Once upon a time …
A video directed by Wai Ho Chui, a pupil of King Edward’s School.
Sunday 23rd June 2019
Ruddock Hall, 16.30
Featuring guest professional musicians:
Joe Thompson, piano (Ivy Club London, ITV’s Daily Show, Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday party, Prince Charles’ 70th (pretty much the Royal Birthday Pianist!), and his long suffering colleague:
Robert Rickenberg, bass
Plus Senior Swing Band with student vocalists:
and many more:
Tara Desai & Sanjana Sudeshkumar
Priyanka Chaudhuri & Emil Ali
Joe Ward & Shivanii Arun
and even more!
Arun Ramanathan, voice
Nathan Cornish, trombone
Naomi Bazlov, piano & George Roberts, bass
Huge thanks to David Ash for wonderful photographs. You can find them all @ https://www.davidashphotography.org/Galleries/King-Edwards/Music/Peter-and-the-Wolf/
Huge thanks to David Ash @ https://www.davidashphotography.org/ for lovely memento of our spring concerts.
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873—1943): Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
“Rachmaninov was made of steel and gold; steel in his arms, gold in his heart.”
Rachmaninov is seen as the last great figure of the tradition of Russian Romanticism and was a leading piano virtuoso during his lifetime. In his youth he was a student of piano and composition at the Moscow Conservatory, studying piano under Nikolai Zverev, graduating aged 19 in 1892. His fame and popularity, both as composer and concert pianist, were launched by two compositions: the Prelude in C-sharp Minor, played for the first time in public on September 26, 1892, and his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, which had its first performance in Moscow on October 27, 1901.
Rachmaninov’s second symphony was composed during 1906 and 1907, and first performed in Saint Petersburg on January 26, 1908. This came over a decade after the disastrous 1897 premiere of his first symphony, which sent Rachmaninov into a depression that took four years to break out of. The scars created by this ordeal drove him away from the idea of a second symphony. However, by the autumn of 1906 enough confidence had returned for him to begin, in secret, to compose a second symphony and Rachmaninov conducted the work at the Saint Petersburg premiere in January 1908, with great success. The symphony won the Glinka Prize of 1,000 roubles that year and quickly made the rounds of the major orchestras of the world.
Despite its success whenever it was performed it was extensively cut, usually reducing it in length from an hour to between thirty-five and forty-five minutes. Before 1970 virtually only the cut version was performed; since then orchestras have used the full version almost exclusively.
Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, Rachmaninov and his family left Russia and settled in the United States. With his primary source of income now being from piano and conducting he devoted most of his time to performance, only completing six works between 1918 and 1943. These included Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3, and Symphonic Dances. He died in the spring of 1943, four days before his seventieth birthday.
During his lifetime Rachmaninov’s work was often seen as unfashionable and dated, and he was often regarded as a much greater pianist than composer. Rachmaninov’s great Russian contemporary, Igor Stravinsky, for example, never could stomach the music or the man, even when they were neighbours in Los Angeles. However, now, as Rachmaninov always hoped, it is his music and not his piano playing that keeps his name alive. The Second Symphony has become one of Rachmaninov’s best loved works and has far surpassed his other two symphonies in popularity.
Duration: approx. 60 minutes
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 3 oboes (incl. English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, strings
1. Largo – Allegro moderato
The first movement begins with a seven-note motif, played by the lower strings, which then frequently reoccurs thought the entire symphony. The long introduction reaches its climax, and a cor anglais solo, which leads the movement into the first subject of its sonata form. The first subject is based on the original motif. A relaxed and expressive secondary theme on G major provides some contrast before violin and clarinet solos mark the start of the development, where the movement modulates through multiple keys. The recapitulation begins unusually, the first subject returns over a dominant pedal. The pedal only resolves at the second subject which returns in the key of E major. Rachmaninov adds much greater expansion to the second subject, in comparison to when it was first heard in the exposition.
