CHOPIN FOR SOLO PIANO

Tim Horton

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 6 April 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£21 
£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Book Tickets

CHOPIN     
Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44 (10’)
Waltz in A flat Op.42 (4’)
Three Mazurkas Op.56 (12’)
Nocturne in B Op.62 No.1 (7’)
Barcarolle in F sharp Op.60 (8’)
Polonaise in C minor Op.40 No.2 (9’)
Three Waltzes Op.64 (8’)
Impromptu No.2 in F sharp Op.36 (6’)
Nocturne in E Op.62 No.2 (5’)
Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise brillante Op.22 (14’) 

Tim Horton’s series focusing on Chopin reaches a spectacular conclusion with a sequence of the composer’s works that confirm his music as some of the finest ever written for the piano. Tim will be our guide through Chopin’s powerful Polish mazurkas and polonaises, atmospheric nocturnes and whirling waltzes, including the ever-popular ‘Minute Waltz’. To send us off into the spring evening, Tim will play the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise brillante, a perfect summary of Chopin’s genius that pairs beauty with thrilling virtuosity. 

Includes free post-concert Q&A 

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CHOPIN Frédéric, Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44

Chopin’s ability to reimagine traditional dance forms in the most startling ways is nowhere more apparent than in the Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op.44. Beginning with a mysterious and sinister opening phrase, the main polonaise theme emerges with music that is marked by a kind of restless rage. At the centre of the piece there is relief in the form of a tender mazurka, but the polonaise returns as fierce as ever until it seems to collapse, exhausted, rousing itself for the brutal final bare octaves. After finishing the work in 1841, Chopin wrote to his publisher to announce that ‘I have a manuscript for your disposal. It is a kind of fantasy in polonaise form. But I call it a Polonaise.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

CHOPIN Frédéric, Waltz in A flat Op.42

The Waltz in A flat, Op.42, was written in 1840. Wilhelm von Lenz recalled Chopin playing it: ‘The waltz, springing from the eight-bar trill, should evoke a musical clock, according to Chopin himself. In his own performances … he would play it as a continuous stretto prestissimo with the bass maintaining a steady beat – a garland of flowers winding amidst the dancing couples!’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Three Mazurkas Op.56

The mazurka was the Polish dance form Chopin chose for some of his most experimental pieces, combining nostalgia with innovation. The set of Three Mazurkas Op.56 was published in 1844. The B major mazurka begins with a restless theme in the left hand, answered with more confidence by the right hand. There are two contrasting sections (in different keys, E flat and G) before the last return of the opening idea brings resolution. The C major mazurka is boisterous and rustic, with bare open fifths in the bass and a theme full of Polish inflections. The third mazurka has been described as a kind of ‘dance poem’: the musical elements of the mazurka are pared down to produce something which one commentator described as ‘the music of memories rather than of reality’ while another saw its audacious harmonies as providing ‘the foundations for the music of the future.’ 

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne in B Op.62 No.1

The Two Nocturnes published as Op. 62 were composed in 1845–6. The song-like main theme of the B major Nocturne frames a central section (marked sostenuto) and when it is reprised Chopin adds decorations in the manner of an operatic aria – reflecting his admiration for Bellini’s operasThe E major Nocturne was Chopin’s farewell to the form and while it has moments of agitation, the main feeling is of quiet nobility. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Barcarolle in F sharp Op.60

The Barcarolle in F sharp, Op.60 was written in the summer of 1845. Chopin never went to Venice to hear an authentic barcarolle, but inspiration may have come from Mendelssohn’s Venetian Gondola Song which Chopin used to give his pupils to play. Described by the German musicologist Hugo Leichtentritt as ‘a work of bewildering beauty’, it was taken up by Chopin’s near-contemporaries such as Clara Schumann and Hans von Bülow. Carl Tausig – a Liszt pupil – even invented a fanciful programme for it in which two lovers met secretly in a gondola. Chopin’s wonderful exploration of piano colours and sonorities in the Barcarolle had a powerful appeal for later composers: Ravel described it as ‘magical’ while Olivier Messiaen declared that its rich and resonant piano writing influenced his own music – a century after Chopin. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Polonaise in C minor Op.40 No.2

The Polonaise in C minor, Op. 40 No. 2 was completed in 1839 and is another work in this form which explores the darker side of Chopin’s musical character. Its mood was well summarised over a century ago by the Chopin scholar Ferdinand Hoesick who described it as ‘gloomy’ with a ‘tragic loftiness’. Chopin dedicated it to his friend Julian Fontana.  

 

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Three Waltzes Op.64

Chopin’s Three Waltzes, Op.64 were composed in 1846–7. The first of them, the so-called ‘Minute’ Waltz’, looks back to Chopin’s earlier ‘brilliant’ style and was said by one contemporary to be a musical portrait of its dedicatee, Chopin’s friend and pupil Delfina Potocka. The second, in C sharp minor, is an exquisite miniature combining intimacy and melancholy in the most concise, unsentimental way. The last of the Op.64 waltzes is more enigmatic: its moods shifting uneasily at times, but finding repose in the central Trio. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Impromptu No.2 in F sharp Op.36

Like the earlier Barcarolle, the Impromptu Op.36 is in the key of F sharp major. Written in 1839, it combines elements of favourite Chopin forms such as the nocturne and ballade to create a freer and more improvisatory work where wonderment and heroism sit side-by-side. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne in E Op.62 No.2

Marked Lento sostenuto, this Nocturne (composed in 1846) is in E major and opens with a long-breathed melody – lyrical but never sentimental – and this is contrasted with a much more turbulent middle section. By this late stage in his career, Chopin had complete mastery of his preferred forms, and this Nocturne – the last to be published during his lifetime – is a beautifully balanced structure which perfectly suits the changing moods of the music, and Chopin’s careful control of emotion: this is music that never wears its heart on its sleeve, but which seems, instead, to be a noble contemplation.

 

Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise brillante Op.22

The Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante began as the polonaise alone, composed in 1831. Chopin added the Andante spianato in 1834 and the combined work was published in 1836, in versions for piano solo or with orchestral accompaniment. The two sections complement each other: the Andante rippling gently and the Polonaise bursting into exuberant life. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

“Tim Horton’s unaffected, heartfelt playing is perfectly judged.”

The Arts Desk

DVOŘÁK FOR STRINGS

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Thursday 4 April 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£21 
£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Book Tickets

BRITTEN Three Divertimenti for String Quartet (12’)
DVOŘÁK Quartet No.11 in C Op.61 (39’)
DVOŘÁK String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.77 (35’) 

Dvořák’s exceptional and unusually scored String Quintet No.2 is operatic in scope and richly textured, earning the dedication ‘For my country’ from the Czech composer, who yearned to create a distinctly bohemian musical language in a time of turmoil across eastern Europe. His celebrated Quartet No.11 features the thrilling, turbulent writing that has placed him at the heart of the chamber music repertoire.  

