A Little Day Music

The Friday Morning Music Club has been giving free performances in Washington for the past 127 years.  Today, I went for the first time.

The program was in the “chapel” (looks like an all-purpose room) of Calvary Baptist Church on 8th Street, NW.  The room is bright, both from florescent lights and natural light and clean and comfortable.  The audience was about 50.

There were three pieces on the hour long program, with different musicians for each.  The first selection were a group of seven “Songs Without Words” by Felix Mendelssohn, played by Washington-based, Tel Aviv trained, Immanuela Gruenberg.  These romantic pieces are nice to listen to but, from my perspective, not particularly memorable or individually recognizable.  The soloist did a fine job.

The second part of the program featured Robert Schumann’s song cycle “Frauenliebe under leben”, featuring seven songs demonstrating the love of a woman for her man, and the last bemoaning his death, nicely done by mezzo soprano Melanie Ashkar, and pianist Virginia Lum.  The songs are based on a somewhat longer poem cycle by Adelbert von Chamisso, songs that have been set to music by several composers, including Schumann.  von Chamisso ended the cyle with a song by an older woman playing with her grandchildren, but Schumann stopped with the death of her husband for reasons unknown.  I was not familiar with these songs and was helped by the copy of the lyrics (both in the original German and English translation) which was given to me by the accompanist before she went to the piano.

The third piece was, perhaps, most interesting.  It was billed as Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor, and was printed in the program without a description of its movements, something that I thought must be an inadvertent omission.

Not so.  This “quartet”, written when Mahler was 15 or 16, only has one movement.  And has been played (and recorded) relatively rarely.  Whether it was meant to be the first movement of a full quartet is not known, although there are hints that this was to be the case.  But at any event, there is no actual evidence of this.  It is interesting that this can be unknown, since Mahler is not exactly ancient history.  Apparently, this piece was not discovered until Mahler had been dead for 50 years.

The women (they were all women) who played the Mahler also played well.  But it seemed that there was so much repetition in this piece that once you learn to play one line, it is easy to play the rest.  I think that the brooding theme is a beautiful one (Mahler even at 15 was Mahler), but the movement (or piece) could have stopped half way through without losing anything.  The repetition of the simple theme, pretty as it is, does get to you.





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