Telemann was a prolific composer and probably composed more music than any other – over three thousand works are known including 1043 cantatas. He was a contemporary of JS Bach and to Handel and was probably better known than either in his lifetime. However, he is less well known now and the fame of his contemporaries has eclipsed him. There is much to admire and the Society’s presentation by Angus Menzies on 16 February introduced us to the range of his output.
George Philipp Telemann was born in 1681 at Magdebourg in Germany and was clearly a child prodigy being able to play four instruments by the age of 10. His parents wanted him to go into the church and he did indeed start studies in this direction but gave them up after a year. He studied at Leipzig and at 21 became the musical director of the opera there. There were subsequent appointments in Zary, Frankfurt and finally in Hamburg. His first wife died young and his second left him for a Swedish nobleman.
Angus played a range of music from some of his earliest compositions up until his death in Hamburg. Pieces included Concerto in G major for recorder; oboe and violin; Overture in D major from Jubeloratorium; a scene from Orpheus, and the curious Volker overture Turcs; Suisses and Muscovites. He wrote nine operas.
He titled his talk: Geese, frogs and old pepper sacks. The frogs referred to sounds included in one of his early works – a violin concerto; the opera house was once in the goose market (much like Covent Garden used to be adjacent to the market) and pepper sacks was how prosperous members of the Academy were referred no doubt because of their girth.
It was interesting hearing echoes of Handel in some of the pieces with whom he exchanged bulbs as they were both keen on this activity. Handel borrowed much from Telemann. Telemann was godfather to CPE Bach.
He was ‘an amazing, varied and fascinating composer’ Angus said. Although far from unknown he has been overshadowed certainly by Bach and to an extent Handel but nevertheless, he composed much that can be admired. Part of the entry in Groves says: Telemann’s music is easily recognisable as his own, with its clear periodic structure, its clarity and ready fluency. Though four years senior to Bach and Handel, he used an idiom more forward looking than theirs and in several genres can be seen as a forerunner of the Classical style.‘
An enjoyable evening and we were pleased to welcome some more new members.
The Society’s new season got off to a flying start on Monday night with a presentation by Frida Backman of the Backman Trio. The substance of her talk was the making of a music CD which rather underplays what might have been a rather workmanlike presentation. However, it was much more than that. Frida had uncovered a previously unpublished work by Sibelius no less, which they had managed to piece together and perform as part of their first CD.
Frida won’t be unknown to local music lovers and only last Friday, she performed with Salisbury based pianist Lynda Smith in Sarum College as part of their lunch time series of concerts. The Trio was founded in 2009 in London by British pianist Marcus Andrews, Finnish violinist Freda Backman and British cellist, Ruth Beedham. In 2014 they returned to Finland and performed at the Aino Atke festival in Helsinki as part of the CD launch. With financial support from the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, the group was able to resurrect the composer Eric Bergman’s piano Trio No 2 of which we heard an extract. Bergman (1911 – 2006) is another of those composers of whom little is heard today but he has a large repertoire of work.
Frida went through the lengthy process of making a CD and included a discussion of the differences between a live and studio performance. With the former of course, there is only one chance and the tension is high to get it right. A studio performance on the other hand involves many hours of takes and retakes and keeping the performance fresh can be difficult to achieve. Unless one is lucky to have a recording contract, there are the costs to consider and then how to launch and promote the finished thing.
The evening ended with a performance of a previously unknown work by Sibelius – Fantasia, performed by the group. It was remarkably accessible and the recording was – in the opinion of the writer – clear, well balanced and bright. It is available from the Collectors Room in Salisbury UK.
The Society met for the last time before Christmas and listened to selections by members of their favourites. There was an extremely wide ranging and very interesting choice of music starting with a version of Ruslan and Ludmilla played by a horn ensemble. Other items included the prelude to Mascagni’s opera William Ratcliff demonstrating that he was not just a ‘one opera’ composer.
Among other presentations was a mono recording of Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier. Bach composed these before the piano forte was invented so some modern renditions are not entirely faithful to the sort of sound he intended. This early recording by Edwin Fischer was perhaps truer to that. Also by Bach we heard an aria from St Matthew Passion where the alto and violin weave through the melody.
For Wagner lovers – and even for non-Wagner lovers – we heard the well known prelude to the Master Singers. A lighter touch was provided by Dudley Moore playing And the Same to You – a parody of Beethoven, performed at Beyond the Fringe.
Other pieces included:
Gustav Mahler’s Ruckertleider No 5 sung by Janet Baker
Beethoven’s Bagatelles (selection of)
Mozart’s Vedrai carino from Don Giovanni
Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax
an exceprt from Verdi’s Aida
the wonderful Fantasy in F Minor by Schubert
one of the songs from Four Last Songs by Strauss
and we finished with part of The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
So a fine end to the first half of the season and we wish all our readers a happy Christmas.
The new season starts off on February 2 with a fascinating presentation by Frida Backman of the Backman Trio who will be taking us through the process of making a CD from rehearsal to the finished thing. We look forward to seeing you then. Details of where we are on the home page. Please check back here nearer the time for any change to the arrangements.
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 Singeléewho 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 SymphonicDances. Georges 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.
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.