Monday, December 31, 2012

Program Notes (V)

The next installment of my program notes series.  For this one, a chamber music concert in 1999, I had to rework an earlier program note I had written for a Handel concerto grosso.

Handel: Concerto Grosso in G major, Op. 6, No. 1

The concerto grosso was one of several archetypal Baroque instrumental forms.  Originated in Italy during the seventeenth century, and perfected by Arcangelo Corelli, the supreme example of the form is Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos.  Originally the word “concerto” merely indicated a type of composition where a voice would sing “in concert” with a bass instrument for accompaniment, in contrast to most earlier types of vocal composition, which were unaccompanied by instruments.  Eventually this idea was applied to strictly instrumental compositions, with the voice replaced by a treble instrument.  When more treble instruments were added, it became a “concerto grosso” (literally, “large concerto”).  In Corelli’s scheme, a concerto grosso had four movements, in the pattern slow-fast-slow-fast.

There are two sets of concerti grossi (which, typically, were published in sets of six or twelve) bearing Handel’s name: the six of Opus 3, and the twelve of Opus 6, in addition to several independent ones.  Of the two sets, the Opus 6 concertos are far better known, being on a somewhat grander scale, and closer to traditional Italian models, scored for strings only.  Most of them were also newly-composed for the purpose.  It was an accepted practice of the time for a composer to reuse music conceived in another medium, and a few of the Opus 6 concertos do indeed borrow from earlier compositions.  The Opus 3 set, however, consists entirely of borrowings; moreover, they were compiled and arranged not by Handel himself but by his publisher, John Walsh, and rather clumsily done.  The Opus 6 set was Handel’s answer; he apparently wished to have an authentic set of his concertos before the public.  The first of the series, in G major, does not follow the traditional Corellian scheme outlined above; it is in five movements, only one of which is slow.  It is a fittingly vigorous introduction to a splendid set of works, which, collectively, contain some of Handel’s finest instrumental writing.

Mozart: String Quartet in G major, K. 156

Few composers can have had such a cosmopolitan upbringing as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  From the time his phenomenal gifts were discovered as a boy of seven, through his teenage years, he toured all of Western Europe with his family, entertaining kings, queens, princes and even a Pope.  He visited Italy no less than three times while in his teens.  The first journey was lengthy, and designed, like all his prior trips, to showcase his talents; but the second and third trips were shorter, and designed to fulfill specific commisions - for operas, in Milan.  For his father and manager, Leopold Mozart, knew that time was running out; his son wasn’t going to stay a child prodigy forever, and parading him thus would soon cease to be lucrative.  On the other hand, to establish him as a major operatic composer might (and indeed, did, for a while) pay dividends.

So in the fall of 1772 we find the sixteen-year-old Mozart in Milan with his father, writing his opera “Lucia Silla” for the carnival season of 1773.  But “to while away the time,” as Leopold put it in a letter back home, on the journey itself, Mozart wrote his first set of six string quartets.  (Not his first actual quartet, however; he wrote a single one, K. 80, in 1770.)  That he planned them as a set is evident in their sequence of keys - D major, G major, C major, F major, B-Flat major, and E-Flat major, each successive quartet’s key a fifth lower - and in the fast-slow-fast three-movement pattern used for each quartet.  Two of the quartets (including the second one, performed here) finish with a minuet.  Mozart took as his models the quartets of Giovanni Battista Sammartini, the most esteemed composer in Milan at the time.  The works do not aim for the depth and profundity characteristic of the later quartets of Mozart and Haydn; they aim to entertain, and do so admirably.

Debussy: "Golliwog's Cakewalk"

In 1908, Claude Debussy published his suite for piano, “Children’s Corner,” inspired by and dedicated to his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Chouchou, “with fond apologies from her father for what follows.”  The suite’s title, and the titles of its individual movements, are in English, possibly representing a tip of the hat to the English governess from whom Debussy’s tiny daughter was picking up English mannerisms!  The last piece of the set is the famous “Golliwog’s Cake-Walk.”

