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Programme Notes

Unless stated otherwise, these Notes were written by John Kane of Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra. Other orchestras are welcome to copy them; we only ask that an attribution to the author be included if they are to be used in a concert programme.

Programme notes are listed alphabetically by composer.

 

 

Four Scottish Dances

Arnold, Malcolm

 

This suite was written for the 1957 BBC Light Music Festival. The second dance had already seen the light of day in a 1949 film “The Beautiful Country of Ayr.”

The opening dance, with ingeniously simulated bagpipe drone accompaniment, is a Strathspey featuring the characteristic “Scotch snap” rhythm. A somewhat faster reel follows. Towards the end of this dance the bassoon introduces a character who is reeling in good earnest from too generous an intake of Scotch whisky. The third movement is a romantic pentatonic melody, reminiscent of Hebridean folk-song. The proceedings end in the most lively, not to say riotous, manner possible with a Highland Fling.

 

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Overture: Coriolan Opus 62

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)

 

This was written not for Shakespeare’s tragedy, but for a play by Beethoven’s friend, Heinrich von Collin. Coriolan, initially feted as the saviour of Rome, is subsequently banished on account of his arrogant contempt for the Roman citizenry. He joins forces with the enemies of Rome and lays siege to the city. A deputation of Roman matrons, including his mother and wife, with their two children, persuade him to abandon the siege and he commits suicide.

The play was successfully produced in 1802. Beethoven wrote his overture for an 1807 revival. The music does not follow the story, though its turbulent nature suggests the warlike character, and perhaps also the inner conflicts, of the notably equivocal hero. The final bars may portray the breaking down of Coriolan’s will and his ultimate suicide.

 

 

Symphony no.2 in D Opus 36

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)

 

1. Adagio molto - Allegro con brio
2. Larghetto
3. Scherzo - Allegro
4. Allegro molto

It was a percipient critic who wrote: "If you want dramatised autobiography in music, do not look to Beethoven." The tragic first movement of the Fifth Symphony was conceived at a time of relative happiness and (most unusual) financial prosperity. The Second Symphony was written in the summer of 1802 in the village of Heiligenstadt. It was, for the composer, a period of utter misery and despair. He at last was forced to accept that his advancing deafness was incurable and would inevitably get worse. In the celebrated Heiligenstadt Testament addressed to his brothers (but never sent) he poured out his despair - "As the autumn leaves fall and wither, likewise hope has faded for me." Yet none of this is apparent in the symphony, as untroubled and joyous a work as he has ever produced - the very epitome of "even-numbered" Beethoven.

The imposing, freely-modulating slow introduction runs without a pause into the bustling first theme of the Allegro. A feature of this movement is the unusually martial second subject given out sotto voce by the wind and answered in a shout by the whole orchestra. The Larghetto is a lyrical outpouring in which one lovely melodic idea succeeds another in astonishing profusion. In the working-out section a note of drama and stress is sounded but the clouds are cleared away by the reappearance of the gracious first theme. After this profusion the Scherzo is positively laconic, its three-note theme thrown here and there about the orchestra. In the trio section the wind and strings play a game of hide-and-seek before joining forces in a Haydnesque extended cadence. The explosive opening of the finale heralds a movement full of Beethovenian humour and relentless energy.

The symphony was first performed on 5th April 1803.

 

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Symphony no.6 in F Opus 68

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)

 

1. Allegro ma non troppo: “Awakening of happy feelings
on arriving in the countryside”.

2. Andante molto moto: “By the Brook”.

3. Allegro: “Peasants’ merrymaking”.

4. Allegro: “Thunderstorm”.

5. Allegretto: “Shepherd’s Song – feelings of happiness
and gratitude after the storm.”

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was first performed on December 22nd 1808 at an extraordinary concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. The programme consisted of the fifth and sixth symphonies, most of the Mass in C, a concert aria, the fourth piano concerto and the Choral Fantasia. Incredibly, all of these works were receiving their first performances. The occasion was disastrous in every way: the orchestra was incompetent, unrehearsed and mutinous, Beethoven temperamental and absent-minded (he brought the Choral Fantasia to a standstill by putting in a repeat that he had agreed to omit, and loudly abused the clarinets), the night freezing and the hall almost empty. One of Beethoven’s most loyal supporters commented on the four-and-a-half hour marathon: “You can have too much of a good thing.”
The descriptive titles of the symphony’s movements were taken almost verbatim from an earlier work, “Musical Portrait of Nature” (1784) by J.H.Knecht. At the head of the manuscript Beethoven wrote: “More and expression of feeling than tone-painting.”
Nonetheless, the thunderstorm, particularly in its conclusion, (the thunder grumbling off in the distance, a rainbow appearing with the oboe, the sun breaking through with the miraculously simple flute solo) is a fine piece of “tone-painting” by any standards. The composer also confided to a friend that the realistic impressions (labelled in the score) of nightingale, quail and cuckoo at the end of the slow movement were put in as a joke.
The last three movements are played without a break.

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Symphony no. 8 in F, Op 93

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)

 

1. Allegro vivace e con brio
2. Allegretto scherzando
3. Tempo di menuetto
4. Allegro vivace

Beethoven had scarcely completed the mighty Seventh Symphony before he was at work on the Eighth, a work of totally different character. This is the most carefree of Beethoven’s major works. As so often with Beethoven, the mood of the music is unrelated to contemporaneous events in his life; 1812, the year of its composition was marked by deteriorating health, financial straits, a bitter quarrel with his brother, and an unhappy love affair.
Light-hearted the symphony may be, but it is a work of mastery and power. It is as if, having pushed back the limits of symphonic form in work after work, Beethoven takes a relaxed look back at the eighteenth century.
Tradition has it that the second movement was inspired by, or jokingly refers to, the metronome, recently invented by the composer’s friend Maelzel (who also supplied Beethoven with useless ear-trumpets). After the gaiety and wit of this movement Beethoven replaces his usual scherzo with an old-fashioned Minuet, whose gently pastoral trio is a real trio for horns and clarinet.
The symphony was first performed on February 27th 1814.

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Nuits d'Été

Berlioz, Hector (1803-1869)

 

These love-songs to poems by Theophile Gautier were composed in 1840-1841 with piano accompaniment. The orchestral version, executed with supreme skill, followed in 1856.

1. Vilanelle. In Spring we two shall gather flowers and listen to the blackbird. On a mossy bank say, with your sweet voice: Forever! We will wander far and return happily bringing strawberries.
2. Le Spectre de la rose. Open your eyes. I am the spectre of the rose that you wore last night at the ball. O you, the cause of my death, every night my ghost will dance at your bedside. But fear not, I ask no funeral rites; my fate is enviable. For on your breast I have my tomb, and on the alabaster where I repose, a poet wrote with a kiss: “Here lies a rose which all kings might envy.”
3. Sur les Lagunes (Lamento). My love is dead, I will weep forever. Without waiting for me she has returned to heaven. How bitter is my fate! Ah! Without love to put to sea!
4. L’Absence. Return my beloved! Like a flower far from the sun the flower of my life is closed far from your rosy smile. What distance between our hearts, O cruel absence, how many countries, cities and mountains to tire the hoofs of the horses. Return my beloved!
5. Au Cimetiere. Do you know the white tomb in the shadow of a yew? There, sad and alone in the setting sun a pale dove sings its song, an air both charming and doom-laden, like the sigh in heaven of an angel in love. It seems as if and awakened soul underground weeps in unison with the song. On the wings of music a shadow, an angelic form passes and the tender form of a ghost murmurs: you will come back! Oh never again will I go near the tomb at nightfall to hear the dove sing on the branch of the yew.
6. L’Ile inconnue. Tell me young fair one where do you want to go? The sail swells, the wind will blow. The Baltic? The Pacific? Java? Norway? Where do you want to go?
Take me, says the fair one, to the faithful shore, where one loves forever.
That shore my dear is unknown in the land of loves. Where do you want to go? The wind will blow.

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Overture, Le Carnaval Romain

Berlioz, Hector

 


This “ouverture caractéristique” was composed in 1844 as an afterthought to serve as a prelude to the second act of the opera Benvenuto Cellini (first performed in 1838). It is based on two numbers from the opera, the aria “O Teresa vous que j’aime” from the first act, first heard on the cor anglais, and the hectic Saltarello which is danced in the second act. (This dance had, when the opera was produced, been the occasion of a memorable stand-off between Berlioz and the conductor Habeneck who, to the despair of composer and dancers, refused to conduct it fast enough.) At one point the dancers seem to disappear into the distance only to return for a wild and brilliant conclusion.
The overture was first performed in the Salle Herz in Paris on 3rd February 1844, Berlioz himself conducting. (Habeneck was present. “That’s how it should go,” Berlioz did not fail to tell him, no doubt making a friend for life.)

 

 

Symphonie fantastique Opus 14

Berlioz, Hector

1. Rêveries - Passions. Largo – Allegro agitato e appassionato assai
2. Un Bal. Valse – Allegro non troppo.
3. Scène aux champs (In the country). Adagio
4. Marche au Supplice (March to the Scaffold). Allegretto non troppo
5. Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat (Dream at a witches’ Sabbath). Larghetto – Allegro
1830 was a year of revolution and barricades on the streets of Paris. The opening performances of Victor Hugo’s “Hernani” gave rise to near-riots between Romantic supporters and reactionary opponents. In this year the twenty-six year old Berlioz produced his Fantastic Symphony and thereby conceived a new world of dramatic expression and orchestral colour. The origin of the “episode in the life of an artist” was the composer’s apparently hopeless passion for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson whom he had seen playing Ophelia. Berlioz wrote an elaborate “programme” to be distributed before each performance; later he decided that this could be dispensed with in the hope that “the symphony will on its own merits and irrespective of any dramatic aim offer an interest to the musical sense alone”.
A young musician, we are told, has poisoned himself with opium in a fit of lovesick despair. But instead of killing him the drug induces a succession of dreams, the five movements of the symphony. The slow introduction portrays the flux of passions before the artist saw his beloved. At the Allegro we hear, on violins and flute, the theme of the beloved. This – the “idée fixe” Berlioz calls it – is the unifying theme which will figure in all five movements. In the second movement the artist glimpses the beloved again amid the brilliance of a ball. The “Scene in the country” takes place on a summer evening. Two shepherds call to each other on the cor anglais and oboe, the latter off-stage. Idyllic as is the setting, the artist is beset with doubts and the movement ends with a distant rumble of thunder (on no fewer than four tympani). The artist now dreams that he has murdered his beloved and is being led to execution. At the end a wisp of the “idée fixe” is heard on a solo clarinet before the guillotine crashes down. The finale is an orgy of witches, sorcerers and monsters celebrating the artist’s funeral. The “idée fixe” appears raucously on the E flat clarinet; the beloved has joined the celebrations. Bells are heard tolling for the dead and a burlesque parody of the Dies Irae mingles with the witches’ dance.
The Fantastic Symphony was first performed at the Paris Conservatoire Hall on 5th December 1830, with François Habernek conducting.

 

Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra Opus 102

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)

 

1. Allegro 2. Andante 3. Vivace non troppo

The last of Brahms’ four concertos, indeed his last major orchestral work, the Double Concerto was written in the summer of 1887. The soloists he had in mind were his long-term friend and collaborator Joseph Joachim, who eight years earlier had premiered his violin concerto, and Robert Hausmann, the cellist of the Joachim quartet. Hausmann, a distinguished performer and teacher, was involved in the first performances of several late Brahms works, notably the F major cello sonata and the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano. The combination of violin, cello and orchestra was an unusual one, with very little precedent; Brahms himself described it as “a strange flight of fancy.” Its genesis may have owed something to his preoccupation with Baroque music.

After a brief orchestral statement the cello enters and asserts its individuality in a passage marked (somewhat contradictorily) “in the manner of a recitative but always in strict time.” The violin enters and there follows a long unaccompanied duologue in which the characters of the two solo instruments are mad very distinctive, before the orchestra states the main theme in its complete form. Alive to the difficulties of balance with this combination, Brahms scores with a light hand and avoids massive effects.

In the Andante, after a call to attention by the horns and woodwind, the soloists together give out a wonderfully serene and expressive, wide-ranging melody, A second, episodic theme is announced by the woodwind and embroidered by the soloists before the return of the first subject.

The cello leads off the finale with an energetic theme in the Hungarian manner. It is the cello too who announces, in double stops, the strongly contrasted second subject, a solemn theme of Brahmsian nobility. As the movement progresses there is brilliance aplenty for the soloists, but as ever with this composer no display for its own sake. Every note of the passage work is an integral part of the musical architecture.

The double concerto was first played on 18th October 1887 in cologne with Joachim and Hausmann as soloist and the composer conducting.

 

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Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)

 

1. Allegro non troppo. 2. Adagio. 3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace

For three years in the late 1870s Brahms spent the summer months at the lakeside resort of Pörtschach in Lower Austria. Here he conceived his two sunniest symphonic works – the second symphony and the violin concerto, both in the key of D. The concerto was written in the summer of 1878. Brahms sent the solo part to a friend, the virtuoso Joseph Joachim for technical advice. Joachim obliged him with a catalogue of suggested alterations but Brahms adopted none of them apart from some bowing marks and fingerings. (He did some small changes between the first performance and publication, but mostly stuck to his guns.) Long established as cornerstone of the symphonic and solo repertoire, it did not quickly achieve that status. Violinists fought shy of what they perceived as its outrageous difficulties. Joachim alone indefatigably promoted it.
For the first movement Brahms adopts the Classical procedure of a full orchestral tutti before the entry of the soloist. The composer once remarked that the very air of Pörtschach was full of melodies; certainly in no other work does he present such a profusion of lyrical themes. The composition of the cadenza he entrusted to Joachim. This cadenza has generally been played, as it will be in this performance. In its original conception the concerto had two middle movements, but in the course of composition Brahms scrapped these in favour of what he called a “poor adagio”. This opens with a long and eloquent oboe melody which is later delicately and imaginatively elongated and decorated by the soloist. The vigorous finale is very much in the Hungarian manner, no doubt a tribute to the Hungarian-born Joachim.
The concerto was first performed on New Year’s Day 1879 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Joachim as soloist.

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Symphony no. 2 in D Opus 73

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)

  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Adagio non troppo
  3. Allegro grazioso (quasi Andante) – Presto ma non assai
  4. Allegro con spirito

Following the twenty-year gestation of his first symphony, completed at last in 1876, Brahms wrote the second in a bare four months in the summer of 1877. He spent the summer in Portschach, a lakeside resort in southern Austria, described by Brahms as “replete with Austrian cosiness and kind-heartedness”. Later he wrote “So many melodies fly about here that one must be careful not to tread on them”, a conceit that can be applied to the symphony itself. In sharp with the first symphony, with its tragedy, nervous tension and conflict, the second is the most radiant and genial of all Brahms’ major works. “All so merry and tender, as though it were especially written for a newly-wedded couple” was the composer’s own description.

Prodigal as Brahms seems to be with spontaneous lyrical melodies, apparently plucked from the Portschach air, in fact every theme in the first, third and fourth movements is derived in some way from the symphony’s opening statement, shared between cellos, horns and woodwind. The three-note cello motif in particular acts as a kind of motto throughout the symphony. The first movement is not without its darker moments; the first entry of the trombones falls like a momentary shadow on a sunlit landscape. The movement comes to no triumphal conclusion; instead a long and eloquent horn solo leads into a gentle and nostalgic sunset coda.

