JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 – 1809)  Symphony No 45 in F sharp major, (Farewell) (1772)

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 – 1809) Symphony No 45 in F sharp major, (Farewell) (1772)

i.  Allegro assai     ii.  Adagio     iii.    Menuet and Trio    iv.   Finale: Presto – Adagio

The life of a professional composer to this day very often remains precarious, necessitating canvassing for commissions or sending scores to potential performers, unless there is reliable patronage available in the form of employment or retained artistic connections. For composers such as Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven the challenges were still greater, and  penury was a spectre which haunted them for much of the time; Mozart for example, after a childhood during which his father touted him round Europe as an infant prodigy, found it hard to find congenial patronage, even getting sacked by the Archbishop of Salzburg, while Schubert constantly fell victim to his own inability to ‘market’ himself.

Haydn, however, spent his career in enviable security, having found and continued to satisfy a family of enlightened patrons, namely the Esterházys, one of the richer aristocratic families of the Austro-Hungarian empire, whose court was near Eisenstadt, south of Vienna in Lower Austria. Haydn was appointed deputy to the Kapellmeister in 1761 by Prince Paul Esterházy, responsible for everything musical except the religious music, and was retained the following year when Prince Paul died childless and was succeeded by his brother Prince Nikolaus, who would become one of the great musical patrons. Haydn became Kapellmeister in his own right in 1766, and would remain in the Prince’s employ until the succession of Nikolaus’s son Prince Anton in 1790 set in place a looser employment regime. Prince Nikolaus was known as ‘The Magnificent’ on account of his tremendous wealth and generosity, and it is an indication of the value he placed on music in his court and the esteem in which he held Haydn that the composer was the third highest-paid member of his court, after the property manager and the Prince’s personal doctor. How times change!!

Despite his full-time employment Haydn was occasionally free to travel to Vienna where from about 1784 he numbered Mozart as one of his friends and string quartet colleagues, and later taught an up-and-coming composer called Ludwig van Beethoven. It is also well-known that in the early 1790s he visited London for several years in two extended and very popular visits, having had his last twelve symphonies, Nos 93-104, commissioned by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon.

Of course this means that, whilst in the Esterházy Court, amidst all Haydn’s many secular and religious compositions he wrote dozens of symphonies for his resident, hand-picked Court Orchestra, developing the genre to the extent that he became known as The Father of the Symphony. His symphonies are full of vitality, beauty and wit, and it is clear that he must have been a genial and popular figure.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s Haydn’s symphonies numbers 41 to 49 achieved a new maturity as well as exploring a darker energy, and this has become known as his as Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period. It coincided with a similar driving force in literature, in which emotions were heightened and starker motivations such as greed and power were explored, a prime example being Goethe’s reworking of the legend of Prometheus. Two of Haydn’s symphonies from this period were given characteristic nicknames – No 44 is known as Trauer (‘Mourning’) and No 49, possibly the finest of this period, La Passione.

Parts of No 45, Farewell, also fit into this style; in this context the symphony’s first movement and the first half of the last movement could be descriptive of the discomfiture of the players in his Court Orchestra at the time. Their work at Esterházy required them to be away from their families for extended periods and on one occasion in 1772 they became extremely restless, whereupon Haydn,  ever the diplomat and wit, decided on a musical means of gently nudging the Prince into allowing them to go home.

Imagine the scene: the final Adagio of the last movement was underway, and the Prince realised that the work had suddenly turned into something resembling a serenade. Suddenly 1st oboe and 2nd horn closed their music, blew out their candles and quietly left the stage. Moments later the bassoon, then 2nd oboe, then 1st horn did the same, leaving the strings, who then proceeded, desk by desk, to depart too. With the stage becoming ever darker, even Haydn himself walked away, leaving only the concertmaster and principal second violin, muted, to play out a final, poised duet before snuffing out their own candles. The Prince only took a moment to realise that Haydn had created a wonderful means of expressing his players’ needs without any confrontation.

