Musical Director's notes and sound files for the Summer Term

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

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Ludwig van Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 1 Op. 138

Andante con moto - Allegro con brio - Adagio, ma non troppo - Tempo I

Beethoven wrote a total of four overtures for his only opera, 'Leonore'/ 'Fidelio'. The so-called Leonore Overture no. 1 is third in the series by chronology, having been written in 1806/07 for a performance in Prague that never materialised. For a long while it was erroneously regarded as a predecessor to the Leonore Overture no. 2 that Beethoven discarded, which greatly tarnished its reception. And yet it pays off to take an impartial look at this overture, which is somewhat shorter than nos. 2 and 3, since with its more lyrical than dramatic character, it casts a new light on Beethoven's struggle to find the ideal opening to his stage work.



 

Anatol Liadov: Eight Russian Folksongs Op. 58

Anatol Liadov was born in 1855 in St Petersburg, and in 1870 he entered the Conservatory to study piano and violin. A fine pianist, his interests soon turned to composition. However, his published compositions are relatively few in number and extent, due to a certain self-critical lack of confidence. Many of his works are variations on or arrangements of pre-existing material. He also composed a large number of piano miniatures, of which his Musical Snuffbox of 1893 is perhaps most famous. Liadov actively explored Russia's folk music, going directly to its source through field trips to various districts, trips made possible through a grant from the Imperial Geographical Society. The eight songs comprising Op. 58, written in 1906, show Liadov's views of mother Russia to be out of the same ornately coloured fairytale book as those of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov. Thus these pieces are treated with warmth, humour and fantasy, and dressed in colourfully conceived orchestrations.

  1. A stately tune sung by children at religious festivals, the Sacred Song is introduced here by English horn and bassoon.
  2. The Christmas Song tells of the ride of Christmas fairies in a golden sled drawn by reindeer. The melody, presented by winds, is varied throughout.
  3. The gentle pleadings of the Lament are played almost entirely by cellos divided into four parts.
  4. In the Comic Song "I have danced with a gnat", the strings buzz ominously while flutes and piccolo cavort in humorous peasant antics.
  5. The exceedingly simple tune of the Tale of the Birds - its range doesn't extend beyond three notes - is given by clarinet and pizzicato strings. Between its repetitions birds (woodwinds) chirp and sing happily.
  6. A rocking rhythm in violas sets the mood for the plaintive, single-motif Lullaby, scored aptly for muted strings only. Gentle chromatic harmonies add Rimsky-Korsakov style piquancy.
  7. Pizzicato strings are sprightly throughout the Dance, but the piccolo is the prima (peasant) ballerina, and a tambourine its rhythmic companion.
  8. A festival is clearly taking place in the Choral Dance. Liadov keeps proceedings vigorous, if well-mannered and quaintly picturesque.


Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished'

1. Allegro moderato 2. Andante con moto

Many composers have left incomplete symphonies, including Beethoven, Mahler and Elgar, but the archetypal unfinished symphony is Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 (often in fact called the 'Unfinished Symphony'), written in 1822, six years before his death. There are two fully orchestrated movements. While it seems clear from sketches that Schubert set out to create a traditional four-movement symphony, this has been the subject of endless debate. Schubert wrote the symphony for the Graz Musical Society, and gave the manuscript to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, in his capacity as its representative. However, Hüttenbrenner did not show the score to the society at that time, nor did he reveal the existence of the manuscript after Schubert died in 1828, but kept it a secret for another 37 years. In 1865, when he was 76 (three years before his death), Hüttenbrenner finally gave it to the conductor Johann von Herbeck, who conducted the extant two movements on 17 December 1865 in Vienna, adding the last movement of Schubert's third symphony for this performance as a finale. Music historians and scholars then toiled to 'prove' the composition was complete in its two movement form, and indeed, in that form it became one of the most performed pieces in the late 19th century classical music repertoire, and remains one of Schubert's most popular compositions.

The first movement, in B minor, opens softly on low strings, followed by the first subject played by oboe and clarinet in unison. The celebrated lyrical second subject, announced by the cellos with a gentle syncopated accompaniment, is in the related key of G major. The coda recalls the opening of the movement. The second movement alternates two contrasting themes, ending with a tranquil coda. Both movements are in triple time and employ very similar tempi, which help to give the work a sense of unity.


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