The slow movement, led off by an extended, ardent tune for the cellos, is the most serious of the four. Its middle section, a gentle theme is rocking rhythm suddenly gives way to a stormy fugato. The greatly varied recapitulation is disturbed by agitated figuration and a new climax. By contrast the scherzo-substitute movement, with its serene oboe theme, is simplicity itself. Lightly scored (trumpets, trombones and drums are silent), it is virtually mono-thematic – the two Presto interruptions are eely variants, at a different speed and different metres, of the oboe tune.

In the finale Brahms recalls something of the happy mood of the first movement, in music of indefatigable rhythmic vitality and cumulative strength. A soaring second subject, announced by the strings and taken up by the rest of the orchestra, reappears transformed, in the final bars of the symphony.

The first performance was given by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Hans Richter on December 30th 1877.

 

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Symphony no. 3 in F Opus 90

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)

 

1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante
3. Poco allegretto
4. Allegro

Brahms’s third symphony was completed in the summer of 1883. As a young man Brahms had adopted as his motto “Frei aber froh” (Free but glad”) and the notes F A (flat) F are featured in various works. Here they are proclaimed at the outset by the wind and brass and thereafter woven into the texture not merely of the epic first movement but also of the later movements. They are not the only unifying element, the second subject of the gentle Andante, a mysterious theme beginning with a repeated note and a triplet appears, at first hesitantly, later triumphantly, in the Finale.

In his four symphonies Brahms only wrote one fast scherzo (in the fourth). The third contains the slowest and most melancholy of these intermezzo-like movements. The finale comes in like a lion in F minor and goes out like a lamb, subsiding into a serene, radiant F major coda dominated by the motto-theme and the second theme of the slow movement. As the shimmering strings recall the main theme of the first movement ends tranquilly and quietly.

The symphony was first performed on December 2nd 1883, Hans Richter conducting.

 

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Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Britten, Benjamin (1913-1976)

 

Soon after the war the Crown Film Unit was commissioned to make a film, to be distributed by the Ministry of Education, which would introduce schoolchildren to the instruments of the orchestra. Britten, who had composed for the Unit before the war, was chosen as composer. The title “The Young Person’s Guide….” was Britten’s. (The ministry wanted “Instruments of the Orchestra.” In later years Britten was infuriated by its pompous appearance on concert programmes as “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell.”) The Guide was furnished with no fewer than two spoken narrations, one by Montague Slater on the film, the other by Eric Crozier for concert performances. The commentary is hardly ever used today.
The work is indeed a set of variations. We hear the theme – the Rondeau from Purcell’s music for Abdelazar – from the full orchestra, then from each section of the orchestra – woodwind, brass, strings, percussion and finally the whole orchestra again. Now follow the variations, each instrument given a variation which illustrates the kind of music with which it is associated. But Britten is not bound by stereotype; in the bassoon variation for example, while the second bassoon is the conventional perky court jester, the first reveals itself as the most eloquent of singing instruments.
For the finale the instruments, led off by the piccolo, enter one by one into a brilliant fugue. At the climax of the fugue Britten has a final trick up his sleeve to bring the Guide to a breathtaking, brilliant conclusion.
The Young Person’s Guide was first performed, in its concert version, in Liverpool by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent on 15th October 1946. The film version, with the same musicians, was first shown on 29th November 1946.

 

Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra Opus 46

Bruch, Max (1838-1920)

 

1. Introduction: Grave – Adagio cantabile
2. Allegro
3. Andante sostenuto
4. Allegro guerriero

This was written during Bruch’s three year stint (1880-1883) as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. He took the opportunity to travel widely in Britain and, always an enthusiast for folk music, took pride in the fact that he had personally collected the folk-songs featured in this work. Each movement incorporates a different folk melody.

The gloomy introduction might suggest a funeral march, or possibly (like the opening of Mendelssohn’s Scotch Symphony) the melancholy poetry of a noble ruin. The main body of the movement is based on the expressive tune “Auld Rob Morris”. The second movement does duty as a scherzo and features bagpipe effects and the song “Hey the Dusty Miller”. There follows a lament – “I’m down for lack o’ Johnnie.” A stormy middle section features a virtuoso harp part. The finale (its tempo indication is a notable example of the composer’s Italian; “guerriero” means “warlike”) presents two themes: “Scots wa hae wi’ Wallace bled” and a contrasting lyrical melody of Bruch’s own. Towards the close “Auld Rob Morris” reappears, to herald a brilliant, emphatic conclusion.

The Scottish Fantasy was dedicated to the Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate.

 

 

 

Violin Concerto no.1 in G minor Opus 26

Bruch, Max (1838-1920)

  1. Vorspiel (Prelude): Allegro moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Finale: Allegro energico

Bruch began to write this concerto at the age of 19, but nine years elapsed before it was completed and performed. At one point Bruch played it over on the piano to Brahms. When he had finished, Brahms – famous for his bearish putdowns – picked up a page of the score and said “Where do you buy your music-paper? First rate!” In its original form the concerto was premiered by Otto von Königelow in April 1866. Bruch then sent it to the great violinist Joachim. Unlike Brahms, Joachim at once recognised the quality of the piece and became its foremost interpreter. In later years he would offer the opinion that of the century’s four great violin concertos, (Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Brahms), the Bruch was the most melodious and radiant.

After the briefest of introductions from the woodwind (a figure which will recur as a motto) the violin makes a suitably arresting entry. As the movement proceeds, the solo in a ruminating, almost improvisatory fashion, explores the virtuoso capabilities of the instrument. At the close, after a brief cadenza, the orchestra bursts in, in the unexpected key of E flat, the key of the slow movement which follows without a break. This is the heart of the concerto, a long-breathed, peaceful yet intense melody which Bruch certainly never surpassed. The soloist’s later passagework is set against the most subtle and imaginative orchestration. The energetic finale in the gypsy manner must have appealed to Joachim’s Hungarian soul. If the main theme in double-stopped thirds seems similar to the Rondo theme of the Brahms concerto, it is worth recalling that Bruch’s concerto preceded that work by a dozen years.

The revised final version was first played by Joachim on January 7th 1868.

 

 

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Cello Concerto

Chapman, Andrew

 

The composer writes “This is my first full scale orchestral work, written in stages over the last four years. It is conventional in form (three movements, bravura part for the soloist and cadenzas). There is a clear jazz influence, reflected in the scoring which includes a vibraphone and jazz drummer in the percussion section. For years I have admired the playing and compositions of the great jazz pianist, Thelonius Monk and some of the angular dissonances in this work must be an influence of Monk.

The piece opens with a bold statement by the solo cello against growling in the lower brass and a rocking figure in the woodwind. This leads to an allegro which has been described as ‘a person rushing around a closed room and bouncing off all four walls’. The frantic mood builds to a climax that collapses to a quieter section led by the violas and lower strings. A lone trumpet picks up a fragmented theme against which the soloist traces a counter-melody accompanied by one double bass pizzicato. After I had completed this section I realized that, unconsciously, the line that I had written for the trumpet was a serial twelve note row (i.e. it incorporates all the twelve semitones in an octave scale). A massive chord on the whole orchestra marks the return of the allegro material, a cadenza for the soloist and a loud climax to the movement which ends on an augmented fourth chord.

Most of the slow movement is dominated by a repeated, gently moving figure on the strings against harp triplet arpeggios. The central section of the movement is a feathery scherzo for cello (followed by upper wind and then violins) accompanied by a virtuoso harp part. The quieter material returns and the movement disappears little by little to an extreme pianissimo.

The jazz influence is most evident in the third movement. It opens with harsh figures on the trumpets and Monk-like chords on the piano. The cello enters with a jagged, angular theme, imitated in the orchestra. The movement is a kind of rondo and the second figure is a jazzy little tune on the vibraphone, accompanied by bass and drums. Against this a third, more lyrical three in a bar theme is introduced by the cello. All three components are thrown around between the different players until the triple time theme in the strings begins to dominate. Against it the solo cello plays the twelve note row from the first movement, the other material makes a brief return to herald a short cadenza for the soloist. With the movement nearly complete there appears a gentle, quiet passage for the strings, harp and the soloist which is based on the serial theme (the twelve note row forms the bass line of the harmony). The intensity builds up as the jazz drummer is instructed to improvise against the rest of the orchestra, the first movement climactic material returns and, after a drum cadenza, a flourish from the soloist brings the movement to an end with a crash.

This concerto is dedicated to the two people who helped me out of the illness that ended my professional career. What they did then released the creativity which was the genesis for this concerto.”

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Three Movements for Orchestra

Chapman, Andrew

 

The composer writes: two factors governed my composition of this piece. The first was the knowledge that it was to be performed in Tewkesbury Abbey. The acoustic of this building is, to say the least, challenging and I had in mind the very long reverberation time in the spacious building. Accordingly there are moments when the music builds to a dense sound which can then (hopefully) echo around the transepts.

The other factor was knowing the people who are to perform this piece. As I wrote it they were there with me in my mind’s eye. That it is why it is dedicated to all of them.
The three movement format is conventional. The first movement opens with a simple motif played on the oboe. The angularity of this almost resembles birdsong and it is taken up by other sections of the orchestra until it is stated loud and stirringly by the horns. This takes us into a quiet but rapid scherzo during which the theme is heard again. Bit by bit the tension builds ending a climax for the full orchestra. A solo cello, viola and violin lead to the repeat of the opening oboe phrase.

The middle movement is marked adagio. It opens with a chorale-type passage for brass and timpani. This is followed by a plaintive theme on the clarinet set against a discordant pattern in the strings. Later violins and cellos pick up this theme and this is developed through the orchestra. The chorale theme returns and heralds an enhanced working of the original clarinet’s theme. The sound builds to another climax and the movement quietens to a pianissimo ending.

The third movement is based on a fast theme, introduced on the strings. Elaborate rhythmical changes keep the music rattling along. Eventually it crashes to a halt into the chorale theme from the second movement and a lento passage takes us to a final repeat of the material from the end of the second movement, introduced by muted horns. The music fades into silence.

 

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Appalachian Spring

Copland, Aaron (1900-1990)

 

Appalachian Spring was written in collaboration with the dancer Martha Graham, who choreographed and produced the ballet as well as dancing the principal role. The first performance took place in the Library of Congress, Washington D.C on October 30th 1944. The action depicts the pioneer celebration of a wedding in the Pennsylvania hills in the early nineteenth century. The original score deployed a tiny chamber ensemble. For the orchestral suite Copland scored for a full, but still modest orchestra.

The sections of the ballet, linked into a continuous whole, are:
1. Very slowly. Introduction of the characters one by one.
2. Fast. A sentiment both exalted and religious.
3. Moderato. Duo of the Bride and her intended.
4. Quite fast. A revivalist and his flock – suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
5. Still faster. Solo dance for the Bride.
6. Very slowly (as at first).
7. Calm and flowing. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer-husband. There are five variations on the Shaker theme Simple gifts. (This tune has become well-known in various versions. In 1944 it was quite unknown).
8. Moderato. Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbours. In the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.

 

 

Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune

Debussy, Claude (1862-1918)

 

In early editions Mallarmé’s poem L’après-midi d’un faune was described as “for reading or for the stage.” Debussy set out to write “Prélude, Interludes et Paraphrase finale pour L’après-midi d’un faune”, clearly intending it as accompaniment to a stage reading. The latter sections were barely sketched out and the whole work was ultimately compressed into the Prelude.

Mallarmé’s “eclogue” is a blurred, waking-dreaming obscure fantasy. The faun, (the demi-god of Greek mythology with human form but goat’s ears and tail, not a fawn) wakes or part-wakes and sees a vision of two nymphs, one chaste, living in illusion, the other experienced and sighing for love. The faun finally sinks again into sleep (though it is uncertain if he has ever been awake).

Debussy’s Prelude does not follow a programme. The composer insisted that “The music is to be regarded only as a very free illustration and in now way as a synthesis of the poem”. Nevertheless the music is clearly fertilised by Mallarmé’s fleeting impressions – the shimmering heat, the languorous calm and the ever-present flute, an echo perhaps of Pan and Syrinx.

“L’après-midi d’un faune” is an early and sublime masterpiece of musical impressionism. In the words of Pierre Boulez: “one is justified in saying that modern music was awakened by “L’après-midi d’un faune”.

The Prélude was first performed on 22 December 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret.

 

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Cello concerto in B minor Opus 104

Dvorak, Antonin (1841-1904)

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio ma non troppo
  3. Finale: Allegro moderato

Dvořák wrote his cello concerto (actually his second; as a young man he had written one in A which was never orchestrated) between November 1894 and February 1895 during his second stay in America. It is one of his last symphonic works. Brahms’ grumble-cum-compliment is well known: “If I’d known it was possible to write a cello concerto like this I’d have written one long ago.” But Dvořák was no pioneer in the field. Apart from Classical works, there already existed concertante cello pieces by Schumann, Raff, Lalo, Rubinstein, Saint Saens and Tchaikovsky. The force of Brahms’ remark was that Dvořák’s concerto was immeasurably superior to its predecessors.

The work was written at the repeated request of Dvořák’s friend, the cellist Hanus Wihan, to whom it is dedicated. Wihan, however, did not give the first performance. The premiere was to take place in London for the Philharmonic Society at a concert conducted by the composer, but no date could be found which was possible for all three, the Society, Dvořák and Wihan. The Society engaged an English cellist, Leo Stern. Dvořák dug in his heels and refused to conduct. The impasse was broken when Wihan generously persuaded the composer to go ahead with the Stern performance.

By 1894 it was unfashionable to open a concerto with an extended orchestral tutti as Dvořák does here. The clarinets lead off with an ominous-sounding theme which works up to a powerful restatement by the full orchestra. A modulatory passage leads to the second subject, a haunting horn solo, exquisitely extended by the clarinet and oboe. In a letter of December 1894 the composer wrote “I become excited every time I play over the horn solo in the first movement.” The soloist enters with a passage marked “quasi improvisando.” Dvořák’s ear for orchestral colour and his experience as an orchestral player (he had been principal viola at the Prague National Theatre for nine years) well equipped him to solve the problem of pitting the cello against the full orchestra.

The Adagio opens with a gentle, nostalgic strain announced by the clarinets, the very soul of romantic Bohemia. The cello weaves a delicate tracery round the woodwind melody to magical effect. A more dramatic middle section is based on an earlier song by Dvořák “Leave me alone.” The finale opens with an energetic march-like theme from the soloist. This movement, which shows remarkable prodigality of material, becomes increasingly lyrical and ends with a long dreamy coda in which the opening of the concerto is wistfully recalled, as in the “Leave me alone” theme.

The concerto was first performed on March 19th 1895. Dvořák retained the dedication to Wihan, who played it many times in later years.

 

 

 

Symphonic Variations Opus 78

Dvorak, Antonin (1841-1904)

 

In 1877 when the Symphonic Variations were written Dvorak was just beginning to achieve recognition beyond his native Bohemia. Nonetheless after their first performance in Prague, in the Autumn of that year, they were not played again until Hans Richter, in 1887, introduced them to an enthusiastic reception in Vienna. Nor were they published until 1888. (The Opus number reflects publication not composition – the contemporaneous Moravian Duets are Opus 32).