The music doesn’t require much explanation - it’s a delightful romp influenced by the rhythms of ragtime, which was just being discovered in Europe at the time - but perhaps the title does.  Golliwogs were fashionable children’s toys, the Beanie Babies of their time, originating as an African-American doll in the highly successful children’s stories of the American-born illustrator Florence Upton.  Chouchou owned a Golliwog, and in the piece one can imagine the Debussy daughter’s doll stumbling to the strains of the American dance - the cakewalk, another name for ragtime.

Kreisler: "Schön Rosmarin" and "Tambourin Chinois"

Fritz Kreisler was possibly the most beloved violinist of the earlier half of this century - in an age that encompassed the careers of many legendary violinists, from Eugène Ysaÿe to Heifetz and the young Yehudi Menuhin.  He pioneered in the use of vibrato as a constant coloring, giving an unparalleled sweetness to the tone (most violinists before Kreisler used vibrato only sparingly).  He was the first “celebrity” instrumentalist to record extensively; beginning in 1910, he cut hundreds of discs, bringing the elegance and charm of his performances into living rooms across the world.  His discography (all of which is currently available on CD) includes concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Paganini, which have long been highly prized by collectors; and he was the first to record the complete Beethoven violin sonatas, in the 1930s.

All this largess notwithstanding, Kreisler is best remembered today (as he was best loved in his own time) for the many short salon pieces which he wrote to enhance his repertoire (for recording as well as concerts, since they fit nicely within the four-minute time limitation of a 78-rpm record!) - such as “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow), “Liebesfreud” (Love’s Joy), and “Caprice viennois” - pieces which perfectly capture the essence of his native Vienna, with its laid-back easy grace.  Many of them feature lilting waltz rhythms, including “Schön Rosmarin” (Fair Rosemary), performed here.  And “Tambourin Chinois” might be described as an Oriental trinket seen in a Viennese shop-window.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Moeran: String Trio

E. J. Moeran
New Year's Eve will see the 118th anniversary of the birth of the English composer (with strong Irish roots) Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950), and so I present the first recording of a major work of his: the utterly delectable String Trio in G of 1931.  This was recorded ten years after its composition, during the darkest days of World War II, by a group that would later become renowned for its Westminster LPs - among them, the two Hindemith string trios - but this appears to have been their only 78-rpm recording as a string trio:

Moeran: String Trio in G Major (1931)
Jean Pougnet, violin; Frederick Riddle, viola; Anthony Pini, cello
Recorded May 16, 1941
English Columbia DX 1014 through 1016, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.68 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 26.38 MB)

Riddle (1912-1995) we have met before, in his pioneering recording of Walton's viola concerto, and Pini (1902-1989) turned up on numerous recordings as a second cellist to the Budapest and Pro Arte quartets.  Pini was also the cellist in the Philharmonia String Quartet.  Jean Pougnet (1907-1968), who was British despite his French-sounding name, recorded the Delius violin concerto with Beecham, and was active also in Karl Haas' London Baroque Ensemble, recording several concertos with them.  In the earlier stages of his career, he often played in dance bands - as on Jolyon's most recent post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fauré: Dolly (Siegel & Léonet)

Gabriel Fauré playing a duet with Mlle. Lombard, 1913
(the daughter of his host at Lake Lugano)
Christmas is for children, and what better way to celebrate the season of the birth of the Child who changed the world, than with a work not only written for children, but played by them?  Here's is Fauré's delightful suite written for Hélène Bardac, the young daughter of the singer Emma Bardac, with whom Fauré had a long-running affair.  It is said that Hélène was so tiny when she was born that she was nicknamed Dolly, hence the title of Fauré's suite:

Fauré: Dolly - Suite for piano duet, Op. 56
Anita Siegel and Babeth Léonet, pianists
Recorded May 9 and November 11, 1934
Columbia 9103-M and 4120-M, one 12" and one 10" record
Link (FLAC file, 32.11 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 20.26 MB)

Later, Mme. Bardac became Debussy's second wife, so that Dolly and Claude-Emma Debussy (the "Chouchou" of Children's Corner fame) were stepsisters, with some thirteen years difference in their ages.

