at the University of San Francisco

The Fromm Institute For Lifelong Learning


Winter 2019
Faculty Presentations



(click here for more info)



    Mon., Jan 21, 2019

    Mon., Feb 18, 2019



    Winter 2019

    Class Begin 01/07/2019

    Class End 02/28/2019

    Make-up Week  3/4 - 07


    Spring 2019

    Class Begin 04/08/2019

    Class End 05/30/2019

    Make-up Week  6/3 - 06


    Classes meet at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday - Thursday.  The Fromm Institute office is open, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and alternating Fridays. Please call if you plan to come by the office on Friday.



    Rothman - "America at the Crossroards"

    Seaborg - "Evolution Today"



    Rothblatt - "The Age of Extremes"




    Foglesong - "The Great Pianist"

    Bailey - "Putting it Together: The Architecture of the American Musical"

    Carcieri - "America Political Thought"

    Minninger - "Write a Way"





Seminar: Benjamin Britten

Professor:  Jonathan Bailey

Chamber Music


Perhaps the most intimate setting for exploring a composer’s works is in the small ensemble.  In our session we will study the String Quartet #3 and a little-known work, Suite for Harp.



“Suite for Harp”

“String Quartet #3”





Reprintable only with permission from the author.


Britten Quartet #3


Benjamin Britten's Third String Quartet written in autumn 1975, is among the ve1y last works he completed.  Decades bad passed since his first two quartets, written in the early 1940s, just before the opera Peter Grimes catapulted him to international fame_ After that event, B1itten was first and foremost a composer of vocal works, especially opera  and large-scale choral  pieces; in  fact, after Grimes nearly  every purely instrumental  composition he wrote was the urging of one performer or another (for example the five cello works w1itten in the 1960s, for which we have Mstislav Rostropovich to thank)


In the case of the Third Quartet, it was the Amadeus Quartet  who approached the composer, being well acquainted with him from his festival in Aldenburgh String quartet writing could not be further from the operatic genre for which Britten is best known; one wonders how he felt as he re-engaged with this tightly=wrapped, economical medium, which he had not used for thirty years. The resulting work is ephemeral, fantastical, delicate, and characterful, a five­ movement piece that the composer briefly considered entitling Divertimento for its many colors and contrasts .


The first movement, "Duets", is in a way the most abstract of the five. As the title suggests, it is an exploration of how two voices can paired.  At the opening we hear not so much a duet as a double helix; the two voices are closely twinned, murmuring, nudging each other· into gentle, dancelike gestures. Later the idea of a duet becomes more adversarial with a shift from the easy, triple rhythms of the opening to a rougher, battering duple rhythm.

This ultimately melts away to a return of the  opening idea, followed yet later by a coda section of great  intimacy,  marked  "very quiet,"  where  the  opening twinned idea is now played between strummed  and  bowed  chords.  The movement evaporates with an ethereal chord which is  intoned a few times between fragments  of  the  opening idea -- a duet of  materials, so to  speak -- with the ethereal chord coming last and softest.


The second movement, "Ostinato", evokes a feeling of helpless mania. Writing  in a kind of C major, Britten uses the Lydian mode, where one of the  scale degrees is raised  a half  step, with a slightly giddy effect.  The idea of  an ostinato, where a musical patten is repeated over and over in the background, here takes the shape of  a rising,  jagged,  quarter-note  figure,  that is  used  to drive the music onward. Disconcertingly, total silences interrupt this forward momentum from time to time. In the middle of the  movement, a more lyrical section intervenes (with the ostinato still chugging quietly behind the scenes), ultimately winding up in a blissed-out B major world. The more robust music from the opening returns for a short time, reaches a furious climax, and then ultimately fizzles; the final bars are a kind of musical shrug.


The third movement features the first violin as its "Solo". The writing here is quite spare, and we feel as if we are in a very high place, With thin air and a stark landscape. The lone violin line, moving trancelike through wide intervals , is accompanied mostly by only one other voice at a time, ascending slowly up an alpine slope. In the middle, this suspended texture gives way abruptly to a sudden outburst of bright, hard birdsong, ringed around with major-key triads; it is as if the composer is contemplating his great contemporary, Olivier Messiaen, across the English Channel, and refracting him through a Britten­ esque prism.


With the fourth movement, a brief "Burlesque", we are rudely shoved back into the world of parodic entertainment, a violent -textured scene of buffoonery.  The main section is full of off-balance, rhythmic jokes, but the atmosphere is rough and almost hostile. This melts quite suddenly to a middle section of stilted delicacy, a music box on the verge of breaking. After a frozen moment, the main section re-erupts, this time larger than life, muscled and euphoric to the end.


The fifth movement is entitled "la Serenissnna",  a reference Venice. The movement's  ties to this city are twofold. First, the opening section of the movement, a disembodied, swaying texture punctuated by free solos for each instrument, quotes liberally from Britten's own last opera, Death in Venice. Secondly, Britten was actually  staying in Venice when he wrote this movement, and the  walking  bassline that underpins  the main passacaglia  section is  based on chiming bells that Britten could hear from bis hotel room. The effect of this  main section is mesmerizing: a slow, stepwise melody, played in syncopation against the patient walking  bass,  evokes  a  state  of  deep  meditation  and sadness.  At the same time, the key of E major seems to bestow a special radiance on this sunken state. Gradually, as the theme passes to each of the  four instruments, the texture diversifies, awakens, and reaches a swirling, arpeggiated climax. As the music subsides into a quieter texture, the first violin introduces a second theme which is distinguished by an upward sweep to a glowing harmonic; this is passed to the inner voices for a time, and finally the old theme reappears one more time. This time around, it seems not to have the strength to complete even one full cycle, coming to rest on a sustained note while gentle plucked notes ascend into the ether; the passacaglia is breaking down. Finally the bassline makes one last attempt, and the music freezes on an unresolved, forte chord, which Britten called "a question". If this movement depicts an old man confronting death, there is beauty and resignation, but also uncertainty: a life does not close neatly like a book in its two hard covers.


Note by Misha Amory