Apart from its highly original structure, another unique feature of the Farewell is that it was the only symphony until the 20th century to be written in the key of F sharp. The first movement is in F sharp minor – only three sharps and not too tricky for most – but the MInuet and the final ‘serenade’ are in F sharp major, which has six. The work is scored for strings plus two oboes, two horns and a bassoon.

The opening Allegro assai (‘very fast’) is in true sturm und drang style – the 1st violins’ descending arpeggios are driven by lower strings and syncopated 2nd violins, with sustained block harmony in oboes and horns, the tensions exacerbated by rapid changes between extreme dynamics. Another complete contrast comes in the development where a new, elegant theme appears after a pause, before the recap restores the anguish.

The Adagio is in A, the relative major to F sharp minor, and despite the first theme’s disjointed nature, the overall impression is comfortable but with a suggestion of longing. The Minuet is in F sharp minor and forthright, with vitality being added by persistent syncopation. The Trio, led off by the horns, is more reflective.

The Finale begins dynamically, once again redolent of sturm und drang with mercurial changes of dynamic, and fights its way towards what appears to be a completed sonata-form movement, except that the halt is inconclusive. What follows is the further, final slow movement, which begins to sound valedictory, especially as the players gradually leave. It’s a uniquely imaginative conclusion not only to a marvellous symphony but also to a ticklish public relations challenge!

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OTTORINO RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite 3 (1930)

i.  Italiana       ii.  Arie di Corte   iii.   Siciliana    iv.   Passacaglia

Respighi was born into a musical family in Bologna, and was luckier than many talented youngsters, for example Berlioz, in that his family encouraged his musical inclinations, his father Giuseppe initially teaching him both piano and violin. Eventually he studied for seven years at music college in Bologna, specialising in violin and viola, and, later in his course, composition with Giuseppe Martucci, At the age of 21 he became principal viola at the Russian Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg for a season of Italian opera, and during the season met the eminent Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose composition style and orchestration he already hugely admired; such was the promise his composing already showed that Rimsky took him under his wing for no less than five months for further advanced study.

Having completed his composition course in Bologna he then spent some years touring as first violin of the Mugellini Quintet, before finally settling in Rome and becoming Professor of Composition at the St Cecilia Conservatoire, a post he held from 1913 until his death in 1936.

When Italy entered the First World War in 1915 Respighi’s position at the Conservatoire gave him immunity from military service; throughout turbulent political times for the rest of his life, including the rise of Mussolini, he managed to steer a middle course, remaining in favour with all sides of the political spectrum.

He composed prolifically from his college days until his death, showing a profound interest in the flamboyant and exotic, presumably the product of his time with Rimsky-Korsakov, and in older Italian musical forms, on which his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances are based.

His big breakthrough came with his tone poem The Fountains of Rome in 1917, which would be followed in due course by The Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals, each full of exuberance and virtuoso orchestration; taken up by the great conductor Arturo Toscanini these three works in particular made his reputation, and also gave him a route into fame in America. On his first visit in 1925 he was also able, as soloist, to give the premiere of his Piano Concerto, Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode, at Carnegie Hall, New York, on New Year’s Eve. A number of his works were premiered in America, and he received commissions from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He even travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a concert season of his works in 1927.

His interest in early Italian composers led him to edit and publish performing editions of  both Monteverdi and Vivaldi, and another of his own works showing the ancient influence was the suite The Birds; older audience members may recall one of the earliest TV antiques programmes from the 60s and 70s, the quiz Going for a Song, which used a theme from The Birds.

The three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances are based on compositions for lute and baroque guitar by Renaissance and baroque composers. The Third Suite is the only one of the three written entirely for strings, and is the most often performed, its premiere taking place under Respighi himself in Milan on 31 January 1931.

The opening Italiana is in the style of a Minuet, in which each part from cello up to first violin shows fluidity in terms of both musical independence and harmony.

Arie di Corte is based on 16th century dances by Besardo, and is framed in a number of sections ranging from Andante cantabile to Vivacissimo, using a variety of time signatures and phrase-lengths.

The Siciliana, once again resembling a Minuet, is by Ignoto, once again from the 16th century, and is perhaps the most conventional of the four dances.

