Remembering David Nadien

David Nadien
David Nadien

American violinist David Nadien passed away last week at the age of 88. A student of Ivan Galamian, Adolfo Betti and Adolf Busch, Nadien first soloed with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 14. Between 1966 and 1970 he served as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. You can hear him play the “Pas de deux” violin solo from Tchaikovsky`s Swan Lake here

For years Nadien taught at the Mannes College of Music and performed as a top freelance studio musician in New York. His immaculately clean, Romantic style of playing, suggestive of violinists from Elman to Milstein, was an inspiration to a younger generation of musicians. The Suzuki violin repertoire, books 1-10, are among his diverse recording credits. Notable recordings include the Franck Sonata and Tchaikovsky Concerto as well as showpieces such as Sarasate’s Habañera, Weiniawski’s Scherzo Tarentelle and Massenet’s Meditation from Thais

Here is his recording of Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella:

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Remembering Abram Shtern

Abram Shtern (1919-2014)
Abram Shtern (1919-2014)

Legendary Ukrainian violinist and teacher Abram Shtern passed away last week at the age of 96. Shtern was concertmaster and professor in Kiev before emigrating to the United States in 1990 and settling in Los Angeles. He represented one of the last direct links to the tradition of Leopold Auer, the teacher of Heifetz, Milstein and others.

For much of his career, Shtern stayed out of the spotlight, but he was deeply respected within the violin world. Isaac Stern said:

[quote]Oh, how he played! This man never leaves behind what the music means and such enthusiasm – he not only loves music but also he lives FOR music! He is an incredible master-musician.[/quote]

Here is a 1971 recording of Abram Shtern playing the solo from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake:

These informal clips give a sense of Shtern’s rich, singing tone and extraordinary technique. Notice his masterful, seamless bow control. This video, from Shtern’s 75th birthday, highlights his roots in Klezmer fiddling. Here is a profile featuring more background on Abram Shtern’s life.

Music of Spring

Crocus longiflorus5

Let’s celebrate the arrival of spring with a performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Opus 24. Sometime after this music was published in 1801 it became know as the “Spring” sonata. Can you hear anything “springy” in the music?

As you listen, pay attention to the sense of dialogue between the violin and piano. What kind of a conversation are they having? Listen to the musical cat and mouse game that takes place in the Scherzo. The word “scherzo” translates as “joke.” I think you’ll hear the humor in this movement. A Rondo is a musical form in which a main theme keeps recurring, interspersed with short musical “adventures” into new territory.

This performance is by German violinist Anne Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis:

  1. Allegro -begins at 1:00
  2. Adagio molto espressivo –begins at 11:45
  3. Scherzo: Allegro molto -begins at 18:04
  4. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo –begins at 19:29

If you would like to hear a slightly different interpretation, listen to these recordings by Szeryng and Rubinstein, Oistrakh and Milstein. Is there one performance that stands out for you? If so, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

The Chaconne Across 300 Years

My last post featured music constructed around a repeating bass line, or ostinato. We listened to Johann Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D as well as passacaglias by Handel and Bach.  Now, let’s return to the ostinato  with another type of musical composition that was popular in the Baroque period, the chaconne.

Like the passacaglia, the repeating bass line of the chaconne gave Baroque composers a great opportunity to write endlessly inventive variations.  Most chaconnes are built on a four note scale that descends from the tonic (the home pitch of any key) to the dominant (the fifth scale degree).  This simple four note pattern creates its own satisfying drama.  Listen to the chaconne bass line.  Can you feel the pull of the lowest note (the dominant) back to the first note (the tonic)? With each repetition of this bass line, the music moves away from “home” and then returns.

Chaconne in G Minor…Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745)

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This piece was ascribed to Vitali by the nineteenth century violinist Ferdinand David, but it is unclear who actually wrote it.  Here is a performance by the great David Oistrakh:

Chaconne from “Roland”…Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)

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Suzuki violin students know Jean Baptiste Lully because of his Gavotte in Book 2. Lully was one of the most important French Baroque composers and was especially influential in developing French opera.  This chaconne comes from the Third Act of his opera, Roland.  If you like this music, you might also enjoy another chaconne Lully wrote for the opera, Phaeton.

Partita in D Minor for Solo Violin BWV 1004…Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Ciaccona

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Bach wrote six unaccompanied sonatas and partitas for violin.  A partita is a suite, or collection of pieces.  This monumental chaconne comes at the end of the Partita in D Minor.   In a Washington Post interview, violinist Joshua Bell called this chaconne “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.”

In a letter to Clara Schumann, the composer Johannes Brahms wrote: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

There are many great recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Recordings I recommend include performances by Henryk Szeryng, Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer, Ilya Kaler, Gidon Kremer, Arthur Grumiaux and Mela Tenenbaum. Tenenbaum’s recording features a separate CD with her thoughts on the music and is worth exploring for any musician who is studying solo Bach.

Here is a performance by the legendary Russian violinist, Nathan Milstein.

Violin Concerto…John Adams (b. 1947)

II. Chaconne: Body through which the dream flows

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In 1993 American composer John Adams wrote a chaconne for the second movement of his Violin Concerto.  It’s easy to hear echoes of the past in this haunting and atmospheric music.  In what ways is this chaconne similar to its Baroque predecessors?  In what ways is it different?  What feelings does the music evoke?

Pearls (from the album, Love Deluxe)…Sade (Released in 1992)

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Interestingly, this song from the British band, Sade is built on the same descending chaconne bass line that Vitali, Lully and other Baroque composers used.