• Sarah Kwok

Mozart String Trios - August 2

Marc Destrubé

The Vancouver Bach Festival will present a concert of two string trios by Mozart - Adagios and Fugues after J.S. Bach and Divertimento for String Trio in Eb Major - on August 2. On violin will be the always delightful Marc Destrubé, who spoke more about the program and its appeal below, so read on!

So, tell me about the show

This project grew out of several elements, but most of all the wish to play one of the great pieces of chamber music with fine colleagues, coupled with a long-expressed wish of José Verstappen (former head of Early Music Vancouver) to hear it performed in Vancouver on period instruments. It seemed fitting then to present it for EMV’s 50th anniversary. It also grew out of a some performances of Mozart’s string quintets the three of us (cellist Tanya Tomkins, violist Joanna Hood and myself) were involved in some years ago on the EMV series , and the pleasure we had in playing that repertoire together. 

The Adagios and Fugues after J.S. Bach include preludes that were newly composed by Mozart, but the adagios and fugues are transcriptions of Bach's works - how does Mozart relate his preludes to these? And do you play the adagios and fugues as you would a work by Bach or as one by Mozart? 

The question of how to perform this music ’stylistically’ or in an 'historically-informed’ manner is largely answered by the choice of instrument set-up (and in particular the choice of bow) and pitch - in this case A=430hz, slightly lower than modern pitch (A=440) but higher than would have been usual in Bach’s day. The instruments teach us a great deal about what Mozart’s sound-world might have been like, and it seems logical to go with how Mozart might have heard his transcriptions, rather than use the instrumentarium of Bach’s time, given that no-one was interested in ‘historical performance’ in Mozart’s day! Mozart’s preludes don’t pretend to be anything other than Mozart, but his writing is certainly influenced by what he has learned from transcribing these works of Bach.

How did Mozart's compositions change after he spent time with Bach's compositions?

Mozart was of course always honing his craft, and setting the intricate counterpoint of Bach’s fugues (usually in four voices) for three string instruments must have been an exciting challenge for him, and surely had an influence on his later string quartet writing.

The Divertimento for String Trio in Eb Major is a masterful work and although its title suggests a light-hearted nature, it is quite complex in many ways, including its emotional intent and variety of musical forms. How do you approach a work like this, and what about it makes it "one of [Mozart's] noblest works"?

There’s an extraordinary paradox in the Divertimento and it’s something of a mystery how Mozart presents something seemingly light-hearted, not-to-be-listened-to-too-intently, and yet expresses such depths of emotion within that framework, so that one is bound to be deeply drawn in. It is considered one of the most difficult works in the chamber music literature, (surprising for a something ‘diverting’!), and finding the right balance of levity and seriousness is a tall order, while negotiating its many challenges, technical and musical. Perhaps its “nobility” is just that - a refined and elegant, even light-hearted, exterior disguising a profound and sensitive spirit.

In Mozart's time, the musical public was only interested in contemporary compositions, but as times have changed so have musical tastes and early music now enjoys a widespread appeal to many listeners. I'm a fan, and am wondering if you have any thoughts on what is it about early music that draws in modern ears? What first drew you to early music? What initially drew me to performing early music, and continues to do so, was less the repertoire itself than the attitude of the musicians choosing to perform it, with ‘period’ instruments, and researching the historical context and performing traditions of its time. I discovered a level of engagement with the learning process, and interest in the original text, that I hadn’t found in my initial studying years nor in the traditional performing world (other than perhaps in the 'new music’ world). I have maintained my interest in performing music old and new (I narcissistically think of ‘early’ music as anything older than me!), but always with the attitude of wondering what the composer intended with his ink marks on the paper, and how we can make the music speak in a way that is one's best guess of how he or she wanted it to speak. So I would say that what has drawn listeners to ‘early music’ (as a relatively recent performance movement) is the attitude, that spirit of engagement and interest, among the ‘early’ musicians, which can make old music sound quite new and fresh, in much the same way that a century-old building stripped of its mid-century carpets, wall-coverings and facades can take on a new life in its old skin.

Feeling drawn in? Then head to Christ Church Cathedral on August 2 at 1pm to hear Marc perform Mozart with cellist Tanya Tomkins and violist Joanna Hood, it's going to be a fantastic concert!

More information: http://www.earlymusic.bc.ca/events/mozart-string-trios/

Marc Destrubé: http://www.marcdestrube.com/

You can also see Marc performing in Before Bach: 17th-Century Music for Strings & Winds

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