Somerset Chamber Orchestra 1999 - Programme Notes
St. Mary's Church, Bridgwater
Thursday 26th August 1999
South Petherton Parish Church
Friday 27th August 1999
Saturday 28th August 1999
JACQUES IBERT (1890-1962)
Jacques Ibert studied composition with Paul Vidal and Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire before the Great War but his studies were interrupted by mobilisation when he joined the French Navy. After demobilisation in 1919 he won the coveted Prix de Rome for his cantata La poète et la fée; whilst in Italy he produced several important works and travelled extensively, returning to Rome later in his career as director of the Académie de France, a post he held until 1960.
It is very difficult to characterise Ibert's output because it is extremely and designedly diverse. He believed that "all systems are valid provided that one derives music from them"; "I want to be free - independent of the prejudices which arbitrarily divide the defenders of a certain tradition and the partisans of a certain avant garde". He was therefore not a member of Les Six (Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Tailleferre, Auric, Poulenc) though his works are similar in style and temperament to Milhaud and Poulenc, in particular in his lighter, witty vein. Divertissement for chamber orchestra certainly falls into this category.
This set of six movements, extracted in 1930 from the music for a stage production of the musical comedy Un chapeau de paille d'ltalie, should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. One of his lightest and happiest works, it is full of gaiety, levity, sardonic humour, wit and could not have been written anywhere other than France in the twentieth century. Listen out for the humourous quotes - the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream appears in the Cortège (to complement our coverage of the incidental music in this year's programme!) and the Blue Danube makes an appearance in the Valse. The Finale starts with random piano clusters which sounds as if the player is sitting on the keyboard and closes with an Offenbach-style can-can complete with whistle.
GERALD FINZI (1901-1965)
Though his vocal works are quite well-known, Gerald Finzi's instrumental and orchestral works, which amount to about a third of his output, remain unjustly neglected. In his short life he produced a series of miniature eloquent tone poems and two major concertos, one for cello and orchestra (1956) and the Clarinet Concerto (1948-49), works which display a distinctive voice of sensitivity, close melodically and harmonically to Elgar and Vaughan Williams. His early life was marred by a series of bereavements, of his father when he was eight, of his three elder brothers and his first influential music teacher in the Great War, and these events seem to have reinforced an already essentially introspective nature. He moved to Painswick in Gloucestershire in 1922 to seek inspiration from the countryside of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, and there worked in isolation until 1925 when, on the advice of Adrian Boult, he moved to London to take tuition in counterpoint. Once in London he joined a circle of young musicians, meeting Holst and Vaughan Williams, and it was at this time that he produced some of his most original works.
Though he was Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music between 1930 and 1933, he remained outside the musical establishment and preferred to combine part-time composition with his career as expert apple-grower. He settled with his family near Newbury and in the early war years established the Newbury String Players. Finzi was an indifferent pianist and did not sing, and so this string orchestra became his personal means of expression, giving him deep insights into, and an affinity with, the nuances of string technique and texture. His distinctive string voice is particularly well displayed in the Clarinet Concerto; many of the same characteristics are prevalent in his Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano, excellently realised in this arrangement for string orchestra by Lawrence Ashmore. Three of the Bagatelles - the Romance, Carol and Forlana - were produced in a spurt of creative activity during 1941 along with the Romance for String Orchestra. Realising that these pieces required some introduction, he composed the Prelude during New Year 1942; this, he later told Howard Ferguson, "has turned out to be rather larger in scale, and more difficult, than the others and I only hope that it's not outside the 'Bagatelle' radius". The Romance is in the key of E flat, the same key as the String Romance, associated in Finzi's music with a particular "mellowness of sonority and figuration or with romance and memory" (Stephen Banfield). Finzi's publisher recognised the need for a finale and the Fughetta was squeezed out of the composer somewhat reluctantly in 1943. The Bagatelles are staple wind repertoire fare on the examination and competition circuit and Finzi himself described them as mere "trifles" but Finzi's biographer Banfield recognises them as "top-drawer Finzi".
EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934)
I. Shallow's Orchard (Gloucestershire)
II. Jack Falstaff
It seems somehow appropriate to follow the pastoral vision of a passionate apple-grower with Elgar's quintessentially English portrait of a West Country orchard! These two self-contained interludes from Falstaff are amongst Elgar's best miniatures and have been recognised by Michael Kennedy as the finest parts of the score, "indeed they are among the finest parts of Elgar".
