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Sunday 20th November 2011 Print E-mail

Danse Slave
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)

Chabrier's sudden change to music might be seen in today's eyes as a kind of mid-life crisis. Although having had private music study since childhood, it was initially in law (apparently at the insistence of his father) that he made a living, working for 18 years at the Ministry of Interior. But at the age of 40, after travelling to Germany and hearing Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, he decided to throw in his desk job and devote himself solely to music.

He was well-connected to the arts scene in France, being friends with painters such as Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. His music also influenced many composers including Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc and Stravinsky.

In 1887 Chabrier wrote a three-act opéra-comique called Le roi malgré lui (The Reluctant King). The story is based loosely on Henry of Valois, who rather reluctantly accepted the role of King of Poland, before returning to France to become King Henry III. The music itself was very well received, but its cumbersome libretto and confusing plot-lines are said to have contributed to the opera falling into obscurity.

One of the orchestral pieces from the opera is the Danse Slave (or Slavonic Dance). An introductory fanfare is followed by the main theme of the work: an exuberant ceremonial-like dance. The middle section could be described as a more intimate waltz, which is interrupted by the winds announcing the return of the main theme. Much like another of his works, Espańa, Chabrier draws heavily on the musical qualities of the region (in this case, Poland) and mixes it with his French background.  

Suite Pastorale
Chabrier

I. Idylle
II. Danse Villageoise
III. Sous Bois
IV. Scherzo-Valse

In 1880 (the year that he switched to full-time composing), and while on holiday on the coast of Normandy, Chabrier wrote Pičces pittoresques: ten pieces for piano. The work was to have a profound influence on composers such as Ravel and Poulenc. Poulenc is said to have declared the work as important to French music as Debussy's Preludes.

From these ten movements Chabrier orchestrated four, placing them under the title Suite Pastorale. His connection with the great French painters of the day seems to have rubbed off, as each movement is like a painting of a rural setting.

The first movement, Idylle, describes the feeling of these types of short poems about love, set amongst pastoral surroundings.

The second movement is a village dance, introduced by the clarinets. The third movement, Sous Bois ('under the trees'), has a feeling of walking through the shrubs and undergrowth (represented by the cellos and basses) with the flutes, oboe and violins giving glimpses of sunlight through the trees.

The lively last movement has a real sense of joie de vivre, with small pauses for reflection in the middle.

Morceau de Concert
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)


Saint-Saëns was a man of immense knowledge. His interests and expertise ran to subjects such as science, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. He also wrote books, plays and poetry.

He is most remembered, however, for his music. He was a composer, organist, conductor, and pianist. He was also strongly opinionated, and was either loved or loathed by fellow composers, Fauré and Liszt being examples of the former, Debussy the latter.

In 1880 Saint-Saëns composed the Morceau de Concert ('Concert Piece') for the winner of that year's prize at the Paris Conservatoire, virtuoso horn player Henri Chaussier. Although a strong believer and exponent of the natural horn, Chaussier was equally talented on the valve horn, which was gaining more and more popularity at the time. In fact, in the same year, Chaussier developed, with a French instrument maker named François Millereau, a new type of horn consisting of four valves. This rather complex and cumbersome horn was not as reliable as the modern horn we see today, but it did give Chaussier the ability to play a wide range of notes that were impossible on the natural horn. It is believed that it was on this instrument that he premiered the Morceau de Concert.

The work begins with a sort of theme and variations, typical in a piece written for Conservatoire competitions. The middle section is slow and lyrical, and also demonstrates hand-stopping and low playing. After a return to the opening theme by the orchestra, the finale begins with the horn playing ascending notes taken from the harmonic series, well known to the players of natural horn. The piece finishes with virtuosic flourishes.

*****

Heath Parkinson began playing the horn at the age of 13 as part of the Special music program at Marryatville High School in Adelaide. During that time, he was a regular member of the Adelaide Conservatorium Orchestra and Wind Band and studied with French horn players Phillip Hall and Phillip Paine. After secondary school, in 2000 Heath joined the Royal Australian Air Force Band in Sydney as a permanent member till 2005. Heath was then accepted to study with Andrew Bain for a Post Graduate Diploma in Performance at the Sydney Conservatorium.

During his studies over the following 3 years, Heath played regularly with the Australian Opera Ballet Orchestra and the Tasmanian, Sydney and Queensland Symphony Orchestras. In 2009 he  moved to Melbourne, where he played in the Melbourne season of Billy Elliot for 6 months and studied with Geoff Viking Lierse at the Australian National Academy of Music. Since late 2009 Heath has been principal 3rd horn in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.       
      
Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875)

Even in his relatively short life, Bizet's musical output was impressive. While a student he won many prizes in composition, most notably the Prix de Rome. Although remembered mostly for his hit opera Carmen, arguably his best orchestral writing can be heard in today's two orchestral suites:
     
Jeux d'enfants (Petite suite d'orchestre)
Bizet
I. Marche (Trompette et Tambour)
II. Berceuse (La Poupée)
III. Impromptu (La Toupie)
IV. Duo (Petit Mari, Petite Femme)
V. Galop (Le Bal)
Like Chabrier's Suite Pastorale, Bizet took parts of a piano work of his own and arranged it for orchestra. In this case, the original was a 12-movement suite for piano duet called Jeux d'enfants (Children's games).

The first movement ('Trumpet and Drum') is a march involving toy soldiers. It has hints of the children's march that Bizet later wrote for Carmen.

The second movement ('The Doll') has a gentle rocking melody introduced by the violins, accompanied by the cellos.

The third movement starts with a burst of sound, depicting the start of the 'Spinning Top'. This opening recurs in the middle of the movement, suggesting that the top needed another spin to keep it in action.

The fourth movement ('Little Husband, Little Wife') has the first violins and cellos portraying a game of playing pretend husband-and-wife.

Finally we hear a lively gallop, to be played at a ball, but no doubt also appropriate for any children's party.

L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1
Bizet

I. Prelude
II. Minuetto
III. Adagietto
IV. Carillon
Bizet wrote incidental music to accompany Alphonse Daudet's play L'Arlésienne ('The Girl from Arles'), which was premiered in 1872. Shortly after, he arranged four extracts into a suite. (The second suite was arranged after Bizet's death by his friend Ernest Guiraud). The play is set in Provence, and revolves around a farmer named Frédéri and his love for an un-named girl from Arles.
     
The Prelude begins with a march taken from a traditional Christmas carol, 'March of the Kings'. The slow passage following represents Frédéri's brother, and the conclusion is the theme of Frédéri himself.

The minuetto describes a small party in the town, celebrating the impending marriage of Frédéri to another girl, Vivette.

The third movement is a tender piece for muted strings.

The last movement centres around the bells ringing in the town to mark the start of a festival. Bizet cleverly uses instruments such as the horns and harp to convey the sound of the bells. There is a rather tender middle section with interplay between the winds and strings, before the horns bring the sound of the bells back, and the whole orchestra joins in for a festive finale.  

 
Sunday 11th September 2011 Print E-mail

Derwent Overture
Matthew Dewey (b. 1984)


"One of the most exciting things to experience as a composer is the moment that a musician asks you to compose a new work, having played your music in the past. So it is with this overture, the second orchestral work that Damien has been kind enough to ask me to write.

Unlike the first work, a symphony full of pathos and darkness, this overture is a fantasy and has a far more diverse and generally warmer emotional palette. It has no specific program, but seeks to paint a trajectory through a series of varied dramatic episodes, expanding finally into an optimistic and warm final section, setting the scene for a new adventure full of hope.

The overture is titled in honour of the orchestra and I would like to thank the players, the organisers and Damien Holloway for affording me the privilege of composing this piece for you."

*****

Matthew Dewey is a Tasmanian composer of concert, theatre and film music. His compositions have been commissioned, recorded and performed by groups and companies, including the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Contemporanes ensamble de guitarras de Monterrey (Mexico), The Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, The Seymour Group (Sydney), The New York Miniaturist Ensemble (USA), The Sydney Children's Choir, IHOS Music Theatre laboratory, The Hobart Chamber Orchestra, Backgammon Baroque, Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Tasmanian Theatre Company, Tasmania Performs and many others.

Dewey's music for orchestra is celebrated on a new CD Echoes which was recorded in 2009 by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra at the Moscow Radio House. The disk contains the world premiere recordings of his Orchestral Suite No.1 and Symphony No. 1 (Port Arthur, 1996). The latter was commissioned by Damien Holloway for the Hobart Chamber Orchestra and given its concert premiere in 2008 at the Hobart Town Hall.

He has been the recipient of the Don Kay Scholarship for Music Composition, the IHOS Music Theatre and Opera Young Artist Bursary, and grants from the Australia Council, Arts Tasmania, the Australian Foundation for Young People and Ars Musica Australis.

