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                          Concert programme notes


These were written by me (Chris Anthony)
I am not a music scholar so much of these were put together from other sources such as Wikipedia, Groves, and some programme notes provided by Making Music

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  Click here for the concert dates May 2022 November 2022 March 23 May 2023 November 2023
    March 2024        

 

Click names below for the programme notes.  
To download a WORD version go the notes and click on the link provided

 

Brahms: Tragic overture

Butterworth: A Shropshire Lad

Elgar: 1st Symphony 

Gipps: Horn concerto 

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Glazanov: Saxaphone concerto

Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber

Holst: Fugal Overture

 

Nielsen: Helios Overture

Nielsen: 2nd Symphony

Saint-Saens: Piano Concerto No. 2

Shostakovich: 9th Symphony

 

Rachmaninov 3rd Symphony

Sibelius: En Saga Sibelius: Violin concerto Strauss: Oboe Concerto
 

Tchaikovsky: 5th Symphony

Mendelssohn: The Hebrides

Sibelius: Finlandia

Dvorak: 9th Symphony

  Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite      

.................... May 2022  
 

Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957) En Saga (Op. 9) (1982)           Download as WORD document
Jean Sibelius is widely regarded as Finland’s greatest composer, and his music is often credited with having helped Finland develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.  After a couple of years studying music in Vienna and Berlin Sibelius returned to continue his studies in Helsinki and fell in love with his future wife, Aino. They married in June 1892, spending their honeymoon in Karelia, the home of the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland which inspired his En saga (a saga or legend), and his Karelia Suite, two of his earliest published works. En Saga, completed in 1892, is a relatively short single-movement tone poem for conventional orchestral forces and was his first to have a distinctively Finnish character. It has many of the features that will appear in so much of his compositions – the plaintive woodwinds, the scurrying scales and arpeggios  of tremolo strings , the long Finnish-sounding tunes, all moving together toward magnificent orchestral climaxes.
Although it might seem obvious to relate the parts of En Saga to particular ‘stories’ from the Kalevala, Sibelius wrote that “En Saga is psychologically one of my most profound works. I could almost say that the whole of my youth is contained within it. It is an expression of a state of mind and in no other work have I revealed myself so completely. It is for this reason that I find all literary explanations completely foreign to my way of thinking”. He is also credited with an appropriate response to critics – “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic."
The single-movement tone poem opens in an expectant atmosphere, with a dreamy theme and swirling misty “sound effects” from the strings which evolve into the contrasting tones of the woodwinds and horns. A melancholy but noble melody inspired by, but not borrowed from, Finnish folk music soon appears in the bassoons, cellos and basses. This melody carries the music forwards with passion, growing to a climax dominated by the French horns. The next theme is a simple but rhythmically-charged song on the violas, alternating with a rather martial string tune. A violently rhythmic passage for full orchestra then announces the triumphant return of the first main idea in the horns, gradually building to a sustained climax dominated by the brass. After a reflective melody shared between the two oboes, it is left to a lonely clarinet followed by a dull,  bass throbbing to bring the work towards its tranquil close.J

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Alexander Glazunov (1865 –1936) Concerto in E flat major for alto saxophone and string orchestra, Op. 109 (1934)
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Gllazunov was a relatively conventional composer compared with other well-known Russian composers of the period (Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich), strong influences being Borodin, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, his first teacher.  Younger composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich considered his music old-fashioned, while accepting his stabilizing influence in a time of transition and turmoil. He was born in St Petersburg and lived in Russia most of his life, being appointed director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, navigating the institution through the tumultuous times of the 1917 revolution. It is said that he was categorically opposed to government interference in cultural and musical matters and felt compelled to leave the Soviet Union in 1928, eventually settling in Paris. He always claimed that the reason for his continued absence from Russia was "ill health", enabling him to remain a respected composer in the Soviet Union, unlike Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, who had left for other reasons.
Glazunov seemed entirely immune to the well-established role of the saxophone in Jazz. He particularly enjoyed the tone of the instrument against a rich string section, explaining why the concerto is written specifically for a string orchestra. His exploration of the sonorous possibilities of the saxophone has significantly contributed to establishing this Concerto, his final and one of his best compositions, as the most famous ‘classical’ work for saxophone ever written.

The concerto lasts for fourteen minutes and is played without pause. It is essentially a free rhapsody exploiting the instrument’s suitability for lyrical expression. Frequent tempo changes demand the highest technical and musical skills from the performer; smooth song-like playing in the slow sections with control of tone across a wide dynamic range as the melodies wind up and down the scale, and in intricate, faster passages, nimble fingering and exciting glissandos. Glazunov broke down its structure into five parts: an exposition in 4/4, marked Allegro Moderato, with the strings playing the opening main theme; a brief development and an andante transition in 3 /4  time, leading into a highly virtuosic cadenza for the soloist, followed by a very quick Fugato and an energetic, dance-inspired finale section, which is typical of Glazunov’s style.
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Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov  (1873 – 1943) Symphony No. 3  in A minor, Op. 44
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1. Lento – Allegro moderato – Allegro (A Minor)
2. Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro vivace (C-Sharp Minor)
3. Allegro – Allegro vivace – Allegro (Tempo primo) – Allegretto – Allegro vivace (A Major)

Rachmaninov was born in 1873 into a Russian aristocratic family. Following the 1917 revolution he left with his family from Saint Petersburg, going by train to the Finnish border, then travelling through Finland on an open sled to Helsinki, carrying what they could pack into their small suitcases. In 1918 they settled in New York City. Rachmaninov’s final symphony was composed between 1935 and 1936, much of it in his Villa Senar on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. After the first performance he wrote “ Both audiences and critics responded sourly. Personally I'm firmly convinced that this is a good work. But - sometimes the author is wrong, too! However I maintain my opinion". The public is now more inclined to accept his evaluation and the symphony is frequently played and recorded.
        Rachmaninov devised a novel structure for the symphony in which the long 1st movement is followed by a combined slow movement and scherzo, finishing with an energetic finale.  In its tunes and rythms it is his most ‘Russian’ symphony. particularly in the dance rhythms of the finale. Its ‘sparer’ style Is more like his tuneful Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini than his two earlier symphonies.

The first movement opens with a motto theme, underlying much of the symphony, orchestrated for solo clarinet, muted horn and high solo cello. An outburst for full orchestra, leads into the main Allegro theme, given to oboes and bassoons. The cellos typically introduce the second theme, a big-tune, warm, loving and capable of almost infinite variations typical of the old Rachmaninov. The development reveals his exploitation of the full palette of orchestral sounds, as well as his ability to combine various themes in simultaneous development. The motto theme makes a reappearance in the trumpets which gives way to an unusual bit of scoring, with the melody provided by piccolo, bassoon and xylophone above the supporting horns, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, and lower strings. The motto theme appears again in trumpets and trombones, before the recapitulation begins with the cello's big tune leading into a coda, the movement ending with two restatements of the motto theme, one quietly in the brass and one even more quietly in the strings.

The second, Adagio, movement starts with a long solo horn melody followed by two new themes, the first for solo violin then given to all the violins, and the second theme for solo flute, over tremolo strings and harp. Both themes are taken up by the woodwind and are developed up to an expressive climax. Nervous quavers then take over the orchestra and the scherzo emerges. This is urgent, quicksilver music, full of wonderful touches of orchestration, with sudden solo moments for celesta, percussion and harp. The music is swept up to a huge climax and then dies away. A series of trills floats mistily across the orchestra, as the pace gradually slows down, and out of this haze an oboe reintroduces the opening theme of the Adagio. The violins expand this theme and a solo violin echoes it wistfully over mysterious, stalking bass pizzicatos, the movement ending with another quiet restatement of the motto theme.
 
The energy and vigour of the Finale sweeps all before it, in a great rush of strings and woodwind. The violins take up a broad melody which leads to a long bassoon solo. The orchestra is then launched into a virtuoso fugue based on the main theme of the movement. A relative of the initial motto theme from the start of the first movement appears – in the form of a Rachmaninov favourite, the Dies Irae (The Day of Wrath), which weaves itself into the remainder of the piece. A full orchestral declamation of the Dies Irae leads to the return of the first theme. This is not a straightforward recapitulation, the development continuing into the coda. where the motto is transformed into a string accompaniment for the 'hornpipe' flute solo. The virtuoso writing that characterizes the entire symphony now all meet in the final pages to produce one of the most exciting and colourful endings in symphonic music.

