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: But for War

Phil Speirs                                 4th January 2017
BUT FOR WAR

Norman welcomed us into the New Year. It was also a pleasure to see John Poole with us although sadly Denize was not able to attend with him. We also welcomed Hilary, who had lost John the previous month.

Phil went straight into his programme with Non Nobis Domine, a medieval hymn followed by the Agincourt Carol, from the Renaissance period. The Medieval period covers c500-1400 and the Renaissance c1400-1600. Phil explained that his subject was war: but for war all the music tonight would not have been written. And what might have been had some composers survived. His plan was to begin at the beginning and progress through the centuries as there is always war somewhere. Some of the earliest music was not written down as there was no system of notation up to 1,000 AD.

Non nobis Domine, (Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us but to thy name give the glory) is a hymn derived from Psalm 113 verse 9. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux imposed it on the Order of the Knights Templar as a motto. He was their first spiritual father. According to legend Henry V ordered it to be recited along with the Te Deum in thanksgiving for the English victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Sanctioned by Pop Urban II, the Crusades were a series of religious wars from 1095 and in the Eastern Mediterranean with the aim of capturing Jerusalem from Islamic rule. The Knights Templar encouraged noble ideals of chivalry and protected Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land against from brigands and Saracen pirates, after the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.

The Agincourt Hymn (sometimes known as “The Agincourt Song”, “The Agincourt Carol”, probably originated in East Anglia and is now one of 13 kept in the Wren Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, since the 19th century. It was written to celebrate the victory of the English army, led by Henry V of England, who defeated the French led by Charles VI, at the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, in what is now the Pas-de-Calais region of France.
Deo gratias Anglia redde pro victoria !” – England give thanks to God for the victory)
Our king went forth to Normandy, With grace and might of chivalry…….Then for sooth that knight comely In Agincourt field he fought manly He had both the field, and the victory…….Their dukes, and earls, lord and baron, Were taken, and slain, and that well soon…..

Both Non Nobis Domine and the Agincourt Hymn are featured in William Walton’s music for the Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film “Henry V”.

The Non Nobis Domine was sung by the City of Birmingham Chorus and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and the Agincourt Hymn by the St George Canzona.

After the Medieval and the Renaissance, we come to the Baroque era (c1600-1750) and Prince Rupert’s March. Prince Rupert (1619 – 1682) was the third son of Charles I’s sister Elizabeth.  He led the royalist cavalry during the English Civil War.

Prince Rupert marched from Shrewsbury 16th May 1644 and, with an army 15,000 strong, arrived in York on 1st July to defeat the Roundheads. Rupert’s sister, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, was the mother of George I, the first Hanoverian King of Great Britain.

This was also by that prolific composer, Anon, in an arrangement by John Southcott, who conducted the St George’s Canzona.

Also from the Baroque era came the Battalia for 10 in D by Biber, played by the Boston Chamber Orchestra. Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644  – 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist – one of the most important composers and players of the violin in the history of the instrument. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the Mystery Sonatas.

Battalia often translated as “a body of troops” or simply as “battle”, was written in 1673. Some historians have attributed this work to Biber’s feelings toward the 30 Years War, a war between Protestants and Catholics from 1618-1648 involving most of Europe, in which almost half the male population of German states and over a third of the Czechs were killed.

The piece is a masterpiece depicting scenes of battle drums, drunken soldiers, blasting cannons, the wounded and the dying…..refreshingly modern in some dissonances. It seems to be a statement about all aspects of war, including the social and historical impact of war and the toll on humanity, and is divided into eight short movements with the following titles (Phil played five of the eight pieces for reasons of time):

Gathering of the Troops
The troops have gathered each in their own campsite (discordant passages as the musicians play in several keys simultaneously).
4.    A military March as a leader steps forward to organise and lead the troops – the score suggests that the cellist can place a piece of paper between the strings and the fingerboard to imitate a snare drum.
7.    The Battle – sounds of muskets and cannon are recreated using strings alone.
8.    A Lament for the Wounded (a part of war that is often forgotten) this part starts in B minor and ends in its related D major, possibly symbolising hope after the war is over. Biber clearly wanted to punctuate his war with death not victory.

The following items were the ones omitted:
Interlude as troops pass time before the fighting
5.    Happiness and bravura before battle
6.    Prayer before battle.
We heard the Le Concert des Nations conducted by Jordi Savall.

Next, three notable figures from the Classical era (1730-1820). Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) composed his Mass in the Time of War (Missa in Tempore Belli) in C in August 1796 at Eisenstadt. One of Haydn’s 14 settings of the mass. This is known also as the Paukenmesse due to the dramatic use of timpani. This was the time of Austria’s general mobilisation into war, four years into the European war that followed the French Revolution, when Austrian troops were doing badly against the French in Italy and Germany, and Austria feared invasion. The Austrian government had issued a decree in 1796, that “no Austrian should speak of peace until the enemy is driven back to its customary borders.” Haydn’s potent integrated references to battle in the Benedictus and Agnus Dei movements reflect the troubled mood of his time. The Mass was first performed on December 26, 1796, in the Piarist Church of Maria Treu in Vienna. (Piarists or the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools is the oldest Catholic educational order. Schubert was one who attended a Piarist school.)

This piece has been long thought to express an anti-war sentiment, even though there is no explicit message in the text itself, and no clear indication from Haydn that this was his intention. What is found in the score is a very unsettled nature of the music, not normally associated with Haydn, which has led scholars to the conclusion that it is anti-war in nature. This is especially noticed in the Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

The Agnus Dei – Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis  O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us – opens with a minor-key sense of anxiety and with ominous timpani strokes (hence the German nickname, Paukenmesse), perhaps fate itself, knocking seemingly from the depths. The music brightens with trumpet fanfares, ending with an almost dance-like entreaty and celebration of peace, “Dona nobis pacem (give us peace”)

Performed here by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, with Lucy Crowe, soprano, Paula Murrihy, mezzo-soprano, Robin Tritschler, tenor, and Roderick Williams, baritone, a recording from the 2016 Proms.

Our next composer from the Classical era is Johannes Chrystostomous Wolfgang Theophilus…..Mozart (Theophilus is the Greek form of Amadeus, or loved of God). Non più andrai – a bass aria from Mozart’s 1786 opera The Marriage of Figaro. The Italian libretto was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte based on a 1784 stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, “Le Mariage de Figaro”.

In aria at the end of the Act I, Figaro teases Cherubino, whom the Count is going to send away to his regiment in Seville, about his Spartan military future in stark contrast with the pleasant and flirtatious life he has enjoyed in the Count’s palace.

You won’t go any more, fluttering around disturbing the sleep of beauties,
Among soldiers, by Jove! With a rifle on your shoulder, and a sabre on your flank – A lot of honour, very little pay.
And in place of the dance, a march through the mud. To the music of trumpets, Cherubino, go  to victory – To glory in battle !

The catchy tune and stirring military accompaniment have made this aria, “the most famous in opera” popular from the very beginning; at the rehearsals of the première the performers burst spontaneously into bravos for the composer.

(Sir) Bryn Terfel was singing this in the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World final (he came second to Dmitri Hvorostovosky). The BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Richard Armstrong.

Phil had mentioned Handel’s Judas Maccabeus earlier, and Hail the Conquering Hero Comes, but rather than play Handel’s version, we heard Beethoven’s 12 Variations, played by Sophie Shao, cello, and Leva Jokubaviciute, piano. The theme and variations form challenges the composer to transform an essential musical idea into an entertaining variety of styles while retaining a recognizable aspect of its original nature.

Handel’s Judas Maccabeus was written to compliment the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland returning from the battle of Culloden in 1746. In 1796 Beethoven paid a visit to the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II in Berlin; Friedrich Wilhelm was a notable patron of the arts and an amateur cellist and greatly enjoyed the instrument which made the combination of cello and piano a logical choice for Beethoven and cellists the world over are glad that he did. From this visit resulted three works for cello and piano: Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, and the cello sonatas Op. 5 No. 1 in F major and No. 2 in G minor.

Why a theme by Handel? Beethoven revered him. On his own deathbed, Beethoven is reputed to have named Handel as the single greatest composer in history, hence his choice of the stirring chorus “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” – the Easter hymn “Thine Be the Glory” is to this tune. Maybe also this choice was a means of paying homage to Wilhelm and offering his expressions of respect to the throne.

In the Berlin court were two brilliant cellists, Jean-Pierre Duport (1741-1818) and his brother Jean-Louis Duport (1749-1819), one of whom (historians can’t decide which) collaborated with Beethoven in performing his new cello and piano works before the King.

A hallmark of this set of variations rests in the integral dialogue between piano and cello keeping one instrument from overpowering or stealing the spotlight from the other. There is a lot of brilliant piano writing – Beethoven was writing the part for himself after all – but the cellist gets his place as a virtuoso in the rapid fire triplets of Variation 7.

After the first performance the King gave Beethoven a gold snuff box filled with gold coins.

