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Thu, Mar 28


Scarritt Bennett's Wightman Chapel

American Stories

Samuel Barber, Cello Sonata Paul Wiancko, American Haiku Antonio Dvorak, American String Quartet David Bender, Cello Eric Wong, Viola Annaliese Kowert, Violin Sarah Page, Violin Brendan Jacklin, Piano

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American Stories
American Stories

Time & Location

Mar 28, 2024, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Scarritt Bennett's Wightman Chapel, 1110 19th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212, USA

About the event

Sonata for Cello and Piano in C minor, Op. 6 by Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber’s Sonata for Cello and Piano was the final piece he wrote while still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music and is dedicated to his composition teacher Rosario Scalero. Barber had begun his studies in piano, voice, and composition in 1924 (the same year Curtis opened), becoming one of the conservatory’s first, and eventually most famous, graduates. While on a trip throughout Europe, Barber became inspired to write the cello sonata after hiking near Lake Lugano in northern Italy to visit the family of a fellow student, the composer Gian-Carlo Menotti. He wrote the first movement and sketched out sections of the other two movements on the trip, and completed the work on his return to Philadelphia.

The cello part itself was heavily influenced by a friend of Barber’s, the cellist Orlando Cole. Cole helped Barber rewrite the first movement and offered suggestions for what could work well for the instrument. This pattern of collaborating closely with a musician in the editing process of a composition became commonplace throughout Barber’s career—the cellist Raya Garbousova worked on Barber’s cello concerto, and the pianist John Browning for his piano concerto.

The cello sonata, along with the tone poem Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7 (also inspired by the trip to Lake Lugano), won the coveted Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome in 1937. Despite the award, Barber’s works were never embraced by the avant-garde school of composition taking hold in the U.S.A. at the time. The cello sonata shows heavy influence of Johannes Brahms’s two cello sonatas, which Barber knew well, and combines a thick, Romantic musical treatment with more angular and modern themes. It is this combination of European musical tradition and American modernism that creates the unique sound world of Barber, heard throughout each movement of this work.

American Haiku by Paul Wiancko

The haiku is a highly structured short form of  Japanese poetry, traditionally consisting of seventeen on (syllables) and references to nature. The compact and culturally specific meanings of many haikus mean that translation from Japanese is often highly difficult. The Japanese-American composer Paul Wiancko’s father was a filmmaker who became enthralled with the translation of haiku, where one character could embody multiple meanings, and it was through this project that Wiancko’s parents first met.

The intersection of his Japanese and American heritage became increasingly important in Wiancko’s music, and nowhere is that clearer than in the viola and cello duo American Haiku. Written for and premiered by AYANE & PAUL, a duo consisting of Wiancko on cello and Ayana Kozasa on viola in 2014, the piece combines “Appalachian fiddling, percussive patterns and Japanese folk-inspired melodies” (Wiancko), drawing together influences from the natural worlds of America and Japan. Wiancko himself notes that the improvisatory nature of American Haiku is also influenced by his collaborations with the jazz pianist Chick Corea.

Wiancko became the cellist for the Kronos Quartet in 2023, and regularly works with musicians from across the musical spectrum, including Terry Riley, Arcade Fire, Caroline Shaw, and Yo-Yo Ma.

String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96, “American” by Antonín Dvořák

The Czech composer Antonín Dvořák had become the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City in 1892, a project conceived by Jeannette Myers Thurber to create an American style of classical music. During the summer vacation of 1893, Dvořák traveled to the small Czech immigrant community of Spillville, Iowa with his family. It was during this time that he composed his twelfth string quartet, later to be known as the “American” quartet, as well as his Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World.”

Though the String Quartet No. 12 has arguably become his most popular work in the genre, it was initially criticized for its harmonic simplicity and lack of complex polyphony that had become a hallmark of the European string quartet in the 19th century. In defense of the piece, Dvořák wrote that “when I wrote this quartet in the Czech community of Spillville in 1893, I wanted to write something for once that was very melodious and straightforward, and dear Papa Haydn kept appearing before my eyes, and that is why it all turned out so simply. And it's good that it did."

The nickname “American” comes from the subtitle given to the quartet (“The second composition in America”) and the many musical characteristics similar to those found in both African American and Native American music. Much of the piece uses pentatonic scales, lowered 7th scale degree, syncopation, and rhythmic ostinatos associated with traditional song and drumming in both cultures. One of Dvořák’s students at the Conservatory, the composer Harry T. Burleigh introduced Dvořák to spirituals and other African American music. However, musicologists have failed in identifying any specific songs from African American or Native American music in the string quartet, and others have pointed out that many of those same identifying musical characteristics can also be found in traditional Czech folk music.

There are several specific references with the piece that tie the quartet to Spillville. The third movement of the piece incorporates the bird calls of a scarlet tanager, found throughout Iowa, and the hymn heard in the fourth movement is derived from the Saint Wenceslas church in Spillville. Even if we may never know the exact inspiration behind the work, the string quartet proved influential on many later American composers, such as Horatio Parker and George Whitfield Chadwick, and we can take Dvořák at his word: “I know that I would never have written my new symphony, or the String Quartet in F major, or the quintet here in Spillville, if I had never seen America!”


  • General Admission

    +$0.63 service fee
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  • Student Ticket

    available with valid Student ID

    +$0.38 service fee
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