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Programme Notes

We are fortunate to have original programme notes researched and written for our concerts by Joanna Lavender. They are posted here for general interest and may be used by other amateur orchestras if credited © Joanna Lavender/www.crowthorneorchestra.com (we’d be interested to know if you use them – please drop us an email). Click on a title to jump to the notes. We’ll add to the list after each concert and hope to build up a useful library.

• Sleigh Ride

• Little Suite No. 1

• Adagio for Strings

• Overture to Candide

• Hungarian Dances
• Tragic Overture
• Symphony No. 2

• Soirées Musicales

• Kol Nidrei
• Violin Concerto no.1

• España
• Joyeuse Marche

• Prélude a l’Après-midi d’un Faune

• Winter Night (Sleigh Ride)

• Symphony No. 8


• An American in Paris
• Piano Concerto in F

• ‘Rejoice Greatly’ from Messiah

• Trumpet Concerto

• Les Préludes (d’après Lamartine)

• Violin Concerto

• Exultate, Jubilate

• Les Biches

• Troika from Lieutenant Kije

• Horn Concerto

• Music from The Gondoliers

• Symphony No. 5

• Die Meistersingers Overture

Sleigh Ride (1948)

A Christmas Festival (1950)
by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)

Born in America of Swedish parents, Anderson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to light orchestral music composition. He had the original idea for Sleigh Ride during a heat wave in July 1946 and finished the work two years later. The lyrics, about riding in a sleigh on a winter’s day, were written by Mitchell Parish two years afterwards. The song was a hit record and has probably been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music. Anderson had studied music composition then languages at Harvard University, becoming fluent in seven foreign tongues, whilst also conducting and arranging for dance bands around Boston. He served active duty in the Korean War and in 1945 became Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence at the Pentagon. He later chose music as his sole career. Anderson’s style was influenced by the music of George Gershwin and folk music of various countries. The horse whinny at the end of Sleigh Ride is made by a trumpet half-valve glissando and the whip cracks are made by a percussionist with a slapstick.

CSO Christmas Concert 2010

Little Suite No 1

Little Suite for Orchestra Opus 53 (1955)
Sir Malcolm Henry Arnold, CBE (1921-2006)
Prelude – Dance – March

Arnold was a prolific and popular English tonal composer. He acknowledged Hector Berlioz as an influence, and several commentators have drawn a comparison with Jean Sibelius.

Malcolm began playing the trumpet at the age of 12 after hearing Louis Armstrong play. Five years later he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Here he studied composition with Gordon Jacob and the trumpet with Ernest Hall. In 1941 he joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet and became principal trumpet in 1943. He became a full-time composer in 1948.

His works are particularly popular with youth and amateur orchestras because of their ease, and because of the accessibility of his unique style, which combines the musical elements of classical, jazz, popular and folk. He wrote a huge body of music, including a large quantity of music for less popular instruments, and nine symphonies, seven ballets, two operas, one musical, over twenty concertos, two string quartets, and music for brass-band and wind-band. He also wrote 132 film scores. In October of each year there is an annual Malcolm Arnold Festival in his birthplace Northampton.

His awards are impressive: Bard of the Cornish Gorseth, seven Honorary Doctorates of Music, Fellow of the Royal College of Music, the Ivor Novello Award, the Wavendon Award, a knighthood, Fellow of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Distinguished Musician Award, Freedom of Northampton award. He said that music is “a social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is”.

Other British composers writing in 1955 were Bliss (Violin Concerto), Tippet (Sonata for Four Horns), Vaughan Williams (Symphony no.8), Walton (Johannesburg Festival Overture); meanwhile Europe was overwhelmed by the modern atonal music movement (Lutoslawski, Milhaud, Nono, Stockhausen, Xenakis

CSO Spring Concert 2010

Adagio for Strings

Adagio for Strings (1936)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Samuel Barber was educated at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he was taught singing, conducting, piano and composition. After graduating in 1934, Barber devoted himself entirely to composition. His style was distinctive and modern but not experimental. From the age of 7 he wrote songs and piano music, and his first string quartet was written in 1936 while he was spending the summer in Europe. He arranged the second movement for string orchestra later in the year. In the quartet the Adagio follows a violently discordant first movement.

The Adagio was performed for the first time in 1938, in a radio broadcast from a New York studio attended by an invited audience and conducted by Toscanini, who also took the piece on tour to Europe and South America. The recording of this world premiere was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation at the United States Library of Congress. Barber found initial inspiration in a passage from Vergil’s Georgics (29BC) which is an informative poem about agriculture and farming with several mentions of a river in book 4. It describes how a rivulet gradually becomes a large river. The movement follows ‘arch’ form, starting quietly, building to a climax and then petering away. Critical reception was positive, including the review by The New York Times’s Olin Downes who praised the piece: “We have here honest music, by an honest musician, not striving for pretentious effect, not behaving as a writer would who, having a clear, short, popular word handy for his purpose, got the dictionary and fished out a long one.” He was reproached by other critics who claimed that he overrated it. NPR Music said “with a tense melodic line and taut harmonies, the composition is considered by many to be the most popular of all 20th-century orchestral works.” Johanna Keller from The New York Times said it creates “an uneasy, shifting suspension as the melody begins a stepwise motion, like the hesitant climbing of stairs.” Alexander J. Morin, author of Classical Music: The Listener’s Companion said that the piece was “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye.”

Barber also transcribed the piece in 1967 for eight-part choir, as a setting of the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”). The Adagio was one of the few American pieces to be played in the Soviet Union during the Cold War; it is the unofficial American anthem of mourning, played after the deaths of Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy. It was also played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. It was performed in 2001 at the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks, replacing the traditional patriotic songs.

Adagio for Strings can be heard on many film, TV, and video game soundtracks, including Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning film Platoon and David Lynch’s 1980 Oscar-nominated film The Elephant Man.

CSO Summer Concert 2011

Overture to Candide

Overture to Candide (1936)
Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990)

Bernstein was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. Candide is an operetta based on the novella of the same name by Voltaire. The operetta was first performed in 1956 receiving mixed reviews although the music was immediately a hit. Its popularity now is partly due to the number of roles available for amateur singers. Bernstein wrote and orchestrated the overture, the rest of Candide was orchestrated by Hershy Kay.

The overture had a successful first concert performance in 1957 by the New York Philharmonic under the composer’s baton and was performed by nearly 100 other orchestras within the next two years. The overture incorporates tunes from the songs “The Best of All Possible Worlds”, “Battle Music”, “Oh, Happy We”, and “Glitter and Be Gay” with melodies composed specifically for the overture. Much of the music is written in changing time signatures.

The current version for symphony orchestra incorporates changes made by Bernstein during performances in 1989. Scoring includes a piccolo, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, tuba, a large but standard percussion section and harp. .

CSO Summer Concert 2011

Hungarian Dances

Hungarian Dances 1, 6 and 5 (1869)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), arranged by Adolf Schmid

The Hungarian people, the Magyars, emerged from the intermingling of Finno-Ugric and Eastern Turkish peoples during the fifth to eighth centuries and so the origins of their traditional music are unique in Europe. Some of their songs possibly date back 2,500 years. Brahms became interested in specific folk songs, and he mixed the folk tunes with his own unique style to yield a sort of hybrid. The dances are recognisably Brahms, while still obviously folk. He refused to take credit for the melodies, referring to the pieces as ‘arrangements’. Almost all the pieces show sudden contrasts between restraint and explosive energy although either may come first. Like the Hungarian language, which invariably is stressed on the first syllable, there is usually a strong accent on the first beat of each bar of music. Hungarian folk music is characterised by pentatonic scales made of major seconds and minor thirds and the transposition of a melody several times, usually up or down a fifth.