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  November 2022
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Carl Nielsen (1865 - 1931) Helios Overture Op. 17        Download as WORD document
Carl Nielsen is the most honoured Danish composer. He composed this short work in 1903, placing it between his 2nd and 3rd symphonies.  During a winter spent in Greece he was inspired by the myth of Helios, the Greek god who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day.  When it was published, Nielsen attached this description: “Stillness and darkness — Then the sun rises to joyous songs of praise — Wanders its golden way —quietly sinks in the sea.”  The work begins with strings, divided horns and woodwind sounding a melody as the sun ascends out of the darkness over the Aegean Sea. The trumpets then fanfare across the full orchestra, in a theme, which returns later in the piece. From there woodwinds begin a graceful tune, joined by strings and full orchestra, leading to a reprise of the fanfare theme. In the final measures, the music subsides as the sun sinks beneath the horizon.  

   
 

Jean Sibelius  (1865 –1957) Violin concerto in D minor, Op. 47      Download as WORD document
1. Allegro moderato
2. Adagio di molto
3. Allegro, ma non tanto

Jean Sibelius (1865 –1957) is widely regarded as Finland’s greatest composer, and his music is often credited with having helped his country to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia. He was, himself, a violinist and this concerto, first performed in 1905, is considered by many to be the greatest violin concerto in the repertoire. In its scope it is more like a symphony than a typical concerto. The first movement, as long in duration as the other two put together, takes in a wide variety of moods, from the cool opening to the stormy end and includes an extended cadenza for the soloist instead of a development in the first movement. It begins with brooding muted strings, above which the soloist plays a haunting melody echoed by a lone clarinet. This theme gives way to virtuoso passages for the violinist above an increasingly stormy orchestral accompaniment which leads to a mini-cadenza, Then the orchestra joins in, eventually subsiding from furious march music to peaceful darkness. out of which the main cadenza erupts, an occasion for staggering virtuosity. An extended, orchestral passage leads back to the expressive second theme, later joined by the violin. Eventually an intense cascade of octaves from the violin leads to a dramatic conclusion to the first movement. The second movement starts with a brief introduction from the woodwind, the soloist entering with a long melody whose character has been compared to that of many of Sibelius’ songs for voice and piano. This melody gives way to a brooding central section, which builds to the return of the main theme in the orchestra as the soloist overlays it with virtuoso ornamentation. The movement fades away as the soloist climbs to a serene high note. Of the last movement, Sibelius remarked, “It must be played with absolute mastery ”. Those seeking a thrilling finale full of violin pyrotechnics will not be disappointed; the movement ranks among the most challenging and exciting written for the violin. It appears that all writers of programme notes must quote Donald Tovey who described the final movement as a "polonaise for polar bears" which is, presumably, not what the composer had in mind. The movement opens with excited lower strings playing difficult semiquaver figures. The violin boldly enters with the first theme on the lowest (G) string followed by a brilliant display of violin gymnastics that leads into the first full orchestral contribution which includes the second theme, taken up enthusiastically by the violin. Clarinet and low brass introduce the final section which include more violin heroic feats which become more and more astonishing as the music builds to the concerto’s vibrant, life-affirming conclusion.

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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 –1975) Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70      Download as WORD document
Allegro Moderato Presto – largo – allegretto

Shostakovich wrote his Ninth Symphony immediately after the end of the Second World War. After the epic 7th and 8th war symphonies, it was assumed that he would write a hymn of triumph and celebration. He did first plan something along these lines but he changed his mind, writing what would be his shortest symphony, relatively lightweight, humorous and even irreverent. When his friend Dmitri Rabinovich first heard Shostakovich play his own piano version a few hours after finishing thesymphony he said (in summary) “we were prepared to hear something monumental, particularly at a time when the whole world was still full of the recent victory over Fascism but we heard something quite different, something that at first astounded us by its unexpectedness”. Exactly why Shostakovich moved away from his first idea is an enigma, but he did point out the dangers of "drawing immodest analogies" to Beethoven's Ninth symphony. The symphony is in five movements, the third, fourth and fifth being played without a break. The first movement begins in joyful mood with a playful dance-like main theme assigned to strings and flute, followed by a "circus" duet between trombone and piccolo with side-drum accompaniment. This section is repeated then followed by a development section and a recapitulation in which the piccolo shares its tune with a solo violin. The second movement is dominated by the woodwind – mainly flute and clarinets – accompanied by pizzicato strings. The tranquil atmosphere established at the outset by a solo clarinet is carried throughout the movement with only a slight darkening of the mood in a section for muted strings and horns; a more positive mood is then established by the woodwind and the movement ends quietly with a long-held note on the piccolo. The opening of the whirlwind third movement is again entrusted to the clarinet, accompanied by bassoons, and their lively tune is taken up by the rest of the woodwind. The strings then take over, soon joined by woodwind. This is followed by a rumbustious middle section with prominent brass and side drum passages, introduced by a riotous solo trumpet. The gaiety is suddenly interrupted by a noble, but menacing, motif on trombones and tuba which signals the start of the slow 4th movement which is a brief introduction to the finale. It contains the darkest music of the symphony, consisting of a hauntingly beautiful cadenza for solo bassoon in two sections separated by a passage for brass. The solo bassoon slips almost unnoticed into the comic-opera first theme of the final movement, soon to be joined by light string accompaniments. The movement gradually builds up as other instruments take up the theme and a broader second theme is introduced by the strings. and the music sweeps into the recapitulation with a triumphant statement of the first theme on the weightier instruments. This impetus is maintained to the end of the movement.

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.................... March 2023
 

Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934) A Fugal Overture                 Download as WORD document
Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the elder of the two children of Clara who was of mostly British descent, and Adolph von Holst, a professional musician whose side of the family was of mixed European ancestry. Gustav was taught to play the piano, which he enjoyed, and  the violin which he hated. At the age of twelve he took up the trombone at his father's suggestion, thinking that playing a brass instrument might improve his asthma. He started to attend Cheltenham Grammar Schook in 1886 where he began composing, his main influences at this stage being Mendelssohn, Chopin, Grieg and above all Arthur Sullivan.
                He left Cheltenham in 1895 to study under Stanford at the Royal College of Music, where, money being tight he became a vegetarian and teetotaller. To support himself he played the trombone professionally, at seaside resorts and London theatres. Wagner supplanted Sullivan as the main influence on his music, and for some time, as his daughter put it, "ill-assimilated wisps of Tristan inserted themselves on nearly every page of his own songs and overtures”. He wanted to devote himself to composing and thought that playing in light orchestras was a waste of time. His friend Ralph Vaughan Williams disagreed, saying that that the sure touch which distinguishes Holst’s orchestral writing is due largely to the fact that he has been an orchestral player. From 1898 he made his living as a trombone player in various orchestras including the Carl Rosa Opera Company. He married Isobel Harrison in 1901. He became music master at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in 1905 and director of music at Morley College in 1907 retaining both of these teaching posts until the end of his life. In 1917 his Oratorio  the Hymn of Jesus was a success and The Planets, premiered  by the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra in 1918 brought Holst widespread recognition for the first time.
   A Fugal Overture was published as his Opus 40 in 1922. It provides a good demonstration of what a great composer can achieve with a large orchestra playing for only about five minutes. It starts with the full orchestra introducing a tricky rhythm with which it rarely loses touch.

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  George Butterworth, MC (1885 –1916) Orchestral Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad.    Download as WORD document
George Butterworth was born in  London but his family soon moved to York for his father to work as general manager of the North Eastern Railway. He received his first music lessons from his mother, who was a singer, and he began composing at an early age. As a young boy, he played the organ for services in the chapel of his junior school  before gaining a scholarship to Eton College.
Butterworth then went up to Trinity College, Oxford, making friends with the folk song collector Cecil Sharp, and  the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams with whom he made several trips into the English countryside to collect folk songs, the compositions of both of them being strongly influenced by what they collected. Upon leaving Oxford, Butterworth began a career in music, as a critic, composer and school teacher. He also briefly studied piano and organ at the Royal College of Music, though he stayed less than a year as the academic life was not for him. Before the start of World War I he produced a handful of compositions, all of which promised great things to come, including two sets of songs based on A.E. Houseman’s poems: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad and Bredon Hill.
He arranged the music from some of these songs as A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody for Orchestra which is filled with the atmosphere of the English countryside. Sadly, his early promise was not to be fulfilled as he became one of the ’Lads in their hundreds who will never be old’ commemorated in one of his settings of another Houseman poem, as he was killed in the battle of the Somme just one month after his 31st birthday. 
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Ruth Gipps MBE (1921 –1999) Horn Concerto Op. 58    Download as WORD document
I. Con moto
II. Allegretto
III. Allegro ritmico