Composed between the fifth and sixth symphonies, the Symphonic Variations bear witness to the composer’s maturing musical imagination and his command of the orchestra. The twenty bar theme which, with its bare accompaniment offers a misleadingly austere first impression, had already been used in the aforesaid Moravian Duets. The twenty-eight variations which follow display an inexhaustible store of moods, transformations and ingenious melodic touches. For the most part the short variations run into each other without a break. Variation 17, with the first change of time signature, is marked Scherzo. Variation 19 is a seductive waltz, only distantly related to what has gone before. In Variation 27 the component figures of the opening strain are heard, rhythmically reiterated; in the Finale this strain achieves apotheosis as the subject of a brilliant fugue.

 

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Cello Concerto in E minor

Elgar, Edward (1857-1934)

 

1. Adagio - Moderato
2. Lento – Allegro molto
3. Adagio
4. Allegro ma non troppo

The first theme of this piece was written, early in 1918, in a nursing home where the composer was recovering from a tonsil operation. Elgar worked on the concerto through the last months of the Great War and the immediate post-war period, delivering the score to the publishers on August 8th 1919. The first performance was fixed for October 27th with Elgar to conduct. But the rest of the concert was to be directed by Albert Coates who continued rehearsing Scriabin’s Poème de l’Extase for a whole hour after it had been agreed that Elgar should take over. Some, including members of the orchestra, felt that Elgar should have withdrawn the work, but for the sake of his soloist Felix Salmond who had worked with him throughout the summer, the composer went ahead. The following day, the day of the concert, Coates was equally unhelpful. The performance in the Queen’s Hall was chaotic, and the work was poorly received by public and critics.
Woeful as the performance was there were other reasons for the concerto’s cool reception. It was Elgar’s first major work since 1911, and the audience expected a return to form, the orchestral opulence of his previous works, the triumph of the symphonies, the uninhibited sensuousness of the Violin concerto. What they heard seemed to them elusive and withdrawn, a subdued and melancholy piece. Some called it Elgar’s War Requiem. But it was not a requiem for the dead, rather for a civilisation that had ended with the war. It is an autumnal, nostalgic lament for a world that had passed away. And, of course, it is one of the world’s great concertos, arguably Elgar’s finest orchestral work.
The soloist’s eloquent opening gesture soon subsides into a melancholy lilting tune given out by the violas. This theme dominates the first movement. If orchestral opulence is absent Elgar’s matchless orchestral technique is present in spades. No composer, not even Dvorak, better solved the problem of making a solo cello audible against a full symphony orchestra. The second movement, which follows without a real break, is a scurrying scherzo which is nervous rather than jocose. The soloist has hardly a bar’s rest throughout. The Adagio which follows is perhaps Elgar’s most poignant utterance, a brief, sustained lamentation. The rondo finale seems at first to evoke the old rumbustious Elgar, but the high spirits are short-lived. A theme from the third movement is recalled, then the concerto’s opening recitative, and the concerto ends with a brusque short coda.
Among the cello section at that first chaotic performance was the nineteen-year-old John Barbirolli. Half a century later he would be a member of the work’s most celebrated partnership, in performances that were doubtless immaculately rehearsed.

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Enigma Variations

Elgar, Edward (1857-1934)

 

“To my friends pictured within.” The genesis of this work was a humorous piano improvisation in which Elgar played the one theme in the manner of some dozen friends. From this humorous beginning grew a work of epic proportions which would establish Elgar’s international stature. The brief theme is followed by fourteen variations. The last variation represents Elgar himself. In the first performances this was a much more modest affair, largely a recapitulation of the first variation (Elgar’s wife). However the composer’s friend Jaeger (“Nimrod” of the most celebrated variation) persuaded him that a more brilliant, grandiose conclusion was needed and the present variation headed by the word “Finale” was substituted.
In his autograph score Elgar pencilled the word “Enigma” over the theme. He later wrote “the Enigma I will not explain….through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’ but is not played.” This puzzle has teased generations of musicians and no credible solution has been propounded.
The Variations were first played on June 19th 1899 at the Queen’s Hall, conducted by Hans Richter. The first performance with the revised Finale took place at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival on September 13th 1899, the composer himself conducting.

 

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Serenade for Strings

Elgar, Edward (1857-1934)

 

1. Allegro piacevole
2. Larghetto
3. Allegretto

This, the first undisputed orchestral masterpiece by Elgar, was written in the spring of 1892 when the composer, having failed to find fame and fortune in London, was giving violin lessons in Malvern and Worcester. Novello’s the publisher refused the score (“We find that this class of music is practically unsaleable”). To hear his music Elgar tried it out, possibly performed it, with the Ladies Orchestral Class which he trained in Worcester. This gem of the string repertoire did not receive a complete professional performance until 1899.
A restless staccato figure on the violas opens the Allegro; out of this rise perfectly balanced melodies for the upper strings, including a solo for the leader. At the centre of this movement is a warm major-key tune beginning with an upward leap. The Larghetto, the composer’s first important slow movement, is utterly Elgarian with its wide leaps and its mood of contemplation and yearning. The brief finale begins in the new key of G. Soon material from the first two movements reappears in transmuted form. At the end of a radiant E major coda a descending bell-like figure tolls down through the orchestra before a final ascent to the heavens.

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Sospiri, for strings and harp

Elgar, Edward (1857-1934)

 

Sospiri (sighs) was written just before the outbreak of war in 1914 (at precisely the same moment as the first of Holst's Planets; a greater contrast would be hard indeed to imagine.) It was originally to be called "Soupir d'Amour" as a companion piece to the earlier "Salut d'Amour", but during the course of composition Elgar realised that he was writing something far more intense. In this brief and deeply-felt elegy the two widely-spaced themes, by largely avoiding strong beats, soar freely and rhapsodically over the chordal accompaniment.

Sospiri was first performed on 15th August 1914 in the Queen's Hall in London.

 

 

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Symphony no. 1 in A flat

Elgar, Edward (1857-1934)

 

After the completion of “The Kingdom” in 1906, Elgar produced no new work for more than two years. This unproductive period coincided with, and was possibly caused by, his only spell of academic work, as Professor of Music at Birmingham University. The silence was broken by his First Symphony. This proved to be the first of a number of large-scale instrumental works – the violin concerto, the symphonic study “Falstaff” and the Second Symphony all followed within two years.
The opening, a theme of noble and classical simplicity, seems at first to be merely an introduction; the bulk of the first movement is exuberant, agitated and impulsive, in keys remote from the opening A flat. But the opening theme gradually imposes its mood. It is indeed the motto theme of the whole symphony. It appears in the various movements in fragmentary allusions, as well as more complete statements. There is a further unifying element between the two inner movements. The same notes which, as a stream of perpetual motion semi-quavers, propel the bustling scherzo forward, given different time values, form the tender opening theme of the Adagio. This latter movement is one of Elgar’s most poetic inspirations. The last movement begins with an introduction in
D minor and the key of A flat is only reached three quarters of the way through. The symphony ends with a grandiose version of the motto-theme.
The work was first played in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on December 3rd 1908 by the Hallé Orchestra under Hans Richter. Richter was unequivocal about its merits. “It is the greatest work”, he said, “of the greatest composer alive, in any country.”

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Rhapsody in Blue

Gershwin, George (1898-1937)

 

Early in 1925 Paul Whiteman, the “King of Jazz” announced a concert in the Aeolian Concert Hall, New York, with the grandiose title “An Experiment in Modern Music.” Gershwin was commissioned to write a work which would feature himself as soloist. The schedule was tight and the piece was written in three weeks of unremitting round-the-clock toil. Partly because of the looming deadline and partly on account of Gershwin’s inexperience with instrumentation, the orchestration was entrusted to Whiteman’s chief arranger Ferde Grofé, a skilled and experience musician who was well acquainted with the capabilities of the various players in the band.

In truth the concert was a gigantic publicity stunt by and for Paul Whiteman. By assiduously talking the event up as a crucial moment in American culture and by generously handing out free tickets he ensured that the hall was as full as the Fire Department would allow, and that the audience included such luminaries as Kreisler, Rachmaninoff, Stokowski and Heifetz. But for the most part the programme was neither experimental nor modern; in an attempt to please everybody Whiteman had filled it with arrangements of well-known tunes. People grew restive; some had even begun to leave when for the penultimate item (billed on the programme as “A Rhapsody in Blue”) Gershwin came to the piano. The audience was transfixed by the opening clarinet solo and remained spellbound by the originality of the music and the brilliance of Gershwin’s playing.

The close was the signal for a tumultuous and prolonged ovation and the reviews next day were ecstatic. Gershwin had indeed saved Whiteman’s bacon.

 

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Overture: Ruslan and Lyudmila

Glinka, Mikhail Ivanovich (1804-1857)

 

Glinka’s second opera is based on a poem by Pushkin. The poet had agreed to prepare a dramatic version, but was killed in a duel before he could do so. As a result no fewer than five librettists put together one of opera’s more shambolic librettos. The composer’s friend Konstantin Bakhturin worked out the scenario “in a quarter of an hour while drunk”.
Lyudmila is the daughter of the Grand Duke of Kiev. Ruslan is the favoured one of her three suitors but she is abducted by the evil wizard Chernomor. The Duke promises her hand to her rescuer. After various fantastical adventures and with much magical assistance, Ruslan slays the wizard, restores Lyudmila to the court and, amid general rejoicing, awakes her from the trance into which Chernomor had put her.
The overture begins with two themes from the last-act celebrations. The lyrical theme on cellos and violas which follows is from the second act, when Ruslan alone on a battlefield thinks of Lyudmila. In the overture’s coda Chernomor’s motif, a descending whole-tone scale, is heard on the trombones, but the threat is brief and the piece ends in jubilation.
“Ruslan and Lyudmila” was first performed in St Petersburg on December 9th 1842.

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Piano Concerto in A minor

Grieg, Edvard (1843-1907)

 

1. Allegro molto moderato
2. Adagio
3. Allegro moderato molto e marcato

Almost all of Grieg’s essays in large-scale forms belong to his earlier years as a composer; in later years he increasingly saw himself as a miniaturist. The most successful and enduringly popular of the earlier symphonic works is the Piano Concerto. It was written in 1868 during an idyllic summer in which the composer and his wife spent in a cottage in Denmark. The concerto was dedicated to the pianist Edmund Neupert, who played it in Copenhagen in the autumn of 1869, though Grieg himself apparently gave an earlier performance.

The work is strongly influenced by the Norwegian folk music in which the young Grieg was becoming greatly interested. Many of the themes have an actual or suggested drone bass, a characteristic of Norwegian folk dance and the instruments on which it was played. Much of the last movement consists of a succession of themes in the rhythm of the Halling, a lively two-in-a-bar dance. Towards the end an even livelier three-beat Springclans appears. Even the lyrical slow movement sounds like one of Grieg’s elaborations of Norwegian songs.

Grieg continually revised the work and produced three versions. The orchestration of the second version was heavily influenced by suggestions made by Liszt, who greatly admired the piece. In the final 1906 version Grieg largely returned to his own first thoughts. One of the most frequently played of piano concertos it owes its popularity to its great pianistic bravura and its proliferation of attractive and lyrical ideas.

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Wedding Day at Trolthaugen

Grieg, Edvard (1843-1907)

 

Trolthaugen (literally Hill of   the Troll) was the name of Grieg’s house in Bergen, nowadays a museum. No wedding is known to have been celebrated there. The probable inspiration for the piece was the composer’s own silver wedding in 1892 for which the whole town was en fete and a crowd of admirers marched up the hill with a band playing.

Wedding Day, and exuberant celebratory paean with a more reflective middle section, first saw the light of day as a piano piece, one of the composer’s numerous Lyric Pieces. In the closing bars the revellers, or perhaps the happy couple, disappear into the distance.

 

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Suite from the Water Music

George Friderich Handel (1685-1759) arr. Hamilton Harty

 

1. Allegro 2. Andante un poco allegretto
3. Bourreé: Vivace 4. Horn-pipe: Delicato con molto brio
5. Andante espressivo 6. Allegro deciso

“On Wednesday evening at about 8 the King took water at Whitehall in an open Barge. And went up the River towards Chelsea. Many other Barges with Persons of Quality attended, and so great a Number of Boats that the whole River was covered; a City Company’s barge was employed for the Musick, wherein were 50 Instruments of all sorts who play’d all the way from Lambeth the finest Symphonies, compos’d express for this Occasion by Mr. Handel, which his Majesty liked so well that he caused it to be plaid over three times in going and returning.”
Thus reported the Daily Courant of 19th July 1717.
The complete Water Music, not published until after the composer’s death, comprises a large number of movements, some of them recycled in Handel’s later compositions. Hamilton Harty selected six very characteristic numbers to arrange for modern symphony orchestra. Harty (1879-1941) was a hugely influential figure in British music between the wars as composer, pianist and above all conductor. He was the inspirational conductor of the Hallé Orchestra from 1920 to 1933. His Water Music Suite dates from 1922.

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Carol Symphony

Hely-Hutchinson, Victor (1901-1947)

 

Hely-Hutchinson’s principal talents were those of an enlightened academic and administrator; he was successively Professor of Music at Birmingham University and Director of Music at the BBC. He did however achieve a respectable body of compositions, of which the best known were his witty settings of the nonsense verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll and the Ruthless Rhymes of Harry Graham.

The Carol Symphony was composed in 1927. In each of the four movements a well-known carol is given complete symphonic treatment. Listeners will hardly need to be told on which very well-known tunes the first two movements are based, but possibly the Coventry Carol (Lullay, lullay thou little tiny child) and the Wassail Song (Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green….Love and joy come to you) in the third and fourth movements may not be quite so familiar to all.

The four movements are played without a break.

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The Planets, Opus 32

Holst, Gustav (1874-1934)

 

1. Mars, the Bringer of War
2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
6. Uranus, the Magician
7. Neptune, the Mystic

In 1913 while on holiday with Arnold and Clifford Bax, Holst listened to the latter who was researching astrology. He realised that the clearly defined character of each planet could suggest the varying moods of a musical work. As he wrote in a letter: "As a rule I only study things that suggest music to me... Recently the character of each planet suggested lots and I have been studying astrology pretty closely."

Mars was written in 1914. With its juggernaut rhythm and menacing themes it could well serve as background to a documentary on modern warfare. In fact it was written before the outbreak of war, an astonishing prophecy of the relentless mechanical slaughter that nobody suspected was about to be unleashed. The opening horn solo of Venus (the astrological Venus, be it noted, not the mythological one) leads indeed into another world, a world of profound calm. Holst's characteristic rocking figure is in evidence. A delicately scored central section features violin and cello sections. Mercury is a tour-de-force of brilliant orchestration as the winged messenger is buffeted by winds in high altitudes. The full orchestra is deployed again for the rousing festivity of Jupiter. Several years after its composition Holst was commissioned to set Cecil Spring Rice's poem "I vow to thee my country." According to the composer's daughter, Imogen Holst, he received the commission at a time when he was unwell and desperately overworked. She recalled that he gratefully seized on the fact that the central tune of Jupiter would fit the words; that he later regretted this; and that he was always uneasy at performances of The Planets when he sensed backs straightening patriotically. Listeners whose favourite hymn this is will probably find it impossible to disentangle the words from the melody, but in Jupiter it is surely best appreciated as a humdinger of a Big Tune. In Saturn a great cosmic clock seems to tick relentlessly. The pace quickens in apparent panic only to subside again into tranquil acceptance. After a striking gesture of evocation Uranus seems to be a comically inept, though malevolent sorcerer. The final movement, the mysterious Neptune, with its wordless chorus of female voices truly does suggest the depths of infinite space.

