ClefLogo  Concert 4 - Programme Notes


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Concert No 4

8pm Saturday 2nd December 2017
at Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre


Emma Johnson (Clarinet)
and John Lenehan (Piano)


In Memory of a Member of the Society

  “(Emma) ... does not just perform, but uses
the music to communicate something wonderful.”




Emma Johnson and John Lenehan Photos by John Batten Photography and Claire Huish    

The programme notes for this concert are:

Three Romances Op.22
by Clara Schumann 1819 – 1896
I. Andante molto      II. Allegretto: Mit zartem Vortrage      III. Leidenschaftlich schnel

Clara Schumann (neé Wieck) was a child prodigy who became one of the most renowned concert pianists of the 19th century. She married Robert Schumann, initially one of her piano teachers, at the age of 18 and eventually bore 8 children. Clara met a young Brahms shortly before Robert’s health deteriorated, and a deep, lifelong friendship developed between them, particularly as Brahms helped to manage the family affairs once Robert was committed to an asylum. Miraculously, Clara also found time to compose, creating a small but excellent oeuvre including the 3 Romances for violin and piano written in 1853, the fateful year when she met Brahms and when Robert suffered his final breakdown.

Even before a note is played, there is a poignancy about the music of Clara Schumann. Women in the nineteenth century would only very rarely compose, and it was Clara’s husband Robert who did most of the composing in the Schumann household. “Women,” she wrote, “are not born to compose.”

On the other hand, she was by no means silenced. Clara Schumann may have figured herself not to have been born to compose, but she was instead born and raised to play the piano, and was for some time the more famous musician in the Schumann household. Under the stern guidance of her father Friedrich Wieck (who was also Robert’s teacher), she grew up to become one of the great virtuosi of the 19th Century. Rather than writing many works for herself, however (like Franz Liszt or Anton Rubenstein), she toured with, influenced, and championed the new works of others, especially her husband Robert and their young friend Johannes Brahms.

However, she did write and perform some beautiful works of her own. The Romances for violin and piano were composed in a private back room of the Schumann residence where she could practice without bothering her husband. She took the pieces on tour with the great violinist Joseph Joachim, for whom they were written, and Joachim continued to play the pieces on his own tours. He reported from the court in Hannover that the king was in ‘ecstasy’ over the Romances and could ‘hardly wait’ to enjoy such ‘marvellous, heavenly pleasure again.’ They are lovely, private pieces, conceived in one of music history’s richest households.

The Romances are exquisite short character pieces in the manner of Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, intimate and expressive “songs without words” that might be considered the epitome of the Romantic era. One imagines magical musical evenings in the Schumann home with Clara, Robert, Brahms and the violinist Joseph Joachim to whom the pieces are dedicated. Given Clara’s vast achievements across the board, she must be considered a great pioneer and a profound artistic force.

First performance at HCMS concerts.

 

Sonata in E flat major Op.120 No.2
by Johannes Brahms 1833 – 1897
I. Allegro amabile      II. Allegro appassionato      III. Andante con moto; Allegro

At a time when European music was turning towards large programmatic orchestral works performed in grandiose public concerts, Brahms continued to write music created from just the basic building blocks of the tonal system, intended for private performance by small ensembles. In so doing, he established the foundations for a rich new literature of chamber works that featured hitherto neglected instruments such as the clarinet and viola in a leading role. Indeed, the duo-sonata literature for these instruments can be said to begin with Brahms.

His special interest in the clarinet came late in life when, in 1891, he encountered the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist in the court orchestra of Meiningen (Thuringia), noted for his warm tone and expressive playing. Brahms’ last published chamber works were two sonatas Op.120 composed in 1894 for clarinet and piano (dedicated to Mühlfeld) and then re-issued with slight revisions by the composer in a version for viola.

The second of these, the three-movement Sonata in E flat, is remarkable for its relaxed ease of expression, its underlying ethos of moderation, both in mood and in tempo. It begins with a sinuous, songlike melody with many a winding turn but not ‘a care in the world’. A second theme arrives, less meandering but equally carefree, that even the occasional outburst from the piano cannot perturb. This first movement is what a happy and contented old age sounds like.

The formal contrasts that normally distinguish sections are attenuated in this last sonata movement that Brahms was to compose. The fluidity of form is most keenly felt in the development section, where tumult is avoided in favour of civilized lyrical conversation. Despite the odd provocation from the piano, the blood pressure rarely rises beyond a slight quickening of pulse from duplets to triplets, so that the recapitulation arrives like a welcoming hostess announcing to her guests that dinner is served. The coda, marked Tranquillo, nudges the movement to a conclusion with the Clarinet playing beneath the piano for the last chord.

