Last meeting of the first half of the season tonight — 7:30 as usual
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.
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.
I am grateful for the notes provided by Robin Lim in writing this piece.
Next meeting 16 October
NB the programme says 4 October which is incorrect – it is tonight 2nd.
The title of the next meeting is Music from the Schubert Centenary International Composers’ contest of 1928. It will be presented by Robin Lim and starts at 7:30 in the usual place on Monday 2 October. Visitors are welcome and there is a modest fee of £3 to cover our expenses. The evening will start with a brief agm.
[If you saw the piece in last week’s Salisbury Journal, that referred to the previous meeting on Busoni but the item was held over]
A range of interesting music from members
Members’ evening on November 14th produced a wide range of interesting, not to say eclectic, offerings from members. Clearly, as a group, we listen to a wide range of sources and this was reflected in the music played.
First off was a trombone concerto by Derek Bourgeois, born in 1941 and this piece was composed in 1988. We heard the 3rd movement which showed the incredible versatility of the instrument played by Christian Lindberg.
Next – and a complete break in time and tone after the flamboyance of the trombone piece – we heard some selected pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach. Quite what instrument these were written for as there is no instrument called the clavier but it is likely they were for clavichord, harpsichord or small organ. They were composed for purposes of tuition and to teach feeling as well as technique.
A complete change again with the title theme to the Carpetbaggers by Elmer Bernstein. Bernstein was a prolific composer for the film industry and his scores include 10 Commandments, The Magnificent 7 and the Great Escape. This was an arrangement by Lalo Schifrin.
Next, Korngold, a prodigy and prolific composer and from his opera Die Stadt, we heard the lovely Gluck, Das mir Verlieb sung by Renée Fleming.
Female composers are not that common and so it was a pleasure to be introduced to Marie Jaëll and her Cello Concerto from 1882. She was a pupil of Camille Saint-Saëns and Liszt. Marie Jaëll probably represents the most authoritative and accomplished expression of the nineteenth century woman musician. In spite of her coming from the provinces and despite the heavy social restrictions imposed on artists of her gender, she nonetheless succeeded in being recognized as a virtuoso, a composer and as a teacher. Support from her husband – the Austrian pianist Alfred Jaëll – greatly contributed to the positive reception of her initial works for the piano, but it was by herself, armed with her talent and her resolve in the latter part of her life, that she faced up to the Parisian hurly-burly in which she proved herself to be one of its distinctive figures. While her learning method is still taught in various different countries, little interest thus far has been shown in her music, which in the greater part is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire in Strasbourg. Formidable and ambitious symphonic works are revealed on this book-cd as well as a significant facet of her compositions for the piano [Source; Wikipedia].
We then heard an extract from Schubert’s Piano Trio No 2 in E flat. Also by contrast – and harking back to the Venetian evening last month, part of Marcello’s music based on Psalm 11.
Rameau is not a composer we have heard much of at the Society so it was interesting to hear the lively Musette and Tambourin en rondeau pour Terpsicore. Not much is known about his life and he was fairly obscure for many years. There has been something of a revival in recent years and his pieces now appear in concerts.
Another American composer – albeit of Armenian and Scottish descent – is Alan Hovhaness who was another prolific composer who was very popular in the ’50s and ’60s but is less heard today.
Finally, a familiar composer to the Society – Gerald Finzi and his Romance for String Orchestra. There is something in Finzi’s music that seems to capture a sense of a pre First World War world of lazy afternoons in the country.
Next meeting on 28 November on Mozart.
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.