The original aims 'to promote balanced programmes with high standards of musical performance and presentation' are those that successive committees have sought to sustain throughout the last twenty years. David Jones, our chairman since 1987, has presided over two projects designed to develop the role of the Club and to ensure that it is kept up to date. The first took place in 1989 under the auspices of Lincs and Humberside Arts when the new name South Holland Concerts was formally adopted. Following a successful National Lottery bid in 1997, a second development project was undertaken by East Midlands Marketing coinciding with the opening of Spalding's fine new arts venue at the South Holland Centre - which has been the home of South Holland Concerts ever since.
While the usual pattern of four chamber music recitals each year remains the mainstay of our programming, audiences have appreciated our close co-operation with the South Holland Centre in occasional joint promotions of larger orchestral and operatic events. We are grateful that this co-operation has allowed us this year to invite back the strings of the English Sinfonia to mark and celebrate our Twentieth Anniversary.
South Holland Concerts has much to be proud of in the last
twenty years, but nothing would have been possible without you, our music-loving
audience. Please continue to let us know what you like about our concerts
- and what you do not! Many of you have been with us from the beginning.
Yet whether you are new to South Holland Concerts or have been with us
for many years, we sincerely appreciate your loyalty and support, and
hope you enjoy this very special season of live music.
'A New Music Club for South Holland'
The first seeds of the 'South Holland Concert Club' were sown in 1982 when Keith Dobney, the Club's first chairman, felt there was a need for live concerts in Spalding. He discussed the idea with the then Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts, and eventually a steering committee consisting of four local music enthusiasts was formed. Each member personally contributed £15 in order that a bank account could be opened, and two experimental concerts were planned to test the level of local support.
The English Sinfonia offered to promote the new Club's first
concert in the NFU building in Spalding in October 1983 with a performance
of string trios and oboe quartets. (The new Club was able to retain 50p
from each ticket sold.) The second concert, given by students of the Royal
Academy of Music, took place in March 1984 following the holding of a
successful general meeting in which the Club was formally constituted
with a new committee of eight. With an enthusiastic membership of seventy,
continued help from the LHA, and good response from local businesses to
requests for sponsorship, the new music club for South Holland was officially
In a short article it would be presumptuous to hope to deal even half-fully with a subject as wide and all embracing as the world of music for the string orchestra! The popularity of string ensemble music for listener, performer and composer has endured from the eighteenth century to the present day, and the repertoire is as rich and varied in musical style as any other medium. It is clearly evident that the string ensemble does not always lie at peace - tranquil in the idyllic loveliness of Vaughan William's Fantasia on Greensleeves. Nor is it always comfortably balanced in classical symmetry as in Mozart's Eine Kleine Natchtmusic.
Many modern composers (and the not so modern) have frequently called upon their collective strings to inhabit quite different worlds. For example, the light-hearted four movements of Britten's Simple Symphony open up a playful world. Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra opens up a world inspired by folk music of the composer's native Hungary, while in sections of his Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Webern displays a passionate discord to the point of brutality. A variety of dramatic moods such as these are sharply focused in many popular 20th century string orchestra works.
But the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have their gems as well. Early string Concerti Grossi by Handel and composers of his period were frequently developed upon important principles of string part-writing and part-sharing known to musicians as counterpoint. But gradually a more formalised classical style of composition became popular, exemplified, for example, by the Englishman, William Boyce, and by J.C. Bach. From very different musical backgrounds, both composers wrote numerous String Symphonies, and while the traditional harpsichord is frequently retained in the orchestral ranks, the String Symphonies are thoroughly characteristic of the early galant period and are full of excitement and energy.
Similar characteristics are present in a set of pieces for
string orchestra of a much later period - the String Sonatas of Rossini.
Composed by a twelve-year old prodigy, these charming pieces are pure
delight. The title Serenade or Divertimento takes us straight back to
the period of Haydn and Mozart when pieces with these titles were simply
intended as a pleasurable entertainment for both listener and the player
alike. Many 20th century works for strings are given these titles. Listen
out for famous Serenades by Elgar, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, Dag Wirén,
Josef Suk, and others.
2004 is the centenary of the death one of Europe's leading musical figures, Antonin Dvorák. The musical world is likely to mark this centenary in many ways. One thing is certain - we shall hear a great deal more of his music than usual. At South Holland Concerts, we have marked the occasion in our own way this season by featuring his music in three out of our four concerts. Our piano recital on 6th March will go further and present a wide-ranging programme of Czech music.
To most of us, Dvorák (1841-1904) is principally known as a symphonist - the composer of the famous 'New World' Symphony (written in 1893 to celebrate the fourth centennial of Columbus's voyage to America). But, as the cultural wave of Nationalism swept across Europe in the 1840's, each of the three foremost Czech composers of the day - Smetena, Janácek and Dvorák, were caught in its wake, and each produced a wide variety of music influenced by the new nationalistic movement. Dvorák was, perhaps, the most successful in reconciling the native folk traditions with the symphonic form.
However, these Czech composers were also influenced by powerful musical forces from over the border - by the music of Schumann, Brahms, Wagner and Liszt. Especially with Dvorák, this cross-fertilisation helped to cultivate his unique musical style vivid colours, infectious rhythm and lyrical melody. We can gleen his brilliant sense of colour not only in his famous orchestral works, but also in his piano and vocal pieces, his opera, and the richly romantic chamber works.
Recently, at a South Holland Concerts recital, we heard the famous 'Dumky' Piano Trio. If you enjoyed that, do try to hear one the fourteen String Quartets, each of which displays Dvorák's unique flair for melody and rhythmic verve.
Many of the smaller works by composers such as Leo Janácek, Bedrich Smetana and Josef Suk are less well known. But when we consider the amazing variety of music by all the Czech composers (including that of a later generation such as the prolific and often flamboyant Bohuslav Martinu - 1890-1959), we appreciate that we have here one of the world's most original, and yet largely untapped, sources of musical enjoyment.
In our last programme we offered a brief survey of music for String Orchestra. We hope that this short listener's guide to an associated genre, the String Quartet, may also provide a background for enjoyment of the repertoire, and offer encouragement to explore the immense variety and pleasure that this music can afford.
The String Quartet is often seen as the essence of chamber music - a pinnacle of refinement where every musical idea is developed and honed to miniature perfection. For some, this view may be an over-romantic one. Yet it is undoubtedly true that many composers have seen the String Quartet as a medium in which to present in which to present some of their finest music. The various important episodes of the composer's musical development can often be traced through their piano sonatas. This is clearly so, for example, in the case of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Similarly, among prominent composers of the string quartet (and here we must add Bartók to the list, among others), their works in this medium also fit neatly into specific periods in their musical lives.
