Elgar

The next meeting of the Society on 12 November, is about the great British composer, Elgar

We shall be very pleased to welcome Duncan Eves from the Elgar Society, who will be presenting: Elgar – Orchestral Genius.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday.  If you are not a member, the entrance fee is £3 for the evening.  Parking is right outside and is free.

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New season kicks off

The new season of the Recorded Music Society kicked off with a flying start with a presentation by Tony Powell entitled One Composer’s journey into silence and then resignation.  He was of course referring to Beethoven who, as is well known, became progressively deaf starting at quite a young age in his 20’s.  By 1816 he had lost nearly all his hearing and visitors had to write down what they wanted to say.

This clearly had a traumatic effect on his musical life.  He was a fine pianist and conductor so he was no longer able to do these things.  Even though the music was in his imagination, not to be able to hear what he had composed was a heavy burden to bear.

Tony attempted to take us through his musical life, starting with the youthful compositions and ending with some of the last completed pieces.  It might be tempting to use the major pieces – the symphonies or concertos for example – but instead he chose the smaller scaled compositions: piano trios; ‘cello sonatas; string quartets and piano sonatas.  These are often give a truer insight into a composer’s ‘soul’ if you will, and are harder to compose.  Some may be surprised at this but even composers like Mozart, who could dash off pieces seemingly at will, found the shorter forms harder to complete sometimes taking months.

The big change in the piano trios Tony explained, between Beethoven and the earlier composers, was the role played by the other two instruments.  With Haydn, they were in support of the piano, in the Beethoven’s work, they played an equal role.  This was particularly evident with Op 1 in G Major composed in 1795 when he was in his 20’s.

The style changed and in Op 70 No 2 composed in 1808 we see a greater intensity.  Events in Europe would no doubt had a role to play, in particular the French Revolution and the increase in enlightenment thinking.

He only wrote 5 ‘cello sonatas and we heard extracts from Op 5; Op 69 and Op 102, again a spread through his lifetime showing stylistic changes between 1797 and 1815.

Next to the string quartets and if you were not a Beethoven scholar and heard string quartet No 6 in B flat Op 18, you might be forgiven in thinking it was a piece by Haydn.  The jaunty theme and structure of the quartet typical of that composer.  You would not make that mistake with the last completed quartet (by Beethoven) No 16 Op 135 composed in 1826 the year before he died.

The piano sonatas were a compositional form Beethoven was most comfortable with, possibly because of his piano playing background.  We heard extracts from three: No 1; No 23 (Appassionata) and No 32.  The increase in intensity and complexity was most marked.

This was a most interesting presentation, showing the changing style of Beethoven’s work over his life.  No doubt events in his life – revolution, the Napoleonic wars for example played their part – but his retreat into an inner life would also have been a powerful influence.

Peter Curbishley


Next meeting 1 October at 7:30 as usual

Earth, Air, Fire and Water

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.

Peter Curbishley


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.

 

 

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

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Chair of the VW Society gives presentation

Simon Coombs, the Chair of the Vaughan Williams Society, gave an extremely interesting and informative talk on the music of Vaughan Williams to a packed room at the last Society meeting on Monday.  Regarded as one of Britain’s great composers, he produced a wide range of music, including songs, symphonies, choral works, chamber music and works with a religious theme.  He was what one might call a ‘late developer’ not finding his voice until his ’30s (reminiscent of Bruckner).

Simon took us through his history starting with his childhood in Down Ampney and his later life in Dorking (Surrey) and Chelsea.  He showed promise at school, composing a short piece called ‘The Robin’ aged 6.  Later he went on to study under Parry and Max Bruch.  He spent time in Paris studying with Maurice Ravel who said of him ‘he was the only one of my students who doesn’t try to write my music’.

He was keenly interested in folk music and started to collect these in 1903.  He was not the first composer to be

Vaughan Williams

influenced by the folk song tradition (one thinks of Bartok) and much of his early work was founded on this tradition.  He was friendly with George Butterworth who shared his passion for English folk songs and who offered advice to VW in his early days including suggesting that he write a symphony.  It is a surprising fact but there are no performed symphonies by a British composer before VW and Elgar.  The suggestion by Butterworth is therefore something of a revolutionary suggestion.  Butterworth died tragically young in the Great War.  VW was keen to contribute to the war and served as an ambulance driver and stretcher bearer.  Like many who served in the trenches, the War made a lasting impression including the loss of friends.

