Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: Mike Stephenson

Mike Stephenson                            1st February 2017

IN SWEET MUSIC IS SUCH ART

“Music to Enjoy” said Mike, well, he certainly hoped so. This presentation was a reflection on some of Shakespeare’s songs. He had helpfully prepared a hand out for everyone of the various Shakespearean songs that would feature in his programme and the music he was going to play. He quoted the lines that had inspired his title:

“Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountaintops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing:
In sweet music is such art
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.”               Henry VIII Act 3 Scene 3

Sweet music might suggest something light and frothy, happy and harmless. There is an image or archetype, he thought, that Shakespeare’s songs reflect rustics and their lovers tripping through the woods on a sunny day. But the words go much further than that, and the music too. This collection was something of a reflection on the relation between words and music and picks up themes which are found elsewhere in the musical canon. All he would say is that he truly liked every one of these pieces of music and hoped that we would too.

Mike’s first music was It was a Lover and his Lass, performed by Les Sirenes, a female chamber choir, with Andrew Nunn, musical director, and Fionnuala Ward, accompanist (piano). It came from a CD entitled Sing Willow.

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,

Well, that was the archetype, and where better place to start? It is an evocation of the pastoral – and very charming it is too. The pastoral and the seasons are perennial themes in music of all types.

Mike’s next piece was the most modern of all that he was going to play. It fitted perfectly into that Shakespearean context that he had been describing. It was by Fleet Foxes (an American Indie folk band formed in Seattle, comprising Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Nicholas Peterson, Casey Westcott, and Craig Curran), and we heard White Winter Hymnal.

Then it was time to slow down for some thoughtfulness and reflection. And we heard the third movement – Tempo di valzer lentissimo – of Prokofiev’s 6th piano sonata, played by Sviastoslav Richter.

The mood was now a bit more sombre, said Mike. As You Like It is a gentle play, but what about this?

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou are not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
……………………….
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly;
Then hey ho, the holly
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky
……………………………..
Freeze thou bitter sky.             As You Like It   Act 2 Scene 7

We heard Les Sirenes again singing Blow, blow, thou winter wind, and that somehow rather led Mike to Nina Simone singing Wild is the Wind to follow.

Hard to match the power of Nina Simone, and after those two tracks one might be forgiven for wondering where is the way forward? Judgment is coming, the Day of Wrath. Verdi’s Dies Irae performed by Maud Cunitz, Elizabeth Hongen, Walther Ludwig, and Josef Greindl with the Choir und Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Eugen Jochum.

Is there a way forward? That was obviously the question for King David after confessing to having committed adultery with Bathsheba:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your loving kindness:
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies
Blot out my transgressions.
…………………………….
For I acknowledge my transgressions:
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned
And done this evil in Your sight.                    Psalm 51

Known as the Miserere, we heard the setting by Gregorio Allegri from the 1630s. it was the setting of that psalm in the vulgate (Latin) to be performed in the Sistine Chapel for the service of Tenebrae (shadows or darkness). The Pope refused to allow copies of the Miserere to be removed from the chapel, on pain of excommunication. There is an alternation between the plainchant verses and different choral elaborations. The great castrati added the leap to high C at the end of each verse. We heard a world premiere recording by the Vasari Singers conducted by Jeremy Backhouse.

Mike said that he could not think of a more beautiful or moving piece of music. Incidentally, Mozart heard it in 1770 at the age of 14 and afterwards wrote out the forbidden music from memory!

Back to Shakespeare – on death.

Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange            The Tempest  Act 1 Scene 2

We heard Les Sirenes again singing Full Fathom Five. But as Mike said, did we see that beautiful as that picture is, the transformation is solid, it is final. There is nothing more to come.

Likewise in this song:

Fear no more the heat of the sun
…………………………………
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
……………………………………..
Quiet consummation have
And renowned be thy grave.                 Cymbeline  Act 4 Scene 2

This too was sung by Les Sirenes: Fear no more the heat of the sun.

So that is the pagan world, to put it that way.

The Christian world, and musical genius, can offer this and personally, said Mike, I find the Latin completely beautiful even before it is set to music.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei
Filius Patris Rex Caelestis
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Suscipe deprecationem nostrum.

(Lord God, Lamb of God
Son of the Father, King of the Heavens
Who takes away the sins of the world
Receive our supplication.)