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BRITTEN Benjamin, Three Divertimenti for String Quartet

Britten planned these movements as part of a five-movement Quartetto serioso with a subtitle from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale: “Go play, boy, play!” An earlier version of the opening March was written for a suite inspired by the film Emil and the Detectives (the children’s novel by Erich Kästner was a great favourite of Britten’s), but this was never completed. Eventually he settled on a work in three movements, and the first performance was given by the Stratton Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on 25 February 1936. The audience response was chilly and a hurt Britten withdrew the Three Divertimenti, which were only published after his death. His brilliant gift for idiomatic quartet writing is already apparent in this early work – from the arresting rhythms and textures of the March to the beguiling central Waltz, and the driving energy of the closing Burlesque.

 

© Nigel Simeone

DVOŘÁK Antonin, Quartet No.11 in C Op.61

In 1881, the Viennese violinist Joseph Hellmesberger asked Dvořák to write a new work for his quartet. In October, while working on the opera Dimitrij, Dvořák was alarmed to read an announcement in the Viennese press that the first performance of this quartet would be given on 15 December. He wrote to a friend on 5 November: ‘It still doesn’t exist! … I now have three movements prepared and am working on the finale.’ In fact, Dvořák had no reason to panic: he worked quickly and the C major quartet was written between 25 October and 10 November 1881. 

 

It has fewer overtly Slavonic elements than its immediate predecessor (the E flat Quartet, Op.51), and, perhaps in a nod to Hellmesberger’s commission, the main influences are from Viennese masters: Beethoven and, especially, Schubert. The spacious first movement transforms its two main themes with great ingenuity and harmonic imagination. The Adagio opens with a fervent theme presented as an intimate dialogue between the two violins; its second idea has what Dvořák’s biographer Otakar Šourek described as a ‘veiled expression of melancholy’. The influence of Beethoven is most apparent in the rather terse Scherzo while the falling theme of the central Trio provides a delightful contrast. The finale (a sonata-rondo) brings the work to a joyous conclusion, with Dvořák at his most inimitably Czech. 

 

After all the rush, Hellmesberger’s advertised December premiere in Vienna had to be cancelled due to a catastrophic fire at the Ringtheater, and the earliest known performance was given by Joseph Joachim’s quartet on 2 November 1882 in Berlin. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.77

Scored for the unusual combination of string quartet and double bass, Dvořák’s String Quintet in G major was first performed on 18 March 1876 as the composer’s Op.18 – a number that was changed when the work was first published by Simrock twelve years later in 1888. Originally the work had five movements (with an ‘Intermezzo’ before the Scherzo, reworked as the Nocturne in B major for string orchestra), and despite the published opus number, it is one of the composer’s first chamber works to be fully characteristic of his mature style. The first movement opens with a motif played first by the viola (Dvořák’s own instrument) that dominates much of the musical argument – the triplet figure in it is to be heard in the second theme too. The Scherzo finds Dvořák writing in the style of a folk dance, the opening theme consists of a lively opening motif that contrasts with a gentler idea over which Dvořák later introduces a warmly expressive new tune. The third movement has been described by the great Dvořák scholar Otakar Šourek as ‘one of the most entrancing slow movements in the whole of Dvořák’s chamber music … a flowing stream of passionate warmth [and] depth of feeling’. The finale has the same kind of sunny mood as the first movement, but with an even greater sense of joyful energy. Though there are moments of repose (during which the thematic material is treated to some ingenious transformations), the work ends with what Dvořák’s biographer Otakar Šourek aptly described as ‘high-spirited verve’.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

SOUNDS OF NOW: DEDICATED TO ENSEMBLE 360

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 9 March 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£16
£10 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Book Tickets

L OSBORN Me and 4 Ponys for Piano Quintet (15’)
P WILSON Piano Quintet (16’)
R VITKAUSKAITĖ Nanga (14’)
B LUNN String Trio [world premiere] (15’) (RPS Composer 2023 Commission for Music in the Round)

A celebration of Ensemble 360 and Music in the Round’s collaboration with composers commissioned through the Royal Philharmonic Society. Alongside a world premiere of a new string trio by Ben Lunn, whose evocative music has already marked him out as a distinctive new voice, the Ensemble revisits some of their favourite works from recent commissions. Laurence Osborn’s playful piece inspired by children’s drawings went down a storm when Ensemble 360 first played it in 2018, as did Rūta Vitkauskaitė’s eruption of musical energy inspired by the Scottish landscape, while Peter Wilson’s wonderfully rhapsodic quintet was described as ‘Elgar in a hall of mirrors’. 

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Thanks to the Hinrichsen Foundation for supporting Sounds of Now.

BEETHOVEN CELLO SONATAS

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 8 March 2024, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets
£16 
£10 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Book Tickets

BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.102 No.1 (15’)
BEETHOVEN 12 Variations on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus  (13’)
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.102 No.2 (20’) 

No interval 

Gemma Rosefield and Tim Horton presented Beethoven’s first two cello sonatas in sell-out concerts that launched Sheffield’s Classical Weekend 2023. They return to present the final pair of sonatas , interspersed with Beethoven’s charming and inventive variations on a theme from Handel’s oratorio ‘Judas Maccabaeus’. These two phenomenal musicians, with a deep understanding and enjoyment of the great composer, are sure to bring to life these absolute glories of virtuosic music for cello and piano. 

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BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Cello Sonata Op.102 No.1

Beethoven’s two cello sonatas Op.102 (in C major and D major) were composed in 1815 and dedicated to Beethoven’s friend, Countess Anna Maria Erdödy. They were published in Vienna (by Artaria) and Bonn (by Simrock) in 1817. The first of the two sonatas is one of Beethoven’s most unusual structures, consisting of two fast movements, each of them preceded by an extended slow introduction.  

 

The first movement opens gently, with a lyrical melody in the upper register of the cello, to which the piano responds with an answering phrase, establishing the instrumental dialogue that is so often a feature of this sonata. After subsiding on to a C, the lowest note of the cello, there is an abrupt change of mood and tempo with the arrival of a stern idea in A minor, marked by dotted rhythms. The movement remains in A minor for most of the movement, ending tersely. The second movement begins with an elaborate slow introduction which gives way to a radiant recollection of the first movement – an unusual procedure that Beethoven was to use again in the finale of his Ninth Symphony. The main theme of the Allegro begins strangely, with a four-note rising fragment and a held note, but this idea quickly develops dramatic momentum, interrupted on several occasions by passages where the cello plays sustained notes and the piano is silent. The movement ends by appearing to fizzle out (using the four-note idea), before a triumphant closing flourish. 