Ruth Gipps was an English composer, oboist, pianist, conductor, and educator. She composed a wide range of music, including five symphonies, seven concertos, and many chamber and choral works. Gipps’s music is unashamedly Romantic, rejecting trends in avant-garde modern music such as serialism and twelve-tone music. She saw her work as ‘a follow-on’ from composers including Vaughan Williams (her tutor at the College), Bliss, Walton, Bax and Bridge. She claimed that her music was ‘obviously and incurably English,’ a quality that to her was extremely important and, like George Butterworth, she was heavily influenced by the English pastoralist school of the early 20th century, drawing on English folk tunes and historical English composers such as Byrd, and taking inspiration from the English countryside. Her style was well-suited to music for the cinema and In her early career, she wrote a substantial number of incidental scores for BBC radio, although she took a dim view of this work. Gipps’s refusal to embrace modernism impacted on her reception as a composer both during and beyond her lifetime and her compositions are only now starting to be more fully appreciated.
Ruth was born in Bexhill-on-Sea in 1921 to Bryan Gipps, a businessman, an English teacher in Germany, and eventually an official at the Board of Trade; he was also a trained violinist. Ruth’s mother, Hélène, was born in Switzerland; she was a piano teacher and the family home was the Bexhill School of Music, of which Hélène was principal. Ruth had two elder siblings, both musicians. Ruth was a child prodigy; after she performed her first composition at the age of 8 in a music festival, the work was bought by a publishing house. In 1937, she entered the Royal College of Music where she studied oboe, piano, and composition with Gordon Jacob, and Vaughan Williams and where several of her works were first performed. She continued her studies at Durham University where she met her future husband, clarinettist Robert Baker and where, at the age of 26, she became the youngest British woman to receive a doctorate in music. In 1945, she performed Glazunov's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the City of Birmingham Orchestra as the piano soloist while, in the same program, playing the cor anglais in her own First Symphony. However, when she was 33 a shoulder injury ended her performance career, and she concentrated on conducting and composition.

Her early career was affected strongly by discrimination against women in the male-dominated ranks of music by professors, judges and critics, leading to a fierce determination to prove herself through her work. She founded the London Repertoire Orchestra in 1955 to provide opportunities for young professional musicians to become exposed to a wide range of music. She later founded the Chanticleer Orchestra which included a work by a living composer in each of its programs. Among these was the first London performance in 1972 of Bliss’s Cello Concerto in which Julian Lloyd Webber made his professional debut. She later took faculty posts at Trinity College London, the Royal College of Music, and Kingston Polytechnic.  In 1967 she was appointed chairwoman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain.
Gipps’s wrote six concertos - for clarinet, oboe, violin, piano, and violin plus viola, and horn, all of which were dedicated to family members or close friends. Her Horn Concerto, composed in 1968, was dedicated to her son, Lance Baker, and was premiered by him, with Gipps herself conducting the London Repertoire Orchestra. The piece is known for being a very difficult work for the horn, with its technical difficultes together with the stamina required to perform it. Gipps uses a colorful orchestration with prominent woodwind interacting with the solo horn, perhaps revealing the influence of Ravel, whilet the Brass section is almost exclusively used for climaxes. Gipps’s concerto lacks a heroic first movement as as was usual in the well-known concertos by Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith or Gordon Jacob. The horn is not dominant, either blending or contrasting with the orchestral sound and its restless energy alternating between melancholy and joy.
The first movement is opened by the horn with a quiet sighing syncopated theme, the orchestral accompaniment providing stability through its steady beat. The long tuneful lines are paired with spectacular jumps in range coupled with swirling orchestral sounds, the woodwind and soloist intertwining around each other. During the central section the horn part becomes more challenging, requiring a virtuoso player. The movement concludes with a brief cadenza that brings together all the themes of the movement into one concise statement before a tranquil ending.
The second movement Scherzo provides a distinct contrast to the first movement
through its infectious energy and forward motion. The main theme is played by all the members of a traditional woodwind quintet and much of the movement is orchestrated solely for woodwinds. The Scherzo often feels like a genuine joke with time signatures swapping between 7/8 and more traditional 6/8. Gipps use of dynamic changes creates light and shade within the music, which is sometimes accentuated by the use of percussion. A lyrical middle section shows the beauty of the horn as it soars above the orchestra. The movement concludes with some very high and very low quiet notes from the soloist.

The third movement Finale, marked Allegro ritmico—giocoso is, as it is labelled, rhythmical and playful, alternating between an energetic rhythmic theme and a rather dreamlike theme. It finally delivers the heroism that is found in better-known horn concertos. The orchestration contributes to this heroic effect, the percussion section becoming more pervasive, highlighting key moments throughout. The finale starts quickly with the woodwind leading the theme. The horn takes this up and immediately develops it with great virtuosity. The mystical theme from the opening movement reappears near the end of the movement accompanied by the tuned percussion. The final part of the concerto is bold and leads to a big climax led by the soloist’s last top note before the orchestral flourish which finishes this rare and exciting concerto.

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  Sir Edward Elgar (1857 –1934) Symphony No. 1 in A♭ major, Op. 55        Download as WORD document 
I.          Andante. Nobilmente e semplice — Allegro
II.         Allegro molto
III.        Adagio
IV.        Lento — Allegro

Edward Elgar, the fourth of seven children, was born in a small village, outside Worcester where his father, William,  had a shop selling sheet music and musical instruments. Edward’s mother, Ann, had recently converted to Roman Catholicism and he was baptised and brought up as a Roman Catholic. William Elgar was a violinist of professional standard and was organist at St. George's Church, Worcester, from 1846 to 1885. By the age of eight, Elgar was taking piano and violin lessons, and his father, who tuned the pianos at many grand houses in Worcestershire, would sometimes take him along, giving him the chance to display his skill to important local figures. He left school at the age of fifteen to work in a solicitors office but soon abandoned this and set off on his musical career, giving piano and violin lessons and working in his father’s shop. His only advanced musical training involved violin studies in London with Adolf Pollitzer who said that he felt Elgar could become a great violinist; Elgar himself doubted this and chose to concentrate on composition
For five years from the age of 22 he was the conductor and instrumental coach of a small local Worcester orchestra and during this time he played bassoon in his brother’s wind quintet for which he made arrangements of the great classical composers. For seven years, from the age of 25, he played violin in every concert in a professional orchestra which also gave the first professional performance of one of his compositions – Serenade mauresque.
In 1989 he married Alice Roberts, who for the rest of her life was a warm companion and business and social secretary as well as a valued music critic.  

During the 1890s, Elgar gradually built up a reputation as a composer, chiefly of works for the great choral festivals of the English Midlands but also of works such as Salut d’Amour, Chanson de Matin, the Froissart Overture, The Serenade for Strings and the Bavarian Dances. Critic’s reviews were polite rather than enthuisastic until In 1899, at the age of forty-two, Elgar published the Enigma Variations and, soon after, the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. Both were well-received at home and abroad, especially in Germany, and they  remain popular in concerts throughout the world. Although Elgar is today regarded as a characteristically English composer most of his musical influences were from continental Europe, and his orchestral music shares much with the Central European tradition typified at the time by the work of Richard Strauss, a leading composer of his day, who was so impressed that he proposed a toast to the success of "the first English progressive musician, Meister Elgar” who was knighted at Buckingham Palace in 1904.
As Sir Edward Elgar approached his fiftieth birthday, he began work on his First Symphony, a project that had been in his mind for nearly ten years. After its first performance in 1908 it became a national and international triumph; the critics and the public were equally enthusiastic  and there were a hundred performances in Britain, continental Europe and America within just over a year of its première.

On a personal note, it is worth mentioning that our orchestra members have found this work has many technical challenges, but working on these has been a very rewarding experience. It is a huge privilege to be participating in, and sharing with you, our audience,  this performance of one of the greatest works of 20th century civilisation. 
The first movement starts with a theme which Elgar said is intended to be simple and noble, elevating us above every day and sordid things. After this motto theme has been played twice, Elgar plunges into a turbulent stream of music in the remote key, D minor, a stream that continues almost unchecked until the subdued end of the movement. According to the conductor Sir Adrian Boult, the clashing keys arose because someone made a bet with Elgar that he could not compose a symphony in two keys at once. It has also been speculated that the contrast was intended to represent two sides of Elgar's own personality - the successful and popular composer of Pomp and Circumstance contrasting with the inner worries that continually troubled him. Towards the end of the movement the "nobilmente" motto theme returns in the back desks of the strings, an effect Elgar deliberately asked for to obtain a "soft, diffused sound".

The second movement is a brisk allegro which some critics have found restless and even sinister. It is essentially a scherzo, with its rushing violin semiquavers, and a march followed by a trio, this section being softer and more delicate, with flute, harp and solo violin representing what Elgar's wife called "the wind in the rushes". 