Dewey has previously lectured in composition at the University of Tasmania, worked as a presenter and live music producer for ABC Classic FM and is the founder and director of the Tasmanian Composers Collective.

Matthew Dewey's music is available from his website (http://www.matthewdewey.com/score), the Australian Music Centre, iTunes and from Music Without Frontiers in Collins Street, Hobart.

Sea Pictures, Op. 37
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Elgar was born into a musical family in Worcester, England. Although he had little formal musical training, he learnt the violin, bassoon and organ, and aspired to become a professional violin soloist. In London, however, he soon gave up the idea and returned to Worcester, where his early posts included conducting the Worcester Glee Club and Worcester County Lunatic Asylum Band. His first published compositions, largely choral works, date from the 1890s, but the orchestral Enigma Variations of 1899 established his reputation as a leading composer, arguably the first from England for two centuries.

The song cycle Sea Pictures was originally intended for soprano, but for its first performance, at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in 1899, it was transposed down for the contralto Clara Butt, who dressed as a mermaid. A few weeks later she, no doubt more soberly dressed, sung it for Queen Victoria at Balmoral. Maria Lurighi performed it with the DSO in 2006. This is possibly its first Australian performance by a baritone.

1. Sea Slumber Song
Sea birds are asleep, the world forgets to weep.....

The lyrics of this sea lullaby are from a poem by the Victorian poet Roden Noel. Parts of the music reappear later in the cycle.

2. In Haven (Capri)
Closely let me hold thy hand.....

This, the shortest of the five songs, is a reworking of an earlier 1897 version, Love alone will stay, with added allusions to the sea. The words are by Elgar's wife, Caroline Alice.

3. Sabbath Morning at Sea
The ship went on with solemn face
To meet the darkness on the deep.....

The original poem is by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

4. Where Corals Lie
The deeps have music soft and low.....

This was the most popular of the five songs in Britain, and appeared in the radio programme, Your Hundred Best Tunes. It is based on a poem by Richard Garnett, published in 1859.

5. The Swimmer
With short, sharp violent lights made vivid
To southward as far as the sight can roam...

The song, evocative of tempests and shipwrecks, is based on a poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon, published in Bush Ballads and Galloping Hymns in 1870, when he was living in Melbourne.

*****

Michael Lampard is emerging as one of Australia's most exciting young operatic talents. He has performed in opera, oratorio, recital and musical theatre in Australia, Europe, USA and Asia. He has a Masters degree from UTas, an A.T.C.L. from Trinity Guildhall in London and an LMus from the AMEB. Michael is also an experienced composer and conductor.

Competition success includes twice being an award-winning finalist in the Australian Singing Competition, being a Quarter Finalist in Placido Domingo's Operalia in Paris 2007, winning the DJ Motors Operatic Aria and reaching final rounds in competitions such as the Herald Sun Aria, the German Australia Opera Grant, and the Victorian National Liederfest.

Of the almost 50 operas or oratorios in his repertoire, highlights include Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and Die Zauberflöte, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Verdi's La Traviata, Puccini's La Boheme, Handel's Messiah, Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Faure's Requiem, and Mozart's Requiem.  Recital repertoire includes both standard works for the baritone voice such as Schubert's Winterreise and Die Schone Mullerin, Mahler's Kinderotenlieder, Shostakovich's Michelangelo Suite, and many world or Australian premieres such as Matthew Dewey's Il Tempo Passa and Lori Laitman's The Seed of Dream.

He has worked with many leading companies including SSO, TSO, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, The Rome Opera Festival, Orchestre Pasdeloup, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, More Than Opera, Melbourne Opera, IHOS Opera and most of Tasmania's orchestras, choirs and theatre companies. Recently, Michael launched 'Hip-Pocket Opera' a chamber opera company based in Hobart.

Upcoming appearances include recitals in Tasmania,  Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and the United Kingdom, Carl Rutti's Requiem, roles in Bizet's Carmen with the Melbourne Opera Company, Mozart's Bastien and Bastienna, McIntyre's Fire on the Snow and the medieval church drama The Play of Daniel.

For more information visit http://www.michaellampard.com/

Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39.
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)


Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna, in south-central Finland, where his father was a doctor. He studied at the Helsinki Conservatory, and later in Berlin and Vienna, but from the outset had his own musical style. His music is redolent of the wild grandeur of the north and expresses Finland's national aspirations.