 

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, 12 Variations on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus

In 1796, the young Beethoven set out on a concert tour (the only one of his career) that took him to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin. While in Berlin, he visited the court of the Friedrich Wilhelm II, the King of Prussia. During this visit, Beethoven composed several works for cello and piano, including the two Op. 5 Sonatas, and this set of variations on the famous tune ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. Beethoven once described Handel as ‘the greatest composer that ever lived’ and copied out Messiah in order ‘to unravel its complexities’. His choice of theme is therefore no surprise, and the words of the tune may have seemed an appropriate tribute to King Friedrich Wilhelm. The first performance was probably given by Beethoven and Jean–Louis Duport in Berlin in 1796, at the same time as the premiere of the Op. 5 cello sonatas. The theme is presented on the piano, modestly accompanied by the cello. The twelve variations that follow explore the tune with great wit and ingenuity, including a plaintive version of the theme in G minor (Variation 4), great dramaitc intensity in Variation 8 (the other variation in a minor key), presenting the theme in canon between the two instruments (Variation 10) and, following a rhapsodic Adagio, reworking it as an invigorating dance to end the work in suitably triumphant mood.

 

Nigel Simeone 2016

BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Op.102 No.2

Allegro con brio
Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto
Allegro – Allegro fugato

Beethoven’s last two cello sonatas were composed in 1815 dedicated to the Countess Anna Maria Erdödy. The initial critical response was one of bewilderment, one critic declaring that “these two sonatas are definitely among the strangest and most unusual works … ever written for the pianoforte. Everything about them is completely different from anything else we have heard, even by this composer.” Indeed, the D major Cello Sonata Op.102 No.2 is a work that points forward to some of Beethoven’s final instrumental works – the late piano sonatas and quartets – in significant ways. The Beethoven scholar William Kinderman has suggested that the solemnity and austerity of the slow movement (in D minor) has pre-echoes of the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ from the Quartet Op.132, while fugal finale is the one of a series of such movements in Beethoven’s late instrumental pieces (followed by the ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata and the Grosse Fuge among others). The whole sonata, from the brusque opening of its first movement, to the extraordinary culmination of the fugue, is characterized by wild emotional contrasts: the stern, profoundly serious Adagio is flanked by two faster movements that are dominated by a fiery, even angry, dialogue between the two instruments.

Nigel Simeone © 2012

MEET THE CONSONE QUARTET

Consone Quartet

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 2 March 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£21 
£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Book Tickets

HAYDN String Quartet in D ‘The Lark’ (15’)
HENSEL-MENDELSSOHN String Quartet in E flat (21’)
R SCHUMANN Bilder aus Osten, Op.66 (extracts arr. Friedrich Hermann) (8’)
MENDELSSOHN String Quartet in F minor, Op.80 (26’) 

Recent BBC New Generation Artists, the Consone Quartet comprises four sensitive and spirited musicians who have formed a dynamic ensemble prized for expressive interpretations of Classical and Romantic repertoire rooted in a profound understanding of the music and its time. They perform music by Fanny Mendelssohn and her brother Felix, alongside one of Haydn’s most popular string quartets and some glorious lyrical writing from Robert Schumann.   

“I’ve really enjoyed the sound of their gut strings with period bows, the almost viol-like melancholy it adds in places alongside the velvety clarity of textures and lovingly applied expressive slides elsewhere.” Andrew McGregor on BBC Radio 3 Record Review

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HAYDN Joseph, String Quartet in D Op.64, No.5 ‘Lark’

It was the soaring violin theme at the start of the first movement which gave this quartet its nickname, in a movement which wears its learning lightly, transforming the main melody in inventive ways right up to its final appearance. The hymn-like Adagio cantabile (with a contrasting minor-key central section) is followed by a Minuet which combines the feeling of a rustic dance with sophisticated motivic development. The finale is an exciting virtuoso display with almost continuous activity, but also some ingenious elements of contrast (such as the passage where the rushing main idea is treated fugally). 

 

Composed in 1790, Haydn’s Op.64 quartets were the earliest to receive their premieres at public concerts rather than at intimate gatherings of connoisseurs, and the finale of The Lark must have electrified its large audience – and delighted the composer himself: at the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn arrived in England on New Year’s Day 1791 and remained there for the next 18 months. When the Quartets were published by the London firm of John Bland in June 1791, the title page announced that they had been ’composed by Giuseppe Haydn and perform’d under his direction at Mr Salomon’s concert, the Festino Rooms, Hanover Square’.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

HENSEL-MENDELSSOHN Fanny, String Quartet in E flat

In the last couple of decades, the increasing interest in Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn’s music has demonstrated beyond doubt that her brother Felix was not the only member of the family with extraordinary gifts. 

 

Fanny’s only String Quartet dates from 1834 but has its origins in an earlier piano sonata from 1829. That was never completed but its first two movements were reworked as the Adagio and Scherzo of the present quartet which was given its first performance at her Berlin salon in 1834. The formal freedom of this quartet is one of its most remarkable features, beginning with an intense, fantasia-like Adagio that begins in C minor before gradually working towards the home key of E flat by the end of the movement. The Scherzo in C minor, with a Trio section in C major, has something an elfin quality, whereas the following Romanze is a deeply-felt movement that shifts between G minor and major with some surprising detours into remote keys. The finale is a Rondo whose main theme (in tumbling thirds on the violins) dominates this movement, an exciting moto perpetuo. 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

SCHUMANN Robert, Bilder aus Osten, Op.66

Robert Schumann wrote Bilder aus Osten (‘Pictures from the East’) for piano four-hands in December 1848, as a Christmas present for his wife Clara. According to a preliminary note by Robert in the first edition, the pieces were inspired by the poet Friedrich Rückert’s German translations of Arabic Maqāmāt (tales of Arabic life). The central character of Rückert’s selection, Abu Seid, was likened by Robert to Germany’s own folk character Till Eulenspiegel and Schumann wrote that his aim in these pieces was to ‘express oriental poetry and thinking in our own art, as has already been done in German poetry’. 