2. Allegro molto
Rachmaninov reverses the Classical order of a symphony’s interior movements by putting the scherzo (Allegro molto) before the slow movement. The movement follows an ABACABA form and begins with a lively ostinato played by the upper strings that unexpectedly makes way for a broad, lyrical melody.
The Dies Irae motif is referenced by the horns from the third bar into the movement, with that theme returning throughout. Rachmaninov’s interest in the Dies Irae motif suggests symbolic interest in the Day of Judgement and subsequently religion.
The central trio begins with a fugue launched by the second violins. After the return of the scherzo, Rachmaninov introduces the same Dies irae chant melody that he also cites in his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
The third movement begins with a short violin gesture, which soon passes over the melody to a clarinet solo. The clarinet solo is long, but seems never to repeat itself. Once the solo is over, the clarinet hands back over to the violins, who grow the melody even further in dynamics and range.
The second part of the movement is based on the initial motto theme of the symphony. After a transition back to the opening theme, the central melody of the movement is restated, this time played by the first violins, while fragments of the opening theme are heard in the accompaniment. The movement concludes in a tranquil fashion, dying away slowly in the strings.
4. Allegro vivace
The final movement is also written in sonata form. It begins with the whole orchestra playing a fanfare- like melody, that soon dies away into a march-like melody. The development section builds with an astonishing passage of descending scales, falling at different speeds and from differing heights. The recapitulation begins to set the stage for the triumphant final section of the movement. Melodies from all movements can be heard throughout the recap, with woodwind lines singing above the unrelenting strings. A brief but excited coda ends the work, leading to an exciting and emphatic conclusion.
Joe Ward, Divisions
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791): Requiem in D minor, K. 626
Mozart is one of the most well-known and beloved classical composers of all time, and his Requiem Mass is no exception to this popularity. (A Requiem Mass is a piece of music of which the words have been taken from the Catholic Requiem Mass, or the Mass for the Dead, which is often celebrated in the context of a funeral.) Mozart advanced the classical era greatly over the course of his lifetime, pushing the boundaries of contrapuntal motion and emotional reach. And so, with such popularity, it comes as no surprise that the Requiem has acquired its fair share of myths and legends.
The unusual origin stories of Mozart’s Requiem go back beyond Alexander Pushkin’s play Mozart and Salieri (1830), in which Mozart is poisoned by the jealous composer Salieri. In fact, it is most likely Mozart who is to blame for the origin of such sinister myths. He was a superstitious man, who had once written in a letter, “I think that something is going on behind the scenes, and that doubtless here too I have enemies” (1778). Hence, it is quite probable that Mozart’s paranoia grew when an anonymous patron commissioned a Requiem, around July of 1791.
That summer, Mozart had been ill. He was nearing his death, and experienced mood-swings often. According to his wife Constanze a few years after his death, Mozart declared that “I know I must die… they have ordered a Requiem, it is for myself I am writing this”. Indeed, Mozart was to die in December of the very year he was commissioned to write the Requiem. It is now easy to see how such a coincidence may have attracted so many rumours, and how even Mozart himself may have believed them; Mozart reportedly exclaimed that the commissioner must have given him “aqcua toffana”, a powerful poison, hence explaining the origins of Pushkin’s tale of poison.
In reality, the patron had other, less dramatic reasons to commission a Requiem. He was Franz von Walsegg, an eccentric count who had wanted to memorialise the recent death of his wife, who passed away on Valentine’s Day 1791, aged only 20. Walsegg had a history of commissioning works from several famous composers of the day and playing them in front of friends and his household, unnamed (perhaps in the same way we play “guess the song” today, to varying degrees of success). Walsegg would pass these compositions off as his own as his guests were unable to name any composer.
Mozart had been paid half of the fee up front, the rest to be paid after the delivery of the full composition. However, Mozart was to only complete the Introit fully before his death on the 5th December. Other parts up to the Lacrimosa were mostly written or heavily suggested in Mozart’s manuscript. After Mozart’s death, his widow Constanze was determined to finish the Requiem, and to receive the second half of the payment, worrying that Walsegg would ask for a refund otherwise. And so, the Requiem Mass was completed in secrecy.
