Meeting tonight

Tonight, Monday 23rd April, is a member’s evening.  Starts at 7:30 as usual and details of how to find us are on the front page.

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June concert

Notice of the June meeting on 4th

The June meeting will be a little different from normal and will be in the form of a concert of three works;

  • Bellini – “ Norma” Sinfonia/Overture – Vittorio Gui conducting the Orchestra EIAR, Turin, 1937 -Historic recording
  • Elgar Cello Concerto, Beatrice Harrison with Elgar conducting The New Symphony Orchestra, London, 1928 – Historic recording
  • Beethoven Symphony No 7 Bruno Walter conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, New York, 1969 – Historic recording.

Normal place and normal time with easy parking.  If you don’t know where we are go to the ‘Find us’ tab on the home page where there is a map and a postcode.  Only £3 for non-members

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Next meeting

The next meeting will be on Monday 9 April starting at 7:30 pm as usual.  It will be presented by Ed Tinline and in entitled With few strings attached – music for wind ensemble.  Details of how to find us are on the tab marked ‘Find Us’.  Parking is easy and free.  Accessible for mobility impaired.  £3 at the door for non-members.

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Shostakovich

Shostakovich: his life and music

It was strange standing here in Salisbury giving a talk on Shostakovich – a man who was persecuted by the then Soviet regime – when a few hundred yards away from where the talk was given the terrible events took place allegedly perpetrated by the modern Russian state.

It is difficult to understand this man without the context of the times he lived through.  His life parallels the recent history of Russia.  He was born in 1906 a year after the failed 1905 revolution into a period of considerable unrest.  Prior to the final revolution there were several unsuccessful ones.   Much of his life was lived in constant fear.

Most people are aware of the symphony he wrote and the subtitle ‘a Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism’ which was actually written by a journalist and was never accepted by Shostakovich himself.  It seems also to imply that there was a single event and once he had written this subsequent symphony, everything was subsequently normal.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He was a constant thorn in the side of the party apparatchiks.  He was too famous to liquidate as there would be an international outcry.  Nevertheless, the party could make life extremely difficult for him and made it difficult also for people to be friends with him.  Few composers have been so central to the history of his time.  He experienced war, revolution, anti-Semitism, dictatorship and terror.

His family came from Siberia and Poland.  His father worked in Weights and Measures and there is a link to Mendeleyev the discoverer of the periodic table.   He started learning the piano in 1915 and entered the St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1919.  Teaching at the Conservatoire was unimaginative and there were no compositional classes.  Glazunov was a key supporter at this time.  Life was a constant struggle and they were frequently in debt. His father died when he was young.

He lived through the Revolution which started in St Petersburg which subsequently became Leningrad. Central to the story is the status of Leningrad which became the second city after Moscow and a window on the west.  This was both a problem and an opportunity for artists.  Leningrad was looked upon as ‘elitist’.

His First Symphony a graduate piece which showed considerable flair and promise. Strongly influenced by the work of Hindemith and was a kind of anti-symphony.  The symphony was dedicated to a friend Misha Kvardri.  Two years later, he was arrested and shot.  This is a reminder of the terrible times Shostakovich lived in: friends, acquaintances, supporters, even family members, disappear in the night and ended up in the gulag or are executed.  This got worse after the rise of Stalin in 1924 when anti-bourgeois policies, class warfare and actions against the kulaks were launched with terrible consequences for millions of Russians.

To make money he played in cinemas which he did  from 1923 until 1926.  He also composed for the cinema. Extracts from films and the following extracts were played:
• Five film extracts. – The Counterplan
o Alone
o Sofia Perofskaya
o Hamlet

Altogether wrote for 15 films.  He wrote music in the jazz idiom although the idiom was hard to see except for the use of the saxophone.
• Extract from Jazz Suite #2 composed in 1936

He started playing the piano in performance in 1923.