The final dance is a Passacaglia, a complex set of variations on a ground bass, based on a work for lute by Roncalli from 1692. As in Pachelbel’s Canon, the spacious stride of the first section becomes more and more intensely active before the brief coda brings a grand conclusion.

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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)  Flute Concerto No 1 in G, K313 (1778)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Flute Concerto No 1 in G, K313 (1778)

i.  Allegro Maestoso    ii. Adagio non troppo        iii.    Rondo: Tempo di Menuetto

 In 1777 Mozart resigned from his first turbulent period of some four years as Court Composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg, Count Hieronymus Colloredo. Despite the fact that he had received a regular, although somewhat ungenerous, salary for one of the few times in his life he had felt stifled musically; longing to spread his wings he even found his movements restricted by the Archbishop, and in 1775 the Court Theatre had been closed, circumscribing his operatic ambition, although a compensation was the composition of his five Violin Concertos.

Eventually Mozart’s father Leopold would broker a return to working for the Archbishop in 1779, but the composer would remain discontented, eventually to be summarily dismissed in 1781, whereupon he moved to Vienna to set up as a freelance musician.

Following his resignation in 1777, however, Mozart had determined to travel to seek his fortune and set off with his ailing mother, first calling at Mannheim, where the orchestra at that time was possibly the finest to be found anywhere. Mozart was vastly impressed by the standard of orchestral playing and resolved to stay for a while to explore opportunities, but his first commission came from an unexpected source.

He was introduced to a Dutch doctor working in the Dutch East India Company named Ferdinand Dejean (variously ‘de Jean’ and ‘Deschamps’), who was an amateur flautist and offered to pay 200 gulden for Mozart to write three ‘short, easy’ flute concertos and four flute quartets. Apart from in an orchestral context the flute was not an instrument he had written for to date, having professed a dislike for the instrument, and he delayed starting on K313 until January 1778, earlier also downing tools after only two-and-a-bit quartets, K285, K285a and K285b (flute and string trio). Since he was normally a rapid worker, the time it took to fulfil even part of Dejean’s commission suggests a degree of reluctance; indeed a poem written to his mother mentioning the G major concerto expresses in scatological terms what he thought of the job, and this was compounded by the fact that to minimise his effort for the second concerto Mozart transcribed his earlier C major Oboe Concerto into D, K314. The Andante, K315, all that he wrote of a third concerto, is also thought to have been a possible alternative slow movement for K313. Dejean was not amused and paid Mozart only 96 gulden.

Nevertheless the works are attractive and purposeful and remain staples of flautists’ repertoire to this day. Certainly Mozart’s apparent reluctance is by no means reflected in the G major concerto. The work certainly does not treat the flute as a pretty and inconsequential instrument, but opens with a virile and athletic orchestral exposition, which is continued by the flute in kind. The movement follows a classic sonata form with rapid passagework often handed between flute and strings.

The  Adagio non troppo bathes us in warm D major from the start, strings muted; first violins and orchestral flutes introduce the first theme, which is then reiterated and elaborated by the soloist.

The finale is an elegant Minuet, which in its episodes gives plenty of scope for both soloist and orchestra to embark on flights of fancy.

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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Serenade: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525 (1787)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Serenade: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525 (1787)

                  i.   Allegro
ii. Romanza
iii. Minuet
iv. Rondo: Allegro

There are some classic works which one feels are instantly recognisable to almost everyone, no matter what their musical tastes – it’s almost as if they have been breathed in through the air. Amongst these would perhaps be the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Johann Strauss the Younger’s waltz On the Beautiful Blue Danube and the Largo from Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony From the New World, and the opening of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (‘A Little Night Music’, or, if you like, ‘A Little Serenade’) is surely also one of these.

It is actually a late work, completed in Vienna in August 1787 shortly before he began work on his final great triptych of symphonies, numbers 39, 40 and 41 (Jupiter), and, although it is not known for what occasion the piece was written, we may be sure that it was an event of the greatest elegance and style. Indeed, for a composer who was during the final years of his all-too-brief life often subject to money worries and stress, K525 seems to portray a composer at ease with himself and the world, however temporarily. Its genial style and attractive themes have made it one of Mozart’s most popular works, in fact the most popular according to many respected commentators over the past two hundred years, but no matter how it has been arranged and presented in all that time its sovereign quality has never been in dispute.

