Tag Archives: recorded music society

Meeting tonight

Tonight, Monday 23rd April, is a member’s evening.  Starts at 7:30 as usual and details of how to find us are on the front page.

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June concert

Notice of the June meeting on 4th

The June meeting will be a little different from normal and will be in the form of a concert of three works;

  • Bellini – “ Norma” Sinfonia/Overture – Vittorio Gui conducting the Orchestra EIAR, Turin, 1937 -Historic recording
  • Elgar Cello Concerto, Beatrice Harrison with Elgar conducting The New Symphony Orchestra, London, 1928 – Historic recording
  • Beethoven Symphony No 7 Bruno Walter conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, New York, 1969 – Historic recording.

Normal place and normal time with easy parking.  If you don’t know where we are go to the ‘Find us’ tab on the home page where there is a map and a postcode.  Only £3 for non-members

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Next meeting

The next meeting will be on Monday 9 April starting at 7:30 pm as usual.  It will be presented by Ed Tinline and in entitled With few strings attached – music for wind ensemble.  Details of how to find us are on the tab marked ‘Find Us’.  Parking is easy and free.  Accessible for mobility impaired.  £3 at the door for non-members.

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Shostakovich

Shostakovich: his life and music

It was strange standing here in Salisbury giving a talk on Shostakovich – a man who was persecuted by the then Soviet regime – when a few hundred yards away from where the talk was given the terrible events took place allegedly perpetrated by the modern Russian state.

It is difficult to understand this man without the context of the times he lived through.  His life parallels the recent history of Russia.  He was born in 1906 a year after the failed 1905 revolution into a period of considerable unrest.  Prior to the final revolution there were several unsuccessful ones.   Much of his life was lived in constant fear.

Most people are aware of the symphony he wrote and the subtitle ‘a Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism’ which was actually written by a journalist and was never accepted by Shostakovich himself.  It seems also to imply that there was a single event and once he had written this subsequent symphony, everything was subsequently normal.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He was a constant thorn in the side of the party apparatchiks.  He was too famous to liquidate as there would be an international outcry.  Nevertheless, the party could make life extremely difficult for him and made it difficult also for people to be friends with him.  Few composers have been so central to the history of his time.  He experienced war, revolution, anti-Semitism, dictatorship and terror.

His family came from Siberia and Poland.  His father worked in Weights and Measures and there is a link to Mendeleyev the discoverer of the periodic table.   He started learning the piano in 1915 and entered the St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1919.  Teaching at the Conservatoire was unimaginative and there were no compositional classes.  Glazunov was a key supporter at this time.  Life was a constant struggle and they were frequently in debt. His father died when he was young.

He lived through the Revolution which started in St Petersburg which subsequently became Leningrad. Central to the story is the status of Leningrad which became the second city after Moscow and a window on the west.  This was both a problem and an opportunity for artists.  Leningrad was looked upon as ‘elitist’.

His First Symphony a graduate piece which showed considerable flair and promise. Strongly influenced by the work of Hindemith and was a kind of anti-symphony.  The symphony was dedicated to a friend Misha Kvardri.  Two years later, he was arrested and shot.  This is a reminder of the terrible times Shostakovich lived in: friends, acquaintances, supporters, even family members, disappear in the night and ended up in the gulag or are executed.  This got worse after the rise of Stalin in 1924 when anti-bourgeois policies, class warfare and actions against the kulaks were launched with terrible consequences for millions of Russians.

To make money he played in cinemas which he did  from 1923 until 1926.  He also composed for the cinema. Extracts from films and the following extracts were played:
• Five film extracts. – The Counterplan
o Alone
o Sofia Perofskaya
o Hamlet

Altogether wrote for 15 films.  He wrote music in the jazz idiom although the idiom was hard to see except for the use of the saxophone.
• Extract from Jazz Suite #2 composed in 1936

He started playing the piano in performance in 1923.

In 1925 the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians RAPM founded in Moscow.  The central message was that ‘music should have a social message and be accessible to the wider masses.’  They harassed intellectuals and wreaked havoc in higher institutions.  Shostakovich was sacked from a college post.  Many intellectuals and teachers were deprived of their livelihoods and denounced.

