Helmsley 1 - Early Music and the Ravishing Renaissance
23 Sep 2017
Musical Bran Tub 4
31 Oct 2016
Musical Bran Tub - The Somme
25 Aug 2016
Musical Bran Tub 3
25 Aug 2016
Musical Bran Tub 2
3 Feb 2016
Musical Bran Tub 1
30 Oct 2015
Helmsley 1 - Early Music and the Ravishing Renaissance
By Graham Merriam. Last updated Sat 23 Sep 2017.
Attached file Helmsley 1 Playlist.pdf
Musical Bran Tub 4
By Graham Merriam. Last updated Mon 31 Oct 2016.
Musical Bran Tub 4 - Wednesday 2 November 2016, 6.30pm
Is it Wind as in “Blow” or Wind as in “Twist” or even Wind as in the Spirit. Music for wind or music about wind?
1. trad. Northumberland Folk Song - Blow the Wind Southerly - sung by Kathleen Ferrier
The unmistakeable voice of Kathleen Ferrier who died tragically early in 1953.
The most natural use of wind - coming up through the wind-pipe in a controlled flow and passing the vocal chords using all the spaces and sinuses to produce an individual sound.
From a south wind to the north and a cold wind. That genius Purcell writing a song using the forces and effects available - Andreas Scholl, one of the greatest countertenors of our time. Glassy string writing. Style of singing very hard on breath control
2. Henry Purcell - King Arthur (1691) - Song of Cold Genius. Sung by Andreas Scholl
Now we enlarge the scope to encompass opera. Handel’s “Julius Caesar”. Caesar has just defeated Pompey on the banks of the River Nile. To curry favour the revolting, psychotic Ptolemy has Pompey (his co-ruler) murdered and presents Caesar with his head. Caesar is appalled but agrees to meet him to emphasise his victory well aware that he might be betrayed. This is all about power and humiliation. Caesar sings the wonderful aria “Va tacito e nascosto” freely translated as “Silently and stealthily goes the shrewd hunter when he is hungry for game.” Not only do we have the aria sung by Andreas Scholl but the prodigious horn obligato accompanying the aria - you will remember the horn as being the hunter’s instrument. The staging assists in Ptolemy’s humiliation.
3. Handel - Julius Caesar (1724) - Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen with Andreas Scholl
Let us hold on to the French Horn briefly. As Michael Flanders sang “so artfully wound, so rich and round”.
Slide of Hand horn and Valve horn. On the left - natural horn with interchangeable crooks for different keys otherwise relying on the lip and the right hand. On the right - modern F horn with rotary valves enabling the player to produce any note on any scale - a massive revolution. Mozart had written his horn concerti for his friend Joseph Leutgeb in the 1780’s - 1792; the great Horn Sonata by Beethoven was also written for Natural Horn in 1800 for the virtuoso Giovanni Punto; Weber wrote his Horn Concertino in 1815. Berlioz - writing in the middle of the 19th Century wrote for both the natural horn and the valved horn.
Here we have the opening of Schumann’s Koncertstück for 4 horns. He kept abreast of technological improvements and felt the urge to write this splendid piece to celebrate the possibilities. It dates from 1849 - his most prolific single year and 2 years away from the insanity that claimed his life - and contains, for Horn 1 especially, the ultimate in virtuosic writing. Athleticism that just wasn’t possible on the old hand horns.
4. Schumann - Concertstück for 4 horns (1849) - Berlin Philharmonic with Simon Rattle
We leave the horn now and move on to even more hot air in the shape of the Grimethorpe Band at their crispest and most virtuosic with a blistering cornet solo. Part of a Lesley Garrett show from 1998
5. Rossini - Overture to “William Tell” - (1829) - Grimethorpe Colliery Band
I want you to step back from the collective sound to the trombone on its own. Lucian Berio started writing his Sequenzas for solo instruments or voice in 1958. The14th and last appeared in 2002. Berio’s own note reads “in Sequenza V I tried to develop a musical commentary between the virtuoso and his instrument, by disassociating various types of behaviour and then putting them together again, transformed, as musical unities. Thus Sequenza V can also be heard and seen as a theatre of vocal and instrumental gestures.” He also has in the back of his mind Grock - the last great clown - who was, for a while, his neighbour. It was written in 1966 for Stuart Dempster, a leading US trombonist.
6. Luciano Berio - Sequenza v for trombone (1966)
Now for something completely different - Winding - as in the Long and Winding road. One of the great musicians of our time. Great lyrics, great harmonies and a fantastic stage presence. The Beatles were already falling apart at this stage but the controversy over this song hastened their end.
7. Paul McCartney - Long and winding road (1970) - on tour in New York, July 2009
The Beatles had embraced the whole Indian music culture on tour in 1968 I want to use this slightly tenuous connection to move to the woodwind side of the orchestra.
8. Webern - Im Sommerwind (1904) - Dresden Stattskapelle, Sinopoli - poem by Bruno Wille
Written when he was 21. Pupil of Zionist Schoenberg and father of Nazi Peter - own position ambivalent. Roots in German Romantic Lieder - natural successor to late Brahms. Strauss Till Eulenspiegel 1895, Mahler 7 in the same year following hot on the heels of 3,4,5 & 6 all when Mahler was conducting Vienna Phil.
9. Rajendra Prasanna - Marwa - Bansuri (Indian Bamboo flute)
Of course, if we are talking about flutes it would be careless to omit a magic one. Arguably his greatest opera (each to his own) Mozart wrote The Magic Flute in the form of a “singspiel” where, instead of the recitative that moves the plot along in the Italian operas, we have the spoken word. Things move a lot faster as a result. The plot is ludicrous and inextricably tied up with freemasonry but, at this point, it involves Papageno the weak-willed bird-catcher desperately seeking a wife. He met her briefly near the beginning of the opera but she was taken away as the
priests deemed him unworthy of her. Towards the end of the opera he decides that, if he can’t have her, he is better killing himself. The three boys (child-spirits) talk him down and assure him that, if he plays his magic bells, Papagena will appear - which she does in one of the most famous duets in Mozart where they discuss the number and sex of the children that they will have.
10. Mozart - The Magic Flute - Papageno/a duet (1791) - ROH Covent Garden, Simon Keenleyside, Ailish Tynan
Although a German, Gluck much time in Vienna from whence but he had a greater affinity with the French operatic tradition with its roots in Rameau and moved to Paris in 1774 from where he launched the French version of his most popular opera “Orfee et Eurydice” - the premise of the plot is the rescue mission in which the hero is forced to control his emotions - just like the Magic Flute and a popular plot line (think Beethoven “Fidelio” as well). He is also much more concerned with the drama than the story-line Mozart would have presented it in his recitatives. Here we listen to the Dance of the Furies - the more malign spirits (represented by Monostotos in the Magic Flute). Why choose this. Wind and Spirit have the same root in Greek - pneuma. Lots of angry spirits in the strings with blasts from the horns and a bit of thunder thrown in. The storm fizzles out at the end.
11. Gluck - Orphee et Euridice - 5. Dance of the Furies (1774)
We have listened to a fragment of a great piece of Mozart that has, in reality, very little to do with the flute and now we will listen to another chunk of another major piece. He once wrote to his father “You know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear”. This refers to the flute for which, ironically, he wrote a perfectly delightful concerto. We are going to turn to the reed instruments. You all know the oboe, clarinet and bassoon but what of the basset horn. A strange-looking instrument in its original form, it produces a woody sound emanating from a clarinet single-reed mouthpiece. We are going to hear part of the slow movement of what is commonly know as Mozart 13 wind. In reality it is 12 wind and double bass - the wind being 2 oboes, 2 clarinets 2 basset horns, 4 french horns and 2 bassoons. All these different textures and sound-types in this magical magical. The score shows pizzicato in the minuet and trio indicating a bass rather than a contra.