K525 was actually his thirteenth serenade, others including works for wind and small orchestral forces. It remained unpublished at Mozart’s death, and was sold to a publisher by his widow Constanze amongst a number of works in 1799, but publication was delayed until 1827. The work as a whole smiles, full of elegance and energy, leaving little doubt as to why it has remained so popular for nearly 250 years.

The opening is an arresting fanfare heralding music of dynamic energy. The second subject, in D major, is more graceful, and forms the basis of the development.

The Romanza too is the epitome of elegance, the main theme returning twice more between poised episodes – a Rondo in all but name – before the coda brings the movement to a quiet end.
The Minuet is quite forthright compared with some more melting examples, the Trio spinning a slightly more relaxed tale before the return of the Minuet.

The finale is a sonata form with main themes, development, recap and coda, despite its official designation as a Rondo. Its busy opening scarcely relaxes, and the development and eventual coda are dramatic and thrusting.

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LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat (Emperor) (1809)

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat (Emperor) (1809)

i.Allegro

ii.Adagio un poco mosso

iii.Allegro

Beethoven’s reaction to Napoleon’s self-anointment as Emperor of France in 1804 was unequivocal; he scratched out the dedication he had intended for his epoch-making Third Symphony, saying ‘So – he is human after all,’ and changed it to ‘Eroica’ (‘Heroic Symphony’) – in memory of a Great Man’. One can easily imagine, in that case, what his reaction would have been if he had known that his final, and grandest, piano concerto would posthumously be known as the Emperor. The nickname probably stuck after the piano-maker and composer JB Cramer (1771-1858) described the work as ‘an emperor among concertos’, admittedly a fitting tag for such an aristocratic work.

 

There was nevertheless an imperial connection, since in mid-1809 while Beethoven was in Vienna the city surrendered to Napoleon’s forces, and the work was written during the French occupation of the city and dedicated to his patron Archduke Rudolph. However, having struggled increasingly to perform his own works for piano and orchestra, Beethoven reluctantly realised when the premiere of the E flat Concerto was imminent that his deafness was now far too advanced for him adequately to present the complexities of the ensembleafter this he would write no more for concertante forces, preferring to trail-blaze in the solo piano and chamber repertoire. The concerto was premiered in Leipzig on 28 November 1811 by Friedrich Schneider, and its Vienna premiere would be given the following spring by the celebrated virtuoso and teacher Carl Czerny. 

Having created a unique soft opening to the Fourth Concerto, Beethoven begins the Fifth with another masterstroke;  three regal chords, in the home key of E flat, then the subdominant (A flat)  and then the dominant (B flat), each provide a springboard for the piano to announce its presence with massive cadenza-like split-chords, before finally propelling the orchestra into the exposition of the main themes, the first virile, the second quietly military. The piano’s re-entry is almost self-effacing – a lyrical version of the muscular first subject – but its stature increases until a second exposition arrives with the piano an equal partner. The development is based almost exclusively around the first subject, in particular the fragment of dotted rhythm. With the recap of the exposition there comes the expectation of a cadenza for the soloist, but this does not materialise. Instead there is a thoroughly majestic coda, the soloist riding above the military dotted rhythms with glittering arpeggio figures.

The slow movement is in the remote key of B major, its initial mood not unlike that of Mozart’s Concerto No 21 in C, K467. Strings then added woodwind create a dream-like atmosphere, which the piano continues in ruminative triplets, shortly developing into similarly thoughtful semiquavers. As in K467 time seems to stand still, and even at its height the movement remains restrained. Eventually a sustained B in the orchestra is gently nudged down to a Bb by the horns, returning us to the key of E flat, and the piano quietly explores what, moments later, bursts into life as the dynamic Rondo theme of the finale. Between incarnations of the theme the episodes visit sometimes more lyrical territory, but the movement as a whole is some of the most genial and effervescent music Beethoven wrote. Eventually the piano subsides accompanied by timpani, before setting off on waves of mercurial semiquavers which rush the orchestra into the exultant last few bars. 