He composed the  opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District (shortened in the west to Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) from a libretto by Nikolai Leskov.  It was performed in January 1936 and the audience included Stalin, Molotov and Mikoyan.  They leave after 2nd act and this heralds a dramatic reversal of his fortunes. The opera is a success around the world however.   An article in the next day’s Pravda called it ‘muddle instead of music’.  His composition ‘insulted the audience with noise, cacophony, hammering, and screaming.’
Shostakovich said the article ‘changed my entire existence for ever.  It was unsigned and so represented the opinion of the party – or actually Stalin’s opinion and that was considerably more serious.’

Friends and colleagues distance themselves from him. The Leningrad Composers Union voted in favour of the Pravda article.  At the meeting where this is decided only one person spoke in favour of Shostakovich.  He was subsequently persecuted, his music was no longer performed and he was deprived of his livelihood.

In 1936 he composes his 4th Symphony which was withdrawn at the last minute.  He receives a visit from Otto Klemperer and Shostakovich plays the symphony to him on the piano and Klemperer was very impressed.  He suggests reducing the number of flutes but Shostakovich refuses. ‘What is written by the pen cannot be scratched out with an axe’ he said.  That might sound better in the original Russian.   Shostakovich almost never agrees to alter a score nor corrections nor alterations in the harmony or in the orchestration.  But his metronome markings are often completely wrong.  After one conductor said the speeds marked for a piece were impossible to play and Shostakovich agrees to change them and explains that he has an ‘old and unreliable metronome but he just did not want to throw it out.’

1936 sees the start of the great purges, millions disappear or are shot.  Shostakovich was advised by Tukhachevsky to ‘admit his errors’.  He is himself shot a year later.  Shostakovich’s position becomes very precarious and many friends, colleagues and relatives disappear.

Meeting the NKVD

On a Saturday in 1937 summoned to meet the NKVD.  After general conversation, and questions about his social life, he was asked about plot to assassinate Stalin.  Shostakovich said there were no discussions about assassinating comrade Stalin.  He was pressed on this and each time he denied that any such conversations took place.  He was asked to return on the following Monday by which time he was to have remembered discussion about the plot.  After a difficult weekend,  Shostakovich returns to the NKVD headquarters and gives his name to the guards on the door.  They refuse him entry saying they have no record of his name on their list.  After some discussion and finding out who his interrogator was, it turns out that the interrogator himself has been arrested and Shostakovich was free to go.

He composes 5th Symphony which a journalist describes as ‘a Soviet artists reply to just criticism.’  WWII and Leningrad surrounded by the Nazis.  It is the start of terrible privations.

His poor eyesight means he cannot serve in the armed forces but acts as a fire warden. Shostakovich was flown out of the city in October.

He writes Symphony #8 but this is not well received because it is not ‘optimistic’ enough. By the time it was ready for performance, the tide of war against Germany had changed and the official reception was ‘icy’.

In general, the communist party had two main problems with him.  Firstly his courage which made him difficult to control and secondly, his unpredictability. This was set against his international prestige which made him useful to the regime.  Shostakovich felt constantly under threat and always travelled with toothbrush and toothpaste in the expectation of arrest.

Post-war and the nature of the purges changed.  Intelligentsia was targeted and there were attacks on what was termed ‘formalism’.  Both Shostakovich and Prokofiev suffered during this period and he was forced to write music for propaganda films.

The Zhdanov Decree, Zhdanovschina (sometimes called ‘Zhdanov’s purge’) started in 1948-9.  Many suffered and lost their livelihoods. Public humiliations of artists was frequent.  All composers were summonsed to a conference where he encouraged mediocrities to turn against the more successful composers such as Shostakovich, Shebalin and Khachaturian. They had to sit and listen to slanders against them.  The only people who wanted to listen to his music were ‘foreign bandits and imperialists’ it was claimed.

The audience heard the famous story in Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn about clapping and no one able to stop clapping after a Stalin speech.  Also told was the phone call Shostakovich receives from Stalin as told by Julian Barnes. Composes 1st Violin Concerto possibly in 1951. Not performed until 1955. Criticised by the party for its ‘gloomy, introverted psychological outlook.’

• Extract from Violin Concerto
The evening ended with the second movement of the tenth Symphony.

Peter Curbishley

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Next meeting – March

Next meeting

The next meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held tonight, Monday 5th March 2018 at 7.30pm in the usual venue when Jon Hampton will present: “Earth, Air, Fire and Water – An exploration of how the elements have inspired composers from Haydn to Mahler and beyond.”

