ClefLogo  Concert 1 - Programme Notes

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Leon McCawley Photo by Clive Barda    

Concert No 1

8pm Saturday 30th September 2017
at Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre

Leon McCawley (Piano)

Sponsored by Two Members of the Society

“…he played everything with erudition, imagination
and fastidiousness.”
- Washington Post  

The programme notes for this concert are:

Waldszenen (Forest Scenes) Op.83
Robert Schumann 1810 - 1856
      Eintritt (Entry) - B flat major
      Jäger auf der Lauer (Hunters on the lookout) - D minor
      Einsame Blumen (Lonely Flowers) - B-flat major
      Verrufene Stelle (Haunted Place) - D minor
      Freundliche Landschaft (Friendly Landscape) - B-flat major
      Herberge (Wayside Inn) - E-flat major
      Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet) - G minor
      Jagdlied (Hunting Song) - E-flat major
      Abschied (Farewell) - B-flat major

The piano music of Schumann, whether written for himself, for his wife, or, in later years, for his children, offers a wealth of material. From the earlier period comes Carnaval, a series of short musical scenes based on the letters of the composer's name and that of the town of Asch, home of Ernestine von Fricken, a fellow-student of Friedrich Wieck, to whom Schumann was briefly engaged. The same period brought the Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David), a reference to the imaginary league of friends of art against the surrounding Philistines. This decade also brought the first version of the monumental Symphonic Studies, based on a theme by the father of Ernestine von Fricken, and the well known Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood). Kreisleriana has its literary source in the Hoffmann character Kapellmeister Kreisler, as Papillons (Butterflies) have a source in the work of the writer Jean Paul and Noveletten a clear literary reference in the very title. Later piano music by Schumann includes the Album für die Jugend of 1848, Waldszenen of 1849 and the collected Bunte Blätter and Albumblätter drawn from earlier work.

Waldszenen is a set of nine short solo piano pieces composed by Robert Schumann in 1848-1849, but first published in 1850-1851 in Leipzig by Bartholf Senff. On the set, Schumann wrote: "The titles for pieces of music, since they again have come into favour in our day, have been censured here and there, and it has been said that good music needs no sign-post. A title does not rob it of its value; and the composer, by adding one, at least prevents a complete misunderstanding of the character of his music.” What is important is that such a verbal heading should be significant and apt. It may be considered the test of the general level of the composer's education.

First performance at HCMS concerts.


Sonata in D minor Op.31 No.2 The Tempest
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770 - 1827
      I: Allegro      II: Adagio      III: Allegretto

In the first years of the nineteenth century Beethoven’s personal situation became extremely difficult. His deafness was reaching the point where conversation was becoming nearly impossible, forcing him to face the reality of his isolation and inability to lead a normal life. He lamented his blighted hopes for a cure and a normal future in the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, the will/letter he wrote – but never sent – to his siblings and other family members. In the Testament, however, he also states, “It seems to me impossible to leave the world until I have brought forth all that I felt was within me...With joy I hasten to meet death– if it comes before I have had the chance to develop my artistic capabilities, it will be coming too soon...” Scholars have interpreted this statement to mean that Beethoven already had a “career plan” mapped out, one that included ever more adventurous forays into the musical avant-garde. Beethoven composed the three piano sonatas Op.31 in 1801-02, offering them to publishers in the Spring of that year. They were published in Zurich by Nägeli, known for his beautiful engraving artwork and sloppy copying, with the result that the edition was full of errors: “The edition is so beautiful that it is most unfortunate that it should have been launched into the world with that extreme slovenliness and lack of care...” Beethoven wrote.

Such inattention to detail on the part of his printers plagued Beethoven all his life. Most of the anecdotal claims by Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s friend and first biographer –and a notorious fabricator – have been proved to be false, including his claim that the stormy first movement of the Sonata Op.31, No.2 was inspired by Beethoven’s reading of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

The movement opens slowly pianissimo with an arpeggio chord reminiscent of the introduction to an operatic recitative. The storm breaks without warning, setting up a movement of violent contrasts in tempo and dynamics. The tempo is repeatedly broken by a recurrence of the arpeggios from the slow introduction.

