GIL SHAHAM PLAYS BOULOGNE
live BROADCAST on FRIdAY, MARCH 26 AT 6:30 P.M.
ARVO PÄRT Fratres
BOULOGNE Violin Concerto No. 9 in G Major, Op. 8
Until the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the little country of Estonia had been under Soviet domination since 1940, ending the short-lived Republic of Estonia established at the end of World War I. Thousands of Estonians emigrated during the war and after, keeping their culture alive in self-exile. One recent émigré who made a considerable splash in the west is Arvo Pärt, born in Estonia during the last years of the republic. He was educated at the conservatory in Tallinn, graduating in 1963. Already at that time he had been working for some years as a sound director for Estonia radio. His early work showed the expected influence of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but he began to use the twelve-tone technique (Necrology, 1959), then not allowed in countries of the Soviet bloc. His Credo for piano, chorus, and orchestra was banned because it contained the text, “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
During a long period of artistic silence, Pärt studied early choral music and ancient liturgical chants; these unleashed in him a deep mystical strain. In the Third Symphony (1971) he revived old polyphonic forms and ideas from Gregorian chant. By 1976, his studies led to a renewed interest in the traditional triad and the possibilities of extreme simplicity. Soon afterward, Pärt and his family immigrated to Vienna, and then moved to Berlin. During the 1980s he produced a growing body of music with liturgical connections.
Pärt has returned many times to Fratres (the Latin title means “brethren”), creating more than a half dozen versions since 1977. All have in common a feeling of timelessness created by a slow tempo and the slow mathematical rotation of ideas over a sustained open fifth, which itself evokes an antiquity of mysticism in an age of belief. The sonority and suggestion of chant seems to explain the title’s reference to medieval monks, whose lives were surrounded and shaped, in part, by the continuous singing of liturgical melodies.
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was an Afro-French composer, violinist, conductor and fencer. Boulogne was born in the French region of Guadalupe to wealthy planter, George Boulogne de Saint-Georges and African mother, Anne dite Nanon. It was in France where he was enrolled in a boarding school and received fencing lessons as a young child. Boulogne’s fencing abilities gave him the title Chevalier de Saint-Georges, named after his father. He was active in the French Revolution and even was an officer of the first all-black European army, Legion St.-Georges.
Not much is known about Boulogne’s musical training, but the composer was a virtuoso violinist and played in Francois-Joseph Gossec’s orchestra, Le Concert des Amateurs, later serving as its concertmaster and conductor. In 1772, Boulogne debuted as a soloist performing two of his own violin concertos with the orchestra. His compositions include multiple string quartets, violin concertos, piano and violin sonatas, symphonies and operas. Violin Concerto No. 9 in G major, featured on tonight’s program, was published by renowned French publisher and composer Antoine Bailleux, who also published works by Gossec and Boccherini.