The next meeting takes place tonight, 28 November when Peter Curbishley will be presenting ‘Mozart’s last year’. Mozart died in December 1791 and the last year of his life was full of incident and great music. Some masterpieces including the Requiem and the Magic Flute were composed as well as La clemenza da Tito.
Many people have been influenced by the Peter Shaffer play, Amadeus which, although entertaining, was full of nonsense. The presentation will try and give some of the facts surrounding his last year and of course, play some of the music …
One might be forgiven for thinking that the only composer of note to emerge from the city state of Venice was Vivaldi. His Four Seasons is relentlessly played in shops and on Classic FM along with Eine Klein Nachtmusik by Mozart. Last night, Peter Horwood showed that in fact the Venice school produced a huge range of composers and that the city was a pathbreaker in several musical forms.
He went right back to the fourteenth century with some Gregorian chants and pieces of choral music by Marchettus de Padua, Ave corpus sanctum; Francesco Landini, motet principium nobilissime; and Johannes Ciconia, motet: Venecie Mundi Splendor. Some of this music was composed for ceremonial purposes, some for religious.
As the evening went on, it was interesting to see the development of style and the addition of orchestral instruments to the choral works. The first operas were written here and indeed some composers seem to have composed prodigious numbers of them. Monteverdi featured and included an extract from one of his operas La Favola d’rfeo and the ritornello, Dal mio Permesso amoto.
One of the composers who impressed the audience was Tamaso Albinoni and his Concerto No 2 for oboe and strings in D minor from which we heard the enchanting Adagio. The three movement concerto form which we know so well today was first developed in Venice.
The historical context was also interesting with the observation that as Venice’s economic fortunes declined by contrast, the artistic life flourished. One wondered if there could be a similar thing going on today …
Venice eventually got conquered by the invasion by Napoleon but even so, musical life went on and the evening finished with a composition by Malipiero (1882 – 1973) Gabrieliana – Allegro vivace. In modern times, composers have visited the City and composed works there. These include Wagner, Stravinsky, and Britten.
A superb presentation by Peter and fascinating to see and hear the development of style and composition over seven hundred years.
The last presentation was by Robin Lim on the subject of early stereo recordings. We are so used to stereo sound now – either through loud speakers or headphones – that we forget that there was a time when sound was in mono only. We also think that it is a fairly modern invention: modern in the sense of 60’s when stereo records appeared. It was an example of technology being ahead of its market in that, although the recordings existed, few people could afford the means to play them.
In fact Robin revealed, stereo existed at the end of the nineteenth century in France. This was at the Paris Electrical Exhibition in 1881. Separate telephone lines were used to convey the two tracks and a company was set up to exploit the technology which survived until after the Great War.
But it was in the ’30s that stereo started to make its mark and this was linked to parallel developments in being able to store sound for playing later. An example from this era was Leopold Stokowski playing an excerpt of Die Walkerie by Wagner from 1932. The recording was surprisingly good but with a degree of background noise. Nevertheless, the vigour of the recording and the balance between the two speakers was excellent.
An Englishman, Anthony Blumlein, perfected the single track system and with developments in America, the modern stereo record was born. From 1934, a recording of Sir Thomas Beecham playing part of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony and the quality of the recording was outstanding. Some modern filtering had probably been applied by even so, it was eminently listenable to. Sir Thomas once said ‘The English do not like music but they absolutely love the noise it makes!’
Film music on the other hand was developing rapidly and soon had 8 tracks on which to record. We heard Stokowski again with the Russian dance from the film Fantasia which was made before the war.
During the war, the Allies listened to German radio and were surprised to hear recorded
music of high quality being transmitted. When the war ended there was a rush to find out how the Germans had done it and they had indeed made great technical advances. Unfortunately, a lot of the recordings were in the Russian sector and most disappeared after the war. One at least survived and this was Gieseking playing Beethoven’s the Emperor concerto with the Berlin Radio Orchestra, and the sound and playing was simply outstanding. Indeed, one had to remind oneself that this was a recording from the war and not a modern cd.
Robin also touched on ‘accidental stereo’. This is where in the early days two recordings were made as a kind of insurance in case one of the machines failed. Modern technology has enabled these two be blended together to give a stereophonic effect. Apparently discs were sent to Elgar after the recording was done and he kept them and they have survived. This has enabled the two recordings to be blended and as an example, we heard an extract from the ‘cello concerto. We also heard Elgar conducting a version of ‘Oh God our help in ages past’. This was made in February 1928. The sound was authentic but the stereo was not so evident. Even so, a remarkable achievement.
It was a fascinating evening, in which Robin married the development of a technology with the sound it produced.
Before the meeting we had a brief agm. All the officers were reelected en bloc. The Society made a small surplus in the year. The chair thanked all those who opened up, did the refreshments, prepared the programme and also the members who continue to support us. Over 2,000 people have visited this Web site. New members are always welcome. Copies of the programme are in the Oxfam music room, the Tourism Information Centre in Salt Lane and the Collector’s Room in Endless Street.