In 1925 the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians RAPM founded in Moscow.  The central message was that ‘music should have a social message and be accessible to the wider masses.’  They harassed intellectuals and wreaked havoc in higher institutions.  Shostakovich was sacked from a college post.  Many intellectuals and teachers were deprived of their livelihoods and denounced.

He composed the  opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District (shortened in the west to Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) from a libretto by Nikolai Leskov.  It was performed in January 1936 and the audience included Stalin, Molotov and Mikoyan.  They leave after 2nd act and this heralds a dramatic reversal of his fortunes. The opera is a success around the world however.   An article in the next day’s Pravda called it ‘muddle instead of music’.  His composition ‘insulted the audience with noise, cacophony, hammering, and screaming.’
Shostakovich said the article ‘changed my entire existence for ever.  It was unsigned and so represented the opinion of the party – or actually Stalin’s opinion and that was considerably more serious.’

Friends and colleagues distance themselves from him. The Leningrad Composers Union voted in favour of the Pravda article.  At the meeting where this is decided only one person spoke in favour of Shostakovich.  He was subsequently persecuted, his music was no longer performed and he was deprived of his livelihood.

In 1936 he composes his 4th Symphony which was withdrawn at the last minute.  He receives a visit from Otto Klemperer and Shostakovich plays the symphony to him on the piano and Klemperer was very impressed.  He suggests reducing the number of flutes but Shostakovich refuses. ‘What is written by the pen cannot be scratched out with an axe’ he said.  That might sound better in the original Russian.   Shostakovich almost never agrees to alter a score nor corrections nor alterations in the harmony or in the orchestration.  But his metronome markings are often completely wrong.  After one conductor said the speeds marked for a piece were impossible to play and Shostakovich agrees to change them and explains that he has an ‘old and unreliable metronome but he just did not want to throw it out.’

1936 sees the start of the great purges, millions disappear or are shot.  Shostakovich was advised by Tukhachevsky to ‘admit his errors’.  He is himself shot a year later.  Shostakovich’s position becomes very precarious and many friends, colleagues and relatives disappear.

Meeting the NKVD

On a Saturday in 1937 summoned to meet the NKVD.  After general conversation, and questions about his social life, he was asked about plot to assassinate Stalin.  Shostakovich said there were no discussions about assassinating comrade Stalin.  He was pressed on this and each time he denied that any such conversations took place.  He was asked to return on the following Monday by which time he was to have remembered discussion about the plot.  After a difficult weekend,  Shostakovich returns to the NKVD headquarters and gives his name to the guards on the door.  They refuse him entry saying they have no record of his name on their list.  After some discussion and finding out who his interrogator was, it turns out that the interrogator himself has been arrested and Shostakovich was free to go.

He composes 5th Symphony which a journalist describes as ‘a Soviet artists reply to just criticism.’  WWII and Leningrad surrounded by the Nazis.  It is the start of terrible privations.

His poor eyesight means he cannot serve in the armed forces but acts as a fire warden. Shostakovich was flown out of the city in October.

He writes Symphony #8 but this is not well received because it is not ‘optimistic’ enough. By the time it was ready for performance, the tide of war against Germany had changed and the official reception was ‘icy’.

In general, the communist party had two main problems with him.  Firstly his courage which made him difficult to control and secondly, his unpredictability. This was set against his international prestige which made him useful to the regime.  Shostakovich felt constantly under threat and always travelled with toothbrush and toothpaste in the expectation of arrest.

Post-war and the nature of the purges changed.  Intelligentsia was targeted and there were attacks on what was termed ‘formalism’.  Both Shostakovich and Prokofiev suffered during this period and he was forced to write music for propaganda films.

The Zhdanov Decree, Zhdanovschina (sometimes called ‘Zhdanov’s purge’) started in 1948-9.  Many suffered and lost their livelihoods. Public humiliations of artists was frequent.  All composers were summonsed to a conference where he encouraged mediocrities to turn against the more successful composers such as Shostakovich, Shebalin and Khachaturian. They had to sit and listen to slanders against them.  The only people who wanted to listen to his music were ‘foreign bandits and imperialists’ it was claimed.