It begins with a Handelian Baroque theme, marked allegretto, in the sunny, bucolic key of G Major.
The first variation is written for piano solo.
The second variation hands over the theme to the cello, with piano accompaniment set in triplets.
In the third variation leaps are the salient feature of the cello part while the busy piano part, embellished in semiquavers, fills any and all melodic gaps created by the cello.
The fourth variation making an expressive switch to G minor, the first of the two minor variations, returns to a more recognizable form of the theme while probing the pathetic possibilities of the minor mode.
The seventh variation, with triplets against the chordal piano accompaniment, is marked pp.
In the eighth variation Beethoven’s dramatic, fiery G-minor variation marked forte, phrase lengths are delineated by rising and falling scales in the piano.
The eleventh variation is in Adagio tempo, with an improvisational, cadenza-like piano opening; technically difficult the metre changes to 3/8, which drastically alters the rhythmic aspects of the theme.
The final, twelfth variation is a quick Allegro with a fortissimo ending.

Next, the Boer War – in fact, there were two Boer Wars, 1880-81 and 1899-1902. A. E. (Arthur Edward) Housman in the shadow of the Second Boer War, composed a collection of 63 poems, A Shropshire Lad, first published in 1896 (at Housman’s own expense after several publishers had turned it down). At first the book sold slowly, but during the Second Boer War Housman’s nostalgic depiction of rural life and young men’s early deaths struck a chord with English readers and the book became a bestseller. Later, World War I further increased its popularity and many WWI soldiers carried a copy of the poems in their tunic pocket.

Housman meant the whole cycle to be a cry against the wanton and needless loss of young men’s lives as Queen Victoria expanded ‘her’ Empire. Housman wasn’t an overtly anti-war poet in the manner of Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen, yet the stance is clear.

Housman wasn’t from Shropshire, yet he evokes this small region of England perfectly. His poems have been set by many composers, including Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney, Arthur Somervell (of “Come into the Garden Maud” fame), jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth, daughter of Cleo Laine and John Dankworth and….
….George Sainton Kaye Butterworth’s (1885–1916) – settings of “6 songs from “A Shropshire Lad” (1911) and in 1912 another 5 poems “ Bredon Hill and Other Songs” for baritone and piano typify the music we associate with the war.

By using these A E Housman poems, Butterworth was joining an English composing tradition of harking back to a non-existent English Eden of folk music, rural pleasures and honest toil. Although Housman was writing in the aftermath of the Boer war, lines such as “The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair…..The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.” which tells of young men who leave their homeland to ‘die in their glory and never be old’ have a resonance in this context; a parallel can be made between this song and Butterworth’s subsequent death during the Great War. The Lads in their Hundreds was sung by baritone Roderick Williams, with Iain Burnside at the piano.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Butterworth, aged 31, joined the British Army as a Private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry; he was later promoted to Lieutenant. Housman had a thing about doomed young men, and quite possibly Butterworth did also – in a prescient moment, before joining up he burned his unpublished music.

On the Somme, Butterworth and his men succeeded in capturing a series of trenches near Pozières on 16–17 July 1916 – Butterworth was slightly wounded in the action and awarded the Military Cross, but did not live to receive it  – at 04.45 on 5 August, he was shot through the head by a sniper. He was hastily buried by his men in the side of the trench; his body has never been recovered.

Butterworth remains a case of “what if…?” What sort of music might we have had if he had lived?

This leads us into the 20th century and World War I and Edward Elgar. But not the Elgar of Land of Hope and Glory. WWI began in 28 July 1914 and the invasion of Belgium by the Germans triggered the decision of Britain to enter into the war. Germans residents in the UK were likely to be interned and even dachshunds were stoned in the streets!

Edward Elgar, living in London at the time, heard from distant friends how life was changing elsewhere – including a letter from a Marie Joshua, of German descent and living in Felixstowe – she wrote in the middle of August 1914 how the houses of friends had been taken over by troops and turned into minor forts where they were on the firing line. She had “dismantled” all her rooms except for a small morning room by her bedroom, so as to be able to leave at 24 hours’ notice, should she be liable for interment. She reported how “our walks and drives and enjoyment of the seafront are very restricted and soldiers are stationed at all points in entrenched positions”.

Elgar found himself commissioned to write a work in aid of the National Relief Fund for Belgium.
His starting point was a translation of a stirring poem about the destruction of Belgian Church bell towers. Elgar remembered reading the poem by the Belgian poet Émile Cammaerts in The Observer.

Carillon Op 75 is a recitation of the poem with Prelude and Interludes for a large orchestra. It was first performed in the Queen’s Hall, London, on 7 December 1914 with the recitation by Cammaerts’ wife Tita Brand, and the orchestra conducted by Elgar. Cammaerts’ and Tita Brand’s daughter was the singer Marie Brema who had sung in the first performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius.

After the first performance Cammaerts wrote to Elgar “I cannot let the day pass without thanking you again for your glorious work. I’ve met a good many Belgians today and they all wondered how you managed to share so completely our pain and our hopes”.

British music was banned in occupied Europe and Elgar’s reputation abroad never recovered from this ban.

We heard Carillon recited by Simon Callow with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by John Wilson.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 3 would have been next, but for reasons of time, Phil moved on to the subsequent item. However, Phil had some interesting thoughts about the symphony which are worth passing on. RVW’s symphony No. 3 was published as A Pastoral Symphony and not numbered until later. It was completed in 1922. In August 1914, at nearly 42 years of age, Ralph Vaughan Williams was older than the majority of men who fought in the First World War when he volunteered to serve with them in France (despite his age and flat feet), first as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and then in 1918 as a subaltern in the Royal Garrison Artillery. In June 1916, his ambulatory unit went to France, its headquarters located at Écoivres, a village below Mont St. Eloi near Arras. Like many others, he never spoke afterwards of the horrors he had witnessed, but they left their mark. It was during this period that he heard a bugler practising, giving him the first idea for his Pastoral Symphony – the bugler accidentally played an interval of a seventh instead of an octave; this ultimately led to the trumpet cadenza in the second movement.
The Pastoral Symphony is not programmatic, but its spirit is very evocative. “It is really wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night with the ambulance wagon at Écoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was a wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset.” So the Pastoral label is explained: not the Cotswolds, but battle-scarred fields of France. Unlike Beethoven’s 6th symphony, the Pastoral, there are no imitation bird-calls, no thunderstorms and no ‘awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the countryside’. It is not full of military marches and martial drums, but looks beyond the war to a more contemplative and transcendent kind of elegy for the dead of World War I and a meditation on the sounds of peace.

The 2nd movement – Lento moderato – Moderato maestoso – opens with an F-major horn solo above an F minor chord, a theme which is developed by a poignant solo cello. Just as in the first movement, the ideas flow gently from one to the next, ultimately leading to a trumpet cadenza, inspired by the wartime memory of a bugler sounding a seventh in mistake for an octave. The movement ends with a quiet chord in the violins’ high register.

Peter Warlock’s often-quoted comment that “it is all just a little too much like a cow looking over a gate” was a comment on Vaughan Williams’ style in general, and was not aimed specifically at A Pastoral Symphony, which, on the contrary, Warlock described as “a truly splendid work” and “the best English orchestral music of this century”.

The next piece Phil did play included an augmented fourth. (A type of tritone in musical composition comprising six semitones. It spans four diatonic scale degrees like a perfect fourth but with an extension of a semitone. The number of diatonic degrees it spans is what distinguishes it from a diminished fifth. It was called the “devil’s interval”.) Phil illustrated this chord on the piano. As he said it is unresolved, therefore it induces a tension in the listener. We are perhaps more familiar with it than we might realise, for instance “Maria” in West Side Story is a good example of it.

Carl Nielsen’s (1865-1931) Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, “The Inextinguishable”. Nielsen started giving the work serious thought in summer 1914, against the backdrop of the First World War – however it was a year later that he put pen to paper and the work was completed in January 1916.

This “war” symphony is among the most dramatic that Nielsen wrote, documenting the violence, intensity and emotion of the times; it features a “battle” between two sets of timpani – the two players who are supposed to sit opposite each other at the edge of the orchestra near the audience. The score tells the timpanists to belt out competing sets of these tritons – the devil’s interval –  with “a certain menacing character”, dissonating with the rest of the orchestra.

The contrabassoon (played by the third bassoonist) has only one note to play in the whole symphony: the single, held note is a written the second line of the staff for contrabassoon, sounding an octave lower) and opens the coda of the fourth movement accompanied by timpani.

In 1923, British critic Ernest Newman heard these passages as “spasmodic explosions which made us think the air raids had come again”; Newman hears the violence of the piece as an echo of the terrible war years. “A performance of the Inextinguishable should leave you battered yet uplifted, dazed but thrilled.”

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Herbert Blomsted.

While sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and The Rumps in North Cornwall in mid-September 1914 a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War, Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) wrote For the Fallen in honour of the casualties of the British Expeditionary Force, which by then had already suffered severely at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August in the opening phase of the war on the Western Front. The seven stanza poem was published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914. A commemorative stone plaque bearing the inscription: For the Fallen – Composed on these cliffs 1914, was erected at the spot in 2001. Over time, of the poem just the fourth verse has been used as a tribute to all casualties of war. Despite being too old to enlist in the First World War, Binyon volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers as a hospital orderly. Numerous  musical settings of the poem have been composed: Edward Elgar as a part of his work “The Spirit of England”; Doulas Guest, for the Westminster Abbey Choir; Mike Sammes for his singers (of Sing Something Simple fame).

