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.

Hits: 9

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.

Hits: 4

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.

Hits: 5

GEORGES BIZET (1838 – 1875) Suite No 1: Carmen (1875)

i.   Prélude – Aragonaise
ii.   Intermezzo
iii.  Séguedille
iv.  Les Dragons d’AlcaIa
v.  Les Toréadors

It is surely one of the greater musical tragedies that Bizet died thinking that his great work Carmen was destined to be a failure. Having been commissioned in 1872 to write an opera for the Opera-Comique to follow up other operatic ventures such as La Jolie Fille du Perth and Les Pecheurs du Perles (The Pearl Fishers), none of which had been greatly successful, Bizet chose to adapt a somewhat controversial 1846 novel by Prosper Mérimée about Carmen, a free spirit whose outrageous dalliances result in her murder by Don Jose, soldier turned smuggler. Bizet was assisted with the libretto by Meilhac and Halévy, whose adaptation attempted to make Carmen’s fickleness a little more acceptable to the at-that-time somewhat reserved French public by making her unmarried, and added a foil for Carmen’s behaviour with the character of the virginal Micaela.

The opera was completed late in 1874, but the first performance, on 3 March 1875, was little short of a disaster, the subject matter perceived as worthy only of the gutter. Despite an initial run of 48 performances critical reaction was hostile, and Bizet descended into depression, dying from a heart attack exactly three months after the premiere at the age of 36. If he had only lived another year he would have seen Carmen circulate round Europe and at last find popularity in France. Brahms, who wrote nothing operatic himself, was transfixed by it and saw some twenty performances, while Tchaikovsky predicted that it would become the world’s most popular opera, and even Wagner admitted to being impressed. Bizet’s music was well-researched and offers a convincingly Spanish experience; it provides layer after layer of psychological character-development, from the teasing seductiveness of Carmen herself through the arrogance of Escamillo, the bullfighter, to the pained passion of Don Jose, who in Shakespearian terms ‘loves not wisely but too well’, via the innocence of Micaela. Two orchestral suites were drawn from the opera immediately after Bizet’s death.

The brief Prélude presents the Fate motif which recurs in the opera at crucial moments, then the Aragonaise, based on a dance from the Aragon region of Spain, paints a picture of the colourful street outside the bullfight. The Intermezzo, one of the orchestral flute’s great moments, appears before the penultimate act to describe what at long last seems to be a stable relationship between Carmen and Don Jose. The Séguedille (Seguedilla) is in the opera sung by Carmen to seduce Don Jose into releasing her from prison at the end of Act l. The Dragoons of Alcala is a mock-military march with bassoons prominent painting the shadowy mugglers’ hideout to which Don Jose has defected at the start of Act 11. Finally The Toréadors portrays the strutting arrogance of Escamillo and the other Toreadors on their way to the bullfight. It is Carmen’s desertion of the sincere but weak Don Jose for the shallow glitter of Escamillo which precipates her murder at the hands of Jose as the bullfight proceeds in the background.

Hits: 4

CHARLES GOUNOD (1818-1893) Petite Symphonie, Op 216 (1885)

  1. Adagio et Allegretto
  2. Andante Cantabile
  3. Scherzo
  4. Finale

Gounod was born in Paris, and studied piano from an early age with his mother, who was only too pleased to support his talent. He was to study at the Paris Conservatoire and in 1839 won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Fernand, some half-a-century after his artist father had won in the Painting category, and nine years after Berlioz had won it at his fourth attempt.

Study of the classic Italian composers such as Palestrina resulted in a lifelong passion for sacred music and a deep faith, which at one point almost resulted in his taking holy orders.

His first great success was the St Cecilia Mass, performed in Paris on the Patron Saint of Music’s Day, 22 November 1855, but his interests were not just sacred, and during that year he also wrote two symphonies, the first providing a model for the Symphony in C written by one of his most promising students, the 17-year-old Georges Bizet. These days, following its rediscovery in 1933 after being lost since its composition, Bizet’s is far more popular than his mentor’s symphonies!