Sibelius began writing his first symphony in 1898, shortly after returning to Finland from Italy. It was first performed, in an earlier version, by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1899; thus it is contemporaneous with Elgar's Sea Pictures. Like the tone poem Finlandia, also of the same year, it is romantic, heroic and nationalist in style: at about this time, Finland was in the grip of intensified repression from her Russian overlords. Nevertheless, Sibelius dismissed attempts to find extra-musical meaning in his symphonies, just as he vehemently objected to comparisons with Tchaikovsky.

1. Andante ma non troppo-Allegro energico.

The symphony begins with a forlorn clarinet solo, accompanied by a quiet drum roll, which leads to an Allegro of surging energy.

2. Andante- poco a poco meno andante- Andante.

The opening "seems to sigh in wonder at some sunset scene" before (maybe) gusty winds spring up and then suddenly die away.

3. Scherzo. Allegro- lento ma non troppo- Allegro

The nervous quirky momentum of the scherzo is interrupted by the luscious trio, led by the horns.

4. Finale, quasi una fantasia

The opening clarinet theme, now in the strings, is followed by a "chase passage", then a broad melody, leading to a grand climax.

 
Sunday 26th June 2011 Print E-mail

Invitation to the Dance Op. 65
Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826)  Orchestrated by Felix Weingartner

Invitation to the Dance was originally composed as a ‘rondeau brillante’ for solo piano in the summer of 1819. Weber dedicated the work to Caroline, his wife of only a few months.

It was the first concert waltz to be written: that is, the first work in waltz form meant for listening rather than for dancing. John Warrack calls it “the first and still perhaps the most brilliant and poetic example of the Romantic concert waltz, creating within its little programmatic framework a tone poem that is also an apotheosis of the waltz in a manner that was to remain fruitful at least until Ravel’s choreographic poem, La Valse…”.

The idea of producing a concert piece in an unmistakable dance form was still somewhat new; suites of dances intended for concert performance had only begun to appear a decade earlier. Here Weber constructs an entire suite of waltzes and melds them together into a quasi tone poem in which a gentleman asks a woman to dance, after which they dance and part, with the conclusion returning to the music of the beginning. The waltz was the “new kid on the block” among ballroom dances of the time, and Weber’s virtuosic keyboard piece immediately legitimized it as a concert form - fatefully so, since it would soon become the dominant dance type of the nineteenth century.

The work has a slow introduction (Moderato) leading to a fast section (Allegro vivace), then a lilting waltz theme. Other waltz tunes appear, and the fast section, exuberant scale passages and the main waltz theme are all repeated. It comes to a rousing conclusion – or what sounds like one – then finishes with a quiet coda.

Weber offered this very specific scenario for the piece: “First approach of the dancer, to whom the lady gives an evasive answer. His more pressing invitation; her acceptance of his request. Now they converse in greater detail; he begins, she answers; he with heightened expression; she responds more warmly; now for the dance! His remarks concerning it; her answer, their coming together; their going forward; expectation of the beginning of the dance. The Dance. End: his thanks, her reply and their parting. Silence.”

The work is commonly heard in the orchestration made by Hector Berlioz shortly after the composer’s death. Today, however, we are performing the 1928 orchestration by the Austrian composer, conductor and pianist Felix Weingartner (1863 - 1942).

Hungarian Dances Nos 5 & 6
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) Arranged by Adolf Schmid

Brahms was active as a pianist and arranger for small ensembles during his teens in Hamburg. He gave his first solo concert as a pianist in September 1848 aged fifteen. During the summer of that year, the Austrian and Russian governments had suppressed revolution in Hungary, with the result that many Hungarian refugees passed through the port of Hamburg on their way to the USA as emigrants. They brought with them their music, which was frequently played both for profit and in order to show solidarity with the rebels. Brahms thus came to know the gypsy music of Central Europe, which for many years was mistaken in Germany and elsewhere for original Hungarian folk music. Brahms (like many others including Liszt), generally saw gypsy music as being Hungarian in origin.

A major interpreter of the gypsy style was the Hungarian violinist Eduard Hoffmann, known by the name of Remenyi. In 1850 Remenyi performed in Hamburg and greatly impressed Brahms. Three years later, in 1853, he prevailed upon Brahms to accompany him on a concert tour. This tour also proved to be highly influential, as on it, Brahms met Joseph Joachim, who came to be a close friend, and at Weimar he met Franz Liszt. Joachim had suggested to Brahms that he meet Clara and Robert Schumann, so he left Remenyi and travelled to Düsseldorf where the Schumanns then lived. He met Schumann on 30th September 1853 - a momentous encounter and the foundation of his subsequent career.

