Franz Schubert, (1797-1828), was one of the 19th century most prolific Viennese composers of the lied or song. As such, all of his music, including his symphonies and piano sonatas and impromptus feature melodies that defy comparison with almost any other composer. However, the depth of his expression derives not just from his melodies, but from his inventive use of inventive and unusual harmonic progressions. Schubert’s music easily can fall into the “classical” genre, but like Beethoven, Schubert served as a “bridge” to the Romantic era, and many actually consider him an “early” Romantic. Schubert’s early Sonata in B major, D. 575, Op. 147, composed in 1817, possesses all the characteristics of his greatest works, albeit in a more concise form, and a sunnier disposition than his late sonatas.
Johannes Brahms, (1833-1897), the German Romantic pianist and composer, also adhered to a “classical” sense of structure and style- yet his harmonic language and specific genres of pieces he composed categorically places him firmly in the Romantic era. While he wrote in many classical forms, such as sonatas and symphonies, these forms are more extended and different in terms of their phrase structure and harmonic complexities. Although technically exacting, Brahms’ music never allows virtuosity to predominate. Emotionally charged, his music represents a personal outpouring of religious faith, love, joy, contemplation, sadness and melancholic grief. Brahms composed his Two Rhapsodies Op. 79 during the summer of 1879 in Pörtschach, Austria at the height of his compositional prowess.
Claude Debussy, (1862-1918), a French composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, along with Maurice Ravel, is one of two leading “impressionist” composers whose music stretched the boundaries of traditional harmonic language of the 19th and 20th centuries. In his early work, Estampes, composed in 1903, Debussy explores the music styles of East Asia, Spain and France and takes us on a journey to those places through his uncanny ability to paint colors and images with his musical sonorities. In Pagodes, (Pagodas) Debussy imitates the sounds of traditional East Asian music with the use of whole tone scales, and gong-like sounds in a bright key of B major. The large, weighty chordal passages definitely convey the grandeur of what a Chinese Pagoda represents, while the flowing treble passagework at the end provides the colorful wash of sound that sounds exotic. La Soiree dans Grenade (Evening in Grenada) is notable for its traditional Habanera rhythm and sensuous appeal, evocative of a hot and steamy evening in Grenada. Jardins sous la Pluie (Gardens in the Rain) allows one to imagine the patter of raindrops, building into a downpour and thunderstorm, and the sun coming out at the end as it concludes in the bright key of E major.
Franz Liszt, (1811-1886), one of the foremost piano virtuosos and composers of the 19th century, was an iconic figure who enjoyed a illustrious career and remains one of the most revered pianist-composers in history. His music ranges from the steely virtuosity of some of his Transcendental Etudes to the sublime poetry of his shorter works from his Années de pèlerinage and his monumental work, his B minor Sonata. Many of his compositions were also based loosely around legends, or literary sources, such as Mazeppa, the Dante Sonata, and Liebesträume, while his most popular compositions for piano were his concert paraphrases on various operas by Verdi, Puccini, and Rossini. Indeed, 19th century opera composers were indebted to pianists who popularized their operas in their concert paraphrases, transcriptions and variations.
In Liszt’s Concert Paraphrase of Rigoletto Liszt derived his musical material entirely from the famous quartet scene in the last act of the opera. Rigoletto takes his daughter Gilda to spy on The Duke of Mantua, to prove his unfaithfulness to her, and they overhear the Duke making overtures to Madalena with his singing of Bella figlia dell’amore. The Duke’s theme used throughout the piece is first presented unadorned, and then Liszt embellishes it with more filigree and technical fireworks such as rippling arpeggios, feathery octaves, and descending chromatic thirds, with each repetition, combining the musical motifs sung by all four characters in the opera. The piece ends dramatically with chords representing both Rigoletto’s and Gilda’s emotional distress followed by a thundering angular octave passage up and down the keyboard. This dramatic conclusion represents the anguish of Gilda’s father, Rigoletto, in the opera’s final scene where he holds his beloved daughter as she takes her last breath. It is truly one of Liszt’s most emotional and effective transcriptions of Verdi’s mature operatic work. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, is one of nineteen such works Liszt composed from 1846-1853, and additionally in 1882 and 1885. The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 contains some of the most popular folk and traditionally composed Hungarian melodies. Loosely constructed in a style of “verbunkos”- a collection of slow (Lassu) and fast (Friss) Hungarian dances, the work contains melodic elements and highly virtuosic piano writing which elaborate on the relatively simple themes and harmonies (tonic and dominant).
ABOUT THE ARTIST:Susan Merdinger, piano
Performances by internationally acclaimed pianist and Steinway Artist, Susan Merdinger, have been hailed as “Exhilarating” by the Glasgow Herald and “Breathtaking” and by the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Fanfare Magazine (March/April 2014) declared that her “Carnival” CD was “exquisitely detailed and full of life”, likening her playing to that of legendary pianists Leonard Bernstein, Annie Fischer and Nadia Reisenberg. Among her many honors, Merdinger is a Winner of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition, the International Music Competition of France, the Artists International Young Musicians Competition, the Dewar’s Young Artist Award in Music, the Masterplayers International Competition and the Special Liszt Prize at the IBLA International Competition. Merdinger performs as a soloist, recitalist, duo pianist, and as a collaborative pianist with principal members of the New York Philharmonic, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In June 2013, she made her Chicago Orchestral Debut at Harris Theater with The Chicago Philharmonic under the direction of Sony Classical Conductor Mattia Rondelli. Merdinger has also worked with distinguished conductors such as Glenn Cortese, Sandra Dackow, Francis Akos, Francesco Milioto, Ariel Rudiakov. She has been a frequent performer on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Series with Principal Violist Charlie Pikler and the Tononi Ensemble and was a featured solo recitalist for the Chicago Latino Music Festival. Merdinger has appeared live on WQXR, WFMT, WDAV Classical Public Radio, CKWR Canadian Public Radio, Connecticut Public Radio, Belgian National Radio, BBC Television. Performing her sold-out solo recital debut in Carnegie Recital Hall at the age of twenty-five, Merdinger has continued to grace the stages of some of the world’s best concert halls including Merkin Concert Hall, Diligentia Hall in the Hague, Henry Wood Concert Hall in Scotland’s National Orchestra Center, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Ravinia’s Bennett Gordon Hall, the Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Chicago Orchestra Symphony Center. Merdinger received her formal education and training at Yale University, the Yale School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Westchester Conservatory of Music, the Ecole Normale de Musique in Fontainebleau, France and the Chautauqua and Norfolk Music Festivals. Her teachers have included such luminaries as Constance Keene, Claude Frank, Ward Davenny, Ozan Marsh, Seymour Lipkin, Elizabeth Parisot and Gaby Casadesus. Ms. Merdinger is currently on the faculties of the Summit Music Festival in New York, Burgos International Music Festival in Spain, and the Fine Arts Music Society Festival in Indiana, and is the Artistic Director and Founder of Sheridan Music Studio. www.susanmerdinger.com