Brahms may have first become exposed to Hungarian gypsy music as early as 1850 through his friend, the Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi. He originally published his 21 Hungarian Dances as two batches of piano duets in 1869 (numbers 1-10) and 1880 (the remainder). He later arranged the first 10 dances for solo piano, and numbers 1, 3, and 10 for orchestra, while other composers, including Dvořák, orchestrated some of the other dances. Of the set, numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. Number 5 was based on the csárdás by Kéler Béla entitled “Bártfai emlék”. Csardas were originally used as a recruiting dance by the Hungarian army, and are only just over two hundred years old. At the time, these modern tavern songs were denounced by the church and condemned by the aristocracy. The first set of dances were first performed by Brahms and Clara Schumann (top concert pianist and widow of Robert Schumann) at a private concert in 1869. The remaining two books were completed the following year but not published until 1880, being again first performed the same year by Brahms and Clara.
These dances were popular and financially successful for Brahms. Other composers who have used csárdás themes in their works include Liszt, Strauss and Tchaikowsky.

In 1889, Theo Wangemann, a representative of the American inventor Thomas Edison, visited the composer in Vienna and invited him to make an experimental recording. Brahms played an abbreviated version of his first Hungarian dance on the piano. The recording was later issued on an LP. Although the spoken introduction to the short piece of music is quite clear, the piano playing is largely inaudible due to heavy surface noise. Nevertheless, this remains the earliest recording made by a major composer.

Adolf Schmid is thought to have taught orchestration at The Julliard School in the 1930s after moving to New York, although he was English. He also orchestrated works by Elgar and Strauss, and worked for a ballet company in New York for some time.

Other musical events of 1869: Grieg’s Piano Concerto was premiered at Copenhagen; Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold was debuted in Munich; Brahms was also writing the final movements of his German Requiem, and the French composer Berlioz died.

CSO Summer Concert 2010

Tragic Overture op.81 (1880)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Brahms was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period, with a career spanning more than 50 years. He was a middle child born into poverty – his mother was a seamstress and his father found employment mostly playing the horn and double bass. Johannes studied piano from the age of seven and later took up the ‘cello. By the age of nineteen he had performed his first piano concert tour.

In the summer of 1880 Brahms left his home in Vienna to visit Ischl as he often did in the spring and summer months. He was a great walker and especially enjoyed spending time in the open air, where he felt that he could think more clearly. He would walk with his hands clasped behind his back thinking about his work. Brahms had been given an honorary doctorate by Breslau University, and to say thank you he produced a pair of overtures, the Academic and the Tragic; he commented, ‘One weeps, the other laughs’. Brahms was 46 years old and had already produced hundreds of songs, two symphonies, a piano concerto, his violin concerto, and the Requiem. Both overtures were premiered in Vienna that year.

Both are in basic sonata form with three main subjects instead of the usual two, and in the Tragic, Brahms quotes some of his own writing from the last movement of his Second Symphony (1877). He was a great admirer of Beethoven and may have used his Coriolan Overture as a model. The overture has three main sections, all in the key of D minor. The score includes a piccolo, four horns, three trombones and tuba.

Brahms kept a close musical circle around him. Among these was Antonín Dvořák, the closest Brahms would come to having a protégé. Brahms’ works were labelled old-fashioned by the ‘New German School’ whose principal figures included Liszt and Wagner. Brahms admired some of Wagner’s music and admired Liszt as a great pianist, but the conflict between the two schools, known as the War of the Romantics, soon embroiled all of musical Europe. Many admirers (though not necessarily Brahms himself) saw him as the champion of traditional forms and ‘pure music’, as opposed to the ‘New German’ embrace of programme music.

CSO Spring Concert 2011

Symphony No.2, op.73 (1877)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Fifteen years after Wagner’s overture was written in the summer of 1877, Brahms wrote his second symphony during a visit to the popular tourist destination of Pörtschach am Wörthersee, a town in the Austrian province of Carinthia. Its composition was brief in comparison with the fifteen years it took Brahms to complete his First Symphony, which was finished the year before the second. Brahms mischievously wrote to his publisher in November 1877, that the symphony “is so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning.” The mood is sometimes wistful and gentle, but the last movement is excited and energetic. However, there is a revealing letter from Brahms to the composer and conductor Vinzenz Lachner in which Brahms explains the melancholic side of his nature and comments on specific features of the symphony that reflect this. The premiere was given in December 1877 in Vienna while Brahms was living there, under the direction of Hans Richter.

The word symphony is derived from Greek meaning “agreement or concord of sound”. In the Second Symphony Brahms preserved the structural principles of the classical symphony, that of four movements where two lively outer movements frame a slow second and a short third. Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator (like Mendelssohn). His writing is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which J. S. Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. He collected first editions of their works. The early Romantic composers also had a major influence on Brahms, particularly Schumann, who encouraged Brahms as a young composer, and Schubert. He aimed to honour the “purity” of venerable “German” structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom.

While many contemporaries found his music too academic, many admirers (though not necessarily Brahms himself) saw him as the champion of traditional forms and “pure music”, as opposed to the “New German” school of programme music. At this time his works were considered old-fashioned by the ‘New German School’ whose principal figures included Liszt and Wagner. Brahms admired some of Wagner’s music and admired Liszt as a great pianist, but the conflict between the two schools, known as the War of the Romantics, soon embroiled all of musical Europe. In the Brahms camp were his close friends: Clara Schumann, the influential music critic Eduard Hanslick, and the leading Viennese surgeon Theodor Billroth. In 1860, Brahms attempted to organize a public protest against some of the wilder excesses of the Wagnerians’ music. This took the form of a manifesto, written by Brahms and his friend the violinist Joseph Joachim. The manifesto, which was published prematurely with only three supporting signatures, was a failure, and he never engaged in public polemics again.

In his lifetime, Brahms’ popularity and influence were considerable. Dvorak, who received substantial assistance from Brahms, deeply admired his music and was influenced by it in several works. Brahms gave away large sums of money to friends and to aid various musical students, often with the term of strict secrecy. Brahms’ contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar.

Like Beethoven, Brahms was fond of nature and often went walking in the woods around Vienna. He often brought penny candy with him to hand out to children. To adults, Brahms was often brusque and sarcastic, and he sometimes alienated other people. His pupil Gustav Jenner wrote, “Brahms has acquired, not without reason, the reputation for being a grump, even though few could also be as lovable as he.” He also had predictable habits that included a daily visit to the local tavern. Those who remained his friends were very loyal to him, and he reciprocated with equal loyalty and generosity.

By 1860 Brahms had amassed a small fortune. But despite his wealth, he lived very simply, with a modest apartment – a mess of music papers and books – and a single housekeeper who cleaned and cooked for him. He was often the butt of jokes for his long beard, his cheap clothes and forgetting to wear socks.

