Composer Tom Benjamin, a native of Bennington, Vermont,
received degrees in composition from Bard College, Harvard
University, Brandeis University, and the Eastman School of
Music. His teachers were Leon Kirchner, Carlos Surinach, Ernst
Krenek, Arthur Berger, and Bernard Rogers. More than sixty
of Benjamin’s works have been published; they include
concertos for violin, piano, and viola; symphonies; oratorios;
cantatas; and six operas. He is the author of two books on
counterpoint and the coauthor of three music theory texts.
The many awards and commissions he has received include grants
from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Society
of Composers and Publishers, Meet-the-Composer, and the Barlow
Foundation. Active as a clarinetist and choral conductor,
Benjamin has taught at the National Music Camp in Interlochen,
Michigan, the University of Houston, and the Peabody Institute,
where he was chair of the music theory department. His lighthearted
piano trio, Apéritif, was commissioned by the Mirecourt
Trio. Intended as a concert opener, it displays both the virtuoso
and the expressive possibilities of the three instruments.
The structure resembles a rondo and the musical language is
frankly tonal. Tom Benjamin
The Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C Minor, Op. 101
of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), was composed in 1886 on the
same summer vacation in Thun, Switzerland. From the correspondence
of this period, we know that his friends generally greeted
the trio with approval, in some cases expressing great enthusiasm
for it. Clara Schumann, a lifelong friend, and perhaps Brahms’s
most valued critic, felt that she had seldom been so affected
by any of his previous works. The astonishingly interwoven
texture and forceful, yet intimate quality of the work, so
characteristic of all Brahms’s chamber music, still
has the same emotional appeal today. The main interest of
the opening movement, Allergro energico, lies in the close-knit
nature of the way in which it is knit together. A “fierce”
opening theme is matched by a “consoling-noble”
second theme, which reappears near the end of the movement
in a major key. The second movement, Presto non-assai, is
another example of the shadowy C minor type, with muted strings,
functioning as a scherzo movement. The second subject is so
brief that we scarcely know it is there before the restless
opening theme returns and scurries to and end. The third movement,
Andante grazioso, is for stings alone, alternating with the
piano. Plucked stings accompany the piano in its meandering
path. A unique feature of this movement, according to Swafford,
is the extraordinary metric experiment of constantly changing
time signatures, which may betray Hungarian origin. The final
movement, Allegro molto, comes to violent life with great
leaps and handfuls of chords and arpeggios in the piano. According
to critic Ivor Keys, this makes the trio a real physical pleasure
of a pianist to play. It is interesting from a marketing standpoint
to note that Brahms and Simrock (hispublisher) felt that music
like this was not outside the scope of enough amateur music-lovers
to make publication worthwhile. There is a concluding turn
to C major. Brahms’s friend, Elisabeth von Herzogenberg,
and her husband both praised this trio highly. Her husband
Heinrich wrote his wife: “your big paw comes down heavily
with the very opening of the Finale, however, and one sees
stars, and begins to count the slain; at least, it nearly
proved the death of my wife, that stormy semi quaver passage
in particular … and finally the tremendous jubilations
where the rhythm would not come right – not that it
matters!”Louis J. ReithGeorgetown University Library
Four Taiwanese Folk Songs
The Pale Moon
Lyric: Yei, Jin-Lin Composer: Wu, Jin-Wei, Arranged by Masaaki
No matter how beautiful you are, I am no longer in love with
you. Everything about you stirs up my sorrow and unhappiness
no matter how much the wind of spring tries to ease my sorrow.
It cannot sooth my hate. It is again a pale moon night.
No matter what you say to me or how you treat me, I have
seen through your heart, your fakeness, and your unreal love.
My tears of true love were wasted, and no matter where faith
brings me, my sorrow will never disappear. I am again in the
ocean of troubles.
Composed by Chien, Shan-Jen, Arranged by Masaaki Hayakawa
This song describes the hot month of June, when the temperature
of water in the farm field keeps rising up. The water snakes
and other little water beings in the farm field are trying
to swim deep into holes at the bottom of the field to avoid
the direct sun in their desire to survive. The farmers see
how these water snakes and fishes swim with all their energy
to find a safe place, and they sing: “Water in the June
field, it is burning! Water snake in the water, working hard
to wiggle its tail to swim!” They sing this song, when
they are tired to help them working hard like the water snake
so they can have good harvest and survive the hard year.
