Alexander Weimann, Pianist
EMV highlights Alexander Weimann, one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, keyboardists and chamber music partners of his generation, as he inaugurates the newest acquisition of our instrument collection: a fortepiano modelled on an 1819 instrument by Conrad Graf (1782-1851), built by the world-famous Paul McNulty. Graf did much of his most important work during the short life of Franz Schubert, and although he rose to prominence after Mozart and Haydn had died, he was continuing the tradition of Viennese fortepianos with which they were familiar.
The pieces chosen by Weimann for this concert are dramatic and colourful, showcasing the wide spectrum of sounds and tones particular to this piano. Weimann’s indisputable mastery will shine in these works inaugurating this newest addition to EMV’s impressive instrument collection.
This concert is generously supported by Eric Wyness
- SOLD OUT
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Sonata No. 17 in B flat major, K. 570 (Vienna, February 1789)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Sonata No.8 in C Minor, Op.13, “Pathétique” (publ. 1799)
Grave – Allegro di molto e con brio
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
From the Emperor Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3
2nd mvt: “Poco Adagio Cantabile”
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Sonata in A major, D.664 (summer of 1819)
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In 1790, Josef Haydn wrote to Maria Anna von Genzinger, his close friend and the dedicatee of his latest keyboard sonata, “Your Grace will no doubt have received the new Clavier Sonata by now … It’s only a pity that Your Grace doesn’t own a fortepiano… since everything is better expressed on it … I know I ought to have composed this Sonata for your kind of Clavier [the harpsichord], but I found this impossible because I am no longer accustomed to it.” Although Bartolomeo Cristofori constructed the first known pianos by 1700, the instruments did not become widely popular until the latter decades of the century. Cristofori’s piano was quiet, lightly built, and very delicate, its hammerheads only strips of rolled paper. A century of technological innovation transformed the piano into a much more robust and powerfully expressive instrument. The preference of esteemed musicians like Johann Christian Bach for the piano over the harpsichord transformed the piano into a fashionable status symbol for the upper and middle classes. Later in his correspondence with Maria Anna von Genzinger, Haydn encouraged her to give away her old-fashioned harpsichord and replace it with the newest keyboard technology.
Today’s programme inaugurates EMV’s new fortepiano modelled on an 1819 instrument by Conrad Graf (1782-1851). In the last few years of the eighteenth century, the young cabinetmaker Graf moved to the outskirts of Vienna, one of the main centres of piano building, and became apprenticed to a piano maker. By 1824 he had made such a name for himself that he was granted the honorary title of “Imperial Royal Court Fortepiano Maker”. Graf did much of his most important work during the lives of Ludwig von Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and although he rose to prominence after Mozart and Haydn had died, he was continuing the tradition of Viennese fortepianos with which they were familiar – the work of master builders such as Johann Schantz, Johann Andreas Stein, and Anton Walter. Some of the hallmarks of the Viennese fortepianos were a light, precise, and sensitive touch; a mainly wooden construction which made them wonderfully resonant; a colourful, singing tone; a keyboard compass of about five octaves (although this was expanded over time); and distinctly different timbral profiles in the bass, the mid-range, and the treble of the piano. Until about 1840, Graf continued to design and build instruments esteemed by leading musicians such as Robert and Clara Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, and Franz Liszt.
Keyboards have a reputation as the indispensable companion of composers, who often work out their ideas on the keyboard much as a poet does with pen and paper. Mozart, for one, found it necessary to have one in his room wherever he was living. All the composers represented in this programme wrote for the instruments available to them at the time, but they also composed with those instruments, using them as their tools of musical exploration. This is part of the reason why historical instruments have so much to tell us about the music of the past. Instruments evolved according to popular tastes and the needs of musicians; meanwhile, composers responded to the qualities and capabilities of the instruments.
Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 17 in B flat Major, K. 570 is one of his last five piano sonatas, a highly contrasting group of pieces that explore the piano’s wide range of expressive possibilities. K.570 has been described as the “purest” and most well-rounded of all his sonatas and showcases the crystalline delicacy for which Viennese pianos were famous. By contrast, Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13, No. 8 treats the piano as if it were a whole orchestra. Beethoven commences with a grand, slow introduction, a formal feature normally used only in symphonies, and creates textures imitating the string tremolos and pulsating bass lines characteristic of orchestral music. Recognizing its grandeur and emotional impact, the publisher Joseph Eder, who gave this sonata its nickname “Grand Sonate Pathétique”. Musicologist Elaine Sisman has pointed out the connection between the music of this sonata, the designation “pathétique”, and a 1793 essay titled “On the Pathetic” by one of Beethoven’s favourite writers, Friedrich Schiller. Schiller argues that the purpose of depicting suffering in art is not merely to “open the tear ducts” but to represent moral resistance to suffering. After the dark, troubled slow introduction of the first movement, the piano seems to erupt with just such resistance with a theme that rockets upwards over a determined bass tremolo. The struggle with suffering continues throughout the movement as the material of the slow introduction intrudes again and again. The second movement offers a different sort of resistance in the form of a lovely, consoling, and justly famous melody and third movement brings the whole sonata together by incorporating quotes from both previous movements in a lively, even positive rondo.
Transcribing and playing chamber and orchestral music on the piano was a popular pastime in the nineteenth century. In an era before recording, it was a way to keep in touch with the latest musical fashions and to remember and savour music heard in concert in the privacy of one’s living room. The second movement of Haydn’s Emperor Quartet is a set of variations on “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (God Save Emperor Francis), an anthem Haydn wrote in praise of Francis II, the same monarch whom Graf served as Royal Fortepiano Maker. Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, D. 664 brings the programme to a festive close. Schubert wrote this youthful sonata while on holiday in the beautiful environs of Steyr in Upper Austria at the request of a teen girl he met there. Writing to his brother, he reported, “She is very pretty, plays the piano decently and is going to sing several of my songs. Her name is Josefine (but is called ‘Pepi’ by all those close to her); she is eighteen years old, truly lovely and very talented. Moreover, it would seem that she (like all the others here in Steyr) has taken a great fancy to my music; a few days ago, she asked me if I would not compose a sonata for her – raising her brow so attractively that I immediately sat down as soon as I was back in my room… and noted down a few ideas. Two movements are already finished, and I have promised to bring the last one… to young Miss Josefine today, Sunday evening.” During the same vacation, he wrote his Trout Quintet which shares the blissful mood and the key of A Major, a key Schubert associated with heartfelt satisfaction, warm, mild sunlight, exhilaration, and peace. It seems to me that Schubert’s description is as suited to the key of A Major as it is to the joy of playing and listening to Early Music Vancouver’s new fortepiano.
- Connor Page and Christina Hutten
Alexander Weimann, Pianist
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After traveling the world with ensembles like Tragicomedia, and as frequent guest with Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as Music Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in Vancouver, Music Director of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and regular guest conductor of ensembles including the Victoria Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal and the Portland Baroque Orchestra.
Weimann was born in 1965 in Munich, where he studied the organ, church music, musicology (with a summa con laude thesis on Bach’s secco recitatives), theatre, mediæval Latin, and jazz piano, supported by a variety of federal scholarships. From 1990 to 1995, Weimann taught music theory, improvisation, and Jazz at the Munich Musikhochschule. Since 1998, he has been giving master classes in harpsichord and historical performance practice at institutions such as Lunds University in Malmö and the Bremen Musikhochschule, and at North American universities such as The University of California in Berkeley, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Mount Allison in New Brunswick. Since 2007, he has conducted several acclaimed opera productions at the Amherst Early Music Festival. He now teaches at the University of British Columbia and directs the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Programme there.
A multiple JUNO and GRAMMY nominee, Weimann can be heard on some 100 CDs. Highlights include an Opus and JUNO award-winning CD of Handel oratorio arias with soprano Karina Gauvin, a recording of Bach’s St. John’s Passion with Les Voix Baroques/Arion Baroque Orchestra, a JUNO nominated recording of Handel’s Orlando with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra that was also awarded a Gramophone Editor’s Choice award, and most recently, the JUNO-nominated album Nuit Blanches with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Karina Gauvin.