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FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No 8 in B minor, D.759 (Unfinished) (1822)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No 8 in B minor, D.759 (Unfinished) (1822)

 i.    Allegro moderato

ii.    Andante con moto

Schubert was the son of a Viennese suburban schoolmaster who was poor but enlightened, so although the composer’s early life was deprived in terms of a comfortable home, by the age of 11 he was a chorister in the Imperial Chapel and receiving a sound training from Beethoven’s teacher, none other than the composer who had been Mozart’s great rival, Antonio Salieri. Even at this early age the creative fires burned within Schubert particularly in the field of setting poetry, and although his first official works date from the age of 15, sketches for songs have been found from his time in the Chapel which fed into mature compositions. By the age of 18 he had already written nearly a quarter of his eventual nine hundred-plus works, including dozens of Lieder (Art-songs) and five delectable, Mozart-inspired symphonies, but life remained difficult, however, partly because he found it hard to make money from his talent. The only performances of his works which he was able to obtain were by local amateur artists, which earned him little or nothing; in addition his health was poor and he had to be supported financially by friends, which caused him severe depression. He also failed to establish what might have been at least some regular income since he had a complete aversion to teaching music, although he had been a schoolteacher for a while as a teenager.

 

Nevertheless music poured from him almost as if he knew all along that his time on earth would be limited, and he graced almost every genre from chamber music and song to religious music and even opera, together with symphonic orchestral music – although wouldn’t it have been wonderful, given his exalted gift for melody, to have had a Schubert concerto or two?

 

In 1821 he made extensive sketches for a 7th Symphony, in E major, but failed to complete it – so in fact there are two Schubert Unfinished symphonies. There have been a number of completions of No 7, although some editors have actually numbered the B minor symphony as No 7we know the B minor as No 8 from the original version of the most comprehensive catalogue of Schubert’s works, that by the scholar Otto Deutsch, published in England as recently as 1951, but revisions of Deutsch are suggesting now that No 8 really should be No 7 – old habits die hard however! Incidentally, Deutsch’s chief challenge was that only about a hundred of the composer’s works were actually published in his lifetime. In fact we owe the discovery of many of his works to musical detectives such as Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms and our own Sir Arthur Sullivan, who on a trip to Vienna in 1867 unearthed no less than six of the nine symphonies and a number of other works. The Great C Major symphony, No 9, had been found mouldering in a drawer by Robert Schumann in 1838 ten years after Schubert’s death.

 

So, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Some eighteen years after Beethoven’s Eroica had broken the symphonic mould, now came Schubert’s B minor in a new mould all of its own, in its way an elemental experience just as potent as the Eroica. The scarcely-relieved tragedy of the first movement and the bleak lyricism of the second offer a complete emotional experience, heralding the burgeoning Romantic movement. Its apparent structural incompleteness has always been an enigma, however, particularly since Schubert lived for a further six years after its composition. Theories abound. Was he just too busy to complete it? Was the onset of the syphilis from which he was to suffer for those last years of his life a debilitating force just at the wrong time as he worked on the latter movements? It seems the theory that he came to feel that the work was perfect in only two movements does not hold water – for one thing it ends in the wrong key, E major, only part-way through what might have been projected as a symphonic key-structure – so it seems most likely that the work remains incomplete by accident.

Reinforcing this theory is the fact that, having dedicated the work to the Graz Musical Society, Schubert somewhat ill-advisedly gave the score as it stood to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a member of the Society, but Hüttenbrenner failed to pass the score on and only revealed that he had it 43 years later in 1865 when he was 76 and, perhaps, realised that he ought not to reach the end of his life without revealing his secret, in case the work proved to be a masterpiece. His confidant was the conductor Johann von Herbeck, a staunch advocate of Schubert, who would conduct the premiere in December 1865, but even he refused to acknowledge the lack of subsequent movements and apparently added the hopelessly inappropriate finale of the D major Third Symphony.