In the seventeenth century, many German and Italian player-composers matched the ever popular four-part writing for voices with musical compositions for four-part strings - initially in string ensembles rather than in solo parts. Alessandro Scarlatti (1659-1725) wrote works of this type inscribed for 'two violini, violetta and violincello'. Another form of domestic chamber music for four players, the Trio Sonata, was extremely popular throughout the Baroque period. In pieces by those such as Handel, Bach and Telemann, a keyboard continuo was usually combined, with increasingly complex and intricate instrumental parts for two violins (or flutes) and cello.
However it was Joseph Haydn who specifically sealed the future of the modern string quartet. While Mozart wrote twenty-three quartets, Haydn wrote over ninety and few composers have understood the capability of this medium so well or expressed it with such rich diversity.
As listeners we may love the music of the eighteenth century,
or prefer the classically structured romantic works of Brahms or Mendelssohn.
We may relish the sounds and colours of the impressionistic world of Debussy
or Ravel, or we may prefer the dramatic and unexpected challenges in the
music of Shostakovich or Benjamin Britten.
Singers, and all lovers of English song have been well served by John Ireland. Recitals of songs by Quilter, Bridge, Warlock, and Ireland continue to delight audiences who love the music's characteristic romanticism and colour. It is sometimes called the 'English pastoral' tradition. It is true that Ireland composed song cycles and dozens of individual songs set to texts by Housman, Yeates, Hardy, Masefield and Brooke amongst others. But popular though this vocal music is, Ireland wrote many important instrumental works deserving of better acquaintance.
Following the success of his Piano Concerto in 1930, the Concerto Partorale for orchestra and the London Overture were published. He wrote important chamber works too. Beside the String Quartets, there are Sonatas for cello and violin, three Piano Trios, and a Fantasy Sonata for clarinet and piano. Together with numerous small piano pieces there is an accessible Piano Sonata and a charming Sonatina.
Ireland was born near Manchester and entered the Royal College of Music at the age of fourteen as a student of piano and organ. He also studied composition with Stanford, whose students also included Vaughan Williams, Holst and Herbert Howells. Following the publication of his second Violin Sonata in 1915, Ireland's reputation quickly established. For many years he was organist at St Luke's Church in Chelsea, and he too taught composition at the Royal College. Benjamin Britten became his most famous pupil. Ireland wrote neither symphonies nor operas. But he eventually found inspiration for his very characteristic style within the peaceful landscape and rolling downs of Sussex where he died in 1962.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance there developed two distinct groups of instruments - those whose bold tone and colour were particularly suitable for performance in the open air, and those (like recorders) whose tone colour was softer and more suited to domestic consort music and to performance indoors. Amongst reed instruments, the shawms (illustrated) were primarily in the former group. Often used along with brass in strong ceremonial music, the shawm family (they came in different sizes) were likened by one writer as second only to the trumpets in volume!
Together with other musicians, the Frenchman Hotteterre encouraged a major step towards the modern oboe with the development of a shawm-like instrument (with narrowed bore and a smaller reed) that could be played in musical ensembles indoors. It was, however, at the grand court of Louis X1V in the late seventeenth century, that this new instrument firmly established itself and became a popular feature in court bands and all kinds of musical entertainment.
The modern oboe is very different from the instrument developed by Hotteterre. Along with other woodwind instruments since the eighteenth century, it has been subject to continuous technical improvement to satisfy the demands of varying styles of composition and increasingly large orchestral forces.
Around the 1880s, a French instrument maker called Lorée
made significant changes to the mechanism in somewhat similar manner to
the improvements made by Theobold Bohem to the flute. This oboe, known
today as the Conservertoire oboe (illustrated), is now immensely popular
and widely played by performers throughout the world. Another system was
developed in Germany and became popular in England. Commonly known as
the Thumbplate oboe, this alternative system naturally requires slightly
different fingering, but is preferred by some players.
The story of the evolution of the harp is a fascinating one. Harps in various forms have been known all over the world from the earliest times. Pictures survive of hand-held harps from Sumeria and Egypt dating back thousands of years.
In Europe, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the harp had become a sophisticated and accurately tuned instrument with a range of some five octaves and a fine repertoire. However, in earlier centuries, harp builders had encountered numerous problems with an instrument built essentially with a single string for each note. As the harp enlarged to include all the chromatic notes, the stringing of the instrument became difficult for both instrument makers and players.
One late sixteenth century solution to this problem was the invention of the double harp. It has been suggested that this may have Irish origins. (This is the instrument used by Monteverdi in his opera Orfeo.) A second row of strings added to the harp provided the chromatic notes in order that the whole scale was available in a manageable space. Some time later a Welsh triple harp was developed which had a third set of strings set between the other two which provided all the accidental notes throughout the range. Though there are some notable compositions for this harp, the intricacies of playing this instrument were considerable.
By the mid eighteenth century, a Bavarian harp maker named Simon Hochbrucker had devised a new system that was to pave the way for the modern concert harp as we know it. A mechanism, operated by pedals, allowed the player to raise and lower the pitch of the strings by changing their tension. As players became increasingly accustomed to this pedal harp, as it become known, many accomplished performers such as J B Krumpholtz, and F J Naderman of Paris, continued to make further alterations and improvements.
From these early developments, the story of the harp is
one of continued enhancement up to our own time. The modern concert instrument
now has a range of approximately six and a half octaves and an expansive
repertoire involving every genre of music. Today, its familiar sweetness
of tone and expressive beauty happily embrace music of all styles - whether
in the concert hall, theatre, dance hall or cinema.
Many people associate the euphonium mainly with military, concert and brass bands. Its beautiful mellow voice is easily recognisable, and it certainly excels at touching lyrical solos in the medium of the band. However, in the context of the orchestra too, the euphonium has played a significant role. In 1896, Richard Strauss called for the instrument in his symphonic poem Don Quixote, and Mahler also employed a euphonium in his seventh symphony.
The instrument first appeared in Germany around 1830 and was generally known by the name Baritonhorn and it employed the usual three valves. Today four-valve instruments are more common, though three-valve instruments are still made. In common with all wind instruments, the euphonium has undergone development and experimentation of many kinds. There have been instruments with six valves built to enlarge the compass, and a few American instruments have their bells experimentally slanted forwards with a much enlarged flare.
Certain forerunners of the euphonium are worth mentioning. The serpent (a large curved wooden instrument played with a brass mouthpiece) appeared around 1800, and by the mid 1800's Adolphe Sax was developing the Saxhorn family of instruments - the lowest pitched instruments being very similar to the euphonium. (See earlier programme note.)
In France, an instrument called the Ophicleide had a unique sound. It was used poignantly by Mendelssohn in his music for Midsummer Night's Dream and by Berlioz in his Symphonie Fantastique. Today, orchestral solos for these rarer instruments are frequently played on euphonium.