The third movement  Adagio flows directly from the second movement with a long- melody of breathtaking beauty, which actually consists of the same notes that began the rushing semiquavers of the scherzo. A friend of Elgar described this as one of the greatest slow movements since Beethoven, a beautiful and perfect message of peace.

The fourth movement Finale starts with a slow introduction, showing Elgar in one of his most dreamy and mysterious moods, featuring an echo of the First movement motto theme in the back desks of the strings. This is followed by a restless Allegro, with a succession of themes including one with a restless march-rhythm, later heard at half speed with a gentle string melody accompanied by harp arpeggios. The movement builds to a triumphant climax, ending with the noble opening theme of the symphony, orchestrated with glittering splendour and with  a dissonant brass fanfare surging up against it to bring the work to a gloriously confident conclusion.

   
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  May 2023
 

Paul Hindemth (1895 –1963) Symphonic metamorphosis of themes by Carl Maria von Weber
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Allegro
Scherzo (Turandot): Moderato – Lively
Andantino
Marsh

Paul Hindemith was born in Germany, near Frankfurt. The eldest child of a painter and decorator, Robert Hindemith and his wife Marie. He was taught the violin as a child then entered the Hoch Conservatoire, where he studied violin, conducting, and composition, supporting himself by playing in dance bands. He could play virtually every instrument of the orchestra and eventually wrote at least one sonata for each of them. He joined the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1914 where he soon became the concertmaster. Hindemith was conscripted into the Imperial German Army in September 1917 where he was assigned to play bass drum in the regimental band. He was deployed to the front in Flanders, where he served as a sentry, his diary recording him "surviving grenade attacks only by good luck". After the armistice he returned to Frankfurt.
In 1921, Hindemith founded the Amar Quartet, playing viola, which extensively toured Europe with an emphasis on contemporary music. In 1929, He played the solo part in the premiere of William Walton's viola concerto, after Lionel Tertis, for whom it was written, turned it down. Toward the end of the 1930s, he made several tours of America as a viola and viola d'amore soloist.
          In 1934, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, publicly denounced Hindemith as an "atonal noisemaker" and in 1936  his music was banned.  He emigrated to Switzerland in 1938, and then to America partly because his wife was of part-Jewish ancestry. Arriving there in 1940, he taught primarily at Yale University having many notable students including the future rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. Hindemith became a U.S. citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe in 1953, living in Zürich and teaching at the university there.  Toward the end of his life, he began to conduct more and made numerous recordings, mostly of his own music.
        Hindemith is among the most significant German composers of his time. His early works are in a romantic idiom; he later produced  works rather in the style of the early Schoenberg , before developing a neoclassical style, owing much to the language of Johann Sebastian Bach. Around the 1930s, Hindemith began to write compositions for larger orchestral forces, including his symphony with the title Mathis der Maler which has become one of his most frequently performed works.
In 1940 the choreographer Massine suggested that Hindemith should arrange music by Weber for a ballet, but he lost interest when he discovered that Salvador Dali was to be its designer. So, he wrote the Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes by Weber instead; It was composed with the virtuosity of American symphony orchestras in mind and was first performed in 1944 by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The New York Times described it as “…one of the most entertaining scores that he has thus far given us, a real jeu d'esprit by a great master of his medium in a singularly happy mood”. And so it is, remaining one of his most accessible and enduringly popular orchestral pieces.
          The Symphonic Metamorphosis is in four movements, the Weber themes being taken from little-known pieces written mainly for piano duet, often played by Hindemith and his wife. We, as enthusiasts for natural history, usually think of metamorphosis as being the dramatic change that occurs in insect life cycles, a caterpillar into a butterfly for example.  In Hindemith’s work ‘Metamorphosis’ is appropriate because Hindemith has not provided strict variations but complete re-compositions altering every aspect of the Weber themes.
         The exuberant music of the first movement, in the Hungarian, gypsy style, contrasts the woodwind with strings, with the brass held back at first. It has two principal themes, the first three-note motif appearing immediately and then frequently throughout the movement and finishing it with a defiant flourish.
         The scherzo, which is the longest movement, is based on a five-note melody, supposedly Chinese in origin, from Weber's overture to Schiller's play Turandot. It immediately appears on flutes and then is repeated by different groups of instruments in turn, while the accompaniment becomes ever more riotous. I predict this motif will lurk in your memory long after the concert has finished. After an outburst from the whole orchestra, the trombones introduce a madly syncopated variant of the theme and the process repeats; after the timpani and bells are heard on their own the movement ends quietly.
        In the third movement, a serene andantino, the woodwind are displayed as soloists in turn, the upper woodwinds glimmering brightly throughout, supported by a complex harmonic orchestral accompaniment.  
        The finale, a brisk march, follows the third movement without a break. It shows off every instrument of the orchestra, milking Weber’s luscious melodies, accompanied by strong rhythmic contributions from the orchestral percussion.
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  Richard Strauss (1864 –1949 ) Oboe Concerto    Download as WORD document
Allegro moderato – vivace
Andante
Finale: vivace
Richard Strauss’s father was a principal horn player who gave Richard a solid musical education. He wrote his first composition, aged six, and his Oboe Concerto and famous Four Last Songs about 80 years later. In 1872 he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music. He heard his first Wagner operas, when he was ten years old but his father banned him from studying Wagner’s music. It was not until six years later that Richard obtained a score of Tristan und Isolde, after which Wagner's music made a profound impact on his musical development.
Richard Strauss is best known for his operas and tone poems. His tone poem Don Juan was premiered in 1889 and in the next five years he had his largest creative period of tone poem composition, producing Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben, establishing him as a leading modernist composer. In 1894 Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna who remained a great source of inspiration to him throughout his life.
Between 1904 and 1934 he composed his best-known operas including Salome Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Die ägyptische Helena, and Arabella.
             In 1933, when Strauss was 68, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power. Although Strauss never joined the Party, for reasons of expediency he cooperated with the early Nazi regime in the hope that Hitler—an ardent Wagnerian who admired Strauss's work—would promote German art and culture. Strauss was strongly motivated by his need to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law and his Jewish grandchildren, and by his determination to preserve and conduct the music of banned composers such as Mahler and Debussy. In 1933, he (privately) wrote: “I consider the Streicher–Goebbels Jew-baiting as a disgrace to German honour”. Joseph Goebbels, meanwhile, felt it expedient to be cordial with Strauss, while writing in his diary: “Unfortunately we still need him, but one day we shall have our own music and then we shall have no further need of this decadent neurotic”.
In April 1945, Strauss was apprehended by American soldiers at his Garmisch estate. One of them John de Lancie, an oboist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, remembered asking him “if, in view of the numerous beautiful lyric solos for oboe in almost all of his works, he had ever considered writing a concerto for oboe”. Initially dismissive of the idea, Strauss completed this late work, his Oboe Concerto, before the end of the year. He expressed the wish that its American premiere be given by de Lancie, then with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but ‘orchestral politics’ prevented this.
Our orchestra are very grateful that we have as our soloist tonight Ewan Millar who was the winner of the woodwind section and a finalist in the 2020 BBC Young Musician Competition. We have played this concerto only once previously (in 1984) with Nicolas Daniel, winner of the same competition in 1980.
The concerto, scored for a relatively small orchestra, lacking oboes, trumpets and trombones, consists of three movements and lasts around 25 minutes. It is notoriously difficult for the soloist, as the phrases are often rather prolonged and constitute a severe test of endurance and breath control.
The concerto is built up from three main melodic ideas which, Strauss said “are the point of departure for the development of the entire composition”. The first is the four fluttering semiquavers which open the piece in the cellos. The second is a long note (minim or crotchet) followed a playful figure of very short notes (semi-quavers) which is first heard at the first entry of the oboe. The third motif is first played by violins at the start of the middle Andante movement. It is three shorter notes followed by a longer note which is said to echo the rhythm of the Fate motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony but in this environment it does not, to me, sound very fateful.  
The three movements are played without a break. The first begins, after a little fluttering in the cellos, with the first entry of the oboe - a gracefully ornamented theme which is more than fifty bars long (the second melodic idea mentioned above). While the solo oboe rhapsodizes, the fluttering continues almost unabated in the accompaniment, having the last say as the movement ends. 
The second movement opens more or less the same as the first but with the cellos fluttering sounding more relaxed as the soloist soars above them. The leisurely pace continues, with ample opportunity for lyricism in both the orchestra and the solo oboe.  At the end a cadenza for the soloist is softly accompanied by pizzicato strings, almost like an operatic recitative—not inappropriate for such a great composer of opera as Strauss.
The last movement is a happy, energetic affair that bounces merrily along without a break from the second movement. The finale ends with a surprise: after the second cadenza, Strauss concludes with a dance-like Allegro which comes across as a fourth movement with a character of its own.
    We are grateful for this wonderful present from the eighty year old Richard Strauss.
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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893 ) Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64    Download as WORD document
Andante – Allegro con anima
Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza – Moderato con anima
Valse (allegro moderato)
Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace

