By Andrea Moore

​​​​Lera Auerbach, 24 Preludes for Violin & Piano

For many in the Camerata Pacifica audience, Lera Auerbach needs no introduction. A friend of principal cellist Ani Aznavoorian since their days at The Juilliard School, Auerbach’s works have been performed by the Camerata since the 2007-08 season. Camerata Pacifica has also commissioned two significant works from her: Dreammusik, for cello and chamber ensemble, which premiered in March 2014 and will be performed again in March 2020, and 24 Preludes for Viola and Piano, which premiered in the 2017-18 season.

Born in 1973 in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Auerbach received her early musical training from her mother. Departing for the U.S. in 1991 as the Soviet Union crumbled, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School. In addition to her work as a composer, Auerbach is a virtuoso pianist, having graduated from the program in piano at the Hannover Hochschule für Musik, and is a published poet. She is one of the most acclaimed and widely performed composers of her generation; her works have been performed all over the world, and championed by musicians including the Tokyo String Quartet, Gidon Kremer, the Hamburg State Ballet, and leading festivals including Caramoor, Lucerne, and Moscow Autumn.

The 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano, composed in 1999, are part of an ongoing series of 24-prelude sets, which includes ones for cello and piano, solo piano, and the Camerata Pacifica-commissioned set for viola and piano. The subgenre that is the set of 24 preludes and fugues—a pair in each key—first follows Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. With this said, Auerbach’s duos are unusual for not being for solo piano. This piece moves through the 24 major and minor keys by way of their relative minors; that is, C Major, which has no sharps or flats, is followed by A Minor, which shares that key signature. Auerbach wrote, “The challenge was not only to write a meaningful and complete prelude that might be only a minute long, but also for this short piece to be an organic part of a larger composition with its own form.”

Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke”

This Trio was one of Beethoven’s many pieces dedicated to his friend and patron, Archduke Rudolph; others include his fourth and fifth piano concertos, the “Hammerklavier” Sonata, and Missa Solemnis, written to be performed at Rudolf’s enthronement as Archbishop of Olomouc. The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, an authoritative source of reviews and criticism, offered a glowing assessment of the piece, saying it “undisputedly shines as one of the brightest-glowing green leaves in the laurel crown he has long worn.”

The initial sketches for this piano trio come from 1810, although Beethoven only completed it in March of the next year. Beethoven had already written several piano trios, and his own virtuosity at the keyboard may have informed the dominance of the instrument in some of these trios, especially the two that comprise Op. 70 (1808). Nonetheless, this is the only one of Beethoven’s piano trios to open with the piano only, which introduces an expansive theme, often described as “noble” in its own right, and the basis for the movement’s remarkably extended structure.  In the development section, the lyrical first theme is fragmented, undercut by pizzicato and piano trills; there’s more than a little ambiguity before the recapitulation puts us back on more solid ground. The Scherzo, holding the unusual second-movement position, is lighter in mood, although the Trio section brings in a minor key and harmonic ambiguity. Like the first movement, this one is large in scale, with Beethoven indicating a complete repeat of both sections. The strings have a denser texture than in some of Beethoven’s earlier trios; overall, the piano is less dominant here, and seems to reach for a harmony among equal voices. 

The third movement opens with a chorale-like chord progression in the piano, harmonized in the next phrase by the strings. This kind of aching simplicity is also on display in some of Beethoven’s other slow movements—the second movement of the “Appassionata” Sonata, for example. The opening yields to a dreamlike series of triplets, again harmonized by the strings. The movement builds through a series of variations, which eventually transition into an extended coda. Despite an increase in rhythmic complexity and thickening textures, this movement retains a lyrical simplicity that is (perhaps unfairly) not much associated with Beethoven. It also suggests another angle to Beethoven’s influence on Schubert (whose final sonata, in the same key of B-flat, is part of next month’s program). The final movement, although not in triple meter, has a touch of the scherzo about it, with a light-hearted opening, and some remarkably ornate elaborations in the piano part.

This Trio premiered in 1814 with Beethoven at the piano. According to the composer Louis Spohr’s somewhat horrified eyewitness account, Beethoven’s deafness caused him to play poorly, too loudly in some places and too quietly in others. This performance of the Archduke Trio would be his last public performance as a pianist, a thought that is especially poignant while listening to the third movement.