You don’t need to be able to read music to see that not a lot is happening for most of the time but the contrast between the slurred and syncopated quicker notes, the plodding bass line and the serenity of the solo parts is magical. This elevates the Serenade from busking music to something quite extraordinary. First performance was on 23 March 1784 in Vienna at a benefit for his clarinettist friend Anton Stadler. He had also been impressed by the oboe playing of Friedrich Ramm for whom he dedicated the oboe concerto and wrote the oboe quartet. Einstein wrote in his work on Mozart “a scene from Romeo under starry skies, a scene in which longing, grief and love are wrung like a distillation from the beating hearts of the lovers”. Hyperbole - I’ll leave it to you to judge. This is the best-known of the 7 movements thanks to the film “Amadeus”.
12. Mozart - Serenade No10 “Gran Partita” K361 - iii Adagio (1781-2)
The oboe - serene in the last piece has a very particular, occasionally haunting, sound that comes about from its conical shape. Variations in wood, the quality of the reed and the expertise of the player add to the mix
Here is a piece outside the classical repertoire
13. Morricone - Theme from “The Mission” - Gabriel’s Oboe
To round things off I am going to play the final fugue from one of the best instructional pieces ever written - Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”. This piece does what it says on the tin. Demonstrates each instrument and deconstructs the orchestra. We will hear it from the point where it is reassembled in the form of a fugue - a short sentence that reappears in each instrument starting with the piccolo - culminating in the majestic entrance of the brass in Henry Purcell’s Rondeau from “Abdelazer” and fireworks from the percussion section.
14. Britten - Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945)
And finally - just in case you thought I had missed out the greatest of all wind instruments here is a version of Tiger Rag played by Richard Hill on the Wurlitzer in the Assembly Hall, Worthing. Astonishing, virtuosic piece of playing.
15. Tiger Rag - played by Richard Hills
Musical Bran Tub - The Somme
By Graham Merriam. Last updated Thu 25 Aug 2016.
with Diane Peacock, mezzo soprano and Penny Stirling, violin.
This talk seeks to look at the war from a personal perspective rather than the more politicised viewpoint of the mass slaughter. An effort to bring a few statistics to life.
As ever, with music and words, I am looking for honesty, commitment, love, tenderness, personal insight.
Before the Great War, Britain was basking in an apparent life of bliss and music was typified by this pastoral idyll.
1.George Butterworth - The Banks of Green Willow
Based on a Sussex folk song that he had picked up in 1909. Written in 1913 by George Butterworth - killed on 5 August 1916 aged 31. Lieutenant in Durham Light Infantry
2. Edward Elgar - Sospiri op70
Translated as “Sighs”. In technical terms this is a melodramatic, compression of Elgar’s mature compositional style into 34 bars.
Bournemouth Sinfonietta, George Hurst
First performed in Queens Hall on 15/8/1914 with Sir Henry Wood - war declared on 4/8/1914
Originally intended as a companion piece to Salut d’Amour but Elgar realised that the sentiment and emotion ran deeper. Also an end of an era for him as, in its Germanic foundations - think Mahler, this was no longer an appropriate style.
John McCrae was a Canadian surgeon who operated on the wounded in an 8’ x 8’ bunker at the back of a trench in the 2nd Battle of Ypres. The Somme was by no means the first battle with huge loss of life - Loos, Marne, 1st and 2nd Ypres - the list is endless. All that really changed was the weather and the low-cunning of the troops on the ground.
Despite the huge losses in the early battles, details of which were never clearly disseminated to the British public, the mood of the country was still upbeat - the war might not have been over by Christmas but possible Christmas 1915. What is more, as a soldier you were fed and had a bed for the night.
Bermondsey recruits slide
Conscription - 2 March 1916. Military Service Act. Unmarried men aged 18 - 41. Extended to the married in May 1916 and to an upper age of 51 by the beginning of 1918. The newspapers were limited in what they were fed and what they could publish as far as casualties were concerned. No TV, no mobiles and limited radio and telephone.
3. Haydn Wood - Roses of Picardy
Word by Fred E. Weatherly and music by Haydn Wood. Lambert Murphy, tenor, with orchestra. Composed in 1916. Recorded in 1919
Fred Weatherly also wrote Danny Boy in 1910. Haydn Wood wrote the music for over 200 ballads of which this was the most popular - selling 50,000/month. Popular at home and at the front.
Where is the Somme? Map slide. Flows meandering from near St Quentin through Amiens to the Channel between Dieppe and Boulogne. To force the Germans to fight on 2 fronts to relieve the French who had been fighting at Verdun since February (some 140 mile south-east) - battle in which they would lose over half a million killed and wounded.
Introduce the personal element. Grandfather Frank Merriam was one of 18 first cousins on his mother’s side. 9 were boys of whom 4 were killed in the war. One was seriously wounded (his brother) as was a brother-in-law. His wife lost a brother at Gallipoli and my other grandmother lost a fiancé in the Coldstream Guards and a brother to a flying accident.
I mention this for 3 reasons. 1) War memorials the length and breadth of the country pronounce the scale of the losses. 2) The family was not untypical in their losses. 3) We have family records that add colour to their short lives. Mostly these are short and prosaic
Philip Quayle had been killed in a night scouting expedition near Laventie on
15 June 1916 having only been in France since 25th May. His parents received a gratuity of £5.10.0d. He was 24
Thomas Brooke was killed in at the Pas-de-Calais in November 1917 aged 21 and Charles Butler was wounded right at the end of the war and died of pneumonia on 28 November 1918 aged 31
Frank’s brother-in-law Oscar was wounded in the abdomen on 22nd July 2016. Having lain out in the open, the battle eventually died down and “I lay in the sun, there were lots of wild flowers and the larks were singing.” He was patched up on the battlefield and was back in the Liverpool Merchants Hospital 36 hours after being hit. He never returned to the Front.
Shot through the right shoulder in July 2015 - ended up in Mrs Burns’ Hospital for Officers in Torquay on 28th July - “with a dirty wound, much dead tissue and small bits of metal and cloth” Soundly healed by 8 September. Transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and shot again in the same shoulder on 16 September 1916. Back to Mrs Burns’ care where he was found to be “pale, drawn and very fatigued, and evidently suffering from shell-shock”. Not fit again until 12 July 1917. An order went out from the War Office - “except in very special cases, sick leave is now abolished … he will join the Training Centre at the expiration of 3 weeks leave … to be fit for some kind of duty”. Manpower was becoming a desperate problem.
I remember him as a ferocious and distant great-uncle with a tendency to blow his top - as he was first wounded when he was 21 and was carrying a battle shot-up shoulder for the rest of his life, are we surprised?
What of Grandfather Frank:
Through badly straining his back manoeuvring heavy guns, he escaped the Western Front and ended up in Palestine. This was a distinctly more leisurely affair with flies and heat being a major enemy. Almost totally lacking in humour and inclined to be critical his sense of perspective was at odds with those wading through the trenches in Flanders - “I lunched off tinned salmon today, but the flavour was not up to Cromarty salmon; I think it was probably cod.” He was witness to the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917 and present at the Battle of Megiddo at the end of September 1918 - the last great cavalry battle ever.