The second symphony was followed in the next year by his popular violin concerto which stands close in time and character to this symphony. Also in 1877 Borodin composed his 2nd symphony and Bruckner his 5th. In the previous year Tchaikovsky had written his 3rd and Dvorak his 5th symphony.

CSO Autumn Concert 2011

Soirées Musicales

Op.9 Soirées Musicales
Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) after Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868)
Five parts: March, Canzonetta, Tirolese, Bolero, Tarantella

Rossini had taken on self–imposed retirement after writing 39 operas. However, between 1830 and 1835 he wrote a collection of 12 songs with piano accompaniment which he named Soirees Musicales. Some of the suite by Britten is taken from this collection, although the March is from Rossini’s last opera William Tell. The second, third and fourth pieces are La Promessa, La Pastorella Delle Alpi, and L’invito. The Tarantella is from No.3 of Trois Choeurs Religieux, ‘La Charite’ of 1844, and is transformed from a slow serious choral piece to a fast and lively dance. When Britten was only 23, he scored them for a large orchestra. Here we have a combination of the Italian master’s outstanding gift as a melodist combined with the English composer’s great skill as an orchestrator.

CSO Summer Concert 2010

Kol Nidrei

Adagio on Hebrew Melodies for Violoncello and Orchestra (1883)
Max Bruch (1838-1920)
One movement

Kol Nidrei is an Aramaic declaration recited in the synagogue before the beginning of the evening service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. From the Hebrew melody in this incantation Bruch’s first theme is taken. In Bruch’s setting of the melody, the cello imitates the voice of the hazzan that chants the liturgy in the synagogue. The second subject of the piece is quoted from the middle section of a Jewish melody used by Isaac Nathan in his collection called Hebrew Melodies (1815).

Bruch was born in Cologne, where he received his early musical training under the composer and pianist Ferdinand Hiller (to whom Robert Schumann dedicated his piano concerto). He had a long career as a teacher, conductor and composer, moving among musical posts in Germany. At the height of his reputation he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880-83). He taught composition in Berlin for twenty years.

Bruch completed the composition in Liverpool before it was first published in Berlin in 1881. It is entitled ‘Adagio on Two Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra with Harp’ and consists of a series of variations on two main themes.

His conservatively structured works, in the German romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Brahms, rather than the opposing “New Music” of Liszt and Wagner.  In his day, he was known primarily as a choral composer.

“ I got to know both melodies in Berlin, where I had much to do with the children of Israel in the Choral Society. The success of ‘Kol Nidrei’ is assured, because all the Jews in the world are for it eo ipso.” (1882, letter to Emil Kamphausen; trans: Fifield). The prominent musicologist Idelsohn remarked the following on Bruch’s Kol Nidrei: “In his presentation, the melody entirely lost its original character. Bruch displayed a fine art, masterly technique and fantasy, but not Jewish sentiments. It is not a Jewish Kol-Nidre which Bruch composed.” This melody is also thought to have been used by Beethoven in his C# minor quartet.

Bruch is now probably best known for his Violin Concerto Op. 26.

CSO Spring Concert 2010

Violin Concerto no.1

Violin Concerto no.1 (1866)
Max Christian Friedrich Bruch (1838–1920)

Bruch wrote three violin concertos. Although the first is best known, Bruch considered all three equally good. He was a German Romantic composer more akin to Brahms than the opposing “New Music” of Liszt and Wagner. He copied several techniques used by Mendelssohn in his violin concerto (1844), including the linking of movements and a less rigidly formed first movement. Many critics have said this work represents the apex of the Romantic tradition.

The first performance was given in 1866 by Otto von Konigslow with Bruch himself conducting. The concerto was then considerably revised with help from celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim and completed in its present form in 1867.

Bruch sold the score outright to the publisher Simrock for a small lump sum, but kept a copy for himself. At the end of World War One he was destitute, having been unable to enforce the payment of royalties for his other works. He sent the autograph score to the duo-pianists, the Sutro sisters (for whom he had written his Concerto for Two Pianos in 1912), so that they could sell it in the United States, and send him the money; but Bruch died in October 1920 without ever receiving any money. The Sutros had decided to keep the score themselves, although claiming to have sold it, and sent Bruch’s family some worthless German paper money as the proceeds of the alleged sale. In 1949 they sold the autograph manuscript to Mary Cary, whose collection now resides in New York.

The concerto is in three movements:
(1) Prelude: Allegro moderato, linked directly to (2) Adagio (3) Finale: Allegro energico. The finale main theme is in double stops (playing two notes together).

CSO Autumn Concert 2010


The España Rhapsody (1883)
Alexis-Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)

Chabrier was a Frenchman. He originally worked at the Ministry of the Interior. After discovering Wagner’s masterpiece Tristan und Isolde he realised his true passion for composition and quit the Ministry of Interior in 1880. He travelled to London (1882) and Brussels (1883) to hear the Ring cycle. However, the strength of Chabrier’s musical personality and his essential ‘Frenchness’ of temperament meant that he could only experiment with Wagner’s more superficial technical procedures.

In 1882 Chabrier and his wife visited Spain, going on a tour from July to December taking in San Sebastian, Burgos, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Malaga, Cadiz, Cordoba, Valencia, Saragossa and Barcelona. In 1883 he wrote what became his most famous work, España, a mixture of popular airs he had heard and his own imagination. It was dedicated to the conductor Charles Lamoureaux, who conducted the first public performance in November 1883, in Paris.

His letters written during his travels are full of good humour, keen observation and reactions to the music and dance he came across. In a letter to Edouard Moullé the composer details his researches into regional dance forms, giving notated musical examples. In a later letter to Lamoureux, Chabrier writes that on his return to Paris he would compose an ‘extraordinary fantasia’ which would incite the audience to a pitch of excitement, and that even Lamoureux would be obliged to hug the orchestral leader in his arms, so voluptuous would be his melodies.

Although known primarily for two of his orchestral works, España (1883) and Joyeuse Marche, he left an important corpus of operas, songs, and piano music. He was admired by composers as diverse as Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Satie, Stravinsky, and the group of composers known as Les Six. Chabrier was especially friendly with the painters Monet and Manet, and collected Impressionist paintings before Impressionism became fashionable. Chabrier's friends from the artistic avant-garde in Paris included Faure and d'Indy, as well as painters Degas and Manet whose Thursday soirées Chabrier attended. In the view of his friend Duparc, this composition for orchestra demonstrated an individual style that seemed to come from nowhere; other contemporary musicians were more condescending.

Although at first Chabrier formed this piece for piano duet, it evolved into a work for full orchestra. Encored at its first performance, and received well by the critics, it sealed Chabrier's fame overnight. Duparc, de Falla, and Mahler declared it to be “the start of modern music” and praised the work.  Chabrier more than once described it as “a piece in F and nothing more”.

Chabrier’s España inaugurated the vogue for hispanically-flavoured music, which found further expression in Debussy’s Iberia and Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole.

CSO Spring Concert 2010

Joyeuse Marche

Joyeuse Marche (1888)
Alexis-Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)

Dedicated to Vincent D’Andy, who was one of many literary friends in the Parisian artistic avante-garde, this is Chabrier’s second most popular orchestral work. We performed his best-known work, España, earlier this year. Both were written in the same year, and were first presented at a concert conducted by Chabrier in Angers, France, in 1888.

