Gregory Lewis performs Mozart

November 9, 2016

Denis Gougeon

b. Granby, Québec, 1951

Coup d’archets

Denis Gougeon is a Canadian composer and music educator from Montréal. His more than 100 compositions encompass a wide variety of genres, including orchestral works, chamber music, opera, ballet, and pieces for solo instruments and voice. Gougeon began his career as a primarily self-taught composer. He later entered the Université de Montréal where he studied composition with Serge Garant and André Prévost. From 1984-1988 he taught music composition at McGill University. Since 2001 he has been a member of the music faculty at the Université de Montréal.

Coup d’archets (a stroke of the bows) was commissioned to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the founding of the now-renowned Montréal ensemble I Musici de Montréal. The composer views this work as a metaphor for the birth of I Musici. It opens with an extended cello solo, performed at the premiere by Yuli Turovsky, the founder of I Musici. This cello solo becomes a call for the other strings to join in, and they do, imitating and harmonizing on the opening theme, becoming faster, lyrical and more complex as it progresses. Each section, led by its principal, has an opportunity to shine in a solo role, before the work ends with a grand ensemble of the entire orchestra.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

b. Salzburg, Austria, 1756 / d. Vienna, Austria, 1791

Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 291 “Turkish” (1775)

Today we view Mozart solely as a great composer, but in his day he was also renowned as a musical performer. Acknowledged as one of the finest keyboard players of his time, he was also an accomplished string virtuoso, having been taught violin by his father, Leopold. The son, Wolfgang, became proficient enough on this instrument to become concertmaster in Salzburg.

Mozart wrote his violin concertos primarily for his own enjoyment, but they quickly became established at the core of the repertoire. Of the five, it is the last two that showcase most brilliantly the composer’s genius. Here the opening movement is elegantly balanced between the soloist and the orchestra, combining a great sense of brilliant open space while developing its sparkling texture. In the second movement, adagio, Mozart prolongs the gentle pace throughout the movement, the longest adagio section of any of his violin concertos, sustaining its sense of quiet, reflective introspection. The finale begins as an amiable rondo. The music then veers into a long, energetic and slightly exotic passage that is the source of its nickname the Turkish. By Mozart’s time, wars between the Turks and the Austrians had become habitual, and any music that smacked of eastern character became what they called Turkish.

Although many passages in this work are highly individualistic, Mozart has taken care to keep all these themes together in one logical whole. The cheerful opening with its rising arpeggio returns again at the very end, with the finale echoing the very beginning.

Franz Schubert

b. Alsergrund, Vienna, Austria, 1797/ d. Vienna, Austria, 1828

Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D.589 “Little C Major” (1817-1818)

While many great composers made the pilgrimage to Vienna as their careers progressed, Franz Schubert was actually born there. His prodigious musical talent became evident while he was still a school boy, and the breadth and richness of his creative inspiration continued to grow throughout his short and tragic life; Schubert died at the young age of only 31, following three years of illness. To the end he continued composing bright, energetic, soul-enhancing music. At his death, many works were still only briefly sketched. Schubert wrote brilliantly across a broad range of styles. He is remembered most particularly for the hundreds of songs that he wrote, many grouped into song cycles, whose richness and poignancy have never been equaled, and for his string quartets and other chamber works that form the core of the chamber music repertoire.

Although we often think of him as the bridge from classical to romantic symphonic writing, Schubert actually wrote very much in the classical style. He was greatly enamored of Mozart’s symphonies, and used their form and style in his own writing. He wrote a total of nine symphonies, only seven of which he completed. The Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D. 589 was composed between October 1817 and February 1818, but did not receive its public premiere performance until 1828, in Vienna. It is often nicknamed the “Little C Major” to distinguish it from his later Ninth Symphony, in the same key, which is known as the “Great C Major”. This one is in four movements: The first opens as an Adagio in 3/4 time before becoming an Allegro in 2/2. The second movement is an Andante, 2/4 in F major; the third opens in traditional Scherzo mode, but Presto, then relaxes into a more leisurely Trio in 3/4 time. The symphony ends with an Allegro moderato in 2/4.

  • Notes by Paul Inksetter
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