First forays into opera were less than successful, but in 1859 he wrote what would become recognised as his masterpiece, Faust, an opera based on Goethe’s play, telling in trenchant terms of the consequences of Faust selling his soul to Satan in the form of Méphistophélés. His opera Roméo et Juliette also remains in the repertoire. Apart from Faust, Gounod is perhaps best known for his Ave Maria, in which he took the keyboard Prelude No 1 in C by JS Bach and constructed above it the heartfelt melody which Bach’s harmony seems to imply.

The Petite Symphonie was written in 1885 for the flautist Paul Taffanel, and is scored for wind ensemble including two horns but only one flute part, for Taffanel himself. It is in four short movements, all attractive and beautifully written. The first movement has a slow introduction which leads into a crisp Allegretto, then the Andante cantabile was obviously designed to showcase Taffanel himself. The Scherzo is wonderfully cheerful, then the Finale brings the work to a sparkling close.

Hits: 4

FRANZ von SUPPE (1819-1895) Overture: Light Cavalry (1866)

Suppé started life with several major disadvantages. The first was that his parents, an Italian-Belgian father and an Austrian mother, saw fit to christen him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé-DemeIIi, which at least taught him almost all the letters of the alphabet from a very early age. The second was that, in common with a number of other composers, he had to contend with his parents trying to discourage him from studying music, preferring that he become a lawyer.

A move to Vienna cemented his musical training and, having simplified his name to the more Austrian Franz von Suppé, he found conducting, playing and singing opportunities in Vienna’s opera houses, at first unpaid but on the understanding that he would be invited to write for the theatre. He was to write over a hundred works for the stage in Vienna, including incidental music, farces and ballets, many of which have disappeared virtually without trace, and over 40 operettas, a small handful of which remain in the repertoire.

Best known of Suppé’s operettas are Poet and Peasant and Light Cavalry, and a small handful of others, Boccaccio, The Beautiful Galatea and Fatinitza, have seen the light of day briefly in recent years. The overtures to Poet and Peasant and Light Cavalry are however staple repertoire.

Light Cavalry was composed to a libretto written by one Karl Costa and premiered on 21 March 1866 in the Carltheater, Vienna. The plot deals with the trials and tribulations of bringing two sets of lovers together, Kitt, the glazier, with Dorothea, and Hermann with Vilma, an orphan, the catalyst being the arrival of a troop of Hungarian Hussars, the Light Cavalry of the title.

The overture begins with trumpet fanfares and processional drama, before an Allegro in Hungarian style sweeps all before it. This leads directly into the most famous moment, a portrait of the Hussars as they gallop along in their finery, introduced by the trumpet. A full-blooded gypsy section represents the elemental passions at stake, before the return of the Hussars’ horseback ride carries us to the triumphant close.

Hits: 4

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897) Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1881)

i. Allegro non troppo

ii. Allegro appassionato

iii. Andante

iv. Allegretto grazioso

Compared with some of the great masters Brahms as a composer was something of a late-developer. An accomplished pianist from a very early age and well-known in Hamburg, he nevertheless left it until 1853 to compose his first published compositions, the first two Piano Sonatas, when he was at the height of his friendship with Schumann and his secret love for Schumann’s wife Clara ( which was to remain, unrequited, until his death).

Most of his early compositions centred round the piano, written for himself of course, and the piano remained central to him for the whole of his composing life, his canon of works amounting to one of the major contributions in the history of composition.

His natural caution in terms of orchestral works, however, is well-known; conscious that he was regarded as the natural successor to Beethoven, and having flexed his muscles in 1858 with the elemental First Piano Concerto in D minor, he then, famously, took nearly twenty years, until 1876, to complete his First Symphony. The lyrical Second Symphony and Violin Concerto followed fairly rapidly, by which time he had confidently thrown off the Beethovenian yoke and matured into one of the great romantic masters, powerful yet sensitive, serious yet capable of wit and lightheartedness, all characteristics which appear in the Second Piano Concerto.  

The B flat major Piano Concerto appeared some twenty three years after the D minor, and immediately took its place as one of the greatest of all piano concertos. Although there had been concertos with four movements, including those termed Concerti Symphonique by the virtuoso pianist Henri Litolff, and there would later be other even larger works, including that by Busoni lasting over an hour, Brahms’s B flat was itself a concerto of well-and-truly symphonic proportions.