The setting of the Gloria Mike played was by Poulenc (1899-1963), Domine Deus Agnus Dei, sung by Christine Brewer (soprano) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

Interval

Mike started the second half with Moondance by Van Morrison. Yes, it was back to that magic world of woodland and Shakespearean songs. All innocence and it seems nothing can go wrong.

Then Under the Greenwood Tree, sung by Les Sirenes again.

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather                As You Like It  Act 2 Scene 5

Romance, love – and all sense of time has gone. And that led Mike to Madeleine Peyroux, and Dance Me to the End of Love. (Madeleine Peyroux, born 1974, a French American jazz and blues singer songwriter.)
Mike’s next selection was for him a piece of great romantic music – the Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello. We heard the opening movement (allegro), played by Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorski with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alfred Wallenstein. Mike liked the coming together of the different yet similar instruments and the interplay between them.

Next we heard an aria from Mike’s favourite opera – La Traviata, by Verdi – also supposedly also the world’s favourite opera. Violetta, whom we know to be dying of consumption, has heard a declaration of love by Alfredo, and to her surprise finds that she has been much affected by it. In this aria she reveals her longing for that which represents to her Alfredo – to love and be loved.

Maria Callas sang Ah Fors a lui – sempre libera. With Alfredo Kraus (tenor) and the Orquestra Sinfonia de Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos, Lisbon under Franco Ghione, a recording from 1958. In any competition between the orchestra and Callas, thought Mike, Callas would win!

So, it would seem love means: “always free”. That was something to ponder.

So on the subject of lovers in the perennial Shakespearean woodland where we started, night is falling and the stars are out. And Artie Shaw (clarinet) played Stardust.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.                The Tempest    Act 4 Scene 1

Our revels now are ended. The last word was given to Les Sirenes.

Mike thanked us for the opportunity to do this, but we of course are grateful to him for putting together such an intriguing programme and indeed such sweet music.

Mike Fowle

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: members choice

MEMBERS’ CHOICE 4th May 2016

Norman had volunteered to collate the various selections and put them into a sequence which he hoped we would enjoy. We began with Eileen’s choices which were two extracts from Bizet’s Carmen. First the Entr’acte to Act III: the scene is a wild place in the mountains, the smugglers’ hideaway where barrels of contraband lie about. Then the Entr’acte to Act IV: A square in Seville, at the back the walls of an ancient amphitheatre. Bizet had never visited Spain but he utilised various folk melodies and works by Spanish composers in the score. Carmen was the world’s most performed opera for many years added Norman, now it is probably La Traviata. The orchestra here was Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rahbari.

John and Hilary had kindly selected pieces even though they would be away for this evening. John had Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia with the Suisse Romande Orchestra under Ernest Ansermet.

Hilary had an unusual number – from a disc by Aled Jones, a traditional song called The Rowan Tree. Thanks to modern technology (or perhaps not so modern now) we heard Aled as he is now and as a boy singer, with the New Zealand Sinfonietta.

The Rowan Tree was written by Lady Caroline Nairne (1766 to 1845) who penned such classic Scotch songs as “Will Ye No Come Back Again” and “Charlie is my Darling”. Her family were staunch supporters of the Jacobite cause and she was named after the Young Pretender. Her poems and songs were originally published under the pseudonym Mrs Bogan of Bogan.

Now, said Norman, a chance to hear the wonderful voices of Jussi Bjoerling and Robert Merrill. It was the classic recording of the Pearl Fishers’ Duet Au Fond du Temple Saint. Recorded in 1950 it is still the benchmark against which all other versions are measured. [The RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Renato Cellini.] This had been Sheila’s selection.

Norma had suggested two possible pieces and there was scope to include both. First was the slow movement (Adagio) from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A. The soloist was Michael Whight, principal clarinettist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, whom we heard here, conducted by Nicholas Cleobury. “What an absolutely beautiful piece that is”, said Norman.

Norma’s second choice was The Swan from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. It was played by Guber and Suber Pekinel (pianos) with the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Mark Janowsky. More lovely soft tuneful music.