Tchaikovsky is the most popular Russian composer of all time because of his tuneful, open-hearted melodies, impressive harmonies, and colourful, picturesque orchestration, all of which evoke a profound emotional response. He was born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, a small industrial town about 450 miles East of Moscow. He was the second of six surviving children of Ilya Tchaikovsky, a manager of the local metal works, and Alexandra Assier, a descendant of French émigrés. He manifested a clear interest in music from childhood; at the age of five he began taking piano lessons with a local tutor. Because music education was not available in Russian institutions at that time, his parents chose to prepare the gentle, sensitive boy  for a career in the civil service. In 1850, with this is mind, he entered the prestigious Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, a boarding institution for young boys, where he spent nine years, proving a successful and popular student. During his time at the school he he was able to conitinue his piano lessons and other musical studies. In 1861 he visited Germany, France, and England, and when St. Petersburg Conservatory opened Tchaikovsky was among its first students, resigning from the Ministry of Justice, where he had been employed as a clerk. After graduating in 1865, Tchaikovsky moved to Moscow to teach music theory at the Moscow Conservatory. Within five years he had produced his First Symphony (Winter Daydreams), and his overture Romeo and Juliet which became the first of his compositions eventually to enter the standard international classical repertoire.
         In 1871 he produced his successful first string quartet and in the next few years he composed a number of operas  but these did not convince the critics with whom Tchaikovsky ultimately agreed. However, his instrumental works began to earn him his reputation, and in 1874, he wrote his First Piano Concerto, a work destined for fame. Soon after, Tchaikovsky left Russia to travel in Europe where he was greatly impressed by Bizet’s opera Carmen in Paris, but left cold by Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, which he attended in Bayreuth, Germany. In the next two years he produced his symphonic fantasia Francesca da Rimini and the first of his famous ballets, Swan Lake.
The growing popularity of Tchaikovsky’s music inevitably resulted in public interest in his personal life. Although homosexuality was officially illegal in Russia, the authorities tolerated it among the upper classes. Social and family pressures, led to Tchaikovsky’s hasty decision in 1877 to marry but, perhaps predictably, the marriage lasted only a few weeks.
          The year 1876 saw the beginning of an extraordinary 14-year relationship between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a wealthy railroad tycoon. Although they never met she became his patroness, providing him with a regular monthly allowance that enabled him to resign from the conservatory and devote himself to writing music. Thereafter he could afford to spend the winters in Europe and return to Russia each summer. The period after Tchaikovsky’s departure from Moscow proved very productive, when he composed several of his most famous compositions—the opera Eugene Onegin, the Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto.  Over the next ten years Tchaikovsky produced his operas Mazepa and The Enchantress, as well as the Manfred Symphony and, in 1888, his Symphony No. 5. His other major achievements of this period include Serenade for Strings, Capriccio Italien  and the 1812 Overture.
At the beginning of 1885, Tchaikovsky settled down in a rented country house near Klin, outside Moscow, and he finally overcame his longstanding fear of conducting. He embarked upon his first European concert tour as a conductor, which included Leipzig, Berlin, Prague, Hamburg, Paris, and London. It was a great success and he made a second tour in 1889. In the next four years he composed his second ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, his opera The Queen of Spades and his ballet Nutcracker.
          In 1893 his world stature was confirmed by triumphant European and American tours and by the award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge. In October of that year he conducted the premiere of his great Sixth Symphony (the Pathetique), dying nine days later from cholera. It is probable that this was suicide driven by problems associated with his sexual orientation but there is insufficient documentary evisence to be certain. 
          The Fifth Symphony is one of the most straightforward of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, while containing elements of intensity that look forward to the emotionally draining Sixth Symphony.
         The first movement opens with a solemn and forbidding theme, presented by bassoons and clarinets in their low registers. Tchaikovsky described this slow introduction as "complete resignation before Fate…”, and this Fate motif crops up in several guises throughout the piece. After the fateful opening a lively allegro contains four distinctive themes. The first starts out as a kind of intense danse macabre. The second blossoms into a pessimistic, yearning melody. The third theme, prefaced by a playful pizzicato arpeggio, is a rustic  passage for woodwinds and strings, forming a natural link into the fourth theme, a luscious, passionate, sunny melody. These four themes undergo extended development, followed by a long coda based on the first theme, descending into the bass section of the orchestra as the strains of the danse macabre die away.
          The slow movement is remarkable for its constant changes of time. It opens with a series of chords in the low strings, followed by one of Tchaikovsky's most familiar tunes, given to the principal horn. A second light melody, on the oboe is then echoed by the horn. The lower strings soon take up the horn's first theme, followed by the violins, and the haunting sound of clarinet and bassoon, building to an emotionally intense climax.  This is interrupted by a brass passage based on the Fate motif from the first movement. This passage ends with a pizzicato figure that generates the accompaniment for a return of the original horn theme, heard this time in the violins. Once more the emotion builds up  before the brass crash in with their statement of the Fate motif. The movement subsides with a final reference to the horn theme after which the movement closes calmly.
          In place of a scherzo, Tchaikovsky gives us one of his most beautiful waltzes; the graceful tune is launched immediately by the first violins, then is passed around the orchestra and developed. The trio section, more texture than melody, is made up of a delicate tracery of semiquavers. The first waltz theme returns, but the movement closes with a reminder of the Fate motif.
           The nationalstic finale of the Fifth Symphony opens in the manner of a march with a statement of the Fate motif transformed into the less doom-laden major key by the lower strings. Out of this emerges a brisk, Russian dance, the music of which presents four main melodic ideas to be developed during the course of the movement. The Fate motif makes two returns, the first time played by the brass section supported by a swirling string accompaniment, the second in the form of a triumphant march heard in brass and wind over strings playing in triplets. In a final fast and furious passage, a reminder of the start of the Russian dance provides a magnificent finish to this magnificent symphony.

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  NOVEMBER 2023
 

Johannes Brahms    (1833 - 1897)    Tragic overture Opus 81    Download as WORD document

Brahms's father, Johann Jakob Brahms, lived in Holstein in northern Germany where he worked as a jobbing musician. He was appointed as a horn player in the Hamburg militia and then a double-bass player in the Stadttheater Hamburg and the Hamburg Philharmonic Society. In 1830, he married Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, a seamstress and Johannes was born three years later. Johannes learnt to play the violin and the cello from his father but from the age of seven concentrated on the piano. Even at this early age, his teacher complained that "could be such a good player, but he will not stop his never-ending composing"; his parents also disapproved of his early efforts as a composer, feeling that he had better career prospects as a performer. Although he is now known as a great composer Brahms continued to be a very skilled pianist, and gave the first performances of many of his own works.

Brahms' works were labelled old-fashioned by the 'New German School' whose principal figures included Liszt and Wagner, both admired, however, by Brahms. Many of his own admirers (though not necessarily Brahms himself) saw him as the champion of traditional forms and 'pure music', as opposed to the 'New German' enthusiasm for programme music.His music is rooted in the structures and composing techniques of the Classical masters. While some contemporaries found his music to be too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship were much admired and the detailed construction of his works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers. For three seasons he directed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, often choosing less conservative music than might have been expected, and encouraging composers such as Dvorak, Mahler and Nielsen .

In the summer of 1880 Brahms was given an honorary doctorate by Breslau University. He was 46 years old and had already produced hundreds of songs, two symphonies, a piano concerto, his violin concerto, and the German Requiem. To say thank you he produced the Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture, both being premièred in Vienna that year where he spent most of his professional life..
The two pieces could hardly be more different. Referring to his work on the Academic Festival Overture, he wrote "While I was at it, I could not resist giving the satisfaction to my melancholy temperament of also writing a tragedy overture". He could not think of an appropriate title and wrote to the conductor of the first performance that “You may include a ‘dramatic’ or ‘tragic’ or ‘Tragedy Overture’ in your concert program; I cannot find a proper title to fit it.” The Academic Festival Overture is an extrovert work, appropriately quoting student songs. In stark contrast, the Tragic Overture is seriously solemn. Although Brahms never disclosed what tragedy he had in mind, the music conjures up an image of the struggles of a hero against fate, and the nature of the music strongly suggests a conflict.