Holst despaired of his work ever being performed. But in 1918 he was sent abroad to organise music among the troops and as a going-away present the wealthy Balfour Gardiner hired the Queen's Hall and the entire Queen's Hall orchestra for a private performance under the young Adrian Boult, on Sunday 29th September 1918. It was a momentous occasion. During Jupiter the charwomen in the corridors downed brushes and danced. The most memorable effect was the close of Neptune. To get this right Holst decreed that choristers with squeaky shoes should remove them and walk barestockinged.

The Planets has proved to be Holst's most enduringly popular work.

 

 

 

Mass in E flat, op. 80

Hummel Johann Nepomuk (1778-1837)

 

Hummel was appointed Koncertmeister in succession to Joseph Haydn at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterhàzy at Eisenstadt in Hungary in 1802. In fact, he and one Johann Nepomuk Fuchs shared Haydn’s job. Fuchs was supposed to look after the church music but it seems that Hummel decided that he would continue the tradition of writing a symphonic mass for the name-days of members of the Esterhàzy family. The six late Haydn masses are well-established in the choral repertoire and, another favourite, Beethoven’s Mass in C, was also composed at the request of Prince Esterhazy, in 1807. Hummel’s masses are seldom heard. He wrote five, none of which, as far as we know, was published in a performing edition until 1986. The Penyard Singers performed his Mass in B flat in Ross-on-Wye in April in 2005.

We are using an edition produced in connection with a choral project for Chandos Records in 2003 by the musicologist Stephen Hogger, who was given access to Hummel’s autographed score in Vienna. Tonight’s performance may well be its U.K. concert premiere. It is certainly the first public performance in the world using the Hogger edition.

The mass is scored for a full classical symphony orchestra, four soloists and chorus. It has the usual six movements:

Kyrie – Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy – andante maestoso
Gloria – Glory to God in the highest – allegro, adagio, allegro
Credo – I believe in God, the Father almighty – allegro moderato – adagio – allegro
Sanctus – Holy, holy, holy – grave assai – un poco più andante – allegro
Benedictus – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord – un poco allegretto
Agnus Dei – Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world … Give us peace – adagio – allegro moderato

 

 

 

Violin Concerto in C, Opus 48

Kabalevsky, Dmitrij (1904-1987)

 

1. Allegro molto e con brio
2. Andante cantabile,
3. Vivace giocoso

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Kabalevsky compose three concertos, for violin, cello and piano respectively, dedicated to the youth of the Soviet Union. He was profoundly affected by the 1948 party decree on music and his idiom in these works is markedly more lyrical than in his earlier music. The violin concerto was the first to be completed, its solo part edited by no less than the great violinist David Oistrakh.

The first movement is characterised by headlong, indefatigable impetus, bouncing rhythm, precise melodic shape and transparent orchestration. The main theme suggests youthful ardour and turbulent energy. The more lyrical second subject is based on a Ukrainian folk-song.

In the Andante, over muted orchestral strings, the soloist gives out a pensive, long-breathed melody, to be joined in duet by the flute. Now plaintive, now gracefully elegiac, this movement is the perfect foil of the first.

The finale is a whirlwind dance. The theme of youth is to the fore: the main theme is derived from the composer’s youthful song “Four friendly children” while the second theme echoes the schoolchildren’s chorus from his 1947 opera “The Taras Family.” At the end of the cadenza, as the soloist settles into a sequence of arpeggios, the flute enters with the main rondo theme, a glance back, perhaps, to the Mendelssohn concerto.

At the head of the score are the words “Dedicated to Soviet Youth.”

 

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Concerto for french horn and orchestra (2007)

Kane, Tom

 

The composer writes:

“I first played in the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra - then called the Cheltenham Sunday Players - in the late 1970’s. Also playing were my late mother (principal oboe) and my father, who is in the horn section to this day. It is to these two fine musicians that this piece is dedicated.
The conductor of the orchestra at that time was Mark Foster; he was also my beloved and inspirational horn teacher. He was a giant figure in my musical education and was often in my mind as I wrote this piece. Sadly, as it neared its completion, his death was announced. Those of us who knew him - and there are many - will, I hope, remember him during this first performance.
The concerto was written during the spring and summer of 2007. It is conventionally arranged in three movements, with a lyrical Andante separating a thematic and purposeful Allegro and an energetic Rondo. The piece is approximately 17 minutes long.”

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Sabre Dance

Khachaturian, Aram (1903-1978)

 

This features in the ballet “Gayane” composed in 1942, a Soviet morality if ever there was one. Gayane is a cotton-picker on an Armenian collective farm. She is married to a drunkard, a disgrace to Soviet manhood. This character receives his just desserts and Gayane is united with the hero, the chairman of the collective no less. Against the odds, one cannot but feel, Khachaturian has furnished this saga with scintillatingly colourful music inspired by the dances of his native Armenia. The savagely celebratory Sabre Dance has from the outset taken on a life of its own as a rousing concert item.

 

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Night Before Christmas, The / Overture on French Carols

Lane, Philip

 

Philip Lane was born in Cheltenham in 1950 and read Music at Birmingham University. Since giving up teaching after more than twenty years, he has been active as a record producer, composer of concert and TV music (including the immortal Captain Pugwash) and reconstructor of classic film scores for new digital recordings. The idea for the OVERTURE ON FRENCH CAROLS sprang from a visit to Bayeux in the weeks leading up to Christmas in 2001 when carols were being played through loudspeakers in the streets to accompany seasonal shoppers. There did not seem to be an orchestral work based exclusively on French carols in regular usage, so to mark a return to writing for the orchestra in the concert hall after a period of thirteen years, the overture was premiered by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Brian Kay, to whom it is dedicated, in Huddersfield Town Hall and on Radio 3 in December 2003. It was later commercially recorded, conducted by Gavin Sutherland. The carols employed include: Il est né le divin enfant, Patapan, Noel nouvelet, Quelle est cette odeur agréable and Masters in this hall. Some of these are brought back together in the final section with Quittez, pasteurs, as additional counterpoint in the horns.

The idea for THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, telling of Father Christmas's visit to one particular house on Christmas Eve, came when the composer noticed a picture book edition of the poem, by the American writer, Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) on a friend's children's bookshelf. On further investigation there did not seem to be a concert version for narrator and orchestra established in the repertoire, so he went to work and completed the score in just over a week in November 2005. It was recorded by the BBC Concert Orchestra in September 2006 for Radio 3 and has recently been released on Naxos CD 8.570331, with Stephen Fry narrating. Further live performances are planned at the Royal Albert Hall and by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic this season with Roger McGough and Jenni Murray among the narrators.

Programme note by the Composer © 2006

 

Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

 

Mahler was both composer and operatic conductor. Composition, and particularly that represented in many of his songs, evoked the world of make-believe, spooks and German romanticism. In this it contrasted starkly with the real world of opera where Mahler was destined to live a star-studded but haunted existence. Composing never formed a central part of his artistic life. Mahler was only able to compose whilst on holiday or in short breaks between conducting posts, and throughout his professional life composition sat uneasily with his conducting. In fact, celebrity came from his life as a conductor of opera rather than as composer and by the time of his death his musical output was only just being properly acclaimed. Always seeking perfection, Mahler constantly reworked and revised his music over the years and his song output was often re-explored and developed in his symphonies. It is this interdependence between song and symphony that hints at a powerful central emotional theme in Mahler’s creative life, the essence of which is first apparent in his earlier song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1885) and in the Wunderhorn songs. He first came under the spell of the Wunderhorn poems, traditional German poems collected by the poets Brentano and von Arnim some seventy years previously, whilst still a student in Vienna between 1877-80. Mahler used these folk poems in his early operatic work, Das Klagende Lied, and in the 1885 song cycle. However, a milestone in his creative journey came with his setting, variously for piano and orchestral accompaniment, twenty-four poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn between 1888 and 1901. There is close thematic and spiritual connection between these Wunderhorn songs and the three symphonies (numbers 2 to 4) composed during that fertile period which gave rise to the colloquial grouping of these latter works as the Wunderhorn Symphonies.

Programme note by Alastair Chapman © 2006

 

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Symphony no.2 (Resurrection)

Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

 

1. Allegro maestoso
2. Andante con moto
3. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (In peacefully flowing movement)
4. Urlicht. Sehr feierlich aber schlicht (Primal Light. Very solemn but simple)
5. In tempo des Scherzos – Sehr langsam und gedehnt. (In scherzo tempo – very slow and sustained). (As usual with this composer the many musical instructions are a cocktail of German and Italian terms).

This symphony was some years in the making. The first movement was conceived as a tone-poem Totenfeier (Funeral Rite) and composed in 1888. In 1893 Mahler decided to make the (still unperformed) tone-poem the first movement of a huge symphony. The second, third and fourth movements were quickly composed, but the finale, the answer to the first movement, the triumph of Resurrection over Death, refused to take shape. Then, in March 1894, at a memorial service for Hans von Bulow, Mahler heard a setting of a Resurrection ode by the eighteenth century poet Klopstock. “It struck me like a thunderbolt” he wrote, “and everything stood clear and vivid before my soul.” The symphony was finished in feverish haste and in March 1895 Richard Strauss conducted the first performance of, ironically, the first three movements. Mahler himself conducted the complete symphony on December 13th 1895 with the Berlin Philharmonic.

The huge first movement opens with string tremolandos, the first of many echoes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. There follows an array of interrelated themes which ultimately develop to an overwhelming climax. “It poses the question: to what purpose have you lived, to what purpose have you suffered?”

This long, agitated, highly developed movement is followed by two which the composer described as interludes. The Andante is in the easy-going folk song-like rhythm of the Ländler, or Austrian slow waltz. The third movement is a symphonic setting of Mahler’s humorous song “St Anthony’s Sermon to the Fishes”. The gentle humour grows increasingly grotesque as the movement proceeds.

The fourth movement is a short introduction to the finale. The contralto soloist sings a setting of a poem from the famous Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection:

“O rosebud red, Mankind lies in greatest woe.
I am from God and wish to return to God. He will light my way to eternal blissful life”.

The finale opens with a wild outburst which recalls the grotesque climax of the third movement. There follows a wild and dramatic orchestral depiction of the day of Resurrection. Then distant horns sound a solemn fanfare. (This has already been heard earlier in the movement). A nightingale provides a last echo of earthly life. Unaccompanied, the choir begins the Klopstock Ode:

“Thou shalt rise again my dust, after a short rest.
Immortal life will He who called thee grant”.

After an ethereal transition Mahler sets words of his own which directly answer his question in the first movement:

“Believe my heart, naught shall be lost to thee. Thou hast not lived and suffered in vain”.

In the closing pages the Resurrection hymn begins quietly with the basses and rises to a paean of triumph:

“With wings I have won for myself,
I shall soar in fervent love aloft. I shall die to live again!”

 

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Symphony No. 3 in D minor

Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

  1. Kräftig. Entschieden. (Energetic. Resolute)
  2. Tempo di menuetto. Sehr mässig. (Very moderate)
  3. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast (Without haste)
  4. Sehr Langsam (Very slow) Misterioso.
  5. Lustig im Tempo und keck in Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and bold in expression)
  6. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden. (Slow. Peaceful. With feeling)

“My symphony is going to be something the likes of which the world has not yet heard. All nature is voiced therein, and it tells of deeply mysterious matters…at certain passages I myself am overcome with an uncanny feeling, and can hardly believe that I could have written them”. So wrote Mahler in August 1896. From 1891 to 1897 he held the position of first conductor at the Hamburg Stadttheater. Although desperately overworked – nineteen operas per month to prepare and conduct – he had attained sufficient financial security to spend the summer months in the Austrian Alps, and his composing was concentrated into these holiday periods: he wryly described himself as “der Sommerkomponist”. The overwhelming, even forbidding majesty of the Alpine scenery powerfully influenced the composer’s broodings on beauty, life and immortality. This is the context in which Mahler wrote his third symphony in the summers of 1895 and 1896. (When Bruno Walter, visiting, gazed awe-struck at the scenery Mahler remarked “You needn’t bother to look at that – I’ve composed it all away”).

Mahler originally gave titles to the various movements, though these were discarded after the first performances. The first movement (actually the last to be written down) was called “Pan awakes, summer marches in”. Pan is certainly present in his many guises – the god of music, the god of poetry, the god of fertility, the god of nature. And summer was, at this period of the composer’s life, the season of creativity. The opening march theme by the horns Mahler called a Wechrut” (Reveille). Summer marches in, but not without a struggle, and conflict between winter and summer, minor and major, darkness and light, forms the argument of this mighty movement. “It is frightening” wrote Mahler, “the way this movement caused me to grow beyond everything I have ever composed”.

The remaining, much shorter movements Mahler regarded as the “second part” of the symphony. The second movement – “What the flowers in the meadow tell me” is a gentle Ländler, twice interrupted by a livelier tune. This movement won immediate popularity in early years and – to Mahler’s distress – conductors took to playing it alone.

The third movement – “What the animals in the forest tell me” – opens with a melodic reference to an early song, the story of the cuckoo and the nightingale. Both birds are featured here against the background of forest rustlings. The Trio section is a haunting post-horn solo.

There follows “What the night tells me”, a setting for mezzo-soprano solo of words from Nietzshe’s “Thus spoke Zarathustra” – “O man take heed! What says the midnight deep? I slept. From deep dream I am awakened. The world is deep! Deep is its woe. Joy, deeper than grief! Woe says: Pass on, but joy seeks eternity”.

The fifth movement – “What the morning bells tell me” – sets a poem from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection:-

Three angels were singing a song so bright
It set the heavens ringing with joy and delight.

This is sung by female voices and soloist while a children’s choir imitates the chiming of bells.

The last movement – “What love tells me” is Mahler’s first full-scale symphonic Adagio. It opens with a theme of hushed reverence (“I could equally well call the movement “What God tells me” wrote the composer). Earlier movements are recalled as the music progresses to its resoundingly affirmative conclusion.

The symphony did not achieve a complete performance until June 9th 1902 when it was played at Krefeld, the composer conducting.

 

 

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Symphony no. 4 in G

Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

 

1. Bedächtig. Nicht eilen. (Deliberate. Not hurried)
2. In gemächlicher Bewegung. Ohne Haste. (In leisurely movement. Without haste)
3. Ruhevoll (Peaceful)
4. Sehr behaglich (Very comfortably)

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony was written between 1899 and 1901. It is the third (and last) to feature a setting of words from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the anthology of folk poetry published early in the 19th century. In fact Mahler had already set the poem in question “The Celestial Life” nine years earlier. Of the symphony he wrote: “In the first three movements there reigns the serenity of a higher realm, strange to us…. In the finale (“The Heavenly Life”) the child, which in its previous existence already belonged to this higher realm, tells us what it all means”.
It is Mahler’s least angst-ridden, most approachable symphony and has always been the most popular. The melodically abundant first movement looks back to Schubert, even to Haydn. The opening “chirping” motif serves as an important formal punctuation-mark in both the first and last movements. The second, scherzo, movement is a spectral dance. Nevil Cardus likened it to the shadows cast by candlelight on a nursery wall. Featured is a solo violin tuned up a tone to give it a more penetrating tone. Mahler wrote of this passage “Freund Hain spielt auf” – a reference to the ghostly fiddler leading the way to eternity or damnation. The radiant untroubled flow of the third movement is interrupted by a miniature dance sequence (ländler, minuet and wild gypsy dance) and the coda contains an impassioned outburst.
The finale features the Wunderhorn setting for soprano solo. The folk-poem is couched in the most naïve language and presents a child’s vision of heaven. After every two stanzas the chirping motif from the first movement is heard. 1 and 2 – All heavenly joys are ours, we dance and sing. 2 and 3 – Herod butchers the lamb, St Luke slaughters the oxen, the angels bake our bread. 5 and 6 – Fruit and vegetables grow in the heavenly garden, on fast days St Matthew cooks the fish. 7 and 8 – No earthly music can be compared to ours; Cecilia and the angel choirs lift our spirits to the highest of heavenly joy. For the last two stanzas the music departs from the principal key of G major to end in a warm sunset E major.

