Sundays with the St. Lawrence

with Stephen Prutsman and Daniel Smith


Sunday, May 7, 2023
2:30 PM
Bing Concert Hall


Owen Dalby, violin
Lesley Robertson, viola
Christopher Costanza, cello

Stephen Prutsman, piano
Daniel Smith, bass


LILI BOULANGER (1893-1918) 
D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring morning), for piano trio (1918)
Third movement (....?) from Emociones Caucanas, for piano trio (1926-38)
    Amanecer en la sierra
Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493 (1786)
Piano Quintet in C minor (1903, rev. 1904-5)
     Allegro con fuoco
     Fantasia (quasi variazioni)



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PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.

Program Notes

Born in Paris, August 21, 1893; died in Mézy, France, March 15, 1918
D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring morning), for piano trio (1918)

The Prix de Rome was a rite of passage through which generations of French composers passed.  In it, they were challenged in their knowledge of the science (theory) of music and its art (composition).  Lili Boulanger’s father Ernest (1815-1900) won the prize in 1835, when he was 19.  (He was 77 when Lili was born, which is worth a prize in itself).  Her older sister Nadia stirred the Establishment when she was awarded second prize in 1908.  Lili, on the other hand, positively shook that Establishment and made international news when she followed her father and won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome at 19, becoming the first female competitor to do so.  Lili, however, was sick from the age of two with what is nowadays known as Crohn’s Disease.  When her health permitted study, the family could afford private tutors and, remarkably, she was able to accompany her sister to the Paris Conservatoire from a very early age, studying with Vierne (organ), Vidal (piano accompaniment) and Fauré (composition) among others.  Her health eventually failed her, in 1918, at the age of just 24.  

Boulanger’s compositions from 1909 favored cantatas and choral works, the prescribed works for the Prix de Rome, which she won with the cantata Faust et Hélène.  Her two years at the Villa Medici in Rome were cut short by both the outbreak of war and ill health.  Nevertheless, with a contract from the Italian publisher Ricordi, Boulanger completed several works, including the song cycle Clairières dans le ciel, three large-scale Psalm settings, and she worked on a five-act opera La princesse Maleine.  Her final works included two short, contrasting orchestral pieces D’un soir triste (Of a sad evening) and D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring morning).  Both include chamber music arrangements for piano trio and for duo of violin or flute and piano.  Completed just two months before her death, the brisk, upbeat expression of joy that opens D’un matin de printemps reflects nothing of the composer’s fragile condition.  Even its minor key and backward glances to the sadness of its companion piece whose musical theme it shares, never overwhelm the positive message Boulanger wishes to convey.  The ending is, indeed, exuberant.

Born in Cali, Colombia, November 10, 1902; died in Cali, July 22, 1952
Third movement (....?) from Emociones caucanas, for piano trio (1926-38)

Antonio María Valencia was a Colombian composer, pianist, educator, and promoter of musical culture in his native country.  His early musical training took place in Cali, some 300 miles southwest of Bogotá.  Early success as a pianist led to a scholarship at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, where he continued his piano studies, and composition with Vincent D'Indy.  Academic pursuits took up much of his later life, including founding what became, for a while, the country’s leading conservatory in his hometown of Cali.  As a composer, Valencia’s output included some 80 works, largely piano, chamber and choral compositions, many of which were included in periodical publications in the 1930s.  His music often incorporates Colombian folk melodies and rhythms, and these are suggested in the opening movement of his only piano trio Emociones caucanas (Cauca valley moods).  Here, as well as portraying the movement’s subtitle ‘Sunrise in the mountains,’ the contrapuntal craft taught at the Schola Cantorum is evident in a movement written in Paris in 1926.  The other three movements date from 1938 and include a stylized adaptation of the Colombian national Pasillo dance and a rhythmical portrayal of a Country Fiesta by way of a finale.  Which leaves the third movement, headed by the mysterious ellipsis and question mark (....?).  Here, Valencia portrays not only mystery, but loneliness and anguish, quoting a stanza from a songbook by Spanish composer and poet Juan del Encina (1468 –1529/30): “Through a few doors,/ above a very dark mountain,/ a gentleman was walking/  hurt by sadness…”

Piano Quartet in E-flat, K. 493 (1786)

Living the last decade of his short life in the musically sophisticated city of Vienna, Mozart hoped to succeed as a freelance composer, aiming to balance the demands of the marketplace with his own inward needs as a musician.  To make a living, the public had to purchase his new music.  The public, however, had plenty of composers to choose from and, like the public everywhere, it knew what it liked.  The two piano quartets that Mozart wrote in the mid-1780s show the precarious nature of his chosen life.

They were commissioned as part of a planned set of three by Viennese music publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister, who had his eye on the lucrative amateur music market.  The G minor Piano Quartet, K. 478 was the first to be printed, in 1785, but it had little success among middle- and upper-class Viennese families, with both time and money on their hands.  The following year, Hoffmeister had already engraved the printing plates for the E-flat Piano Quartet to be played today when he felt it necessary to withdraw from the venture.  "Write more popularly, or else I can neither print nor pay for any more of your music," he said to Mozart.  Despite Mozart's assurance that he designed his music to please both learned and musically naive listeners, Hoffmeister sold the engraved parts to another Viennese publisher.  Mozart never composed the third piano quartet.