The trenches were grim undoubtedly - the noise, the smell, the constant fear and being on edge. BUT there was still humour. Bruce Bairnsfather was the cartoonist of the day - 2 cartoons surround some snaps of real life. You do not see soldiers on their own - hold the thought.
The Eve of Battle - 30th June
Picture of the Ancre line near the Connaught British Military Cemetery and the Ulster Memorial Tower.
A Soldier’s Cemetery
by John William Streets (killed and missing in action on 1st July 1916 aged 31)
Connaught British Military Cemetery on the Somme battlefield near Thiepval.
Behind that long and lonely trenched line
To which men come and go, where brave men die,
There is a yet unmarked an unknown shrine,
A broken plot, a soldier’s cemetery.
There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn’d
To live (so died) when languished Liberty:
Across their graves flowerless and unadorned
Still scream the shells of each artillery.
When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will shine in this now barren plot
And fame upon it through the years descend:
But many a heart upon each simple cross
Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.
John William Streets, known as ‘Will’, wrote about the inspiration for his poems in a letter to the poetry publisher, Galloway Kyle:
“They were inspired while I was in the trenches, where I have been so busy I have had little time to polish them. I have tried to picture some thoughts that pass through a man’s brain when he dies. I may not see the end of the poems, but I hope to live to do so. We soldiers have our views of life to express, though the boom of death is in our ears. We try to convey something of what we feel in this great conflict to those who think of us and sometimes, alas, mourn our loss.”
Unfortunately, Will's desire to live to see his poems published was never fulfilled.
Cheshire Regiment in the front line - slide
On 1st July 1916 Sergeant John William Streets moved with the 12th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment into the assembly trenches behind John Copse on the Somme battlefield. The attack was launched at 07.30 hours. Will's battalion went in on the second wave. Will was wounded and made his way back to the British line to get his wound seen to. He was seen going to help another wounded man but he subsequently disappeared.
Will’s body was missing for 10 months before it was identified; it was found in the area of No-Mans Land. On 1st May 1917 he was officially listed as “Killed”.
What of Cousin Carl. Already badly wounded in 1915 (aged 20) and awarded the DSO for distinguished bravery he was posted to a regular Regiment - 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment - The Green Howards
Dear Mother, Dad and Gwen,
I am writing this letter to you just before going into action tomorrow morning at about dawn. I am about to take part in the biggest battle that has been fought in France and one which ought to help end the war very quickly. I never felt more confident or cheerful in my life before, and would not miss the attack for anything on earth. The men are in splendid form and every officer and man is more happy and cheerful than I have ever seen them. I have just been playing a game of football in which the umpire had a revolver and a whistle. My idea in writing this letter is in case I am one of the "costs" and get killed. I do not expect to be, but such things have happened and are always possible.
It is impossible to fear death out here when one is no longer an individual but a member of a regiment and of an army. To be killed means nothing to me, and it is only you who will suffer for it. You really pay the cost. I have been looking at the stars and thinking what an immense distance they are away! What an insignificant thing the loss of say forty years of life is compared with them. It seems scarcely worth talking about.
Well, good-bye you darlings. Try not to worry about it, and remember that we shall meet again, really quite soon. This letter is going to be posted if -----
Lots of love,
From your loving son Carl.
He was killed just after 7.30am on 1st July leading his men forward against heavy machine-gun fire trying to take Montauban.
View of Ovillers cemetery and Mash Valley - big rolling countryside
On the same day at more or less the same time two of Sowerby’s men were killed. Cornelius Watson and John Hardy are both remembered in the book kept at the back of the church
They had to advance across a shallow vale know as "Mash Valley" - so named because an enemy observation balloon in the shape of a sausage had previously existed above the neighbouring valley which had been dubbed "Sausage Valley". The men attacked over the top from a supporting trench known as "Ryecroft Street" and it was estimated that 250 were lost even before they had reached the front trench.
These 4 men are a small fraction of more than 19,000 British soldiers killed that day along with 38,000 wounded.
John Singer Sargent - Gassed.
Men are a team, reliant upon each other albeit wounded and blinded by gas and now seeking redemption. Heading unknowingly towards the light.
(Redemption - making better, rescue, deliverance, salvation, atonement for guilt)
It took me ages to appreciate what Cousin Carl meant when he talked about it being “impossible to fear death out here when one is no longer an individual but a member of a regiment and of an army”. Always regarded it as the language of the jingoistic age - up and at ‘em chaps. It is not - it is all about COMRADESHIP.
The strength of our forces lies in the regimental system where the whole is made up of an accumulation of teams - sections, platoons, companies, battalions, regiments.
Brought home by the Invictus Games back in April. The concept of TEAM and togetherness and the power of their song - written by them for them. Stronger as a team than as an individual and, ultimately, prepared to die for each other. This is their redemption. Their story and lyrics are of the challenge of detecting IED’s
4.Flesh and Blood - Invictus Choir directed by Gareth Malone
Micky Yule Powerlifting slide - don't take yourself too seriously
At about the same time
Frank’s other brother-in-law
Alison Glover was, at the age of 40, a Medical Officer at the Somme attached to 6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. Elderly thoughtful man who went on to have a brilliant career in the field of Public Health
“The British attack on 1st July had made little progress in the Thiepval section and had lost again what progress it had made. Every night several wounded men would be brought in, who had been lying in No-man’s Land for many hours. One I remember most vividly - he had compound fractures of both legs and I had to give chloroform to splint them straight enough to allow the stretcher to get through the communications trench. His wounds were full of maggots. When he came round from the anaesthetic, I gave him tea and tried to give him some brandy before his further journey down to the field dressing station. He rounded fiercely on me “how dare you give me that, I’ve been a teetotaller all my life”. I explained it was to be regarded as medicine but this made no impression on his unconquerable spirit … My busiest night was, I think, 6th July. Casualties poured in; the hurricane lamps upon which we depended for light were continually being blown out by the concussions of near bursts. One could not evacuate anyone as the passage of the communication trench by stretcher was too dangerous to be attempted in the barrage. The aid post was so full one had to walk on the stretchers on the floor avoiding those suspended from the roof. The climax came when a shell burst on the roof. Fortunately it was only a three inch and most of the roof held and only light stuff fell on the wounded …. secretly I was frightened but managed, I think, to preserve an appearance of calm and cheerfulness”.
Ivor Gurney - Four Trench Songs (Diane Peacock and Graham Merriam)
In Flanders, Severn Meadows, Even such is time, By a Bierside
From the British Legion archive:
As a result of the war, Britain's economy plummeted and in 1921 there were two million unemployed. Over six million men had served in the war - 725,000 never returned. Of those who came back, 1.75 million had suffered some kind of disability and half of these were permanently disabled. Added to this figure were the families who depended on those who had gone to war - the wives and children, widows and orphans as well as the parents who had lost sons in the war, who often contributed to the household income. The origins of the Poppy Appeal - 1921 first year. Poppies, now as then, are made by disabled ex-service personnel in a factory in Richmond-on-Thames - a team that are combined in a worthy cause and derive great benefit from the company they keep and the job that they do.
Erich Remarque slide - All Quiet on the Western Front
The German soldier viewed the war in much the same way as his British opponent
Paul Nash slide - Menin Road 1919.