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Symphony no. 6

Martinu, Bohuslav

  1. Lento-Andante moderato-Allegro-Lento
  2. Poco Allegro
  3. Lento-Poco vivo (adagio)-Allegro-Allegro Vivace-Lento

Five years elapsed between the completion of Martinu’s Fifth Symphony and his beginning work on the Sixth in 1951. They were troubled years for the composer. The Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia made his longed-for return to his homeland impossible. Serious head injuries sustained in a fall in 1946 necessitated lengthy medical treatment and troubled his nervous system for several years. Only gradually did his composing facility return.

The symphony began life as a work for Charles Munch, conductor at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Munch’s approach to conducting was a strong influence on how the symphony turned out. “I like his spontaneous approach to the music,” Martinu said, “where music takes shape in a free way, flowing and following its movements.” Sensing the work’s dissimilarity to his earlier symphonies he at first called it A New Fantastic Symphony, later changing it to Fantaisies Symphoniques.

The first movement grows out of the murmuring shadows at the opening which has been likened to a swarm of insects. The important chromatic motif, led off by solo cello and taken up by the flutes in unison, which reappears in both of the other movements, seems to be a quotation from Dvorak’s Requiem. The improvisatory feel of this movement, alternating between driving development and lyric repose, may well have been inspired by Munch’s conducting technique.

The Scherzo (not so named in the score) displays a bewildering variety of moods. Sporadically exultant, but punctuated by notes of uncertainty it is a tour de force of orchestral drama. The lack of a slow movement is compensated for by the combination of slow and fast music in the finale. After a deeply felt introduction the tempo – and the tension – increase section by section until the whole symphony is imbued with the nostalgia of the exile looking back to his Czech roots.

The symphony was first performed on January 7th 1955 by Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

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A Midsummer Night's Dream - Incidental Music

Mendelssohn, Felix (1809-1847)

 

1. Scherzo; 2.Intermezzo; 3. Nocturne; 4. Wedding March.

Mendelssohn's music was written for a production of the play inn Berlin in October 1843. In the thirteen numbers the composer made extensive use of material from the overture, written seventeen years earlier, when he was seventeen years old. These four numbers were the entr'actes to be played in the intervals of the five-act play. The Scherzo anticipates the appearance of the fairies. As it ends the curtain rises to the words:

Puck: How now spirit! Whither wander you?
Fairy: Over hill over dale/Through bush through briar
Over park over pale/Through flood through fire
I do wander everywhere/Swifter than the moon's sphere.

At the end of Act 2 Hermia has just woken in the forest to find that her lover Lysander has deserted her. Distraught she rushes into the night to find him. (The curtain line is "Either death of you I'll find immediately.") The Intermezzo depicts the agitation and anguish of her search. At the close the mood changes; we hear the music of the "rude mechanicals" on whose hilarious play-rehearsal the curtain now rises. (Bottom: "Are we all met?") Act 3 ends with the four lovers falling asleep in the forest, and Puck squeezing the magic herb on Lysander's eyelids which will cause him once again to love Hermia on waking. The Wedding March is played before the last act and depicts the wedding ceremonies of Theseus and Hyppolyta. It also serves for the nuptials of Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, not to mention thousands of other weddings world-wide.

 

 

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L'Ascension

Messiaen, Olivier (1908-1992)

 

1. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père. (The majesty of Christ asking for his glory from his Father).
2. Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui desire le ciel. (Serene alleluias of a soul which desires Heaven).
3. Alléluia sur la trompette, alleluia sur la cymbale.
4. Prière du Christ montant vers son Père. (Prayer of Christ ascending towards his Father).

 

These “Meditations Symphoniques” were written in 1932. Since 1930 Messiaen had been principal organist at La Trinité in Paris and all four movements are related to the liturgical office of Ascension Day. The first movement bears the words “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” The strongly modal trumpet melody is closely related to the plainsong setting of these words from St John. This movement is scored for wind instruments only. The second movement is scored is a kind of rondo with the wind instruments again to the fore. They alone play in the first section, enhanced in its two repetitions by increasingly elaborate decoration. The two alternating episodes are pastoral interludes.

The “Alléluia sur la trompette” is a lively dance led off appropriately enough by the trumpets. The finale is dominated by the image of ascension. The most frequently heard motif is an ascending sequence of chords. In the latter part of the movement this motif is repeated in ever higher transpositions, as if mounting into the ether. This movement bears the quotation, also from St John: “Father I have manifested thy name unto men…And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world and I come to thee.”

L’Ascension was first performed in February 1935 in Paris, conducted by Robert Siohan.

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Bassoon Concerto in B flat, K191

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Rondo - Tempo di Menuetto

This concerto, written in June 1774, is apparently the earliest of four Mozart bassoon concertos, but the only one to survive. The concertos were commissioned by a wealthy amateur bassoonist, Freiherr Thaddäus von Dürnitz and Mozart clearly fulfilled this commission with enthusiasm.
The solo part of the concerto is full of leaps, runs and singing passages, demonstrating Mozart’s unerring sense of instrumental character and the influence of opera at this early stage of his life. The combination of lyricism and brilliance is already evident, with the bassoon’s agility as prominent as its vocal qualities. Mozart saw the bassoon as the ‘sea god’ speaking and wrote this concerto in B flat, a key particularly suiting the instrument. He cleverly pitted the darkness of the lower register against oboes and unusually high-pitched alto-horns. The tenor register of the bassoon is featured against the muted strings in the second movement although its lowest notes are used without violating the atmosphere of this aria-like movement. Much of Mozart’s music at this time reflected that of J C Bach and the last movement is a lively minuet-rondo, a style again favoured by J C Bach.

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Clarinet Concerto in A K622

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Rondo: Allegro

This, the last of Mozart’s concertos, indeed the last of his instrumental compositions, comes down to us in a not wholly authentic version. It was written for Mozart’s friend, Anton Stadler, one of the great instrumentalists of the day. In 1791 the clarinet was still, comparatively speaking, in its infancy and was still the subject of experiment. Stadler at that juncture favoured an instrument with a downward extension of several notes and it was for this that Mozart wrote his concerto. The instrument quickly became obsolete, and when the work was published, ten years after the composer’s death, an unknown arranger (not impossibly Stadler himself) adapted the clarinet part for the standard clarinet in A.
Composed as it was in October 1791, only weeks before the composer’s death, it is tempting to find the concerto resigned, or autumnal. In fact its radiance, its golden glow, is entirely characteristic of Mozart’s earlier works in A major. What cannot be gainsaid is its miraculous melodic invention, its perfect, transparent orchestral sound supporting the limpid beauty of the clarinet writing, the elegance which does not mask, but rather throws into relief, the profundity of the emotion.

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Overture: The Magic Flute

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

The Magic Flute was Mozart’s last opera; he died nine weeks after the first night. The opera is a mixture of solemn idealism and sparkling entertainment and this is reflected in the overture. It begins with an imposing, mysterious introduction which gives way to a scampering allegro. This is at one point interrupted by the three solemn fanfares which, in the opera itself, herald the appearance of the priests of Sarastro. Underneath the sparkle, as in the opera, there is always deep seriousness.

 

 

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Piano Concerto no. 21 in C K467

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

1. Allegro maestoso
2. Andante
3. Allegro vivace assai

This concerto was completed on March 9th 1785, hot on the heels of the D minor concerto K466. It is quite likely that Mozart worked on them simultaneously, yet no greater contrast could be imagined than between the dark turbulence of the D minor work and the festive luminosity of the C major concerto. Examples abound of Mozart’s habit of producing strongly contrasted works in pairs, none more notable than this.
Probably through an oversight Mozart’s autograph contains no tempo indication for the first movement. “Allegro maestoso”, though perfectly appropriate, is an addition by later editors. This movement is dominated by the strings and answered by the wind and drums. The soloist enters with a kind of hesitant flourish beckoned and encouraged first by the strings and then by the wind. In this most symphonic of his concerto movements Mozart is prodigally generous with his material – no fewer than eight distinct tunes could be counted. This resplendent movement ends as it began, quietly.
The Andante is unique – a nocturne of wide-ranging eloquent themes and rich harmonies. The strings are muted and the triplet accompaniment is sustained throughout, now on the strings, now on the wind, now by the soloist and in the final bars, hauntingly, by the horns.
Awakening abruptly from this dream the orchestra trips away merrily in the opening tutti of a scintillating rondo.
Mozart first played the concerto in his Lenten subscription concerts of 1785.

 

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Piano Concerto no. 23 in A major K488

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Presto

Completed on 2 March 1786, K488 was, with its neighbours Nos. 22 and 24, intended for the composer’s own performance at a series of subscription concerts in the Lenten season of that year. In fact only one of the concerts took place, an indication of Mozart’s waning popularity with the fickle Viennese public. Whether this concerto was played on that occasion is not recorded.

Much has been written about Mozart’s association of keys with particular moods. If C is his “ceremonial” key and G minor his tragic one, A major might be described as his radiant key. While relatively few major instrumental works are in the key (the 29th symphony, the clarinet quintet and concerto). Mozart habitually uses this tonality for love duets in his operas. The necessary use of high-pitched horns in A made for a bright, transparent orchestral sound which in this concerto is further refined by the substitution of clarinets for the usual oboes and the omission of trumpets and drums.

The concerto opens without dramatic gesture; a warm, limpid theme given out by the strings very simply and answered by the wind. The eloquent second theme also announced by the strings has perhaps a hint of sadness. The soloist enters equally simply with no display of virtuosity – indeed throughout the movement the dialogue of piano and orchestra is more in the manner of chamber music than bravura showpiece.

The slow movement, led off by the unaccompanied soloist is a siciliano of tragic poetry and passion. It is unusual in two respects – Adagio rather than Mozart’s customary easy-going Andante, and the only movement in his entire output in the dark key of F sharp minor.

Back in the sunlight, the buoyant rondo finale displays an astonishing profusion of exhilarating melodies.

 

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Symphony no. 35 in D (Haffner)

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

1. Allegretto con spirito 2. Andante
3. Minuetto 4. Finale: Presto

The Salzburg burgomaster Sigismund Haffner was a friend and patron of the Mozart family. Mozart had written a serenade for the 1772 wedding of Haffner’s daughter. In the summer of 1782 Leopold Mozart wrote to his son, newly settled in Vienna, asking for a work for the celebrations attendant upon the conferring of a title on Haffner’s son. Protesting that he was overworked Mozart none the less wrote the piece at breakneck speed sending the movements off piecemeal. A little later he asked to see the work again and pronounced himself surprised and delighted with it. “It cannot fail to make a good impression here.” He revised the symphony, discarding two movements (a march and a second minuet) and adding to the outer movements flutes and clarinets, standard in Vienna but unavailable in Salzburg.
The festive brilliance of the first movement reflects the celebratory origins of the work. The wide leaps of the opening rhythmic motif dominate the course of the movement. This is followed by an easy-going, flowing summer garden Andante. The trio section of the minuet is in A major and displays the limpid radiance this key invariably draws from Mozart. The bustling, witty finale (“the first movement must be played with great fire, the last as fast as possible” wrote the composer) bears some resemblance to Osmin’s great comic aria in the contemporaneous “The Seraglio”. In a typically Mozartean joke the rondo theme is approached differently for each of its appearances.
The symphony no doubt “made a good impression” in Vienna, as it has continued to do since.

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Symphony no. 38 in D (Prague)

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

 

1. Adagio-Allegro
2. Andante
3. Finale: Presto

By 1786 Mozart’s popularity in Vienna was waning. The Marriage of Figaro had been well, but not ecstatically received. The emperor’s remark: “Too many notes, my dear Mozart” would seem to express a typical Viennese attitude. But in Prague the opera was a roaring and continuing success. Early in 1787 Mozart was invited to that city to see the production, and on arrival was feted like royalty. “Here they talk about nothing but Figaro”, he wrote – “they play nothing, sing nothing, whistle nothing but Figaro. It is a great honour for me.” From this visit would come the commission for his next opera, Don Giovanni.

Between the opera performances, Mozart’s new symphony was performed and enthusiastically received. Its first movement in some ways foreshadows Don Giovanni. At the very opening of the slow introduction we hear the figure used for the heavy footsteps of the Stone Guest in the opera. The transition to the Allegro is almost exactly similar to the same point in the opera’s overture. The Andante is an outpouring of exquisite melodies. The Figaro-mad audience must have been delighted at the opening of the Finale which quotes the hilarious duet between Suzanna and Cherubino which ends with the latter’s leap from the window. This sprightly finale gave the much-vaunted Bohemian woodwind players numerous opportunities to display their skills.

The Prague Symphony was first performed on 19th January 1787.

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Night on a Bare Mountain

Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

arr. Rimsky-Korsakov

 

Mussorgsky’s tone poem was written in the course of a few weeks in 1867. The mountain in question was Mount Triglav near Kiev, the reputed scene of an annual witches’ Sabbath on Saint John’s Night (June 23rd-24th). After the composer’s early death Rimsky-Korsakov reworked the piece, producing what was virtually a new composition on Mussorgsky’s material, though his version approximates to Mussorgsky’s own treatment, with chorus, to be included in the unfinished opera “Zarochinksy Fair”. In particular, Rimsky added a new slow theme at the close (a song from that same opera).
Rimsky-Korsakov summarised the programme of the piece: “Voices of subterranean souls...Appearance of the spirits of darkness then of Satan himself…Glorification of Satan, Sabbath revels…At the height of the orgy a village church bell in the distance disperses the spirits of darkness…Day breaks”.
Night on a Bare Mountain was first performed on October 15th 1886 in St Petersburg, conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov.

 

 

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Symphony no.1 Opus 7

Nielsen, Carl (1865-1931)

 

1. Allegro orgoglosio
2. Andante
3. Allegro comodo
4. finale: Allegro con fuoco

Nielsen made the first sketches for this symphony in 1890 in Berlin, where he was on a study scholarship. At the time the German musical world was riven between the rival followers of Wagner and Brahms, but neither composer had a significant effect on the symphony which took shape over the next two years. The work is utterly individual and not a bar could be by any other composer.

The Allegro orgoglioso (the word means “proudly”) begins with an emphatic chord of C major – a bold ploy in a work which is in G minor. After the storming opening, which has been likened to “someone bursting through a hedge”, the oboe second theme is supported by quintessentially Nielsenesque harmonies. The slow movement illustrates the composer’s maxim “One thing grows from another.” What seems at the outset a simple Scandinavian folksong transforms seamlessly in an uninterrupted melodic panorama. The third movement is in a metre at once gentler and more complex than the standard scherzo. The energetic finale matches t he opening by ending in a triumphant C major.

The first performance was given by the Royal Danish Orchestra on March 14th 1894, the composer playing at his usual desk among the second violins.