Many musicians today (including David Childs) are working hard to bring the euphonium to the fore as a uniquely expressive solo instrument on the concert platform. Fortunately, numerous original works and quality arrangements for the instrument are now being composed for us to enjoy.
Let us look briefly at a few of the details of his short life - just thirty-five years - and examine a few of the elements from both his youth and his maturity which fuelled this unique creative vision behind both vocal and instrumental music, and also his natural appreciation for the beauty of sound.
Mozart learned to play the keyboard at three years old. He was composing music at the age of five and, together with his talented sister, was touring Europe with his father and performing in the courts of some of the most eminent figures of the time such as Louis XV in Paris and George III in England. During this time, he even found time to learn the violin!
As with many composers, we can see Mozart's compositions neatly dividing into clear periods of development. The earliest of his pieces, especially delightful sonatas for piano, are thoroughly typical of the period. But his musical and technical mastery are nonetheless astounding given the youth of the composer. His earliest influence was that of his father, Leopold Mozart, who himself was a competent and typical Salzburg court composer. During these early travels, the young Wolfgang heard much of the music of CPE and JC Bach, and also absorbed much of the musical style of popular Italian opera.
From the age of sixteen, Mozart was employed by the Archbishop of Salzburg - a relationship that was far from happy, and the following nine years were a formative period for the young composer. Mozart's early music, showing considerable influence of his older contemporary Joseph Haydn, is refined and melodic - showing many signs of the mature style to follow. Typical examples are the delightful Serenades such as the Haffner Serenade and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the early violin concertos, and the oboe quartet.
But it is in the final period, from the age of twenty-five, that he composed the majority of the scores for which he is best remembered. The operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così Fan Tutte, and The Magic Flute were all written in the final five years of his life, along with his last four symphonies and some of the finest of his concertos and string chamber music. For many people the most moving of all his works - the choral masterpiece, the Requiem Mass - is also a honing of the very finest of his vocal and orchestral writing. The story of how his unfinished score came to be written and was completed by a student of Mozart is now legendary.
In order to appreciate what gave birth to the excitement
and newly discovered artistic freedom in Europe at the dawn of the Baroque
era, we need not understand every fine detail of the period's cultural
history. But we simply need to appreciate that tastes were changing, and
that composers provided music that catered for that change of taste.
But in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when Italian influence on the tastes of the English upper classes was particularly strong (especially with the madrigal), vocal music was all-important. A combination of voices with viols was also becoming popular. However, as musicians started to compose music for the viol consort alone and employ a far freer style (less imitative of vocal music) the character of true chamber music for instrumental ensemble really began to develop.
Broadly speaking, the viol (often used in consorts of treble, tenor and bass instruments) was the dominant chamber instrument of the Renaissance. But, from the Baroque age to the present day, the violin family (with a more prominent, brilliant sound) has reigned supreme. There was, however, no sudden change-over from the older instrumental family to the new. The viols and the violin family happily co-existed and continued developing together for some time. But it was the rise of the world-famous Cremonese violin makers such Amati, and Stradivarius - spurred on by a new school of astonishing violin virtuosos (Corelli, Tatini, Locatelli, etc.), which inevitably set both musical performance style and composition on a path of change.
During this period, London diarists, such as Pepys, noted the new enthusiasm for the playing of chamber music which was regularly taking place in clubs as well as in private houses. All the great performer-composers of the age supplied music to feed the growing enthusiasm for this intimate genre. This included both Bach and Handel, who composed some fine works for small ensemble, together with numerous solos and trio-sonatas. Some of Bach's best-loved music for a chamber ensemble is heard in his Musical Offering written about 1747.
The Baroque period was a time of change. However, an even greater musical revolution was about to take place, as composers and musicians in the next great period - the classical (or 'galante') era, once again reflected cultural changes prevailing at the time. As the standard quartet of violins, viola and cello, rose to dominate the chamber music scene, one major figure of that period, Joseph Haydn, became known as 'The Father of the String Quartet'. But this is a new story that must be continued another time.
The story leading to the development of the modern family of brass instruments began in the early days of civilisation. Trumpet-like instruments were known in ancient Greece, Rome and Tibet. They also have a long association with biblical Christianity where ‘the sound of the trumpet’ was seen to signify both the glory of heaven and the battles of warfare.
It was during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the Trumpet really came into its own in the orchestra. In the work of composers such as Bach and Handel, we can hear the Baroque trumpet in its full glory - as in Bach’s splendid Brandenburg Concerto no.2. This early trumpet was markedly different from the modern instrument. The present arrangement of valves was only finally fitted to the instrument in the nineteenth century as a significantly improved way of obtaining all notes of the chromatic scale without impairing its majestic grandeur and brilliance.
The Trombone also has a fascinating history. The gentle soft-toned quality of the older instrument was admired by composers from the Renaissance up to the end of the eighteenth century. But later it became largely associated with power and majesty. (Note the trombone’s profound and dignified passages in Mozart’s Requiem). Slight modifications differentiate the modern trombone from the early sackbut from which it was developed. The bore and bell of the modern instrument is wider and the slide longer, and the resultant tone quality is heavier and much more dramatic.
The Tuba has historical associations with older forerunners such as the Serpent, Ophicleide and Helicon. The first true tuba, as we know it today, was first patented in Germany in 1835 and soon integrated into the British brass band. Although it spends most of its time in the lowest depths of the orchestra or ensemble, it can also be nimble and versatile. The evolved valve-system allows the modern player considerable agility throughout the whole chromatic range, and today’s performers have the benefit of a range of new works written by modern composers which has greatly extended the tuba’s repertoire.
From its ‘hunting horn’ roots, the history of the modern Horn began in the sixteenth century courts of central Europe. Technical developments in France a century later may have given the instrument the common title French Horn. Early natural horns were not equipped with keys or valves and many notes were difficult or impossible. Developments in Germany in the 1720s by a horn player from Dresden led to the horn being held to the side (as today) instead of upwards (as in hunting), and this allowed the player to subdue the coarser tones by placing his hand in the bell. By using this method, it was also found that former missing notes of the chromatic scale were now possible. Further technical developments continued throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The modern valve/key systems ensure that today’s horn, while extremely versatile, has become one of the most expressive of all musical instruments.
All musical instrument development is ultimately triggered by composers and by performers who wish to extend the boundaries of musical expression. The 20th century saw an amazing explosion of talent in the brass world. World-class virtuoso players such as Christian Lindberg (trombone), Maurice André (trumpet) and Dennis Brain (horn) inspired many fine new compositions. As never before, the musical stature of the modern brass instrumentalist has become equal to that of all other musicians.
