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The Bach Variations: András Schiff

This concert is now past.
Andras Schiff
Location: Avery Fisher Hall (Directions)
Price Range: $41.00 - $123.00

Concert Duration

2 hours
Wed, Apr, 3, 2013
7:30 PM
Thu, Apr, 4, 2013
7:30 PM
Fri, Apr, 5, 2013
11:00 AM
Sat, Apr, 6, 2013
8:00 PM

To view more concerts like these, go to
The Bach Variations: A Philharmonic Festival

The 2014-15 Season

Program (Click the red play button to listen)


Concerto for Keyboard No. 5 in F Minor

Concerto for Keyboard No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 (ca. 1730s)

It is well known that Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the finest keyboardists of his time. His biographer Johann Nicolaus Forkel provided a detailed description of his technique: "Bach is said to have played with so easy and so small a motion of the fingers that it was hardly perceptible. Only the first joints of the fingers were in motion; the hands retained, even in the most difficult passages, their rounded form; the fingers rose very little from the keys, hardly more than in a trill, and when one was employed the others remained quietly in position. Still less did the other parts of his body take any share in his playing, as happens with many whose hand is not light enough. He rendered all of his fingers, of both hands, equally strong and serviceable so that he was able to execute not only chords and all running passages, but also single and double trills with equal ease and delicacy." Bach composed numerous harpsichord concertos for from one to four soloists, but only 12 have survived; most of them probably had a previous life as concertos for other instruments and likely date from Bach's Anhalt-Cöthen period. The revised keyboard concertos were composed for performances with the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, led by Bach. The Fifth Keyboard Concerto, whose outer movements are thought to be based on a lost oboe concerto, is the shortest of these, clocking in at around 10 minutes; but despite its brevity, it offers the soloist plenty of opportunities for virtuosic display — particularly in the opening Allegro and final Presto. The serene central Largo is worthy of special mention: the soloist spins a melody of timeless beauty over gently plucked strings. (Bach would later use this same movement, scored for oboe, as a sinfonia for his cantata No. 156, "I Stand With One Foot in the Grave.")

Concerto for Keyboard No. 3 in D Major

Concerto for Keyboard No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054 (ca. late 1730s)

Though undervalued by Bach commentators and biographers Albert Schweitzer, Karl Geiringer, and Philipp Spitta, the keyboard concertos are now recognized as important works in the developmental history of the solo concerto. Antonio Vivaldi's L'estro harmonico (Harmonious Inspiration) had launched that genre when his 12 string concertos were published in 1711. This was a whole new type of music that suddenly opened the door to fresh possibilities in European instrumental music. And Bach certainly knew Vivaldi's music — copying out by hand many of the Italian master's compositions, learning from them, and creating similar works of his own. Bach composed a total of 12 concertos for one, two, three, and four harpsichords. One of Bach's seven concertos for one harpsichord (most of them based on reworked concertos for other instruments), the No. 3 in D Major, is modeled on his own Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042, composed before 1730, but transposed down a full step for the keyboard version. In addition to the keyboard (harpsichord), the work is scored for string orchestra and basso continuo. As with other Bach concertos, the BWV 1054 was performed by the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig, which the composer directed. It is likely that Bach himself was the soloist. At our concerts, one of today's most renowned interpreters of Bach is in that position. "There is nothing more reliable in the world of classical music today than pianist András Schiff playing Bach." (The New York Times) "His many recordings have long established him as the foremost proponent of Bach's keyboard music on the modern piano since Glenn Gould." (The New York Observer)

Sinfonia No. 9 in C Major, "Swiss"

Sinfonia No. 9 in C Major, "Swiss" (1823)

The enormously gifted child prodigy Felix Mendelssohn composed 13 string symphonies (sinfonias) — a sort of musical apprenticeship — between the ages of 12 and 14, with the Ninth created when he was 14. At the time he was studying composition and counterpoint with Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832), director of the Berlin Singakademie choir, of which the young composer was a member. The first six of the sinfonias were often in the nature of exercises and practice-runs for orchestral writing, and show Mendelssohn experimenting with various styles — beginning with a more conservative approach, as espoused by his teacher, or reminiscent of Johann Sebastian Bach, C.P.E Bach, and Mozart, whose music Mendelssohn was certainly acquainted with. But later sinfonias show Mendelssohn trying out his wings with his own symphonic forms. Certainly the first movement of the Ninth, which begins with a very slow introduction, recalls the opening of many Haydn symphonies; but the ensuing spirited Allegro is already in a Mendelssohnian vein. In the second movement Andante he is trying his hand at orchestral colors and textures by dividing the strings into multiple parts. As for the last two movements, though their structure is fairly conventional, the young composer finds ways to inject them with new life. It was the third movement Scherzo that gave this sinfonia its nickname, "La Suisse." In its three-part A-B-A structure the central section evokes rustic Alpine yodeling, though heard through a refined filter. The inspiration is said to have come from the Mendelssohn family's 1822 holiday in Switzerland, where young Felix had the opportunity to hear that country's folksongs. The Allegro vivace, as the name implies, is an exciting movement full of fugal passages that toss the music back and forth between the string sections, creating music of incredible charm, energy, and brilliance.

