THE QUASAR QUARTET
Jennifer Englin, flute
Bethany Murphy, oboe
Gretchen Anderson, clarinet
David Baker, bassoon
Prelude and Fugue (BWV 860/850)....….….…………Johann Sebastian Bach
Four Contradances (K ?)…………………...……Wolfgang Amade Mozart
Woodwind Quartet (World Premiere)……….……...…………Martin Gaskell
Scherzo – Poco Vivace
Tema con variazioni
Tema: Largamente maestoso
Var. I: Poco piu mosso
Var. II: L’istesso tempo
Var. III: Allegretto grazioso
Var. IV: Allegretto moderato
Var. V: Vivace
Tema: Tempo primo
6:30 P.M., TUESDAY NOVEMBER 28, 2000
WESTBROOK RECITAL HALL
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA, LINCOLN
The Woodwind Quartet Repertoire
Since the time of Franz Josef Haydn’s great “London Symphonies” (1791), and on down to our present day, the woodwind choir of the orchestra has had a standard makeup of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. One might therefore think that a woodwind quartet of flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon would be as standard a chamber music combination for 18th and 19th century composers as the string quartet of two violins, viola, and ‘cello. This is not the case however. Inspection of the works of the great Viennese classical composers Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amade Mozart shows that while they did write fine wind chamber music, it is scored for combinations of pairs of wind instruments. The original repertoire for the heterogenous woodwind quartet of flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon is almost exclusively from the 20th century.
To play earlier music one needs to make arrangements of music, but one should have few qualms about doing this for at the end of the 18th century people were constantly arranging music for whatever combination of instruments they had available at any one time. Professor Nicholas Cook of the University of Southampton writes “If you look in the catalogue of one of the large music libraries, such as the British Library, you will find it crammed with arrangements of Mozart’s and Haydn’s music for every conceivable instrumental or vocal combination.” The concert opens with arrangements I have made of works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amade Mozart.
Prelude and Fugue (BWV 860/850) – Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach, the best-known member of the distinguish Bach musical family needs no introduction. The prelude and fugue were probably written in the year 1722 while Bach was serving as conductor and chamber music director to Prince Anhalt of Cöthen. A fugue is a composition in which a short musical subject (or “poynt”) is passed around among the different “voices” (lines). The different voices usually enter one after the other with this subject. Bach fugues work wonderfully for almost any instrumental ensemble and this one is no exception. A woodwind quartet arrangement permits the individual parts of the four-part fugue to be heard with exceptional clarity. Pay attention to the subject the bassoon begins the fugue with and follow it as each instrument takes it up in turn and it winds its way through the piece. The prelude that precedes the fugue (it wouldn’t be called a prelude if it came after the fugue would it?) is a wonderfully cheerful flowing piece.
Four Contradances (K ?) – Sir Wolfgang Amade Mozart
Sir Wolfgang Amade Mozart? We’ve all heard of Sir Edward Elgar, but Sir Wolfgang Mozart? Surely not! But yes, Mozart was knighted in 1770! Although his father Leopold Mozart made him sign his name as “Sir Wolfgang Amade Mozart” for a while, for some reason, the younger Mozart didn’t stick with the title. These four contradances were written in Salzburg in January of 1780 for Count Johann Rudolf Czernin. Mozart was in his mid twenties at the time.
A contradance is a dance in duple time danced by couples in long lines with men opposite women (hence the name “contra”). Contradances are related to “longways” English country dances. Contradancing spread to New England in Mozart’s time and continues to flourish today across the USA. These Mozart contradances are distant cousins of the contradances danced in the Auld Recreation Center in Lincoln on the first Saturday night of each month! If these Mozart pieces are used for actual dancing (as they surely were) each one would be repeated over about half a dozen times or more. In this concert each dance is played only once. The second of the four dances has a curious slow, non-dance-like introduction. It is not clear what role this introduction would have played in the dancing.
One need have no worries about making arrangements of these dances – Mozart himself made at least two different arrangements! Guests at Count Czernin’s dances would probably have been delighted with the woodwind quartet arrangements!