Here is the version Mark Blatchly wrote for the British Legion Royal Albert Hall Festival on November 8th 1980 for the treble choristers of St. Paul’s Cathedral, organ and trumpet (to play “The Last Post” in the background). We in fact heard it performed by the Choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral with Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet), Richard Moorhouse (organ) and directed by John Scott.

In 1963 a retired professional flautist, Andrew Fairley, who lives in Felixstowe, bought an instrument from a junk shop in Brentford, Middlesex, for five shillings; he keeps it in a drawer at his home. Andrew contacted the Imperial War Museum who wrote back to say it was highly likely to have been made in the WWI trenches and it was a one-off, totally unique, and they had never seen anything like it before – but all the materials it was built from came from the war period.

The 11 in long flute is made out of items including printed Wills tobacco papers and cardboard, probably from a parcel. It was waxed, possibly with boot polish, to hold it together and make it waterproof. The blow hole, or embouchure hole, is a bullet casing cut down to size. Soldiers then had to make do with simple stuff – anything that was available in the trenches. It may well have been French as its curvature suggests a French bayonet. Andrew has no record of who made the flute, but thinks it might have landed up in the junk shop after a house clearance – he just bought it as a curiosity.

A piece of music composed in the trenches in 1914 and given its first public performance in front of the troops on Christmas Day that year, “Noel”, by Fernand Halphen (1872-1917), could well have been played on this instrument. Halphen was quite an important, prolific composer in his day – he studied under Massenet and Fauré at the Paris conservatoire; he had great promise but, unfortunately, like many other composers, poets and artistic people, he didn’t survive the war. The music of this charming little piece was published in 1919. We heard Andrew play this piece with the Strings of the Community Light Orchestra of Ipswich. And we also got to see (but not touch!) this remarkable instrument which Andrew had kindly loaned for the evening.

To take us to the interval Phil gave us a bit of a poser. A short extract played backwards. Could we identify it? Answer after the break.
Interval
It was “Who Do You Think You are Kidding, Mr Hitler?”  Did we know who wrote it? Bud Flanagan some suggested – no, he sang it, but it was written by Jimmy Perry (who co-created Dad’s Army with David Croft) and Derek Taverner. Perry served with the Royal Artillery. Practically all his Battalion were sent south for the D-Day landing – except Perry – and most of the men were cut down on the beaches of Normandy. Had Jimmy been there no Dad’s Army and no signature tune.
Who are the three composers rated as the principal WWII English composers? They are Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett and William Walton
For Walton, movies were his bread and butter. When the Queen’s Hall was destroyed in 1941, the same air raid took out Walton’s house in London too. The Spitfire Prelude is the music heard over the opening credit titles in the 1942 film “The First of the Few” – “one of Walton’s finest marches” – “Walton was at least the equal of Elgar in writing patriotic march tunes” – “a patriotic, resounding piece of good orchestration; simple in construction, it makes ideal film music”.

Leslie Howard directed and played R. J. Mitchell, the aircraft’s designer. David Niven played his test pilot. The First of the Few sounds, and is, a product of its time, a flag-waving morale-booster movie on the subject of the Spitfire. We heard the Spitfire Prelude played by the Orchestra of Opera North conducted by Paul Daniel.

Few choral pieces are about War. Two exceptions are Britten’s War Requiem and A Child of Our Time – a secular oratorio by Michael Tippett (1905–98), a contemporary of Britten and Walton, who also wrote the libretto.

The work was inspired by events that affected Tippett profoundly: he had made several visits to Germany, and had acquired a love for its literature and culture. He became increasingly distressed by reports of events in that country and, in particular, the persecution of its Jewish population.
Herschel Grynszpan was a beleaguered 17 year old refugee living with his aunt and uncle in Paris. He was born in Hannover, but since the age of 14 had moved frequently. His biography is an archetype of the plight of many Jews during those years. He could not find a place to live and work.
His father made arrangements for the boy to live with his uncle and aunt in Paris. He entered France illegally (as German and French border officials were denying transit to Jews) by taking a streetcar regularly used by working people between the adjacent border towns of Quievran and Valenciennes. Passengers without baggage were rarely checked during rush hours.
With his German visa and Polish passport expired, Herschel had no country to which he could legitimately go. In a poignant statement taken after the assassination Grynszpan is quoted to have tearfully exclaimed to the police: “Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have a right to exist on this earth. Wherever I have been I have been chased like an animal.” The proximate cause of the assassination was an event of the last days of October 1938. Grynszpan’s father, mother, sister and brother – who were still living in Hannover – were suddenly removed from their home and transported by the Nazi Gestapo to the Polish frontier town of Zbaszyn on the rail line between Berlin and Warsaw. The family, along with some twelve to seventeen thousand other German-resident Polish Jews, had been caught between two competing antisemitisms, one German and the other Polish. The German government was trying to deport all Jews of Polish origin living inside Germany in response to a decree of 16 October 1938 issued by the Polish government. The Polish decree threatened to deprive Polish citizens living in Germany of their Polish passports, and thus the right to return to Poland. When Gestapo guards arrived at the border with their cargoes of Jews, Polish border guards refused to permit entry into Poland. Thousands were stranded at the border, some living in a no-man’s-land between the two border stations, some in railroad cars, in barracks, or in schoolhouses. Young Herschel kept abreast of these developments in the Paris Jewish press, but it was a postcard from his sister Berta received on 3rd November, detailing the family’s plight and asking Herschel to send money, that determined him to take revenge.
He bought a gun and went to the German Embassy, but the German Ambassador, his target, was leaving just as he arrived. Shown into the office of Ernst vom Rath, Herschel pulled out his gun and fired five times, hitting vom Rath twice. He died two days later. Herschel was arrested but his ultimate fate remains a mystery.
The assassination precipitated the “Krisatllnacht” pogrom across Germany. Over several days of violence synagogues were burned, Jewish homes and businesses attacked and destroyed, thousands of Jews were arrested, and some Jews were stoned or beaten to death. Reports from Germany of these events affected Tippett profoundly, and became the inspiration for his first large-scale dramatic work.

Three days later, on the day that Britain declared war on Germany, he began composing A Child of Our Time.

The text that Tippett prepared follows the three part structure used in Handel’s Messiah, in which persecution, brutality, alienation, violence, resilience compassion and reconciliation are dealt with – it deliberately avoids describing the specific details of Grynszpand and his family and vom Rath. Tippett perceived the work as a general depiction of man’s inhumanity to man.

The work’s most original feature is Tippett’s use of African-American spirituals, which carry out the role allocated by Bach to chorales. Tippett justified this innovation on the grounds that these songs of oppression are absent from traditional hymns; however, he wanted his work to speak to atheists, agnostics and Jews as well as to Christians. A solution was suggested to him when he heard on the radio a rendering of the spiritual “Steal away”. In particular he was struck by the power of the words “The trumpet sounds within-a my soul”. This led him to recognise spirituals as carrying a universality, an emotional significance far beyond their origin as slave songs in 19th century America and as representing the oppressed everywhere.
He chose five: “Steal Away”; “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See, Lord”; “Go Down, Moses”; “O, By and By”; and “Deep River”.

It is not an easy piece for choirs. Phil played five extracts: (1) the Opening, (17) The boy Becomes Desperate in his Agony; (18) They Took a Terrible Vengeance, (19) Burn Down Their Houses, (20) Men were Ashamed of What They Had Done (Steal Away/Genesis Sixteen.) The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Richard Hickox, with Cynthia Clarey (alto) and Willard White (bass).

Incidentally, shortly after Tippett’s birth the family moved to Wetherden in Suffolk.

Another Suffolk connection – Benjamin Britten, (22nd November (St Cecilia’s Day) 1913 – 1976) the third of the war composers.

Britten was commissioned to write a piece for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral designed by Basil Spence, built alongside the ruins of the original 14th century structure, destroyed during the Battle of Britain in World War II. Phil said it is rather poignant to see the two in their setting.

The cathedral authorities assumed he would do it for free – in the end his agents secured him £1000, grudgingly paid. The War Requiem is a large-scale setting of the Requiem composed mostly in 1961 and completed in January 1962, and was first performed there 30 May 1962.

The War Requiem was meant to be a public statement of Britten’s anti-war convictions, a denunciation of the wickedness of war.

The fact that Britten wrote the piece for three specific soloists – a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), and a British tenor (Peter Pears) – demonstrated that he had more than the losses of his own country in mind, and symbolized the importance of reconciliation. (Unfortunately Vishnevskaya was not available for the first performance, and had to be replaced by Heather Harper).

It was dedicated to four of Britten’s friends who were killed during World War I: Roger Burney, Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve /Piers Dunkerley, Captain, Royal Marines / David Gill, Ordinary Seaman, Royal Navy / Michael Halliday, Lieutenant, Royal New Zealand Volunteer Reserve

For the text of the War Requiem, Britten interspersed the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), a World War I soldier who was killed a week before the Armistice. “My subject is War, and the pity of War. All a poet can do today is warn”.
The Requiem is a large-scale work, calling for huge musical forces. As well as the three soloists, there is a chamber orchestra, a full choir and main orchestra, and a boys’ choir and organ. The performers are divided into three distinct planes; the tenor and baritone soloists and the chamber orchestra portray the victims of war and they sing Owen’s poetry.