In its structure the Tragic Overture is essentially like the first movement of a symphony. Two powerful chords lead to a restless, brooding string theme, with ominous timpani. A simple march theme, beginning with a dotted figure, immediately answers the strings, and all this is elaborately developed throughout the orchestra, suggesting an intense  imaginary struggle. After a slightly altered version of the opening music a second theme is announced by a plaintive oboe with even beats of stalking trombones giving a feeling of resignation. The music now alternates between struggle and resignation as both main ideas are enlarged and varied. A third theme is introduced by horn calls and is taken over by flowing violins over a busy bass line. We can now sit back and let the complex development of these ideas, assertive, energetic, myserious and romantic, flood over us until the ‘tragic’ opening music reappears and crashes on to the tragic end.   

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Camille Saint-Saens    (1835 – 1921 )   Piano Concerto No. 2 Opus 22      Download as WORD document
Andante sostenuto
Allegretto scherzando
Presto

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era, best known for this piano concerto, the First Cello Concerto, Danse Macabre,  The Carnival of the Animals and his great "Organ Symphony”. He was a musical prodigy, making his concert debut at the age of ten. After studying at the Paris Conservatoire he followed a conventional career as a church organist, from 1858 at La Madeleine, the official church of the French Empire. After leaving this post twenty years later, he was a successful freelance pianist and composer, in demand in Europe and the Americas. A nice story about this time: although he was already having an established reputation he entered the competion for the Prix de Rome leading one of the judges, Berliox, to say: "He knows everything, but lacks inexperience".  Although his own compositions were generally within a conventional classical tradition, as a young man, Saint-Saëns was enthusiastic for the most modern music of the day, particularly that of Schumann, Liszt and Wagner. He was a scholar of musical history, and remained committed to the structures worked out by earlier French composers bringing him into conflict with ‘more advanced’ composers and often regarded by them as a reactionary in the decades around the time of his death. Nevertheless, his five year period as a teacher in the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris, was important in the development of French music; Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Ravel were strongly influenced by Saint-Saëns, whom they revered as a genius.
         In my 1908 edition Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians the writer says “Saint-Saëns is a consummate master of composition, and no one possesses a more profound knowledge than he does of the secrets and resources of the art; but the creative faculty does not keep pace with the technical skill of the workman. His incomparable talent for orchestration enables him to give relief to ideas which would otherwise be crude and mediocre in themselves “. A kinder summary was provided ten years later in his Obituary in The Times: “ The death of M. Saint-Saëns not only deprives France of one of her most distinguished composers; it removes from the world the last representative of the great movements in music which were typical of the 19th century. He had maintained so vigorous a vitality and kept in such close touch with present-day activities that, though it had become customary to speak of him as the doyen of French composers, it was easy to forget the place he actually took in musical chronology. He was only two years younger than Brahms, was five years older than Tchaikovsky, six years older than Dvořák, and seven years older than Sullivan. He held a position in his own country's music certain aspects of which may be fitly compared with each of those masters in their own spheres.

The Second Piano Concerto was premiered in 1868 with Saint-Saens at the keyboard and his friend Anton Rubinstein conducting. Its novelty and high spirits soon made it a popular favourite. He starts with brief homage to Bach, then a light scherzo and a final fast dance movement, leading to the comment that the work "begins like Bach and ends like Offenbach". One can hear the skill of Saint-Saens the pianist throughout this concerto, with its difficult scalar passages and arpeggios, ultimately leading to the finale’s pyrotechnics. 

The first movement begins with a solo cadenza that sounds like Liszt improvising on one of J.S. Bach’s preludes. After the orchestra’s entrance the soloist introduces a rather melancholy theme said to be taken from an exercise by Gabriel Fauré, one of Saint-Saëns’ pupils. This theme is developed brilliantly, with glittering crashing keyboard cascades, the virtuosity required being a challenge to Saint-Saëns himself at the first performance. The movement ends with another cadenza, into which the orchestra creeps as the soloist returns to the mystery of the opening introduction, with its homage to Bach.

The second movement Scherzo turns away from all of this drama, being marked leggiermente (“lightly, delicate”). It begins with a surprising pizzicato chord in the strings and a little timpani riff. The pianist comes in with a tune derived from the main theme of the first movement. A  second theme, first heard in bassoon and low strings – is central to this movement which bubbles along cheerfully, its humour making it favourite of the audience at the first performance

The final movement (Presto) is a furious saltarello (or tarantella) dance - derived from the verb saltare (“to jump”). The movement starts with four bars of introductory rumble by the soloist which comes back many times, punctuating the athletically leaping dance. Later, the ominous power of the first movement’s introduction returns in the form of monumental columns of sound  in the piano’s bass line. The final bars end in a fiery, virtuosic flash.

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Carl Nielsen    (1865 - 1931)    2nd Symphony Opus. 16 The Four Temperaments     Download as WORD document
Allegro colerico
Allegro comodo e flemmatico
Andante melancolico
Allegro sanguineo — Marziale

Carl Nielsen is indisputably the most influential figure in Danish musical history. He was the seventh of twelve children in a poor peasant family, born in 1865 on the island of Funen in Denmark. His father was a house painter and also a fiddler and cornet player, in strong demand for local celebrations. From the age of six Carl studied violin and piano and wrote his first compositions at the age of eight. When he was 14 he learned to play brass instruments and became a bugler and alto trombonist in an army band, while continuing to play his violin at home to perform at dances with his father. He later began to take his violin playing more seriously, obtaining his release from the military band to study at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, graduating in 1886 with good but not outstanding marks in all subjects. Two years later his Suite for Strings, designated by Nielsen as his Opus 1 was performed at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. By September 1889 he had progressed well enough on the violin to gain a position with the second violins in the prestigious Royal Danish Orchestra. From 1906 Nielsen increasingly served as conductor, being officially appointed assistant conductor in 1910. At first, Nielsen's compositions did not gain sufficient recognition for him to be able to support himself; during the concert which saw the premiere of his First Symphony in 1894 Nielsen played in the second violin section. The premiere of his Second Symphony in 1902, though enthusiastically received by the audience, was overshadowed by the first performance of his opera Saul and David three days earlier. Nielsen had begun writing the symphony the previous year and had worked on it in parallel with completing the opera, almost as light relief.The symphony was a great success when played in Berlin in 1896, contributing significantly to his reputation.

Nielsen’s 2nd symphony is very different from the 4th and 5th Symphonies which are well known for their depictions of violent fights between good and evil. Written in 1901–1902, it still belongs to the tradition of Brahms and Dvořák, but is more compact and concentrated. As indicated in the subtitle, each of its four movements is a musical sketch of the four temperaments (or medieval humours) thought to determine character and behaviour: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic, and sanguine. Despite this apparent programme, the work is a fully integrated symphony with a traditional symphonic structure. Nielsen himself describes the background to the symphony in a programme note, summarised here: “I had the idea for ‘The Four Temperaments’ many years ago at a country inn. On the wall were comical coloured pictures, representing the Temperaments: Choleric’ (angry or impetuous), ‘Phlegmatic’ (laid-back, or simply lazy), ‘Melancholic’ (self-explanatory) and ‘Sanguine’ (cheerful).  For example Choleric was on horseback with a long sword in his hand, his eyes bulging and his face distorted by rage and diabolical hate. We were amused by the naivety of the pictures, their exaggerated expressions and their comic earnestness. But I later realized that these shoddy pictures still contained a kind of core or idea and I began to work out the first movement of a symphony, hoping of course that my listeners would not laugh at my interpretation”. Nielsen doesn’t present us with any value judgments here: the fact that the Sanguine character has the last word doesn’t mean that the composer sees him as in any way superior to the others. The range of human character is his subject here, portrayed sometimes ironically and sometimes with stirring emotional directness.

Nielsen provided substantial programme notes for the Second Symphony, which are quoted below, although in later years he was cautious about giving his audiences too many clues.

The first movement, marked Allegro colerico is the longest and most complex. Nielsen tells us that “it is at first dominated by furious energy. There are lyrical moments, but these are soon interrupted by violently shifting figures and rhythmic jerks … This material is worked over, now wildly and impetuously, like one who is beside himself, now in a softer mood, like one who regrets his irascibility”.

In the second, ‘Phlegmatic’ movement, the composer visualized “a fair young teenager who is loved by all: His expression was rather happy, but not self-complacent, rather with a hint of quiet melancholy, so that one felt impelled to be good to him... I have never seen him dance; he wasn't active enough for that, though he swung himself in a gentle slow waltz rhythm, so I have used that for the movement, Allegro comodo e flemmatico, and tried to stick to one mood, as far away as possible from energy, emotionalism, and such things. Nothing disturbs this character’s peaceful reveries—not even the loud drum tap and momentarily squawking woodwind near the end”.