Woodwind Quartet – Martin Gaskell
Although the finishing touches to the score of this quartet were made in the summer of this year (2000), this woodwind quartet was conceived and born among the redwood forests of Santa Cruz county in California back in the 1970s while I was working on my doctorate in astrophysics at the University of California. In 1975 or 1976 I heard an outstanding student woodwind quartet play on a Saturday night in the hall of Crown College. I was entranced by the sounds of the woodwind instruments and my ears were opened to the possibilities of the woodwind quartet. Out in the redwoods on Sunday afternoons I began sketching this quartet. Unlike the strings I was more accustomed to writing for, woodwind instruments seemed to be such open-air instruments. In those days the flute was also “the” Santa Cruz sound. You would always hear flutes being played downtown.
I had just been fortunate enough to start my graduate study with a full scholarship to one of the world’s top astronomy graduate schools. Although the life of a graduate student is one of hard work, it was exciting to learn from some of the world’s greatest astronomers, to use what was then the best equipment in the world, and to use one of the world’s largest telescopes. Santa Cruz, where Lick Observatory is headquartered is also exceptionally beautiful. Having grown up in cloudy, rainy Great Britain, I was overwhelmed by the clear skies and year-round sunshine of Santa Cruz.
The opening of the quartet (Allegro Giocoso) reflects my joyful arrival in an astronomers’ paradise among the redwoods of California in a land of perpetual spring where every day I could look across the calm Pacific Ocean. As well as the joy of the natural beauty of that paradise of the Santa Cruz county, the other great joy while I was writing the quartet was getting to know my future wife, Barbara. Much of the composing of the quartet was done at her parent’s house in forests of Bonny Doon or out under the redwoods with Barbara a few feet away working on her geology homework. (We have a photograph of me working on the sketches of the quartet in the redwoods down by the creek at the bottom of her parents’ property.) I finished most of the composing by the summer of 1978.
The slow movement (Andante) was inspired by the many evening walks Barbara and I took, especially the longer ones down the steep sides of the San Lorenzo valley. To picture the sort of scene that inspired the slow movement imagine that you are either alone or with a very special friend in a forest at the bottom of a steep valley by the banks of a river as dusk is falling. A cold gray ocean fog is coming up the valley. The theme of the slow movement was later used for my Fantasia for Harp and Strings.
The third movement is a fast scherzo (Poco Vivace). It was written on Sunday afternoons in the redwoods up behind Crown College on the Santa Cruz campus. There is a dance-like middle section followed by a repeat of the opening part of the movement.
The finale (Largamente Maestoso) is a theme and five variations. I can best summarize it by saying that it is an expression of thanksgiving to God for all I received in Santa Cruz. There are five variations. After the last and most lively variation has died down the movement, and the quartet, ends with a simple restatement of the theme.
Barbara and I got married and I left Santa Cruz with the quartet fully sketched, but only 75% complete in score. Back in the early 1980s, while we were working at Cambridge University in England, we did have an informal run through of some of the movements with my brother, Charles, playing bassoon, myself playing flute, and a couple of his friends playing the other parts, but with increasing professional and family responsibilities the quartet mostly languished for a couple of decades. I am most grateful to The Quasar Quartet for taking the time and effort to give the piece a public performance and for the enthusiasm they have shown. Since it was hearing a student quartet play that originally inspired the piece, it is most appropriate that the premiere is being given by a student quartet.
Jenny Englin was a senior flute performance major in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), School of Music. Jenny is from Rapid City, South Dakota, where she plays Celtic music etc. in a band called “No Clue”.
Beth Murphy was a senior oboe performance at UNL. She is from Moscow, Idaho, and has an affinity for elephants with large ears.
Gretchen Anderson was a junior clarinet performance major at UNL, with a minor in religion. She is from Blair, Nebraska.
Dave Baker was a senior bassoon performance major at UNL. He’s from Overland Park in Kansas. He likes to play accordion in his spare time and the other members of the quartet say he really likes root beer. Dave proposed the name The Quasar Quartet (“because Prof. Gaskell is an astronomer!”)
Martin Gaskell is an astronomer who is now at the University of Texas. Although he did give a little serious thought to trying to pursue a career in music before he went to university, he’s been an astronomer all his life. He thinks the name Quasar Quartet is neat because he does his research on quasars! (Quasars are giant black holes in the centers of galaxies.) As well as the quartet featured here he has composed some orchestral music, some other chamber music, and some choral music (see http://incolor.inetnebr.com/gaskell/compose.html) The Gaskells have two boys and girl, all three of whom like to compose music.