Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Overture - Leonora No.3
Beethoven wrote only one opera. Today it is known as Fidelio but its original title was Leonora, the name of the chief character. The writing of it caused Beethoven no end of trouble. The original had three acts and its premier in Vienna in 1805 was disappointing. The French had taken the city, Beethoven’s aristocratic patrons had fled to safety, so the opera played to almost empty houses. It ran for only three nights and had bad reviews. Beethoven revised it the following year, cutting it down to two acts but it was poorly performed and closed after the premier. A further revision for a projected production in Prague in 1807 was never staged. Eventually the final version used worldwide today premiered in Vienna in 1814.
Beethoven agonised over the opera; he rewrote one aria eighteen times and for each version of the opera wrote a new overture, making four in all. The one used today for performances of the opera is titled Fidelio; the others are named Leonora and numbered 1 to 3 when played as concert works.
Fidelio is a ‘rescue opera’, a type popular at the turn of the century. A young wife, Leonora, disguised as a youth called Fidelio, gains employment in the prison where her husband, Florestan, is a political prisoner. She saves his life and brings about the liberation of all the prisoners by a visiting minister of state. The opera has been described as ‘a celebration of Leonora’s sublime courage and the great humanitarian ideals of the French Revolution’.
These themes of freedom, justice, heroism and triumph over adversity are clearly evident in Leonora No.3 , considered the greatest of the four overtures. It reflects the dramatic arc of the opera, opening in the darkness of Florestan’s cell where he muses on happier days until a trumpet call hints at his coming liberation. Guarded optimism is dispelled by a second trumpet call confirming his release and the overture concludes with a joyous celebration of freedom and conjugal love.
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944): Concertino for Flute
Soloist: Sarah Ovenden
All flautists who have mastered their instrument love to play this work. It allows them, in the space of eight minutes or so, to reveal the beauties that lie within this simplest of instruments, the brilliance of its highest notes and the resonance of its lowest, how the colour of a long-held note can be changed during its course, the immediacy that releases virtuosic cascades of notes leaving the listener breathless with admiration.
The Concertino (a miniature concerto) was written in 1902 at the request of the famous flautist Paul Taffanel as an examination piece for his students at the Paris Conservatoire. It would test every technique they had learned and, at the same time, their innate power to charm and delight the listener.
Cécile Chaminade led a busy career as a concert pianist and conductor throughout Europe and America. Although she wrote several large works of considerable merit, society at the time expected women composers to restrict themselves to writing ‘salon music’ - songs and graceful short piano pieces. This she did and they sold in their thousands especially in England where she was a favourite of Queen Victoria.
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881): Pictures at an Exhibition
In 1874, the architect Victor Hartmann died aged only 39 and his friends, among them Mussorgsky, mounted a memorial exhibition of four hundred of his designs and paintings. This led Mussorgsky to compose his Pictures at an Exhibition, a set of ten piano pieces each suggested by one of the exhibits. Linking them are short interludes he called Promenades depicting the visitor walking to the next picture. This evening we hear four of the ten pieces in orchestral arrangements.
Promenade 1 – arr. Carter
The Gnome – arr. Carter: An old man with enormous ‘nutcracker’ teeth.
Promenade 2 – arr. Carter
The Old Castle –arr. Carter: A medieval castle with a troubadour singing in the foreground.
Promenade 3 – arr. Bloodworth
Bydlo - arr.Bloodworth: A cart with enormous wheels drawn by a team of oxen. It approaches, lumbering over the stony track. The music swells as it draws near and thunders past, then fades slowly away into the distance.