The Allegro appassionato second movement is where one would expect real fire, but this is not a whip-cracking scherzo like that in the F minor Piano Sonata, nor the heaven-storming scherzo of the Piano Concerto No.2. The passion here seems more remembered in affection than vividly lived-through in the present moment. Its headlong impetus, most persuasively argued for in the massively demanding piano part, is blunted by the relatively gentle pace, one-in-the-bar rhythmic feel, and frequent use of feminine phrase endings. The middle-section trio is a fervent hymn like elegy that maintains the seriousness of mood, contrasting only in the stern evenness of its steady quarter-note motion.

The last movement, Andante con moto, is a series of variations on a gracious theme with alternating two-note patterns of dotted and even notes. The first variation staggers the clarinet and piano parts with rhythmic offsets, sounding almost as if preparing for a fugato. In the second, the two instruments take turns enveloping the theme in a lace-like tracery of arpeggiation. The third variation intensifies the decorative detail into a constant patter of 32nd notes while the fourth slows down the pace to linger lovingly over the resolution of a constant chain of syncopations. The original rhythmic pattern of the theme returns in the fifth variation in a sparkling minor-mode treatment leading to the finale, which builds from an almost pastoral mood to one of vigorous celebration as the work ends.

Programme note by Donald Gillason, Vancouver Recital Society

Previous performance at HCMS concerts by Emma Johnson and John Lenehan on 21st November 2009.

 

Fantasia on a theme from La Traviata by Verdi
by Donato Lovreglio 1841 - 1907

Donato Lovreglio was an Italian flautist and composer, mainly of music for his own instrument and other woodwinds. He was a native of Bari, a sea-side city then oriented towards the East and he later moved to Naples where he died. As a child he became enthralled with the sound of wind instruments, at first the flute, then the clarinet and later other woodwind instruments.

Newspapers recount the young flautist’s many triumphs at local musical events. He was lauded by many, particularly the very renowned writer Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers who chose him as his friend and bard during his stay in Italy. The dynamic author would even say that Donato's flute had managed to soothe the throbbing pain of a recently lanced carbuncle!!

Dumas went as far as offering to organize a tour of concerts for Donata which he hoped would make the young composer famous.

Among Donato’s compositions are numerous concert fantasies and arrangements of themes from Giuseppe Verdi’s operas including Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos and La Traviata.

First performance at HCMS concerts.

 

Clarinet Sonata
by Francis Poulenc 1899 – 1963
I: Allegro Tristamente      II: Romanza      III; Allegro con fuoco

The première of Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano took place on April 10, 1963, with Benny Goodman on clarinet and Leonard Bernstein at the piano. But what was originally to be the première of a piece in memoriam -- the work bears the dedication "to the memory of Arthur Honegger” -- turned out to be an in memoriam performance; Poulenc had died suddenly of a heart attack in January of that year, just shy of his 63rd birthday.

Perhaps some of those in attendance at the première of the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano heard a musical self-eulogy, a documentary looking backwards through Poulenc’s musical career. The religious devotion of his maturity finds expression in the first two movements, while in the third Poulenc returns to the devil-may-care style of his youth. One reviewer called the sonata a "swan song...as delightful as ever."

This sonata is one of three Poulenc wrote for solo woodwind and piano. The others being for flute composed in 1956, and one for oboe from 1962. Poulenc intended to work on a bassoon sonata next, but never got around to composing it before his untimely death. Though an autonomous work, the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano holds several formal and thematic traits in common with other works in the group.

The first movement of the Clarinet Sonata bears the somewhat enigmatic subtitle "Allegro Tristamente"; accordingly, the piece is always in motion, but proceeds with a sense of trepidation. After a brief fortissimo introduction consisting of angry spurts of figuration in the clarinet punctuated by piano chords, the piano quiets to a murmur. The clarinet's lines are built of a self-perpetuating series of arcs that leave a shape but not a tune in our ears. At one point the clarinet seems stuck in a ‘motivic’ rut, sadly leaping up and down between octave B tones over a shifting harmonic background. As the movement ends, the lingering memory is a fuzzy one of melancholy gestures and moods.

The second movement, Romanza, is both clearer in its melodic makeup and more cathartic, perhaps, in its emotional expression. The clarinet melody is simple and sombre throughout, but is elaborately embroidered in a few places, as if losing composure. Two particularly poignant examples are the sixty-four-note runs near the beginning, and the trembling half-step figure that appears at the beginning and end.

The third movement, Allegro con fuoco, energetically combines various nimble, articulate, and rhapsodic themes, bookended by a delightfully clownish tune -- a mixture of serious and silly that well represents Poulenc’s oeuvre as a whole.