 

It seems that the score entrusted to Hüttenbrenner comprised the two movements we know, together with some sketches for a third movement, the first two pages in full score and the remainder in short score, missing most of the Trio section. It seems also that these pages were torn from the main body of the score and found separately. In fact in 2003 the MSO gave the first British performance of a completion of the Scherzo and Trio by Laurence Wright, a former teaching colleague of MSO principal trumpet Bob Steele. Sketches possibly for a last movement were, it is thought, pressed into service instead for his opera Rosamunde. There have been many completions of the latter two movementsbut the overwhelming majority of performances present the two movements alone as an organic whole, the first orchestral evidence of Schubert’s very own, hugely powerful voice.

 

Allegro moderato: Cellos and basses intone a darkly tragic prelude to the bleak first subject, which is sung by oboe and clarinet accompanied by muttering strings. Drama simmers close to the surface, but as a crisis finally materialises, made still more powerful with the addition of trumpets, trombones and timpani, the horns and bassoons offer some solace, introducing the lyrical second subject, first in the cellos. Peace reigns only briefly, however, and after the exposition repeat the development takes us into desolation and anguish. Following the recap of the main themes the coda finishes the movement almost in nihilism.

 

The Andante once again offers some comfort at the start, horns and bassoons introducing the consolatory first theme against a lyrical counter-melody in the cellos, but the mood changes rapidly into anger, and then becomes bleaker as the first violins are left alone to herald anxious syncopation as a bed for questioning woodwind, and soon conflict rules.  Finally the work ends in cold-comfort, perhaps revealing the composer’s sense of impending doom.

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FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 – 1847) Overture: The Fair Melusine (1833-5)

The Fair Melusine is one of Mendelssohn’s less well-known works, but it does help to illustrate the fact that if only the composer had been in a position to designate this and similar works, such as The Hebrides, as Symphonic Poems rather than merely Concert Overtures he would have been thought a pioneer of the genre. Of course The Hebrides ranks with the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a work of complete genius, but Melusine, subtitled The Mermaid and the Knight, has undoubted virtue in conveying a more peaceful seascape and the melodrama of a narrative derived from legend.

 

The work was commissioned in November of 1832 by the Philharmonic Society of London, which had nurtured a special relationship with Mendelssohn; in fact under the terms of the commission three works were requested for a fee of a hundred guineas, but such was the warmth with which Mendelssohn reciprocated that four were provided, the other major work in the four being the Italian Symphony. Melusine was designed as an overture to an opera by Conradin Kreutzera project which had been rejected by Beethoven; unsurprisingly the opera has disappeared without trace.

 

The plot concerns Melusine, a mermaid, who has the gift of becoming human for most of every week, desiring to taste the pleasures of human life, and marries Knight Raimund on condition that he does not seek her out on a Saturday, the day she reserves for aquatic activity. Eventually, of course, her secret is discovered and Raimund loses her back to the seain the original legend the two are reunited in death.

 

The overture was finished by November 1833 and first performed in London in April 1834, but the response was lukewarm and Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny, also a gifted musician and whose opinion he relied on implicitly, suggested that he could make improvements. By November 1835 he had completed a revision, which is the version in which the work has been heard ever sinceMendelssohn asked the Philharmonic Society to destroy the first version, but this was never accomplished. The new version met with much greater success, the composer Robert Schumann praising Mendelssohn for his ‘characteristic poetic grasp’ and his ‘alluring’ portrait of Melusine. The work as a whole epitomises Mendelssohn’s elegance without perhaps distilling the last degree of his genius to the same extent as those works mentioned above.

 

 

In fact musicologists have been of the opinion that the opening seascape, with rippling wind and strings, influenced Wagner’s portrait of the Rhine and the Rhinemaidens in the first instalment of his Ring cycle, The Rhinegold. Greater drama ensues with dynamic rhythms portraying the tempestuous relationship, before a more elegant secondary theme sheds a more romantic light. Midway Melusine returns to the sea for her Saturday sojourndrama returns, rising to a stirring climax as Melusine’s identity is revealed. Sadly she slips back into her watery home. 