Sunset of Homeland
Lyric: Hsia, Wen Composer: Huang, Chung-Yuai, Arranged by
This is a song expressing one’s strong feeling of missing
the family and sceneries of homeland.
Calling me, calling me, sunset of my homeland is calling me.
Calling my worn out body and mind. Traveling person is like
a homeless bird, coming to a foreign land alone, always missing
home. I heard it today again, the call of my homeland.
Calling me, calling me, sunset of my homeland is calling me.
Missing the scene of the homeland when I left. Moonlight spreads
onto the river, mountains, streams, and always hugs my dream.
Tonight, I dreamt of the call of my homeland again.
Calling me, calling me, sunset of my homeland is calling me,
and its call is full of sadness and tears. This call for me
to return home has never stopped. The white clouds, if you
go, please bring along my thoughts and feelings, bring them
to my mother. Please do not forget.
Lyric: Den, Yu-Hsien, Composer: Lee, Lin-Chu, Arranged by
O, flowers of spring, full of fragrance! Couples’ hearts
are pounding. I have something to tell you, if I may. What
is it? What do you think it is? Couple has smiles in their
eyes. Oh, you and I are red love flowers of spring.
O, wind of the summer, wistful and light. Couple is on the
boat to Tour River. I have something to tell you, if I may?
What is it? What do you think it is? Our love is like the
red reflection of the sun in the depth of the river.
O, moon of the autumn, shining though the window. Couple
has hope in their heart to be together forever. I have something
to tell you, if I may? What is it? What do you think it is?
All I can see are your red lips.
O, wind of the winter, so hard to avoid. Couple in love is
not afraid of cold. I have something to tell you, if I may?
What is it? What do you think it is? The fire of our love
is so full of life that it is red.
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was staying in Nice,
France, in 1881 when he received a telegram informing him
of the death of his friend and compatriot, Nikolai Grigorevich
Rubinstein (1835-1881), in Paris on 23 March. An outstanding
pianist and distinguished conductor, Nikolai Rubinstein had
offered Tchaikovsky a teaching position at the newly opened
Conservatory of St. Petersburg in 1866, and during the years
that the composer held the post, Rubinstein had encouraged
and supported him. He was so devastated in March 1881 that
he ceased work entirely until December, and then began work
on a Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in A minor, Op. 50,
inscribed “To the memory of a great artists.”Tchaikovsky’s
Piano Trio is a large-scale work in two sections. He started
composing it in December 1881 and completed it on the 13 of
January 1882. The first movement, in sonata form, is marked
Pezzo elegiaco [Elegiac piece]. And that it is, melancholy,
yet warm and passionate, filled with broad and lovely melodies.
The wistful opening theme is first played by the cello, followed
by the violin and the piano. Sorrow is expressed in a Chopinesque
funeral march, and with the use of a question-and-answer dialogue
among the instruments. Dramatic contrast also plays an important
role in the restless and driving passages which are followed
by moments of relaxation and relief. The second movement is
comprised of two sections. The first, Thema con varizaione
[Them with variations], begins tentatively with a folk-like
theme. There are eleven variations of the theme, which is
introduced by the piano. In the first variation, the violin
presents the theme, followed by variation two, where the cello
sings the theme. If you think that you are hearing what sounds
like a “scherzo” by the piano, punctuated by pizzacato
from the strings, you are in the third variation. If the theme
is played in the minor mode, you are in the fourth variation.
If you think you hear what sounds like a music box, you are
in the fifth variation. After an introduction of repeated
notes by the cello, the group breaks into an elegant waltz.
The piano belts out chords to start the seventh variation,
punctuated by the strings. Variation eight is a contrapuntal
fugue, leading to the ninth variation, marked Andante flibile
[plaintive, mourning]. After a lively Marzurka (the tenth
variation), the first part of the movement ends with a quiet
recapitulation of the opening theme. The finale, marked Variazione
finale e coda, is in effect the twelfth and final variation
on this theme. After a festive and jubilant development, the
mood suddenly changes, as if the composer is suddenly brought
back to his pain at the loss of his friend. The melancholy
opening theme returns, as the mood deepens and darkens. This
gives way to a solemn funeral march, and the elegiac melody,
which opened the work, comes to an end, poco a poco morendo
[dying out, little by little]. Louis J. ReithGeorgetown University