Ivan (as so often) came up with something rather less well known: Arensky’s Piano Trio Opus 32. The CD coupled this with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio Opus 50. The notes explained that Tchaikovsky’s trio was written following the death of Nicolai Rubinstein, with whom he had a love-hate relationship, whereas Arensky’s was written following the death of the cellist Karl Davidoff. Arensky, (1861 to 1906), had a close relationship with Tchaikovsky, who was 21 years older. Tchaikovsky even forfeited performances of his own works so that his younger colleague’s could be included. In Tchaikovsky’s Trio the piano dominates but in Arensky’s (appropriately) the cello.

Ivan had suggested either the first or final (fourth) movement, but we had time to hear both. They were played by the Ashkenazy Piano Trio – Vovka Ashkenazy (piano), Richard Stamper (violin) and Christine Jackson (cello).

To take us to the interval, as there had not been enough selections, Norman gave us another chance to hear Jussi Bjoerling, in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Tu, Tu, Amore? Tu? Also singing was Renato Tebaldi and the orchestra was the Rome Opera conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.

Interval

We began with another version of The Swan, this time played by Jacqueline Du Pre (cello) and Osian Ellis (harp). In fact, Norman invited us beforehand to work out if we could who was playing. It made an interesting comparison. (The CD also noted that the recording was made on 21st July 1962 at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, Norman told us!)

Rosalie’s selection was also probably unfamiliar to most of us: Wolf-Ferrari’s Violin Concerto opus 26. We heard the first movement (Fantasia) and second (Romanza).

Wolf-Ferrari (1876 to 1948) was born in Venice of an Italian mother and a German father. Initially he studied to be a painter only later changing to music. Before the First World War he had been dividing his time between Munich and Venice, now he found those two countries at war. He moved to Zurich and composed much less. After the war his music was darker and more melancholic. There is probably a case to hear more of his compositions. The violinist here was Ulf Hoelscher with the Radio-Sinfonie Orchestra of Frankfurt under the baton of Alun Francis.
“We can never have enough music for violin”, said Norman.

Mike’s choice came from a CD entitled “Liszt at the Opera”. It consists of piano transcriptions from operas – in Liszt’s time this was one of the few ways that many people could get to hear the music from famous operas. This particular one was the Pope’s Benediction and Cellini’s Oath from Berlioz’s opera Benvenuto Cellini (Benediction et Serment). Norman said he knew nothing about this opera but he could say it was an astounding piece of piano playing. The pianist was the great Liszt specialist, Leslie Howard.

To complete the evening, Norman chose another piece from that same disc – coincidentally it was one that Mike had considered as an alternative to the Berlioz – it was the Reminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor, by Donizetti. It takes the sextet from Act II – something which Norman had played to us before in its original version.

Mike thanked Norman for collating all the music and giving us such an enjoyable evening.

Mike Fowle

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: Janet Donn

Janet Dann 20th April 2016

TALL TALES AND SWEET SOUNDS

Janet was playing a welcome return visit to us. She went straight into her first selection: Duo Seraphim by Francisco Guerrero sung by The Sixteen with Harry Christophers. It is 1547, late summer in Alcala de Herares, a city dating back to Roman times, some two dozen miles north east of Madrid. A group of people are making their way back home for a family fiesta, following the christening of their son, in the church of Santa Maria.

The little boy has been named Miguel, and 400 years after his death we recognise him as a writer of novels and poetry, a primary influence on the writing of fiction and author of the world’s first ever best-seller, “Don Quixote”.

Composer Francisco Guerrero was in his early 20s, in the employ of Seville cathedral as an assistant director of music.

Our lives run on stories, said Janet. We watch them played out on film, in the theatre and on television. We read them, we tell them to each other when at the simplest level we recount the events of our week to our friends or family. And this year we celebrate the lives of two of the world’s greatest story-tellers, Cervantes and Shakespeare. Born 17 years apart they died on the same day, April 23rd 1616. (There is debate about this as with many things to do with these two giants, but in the absence of concrete evidence….)

Back to 1547 – the same year in which Henry VIII dies plunging England into instability between the rival Protestant and Catholic faiths. In both Spain and England books and pamphlets were subject by law to strict review before they could be published. Books dealing with geography and astronomy would be destroyed for fear of corruption by magic. Theatre censorship would shortly follow.