 

Violinist Friedrich Hermann (1828–1907) studied with Felix Mendelssohn and Ferdinand David, played in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and became professor of violin at the Leipzig Conservatory. His string quartet transcriptions of Bilder aus Osten demonstrate great skill in reimagining Schumann’s piano duets for entirely different forces, with thoroughly convincing results.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

MENDELSSOHN Felix, String Quartet in F minor, Op.80

The last of Felix Mendelssohn’s string quartets was composed in August–September 1847 at Interlaken, a few months after the death of his sister, Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn. Written as an instrumental Requiem in her memory, it was completed shortly before Mendelssohn’s own death. The first movement is defiant and agitated, while the Scherzo is most unlike Mendelssohn’s usual Scherzo style: this is earnest, dark and intense music. The deeply-felt Adagio is the emotional heart of the work, and the movement that is most obviously elegiac in character. The uneasy start of the finale, marked by syncopations and trills, finds moments of lyricism (including some self-quotations) as well as outbursts of anger. Few works in Mendelssohn’s output are so personal, and so overtly emotional. Though Mendelssohn heard the work played privately, the first public performance took place after his death. It was given in Leipzig by a quartet led by Joseph Joachim at a memorial concert on 4 November 1848 – the first anniversary of Mendelssohn’s death.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

EXPLORING THE REED TRIO

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 9 February 2024, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets
£16 
£10 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event
Adrian Wilson (oboe)

KOECHLIN Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (14’)
TOMASI Évocations for oboe (8′)
LUTOSŁAWSKI Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (12′)
POULENC Sonata for clarinet and bassoon (8′)
IBERT Cinq pièces en trio (9′) 

No interval 

The reed trio brings together the colourful expression of the oboe, the warmth and versatility of the clarinet and the rich depth of the bassoon. Lutosławski’s precise and carefully sculpted trio is followed by Poulenc’s spiky and tender duo and Ibert’s five glorious technicolour pieces.  

Watch Adrian Wilson, one of the stars of this concert, in a fun oboe trio recorded specially for our lockdown Festival in May 2020.  

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KOECHLIN Charles, Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon

Charles Koechlin was an extremely prolific composer, but much of his music remains to be rediscovered. A pupil of Fauré, he was on friendly terms with many of his contemporaries including Ravel and Debussy, and for a time he served as a kind of mentor to Poulenc. His ‘Trio d’anches’ – Trio for reed instruments – was completed in December 1945 and first performed in a French Radio broadcast on 3 May 1946, played by Paul Taillefer (oboe), André Dupont (clarinet) and André Gaby (bassoon). The first movement is slow-moving and serious and it is followed by a spiky Allegro, its main theme introduced by the solo bassoon and then taken up in imitation, first by the oboe, then the clarinet. The Andante begins with the oboe alone, playing a lyrical idea which dominates the movement. The fast finale is playful in mood and technically demanding with rapid scales and angular rhythms, rushing to an exciting close where all three instruments play together in octaves.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

TOMASI Henri Frédien, Évocations for oboe

Henri Tomasi was born in Marseille and by his mid-teens was earning a good living from playing piano in the city’s restaurants and hotels. The First World War meant that Tomasi had to postpone his studies, but when he finally enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire, his composition teachers included Vincent D’Indy and the flautist Philippe Gaubert – music for wind instruments would later dominate Tomasi’s output. Tomasi divided his career between conducting radio and theatre orchestras, and composing his own works, and he once said: “I’ve always been a melodist at heart. I write for the public at large. Music that doesn’t come from the heart isn’t music.”  

His Évocations for solo oboe were first published in 1969 and are sonic postcards depicting the landscape and music of four very different countries and their cultures. 

 © Tom McKinney 

LUTOSŁAWSKI Witold, Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon

Following the Warsaw Rising in August 1944, Lutosławski fled to the town of Komorów (20km south-west of Warsaw) and worked on his Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon in the attic of a house belonging to one of his uncles. He later wrote that he chose three wind instruments because such an ensemble was ‘the simplest way’ to realise his ‘research into pitch, rhythm and the organisation of sounds’. In short, it was a kind of experiment in compositional discipline, written under extremely difficult circumstances. By the time Lutosławski returned to Warsaw more than 150,000 Polish lives had been lost as a result of brutal Nazi suppression of the Rising. 

 

The Trio was first performed at the Festival of Contemporary Music held in Cracow in September 1945. Writing shortly after the premiere, the Polish critic Stefan Kisielewski described this three-movement work as ‘a laboratory piece, a composer’s étude displaying some of the elements from which Lutosławski constructs his work … and a world of sound combinations which is personal and absolutely original.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

POULENC Francis, Sonata for clarinet and bassoon

Poulenc wrote this Sonata in September 1922 – it is one of his three early sonatas for wind instruments without piano. The first performance took place at a concert on 4 January 1923, in which Poulenc’s music was played alongside Satie’s La Belle Excentrique and Socrate. Among those present (along with Satie and Poulenc) were two of the great patrons of modern music, Misia Sert and Serge Diaghilev. The Sonata was particularly admired by Stravinsky (not always a fan of Poulenc’s music), who wrote to fellow composer Georges Auric in November 1922 after seeing the manuscript of this work and another of Poulenc’s sonatas from the same time. “I very much loved the music of these two sonatas,” Stravinsky said, “very fresh music where the originalist of Poulenc manifests itself as it does in none of his other works. Moreover, this music is very, very French.” 

 

© Nigel Simeone

IBERT Jacques, Cinq pièces en trio

After serving in the French Navy during the First World War, Ibert won the Prix de Rome for composition in 1919 and his early successes included the orchestral pieces called Escales (‘Ports of Call’), written in 1922. His best-known work, the Divertissement for orchestra followed in 1929 and secured his position as an inventive neoclassicist (who, in the Divertissement, demonstrated that he also had a sense of humour). 

 

He composed the elegantly crafted set of Cinq pièces en trio in 1935 for the Trio d’Anches de Paris, the same ensemble who premiered Martinů’s Four Madrigals, as well as works by Milhaud, Roussel, Françaix and others. The score has a dedication ‘To Fernand Oubradous and the Trio d’Anches de Paris’, and as well as giving the premiere, these players also made the first recording, issued by Louise Dyer’s L’Oiseau-lyre label in 1938. The five short pieces are all written in a charming style which is well-suited to the three wind instruments.  

 

© Nigel Simeone

HAYDN TO BEAMISH

Trio Gaspard

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Thursday 25 January 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£21 
£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Past Event

HAYDN Piano Trio in A, Hob.XV:9 (13’)
BRAHMS Piano Trio No.2 (29’)
HAYDN Piano Trio in G minor, Hob.XV:1 (14’)
BEAMISH ‘TRANCE’ for piano trio (new work for Trio Gaspard’s Haydn Project) (c.10’)
LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No.9 ‘Carnival in Pest(10’) 

Trio Gaspard comprises three virtuoso musicians from Germany, Greece and the UK, who came together as students and have now established themselves as a major presence in classical concert halls and festivals throughout Europe. Having signed to the Chandos label, they are now recording all of Haydn’s piano trios, and their concert will showcase two of his masterpieces alongside the intense drama of Schumann and Liszt, plus a recent work from Sally Beamish, one of the UK’s best-known living composers. 

Save £s when you book for 5 Music in the Round concerts or more at the same timeFind out more here.

View the brochure for our Sheffield 2024 concerts online here or download it below.

