Music of the saxophone

Two hundred years ago this month, Adolphe Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium.  The son of a music maker, he went on to invent an instrument which is the only one to bear the name of its inventor: the #saxophone.  Last Monday, the Recorded Music Society, to mark the anniversary of his birth, listened to a programme of orchestral music using this instrument.  It is a standard feature of jazz ensembles but it is only occasionally heard in orchestras and the repertoire for it is not large.
The presenter of the evenings programme was Ed Tinline – joint chair of the Society – who provided a fascinating history of the inventor himself and played examples of music from soon after its invention to the present day.   One of the first composers to use it was the now unknown Jean-Baptiste Singelée who composed Premier Quatour from which we heard the andante played using four instruments actually made by Sax himself
 
Strangely, it was the Russian composers who were keenest to compose work for the instrument and Ed played excerpts from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and also compositions by Glazunov: Concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra, Jazz Suite No 1 by Shostakovich and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic DancesGeorges Bizet was a fan and the intermezzo from L’Arlésienne features the instrument.  Despite attempts by composers such as Walton, Britten and Vaughan Williams to include it into their music, it remains an ‘affiliate’ rather than a permanent feature of orchestras.
It has gained an odd reputation for itself and some feel there is an element of sleaze to it possibly because of its jazz connections.  This was sufficient for the ecclesiastical authorities in Worcester Cathedral to ask for a section of a Vaughan Williams composition not to be played because it contained some music for the instrument!

The next meeting is a members evening and is on December 1st.

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A decade of genius

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.

Janacek
Janacek

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 Symphonies no 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 Symphony no 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.

Salisbury Journal piece: http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/community_news/11597552.Salisbury_Recorded_Music_Society/


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.

Mozart and his paper

Mozart
Mozart

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.

Film music

Shostakovich
Shostakovich

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.

English music – the third wave?

Patrick Hawes
Patrick Hawes

Is this another renaissance in British music? asked Michael Salmon in the first meeting of the Society’s new season.  British music seems to have gone through several waves with composers like Purcell and Arne in 17th Century followed by something of a lull until the first half of the last century with composers such as Elgar, Walton, Delius and Vaughan Williams.

Today there is a strong field of composers and Michael played examples by Michael Nyman, John Foulds, Patrick Hawes and Paul Carr.  The evening started with a brief extract of one of Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie — no, Satie was not an undiscovered Englishman, but the piece illustrates the minimalist and impressionistic style adopted by some British born composers today.

If there is a British style, then based on the pieces we heard, it is characterised by a frequent evocation of the countryside and powerful harmonic development.  It is also accessible.  It is probably too soon to say if the music we heard represents a ‘new wave’ but the breadth and depth of talent was impressive.

John Rutter
John Rutter

Pieces played;

  • Michael Nyman – the Piano
  • John Foulds –  April – England
  • Patrick Hawes – The Highgrove Suite; Fair Albion; Song of Songs
  • Paul Carr – Concerto for Oboe and Strings; Requiem for an Angel
  • John Rutter – The Lord is my Shepherd
  • Stuart Mitchell – Seven Wonders Suite
  • Richard Harvey – Concerto Antico
  • Nigel Hess – Piano Concerto

New season gets underway

The first evening of the new programme started on Monday with Michael Salmon asking ‘is this another English

Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams

renaissance?’  After the deaths of Elgar, Vaughan-Williams, Delius and Britten, new British music has often appeared to lack direction and to a certain extent quality.  However, since 1950, there has been a significant change and Michael will be looking at a group of modern British composers whose music, although always intensely lyrical, appears, in many cases to follow the 19th century French School with its harmony, impressionism and minimalism.

Note this was a change to the published programme.

A review will appear here shortly.

New season’s programme

The Society launched its new season’s programme this week and hard copies are available in the Tourist Information Office; the Collector’s Room; Oxfam upstairs; and the Library all in Salisbury. Joint chair of the society, Ed Tinline said ‘we have an exciting mix of presentations this year which includes film music, English music, Mozart, Shostakovich and Telemann – something for all tastes.’

The first session is on 22 September at 7:30.

Details of where we meet are on this site.

Programme 2014/15