Chaos. Apocalyptic view. World turned upside down. 2 men seeking their way. Huge canvas. Hangs at the Imperial War Museum
There has to be an antidote to this violence.
“Poppy’s View” by Graham Merriam
Edward Elgar - Salut d’Amore (Penny Stirling and Graham Merriam)
Written in 1888 when Elgar was romantically involved with his future wife. Short, loving, optimistic and nothing whatever to do with war. An antidote to what we have seen and heard.
Rupert Brooke - died in 1915 of an infected mosquito bite. (No penicillin until the next war) Part of the Gallipoli invasion fleet. Part of an educated group of poets and composers in the Dardanelles - William Denis Browne, Wilfred Owen, Patrick Shaw-Stewart and Frederick Kelly. Owen was to write the inscription on Brooke’s memorial in Westminster Abbey - “My Subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Kelly composed this Elegy for a man he and many others loved.
5.FS Kelly - Elegy for Strings “In Memoriam Rupert Brooke”
Musical Bran Tub 3
By Graham Merriam. Last updated Thu 25 Aug 2016.
In MBT1 we talked about churches being the source and inspiration of most of the earlier forms of music. MBT2 looked at the concept of Celebration. Now we are going to look at the spaces that the music occupies.
How have musicians gone about filling these spaces?
Photo of St Sulpice in Paris
A picture of St Sulpice - one of the vast Romanesque cathedrals in Paris and northern France - Notre Dame, Rouen, Chartres, St Denis etc. Needs a huge organ to fill this space - Cavaillé-Coll. Mid 19th C symphonic organ builder. 13 in Paris alone. St Sulpice is the largest of them all and one of only 3 100-Stop organs in Europe (about 7000 pipes) - Liverpool cathedral being one of the others. Came at a time of Napoleon III’s tidying up of Paris under the direction of Haussmann following the 1848 February Revolution. Boulevard St Germain on the Left Bank.
1. Julius Reubke (1857) - Sonata on 94th Psalm
Daniel Roth - St Sulpice
The 23rd verse of this Psalm - which is a plea to God to show vengeance on the ungodly - reads He shall recompense them their wickedness, and destroy them in their own malice. The theme comes out in the little finger of the left hand
As I have said previously, a vast percentage of music written has a religious base. Thomas Tallis, one of England’s finest, composed “Spem in Alium” for 40 parts arranged in 8 choirs of 5. This is a mammoth creation that transfers the action from one choir to another to reach a climax and then to work down again to the final. We could not contemplate performing this in anything smaller than a very big space such is its orchestral and octophonic effect. The section I am going to play leads into the main climax. Using an animated graphical score where each of the 8 choirs is represented by a different colour and the voices are shown in their position on the treble and bass clefs. We can clearly see the interaction between the choirs - the echoes, responses etc. The words are adapted from a section of the book of Judith - “I have never put my hope in any other but in You, O God of Israel”. It is important to recognise that, like William Byrd, he remained a Catholic after the Reformation (1537) but they were both so important to the musical life of the court and the country that Queen Elizabeth turned a blind eye. They learnt to be adept at serving both churches. Performed in Nonsuch Palace. Originally built for Henry VIII it was sold on his death to become the country residence of the Earl of Arundel. Had an octagonal banqueting hall which had, in turn, four first-floor balconies.
2. Thomas Tallis (1570) - Spem in Alium
50 years later we have Monteverdi’s answer to the space conundrum bridging the Renassance period through to the Baroque. Recorded in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles, we have the opening of the Monteverdi Vespers. This is Italian and, typically, much more flamboyant. JEG with period instruments - cornets and small bore trombones with a straighter and more penetrating sound. Although a liturgical piece, it has more of the theatrical about it - strident brass, dance sections and a vertiginous declamatory opening - scary!
3. Monteverdi 1610 Vespers
John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
That was unashamedly large-scale, celebratory and declamatory in total contrast to my next piece. What is our reaction to these two? Blown back in our seats by the Monteverdi - composed to impress - big wow factor. Drawn in by Ali Stephens. Magnetism. What draws us to it?
Something very private here. Alison Stephens died on 10/10/10 after a long struggle with cervical cancer. Of Captain Corelli’s mandolin fame she was the leading exponent of the mandolin. Had been twice to Sowerby Music and was on my wish list for the year in which she died. This poor quality clip demonstrates the intimacy of the player and her instrument - almost maternal - which draws us in in this most haunting composition - one of her own.
4. Alison Stephens - La Tristezza D'Inverno
We have seen how composers react to and compose for big dramatic spaces. Saving one for the end.
How have composers coped with describing a huge natural space - a different thing altogether. I have 3 contrasting clips. The first is from Debussy’s “La Mer”. This ground-breaking impressionist piece was premiered in 1905 - for some reason Debussy finished writing it in the Grand Hotel at Eastbourne - and this clip forms part of the 2nd section “Jeux de vagues” - play of the waves. A programmatic piece with one subject and no human influence. Very rare at the time and the model for a lot of film music to come. Sensual, rich, varied - I leave this to your imagination - just let the sound wash over you. Picture accompanying - JMW Turner - Norham Castle at sunrise from 1848. French Impressionism in art occupied the latter half of 19th C. Debussy was the initiator of French Music Impressionism some 25 years later.
5. Debussy (1905) - La Mer - "Jeux des Vagues"
Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy
The next piece is a film-score written by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the 1947 film “Scott of the Antarctic”. With some very appropriate film backing, it is not too difficult to hear what VW is trying to describe. He was so captivated with the subject matter that he enlarged the score and turned it into a complete symphony complete with wordless chorus.
6. Vaughan Williams - Sinfonia Antartica - Symphony No.8 (1948)
Bournemouth Symphony, Bakels
What adjectives spring to mind - sinister, threatening, cold, icy, shrieking wind, loneliness. I hope the video track helps.
Let’s have a not unrelated diversion.
In MBT1 I mentioned the vast amount of music that was never written down - just passed from generation to generation in the folk-song tradition. Why do I mention this - because Vaughan Williams spent a great deal of time in the early 1900’s going out into the countryside and noting down the songs that he heard.
Here is an extract from a simple English folk tune - a girl in search of her sheep. A simple song for the big outdoors.
As I went out one May morning,
One May morning betime,
I met a maid from home had strayed,
Just as the sun did shine
What makes you rise so soon, my dear,
Your journey to pursue?
Your pretty little feet they tread so sweet,
Strike off the morning dew.
I'm going to feed my Father's flock,
His young and tender lambs,
That over hills and over dales
Lie waiting for their dams.
7. Searching for Lambs
While we are on the subject of folk songs let us turn to Catalonia. Possibly the greatest cellist ever, Pablo Casals, arranged a traditional Catalonian song and regularly played it as an encore in protest at Franco’s Fascist Regime that had given rise to the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and the horrors that followed. Casal’s tireless work for peace, justice and freedom earned him the UN Peace Medal in 1971 when he was 95. This recording was made in his 80’s.
8. El cant des ocells - Song of the Birds
Pablo Casals - cello
From a television series we have life under the ocean. Do you remember David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet”? Obviously remembered for Attenborough, the photography and the subject matter but what about the soundtrack. Here is George Fenton’s wonderful Blue Whale. I find this extraordinarily moving - I wonder if it gets to you as well. Use of the cor anglais as a solo instrument. Let us not get hung up on the terminology of music. Film music, classical music. It is all music.