But in the Cervantes household: it’s party time and in Spain, party time means music and dancing. The seguidilla has its origins in Andalusia and perhaps the most famous seguidilla is the seductive song from Bizet’s Carmen. Incidentally, said Janet, it was quite a shock to round a corner in Seville and see a grand, imposing building with the engraved legend “Royal Tobacco Factory”! However, the seguidilla we were going to hear came from the ballet Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus. Born in 1826 in Vienna, Minkus learned the violin and at the age of 27, with his career going nowhere, he emigrated to Russia, where he became principal violin with the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre. By degrees further success came as a composer and he was appointed composer of ballet music to the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

Don Quixote was the result of a collaboration with the great choreographer, Marius Petipa. We heard the Seguidilla, Street Dancer and Toreador, performed by the Sofia National Opera Orchestra, conducted by Nayden Todorov.

When Miguel was six years old it was time for a new start, and so the family travelled south, to the city of Cordoba. Cordoba was an ancient Roman city built on a river; under the Moors it became a centre for education with extensive libraries, medical schools and universities, and here young Cervantes began his education and acquired a love of the magic of the theatre, learning for its own sake and a lifelong fascination with folk stories.

But the family was poor and constantly seeking work, so the next move was some 140 km west to Seville. It too had grown up on the same river, the Guadalquivir. It was a city that was expanding rapidly and the teenaged Miguel watched the galleons leaving for Mexico and Peru, and returning laden with looted precious metals, especially silver.

Guadalquivir – the great wash in Arabic – was the route to the Spanish interior from the Americas via the Gulf of Cadiz. Seville was the economic centre of the Spanish empire.

The Spanish composer Joaquin Turina was born in Seville late in the 19th century. Despite spending nine years living and studying in Paris with Vincent D’Indy, his work which included operas, chamber music, songs and suites for solo piano and guitar, was always influenced by Seville and Andalusia. His Sinfonia Sevillana won the Gran Casino de San Sebastian Prize in 1920. Here is his impression of the Guadalquivir, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the Mexican conductor, Enrique Batiz.

By the age of 20 Cervantes was in Madrid where he had some poems published but soon he was on the run following a duel, for which if he had been caught he would be punished by having his right hand cut off and being exiled for ten years. He decided to lose himself by enlisting in the army and soon found himself in the heat of the battle. Turkish rule in the Barbary states of North Africa was a constant threat to Spain and Portugal; Calvinists, Catholics and Lutherans fostered rebellion in Flanders and elsewhere, the Ottoman empire was expanding. Philip II had need of soldiers.

The King’s half-brother, Don John of Austria, would emerge as the great soldier of the age, immortalised in G K Chesterton’s poem “Lepanto”. Perhaps we had had to memorise this at school.

“White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest of darkness, the darkness of his beard…”

And ends:

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade…
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

Cervantes distinguished himself by taking his place in the prow of a skiff and then boarding a Turkish warship. He received three deep bullet wounds and ironically suffered permanent loss of the use of his left arm. Further distinguished action in Sicily and Naples led to an appointment as an official to the court of Philip II where one of his subsequent tasks entailed fitting out the Armada. All this time he continued to write and in 1605 the first part of Don Quixote was published.

Richard Strauss was a master of the musical genre the tone poem and in 1897 he wrote Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character. From the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, conducted by Gerhard Markson, we heard the opening theme in which the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance is represented by the cello and Sancho Panza by the viola.

The novel is a warning to us all that books can turn your head! The old man has so immersed himself in the world of chivalry that he comes to truly believe he is an heroic knight on a quest to prove his worth and the sincerity of his love for his imagined mistress, Dulcinea.

The success of the book was immediate and a second edition was ordered. The licence only covered Castile so now official permission was sought for distribution through Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Portugal. Copies even found their way to Peru and Mexico, and yet not one of those first editions has ever been found.

Why is it so important? It’s weighty, long and at times almost unintelligible. How many of us have actually read it?

But this book was a new concept. Fiction. Poetry was an extension of thought and reasoning, history supposedly a record of fact, but vernacular prose, used as a vehicle for imaginative literature swept aside convention and provoked unprecedented consequences. Where did truth lie now? Cervantes wanted to show that in literature, truth is what an audience can be persuaded to believe.

From Don Quixote:

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain, and no sooner did Don Quixote see them than he said to his quire: “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich, for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the earth is a service God will bless.”
“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.
“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms; some of them well-nigh two leagues in length.”
“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills, and those things that seem to be arms are their sails, which when they are whirled around by the wind turn the millstone.”
“It is clear,” replied Don Quixote, “that you are not experienced in adventures. Those are giants, and if you are afraid, turn aside and pray whilst I enter into fierce and unequal battle with them.””