Five years later, in 1858, whilst staying with the conductor Julius Grimm, Brahms entertained his hosts with some wild, gypsy-style piano pieces, probably the first formal examples of the Hungarian Dances. Clara Schumann was to perform several of these pieces during the coming decade of the 1860s. What seems to have been the first complete performance of the first ten Hungarian Dances, composed for piano duet, took place in 1868 with Brahms and Clara as the pianists. The Dances proved to be immensely popular and commercially successful. His publisher, Simrock, was delighted with this success and persuaded Brahms to compose a further set.

The majority of the tunes derive from the czardas found in contemporary collections of Hungarian music. Brahms learned many of these through his encounter much earlier with Remenyi, but he invested the melodies with even greater character, recreating them in an expanded form. Abrupt transitions of tempo, material and mood conjure up the commonly held image of gypsy violinists.

Slavonic Dances Op. 46 Nos 6 & 7
Antonin Dvorák (1841 - 1904)

In 1877 Johannes Brahms, on hearing a set of Moravian Duets by the relatively unknown Dvorák recommended them to Simrock, his publisher. Simrock agreed to publish them and ordered a set of eight Slavonic Dances for piano duet, in the hope that Dvorák would produce something like the Hungarian Dances of Brahms. He was not to be disappointed.

The dances were composed and published both as piano duets and in an orchestral version (which the composer declared sounded like the devil). These dances attract us by their freshness, good humour and occasional melancholy.

Dance no. 6 is in the form of a sousedská, a Czech folk dance in triple meter and moderate tempo, similar in character to the minuet, waltz, and landler. Dance no. 7 is in the form of a skocná, a fast Slavic folk-dance, normally in 2/4 metre.

Rumanian Folk Dances
Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945)

As composer, pedagogue, pianist, and ethnomusicologist, Béla Bartók stands as one of the most inventive figures in twentieth-century music. Born in a part of Hungary that is now Romania, Bartók brought to his musical occupations a keen sensitivity and intuitive understanding of the uniqueness and authenticity of indigenous music, especially that which originated in the diverse ethnic regions of Eastern Europe.

Bartók’s lifelong commitment to preserving folk music is reported to have begun during a summer stay in Slovakia in 1904 when he overheard a woman singing a traditional peasant tune. He immediately jotted down what he had heard, capturing what he thought was sure to become a lost cultural form. In the following year he met composer and pioneering musical ethnographer Zoltán Kodály, and the two formed an enduring collaboration that resulted in the preservation of several thousand folk songs, many of which they recorded with the recently invented Edison cylinder phonograph. Bartók and Kodaly travelled to isolated, outlying areas of Hungary and Romania, systematically collecting, documenting, and later analysing the myriad variations of the songs and dances they encountered. The melodies found in Romania held special interest for Bartók, as he thought their insularity from external influence represented folk music in its purest, most authentic form.

Originally composed for piano in 1915, his Romanian Folk Dances were later arranged for violin and piano, and then for chamber orchestra. Brimming with rhythmic vitality, melodic richness, and harmonic colour, the Romanian Folk Dances are among Bartók’s most popular and approachable works.

The first of the dances, Jocul cu bâta (Stick dance) has its origins in Mezoszabad, Transylvania. Bartók reportedly heard this tune played by two Romanian gypsy violinists. Brâul (Sash dance) is a type of chain dance performed by inhabitants of Egres in the Torontál area; the dance makes use of a sash, or cloth belt. Pe loc (in one spot), also from the Torontál, is a “stamping dance” performed “in one spot,” or in place. It begins with a simple drone followed by a haunting, mysterious melody played by the piccolo. Buciumeana (horn dance), from the Torda-Aranyos region in central Romania, features an exotic, languorous melody that builds in intensity and then softens as it closes. Poarga românesca (Romanian “polka”) hails from the Bihar region. Like life at its most exuberant, the dance is all-too-brief, moving by swiftly and with abandon, only to come to a sudden close. Immediately, though, we are swept into two final dances, from Bihar and Torda-Aranyos respectively; both are entitled Maruntel (fast dance) and played without pause. These final dances express irrepressible vitality, and it is at this level of fever-pitched intensity and joyful abandon that the dances end.

Courtly Dances from ‘Gloriana’
Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976) Arranged – David Stone


Born appropriately on 22 November, St. Cecilia's Day (the patron saint of music), Edward Benjamin Britten was the fourth child of a Lowestoft dentist. Encouraged by a doting mother, he privately studied composition with the Sussex-born composer Frank Bridge, later studying at the Royal College of Music under John Ireland.