The orchestra and chorus, portray the Requiem Mass. The soprano soloist adds colour to the voices in the chorus, but their Latin singing is less personal than that of the male soloists. The boys choir and organ present a sound that is almost inhuman. Britten recommended that a small organ be placed in the wings with the boys’ choir, to create a more distant sound.

The work enjoyed enormous popularity among critics – Stravinsky railed against this popularity; he was annoyed that it wasn’t really allowed to be criticized, because, in criticizing it, one would “be made to feel if one had failed to stand up for ‘God Save the Queen.'”

Stravinsky had reasons to be annoyed at Britten, who is reported to have said that he liked Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress” – “everything except the music.”

The Requiem aeternam begins with a slow Introit – Rest eternal The F#-C tritone – or augmented fourth (as in the Nielsen symphony in part 1) is heard in the knell of the chimes and in the choir’s “Et Lux Perpetua” – and let eternal light shine upon them – this is a unifying interval of the piece and is often heard when the text refers to rest; ironically, this is rather clashing and gives the feeling of unrest! The Requiem aeternam ends with Kyrie Eleison.

During this section, the tenor soloist sings Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” – “What passing Bells for those who die as cattle?” This excerpt sadly Phil had to leave out.

The Dies Irae, with its nine sections portraying the Day of Judgment, is the longest part of the War Requiem.

We heard the section where the Soprano sings “Rex Tremendis” – Tremendous King of Majesty with the choir singing “Salve me,  fons pietatis” – Fount of Pity, befriend us.

The Offertorium contains Sed signifier sanctus Michael  – a plea for St. Michael to lead the faithful into paths of light – Coventry Cathedral is also known as St Michael’s Cathedral.

We heard the tenor and baritone duet of Wilfred Owen’s, “The Parable of the Old Men and the Young” – the musical themes of this section borrow from an 1952 work of Britten – his Canticle II, ‘Abraham and Isaac’, Op. 51 – a solo tenor piece telling the Biblical version of the parable. The Owen’s parody of the bible story is an ironic inversion of the story of Abraham and Isaac in which Abraham sacrifices his son despite offers made by an angel sent from heaven to save the boy –
The last lines of the poem contain: But the old man slew his son – and half the seed of Europe, one by one.

This underlines Owen’s bitterness toward the Generals who sent their countries’ children off to war. The boys’ choir provides an ethereal backdrop as if suggesting the innocents being led to the slaughter.

The fourth section, Sanctus and Benedictus are messages of serene joy, even in a mass for the dead,

We heard the Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini – Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord followed by Hosanna in Excelsis – Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.

Time forced Phil to omit any of the Agnus Dei – Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

From the last section, the Libera me which comes from the Burial service, not the Mass for the Dead, the mood is generally ominous. We hear where the tenor enters with one of Owen’s most famous poems, “Strange Meeting” in which he relates a dream-like encounter with a German soldier – “I am the enemy you killed my friend” – finishing with “Let us sleep now…”

The chorus finishes in the same way as the first section, Requiem Aeternam, with “Requiescant in pace. Amen.”

John Cooper – organist at the première and on the Decca recording – yet another Suffolk connection as well as Pears and Britten. He was very pleased when Britten said to him that:
“The boys sounded like real boys”.

The version Phil played was from the 1964 Proms, the 50th anniversary of WWI. Britten himself conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, also conducting was Meredith Davies, with Heather Harper (soprano), Thomas Hemsley (baritone), Peter Pears (tenor), the Melos Ensemble, and the BBC Symphony Chorus. A line up not that different from the original premiere.

Then followed three pieces relating to concentration camps.

First a little bit of Minimalist music. Minimalist music evolved in America as rebellion against what was seen by composers such as Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams as over-complex European art  music.

Reich’s Different Trains is a novel three movement experimental piece for string quartet and tape written by Steve Reich in 1988 for the Kronos Quartet – it won a Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

During World War II, Reich made train journeys between New York and Los Angeles to visit his parents, who had separated. He later pondered the fact that, as a Jew, had he been in Europe instead of the United States at that time, he might have been travelling in different trains – he imagined what it would have been like for Jews travelling on the trains in WWII, the Holocaust trains.

The three movements are: 1. America-Before WWII  2. Europe-During the War   3. After the War

We heard parts of the second movement – sources used were interviews with three Holocaust survivors (Paul, Rachel, and Rachella) about their experiences in Europe during the war, including their train trips to concentration camps. European train sounds and sirens are heard in this movement.

The quotes heard are: “The Germans walked in” / “Walked into Holland”/”Germans invaded Hungary”/”You must go away”/”Into the cattle wagons”/”for four days and nights”/”Lots of cattle wagons”/”they were loaded with people”/”they shaved us”/”They tattooed a number on our arm/”Flames going up to the sky”/”It was smoking”

In Reich’s own words: “This piece represents a documentary and a musical reality and begins a new musical direction. It is a direction that I expect will lead to a new kind of documentary music video theatre in the not too distant future”.

Ilse Weber. Ich wander durch Teresienstadt (Terezin) ~60 km north of Prague.

Theresienstadt was a concentration camp for Jewish artists, musicians, theatricals and scholars, established as a fort, designed to accommodate 7,000 troops, yet up to 58,491 were crowded into the barracks. More than 33,000 inmates died as a result of malnutrition, disease, or the sadistic treatment by their captors.

Prisoners, including 15,000 children (fewer than 100 alive at the end of the war) were held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Because there were so many musicians and actors, music was composed and performed there, for example The Emperor of Atlantis or The Disobedience of Death, a one-act opera by Viktor Ullmann with a libretto by Peter Kien – both of whom died in Auschwitz. The only paper they were able to use was the reverse of admission forms to the camp. Amongst the details for completion on the form was a box for the number of gold fillings.

The Nazis presented Theresienstadt to outsiders as a model Jewish settlement during 1944 when the Red Cross visited – they were duped into thinking everyone was well looked after.

Ilse Weber as a child learned to sing and play guitar, lute, mandolin and balalaika, but apparently never considered a career as a musician. In 1930 she married Willi Weber and settled in Prague where she wrote for children’s periodicals and became a producer for Czech Radio. Following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 the Webers were able to get their oldest son Hanuš safely to Sweden on a Kindertransport before they were confined to Prague’s Jewish Ghetto.

The Webers arrived at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in February 1942. Ilse Weber worked as a night nurse in the camp’s children’s infirmary. She wrote around 60 poems during her imprisonment and set many of them to music, employing deceptively simple tunes and imagery to describe the horror of her surroundings.

When her husband was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944, Ilse Weber volunteered to join him with their son Tommy because she didn’t want to break up the family. She and the boy were sent to the gas chamber on arrival. Willi Weber survived them by 30 years.

The translated lyrics of the song are: I wander through Theresienstadt my heart is heavy as lead. ‘Home’, you strange word, you make my heart feel heavy. My home has been taken away from me. Theresienstadt, when will our suffering end ? When shall we again be free? It was sung here by Sofi von Otter.

Olivier-Eugène-Prosper-Charles Messiaen (1908 – 1992) – French, significant 20th century composer, organist, and ornithologist.

Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was serving as a medical auxiliary before being captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz Silesia (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen met fellow prisoner and clarinettist Henri Akoka who asked Messiaen to join him in attempting to escape; Messiaen answered: “No, it’s God’s will I am here.”. Two other professional musicians, violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier, were also among his fellow prisoners.

There was a sympathetic guard (Carl-Albert Brüll, 1902-1989), who managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil for composing, and he also helped acquire three instruments. Messiaen wrote a short trio for them; this piece developed into the Quatuor for the same trio with himself at the piano.

A piece of his chamber music is Quatuor pour la fin du temps / English title Quartet for the End of Time, The 8 – movement piece is scored for B-flat clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Messiaen wrote in the Preface to the score that the work was inspired by text from the Book of Revelations (Rev 10:1–2, 5–7, King James Version): And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head.
“Crystal liturgy”
“Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of time”
“Abyss of birds”
“Interlude”
“Praise to the eternity of Jesus”
“Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets”
“Tangle of rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of time”
“Praise to the immortality of Jesus”

On 15 January 1941, the quartet was premiered outdoors at the camp in the rain. In addition to being freezing cold and hungry, the musicians had decrepit instruments on which to play the very technically demanding music – one of the clarinet keys was broken – the cello had only 3 strings – the piano action was worn and Messiaen had to pull back up every key he pressed! Of the audience of about 5000 fellow prisoners and guards, Messiaen later recalled: “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”

By forging papers with a stamp made from a potato Brüll helped the performers to be liberated shortly after the performance. After the war, Brüll made a special trip to visit Messiaen, but was sent away and told the composer would not see him, which was rather sad, Phil thought.

That this piece emerged from such horrific beginnings seems little short of miraculous; perhaps Messiaen’s solution was an attempt to avoid the reality of his situation, and escape into his artistic and religious worlds. Probably historically the most amazing, enduring and improbable piece ever written.

We heard the first two movements:

No. 1 Crystal liturgy – Messiaen describes this as between 3 and 4 in the morning – his first attempt to simulate the dawn chorus – the awakening of birds via a solo clarinet imitating a blackbird and the violin imitating a nightingale The cello and piano parts consists of calm shimmers of sound as if to give the listener a glimpse of Heaven. A puzzled early critic remarked that it sounded as if the players were practising different pieces in adjacent rooms!

No. 2. Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of time – The very short first and third parts evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven.

