Our view of a piece of music can sometimes be clouded by our belief of when it was composed. Somehow, we expect music in the nineteenth century to be romantic and in the twentieth, modern. So if we hear a piece that seems ‘out of its time’ we might in some way find it hard to accept. It was these reflections which led Anthony Powell last night to present a programme of music which was all composed at broadly the same time. What was striking was how different and varied the pieces were: if asked one might have thought half a century spanned their compositions when in fact it was around a decade. Truly, a dance to the music of (short) time.
He started with the overture to Jenufa by Janacek composed in 1894. Janacek was rarely heard until well into this century but is now a regular fixture in concert halls and his operas, such as The Cunning Little Vixen are frequently heard. He followed that up by an extract of the Sinfonietta arguably the most familiar of his works.
We then heard some Elgar who’s Symphonic Study, Falstaff was written only a few years after Janacek’s yet sounded an age apart. Other pieces included the Claude Debussy’s tonal work La Mer written a year or two after Elgar yet sounding completely different.
Another contrast were two extracts from Symphoniesno 3 and 5 by Nielsen. Nielsen is being heard more and more now and his symphonic works at least get performed. Anthony contrasted this with extracts from Mahler and in particular his Symphonyno 1 written two decades earlier but sounding from an altogether different age.
A fascinating programme which illustrated well the variety of musical styles which coexisted in just over a decade.
The next meeting is based on the saxophone as an orchestral instrument and is on November 17. If you weren’t at last nights meeting then don’t forget to bring along your favourite piece (lasting less than 10 minutes) for the Members’ evening on December 1st.
Although the first two programmes this season have concentrated on more modern composers, Peter Curbishley took us back at the Society’s meeting on 20 October, to the 18th century with an erudite presentation cryptically named ‘Mozart and his Paper.’ It was based largely on the work of the late Alan Tyson. Although Mozart’s music is so well known there are still mysteries concerning his compositions that need to be explored.
We learned that at the time Mozart was composing, paper was so expensive that musicians were often unable to acquire more than limited supplies. It was still a craft based industry unchanged for 600 years. Samples varied widely and it is from the watermark of the paper that we know where an individual piece was written. This often provided insights into Mozart’s compositional process and showed that some compositions took time, often several years, before reaching fruition. The Hunt Quartet for example may have taken four years.
Other mysteries were then exposed. The Horn Concerto in D presents an enigma: did Mozart write the rondo or not? Although the greater part of the manuscript was found in Krakow, the rondo turned up later in St Petersburg, but in a different handwriting.
We heard an excerpt from the Paris Symphony and although this is the only Mozart symphony which survives from this time, there is a letter written to his father that mentions a second symphony, although there is no trace of it. There are two versions of the slow movement however and paper studies have revealed which was the final version.
The Piano Concerti provide further surprises he said. On examination of the manuscripts it appears that the first movement is often in a different handwriting from subsequent movements and on different paper. It now seems possible that Mozart would, from time to time, write a first movement and then await an opportunity – a commission perhaps – to write the remaining movements.
A popular and celebrated great composer, yes, but one who is full of surprises.
After a short agm, the meeting was presented by Alan Forshaw with a programme of #filmmusic. He discussed various film compositions of Shostakovich, Hans Zimmer and Korngold who composed primarily ‘serious’ music but who, for different reasons (political, financial, etc.) produced film scores throughout their careers. This was the first time the society has listened to an evening devoted to this genre.
Film music is a little unregarded as a part of the music scene, indeed, a quick look in Groves for Shostakovich for example, reveals only a single passing reference to his compositions for the cinema and none in the list of works. Yet for modern composers, writing for the cinema or composing advertising jingles provides them with valuable income before fame beckons (if it ever does).
Shostakovich wrote in the time of ‘Soviet Realism’ and falling foul of the censors could have dire consequences for any artist. The films are long forgotten and include Alone (1930); The Great Citizen (1938); and Piragov (1947). Alan also played extracts from wonderfully named film The Counterplan (1932) which included extracts called ‘The Workers Gather’ and ‘Song of the Counterplan’. It would be hard to imagine queuing round the block for a film of that title today. One could hear echoes of his later works in some of these pieces and it was interesting to hear them with the benefit of great symphonies such as the Leningrad in one’s mind.
By way of contrast, Alan played extracts from the award winning film composer Hans Zimmer. He has written for over a 150 films including the Gladiator; The Thin Red Line; and Rain Man and has won many awards.Extracts included The Last Samurai (2003) and The Da Vinci Code (2006). Zimmer worked briefly with a pop group known as the Buggles, famous for their No 1 hit Video Killed the Radio Star.
Finally, Korngold who was born in Brno in 1897. He was recognised early as a prodigy and had early successes with a ballet and two operas. He then moved to Hollywood and composed much film music and we heard extracts from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Wolf (1941).
It is interesting to note the difference between an opera and a film music composer. Name an opera and most people interested in music will know the composer. Name a film and few would know who wrote the music. The other problem is the music may die with the film if it wasn’t a box office success. But the music we heard tonight was worthy of a wider audience in its own right.
This is the site for the Salisbury Recorded Music Society. Welcome. You’ll find more about us in the ‘About’ tab at the top of the site. To see where we meet, look in the ‘Find us’ tab. We’ll be publishing more material here as time goes on but we have just held our last meeting of the season so it will be quiet for a while.
The Society’s current season ended in fine style with a double bill: one part on Puccini’s Tosca and the other on the English composer, Gerald Finzi. Tosca is of course a very well known opera but what is less well appreciated is how broadly similar most productions are. Vic Riches explained that this was because Puccini left detailed instructions on how it should be performed and most productions followed them. It received its premier in January 1900 at a time of unrest in Italy and the violent nature of the plot – with torture and a firing squad graphically depicted – meant a troubled start. However, it is now a much loved part of the operatic repertoire.
The English composer, Gerald Finzi, is by contrast less well known and yet deserves to be heard more. He is perhaps best known for his songs and we heard ‘In years defaced’ and ‘Let us garlands bring’ the latter performed by Bryn Terfel. The second movement from his Cello Concerto opus 40, performed by Raphael Wallfisch under the baton of Vernon Handley, was played together with Romance for String Orchestra opus 11. Both are fine works and worth listening to if there is an opportunity.
Ed Tinline, joint chair of the Society, said it had been a successful year ‘fulfilling the Society’s purpose of bringing generally lesser known pieces and composers to a wider public’. Members heard music by Bartok, a variety of Scandinavian composers and the French composer Dutilleux as well as more well known names such as Wagner, Ravel and Schumann. Numbers attending had increased slightly on previous years following the change to Monday evenings which is encouraging he added.