Mozart wrote his E-flat masterpiece one month after completing The Marriage of Figaro.  In feeling, it is generally optimistic throughout.  The tender slow movement is the centerpiece of the quartet.  It’s a gentle, wistful movement whose mood matches that of the Countess's Porgi amor in Act 2 of Figaro.  Alfred Einstein called the theme of the finale "the purest, most childlike and godlike melody ever sung."  With his two piano quartets, Mozart virtually invented the medium; there are no real precedents.  Writing just a few days before Mozart’s death, November 30, 1791, one critic appreciated what Vienna failed to recognize – stating that the E-flat Quartet was written with “that fire of the imagination and that correctness, which long since won for Herr Mozart the reputation as one of the finest composers in Germany.”

Born in Down Ampney, England, October 12, 1872; died in London, August 26, 1958
Piano Quintet in C minor (1903, rev. 1904-5)

Like Elgar, English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams took time to find his voice as a composer.  There was a long period between the end of his formal studies in Cambridge, then at London’s Royal College of Music and two breakthrough works: the song cycle for tenor, piano and string quartet On Wenlock Edge (1908-9) and the Tallis Fantasia (1910) for double string orchestra.  For Vaughan Williams, it was a time of uncertainty and doubt, years spent searching for a direction that English music might take away from the shadow of German romanticism.  But it was also a period of experimentation and discovery, with a series of large-scale chamber works, including a string quartet and this afternoon’s piano quintet – all of which the composer subsequently withdrew.  The C minor Piano Quintet was completed in 1903, but then extensively revised over the next two years before its première in London’s Aeolian Hall.  The last documented performance took place in 1918, by which time, on returning from the First World War, the English composer had built a growing reputation for independence of thought and for his probing symphonic writing.  He wished to purge his catalog of several earlier transitional works.  Only in 1999, as the 50th anniversary of his death was approaching, did his widow Ursula give permission for a performance of the quintet at a conference titled ‘Vaughan Williams in a New Century,’ followed by its publication.

1903 was the year that Vaughan Williams collected the first of 800 English folksongs that he would quickly absorb into his own distinctive musical language.  There are a few tantalizing glimpses of this in the full-blooded late romantic musical landscape that the Piano Quintet’s three movements inhabit.  The piece is scored for piano with a quartet of violin, viola, cello and double bass – the same infrequently heard combination found in the Schubert Trout Quintet.  The four, fiery falling chords heard at the very beginning are immediately inverted and expanded into a flowing melody for viola.  Violin and then full ensemble develop the idea into a mighty statement over a sustained pedal note low in the double bass.  The four-note motif then evolves into a quiet, wistfully lyrical theme which is prophetic of the mature Vaughan Williams.  Each of these musical ideas is vigorously worked through a restless, forward surging development reminiscent of the idiom of Brahms and other late 19th century composers.  

The modal, hymn-like slow movement melody over which the piano lingers long and lovingly, is prophetic of the mature composer.  It draws from the song Silent Noon which Vaughan Williams composed that same year.  Echoes of the four-note motif from the opening movement color and bring unity to both the slow movement and the Fantasia finale.  This has something of the character of an Elizabethan fantasy for viols, though its structure is essentially that of a theme with five variations.  Although he was to consign the Piano Quintet to oblivion for the best part of a century, Vaughan Williams did not forget the work.  Shortly before his death, 50 years after he first wrote the piece, he again wrote variations on the theme of the Fantasia movement in the finale of his Violin Sonata (1954).

— Program notes copyright © 2023 Keith Horner.  Comments welcomed:


Hailed by The New Yorker “not simply for the quality of their music making, exalted as it is, but for the joy they take in the act of connection,” the acclaimed St. Lawrence continues its fabled partnership with Stanford, remaining a cultural cornerstone of the University, directing the music department’s Chamber Music Program, concertizing at Stanford Live, hosting a popular summer seminar, and running the Emerging String Quartet Program.

Stephen Prutsman has been described as one of the most innovative musicians of his time. Moving easily from classical to jazz to world music styles as a pianist, composer and conductor, Prutsman continues to explore and seek common ground and relationships in the music of all cultures and languages. As a composer, Stephen’s long collaboration with Grammy Award winning Kronos Quartet has resulted in over 40 arrangements and compositions for them. Other leading artists and ensembles who have performed Stephen’s compositions and arrangements include Leon Fleisher, Dawn Upshaw, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, Spoleto USA, and the Silk Road Project. In 2010, his song cycle “Piano Lessons” was premiered by Ms. Upshaw and Emanuel Ax at Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, Disney Hall and the Barbican Centre.  As a pianist or arranger outside of the classical music world he has collaborated with such diverse personalities as Tom Waits, Rokia Traore, Joshua Redman, Jon Anderson of “YES”, Sigur Rós and Asha Bhosle.

Daniel G. Smith was appointed Associate Principal Bass of the San Francisco Symphony in 2017. He previously served as principal bass of the Santa Barbara Symphony, and he was a member of the San Diego Symphony. He has served as guest principal and associate principal bass with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Mainly Mozart Music Festival, as well as guest principal of the Lakes Area Music Festival in Brainerd, MN. Mr. Smith received his Bachelor of Music from Rice University's Shepherd School of Music under the tutelage of Timothy Pitts.

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