It was played by the Trio Oriens, Johnny Chang, violin, Olive Chen, cello, I-Ling Chen piano, Richard Nunemaker, Clarinet.

Eric Coates is known for his Dam Busters march for the 1954 WWII film and “Calling All Workers”, adopted by the BBC during the war as its signature tune to “Music while you Work”. A lesser known war-time piece by Coates is the Television March, specifically composed in May 1946 for the re-opening of BBC Television after WWII and was the first music to be heard on the new service. The piece was composed “in great haste” as the BBC had given him little notice. It is not in the same class as some of the more famous pieces by Coates but it was a time of optimism of broadcasting during post war austerity. The music contributed to the excitement of the times and was used daily from 1946 to the end of 1958 and occasionally from then until 1960. We heard the Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by John Wilson.

We had started this second half with Walton’s Spitfire Prelude. As any organist might expect, we now had a fugue to go with it – the Spitfire Fugue. This accompanied the part of the film, “The First of the Few”, where the plane was being put together. This fugue added immensely to the most fascinating sequence in the film. As with the Prelude it was played by the Orchestra of Opera North conducted by Paul Daniel.

As a footnote, Phil added that he had considered some non-classical pieces, such as Bob Dylan’s “Master of War” or John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, but found them rather dirge-like!

Thanking Phil for such an engrossing and informative evening, Norman said that he was absolutely astounded by the amount of research that had gone into the presentation. It had been a most intriguing evening. Delivering a presentation was in some ways the easy part; it was putting it together beforehand that called for – in a phrase from the war – “blood, sweat and tears”!

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: Philip Jordan

Philip Jordan                              7th December 2016

CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

This was actually a selection of pieces by members of the Society, but Philip had put them together into a complete programme and also announced them.

First out of the hat was a composer unfamiliar to just about all of us and this was Rosalie’s choice – the Hungarian Eugene Zador, and A Christmas Overture, which although only eight minutes or so was in four segments: The Joy of Christmas – Sleigh Ride – Nativity –Adoration. It was played by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Eugene Zador (also known as Jeno Zador) was an Americanised Hungarian composer, born 1894, died 1977. He studied in Vienna and also with Max Reger in Leipzig. Thanks to Rosalie to introducing him to us.

This was followed by Alan Barnes: A Jazz Christmas Carol. Barnes, Jazz Saxophonist, Clarinettist, Composer, Arranger and Educator, as his web site has it, was born in 1959. He has played with many famous bands, including the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and Humphrey Lyttelton’s Band and also toured with Bryan Ferry. In the piece we heard Bah Humbug, a gruff baritone sax representing Scrooge.

Helen’s selection followed. These were three readings of poems:
Christmas by John Betjeman, read by Hermione Norris,
Mistletoe by Walter de la Mare, read by Joanna Lumley, and
Snowflakes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also read by Hermione Norris.
The last was an addition by Philip after listening to the CD, which was entitled Christmas Words for You.

Mistletoe may not be all that familiar, and as it’s quite short here it is:

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Someone came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.
Next came Sheila’s suggestion, a CD by The Watersons. They were an English folk group from Hull. They performed mainly traditional folk music with little or no accompaniment. The three songs we heard came from an early 1966 album called simply The Watersons. The line-up changed over the years and Lal (Elaine) died in 1998 and Mike in 2011.

We heard: God Bless the Master.
While Shepherds watched their flocks by night.
And an additional one added by Philip – Heavenly Aeroplane.
Philip said that this last made him think of his son who would be flying back from Brazil next week, a flight involving a helicopter transfer, which always made him a little uneasy.

At this point Philip interposed an additional short song submitted by Ann. Earlier he had said that when the CDs were set out on the table a “foreigner” had appeared amongst them. A mystery! So when he called out to Ivan “Mystery!” it would be the cue to play this additional CD. It was Riu, Riu, Chiu – Ann said she had no idea how to pronounce it but husband Paul will be taking part in a concert by the Ipswich Choral Society on 20th December, when it will be performed. It’s a traditional Spanish carol, which now appears in Christmas collections, and was even performed by The Monkees. “And I like it”, said Ann.

Norma’s choice – The Shepherds’ Farewell from L’Enfance du Christ by Berlioz came next. It was performed by the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra of L’Opera conducted by John Elliot Gardiner. An always popular choice with a delightful accompaniment.

Mike Fowle had chosen Tom Lehrer, and his Christmas Carol. No sentiment here – Tom Lehrer providing the ultimate take down of Christmas, Mike had said.

To take us to the interval, Heather gave us a few tunes on the piano. She explained that when Mike had sent her a message asking whether she would be willing to do so she had been rather grumpy (not really) because she didn’t like to be reminded of Christmas too soon – as is well known in her family. She said she didn’t want to play anything Christmassy but she hoped her choices would be relaxing.

She played four pieces, and first came Pamela Wedgewood. Did any of us play the piano or have children who were learning? If so, we would surely have come across Pam Wedgewood, whose instruction books are universal. This was a piece composed by her called Charlie, included in a book called After Hours Jazz.

Heather then played George Gershwin – Love is Here to Stay. Her next piece won the Grammy Award for Best Song for 1966. Anybody recognise it? Yes, indeed, it was The Shadow of Your Smile, also known as the Love Theme from the film The Sandpiper, composed by Johnny Mandel. He also wrote the theme tune to MASH, Heather informed us.

Finally, Cole Porter’s Night and Day.

Interval (With special thanks to Hilary, Rosalie and Norman for the mince pies and other goodies – and apologies to anyone overlooked.)

We resumed with Mike Stephenson’s choice – The Assault on Beautiful Gorky by Shostakovich (“Hooray!” said Ann). This came to mind for Mike through seeing the reports of the appalling tragedy of Aleppo. The music comes from a film called The Unforgettable Year 1919, although the film is – notwithstanding its title – generally forgotten.

Philip noted that the recording was made at St John’s in the heart of Westminster, where he would be in a week’s time.

Two selections from Ivan came next – from a recording made in Stockholm in 1976, called Cantate Domino, which seems to have made quite a stir in Hi Fi circles for its superb quality, Adolphe Adam’s Julsang or Christmas Song (or carol). The Oscar Motet Choir, director Torsten Nilsson, organist Alf Linder, brass ensemble and Marianne Mellnas soprano. Sung in Swedish, this was serenely beautiful.

From the same disc came Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung in German. Most people will know this and many may well know that it was composed by Franz Gruber but how many know that it was originally written for guitar accompaniment as the organ had broken down? (So Ivan informs us.)

Norman had volunteered a CD which also been played the previous year – On Christmas Night, a collection of beautiful carols sung by the choir of Merton College, Oxford. Norman had not specified any particular track so Philip had chosen two not played the previous year. (Philip had said he was quite surprised to find that this was the fourth year he had put together a Christmas collection.)

From Norman’s disc we heard the eponymous The Sussex Carol – On Christmas Night, arranged by Philip Ledger. The musical director was Benjamin Nicholas and the organist Peter Shepherd.

Then Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter. The solo tenor part was sung by Oliver Kelham. Beautiful singing, said Philip, and it reminded him of the terrible winters of years ago, not just snow and ice but killer smogs. But very slippery roads were a hazard, when not having a car they cycled to members of their family. On the other hand, he had spent two seasons in New Zealand with quite the opposite weather, when he could think of the poor souls back home in the cold.

As for his own selection, Philip said that a few years ago he travelled from Massachusetts to Toronto in severe weather conditions with three feet of snow. And in Ontario he had heard the Elora Festival Singers. This was a CD he had played last year but this time he chose What Sweeter Music by John Rutter. The musical director was Noel Edison and the organist Michael Bloss.

Then from a two CD set of Welsh Male Voice Choirs – A Welsh Male Voice Christmas – we heard first Joy to the World, by the Cwmbach Male Choir, and then Song of Hope by the Cor Meibion Llanelli. We need a lot of hope these days, said Philip.

Well, he added, he seemed to have concluded with a lot of choral singing, but it was absolutely magnificent. He thanked all who had contributed their suggestions and Heather for her musical interlude – which was great. This would be the last Christmas programme he would put together (because he was moving away).

Norman said that Philip had thanked most people but he added his thanks to Philip for all his efforts. And wished everybody a very happy Christmas

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: Carole Shafto

Andre RieuCarole Shafto 18th May 2016

A TRIP TO THE CONTINENT

Carole had promised us a trip to the continent, and we enjoyed a rather different evening. We saw two films, both about Andre Rieu (how do you pronounce his name?). The first one, shown complete, was called “A Dream Come True” and was a biographical portrait. For those of us who might have dismissed Rieu as a lightweight this film made interesting viewing, showing that he was a proper musician, thoroughly trained and with boundless energy and an infectious enthusiasm. There were clips of him performing in various continental venues, which also gave some idea of the enormous amount of preparation involved and the vast audiences he attracts. It also depicted the happy atmosphere in the orchestra and some lovely scenes of Maastricht, his home, in particular. Made in 2000, there were also delightful photos from his childhood, shot by his father.

Sincere thanks to Ken and Elizabeth Slater who lent us this film.

The other film, of which we saw the last half hour or so, was of a live concert in Vrijthof Square in Maastricht in 2009, with again a vast audience.