The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of 1936 states that the performers on this recording were "child pupils of Marguerite Long," herself a renowned interpreter of Fauré's music.  Anita Siegel appears also to have studied with Lazare Lévy, and to have perished in the Holocaust (she died in 1943, aged 22).  Babeth Léonet may still be alive at age 91.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

P.S. (January 3, 2015): A niece of Anita Siegel has kindly come forward and informed me that her aunt did not perish in the Holocaust, but fell to her death from the balcony of her apartment in Grenoble, whence she had moved from Neuilly after her marriage in 1941.  She was a few months pregnant at the time of this tragic accident.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Program Notes (IV)

The next installment of my program notes series (for a concert of works for strings only):

Mendelssohn: Sinfonia No. 8 in D major

Felix Mendelssohn, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart before him, was a musically precocious child.  Unlike Mozart, he had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family who was able to nurture his gifts at a steady, appropriate rate of speed (Leopold Mozart, by contrast, shamelessly exploited his son, amassing through him a great deal of wealth).  Beginning at the age of eleven, Mendelssohn began to write copious amounts of music, from songs and piano pieces to chamber and orchestral works - which his proud parents would give a hearing by hosting musicales in their spacious Berlin home, inviting prominent people and musicians.  Sometimes a small orchestra would be engaged for Felix to conduct, although he was so small he had to stand on a stool to be seen.  These experiences offered the boy a unique opportunity for practical experimentation; few composers have had the chance of trying out so young the actual sound of their music.  By the time he was sixteen (when he wrote his Octet for Strings, Op. 20, his first certifiable masterpiece, and one of his finest works altogether), he had developed a fully mature style.

Among the works that Mendelssohn wrote for the home musicales is a series of Sinfonias, or symphonies, for string orchestra - thirteen in all, dating from 1821 to 1823, which taken as a whole demonstrate perhaps better than any other genre Mendelssohn’s musical development.  The first six symphonies are short and rather simple, based on Classical models, but beginning with No. 7 the works increase in scope and depth.  No. 8, performed here, was written in November 1822 (just three months short of the composer’s fourteenth birthday), after the return of the Mendelssohn family from a trip to Switzerland.  Mendelssohn evidently thought well enough of this symphony that he later added wind parts to it, thus producing his first fully orchestral work.

Elgar: Serenade in E minor, Op. 20

Sir Edward Elgar is generally considered the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell, who died over two hundred years before Elgar began producing the works upon which his reputation rests.  Among these are the “Enigma” Variations, the first great British orchestral work; the two symphonies, likewise the first great British symphonies; and “The Dream of Gerontius,” considered the finest oratorio written by an Englishman.

He was also a late bloomer.  The son of a piano tuner in Worceter, by age thirty he had achieved a strictly local reputation as a freelance musician - violinist, organist, teacher, conductor, but not as a composer; most of his attempts to write large-scale works foundered.  Then in 1889 occured the most significant event in his creative life - his marriage to Alice Roberts, who had come to him for piano lessons three years before.  Her support seemed to foster creative abilities that could not function without it; it is significant that his last large-scale work, the Cello Concerto, was written just before her death - fourteen years before his own.

The Serenade for Strings was written in 1892 (and published the next year - the first Elgar full score in print); after its completion, Elgar noted in a page of his diary, “Braut [his pet name for his wife] helped a great deal to make these little tunes.”  The “little tunes” form a charming three-movement suite, redolent of the English countryside Elgar loved.  It begins with a gently rocking rhythm in the violas that pervades much of the first movement, which then returns at the very end of the Serenade.

Vivaldi: Concerto in B minor, Op. 3, No. 10

Antonio Vivaldi is unquestionably the most original and influential Italian composer of his generation, especially in the field of the concerto, a genre to which he contributed over 500 items.  Yet he is sometimes uncharitably dismissed as the composer who wrote the same concerto 500 times over!  This dismissal surely is based on the idea that someone who wrote so much music couldn’t be any good, rather than acquaintance with the music itself.  Yes, the works are variable in quality (as with any composer), but the finest of them possess a freshness of invention, a deftness of scoring, and a rhythmic vitality second to none.  Some of them also contain descriptive titles or programmatic elements, unusual in orchestral music of the Baroque (for example, the famous “Four Seasons” set of violin concertos).

