Music & Letters explores compositions that refer to various aspects of our literary experience as human beings. These pieces comment on the act of writing, speaking, and listening to words.
The human love of story-telling is touched upon in Chopin’s Ballade (ballad) in F minor, one of the finest pieces of piano music in the repertory; Brahms’ “Edward” Ballade, based on a Scottish folksong; MacDowell’s Fireside Tales; and Schumann’s humorous depiction of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare.
In his Concord Sonata, Charles Ives created musical portraits of four famous writers who all lived in the town of Concord, Massachusetts: on the program is the sonata’s third section, depicting the literary-minded Alcott family.
The act of writing itself is a major theme of the concert. Brahms’ As If Melodies Were Moving Through My Mind reflects on the pros and cons of trying to capture human emotions in poetry, while Allen Shawn offers a moving personal statement in his 1995 work Letter To A Friend. The program also contains a trio of "diary" pieces — Bela Bartok’s whimsical From the Diary of a Fly, Benjamin Britten’s Holiday Diary of scenes from a child’s seaside vacation, and Leos Janacek’s remarkable The Diary of One Who Vanished, a composition based on a set of anonymous poems published during World War I in the Czech newspaper Lidové Noviny: the poems are the confessions of a young peasant man who leaves his parents and village because of his love for a wandering gypsy girl. The music beautifully evokes a complex of human emotions, including love, guilt, anxiety, regret, and anticipation.
The spoken word is depicted in Tchaikovsky’s Dialogue, in which bass and treble voices answer each other around romantic interior harmonies, and in Schumann’s Her Voice, where the composer muses on the theme of the captivating power of a lover’s voice.
In a lighter vein, Schumann’s Variations on the Name “Abegg” takes the letters of the composer’s girlfriend’s last name and transforms them into a spirited waltz melody. And Leroy Anderson’s humorous classic The Typewriter is educational for those too young to have ever heard a carriage return.