Andre Rieu – A Dream Come True (Marzenie się spełniło)

More of Andre Rieu

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: Heather Farthing

Heather Farthing 30th March 2016

SPRING FORWARD

You will know the old mnemonic Spring Forward, Fall Back to remind us whether we put our clocks forward or back when they change. It had obviously worked, said Heather, as we were all present. That had been the jumping off place for her programme, as the clocks had gone forward the previous weekend. The trouble was having to think of the title well in advance and then having to decide what to put in her programme.

So she started with Louis Armstrong and All the Time in the World, composed by John Barry, as we had all the time offered by the evening, blank before us.

But from a straightforward linking of the evening’s theme to the change of the clocks, and movement towards Spring, the theme began to develop as Heather thought more about it.

What was our favourite season? On a show of hands, Winter got no votes (unsurprisingly), Autumn and Summer did, but Spring was the clear favourite. As it is for Heather. With its hope and reflection of the natural order, seasons ever turning with everything in its rightful place. Which seemed to become more important as the years passed. It includes the aging process and new life, passing of one generation to the next. So there is movement and hope springs for the future.

For the first part of her presentation, Heather told us a story. A story which therefore included the passing of time, the turning of the years. 10 tracks (or extracts) from one of her favourite CDs, which had never fitted into any previous presentation. It was called Winter’s Crossing, released in 1998 by James Galway and Phil Coulter. Sir James Galway is a familiar name but Phil Coulter less so. He is an Irish pianist. Heather finds his music rewarding to play (not too difficult but sounds good).

The CD tells the story of the crossing in winter of a group of Irish emigrants to America. They have a rough crossing but arrive in America full of hope for a new life. Heather linked each track with the words from the booklet accompanying the CD without further comment, in the hope that we would feel that turning from darkness to light, so hope springs forth as dark and rough winter passes.

Are you sitting comfortably? Time to engage your powers of imagination.

A story of making a new beginning, of joy and sadness, hope and despair, of tragedies suffered and dreams fulfilled. The story is set in the late 1800s when well over two million men, women and children, over a quarter of the population, left the shores of Ireland to seek a new life in North America. It concerns one group of emigrants who sailed from Derry, Phil Coulter’s home town in the north of Ireland, in the winter of 1866 headed for Pennsylvania. They were a mixed bunch. There were Gaelic speaking peasants from Donegal, fleeing from hunger, Catholics from County Derry and County Tyrone driven out by discrimination and Scots Presbyterians from County Antrim leaving to seek prosperity. They had precious few possessions – maybe a battered old fiddle – and no photographs to remind them of their home and loved ones. Just their music, songs and stories. A mixed bunch indeed. Thrown together by fate and the shared dream of beginning again in the new world.

Our story begins in the mountains of Tyrone, in the half light of dawn, 10 families recently evicted from their lands set off to walk the 50 miles to Derry to catch the emigrant ship. The odd sad song is sung on their journey, for their hearts are heavy as they say goodbye for ever.

Slieve Gallion Braes and Steal Away

In their research for the CD, Galway and Coulter turned up a contemporary account of heart-breaking departure. It was read by Liam Neeson.

Thousands are Sailing

On the quayside in Derry, the Gaelic speakers from Donegal, even more intimidated than the others, camp for the night a little distance away. As the heavy rain begins to fall, a young girl sings in the darkness of the love she will never set eyes on again.

Cailin Na Gruaige Baine

Finally underway the ship pulls clear of Lough Foyle heading for the open sea. The emigrants crowd the open decks looking longingly ashore, straining for one final glimpse of the hills of their homeland. All are heartbroken. Some are terrified of what lies ahead, others are excited at the adventure of this Winter’s Crossing.

Winter’s Crossing

Two weeks at sea and the crossing has been very rough. Deep in the bowels of the ship, down in the misery of steerage, they are disorientated, they are damp, they are cold and they are hungry.

Six weeks at sea. An icy dawn breaks to find the ship moving slowly through dense fog. The sound of seagulls tells them they are getting close to the first landfall, and the high swell and rolling sea are warning that they are over the treacherous

Grand Banks Newfoundland.

It is days before the fog lifts and they get their first distant view of the east coast of America. When the initial excitement and deep sense of relief subsides, reality dawns. They will shortly set foot in a strange land where they have no family, no friends, no roots – and no idea what will become of them. As the enormity of their situation dawns, their thoughts turn to family and loved ones left behind.

The Shores of Amerikay

In years to come hundreds of immigrants would feel their hearts soar and their spirits rise as they first caught sight of the city of New York. The euphoria would be short lived. They would be set ashore at Ellis Island, the notorious quarantine station through which all immigrants had to pass. If they were deemed to be ill, infirm, aged or unsuitable for entry, they would be sent back on board ship, to relive the hell of another Atlantic crossing. The gateway to a dream or the gateway to a nightmare.

Christmas Eve, Ellis Island

The Irish were never sad for long. They were country folk, so from New York they pressed westward to the farmland and hills of Pennsylvania. As they made new friends and met new neighbours, one of the means of communication was to trade tunes. Here the Belfast Polka is traded with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Belfast Polka – Pennsylvania Railroad

Time passes slowly in their new land, and they gradually acclimatise to their new surroundings, new people and the vastness of this new country of seemingly endless horizons. They immerse themselves in their work and these new surroundings of the new people, and seemingly endless horizons. But their thoughts are never far away from their homeland. They gather to pray, to celebrate, to draw strength from shared experience and to remember the old country.

Hymn for the Heartland

Years pass with births marriages and deaths. The immigrants are growing older in this new land. But they never forgot their homeland. Never forgot their music, and sure as hell, never forgot how to party. The final track is Appalachian Round Up! a celebration of their new homeland and an affirmation of the human spirit.

Appalachian Round Up!

After this new to most of us and thought provoking music, Heather took us to the break with two lighter pieces by Leroy Anderson: The Syncopated Clock and (quite irrelevant and almost extinct but enjoyable – we were probably the last generation to know what a typewriter is) The Typewriter (where the sound of typing complete with bell is part of the music). Richard Hayman and his Orchestra.

Interval

If we were wondering where was the classical music, said Heather, there is a saying attributed to Confucius but according to Wikipedia, belonging to Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu, that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So returning to the classical genre, we heard Chopin’s offering on the subject, the Minute Waltz Opus 64 No. 1, which to emphasise the elastic nature of time and our perception of it, lasts almost two minutes! It was played by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

When Heather was putting together her first programme, some years ago, the much missed Gillian Bishop advised her just to include what she enjoyed. Appropriately (as Haydn was Gillian’s favourite composer) Heather next played the Clock Symphony by Haydn, No. 101 in D, the second movement which gives the symphony its nickname. Played by the Dresdner Philharmonie conducted by Gunther Herbig.

Then we had another story. This time it was Wintersmith. Heather came to this by way of the music. She heard Steeleye Span at the Corn Exchange and thought they were pretty good. The story here comes from Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. This was the third in the series, published in 2006. The collaboration with Steeleye Span arose in 2013, with Terry Pratchett being a long-time admirer of Span. Outlining the plot makes it sound operatic, and as she said, sometimes hearing Norman outlining the more convoluted plots of some operas, her reaction has been: “For goodness sake….”

The Wintersmith is the personification of winter, not a real human being, who meets the heroine of the book, who delights in the name of Tiffany Aching. The Wintersmith mistakes her for the Summer Lady, the personification of Summer. He is infatuated and enchanted by Tiffany, mystified by her presence and he subsequently tracks her (stalking really).

Tiffany does have some of the Summer Lady’s powers – plants start to grow where she walks barefoot. (“That sounds fabulous”, said Heather, “wished that happened in my garden.”) The Wintersmith decides that the reason Tiffany will not be his is that he is not human. Learning a simply rhyme from some children about what basic elements comprise a human body he gathers the correct ingredients, makes himself a body out of these elements and pursues Tiffany but without truly understanding what it is to be human. The Secret is that:
A man has strength enough to build a home
Time enough to hold a child and
Love enough to break a heart.

Meanwhile the Wintersmith continues to cover the land with snow. The harsh prolonged winter starts burying houses, blocking roads and killing off animals. Tiffany hides but the Wintersmith discovers where she is, and he takes her to his palace, where she ultimately manages to stop him, melting him with a kiss.

So the dance of seasons in which Summer and Winter die and are reborn in turn is restored.

Let the seasons turn
Let the rivers start a flowing
Let the hot sun burn
And melt our frozen hearts
Let the warm winds blow
Send the North Wind on his journey
Sweep away the snow
The Summer Lady’s here.

The tracks we heard were:
1 – Overture
4 – You
10 – The Making of a Man
12 – First Dance
14 – The Summer Lady

Like Winter’s Crossing, this was new to most (if not all) of us. It is always interesting to broaden one’s horizons.

Part of Heather’s theme this evening had been balance and place in the great scheme of things, so we could not leave without a track from Karl Jenkins, The Peacemakers. The texts for this project come from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and the Bible and Qu’ran. Something from which she had previously chosen a track. The news these days tends to be pretty depressing, but if we could embrace the words of Nelson Mandela on this track, Let there be Justice for All, then maybe we could spring forward in hope. The seasonal round is a round of hope, of everything where it should be.