Download

HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in A, Hob.XV:9

Haydn composed this trio in 1785 – the year when he also wrote the ‘Paris’ Symphonies. It was first published in February 1786 by the London firm of William Forster as one of Three Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano-Forte with an Accompaniment for a Violin & Violoncello and further editions appeared soon afterwards in Germany and Austria. It is cast in two movements, both in A major. The first is a spacious Adagio in which Haydn can be heard developing the notion of an ‘accompanied’ piano sonata into music where the string parts begin to emerge as more equal partners. Near the end of the movement, Haydn inserts a short cadenza-like passage before the music winds down to a gentle close. The second movement is fast and florid, with its fair share of harmonic quirks, as well as Haydn’s endless melodic invention and his irresistible flair for generating energetic momentum.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

BRAHMS Johannes, Piano Trio No.2

Brahms composed the first movement of the C major Piano Trio at Bad Ischl in Austria’s Salzkammergut region in June 1880. It was always one of the composer’s favourite spots, where he was able to compose in peace. The other works to emerge from the 1880 visit were Brahms’s two concert overtures: the Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture, and when he returned in 1882, his summer produced not only the rest of the C major Trio, but also the String Quintet Op.88 and the Song of the Fates Op.89 for chorus and orchestra. 

Brahms’s earlier piano trio (in B major, Op.8) was a large-scale and rhapsodic work from his early years (to which he returned in 1889, making extensive revisions), but the C major Trio shows the composer in a much more concise frame of mind. The striding opening theme – first heard in octaves on the violin and cello – has a strong sense of rhythmic energy that is used to propel much of the first movement. The ‘Andante con moto’ similarly opens with a theme in octaves on the strings, but this time it’s a plangent melody in the minor which becomes almost defiant at the movement’s climax. The ghostly ‘Scherzo’ is complemented by a radiant swaying theme in the central Trio section. The main theme of the finale is marked by the use of a sharpened fourth note of the scale (F sharp in C major) that gives it a particular character, and this memorable tune drives the movement to a thrilling conclusion. 

The first performances were given in Cologne and Frankfurt am Main in December 1882, with Brahms himself at the piano in the Frankfurt concert.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in G minor, Hob.XV:1

There’s some debate around the year in which Haydn composed this piano trio. It was certainly in existence by 1766 but it’s likely to date back as early as 1760, making it one of his very first piano trios, a form that Haydn pioneered and eventually completely mastered. If it was composed on the earlier date, Haydn would have still been in his twenties and yet to make his life-changing move to the Palace of Esterháza. Around that time, he was also composing his first symphonies and string quartets, and Haydn’s early style owed much to C.P.E. Bachthat influence is prevalent throughout these three pocket-sized movements. But it’s apparent that Haydn already understood the real potential of combining a piano, violin and cello, and his ability to pack such a short piece of music with so many ideas, is a premonition of how he would develop the piano trio with extraordinary genius throughout the rest of his life. 

BEAMISH Sally, Trance

This piece was commissioned by the Trio Gaspard to sit alongside Haydn’s piano trios. The sound of these wonderful players was in my head as I wrote. Haydn’s trios famously give a pretty subordinate role to the cello, so my first idea was to make the cello a soloist in my piece. My relationship with Haydn’s F sharp minor trio goes back to childhood, when my mother, violinist Ursula Snow, performed it many times with her trio. I must have heard hours of rehearsal.  This led me to think of my mother, and how much I miss her, and feel I understand her better as I get older. This short piece is dedicated to her memory.  

 

I took F sharp as my starting point, and threaded in occasional notes taken from Haydn’s Andante cantabile movement. The harmonies, which form a repeated chaconne-like pattern in the piano part, are also derived from the Haydn, but in my own way, and not necessarily audible to the listener. The music is like a series of fragmented memories; the violin at first ghost-like, while the cello has an improvisatory line; the violin then drawing the cello into its falling 5th motif, while the piano has the solo line. The three instruments become equal as the music comes to a head, before dissolving into a quiet final statement of the chord sequence.  

 

The melancholic nature of Haydn’s trio affected my approach, combined with memories of my mother and her gradual disappearance into dementia. The title, Trance, indicates a meditative state, but also a ‘passageway’, or departure – the confusing journey of my relationship with my mother as her personality shifted, changed and faded. 

 

Trance was commissioned by the Trio Gaspard, and first performed at the West Cork Festival on 28th June, 2023. 

© Sally Beamish 

LISZT Franz, Hungarian Rhapsody No.9 ‘Carnival in Pest’

Liszt composed his Carnival in Pest in 1847 for solo piano, the ninth of his Hungarian Rhapsodies in which he aimed to compose virtuoso works in which he could incorporate traditional music from his homeland. Carnival in Pest is dedicated to the Brno-born violinist Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, It was therefore a particularly appropriate idea for Liszt to compose a version for piano trio which includes a flamboyant violin part – in fact all three instruments are given some dazzling writing. 

Dating from 1848, the autograph manuscript of the trio version (in the collection of the Juilliard School in New York) is covered in revisions and deletions, suggesting that Liszt rethought much of the work when he made this transcription. It is a piece that is largely celebratory in mood and Liszt presents a succession of stirring Hungarian Gypsy themes with frequent changes of tempo, interspersed with cadenzas. It culminates in a triumphant reprise of the opening idea on the strings, in octaves, followed by a dizzying coda. It is unclear why Liszt did not publish the trio version during his lifetime, but it eventually appeared posthumously in 1892. 

© Nigel Simeone 

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

Calefax Reed Quintet

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Monday 22 January 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets 

£21 
£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event

HANDEL Suite for keyboard No.5 The Harmonious Blacksmith (9’)
FRANCK Chorale No.2 (9’)
ALKAN Comme le vent (5’)
DEBUSSY Préludes for piano (selection) (10’)
GERMANUS Le tourne-disque antique (7’)
DVOŘÁK String Quintet No.3 Op.97 (extracts) (15’)
GERSHWIN An American in Paris (13’) 

Saxophones, clarinets, oboe and bassoon combine to make the sensational sound of Calefax, five exceptional Dutch musicians whose lively and entertaining performances have won them loyal fans all over the world. George Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’ is a vivid portrait of the Roaring ’20s, and in Calefax’s unique arrangement the musical colours of Paris are even more vibrant. They’ll also be treating us to music ranging from the joy of Handel to the rich melodies of Dvořák and the shimmering beauty of Debussy. 

Watch a gorgeous example of Calefax’s music, in their trailer from their recent album:

 

Save £s when you book for 5 Music in the Round concerts or more at the same timeFind out more here.

View the brochure for our Sheffield 2024 concerts online here or download it below.

Download

HANDEL George Frideric, Suite for keyboard No.5 The Harmonious Blacksmith (arr. for Calefax)

When Calefax was founded in 1985, the available repertoire was virtually non-existent for such an unconventional ensemble: a reed quintet, comprising oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet and bassoon. As a consequence, it was necessary to commission brand new works and a large number of arrangements. The earliest music in the present programme is a transcription of music originally written for harpsichord by George Frideric Handel (1685–1759): the Air and Variations from his Keyboard Suite No. 5, known as ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’ and first published in 1720. As an inveterate recycler and rearranger of his own music for different instrumental combinations, Handel would surely have been delighted to find this work reimagined for reed instruments. 