 


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Little Red Riding Hood

Patterson, Paul (music); Roald Dahl (text)

 

Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” are well known to the children in our audience (as a recent visit to Leckhampton School clearly demonstrated!) After his death it was decided to set some of these rhymes to music, and in the case of Little Red Riding Hood it was found possible to adapt and extend a script originally written by Dahl for a possible television version, using puppets. It is quite a bit different from the original rhyme, but it displays Dahl’s typically irreverent and mischievous sense of humour. Paul Patterson, one of the best known and most frequently performed British composers of his generation, was deemed to be an ideal choice to compose music to match Dahl’s words.

This concert piece can employ one, two or three narrators. The words are spoken freely against the musical background, without any attempt to match them to the rhythms of the music (which Dahl decided he preferred, after hearing previous musical settings of his poems.)

Patterson’s music is as inventive and mischievous as Dahl’s text. After a magical introduction which sets the scene in an Enchanted Forest, we are led through the story with music that will please and delight listeners of all ages: watch and listen out for the great variety of percussion instruments; listen for the “free notation” of the music for the thunderstorm and later for the death scene; catch if you can a quotation from Wagner; hear a doorbell perhaps designed by a descendant of Beethoven; and at the end you will surely recognise the “cat-walk” music used to portray Little Red Riding Hood’s final, triumphant appearance

 

 

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Three Little Pigs, The

Patterson, Paul (music); Roald Dahl/Donald Sturrock (text)

 

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in!” ………..

Who in their right mind would let a wolf into their house? Well, not these three little pigs, that’s for sure! Straw and twigs are no match for the wolf, but bricks are a different matter!

This musical telling of a well-loved story takes us on a journey that has a few twists and turns. We meet three little pigs, two of which meet their demise fairly close to the start of the work. The third pig, however, is much more resourceful and uses his brains to call in some help to get rid of the wolf… but this pig ends up being surprised as well.

Following on from his extremely successful Little Red Riding Hood, Paul Patterson has written a musical showpiece for orchestra using Dahl’s witty re-working of the classic Three Little Pigs story. Musical pictures of the pigs, the wolf and a musical borrowing from Little Red Riding Hood (our surprise guest) vividly bring this story to life. There is also the opportunity for audience participation so get ready to huff, puff and blow that house in!

Programme note by Lewis Mitchell of Weinberger’s.

 

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Strange Seas (1998)

Phillips, Julian (1969-)

 

Voyaging, story-telling and landscapes. Out of these three extra-musical associations, the first ideas for Strange Seas emerged; from the outset, the work was to evoke both the varied terrain and dynamic energy of an imaginary journey. Thus I found myself not only imagining the voyage-experience in real time, but also sketching out its precise landscape, like a map or mountain range in profile.
The voyage through Strange Seas is built out of a handful of musical motifs, of which the opening pizzicato cello and double bass theme is perhaps the most important. Running as a constant thread through the work, its restlessness suggests the desire and longing for travel and adventure.
Two other musical ideas act more like "destinations" on the journey, both first heard in distorted versions which gradually come into focus as the piece progresses, like land emerging from the horizon. The first is a fanfare motif, heard on distant horns at the outset, which emerges midway as a jagged and angular landscape, dominated by the woodwind and brass. A second "destination" at first whizzes past at twice its speed, as if viewed from a train refusing to stop, but when eventually reached, it emerges as a lush and lyrical landscape, whose melody is sung out by the violins and violas in unison. This moment represents the work's arrival point: the goal for which the music strives, and once reached, the earlier, jagged landscape is recalled from safer shores.

Programme note by the Composer © 1998

 

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Classical Symphony, no 1 in D Opus 25

Prokofiev, Sergej (1891-1953)

 

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Gavotte: Non troppo Allegro
4. Finale: Molto vivace

This cheerful work was created during a singularly unpropitious period of Russian history: the catastrophic later years of the First World War and the two revolutions of 1917. The first sketches and the Gavotte (originally a separate composition) date from 1916. Prokofiev worked on the symphony during the summer of 1917 in a village just outside Petrograd (as it was then called). As an experiment he did not compose at the piano as he had previously done – and as indeed he would continue to do – but created the symphony “in my head during my walks in the country”. “It seemed to me,” wrote the composer, “that had Haydn lived in our day he would have retained his own style while accepting something of the new at the same time. That is the kind of symphony that I wanted to write: a symphony in the classical style.” It is worth noting that this symphony predates the “Neoclassical” movement by several years.
The emphatic opening bars somewhat suggest the premier coup d’archet of Mozart’s Paris symphony. This sparkling movement is indeed in the sonata form of Haydn and Mozart, but its melodic angularities and harmonic twists would have startled those composers. In the Larghetto the violins present a theme full of grace and charm over a stately accompaniment. After a pizzicato contrasting section this theme returns. The Gavotte – the first movement to be completed – is full of characteristic Prokofiev harmonic surprises. A short, energetic Finale rounds off this miniature symphony. The first performance took place in Petrograd on 21st April 1918, the composer conducting.

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Lieutenant Kijé Suite

Prokofiev, Sergej (1891-1953)

 

One of Prokofiev’s first commissions after his return to Russia in the 1930’s was music for a satirical film: the story of a soldier who never was. Listening to a military report, the Tsar mis-hears the words “poruchiki zhe” as Poruchik Kizhe (Lieutenant Kije), and struck by this unusual name, takes a personal interest in the officer. Since the Tsar cannot be told that he has made a mistake a whole life has to be created for Kije until he can be killed off and given a suitable funeral. The film is long since forgotten, but in 1934 Prokofiev worked the best of the music into the Suite, which has proved one of his most popular works.
1. The birth of Kije. A military note is struck at once. The pensive flute and saxophone theme near the end represents Kije himself.
2. Romance. Kije in love.
3. Kije’s wedding. Drink has clearly been taken. Perhaps the wedding party has adjourned to the tavern.
4. Troika. A ride in a three-horse sleigh, accompanied, of course, by sleigh bells.
5. The burial of Kije. The various incidents of his “life” are nostalgically recalled. There are occasional hints that Kije’s creators are not altogether unhappy to see the back of him.

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Winter Bonfire

Prokofiev, Sergej (1891-1953)

 

Commissioned by the Children’s Division of Soviet radio in 1949, this is one of Prokofiev’s last compositions. It follows the trail of a winter outing for a group of Pioneers. The Pioneers were a kind of politicised Scout organisation (the Scout movement having been suppressed) for children aged 9 to 14. Membership was not officially compulsory but was almost universal.
In the original broadcasts a narrator read verses by the poet Marshak.

1. Departure.
2. Snow outside the Window.
3. Waltz on the Ice.
4. The Bonfire.
5. Chorus of the Pioneers. A celebration of the bonfire and countryside by the Moscow children.
6. Winter Evening.
7. March.
8. The Return.

Winter Bonfire was first broadcast on December 19th 1950.

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Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini

Rachmaninov, Sergei (1873-1943)

 

One of Rachmaninov’s last works, (his catalogue ends at Opus 45), this was written at the composer’s villa in the summer of 1934. The theme is from Paganini’s 24th caprice for solo violin, where it is the subject of variations. It had already received variation treatment from Schumann, Liszt and Brahms as it would later from Boris Blacher and Lutoslawski, not to mention John Dankworth and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Rachmaninov’s work is, in fact, a set of 24 variations on the theme (the original title contained the word “variations.”) After nine bars of introduction the first variation actually precedes the theme. Thereafter the variations succeed each other mostly without a break, Variations 7, 10 and 24 featured the mediaeval chant of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) from the Requiem mass, a theme with which Rachmaninov was in several works preoccupied. Of the famous Big Tune variation 18, the composer remarked to Horowitz “I have composed this one for my manager; well maybe it will save the piece.”
The Rhapsody was first performed by the composer with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski on November 7th 1934.

 

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Symphony no.2 in E minor

Rachmaninov, Sergei (1873-1943)

 

1. Largo – Allegro moderato
2. Allegro molto
3. Adagio
4. Allegro vivace

In 1906 Rachmaninov, with his wife and three-year-old daughter took a house in a quiet district of Dresden. In increasing demand as pianist and conductor both of his own and other composers’ music and unsettled by the political uncertainties following the abortive 1905 revolution, he was finding it impossible to pursue a career as a composer in Moscow. In Dresden he hoped to find tranquillity and here, during the next three years, he produced some of his finest works including the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, the First Piano Sonata and the Third Piano Concerto. The Second Symphony was written during 1907, a full decade after the catastrophic premiere of the First (a disaster due, apparently, as much to incompetent performance – by some accounts Glazunov, conducting, was drunk – and anti-Muscovite prejudice as to any youthful shortcomings in the music.)

The symphony opens with a dark-hued introduction. We are at once presented with a “motto” whose three elements, a sombre fragment on cellos and basses, two poignant chords from the woodwind and horns and a plaintive descending figure for the violins, will exert a strong influence throughout the symphony. In the restless main Allegro both of the main themes, the first an urgent, expressive melody for the violins, the second a soaring tune also for the violins, are clearly derived from the motto. The second of these themes dominates the impassioned coda of the movement.

The second movement is the scherzo of the symphony though not given that title. It is a kind of Russian dance of unflagging vitality and brilliant orchestration. The central fugato section demonstrates extraordinary contrapuntal skill.

The Adagio is lyrical and rhapsodic, an extended romantic song. It has two main themes. The first appears as an introductory figure on the strings. The second, which follows at once, is an idyllic melody for solo clarinet. At the end of this movement Rachmaninov quotes the harmonies of his recently composed song “The Heart’s Secret.”

The Finale, in a triumphant E major, begins like some festival, with a whirling dance. This is succeeded by one of the high points of the symphony, the definitive Rachmaninov Big Tune. This glowing, eloquent theme unfolds sumptuously over page after luxurious page of the score. At the close this theme returns, before a swift coda brings the symphony to a resplendent conclusion.

The symphony was first performed on January 26th 1908 in Saint Petersburg. The composer himself conducted. (No chances were taken with drunken conductors.) The Moscow premiere took place a week later. The work was an instant success.

 

 

 

Overture: The Barber of Seville

Rossini, Gioachini (1792-1868)

 

This much-travelled piece first was the light as overture to "Aureliano in Palmira", a tragedy set in ancient Rome. It was later pressed into service for Elizabetta d'Inghilterra, a romantic drama, unrelated to historical fact, in Elizabethan England. (One cannot but feel that Rossini furnished these very serious dramas with a remarkably cheerful overture). Legend has it that an overture was specially written for "The Barber". By one account it was abandoned after the opera's catastrophic first night; by another, it was lost after the first season. It seems likeliest that it was never written at all, particularly as the whole opera had to be composed and staged within three weeks. Whatever the truth of it, Rossini employed the present overture at a very early stage. It follows Rossini's usual pattern: a slow introduction followed by a brilliant Allegro, the latter illustrating at more than one point why Rossini acquired the nickname "Monsieur Crescendo". Not surprisingly it contains no material from "The Barber" but as a curtain raiser to the wit, pace and gaiety of the opera it could not be bettered. The piece was first performed (with "Aureliano") at La Scala, Milan, on December 26th 1813.

 

 

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Overture: Semiramide

Rossini, Gioachini (1792-1868)

 

Like most of Rossini’s serious drama Semiramide, his last Italian opera, has fallen into complete neglect, the overture alone remaining popular. Based on a tragedy by Voltaire, the opera tells the story of Semiramide, Queen of Babylon who has, assisted by Prince Assur, murdered her husband the King.
Assur hopes to marry her and ascend to the throne, but Semiramide is enamoured of the handsome young general Arsace. This latter is, unknown to anybody but the High Priest, in reality the queen’s own son, and is in turn in love with the Royal Princess Azema. (The oddity of these attachments must surely be compounded by the fact that Arsace is played by a contralto). At the climax of the opera Arsace, urged by the ghost of the King and by the High Priest to take vengeance, attempts to kill Assur but Semiramide, interposing herself, receives the fatal blow.
The opening of the overture, played by the horns, is the theme of a great ensemble in the first act, an oath of fealty to the queen. The light-hearted theme which leads off the main allegro is from the introduction to the last scene, where, incredibly enough, it sets the scene of the king’s underground mausoleum.
The overture is one of the composer’s most brilliant and contains two vintage examples of the famous Rossini crescendo.
Semiramide was first performed at La Fenice in Venice on February 3rd 1823.

 

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Overture: The Thieving Magpie

Rossini, Gioachini (1792-1868)

 

We tend to think of Rossini as a king of comedy, but La Gazza Ladra was adapted from a harrowing French melodrama, said to be based on a true-life incident in which an innocent serving-girl was executed for the theft of a silver spoon, which had in fact been taken by a magpie. Of course, for an Italian audience of 1817 a happy ending had to be provided and the beautiful Ninetta’s innocence is proved before, rather than after, her execution. For this Rossini provided one of his most brilliant overtures, one which has more than usual connection with the opera, from its military opening (two of the main characters are soldiers returning from the wars) to its Allegro, which will reappear at the climax of the prison scene in Act 2.
La Gazza Ladra was first performed at La Scala, Milan on 31st May 1817. Stendhal, who was present, reported that the overture was applauded for five minutes on end.

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Symphony no. 9 ("The Great C major")

Schubert, Franz (1797-1828)

 

1. Andante - Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante con moto
3. Scherzo - Allegro Vivace
4. Finale - Allegro Vivace

The nickname was originally coined to distinguish this work from the Symphony No. 6, the "Little C major", but such is the Olympian scale and sublimity of the ninth that the title is apt as an absolute description. It was once listed as no. 7 before the "Unfinished" came to light.

The Symphony was written in 1825/6. In October 1826 Schubert sent it with a letter of dedication to the Society of Friends of Music, a Viennese organisation which promotes living composers. The Friends sent Schubert a hundred florins as a "token of obligation" and in 1827 its orchestra played the work over with the composer present, but no performance was forthcoming because the piece was too difficult. The symphony was never performed in Schubert's lifetime and legend has it that after his death it lay forgotten in a drawer for ten years until discovered by Schumann. In fact the Friends still had their set of parts and the finale was publicly performed in1836.

However Schumann genuinely believed that he had found an unknown masterpiece and encouraged Mendelssohn to conduct it. This he did with the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra on March 21st 1839 when it was tumultuously received.

The Great C major is a joyous, sunlit work. The noble opening horn statement and the ensuing extensive introduction indicate the expansive scale of the piece, and the opening of the Allegro proper - exhilarating rhythmic motifs on the strings answered by chattering wind -- demonstrates the astonishing, unflagging rhythmic vitality which informs the whole symphony. Various motifs from the opening horn theme appear as the movement unfolds, most notably in a famous passage for the trombones and at the very end Schubert summons his forces to deliver the whole tune in triumph. The Andante might be described as march-like, but when was a march as lyrical as the ravishing oboe theme? This movement is a gentle perambulation through an extensive landscape full of expressive tunes and exquisite touches of orchestration, punctuated by moments of high drama. A brilliant scherzo follows, furnished with a radiant Trio section which the great musicologist Donald Tovey called "one of the greatest and most exhilarating melodies in the world." The dramatic gestures, or indeed convulsions, which open the Finale, usher in a scene of whirling energy. The second subject is heralded by four repeated notes on the horns. These play an increasingly significant role as this great symphonic finale unfolds and runs to its brilliant, affirmative conclusion.