9. George Fenton - Blue Planet (2001)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMMBIdVZs0Y (to 2.47)
Unknown studio orchestra
As a singer, there is a great temptation to sing loud to fill the space - York Minster is a very good example. The madrigal encourages the very opposite in pursuit of intimacy and is a superb and uncomplicated way of learning the art of give and take in making music. Singing round a table as part of a meal - very Tudor/Wolf Hall. Direct eye-contact, listening to breathing, nuance of words.
Madrigal - a secular vocal composition of Renaissance/early Baroque era for 2 to 8 voices. Normally unaccompanied. This explores the premise that swans only sing just before their death and is possibly also an allusion to the death of the Elizabethan madrigal as a form. Not all madrigals include the more irritating fa-la-laing and hey-nonny-noes that is characteristic of the genre. The Silver Swan dates from c.1611
10. Orlando Gibbons - The Silver Swan - 1611
If I play you a lute song now, you will see how these smaller-scale compositions all tie together, whether they are folk, madrigal or lute. They are about people, emotions and subjects close to their heart - love and death quite often. They are private expressions - not intended for public consumption.
Lute songs - a very private entertainment in the Elizabethan times (late 16th Century) where the lute was used on its own or as part of a consort including some form of percussion, fiddles and flutes to accompany dance; part of a viol consort or vocal ensemble. Freeform. Here we have a lute and soprano doing something that the modern teenager would find hard to contemplate from the safety of his sofa and a bucket of pop-corn - or whatever. It wasn’t really for public consumption. I’ve chosen this version for the expression rather than the command of the English language. Very much popularised and propped up by the demands of the Royal court.
The language was very much bound up with the convention of the time - where emotion was considered to be the basis for beauty rather than the physical person. In this instance, seeing a person weep has confused confusion. Courtly love was more complicated than today’s text messages. This song is from Dowland's 2nd Book of Songs published in 1600
11. John Dowland - I saw my lady weep.
Valeria Mignaco & Alfonso Marin
Where do we go from here with chamber music - music for a small space? As the violin family became more popular the viols died out - partly because there was a demand to play in a bigger space and the viol didn’t have the carrying power. Bach, Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi, Corelli and the Baroque composers wrote hundreds of Trio Sonatas - still very small-scale pieces where there are two treble parts (violin or flute/recorder) and a continuo part - a bass instrument - cello and/or harpsichord. These were not a vehicle for personal outpouring but a response to the demands of a patron or for public entertainment. Very much a vehicle for the top parts with the bass/continuo instruments chugging along on the bottom providing the harmonic underpinning. If I’m honest they all sound very much the same - busking music - so I have plumped for the beginning of Purcell’s Golden Sonata.
12. Henry Purcell - "Golden" Sonata in F, Z810 - 1697
Voices of Music
How did chamber music change? The classical era followed. The advent of the viola meant that there was an instrument that bridged the gap between the violins and the cello. Haydn was the forerunner who set out to compose equally for all four instruments - he was also fed up with the Galante style at the Esterhazy Court (1720 - 1770 - also Rococco). Let us hear part of one of Haydn’s op 20 Quartets. These are absolutely seminal to our understanding of the quartet medium and earned Haydn the sobriquet “Father of the String Quartet”. Written in 1772 - only 22 years after Bach’s death - we see the appearance of the viola, the privacy of it all, the communication and emotion involved.
"The poignant second movement Adagio moves the string quartet even farther from the concept of courtly entertainment," writes Miller. Second movement of this quartet is a Theme and Variations and, as if to prove his intentions, this 2rd variation is primarily for the cello.
13. Joseph Haydn - Quartet op.20 no.4 (2nd movement, 3rd variation) - 1772
We have seen a painting - Samuel Scott’s River Thames Scene - and can make a judgement on its composition, execution, subject matter but, with music, unless you are gifted enough to be able to sing all 4 parts in your head at once, we need an interpreter - a string quartet - to show us their interpretation of the composer’s wishes. New editions - Simon Rowland Jones has spent ages producing a new performing edition of the Haydn Quartets so that performers and scholars are better informed.
The best performing artists are those that are faithful to the composer’s wishes and feelings. As the listening public we know when we are hearing a great performance even without specialist musical knowledge.
We have to ask artists why they paint or the composers compose. My theory - if you are replicating something you have done a few times before then that is craft not art. Artists takes a fresh approach to their composition with fresh influences and fresh ideas - always pushing themselves. Not governed by a system an “ism” or by external influence (other than money). Beethoven’s chamber music is a good example coming, as it does, in 3 distinct phases. The big dichotomy. To survive you have to sell. For the public to want to buy they have to appreciate its qualities either through the medium of a gallery or a publisher/promoter. We want to listen to it but the performers want to share it amongst themselves - the greatest performances are those that transmit that feeling of intimacy between themselves and the composer with us. Difficult, and the reason why chamber music is sometimes regarded as unapproachable without explanation.
Mendelssohn - son of rich and pushy Berlin parents - wrote the String Octet in 1825 when he was 16 as a birthday present for his violin teacher. Quite an “Apple for teacher”! First public performance not until 1836 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Motivation for writing obviously as a present - how much was he driven by public performance? Today it is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and ticket-seller. Joy, artistry, brilliance, compositional skill, communication. This performance demonstrates the art of transmitting the composer’s wishes to the audience. Scratch ensemble brought together for a festival - quite common occurrence. Rare to have a double-bass instead of the second cello. Feeling that we are all sitting on the edge of the stage, involved in the performance.
14. Felix Mendelssohn - String Octet in E flat - lead in to last section - 1825
Artists from Janine Jansen’s 2014 International Chamber Festival,Utrecht
Recordings allow artists to put down their version of the composer’s wishes at a particular time in their career or because there is a group of them that wish to get together for mutual respect and, dare I say it, love of their fellow musicians. Here we have some terrific artists involved in chamber music with the piano - huge extension of the textures involved - percussion for a start, resonance, depth of sound, lots more notes, filling out chords. Another seminal work - originally intended as a string quintet a la Schubert, his violinist friend Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann persuaded him that the scale of the piece was too big for that medium so he tore it up and started on a piano quintet version following the example of Robert Schumann (1842). Third movement demonic, grand and impassioned. Brahms was brilliant pianist
15. Johannes Brahms - Piano Quintet op34 (3rd movement - Scherzo) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d73To1iudyY
Artemis Quartet, Leif Ove Andsnes (2006)
British composers have been encouraged to write for large forces since the great Victorian music festivals commissioned new works to fill large halls - normally on a religious theme. To wit, Elgar’s “The Kingdom” written in 1906 for the Birmingham Triennial Festival to follow on from “The Apostles” and, before that, “The Dream of Gerontius”. It depicts the lives of the disciples and the early church at Pentecost and the days that followed - appropriate for us as it is on Sunday week. We pick it up at the very end with the disciples - a chorus in excess of 300 - singing the Lord’s Prayer. Tender but optimistic. Ordinary people amidst extraordinary events. The music fills the Albert Hall without any need to press. Late Romantic in sentiment and scale with a double chorus. The soloists represent The Blessed Virgin, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Elgar a Catholic and, to a certain extent, spurned by Society. Elgar selected his text from Acts and from the Gospels.
16. Edward Elgar - The Kingdom, 1906
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis, Proms 2014
Musical Bran Tub 2
By Graham Merriam. Last updated Wed 3 Feb 2016.