Written over a three-year period from 1878, begun on a break from composing the Violin Concerto and finished in Pressbaum, the work was dedicated affectionately to his teacher Edward Marxsen. Having initially wondered about adding a scherzo to the D minor concerto and then, even more unusually, to the violin concerto, this time he really took the plunge and added a second movement to the usual three, which combines power and mystery. He was desperately proud of the size of the finished work and having in 1877 teased his friends that the gloriously genial Second Symphony was going to be printed on black-edged paper, he now, four years later, wrote to his friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg about the concerto saying: ‘I don’t mind telling you that I have written a tiny, tiny piano concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo’.

Brahms himself was the soloist at the work’s triumphant premiere in Budapest on 9 November 1881, and it rapidly became a calling-card for its composer/soloist all over Europe, except, sadly, Britain – Brahms couldn’t be persuaded to cross the English Channel. These days it seems to have become customary to say that the B flat is not a virtuoso concerto, perhaps due to the solo piano’s symphonic integration with the orchestra, but in 2006 the great American pianist Emanuel Ax, who would in 2011 give magisterial performances of both concertos on successive evenings at the BBC Proms, wrote: Like all the movements of the concerto the first movement is terrifyingly difficult….certainly none of us could ask for anything harder!’

A solo horn introduces the first theme of the opening movement, quietly suggesting the heroic nature of the movement. Strings answer suavely, then the piano announces its presence, stormily signalling the orchestral exposition of the main themes. A muscular dialogue between piano and orchestra ensues – although not without its moments of delicacy – drawn on a massive canvas lasting nearly twenty minutes and culminating in a dynamic coda. It seems amazing that Brahms could achieve such a massive concept without including trombones or tuba in this or the other three movements..

As if the power of all this were not enough, the piano immediately launches into the scherzo, the lower strings adding still greater force to the proceedings with urgent syncopation. After a short while a second theme arrives, at first mysterious and remote but later just as trenchant as the opening theme. A change of gear introduces a trio section which is full of rhetoric, before the piano calms proceedings down. The scherzo returns, once again leading to a powerful coda.

From here the work begins to reduce in scale, the Andante introducing a heartfelt solo cello to counterbalance the piano, which creates an ambience almost like chamber music. Indeed the extended cello solo begins the movement, its comforting, song-like line accompanied initially by strings and later woodwind and horns in restrained cross-rhythms. As is often the case with Brahms, the time signature, here 6/4, feels very ambiguous. The piano eases in to ruminate on the cello solo, and the movement rises to a height, the cello theme now strident, with stormy trills in the solo part. Soon the cello returns, now heightened in tenor clef, with the piano commenting, and the movement winds its way to a peaceful conclusion. It is thought that Brahms’s cello solo was influenced by a similar passage in the Romanze of the A minor Piano Concerto, Op 7, composed by Clara Schumann herself, a work which one hopes is due for a resurgence.

One now might expect a large-scale finale, but the piano sets us off by itself with the first theme which is playful and light-hearted, joined shortly by the orchestra in similar vein. Yes, the tone becomes a little more stormy, but very shortly the romantic and graceful second theme arrives, to be commented upon by the piano often in filigree textures. The piano introduces a high-spirited third theme and the orchestra joins in with a smile – is this really the Brahms who was jealous of his protégé Dvorak’s profusion of invention? At length the piano subsides into reflection for a moment before launching into the high-spirited coda, which brings the work to a satisfyingly triumphant conclusion.

Hits: 10

JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43 (1901-2)

i. Allegretto – Poco allegro 

ii. Tempo andante, ma rubato – Poco allegro

iii. Vivacissimo – Lento e soave

iv. Finale: Allegro moderato – Moderato assai 

 It’s only just over sixty years since the death of one of the twentieth century’s great composers, Jean Sibelius; beginning as a major participant in the nationalist movement amongst composers such as Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg and Smetana, Sibelius followed the former two in producing a symphony cycle which transcended its origins and developed into a universal utterance of huge importance in the history of music.