He was keen to popularise his music and started the Leith Hill Music Festival (near Dorking) in 1905 and which still thrives.  He had a huge output which included 9 symphonies.

Simon played a mixture of his works, some familiar, others less often heard.  These included the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; an extract from the Sea Symphony (1909); a song from 5 Mystical Songs; parts of the London Symphony (1913) and the Pastoral Symphony (1921) and from number 4 (1934).

Perhaps the work most recognisably as his is the Lark Ascending strongly influenced by his love of folk songs (1914).  Other pieces included an extract from the English Folk Song Suite (1923), Serenade to Music (1938) and from one of his operas Hugh the Drover.  He was approached by Muir Mathieson to compose the music for the film Thirty Ninth Parallel which he composed in a matter of weeks.

This was a brilliant start to the second half of the season.

Peter Curbishley

Schubert Centenary Competition

Finishing the Unfinished

It is well-known that Franz Schubert did not finish his eighth symphony, Number 8 in D Minor. What is less well-known that there was a competition launched in 1928 inviting composers to compose the final movements from the surviving notes.  The competition was proposed by the British arm of the Columbia Phonograph company after the bankruptcy of the American parent.  1927 was the centenary of Beethoven’s death and the company released electrical copies of all nine symphonies which were a commercial success.  What to do next?  Well 1928 was the centenary of Schubert’s death and so a competition to complete the Unfinished was proposed.  A prize of over £100,000 in today’s money was to be awarded.

Cue outrage from the musical world and cries of ‘sacrilege’.  The original theme of the competition was dropped and in its place a competition for new works where composers were required to:

[provide] compositions, apart from faultless formal structure, must be marked by the predominance of a vigorous melodic content, and the number of instruments employed must not substantially exceed the measure established by the classical orchestras of time.

Last night’s presentation about this subject was by Robin Lim who had clearly done a deal of research to unearth the background and to find some of the music composed for this competition.

The first piece was by Felix Weingartner and was his Symphony No 6 from which we heard the allegro.  This incorporated some of the known fragments but could not be considered for the competition as he was invited to sit on the judging panel.

Next we heard two movements in symphonic form by Frank Merrick from Bristol, best known in his day as a pianist.

After that was a piece called Pax Vobiscum by john St Anthony Johnson born circa 1874 and about whom little is known.

Finally before the break we heard the 3rd movement from Hans Gal’s Symphony No 1.  Gal lived in Edinburgh and was interned as an enemy alien during WWII.

The evening ended by listening to some of the prize winners.  The judging panel was extraordinary and included Ravel, Respighi, de Falla, Szymanowski and Thomas Beecham.  Third prize went to a piece by Czeslaw Marek (who’s music we have heard in an earlier evening of the Society).  We heard an extract from his symphonia.  This is a composer who we should hear more of as he only rarely appears on concert programmes.

Second prize went to Franz Schmidt and we heard the scherzo from his 3rd Symphony.  This composer does still sometimes still feature in concert programmes – indeed he was performed in the 2015 Proms – but is not well known.

The winner?  This was by the composer Kurt Atterberg and we heard the finale to his 6th Symphony.

The story did not end there though.  Ernest Newman writing in the Sunday Times that;

Atterberg may have looked down the list of judges and slyly made up his mind that he would put ins a bit of something that would appeal to each of them in turn – a bit of Scheherazade for the Russian Glazunov, a bit of Cockaigne for Mr Tovey, a bit of the New World Symphony for Mr Damrosch, and bit of Petrushka for the modernist Alfan and bit of Granados for Salazar … but I wonder if there may not be another explanation  … Atterberg is not merely a composer.  He is a musical critic … suppose he looked round with a cynical smile that was all the world knows all critics wear and decided to pull the world’s leg?

The story was picked up by other newspapers and stories with headlines such as “£2000 Symphony hoax” and “Joke of Swedish Composer” soon appeared.  Columbia sought to recoup the prize money but it was too late — Atterberg had spent it on a new Ford car.

A fascinating insight into a period of musical history which has been all but forgotten.

Peter Curbishley


I am grateful for the notes provided by Robin Lim in writing this piece.

Next meeting 16 October