“The ‘Melancholic’ third movement (Andante melancolico) may be at the other end of the scale, emotionally speaking, but the nobly tragic theme that begins it is based on the same musical interval that dominated the Phlegmatic’s daydreams—a reminder that we are all brothers and sisters under the skin.

The fourth movement – ‘Sanguine’ finale (Allegro sanguineo) brusquley brushes aside the peace of the third movement. “I have tried to sketch a man who storms thoughtlessly forward in the belief that the whole world belongs to him”, Nielsen tells us. “There is a point, again towards the end, where ‘something scares him’—more sharp timpani strokes (four this time), followed by a moment’s quiet reflection. But it’s only a moment. Irrepressible cheerfulness bounces back in the end”.

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.................... March 2023
  Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture (Fingal's cave)      Download as a WORD document
 

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 –1847)
The Hebrides

Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period whose compositions include symphonies, concertos, piano music, organ music and chamber music.

His father, the banker Abraham Mendelssohn, was the son of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, whose family was prominent in the German Jewish community. Felix was baptised at the age of seven as a Lutheran Christian, but was brought up largely without religion. He was recognised early as a musical prodigy, as was his sister Fanny who was a talented composer and pianist in her own right. They grew up in an intellectual environment. Frequent visitors to the salons organised by his parents at their Berlin home included artists, musicians and scientists, among them Alexander von Humboldt, renowned explorer, geologist and ecologist. The musician Sarah Rothenburg wrote of the household that "Europe came to their living room".

At the age of fifteen, Felix composed his first symphony and conducted a private orchestra which played many of his early compositions. A year later he wrote his String Octet, a work marking the beginning of his maturity as a composer. This was soon followed by the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, which still ranks as a masterpiece. His later works include the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorios St. Paul, and Elijah, and the Violin Concerto, He enjoyed early success in Germany, and revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, notably with his performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829. He was deluged by offers of music from rising and would-be composers; these included Richard Wagner, who submitted his early Symphony, the score of which, to Wagner's disgust, Mendelssohn lost or mislaid. He also revived interest in the music of Franz Schubert, giving the premiere of his Ninth Symphony in 1839, more than a decade after Schubert's death. Sadly, Mendelssohn died when only age 38, almost the same age as Mozart,  another young genius.

Mendelssohn’s conservative musical tastes set him apart from more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, and Hector Berlioz. He was generally on friendly terms with them but in his letters expresses his disapproval of their works, for example writing of Berlioz's overture Les Francs-juges "The orchestration is such a frightful muddle that one ought to wash one's hands after handling one of his scores".

Mendelssohn came from a well-off family, and so was able to travel regularly. During ten visits to Britain, he made a deep impression on British musical life as a composer, conductor and soloist, many of his major works being premièred here.

The Hebrides is perhaps the earliest example of a concert overture –a piece not written to accompany a staged performance - but to explore a usually romantic theme in performance on a concert platform. An indication of the esteem in which it is held by musicians is given by a comment by  Johannes Brahms "I would gladly give all I have written, to have composed something like the Hebrides Overture”. Mendelssohn found his inspiration for this work during a holiday in Scotland in 1829 during which he went to the Hebridean island of Staffa. Here he watched the relentless battering of the Atlantic waves upon the seashore, and experienced the grandeur of the basalt Fingal's Cave. He wrote to his sister "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, the following came into my mind there", and he quoted the opening theme of the overture. On the orchestral parts he labelled the music The Hebrides, but on the score he wrote Fingal's Cave.

The overture starts with a short, restless, haunting opening theme played initially by the violas, cellos, and bassoons. It does not feel like the start of something; it is as if we are coming across something that has been going on forever. It portrays the roll of the waves through the mouth of the cave and runs through the entire composition, sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent. The peaceful grandeur of the scene is portrayed in the second theme, first heard in the cellos and bassoons, but the pounding waves always return. A staccato section perhaps depicts rain drops with the increasing intensity suggesting a storm gathering momentum. The overture closes with the second subject played slowly by a solo clarinet A blissful ending to this beautiful reminder of the beauty and power of nature.

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  Grieg Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. Download as a WORD document
 

Edvard Grieg  (1843–1907)

Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op 46

Morning Mood (Morgenstemning)
The Death of Åse (Åses død)
Anitra's Dance (Anitras dans)
In the Hall of the Mountain King (I Dovregubbens hall)

Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist whose use of his country’s folk music brought the music of Norway to fame, helping to develop a national identity, much as Sibelius did with Finlandia in Finland and Dvorak in Bohemia. He was born in Bergen; his father was a merchant and the British Vice-Consul in Bergen and his mother was a music teacher who taught him piano from the age of six. The family (name Greig) came originally from Scotland. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Grieg's great-grandfather left Scotland, eventually settling in Norway in 1770 and establishing business interests in Bergen. At the age of fifteen Edvard went to study piano at the Leipzig Conservatory. Although he enjoyed the many concerts and recitals given in Leipzig he disliked the discipline of the conservatory. About his study there, he wrote to his biographer "I must admit that I left Leipzig Conservatory just as stupid as I entered it. Naturally, I did learn something there, but my individuality was still a closed book to me."

Grieg eventually established himself in Bergen where he taught, gave piano concerts and performed his own compositions. He was director of the Philharmonic concerts at Christiana (now Oslo). His compositions included many songs, sonatas for piano and violin and, of course his popular piano concerto which helped make him famous. Despite the fame Grieg eventually did achieve, it is worth noting that most of his attention was given to his piano music, giving him the status of a miniaturist. Consequently, some of his chamber and orchestral music remains a 'hidden jewel' deserving of exploration. A nice indication of his fame is that when, for health reasons, he declined to conduct in Atlanta for a fee of $25,000, Richard Strauss was appointed instead for $6,000.

In 1874, Grieg was invited by Henrik Ibsen to compose incidental music for a forthcoming production of his drama Peer Gynt. It was an immediate success, running for 37 performances before the theatre was accidentally burned down. He later selected some of the original incidental music to form his Peer Gynt Suites, two of his best and most popular works.

Morning: Peer Gynt is in North Africa watching the sunrise over the Sahara Desert, reflected in the music by a gradual build-up of orchestral texture and dynamic levels. The cool freshness of morning is conjured up in the first movement by a pastoral melody on the flute, which is taken up by the oboe and eventually by the whole orchestra.

           Åse's Death: Peer Gynt sits beside his mother, Åse, who is on her deathbed, recalling their happy and sad times together. The music is a short, sad elegy for strings alone. A single four-bar tune is repeated six times, gradually increasing in intensity. As Åse fades away, the theme is inverted and the music gradually decreases to nothing.

         Anitra's Dance: In a tent in a desert oasis, Peer Gynt is welcomed by an Arab Sheik who provides coffee, a hookah pipe, and dancing girls. Anitra dances a solo mazurka, aiming to attract Peer Gynt and his money. She succeeds in fascinating him but perhaps also making him wonder where she learnt to dance a Polish dance in the Arabian desert. The music is in strong contrast to the previous sad section, being in mazurka rhythm, built around alternating bowed and pizzicato strings.

        In the Hall of the Mountain King: In a cave in the Norwegian mountains, Peer Gynt flirts with the mysterious daughter of the Troll King. In his journey through the cave to meet the king he becomes increasingly terrified as he is accompanied by menacing, unearthly creatures, who, realising that he is mortal, end the movement with shrieking death threats. Starting slowly in the very lowest part of the orchestra, its single theme is repeated faster and louder until it is finally played by the full orchestra. This was not Grieg's favourite composition: he is said to have described it as "Cow pats full of self-satisfied ultra-Norwegianism", and explained that it was intended as an ironic jibe directed at certain other nationalist composers.  Nonetheless, it makes a dramatic and entertaining end to the Suite.

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  Sibelius: Finlandia       Download as a WORD document
 

Jean Sibelius (1865 –1957)

Finlandia Op. 26

Jean Sibelius was a composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods, widely regarded as Finland’s greatest composer, and his music is often credited with having helped Finland develop a stronger national identity when his country was struggling from several attempts of Russification in the late 19th century.

Jean’s father died when he was three years old and he was brought up by his mother and widowed grandmother. An aunt gave him piano lessons from the age of  seven but when he was ten years old he was given a violin which he preferred. In 1881, he started to take violin lessons from the local bandmaster, soon becoming very accomplished and setting his heart on a career as a great violin virtuoso. However, despite considerable success as an instrumentalist, he ultimately chose to become a composer. He later wrote that “My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of fifteen I played my violin practically from morning to night. I hated pen and ink—unfortunately I preferred an elegant violin bow. My love for the violin lasted quite long and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late”. His love for the violin led later to his composing one of the greatest of all violin concertos.