The score was conceived at the piano; Chabrier was an excellent pianist. In the score, he often asks the horns to play bells up. This syncopated march is full of tongue-in-cheek musical quotations which were better understood by contemporary audiences, but the delightful humour and light orchestration makes it an enjoyable work today.

Chabrier was more interested in the painters of the Impressionist movement than the composers, acquiring a large private art collection, including works by his close friends Manet and Monet. He immersed himself in studies of Wagner’s operas. He also knew the poet Mallarmé, and was adored for his songs by the composer Poulenc, Chabrier’s biographer.

CSO Autumn Concert 2010

Prélude a l’Après-midi d’un Faune

Prélude a l’Après-midi d’un Faune (1894)
Claude-Achille Debussy (1862-1918)        

This symphonic poem was inspired by the poem L’après-midi d’un faune (or The Afternoon of a Faun) by the French author Stéphane Mallarmé, and is his best-known work and a landmark in the history of symbolism in French literature. The final text was published in 1876. Mallarmé himself was unhappy that his poem was used as the basis for music. Debussy took a strong interest in the symbolist movement in literature, which saw art as a contemplative refuge from the outside world. The development of free verse in poetry and the disappearance of the subject in painting made Debussy reconsider musical forms.

Around 1888 Debussy had become a frequent participant at Mallarmé’s literary Symbolist gatherings, where Wagnerism dominated the discussion. However, Debussy developed his own musical language, largely independent of Wagner’s style. Debussy intensely disliked the term Impressionist when applied to his compositions. In a letter of 1908, he wrote “I am trying to do ‘something different’...what the imbeciles call ‘Impressionism’, a term which is as loosely used as possible, particularly by the critics”. About his composition Debussy wrote: “The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poem…. there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his dreams of possession in universal Nature.”

Debussy intended to write a suite of three movements but the latter two were never composed. Prélude was controversial at its première in Paris 1894, but made his reputation as one of the leading composers of the day. The term “Debussysme”, used both positively and pejoratively, became fashionable in Paris.

Debussy’s new musical language was not centred in the traditional hierarchy of keys, but sometimes uses two keys at once or no key at all, and changes key without harmonic preparation. He uses different types of scales rather than traditional classical ones (major and two minor forms), namely a scale made only of whole tones, and one with only five notes (the pentatonic scale). Debussy first came across the pentatonic scale in 1889 when he heard Javanese gamelan music. He also uses modes, an earlier form of tonality, based on scales from ancient Greece and the medieval church. Debussy employs chords a tritone (three whole tones) apart, and melodies using the tritone (the chromatic descent and ascent of melody in the opening flute solo) and parallel chords, a major departure from traditional harmony.

In contrast to the large orchestras favoured by other Late Romantic composers, Debussy wrote this piece for a smaller ensemble, emphasizing instrumental timbre with plenty of solos, and dividing string sections into four parts in places. The development of the main theme moves fluidly between 9/8, 6/8 and 12/8 metres. There is a complex organization of musical motifs traded between members of the orchestra. Pierre Boulez (contemporary classical composer and conductor) dates the awakening of modern music from this score, observing that “the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music.” The score includes antique cymbals and two harps.

CSO Autumn Concert 2010

Winter Night (Sleigh Ride) (1890)

by Frederick Delius (1862 –1934)

Born in Bradford to German parents, Delius was a late Romantic English composer. Winter Night is one of Three Small Tone Poems, the others are Spring Morning and Summer Evening. Sir Thomas Beecham conducted its first performance in 1947. A clue to its origins may be found in a letter from Grieg to Frants Beyer, in which he mentions that at a party on Christmas Eve 1887, at which both Grieg and Sinding were present, the young Delius (who was then 25) played a piece on the piano called Norwegian Sleigh Ride. Delius lived for a time in America, where he became interested in African-American spirituals and folk music. He was also a great admirer of Wagner’s music. Beecham described Delius as “the last great apostle of romantic beauty in music.” The opening melody sounds like a husky flute but is actually the lower register of the piccolo.

CSO Christmas Concert 2010

Symphony No. 8 op.88 (1889)

Antonín Dvořák(1841–1904)

Dvořák was born in a Bohemian village near Prague where he spent most of his life and learned to love the Bohemian heritage which so strongly influenced his music. His father was a professional zither player and a butcher who wanted his son to become a butcher too, but Dvořák chose to study music. He enrolled at Prague’s only organ school, and developed into an accomplished player of the violin and viola, playing viola in the local Theatre Orchestra under the conductor Smetana (the composer of Ma Vlast).

Dvořák secured the job of organist at St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague, which provided him with decent financial security, higher social status, and enough free time to focus on composing.

His music attracted the attention of the famous Johannes Brahms, whom Dvořák admired greatly. They became friends and Brahms contacted a music publisher to help promote Dvořák’s early works which were an immediate success.

Dvořák was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. His symphony No. 7 was written for London and premiered there in 1885. Dvořák visited England nine times, and often conducted his own works here. His nine symphonies are based on classical models that Beethoven would have recognised. As with the Seventh, some feel the Eighth is the best of his symphonies, although the immense popularity of the Ninth has overshadowed the earlier works.

With the Eighth, Dvořák said that he wanted ‘to write a work different from my other symphonies, with individual ideas worked out in a new manner’ and went on to compose and orchestrate it within ten weeks. This is the first symphony since Haydn to be written in G major – a key associated with folk music and song, although it opens in G minor! The symphony contains tunes like children’s songs and draws its inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved.

The score was dedicated to the ‘Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election.’ Dvořák conducted the premiere in Prague. The score includes 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1st doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones and a tuba. The piccolo only plays one long note which is in the 1st movement, and the cor anglais only plays a short, but exposed phrase of the main ‘bird call’ theme, in the 1st movement. The finale begins with a trumpet fanfare.

CSO Spring Concert 2011

An American In Paris

An American In Paris (1928)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Gershwin went to the height of the musical scene in Paris to seek composition lessons from its top teachers. Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel both reportedly turned him down because they were afraid of ruining his jazz oriented style. While he was there, he wrote An American In Paris on commission from the New York Philharmonic. He said “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” When the tone poem moves into the blues, “our American friend ... has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness.” But, “nostalgia is not a fatal disease.” The American visitor “once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life” and “the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.”

Gershwin returned to America, having quickly tired of the Paris musical scene, and took four Parisian taxi horns with him for the premiere. The work is a single movement tone poem (descriptive piece) and the score includes a cor anglais, bass clarinet, tuba, three saxophones, a snare drum, bass drum, triangle, wood block, cymbals, low and high tom-toms, xylophone, glockenspiel, celesta. The New York premiere of the piece took place in December 1928 in Carnegie Hall with Damrosch conducting. Despite receiving mixed reviews the music became part of the standard orchestral repertoire in Europe and America. In 1945 Toscanini recorded the music in Carnegie Hall. In 1951, MGM released a musical comedy called An American in Paris, featuring Gene Kelly which includes a dance sequence built around Gershwin’s work, arranged for the film by Johnny Green.