The Don Quixote Suite by Georg Philip Telemann is one of the earliest, if not the first, musical tribute to Cervantes’ genius. It’s a great example of partly serious, partly entertaining secular music of the early 18th century. It is subtitled “A Burlesque” and falls into the category of “Tafelmusik” – music intended to accompany dining. We heard the movement which represents the incident with the windmills, played by the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra.

Cervantes, married and with a daughter, moved to Madrid where the court was now established. His writing continued and he published several other works as Don Quixote became ever more popular, including plays and dramatic interludes. Finally in 1614 the second part of his great novel was published and he lived long enough to see its popularity spreading across Europe. In April 1616 he died, probably of diabetes – an untreatable disease at that time. There is no account of his funeral and no stone or cross was set to mark his grave. Indeed it was only last year that his remains were finally discovered and identified in Madrid, in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians.

Janet’s final Spanish selection took us back to Andalusia where Cervantes grew up and where the composer, Manuel de Falla, was born. For his pantomime – ballet, The Three Corned Hat, he went to one of those old stories, rather like the Canterbury Tales.

It is a story of jealousy, possessiveness, deception and mistaken identity. It takes place in a small town and tells of a miller and the local magistrate who has an eye for the miller’s wife. It had a famous first production by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, choreographed and danced by Leonid Massine and Tamara Karsavina with design by Pablo Picasso. The Grand Finale is a celebratory dance when all rivalries are set aside and because in Spain, any excuse will do for fiesta.

Manuel de Falla – The Three Cornered Hat, final movement. BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena.

We leave the warmth and sunshine of Spain and come back to our own shores. Janet knows that some of us are going to be sick to death of hearing about Shakespeare in the next few weeks – so she thought she’d get in early!

We begin the second half in 2013. There is a buzz of more than the usual anticipation in the new auditorium at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon. It is the opening night of the first play in Artistic Director Greg Doran’s project to present all Shakespeare’s plays over a six year period that includes the 450th anniversary of his birth and the 400th anniversary of his death.

We are here to see Richard II. Not just that we are here to see David Tennant (lately Dr Who) as Richard II. We know how it opens – a confrontational scene in the court between two dukes who accuse each other of treason, one of whom will have deposed Richard by the end of the play.
The lights go down, really to nothing, total blackout, only the exit lights showing. We are waiting for the opening fanfare but instead we hear Lacrimosa – Richard II by Paul Englishby. (It’s not really possible to get the full effect of this, said Janet – you have to imagine total darkness.) Light slowly reveals the stage, empty but for a black coffin, with a woman collapsed and weeping across it, confounding all our expectations.

Such is the nature of the work of William Shakespeare, constantly re-invented (sometimes brilliantly, sometimes incomprehensibly) but always with something relevant to say about our own times.

Before going further, we were reminded of the complete works by the witty and amusing The Compleat Works by John Dankworth and Cleo Laine.

The life of an actor/playwright is precarious, often itinerant and concerned with the ephemeral – now as then in 1564 when Shakespeare was born. He is famous as much for how little we know about him as he is for the work he left behind him. And let’s get the identity question out of the way: whoever he was, rich or poor, titled or peasant, he goes by the name of Shakespeare and the plays he wrote are extraordinary.

Every little scrap of new information – they’ve just x-rayed his will and surveyed his tomb with ground penetrating radar (which suggested his skull may have been taken!) – is seized on by academics as the basis for new theories and speculations. It is the work, the plays that matter and they are there to be seen, rather than read. Good – that’s that out of the way!

For every opinion expressed in the plays you can find the counter argument so it’s no good trying to draw conclusions about the man from the work. However, in the plays, as in Elizabethan life, music was everywhere – more than 100 songs are included to say nothing of indications for “background” music, and over the last 400 years a whole industry has evolved around music inspired by the plays.

Janet played an overture intended for Measure for Measure. It was an early work by the composer, not typical, although the orchestration probably gave the identity away. It was the overture Liebesverbot (Forbidden Love) by Richard Wagner. Played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Wolfgang Sawallisch.

