Album Release: Tonya Burton | Reger Three Suites
"I remember being immediately captivated the first time I heard one of Reger’s Suites for Solo Viola performed. The music is enticing, expressive, and dramatic, all the while full of humor and charm. I had been thinking about doing a recording project with the Reger Suites for some time, but it was the pandemic that spurred this project into action. As the pandemic wore on the project and the Suites themselves became even more meaningful to me and my life. I’m very grateful to have had the financial support of the UMD M-Cubator grant as well as the musical guidance from my professor and mentor, Katherine Murdock! It has been my deep pleasure getting to record my own interpretation of these Three Suites with Tonsehen!" - Tonya Burton
Violist Tonya Burton can be found performing in concert venues across the United States, China and Switzerland. She is passionate about bringing music into untraditional spaces and frequently performs at local libraries, schools, galleries, churches and retirement homes. An active chamber musician, Burton is a core member of Kinetic, both performing and programming for the Houston-based ensemble known for showcasing diverse, under-represented and newly composed classical music. She is also a founding member and curator for the Arco Ensemble and the D.C. based Natonya Duo.
Burton is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Musical Arts at the University of Maryland while serving as studio assistant to Katherine Murdock. She received a Master of Music from Rice University, studying with James Dunham, and a Bachelor of Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music under the tutelage of Jeffrey Irvine.
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger, also known as Max Reger, was a prominent German composer at the turn of the twentieth century. In addition to composing, Reger had a reputation as an organist, pianist and conductor. While his legacy rests on his works for keyboard and chamber groups, his lesser known works for solo strings are gems in his collection.
During his lifetime, Reger was held in high esteem for his compositional technique. Even Strauss, Reger’s more famous contemporary, praised his brilliance, writing in a letter: “I do not have your facility and reliable command of compositional technique, and always admire and marvel at your unlimited productivity.” Reger saw himself as part of the musical lineage of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
Reger’s relationship to J.S. Bach went beyond that of an admirer. As Johannes Lorenzen described, Reger had a “mono-maniacal identification” with Bach. Reger even referred to Bach as his “Allfather Bach.” This devotion can be seen in his response to a questionnaire in the 1905 Die Musik periodical, asking: “What is Johann Sebastian Bach to me, and what does he mean to our time?” Reger writes:
“For me, Seb. Bach is the beginning and end of all music. All true progress is based on and rests with him!”
Over the course of his career, Reger edited, arranged or transcribed four hundred and twenty-eight pieces by Bach. It is no surprise that he was familiar with Bach’s works for solo strings. Reger’s Op. 131 for strings can be seen as an homage to Bach.
While Reger’s works for solo strings didn’t comprise a large part of his compositional output, it was a medium that he returned to time after time. His first work for a solo string instrument was his Four Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 42, in 1899. The fact that Reger was composing for solo strings at all was unusual for the time. In the nineteenth century, many composers were drawn to sublime topics and large-scale works. Arguably the last significant work for solo strings had been the solo writing of J.S. Bach.
Reger’s Op. 131 consisted of numerous works: Six Preludes and Fugues for Solo Violin, Op. 131a, Three Violin Duos (Canons and Fugues) in the Ancient Manner, Op. 131b, and Three Suites for Solo Violoncello, Op. 131c. The Three Suites for Solo Viola, Op. 131d round out this group. Just five months before his death, Reger sent the score for the viola suites to Simrock for publishing. Unfortunately, Reger wasn’t alive to see them performed. The premiere performance was given on October 9th, 1917 by Else Mendel-Oberüber in Bechstein Hall in Berlin.
Each of the Viola suites is dedicated to one of Reger’s friends. The first Suite is dedicated to music enthusiast and gynecologist Dr. Heinrich Walter. The Second Suite is dedicated to composer, conductor and virtuoso violinist Professor Richard Sahla. The Third Suite is dedicated to Reger’s Munich friend, the violinist Josef Hösl, who often premiered Reger’s solo violin music and was highly regarded as a chamber musician. Reger intended to write a fourth suite for Karl Doktor, violist of the Busch Quartet. Unfortunately, this Fourth Suite did not come to fruition due to Reger’s premature death at age forty-three of a heart attack.
Reger’s Three Suites for Solo Viola are incredibly unique, as their style looks back to Bach while also reflecting traits of the early twentieth century. Each movement within the Three Suites is composed in a Baroque or Classical form. Within these traditional structures, the music is filled with chromaticism, the music slipping in and out of remote key areas with unlikely chords used in surprising ways.
Reger writes beautifully lyrical melodies within his Viola Suites, although their asymmetrical phrase lengths can be surprising. True to the Romantic fashion, he writes indulgently, with frequent expressive markings. His music, like that of Brahms, often shows metric ambiguity and rhythmic interest.
Each Suite contains a range of emotional qualities. From desire and longing to light-hearted humor, wit and charm, these Suites are a marvelous display of Reger’s characterful writing.”