Gershwin’s career was cut short when he died in 1937 at the age of 38 following surgery for a brain tumor. In 2005, The Guardian calculated, using estimates of earnings accrued in a composer’s lifetime, that George Gershwin was the wealthiest composer of all time. The George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Musical Achievement Award was established by UCLA to honour the brothers for their contribution to music. Gershwin received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song at the 1937 Oscars. Of Thee I Sing (1931) was the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize. The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George and Ira Gershwin in 1985. In 2007 the Library of Congress named the Prize for Popular Song after George and Ira Gershwin.

CSO Summer Concert 2011

Piano Concerto in F

Piano Concerto in F (1925)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Gershwin said “true music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today.”

Without having received any lessons in composition, George had written his Rhapsody in Blue and performed the solo part at the premiere in 1924. He had learned his pianistic skills from local renowned pianist, teacher, composer, performer and conductor, Hambitzer, of whom he said “without Hambitzer there would be no Gershwin”. The conductor and director Damrosch was so impressed with the Rhapsody in Blue that, the day after witnessing the premiere, he contacted George and asked him to write a full concerto for the New York Symphony Orchestra. George rushed out to the library and taught himself, from books, how to write one. He wrote it for two pianos at first, completing one movement per month in the summer of 1925. Then the Australian composer and teacher Ernest Hutcheson rescued George by offering him the exclusive use of his practice shack until 4pm daily. George had completed the full orchestration by November. Then Gershwin paid a 55-piece orchestra to run through this initial draft at the Globe Theatre. Damrosch gave Gershwin a few suggestions for amendments. Originally it was named “New York Concerto”. The first movement has an opening fanfare, a Charleston style syncopated theme and a Blues-based second theme. The conventionally slow middle movement has a single theme used in variation form. The third uses material from both the previous movements together with new in variation form again. Traditionally, variation form is when the initial theme is stated in its simplest way, then elaborated and altered in subsequent repetitions.

Although the public were enthusiastic about the premiere (it was sold out), a report in the New York Musical Crimes, dated 4/12/1925 reads: “Yesterday, following the premiere of his Piano Concerto in F, George Gershwin was arrested, charged with wilful corruption of a classical form…..The DA’s office said that Gershwin had knowingly insulted the classical audience’s sensitivities by serving up rehashed jazz…..The DA is confident that this time his case is pretty watertight – Gershwin has actually called his piece a ‘concerto’, scoring it himself for full symphony orchestra. Allegedly, Gershwin flouted the rules, according to testimony from ear-witnesses saying that structure-wise he was flying by the seat of his pants, and couldn’t ‘carry an argument’. Even Gershwin’s lawyer admits that the movements are just variations with no symphonic logic, but adds defensively, ‘Hey, they’re goddamned fine tunes, is all’. The DA agrees that, sure, the tunes are OK – for Broadway – but Charleston, Blues and Jazz have no place on American concert platforms.”

Classical composers in Europe were already using jazz. Variations form was a technique George was familiar with because of his improvisatory skills which he had developed in his teenage years: at fifteen George had left school to become a “song plugger” in New York’s Tin Pan Alley (where he earned $15 a week). Gershwin enjoyed imitating French musical style, saying “the opening part will be developed in typical French style, in the manner of Debussy and Les Six, though the tunes are original.” Ravel was hugely impressed with his writing, and became influenced in turn, by Gershwin’s jazz style (in his piano concertos particularly). Stravinsky thought the concerto was a work of genius, but his compatriot Prokofiev hated it. William Walton commented tha t he adored Gershwin’s orchestration of the concerto; Walton was a talented orchestrator himself. The orchestration includes a bass clarinet, cor anglais, tuba, bass drum, bells, xylophone; wood block, whip, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal with sticks, triangle and gong. Gershwin performed the premiere himself. Later he was invited by Rudy Vallee to play the third movement from the concerto in an NBC radio broadcast in 1931, which was preserved on transciption discs. An abridged performance of the concerto is featured during a fantasy sequence in the film An American in Paris.


CSO Summer Concert 2011

‘Rejoice Greatly’ from Messiah (1741)

by G. F. Handel (1685-1759)

The oratorio Messiah was composed in London to libretto by Charles Jennens from the Bible. In the summer of 1741 Handel was depressed and in debt. He began setting the libretto to music at a breakneck speed, and in just 24 days Messiah was complete. The Third Duke of Devonshire invited Handel to Dublin to give concerts for the benefit of local hospitals. His Messiah was first performed at the New Music Hall in 1742, with 26 boys and five men from the combined choirs of St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals participating.

CSO Christmas Concert 2010

Hummel Trumpet Concerto

Trumpet Concerto (1803)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

Most concertos have three movements: fast, slow, fast. They are designed to show off the virtuosic skills of the performer. Hummel would have heard and probably admired the previously written trumpet concertos by Leopold Mozart and Haydn (first performed in1800). However, he was undaunted and, like Haydn, wrote his concerto for the top trumpet player of the day, Weidinger. Based on earlier examples, he had developed an ‘organised trumpet’ with keys. Previously, trumpet players had only been able to play most notes by changing the position of their lips on the mouthpiece and producing harmonics. Reportedly, Weidinger’s improvements meant that more notes could be played in the lower register than before. Hummel wrote his concerto in December and it was performed on New Year’s Day to mark his succession to Haydn as Kapellmeister to the Esterhazy court orchestra. There are places in the second movement where Weidinger is believed to have changed Hummel’s music because of the execution of the instrument. By 1830 the keyed trumpet had been replaced by the early versions of valved trumpets. However it was still retained by some orchestras because it sounded better. The concerto was written in E major, but today people play it in E-flat major because it suits the modern trumpet construction better. Hummel gave no indication of the tempo (speed) of the movements and some markings are open to interpretation, for instance a 'wavy-line' in the second movement, which can be played as either a trill or vibrato.

As a boy, Hummel was so talented at the piano that he was housed and tutored by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for two years free of charge. He then took part in one of Mozart’s concerts, followed by a performing tour through Europe with his father ending in London. Clementi took him on for four years, and Haydn wrote a sonata for him. After he had played it Haydn walked up to the boy, thanked him and gave him a guinea. Later, he and Ludwig van Beethoven were taught by Haydn and Albrechtsburger becoming rivals and lifelong friends. At Beethoven’s request, Hummel improvised at his memorial concert where he met Schubert who later dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel.

After becoming Kapellmeister in Weimar, Hummel became close friends with Goethe and Schiller (literary giants). While in Germany, Hummel published a book on pianoforte instruction (1828), which sold thousands of copies within days. Through his teaching and writing he had a lasting affect on piano technique. His pupils included Czerny and Mendelssohn. Czerny had first studied with Beethoven, but upon hearing Hummel one evening, decided to give up Beethoven for Hummel. Was Hummel a ‘better’ pianist than Beethoven or just a nicer teacher? Schumann also applied to be a pupil of Hummel’s but was rejected owing to his unsteady temperament. Liszt wanted to study with Hummel, but his father refused to pay the high tuition fees. He went to study with Czerny instead. Notably, Chopin kept Hummel’s piano concerti in his active repertoire. Hummel was progressive in his ideas and started a pension program for retired musicians, giving benefit concert tours for them, and he was one of the first to fight for musical copyrights.

