The last meeting of the Society took place on Monday 20 April. It focused on the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. He was the son of a baker in Lavorno and studied at the Milan Academy. He lived from 1863 to 1945 and in the 1930s and during World War II worked reluctantly, and with difficulty, under Mussolini’s fascist regime. He wrote 15 operas and one operetta.
In England we tend to remember him only for his one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana, the piece that made him famous overnight and gave him financial security for the rest of his life. At its first performance it received no less than 60 curtain calls. In his native Italy and elsewhere in Europe his works are better remembered and the presenter Ron Seaman played us some examples. He was seen as the heir to Verdi but as time went on, it was Puccini who wore that mantle. Among the pieces played were Mein ester Walzer, my first waltz; the Apotheosis of the Stork; and the ballet music for Fiori del Brabante. We also heard extracts from Cavalleria including the final scene; Intermezzo and the Easter Hymn. We also heard extracts from his last opera Nerone.
He is a composer who made it big early in his life and yet did not quite follow it up as he matured. Listening to the range of his work it was perhaps surprising that he never composed film scores as some of his compositions, which had strong melodic lines, could have been adapted.
It was interesting to hear some works not often performed to gain a wider perspective of this composer.
The last meeting of the Society was a presentation by Robin Lim of the music of Nino Rota. He was born in 1911 in Milan and showed early musical talent with an oratorio composed when he was 12. He followed this up with a cello concerto aged 14 and a musical career clearly beckoned. After early training in Italy he came to the notice of Arturo Toscanini in America who arranged for him to further his training in Philadelphia. Whether it was the influence of his dominant mother or for other reasons, he did not finish his training there but returned instead to Milan.
Robin played examples of his compositions which included: a Clarinet Sonata; the overture; Il Cappellodi Paglia di Firenze; Concerto Soiree and excerpts from Il Gattopardo. All the music had strong rhythm and some good melodic interest but perhaps a problem was a lack of a clear ‘voice’ of the composer. One kept hearing echoes of other composers such as Neilsen, Dvorak and even Bruckner. Indeed he was criticised by critics for this but of course ‘borrowing’ themes from other composers is not unknown even by the greats.
It was to film music where he found a degree of fame and success. An early composition was the score for the Glass Mountain and we saw and heard an excerpt from the film. Others included Juliet of the Spirits; 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. Altogether, he wrote some 150 film scores. But the one which will bring him immortality and the music just about everyone can whistle or hum the main theme to, is the score to the Godfather series. It was the highest grossing film of all time. Amazingly, he did not get an Oscar for the score but after an outcry, he did get it for Godfather II but did not attend the ceremony to receive it.
It was an interesting evening and showed again the difficulty of making the leap from prodigy to an established artist. There are so many who show early precocity but developing that to become an original composer (or artist or author) can be the hardest thing.
The last meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society, took place on Monday 30th March at 7.30pm, in our usual venue, when Robin Lim presented:Nino Rota – the Chameleon composer. Fuller report soon.
In preparation for the Members Evening on 18th May, Ron Seaman will be asking members for details of a piece you wish to bring and have played at the Members Evening.
Looking ahead, can I take this opportunity to remind you that in order to avoid Easter and Bank Holidays the dates for last three sessions of this season are more spread out.
They are on: 20th April, 18th May and 1st June.
Note programme change:
We have a change to the programme on 1st June. This will now be given by Ian Lace who will present A Critics Choice 2014, as unfortunately Barry Conaway will be unable to come.
Looking further ahead to next year we are now putting together the programme for 2015-16 and invite offers to present an evening, or part of an evening. Please contact me or a committee member with any offers or suggestions.
The last meeting of the Recorded Music Society, which took place on 16 March, was a further break from tradition as there was – and there is no other way to put this – no recorded music. Instead we had local keyboard player David Davies (photo) play organ pieces and he called his talk Brought down from the attic: rarely heard organ works played live on the piano.
David played a wide range of pieces from composers stretching back to Tallis in the sixteenth century and a piece from the Robertsbridge Codex which is from the fourteenth. He explained something of the history of the organ noting that the pedal was a late arrival to these shores, in fact not until something like 1840 did any appear. All organs were destroyed by Cromwell is another interesting fact.
Among the pieces was one of Mozart’s ‘epistle sonatas’ which may have contributed to his dismissal from Salzburg because, famously, it was too long. Other pieces included Walton’s music for Richard III and an Air by Samuel Wesley who was the first to spot how important the music of Bach was. A really interesting programme – and we didn’t miss the CDs.
The list of music played:
Organ Estampie in the Robertsbridge Codex: the earliest surviving music written specifically for the keyboard
Hymn: Iste confessor
Toccata in the Aeolian mode
Prelude in G
Elegy from music for Richard III
Gagliarda Terza from the second book of toccatas
Voluntary 3 from Melothesia
Fugue in D major
Fughettas on Vom Himmel Hoch und Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
The last meeting of the Society was on Monday, March 2nd. We were pleased to welcome a speaker from EM Records, based locally at Blandford Forum, which is the recording arm of the English Music Festival and fulfils the EMF’s aims of celebrating and preserving overlooked works by British composers throughout the centuries. It has a strong focus on the early twentieth century: the Golden Renaissance of English music. EM Records resolves to bring this glorious music to a world-wide audience. In keeping with the unique spirit of the Festival, each disc released by EM Records will contain at least one World Première recording.
As well as learning some of what is involved in preparing, recording and producing CDs of the highest quality, we also gained an insight into the issues raised when unearthing and interpreting previously unpublished manuscripts. Recordings of better known English composers like Vaughan Williams, Holst and Stanford were interspersed with some lovely recordings of works by lesser known lights such as David Owen Morris and Henry Walford Davies, the latter being the composer of the instantly recognisable RAF March past.
This is the second time the Society has gone behind the scenes, so to speak, and heard about the process of recording a CD.
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.