Define “celebration” - To perform publicly with appropriate rites. To honour. To observe a notable occasion with festivities. To hold up for public notice.
Slide of the characteristics and adjectives to describe the music and our reaction - see MBT1.
We start this Bran Tub in a London branch of Morrisons.
1. Handel - Zadok the Priest
Flash Mob in Morrisons
That, of course, was Handel’s Zadok the Priest in an edited version. This music captures the grandeur and majesty of the Baroque era - direct contemporary of Castle Howard - 1727. First piece ever played on Classic FM at 6.00am on 6 Sept 1992. One of 4 coronation anthems that he composed for King George II in 1727. Even in a supermarket, there is a huge sense of expectation and a driving pulse in the opening bars that we just know is going to culminate in something brilliant. Unadulterated joy all around and not a little emotion. Handel was, and probably remains, THE go-to man for instant music for a celebratory occasion and not afraid to recycle his own ideas to get the job done. He was also a shrewd businessman.
Just listen to another piece that has more than a hint of the Baroque
2. George Fenton - Brideshead Revisited 1981
Photo of Castle Howard - John Vanburgh - contemporary buildings Seaton Delaval Hall, Blenheim Palace. English Baroque in contrast to the highly elaborate photo of the altar surround at Wieskirche just south of Munich
Squidgy bits - passing notes, suspensions. Joins between chords. Chords upon chords
A small-scale work by a slightly earlier Venetian contemporary of Bach - Antonio Lotti - who worked his way up to Director of Music at St Mark’s. Here, the voices enter in ascending order mostly starting on the note that the previous one reached. This creates superb tensions - as you might expect in the Crucifixus - pain, sorrow and pathos. Its message and the music reach the darkest corner of any building. Taken from the Nicene Creed the words are “He was crucified even for us, under Pontius Pilate: he suffered and was buried.”
3. Antonio Lotti (early 18C - Crucifixus
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
I am a bit of an organ nerd. Holland is full of old, famous and very large Baroque organs, latterly of the North German organ school, of which the Arp Schnitger organ in the Martinikerk in Groningen is but one. This clip, which you might recognise, is the overture to Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks - commissioned by George II to celebrate the end of the War of The Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. Performed in Green Park on 27 April 1749. For wind orchestra - no strings - to accompany fireworks. While not composed for the organ, this version is a suitably grand arrangement played on one of the great 17th Century organs in Holland.
4. Handel - Overture to the Royal Fireworks Music
Peter Pilon - Martinikerk, Groningen
Let us escape from the trumpet for a moment - we will return! It is good to celebrate the very special and extraordinary just because they are. Four clips. First, the C major op10 Etude. Series written by Chopin to improve technique and here played by one of the finest pianists around. This particular one deals with improving the R-hand stretch and flexibility.
5. Chopin - Etude Op10 No1 (C major)
The second, an extraordinary performance of a lesser know opera by Rossini. Title and plot are largely irrelevant. What is extraordinary is the flexibility and purity of the voice and the characterisation of a mechanical doll. First performed in 1813
6. Rossini - Aureliano in Palmira
with Maria Aleida Rodriguez
Photo of Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow - just south of the Kremlin
A celebration of renewal -
At the other end of the spectrum we have Russian Orthodox music. This is seamless, slow and reverential stuff. The physiology of the Slavs and the vowel production involved in the Russian language enable the extraordinary basses and the high tenors. Clear links back to the old Orthodox chants. St Petersburg Chamber Choir. Chesnokov - Imperial Russian and Soviet composer from Moscow (1877 - 1944). Composition of sacred choral music came to a standstill with the revolution in 1917 and, when the cathedral of which he had been choirmaster was destroyed on Stalin’s orders in 1931, he stopped writing altogether. It was rebuilt in 1990 having been an outdoor swimming pool in the intervening period.
Standard of recording has improved dramatically in the last 10 years or so and there is now a large choice on Youtube.
7. Pavel Chesnokov - To thee we sing
St Petersburg Chamber Choir
A celebration of birth -
Wagner wrote the Siegfried Idyll for his second wife Cosima following the birth of their son Siegfried. History relates that Cosima woke on Christmas Day 1870 to the strains of an orchestra in the hall and on the stairs playing this uplifting tune - unlike virtually anything else that he wrote.
8. Wagner - Siegfried Idyll (1869)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra, cond. Donald Runnicles
After this brief tour away from trumpets let us return for another bit of Handel and a sumptuous birthday card - almost a Valentine card. Imagine addressing a card to one’s beloved as "Oh, Eternal source of light divine". Fairly early on in his career in England (1713) when he was trying to ingratiate himself and make himself known.
Handel was always pragmatic in composing, never afraid of recycling bits of his own music and creaming off handsome fees and royalties at the same time. He wrote a Birthday Ode for Queen Anne in 1713. The first movement introduces alto and trumpet together in a spine-tinglingly beautiful duet setting a text by Ambrose Philips. Although the Queen never listened to it and there is no record of a performance, she paid him £200 a year for life as a result. This is a superlative recording of a recording session of the first movement showing the intimacy, the physicality of the performers, their involvement, informality and sheer skill. Note the natural (valveless) trumpet. Note that Handel spends about 20 seconds on the second syllable of “Eternal” - a neat conceit. Lots of squidgy bits here. Trevor Pinnock is not really conducting - this is a collaborative effort with everybody acting as a team; everybody knows their job.
9. Handel - Birthday Ode for Queen Anne “Eternal Source of Light Divine”
English Concert, Pinnock, Davies, Balsom
So far in our trawl through the Bran Tub I have avoided the two great elephants in the room - Beethoven and Bach. I can put them off no longer as their absence is to deny you possibly the two greatest composers. Celebrations? We will see?
Rembrandt Self-portrait 1659
“By means of a wonderful ability to fix an idea in his mind, [Rembrandt] knew how to capture the momentary appearances of emotion whenever they appeared in the face before him.” Arnold Houbraken, De groote schoubergh der Nederlandtsche konstschilders en schildressen. (The great theatre of Netherlandish painters and painteresses), published Amsterdam, 1718–1721
This is only a section of what is a full seated figure.
Do we look at the eyes or the minute detail - the yellows and greens, hairs and spots - or a combination of the two.
What does it tell us about him and, more importantly, what does it say about our reaction?
He had suffered huge financial setbacks and, at the age of 53, had recently been declared bankrupt.
Towards the end of his life, when only 55, Beethoven was very ill and, as an addition to one of his last string quartets, op 132, he wrote, on his temporary recovery, a celebratory slow movement explicitly entitled “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit in der lydischen Tonart (A convalescent’s holy song of thanksgiving to the deity in the Lydian mode). It is not necessary to know about the harmonic structure and complexities to appreciate its beauty but, for the technical, this is the equivalent of playing an F major scale on the white notes only - turning the Bflat into a Bnatural or sharpening the 4th. Ignore the blue and yellow splodges on Rembrandt's face and concentrate on the message.
Complete, it runs to some 16 minutes and is extremely difficult to cut but we have to. I have trawled the Youtube library to find a recording that approximates to my great experience with the piece - that of the Sacconi Quartet in Ripon Cathedral in October 2014. What words spring out at me?