Previous performances at HCMS concerts by Janet Hilton on 24th March 1984 and by Emma Johnson with Martin Roscoe during the Millennium Music Festival on 1st May 2000.

Programme note modified by Dr Martin Hudson from a programme note written by Jeremy Grimshaw.

 

‘White Horses and Spin’
by Barbara Thompson b. 1944

Barbara Gracey Thompson is an English jazz Saxophonist, Flautist and Composer. She studied clarinet, flute, piano and classical composition at the Royal College of Music, but the music of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane made her shift her interests to jazz and saxophone.

She was awarded the MBE in 1996 for services to music. Due to Parkinson's disease diagnosed in 1997, she retired as an active saxophonist in 2001 with a farewell tour. After a period of working exclusively as a composer, she returned to the stage in 2003 to replace the indisposed Dick Heckstall-Smith during the Colosseum’s Tomorrow's Blues tour. In 2005 she performed live with Paraphernalia in their Never Say Goodbye tour. Since 2004 she has been a permanent member of Colosseum.

Thompson has also worked closely with Andrew Lloyd Webber on musicals such as Cats and Starlight Express and on his Requiem. She has written several classical compositions, music for film and television, a musical of her own and songs for the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia and her big band Moving Parts.

She played the incidental music in the popular ITV police series A Touch of Frost starring David Jason. She also played flute on Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds.

First performance at HCMS concerts.

 

Clarinet á la King
by Eddie Sauter 1914 - 1981

One of the most inventive arrangers to emerge during the swing era, Eddie Sauter's complex and colourful charts never fit that easily into any specific category. His work tended to be at its best when written for a specific purpose, format or soloist.

Sauter originally played trumpet and drums, later also learning the ‘melophone’ (a wind instrument with free-beating reeds, air being supplied by bellows operated by the right hand and concealed in the body of a guitar or cello. It was invented in 1837 by a Parisian watchmaker, Leclerc).

Sauter studied at Columbia University and the Juilliard School of Music, and then during 1935-1939, made a stir in the jazz world as the main arranger with Red Norvo's Orchestra. Sauter’s writing perfectly framed both Norvo’s xylophone and Mildred Bailey’s voice, and was full of surprises.

He worked as a freelancer during the remainder of the swing era, with his most notable work being for Benny Goodman (including the complex charts for Superman, Clarinet à la King, Benny Rides Again, Moonlight on the Ganges, Love Walked In and La Rosita, This was some of the most advanced music that the famous clarinettist ever played.

In addition, Sauter contributed arrangements to the bands of Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman and (in the post-war years) Ray McKinley. In 1952, Sauter joined forces with fellow arranger Bill Finegan to form the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.

After the band ran its course, Sauter began a two-year stay in Germany in 1957 as the leader of the Sudwestfunk Radio Station Band of Baden-Baden. Returning to the U.S. in 1959, he worked in the studios but occasionally wrote for jazz-oriented projects, most notably 1961's Focus and scored the movie Mickey One in 1965.

First performance at HCMS concerts.

 

Riffs from Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
by Leonard Bernstein 1918 -1990

Prelude, Fugue and Riffs is a "written-out" jazz-in-concert hall composition composed by Leonard Bernstein for a jazz ensemble featuring a solo clarinet.

The title points to the union of classical music and jazz. The first movement, Prelude and the second movement, Fugue are both in Baroque form and are followed immediately without a pause by a series of “Riffs” (third movement), which is a jazz idiom for a repeated and short melodic figure.

Originally it was composed for brass and rhythm in the first movement, saxophones in the second movement, and the entire ensemble plus solo clarinet in the third movement first with backing from the piano and then by the entire ensemble.

It was completed in 1949 for Woody Herman’s Big Band as part of a series of commissioned works —that already includes Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto but it was never performed by Herman, possibly because his orchestra had disbanded at that time.

Instead, it received its première as part of Bernstein's Omnibus television show, The World of Jazz on October 16, 1955, with Benny Goodman as the soloist, ( Benny Goodman had been Bernstein's neighbour and friend since the 1940s.) It is dedicated to Benny Goodman.

In 1952 Bernstein revised the score from its original instrumentation for a more conventional pit orchestra, and the work was then incorporated into a ballet sequence in the first draft of the musical comedy Wonderful Town and its sister piece On the Town. The revised version of Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs did not survive and the majority of the music was cut from the final version of the Wonderful Town score with the exception of a few phrases in the musical's Conquering the City and Conversation Piece.

It was later transcribed for clarinet and orchestra by Lukas Foss.

First performance at HCMS concerts.

© Programme notes by Dr Martin Hudson with acknowledgement to several other authors whose programme notes have been included or modified.

 

 

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