His early musical development centred round the violin, and he became proficient enough to audition, luckily for us unsuccessfully, for the famous Vienna Philharmonic whilst studying composition in Vienna with Robert Fuchs. Composition rapidly became his chief interest, and in 1892 he achieved success and popularity with one of his very first compositions, the large-scale choral and orchestral work Kullervo, based on legends from a Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, which was to continue to inspire him. A stream of overtly nationalist compositions followed, including the Karelia Suite, Finlandia, the symphonic poem En Saga and the Lemminkainen Suite, which comprises four Legends based, once again, on the Kalevala and including the magical Swan of Tuonela.

Despite the fact that he resented the hegemony Russia held over Finland at the time, Sibelius’s early compositional influences were the Russian masters; there was more than a whiff of Tchaikovsky and Borodin in the First Symphony, but the plain fact is that within his first decade as a composer Sibelius’s voice had already become uniquely his own. A number of mature tone poems followed, including The Oceanides, an atmospheric seascape, and the Suite: Pelleas and Melisande, of which the first movement has been familiar since the fifties as the theme music of Patrick Moore’s The Sky at Night. In 1905 he completed the final revision of his Violin Concerto, which has taken its place amongst the half-dozen greatest of all violin concertos. Throughout this time the symphony cycle developed through the popular Second and Fifth, the trenchant Third, and the esoteric Fourth and Sixth towards the wonderfully compact Seventh (1924), which has even been described by more than one commentator as the finest 20th-century symphony. Nothing remains of work on a rumoured Eighth Symphony.

In 1926 perhaps his finest tone poem, Tapiola, arrived, and then – silence. Rather like Rossini before him, for the last thirty years of his life until his death aged 91 in 1957 he wrote virtually nothing, living with his wife Aino on their estate, Ainola, in Finland, watching his reputation ebb and flow and occasionally involving himself in recordings of his works, particularly those made by his finest exponents at the time, Robert Kajanus, Serge Koussevitsky and Sir Thomas Beecham. Photographs of the composer range from the dashing good looks and flamboyant moustache of his early career to one taken only days before his death portraying suitably granitic features.

Stimulus for the Second Symphony seems to have begun in the late autumn of 1900 when a friend recommended that Sibelius take his family to Italy for a change of scene, and provided the money too. The friend was one Baron Axel Carpelan, who reminded Sibelius of the inspiration both Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss had found in Italy. The family took a mountain villa in Rapallo and Sibelius found the location a haven of peace; here he sketched some of the material of the symphony, including the main theme of the slow movement, and the Andante’s second theme came to him while he was visiting Florence, suggested by the legend of Don Juan / Don Giovanni. Indeed for a while he considered making what we know as the second movement of the symphony into a tone poem inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.

In the event, he set to work on the symphony in earnest when the family returned to Finland; it was finished in early 1902 and premiered to great acclaim by the Helsinki Philharmonic in March, the composer himself conducting. Where the First Symphony had evoked the wintry landscapes of Finland, the Second was bathed with a touch of Italian warmth; although some saw it as another burst of Finnish nationalism, Sibelius denied this – he felt that he had poured his soul into the symphony. Always given to revising his work, Sibelius tinkered a little with the Second, and the final version was given first in Stockholm in November 1903. The reception was again very enthusiastic.

The work begins memorably, with strings expressively intoning a phrase based on a three-note ascending motif, shortly accompanying a perky oboe tune which turns the three-note motif on its head, horns replying, as they do many times in the work, with noble restraint. The second subject again utilises the descending three-note motif, this time still more romantically. The motif appears in numerous guises, in fact, all through the symphony. The development takes us into dramatic territory, sometimes mysterious, sometimes menacing, sometimes more overtly tempestuous, then the recap and coda bring us full circle, the opening theme disappearing into calm.

Sinister timps introduce basses and then cellos, who begin the Tempo Andante with an extended passage of mysterious pizzicato, from which the bassoons emerge in octaves to take us into more grotesque territory, their material once again beginning with the ascending motif. Events take a more urgent turn, signalling the arrival of the strings, and shortly we are propelled into trenchant, almost tragic territory. The second subject feels on the face of it to be more peaceful – indeed Sibelius here wrote ‘Christus’ in the original score – but there is huge regret there, which quickens into rage, the coda only partly assuaging.