Britten's music first attracted a wider audience in 1936 when he wrote background music for three GPO Film Unit “shorts”. He lived in the USA from 1939 to 1942 in the company of Peter Pears and W. H. Auden, where friendships were struck which were to have a profound effect on his future. During these years, Britten wrote his Violin Concerto, Sinfonia da Requiem and his first opera Paul Bunyan. Also, the first thoughts of what was to be his most popular opera - Peter Grimes - were taking root.

Gloriana, his sixth opera, was commissioned by Covent Garden to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. Heavily criticised after its first performance, it has never found a permanent niche in any opera house. The criticism was mainly aimed at the opera’s scenario, which tended to highlight the Queen Elizabeth I’s frailties, her personal relationship with the Earl of Essex, and the intrigues and jealousies at Court. It was thought that the persona of the Queen should have been portrayed as the monarch of a burgeoning European power.

The Courtly Dances appear in the third scene of Act II. In the Great Room of Whitehall Palace, a ball is being given by the Queen. Accompanied by a stage band, the curtain rises on a stately Pavane, following which the Countess of Essex requests a Galliard. The Queen enters. On catching sight of the Countess, her jealous rival, she commands a La Volta - a vigorous dance during which the ladies are tossed in the air by their partners. It is so vigorous in fact that at its end the Queen further commands that the “Ladies, go change thy linen”! Meanwhile a Morris Dance is performed to entertain those who remain in the room.

From the opera, Britten subsequently compiled a Symphonic Suite. The dances outlined above, together with a March, Coranto, and Coda, form the third section of the Suite.

Roses from the South Op. 388
Johann Strauss Jnr (1825 - 1899)


This waltz medley takes its themes from the operetta, The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief. The general mood is rather pensive but the final moments of the piece sparkle with some of Strauss’s happiest tunes. The ending, heralded by a series of descending chords and underlined with a drum roll, leads to a final flourish.

Voices of Spring Op. 410
Johann Strauss Jnr (1825 - 1899)


Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring) was written as an orchestral waltz featuring a solo voice part for the coloratura soprano Bianca Bianchi, then a famous member of the Vienna Court Opera. The grand chords that introduce the piece lead to the gentle and swirling melody of the first waltz. The second waltz section invokes the pastoral joys of spring with the flute imitating birdsong. The third section perhaps suggests spring showers followed by a fourth more cheerful melody. The familiar first waltz then makes a grand entrance before a breathless finish, strong chords and the usual timpani roll and brass flourish.

Feuerfest! (Polka française) Op. 269
Josef Strauss (1827 - 1870)


Josef Strauss added the words Polka française to the title of this work (which loosely translates as ‘fireproof’), though there is little in the music that is particularly French. Although not as prolific as his older brother Johann II, Josef’s deep musical sense is reflected in his imaginative harmonies and subtle melodic invention, both evident in this colourful and vigorous piece. It features a joyous, bouncy theme and the sounds of anvils that combine to produce one of the composer’s most buoyant, festive works.

 
Sunday 17th of April 2011 Print E-mail

Overture to Die Fledermaus

J. Strauss Jnr. 1825 - 1899

A sparkling overture to Strauss‟s best loved operetta in which most of the characters pretend to be other than who they are. It premiered a year after the stock market crash of 1873. In the Rossini tradition of a "trailer", we are given a preview of what the opera has in store for us. The boisterous opening serves to grab the audience‟s attention, and many extreme changes of pace and mood follow - elegant and exciting, always a challenge to perform. Surprisingly not a success initially, just 16 performances, the operetta is now regarded as standard repertoire and is known throughout the world.

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor Op. 26

Max Bruch. 1838 - 1920

This is one of the most popular concertos in the repertoire, completed in 1866, when the composer was a relatively young 28-year old. (He lived to 93 and often complained that his other 3 violin concerti were rarely performed). The famous violinist Joachim (who performed the present version one year later) considered this concerto to be "the richest, the most seductive" when compared to the Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn violin concerti. It starts forebodingly with a low timpani roll and soon after the soloist enters on the lowest violin note (a long open G) - then scales the heights as if improvising. The full orchestra enters in a blaze of colour leading to the assertive solo principal theme. A gathering of energy throws us into the exciting main orchestral tutti. Soft ascending strings lead us without a break into the glorious adagio, the pulse of which is like a heartbeat. The finale starts low in the violas, rhythmic vitality builds up to a dramatic and virtuosic Hungarian dance tune, with double-stops abounding. The energy continues via a sweeping long note melody rigth down to a declamotory presto conclusion.