Ignace Pleyel (1757-1831) was a friend and former student of Joseph Haydn, and he was a prolific composer established in Paris. He began manufacturing his pianos in 1807, supplying instruments to most of the courts in Europe and also to America. His son Camille (1788-1855) carried on the business and formed the internationally renowned company of 'Maison Pleyel', a Parisian salon were all the famous piano virtuosos and composers of the time were able to meet.
It was to this salon that Camille invited Chopin to play in 1832, from which time the two men became firm friends. Chopin thereafter performed frequently at 'Maison Pleyel'. Pleyel developed the iron-framed instrument and introduced the upright piano into France. Other refinements were gradually developed which helped to cultivate a characteristically strong and rich tone - especially suitable for the new romantic music of the period. In 1839, Pleyel also developed a beautifully crafted square piano designed for a growing domestic market.
Through succeeding generations, 'Maison Pleyel' continued to manufacture the highest quality instruments. The names of Debussy, Grieg, Ravel and Stravinsky have all been associated with the firm, and today 'Salle Pleyel' (as it is now known) still produces over one thousand pianos every year.
However, for all who specialise and delight in music of the 18th and 19th centuries, the original instruments made by Ignace and Camille Pleyel endow performance with true authenticity. And today, of course, they are highly valued and sought after.
Even though he spent the whole of the later part of his life in Paris, Chopin's native Poland always remained deeply important to him. He attended the Warsaw Conservatoire. In 1830 he travelled to Vienna, from where he heard the depressing news of the Russian invasion of his homeland. Hearing him play that year, Schumann was impressed by the playing of the young virtuoso. But the following year Chopin headed for Paris where he had his greatest success, and where he stayed for the remaining eighteen years of his life.
History has, perhaps, tended to give unkind prominence to the young Chopin's love affair with the novelist Aurore Dudevant, otherwise known as George Sand. By all accounts, their relationship was a turbulent one, but must have been a spur to his creativity, for after they separated in 1847 he composed very little music. A concert tour of Britain in 1848 was followed by his death from tuberculosis the following year.
As with his contemporary, Franz Liszt, the majority of Chopin's compositions are written for the piano. But whereas Liszt tended to write heroically on a large canvas, Chopin was happier in a rather more intimate style into which he nevertheless poured considerable emotional intensity.
Apart from his many sets of pieces for solo piano, his two great Piano
Concertos are works full of spirit and virtuoso display. But, of the very
little chamber music he wrote, his beautiful Sonata for Cello and Piano
is a work of great delicacy and charm. Often combined with Shostakovich's
beautiful work for the same combination, the piece has fortunately been
Whole books have been written about the fascinating story of the classical guitar. All I can do here is to give one or two indicators to the main turning points in that history - the story of one of the world's most versatile, popular, and intimate of all musical instruments.
A form of guitar has been known to exist (from ancient pictures and carvings) for more than five thousand years. Through the ages, guitars have been known with three, four or five strings. By the fifteenth century, instruments with four double strings (similar to lutes) had become popular, and by the sixteenth century a fifth string had become a common addition.
By the seventeen hundreds, Italy had evolved to become the world centre of guitar manufacture - the famous Spanish school of guitar-making coming into significant prominence only somewhat later during the eighteenth century.
Today, a popular guitar recital may well consist of works originally written for the sixteenth century lute or the vihuela - an early Spanish instrument of the period. So we often hear works by the English composer and lutenist, John Dowland, and by the Spanish composer of the day - Luis de Narváez.
In the seventeenth century, perhaps the most important composer whose work is frequently performed on guitar was Johann Sebastian Bach - who wrote no original music for the instrument at all! Yet brilliant transcriptions of his famous solo works for the violin and the cello (and beautiful compositions originally written for the lute) are often the basis of many a guitarist's repertoire of the period.
Among original works written for guitar during the eighteenth century, special mention should be made of the composers Fernando Sor (born in Spain in 1778), and Italian guitarist Maurio Giuliani (born 1781), both of whom show a strong influence of the popular Viennese music of the period.
During the nineteenth century, many original guitar compositions began to be coloured by the emerging supremacy and popularity of the piano. However, by the middle of that century, the Spanish guitarist Francisco Tárrega (born 1852) was one composer who gave the solo guitar a particularly unique voice with the incorporation of exciting flamenco styles in his music.
Interestingly and conversely, other Spanish composers of this period (for example, Albéniz and Granados) were profoundly influenced by the evocative sounds and character of the guitar when writing their hugely popular piano pieces. But with twentieth century performing artists such as Andrés Segovia bringing considerable artistry to classical guitar performance (and commissioning new works), a whole new modern repertoire of exceptional quality quickly developed.
From the pen of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) exciting new sounds emerged which incorporated many Latin American characteristics, while British composers such as William Walton, Benjamin Britten and Peter Maxwell Davies have all contributed valuable pieces to the instrument's extensive and growing repertoire.
Some of the most eloquent and memorable pieces for guitar were composed by Joaquin Rodrigo (born in 1901). His popular Concerto de Aranjuez was composed in 1939. Furthermore, in recent years wonderful concertos have been added to the repertoire by composers such as Malcolm Arnold (note a particularly tuneful and lyrical slow movement to his delightful Concerto), and by Richard Rodney Bennett and André Previn.
Famous English performers like Julian Bream (b.1933) and John Williams (b.1941) have paved the way for a new generation of talented young virtuosi, and to the final acceptance by our country's music colleges that study of the guitar should hold a place of equal standing alongside all other musical instruments.
Whether heard as a solo instrument or in an ensemble containing guitars of different sizes, it is pleasing to see that the modern guitar is now universally acknowledged as an instrument of unique importance on the concert platform - and one with a repertoire of major significance for us all to enjoy.
"The artist is always searching for the meaning of life, his own and that of mankind". (Bohuslav Martinu)
Martinu was born in the little village of Poli?ka in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands, where his family lived in a small room at the top of a steep 193-step staircase in a church tower. His father, a cobbler by trade, was also a bell-ringer there. Following exile after the second world war, Martin? kept the memory of the village of his childhood alive by carrying with him a postcard showing the view from this tower.
The young Bohuslav learned the violin from an early age with a local teacher, and his talent was soon recognised both with that instrument and with composition. At the age of sixteen, he continued his studies at the Prague Conservatoire. But the good days were short lived. He continually jibbed at the discipline of the violin school and, though he was transferred later to the organ school, he fared no better there! He was eventually dismissed altogether from the Conservatoire in 1910 for "intolerable negligence", but remained in Prague to concentrate on his composition and teaching.