Constanze asked several accomplished composers, many of whom had worked with or studied under Mozart, to complete the Requiem. However, nobody was capable of actually finishing the piece, although some contributed to the final composition. It was only when Constanze asked Franz Xaver Süßmayr, did she find success.
Many scholars have pointed out that it would have been impossible for Süßmayr to have ever completed the Requiem perfectly, not only because of the technical intricacies of Mozart’s style, but because of the no-win situation he was left with. Where the work is of high quality (such as the Agnus Dei), it is assumed that Süßmayr must have used notes left behind by Mozart, and where the work is of low quality (such as the final “amen” of the Lacrimosa, where Mozart had clearly indicated a fugue) it is assumed that Süßmayr is to blame completely.
Mozart’s Requiem was completed in 1792 and sent to Count Walsegg. By then, however, Constanze had organised a public benefit performance in which it was performed, unfortunately making Walsegg’s 18th century version of “guess the song” redundant.
1. Requiem Aeternam (Introitus)
The Requiem opens rather succinctly, the violins seeming to sigh heavily with swelling quavers, supporting a sweet but sorrowful lament from the clarinets and bassoons. A shining soprano line floats over the light string semiquavers. Grand moments of forte splendeur alternate with warmer moments of compassion
2. Kyrie (Introitus)
The Kyrie is a powerful and completely Mozartian fugue. The altos, violins and clarinets soon introduce one of the motifs of the movement, which is a fiendish semiquaver run. This motif forms part of the cornerstone of one of the trickiest movements in the Mozart’s Requiem. The movement ends on a D chord with the third removed. As a result, the movement is left undecided on its mood, neither major nor minor, appropriately illustrating the undecided “fate” of the choir.
3. Dies Irae (Sequentia)
Dies Irae is the most furious point of the entire Requiem, crying out the terrifying vision of the “day of wrath”. The violins play rapid passages of semiquavers, rarely allowed the chance for even a breath. It is in Dies Irae where the orchestra is most focused and the choir is roaring with power, and it is then when each musician truly comes alive.
4. Tuba Mirum (Sequentia)
This solemn, solo movement opens with a serene trombone solo, making the Last Trumpet a voice of consolation and not of threat. With each lyrical soloist comes a new emotional revelation, before all four soloists join at the end in stunning, quasi-angelic harmony.
5. Rex Tremendae (Sequentia)
Even without a latin education, one can tell that this will be a dramatic movement. The full chorus starts by begging for mercy in short and thundering chords, but soon the altos and sopranos sigh for salvation on a dying fall in a change of heart.
6. Recordare (Sequentia)
The Recordare, a vision of paradise in the heart of the Sequentia, consists of breathtakingly expressive melodies. The words honour Jesus’ role as redeemer, and Mozart honours such words with appropriately beautiful, sunlit harmony and delicacy.
7. Confutatis (Sequentia)
Confutatis comes as a great shock, with savage and unstoppable ostinato rhythms in the strings, but there are also tender interjections of the women’s cries of “voca me”. The movement ends in a descending chromatic sequence which ends quite unexpectedly: what one expects to be the final chord is in fact the penultimate. The last chord is in fact an inverted dominant 7th chord, creating tension and anticipation for the next movement.
8. Lacrimosa (Sequentia)
A pulsing heartbeat from the strings opens possibly the most famous and poignant movement of the Requiem. The choir enter quietly, but slowly let a surge of emotion flood the Lacrimosa up to a climax, before dropping down both in pitch and volume. It is said, according to Mr Monks, who cites Mr Bridle (“So it must be true,” as Mr Monks is quoted), that it was after composing the first 8 bars did Mozart die. Perhaps it was the knowledge of his looming death did Mozart compose such grave bars, but in any case the Lacrimosa is a universal symbol of grief.