 

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Symphony no. 2 in C Opus 61

Schumann, Robert (1810-1856)

 

1. Sostenuto assai – Allegro ma non troppo
2. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
3. Adagio espressivo
4. Allegro molto vivace


Schumann’s first symphony and the first version of his fourth (No. 2 is strictly speaking the third to be composed) were written in 1841, a time of great happiness following the Schumanns’ marriage. The C major was conceived in very different circumstances in 1846, as the composer recovered from the first of the mental breakdowns which would result in his death ten years later. “The resistance of the spirit”, he wrote, “exercised a visible influence here, through which I sought to contend with my bodily state. The first movement is full of this struggle”.
At the outset of the slow introduction the trumpets and horns quietly sound a motto theme which will reappear, while the strings seem to grope in the dark. The pace quickens into the main Allegro, a movement which the composer described as “very capricious and refractory.” In the coda the motto theme rings out emphatically. The scherzo is all feverish bustle for the strings. There are two contrasting Trio sections, and the closing bars are again dominated by the motto theme. A plaintive Adagio in C minor follows. Schumann wrote, “It was only in the last movement that I began to feel myself again.” The shadows indeed vanish before the composer’s determination to find the light. In the lengthy coda the motto is heard at first quietly, later triumphantly.
The symphony was first performed by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Mendelssohn on November 5th 1846.


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Ballet Suite no.1

Shostakovich, Dmitrij (1906-1975)

 

1. Lyric Waltz 2. Dance 3. Romance
4. Polka 5. Waltz-Scherzo 6. Galop

Beginning in 1949, Lev Avtomyan compiled and edited four suites of music from Shostakovich’s earlier ballets. Suite no. 1 is made up almost entirely of music from “The Limpid Stream” of 1935. This, commissioned as a propaganda exercise, was supposed to extol the virtues of collectivisation. However the resultant ballet, in which winsome farm girls dance with giant potatoes and happy collective farmers celebrate their bumper harvest, was deemed altogether too frivolous. Stalin expressed his disapproval and the show was abruptly taken off.
The first number is from Suite no. 1 for Jazz Orchestra, the remainder from “The Limpid Stream” and “The Bolt”.


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Piano Concerto no. 2

Shostakovich, Dmitrij (1906-1975)

 

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Allegro

On completion of his epic Symphony no. 11 (“The Year 1905”) Shostakovich clearly felt the need to produce something in a lighter vein. The second piano concerto is dedicated to his son Maxim who gave the first performance on his nineteenth birthday, 10th May 1957.
A perky bassoon theme introduces an Allegro full of wit and melodic invention. A characteristic of Shostakovich's piano style is the frequent use of octaves, sometimes with the hands wide apart. A two-part-invention-like cadenza appears towards the end. There follows a dreamy, lyrical Andante of which Rachmaninov would have been proud. This leads without pause into a finale of effervescent high spirits. The brilliant dance-like movement is repeatedly interrupted by a raucous theme in seven-in-a-bar rhythm.
Maxim Shostakovich, who would make a career as a conductor, played the concerto to gain entrance qualification to the Moscow Conservatory.


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Symphony no. 9 in E flat Opus 70

Shostakovich, Dmitrij (1906-1975)

 

1. Allegretto
2. Moderato
3. Presto
4. Largo
5. Allegretto

In 1944 Shostakovich announced: “I’m already thinking about the next symphony, the Ninth I would like to write it for chorus and solo singers as well as orchestra. “ He began work on this project and even played it over to his friends – by all accounts powerful, victorious music – before abandoning it. A second attempt was similarly rejected. In the summer of 1945 he set about the symphony in earnest, completing it in a few weeks. (As was his custom he wrote the full score straight off, without sketches or short score to be orchestrated.) When the work appeared it aroused widespread astonishment. Instead of the triumphant hymn to the Soviet victory over Fascism which was generally expected, and of which, indeed, the composer had originally spoken, here was a lightweight, light-hearted, positively merry piece. It was viewed with disfavour in the higher Party circles and the infamous decree of 1948 with its condemnation of “cacophony, chaotic jumble of sounds” and insistence on “the social role of music,” had this and other Shostakovich works squarely in its sights.

At twenty five minutes long this is one of the shortest Shostakovich symphonies – the epic Seventh and Eighth clock in at more than an hour each. It opens without preamble with an engaging, almost Haydn-esque theme which is developed with unfailing invention. The boisterous outbursts of this movement are in sharp contrast with the lyrical repose of the Moderato which follows, with its long drawn-out woodwind melodies and, in mid movement, the cautious, measured steps of the muted strings.

There follows a whirlwind scherzo. At the height of the excitement a riotous trumpet solo is heard. It seems the apogee of the merriment, but a sardonic flavour is discernable. As elsewhere with this composer there is a fine line between high spirits and mockery.

The fourth movement is in fact a brief introduction to the finale. It contains the darkest music of the symphony, solemn, grief-stricken strains for the trombones and tuba and dolorous cadenzas for the bassoon. And it is the bassoon which with an abrupt change of mood leads into the finale with a positively comic-opera tune. In this movement the humour seems to be satirical, but the wit is undeniable. The third, fourth and fifth movements are played without a break.

 

 

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Tahiti Trot ("Tea for Two")

Shostakovich, Dmitrij (1906-1975)

 

This is a version of Vincent Youmans’ “Tea for Two” known in Russia for some reason as “Tahiti Trot”. At a party at the house of the composer Nikolai Malko, Shostakovich, having heard a recording just once, transcribed and orchestrated the piece in forty minutes flat for a bet. It was performed in Moscow on November 25th 1928 together with some other transcriptions and a suite from the composer’s new opera “The Nose”. Shostakovich later incorporated it as an entr’acte in his ballet “The Golden Age.”

 

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Karelia Suite

Sibelius, Jean (1865-1957)

 

Intermezzo – Ballad – March

Karelia used to be a province of southern Finland. (It was ceded to the Soviet Union during the Second World War). In 1893 the students of Helsinki University presented a series of ten tableaux depicting episodes from the history of Karelia, with incidental music by Sibelius. The performance was regarded as an expression of Finnish nationalist sentiment, and Sibelius complained that the music was rendered inaudible by the patriotic applause with which the tableaux were greeted. Later he arranged three of the pieces as an orchestral suite.
The Intermezzo accompanied a tableau which showed the Karelian huntsmen emerging from the forest and bearing tribute (furs from the hunt) to the Lithuanian overlord. In the Ballad, Karl Knutsson, a fifteenth-century king of Finland sits in his castle and hears a minstrel singing outside. The minstrel's song tells of a young man walking through an idyllic landscape and seeing a vision of maidens dancing. For the Suite Sibelius replaced the singer (a tenor) by a cor anglais. The final March is a lively battle-scene during the siege of Klexholm, in the wars with Sweden.

 

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Symphony no. 2 in D Opus 43

Sibelius, Jean (1865-1957)

 

1. Allegretto
2. Tempo Andante ma rubato
3. Vivacissimo
4. Finale: Allegro moderato

This, the most overtly nationalistic, or Finnish, of Sibelius' symphonies, was largely written in Italy during a stay at Rapallo in the early months of 1902. It was a time of great tranquillity for the composer. His works were increasingly being played, his reputation was growing in Finland and abroad and he was not yet disturbed by the mounting debts and recurring drinking bouts which would cause such turbulence in the years to come. This happiness is reflected in the generally optimistic mood of the symphony which has remained the most popular of all Sibelius' works.
The first movement is pastoral in tone. It has sometimes been compared to the opening movement of Brahms's symphony in the same key. Both composers, after a first symphony of high romance and tragedy, chose to open their second in a more spacious, easy-going vein. Of course, their musical language and methods of developing their themes could hardly bee more different. The second movement was, in part at least, conceived earlier than the rest of the symphony. In 1901 Sibelius began writing music for an orchestral work based on Don Juan. For this abandoned project he sketched out the opening themes of this Andante. The lugubrious, sinister theme on the bassoons, against a spectral pizzicato, suggests that it was not the romantic or comic aspects of the legend that he had in mind. This is the most complex and dramatic movement of the four and it ends in a mood of tragedy.
The scherzo is a breathless moto perpetuo. Here Sibelius employs a favourite device: against rapid, whirling, string passages he sets slower-moving wind themes. The slower Trio section is led off by the oboe with a plaintive lyrical melody. After the reprise of the scherzo this Trio soon unexpectedly reappears but soon metamorphoses, amid mounting excitement, into a transition to the triumphant, broad theme which will dominate the finale. This last is an epic conclusion to a great work. In the modern age few composers could, without self-consciousness, have ended a symphony in such a blaze of light.

 

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Two Symphonic Poems from Ma Vlast (My Country)

Smetana, Bedrich (1824-1884)

  1. Vltava
  2. From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields

Like Beethoven, Smetana became deaf. However unlike the earlier composer’s deafness which advanced slowly over many years, Smetana’s affliction descended with terrifying suddenness in the course of a few weeks. On October 19th 1874 he went to the opera still able to hear and enjoy the music, only to wake the following morning totally and permanently deaf. He had already begun work on the first of the six symphonic poems which constitute Ma Vlast. He pressed on with feverish speed and, astonishingly, was able to surmount his misfortunes and concentrate his creative powers to celebrate the glories of Bohemia in a paean of praise on which the shadow of his own tragedy never falls.


Vltava is the second of the cycle. The Vltava is the great river of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), rising in the hills in the south, flowing north past Prague, eventually joining the Elbe and disappearing into Germany. Smetana’s poem traces its course. First are depicted the two brooks from which the river springs. They combine and grow to a mighty stream. A forest episode features a hunting scene; back in the sunlight we witness a rustic village wedding. Night descends and nymphs sport in the sparkling waters. A stormy section depicts the Saint John rapids, a fast-flowing stretch through a great ravine (Smetana had exhilarating experience of this on a boating trip in 1870). The river reaches Prague with its ancient castle on a rock before disappearing into the far distance in the Elbe lowlands.

From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields, the fourth poem of the cycle, does not have such a comprehensive programme. However the composer suggested that: “the opening resembles the strong impression experienced on going into the countryside…a major section like a naïve country girl…the woods in summer where the sun seldom penetrates and the birds twitter...the harvest or a festival of some kind – a polka.”


Vltava was first performed on April 4th 1875, From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields on December 10th 1876.

 

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Blue Danube Waltz

Strauss, Johann II (1825-1899)

 

By the Beautiful Blue Danube, to give it its full title (according to more recent accounts the river is brownish-grey at Vienna). Originally a choral work, this was written in 1866 for the Vienna Men’s Choral Association. The music was written first and words were added by the Association’s poet Joseph Weyl. When Strauss added more music Weyl had to change the text. The purely orchestra version was first performed on March 10th 1876.

 

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Cuckoo Polka

Strauss, Johann II (1825-1899)

 

Having built the first railway in Russia, all nineteen miles of it, the directors of the Tsarskoe Selo Railway Company sought to attract passengers by the improbable, but apparently successful, means of building a concert hall at the Pavlovsk terminus and holding seasons of summer concerts there. Strauss conducted eleven seasons at Pavlovsk. This polka (along with the Pizzicato Polka) was written for the 1869 season. Its original title was “Im Pavlovsk Walde. Polka française.” (Polka, literally Polish dance, was in fact a Czech dance. A French Polka written by an Austrian and named after a Russian forest would seem to be a dizzyingly international production.) Back in Vienna this entertaining diversion was renamed “Im Krapfenwald.” (Krapfen means doughnut.)

 

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Emperor Waltz

Strauss, Johann II (1825-1899)

 

This is often said to have been composed to celebrate the emperor Franz Joseph’s Jubilee in 1888. In fact it celebrated the visit of the German emperor in Vienna in 1889 and was originally called Hand in Hand in honour of the friendship between Germany and Austria. But the publisher Simrock saw the diplomatic advantage of calling it Emperor Waltz, so that each of the emperors could regard it as his own. Most unusually the introduction is in march rhythm. With its poetic, nostalgic coda it might be called a miniature tone-poem.

 

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Overture: "Die Fledermaus"

Strauss, Johann II (1825-1899)

 

The plot of Die Fledermaus (The Bat) is an un-summarizable farrago of deceptions, disguises and mistaken identities. The main character, Eisenstein, his wife and their maid attend a ball, all in disguise and unknown to each other. Meanwhile Doctor Falke is plotting an elaborate revenge for a trick previously played on him when he was in a fancy dress bat costume (hence the title).
The overture is a brilliant potpourri of tunes from the opera. The opening is from the third act at the point where Eisenstein furiously tears off his disguise to denounce his wife and her admirer who have been boasting about their deception of him. Among much else we hear the clock striking six to end the second-act revels, while the overture is dominated by the famous waltz.
The operetta was first performed in Vienna on April 5th 1874.

 

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Pizzicato Polka

Strauss, Johann II (1825-1899)

 

Strauss tried to persuade his brother Joseph to write this piece for his (Johann’s) summer season in 1869. In the end it was jointly written.

 

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Tales from the Vienna Woods - Waltz

Strauss, Johann II (1825-1899)

 

Composed in 1868 this is notable for its long and elaborate introduction. It is one of the few waltzes originally scored with an important zither part. It is said to evoke not so much the scenery of the Wiener Wald as the country inns there located.

 

 

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Petruskha (1947 version)

Stravinsky, Igor (1882-1971)

 

Petrushka was the second of the three great ballets the young Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes just before the First World War. Unlike the Firebird, the Petrushka scenario was the composer’s own idea. Already contracted to compose the Rite of Spring he shelved that project to write the new ballet. The first production, which opened on June 13th 1911, with Pierre Monteux conducting and Nijinsky in the title role, was an overwhelming success.

Petrushka is a universal tragic-comic puppet character – the English Punch, the French Guignol, the German Kasperle; as Stravinsky put it: “the immortal and unhappy hero of every fair in all countries.” Petrushka is in love with the Ballerina who will have none of him and he is jealous of the Moor who seduces her. At the height of the fair the Moor strikes Petrushka down with his sword, but the puppet’s ghost returns to mock his showman master.

The ballet is in four tableaux. The first depicts the Shrove-tide fair in St Petersburg and features tipsy merry-makers and an organ grinder. A loud on-stage drum roll introduces the “Magician”, an old showman. (This same drum roll also links the four tableaux). After a “magic trick” and a flute cadenza he brings to life his three puppets, Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor who perform a rousing Russian Dance. The second tableau is set in Petrushka’s prison-like room where the puppet gives vent to despair and rage. The third is in the Moor’s luxurious room. The Ballerina enters and dances a waltz. The jealous Petrushka appears but is chased away. The final tableau is once again at the fair, and after introductory bustle features a Dance of the Wet-nurses (announced by the oboe), Peasant with a Bear, Dance of the Gypsy Girls and the Rake Vendor, Dance of the Coachman, and Masqueraders.

In 1947 Stravinsky revised the score deploying a less extravagant orchestra and simplifying some of the notation (but not the music!)

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Meditation for string orchestra

Suk, Josef (1874-1935)

 

Suk, son-in-law of Dvorak, was seen in the early twentieth century as that composer’s successor and the leading Czech composer of his day. Today his massive symphonic works are largely forgotten and he is remembered for his smaller-scale works. The Meditation was originally for string quartet, and was premiered by the Czech String Quartet (in which renowned ensemble Suk played the second violin for forty years). Suk later transcribed it for string orchestra.


Written at the outbreak of war in August 1914 the piece was avowedly “To strengthen the hope in the return of power to the hands of the Czech people when the storms of wrath are over.” Suk shared the national hope that the war would bring Czech independence, as indeed it did.


The meditation is based on an old Czech hymn the Saint Wenceslas Chorale, and particularly, its third section: “do not let us and future generations perish.” It opens slowly and quietly with overlapping entries, builds steadily to a mighty climax and ends peacefully.