When asked to produce a work for the 1913 Leeds Festival, Elgar decided to convert some sketches of 1902-03 into a portrait of Falstaff. Elgar's subject is no flatulent rake but rather a convivial rascal of faded nobility, his literary sources being Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V rather than the Merry Wives of Windsor. As Elgar commented to Ernest Newman, "Falstaff (as the programme says) is the name but Shakespeare - the whole of human life - is the theme"; his vision of Falstaff is close to that described by Maurice Morgann (1777): "in a green old age, mellow, frank, gay, easy, corpulent, loose, unprincipled, and luxurious". In producing a portrait of an almost tragic figure in C minor, Elgar depicts an individual "who uncannily resembles Elgar himself! Elgar's Falstaff yearns nostalgically for his days in the Wand of Youth when he was page to the Duke of Norfolk... he is more likely to idealize the women in the Boar's Head than pinch their bottoms" (Michael Kennedy). Elgar's music is universally devoid of bawdy or erotic intent and his chaste instincts, imbued by the Victorian world in which he grew up, are to the fore in these two interludes which describe the scenes of Falstaff's slumbers, visions of "innocence regained" first in a dream of youth and then in a country orchard.
Shallow's Orchard juxtaposes a rustic tabor and pipe tune with a sleepy central theme which reflects the peace of the countryside and which was one of the first thematic ideas composed by Elgar as he started work on Falstaff. In Jack Falstaff, the typically nostalgic Elgar expands Shakespeare's single line "He was page to the Duke of Norfolk" into a retrospective dream-picture which had no equivalent in the plays. A solo violin here inhabits the same world as the slow movement of the Violin Concerto; he described this interlude as "simple in form and somewhat antiquated in mood, it suggests in its strong contrast to the immediately preceding riot 'what might have been'" - in quoting words from Charles Lamb's Dream Children, Elgar transfigured "an old man's vulgarity... in a dream of the childhood fairyland still glimmering beyond the stream of time" (Jerrold Northrop Moore).
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
III. Allegretto - Presto
These two works were composed in the years 1784-85, after Mozart had moved from Salzburg to Vienna, and coincided with one of the happier and more settled periods in a life marred by tragedy and insecurity. Mozart and Constanze Weber were married during August 1782 and, after much pestering by Mozart's father Leopold, the following year the couple undertook an extended visit back to Salzburg; part of Mozart's reluctance to undertake the trip can be attributed to his fear of being arrested by the Archbishop, from whose employ he had acrimoniously departed during 1781. Leopold was not wholly happy with the marriage but the visit at least gave him an opportunity to meet his new daughter-in-law. Contemporary correspondence suggests that this was not a happy visit. Constanze had given birth to their first child a few weeks prior to the visit and, extraordinary as it seems from a modern perspective, the couple had left their son in Vienna during which time he died. Once back in Vienna, Mozart resumed his normal teaching duties, which yielded a regular income, and settled into composition and performance. The phase between 1783 and 1784 was one of the busiest and most successful of Mozart's career and was devoid of significant trauma.
Most of Mozart's piano concertos from this period were written for the concerts for which he was engaged and in which he would have been soloist. However, the G major concerto K.453 was written for Barbara Ployer and is technically somewhat less demanding than the two preceding concertos, K.450 in B flat and K.451 in D. The elaborate use of wind instruments in the K.453 concerto is particularly noteworthy, most of the principal thematic material being entrusted to them in the first movement. The Andante is characterised by distant, dramatic modulations and richly scored woodwind writing, whilst the finale is a set of mostly double variations based on a theme close to one Mozart noted in his commonplace book as sung by his pet starling. This concerto is widely regarded as one of Mozart's finest; in Hutchings' survey of the piano concertos he writes that this is "one of those few ... in the series wherein each of the three movements reaches a supreme level of excellence". He regards the slow movement as one of the best three in all Mozart and comments that the "peculiar presto [of the finale] is calculated to give perfect satisfaction and to extort applause from the most disapproving sobersides"!