CSO Summer Concert 2010

Les Préludes

Les Préludes (d’après Lamartine) (1854) 
Franz Ritter von Liszt (1811-1886)

This is the third and most popular of Franz Liszt’s 13 symphonic poems, and was conducted by Liszt himself at the première in 1854 in Weimar. The evolution of the piece was long and complicated. Various versions were composed between 1844 and 1854, and it was first published in its current form in 1856.

It was inspired by a long Ode from Nouvelles Méditations Poétiques (1820) by French politician and poet Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), who was a pioneer of the French Romantic movement. This collection of poems was critically and popularly acclaimed, and emphasises religion, love and nature. It is thought that Liszt rewrote his overture for an unpublished cycle of male chorus pieces Les Quatre Eléments, then renamed it using a title from the Ode, and added a quote“ the trumpet sounds the alarm” from the Ode. The rest of the preface was probably written by Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, who from 1847 was Liszt’s influential lover. This preface from the 1854-5 version was added after the composition was finished: “Love is the glowing dawn of all existence; but what fate is there where the first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm...when the trumpet sounds the alarm, [man] hastens to the dangerous post, whatever the war may be…in order at last to recover in combat full consciousness of himself and entire possession of his energy.”

In a letter to his uncle, Liszt said “Les Préludes” was the ‘prelude to his own path of composition’. The manuscripts are preserved in the Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv in Weimar. The concert was announced in the Weimarische Zeitung: “Les Préludes - Symphonische Dichtung”.

This term “symphonic poem” is believed to have been invented at that time. The invention of the symphonic (tone) poem is credited entirely to Liszt. Whereas previous forms of composition (concerto, symphony, sonata) had all consisted of separate movements each with different tempos, keys, and themes, Liszt united all these properties into one long movement.  To unify the work further he transformed themes throughout the progress of the piece, each new development signifying a literary or artistic development of the subject. It became an important form of program music. Such a process of composition proved daunting, requiring a continual process of creative experimentation that included many stages of composition, rehearsal and revision to reach a version where different parts of the musical form seemed balanced. The form of the work is: Introduction, andante maestoso; main part 1, storm; main part 2, march; andante maestoso, coda.

Liszt became the figurehead of the “New German school” of composers, using an extraordinary new harmonic language.

CSO Autumn Concert 2010

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64(1844

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847)

In 1835 Mendelssohn became conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He concentrated on developing the musical life of Leipzig - working with the orchestra, the opera house, the Choir of St. Thomas Church, and the city’s other choral and musical institutions. Although performing music by the great composers of the past, he included new music by Schumann, Berlioz, Gade and many others (including his own music) so he was deluged by offers of music from rising composers and would-be composers. Amongst these was Richard Wagner who submitted his early Symphony, which to Wagner’s disgust, Mendelssohn lost or mislaid. Wagner also accused Mendelssohn of using tempos in his performances of Beethoven symphonies that were far too fast. /p>

Mendelssohn first proposed the idea of a violin concerto to Ferdinand David in 1838. He was a close friend and leader of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Mendelssohn wrote to David: “I should like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs through my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace.” The work took another six years to complete.

There were many reasons for the delay – the composing of his third symphony that premiered in 1842, and an unhappy period in Berlin – Friedrich Wilhelm 4th had come to the Prussian throne in 1840 with ambitions to develop Berlin as a cultural centre including the establishment of a music school, and reform of music for the church. The obvious choice to head these reforms was Mendelssohn. But Felix was reluctant to undertake the task, especially in the light of his strong position in Leipzig.

He did agree to spend some time in Berlin writing some church music, and, at the King’s request, music for productions of Sophocles’s Antigone (1841) and Oedipus at Colonus (1845), Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1843) and Racine’s Athalie (1845). But the funds for the school never materialised, and some of the court’s promises to Mendelssohn regarding finances, title, and concert programming were broken. He was therefore pleased to have the excuse to return to Leipzig.

Mendelssohn also carried out his eighth visit to Britain in the summer of 1844 when he conducted five Philharmonic concerts in London, and wrote “never before was anything like this season – we never went to bed before half-past one, every hour of every day was filled with engagements… and I got through more music in two months than in all the rest of the year”. He was also writing some Songs Without Words for piano and six songs for 2 voices and piano. Nevertheless, Mendelssohn and David kept up a regular correspondence during this time, with Mendelssohn seeking technical and compositional advice until its premiere. The concerto was first performed in Leipzig in 1845 with David as soloist. Mendelssohn was unable to conduct due to illness so the Danish composer Niels Gade stepped in. Mendelssohn first conducted the concerto later that year. The most successful recent violin concertos were by Paganini (no 5) in 1830, and Beethoven in 1806.

Mendelssohn had been raised in an intellectual atmosphere and his teachers had conservative tastes. He adored the music of J.S.Bach in particular and studied it closely. Although he was conventional in his choice of harmonies, and in his use of orchestral colour, he was ground-breaking in other ways.

The concerto has the traditional three movements, but for the first time they are all joined with bridging passages, a trick later imitated by Liszt and Bruch. The linking was designed to eliminate applause between movements. This would have come as a surprise to Mendelssohn’s audience, who were used to applauding between movements. The concerto opens with the soloist first instead of the usual orchestral build-up (he also does this in his First Piano Concerto). Mendelssohn wrote out the cadenza in full rather than allowing the soloist to improvise it; it’s also placed earlier in the first movement than usual (imitated later by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius). The concerto also calls on the soloist to be an accompanist to the orchestra for extended periods, an example being the ricochet arpeggios at the start of the recapitulation. This was novel for a violin concerto of its time.

Richard Taruskin points out that, although Mendelssohn produced works of extraordinary mastery at a very early age, ‘he never outgrew his precocious youthful style… He remained stylistically conservative…feeling no need to attract attention with a display of ‘revolutionary’ novelty.’

The concerto was an instant success, warmly received at its premiere and well received by contemporary critics. Mendelssohn died three years later.

CSO Autumn Concert 2011

Exultate, Jubilate (1773)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Aged 17, Wolfgang was travelling through Italy with his father to attract work and fame. In Milan Mozart wrote the opera Mitridate re di Ponto (1770), which was performed with success. Unfortunately, he did not receive a permanent appointment but various opera commissions were made. Mozart wrote this piece toward the end of his final Italian journey. It was written for Mozart’s favourite castrato but nowadays is usually performed by a soprano. Mozart made slight revisions around 1780. We are playing parts one and three of the work.

CSO Christmas Concert 2010

Les Biches

Les Biches (1923) 
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)        

Poulenc was a relatively unknown composer when in 1918 he first met Diaghilev and Stravinsky. He was a member of Les Six, a group of young French and Swiss composers who wished to be recognised for composing experimental, innovative music.

Many years later they asked him to write a modern piece based on Glazunov’s Les Sylphides. He, however, chose to base his work on the paintings of Watteau (a 17th century French painter) showing Louis XIV and various women in his “Parc aux biches”. ‘Biche’ is slang for coquettish young woman. In London this ballet suite was first named ‘House Party’, which does not render the French double-entendre. Poulenc described the ballet as a “contemporary drawing room party suffused with an atmosphere of wantonness, which you sense if you are corrupted, but of which an innocent-minded girl would not be conscious.”