The audience heard the famous story in Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn about clapping and no one able to stop clapping after a Stalin speech.  Also told was the phone call Shostakovich receives from Stalin as told by Julian Barnes. Composes 1st Violin Concerto possibly in 1951. Not performed until 1955. Criticised by the party for its ‘gloomy, introverted psychological outlook.’

• Extract from Violin Concerto
The evening ended with the second movement of the tenth Symphony.

Peter Curbishley

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Shostakovich

Tonight’s presentation will be on the music of the great Russian Composer, Shostakovich.  7:30 as usual.

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Earth, Air, Fire and Water

This was the title of the last presentation to the Society by Jon Hampton and it featured music based on these Greek elements.  Before all, there was chaos and we started with an excerpt from Haydn’s Creation which for its time, was harmonically daring.  Next were some songs by Finzi and then an unlikely titled piece by Martinu – Thunderbolt P47 a near relative of which is shown here at the Chalke Valley History Festival.   This was followed by Bantock’s Sea  Reivers.  Bantock is not often heard now but he was influential in the founding of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and both Elgar and Sibelius dedicated pieces to him.

Poulenc’s Un Soir de neige followed and then the lively Ritual fire Dance by Manuel de Falla – a piece where the ending never quite seems to come.  More Haydn – this time a movement entitled Earthquake from the Last seven Words of our Saviour on the Cross.

Possibly the loudest work in the classical repertoire is the Icelandic composer Leif’s Heklar.  This is a musical depiction of the eruption of a volcano by this name which Leif witnessed.  Leif studied in Germany and was responsible for organizing the first orchestral concerts in his home country.

The Russian composer Lyadov is not often heard nowadays.  He taught at St Petersburg and one of his pupils was Prokofiev.  We heard his The Enchanted Lake.

Bruckner’s Abendzauber followed which was composed in 1878 and not performed in his lifetime.  It was a popular piece in Austria after the First World War but is seldom heard now.  We then heard Messiaen’s Fetes and a piece by Klami just called BF3.  Weber’s Ocean thy Mighty Monster was followed by Frank Bridge’s Seafoam.  The evening concluded with Britten’s Storm  from Peter Grimes.

This was an entertaining evening with the chance to hear some unfamiliar pieces around the central theme.  The audience were grateful for the time Jon Hampton  put into selecting the works and compiling the programme.

Peter Curbishley


Next meeting on Monday 19 March and will feature the Russian composer Shostakovich.  There will be a few slides of Leningrad taken when the composer was still living there.

 

 

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Next meeting – March

Next meeting

The next meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held tonight, Monday 5th March 2018 at 7.30pm in the usual venue when Jon Hampton will present: “Earth, Air, Fire and Water – An exploration of how the elements have inspired composers from Haydn to Mahler and beyond.”

Hope to see you there.  Free parking and £3 to non-members

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Bach and the Leipzig cantatas

This was the title of a presentation by Tim Rowe at the Society’s last meeting where he played a selection of the cantatas composed by JS Bach during his time in Leipzig.  He was Kantor at the Thomas church.

Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach had a difficult childhood being orphaned by the age of 10 and spent his early years living with one of his brothers.

Tim explained that despite his enormous output and his amazing genius, very little in fact is known about him as a person.  Almost no letters survive and there is no contemporary biography.  There is even some doubt about what he looked like.

Focusing on the Leipzig years, upon being appointed, Bach set about composing music for the full Lutheran liturgical year.  This was an enormous task.  Tim provided a circular calendar explaining the timetable for the various cantatas.  They were produced in an almost production line process, starting on a Monday, finished by Thursday, copied on Friday, rehearsed on Saturday and then performed on Sunday.