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 (1841, rev. 1851)

1841, the year Robert Schumann composed the Fourth Symphony and one year after his hard-won marriage to his darling Clara, was one of unprecedented creativity. Up to that time, his output had been focused on piano works, lieder (art songs), and smaller-scale compositions. Now he was ready to tackle orchestral works and composed two symphonies that year. No sooner had he completed his First Symphony, nicknamed "Spring," than he set to work on this symphony, presenting the manuscript to Clara on her 22nd birthday in late summer of 1841. He had told her that he would portray her in this work, and indeed, there is a melody that appears throughout that Schumann referred to as the "Clara" theme. She recorded her delight at her husband's creativity in her diary, noting, "Yesterday he began another symphony ... and I can see from the way he acts that it will be another work drawn from the very depths of his soul." After a trial performance that garnered only a lukewarm response, Schumann didn't touch the work for ten years. In the intervening decade Schumann composed his second and third symphonic works before returning to and radically revising his D Minor symphony with thicker orchestral textures. It now also received the designation No. 4, explaining the seemingly erroneous numbering. A compact work that is performed essentially without pause, it begins slowly, broodingly, with material that becomes fuel for the entire work. The Romanze second movement shows off Schumann's great gift for creating gorgeous melodies; the third movement Scherzo is in turn tempestuous and gentle; a sense of anticipation marks the finale, but all ends with a big, exciting payoff as the music dashes ever faster to a frenzied climax. When the revised Fourth Symphony was finally performed in 1853 by the Düsseldorf Municipal Orchestra (whose music director Schumann was), it proved to be a great success.


Andres Schiff by Birgitta Kowsky

András Schiff was born in Budapest, Hungary, and started piano lessons at age five with Elisabeth Vadász. He continued musical studies at the Ferenc Liszt Academy with Professor Pál Kadosa, György Kurtág, and Ferenc Rados, and in London with George Malcolm. He has given recitals and special cycles of the major keyboard works of J.S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and Bartók. Between 2004 and 2009 he performed complete cycles of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in 20 cities throughout the United States and Europe, a project recorded live in Zurich's Tonhalle and released in eight volumes for ECM New Series.

In the 2011–12 season András Schiff serves as one of Carnegie Hall's Perspectives artists; in this capacity he is focusing on Bartók and that composer's legacy in their native Hungary. He also performs in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Princeton, Vancouver, Toronto, Berkeley, Boulder (Colorado), and Napa (California).

In 1999 András Schiff created the chamber orchestra Cappella Andrea Barca. He also works every year with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. From 1989 until 1998 he was artistic director of Musiktage Mondsee, a chamber music festival near Salzburg, and in 1995 he founded the Ittinger Pfingstkonzerte with Heinz Holliger in Kartause Ittingen, Switzerland. In 1998 Mr. Schiff started a similar series, Hommage to Palladio, at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. From 2004 to 2007 he was artist-in-residence of the Kunstfest Weimar, and in the 2007–08 season he was the Berlin Philharmonic's pianist-in-residence.

Mr. Schiff's discography includes recordings for London/Decca (1981–94), Teldec (1994–97), and, since 1997, ECM New Series. He has received several international recording awards, including two Grammy Awards. An all-Schumann disc was released in the fall of 2011.

In 2006 András Schiff and the music publisher G Henle began collaborating on editions of music by Mozart and Bach; to date, both volumes of Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier have been edited in the Henle original text with fingerings by Mr. Schiff.

Mr. Schiff's numerous prizes include Zwickau's Schumann Prize, Italy's Premio della critica musicale Franco Abbiati, Klavier-Festival Ruhr Prize, Wigmore Hall Medal, and Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize. He has been named an honorary member of the Beethoven House in Bonn; honorary professor of the music schools in Budapest, Detmold, and Munich; and special supernumerary fellow of Balliol College (Oxford, U.K.). He is married to violinist Yuuko Shiokawa.

Learn more about András Schiff

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