Diaghilev was delighted with an initial run-through with Poulenc at the piano, and, recognising the great money-making potential of the ballet, produced it for the 1924 Ballet Russes. The costumes were intentionally skimpy. It was performed at Monte Carlo and Paris, with eight curtain calls at the first performance; it was also well received by the critics. Poulenc continually revised the music through the 1940s, eventually reducing it to an orchestral suite in five movements. His colleague Milhaud said “I was filled with wonder by Les Biches. I dream of it. It is a masterpiece.”

Individual characters are given their own motifs which recur throughout the ballet.
1. Rondeau: The young party guests flirt and chatter, but behind their carefree façades darker thoughts are stirring.
2. Adagietto: The “girl in blue” drifts in, magnetises one of two athletes, and they drift off to somewhere more private.
3.Rag-Mazurka (presto): Flaunting yards of pearls and a meaningfully long cigarette-holder, the Hostess makes a Big Entrance. When she slides seductively onto a couch, the two unattached athletes compete for her attention.
4. Andantino: Athlete No.1 resumes his dalliance with the “girl in blue”, and she is borne off shoulder high.
5. Final (presto): The party really starts to swing!

CSO Autumn Concert 2010

Troika from Lieutenant Kije (1934)

by Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) arranged by David Lloyd-Jones.

In the early 1930s Prokofiev was living in Paris but longing for his homeland, Russia. He moved back there in 1934 (his family following a year later), and was commissioned to write music for the Soviet film Lieutenant Kijé. Troika is the fourth of five pieces in the Symphonic Suite (Op. 60). This was one of his favourite forms; altogether he wrote twenty-five Symphonic Suites derived from his various stage and film works. A Troika is a traditional Russian harness driving combination, using three horses abreast, usually pulling a sleigh.

CSO Christmas Concert 2010

Horn Concerto No. 1 op.11 (1883)

Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss was born in Munich where his father, Franz, was the principal horn player at the Court Opera Orchestra. As a boy Richard attended their rehearsals. He received a thorough musical education from his father with extensive training in piano, violin, theory, harmony and orchestration. Franz, himself a well-trained musician, had exposed his son to a carefully graded curriculum that included private lessons with hand picked teachers. Richard’s early orchestral works were copied, vetted, promoted, and often conducted by Franz. He wrote his first music at the age of six (before he knew how to write words), and continued to write music for another seventy years.

When he was ten, Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, and was bowled over with admiration for them. But his musically conservative father forbade him to study Wagner’s music because he viewed it with deep suspicion. By the age of 18, Strauss had written 60 songs, 40 piano works, a violin concerto and his first symphony. In 1882 he entered Munich University, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music.

He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to the outstanding pianist, conductor and composer Hans von Bülow. Bülow had been impressed with the young composer’s Serenade for 13 wind instruments, op.7, pronouncing Richard to be ‘by far the most striking personality since Brahms.’ Strauss’s compositions at this time were in the style of Schumann or Mendelssohn, true to his father’s teachings.

His first Horn Concerto was completed when he was 19 years old. It is in an early Romantic style with all three movements linked. Early in 1883 Strauss premiered a piano accompaniment version of the concerto with one of Franz’s former horn pupils. He then went on an exploratory tour of Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig, and with his father’s introductions approached both Gustav Leinhos and the master conductor Hans von Bülow who were on tour in Berlin. When he saw the score Bülow complained to the publisher that a particularly ‘old-fashioned’ tutti was ‘much too long’, and Leinhos wrote to Richard about ‘going to Bülow to show him the corrections, whereupon he told me that he would give this concerto a very thorough preparation’. Leinhos premiered op.11 two years later under Bülow, making alterations in the horn part approved by Franz. Bülow made changes to the orchestral part. The publisher paid the obscure young composer a lump sum at once, before a single copy of the concerto was sold.

The central movement (traditionally slow) is in the unusual key of A flat minor, with 7 flats, making it very difficult for the strings section. A performance by the noted horn player Barry Tuckwell left him thoroughly out of puff.

Strauss didn’t enjoy writing in sonata form and later chose the tone poem and opera for his main forms, using the works of Wagner and Liszt as his models. His prolific output includes concertos for various instruments including another horn concerto written in 1943.

CSO Spring Concert 2011

The Gondoliers

Music from The Gondoliers (1889)
Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) arranged by Charles Godfrey Junior

The Gondoliers or, The King of Barataria (1889) had an initial run of 554 performances. The songs are presented in this order:

For the merriest fellows are we, tra la,
That ply on the emerald sea, tra la;
With loving and laughing,
And quipping and quaffing,
We're happy as happy can be, tra la
With sorrow we've nothing to do, tra la,
And care is a thing to pooh-pooh, tra la;
And jealousy yellow, unfortunate fellow,
We drown in the shimmering blue, tra la—

There lived a king, as I've been told,
In the wonder-working days of old,
When hearts were twice as good as gold,
And twenty times as mellow.
Good-temper triumphed in his face,
And in his heart he found a place
For all the erring human race
And every wretched fellow.

Buon giorno signorine:
Good morrow, pretty maids; for whom prepare ye These floral tributes extraordinary?
For Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri,
The pink and flower of all the Gondolieri.

A right down regular royal queen:
Then one of us will be a Queen,
And sit on a golden throne,
With a crown instead of a hat on her head,
And diamonds all her own!
With a beautiful robe of gold and green,
I've always understood;
I wonder whether she'd wear a feather?
I rather think she should!
Oh, 'tis a glorious thing, I ween,
To be a regular Royal Queen!
No half-and-half affair, I mean,
But a right-down regular Royal Queen!

Take a pair of sparkling eyes
Hidden, ever and anon, in a merciful eclipse
Do not heed their mild surprise
Having passed the Rubicon,
Take a pair of rosy lips;
Take a figure trimly planned
Such as admiration whets (be particular in this);
Take a tender little hand,
Fringed with dainty fingerettes,
Press it – in parenthesis –
Ah! Take all these, you lucky man
Take and keep them, if you can!

I am a courtier grave and serious
Who is about to kiss your hand:
Try to combine a pose imperious
With a demeanour nobly bland.

Here we are, at the risk of our lives,
From ever so far, and we've brought your wives
And to that end we've crossed the main,
And don't intend to return again!

No possible doubt whatever
Of that there is no manner of doubt
No probable, possible shadow of doubt
No possible doubt whatever.

Ah me, you men will never understand
That woman's heart is one with woman's hand!

Dance a cachucha, fandango, bolero,
Xeres we'll drink, Manzanilla, Montero
Wine, when it runs in abundance, enhances
The reckless delight of that wildest of dances!

Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896; The Gondoliers was the twelfth. Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and nurtured their collaboration. He built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works—which came to be known as the Savoy Operas—and he founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted their works for over a century.

The story: Two just-married Venetian gondoliers are informed by the Grand Inquisitor that one of them has just become the King of “Barataria”, but only their foster mother knows which one. As Barataria needs a king to put down unrest in the country, they travel there to reign jointly, leaving their wives behind in Venice until the foster mother can be interviewed. It turns out that the king was wed in infancy to the beautiful daughter of the Spanish Duke of Plaza Toro, and so it seems he is an unintentional bigamist. But his daughter is in love the Duke’s common servant! The true identity of the king is revealed and all turns out well.

For the first time, there was a command performance of The Gondoliers for Queen Victoria and the royal family, at Windsor Castle in 1891. Gilbert and Sullivan introduced innovations in content and form that directly influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century.

