Harmonia Chamber Players II

Saturday, February 17, 2024 • 2:00 p.m.
The Unitarian Church at 6556 35th Avenue NE

Katie Sauter Messick, cello
Steven Messick, bass
William White, piano
Hsing-Hui Hsu, clarinet
Stephen Provine, violin
Fritz Klein, violin
Katherine McWilliams, viola
Matthew Wyant, cello
Virginia Knight, flute
Yuh-Pey Lin, oboe and English horn
Steven Noffsinger, clarinet
Robin Stangland, French horn
Jeff Eldridge, bassoon


William C. White (*1983)
The Seafarers, Op. 44 [world premiere]

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)
Kanonische Variationen für zwei Violinen

William C. White
Clarinet Quinet, Op. 55 [world premiere]

— intermission —

Carl Nielsen (1865–1931)
Wind Quintet, Op. 43

About the Concert

Harmonia musicians present two world premieres from Harmonia music director William White, plus a classic of the wind quintet literature.

Complimentary refreshments will be served at the conclusion of the performance.

Program Notes

The opening work on this afternoon’s program, The Seafarers, was written for — and dedicated to — Katie Sauter Messick and Steve Messick. “The music was inspired by a trip they took to Ireland’s Eye,” writes composer (and Harmonia music director) William White, “a small, uninhabited island near Dublin, home to a large colony of Northern gannets who nest atop a rocky outcropping. The music seeks to capture Katie and Steve’s joy, wonder and excitement as they approached the island on the water, hiked to the top of a hill, and beheld the birds in their full array.”

Paul Hindemith was apparently inspired to write a pair of canonic duets by the incredibly prolific and clever Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann, who wrote six short, three-movement sonatas for two instrumentalists in which each movement is a canon. The first player begins, then a measure or two later the second player plays the same music. Hindemith’s duets (unlike Telemann’s) are specifically for violins (the score includes pizzicato and double stops) and while the Telemann sonatas have almost no dynamic indications, Hindemith’s abound with them: frequently one player is loud while the other is soft. The first of these duets, Kanonisches Vortragsstück (“Canonic Performance Piece,” written in May 1931), follows the Telemann pattern fairly closely, while the other, Kanonische Variationen (“Canonic Variations,” written in December of that year), is not quite as strictly canonic — but Hindemith does add a number of other self-imposed constraints.

In the first variation, the second violin starts two measures behind the first, but partway through jumps ahead so that it is only one measure behind. In the sixth and final variation, the second violin is displaced in pitch as well as time, playing at an interval of a fourth below the first violin. Then, after a brief transition, everything is played backwards: the last 49 bars are the reverse of the first 49 so that now the first violin follows the second. Hindemith breaks the symmetry so that the instruments end together. Of course the real achievement of Hindemith (and Telemann before him) was to make real music out of this canonical game-playing. In these variations, which start with a lovely main theme, he certainly succeeded, especially in the fast and spooky fourth variation, the beautiful, chorale-like fifth and the jolly finale.

William White’s Clarinet Quintet “was a 40th birthday commission for my friend Jeremy Rosenberg,” he writes, “a fellow music major in the class of 2005 at the University of Chicago. It was commissioned by Jeremy’s siblings Michael and Shoshana. Jeremy and I go way back, so there was a lot of personal material to include in this piece. As a starting point, I wanted somehow to reflect on my college days. I considered re-working a string quartet that I wrote in my sophomore year, but upon reviewing it, I thought it was total garbage. However, I thought I could do something with the main motivic idea. I played around with it, but it only ended up appearing in a disguised form in one bar of the introduction.

“I began writing the first movement around the time that my former UC composition teacher, Easley Blackwood, died in January 2023. Easley’s death kindled many thoughts and feelings, but as a sort of backhanded way of honoring him, I based a couple of the principal themes in this work on the circle of fifths, which he always said was ‘the last refuge of the damned,’ compositionally. Jeremy and I really clicked in college when we realized that we were the only two people who knew, cared about and loved Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, so I quoted one of its motives.

“For the second movement, I had been keen to write a minuet for some time, and I thought this would be a nice opportunity. Jeremy is a big klezmer fan, hence the third movement: I grew up going to plenty of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, so it came somewhat easily to me — and Jeremy said I had carte blanche to culturally appropriate from his heritage. The finale is a sonata-rondo form with an ostinato that moves through the string parts while recalling material from the previous movements.”

One evening in the spring of 1921, Danish composer Carl Nielsen visited a pianist friend who happened to be rehearsing a piano reduction of the Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon attributed to Mozart. Familiar with the wind players and taken by the music they were playing, he promised to compose a quintet for them and their flutist. After completing and premiering his Symphony No. 5, Nielsen began writing the quintet on February 3, 1922, in Göteborg (Sweden) while fulfilling a conducting engagement. “I have been very preoccupied with a large, new, difficult composition,” he wrote on February 20. “The externals are very modest, only five winds, but the technicalities are for that very reason all the more difficult and this spurred me on in a remarkable way.” Oboist Svend Felumb recalled: “We watched at a close distance how he wrote the music and before it dried on the paper, we were already practicing to play it, with Nielsen making changes for us.”

The composer heard a private performance on April 30, but the following month suffered a heart attack. At the public premiere at Copenhagen’s Odd Fellow Palæ on October 9 (after Nielsen had regained some measure of his health), the audience responded enthusiastically. One critic praised the work’s “rhythmical graciousness and exuberant humor” as well as its “rich invention and much contrapuntal finesse.” Another called it “a very important work from beginning to end with the unmistakable stamp of classicism: a complete clarity of form and weight of spirit. And from first to last with the personal mark of Carl Nielsen.”

The opening movement is in traditional sonata form, with a (repeated) exposition followed by a development and recapitulation, while the second is a Classically styled minuet-with-trio. The finale consists of a set of variations on a hymn (Min Jesus, lad mit Hjerte faa, “My Jesus, let my heart receive”) Nielsen had composed in 1914. A dramatic prelude (featuring English horn) leads to a simple statement of the chorale tune (in 3/4 time), followed by eleven increasingly imaginative variations for various combinations of the five instruments (in which Nielsen mimics the personalities of the men for whom he wrote the work), concluding with a final statement of the chorale, now in 4/4.