© Nigel Simeone 

FRANCK César, Chorale No.2 (arr. for Calefax)

César Franck (1822–1890) served as the organist of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris for over 30 years at the same time as composing utterly distinctive chamber music (Violin Sonata, Piano Quintet) and orchestral works (Symphony, Symphonic Variations). His music for organ is particularly significant and he composed his Three Chorales for organ in the last year of his life. The organist Dame Gillian Weir has described the Second Chorale as ‘a giant passacaglia, suggesting the tolling of a great bell as it moves from sombre genesis through an avalanche of sound to its peaceful end.’ 

© Nigel Simeone 

ALKAN Charles-Valentin, Comme le vent (arr. for Calefax)

Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813–1888) was a prodigy, described as a child with ‘amazing abilities’ at his audition for the Paris Conservatoire in 1820. In the 1830s he established friendships with Liszt and Chopin and gave concerts with both of them. After experiencing bitter professional disappointments in the late 1840s, Alkan became a virtual recluse between 1850 and 1873 when he reappeared unexpectedly and his playing excited a younger generation including Saint-Saëns. An extraordinary pianist (Liszt said that Alkan possessed the finest technique he had ever known) he was also a strikingly original composer. ‘Comme le vent’ is the first of his 12 études in all the minor keys, first published in 1857 during his years of retreat. Marked prestissimamente it is a dizzying tour de force. 

© Nigel Simeone 

DEBUSSY Claude, Piano Preludes (selection) (arr. for Calefax)

Claude Debussy (1862–1918) composed twenty-four préludes in all, published in two books in 1910 and 1913. Unusually, the titles are only printed at the end of each piece, underlining Debussy’s wish that this was music to be understood on its own terms as well as through descriptive or programmatic means. Each of them is a beautifully conceived entity: some are tender or alluring, some are capricious, while others are flamboyant and even elemental. But whether taken individually or collectively (Debussy himself was happy either way, often playing individual préludes in recitals), they represent the composer at his most distinctive.  

© Nigel Simeone 

GERMANUS Sander, Le tourne-disque antique

Sander Germanus (b.1972) completed Le Tourne-disque Antique (‘The Antique Gramophone’) in 2001, specially commissioned by the Calefax Reed Quintet. Opening with increasingly agitated syncopated rhythms, the title is perhaps an allusion to the kind of dance music that might be heard on a wind-up gramophone before it runs down to a standstill at the end. 

© Nigel Simeone 

DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quintet No.3 Op.97 (extracts) (arr. for Calefax)

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) composed his String Quintet Op.97 in 1893, starting it a month after completing the New World Symphony. The two works share many of the same characteristics, including a fondness for melodies based on pentatonic (black-note) scales, syncopated rhythms, melodies inspired by Dvořák’s discovery of African-American spirituals and hints of the Native American music which he heard during his stay in Spillville, Iowa in Summer 1893. 

© Nigel Simeone

GERSHWIN George, An American in Paris (arr. for Calefax)

When George Gershwin (1898–1937) introduced An American in Paris he wrote that ‘My purpose here is to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.’ On the title page of the manuscript, Gershwin called it ‘a tone poem for orchestra’, adding that it was ‘begun early in 1928 and finished November 18, 1928.’ Mixing French touches and American elements Gershwin himself said ‘It’s a humorous piece, nothing solemn about it. It’s not intended to draw tears. If it pleases audiences as a light, jolly piece, a series of impressions musically expressed, it succeeds.’  

© Nigel Simeone 

FOCUS ON THE VIOLA

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 8 December 2023, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets:
£16
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

VIEUXTEMPS Viola Sonata (23’)
CLARKE Viola Sonata (25’)

From one of the earliest works for viola and piano to one of the best loved: Vieuxtemps’s expressive and virtuosic sonata showcases the rich and sonorous tone of the instrument while the passionate and emotional expression of Rebecca Clarke’s hauntingly beautiful meditation concludes with a dramatic final movement.

Rachel Roberts is one of this country’s finest viola players, and in this concert she pairs two great works for her instrument; her appearance in the opening concert of Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2022 was described by The Spectator as ‘fiendish’ yet also ‘the most fun two string players could have together’. With the same joy and passion, here she presents two contrasting works that bring this mellifluous instrument and her phenomenal artistry to the fore.  

Please note, the free POST-CONCERT TALK with Leah Broad, author of Quartet, has moved to 2pm. 
Please contact Jenny Davies, marketing@musicintheround.co.uk if you have any queries about an existing booking.

2.00pm POST-CONCERT TALK Free
Ticket holders are invited to stay for a talk by Leah Broad, author of Quartet, which features the biographies of four female composers including Rebecca Clarke.  

 

VIEUXTEMPS Henri, Viola Sonata

Maestoso – Allegro 
Barcarolla. Andante con moto 
Finale Scherzando. Allegretto 
 

The Belgian violin virtuoso and composer Henri Vieuxtemps was also an outstanding viola player and he composed his Viola Sonata in 1860. The first performance was given on 21 January 1861 in London, at the St James’s Hall, played by Vieuxtemps with the distinguished English pianist Arabella Goddard (famous, among other things, for giving the first public performance in London of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata). The performance was reviewed in The Musical World whose critic praised ‘M. Vieuxtemps’s mastery of the viola’ and expressed the view that ‘of the three movements, the Andante in G minor (Barcarolla) created the most marked impression’ and noted that ‘the difficulties presented by the whole work are such that none but a performer of the first class should attempt it.’ 

 

Several more performances quickly followed including one at the Hanover Square Rooms (15 February 1861) and another at the St James’s Hall on 15 April, this time with Charles Hallé as Vieuxtemps’s pianist. The work was first heard in Brussels a few weeks later and when the sonata was published in 1862, it carried a dedication to King George V of Hanover, a music-loving cousin of Queen Victoria.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