9. Domine Jesu (Offertorium)
It was this movement we started learning all the way back in September, but it remains as one of the most exciting movements nonetheless. It also contains the feared “Ne absorbeat eas Tartarus ne cadant in obscurum” motif, which involves several leaps at a high speed, and though difficult to sing, the dramatic motif is aurally rewarding.
10. Hostias (Offertorium)
The Hostias opens with a flowing and gentle melody in triple time, which illustrates the more hopeful words’ message, whilst simultaneously keeping its passion and spiritual conviction.
11. Sanctus (Offertorium)
Left with only a few sketches from Mozart, Süßmayr composes a majestic movement with long minims and forceful chordal harmonies. Then, the deceptively simple Hosanna fugue enters, which utilises everything from long-held minims to quick quavers. In a powerful yet sustained movement such as the Sanctus, stamina is of the essence.
12. Benedictus (Offertorium)
The Benedictus consists of short soloist passages before all soloists sing together, creating harmonies that transport you far beyond the Ruddock Hall. Süßmayr claimed to have written this movement and Agnus Dei entirely from scratch, and if so, he masterfully crafts the movement by letting it gradually grow in intensity.
13. Agnus Dei (Offertorium)
The Agnus Dei starts off low and ominous with a gorgeous and rich semiquaver pattern at the beginning. Possibly, the most beautiful moments occur in this movement. The original theme of the movement returns.
14. Lux Aeterna (Communio)
The music of the opening returns, now in a magnificent major key. The ethereal opening soprano solo replaces the originally despairing men’s voices from the start of the Requiem, and to the request of Mozart himself, the Kyrie fugue from the start returns to finish the piece. It is an apt finish, bringing his life’s work to an end as it encapsulates the Mozart Requiem: it is technically challenging, musically intense and in dignified splendour.
The cyclical nature of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor could be interpreted to represent the cycle of life and death itself. It is also specifically suited to a concert audience, rather than to God; Mozart uses darker movements not so much as to symbolise hope, but more to illuminate the fear behind death itself. Ironically, it is in the darkest movements, such as Dies Irae, in which the most joy and excitement is found in the choir. Personally, Mozart’s Requiem has shown me intense, emotional sides to people that I did not know existed. It has brought me much joy, and I hope that our performance of the Mozart Requiem may bring joy from darkness to you in the same way.
As Mozart recommended in a letter to his father, Leopold (1787):
”Since death, when we come to consider it, is seen to be the true goal of our life, I have made acquaintance during these last few years with this best and truest friend of mankind, so that his image not only no longer has any terrors for me but suggests, on the contrary, much that is reassuring and consoling.”
Jiali Lu, Upper Fifths
i. Allegro moderato
ii. Adagio di molto
iii. Allegro, ma non tanto
It was in 1903, with his successful second symphony behind him, that the Finnish composer, Sibelius, wrote his violin concerto. It was the only concerto he ever composed and had long been promised to Willy Burmester, a prominent soloist of the day. Sibelius was himself a violin virtuoso and described as a “genius” by one of his teachers in Helsinki. However, he appeared to have lost confidence and it was not without regret that he accepted his future as a composer rather than a violinist. This concerto was written during one of the most turbulent periods of his life where he was a heavy drinker and had mounting debts. His wife had regularly to seek him out and take him from the fashionable clubs and bars of Helsinki to encourage him to work on the score. Once completed, he could not afford to fly Burmester to Finland to perform the piece and therefore he asked the Czech violinist Victor Nováček to play it. However, Nováček was not equal to the technical challenges of the work and the concerto met with incomprehension and disapproval; one critic of the time writing, “a red-faced and perspiring Nováček fought a losing battle with a solo part that bristled with … great difficulties.” After the lacklustre debut, Sibelius revised and condensed the work and Burmester again offered to play it, writing, “All of my twenty-five years’ stage experience, my artistry and insight will be at the service of this work … I shall play the concerto in Helsinki in such a way that the city will be at your feet.” However, Sibelius’ German publisher wanted Karl Halir, a violinist and the concertmaster in Berlin, to undertake the solo part and Sibelius agreed. Burmester was understandably outraged and vowed never to play the work, a promise which he kept. The revised version was heard in 1905, Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.