The performances were quite unlike the concert halls of today.  There was considerable noise and confusion as people and animals came and went.  Churches would employ a whipper to keep control of the dogs.  Services lasted hours.  People were segregated according to class.  It’s a wonder in all the confusion that he music was heard at all.

We use the word ‘cantata’ to describe these works yet it is not the word used by Bach himself.  Often pieces had ordinary generic words to describe them such as ‘church music’ or ‘church piece.’  216 of his compositions survive from this period as regrettably, many manuscripts were lost, indeed, it has been estimated that 40% are missing.  Part of the problem might have been paper since this was a valuable commodity at the time, still being produced by hand.

Bach’s modern reputation – his ‘unfathomable genius’ as Tim put it – owes a lot to Felix Mendelssohn who worked hard to revive him.  Had it not been for Mendelssohn, his music may have continued to languish in obscurity.  Mendelssohn was distantly linked to the Bach family through his maternal grandmother who was taught harpsichord by one of Bach’s sons and who collected his manuscripts.

Tim played a range of the cantatas all performed by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi choir under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner.  These were recorded in the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death.

This was a splendid evening listening to some wonderful works by this great composer.

Peter Curbishley


The next meeting is on 5 March

 

 

 

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Ralph Vaughan Williams

Chair of the VW Society gives presentation

Simon Coombs, the Chair of the Vaughan Williams Society, gave an extremely interesting and informative talk on the music of Vaughan Williams to a packed room at the last Society meeting on Monday.  Regarded as one of Britain’s great composers, he produced a wide range of music, including songs, symphonies, choral works, chamber music and works with a religious theme.  He was what one might call a ‘late developer’ not finding his voice until his ’30s (reminiscent of Bruckner).

Simon took us through his history starting with his childhood in Down Ampney and his later life in Dorking (Surrey) and Chelsea.  He showed promise at school, composing a short piece called ‘The Robin’ aged 6.  Later he went on to study under Parry and Max Bruch.  He spent time in Paris studying with Maurice Ravel who said of him ‘he was the only one of my students who doesn’t try to write my music’.

He was keenly interested in folk music and started to collect these in 1903.  He was not the first composer to be

Vaughan Williams

influenced by the folk song tradition (one thinks of Bartok) and much of his early work was founded on this tradition.  He was friendly with George Butterworth who shared his passion for English folk songs and who offered advice to VW in his early days including suggesting that he write a symphony.  It is a surprising fact but there are no performed symphonies by a British composer before VW and Elgar.  The suggestion by Butterworth is therefore something of a revolutionary suggestion.  Butterworth died tragically young in the Great War.  VW was keen to contribute to the war and served as an ambulance driver and stretcher bearer.  Like many who served in the trenches, the War made a lasting impression including the loss of friends.

He was keen to popularise his music and started the Leith Hill Music Festival (near Dorking) in 1905 and which still thrives.  He had a huge output which included 9 symphonies.

Simon played a mixture of his works, some familiar, others less often heard.  These included the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; an extract from the Sea Symphony (1909); a song from 5 Mystical Songs; parts of the London Symphony (1913) and the Pastoral Symphony (1921) and from number 4 (1934).

Perhaps the work most recognisably as his is the Lark Ascending strongly influenced by his love of folk songs (1914).  Other pieces included an extract from the English Folk Song Suite (1923), Serenade to Music (1938) and from one of his operas Hugh the Drover.  He was approached by Muir Mathieson to compose the music for the film Thirty Ninth Parallel which he composed in a matter of weeks.

This was a brilliant start to the second half of the season.

Peter Curbishley

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Second half of the season kicks off soon

The second half of the season starts tonight, Monday 5 February and we are delighted to welcome Simon Coombs from the Vaughan Williams Society who is going to discuss and play music by this great English composer.  Starts at 7:30 as usual and is only £3 to non-members.  Parking is easy and free and details of how to find us are on the ‘Find us’ tab at the top of the site.

We look forward to welcoming existing members back also any new visitors.

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