Vivaldi published eight sets of concertos himself.  The first such, possibly the most influential music publication of the first half of the 18th century, was his set of twelve concertos, Opus 3, collectively entitled “L’Estro Armonico” (Harmonic Inspiration).  Bach knew them, and transcribed several of them for harpsichord or organ solo; they served as models for his own violin and harpsichord concertos.  The set consists of four concertos for one violin and strings, four for two violins and four for four violins.  No. 10 of the set is the best-known of the ones for four violins, and was transcribed, most ingeniously, by Bach for four harpsichords and strings!  Particularly effective is a passage in the second, slow movement, where each of the four solo violins arpeggiates the same chord, but in a different pattern.

Britten: Simple Symphony for strings, Op. 4

The story of Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony” is best told in the composer’s own words, as excerpted from a liner note to a 1956 recording by the Decca Record Co., Ltd.:

“Once upon a time there was a prep-school boy.  He was called Britten mi., his initials were E.B., his age was nine, and his locker number was seventeen.  He was quite an ordinary little boy...  But there was one curious thing about this boy: he wrote music.  He wrote lots of it, reams and reams of it.  I don’t really know when he had time to do it.  In those days, long ago, prep school boys didn’t have much free time; the day started with early work at 7:30, and ended with prayers at 8 [p.m.] - and the hours in between were fully organized.  Still there were odd moments in bed, there were half holidays and Sundays too, and somehow these reams and reams got written.  And they are still lying in an old cupboard to this day - String Quartets (six of them), twelve piano sonatas; dozens of songs; sonatas for violin, sonatas for viola and cello too; suites, waltzes, rondos, fantasies, variations; a tone-poem 'Chaos and Cosmos'...all the opus numbers from 1 to 100 were filled (and catalogued) by the time Britten mi. was fourteen.

“Of course they aren’t very good, these works; inspiration didn’t always run very high, and the workmanship wasn’t always academically sound...besides, for the sake of neatness, every piece had to end precisely at the bottom of the right-hand page, which doesn’t always lead to a satisfactory conclusion.  No, I’m afraid they aren’t very great; but when Benjamin Britten, a proud young composer of twenty (who’d already had a work broadcast) came along and looked in this cupboard, he found some of them not too uninteresting; and so, rescoring them for strings, changing bits here and there, and making them more fit for general consumption, he turned them into a 'Simple Symphony,' and here it is.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beethoven: First Symphony (Rodzinski)

Artur Rodzinski
Happy Beethoven's birthday, everyone! To celebrate, here is the first of the "immortal nine" (to use Edwin Evans' phrase), in a taut, vigorous reading by the Polish-born conductor Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958).  From 1933 to 1943 he was the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, which he built up into the world-class ensemble that it remains today.  During the 1940s, he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Columbia Records, first in Cleveland and then in New York, making recordings not only of standard repertoire but of works considered very daring at the time - symphonies by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Sibelius, and Berg's Violin Concerto with its dedicatee, Louis Krasner.  But this is the only recording of a Beethoven symphony he was to make for Columbia, who also had Bruno Walter on its books by this time:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski
Recorded December 28, 1941
Columbia Masterworks set MM-535, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 59.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 49.21 MB)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dances by Bronislaw Gimpel

Bronislaw Gimpel
A happy Chanukah to all my Jewish friends (as well as everyone else)! Here's a little present for the sixth day: an album of dances played by the Polish-American violinist Bronislaw Gimpel (1911-1979), one of which, Joseph Achron's Dance Improvisation, is based on the Yiddish folk tune "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah." (Another bit of serendipity, that I would realize this while working on this transfer!)  This set was made for the fledgling Vox label, founded in 1945 by George H. de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a descendant of the composer, and still in operation 67 years later.  Vox was dedicated to presenting unusual repertoire from the very start, as well as introducing less established artists to perform it - pianists like Leonard Shure, Shura Cherkassky, and Jakob Gimpel, and violinists like Jakob's brother Bronislaw Gimpel and Ruggiero Ricci all made 78-rpm records for Vox.  I believe this album, reviewed in the Nov. 22, 1947 issue of Saturday Review, was Bronislaw Gimpel's debut recording:

Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances (arr. Szekely)
Stravinsky: Petrouchka - Danse Russe (arr. Dushkin)
Wieniawski: Mazurka in D, Op. 19, No. 2 ("Dudziarz")
Achron: Hebrew Dance, Op. 35, No. 1
Achron: Dance Improvisation on a Hebrew Folk Tune, Op. 37
Sarasate: Jota Navarra (Spanish Dance No. 4), Op. 22, No. 2
Bronislaw Gimpel, violin; Artur Balsam, piano
Issued in 1947
Vox album 616, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 75.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.63 MB)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Program Notes (III)

Here's the next installment of my program-note writing:

Fauré: Masques et Bergamasques - Suite, Op. 112

Gabriel Fauré could almost be considered the French Schubert.  As Schubert was the greatest German composer of songs, so was Fauré the greatest French; indeed, both would be considered immortals had they written nothing else.  Both also left us wonderful piano and chamber music.  Both posessed prodigious melodic invention, and both were quite daring in their use of harmony.  Both also tended to shy away from orchestral writing.  Schubert’s purely orchestral output, the symphonies, while masterly, quantitatively represent a tiny fraction of his total life’s work.  Fauré, likewise, left little for the orchestra, and he withdrew much of what he did write (including two symphonies and a violin concerto).  Nevertheless, his orchestral writing has substance; his symphonic masterpiece is perhaps the suite he drew from incidental music for Maeterlinck’s "Pelléas et Mélisande."

His last orchestral work, the suite "Masques et Bergamasques," has its origin in a theater piece with the same title, assembled for performance at Monte Carlo in April 1919 from various earlier compositions, both vocal and instrumental, some already in print.  The published suite contains four pieces, all of them otherwise unpublished at the time.  Of these, the Ouverture and Menuet use thematic material from much earlier pieces, while the Gavotte is lifted almost verbatim from the first of the withdrawn symphonies.  Only the Pastorale is original, Fauré’s final farewell to the orchestra.

The original program for "Masques et Bergamasques" is as follows:

“The characters Harlequin, Gilles and Colombine, whose task is usually to amuse the aristocratic audience, take their turn at being spectators at a ‘fête galante’ on the island of Cythera.  The lords and ladies who as a rule applaud their efforts now unwittingly provide them with entertainment by their coquettish behavior.”

Debussy: Petite Suite

Claude Debussy is generally regarded as one of the great innovators in musical history; his mature works are remarkably independent of traditional norms in form, harmony and coloring.  Among musicians, his name has become virtually synonymous with Impressionism – despite the fact that Debussy disliked the term; he felt it was misused (as undoubtedly it was).  His music, like the works of the Impressionist painters and poets, expresses Romantic ideals (such as emphasis on mood and atmosphere) through modern-sounding means.  Thus, Impressionism can be seen as a blend of Romanticism and modernism.

That the Romanticism came first is evident in the Petite Suite, one of the earliest works of Debussy that is still in general circulation.  Originally written as a piano duet, it was first performed in March 1889 by the 26-year old composer with his future publisher, Jacques Durand.  It achieved great popularity, which continues unabated to this day, in the 1907 orchestration by Henri Busser, a friend of Debussy and himself a highly regarded composer and conductor (he held a conducting post at the Paris Opera from 1905 to 1939).  There is little evidence of the mature Debussy style, but it is nevertheless a work of great charm which shows, through its tunefulness and the individuality of its melodies, what a successful composer of light music he could have become, if he had not been called on a different path.  And one can see glimmerings of Debussy’s future preoccupations: in the first of its four movements, "En bateau" (Sailing), we see the beginnings of a fascination with the sonic depiction of water, which was to haunt Debussy all his life – reaching its fullest fruition in the orchestral suite "La Mer."

