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The Rondo Show: Ether Game Playlist

This week, the Ether Game Braintrust wanted to hear that sweet refrain again, with a show featuring the Rondo. Listen to nine rondos from "The Rondo Show" below. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Serenade in D, K. 250 'Haffner' IV. Rondo-Allegro The rondo flourished during the Classical period, with particular love given to it by Haydn and Mozart. Both found the form of the rondo (a refrain alternating with contrasting themes or episodes) ideal for interior movements in lighter, multi-movement works such as serenades and sonatas. By this era, the character of the rondo was typically bright and cheerful. Of the hundreds of rondos in Mozart’s output, only four are completely in a minor key. The form of the rondo also matches that of many folk tunes, thus it was often employed by Mozart to bring the sound of the German countryside to his art music. This was also the period where the rondo, at least in name, began to dissapear.  In later works by Beethoven for example, the  rondo appears most often in a modified form developed by Mozart, that theorists call sonata-rondo. You’ll often find it in the finales of symphonies, rather than in the middle movement of a serenade.  

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) Rondo in d, Wq 61/4 (H 290) By the late 18th century, the rondo had spread from France to other parts of Europe and had become so fashionable that many connoisseurs started criticizing its overuse. Bearing little resemblance to the French predecessor, these rondos emphasized tuneful charming melodies with simple harmonic accompaniment. Though many critics bemoaned the popular rondo as having little musical value, it was unanimously agreed that there was an exception for CPE Bach. Used either as the finale of a larger work, or as a standalone piece, Bach’s novel and innovative treatment of the rondo elevated the form beyond merely an expression of popular taste. His compositions show experimentation with the idea of a musical refrain, often at a leisurely pace, with plenty of improvisatory elements and fanciful variations.   

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) Concerto Rondo for Cello and Orchestra Jacques Offenbach’s fame as a composer of light and comical French opera often overshadows his accomplishments as a musician. He took up cello at age nine, and was sent to Paris with his brother Julius to study at the Conservatoire. He was a gifted and virtuosic cellist who toured extensively and performed frequently at Parisian salons, earning the nickname “The Liszt of the Cello.” He eventually obtained a position early in his career playing in the orchestra for the Opera-Comique, which was undoubtedly formative for his development as a composer. His own works for the cello exhibit many of the same qualities that made his vocal music popular, especially his elegant melodies which naturally resemble a vocal line. 

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Rondo Capriccioso in E, Op. 14 When Mendelssohn finished his Rondo Capriccioso in 1830, his regular publishers in Leipzig, Hofmeister, bulked at the fee he asked for the work. Mendelssohn, however, knew his worth, and rather than back down, he took the piece to Vienna where it was published by Mechetti. One year earlier, the twenty year old Mendelssohn had conducted the first major performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion in a century, to massive acclaim. The performance not only elevated the young pianist to super-stardom, it also re-ignited an interest in Bach’s music, and that of other Baroque masters. Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso remains one of his most popular solo piano pieces, particularly among students looking to practice playing in octaves. 

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano The early chamber music of Francis Poulenc, including the trio that we just heard, all exhibit similar features. They are short, each under ten minutes in length, and all of them share the same wry sense of humor.  Poulenc frequently adds in “jazzy” dissonances in the context of 18th-century forms and styles.  Around the time that this trio was performed, Poulenc made the first recordings of his works, embracing the new world of the Gramophone  as the future of distributing music. 

François Couperin (1668-1733) 'Les Silvains' Rondeau, Majestueüsement, sans lenteur; Seconde Partie The exact origins of the rondo are murky, but as we learned earlier, the term originates in France. “Rondeau” with an “eau” on the end first appeared in medieval song, but this term is unrelated to “les rondeaux” written by Lully for his operas and ballets. These 17th century instrumental dances are the foundation of the rondo form that was eventually used by composers across Europe for the next century. Francois Couperin led the generation of composers who used the rondeau after Lully, bringing it to the realm of solo keyboard music.  Couperin’s Rondeaux often contained one to eight couplets, the term used by the French for the contrasting themes of the rondo form. His refrains, the 2nd piece of the rondo form, are unusual in that they often feature abbreviations or variations. This was a good development, as it alleviated the monotony of having too many restatements of the whole refrain.

Meredith Monk (b.1942) Basket Rondo: Basket B Although composer and choreographer Meredith Monk shares some of her avant-garde roots with minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, Monk has stated that she wants to capture the emotion she feels is absent in minimalist works. Her career embraced performance art, a philosophy that shifts the definition of art from a separate, finalized “object” to an “in-the-moment” event with which the performer’s body is deeply intertwined. Her Basket Rondo was developed over several years, based on recorded vocal improvisation sessions she led with the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble. Her reference to baskets draws parallels between vocal polyphony and the collective handiwork of pre-industrial basketmaking, where various strands are woven together into further complexity. 

Sophia Giustina Dussek (1775-1831) Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 34: III. Rondo - Allegro moderato Sophia Dussek, born Sophia Corri, was the daughter of the Italian composer, music publisher and educator Domenico Corri, who was working in London in the 1780’s when Sophia began her music studies. She was taught piano, harp and singing, and became a frequent performer after she made her successful concert debut in 1791, where she was accompanied by Hadyn on the harpsichord. She was especially instrumental in popularizing Mozart’s music in London, and was a featured soloist when his Requiem premiered there in 1801. She composed many sonatas and rondos for harp and keyboard, however one of her most popular sonatas, her C minor harp sonata with its brisk rondo finale, was misattributed to her husband Jan Ladislav Dussek, who was himself a famous composer. This was likely done deliberately to increase sales, as his music was very fashionable at the time.

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) Blue Rondo à la Turk Much like Dave Brubeck’s signature tune “Take Five,” “Blue Rondo à la Turk” has a distinctive, syncopated rhythm. When it was first released, this tune was widely regarded as groundbreaking for its use of unusual rhythmic groupings. Instead of the usual four or three beats per measure, Brubeck used nine beats. The nine beats are played in groups of 2+2+2+3 for three measures, then 3+3+3 for one measure. This cycle repeats throughout the song. Over the years, many people have assumed that “Blue Rondo à la Turk” was inspired by Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” from his Piano Sonata No. 11. Brubeck has stated that this is not the case- he was inspired by Turkish street musicians he heard performing in New York City.

Music Heard On This Episode

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