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ClassicsOnline Home » HAGEN, D.A.: Piano Trios Nos. 1-4 (Finisterra Piano Trio)
‘To say that Daron Hagen is a remarkable musician,’ wrote Ned Rorem in Opera News, ‘is to underrate him. Daron is music.’ Each of Hagen’s piano trios has a particular significance. The first, Trio Concertante, won Columbia University’s Bearns Prize for Chamber Music; the second, J’entends, was inspired by Nadia Boulanger’s final words ‘J’entends une musique san commencement et sans fin’ (‘I hear a music without beginning or end’), as well as by a Degas painting and Beethoven’s Great Fugue; the third, Wayfaring Stranger, recalls the memory of Hagen’s brother and the folk melody he so loved; and the fourth, Angel Band, pays tribute to the prodigious violinist Joyce Ritchie Strosahl.
Daron Hagen (b. 1961)
Complete Piano Trios
“To say that Daron Hagen (www.daronhagen.com) is a remarkable musician,” wrote Ned Rorem in Opera News, “is to underrate him. Daron is music.” Commissions include the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, National Symphony, among others, concertos for Gary Graffman, Jeffrey Khaner, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Sara Sant’Ambrogio, works for the King’s Singers, Elements, Borromeo, Amernet, and Carpentier String Quartets, the Amelia and Finisterra Trios, Wisconsin Brass Quintet, over 250 published art-songs and cycles, and six major operas: Amelia, The Antient Concert, Bandanna, New York Stories, Shining Brow and Vera of Las Vegas. He has taught at Bard, the Chicago Conservatory of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Princeton Atelier. A graduate of the Curtis Institute and Juilliard, he is Past President of the Lotte Lehmann Foundation, and a Lifetime Member of the Corporation of Yaddo. Twice a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at Bellagio, his music has received the Friedheim, ASCAP-Nissim, Barlow, and Bearns Prizes. A frequent performer of his own music as a conductor and pianist, he appears on the Albany, Arsis, and CRI labels.
Piano Trio No. 3: Wayfaring Stranger (2006)
The American folk spiritual Wayfaring Stranger is thought first to have been arranged as a hymn by John M. Dye in 1935, and may be found in The Original Sacred Harp (Denson Rev., 1936 ed.), paired with words from Bever’s Christian Songster (1858). It has been reinterpreted by artists as diverse as Jerry Garcia and Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Anonymous 4.
Hagen writes, ‘I confess that, in June of 1997, when my brother Britt asked me to compose a set of variations on the hymn, Poor Wayfaring Stranger, I didn’t care for the tune. I crafted four rather uninspired variants on it for violin and piano, sent it along to him with my love, and forgot about it. Our final telephone conversation concerned itself in part with his account of how the little piece had gone over at his church that Sunday; he died a few days later.
Nine years later, near dusk one late afternoon in June of 2006, as my wife and I drove through the Virginia countryside, we were suddenly gripped by the words and melody of a spiritual playing on the radio. Moreover, we realized at that moment that we had for some time been driving through hallowed ground; the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run—the first major battle of the American civil war—had taken place in the surrounding meadows in July of 1861. The hymn on the radio was Wayfaring Stranger. I knew then that I would return to the hymn and try to do justice not just to my brother’s memory but to the wonderful folk melody that he so loved.’
The result was a return to the piano trio form after an interval of twenty years. It begins with a Mazurka in seven; marked ‘gracious, pleasant, charming,’ the customary triple meter pulse is divided into combinations of two and three beats. Wayfaring Stranger gives the folk-tune, and follows it with three variations. Next follows a tricky Fandango, my take on an ancient Spanish dance in triple meter, probably of Moorish origin, that came into Europe in the seventeenth century. At the end of certain measures, the music halts abruptly and the dancers remain rigid until it is resumed. An Aubade, a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn, follows; it acts as an introduction to the finale, a set of eight more variations on Wayfaring Stranger.
The Finisterra Piano Trio gave the première of the work on 2 March 2007 at the Seasons Concert Hall in Yakima, Washington.
Piano Trio No. 1: Trio Concertante (1984)
Composed while Hagen was working with David Diamond, the first trio is a rigorously argued and unambiguously serious work notable especially for the stately, neo-classical passacaglia that spins the work to a close. The piece is based on a three note cell: A-F sharp-B flat. The three instruments present this pitch group in close canons in a dramatic opening ritornello. The first movement begins without a break. It is a brisk rondo movement whose melodic material is developed in a characteristic rhythmic sequence of alternating groups of two, three, and four beats. The movement ends with a broad lyric gesture which subsides into a trill.
The cello ritornello that follows restates the opening material of the trio. The second movement (an ABA arch form) begins when the other players enter. A flowing romanza harmonized with quartal chords contrasts with a pensive central B section based on material from the ritornello.
A brittle piano ritornello begins the final movement. This is answered by a dull set of chords derived from the opening measures of the trio. The work’s closing passacaglia is stated first in the piano. Repeated eleven times, the passacaglia is progressively varied by overlaying material from the previous movements. The opening ritornello returns to close the piece.