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RICHARD RODGERS (1902-1979) arr. ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT (1894-1981) Symphonic Picture: Oklahoma! (1943 / 1955)

Robert Russell Bennett was a distinguished Broadway and Hollywood orchestrator and arranger, whose theatrical and film legacy alone amounts to over three hundred productions, working with many of the biggest names including George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Bennett would be given sketches in varying detail by the composers for orchestration; Gershwin, for example, would give him a two-piano score with suggestions for instrumentation, while Richard Rodgers would merely write out the tune and then give Bennett very much a free hand.

Having orchestrated all these productions Bennett was given licence to arrange many of them into Symphonic Pictures, including Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, perhaps his best known, Irving Berlin’s Showboat, Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (which MSO played in the 2017 Prom), and a number of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows
including South Pacific and The Sound of Music together with Oklahoma!. It is difficult to imagine better arrangements, and one feels at the end that one has virtually seen the show.

Oklahoma! was a groundbreaking musical, the first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein 11 in 1943, and based on a 1931 play by Lynn Riggs, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in the mid-west in 1906 its context is the formation of the state of Oklahoma, but its plot centres round Laurey Williams, a farm girl in love with the somewhat feckless cowboy Curly McLain but coveted by her evil farm hand Jud Fry. The sub-plot concerns the flighty Ado Annie and her beau Will Parker, their romance threatened by the scheming peddler Ali Hakim. The show won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 and has remained one of the most-produced shows of all; the integration of plot, dialogue, song and dance pointed the way for many subsequent musicals, not least the further collaborations of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Oklahoma! was filmed in 1955 starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae and won Bennett an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.

His Symphonic Picture: Oklahoma! begins with a dreamy foretaste of Oh, What O Beautiful Morning, Pore Jud is Daid and People Will Say We’re In Love. The piece bursts into life with The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends from the Box Social in Act 2, leading into the vigorous title song, Oklahoma! (with exclamation mark!). Next, People Will Say We’re In Love, epitomises the tentative romance between Laurey and Curly, followed by Out of My Dreams, the second act ballet which crystallises their secret desires. Oh, What a Beautiful Morning begins the stage action, and became the most singable number from the show. Next comes Pore Jud is Daid, a humorous mock funeral dirge, in which Curly fools Jud into thinking that he will be remembered fondly (‘His fingernails have never been so clean.’). The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, in which Curly describes the carriage he’s borrowing to take Laurey to the Box Social, is surely the most delightful number, orchestrated by Bennett to include cocks crowing in saxes and clarinets. The coquettish Many a New Day, in which Laurey declares her ‘footloose and fancy-free-ness’ is followed by the soft-shoe-shuffle Kansas City, in which Will describes his trip to the city and the new world of mod-cons. The barn dance number from the Social, Farmers Dance, leads into the comic I Cain’t Say No, in which Ado Annie describes her lack of will-power when it comes to men, and finally the apotheosis-reprise of People Will Say and Beautiful Morning.

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GUSTAV HOLST (1874-1934) St Paul’s Suite, op 29 (1912)

i.  Jig
ii.  Ostinato
iii.  Intermezzo
iv.  Finale (The Dargason)

Holst was born into a musical family of German origin in Cheltenham and his father saw to it that he had every musical advantage; he began composing at an early age, citing Richard Wagner and Arthur Sullivan as surprisingly disparate influences. Stud) at the Royal College came at the right time for Holst, for the Germanic influences which Vaughan Williams found in his training with Stanford were now beginning to be diluted, as the two main pillars of musical establishment, Stanford and Parry, began increasingly to value British musical tradition. Holst met Vaughan Williams in 1895 and the two became the greatest of friends, even appraising each other’s compositions — indeed RVW professed that Holst was a great influence on his own work. Whilst Holst was never quite as passionate about the folk tradition as RVW was, he too valued the work of the father of the English folksong revival, Cecil Sharp (1859-
1924), who had travelled the country collecting folksongs, and it was Sharp who was to inspire Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody.