The second movement also opens with an arpeggio chord but, in this instance, it is one of Beethoven’s most serene utterances, especially the second theme, introduced after a gently rising scale. Yet, despite the lyricism of the themes, there is a periodic ominous rumbling accompaniment in the bass, which Beethoven at times echoes high in the piano’s range. This setting of the two extremes of the instrument’s range against each other is another stylistic feature that runs through the sonatas of the middle and late periods.

The finale brings back the restless mood in a dramatic rondo, but without the violent contrasts of the opening. Here the arpeggios serve as the main accompanying figure throughout. The end of the movement simply fades “into the distance.”

First performance at HCMS concerts.

© Programme note by Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn.


Four pieces from Années de Pèlerinage Years of Pilgrimage Book 1 Suisse
Franz Liszt 1811 - 1886
      i) Au lac de Wallenstad      ii) Pastorale
      iii) Au board d’une source      iv) Orage

Liszt's Album d'un Voyageur is a group of lyrical piano solos descriptive of Swiss scenes. Liszt later transformed this set into the first book of his Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), a musical journal inspired by travels he made in Switzerland and Italy between 1835 and 1839. It was an important time for Liszt, during which he wrote essays and composed some of his finest music, discovering the extent and potential of his abilities and asserting his status as an artist.

One of the greatest of piano virtuosi, Liszt brought his own prodigious technique to bear in his innumerable piano compositions and was inspired by the picturesque and often melodramatic traits of the Romantic period. Many of his pieces are descriptive. This is the case with this composition which is reflective of the grandeur of nature. It is a beautiful evocation of the Swiss landscape and was composed in 1835–36 during Liszt’s stay in Geneva, where he taught at the recently founded Geneva Conservatory and lived with his mistress and cultural mentor, the Countess Marie d'Agoult.

Années de Pèlerinage is widely considered a masterwork and summation of Liszt's musical style. The title refers to Goethe’s famous novel of self-realization, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. Liszt clearly places the work in line with the Romantic literature of his time, prefacing most pieces with a literary passage from writers such as Schiller, Byron or Senancour.

Amid the Alpine landscapes of Book I, the Swiss Year, Liszt creates an atmosphere of uncluttered vistas and pristine atmosphere with unhurried tempos that give each phrase plenty of breathing room. The mini-triptych within the cycle, Au lac de Wallenstadt, Pastorale, and Au Bord d’une source, is painted in luminous colours, highlighted here and there with an exquisitely inflected ‘tempo rubato’ (literally ‘robbed time’ – a feature of performance in which strict time is for a while disregarded). When the bucolic idyll is shattered by Orage, Liszt lets loose this implacable force of nature with phrasing that is so deftly shaped, pedalling so restrained, and dynamics so infinitely calibrated that each gust and cascading torrent seems audible.

First performance at HCMS concerts. (Vallée d’Obermann also from Book 1 was performed by Louis Schwizgebel on 22nd March 2014.)


I: Daisies Op.38 No.3 II: Lilacs Op.21 No.5
Sergei Rachmaninov 1873 - 1943

The genuine love and longing for mother Russia with its distinctive landscapes (wonderfully captured in Levitan's paintings), which lurks inside every 'true Russian', was always deeply imprinted on the core of Rachmaninov's personality and in the creative origins from which the emotions of his music stem. The unassuming rustling of the magnificent Russian birch trees, the penetrating scent of the blossoming lilacs and the wind caressing the golden flowering of wheat fields in Ivanovka would later all be greatly missed by Rachmaninov after he left his home country for good in December 1917; thereafter he developed the chronic nostalgia which is so evident in so much of his music.

What is so hard to describe in words is maybe best expressed through the medium of music, which is exactly what Rachmaninov did with the two transcriptions of his own songs. The first song transcription was inspired by a nature painting: Daisies (Margaritki), from Op.38 No.3, made just two years before Lilacs. The original song is a setting of a charmingly naïve poem by Igor Severyanin. The vocal line adds its own counterpoint to the piano part, in which the fluent, chromatic accompaniment, with elaborate trills, underlines the image of the fluttering of the daisies' silken petals. This transcription involved little alteration to the piano part. Though it is still lyrical, one can already sense a shift towards a cooler and more emotionally remote style, as found in the Second Sonata.