Symphony No. 8 in G major Op. 88

Antonin Dvorak. 1841 - 1904


Not as famous as the 9th Symphony ("From the New World"), this often performed symphony is full of Dvorak‟s much loved Bohemian folk music - happy and effervescent.

Allegro con brio - Opens with a lyrical theme in the celli and woodwind, giving way to a chirpy „birdcall‟ in the flute. The generally cheery nature of this movement is contrasted by brooding minor key sections.

Adagio - The simple openness of the flute solo is contrasted with sonorous clarinets in thirds. As we move into the major, a beautifully long woodwind melody unfolds accompanied by delicate descending passages in the strings. After some drama, the woodwind and strings reverse roles leading to the close - as in a sigh.

Allegro grazioso - This is a waltz in the minor with effervescent whimsical accompaniment. The movement ends with an unexpected coda in 2/4 that seems to poke fun at proceedings.....

Allegro non troppo - This finale opens with an extroverted trumpet fanfare leading into a set of variations beginning with a somber yet gracious theme in the cellos. It is not long before full orchestral energy and vitality, interspersed with slower melodic interludes, take us all theway to the conclusion.

 
Sunday 28th November 2010 Print E-mail

Carnival of the Animals
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921) arr. Denis Bloodworth

Pianists, Julia Hemmings and Jennifer Jeong, are both just completing year 12 at St Michael’s Collegiate School.
When Saint-Saëns composed this “Grand Zoological Fantasy” early in 1886, he had no intention of offering the work to the public; he simply thought to provide an entertain- ment for his friends at Carnival time. Following the first private performance, the work was given again at the request of his old friend and supporter Franz Liszt, shortly before his death in July of that year. He then specifically prohibited further performances of it until after his own death, excepting only the beautiful penultimate section, The Swan. The public premiere took place on February 26, 1922, a little more than two months after the composer's death, and The Carnival of the Animals quickly became one of his most popular works.
The original score was written for a small ensemble: two pianos, flute, clarinet, glockenspiel, glass harmonica, xylophone, string quartet, and double bass. Nowadays the glass harmonica is replaced by a celesta (an instrument not yet available in 1886), and the strings are usually in orchestral proportions. The original version contained fourteen movements. Today we present an arrangement of ten of these, which also rewrites the two piano parts for two players on one piano.

1. Introduction:

Royal March of the Lion Rumblings in the pianos and strings lead to a fanfare from the former and a majestic march from the latter. Fast, running scales in the pianos, lower strings and bassoons convincingly mimic lion roars.

2. Tortoises:

The famous cancan from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld is slowed down to near-motionlessness, the notes following one another in such a way that the melody barely takes shape till the piece is over.

3. The Elephant:

This movement is a lumbering and clumsy waltz played by double bass and piano. Yet another famous French piece is parodied here: the exquisite Dance of the Sylphs from Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, not only slowed down but assigned to the double bass for a truly elephantine character.

4. The Aquarium:

Piano and muted strings evoke the watery setting, highlighted here and there by the flute or clarinet. The darting moves of the aquatic creatures are represented by glissandos on the glockenspiel.

5. People with Long Ears:

This movement suddenly breaks the contemplative mood. First violins play high glissandi and second violins and violas low, buzzing ones, just like a donkey's braying “hee-haw”. This is the shortest of all the movements.
The Cuckoo in the Wood, a quiet mysterious melody in the piano is continually interrupted by the clarinet playing a single two-note phrase (C and an A flat), over and over, mimicking the call of a cuckoo.

Havanaise Op. 83
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921)

The nineteenth century cult of the virtuoso performer inspired a wealth of compositions designed to match the growing technical skill of players and to indulge the public’s craving for musical sensation. Apart from concertos, many composers produced smaller pieces which offered an opportunity for display to the sensitive soloist, and which were often musically excellent. French audiences have always loved brilliant display, but they have also liked their music to be carefree, and where possible blend romance with the dance, touches of exoticism with fiery bravura.
Saint-Saëns wrote this gorgeous piece in 1887 and dedicated it to violinist Diaz Albertini. According to biographer James Harding, the inspiration for the work came from “a memory of the crackling of a wood fire that somehow took musical shape in his brain.” It has the lilting, sultry character of the habanera, a tango-like African dance whose popularity spread first to Cuba, then to Spain. The work is cast as a free rondo with a very effective soft finish.


