Most of the music we know is full of tonality, which we experience and understand without being fully capable of defining in words what “tonality” is — what we mean by it. We can even usually find the tonic, by listening and looking at the score, though from time to time perhaps we aren’t certain about what it is or where it is. And we also recognize that there are times when the tonality is temporarily suspended, as in all those passages with multiple successions of diminished-seventh chords in Chopin, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky (not to forget Bach and Mozart), or those rapid modulations with each new tonic coming from the dominant of the previous key (same composers just mentioned, among others) — in one door and out another, so to speak.
Come to the end of the 19th century, and with the chromatic Germans and the modal French, and our perception of “tonality” is stretched to wider-than-ever limits. There’s that wonderfully crazy passage in Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (1895), where the wildest murky assortment of chords goes on for several bars, with no possibility of finding a tonic, before being wrenched into a climactic D major six-four (you know where I mean, just before the death-roll snare drums). And there’s Debussy’s Nuages (1899), in which the tonic triad is B diminished (B> D> F>), and at the very end the palpable tonic is represented by just a single pitch. But we unmistakably recognize these well-unified works as tonal music, i.e., full of tonality, whatever else there may be in the equation.
by Annie Kim
Violinist Inmo Yang will return to NEC Williams Hall where he appeared a year ago in a recital celebrated on these pages with much enthusiasm. “Yang made the [music] come alive by varying the colors on his soulful Guadagnini, he also demonstrated remarkable expressiveness and control of his bow made by Boston-area McArthur Genius Grant winner Benoit Roland. [He] left us with a stage picture of handsomely distilled and gorgeous inflected romance.” Information on the August 6th at 3:00pm sonata recital with pianist Yun Janice Lu, tickets and details can be found at the Korean Cultural Society of Boston.
Proceeding in reverse chronological order of composition, the recital begins with two sonatas written within the contexts of World War I. The Debussy Violin Sonata, though but 13-minutes in length, foregrounds Debussy’s signature use of wide-ranging timbres and harmonic colors combined with his motive-driven, fragmented, late compositional style. The violin sonata was part of what Debussy envisioned to be a set of six sonatas, but this remains the third and final work of the unfinished cycle.
The trombone (Italian, “big trumpet”) is well known as a band instrument (e.g., 76 of them in The Music Man) or part of a jazz combo (Jack Teagarden and friends), and, since Wagner, as a regular member of the symphony orchestra, normally in groups of three. Before Wagner trombones were only occasionally used in symphonies, appearing suddenly and spectacularly (alto, tenor and bass) in the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth. Prior to that splendid moment, trombones were used as choral doublers (including in several Bach cantatas and regularly in contrapuntal sections of the Viennese classical Mass), or less often, as a coloristic group in opera — think of the graveyard scene in Don Giovanni or even all the way back to Monteverdi’s Orfeo, when the trombones were sackbuts. Beethoven, apart from one or two instances, seems to have been reluctant to use the trombone as a solo instrument, or in a non-doubling choir of three; by the time of the Fifth Symphony (1808), he was already quite deaf, and may have only guessed at the trombone’s coloristic utility, although one day in 1812 he did write three Equale for a quartet of trombones (WoO 30).
The Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts will soon be mounting another exuberant summer concert series. From August 10th to August 26th, 27 distinguished violinists, violists, cellists, pianists, and various chamber configurations across at last a couple of generations will excite the intimate Williams Hall at a time when little else is going on musically in the City. Also, Channing Yu’s Mercury Orchestra will showcase the winner of the related 2023 Fou Ts’ong International Concerto Competition at the orchestra’s Jordan Hall Concert on August 26th. The calendar can be found HERE. Founding President Catherine Chan is “so proud of all the artists presented” and wishes “these magnificent artists to be heard more on the world stage.”
Since 1989, the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts has been promoting Asian musicians and the Eastern musical heritage through performing arts and has presented over 151 concerts in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, Harvard’s Sanders Theater, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall, and New York’s Carnegie Hall featuring renowned Asian musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Fou Ts’ong, Tan Dun, Hung-Kuan Chen, Bion Tsang, Nai-Yuan Hu, Dang Thai-Son, The Shanghai Quartet, Ning An, and Haochen Zhang… to critical acclaim. For 28 years, the FCPA had also hosted its Annual Music Festival at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, attracting students from all over the world and had included students like Lang Lang, George Li, Yeol Eun Son, Eric Lu and Kate Liu. The summer series at NEC also welcomes artists from the west.