments and bloodletting.
Mozart was an exceptionally prolific composer, somehow managing to write 600 works, including symphonies, operas, concertos, and full choral works while performing and teaching as well. (Along with writing many, many, very naughty letters.) He wrote the Oboe Quartet in 1778, and, according to Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon, the composer at this time “was leading a life of anxious desperation, ever conscious of the enormous disparity between his powers and his opportunities.” He wrote the quartet for oboist Friedrich Ramm, a friend whom Mozart described as a “worthy fellow, but also a libertine.” One of the charming techniques Mozart uses in this lovely work is having the oboe play in 4/4 time while the three strings players lilt along in 6/8 (think rubbing your tummy and scratching your head).
Obsession/Les Furies, and Danse Rustique from the Six Sonatas for Solo Violin - Eugene Ysäye (1858-1931) -Chimay Bleue*
Eugene Ysäye (1858-1931) was a Belgian violinist, composer, pedagogue, and conductor. He was, along with Fritz Kreisler, the last of the great violinist composers. He wrote each of his six solo sonatas for one of his violinist friends, composed with the individual’s personality and violinistic style in mind. Remarkably, not one of the sonatas was ever actually performed by the violinist for whom it was written, possibly because of their astonishing difficulty. The sonatas employ a range of pyrotechnics to create both virtuoso and coloristic effect, including ponticello, (playing next to bridge to create a spine-tingling, icy sound some may find reminiscent to fingernails on the chalkboard.) double, triple, and quadruple stops, (playing lots of notes at once), and generally anything one can come up with to make life complicated for the performer.
Sonata No. 2, - “Obsession” combines one of Bach’s most famous works for solo violin, the Preludio for his E Major Partita, with violent outbursts clouding the sunny Bach beginning. He then adds the “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) chant melody to the mix, further complicating matters. Was Ysaÿe haunted by the difficulties of the Bach original, driven to thoughts of death by listening to his students playing it, or simply having a bit of fun?
This sonata was written for Ysaÿe’s student Mathieu Crickboom, with whom he premiered Debussy’s landmark String Quartet. One can hear references to Debussy’s impressionist style, as well as all kinds of cool violinistic effects, like bowing and plucking at the same time and every combination of double-stops imaginable.
String Quartet in F “American” - Antonín Dvorak (1841–1904) -Pilsner Urquell*
Czech Composer Antonin Dvorak wrote his “American” Quartet soon after he arrived in the U.S. to become Director of the National Conservatory of America at the invitation of philanthropist Jeannette Thurber. It was hoped that Dvorak could bring the celebrated Germanic (though Bohemian, Dvorak was closely associated with Brahms) tradition to the next generation of American composers, in celebration of the fourth centennial of Columbus’s discovery of America. Dvorak saw things very differently, however, and encouraged American composers to utilize music indigenous to the United States, like “negro” spirituals and “Indian” music, as inspiration for their compositions. After all, it was Dvorak’s incorporation of Bohemian folk music into his works that enabled him to develop such a unique voice. Dvorak’s suggestions were met with derision, and it would not be for another generation that American composers such as Aaron Copland, (a gay, Brooklyn Jew) heeded Dvorak’s advice and wrote music that evoked the American ethos.
Dvorak was visiting Iowa of all places during the quartet’s composition, as there was a Czech community that salved the homesickness he felt for his native land. Dvorak loved wandering the countryside and the influences of these forays, such as the song of the scarlet tanager, can be heard in the “American” String Quartet. It has become one of the most beloved works of the genre, one that points to the open harmonies and rhythmic vitality that would become synonymous with much of the American compositional style, including for film, of the next century.
There could not be a more appropriate composer to be featured in an intimate venue than Franz Schubert. In his lifetime, Schubert’s music was most often performed in “Schubertiades”; house concerts hosted by Schubert’s supporters, with anywhere from a dozen to one hundred guests in attendance. Though Schubert lived only 31 years, he was, like Mozart, incredibly prolific. (Though his life was cut tragically short, he was fortunate as compared to his siblings, nine of the fourteen having perished in infancy.) In the year 1815 alone, he wrote over 20,000 bars of music. Unlike Mozart, Schubert did not enjoy widespread public acclaim, and many of his most celebrated works today were never performed in his lifetime.
The Death and the Maiden Quartet was composed in 1824 and premiered the following year. Schubert was at the height of his artistic power, but was also becoming more and more obsessed with death, undoubtedly brought on by his increasingly dire ailments. At the time of its composition, Schubert wrote in a letter to a friend “Imagine a man whose health will never recover and whose despair makes things worse than better…” The stark opening, which shares the foreboding, rhythmic kernel with which Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony begins, is evocative of Schubert’s unforgiving, inescapable fate. The movement concludes quietly after one last, yearning gasp by the first violin, the cello terminating the movement with a whispering, spent, iteration of the rhythm with which the movement began.