The song Lilacs (Siren), Op.21 No.5, sets words by Ekaterina Beketova and paints a beautiful picture of nature combined with an unfulfilled search for happiness. The song was composed during the summer of 1902; it was transcribed during the summer of 1913, when the original version of the Sonata was conceived. Despite the simplicity of the song, based almost entirely on a varied repetition of the three-note phrase with which the vocal line starts, it is one of Rachmaninov's most tender and intimate compositions. The transcription is considerably more complex than the original song, more polyphonic, with cadenzas and a coda, which ultimately only serve to add colour and liquefy the texture, without disturbing the wonderfully tranquil mood.

First performance at HCMS Concerts.


Maurice Ravel 1875 - 1937
      i) Oiseaux Tristes      ii) Une barque sur l’Océan

Miroirs is a set of five pieces for piano that was written between the years 1904- 1905 and includes: Nocturelles (Night Moths), Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds), Une barque sur l'océan (A Boat on the Ocean), Alborada del gracioso, (The Gester's Morning Song), and La Vallée des cloches (The Valley of Bells). The third and fourth pieces of the set, Une barque sur l’Ocean (1906, revised 1926) and Alborada del gracioso (1918), were later also orchestrated by the composer. The set was first performed by the Spanish pianist and one of Ravel’s closest friends Ricardo Viñes on January 6, 1906 at the Société Nationale de Musique, Salle Érard, in Paris. Some of the major piano pieces that Ravel wrote prior to the Miroirs were mainly the Pavane pour une infante défunte, Jeux D’eau, and the Sonatine which was written just prior to that.

The period in which Ravel wrote Miroirs was among his most prolific ones and saw one his largest compositional output. It came after he experienced a series of four failed attempts to win the Prix de Rome competition from the Paris Conservatoire and after not being accepted by the musical establishment of that time. Following these failed attempts Ravel was invited on a yacht to a cruise trip through Holland by his friends Alfred Edwards and his wife. This trip left strong impressions on Ravel and must have given him a great deal of inspiration. Within three years following this trip he wrote the piece called Sonatine.

In 1900 Ravel joined a group of French musicians, writers and artists, which were named ‘Les Apaches’, a term coined by Ricardo Viñes and which translates in English to ‘Hooligans’. Each of the movements of Miroirs was dedicated to a different member of this group. Oiseaux tristes was dedicated to Ricardo Viñes , a close friend of Ravel’s, a Spanish pianist and a leading interpreter of Ravel’s, Debussy’s and other leading French composers’ music of that time. Une barque sur l’Ocean was dedicated to Paul Sordes, a French painter.

First performance at HCMS Concerts. Oiseaux tristes and Alborada were performed by Keith Swallow on 18th October 1975 and Alborada, Une barque sur l’ocean and La Vallée des cloches, were performed by Katya Apekisheva on 21st March 1998.


L’isle joyeuse L106 The Happy Island
Achille-Claude Debussy 1862 - 1918

Debussy began his musical life as a piano student and originally had ambitions to become a virtuoso performer. Strangely his development as a composer for his own instrument was slow to blossom whilst he gained mastery of the wider range of colours offered by the orchestral palette. He composed many piano works including two books of preludes and of studies (études). His style is so characteristic that within a few bars of music the listener knows at once who is the composer?

Debussy’s numerous compositions are classified by an L number system which describes the comprehensive catalogue of his music by François Lesure.

L’isle joyeuse was inspired by a painting by the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) called ‘The Embarkment for Cythera’. It is a work which is both sensuous and rhapsodic, leading to an ecstatic close. Debussy employs a marvellously wide spectrum of piano writing which at times suggests orchestral sonorities. It was composed in 1904.

Previous performance at HCMS concerts by Alessandro Taverna on 18th April 2015.

© Programme notes by Dr Martin Hudson unless otherwise indicated.



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