Time has gone by and Heather ended with Bryan Ferry, and the Herman Hupfeld classic As Time Goes By. Heather’s first choice came from a film, the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, and her last choice also came from another film, “Casablanca”.
In thanking Heather, Norman said he had been profoundly moved by Winter’s Crossing, not so sure about Wintersmith – he would probably need to hear that a bit more.

Mike Fowle

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: Ivan Ross

Ivan Ross                                     16th March 2016

MUSICAL SCHIZOPHRENIA

For once Ivan emerged from behind the amplifier where he so reliably produces the music chosen by the presenters to give us his own selection. Ivan told us that the first programme he had presented to the Society about 20 years ago was called Musical Schizophrenia. He had hoped to repeat it but had been unable to find the original details.

What did he mean by Musical Schizophrenia? Musicians and performers who live on both sides of a musical divide: Jazz/Swing/Popular (not Pop – which Ivan can’t stand) and what is commonly known as classical music.

So for this evening he had chosen a selection of composers and performers who have produced both classical and popular CDs.

Ivan started with an overture by Mozart but that was all he told us about it until we had heard it. “Notice anything odd about that?” he asked. It was the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro but played by a rock band called Sky accompanied by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Sir Neville Mariner. (It sounded like a conventional performance to start with but differences seemed to become more noticeable when there were percussion passages.)

Next came a Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, by Halsey Stevens. Ivan said that he had not been familiar with this composer but when he looked him up there were a couple of pages of compositions. Born in New York on 3rd December 1908 and died at Long Beach, California on 20th January 1989 after a long battle with Parkinson’s. The three movement sonata is quite a demanding piece for the performer and is used as a test piece for trumpet students. Here we heard it played by Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) and Judith Lynn Stillman (piano).

Ivan then played for us something he had recorded from a broadcast of the Proms a few years earlier. It was a piece called Big Train and it was played by the Wynton Marsalis Big Band. Ivan usually plays us something different and this was certainly that. The musicians produced the sound of the train by shuffling their feet and at the end the brass opened all their valves to reproduce the sound of steam escaping.

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony followed. This was the classical piece (an expression which Ivan dislikes – for him all music can be classical or better still classic) to be followed by the popular piece the Jazz Suite. Specifically, the fourth and last movement of the Shostakovich symphony played by the West German Radio Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai (Ivan has a complete set of the Shostakovich symphonies performed by that orchestra and conductor), and the Jazz Suite No. 1 played by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra under Dimitri Yablonsky.

The last pairing in this first half were two songs sung by Kiri Te Kanawa: first Vissi D’Arte from Puccini’s Tosca; then a song to remind all us sports people (!) of the Rugby World Cup: The World in Union. Kiri first sang this in 1991.

Interval

Ivan started the second half of his programme with a piece of guitar music played by John Williams: Asturias by Albeniz. A piece he likes and also admires the virtuosity – does John Williams really only have two hands?

Then something by the Rock Band set up by Williams: Sky and a piece called Moonroof, written by Kevin Peek, (an Australian guitarist, 1946 to 2013, who played with Sky). (Moonroof seems to be similar to a car sunroof but with a transparent cover such as Perspex. Ivan said that in the Toyota Corolla he once owned the instructions said not to have the moonroof open with the air conditioning on.)

Ivan now moved on to one of his favourite musicians: Benny Goodman. His selection came from a famous concert given by Goodman at the Carnegie Hall on the night of 16th January 1938. The concert was relayed from a single microphone over the stage by a pair of copper telephone wires to the CBS Studios. One take and no repeats. There are even breaks in the recording when the master disc on the recording lathe had to be changed.

This was an historic concert. The first non-classical concert at the Carnegie Hall and the band were concerned that the regular concertgoers might not approve. However it was a rousing success, and by the time the number that Ivan played for us came along close to the end, Sing, Sing, Sing, the performers are clearly having the time of their lives. There are solos by Harry James (trumpet), Jess Stacey (piano) and Gene Krupa (drums – Ivan pointed out that Krupa had been playing for nearly two hours by then but still maintaining an almost metronomic accuracy.) And by Goodman himself who includes a top A followed by a barely audible high C – a feat which Ivan has been assured by a friend who plays the B flat clarinet is almost impossible.

To finish, Ivan played Goodman in a classical role, playing the last movement of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A, K581, with the Budapest String Quartet. It is an Allegretto with Variations. Goodman displays his mastery in the classical genre as in jazz.

Ivan hoped that he had not offended too many ears with his choices this evening! In thanking Ivan, Norman noted the wide range of music enjoyed. Schizophrenia he had read is characterised by inconsistent and contradictory behaviour, but the music played had shown an immense capacity for the composers and musicians to display their great talents.

(Incidentally, it should be added that Ivan had thoughtfully pre-recorded his selections onto two CDs so that his replacement at the equipment simply had to play and pause each track rather than load individual CDs. Thanks, Ivan.)

 

Mike Fowle

FelixstoweRecorded Music Society: Ann Kearney

Ann KearneyAnn Kearney                             3rd February 2016

I’M NOT ONE TO GOSSIP AS YOU KNOW, BUT….

As Norman said when opening the evening, Ann is not a guest presenter, but an old friend. She had been our secretary for a while and we were most grateful that she had taken time out of her busy schedule and commitments with Felixstowe Radio to entertain us. And what a delicious title.
She opened with one piece of contemporary music – so that, as she put it, we can tell our grandchildren we had heard of them – in this case Morrisey and the Smiths. And: We hate it when Our Friends become Successful.

Ann explained that her programme would be along the lines of something she used to do on her classical music radio slot. Nothing, she had read, was as entertaining as one composer’s opinion of another and she had collected some of these gems. Usually they told us more about the perpetrator than the subject of them. She was expanding that to look at what some musicians and people in the music world had said or written about each other – allegedly – and then listen to their music.
Ann started with Bach. Pablo Casals said  “I need Bach at the beginning of the day almost more than food and water”. Sir Thomas Beecham was apparently not over keen on the Brandenburg Concertos and this appeared in the 1884 in the Musical Herald:

Though full of great musical lore
Old Bach is a terrible bore
A fugue without a tune,
He thought was a boon,
So he wrote seventeen thousand or more.

Although Ann was sure she had played this piece before it was her favourite Brandenburg Concerto. No. 2 in F, the first movement. It was played by the Mainz Chamber Orchestra conducted by Gunter Kehr.

As many of us would know, Ann continued, she loved Vaughan Williams. Aaron Copland was perhaps less than enamoured. He said or wrote: “Listening to the Fifth Symphony of Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes. Vaughan Williams’ music is the music of a gentleman farmer, noble in inspiration but dull.” Vaughan Williams was 70 when he finished it and he dedicated it to Sibelius. We heard the Scherzo, the second movement of the Fifth Symphony. It was played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

Incidentally, going back to Sir Thomas Beecham, he was once conducting a Vaughan Williams symphony during a rehearsal and he looked as if he were miles away. Suddenly he was aware that the orchestra had stopped. He asked the leader “Why aren’t you playing?” The leader replied that it had finished. Beecham looked down at the score, turned the page, and finding it finished said: “So it is……….Thank God!”

Ann thought we might be pleased that she wasn’t going to play the Sixth Symphony. RVW himself once said to the London Symphony Orchestra: “It must be hell to play it for three hours. I know it’s been hell to listen to!”

Richard Wagner: Love him or loathe him. Bizet had something to say about Wagner: “Wagner is no friend of mine and I am totally indifferent to him, yet I cannot forget the immense enjoyment which I owe to that original genius. The charm of his music is inexpressible. Here are voluptuousness, tenderness and love.” But also: “He is endowed with a temper so insolent that criticism cannot touch his heart – even admitting he has a heart, which I doubt”.

We heard the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Alfred Scholz play Bizet’s Symphony in C, the final movement. (Incidentally, Scholz was probably the most prolific conductor of budget recordings – some under his own name and some under pseudonyms, such as Alberto Lizzio.)

So Bizet wasn’t all that keen on Wagner but liked his music. Brahms also had something to say about Wagner: “I once told Wagner himself that I was the best Wagnerian of our time”. We heard the final Rondo from his Serenade in D. The BRT (Belgian Radio and Television) Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rahbari.
Ann said she was starting to feel a bit sorry for Wagner. Debussy described him as a “poisoner” and Schumann said “Wagner is impossible: he talks all the time without stopping – one can’t just talk all the time!”

Schumann’s Spring Symphony (which coincidentally, Rosalie had also played at the previous meeting, although she played the second movement, Larghetto) and Ann played the third movement, Scherzo. After playing this, Ann said that Schumann had commented that “The music is not intended to describe or paint anything definite but I believe the season did much to shape the particular form it took”.

Let’s turn the tables slightly: Schumann criticised Wagner for talking too much; well, Wagner said of Schumann that it was impossible to communicate with him: “The man is hopeless, he doesn’t talk at all”.

So, about time for some Wagner. Oscar Wilde apparently said: “I like Wagner’s music better than anybody’s – it is so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says”.  Ann said that surprisingly she had never really listened to the next piece before preparing for tonight – it was the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin played by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra.