Before World War 1, Prague had become quite a cultural centre, and one in which the young man was able to assimilate new works by Bruckner, Stravinsky, Debussy, Strauss and Schoenberg. After the war, his own early compositions gradually began to be favourably received by Prague's musical establishment, and he was appointed as a violinist in the famous Czech Philharmonic - where he had the opportunity to hone his skills for orchestral writing. For the Philharmonic he composed his Czech Rhapsody for solo, chorus and orchestra - a magnificent early work first performed in 1919.
In the years that followed, Martinu's music began to gain an international reputation, and awareness of it here in England was helped by none other than Sir Henry Wood. His reputation also grew in France, where he studied with the French composer Albert Roussel. In America too, his reputation (mainly through his symphonies) grew steadily and commanded the respect of eminent conductors like Koussevitsky and Eugene Ormandy. Also, Ernest Ansermet proclaimed him later as "the great symphonist". In earlier times, another Czech composer had similarly won the hearts of the American public with his symphonies, namely Antonín Dvo?ák.
With the outbreak of World War 2, Martinu left France and travelled, via a brief stay in Switzerland, to settle finally in the United States in 1941. In America, he composed not only symphonies but also a vast array of other works including concertos, chamber music and works for solo piano. He hoped to return permanently to Europe after the war, but illness prevented this. After holding professorships at Princeton University and at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, he finally left America in 1953 and died in Switzerland in 1959.
Martinu was a prolific composer and, after Janá?ek, is considered by many as Czechoslovakia's leading composer of the twentieth century. But he suffers from being relatively unknown in England and his music is often accused of being inconsistent in quality. He is known to have composed at high speed and he often shunned revision. Yet his style, influenced by so many different cultures and sources, has a unique individuality - often lyrical, and frequently full of fun!
As a composer of enormous originality, Martinu was one who never forgot
his Czech roots. His music is always challenging, yet exciting, and well
worth getting to know better.
In England, the popularity of piano music for four hands became firmly established with the work of Dr. Charles Burney. This eminent musician was born in Shrewsbury in 1726 and published his Four Duet-Sonatas for Two performers on Pianoforte or Harpsichord in 1777 - thought to be one of the earliest music of its kind to be printed. Even older duet scores exist in manuscript, and the British Museum holds one of the earliest copies - A Verse for Two to play on one Virginal or Organ by a certain Nicholas Carlton, possibly dating from the middle of the sixteenth century.
However, it was the young Mozart who famously toured the European cities and courts with his talented sister Nannerl who did most to popularise piano duet playing in the eighteenth century and bring it to prominence. The Mozarts came to England in 1764, dazzling the public with works such as the three Sonatas for piano duet - all of which sparkle with an intricate dialogue between the players. The Golden Age of piano duet composition, beginning with Mozart, continued its development with further major contributions by Haydn, Clementi, Beethoven, Schubert (who composed over seventy works for the medium) and Brahms. Four-hand piano arrangements of these composers' operas, symphonies and chamber works gradually became (as now) an important for music lovers to familiarise themselves with these works.
The nineteenth century onwards saw a further expansion of the popular
duet repertoire. Publishers began to encourage composers to make four-hand
arrangements of their orchestral compositions specifically for domestic
performance. But there are many instances where composers also re-worked
their familiar four-hand and two-piano works for orchestra - the resulting
transcriptions often becoming better known than the original! Famous works
such as Brahms's Waltzes, the Slavonic Dances by Dvo?ák, and Ravel's
Mother Goose Suite, are a few examples. Other major composers have contributed
fine works for the medium, including Fauré (Dolly Suite), Debussy
(Petite Suite and La Mer) and Ravel (Rapsodie Espagnol). Contemporary
composers are continuing to explore the medium and, by producing some
fine modern works, they are ensuring that the repertoire continues to
flourish for our enjoyment.
The Clarinet and its Repertoire with Strings
The modern instrument is an extremely versatile one which is rich in over-tones and capable of a sweet and expressive sound. While it can also be as agile as a flute, it also has the ability to blend excellently with stringed instruments. Recordings of famous jazz players such as Benny Goodman and Woody Herman help us to appreciate the clarinet's characterisitc and beguilingly sensuous tone and also its capacity for a raw and exciting power. This allows the instrument to respond well to wide range of emotional requirements in the music.
The great clarinettist, Jack Brymer, was correct when he stated: "The most important characteristic of the clarinet is the beauty of the expressive vocal line of which the instrument is capable - a long sustained legato. The ability of the clarinet to play comfortably with almost any combination of instruments is equalled only by its complete self-possession when it is played entirely by itself." It is true that the expressive and often dramatic quality of the unaccompanied clarinet is seen clearly in a number of modern works. For example, Stravinsky's powerful Three Pieces for Clarinet which we heard recently in another South Holland Concert, is perhaps an good example of that complete 'self-possession' to which Jack Brymer alluded.
But the music of earlier times also demonstrated composers' love for the unique character and tone of the instrument. While there is no really substantial literature for the clarinet prior to the classical era, Mozart started to employ the new instrument in a number of his orchestral works and was obviously very sensitive to its tonal colour. While it is recorded that oboe players in the early Mannheim Orchestra were often required to 'double' on three-keyed clarinets, the dedicated orchestral clarinettists of Mozart's time generally played on more highly-developed five-keyed instruments. But the basset-clarinet, another early instrument very akin to the clarinet, may well have inspired Mozart's exquisite Clarinet Concerto and his famous Quintet for Clarinet and Strings - both now commonly performed on the modern mellow-toned clarinet in A.
Although Beethoven wrote no specific solo composition for the instrument, he used the clarinet frequently and beautifully in many solo passages in his symphonies - notably in the Pastoral Symphony (6th), where a long solo in the first movement requires the clarinettist to perform with considerable sensitivity. Weber, on the other hand, wrote clarinet music with an altogether lighter touch. His Quintet for Clarinet and Strings op. 34, and the two substantial concertos written for the fine clarinettist Heinrich Baermann, are not only full of fun and light spirit, but clearly demonstrate the instrument's capacity for a growing virtuosity. These concertos clearly gave Baermann ample scope for both his acclaimed artistry and his popular showmanship. Another composer of the period, Czech-born Anton Reicha, also wrote beautifully for the clarinet, and his Wind Quintet shows a complete understanding of the unique character of each of the five wind instruments.
However, for many music lovers it is the two Sonatas, the Trio, and the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings by Johannes Brahms which leave the strongest impression of the sheer beauty of the instrument. Technical virtuosity had already been amply displayed in the magnificent 'flying' works of Weber and Rossini (for example, in the latter's brilliant Introduction, Theme and Variations for clarinet and orchestra). But through the warmer and more lyrical style favoured by Brahms, the clarinet's singing tone and richness of colour conitue to endear his works (and the instrument itself) to a wide audience.