Janet remarked that it is a rather lively response to Measure for Measure which is actually a pretty dark, late play, albeit frequently categorised as a comedy. It deals with deception, lust and corruption. An everyday story of Viennese folk: “Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall”. Something to discuss over a cup of tea!

Interval
There are over 200 operas based on the plays, many of which are unperformably dreadful and have passed from memory. There are innumerable songs and song cycles, suites and ballet scores, to say nothing of the vast wealth of incidental music expressly written for productions. Rather than rehearse the story of Shakespeare’s life, with which most of us are fairly familiar, Janet had included as many varieties as she could.

The first is a bargain: two for one – a ballet inside an opera. Macbeth would seem an unlikely subject for a ballet, but within his opera Verdi saw fit to place the emphasis on the witches. It is they who rule the drama in his eyes, and for the scene where Macbeth revisits the weird sisters for more predictions, he constructed a ballet. He was fascinated by the supernatural, the power of curses and prophecies and he saw several productions of the play from which he took precise notes of staging and positioning of the players, transferring all this to his revised version of the opera in 1865. He wanted to be vulgar, bizarre and original.

Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth ballet – the Witches. Berlin Philharmonic with Claudio Abbado. (Macbeth was written for King James. We think of Shakespeare as an Elizabethan but this was for James, a very superstitious monarch.)

Macbeth was Verdi’s 10th opera and of course along with it, Otello and Falstaff are three of the great operatic works.

In the same year – 1865 – a young man who had just completed his musical studies in Leipzig came to London for a performance of his prize-winning work, The Tempest, a suite of incidental music. It was his first orchestral work. In Paris, Arthur Sullivan had met and become friends with Charles Dickens, who, having heard the work at a concert, used his contacts and influence to organise a performance in London. Its favourable reception launched Sullivan’s career as a serious composer, a career which was hijacked by Gilbert and D’Oyley Carte.

This suite was written when Sullivan was 19 years old. We heard the Dance of Nymphs and Reapers, the Prelude to Act V, and the Epilogue. The BBC Philharmonic with Richard Hickox.

There are over 500 references to music in the plays; one of the best is found in the Merchant of Venice. In a harsh and difficult play there is a beautiful scene in a garden, between two young lovers which is accompanied by distant melody within the house before the musicians are summoned forth to play for the arrival of their mistress. The words at this point include these lines:

The man that hath no music in himself
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
At the time Shakespeare began writing, musicians were to be found in every theatre and tavern, at markets and fairs and for dancing at every opportunity. The use of song and dance in the theatre was greatly increased under his influence. Caliban the ugliest and most misshapen creation in The Tempest and perhaps in all the plays has some of the most beautiful lines:

Be not afear’d. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after a long sleep,
Will make me sleep again.

Bob Chilcott sang for 12 years with the Kings Singers and brings a wealth of understanding to his original choral writing and vocal arrangements. We heard his setting for four part choir of those lines from The Tempest. Bob Chilcott: Be not Afear’d

If that was a setting for a play which stands alone, our next piece was written for a specific production. Howard Blake, another contemporary composer, worked closely with Adrian Noble during his time as Artistic Director of the RSC. He wrote the music for the original stage version of Henry V which launched Kenneth Branagh’s career and of course he is forever shackled (as is Aled Jones) to The Snowman and “Walking in the Air”. Janet played his setting of It was a Lover and His Lass from “As You Like It”.

When Kenneth Branagh began to direct films and stage plays, he formed a partnership with the composer Patrick Doyle and between them they devised a fresh context for the opening of “Much Ado about Nothing”, adding to the enormous and expanding repertoire of incidental music. Taking the text of “Sigh no more ladies”, instead of singing it, we were to hear Emma Thompson reading the words to the accompaniment of a sweeping melody on cello and guitar which is then taken up by romantic strings.

Patrick Doyle: Much Ado about Nothing – The Picnic

By now, Janet said, we would have realised her enthusiasm for William Shakespeare. He infiltrates his way into our everyday lives and language. About three years ago there was a TV promotion for a summer of high drama in the soaps. Actors from Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale shared out the lines of the great sonnet: “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day” and millions of people heard and saw it, completely unaware that they were listening to Shakespeare. Without him what would our mongrel language have become? He wrote his poetry in the rhythm of everyday speech. Try it if you don’t believe it:
“How now you black and midnight hags”
“I bought a paper on my way to work”
It’s what we do each time we start to speak.