Simplicity. Relief. Optimism. Fragility of life. Complexity of relationships. Stillness. Death. Intensity. Tension
10. Beethoven - String Quartet in A minor, op.132, "Heiliger dankgesang..." - (1825)
Quatuor Ebene - 2013
Can we think of the Baroque era - indeed any era - without Bach, possibly the more cerebral of them all. Some of you might groan at the thought of listening to Bach. Yes, his organ chorale preludes, whilst masterpieces of compositional skill, are a little self-indulgent but the bigger preludes and fugues or the toccatas are masterpieces. We think possibly of his Passions, Matthew and John for the Easter festival, the enormous Mass in B Minor, the Magnificat, countless cantatas, organ works, orchestral and chamber music.
For celebration perhaps we should turn to the Christmas Oratorio - a genuinely celebratory festival - that had its first performances over the Christmas Festival 1734/5 (nearly 50 at the time). Split into 6 cantatas (self-contained chunks) this excerpt is the last chorale of the last cantata written for Epiphany, 6th January - the festival that celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. For some, this is as big a celebration as you can get. What can this staid old man come up with? Virtually all of his cantatas end with a chorale - some by Martin Luther - a heavy-weight message to go out to. Bach augments this by choosing the words “Nun seid ihr wohl geroche” - “Tod, Teufel, Sünd und Hölle” “Death, devil, hell and error are reduced to nothing; the mortal race of man now has God as its shelter.” A straightforward chorale embellished and interwoven by brilliant orchestral writing - the vigour and brightness of the trumpets and precision of the timpanist. Bach regularly played the organ here, 2 of his sons were baptised in the church and some of his festive cantatas were performed here. The Allies flattened this church with Allied bombing in February 1945, so this is, in many ways, a celebration of its restoration and survival.
Refer to http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P18c%5Bsdg174_gb%5D.pdf for John Eliot Gardiner’s essay on the subject. This is a superb piece of writing - not too detailed from the musical perspective - but giving us a human insight into both JEG's experience but life as Bach knew it. Eminently readable.
For those that wish to know, the trumpeter is Niklas Eklund - a Swede, and one of the best around.
11. Bach - Christmas Oratorio - final movement from 6th Cantata - “Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen”
John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir
Recorded in the Church of St Peter and St Paul "Herderkirche" in Weimar
Finally, on this tour of celebrations, we have a setting of O Magnum Mysterium taken from the service of Matins at Christmas and celebrating the birth of Christ. This has been set to music by a whole catalogue of composers and I have chosen a contemporary version by American composer Morten Lauridsen with a performance by Winchester Cathedral Choir that seems to me to be full of wonder as it should be - “O great mystery and great sacrament”. I don’t think we can question the sincerity of this choir. I have chose it over the Nordic Chamber Choir for its slightly rough-at-the- edges, “English Cathedral” sound that is unique to these great buildings.
12. Morten Lauridsen - O Magnum Mysterium (1994)
Musical Bran Tub 1
By Graham Merriam. Last updated Fri 30 Oct 2015.
Where do we start this exploration?
It has to be with sacred music - churches had the land, the money, the education, the people and the premises. Such other music as was provided by troubadours was passed from hand-to-hand (possibly mouth-to-mouth!) and wasn’t written down.
Music was originally notated to suit the words - pre-instrumental - and before bar-lines
1. Caritas Pater Est (God is Love) www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYO2NPOHf0w (to 2.04) Chant Group Psallentes
Jump forward 600 years or so and there is still the same ethereal quality, devotional. Now with bar-lines as a means of creating structure, discipline with a conductor and much bigger forces. This is Arvo Part’s Magnificat - an Estonian, 80 in September. Otherwise known as the Song of Mary - ”My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour”
2. Arvo Part, Magnificat (1989) www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A6BfyhFSVQ - (to 2.17) Estonian Phil. Ch. Choir, Hillier
Somewhere in the middle we have Haydn and, arguably, his finest work - so popular that it was performed 40 times before his death in 1809. He was a product of the Age of Enlightenment. Right at the heart of the classical movement in its true sense - committed to order and structure. Just imagine how you would represent chaos Genesis 1:1&2 “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep”. Here, Haydn picks out seemingly random notes, big bangs, exploratory chords, wonder, mystery and shooting stars with random instruments culminating eventually in a semblance of order. “And there was light” - the importance of God. Recitative tells the story. “The wonder of his works” - one of the most exciting choruses to sing especially if you are a bass when the words change to “the heavens are telling”
Joseph Haydn, Creation (1797-8)
3. Representation of Chaos www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LSyPNeIBp4 (to 3.45) Concentus Musicus Wien, Harnancourt
4. And there was light www.youtube.com/watch?v=l07oRR4u-rk (7.44-10.30) Dir. Steinaecker The wonder of his works
5. the heavens are telling www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KuhOU72xDc (34.08-35.53) Musicians du Louvre, Marc Minkowski
Where did the light come from? The Sun. Very little appears to have been written about/to the Sun - you can’t look at it. Yes, there is George Harrison’s “Here comes the sun”. I have an everlasting image - I doubt it was even in his thoughts - but the incredibly gentle strings growing to a outburst of wind and brass in this Mozart Symphony provide me with an image of early morning mist clearing to a blaze on sunlight. Does this help? Hear we have a tender, youthful version and Maxim Vengerov is investing a huge amount of love in its direction. Filming demonstrates Sonata form - with the B section shot turning to the young lad on violin.
6. Mozart, Symphony 29, K201(1774) www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0eZYpxsk1A (52 secs) Verbier Festival Orchestra, Vengerov, John Tavener (2007)
7. The Eternal Sun www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MxzYhnzEO8 (5.23) Youth Choir - Kamer
John Tavener provides the real thing. A burnished, growing, searing, magnificent sound producing rays you can almost feel. Tavener wrote that Frithjof Schuon's poem “The Eternal Sun” speaks of our earthly sun as a reflection of the Divine Sun which no earthly eye can see, and the music reflects this in its mirror images. The opening music for the main choir should glow with magnificence and splendour, representing the unattainability of the Heavenly Sun, but the later passages, especially the music for the distant semi-chorus, should be more nostalgic and haunting.
Similarly, Strauss uses the rumbling, thrumming sound at the start of Also sprach Zarathustra to represent the sun revving up and ready to blind. Despite being used for 2001 Space Odyssey and the Apollo space programme this was originally written in 1896 as a tone poem inspired by Neitzsche’s novel of the same title. We hear the opening section which Strauss titled “Sunrise” - “Sonnenaufgang”. Elvis Presley used this as the opening piece in his concerts between 1971 and his death in 1977, and as the introduction to several of his live albums.
8. Also sprach Zarathustra www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-QFj59PON4 Donetsk Orchestra, Frontalini
What about the moon? All these excerpts capture the luminous quality. Britten’s is orchestral giving him a bigger palette to work with and it also involves the sea off the East Anglian coast. Richard Strauss composed a wonderful horn solo “Mondscheinmusik” towards the end of his opera “Capriccio”. First the Strauss with its beautiful horn solo. This is a 1949 recording with Strauss conducting for the last time - he was to die 6 weeks later. The horn plays a big part in the depiction of the moon - is this from the Bible - Psalm 81 v3 “Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival”. It can provide a rich shimmering sound that is unique amongst orchestral instruments. Beethoven did not name his sonata - Rellstab, the poet, referred to it in a review as being like the moon shining on Lake Lucerne.