In more recent times, composers have continued to be drawn to the medium of the string quartet with clarinet. Its appealing and unique sound - characteristically lyrical yet capable of being dramatic and exciting - is one that is also capable of noble subtlety that can be very expressive. It has always encouraged composers to explore musical and emotional depths with great sensitivity. When we glance at the varied list of 20th century composers who have added to the Clarinet Quintet repertoire (including Paul Hindermith, Herbert Howells, Arnold Cooke, Gordon Jacob, Elizabeth Maconchy and many others), we can appreciate the considerable diversity of musical style that has been evident in the development of this genre.
It is often claimed that the most important period in the clarinet's
instrumental development was during the Romantic era. That is probably
correct. But we can only hope that today's composers and those in the
future will continue to be richly inspired by the combined beauty of strings
and clarinet to go on producing more fine music for this highly attractive
When we listen to those beautiful harp cadenzas in Tchaikovsky's great ballets such as Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty or to the wonderful romantic concertos and chamber music by French composers such as Ravel and Debussy featuring the modern harp in all its glory, it is easy to forget the simple ancient origins of this instrument. Possibly originating from the humble hunter's bow, some of the oldest harps known were made in Egypt in biblical times. Although the harp eventually found its way to Europe during the Middle Ages, ancient wooden harps of many different sizes and with various arrangements of strings have also been traced to South America, to Africa and to Asia. Small, early Gaelic folk instruments are still frequently played in Scotland and in Ireland to this day.
During the Renaissance, the European harp underwent considerable changes in response to growing musical demands of the period. One of these changes was the emergence of the 'double harp' - an instrument which was provided with a second row of strings in order to widen its compass. This sixteenth century development, sometimes ascribed to the Irish, is the kind of instrument used by Monteverdi in his opera Orfeo. A Welsh 'triple harp' with an additional middle row of strings was also produced, but this proved far less satisfactory because of the complexity of this arrangement for the player.
In Baroque times, the harp underwent further important changes. While Italian and Spanish harpists continued to favour additional rows of strings in order to produce the full chromatic scales required for music of this period, German makers began to develop a system utilising manually turned hooks which acted on the strings like guitar frets. The hooks could alter each string by a semitone - a system which considerably widened the available musical compass of the instrument. By the early eighteenth century, however, a clever mechanism was added which connected these string hooks, or pegs, directly to a set of pedals. Later, the addition of a second row of these string hooks allowed the player further flexibility to raise or lower each string by either one or two half-steps. This was, perhaps, the most significant stage towards the creation of the modern Western classical pedal-harp as we know it and love it today.
However, no essay on the modern harp should omit mention of the famous Parisian instrument maker, Sébastien Érard. Érard was originally born in Strasbourg in 1752 and, following early experience as a harpsichord maker, he made several significant improvements both to the early pianoforte and to the harp. In 1810, following a visit to London, he patented a 'double-movement' harp - an instrument essentially using the mechanism described above. This system, allowing each string to be shortened by one or two semitones, gave the player the ability to perform in every key at will. His mechanism, which is still employed by pedal harp makers today, proved so popular that Érard sold over £25,000 worth of instruments in one year!
Weighing about 80lbs, the modern concert pedal harp (as used in solo recitals, chamber and symphony concerts) typically has forty-six or forty-seven strings, and has a compass of six and a half octaves. Today, the lower strings are often made of copper-wound or steel-wound nylon, with the higher strings of gut or nylon. There are seven foot pedals - each offering three possible positions which control the tuning of the harp. As with most instruments, modern playing techniques have also been developed in order to produce the special effects demanded by today's composers, and the use of electric pick-ups and amplifiers is not uncommon.
The repertoire for the solo harp is so extensive and varied that it is impossible to do it justice in such a short article. But no-one who has enjoyed Mozart's exquisite music in his Concerto for Flute and Harp (frequently performed and recorded by harpist Marisa Robles together with both James Galway and with her flautist-husband Christopher Hyde-Smith), can doubt the uniquely expressive quality of the instrument. Benjamin Britten cultivated an almost ethereal tone colour from the harp in the Interlude he composed for it in his Ceremony of Carols for boys' voices and harp written in 1942. But the harp is also at home in ballet and in film scores, and even in the medium of jazz - such is the versatility of this beautiful and remarkable instrument.
At South Holland Concerts we have enjoyed many performances in which we have heard music that has been arranged by the artists themselves, or by others, for instruments other than that for which the music was originally written. We often forget that this practice is a traditional and honourable one which stems back to the earliest days of music making.
In the Renaissance period, vocal polyphonic music of the day - including motets, part songs, early Mass settings etc., was often transcribed for lute and keyboard in order that single musicians could interpret music originally composed for several singers.
J.S.Bach, who sometimes used his own material in a number of different situations, also arranged music by Vivaldi for a new medium. In a brilliant transcription of Vivaldi's Concerto for four violins, Bach created his own Concerto for four harpsichords. Also, Mozart re-arranged many of Bach's Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier for string trio. He even transcribed some of his own songs and arias from his operas Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro for a small wind ensemble - as these transcriptions provided popular entertainment.
Most composers' transcriptions and re-arrangements of their own music is done in order to make their work more available to a wider public. From the 18th century onwards this frequently involved the arrangement for piano of chamber and orchestral works. This was certainly true in the case of Beethoven's own arrangement of his Grosse Fuge published for piano duet in 1827. A year after its composition, he also re-arranged his popular Violin Concerto as a work for piano and orchestra!
In more modern times, publishers sometimes invite piano arrangements from composers in order to encourage greater familiarity with the composer's music and to encourage sales. Stravinsky's brilliant transcription for piano duet of his Rite of Spring was first designed for use at the ballet's rehearsals. Today, it is in the piano-duettists' standard repertoire. Other well known transcriptions include Busoni's thrilling piano transcriptions of many works by Bach, and Liszt's illuminating piano arrangements of Beethoven's symphonies.
But orchestral transcriptions abound too. Schoenberg's orchestral arrangement of Brahms' Piano Quintet and Mahler's re-orchestration of Beethoven's Symphonies will not appeal to everyone, but they are full of interest and musical imagination. Webern's orchestral transcription of Bach's six-part Ricercar from the Musical Offering is a truly illuminating work in which Webern seeks to make Bach's original structure very clear by using different instruments for each of Bach's intricate themes and ideas. One of the most well-known and much-loved of all orchestral transcriptions is Ravel's brilliant arrangement of Mussorgsky's original piano work - Pictures at an Exhibition.
Instrumental ensembles of all kinds lend themselves to striking arrangements.
