Musical Director's notes and sound files for the Autumn Term

 

Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 Op. 56 the "Scottish"

 

Felix Mendelssohn

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Symphony No. 3 the "Scottish"

 

1. Andante con moto - Allegro un poco agitato; 2. Vivace non troppo; 3. Adagio; 4. Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai


In 1829, during his first trip to Great Britian, Mendelssohn traveled to Scotland, and at Holyrood Castle in Edinburgh he first conceived the material for the Andante that begins the “Scottish” Symphony. From this germinal phrase grows a good deal of the material to follow. But it was to be many years before the symphony was completed and performed. It is also his symphonic masterpiece - novel yet with convincing formal organization (the movements, for example, instructed to be played without interruption), vivid in orchestration and melody.
There are some obvious nods to classical practice in the 63 bar Andante con moto, which leads directly into the Allegro un poco agitato in 6/8 with its first theme elaborating the melody of the Andante. A leisurely transition begins with the trumpeting tutti and continues in an almost fugal texture. The closing theme, squarely in E minor (not the C major you might expect), hints at a barcarolle rhythm. From the motivic counterpoint and fragmentation in the development emerges a broad countermelody in the cellos, over which the recapitulation eventually commences. During the coda, there is an obvious storm at sea, with timpani thunder; surges and ebbs from the violins overlap those in the low strings. There is a brief reprise of the opening Andante and a pizzicato close.
The second movement is equally imaginative in form - part scherzo, part highland fling, with motion by relentless semiquavers. It’s a frantic, almost fiendish showpiece, slipping from time to time (especially at the second theme) into the string pianissimo staccato at which Mendelssohn always excels. The main theme is based on that of the first movement Andante, and once again there is a pizzicato conclusion. In the third movement the pizzicatos become a guitar-like accompaniment to the main theme played by the violins. Not only the funereal character of the second episode but also the swells and sighs of the violin line give the movement its strong introspective cast. Unusually for a slow movement of this period, it is scored for full orchestra including trumpets and timpani.
The final movement, once marked “warlike,” seems to evoke some undertaking of battle or brigandry - a typically post-Beethovenian struggle and working out. The second theme, heard in the woodwinds over continuous triplets in the upper strings, is a version of the now familiar motto opening. At the close of the movement this is heard again in the solo clarinet over drones in the strings, much subdued. Then the 6/8 returns in major mode, in an extended Maestoso coda, and the motive which has so long dominated the work achieves its resolution. Mendelssohn perhaps meant this passage to sound like a male chorus of thanksgiving, the precedent clearly that of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony.



Johannes Brahms: Serenade No. 1 in D, Op. 11


Johannes Brahms

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Serenade No. 1 in D

1. Allegro molto; 2. Scherzo: Allegro non troppo - Trio: poco più moto; 3. Adagio non troppo; 4. Menuetto I and II; 5. Scherzo: Allegro; 6. Rondo: Allegro


Brahms' first orchestral work, the Serenade No. 1 evolved from a nonet for five winds and four strings, written during his three-year tenure in the principality of Detmold as choir conductor and court pianist in 1858, but recast for chamber orchestra shortly afterwards. (Both versions have been lost, or were destroyed by the composer.) He gave the material its final and surviving form in 1859, adding two more movements to the original four before publishing it in 1860. It was premiered in Hanover in the same year.
Sunny and straightforward, the Serenade grows directly from the 18th-century Classicism which still pervaded musical life at the conservative Detmold court. Although Brahms employed sonata form in the opening Allegro molto and the Adagio third movements of the Serenade, it is basically a dance work. The jaunty main subject sets a mood that recurs several times before its apotheosis in the rondo finale.
In between, there are plenty of diversions and surprises. Both the second and the fifth movements are scherzos. The first of them is marked Allegro non troppo (that modifying "not-too-much" remained a Brahmsian caution throughout his lifetime). Song sections are cast dramatically in D minor, but the slightly faster trio is in B flat major.
The third movement, Adagio non troppo, is the work's emotional fulcrum; this too is in B flat major. A full-blown development section does not cramp or curb the movement's soaring melodic style.
Two minuets follow, the first one in G major, the second in G minor with an espressivo, legato theme played the violins over plucked violas. Both are very lightly scored. The second scherzo comes next, an unqualified Allegro in D major, with a Trio in C. The shortest movement in the piece, it pays overt homage to Beethoven.
The concluding movement in 2/4 time is another unmodified Allegro in D major. Clarinets and bassoons in unison, playing in thirds, announce the principal subject. It is a galloping rondo of energetic and simple charm.



Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture King Stephen Op. 117

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

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Overture King Stephen

Andante con moto - Presto - Andante con moto - Presto


In 1811 the managers of the New Theatre at Pesth commissioned the poet Kotzebue to prepare a triology, based upon Hungarian historical subjects, suitable for the occasion of its opening, and engaged Beethoven to compose the vocal and instrumental music to accompany it. Both poet and composer accepted the task. The full title of Beethoven's score is "King Stephen, Hungary's first Benefactor, a Prologue in one act by Kotzebue, Music by Ludwig van Beethoven, written for the Opening of the New Theatre in Pesth, February 9, 1812."

The music consists of an overture and eight vocal movements. The overture commences with four calls in the trumpets, horns, bassoons and strings, followed by a march theme announced by the flute, accompanied by the woodwinds, horns, and strings, pizzicato. The march is interrupted by four more calls, and then is resumed, leading to the main section of the overture (Presto). A theme of a martial character begins in the woodwinds and horns. After its development, a second theme is introduced, which is the first phrase of the vocal theme in the finale of the Ninth Symphony, showing how persistently Beethoven was haunted by the ideas which finally came to fruition in the latter work. The march theme then returns (Andante con moto), and subsequently two themes of the Presto are brilliantly developed. A four bar reference to the march theme is followed by a stirring Coda, which brings the overture to its close.


 

 


 

Peter Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 4 Op. 61 "Mozartiana"

Peter Tchaikovsky

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Suite No. 4 "Mozartiana"

The Suite No. 4 is an orchestral suite written in 1887 as a tribute to Mozart on the centenary of that composer's opera Don Giovanni. Because it consists of four orchestrations of piano pieces by (or in one case, based on) Mozart, Tchaikovsky did not number this suite with his previous three suites for orchestra. Instead, he considered it a separate work and gave it the title "Mozartiana". Nevertheless, it is usually counted as No. 4 of his orchestral suites. Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere himself in Moscow in November 1887. It was the only one of his suites he ever conducted, and only the second at whose premiere he was present.


Mozartiana is in four movements and lasts approximately 20 minutes.


1. Gigue. Allegro (G major) After the Little Gigue for piano K.574
2. Menuet. Moderato (D major) After the Minuet for piano, K. 355
3. Preghiera. Andante non tanto (B? major) After Franz Liszt's piano transcription of the Ave verum corpus K. 618. (In 1862 Liszt wrote a piano transcription combining Gregorio Allegri's Miserere and Mozart's Ave verum corpus, published as À la Chapelle Sixtine (S.461). Tchaikovsky orchestrated only the part of this work that had been based on Mozart.)
4. Thème et variations. Allegro giusto (G major) After the piano Variations on a Theme by Gluck K. 455. (The theme was the aria Unser dummer Pöbel meint).


Tchaikovsky's treatment of Mozart's work here was both faithful and affectionate. He took the music as it stood and endeavoured to present it in the best possible light - that is, in late 19th-century guise. His intent was to win greater appreciation among his contemporaries for Mozart's lesser known works.
Tchaikovsky had always held Don Giovanni in the greatest awe, and regarded Mozart as his musical God. The great soprano Viardot-Garcia had purchased the manuscript of the opera in 1855 in London, and kept it in a shrine in her home, where it was visited by many people. Tchaikovsky visited her when he was in Paris in June 1886, and said that when looking at the manuscript, he was "in the presence of divinity". So it is not surprising that the centenary of the opera in 1887 would inspire him to write something honouring Mozart. He wrote the work in the summer of 1887 at a spa town in the Caucasus.


 

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