Pavane Op. 50
Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924)

In addition to being known for his fine songs and teaching eminent students, Gabriel Fauré has also gained fame for his music in other genres, including chamber music and orchestral pieces. In a letter to his wife, the composer alludes to the creative process involved in the genesis of his Pavane, “While I was thinking about a thousanddifferent things of no importance whatsoever, a kind of rhythmical theme in the style of a Spanish dance took form in my brain.... This theme developed by itself, became harmonized in different ways, changed and modulated; in effect, it germinated by itself.” Written during the summer of 1887, it received its first performance in Paris a year later. With the Pavane, a stately processional dance of the Renaissance, Fauré joins many of his peers in paying homage to music of the past. The piece has served as a model for some of his younger contemporaries; Debussy in the Passepied from Suite Bergamasque and Ravel in Pavane pour une Infante Defunte, which was written while he was a student of Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire. Scored for winds in pairs and strings (with chorus ad libitum), the Pavane is built on one basic melody, first announced by solo flute against pizzicato strings, with other instruments taking it up in turn.


Meditation from Thaïs
Jules Massenet (1842 – 1912)

This piece is from Massenet’s opera Thaïs, first performed at the Paris Opera in 1894. The plot is set in the early first century on the River Nile. A priest approaches Thaïs, a dancer of the night world of Alexandria, with the goal of leading her into repentance and a life of faith. Ironically however, his own faith is replaced by love for Thaïs, just as she is becoming inclined to accept religion.
Meditation is played between the first two acts, and portrays Thaïs’ change of heart from wanting to seduce the priest, to wanting to begin a religious life. Today, it is one of the most loved violin solos in the repertoire.
Carmen Suites Nos. 1 & 2 (excerpts)
Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875)

Carmen is one of the best known and popular operas in the repertoire. Yet Bizet, who died three months after its premiere in 1875 went to his grave believing he had failed again to achieve a success. The sensual story and lurid characterizations initially shocked French audiences, but they soon responded enthusiastically to the wonderful music. Two suites of music from the opera were assembled early in the twentieth century so that concert audiences could share in the colourful and passionate music.

1. Prelude

This is the “Fate” motive from the Prelude to Act I, before the curtain rises.

2. La Garde Montante

Act I is set in a square in Seville, outside a barracks and a cigarette factory. A march of fifes and trumpets is heard. The guard arrives, preceded by street urchins imitating the steps of the dragoons. The guard is ceremoniously changed.

3. Habanera

This aria has been called the most seductive number in the whole operatic repertoire. In the first scene, when the girls go back into the factory after a break, Carmen lingers behind while the men crowd around her. She has noticed the young handsome Don Jose, a corporal in the Dragoons, and is determined to make him notice her. “What, love you?” she cries insolently at the leering men, “perhaps tomorrow, anyway not today...Love is a free rebellious bird, it cannot
be tamed. It passes here and there as it wishes”. As she sings she glances
frequently at Don Jose and dances close to him.    

4. Séguedille
When Carmen is arrested after wounding a workmate in a factory fight she is left under the guard of Don Jose. She taunts him by saying she knows he loves her. Why did he keep the flowers she had thrown at him earlier? After work she always dances and sings at the tavern of her friend Lillas Pastia. If you untie me and let me escape perhaps we can meet there?

5. Danse Bohême

When Act II opens, the gypsies are drinking and dancing in Lillas Pastia’s tavern, Carmen among them. Led by her, they sing of the wild, carefree life they follow.


6. Led Dragons

d’Alcala Completely bewitched by Carmen, Don Jose seeks her at the tavern. As he approaches he sings the dragoon’s song which describes their strength, prowess and honour.


7. Intermezzo

This movement appears as an Entr’acte before Act III.


8. Aragonaise

Originally a dance from the province of Aragon, this movement appears as an Entr’acte before Act IV.

9. Les Toréadors

When Act IV opens, Carmen has tired of Don Jose and has turned her attention to Escamillo the bull fighter. They arrive together at the bull ring. Carmen is left alone outside the ring and Don Jose approaches. He begs her to go away with him; she laughs at him and while the sound of the toreador’s march is heard from inside the ring, he stabs her and gives himself up to the soldiers.

 
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Sunday 15th September 2013

Weber
Jubel-Overture

Sibelius
Andante Festivo

Grieg
Three pieces from "Sigurd Jorsalfar"

Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 in E flat ("Eroica")

 
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