Ravel: Introduction and Allegro

Despite its origins in the days of antiquity, the harp did not come into its own as an orchestral instrument until the 19th century.  In 1810, a French piano builder, Sebasten Erard, patented the modern pedal harp.  Unlike earlier harps, it was capable of playing in all the keys, and thus the way was paved for its exploitation within the orchestra – a process begun by another Frenchman, Hector Berlioz, that master of orchestration, with his "Symphonie fantastique" of 1830.

Maurice Ravel had an intuitive understanding of the harp’s potential.  Himself a master orchestrator (the usually-heard version of Moussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition," originally for piano solo, is Ravel’s orchestration), he used the harp effectively in every one of his orchestral scores.  But his most famous work featuring the instrument is the Introduction and Allegro, written in 1905 for the harpist Micheline Kahn.  Scored originally for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, it has been regarded as a miniature harp concerto in one movement, brilliantly written for the harp and requiring a virtuoso technique, complete with a solo cadenza towards the close.  It is frequently performed thus, with an expanded string section.  However, there is a skillfully achieved balance between the harp and the ensemble, with equal sharing of melodies (often the harp plays an accompanying role) more characteristic of chamber music.  Which is it – concerto or chamber work?  The truth is, it straddles both worlds.  In keeping with this idea, we present a performance in which certain portions are played by solo strings, and others by the full ensemble.

It is interesting to note that, in the first commercial recording of the work (in 1923, for Columbia, featuring the harpist Gwendolyn Mason, and now available on CD), this dichotomy was reinforced by the work being called “Septet” on the label, yet it also featured a conductor – Ravel himself!

Gounod: Symphony No. 1 in D Major

It is the fate of many composers to be remembered for only a handful of pieces.  Charles Gounod, though greatly popular and influential in his day, is no exception.  Ever torn between the church and the theater (as a young man he studied for the priesthood), he wrote copiously in both sacred and secular vocal styles; yet we have, in the active repertory, only the “Ave Maria” (based on Bach’s first Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier) and “O Divine Redeemer” on the one hand, and the operas "Faust" and "Roméo et Juliette" on the other.

Gounod, in common with many French composers of his generation, wrote little purely instrumental music; French public musical life during the 19th century revolved almost exclusively around the opera, and concert music was not a commercially viable proposition.  The only instrumental piece of Gounod that is remembered is the “Funeral March of a Marionette” (used by Alfred Hitchcock for many years as the theme for his TV series).  Yet he also wrote two symphonies, three string quartets and a delightful Petite Symphonie for double wind quintet.  These works show modest but unfailing skill in the handling of unpretentious material in traditional forms.

The First Symphony was written in the last months of 1854, as an antidote to the depression that Gounod had lately suffered over the failure of his latest opera, "La nonne sanglate."  After disappointment of the theater it seems to have been a relief for him to write music that had no other aim than his own satisfaction.  As with Bizet’s youthful symphony written the next year, influences of Haydn and early Beethoven are abundant; the Andante has a slyly contrived little fugue and, after a slow introduction, the Finale is of Mendelssohnian vivacity. The work was much appreciated by its first hearers in 1855, and Gounod was encouraged by its welcome to write a successor, his Second Symphony in E-Flat, the following year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ormandy: Two American Ninths

Cover design by Victor Atkins
I had a request about three weeks ago for this record, which appears never to have been released on CD except for a very obscure Japanese issue.  With it, I now have available on this blog all of Ormandy's recordings of William Schuman symphonies (#3, 6 and 9).  Alas, I don't have the other Persichetti symphony he recorded (#4).  Of these two single-movement symphonies, the Persichetti is much more to my taste.  I frankly have never warmed to Schuman's late style, primarily because it's atonal, and I don't much like atonal music, which seems to me to have been the biggest aesthetic mistake of the 20th century, musically speaking.  (All the atonal and twelve-tone works that I like - such as "Pierrot Lunaire" and Berg's Violin Concerto - I enjoy because they have great communicative power in spite of their atonality.)  Persichetti's Ninth, while quite dissonant, is at least rooted in tonality (in this case, E).

