Course – Malvern School
Orchestral Performance – Adrian Bolt Hall at CBSO
Symphonies of Wind Instruments – Igor Stravinsky
In 1918 Stravinsky’s admired friend, colleague and mentor Claude-Achille Debussy died. Stravinsky began composing a piece in homage to him the following year. The original sketches were written for harmonium. By November he had completed the work and scored it for 24 wind instruments. It was first performed at the Queen’s Hall in London in 1921. Stravinsky revised the work in 1947 with less complex orchestration, but the 1920 version is the one increasingly played today.
The work is not a usual ‘symphony’, but a characteristically individual piece consisting of blocks or cells of contrasting material which are scored for different groups of instruments and are shuffled around and juxtaposed. At the end is a beautifully calm chorale section, redolent of Russian Orthodox liturgical music.
Concerto for Percussion – Leonard Salzedo
Salzedo was born in 1921 in London. He took up the violin at the age of 6 and began composing at 12. At the Royal College of Music he studied with Howells, Dyson and Jacob. As well as composing for Ballet Rambert, he played violin with the LPO and RPO. He also became conductor of the Scottish Ballet and Director of the London City Ballet. Much of his best-known music was written for Hammer horror movies. He died in Leighton Buzzard in May 2000.
The Concerto for Percussion was written in 1968 and has been used as a ballet score. There are five movements and the four percussionists who performed at this concert played the second of them – the Scherzo.
Serenade for Strings in C major, Op 40 – Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
In 1880, the 40-year-old Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write an overture for the Moscow Exhibition, commemorating the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. He felt no enthusiasm for the piece and said “I wrote it without any warm feelings of love and so it will probably be of no artistic worth”. He then turned to the composition of the Serenade for Strings which, he confided to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, was written “from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic worth.” His sternest critic, Anton Rubenstein, was delighted by it.
The work is the equivalent of an elegant eighteenth century divertimento. According to Tchaikovsky, the opening movement is a tribute to Mozart, with its slow introduction and vigorous, charming allegro. A typically gracious waltz forms the second movement and is followed by a slow and heartfelt Elegy. The Finale uses two Russian folk songs – the first of which is a rather melancholy introduction to the second, which is quicker and mischievous. The first movement’s introduction returns to end the whole work.
Symphony No. 2 – Serge Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff, one of the great line of pianist-composers including Chopin and Liszt, had a period of acute depression when he was 24, following the failure of his first symphony in 1897. He kept the composition of his second symphony a secret from his friends and it was a further 11 years before the second symphony was premiered in St Petersburg in 1908. The success of this work was an enormous relief to him. It was dedicated to his teacher Taneyev.
This very Russian four movement symphony begins with a motto-theme, from which many of the other themes of the symphony derive. Many of the themes relate to the ancient plainsong chant Dies Irae used in many of Rachmaninoff’s other works. The first movement has a dark, slow introduction, full of foreboding, and then moves into a sonata form allegro. The second movement is a scherzo in three sections; full of life and activity and with a fugato section in the middle.
The Adagio is a fine example of the composer’s lyrical, romantic powers, especially in the opening clarinet solo and the Finale has two main themes, contrasting in vitality and lyricism. The most dramatic music of all is reserved for the ending.