Many expressions and phrases that we use today were first recorded as used or invented by Shakespeare. Such as:
Dead as a doornail
Neither here nor there
What’s done is done
Foregone conclusion
Good riddance
Knock, knock who’s there?
What the dickens

As for the music which has flowed from generations of composers inspired by his work, they and he are immortalised by such as this (and we heard the Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, played by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky.

We knew where we were with that, didn’t we? All those hopeful apprentices marching over the Millenium Bridge to meet Lord Sugar.

That one play, Romeo and Juliet, is the archetypal narrative for every story of star-crossed love. Shakespeare’s influence is so far-reaching it finds its way into every corner of our lives, from the words and phrases we use to the entertainment we enjoy, whether it’s West Side Story or The Lion King (which is a version of Hamlet in case you were wondering).

Well,

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

But before we do, added Janet, after those lines from The Tempest, let us in this celebratory year take the advice given in Kiss me Kate (from The Taming of the Shrew) and Brush up your Shakespeare, as written by Cole Porter and sung by Jonathan Freeman, Harry Groener and Guy Haines. Bringing her supremely well-crafted and thoroughly engrossing programme to a close.

What a brilliant evening, said Norman, and he could only admire the effort that must have gone into it.

Mike Fowle

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society

http://www.thefrms.co.uk/affprogs/felixstw.htm

The Felixstowe Recorded Music Society (FRMS) meets on selected Wednesdays at 7.30 p.m.in the United Reformed Church Hall Tomline Road, Felixstowe
(near junction with Orwell Road)

The next meeting is on 30th September “Old Themes – New Tunes”. Not as I had thought the use of classical music in popular music (along the lines Bob Meadows is doing on 18th November) but fresh versions of classics. Guests £2.50 including tea and biscuits.

Norman Sennington, the Chairman presented a programme on 16th September 2015

CHAIRMAN’S CHOICE
(An Evening with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)

Norman had kindly agreed to remain as chairman in the absence of any volunteers, and thus presented another Chairman’s Choice programme, (which he had not planned to do). We were rather thin on the ground, or a select few, as Norman preferred to say. Last time his choice had been an all Elgar programme; this time it was the turn of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

As usual with Norman he started with an overture: the RPO playing the overture from The Marriage of Figaro (D major – Presto). He followed that with Susanna’s aria from the same opera, Giunse alfin il momento (The Moment has Finally Arrived), sung by Barbara Bonney with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Then the lovely larghetto from the Clarinet Quintet in A, played by Karl Leister and the Berlin Soloists.

That was followed by the allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. This is often translated as a little night music, though apparently a better rendering would be little serenade. Yuri Bashmet conducted the Moscow Soloists.

The short but dramatic Dies Irae from the Requiem followed, sung by the Goldsmiths Choral Union, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes. (The Goldsmiths Choral Union is actually an amateur group, although a leading one.)

Il Mio Tesoro from Don Giovanni came next. The Tenor, Ian Bostridge, writing in The Guardian in January 2006, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, had some interesting thoughts about this aria:

“But it’s Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni who is the most revealing example of my problem with Mozart. Critics and audiences alike complain of his passivity. He stands as the virtuous and ineffective opposition to Giovanni’s demonic life force, and is bound to suffer in comparison. But in fact, Act One makes sense for Ottavio in terms of storytelling and dramatic pace. His duet with Donna Anna after her father’s murder by Giovanni is powerful and affecting; the aria Dalla Sua Pace is a touching and economical moment of stasis, theatrically highly effective.

“It is the second-act aria, Il Mio Tesoro – a piece of exquisite time-wasting – that can do for Don Ottavio. This is an aria that explicitly admits it is holding up the action.

“Meanwhile, go and console my beloved,” Ottavio sings as he prepares to alert the authorities to Giovanni’s miscreancy. It sounds like a beautiful and irrelevant serenade, and it has had, rather revealingly, a healthy life as a concert aria without dramatic context.

“In fact, Mozart only ever intended Ottavio to have one aria. Il Mio Tesoro was written for the original Prague production, Dalla Sua Pace as part of the revision for a subsequent run in Vienna. This is often presented as a matter of horses for courses – different sorts of aria for different singers. But it was also, evidently, a case of second thoughts being better than first. Without Il Mio Tesoro, Ottavio disappears rather in Act Two, but that is in the nature of the plot, which focuses at that stage on Don Giovanni’s supernatural comeuppance.