William Schuman: Symphony No. 9 ("The Ardeatine Caves")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded May 27, 1969
Side 1 of RCA Red Seal LSC-3212, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC file, 137.64 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 37.53 MB)

Persichetti: Symphony No. 9, Op. 113 ("Sinfonia: Janiculum")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded March 16, 1971
Side 2 of RCA Red Seal LSC-3212, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC file, 105.7 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 32.12 MB)

Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was yet another of the seemingly dozens of composers to write exactly nine symphonies; in America alone Peter Mennin and Roger Sessions joined him in this particular statistic.  Schuman did manage to break the "curse" by writing a Tenth ("The American Muse"),

I well remember the circumstances under which I acquired this record.  I was a freshman in college, but was transferring to another school, and as a parting gift my roommate offered me any record in his collection, about 50 LPs.  I chose this one, because it had the most unusual repertoire, and he was really glad, because he said he'd never liked this record!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Two by the Coolidge Quartet

The Coolidge Quartet with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge
(left to right: Nicolai Berezowsky, William Kroll,
Mrs. Coolidge, Nicholas Moldavan, Victor Gottlieb)
Today I present two more sets by the Coolidge Quartet, that pioneering group named after the great patron of early 20th-century chamber music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.  On records, besides their aborted project to record the complete Beethoven quartets, the Coolidge Quartet brought to American record buyers many previously unrecorded works; they had a penchant for American works, as well as for unearthing rarities from the Classical era.  Both are represented here:

Griffes: Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes and
Chadwick: Quartet No. 4 in E minor - Andante semplice
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded May 27 and 31, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-558, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 46.55 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.62 MB)

Schubert: Quartet No. 9 in G minor, D. 173
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded October 28, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-641, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 53.85 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.15 MB)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations (Tortelier)

Paul Tortelier
Today I present an early recording by the great French cellist, Paul Tortelier (1914-1990), famous for his interpretation of Strauss' Don Quixote, which he played under the composer's direction, and which he recorded with Sir Thomas Beecham in 1947.  (Beecham said to him, "my boy, you will succeed in England because you have temperament.")  The next year, he made this recording of Tchaikovsky's delightful Rococo Variations (it seems to me that some of Tchaikovsky's happiest music was in the variation form - think of the Orchestral Suite No. 3, or the great Piano Trio):

Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Paul Tortelier, cello, with orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar
Recorded March 23, 1948
HMV C 3776 and C 3777, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 40.49 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.88 MB)

This must have been the first recording made by Norman Del Mar (1919-1994) as a conductor, though he had appeared on records as early as 1944, playing second horn to Dennis Brain in a Decca recording of Brahms' Op. 17 part songs for women's choir, horns and harp, with the Nottingham Oriana Choir and harpist Gwendolyn Mason.  This recording can be heard at the CHARM website.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Program Notes (II)

Continuing my series of program note writing, above is shown the second Georgia Sinfonia concert for which I provided these.  Michael Kurth, who since 1994 has been a member of the Atlanta Symphony bass section, wrote his own program note for his piece, which I do not feel authorized to reproduce here, but here
are my notes for the other three works on the program:

Handel: Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op. 3, No. 5

The concerto grosso was the most highly developed of Baroque orchestral forms.  Originated in Italy during the seventeenth century, and perfected by Arcangelo Corelli, the supreme example of the form is Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos.  It is based on the principle of contrast - alternating the use of a large group of instruments, the concerto grosso (literally, “large ensemble”), with a smaller group, the concertino.  The later Classical concerto, pitting a solo instrument against the orchestra, was the logical successor to the concerto grosso.