In August 1784 Mozart fell seriously ill and appears to have been close to death. He composed nothing until the end of the year when the darkness and gloom lifted. It was around this time that he became a freemason and thereby initiated was to become an important element in his life and influence on his compositions, culminating in The Magic Flute. In the Zur Wohlth%auml;tigkeit lodge, later amalgamated into Zur gekrönten Hoffnung, liberal intellectuals would meet to discuss the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment, including Nature, Reason and the brotherhood of Man, rather than any overtly political ideals. Although there was tension between the Catholic Church and freemasonry at this time, there is no question that this particular organisation was anti-Church and membership had no special implications for Mozart's personal faith.
Many works by Mozart dating from this period include elaborate parts for clarinet and basset horn; some of these were for ritual masonic use, as in the Maurerische Trauermusik, which uses three bassets and a single clarinet. Certainly the use of wind instruments was important at lodge ceremonies where clarinets were referred to as "columns of harmony". Other masonic influences include key; many of Mozart's masonic works are in E flat or the relative minor, C minor (as in the Maurerische Trauermusik), keys with three flats, the number three having particular mystical significance in freemasonry. C minor was the key associated with darkness, resolving into C major to signify the journey from dark to light, as at the end of the Trauermusik. The music was composed in July 1785 to commemorate the death of two masons, Count Esterhazy and Count Mecklenburg. It cannot have been used at their funeral since their death occurred the previous November; it was probably used at a commemorative ritual celebrating death and resurrection, hence the transition from dark to light, minor to major. Other masonic symbols include the parallel thirds and sixths, the slurs and the knocking rhythm. The Cantus Firmus, based on a Protestant psalm-tune itself derived from an ancient Jewish melody, symbolises the unity of all religions, a fundamental masonic belief.
FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
I. Dance of the Clowns, Op.61 No.11
II. Scherzo, Op.61 No.1
III. Intermezzo, Op.61 No.5
IV. Nocturne, Op. 61 No. 7
V. Overture, Op.21
The Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream is not only Mendelssohn's most popular work, it is also the most original and mature composition to have come from the pen of a seventeen-year old and, along with the Octet (Op.20) for strings, demonstrates Mendelssohn's extraordinary precocity. It is also worth remembering that the work, which includes harmonic and orchestral effects of stunning imagination, was completed in 1826 whilst Beethoven was still alive. Even more surprising is the maturity and breadth of vision that Mendelssohn was able to draw from Shakespeare's text whilst still only a teenager. But then, Mendelssohn's home environment was hardly the norm; the Mendelssohn household was the most important cultural salon in Berlin. It was the centre of an intellectual, artistic, upper middle class circle in which theatrical performances, literary readings and Sunday concerts drew in the Berlin glitterati. The decisive influences on the Mendelssohn circle were the writings of Jean Paul, the poetry of Goethe and the Schlegel translations of Shakespeare; by the time he was seventeen Mendelssohn would have been completely familiar with A Midsummer Night's Dream and immersed in its atmosphere and musical potential; as Fanny, Mendelssohn's sister, later commented, "we were really brought up on the Midsummer Night's Dream and Felix especially had made it his own".
Despite continuing as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra, during 1841 Mendelssohn was secured by the new King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, to head a new conservatory and concert organisation as part of the Berlin Academy of Arts. His duties were at first ill-defined, but in 1843 he was entrusted with the direction of the newly-formed male-voice cathedral choir and of the 1843-44 series of symphony concerts given by the opera orchestra. The King also requested the revivification of a series of dramatic productions with incidental music, and for this Mendelssohn produced the numbers for A Midsummer Night's Dream, adding to the Overture completed seventeen years earlier. The first public performance in the Berlin Schauspielhaus was an overwhelming success.
In the Overture Mendelssohn adopts an essentially leitmotiv approach to characterise different dramatic levels. These became more explicit once he had completed the remaining 13 numbers of the incidental music in 1842 because here he included verbal interjections within the music whilst drawing on the thematic substance of the Overture. For instance, the magical opening chords of the Overture signify the entry of Oberon and Titania, while the ensuing upper string gossamer quaver passages signify their subordinate spirits, elves and fairies. This is interrupted by resounding horns signifying Duke Theseus's hunting party. The lyrical second subject portrays Hermia and Helena and a climax is reached with the vigorous Bergomask Dance of the 'mechanicals'. The development takes the audience deeper into the darkening forest and ends with a warmly expressive section depicting Hermia as she sinks to sleep, exhausted. The Intermezzo expresses Hermia's grief as she loses herself in the wood whilst searching for Lysander. The Nocturne accompanies the section in which the two pairs of lovers (Hermia-Lysander; Helena-Demetrius) are asleep in the forest. Four of the 13 incidental numbers are included in this performance, commencing with the Dance of the Clowns, and these will be followed by the Overture.
