Studio 209: Musique des Femmes, Bonis et Viardot

This program brings together music by two French women of the late 19th century, one a well-known opera singer of Spanish descent, the other a classmate of Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierne at the Paris Conservatory. Studio 209 is the partnership of Rachel Huang, violin, and Stephan Moss, piano.

Sunday, February 26, 2023, 7 p.m.
Drinkward Recital Hall

Two images of oil paintings in one image file. On the left is a head portrait of a female figure in a 3/4 view. On the right is a half-body portrait of a female figure in a 3/4 view.Portraits of Mélanie Hélène “Mel” Bonis (left; Charles-Auguste Corbineau, 1885; public domain image provided by Studio 209) and Pauline Viardot (right; Ary Scheffer, 1840; public domain image; CC0 Paris Musées / Musée de la Vie Romantique) 


Suite pour violon et piano, op. 114 (1926)
Jour de fête
Sous la ramée
Cortège champêtre
Mel Bonis
(1858 – 1937)

from 6 Morceaux pour Piano et Violon (1867)
Pauline Viardot-Garcia

Sonatine pour piano et violon (1874)

Barcarolle, op. 71 (1906)

Sonate pour violon et piano (1923)
Lento (Thème Populaire grec recueilli par Bourgeault-Ducoudray)
Final (Con moto)

Our program today brings together two composers whose extraordinary gifts make their disappearance from the awareness of most music lovers even more surprising and regrettable. Mel Bonis, shackled by convention, composed over 300 works in wide range of forms but remained in obscurity, her works rarely performed during her lifetime. Pauline Viardot was renowned as a singer of opera and a teacher during her lifetime. Today she is remembered for a number of attractive songs and a vocal method that still sees some use.

Mélanie Hélène Bonis (1858-1937), who composed under the name Mel-Bonis, grew up in a middle-class family with limited interest in music. After learning piano, at first on her own and later with a teacher, she was introduced to Cesar Franck, who made it possible for her to attend the Paris Conservatory, where her classmates included Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné. After three years of distinguished study, her romance with a fellow student led her parents to withdraw her from the conservatory rather than face the shame of her marriage to a singer. An arranged marriage to the industrialist Albert Domange followed and she initially devoted her efforts to home and children. After a few years she began to compose avidly, with many of her finest works appearing in the years between 1900 and the onset of the great war in 1914. Most of her chamber music appeared during this time.

Bonis’ Suite for violin and piano is a late work and shows many characteristics of her style: harmonic richness and color that combine late romanticism with impressionism, a highly original formal sense, and extensive use of syncopation. The suite evokes a day in the country. The first movement, Jour de fête (Holiday), bustles with energy and activity. The second, Sous la ramée (Under the leafy boughs), is filled with color and atmosphere, at times mysterious, at times quite active. Cortège champêtre (Rustic Procession), begins with a jaunty march and ends with the distant sound of church bells.

In contrast, Michelle Ferdinande Pauline Viardot, née García, (1821-1910) spent much of her life in the public eye. Born in Paris into a family of singers originally from Spain, she studied singing with her mother and father, piano with Franz Liszt and composition with Anton Reicha. She took to the operatic stage at the age of 18 and was renowned for the beauty, range, and expressive versatility of her voice. Particularly known for various roles in the operas of Rossini, her tours took her as far as St. Petersburg and London. She played duets with Clara Schumann, and Robert Schumann dedicated his op. 24 collection songs to her. She was a friend of George Sand and Frederic Chopin. She sang in the premiere of Brahm’s Alto Rhapsody. Though today she is mostly remembered as the composer of a number of very attractive songs, she also wrote operettas, pieces for piano and for violin and piano in a range of national styles.

Mazourke is from a collection of six short character pieces by Viardot dedicated to her eleven-year-old son, Paul, who grew up to be a violinist, conductor, and composer.  It is worth noting that Viardot adapted 12 of Chopin’s mazurkas to texts by Louis Pomey, a minor French poet. Chopin was quite enthusiastic about these adaptations.

Viardot’s Sonatine was dedicated to Hubert Leonard, a champion of the works of Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Lalo. He was also Paul Viardot’s teacher and worked with Mendelsohn on his violin concerto. Operatic and lyrical in style, it is perhaps reminiscent of Viardot’s singing. It invites freedom and drama in its interpretation.

The barcarolle is a Venetian gondolier’s song. One of the best of Bonis’ many pieces for piano, it demonstrates her skill as a pianist. It features her typical colorful, adventurous harmony and a sophisticated sense of structure.

Bonis’ sonata dates from the time before 1914 during which much of her chamber music was written, though it wasn’t published until 1923. Like her mentor’s, Cesar Franck’s, violin sonata, it is in four movements arranged in a moderate, fast, slow, fast pattern. After the impassioned first movement, elements of exoticism appear. Exoticism was a trend in French culture, taking inspiration from foreign lands and cultures, in this case the use of a Greek melody in the third movement and hints of Greek scales in the second and fourth. It should be noted that exotic in France  tended to refer to anything not from France, Germany, Italy, or England. Like the sonata by Franck, this work features cyclical in nature with certain musical ideas appearing in multiple movements.

Violinist Rachel Vetter Huang has performed locally and abroad with several chamber ensembles: the Mei Duo, the Gold Coast Trio, Trio Lykos and Quartet Euphoria, as well as Duo209 and, with Steve Moss, Studio 209. Holding degrees from Harvard University and SUNY StonyBrook, Huang has been a recipient of grants for performance from both the NEA and the NEH. With her husband, pianist Hao Huang, she has co-authored original research into the performance practice of Billie Holiday. In her 40 years of teaching at various schools and universities, she has the privilege of sharing with her students the legacies of three great teachers, with whom she studied; Ivan Galamian, Dorothy DeLay and Robert Koff, all of them both late and lamented.

Pianist and harpsichordist Stephan Moss was a student of Teala Bellini and Preethi de Silva. He has also studied composition with Barney Childs and is a frequent chamber music collaborator in the Claremont area and accompanist in the violin studio at Scripps College. After receiving a DMA in harpsichord per­formance, he has been active as both an IT specialist and a musician. He has appeared as a soloist with Con Gioia in southern California and the Magic Valley Symphony in Idaho. He has been primarily active as an accompanist and chamber music partner to students and to his colleagues.

Studio 209 is the partnership of Rachel Huang, violin, and Stephan Moss, piano. Huang and Moss have spent many hours together weekly, over many years, supporting  students' explorations of violin/piano literature. Moss also regularly solves Huang's computer problems. It's a great pleasure for them to perform this evening as a duo.

Visit Safely
The concert series is open to the public. All audience members are required to give health attestation before entering the venue and wear a mask at all times regardless of vaccination status. The Covid-19 guidelines will be updated as new information becomes available.

HMC is deeply grateful for the generous support that created The Ken Stevens ’61 Founding Class Concert Series.

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