This is an arrangement by Lieutenant Charles Godfrey MVO (1839-1919) who was bandmaster of the Scots Fusilier Guards from 1859. His subsequent commission in the Royal Horse Guards in 1898 was the result of a direct intervention by Queen Victoria ‘On account of his long service and being Master of a very fine Band in one of the Household Cavalry regiments’. He was one of three sons of Charles Godfrey who were all band masters.

CSO Summer Concert 2010

Symphony No. 5 

Symphony No. 5  (1888)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky  (1840-1893)
Four movements

In the summer of 1888 (aged 48) Tchaikovsky wrote his Fifth Symphony opus 64 at his country house at Grovolske. At this time he was receiving financial sponsorship from Tsar Alexander 3rd, and a wealthy widow patroness Von Meck. He conducted the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in St Petersburg in November. It was received with extreme enthusiasm by the public, but was heavily criticised by his contemporaries The Five (Cui, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussourgsky, Borodin). On its first performance in America (1892) it received a very hostile reaction. The problem was the open sentiments expressed – the overwhelming emotional power was often too much for its audience. Tchaikovsky’s music had often met with heavy criticism (including Swan Lake, the Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto) to which he was very sensitive, but, generally speaking, audiences soon adjusted and his music became widely accepted in his own lifetime.

Tchaikovsky wrote six symphonies, the last three presenting as a trilogy expressing his bitter struggle with “Fate”. The Fourth is panic-stricken, the Fifth is the most calm, and the Sixth portrays defeat. In each of these three symphonies a distinctive motto-theme portrays “Fate”. The Fifth Symphony moves through a progression from a melancholic key to a happier key – E minor to E major. I feel this expresses some optimism. Tchaikovsky said of this symphony that “it has a mountain of padding; an experienced eye can detect the thread in my seams and I can do nothing about it”. He evidently thought it was far from perfect.

Unusually, he uses the same theme in all four movements (disguised and developed) – derived from a passage in Glinka’s opera ‘A Life for the Tsar’, significantly a passage using the words ‘turn not into sorrow’. ‘A Life for the Tsar’, was the first Russian opera to be continually performed at music theatres where it was the obligatory season opener. The opera is about a patriotic hero of the 17th century who gave his life in the expulsion of the invading Polish army for the newly elected Tsar.

Tchaikovsky at numerous times in his career separated himself from the influence of certain composers. He wanted his music to be palatable to the whole of Europe, so he used Western harmonies and orchestrations. He shared many of the ideals of The Five such as an emphasis on nationalism. He was probably the first Russian composer to seriously work towards establishing a place for Russian music in European musical culture. He was the first Russian composer to conduct his own works to foreign audiences, an experience he initially found frightening because he had no confidence as a conductor.  He was careful to maintain strong musical ties with a number of popular composers and performers including Hans von Bulow (pianist) and Nikolai Rubinstein (pianist).

Tchaikovsky’s name was placed alongside that of the Russian novelist Dostoevsky by Russian commentators. Like Dostoyevsky’s characters, they felt the musical hero in Tchaikovsky’s music persisted in exploring the meaning of life whilst trapped in a fatal love-death struggle. Tchaikovsky was still considered a renegade, too dependent upon the good opinion of the West (Europe). In 1880 this assessment changed, practically overnight. During commemoration ceremonies for the Pushkin Monument in Moscow, Dostoyevsky charged that Pushkin had given a prophetic call to Russia for “universal unity” with the West.  Dostoyevsky’s message spread throughout Russia, and disdain for Tchaikovsky’s music dissipated.

It is not agreed how much these symphonies may be an open expression of homosexual longing (possibly for his nephew Bob Davydov). If openly expressed such feelings would have led to his exile or imprisonment and made life difficult for his children. Soviet censors suppressed letters openly expressing his homosexuality. Some attribute his death to suicide rather than the given cause of complications from cholera.

In 1888 the earliest known recording of classical music was put on to a wax cylinder  (Handel’s Israel in Egypt). Van Gogh cut off part of his ear and was painting his Sunflower series; Jack the Ripper murdered five women; an act in English parliament was passed to permit bicycles on the road; the Football League was formed; Brazil abolished the last remnants of slavery. Pop music in England at the time was  ‘Drill, Ye Tarriers Drill’, ‘ Over the Waves’, ‘Where did you get that Hat?’ (Sullivan). During this year were also written: Brahms – violin sonata in D minor, Chaminade – Scarf Dance, Debussy – Arabesque, Delius – Hiawatha, Franck – Symphony in D minor, Grieg – Peer Gynt Suite, Mahler – Symphony no 1, Rimsky Korsakov – Russian Easter Festival Overture, Satie – 3 Gymnopedies, Strauss – Don Juan, Tchaikovsky also wrote his Sleeping Beauty ballet suite.

CSO Spring Concert 2010

Die Meistersingers  

Overture to Die Meistersingers (1862)
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

The term ‘overture’ is from the French ouverture, meaning opening. It is the instrumental introduction to a composition. Eighteen years after Mendelssohn had written his violin concerto, Wagner began work on Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the idea for which had come during a visit he had made to Venice with his friends the Wesendoncks family. Wagner began writing the libretto while living in Prussia in 1862, and later wrote the overture which was performed in Leipzig in 1862, conducted by the composer.

These years were some of Wagner’s most difficult: the 1861 Paris production of Tannhauser was a fiasco, Wagner gave up hope of completing Der Ring des Nibelungen, the 1864 Vienna production of Tristan und Isolde was abandoned after 77 rehearsals, and finally in 1866 Wagner’s first wife Minna, died. This opera is his only mature comedy! It was not finished until October 1867. The conductor at the premiere was Hans von Bulow (also a friend of Brahms). Wagner had already had three illegitimate children with von Bulow’s wife and he married her in 1870. Franz Strauss, the father of the composer Richard Strauss, played the French horn at the premiere, despite his often-expressed dislike of Wagner, who was present at many of the rehearsals. Wagner’s frequent interruptions and digressions made rehearsals a very long-winded affair. After a five hour rehearsal, Franz Strauss led a strike by the orchestra, saying that he could not play any more. Despite these problems, the premiere was a triumph, and the opera was hailed as one of Wagner’s most successful works.

Wagner always wrote his own libretti, which he referred to as “poems”. He developed a compositional style in which the orchestra’s role is equal to that of the singer’s: the orchestra’s dramatic role includes the use of leitmotivs which are musical themes that can be interpreted as announcing specific characters, locales, and plot elements. Ultimately he developed a new concept of opera taken from Greek classical ideas, referred to as “music drama”, (although he did not use or sanction this term himself) in which all musical, poetic and dramatic elements were to be fused together. The opera was well received in general and by German critics, but Ruskin (the leading English art critic) loathed it.>

Because of its strong German nationalist statements it is also an example of Wagner’s reactionary politics. In 1850 Wagner published a paper entitled “Jewishness in Music.” The essay strongly attacked Jewish contemporaries (and rivals) Mendelssohn (who had been dead for three years) and Meyerbeer, and accused Jews of being a harmful and alien element in German culture. Despite his very public views on Jews, throughout his life Wagner had Jewish friends, colleagues and supporters.

CSO Autumn Concert 2011

The Crowthorne Symphony Orchestra is a registered charity (no. 1110231).