There are two sets of concerti grossi (which, typically, were published in sets of six or twelve) bearing Handel’s name: the six of Opus 3, and the twelve of Opus 6, in addition to several independent ones.  Of the two sets, the Opus 6 concertos are far better known, being on a somewhat grander scale, and closer to traditional Italian models, scored for strings only.  Most of them were also newly-composed for the purpose.  It was an accepted practice of the time for a composer to reuse music conceived in another medium, and a few of the Opus 6 concertos do indeed borrow from earlier compositions.  The Opus 3 set, however, consists entirely of borrowings; moreover, they were compiled and arranged not by Handel himself but by his publisher, John Walsh (though with Handel’s approval).  It is a testament to Handel’s genius that the freshness of his invention shines through Walsh’s sometimes clumsy handling of the scores.

The Opus 3 concertos came to be known as the “Oboe Concertos” because the scoring adds oboes and bassoons to the strings of the Italian concerto grosso.  The fifth of them is atypical of the concerto grosso form, having no solo passages.  It is closer in style to an overture; in fact, the first movement was lifted verbatim from the overture to Handel’s second Chandos Anthem, “In the Lord I Put My Trust.”   Many years later, Sir Edward Elgar made a transcription of this overture for full symphony orchestra.

Holst: Brook Green Suite, for string orchestra

The name of Gustav Holst is so inextricably associated in the public’s mind with that of his most famous composition, the orchestral suite The Planets, that both the man and his many other accomplishments have become overshadowed.  A person of wide-ranging interests, from Eastern philosophy and astrology (the impetus behind The Planets) to English folk song (in which his friend, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, undertook pioneering research), Holst believed passionately in music as a form of human communication.  This belief led him to greatly enrich the repertoire of music for amateurs, both vocal and instrumental.  Imogen Holst, the composer’s daughter, has said that “it is characteristic of my father that the pieces he wrote for amateurs should sound equally at home when played by learners in a school-room as by professionals in a concert hall.”

Holst found his calling as a schoolteacher; from 1905 until his death he was the music director at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Brook Green, London.  For the string orchestra at this school, he wrote the St. Paul’s Suite in 1913, and its lesser-known companion, the Brook Green Suite, in 1933.  Imogen Holst (herself a St. Paul’s alumnus) has described the latter work thus: “The short Prelude is founded on the descending scale of C major.  In the slow Air the flowing lines of melody are a link between the language of English folk song and the enharmonic counterpoint of my father’s last works.  The Dance, a cheerful jig, borrows a puppet show’s tune that he once heard during a holiday in Sicily.”

(I should credit my source here for Imogen Holst's comments, as I did not on the original program note: they come from the liner note to the Lyrita LP of her conducting the English Chamber Orchestra in this and four other of her father's works, SRCS 34).

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551, “Jupiter”

Mozart’s last three, and finest, symphonies - No. 39 in E-Flat, K. 543, No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and No. 41 in C, K. 551 - were all written during the summer of 1788, as were two piano trios, a piano sonata, and a violin sonata!  The reason for this burst of productivity seems, surmises Maynard Solomon in his wonderful recent (1995) biography of the composer, to stem from Mozart’s pressing financial needs.  From 1782 to 1786 his income came largely from a series of subscription concerts he gave, performing his own piano concertos (he wrote no less than fifteen during this period), then he turned his hand to opera with The Marriage of Figaro in 1786 and Don Giovanni in 1787.  But these operatic ventures, while reasonably successful in their own right, did not bring the commissions for more operas as he had hoped.  So in the summer of 1788 he scheduled a series of subscription concerts, about which little is known, since no documentary evidence about them has survived.  But it seems likely that the new symphonies, and perhaps the trios, were intended for them.  It is also known that Mozart tentatively planned a London tour which did not materialize; perhaps, like Haydn a few years later, he hoped to capitalize on the popularity of his symphonies there.

London, in fact, was the origin of the nickname “Jupiter” given to the Symphony in C, K. 551; apparently the sobriquet was coined by Haydn’s sponsor, the violinist and conductor Johann Peter Salomon, and the nickname appeared on British concert programs from 1819 on.  Certainly the pomp and circumstance reflected in the first movement, with its use of martial rhythms, trumpets and drums, evoke images of nobility, even of Olympian grandeur.  Truly awe-inspiring is the finale, in which five separate themes can be discerned, all brought together and sounded simultaneously during the amazing fugue that forms the final coda.