CLARKE Rebecca, Viola Sonata

Viola Sonata  
Impetuoso 
Vivace 
Adagio–Allegro 

After studying at the Royal College of Music (composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and the viola with Lionel Tertis), Rebecca Clarke became one of the first women to work as a professional orchestral musician in London, playing in Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra. In 1916, she moved to America to develop her solo career and it was in the years immediately following her move that she was at her most prolific as a composer. In 1919, newspapers carried an announcement offering ‘$1,000 for Best Piano and Viola Work’ organised by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, America’s greatest patron of modern chamber music. Clarke entered her Viola Sonata and after the deliberations of the judges over a weekend in August 1919, Clarke’s work tied for first place with a Suite by Ernest Bloch. Eventually Coolidge herself broke the tie, giving the prize to Bloch. This may have been to avoid any conflict of interest: she was already a friend of Clarke’s. Still, the committee wanted to know the identity of both composers, and as Coolidge later told Clarke, ‘You should have seen their faces when they saw it was by a woman!’ Coolidge included Clarke’s Sonata in her chamber music festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and it was first performed there on 25 September 1919, played by Louis Bailly (viola) and Harold Bauer (piano). It was an immediate success, and Clarke noted in her diary that she ‘had a very warm reception and had to bow from platform. Overwhelmed with congratulations.’ Though Clarke had success with her Piano Trio in 1921 (another Coolidge commission), her music later lapsed into neglect. It was thanks to the revival of interest in her Viola Sonata that Clarke’s music started to enjoy a richly-deserved renaissance towards the end of the twentieth century 

It is in three movements, the first and third are both imposing, while the central Scherzo is a brilliant exploration of the technical possibilities of the viola. The musical language is somewhat influenced by Debussy and Ravel as well as British music, but the sweeping character of the ideas is very much Clarke’s own, from the opening fanfare-like idea to the imposing finale. This begins with a richly expressive Adagio but leads to a faster section in which Clarke recalls material from the first movement to magnificent effect before bringing the work to a virtuoso conclusion. 

© Nigel Simeone 

BACH CELLO SUITES

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 27 October 2023, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets:
£16
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

JS BACH Cello Suite No.5 (26) 
JS BACH Cello Suite No.6 (24’) 

Concluding her series of Bach’s beloved Cello Suites, Ensemble 360’s celebrated cellist Gemma Rosefield returns to Upper Chapel, interspersing music with conversation and questions.  

Immerse yourself in the intricate melodies of Bach’s cello masterpieces. From the haunting prelude to an energetic gigue, the many movements of each suite showcase the versatility and expressiveness of the cello. 

BACH Johann Sebastian, Cello Suites 5 & 6

Cello Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV 1011 

Prelude 
Allemande 
Courante 
Sarabande 
Gavotte I / II 
Gigue 

 

Cello Suite No.6 in D, BWV 1012 

Prelude 
Allemande 
Courante 
Sarabande 
Gavotte I / II 
Gigue 

  

Bach’s Cello Suites were probably composed in about 1720 during Bach’s time in Cöthen. It isn’t known for whom Bach wrote them, though there are at least two likely candidates working in Cöthen at the time: Christian Ferdinand Abel (1682–1761), a great friend of the composer for whom Bach wrote the three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1027–9), and Carl Berhard Lienicke (d. 1751), the leading cellist of the Cöthen orchestra. Whether either of them was the player Bach had in mind is a matter of pure speculation since no documentary evidence has come to light. Equally uncertain is why Bach wrote them. The likeliest explanation is that they were intended – like much of his keyboard music – for private performance. 

© Nigel Simeone  

LIGETI 100: PIANO & WIND

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 30 September 2023, 7.00pm

Tickets:
£21
£14 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

DORTI Duo Concertante (13′) 
LIGETI Selection of Etudes (c.12′) 
LUTOSŁAWSKI Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Piano (12′)
FARKAS Five Antique Hungarian Dances (16′) 
LIGETI Ten Pieces (13′) 

An evening of music for piano and wind celebrating the works of György Ligeti, one of the most innovative and influential composers of the late 20th century.  

Ligeti’s celebrated Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet and a selection of his mesmerising studies for piano are among the highlights of this concert celebrating the 100th birthday of this ground-breaking composer. Other works to feature include dances by Ligeti’s teacher, Farkas, and a breathtaking duo by Doráti, who conducted several premieres of Ligeti’s most famous works. 

DORÁTI Antal, Duo Concertante for oboe and piano

Antal Doráti’s long and distinguished conducting career has tended to overshadow his work as a composer. As a brilliantly gifted teenager, he began his studies at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest at the age of fourteen and from the start, his musical development was in the best possible hands: his composition teachers included Zoltán Kodály and his piano teacher was Béla Bartók. After graduating from the Academy in 1924, he joined the music staff at the Budapest Opera, making his conducting debut the same year.  

Notable later orchestral appointments included posts with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Stockholm Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His numerous recordings included a pioneering set of the complete Haydn symphonies, made for Decca with the Philharmonia Hungarica. 

Doráti also found time to compose a number of pieces, ranging from an opera (The Chosen) to orchestral works (including a symphony) and the present Duo concertante for oboe and piano, completed in 1984 and dedicated to the great Swiss oboist Heinz Holliger who gave the first performance in Washington, D.C. on 21 April 1984 with the pianist Karl Ritter. A modern re-interpretation of a Hungarian rhapsody, the structure draws on traditional Hungarian dance forms, opening with a slow lassú and following this with a friss – a quick movement marked molto vivace 

© Nigel Simeone 

LIGETI György, Études for piano

Ligeti composed a series of 18 études for solo piano between 1985 and 2001, published in three books. When they first became known, these pieces were hailed as instant classics of the twentieth-century piano repertoire, and also provided a remarkable climax to Ligeti’s composing career. Following in the tradition of Chopin, Liszt and Debussy, these pieces pose tremendous technical challenges while also resulting in brilliant musical miniatures, whether dazzling or poetic. Ligeti himself wrote that he imagined in the Études ‘highly emotive music of high contrapuntal and metrical complexity, with labyrinthine branches and perceptible melodic forms … not tonal, but not atonal either.’  

 

They are dedicated to various important exponents of contemporary music, ranging from the composers Pierre Boulez and György Kurtág, to the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Volker Banfield. Described by critic Andrew Clements as ‘the most important additions to the solo-piano repertoire in the last half-century’, one remarkable feature is the way in which, as Clements put is, ‘in the Études, Ligeti effectively created a new pianistic vocabulary’. The influences described by Ligeti on these works included medieval and Renaissance music, African polyphony, Latin-American dances, Balinese gamelan, jazz pianists including Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk and the folk music of Ligeti’s native Hungary. But all of these are subsumed into a language that is entirely Ligeti’s own, with the most exhilarating results. 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

LUTOSŁAWKSI Witold, Dance Preludes

Allegro molto
Andantino
Allegro giocoso
Andante
Allegro molto

In 1954, Witold Lutosławski wrote his five Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano, based on folk tunes from Northern Poland, describing them as his ‘farewell to folk music’. In 1959 he recast the pieces for the Czech Nonet – comprising wind quintet, violin, viola, cello and double bass – in which he makes one significant change: no longer is the clarinet the soloist, but the thematic material is shared between the whole ensemble. Lutosławski’s biographer Charles Bodman Rae has described the way the composer transforms the folk tunes, and generates the propulsive energy in the faster movements: ‘Superimposition of different metres is the main feature of these pieces, resulting in metrical and rhythmic contradictions. This technique is most noticeable in the first, third and fifth pieces and invests them with much of their rhythmic vitality.’