Hope to see you there.  Free parking and £3 to non-members

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Bach and the Leipzig cantatas

This was the title of a presentation by Tim Rowe at the Society’s last meeting where he played a selection of the cantatas composed by JS Bach during his time in Leipzig.  He was Kantor at the Thomas church.

Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach had a difficult childhood being orphaned by the age of 10 and spent his early years living with one of his brothers.

Tim explained that despite his enormous output and his amazing genius, very little in fact is known about him as a person.  Almost no letters survive and there is no contemporary biography.  There is even some doubt about what he looked like.

Focusing on the Leipzig years, upon being appointed, Bach set about composing music for the full Lutheran liturgical year.  This was an enormous task.  Tim provided a circular calendar explaining the timetable for the various cantatas.  They were produced in an almost production line process, starting on a Monday, finished by Thursday, copied on Friday, rehearsed on Saturday and then performed on Sunday.

The performances were quite unlike the concert halls of today.  There was considerable noise and confusion as people and animals came and went.  Churches would employ a whipper to keep control of the dogs.  Services lasted hours.  People were segregated according to class.  It’s a wonder in all the confusion that he music was heard at all.

We use the word ‘cantata’ to describe these works yet it is not the word used by Bach himself.  Often pieces had ordinary generic words to describe them such as ‘church music’ or ‘church piece.’  216 of his compositions survive from this period as regrettably, many manuscripts were lost, indeed, it has been estimated that 40% are missing.  Part of the problem might have been paper since this was a valuable commodity at the time, still being produced by hand.

Bach’s modern reputation – his ‘unfathomable genius’ as Tim put it – owes a lot to Felix Mendelssohn who worked hard to revive him.  Had it not been for Mendelssohn, his music may have continued to languish in obscurity.  Mendelssohn was distantly linked to the Bach family through his maternal grandmother who was taught harpsichord by one of Bach’s sons and who collected his manuscripts.

Tim played a range of the cantatas all performed by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi choir under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner.  These were recorded in the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death.

This was a splendid evening listening to some wonderful works by this great composer.

Peter Curbishley


The next meeting is on 5 March

 

 

 

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Second half of the season kicks off soon

The second half of the season starts tonight, Monday 5 February and we are delighted to welcome Simon Coombs from the Vaughan Williams Society who is going to discuss and play music by this great English composer.  Starts at 7:30 as usual and is only £3 to non-members.  Parking is easy and free and details of how to find us are on the ‘Find us’ tab at the top of the site.

We look forward to welcoming existing members back also any new visitors.

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New Year

Happy New Year to our supporters and members. The second half of the programme kicks off in a month on 5 February and we hope to see you then.

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The Case for the Unfinished

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.

Mozart

Two evenings devoted to this composer

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.

The group next meets on 5 February 2018.

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Members’ evening

UPDATE: 23 November

If you have arrived here having read the report in the Salisbury Journal, welcome.  Our next meeting – the last this year – is on Monday 27th and you would be very welcome to come.  £3 for non-members.

The last meeting was a members’ evening where each will present and play a piece which they particularly like and want to share with others.  A wide variety of pieces were performed:

  • it was probably the first time in some years we had heard Wolf-Ferrari and in this case it was the last 2 movements from the Jewels of Madonna
  • Mozart followed with a rare outing of Varrei Spiegarvi o Dio, an aria interopolated into another, now lost opera.
  • we do not often hear the bassoon as a solo instrument but a piece by Weber – andante and Hungarian rondo showed the instrument off well.  It can sound strained in the higher registers but the soloist managed to avoid this
  • back to Mozart and a movement from a quintet K593 he composed around a year before he died
  • Alec Roth has almost certainly never been played before and is a composer with a slight Salisbury connection.  We heard an excerpt from string quintet #2
  • this was followed by some Schubert songs – always a favourite
  • Bach and two cantatas from his time in Leipzig – BWV 8 and 95
  • there was then a mystery piece and this defeated the audience.  It was part of Symphony #4 by the Polish composer Schmidt-Kowalski and several were impressed by this extract.
  • the penultimate piece was a Chopin ballade and to finish
  • .. Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from the Midsummer Nights Dream, but played on two pianos

A very diverse programme with no clear theme except that they were pieces loved by the members.

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