This was the title of the last presentation to the Society by Jon Hampton and it featured music based on these Greek elements. Before all, there was chaos and we started with an excerpt from Haydn’s Creation which for its time, was harmonically daring. Next were some songs by Finzi and then an unlikely titled piece by Martinu – Thunderbolt P47 a near relative of which is shown here at the Chalke Valley History Festival. This was followed by Bantock’s Sea Reivers. Bantock is not often heard now but he was influential in the founding of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and both Elgar and Sibelius dedicated pieces to him.
Poulenc’s Un Soir de neige followed and then the lively Ritual fire Dance by Manuel de Falla – a piece where the ending never quite seems to come. More Haydn – this time a movement entitled Earthquake from the Last seven Words of our Saviour on the Cross.
Possibly the loudest work in the classical repertoire is the Icelandic composer Leif’s Heklar. This is a musical depiction of the eruption of a volcano by this name which Leif witnessed. Leif studied in Germany and was responsible for organizing the first orchestral concerts in his home country.
The Russian composer Lyadov is not often heard nowadays. He taught at St Petersburg and one of his pupils was Prokofiev. We heard his The Enchanted Lake.
Bruckner’s Abendzauber followed which was composed in 1878 and not performed in his lifetime. It was a popular piece in Austria after the First World War but is seldom heard now. We then heard Messiaen’s Fetes and a piece by Klami just called BF3. Weber’s Ocean thy Mighty Monster was followed by Frank Bridge’s Seafoam. The evening concluded with Britten’s Storm from Peter Grimes.
This was an entertaining evening with the chance to hear some unfamiliar pieces around the central theme. The audience were grateful for the time Jon Hampton put into selecting the works and compiling the programme.
Next meeting on Monday 19 March and will feature the Russian composer Shostakovich. There will be a few slides of Leningrad taken when the composer was still living there.
The Case for the Unfinished was the title of last nights presentation from Tony Powell. One might be forgiven for thinking this was about Schubert’s unfinished symphony but in fact it was about other composer’s unfinished works of which of course there are plenty. Attempts to add another movement to Schubert’s work have not been successful and indeed it is possible that what is left is indeed finished.
Tony instead started with a Night on a Bare Mountain by Mussorgsky. The final movement was changed by Rimsky Korsakov and this was played first. Then we heard the original version which was entirely different and a complete contrast. The point here was that finishing another composer’s work may be acceptable if it is in the spirit of the original.
Another famous unfinished work is the Requiem by Mozart and this was being feverishly composed as he was dying. It was famously finished by his pupil and sometime collaborator Süssmayr. There are many arguments about who wrote what bit of the work but nevertheless, there is sufficient of Mozart in the piece to make it a great work of art. The difference here is that the work was intended to be finished and Mozart was dictating ideas until his actual death. With Schubert on the other hand, we do not know of his intentions.
Bruckner’s ninth is usually played in its incomplete form but again, a lot of material was left – indeed a substantial number of sketches and completed elements – to enable an attempt to be made to create a final movement. We heard Sir Simon Rattle conducting a performance and he was quoted as saying that there was ‘more Bruckner in the final movement than there was of Mozart in the Requiem.’ It certainly sounded authentic although there were references to the 5th now and again.
It was a surprise to some present that Puccini did not finish Turandot but the opera was left 15 minutes or so short at his death. It was finished by Franco Alfano yet it is recognisably in the master’s hand.
After a long fallow period following the Great War, Elgar started work on his 3rd Symphony which he did not finish by the time of his death in 1934. From the surviving material the BBC asked Anthony Payne to finish it and he worked on the project for many years. The first performance was in 1998 conducted by Andrew Davies. The usual attribution is to both Elgar and Payne. We heard part of the 1st movement and most of the 2nd.
Finally, Mahler and the unfinished 10th. Mahler left a lot of notes and a ‘short score’ that is, not a fully orchestrated version. Mahler had discovered that his wife had been unfaithful and this added to the turmoil in his life. Initially his widow resisted attempts to finish and fully orchestrate the score but later relented. There were several attempts and many statements by musicians saying it shouldn’t be done. Deryck Cooke worked on the score and this was first performed in 1964. Alma Mahler had changed her mind once she had seen the finished work and heard a performance. We listened to one movement which was extremely ‘Mahler like’ in its sound and development.
This was a most interesting evening and shed light on the difficulties and problems of trying to finish another composer’s work. Composition is a highly individual activity and however many notes and sketches are left, what would have ultimately been produced can never be recreated. But if the attempts are honest to the original composer’s style and intentions, a worthwhile result can be achieved.
For some, Anton Bruckner (pictured) was one of the great symphonists to come out of the nineteenth century. Nowadays, his works are performed around the world and are a regular feature of the repertoire. There are many recordings of the nine numbered symphonies. But for a long time, his reputation languished and there was a major effort to recognise his genius in the 1960’s.
At the last meeting of the Society, Terry Barfoot gave an illustrated history of the composer and played four movements from 4 different symphonies to illustrate his work. Bruckner was born in Ansfelden in Austria in 1824, the son of a school teacher. He himself became a school teacher. He was an organist of prodigious ability and toured Europe mostly playing improvisations. Little of this survives. He was the first to play the organ at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
One can hear the influence of the organ in his music. As Terry put it:
[…] the sound-world of the organ in the resonant acoustic of a great cathedral is relevant in his symphonies, as of course it is in his religious works. From Wagner he derived his long time-spans, his weighty brass writing and expressive string textures, while another recurring was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and especially its opening […]
He was clearly a late developer as a composer and Terry made the point that had he died at the same age as Schubert (31) he would today be completely unknown.
He was deeply religious and trained as a musician at the monastery church at Sankt Florian a place he was to return to throughout his life especially when he was depressed. He was also organist in Linz.
Like so many composers – indeed artists generally – he was not appreciated fully in his lifetime. The famous critic Eduard Hanslick gave him a hard time and his time with the Vienna Philharmonic was not a success.
Terry put together a programme to illustrate his range and development as a composer. Bruckner is something of a challenge in the context of a Society evening as the expansiveness of his music does not lend itself to short extracts! He played the following:
Motet: Locus Iste
Symphony No. 8 first movement
Symphony No. 6 second movement
Symphony No. 4 third movement
Symphony No. 7 fourth movement
Together with photographs of locations around Austria where Bruckner lived or worked this was an interesting and illuminating evening. We were grateful to Terry Barfoot for putting it together.
The Society is delighted to welcome the well known writer on music Terry Barfoot who is going to do an audio visual presentation on the music of Anton Bruckner. He was arguably one of the greatest symphonists of the nineteenth century and his symphonies are now rarely out of the repertoire. They are large in scale however and so presenting them to the Society has been a challenge.