In tonight's concert we are to hear a number of transcriptions for harp
quartet of works familiar to us in other forms. The musicians bring to
this assignment not only their compositional skills, but also their intimate
understanding of their own instruments. They are following in the footsteps
of many of our most famous musicians who have sought to capture the spirit
and essence of an original piece and have then clothed it revealingly
for us in a new tonal soundscape.
As an instrument, the saxophone is rather too often associated only with stage and dance music. Since it does not take a regular place in the orchestra and appears infrequently in solo recitals, a proper appreciation of its wider musical potential tends to be rather limited.
The tone of the saxophone, expressive and lyrical, also has a versatility which lends itself to a wide variety of music. Like stringed instruments, the colour of the saxophone's voice has a beguiling quality which readily takes on the individualism of the player. For this reason, the instrument may equally well be played in a style suitable for baroque pieces as for that of romantic and modern music. Musical arrangements also abound for the saxophone and, since it is capable of such a wide variety of expression, the concert performer has to be especially sensitive in assessing the suitability of all such arrangements.
Adolphe Sax, an instrument maker working in Paris, started developing the saxophone in the 1840s. He was a skilled player of flute and clarinet, and having already made improvements on some other woodwind instruments, he began work on a new single-reed instrument with a brass conical body. Although early experiments were not entirely successful, Sax's design did incorporate a simple octave key which allowed the player (unlike clarinettists) to use a common basic fingering for both the low and high registers of the new instrument. The saxophone remained categorised as a woodwind instrument despite its manufacture in brass, since its sound was created through the vibration of a reed and not by the vibration of the player's lips directly onto a brass mouthpiece.
In 1846 Sax was granted a patent for a large family of saxophones varying in size from sopranino to contrabass - the shape, design and key varying according to the pitch of the instrument. The entire saxophone family, as it has developed today, covers an extremely wide compass. This, combined with common fingering across the range, has encouraged the popularity of the saxophone quartet and larger ensembles where, if necessary, all players can perform on any instrument within the family.
But it was with dance bands and jazz bands both sides of the Atlantic that the saxophone really came into true prominence in the early 20th century. The carrying power of the instrument also helped it become a valuable addition to the military band. We can hear evidence of all these influences in many solo pieces for saxophone. In recital, the alto saxophone is the most commonly heard instrument of the family. The larger tenor saxophone is often the favourite of dance band composers, where its smooth and seductive tones are unmistakable. The even larger baritone saxophone is a familiar voice in jazz groups where the instrument's rhythmic, melodic and cheeky interjections are immediately recognisable.
Within the large and expanding repertoire for the solo alto saxophone, there are musical gems of all periods to be heard. Arrangements of 17th, 18th and 19th century music are complemented by some superb romantic and modern compositions. The alto can stand up well against the forces of the full orchestra in concertos, and it can be played with the greatest delicacy when accompanied by the softer tones of the piano. With so many of today's composers being inspired to write great music for the instrument, the solo saxophone repertoire deserves to be more widely known.
The Countess of Munster, whose maiden name was Hilary Wilson, was an exceptionally talented pianist. She married the fifth Earl of Munster when she was 25 years old and, thanks to the encouragement of friends and a number of notable musical figures, the Trust bearing her name was finally formed in December 1958. The chief objective then, as it remains today, was to help young musicians achieve their full potential and to encourage them on the path to a performing career.
Since its foundation, the Trust has given over £5 million to more than 2,300 aspiring young professionals. A truly amazing number of familiar British or Commonwealth names were early recipients of an award from the Trust. They include such well known performers as Nigel Kennedy, Rita Hunter, Barry Douglas, Alexander Baillie and Evelyn Glennie. Lady Munster died in 1979, but throughout her life she followed the progress of the Trust with a keen personal interest. It is certain that with ever-growing competition within the profession, future beneficiaries will continue to appreciate the Trust's generous support.
Today, approximately 350 musicians apply to the Trust every year for financial help with their studies, tuition or conservatoire fees. Approximately 100 applicants are invited to interview and audition, and around 50 are finally selected for assistance by the Trustees. The Trust is also willing to consider a small number of interest-free loans to former beneficiaries to help with the purchase of musical instruments. In the early days, the Trustees were willing to assist music students in secondary education. However, today they normally accept applicantions only from postgraduates.
Another important aspect of the Trust's work is the Recital Scheme. Since 1976, the Trust has sought to encourage its most outstanding beneficiaries to reach a wider audience. Through their sponsorship of a number of young artists each year to appear at music clubs, choral and orchestral societies etc., a valuable link between student and profession is established. The benefit of this both for the musician and for the host society is incalculable - as we at South Holland Concerts can gratefully testify.
Last November, a Gala concert was held at Glyndebourne to mark the Trust's 50th anniversary. A large number of distinguished musicians were present, and the proceedings were heralded by a special fanfare composed for the occasion by Alexander Goehr. The Gala also included a celebratory performance of Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music conducted by Jane Glover. Lady Munster would have loved the occasion! Not only did she leave us a vision for the future, but she also left a substantial financial legacy which enables the Trust to continue offering invaluable help to the next generation of musicians. Because of her vision and generosity, everyone involved in music is in her debt.
Definitions commonly applied to the various periods of musical composition can sometimes be illogical and, at times, confusing. Nevertheless, since the media, record companies and musicologists have always tended to categorise music into neatly-prescribed historical periods, it is useful to understand something about these terms which are so commonly used. For example, the period of the ‘Baroque’ in music is often accepted as ending with the death of JS Bach in 1750. It is followed, of course, by the huge musical and artistic revolution which characterised the era of ‘Classical’ period composers such as Haydn and Mozart.
However we must remember that musical development has always been a fluid thing, and that over-precise dating of any artistic period is never wise. For example, with historically-informed performances becoming more popular than ever today, the term ‘Early Music’ is all too frequently used to refer only to compositions of the pre-Baroque era. Yet many musicians who study the beautiful styles and sounds of Early Music, and give us captivating performances on instruments of the period, certainly do not confine themselves only to the Medieval and the Renaissance.
Neither is revival of interest in the instruments of these earlier periods, or a study in the manner and style of their performance, something exclusive to our modern age. For example, the immense popularity in the 1950s of the counter-tenor Alfred Deller, and the invaluable work done by people such as the Dolmetsch family (who worked so hard in reviving the manufacture and performance of historical string, wind and keyboard instruments), all helped to inspire awareness of early musical practice. Yet composers of previous centuries were equally fascinated by their musical heritage. For example, the composer Mendelssohn’s revival of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1829 was a significant achievement in his time, and both Mendelssohn, Schumann and a number of composers of the period revived works of Bach – often transcribing them in the 19th century style.
Authenticity, however, and faithfulness to the original sound-world of early composers, is the main aim of all historically-informed performing groups and individual artists today. Most have studied and cultivated the art of authentic ornamentation and the historically correct decoration of a melodic line. Harpsichord players, organists and lutenists have sought to rediscover the art of accompaniment by performing entirely from original figured-bass scores, and have developed the freedom to embellish their musical parts in true period style with a new freshness and vitality. The very accomplished art of continuo playing (performing on a keyboard instrument with a supporting instrument on the bass line) is now often practised to an extremely high standard.
Many well-known names have made their careers around this specialist study of Early Music - and not only in the instrumental field. In the vocal world, too, ensembles such as The Sixteen and soloists such as the soprano Emma Kirkby are, quite rightly, enduringly popular artists. On the instrumental side, considerable understanding has been acquired over the years in the manufacture of copies of early stringed instruments and bows and in the original style of performance. Much has also been discovered gradually about the quality of traditional woods in the making of recorders and other woodwind instruments, reeds etc.
Such is the current interest in Early Music that many of our colleges now have courses which offer students training in this specialist field. Recordings also abound with examples of excellent period practice, and many useful insights can be gleaned from the careful listening to CDs of recorded work by conductors and harpsichordists such as William Christie whose scholarship and artistry is greatly respected. Mixed instrumental ensembles today such as the The English Concert, Les Arts Florissants, the Feinstein Ensemble, Fiori Musicali and of course the Denner Ensemble, all play their part in bringing us great music from earlier periods beautifully played.
It is true that our appreciation of the massive and varied repertoire covered by the expression ‘Early Music’ is considerably enhanced by continued research and scholarship. However, in order to understand and to really enjoy the essence of what these pieces have to offer us, we need appreciate only the sheer variety and vitality of music in this genre. A constant contrast of light spirit and deep emotion combined with a spontaneous improvisatory style of performance is what lies at the heart of the music of this period.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
As his reputation grew, his concertos were particularly admired, especially in Germany, where Bach copied and arranged some of them, and his operas and church music were regularly performed. However, though Vivaldi’s music was full of imaginative invention, with wonderful dramatic contrast of dynamics and harmony, he was denounced by some of his contemporaries as an eccentric and, following his death, his music was largely forgotten until the 1930s.
Even though Stravinsky cruelly dismissed him as ‘writing the same concerto four hundred times(!)’, Vivaldi’s music has never been more popular. His concertos Four Seasons are rightly recognised as a pinnacle amongst his vast number of solo and chamber concertos, and his place in the forefront of early eighteenth century Italian music is assured.
Michel-Richard Delalande (1657-1726)
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688 – 1758)
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 -1767)
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755)
THE MUSIC OF JEAN FRANÇAIX AND OLIVIER MESSIAEN
For a long time, neither the music of Jean Françaix nor that of Olivier Messiaen was well-known to many music lovers. But today more recordings are available of Messiaen’s music than for many years, and Françaix’s numerous compositions - light-hearted in style and always well-crafted - are becoming more frequently heard.
Jean Françaix grew up in a musical family. His father, a pianist and composer, was also director of the Musical Conservatoire at Le Mans. His mother was a well known singer and, from the age of six, both parents encouraged him in piano playing and composition. His early talent was spotted by the celebrated teacher Nadia Boulanger who inspired many famous European composers. Françaix soon became recognised as a leading piano virtuoso both as a soloist and also in duo partnership with the composer Francis Poulenc.
One of Françaix’s finest works, and one to bring him early international recognition, was his Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1932). He also wrote concertos for bassoon, flute and clarinet, operas, an oratorio, and several other orchestra works. He composed a number of film scores for the director Sacha Guitry - well-known for the comedy Désiré (1937) and the famous film Jeanne d'Arc (1943).
However, it is for chamber music that Jean Françaix is best known to us today. His delicate and sensitive scoring both for wind and stringed instruments is supreme. In the Wind Quintet (1948), Octet (1972), Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (1977), and even his little Sonata for Recorder and Guitar (1984), we see evidence that this composer, through a highly original and vivacious style, simply wants to share his infectious pleasure in making music!
Born at Avignon in 1908, Olivier Messiaen was a very different kind of composer. A devout Roman Catholic, he found musical and spiritual inspiration in medieval chant. And, although initially a self-taught musician, he was quickly recognised as a brilliant pianist. At the Paris Conservatoire, Paul Dukas and Charles-Marie Widor were among his professors. He was appointed organist at the Parisian church of La Trinité early in his career, and stayed there for fifty years. For the organ at La Trinité he composed all his famous organ cycles such as the magnificent and poignant La Nativité du Seigneur.
Messiaen was fascinated with bird song all his life and spent hours notating it in music. Many of his works feature elements of birdsong, including seven volumes of piano music which form the Catalogue d'Oiseaux (Catalogue of Birds). Whilst a prisoner of war in 1940, he wrote his masterly Quartet for the End of Time for four musical companions there.
Olivier Messiaen’s steadfast faith, his innovative use of musical colour, his love of birdsong and his imaginative use of cross-rhythm in his music, all help to make him one of the most unique and important composers of the twentieth century.
The string quartet is often seen as the essence of chamber music – a pinnacle of refinement where every musical idea and nuance is developed and honed to miniature perfection. For some, this view is over-romantic. Yet it is undoubtedly true that many composers have seen the string quartet as a medium for some of their finest music.
In the seventeenth century, many German and Italian player-composers matched the ever-popular four-part writing for voices with musical compositions for four-part strings – initially in string ensembles rather than in solo parts. Alessandro Scarlatti (1659-1725) wrote works of this type inscribed for ‘two violini, violetta, and violoncello’. Another form of domestic chamber music for four players, the popular Trio Sonata, was most common throughout the Baroque period. In early works of this type by composers such as Handel, Bach and Telemann, increasingly complex and intricate instrumental parts for two violins (or flutes) were usually accompanied by a keyboard instrument (harpsichord or organ) and optionally supported also by a viola da gamba or cello.
However, it is a later composer, Joseph Haydn, who is normally considered to have set the future of the modern string quartet. While Mozart wrote twenty-three quartets, Haydn wrote over ninety and few composers have understood the capability of this medium as well as he, or infused it with such rich diversity. The various stages of a composer’s musical development can often be traced through studying the symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets. This is particularly true, for example, with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, but can also be equally applied to later important quartet composers such as Béla Bartók.
Listeners may love most the music of the eighteenth century, or they may prefer the classically structured romantic work of Brahms or Mendelssohn. We may prefer to relish the impressionistic sounds and colours of Debussy and Ravel, or we may prefer the dramatic and unexpected challenges of Shostakovich or Benjamin Britten. Whatever our taste in repertoire for string quartet, all are invited to savour the beauty and diversity of this most essentially personal and intimate of musical forms.
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