The Great Gate of Kiev – arr. Stone: Hartmann’s design for a massive city gate to commemorate Tsar Alexander II’s narrow escape from assassination. The design won the national competition but was never built. Mussorgsky’s music equals the design in grandeur and for his second theme he quotes a solemn chant sung at baptisms in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Mussorgsky came from a wealthy land-owning family. He was commissioned into one of Russia’s most elegant regiments where his pianistic skills were constantly in demand in the rounds of parties that made up the fashionable life of a young officer. He came to know a group of young men who were teaching each other to become composers with the intention of creating an essentially Russian music opposed to the pale imitative European music the established composers were producing. Eventually music won. He resigned his commission and composed prolifically but when the serfs were emancipated support from the family estates ceased. Although he obtained a government post, alcoholism and severe depression brought an early end to his life.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Prelude to ‘49th Parallel’
Vaughan Williams was nearing seventy when he was asked to write the music for 49th Parallel. He accepted gratefully. Not only because it would be a new medium to explore (this would be his first film score) but because it would give him the chance to help the war effort through his music. The film was a propaganda exercise by the Ministry of Information intended to persuade the then neutral USA to enter the war.
The film shows how six Nazi U-boat crewmen, trapped on the coast of Hudson Bay following the destruction of their vessel by Canadian bombers, attempt to find their way across the border to safety in the USA. There are many panoramic shots of the Canadian landscape and Vaughan Williams’ Prelude opens the title sequence against a backdrop of a grand aerial view of snow-covered mountains.
Titled ‘The Invaders’ in the USA, the film was the biggest British hit to date in American cinemas.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Turkish March
Conducted by Adam Jarman
In 1811 Beethoven was asked to write the incidental music for a play entitled ‘The Ruins of Athens’. He contributed an overture and several smaller pieces, one of which accompanied a scene of the invading Turkish army. At the time Turkish or Janissary bands were highly fashionable adjuncts to armies throughout Europe, in fact, the king of Poland received a band as a gift from the Sultan. Often Turkish bandsmen, dressed in outlandish costumes, were employed to play their own national instruments. These instruments were various sizes of drums, cymbals, triangles and tambourines – all now regular members of an orchestra’s percussion section.
The march suggests a procession passing by; it begins quietly in the distance, rises to a climax and retires back into silence.
Peter Cork (1926-2012): The White Cliffs from ‘A Man of Kent Suite’
This suite is an evocation of the countryside to the east of the River Medway, the home of the Men of Kent. It can also be heard as a portrait of the composer himself who lived there for many years and enjoyed long walks through its varying landscapes. The last of its three movements, The White Cliffs, recalls the line of cliffs along the Channel coast at Dover that has long held significance for the Men of Kent, either as a welcome on return from abroad or as a bastion against invasion.
Peter Cork was brought up in Ashford and trained as a school music teacher at Goldsmith’s College and the Royal College of Music where he studied composition with Gordon Jacob. He taught at Dagenham, where a promising pupil was Dudley Moore, and at Clapham where each year he wrote a musical for the girls to perform. At fifty he gave up teaching and composed full-time, writing music for BBC plays and programmes and winning favourable reviews for CDs of his works.
Burt Bacharach (b.1928): Burt Bacharach Medley - arr. Richard Ling
One of the most acclaimed composers of popular music, Burt Bacharach was born in Kansas City and brought up in New York. His father was a well-known newspaper columnist and his mother an amateur painter and, more significantly, a songwriter. Inheriting her love of music, Bacharach sought it out wherever he could, often using fake identification to gain entrance to nightclubs where he could listen to Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. He studied music at McGill University and with ‘classical’ composers Darius Milhaud, whom he considered his greatest influence, and Bohuslav Martinů.
His career has been spent as composer, conductor and pianist for some of entertainment’s most distinguished singers. When he was 28, Marlene Dietrich chose him as her musical director and they worked together for five years, performing in her nightclub shows and touring together worldwide. In 1957 he teamed up with lyricist Hal David and together they produced an impressive roll of award-winning hits.
Tonight we hear some he wrote for another much-loved singer, Dionne Warwick. In order they are: ‘Alfie’, ‘I say a little prayer’, ‘Walk on by’ and ‘Close to you’.
In an interview Bacharach said ‘For me, it’s about the peaks and valleys of where a song can take you. You can tell a story; be explosive one minute and quiet the next as a kind of satisfying resolution’.