Schubert would live only two more years after the Quartet was performed. The final piece he asked to hear was Beethoven’s Quartet, Opus 131, which will also be the last piece featured at our event.
Beethoven is likely the most celebrated and influential composer in western music. He brought in the romantic age of composition with works of grand scale, stunning dynamic range, and personal expression, yet still adhered to classical ideals of structure and intellectual rigor. Though perhaps most famous for his piano concerti and symphonies, it is with the piano sonatas and strings quartets that one finds Beethoven at his most creative. Beethoven’s string quartets are often discussed in three compositional periods. The first “early” quartets he wrote are stylistically the most typically classical, the middle ones much large in scale and virtuosity than any quartet written before, and the last period quartets so innovative, other-worldly, and unconventional that audiences had no idea what to make of them at the time. (Composer Louis Spohr, a contemporary of Beethoven, said the late quartets were ‘indecipherable, uncorrected horrors”. )Perhaps Beethoven’s deafness enabled him to explore such unique soundscapes, as the aural influence of his contemporaries was not present to suggest the conventional. As Stravinsky states, it’s “absolutely contemporary music that will be contemporary forever.”
The Quartet in C minor is from this final period of composition and, like the “Death and the Maiden”, was written shortly before the composer’s death. Composer Robert Schumann wrote that the quartet has a “grandeur [...]which no words can express. It seems to me to stand...on the extreme boundary of all that has hitherto been attained by human art and imagination.” Never before had music had such extreme and sudden variances in tempo, character, dynamic, and range. Beethoven no longer confined himself to the typical four movement classical form – Opus 131 contains seven. In this final movement you will hear the dramatic, almost schizophrenic contrast between the harshly rhythmic hammer strokes of the opening theme, and the tender, rippling, rhythmically ambiguous music of the second theme. As Schubert would write, “After this, what is left for us to write?”
Shostakovich wrote his eighth string quartet while in Dresden to compose music for a propaganda film set during the horrifying firebombing of Dresden by British and American bombers in 1945. By far his most popular string quartet despite its starkly dark character, the score is dedicated to “the victims of fascism and war”. It’s far more likely that it was meant as an indictment of suffering under totalitarianism generally, and his own specifically. He wrote it in 1960 in the span of only three days, during a particularly dark period in his life. He was tortured by his decision to abandon his principles and join the Communist party so that he could attain a more lucrative post, he was having physical problems that affected his ability to play the piano, and he was still recovering from the death of his wife in 1954. He compared himself to the suicidal Tchaikovsky, writing “I started thinking that if some day I die, nobody is likely to write a work in memory of me, so I had better write one myself.”
The work’s first movement begins with a motive containing the notes D, E-flat, C and B. In German musical notation these notes are written as D, S, C, and H. and are the same letters that occur in the German spelling of Shostakovich's name, Dmitri Schostakowitsch, a reason beyond the biographical to think the work is at least partially autobiographical. The second movement begins brutally, with harsh chords accompany a frenetic melody played by the first violin. The movement evokes the chaos, confusion, and terror of war and ends abruptly without resolution. In the liner notes of the Borodin String Quartet's recording of the quartet in 1962, critic Erik Smith wrote: The Borodin Quartet played this work to the composer at his Moscow home, hoping for his criticisms. But Shostakovich, overwhelmed by this beautiful realization of his most personal feelings, buried his head in his hands and wept. When they had finished playing, the four musicians quietly packed up their instruments and stole out of the room.”
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a child, he listened to European musical traditions at home and Brazilian popular music on the streets. He played the guitar, clarinet and cello, the last well enough to support himself as a cellist with street bands and an opera company before turning to composition full time. During his first intensely creative and significant compositional period that began in 1912, Heitor Villa-Lobos composed his ground-breaking Trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Composed in 1921, Villa-Lobos anticipates the Afro-Latin cultural influences that will permeate future directions in visual art, dance, literature, and jazz. His style constitutes improvisational popular music from Rio de Janeiro; a music of the city street, which blended popular dances, Indian modes, and the magnetic urban energy of Brazil’s cultural center.
In 1923, Villa-Lobos went to Paris not to study, but instead to display his exotic sounds. He was well-received and spent much of the rest of the decade there. The exotic sounds of his native country made a sensation with the Parisian musical public, who embraced African music, American Jazz, and the sounds of Asia as explored by Debussy and Ravel. In 1930, he was conducting in Rio when a revolution broke out, after which he was unable to leave Brazil and turned to composing patriotic and propagandist works. He became a government bureaucrat, which damaged his reputation in certain musical circles. After World War II, Brazilian travel restrictions were lifted and he again went abroad, by then a widely known and admired musical figure.
* suggested beverage/cocktail pairing