The Scherzo bursts into life like a machine gun, then seethes its way towards climax after climax, the three-note motif still in evidence. A pastoral trio section led by the woodwind with horns and bassoons accompaning calms the mood, but then the scherzo blazes again. As it burns itself out the trio returns, but this time tumultuously makes its way directly into the glorious D major opening theme of the finale – and there is the motif again. Brass, timpani and double basses growl in sinister fashion underneath and horns comment nobly.

Shortly the second theme opens out the textures and lets us nurse a degree of optimism, but then violas and cellos set out on a bleak F sharp minor ostinato, softly accompanying a world-weary woodwind figure above them; the change to major will be majestic next time. We gradually return to the opening grandiosity, but back comes the viola/cello figure which rumbles away for many bars, now in D minor, this time gradually adding woodwind and basses, with desolate strings and later trumpets above. Horns intone an insistent syncopation and timpani a different one, while trombones gradually add a dotted, fanfare-like figure, the whole building through a huge crescendo towards the final conclusive change to D major. At long last the sun bathes the closing bars, with the entire orchestra at full tilt in a blaze of glory. As Robert Kajanus wrote: The last movement develops towards a triumphant conclusion intended to rouse in the listener a picture of lighter and confident prospects for the future – at present a much-needed sentiment!

Hits: 12

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Symphony No 5 in Bb, D485 (1816)

i Allegro
ii Andante con moto
iii Menuetto; allegro molto
iV Allegro vivace

Schubert was born in a suburb of Vienna a matter of months before Napoleon the Treaty of Campo Formio transferring several Austrian territories to France. Musically the 27-year-old Beethoven was beginning to carry all Vienna before him, writing the C major Piano Concerto that very year. By the time Napoleon had met his Waterloo and the Treaty of Vienna had brought European peace in 1815 Schubert was already a prolific composer over halfway through his tragically short life, and in that annus mirabilis alone, although still ostensibly a part-time composer, he completed no less than 200 of his eventual 900-plus works (including 140 songs) and served notice to an albeit rather indifferent public that the Romantic era was well-established.

1816 began with Schubert actually as a full-time schoolteacher, having taken the post aged 15 when he was forced by the sad death of his mother to leave his choral scholarship in order to earn for the family, but during the year he was prevailed upon to become a full-time composer,  completing his  Fifth Symphony later in the year; although it still proclaims his veneration for Mozart the melodic and harmonic gifts which so distinguish his work in lieder and piano music, to mention just two genres which he graced, are very much in evidence.

Like Mozart, but very much unlike Beethoven, Schubert was a rapid worker, and the Fifth Symphony was written within a month in September / October 1816. Mozart was .indeed very much his idol, and on 13 June, shortly before he started the symphony, he wrote in his diary: 0 Mozart! Immortal Mozart! What countless impressions of a brighter, better life have you stamped upon our souls! The scoring is similar to that of Mozart’s Symphony No 40, and the work is the only one of Schubert’s  symphonies which doesn’t  employ clarinets, trumpets or timpani; it is also his first to date which doesn’t start with a slow introduction. Indeed its complete freshness – the antithesis of the tragic Mozart 40 – and the natural ease of its melodies have made it one of Schubert’s most popular symphonies.

Since he was not able to enjoy the same patronage and comfort that Haydn, example, had received from the Esterhazys, Schubert could only expect to have these works performed by local amateur groups with which he was associated. Indeed it is thought that he himself and his brother Ferdinand played viola and violin respectively in the first performance of Schubert was born in a suburb of Vienna a matter of months before Napoleon Bonaparte brought an end to the first phase of the French Revolutionary Wars, the B flat symphony shortly after its completion together with a collection of music officials, merchants and men from various professions, led by a professional leader/concertmaster, Otto Hatwig, who  played at the Vienna  Burgtheater.

Schubert was very poor all his life at promoting himself and making money from his talent, and so the Fifth Symphony, like many other of his compositions, remained a relatively parochial affair until well after his death – indeed the London premiere would not take place till 1873.

The first movement opens in fact with a sunny four-bar introductory phrase in woodwind and strings which leads into the first main theme, a cheeky rising-arpeggio figure which will also colour the developm nt. The second subject proceeds elegantly, also with a touch of dottedness. Unusually the recap begins not in the home key but in the subdominant, E flat.