The first reference he made to his compositions was in 1883, writing "They are rather poor, but it is nice to have something to do on rainy days." After graduating from high school in 1885, Sibelius began to study law but, showing far more interest in music, soon moved to the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) where he studied from 1885 to 1889. He also studied in Berlin and Vienna. After returning home he became a Professor at the Academy of Helsingfors and established himself as the prominent national composer of Finland. In 1897 a government stipend provided a regular income for his lifetime, enabling him to devote himself entirely to composition.

The tone-poem Finlandia is one of Sibelius’s earliest works, composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. It soon became a musical expression of Finnish patriotism, known throughout the world. Finlandia does not necessarily represent the composer's greatest work but it is especially important because of the national pride that these few minutes of music inspired.The success of Finlandia came to irritate Sibelius, particularly when it overshadowed greater and more substantial works. With added Finnish words this has become an unofficial Finnish national anthem. For many people the tune is best known from the hymn Be still my soul. Sibelius said that “it is written for orchestra, but if the world wants to sing it, it can’t be helped” and in 1948 he himself arranged a choral version. However even without the great ‘Finlandia theme’ this is wonderfully tuneful and exciting music.. 

Ominous brass chords introduce the piece, the tune within them being taken over by woodwind and strings, soon to be interrupted by staccato trumpets and timpani, The trumpet rhythm then accompanies another impressive faster tune which is developed by the rest of the orchestra, the rousing and turbulent music perhaps evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. The woodwind section now introduces the serene ‘Finlandia tune’. Darkness and conflict take over again, building up to a climax  which culminates in its victorious return.
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  Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 "From the new world"     Download as a WORD document
 

Antonín Leopold Dvorak  (1841 –1904)

Symphony No. 9    From the New World

Adagio Allegro molto
Largo
Molto vivace
Allegro con fuoco

Dvorak was a Czech composer, frequently using aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia, and was perhaps the most versatile  composer of his time. He was the eldest son of an innkeeper and butcher who rented an inn in Nelehorzeves, a village on the Vltava River north of Prague. Construction of a railway line through the village formed the basis for Dvorak’s lifelong passion for trains. His father who played the zither encouraged his son’s musical talent. When he was about 12 years old, he went to live in Zlonice fifteen miles away with an aunt and uncle and began studying harmony, piano, and organ. He wrote his earliest works, polkas, during the three years he spent there. In 1857 a perceptive music teacher, persuaded his father to enroll him at the Institute for Church Music in Prague where Dvorak completed a two-year course and played the viola in various inns and theatre bands, augmenting his small salary with a few private pupils. He graduated from the Organ School, ranking second in his class.

The nexr few years were difficult for Dvorak, who was hard-pressed for time to compose. He played viola in an orchestra that performed in Prague's restaurants but its high standard led to it being engaged as the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra. In 1863, he played in a programme conducted by Wagner for whom he said he had "unbounded admiration". By about 1865 he had written many (mainly unperformed) pieces but  they included his first string quartet and his first symphony. These compositions indicated that he was becoming increasingly influenced by of Wagner and Liszt. In 1871, Dvořák left the orchestra to have more time for composing and a year later his Piano Quintet was performed in Prague. The constant need to supplement his income pushed him to give the piano lessons through which he met his future wife.

In 1874, after his marriage, Dvorak secured the job of organist at St. Adalbert's Church in Prague and a year later he was awarded the Austrian State Prize for composition, by a jury including the famous critic Eduard Hanslick and Johannes Brahms with whom he formed a close and fruitful friendship. The jury had received a massive submission from Dvorak, including two symphonies, several overtures and a song cycle. Brahms was said to be visibly overcome by the mastery and talent of Dvorak. The two symphonies were Dvorak’s   third and fourth, both of which had been premiered in Prague in the spring of 1874. He won the State Prize again in 1876 and finally felt free to resign his position as an organist. In the next four years he composed his second String Quintet, 5th Symphony, first Piano Trio, Serenade for Strings, String Sextet Violin Concerto and the Symphonic Variations.

The admiration of the leading critics, instrumentalists, and conductors of the day continued to spread his fame abroad. In 1884 he made the first of 10 visits to England and, in 1890, he enjoyed a personal triumph in Moscow, where two concerts were arranged for him by his friend Tchaikovsky. The following year he was made an honorary doctor of music of the University of Cambridge.
A new National Conservatory of Music in New York was founded by Mrs. Jeannette Thurber, the wife of a wealthy New York grocer, who had decided that America should have a Conservatory of Music based on the European pattern and that it should have a European director. Two names were suggested to her, Dvorák, then aged 50 and with a considerable international reputation, and Sibelius, who was 32 and less well-known. She chose Dvorák, and in September 1892 he and his family arrived in New York where he composed his ninth symphony and his Cello Concerto. However in 1895, due to homesickness, his partially unpaid salaryand increasing recognition in Europe he decided to return to Bohemia

One of the founding aims of the New York Conservatory was to create an American style of music, but based on the European musical tradition. Dvorak took the challenge seriously, studying Afro-American music, especially Negro spirituals and plantation songs, saying  that “they are the folk music of America and your composers must turn to them”. With hindsight it appears that American composers were more influenced by European music or by jazz, which had no European roots at all. However, Dvorak’s teaching must have had some second hand influence because three essential American composers, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, all studied with pupils of Dvorak..

Dvorak’s New World Symphony, composed in 1893, was the first of Dvorak's compositions to be written wholly in America. This symphony, one of the greatest in the romantic repertoire, caused discord among America's music critics as many thought it should have a European perspective. Instead, Dvorak chose the rhythms and tonalities of the music of indigenous peoples and of African-Americans which was thought by many white Americans to be primitive. He said that "In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music". However, it was only the musical structures that he used, the many beautiful tunes being entirely Dvorak’s own creation. As regards Native American influences, he once more stated that the melodies were original, using only the "peculiarities of the Indian music", but how he acquired this uderstanding is a matter of doubt.  He had little opportunity to hear this music until after his symphony was completed and he acknowledged being inspired by Longfellow’s oratorio Hiawatha. It has often been suggested that much of this symphony is firmly based in his homeland and reflects the home-sickness which he felt throughout his stay in New York

The first movement of the symphony (Adagio Allegro molto) begins with a mysterious introduction by the cellos, repeated by the woodwind and soon to be followed by the first main allegro molto theme which is one of those melodies that have suggested a black American origin; it reappears in various forms in each of the subsequent movements. A later theme, contrasting strongly with this vigorous opening, played first by the flute, bears a distinct likeness to the familiar spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot; this and other themes are developed at length, in a vigorous, exciting and often dramatic slavonic fashion. The movement ends with a brilliant coda, built mainly on the principal theme.

The solemn brass chords that introduce the largo movement are soon followed by a beautiful, serene cor anglais melody accompanied by muted strings, inspired by the verses in Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha describing Minnehaha's death and her burial in the forest. This melody, sounding like a spiritual itself, in fact became the basis of one, entitled Goin' home. It has, of course been used in many contexts whenever its essence of nostalgia is needed. It is developed lovingly by woodwinds and strings. A contrasting central section follows - opened by a solo flute, underpinned by a gentle walking pizzicato from the basses. The energetic first theme from the first movement makes a brief appearance before the beauty and pathos of the beautiful Largo theme makes its reappearance to close the movement when we also hear the same brass chords as we heard in the introduction.

Dvorak is said to have returned to Longfellow again for the molto vivace scherzo, and found inspiration from the scene in Hiawatha's Wedding Feast where the Indians dance. A gentler section with predominating woodwind follows, interrupted by the rather aggressive principal theme from the first movement, leading back to the intitial ‘Indian dancing’. Whatever we think about the ‘Indian’ influence, it is also evident that both sections of this movement use the rhythms and energy of Czech folk-dances, as in Dvoraks’s previous eight symphonies.

The mainly dramatic and fiery finale (Allegro con fuoco)  opens fortissimo with a majestic subject given to the French horns and trumpets. A second theme is first heard on the clarinet over tremolo strings. The development section uses both these main themes and recalls several subjects from all three earlier movements. The brief appearance of the nursery rhyme ‘Three blind mice’ is presumably an accident. In the recapitulation, the themes of the finale are restated. The coda recalls earlier ideas once more and the movement builds to a powerful climax, ending in a blaze of orchestral colour that slowly fades away to silence.

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