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
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
Monday, 10 December 2018 at 1930
Ruddock Performing Arts Centre
The programme includes performances given by:
Senior Swing Band
KEHS Lower School Choir
KES/KEHS Symphony Orchestra
The concert is presented jointly with King Edward VI High School for Girls
Monday 23 April at 19.00
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
The programme includes performances given by choirs and orchestras from King Edward’s School and King Edward VI High School for girls.
Tickets available from http://www.ruddockpac.co.uk or by calling 0121 472 9585 between 13.00 and 15.00 Monday to Friday.
Sunday, 10 December 2017 at 1500
Ruddock Performing Arts Centre
The programme includes performances given by:
Training String Orchestra
Senior Swing Band
KEHS Chamber Choir
KES/KEHS Symphony Orchestra
The concert is presented jointly with King Edward VI High School for Girls