The second movement shows Schubert completely at ease with himself. The main theme is a heartfelt song, and the only cloud on the horizon is a characteristic sideslip into a slightly darker key, C flat, as the development starts.

The Menuetto is not of the genteel species but full of energy in minor mode, beginning in G minor and surprisingly chromatic. The Trio section is gentler, sunny and completely in major mode, beginning in G major.

The final Allegro molto is busy and full of tingling energy, with a more elegant second subject . Each half ends with a cadence figure in scampering triplets, bringing to a close a completely delightful work guaranteed to usher in the joys of Spring!

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Siegfried Idyll (1870)

Picture the scene: it is Christmas morning, 1870, at the Villa Triebschen on Lake Lucerne, and amidst much secret whispering and movement of chairs and music-stands a small orchestra of thirteen players is quietly arranging itself on the stairs leading up to the bedroom of Cosima, daughter of Franz Liszt, former wife of the conductor and pianist Hans von Bulow, and mother of Siegfried, the year-old son of Richard Wagner . Richard opens the door to  the  bedroom, where his wife is nursing the baby, and the gentle strains of a violin begin arguably the most sublime musical gift ever composed.

Christmas Day also happened to be Cosima’s birthday, hence the full title of the work : Triebschen Idyll, with Fidi’s birdsong and orange sunrise, presented as a Symphonic Birthday Greeting to his Cosimo by her Richard; ‘Fidi’ was their pet name for Siegfried. However Wagner’s gift to her was not just to celebrate the two coinciding festive days; the birth of their son had, virtually for the first time in the composer’s life, bestowed on him the happiness and domestic security which he felt he deserved, although even now, engaged upon one of the greatest musical projects in the history of music, the four-opera, fourteen­ hour Ring Cycle, he was still struggling financially. Cosima’s marriage had finally been dissolved amidst some scandal in August 1870 and her new marriage to Richard solemnised almost at once; her former husband nevertheless was to remain a champion of Wagner’s music despite his wife’s defection.

Amongst the players on that historic morning was Hans Richter (1843-1916), who, it is said, used to row out to the middle of the lake to practise his thirteen­ bar trumpet part out of Cosima’s earshot. Within a few years he was Wagner’s preferred conductor for the early Ring Cycles at Bayreuth, but he also became a prime exponent not only of the music of Wagner’s bete noir Brahms, but also that of Edward Elgar during his time as principal conductor of the Halle Orchestra from 1899 until 1911. Wagner’s son Siegfried was to become a fiercely protective Director of the Bayreuth Festival for many years.

The music of the Siegfried Idyll is closely related to the love duet between Siegfried and Brunnhilde in the third act of Siegfried, the penultimate opera in the Ring cycle, which Wagner was writing at the time of the birth of his son, although the ‘sleep’ motif introduced by the flute during the first section of the Idyll is also at the core of the final scene of the second opera, Die Walkure; to the beautiful strains of the Magic Fire Music Wotan puts his errant daughter to sleep surrounded by fire, from which she can only be rescued by a true hero, Siegfried. It is thought that the two main themes of the Idyll, the violin theme at the start and the woodwind ensemble which introduces the more urgent middle section, were sketched at the time Wagner met Cosima in 1863. Because of the deeply personal nature of the work Wagner refused to have it published until penury forced his hand. Today it is performed either in the original thirteen-instrument scoring with one player to a part, or using fuller strings without overpowering the small numbers of woodwind (flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon) and brass (two horns, trumpet), as in tonight’s performance.

The work begins quietly and intimately with strings alone but rises soon to lyrical heights, initiated by material related to the ‘sleep motif’ and including several musical sighs of love, punctuated by a triplet figure perhaps representing a fluttering, lovelorn heart. The music dissolves into a semplice (‘simple’) section, the oboe introducing a lullaby, the only theme not from the opera. This leads into the woodwind choir, strings and brass eventually helping to propel the most passionate climax, which dissolves into a heroic horn solo. Gradually the music becomes urgent again leading to a much more strident version of the opening string theme,  but now the passion is spent and this absolute masterpiece finally retreats into the intimacy of the opening.

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