Despite the frailties displayed by Sibelius in his personal life, there are no signs of weakness in the concerto. That said, there is certainly Nordic melancholy, and powerful emotions are expressed throughout. The concerto follows the classical tradition and retains the usual three-movement form. The soloist takes charge from the beginning of the expansive first movement with a long lyrical paragraph which is beautifully shaped over the tapestry of the accompanying divided violins. The second theme is impassioned, initially appearing in the orchestra, anticipated by the bassoons and clarinets, and taken up by the solo part. This is followed by the orchestra’s introduction of a third thematic idea. Sibelius replaces the development section with a solo cadenza and this is followed by a recapitulation. An aching nostalgia is displayed in the three-part second movement, a woodwind introduction with a melody in thirds preparing for the broad, singing theme of the solo violin. The mood changes dramatically at the opening of the third and final movement which is a restless scherzo in rondo form. Over the rhythmic ostinato of the orchestra, the virtuosity of the violin is displayed most clearly, often in the violin’s highest range and the strong march-like tune passes back and forth between violin and orchestra. Its dance-like energy prompted the British musicologist, Donald Francis Tovey, to describe it as a “polonaise for polar bears.” However, this was clearly not intended to be derogatory as he went on: “In the … looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann, I have not met a more original, a more masterly and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto”.
Charlotte Howdle, Upper Sixths
Some projects are a long time in the making, but often all the more satisfying because of it. Earlier this week I was in Birmingham for the culmination of a glorious, ambitious, beautiful project, hosted by King Edward School and their music teacher/conductor Dr Martin Leigh, music teacher Keith Farr, and embracing seven other schools in the Birmingham area.
With the idea of using story and art in music as an aid to inspire primary school children to compose their own music, I helped develop a book for schools, “Exploring Music through Stories”, full of useful teaching notes. Meanwhile Martin and Keith were actively involved in working directly with schools and teachers to encourage the children to create something wonderful – and they did!
They should be named: Hallmoor (who presented – and charmingly acted – songs from Hansel and Gretel); Bourneville and Tiverton (who offered a fresh look at Peter and the Wolf); Brownmead (who conjured the witch Baba Yaga with a beautifully slavic sounding song); The Oval (I loved their midnight clock for Cinderella!); Elms Farm (Their “Snegurochka” song touched the heart in their version of The Snow Maiden) and Hillstone (who brilliantly used percussion and all kinds of unusual sounds to share the underwater world of Sadko – amazing!). Huge congratulations to them all – it was truly wonderful to witness! all the children, shining with pride and achievement!
Afterwards, in keeping with the Russian Fairy Tale theme, I narrated and illustrated the original version of Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, plus a couple of extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird, with the KES symphony orchestra, who played superbly.
But that wasn’t all – there then followed an evening performance of Peter and the Wolf and the full 1919 suite from The Firebird. A pretty full day! For me, the challenge was to learn the narration for Peter and the Wolf and many complicated cues, by heart. As I was illustrating the tale simultaneously, at my easel, it wasn’t possible to use a score, so it all had to be firmly embedded in my memory. Happily I survived both times without mishap, and the lovely warm Birmingham audience made me most welcome.
My thanks to and admiration for Keith and Martin are boundless. The way Martin thanked every single student in the orchestra, as they left the stage, was utterly heartwarming. Also thanks to Sarah Mullen of the brilliant Busy Parents Network, who so ably supported this glorious, unforgettable event. One of the best I’ve ever been involved in.
I’m now looking forward to returning to Birmingham for several Busy Parent Network events at their Bournville Book Fest in March, including another concert, with Birmingham opera singer Abigail Kelly, an event full of art and arias as I accompany her singing with painting! You can find out more here: