Monday, 21 September 2020
Tonight is the opening of our concert season, the first ever pre-recorded on-line concert at King Edward’s School. Shells’ Recital is the start of it all.
32 performances given by this most remarkable year of Shells.
As part of our Sexagesimal celebrations, we produced a short history of KES/KEHS Symphony Orchestra, with contributions from its first players, Chief Masters and Principals, Directors of Music including Peter Bridle, as well as essays by current pupils.
You can read it by clicking the link below:
Our thanks to Mr. Ash for the photograph.
Antonia Lucio Vivaldi, born in 1678, is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period. Vivaldi spent his most productive years at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice as a priest, teaching a variety of instruments and composing instrumental concertos and choral pieces for the girls’ gifted orchestra and choir. Vivaldi was also regarded as a virtuosic violinist and was highly renowned throughout Europe for all his wonderful compositions. Because of this, he enjoyed great success and fortune in his lifetime which he unfortunately wasted on extravagance leading to his death in poverty in 1741. Lots of Vivaldi’s music, including the Gloria, was lost for two centuries until the 1920s when it was rediscovered amongst a pile of forgotten manuscripts.
The Gloria, Vivaldi’s most famous choral piece, was composed around 1715 for the choir at the Ospedale. It presents the traditional Gloria from the Latin Mass in twelve varied movements.
The opening movement is a joyful chorus with trumpet and oboe obbligato and establishes the triumphant key of D major. The energetic orchestral introduction uses two motifs, one of octave leaps and the other a quaver-semiquaver figure. The choir enters dramatically with a dotted rhythm, announcing the text syllabically. These declamatory outbursts are punctuated by trumpets and oboe which bring a sense of grandeur to the movement
ii. Et in terra pax hominibus
This second movement (“And on Earth peace to all people”) completely contrasts the first as it is in triple time, a minor key and much slower. There are two subjects which appear throughout the movement, woven together in all the voices: “Et in terra pax…” and “Bonae voluntatis…”. The expressive chromatic harmonies in the music create a feeling of tension, which brings to mind how difficult it is for the world to be at peace.
iii. Laudamus te
The third movement is a joyful duet for two sopranos. The texture alternates between sections of simple imitation between the vocal lines and passages in parallel thirds where the voices sing together in cheerful harmony.
iv. Gratias agimus tibi
This six bar long, entirely homophonic movement in E minor uses homorhythm to solemnly evoke praise to God. The declaration of “Gratias agimus tibi” in two short phrases with dramatic pauses in between makes this a grand introduction to the following movement.
v.Propter magnam gloria
This movement, in the same key as the ‘Gratias’, showcases Vivaldi’s skill at contrapuntal writing. The movement is a fugue with the main subject starting in the soprano. It is characterised by four short crotchets followed by a minim and several quavers sung melismatically on the word “Gloria”. The subject is passed through the vocal parts but never sung by all four parts at once, giving the music a playful feel.
vi. Domine Deus
The Largo ‘Domine Deus’ is a beautiful duet between soprano and oboe. The movement is reminiscent of the Siciliana musical style with its dotted rhythms and compound time, which help to evoke a pastoral mood and the oboe adds to this graceful atmosphere.
vii. Domine Fili Unigenite
The ‘Domine Fili Unigenite’ is lively in tempo with the orchestra playing molto energico e ritmico (very energetically and rhythmically). The music embodies the French style of dotted rhythms making it sound like a rousing country dance. Whilst it may sound effortless and cheery, the music is rhythmically tricky as the choir have to be careful not to double dot every note.
viii. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei
This Adagio in D minor starts with a brief cello solo introduction followed by a beautiful alto solo. Later on in the piece, every phrase sung by the alto soloist is paired with an antiphonal response from the choir, “Qui tollis peccata mundi”.
These interjections are generally loud with the final response from the choir sounding like a plea with its fortissimo dynamic.
ix. Qui tollis peccata mundi
This movement builds on the words introduced by the choir in the previous movement. Its rich harmonies and expressive chromaticism makes the opening of this movement especially emotive. The slightly faster “suscipe deprecationem nostram” is in triple time and the use of dotted rhythms gives this section a feeling of urgency.
x. Qui sedes ad dexteram
Although an Allegro, the ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram’ continues the serious mood of the previous two movements with its B minor tonality. This movement is originally an alto solo but in this afternoon’s interpretation it will be a bass solo.
xi. Quoniam tu solus sanctus
The ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ marks the return of the optimistic D major music from the opening movement but introduces some new text: “Quoniam tu solus sanctus, tu solus Dominus. Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe.”
xii. Cum sancto spirito
This Allegro double fugue ends the whole work with unstoppable energy and is actually borrowed from a setting of the same text by Venetian composer Giovanni Maria Ruggieri. The two subjects share the same “Cum sancto spiritu…” text but the first subject is introduced by the basses with a marcato bass accompaniment to sound majestic whilst the second subject starts on the off beat and is sung first by the sopranos, sounding much lighter. There are also “Amens” sprinkled throughout the movement to decorate both these subjects but the fff “Amen” at the end of the movement triumphantly ends the whole work.
The dramatic contrasts in mood, distinctive melodies and the rhythmic drive of the music makes Vivaldi’s Gloria one of the most well-known pieces in the repertoire of Choral music.
Johannes Brahms (1833-97): Symphony no.3 op.90
On 31 September 1853, a 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, then completely unknown to the musical world, paid a visit to Robert Schumann to play him his C-major piano sonata. Shortly after this brief preview, Schumann wrote in his diary, “Visit from Brahms, a genius”. It was clear from very early on that Brahms’s music was something special, and in decades that followed the “genius” German, born in Hamburg in 1833, became recognised as one of the finest composers of the 19th century, later to be heralded as one of the three “B”s of classical music alongside Bach and Beethoven. An extreme perfectionist who believed in “absolute music” and rejected music with any programme or narrative, Brahms scrapped anything he didn’t believe to be good enough, regardless of how far through the composition process he was (it took several performances of his First Symphony before he decided to completely rewrite the slow movement), and this is perhaps what accounts for his relatively small amount of compositional output; only four symphonies, four concertos, two serenades, two overtures and a theme-and-variations make up his orchestral works.
Of his four symphonies, the third is the shortest, lasting between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on whether the frequently-omitted repeats are played. However, its length does not detract from how remarkable an achievement this symphony is. It opens with a striking statement of Brahms’s oft-used F-Ab-F motto, followed by a passionato introduction of a theme that bears an unmistakable resemblance to one from Schumann’s Third Symphony; given the close relationship between the two composers, this is unlikely to be coincidental. Though the movement is in F major, and indeed begins with a triumphant F major chord from the wind, the theme more-often-than-not flattens the A, undermining the otherwise straightforward major mode, giving the overall tone of the piece a sense of complex maturity, a feeling aided by the use of a diminished chord as early as the second bar. This unexpected darkening of the music’s character is something that occurs in several places elsewhere in the piece, most notably in the bars immediately preceding the A major second subject, where a sinister F natural in the viola part (darkened further by its repetition by the ‘cellos two bars later) crafts a foreboding set-up for the much more carefree music that follows. The dance-like
⃪ Bob Whalley (KES/KEHS Symphony Orchestra, 1960)second subject offers a moment of calm after the stormy opening, though this respite is quickly dashed by the quick, staccato crotchets that are bounced around the string section before the intense lead-up to the development. The relatively short development, where the second subject returns in a sinister C# minor, is concluded by a triumphant restatement of the F-Ab-F motto, leading directly into the recapitulation. The coda brings the movement to an atypically quiet end, though quiet endings become something of a theme throughout the symphony.
The storm clouds subside for the first (for there are two in this symphony) slow movement. It offers a striking textural departure from the previous movement, being mainly wind-dominated and featuring huge amounts of empty space in the string parts for the wind and brass to quietly tiptoe above. The dialogue between the strings and woodwind is inspired by folksong, and its simplicity and pastoral quality create a colourful landscape of blissful tranquillity. The mood suddenly brightens with a semiquaver-based decoration of the melody by the oboe and strings, though this is soon replaced by a mysterious atmosphere of uncertainty, with a simple motif of two repeated notes that echoes throughout the orchestra through “a kaleidoscopic spectrum of harmonies”. After the recapitulation brings us back full circle, the movement fades away, leaving nothing but complete stillness and calm.
The famous third movement is driven by its breathtakingly expressive ‘cello melody. This haunting theme is encircled by a delicate glimmer of strings, an accompaniment that gradually intensifies as the piece progresses. Although it moves through several different keys and textures, the movement never loses its evocative intimacy, as every repetition of the theme adds a new layer of emotional intensity that only serves to fuel the shadowy aura surrounding it. Any slight humour implied by the syncopation of the bass line in the middle section is spoiled by the menacing teasing of the main theme by the woodwind that leads to the full return of the opening section. It is here that the opening theme feels the most isolated, as it is played by a solo horn, so that it sits outside the texture while the strings rustle in a whispered business around it.
And so we come to the very end, with a finale that opens with a winding, dactylic theme in octave unison that is meant to remind the listener of the finale of Brahms’s Second Symphony, composed six years earlier. As soon as the music begins to gain some momentum, with the entry of the flutes and clarinets being supported by a steady plod from the double basses, it is brought to a grinding halt by a solemn, serious chant driven by the strings. However, a sforzando upbeat at the end of this section launches the orchestra back into a frantic aggression, and though the second subject, on C major, livens the mood, the music nonetheless retains its energetic rhythmic drive. Invasive recollections of the opening motif add to the polyphonic chaos, which reaches its peak during the development, where, after a short but dramatic silence, a return of the chant from the exposition, now blasted out by the brass, is surrounded by a furious flurry of triplets in the string section. The return of the opening theme in the recapitulation appears far more violent than its initial iteration. Soon, however, the chaos once again subsides, and as the piece gradually fades away, a faint echo can be heard of the very opening theme of the symphony.
Jacob Rowley, Sixths
It’s the sixtieth anniversary of the orchestra shared between King Edward’s School and King Edward VI High School for Girls.
This is the first post celebrating our Sexagesimal, a music-box composition by Jiali Lu.
The full score is posted here:
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was an Austrian composer born in Himmelpfortgrund. He started learning the piano from his brother, Ignaz, at the age of five. However, he announced after a few months, that he had “no need of any further instruction”. Holzer, the local parish organist, gave Schubert a grounding in piano, organ, and figured bass. He then played viola in his family string quartet, writing his first quartets for them. Schubert began studying at the Stadtkonvikt(Imperial Seminary) on a choral scholarship. It was there he developed an admiration for Beethoven, particularly his overtures. After periods teaching at his father’s school, accompanying and writing operas, more of his works, from 1823, were being published. From 1823 alone came his eighth symphony, the ‘Unfinished’ and his first large-scale song cycle, die schöne Müllerin. Die Forelle, arguably, was written in 1819, but was published posthumously in 1829.
The name of this quintet, die Forellenquintett (“Trout” Quintet), comes from the theme in the fourth movement, which is based on Schubert’s earlier Lied “Die Forelle”. The inclusion of this Lied was the suggestion of Sylvester Paumgartner, an amateur ‘cellist and the man who gave the work its patronage. There are two interesting aspects of Die Forelle, the five-movement structure and the inclusion of the double bass. Both stem from the same place, the opus 87 piano quintet by Hummel. A quintet is conventionally piano and string quartet: Hummel’s decision was to substitute the second violin for double bass. Furthermore, Hummel wrote his op. 74, a wind septet, also including a double bass. The most intriguing aspect of the scoring is that no other of Schubert’s contemporaries, included a double bass in their piano quintets or string quartets neither Beethoven (despite including a double bass in his wind septet) nor his predecessors, Haydn and Mozart. Furthermore, the Hummel op. 87 also contains five movements, including a theme and variations, for the fourth movement, as does die Forelle.
The theme starts in the key D major, a semitone higher than the original Lied, with the strings, playing a quasi-chorale melody. Several musical aspects played first here, become the emphasis of later variations, all have been corrupted from earlier in the piece, or from the Lied. For example, the string portato (b.1 in all the strings) comes first in die Forelle in b. 25 and briefly appears in the Lied in bb.62-3. The dotted rhythms are more ambiguous, as the lied uses even notes. According to M. J. E. Brown, editor of the 1974 Edition Eulenburg score (the edition from which the author is working), Schubert “made certain changes in the melody… to render the tune more instrumental”. Trills, ornaments, added dotted rhythms are all cited by the above, as ways Schubert did this. The theme is set up into two-bar phrases often with a healthy dose of repetition and without the complex semiquaver sextuplet rhythmic motif accompaniment, of the Lied.
The piano assumes control with the theme played in octaves, decorated by ornaments. The slurring changes to being between b. 212-3, rather than the whole bar, further changes exist. The strings can be divided into two here: the viola and double bass, who play an arpeggio motif (albeit the violas triplet semiquavers and bass as staccato quavers) and the violin and ‘cello who pass a triplet semiquaver motif between eachother. This motif is a corruption of the complex semiquaver sextuplet rhythmic motif, as found in the Lied. The second half, of the variation, sees a continuation, but with the violin occasionally launching into the stratosphere, as violinists tend to do.
This variation is where the violinist earns their wages, by continuously playing triplet semiquavers. In the violin part, two interesting things happen: portati are used in bb. 49, 51, 55. Underneath that, the remaining continue with the tune passed between the strings and piano, until the cadence. It is a much grander section this, grandure derived from louder dynamics and thicker textures. From b. 49 onwards, the viola, ‘cello and bass play together, alternating with the piano.
In a surprising move, the double bass and ‘cello are given the theme, albeit dwarfed by the sheer virtuosity of the piano, playing its demi-semiquavers. The upbeat contains a trill utilising the chromatic neighbour-note. Further on, in the first- and second-time bars, there is an ascending chromatic scale, played by the piano. Schubert shifts where the beat of each bar falls, in b.67 for example, by displacing the strong beat of the bar, through the phrasing of the demi-semiquavers. The violin, having a rare moment out of the spotlight, and the viola conspire together creating the accompaniment, with some, at times, jovial, off-beat semiquaver chords.
Until this point, the variations had been rooted in D major and the theme has been prominent: both change here. We move to D minor, though the up-beat of octave A’s create harmonic ambiguity, and the theme ostensibly disappears. Instead, triplet semiquaver chords appear antiphonically in the piano and upper strings. Underneath, the ‘cello and bass play a tricky motif, tricky for the bass at least. The most interesting aspect of this, aside of the sheer virtuosity being demonstrate by the double bass, is the D-G sharp-A pattern. The G sharp is diminished fifth below the D, an interval otherwise known as the devil’s interval. The fortissimo chords are contrasted with a more lyrical, major, pianissimo section, featuring a dialogue between the piano and violin. Ultimately, despite indications of movement back towards a major key, landing in D minor. At this moment, the trills which have been such a prominent feature of this movement are repeated by the piano, b.93-100, this offbeat chordal pattern appears, which derives from the Lied.
This variation corrupts the Lied’s original melody one step further, by introducing a double-dotted version of the melody. It is played first by the ‘cello before being imitated by the piano. The violin adds a simple counter-melody, whilst the viola and double bass play the accompaniment. Harmonically, this variation becomes interesting from b. 114 onwards. The harmonic progression is thus, Gb minor – Db major (the original key of the Lied) – Ab major – Db major (this then repeats) – Ab major – Db major – E major – A major – C# major – F# major – A major. There isn’t an obvious pattern as to how this harmony works; there are plagal and perfect cadences, amongst other stranger cadences. Instead, the following chord always has one note of the previous chord contained within it, occasionally two. That is how Schubert manages to take from Db major to A major (which then allows us back to safer ground in D major).
The Allegretto, or coda, introduces a new rhythmic idea, new for the piece that is. These five sextuplet semiquavers form the vast majority of the accompaniment in the original Lied. The quintet’s coda is texturally thin, with all the instruments playing together only in the last eight bars. The violin and piano exchange the rhythmic idea, the violin and ‘cello the theme and the viola and double bass do their duties accompanying. In b.17, the piano increases the unease, instability and interest of the movement when it has a chromatic feature, which gets repeated later. The cadence runs thus, V7 – I, that is A major seventh to D major. It is a rather simple end to the movement, which proffers rhythmic and harmonic interest throughout, testing the instrumentalists often.
George Roberts, Divisions