R Strauss (1949)
9. “Capriccio - Mondscheinmusik” www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEW4LBLWB0c (0.05-1.40) Bayerische Rundfunk, Strauss
Beethoven - Moonlight Sonata, play first 8 bars, Penny Stirling
Britten - from 4 Sea Interludes
10. “Peter Grimes” - Moonlight www.youtube.com/watch?v=-V0WZcDBVhw (to 1.46 Orchestra Ha'mon at Sumida Triphony Hall
We perform the next piece live so that you can observe at close quarters the interaction between us and the effort to sincerely put over the sense to you. Songs are normally poems set to music and, for the Romantics, the moon didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the moon - rather something much more complicated - like affairs of the heart. The piano is a percussion instrument so the challenge is to overcome this and provide a rich, sustained horn-like sound - listen to the thumb in my left hand.
Robert Schumann (1840) Mondnacht from Leiderkreis (Eichendorff) Dianne Peacock/Graham Merriam
So we slide gracefully beyond the moon towards the planets and the link with the concept of Remembrance - a pretty dodgy gear-change! It is probably true to say that none of the music we hear around Remembrance Day was composed specifically - it has all been absorbed into the nation’s psyche. Holst is the obvious choice. His Planets Suite was originally composed between 1914 and 1916 as a result of his mild obsession with astrology and probably the most famous movements are Mars and Jupiter. Lets listen to a bit of Mars - threatening, warlike, insistent, remorseless, brassy and, no doubt, an echo of what was happening over the English Channel.
Gustav Holst - The Planets (1914-16)
11. Mars - The Bringer of War www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0bcRCCg01I (to 2.14) Chicago Symphony, Levine
Jupiter - the bringer of Jollity, most of you will know containing as it does the section that he adapted to fit “I vow to thee my country”. Like the Planets, Elgar’s Enigma Variations were not written with remembrance in mind; rather, they arose in response to his wife’s encouragement who heard him playing around with a melody on the piano. This melody grew into a theme with 14 variations - all named after friends - and was named “Enigma” by Elgar for reasons that remain an enigma. Nimrod - an Old Testament (Genesis Ch10) patriarch described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” - is so named because “Jager” is the German for Hunter and Augustus Jaeger was Elgar’s editor at Novello, his publisher.
Edward Elgar - Enigma Variations (1898-9)
Theme and Variation 9 (Nimrod) arranged for 4 hands Penny Stirling & Graham Merriam
12. Ditto www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlkpqjopFKQ Massed bands, Cenotaph 2013
13. Ditto www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqvOVGCt5lw Unknown foreign orch. Colin Davis
Are you affected by this version or does it have to be brass band or does it have to be the Cenotaph? Band 3.45, Davis 5.49, Bernstein 6.51
Continuity of strings, sonority or brass and failings of the percussive piano. Analogy with slow-bicycle race.
For those that regularly watch the Cenotaph service - what follows Nimrod? It is always Dido’s Lament - again, music written for a different purpose and normally sounding quite stodgy with massed brass bands. Dido and Aeneas is a seminal work in British musical history. The first of Purcell’s operas, it is derived from the masque format. No complete score exists. Operas quite often end with someone dying or everyone living happily ever after - this is one of the former. Incredibly simply - falling bass line on a ground bass. Very little in the right hand. Expression comes from the singer - the value of live and close-up performance.
Dido’s Lament Dianne Peacock & Graham Merriam
One of music’s great sadnesses is that Henry Purcell died so young. Having been commissioned to set the Funeral Sentences to music for Queen Anne’s funeral in 1695, they were played again at his own funeral in November of the same year aged just 36. His setting of Thou knowest Lord is as simple, quiet, serene and touching as is possible.
Henry Purcell - Funeral Sentences (1695)
14. Thou knowest, Lord www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pf_84OQgZSg (complete) The Sixteen
We are conditioned to think of Remembrance Day as the preserve of the British military - a day for the nation to remember those that have been killed in war, but music cuts across boundaries and rises to all occasions. Perhaps one of the most compelling examples of this in recent years comes from the Last Night of the Proms in 2001, 4 days after 9/11. In memory of those killed at the twin towers and in sympathy with and appreciation of the links with the USA, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin performed Samuel Barber’s “Adagio”. An American work adopted by the USA in the same way that we have adopted Nimrod. Slatkin is an American conductor whose turn it was to conduct the Last Night in that year. His grief and sincerity is palpable - just the last couple of minutes:
15. Samuel Barber - Adagio www.youtube.com/watch?v=sftaC0yC714 (8.15-10.52) BBC Symphony Orchestra, Slatkin
We travel to the far north of Scotland - the Orkneys. Anyone that knows this part of the world will appreciate the sense of space, the wilderness and the quiet that can surround you. Leaving it is a regret - going back to the real world and don’t know when I’ll be back again - and, at one level, this is what Peter Maxwell Davies characterises but his message and intent was much more important - a protest in 1980 against the possibility of a uranium mine being excavated 2 miles from Stromness and the effect that it would have on the population and the island - it never happened. Let’s hear a bit of Max playing his own “Farewell to Stromness” - a mixture of openness, simplicity, optimism, stubbornness and resignation
Peter Maxwell Davies
16. “Farewell to Stromness" www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpJB-XXE9Xg (complete) Peter Maxwell Davies
A tribute to one of our greatest actors Pete Postlethwaite (Danny Ormondroyd in this clip from Brassed Off) - the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in superb form alongside Euan McGregor and Stephen Tompkinson. Not only is this a tribute to them but it reminds us through them of things that we miss and care about.
17. Danny Boy www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F5vBsY9VZ8 Grimethorpe in “Brassed off”
Music has the power to throw us back to a particular scene in our lives and helps make connections. The results can be just as emotional. Let us explore some of these examples. Still with the military but with a positive, affirming message of love, consider the phenomenon that is the Military Wives Choir with Gareth Malone. With the pictures included, we see the effect that this passion and relief has on the participants and the people that they are singing to.
Paul Mealor (2012)
18. “Wherever you are” www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hR6O7VxKaQ (stop at 2.46) The Military Wives, Gareth Malone
Many of you will know the Ashokan Farewell. Written by Jay Ungar, it was played as the farewell waltz at the annual Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps run by Ungar and his wife Molly Mason from 1982. It was high-jacked by the film “Civil War” so it has been turned into a memorial piece but it is positive, simple and optimistic - a sort of “bye for now and see you next year - have a nice day”. “Ashokan” is the name of a village in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York - now submerged beneath the Ashokan Reservoir - so there is an element of “farewell forever” in the title. For us it is a bridge to the next MBT on 2 Feb 2016 where strings and violins in particular are one of the main themes.
Jay Ungar - Ashokan Farewell Penny Stirling & Graham Merriam
We have reached this point on the back of Creation and the Sun, Moon and other planets - a slightly contrived link you might suppose. In doing so, we have heard quite a wide palette of music that you might not necessarily have chosen yourself. It might be new to you; you might not like all of it - or any of it - but I hope that, with a few visual props and some explanation, you feel tempted to explore a little further. If some of the music has brought you face to face with some memories then I hope that has been a good thing.
To play us out, let’s just take the emotional stress out of things and let this beautiful composition for piano and strings fill the building accompanied with some great photography from the Derbyshire Peak District and Great Longstone in particular. Just soak it up - don’t try to analyse it or even think what it might be about.
16. Eclogue for Piano and Strings www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkQbzZgwfl0 Northern Sinfonia, Donohoe, Griffiths
Please explore the links that are on the website and that you have on the crib-sheet. Please come to the next session in February when we will see what else we can find. Thanks to Diane and Penny and to St Oswald’s and to you for coming.