Programme notes by James Scourse
The Somerset Chamber Orchestra
This is the twenty-first series of summer concerts to be given by the Somerset Chamber Orchestra. The Orchestra was founded in 1979 by its current director, James Scourse, along with a number of friends all of whom had been members of the Somerset Youth Orchestra. Back in 1979 the orchestra consisted of fourteen string players, but since then the group has grown into a full orchestra of between thirty-five and fifty players who meet for a week every summer. This year, as in the years 1991-1996, the orchestra will be rehearsing at Brymore School near Cannington and the Orchestra would like to thank the Headmaster, Mr T. Pierce, and the staff of the School, most warmly for making their facilities available to us.
Both James Scourse and Jane Carwardine attended schools in Wells - James at the Blue School and Jane at the Cathedral School. Whilst at the Blue School James decided to pursue music not as a profession but as a major extracurricular activity; he took an MA at Oxford, and a Ph.D. at Cambridge (where he was first a graduate member of St.John's College and then Fellow of Girton College). He is now Senior Lecturer in Marine Geology in the School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales (Bangor), but performs regularly as a semi-professional 'cellist with a variety of groups in North Wales.
Jane graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London after leaving Wells. At the Guildhall she studied under David Takeno, and won a number of prizes including the Birdie Warshaw Prize for Unaccompanised Bach and the Noel Millidge Prize for her performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. She was a founder-member, and remains principal second violin, of the internationally-acclaimed Guildhall String Ensemble with whom she has performed all over the world, including broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, regular performances on the South Bank in London and recordings with RCA. Jane is also a member of the City of London Sinfonia and the Kandinsky String Quartet, and has freelanced with many of the London-based chamber orchestras, including the Academy of St.Martin's-in-the-Fields and the London Mozart Players. Jane was leader of the Somerset Chamber Orchestra (then called the Somerset Chamber Ensemble) from its inception until 1982, and has featured as soloist with the Orchestra in the Bach Double Violin Concerto (1981), the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante (1982), The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams (1984) and the Bruch Violin Concerto (1988). She returned as leader in the anniversary twentieth series last year and we are delighted that she is able to lead again this year.
RICHARD KIPPEN (Clarinet)
Richard Kippen has been principal clarinettist with the Somerset Chamber Orchestra since 1986 and has featured as soloist in the clarinet concertos by Mozart (1989) and Gerald Finzi (1997). He is a graduate of the University of Birmingham and studied as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music. He has worked widely as a freelance musician, working with groups as diverse as the Scottish National Orchestra, Opera North and the Northern Sinfonia. In 1989 he joined the Leeds Wind Quintet, since when he has appeared widely in the north of England, featuring as soloist with a number of groups. He continues to teach as part of the Leeds Music Support Service and tutors woodwind in the City of Leeds Youth Orchestra.
NICHOLAS TOLLER (Piano)
Nicholas Toller is a senior music lecturer at Anglia University in Cambridge, where he has a wide range of academic and practical duties. Ten years ago he completed his Ph.D. on expressive purpose in Schubert under the supervision of Professor Brian Newbould, and this work has now led to a broader interest in the creative process from Mozart to the present day. He has made an extensive study of composers' sketches both in England and abroad. As a performer he divides his time between playing the piano, violin and conducting. During the last two decades he has been soloist in several of Mozart's piano concertos, often with the K.239 Chamber Orchestra in Cambridge, and he is also active as a recital accompanist. He plays violin in the Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra, Sinfonia of Cambridge and Somerset Chamber Orchestra, and conducts the Anglia Symphony Orchestra regularly. In 1996 he became an examiner for the Associated Board.
PlayersConductor James Scourse
Leader Jane Carwardine