“It’s no use worrying that Don Ottavio in his delayed vengeance isn’t fleshed out into an operatic Hamlet surrogate. Act One’s drama and tenderness and the extraordinary ensembles in both A cts should be enough for any tenor. The problem is that many contemporary productions, anxious to placate an underused singer or maximise the use of an expensive tenor, encourage the singer to do both arias. Being one of the tenors all too eager to be placated – if I’m offered a lovely aria to sing, who am I to refuse? – I can’t really complain. More beautiful music, less effective drama: it’s a commonplace operatic dilemma.”
Placido Domingo was the singer here, with the Munich Radio Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Kohn.

Nearly two years ago in November 2013, we celebrated our diamond anniversary. On that occasion we had attempted to recreate the first meeting of the society and Norman now played a work that had been played then and again two years ago – the Divertimento for Strings in D. It was played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Cleobury.

The first half ended with Ave Verum Corpus (Behold the True Body) sung by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir accompanied by the Concentus Musicus Wien conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
Interval

In the second half Norman realised a wish that he has often expressed – to play complete works rather than extracts (and there’s a subject for discussion) and we heard one work, the Jupiter Symphony, No. 41 in G. This was played by The English Concert on original instruments directed by Trevor Pinnock.

Hemlock by Joyce Dore

Hemlock book coverThe daughters of Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, were raped, sparking off an uprising that led to the sacking of Camulodunum (now Colchester). The people of East Anglia rose up against the Roman dictators led by their brave Queen. Boudica was captured and taken before Seutonius, Britain’s Roman ruler. He decides her fate. This fictional tale provides a very plausible answer to a mystery that has never been resolved.

Joyce Dore, the author, says thia book came to her in a series of dreams. She’d been driving across the Fens in East Anglia when she came across a woman, dressed in rags. She believed she was Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni.

Available as a ‘real book’ and an ebook: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/braiswick-21

Listen to an excellent review from a group of ladies in Felixstowe.

Spa sale

Oh dear, negotiations have begun. First offer we received for this web site was way below the asking price but it’s a start. We cannot reveal who made that offer.

The argument presented by a representative of NRG Theatres Ltd is that the other Spa Pavilion web site will take precedence once they begin to promote the shows, and sell tickets.

Clearly they don’t have much understanding of web sites. Never mind, we remain open to suggestions.

Not much activity recently. We await the Council’s response to a set of Freedom of Information requests we have served. They may provide some information.

We are encouraged that even Councillors are beginning to question the logic of selling such an historic and iconic building for £1 to a man with little theatre experience, and a fragile business history.

Since gaining this building Ray Anderson has created another company. This is a very dangerous step, for which there are several precedents. One company may well become overladen with debt, while ownership is quietly transferred to the other entity. This will prove difficult.

As will ownership of the adjoining land – especially the cliff which is largely supported by the rear wall of the Spa Pavilion. Who will pay for reparation later? This question has been asked of Suffolk Coastal DC who ignored our warnings.

We now wait for the Council’s response to our FOI.

The battle is never-ending. A senior reporter of a local newspaper group was refused an interview by Ray Anderson, unless Anderson was allowed to set the questions. That doesn’t bode well.

Never mind: Mr Anderson has been seen driving a new Range Rover Sport, a cheapskate version of the full model at just £51,000 – but when your credit rating is no more than £500 something must be going well for Mr Anderson.

Spa Pavilion update

There has been great discussion about the Spa Pavilion theatre/restaurant complex in Felixstowe. Allegedly sold to NRG Theatres Ltd for £1.

This story has been well-documented at http://www.spapavilion.co.uk but that site has been closed down because of a complaint – we are trying to discover why, and who made the complaint.spa

The Atlanta at Pier Gap in Clacton houses a museum of pirate radio.

There’s been rumours lately that the rent has not been paid, and Tendring District Council, owners of the building, are now seeking a new tenant. The rumours are not completely correct. Tendring District Council have, I understand, given the museum free tenancy until October.

As the previous tenant was Ray Anderson we may see the museum moved to Felixstowe very soon.

Whether it goes to the Spa Pavilion or to Felixstowe Radio’s new facility (the former Coe’s) is yet to be decided.