Reverting to teacher mode briefly, Ann gave us something to ponder and discuss with our tea or coffee and biscuits. If you were a dictator, which composer would you make compulsory listening? Sir Thomas Beecham famously said it would be Mozart between the ages of four and 80 for at least a quarter of an hour daily for the coming five years. Ann’s own choice would probably be Purcell. (Ann may share the same birthday – not the year!) Holst said that “In one way Purcell is a finer stage composer than Wagner. His music is full of movement, of dance. His is the easiest music in all the world to act.” We heard a little from Act Four of the Fairy Queen.

Interval

Whom had we nominated? Chopin and Mozart had been mentioned. “Wagner!” cried Norman, pointing out the bad press he was getting. What had Debussy called Wagner earlier? (Shuffling of feet and downward gazes.) A poisoner! Ann had mentioned Debussy earlier without playing him. Now we would hear something by Debussy. Apparently, he was quite irritable and quarrelsome. Really? You would not think so listening to his music. Debussy once met Bartok. Allegedly (Ann not being one to gossip), Bartok who was young at the time particularly wanted to meet Debussy, but his friends said would he not rather meet with Saint-Saens or Widor. “No”, Bartok said, “I want to meet Debussy”. He’s a dreadful man, said his friends, he’ll be rude and insult you, surely you don’t want that? But Bartok insisted. Quite what happened when they met Ann has not been able to find out. Anybody know?

However, before playing any Debussy, Ann played some Bartok: the Bear Dance and Swineherd’s Dance from the Hungarian Sketches.
Rimsky-Korsakov said better not listen to Debussy’s music – you risk getting used to it. And then you might end up liking it. Ann also unearthed a quote from the Musical Courier of 27th October 1897: “Rimsky-Korsakov – what a name! It suggests fierce whiskers stained with vodka.” Ann played the First Movement, allegro moderato, from his Fantasy on Russian Themes. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was conducted by Neeme Jarvi.

Incidentally, Debussy said of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scherezade – “It reminds me more of a bazaar than the orient”.

Next we (finally) had a piece of Debussy – the reflective Claire de Lune. Chosen by a colleague of Ann’s who liked listening to his sister play it when they were growing up. (It is also something that Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel would take to a Desert Island.) It was played by Philippe Entremot.

No presentation by Ann is complete without some Shostakovich. Ann wanted to play a particular piece but strangely enough she had problems tracking it down. Perhaps someone was trying to tell her something. However daughter number two came to the rescue almost at the 11th hour. Shostakovich once wrote that “A great piece of music is beautiful regardless of how it is performed. Any prelude or fugue of Bach can be played at any tempo with or without rhythmic nuances and will still be great music. That is how music should be written so that no one, no matter how philistine can ruin it.” He also said “Play it so that flies drop dead in mid-air and the audience starts leaving the hall from sheer boredom”. It is not certain whether he said that of his Violin Sonata or the 15th String Quartet. Ann was going to play both but only the first three minutes of the String Quartet and the Allegretto from the Sonata (with the Brodsky Quartet and Shlomo Mintz violin and Viktoria Postnikova piano).

Finally, Ann ended the evening as she had started – with Bach. The Prelude from his Suite in C minor, BWV 997. But unusually it was played on the lute by Andreas Martin.
One final quote: Debussy on Bach (not that Ann is one to gossip, as you know), “When that old Saxon Cantor has no ideas he sets off on anything and is truly merciless – in short, he is unbearable, except when he is admirable. However, had he a friend, an editor perhaps, who would have gently advised him not to write on one day a week, for example, we might have been spared several hundred pages in which we must wander through a thicket of joyless measures which unwind pitilessly with ever the same little rascals of subject, counter subject etc.” In this year of mercy of the Catholic Church, said Ann, I hope you will be kind and merciful regarding my presentation.

Thanking Ann for such an ingenious theme and entertaining evening, Norman commented what a hateful lot these composers are! He had to admit that despite trying very hard – there had been a series of Shostakovich’s music on TV which he had persevered with – he had not been able to find anything he really liked. But we all have different tastes.

Script by Mike Fowle

Production: Trevor Lockwood

 

Felixstowe Recorded Music Society Christmas selection

CHRISTMAS CHOICE 2nd December 2015

(Final Selection and Coordination by Philip Jordan)

The choice was opened up more widely this year as our committee is smaller and it is difficult to find specifically Christmas pieces that are not too familiar. In the past, as Rosalie wrote in the free papers, the choice has ranged from Enya and Pink Martini to Tchaikovsky and Bach – something for every mood and taste. Rosalie put together a complete evening a couple of years ago, setting a high standard for variety. (Her work in providing the information for the free sheets and putting up posters should also be mentioned with thanks.)

This year Philip kindly coordinated the music. He gave us a brief summary of what we would be hearing then we started appropriately enough with Rosalie’s choices. First from Bob Chilcott and Everyone Sang, a CD Rosalie had acquired for her presentation: All That Jazz, when she played the Little Jazz Mass. Now we heard Mid-Winter (1994/1995). She had been rather desperately searching for some Christmas music that hadn’t been used before and out of the three tracks she suggested as possible, Philip had chosen this one.

Next came Enya – And Winter Came. Rosalie had used this for her complete Christmas evening, and again she had suggested three possible tracks from which Philip had selected White is in the Winter Night. A very Rosalie piece of music. It carried on the opening them of December and winter. Philip particularly liked the concluding lines:

Have you heard the bells are ringing
Ringing out their story?
Have you heard the bells are ringing?
Glory! Glory! Glory!

Finally, a lighter piece, Clare Teal’s Jing a Ling from which we heard the title track.

Next came Eileen’s suggestion – a CD (which she had had some difficulty in tracking down) made by Les Sirenes, a female chamber choir, a Glasgow based choir consisting of 25 vocalists, all students or graduates from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Eileen first heard them on the BBC and fell in love with their voices. They were choir of the year in 2012.

Some quotes from then: “The best legato singing of full-toned piano I have ever heard. It was fantastic” (Mary King); “Your legato is sumptuous. I love this choir” (Greg Beardsell).

We heard several numbers from Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”.

1 Procession,
2 Wolcum Yole
3 There is No Rose (the title of the CD)
4 That Yonge Child
5 Balulalow*
6 As Dew in Aprille
7 This Little Babe
8 Recession
*Balulalow is an old Scottish word for lullaby and the scene depicted is Mary with the baby Jesus.
Helen had proposed the Christmas Concerto by Corelli. She said that she liked this concerto from a CD called Baroque Masterpieces which seemed a very good reason to share it. We heard all six short movements:
1 Vivace-Grave
2 Allegro
3 Adagio-Allegro-Adagio
4 Vivace
5 Allegro
6 Pastorale ad libitum : Largo

Then to take us to the interval (and mince pies and other seasonal treats), Heather played for us three pieces on the piano:

1 Silver Bells
2 Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
3 Jingle Bell Rock

And as the piano had been a bit of an unknown quality before she came to use it, Heather had also brought along an accordion and was prevailed upon to play it (in fact, the piano was reasonable), and she played:

1 In the Bleak Midwinter
2 Once in Royal David’s City
3 O Come All Ye Faithful
4 We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We hummed rather than sang along to these. It made a very pleasant change. (That is deliberately ambiguous!)

Interval

After the break, we resumed with Norman’s suggestions. These came from a CD entitled On Christmas Night. Philip described this as a selection of beautiful carols sung by the choir of Merton College, Oxford. They range from J S Bach to the present day. Philip had chosen four, slipping in an additional one to Norman’s suggestions, the song from Appalachia. Rather appropriately as our globe-trotting member had been in America the previous week.

1 John Rutter – All Bells in Paradise
2 Traditional, arranged by Richard Lloyd – I Saw Three Ships
3 Appalachian folk carol, arranged by Andrew Carter – I Wonder as I Wander
4 Traditional , arranged by Arthur Sullivan – It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

Mike had suggested two short pieces. First was something he had heard at one of the St Mary le Tower lunchtime recitals. The theme during the summer had been Music in the Time of War. This is a short piece for flute and piano, by the French Jewish composer, Fernand Halphen, called Noel, which he had written for the troops at the front during the Great War. Although Halphen was really too old to volunteer, he had gone to the front and sadly was killed in 1917.

His other selection was a work for guitar by the Paraguayan composer, Agustin Barrios Mangore, entitled Villancico de Navidad, or Christmas Carol. It was played by John Williams.

Finally Philip introduced his own choices. As he said, he likes to read the information in the CDs and listening to other pieces on them as well as the choice, when suddenly realising that he needed to make his choices. Firstly, another piece by John Rutter, Aled Jones singing a Gaelic Blessing, Deep Peace. This lived up to its name, he thought, bringing a peaceful mood.

In the 1950s the evangelist Billy Graham was attracting massive attendances at his conventions. Philip did attend in London and was very impressed by the singing of George Beverley Shea, the Canadian born American Gospel Singer. His clear pronunciation and timbre of his voice made a marvellous contribution to the crusades at Wembley in 1956 and Auckland in 1959, as was demonstrated by his singing of Once in Royal David’s City. Shea died in 2013 at the ripe old age of 104.

About this time a year ago, Phil was returning from Canada with a CD of the Elora Festival Singers, whom he had heard performing in Toronto. From their CD, the Mystery of Christmas, we heard God is With Us: a Christmas Proclamation, by Sir John Tavener.

Thanking the members for their contribution to this interesting and varied programme, Norman also thanked Philip for again putting it together. The sad news he added was that we would not be meeting again until the 20th January.

Mike Fowle