Holst’s talents ran wide; he spent some time as a professional trombonist, playing under Richard Strauss and Hans Richter, but also taught music for nearly thirty years at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London. His interest in astrology inspired the composition of his most famous work, The Planets (1918), a work of the highest quality. The St Paul’s Suite, one of a number of works written for the girls of the school, immediately found its place in the timeline of great 20th century British works for strings, which began with Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia and Warlock’s Capriol Suite, and continued later with Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra. Holst’s work is in four movements, each strongly influenced by the folk tradition.

The opening movement is a pair of jigs, at first full-blooded but later pared down to give each section the limelight, and towards the end heralding a quickening of the tempo with a glorious upward scale sequence.

The second movement, Ostinato (a repeating accompaniment figure), sees second violins sharing the ongoing rippling figure which accompanies a folk-like melody initially introduced by a solo violin.

The Intermezzo begins desolately, introducing a melancholy, folk-based violin solo which leads into a cry of desperation in the whole orchestra. The violin solo continues, echoed by a solo viola. A rhythmic faster section dispels the gloom, but the movement eventually ends once again in sadness with a solo string quartet.

The finale is arranged from the last movement of Holst’s Second Suite for Military Band and is based on two dances from Playford’s manual of folk-dance from 1651. The main theme is known as The Dargason, an exciting jig, which is suddenly juxtaposed cleverly with Greensleeves. Eventually the texture fragments and the soloviolin ushers in the final chord.

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EDVARD GRIEG (1843 – 1907) Peer Gynt: Suite No 1, op 46 (1875/1888)

i.  Morning Mood
ii.  The Death of Ase
iii.  Anitra’s dance
iv.  In the Hall of the Mountain King

Strange as it may seem, Grieg was descended from a Scotsman, Alexander Greig (pronounced ‘Gregg’ of course), who settled in Bergen in the mid-18th century. He ran a fishing fleet and became well-known, but found it necessary to change the spelling to Grieg to make it easier for the Norwegians to pronounce. His great-grandson Edvard was taught by his mother and made such rapid progress that he was packed off to study in Leipzig, which he found dull and pedantic. He returned to Scandinavia to study in Copenhagen with Niels Gade, a disciple of Mendelssohn, which he found far more rewarding. Also at this time he met Rikard Nordrak, composer of the hNorwegian National anthem, who infected Grieg with his passion for Scandinavian folk music — this was to infuse Grieg’s compositions for the remainder of his career.

Grieg mostly composed on a small scale; he was generally at his best composing suites in which each movement knows its own span, such as the two Peer Gynt Suites and the Holberg Suite (first for piano, then arranged for strings), although he also tried his hand at a symphony, a set of Symphonic Variations and three exquisite violin
sonatas. With the Piano Concerto, however, he rose above his natural inclinations and intuitively produced his only undisputed larger-scale masterpiece.

In 1867 the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt, based on legend, in which the hero leaves Norway to spend many years in search of romance and adventure all over the world, including the African desert and Egypt. With a new production in prospect in 1875 Ibsen decided to invite Grieg to write extensive incidental music, and the composer wrote no less than 26 pieces, from which he later extracted two suites, No 1 in 1888 and No 2 in 1891. The suites present eight of the most attractive movements, but not in chronological order.

Suite No 1, marginally the more popular of the two, begins with one of Grieg’s most well-known short movements, usually known as Morning, but originally entitled Morning Mood, a wonderful representation of a sunrise only marginally tarnished by the knowledge that Peer is in the Moroccan desert and the stage direction runs:
Dawn. Acacias and palm trees. Peer is sitting in a tree using a wrenched-off branch to defend himself against a group of monkeys.

The Death of Åse (pronounced ‘Awsa’ apparently), describes the heartbreaking death of his mother at the end of Act 3 of the 5, before Peer leaves for more adventures. Anitra’s Dance is voluptuous and exotic, performed as Peer tries to seduce a Bedouin girl in the Moroccan desert; with this dance however, she outsmarts him, stealing his money and disappearing.

In the Hall of the Mountain King from Act 2 sees Peer in the Norwegian mountain home of the Troll King, who says that Peer may marry his daughter on condition that he become a troll himself. Luckily Peer manages to escape and his increasingly desperate flight is chronicled in this final movement of Suite 1.

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