Awarded the Bearns Prize for Chamber Music of Columbia University in 1985, Trio Concertante was commissioned by the International Chamber Artists Series, Sara Lambert Bloom, Director, and premiered by the Paetsch-Shames-Jaffe Trio at St Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village on the Perpetuum Mobile Concert Series on 4 December 1985.
Piano Trio No. 2: J’entends (1986)
Nadia Boulanger’s last words are said to have been ‘J’entends une musique sans commencement et sans fin.’ (‘I hear a music without beginning or end.’) In a 1987 program note for the première at Alice Tully Hall, the composer wrote, ‘Grand Line was my first meditation on this statement, and this trio is the second. In it, I am attempting to manipulate time the way that a visual artist manipulates space. Various musical ideas—each of which progresses at its own speed—are juxtaposed, overlapped as transparencies, and mixed as colors over a long, spun out melody which is to the piece what a canvas is to a painting.’
The trio begins with a tutti statement of the work’s main harmonic and melodic ideas. (This movement, while retaining its original identity as the opening rondo of the piano trio, also served as the ‘short score’ for the first movement of Hagen’s Symphony No. 2.) The second movement develops the first movement’s ideas while overlaying a program of sorts—Hagen writes, ‘I was inspired by Degas’ painting Interior—the Rape for the emotional ambience of this movement.’ Through-composed, the dialogue between ‘pure’ music and ‘program music’ mirrors the friction in Degas’ painting between ‘decorative’ and ‘narrative’ elements. The third movement, a scherzo, is another of Hagen’s sixty-second-long musical palindromes, this time with a neurotic, peculiar, and somewhat hysterical quotation of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge at its center-point. The final movement, entitled Quodlibet (a theological or philosophical issue presented for formal argument or disputation or, in music, a medley) takes the material from the preceding movements and makes a collage of it while moving toward a broadly romantic statement of what Hagen describes as ‘the unabashed melody which has been present in various forms since the beginning of the piece.’
Winner, First Prize, the Barlow Endowment International Composition Prize for Chamber Music, 1985, J’entends was commissioned by the Lehner Trio and given its première by the ensemble at Alice Tully Hall, New York City, on 7 April 1987.
Piano Trio No. 4: Angel Band (2007)
The Appalachian three-stringed Dulcimer and Bluegrass gospel hymn Angel Band was first arranged by William Batchelder Bradbury in 1862, and may be found paired with Jefferson Haskell’s 1860 lyric Oh, Come, Angel Band in Bradbury’s Golden Shower (1962).
The inspiration for this piano trio is the life story of Joyce Ritchie Strosahl, a violin prodigy whose childhood was spent during the Depression on the Troublesome Creek near the mining village of Hardburly in the back hills of Kentucky, youthful studies undertaken at the Cincinnati Conservatory and at Illinois Wesleyan, years as a young wife and mother spent in Alaska, and mature life pursued as a chamber musician, orchestral player, and prime force behind the idea and execution of The Seasons Performance Hall and Music Festival in Yakima, Washington. The composition’s musical protagonist is embodied by the Angel Band tune. The work’s emotional through-story begins with Youth, proceeds through Experience, and culminates in Old Age and is manifested musically by an evolving series of harmonic languages, musical styles, recurring motives, and especially, variations on the tune itself.
The first movement, Morning, is about childhood. Angel Band is presented at first with straightforward, bluegrass-flavored pan-diatonic harmonies that grow more complex as the tune is given four variations, setting the stage for the Gallic, insouciant harmonies of the Waltz which follows. The Violinist on the Pont Neuf is sophisticated by experience, nostalgia, and regret. The Rondo increases the level of dissonance, the middle-aged labors to balance and integrate the demands of one’s ‘outer life’ (the march-like first theme, in four) and the poetic ‘inner life’ (the plangent, song-like second theme, in three) demanding a more rigorous musical rhetoric. The Blue Chaconne strikes a mature balance between the harmonic astringency of the Rondo and the more insipid sanguinity of the Waltz by intensifying the romantic harmonies of concert music with the lowered third, fifth, and seventh scale degrees of 1920s Bessie Smith-flavored blues. The chaconne repeats six times, each time more fervent; it moves through the circle of fifths until it lands on the seventh, at which point the Finale begins without pause as first Angel Band and then the Pont Neuf waltz tune are overlaid on the chaconne. All of the trio’s ideas are revisited and combined in turn with the Angel Band tune in the course of the Finale’s eight variations. At the end, the original Kentucky Blue Grass flavor of the music returns, celebrating the delights of Youth, the wisdom of Experience, and the grace, force, and fascination of Old Age.
The trio was commissioned for the Finisterra Trio in honor of Joyce Ritchie Strosahl and first performed on 29 September 2007 at the Seasons Concert Hall, in Yakima, Washington, by the Finisterra Piano Trio.
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