 

 

 

Fantasy Overture: Romeo and Juliet

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich (1860-1893)

 

It was the older composer Balakirev who suggested the subject, wrote out a programme for the work and even supplied a specimen opening to the twenty-nine year old Tchaikovsky in 1869. Balakirev was also highly critical of the first version and in the light of his criticisms Tchaikovsky – most unusually for him – extensively rewrote the overture in 1870. (The original opening, wrote Balakirev, “awakens a strong thirst for beer.”) Ten years later the composer revised the work yet again.
The chorale-like opening represents the tranquillity of Friar Laurence’s cell, the friar himself depicted by an organ-like passage on the woodwind. In the Allegro which follows the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets rages. (Balakirev had suggested that “the clash of swords” be heard.) When the warring factions have grumbled into silence, the love music of Romeo and Juliet is heard. This is interrupted by the fury of street brawls. The themes clash and combine, rising to a mighty climax. At last the lovers’ music is transformed into a lament and the work ends with bleak, tragic chords.
The final version of the overture was performed at Tbilisi on 1st May 1886.

 

Piano Concerto no. 1 Opus 23

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich

 

1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
2. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo
3. Allegro con fuoco

On Christmas Eve 1874 Tchaikovsky played over his newly composed concerto to its intended dedicatee (incidentally Tchaikovsky’s boss at the Moscow Conservatory) Nikolay Rubinstein. The latter, “assuming more and more the tone of Jove the Thunderer” as the composer put it, condemned it as worthless, unplayable, trite, awkward, bad and tawdry. When he later suggested that something might be achieved by a total revision (under his guidance) Tchaikovsky defiantly replied “I won’t change a single note and I’ll publish it just as it is now”. The concerto was now dedicated to Hans von Bülow who greatly admired it and gave the first performance.
This ever-popular work is the epitome of the Romantic concerto, the quintessential confrontation of heroic soloist and eloquent orchestra. “We are dealing” wrote the composer ”with two equal opponents; the orchestra with its power and inexhaustible variety of colour, opposed by the small but high-mettled piano, which often comes off victorious in the hands of a gifted executant”.
The structure of the first movement is unique, with its huge opening tune (in the wrong key) which never returns. The whirling middle section of the slow movement is said to be based on a French chanson. The main theme of the finale is a vigorous syncopated dance of Ukrainian origin, A gentler theme allotted to the violins returns as a triumph paean on the closing bars.
Von Bülow played the concerto in Boston, to a rapturous reception, on October 25th 1875. A month later Taneyev played it in Moscow with, of all people, Nikolay Runbinstein conducting. To be fair the latter, he recanted his earlier view, learned the piano part and became one of the work’s strongest advocates.

 

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Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich (1860-1893)

 

“Rococo”, a word borrowed from the visual arts, is used somewhat vaguely in musical contexts to indicate music of the eighteenth century – usually French music. Tchaikovsky always hankered after the grace and order of the eighteenth century, a predilection which gave rise to his Mozartiana suite and elegant pastiches such as Monsieur Triquet’s ballad in Eugene Onegin or the pastoral play-within-a-play in the Queen of Spades. It was the other side of the coin of his more familiar, turbulent, passionate nature. The present graceful, beautifully wrought work was written in 1876, hot on the very different heels of that torrent of emotion, Francesca da Rimini.
The original dedicatee, Wilhelm Fitzhagen, toured very successfully with the work but made substantial changes not only to the cello part but also to the order of the variations, suppressing one altogether. This is the version most usually played.
After 100 years Tchaikovsky’s original was reconstructed and this is the version performed by James Barralet and Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra.

 

Suite no. 4 in G, Opus 61: “Mozartiana”

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich (1860-1893)

 

The Suite was composed, or more accurately, arranged, in the summer of 1887 at a spa town in the Caucasus, where Tchaikovsky was taking the waters for an imaginary liver complaint. He proposed to celebrate the centenary of Don Giovanni by orchestrating some pieces by “my God, Mozart.” In the published score he wrote: “A great many of Mozart’s outstanding short pieces are little known. The author who has arranged this suite had in mind to provide more frequent performances of these pearls of musical art, unpretentious in form, but filled with unrivalled beauties.”

Three of the four movements are little-known Mozart piano pieces. The Gigue K547 is itself a pastiche of earlier baroque form. It and the D major Minuet K355 display an adventurous chromaticism which must surely have attracted Tchaikovsky. The third movement, Ave Verum Corpus, is the odd man out. Here Tchaikovsky orchestrated not Mozart’s original but Liszt’s piano transcription, complete with added introduction and coda. (Like Liszt, Tchaikovsky called this Preghiera – prayer – although none of the three composers involved was Italian.) The final movement is a set of variations K455. The theme is the air “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” – “Our stupid rabble thinks” – from a comic opera by Gluck. (Mozart originally improvised the variations at a concert attended by Gluck.)

Mozartiana was first performed on 26 November 1887 in Moscow.

 

 

 


Symphony no. 4 in F minor

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich (1860-1893)

 

1. Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima
2. Andante in modo di canzone
3. Scherzo pizzicato ostinato
4. Allegro con fuoco


Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony (his first really considerable one, and in the opinion of many, his finest) was written between May 1877 and January 1878. This was a critical year in Tchaikovsky’s life, the era of his disastrous marriage and flight abroad from it, and of the beginning of his strange relationship with Nadejda von Meck the rich patroness he never actually met. The symphony was written more or less simultaneously with the opera “Eugene Onegin.”

When Madame von Meck – to whom the symphony is dedicated – asked for an account of the work’s emotional meaning, the composer responded with a lengthy “programme”.
”The introduction is the seed of the whole symphony. This is fate, which prevents the impulse to happiness from attaining its goal, which hangs above your head like the sword of Damocles…O joy! There appears a sweet and gentle day-dream. No! Fate awakes you from these dreams…The second movement expresses the melancholy feeling aroused by a host of memories. It is both sad that so much is past and gone, yet pleasant to recall your youth… the third movement is made up of the elusive images which rush past in the imagination when you have drunk a little wine…you suddenly recall a picture of drunken peasants, a street song, a military procession in the distance…The fourth movement – If within yourself you find no reasons for joy, look at others. Observe how they can enjoy themselves. A picture of festive merriment. Rejoice in others’ rejoicing. To live is still possible.”

Tchaikovsky afterwards disclaimed this programme which was dreamed up after the symphony was composed. However the idea of the opening brass fanfare representing “Fate” seems appropriate in that whenever it appears it sweeps all other material peremptorily and inexorably aside.

Tchaikovsky was criticised for the slightness of the two middle movements. Tanayev described them disparagingly as “ballet music.” However, they provide necessary relaxation after the enormous emotional range and stormy climaxes of the first movement. The celebrated pizzicato with its trio, in which blocks of instruments are contrasted, is a masterpiece of delicate orchestration. The Finale is a festive movement partly based on a Russian folk song.

The symphony was first performed in Moscow on February 22nd 1878.

 

 


Symphony no. 6 in B minor

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich (1860-1893)

  1. Adagio – Allegro non troppo
  2. Allegretto con grazia
  3. Allegro molto Vivace
  4. Finale: Adagio lamentoso

Preliminary sketches for a Sixth Symphony were made in 1891 but were abandoned. Within weeks Tchaikovsky was at work again: “Now I am writing a new symphony which I will certainly not tear up.” The work was completed in August 1892. According to the composer it tells a story, which he would not reveal: “Let them guess it,” he said. “I myself consider it the best and especially the most open-hearted of all my works,” he wrote.

The work opens with the longest of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic movements. The sombre opening theme climbing from the depths of the orchestra gives way to a restless, agitated Allegro. In huge contrast the lyrical second subject is one of Tchaikovsky’s most lavishly expansive tunes. The melancholy second movement is like a sad waltz except that it has five beats to a bar rather than three. This is followed by a brilliant, rousing march. The finale must have astonished its first audiences. The opening phrase, shared between first and second violins, descends like a sorrowful sigh; a second theme on the violins seems like a lingering farewell. After a despairing climax this then reappears in a mournful minor key. The music sinks into near inaudibility to end where the symphony began.

The symphony was first performed on October 28th 1893. Eight days later the composer died, ostensibly of cholera, but possibly by his own hand. No concrete evidence of the latter exists.

 

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Concerto Grosso for Strings

Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872-1958)

 

1. Intrada
2. Burlesca Ostinata
3. Sarabande
4. Scherzo
5. March and reprise (the reprise is of the opening Intrada)

The Rural Schools Music Association was a movement founded in 1929 by Mary Ibberson, a Quaker, to encourage musical education in country towns and villages; this was before the days of Education Authority-provided peripatetic teachers. Beginning on a modest scale in Hertfordshire, the movement spread throughout England and became a powerful force in musical education. For the twenty-first anniversary of the Association, Vaughan Williams was asked to provide a celebratory work and the Concerto Grosso was the result.
The composer divided his orchestra into three groups: 1. Concertino; skilled players. 2. Tutti; all those who can play in the third position and perform simple double-stopping. 3. Ad lib; for less experienced players. There are even parts for “those players who prefer to use only open strings.”
The first performance was given by more than 400 Rural Music pupils (the majority of them “ad lib”) in the Royal Albert Hall on 18th November 1850 with Sir Adrian Boult conducting. The concert was attended by Princess Elizabeth, soon to become Queen Elizabeth II. Vaughan Williams declined a seat in the Royal Box preferring to sit among the second violins “to see how they’re getting on.”


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Symphony no. 5

Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872-1958)

 

1. Preludio: Moderato-Allegro-Moderato
2. Scherzo: Presto
3. Romanza: Lento
4. Passacaglia: Moderato
Vaughan Williams himself conducted the first performance of this symphony on June 24th 1943 at a Promenade Concert. The new work caused some initial surprise, partly because it in no way reflected world events of the time, but more particularly the brusque, terse, dissonant fourth symphony had seemed to indicate the direction of the composer’s development, but this was expansive, affirmative and euphonious. An American critic surmised that it would “shock young ears attuned to harsh discords.”
The symphony, on which the composer had been working since 1938, is closely related to the opera the Pilgrim’s Progress. Vaughan Williams had abandoned on the latter, believing that it would never be finished, and he incorporated a number of its themes into the symphony. (The opera was, in fact, completed in 1949, still retaining these themes). He declared, “Except in the slow movement, the symphony has no dramatic connection with Bunyan’s allegory.” The first words of this disclaimer are significant.
The symphony is “in D”, but its opening note, a sustained bass C, does not belong in that key at all. Above it is a horn call in D major and this tonal ambiguity sets a mood of doubt and hesitation. This soon gives way to confident affirmative music, redolent of folk-song and the English landscape. A hectic Allegro sounds a menacing note, before the horn call signals a recapitulation and the movement ends as it began.
In spite of the composer’s disclaimer, it is tempting to see in the whirlwind Scherzo, with its tart orchestration, an encounter with Bunyan’s Goblins and Foul Fiends.
In the manuscript the third movement was headed by a quotation from The Pilgrim’s Progress. “Upon that place there stood a cross and a little below a sepulchre... Then he said “He hath given me rest by his sorrow and life by his death.”’ The opening string chords, and the mood of much of this movement, are reminiscent of the Tallis Fantasia of thirty years before.
The broad and spacious Passacaglia (free variations on a persistent theme) is unequivocally, later triumphantly, and at last serenely, in D major.

 

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Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1

Wagner, Richard (1813-1883)

 

The prelude, which bears no direct relation to the action of the opera, concerns the Holy Grail, the cup or chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper. The connection is with the climactic moment of the opera when Lohengrin reveals not only his identity but the fact that he is a Knight of the Grail and must not return to Monsalvat.
Among many mediaeval Grail legends is one that angels brought the Grail from heaven and entrusted it to a body of knights who guarded it on top of a mountain (Monsalvat). It is this legend that the Prelude depicts. The angels begin their descent from high heaven with suitably ethereal, indeed astronomic music. As they descend, more instruments enter and a grand climax is reached as the Grail is delivered to the knights, after which the angelic band re-ascends to the far-distant empyrean.
Lohengrin was first performed on August 18th 1850 in Weimar, conducted by Franz Liszt.

 

Two pieces from Henry V

William Walton (1902 – 1983)

 

Laurence Olivier’s hugely successful, though somewhat bowdlerised film of Henry V was made in the year of the Normandy landings (1944), to reflect the patriotic mood of a nation at war. Much of Walton’s music is stirring battlefield stuff, (“How does one distinguish between a longbow and a crossbow, musically speaking?” he wrote to a friend) but these two pieces are from quieter moments in the film.
The Death of Falstaff is a passacaglia. Walton could not resist a private joke here; the mood is elegiac, but the old drunkard’s threnody is in fact based on an old drinking song, “Watkin’s Ale”.
“Touch her soft lips and part” is Pistol’s farewell to his wife, (the former Mistress Quickly) as he sets off for the war.

 

Viola Concerto in A Minor


William Walton (1902 – 1983)

 

1. Andante comodo
2. Vivo e molto preciso
3. Allegro moderato

It was Sir Thomas Beecham who suggested to Walton that he write a concerto for the great viola player Lionel Tertis. Walton wrote the piece in the winter of 1928-9 in Amalfi, working in a former monk’s cell in a hotel converted from a monastery. In the spring of 1929 he sent the completed work to Tertis, who rejected it by return of post because of its “modernity”. Disconcerted, Walton approached the composer Paul Hindemith, at that time viola player of the celebrated Amar String Quartet, and Hindemith gave the first performance on 3rd October 1929 with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, the composer himself conducting, Tertis was present in the audience and instantly realized his mistake. “With shame and contrition” he later wrote, “I admit that when the composer offered me the first performance, I declined it… I had not learnt to appreciate Walton’s style….it took me time to realize what a tower of strength in the literature of the viola is this concerto.” He played the work at the 1930 ISCM festival and on many subsequent occasions, becoming for a time the concerto’s principal protagonist.
In the ruminative first movement the dreamy major-minor ambiguity establishes the authentic Walton bitter-sweet flavour. There follows a fleet-footed tour de force of a scherzo. In the finale, after a central climax in which the soloist is silent he returns with the concerto’s opening theme, to which the finale’s main theme becomes an accompaniment. The concerto ends with a poignant, eloquent epilogue with no concluding fireworks.
In1961 Walton revised the orchestration, thinning out the wind instruments and adding a harp. This version was first played in London on 18th January 1962 by John Coulling with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent.

 

 

 

Overture: “Oberon”

Weber, Carl Maria von (1786-1826)

 

The opera “Oberon” was Weber’s last work, the composer dying thirteen weeks after its first production. It was commissioned by Covent Garden and set to an English text, though Weber knew no English. Its libretto, which has little to do with Shakespeare, is a strange farrago (“this pig’s trough of a libretto! Tovey called it) based on a poem by the German poet Wieland and a mediaeval French romance “Huon of Bordeaux.” It features pirates, gypsies and the palace of the Caliph of Baghdad for good measure. This impossible plot has caused the almost complete neglect of the opera, though it contains the best music that Weber ever wrote.

The overture at once transports us into the realm of fairy-tale; the horn solo, Oberon’s magic horn call in the opera, evokes the spirits of air, earth and water. The mysterious call returns to interrupt the bustling, brilliant Allegro which follows.

“Oberon” was first performed on April 12th 1826, at Covent Garden.