This Nonet version of the Dance Preludes was first performed by the Czech Nonet at a concert in Louny, 40 miles northwest of Prague, on 10 November 1959.

Nigel Simeone 2013

FARKAS Ferenc, Five Antique Hungarian Dances (version for wind quintet)

Intrada 
Lassú (Slow Dance) 
Lapockás tánc (Shoulder Blade Dance) 
Chorea hungaricae 
Ugrós (Leaping Dance) 
 

Ferenc Farkas studied with Leo Weiner at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and later with Ottorino Respighi in Rome. On returning to Budapest in 1932, one of his first commissions was for a film score and he went on to compose extensively for film and theatre productions. At the same time, he began researching Hungarian folk music and began a distinguished teaching career: his pupils included Ligeti and Kurtág. 

 

This work, officially titled Antique Hungarian Dances from the 17th Century, exists in versions for various solo instruments and ensembles, with the present wind quintet version dating from 1959. In a note on the work, Farkas himself wrote that ‘compared with the rich folk-song heritage of Hungary, our ancient airs and dances that have been preserved in writing have a more modest role. For this work I have been influenced by dances of the 17th century, written by unknown amateurs in a relatively simple style … My interest in this music was first captured in the 1940s. I was so fascinated that I decided to give these melodies new life. I fitted the little dances together, in rondo form, and leaning on Baroque harmony and counterpoint, I attempted a reminiscence of that atmosphere of provincial Hungarian life at the time.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

LIGETI György, Ten Pieces

Ligeti composed his Ten Pieces between August and December 1968. He said that his first idea was ‘to compose a virtuoso work … to bring out the individual character of the five very different instruments available to me. My first idea was to write five short virtuoso pieces, but as I was working on the sketches, I began to sense that this didn’t work in formal terms … It made more sense to have ensemble pieces contrast with virtuoso pieces, in order to supply points of repose. It was thus that the final form came about: ten pieces with a regular alternation of ensemble pieces and virtuoso pieces.’ 

 

The first performance was given on 20 January 1969 in Malmö, Sweden, played by the Wind Quintet of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Each piece is short – the first, marked Molto sostenuto e calmo is one of the longer movements, lasting just over two minutes, while the fourth, fifth and sixth, all very fast, last less than a minute each. In his biography of Ligeti, British composer Richard Steinitz has described the Ten Pieces as ‘both accessible and delightfully characteristic of their composer … The style is intentionally kaleidoscopic’ (likened by Ligeti himself to Tom and Jerry cartoons), and ‘the music is quirky, epigrammatic and comic.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

FOCUS ON THE CLARINET

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 6 October 2023, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets:
£16
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

DEBUSSY Premiere rhapsodie (8’)
YORK BOWEN Clarinet Sonata (16’)
HARRISON Drifting Away (5’)
WEBER Grand Duo Concertant (21’) 

Praised by International Record Review as “an eloquent and impassioned clarinettist [whose] playing is full-blooded and committed”, Robert Plane, the newest member of Ensemble 360, has been a remarkable addition to this highly regarded Ensemble. 

Debussy’s impressionistic Premiere rhapsodie, performed by Rob and pianist Tim Horton, moves from a dreamy opening to a virtuosic conclusion. The pair will also perform Drifting Away, the work of Pamela Harrison, an often overlooked English composer who Rob has done much to champion. The concert concludes with Weber’s celebrated duo marked by soaring melodies and dazzling cadenzas. 

POST-CONCERT TALK Free
Ticket holders are invited to stay for an informal talk from Rob about Pamela Harrison, who features in the concert.

DEBUSSY Claude, Première Rapsodie for Clarinet and Piano

The test pieces specially composed for the final exams at the Paris Conservatoire have something of a bad reputation. Many of them are routine competition showpieces but sometimes a work of much more lasting importance was written for these occasions. Such is the case with Debussy’s Première Rapsodie, completed in January 1910 for the clarinet concours at the Conservatoire that summer (Debussy also dashed off a sight-reading test for the same competition, published as his Petite pièce for clarinet and piano). Debussy himself was a member of the jury and he found most of the players unsatisfactory in the Rapsodie. However, the eventual winner, Vandercruyssen, impressed him. Debussy wrote to his friend and publisher Jacques Durand that Vandercruyssen ‘played by heart, and like a great musician’. A year later, Debussy prepared the better-known version of the piece for clarinet and orchestra, but the original with piano is superbly written for both instruments. The clarinettist David Pino has claimed, with justification, that the Première rapsodie was ‘the first major work for solo clarinet written in the twentieth century’.

It opens in a mood of stillness (marked ‘Rêveusement lent’ – ‘dreamily slow’), with the piano adding gentle momentum in the accompaniment after a few bars, and the clarinet – instructed to play pianissimo but also ‘sweetly’ and ‘penetrating’ – introducing a languorous theme that gradually becomes more animated. A sudden speeding up introduces a more capricious idea that is briefly stopped in its tracks by a series of trills and a return to earlier music. But the faster speed soon returns, starting with rumbling low notes on the piano and a series of upward flourishes on the clarinet. This gives way to a new section marked ‘Modérément animé (‘Moderately animated) and ‘playful’, a passage that quite brilliantly exploits the possibilities of the clarinet, especially its ability to play rapid figurations and lyrical lines. A return to the slower music gives way, finally, to a thrilling conclusion.

What makes this such an outstanding work is that Debussy combines extremely idiomatic writing – appropriate for a piece that was intended to demonstrate a player’s technical command – with musical ideas that have memorable substance. On 16 January 1911 the clarinettist Paul Mimart (to whom the work was dedicated) gave the first performance in a concert, at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, in one of the concerts promoted by the Société musicale indépendante. According to Debussy’s biographer Léon Valas, another performance took place at the end of 1911 in Russia, and it was greeted by the audience with confusion. A baffled Debussy wrote to a friend: ‘Surely this piece is one of the most immediately pleasing I have ever written!’

© Nigel Simeone

YORK BOWEN Edwin, Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op.109

Allegro moderato 
Allegretto poco scherzando 
Finale. Allegro molto 
 

York Bowen was a virtuoso pianist (in 1925 he made the first ever recording of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto) and had a parallel career as a prolific composer whose output included instrumental works written for many distinguished soloists, among them violinist Fritz Kreisler, oboist Léon Goossens, violist Lionel Tertis and horn player Denis Brain. When York Bowen heard the clarinettist Pauline Juler give the first performance of Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles at one of the National Gallery Concerts in January 1943, he was immediately inspired to compose a work for her. The result was the Clarinet Sonata in F minor, given its premiere by Juler and the composer later that year. 

 

Starting with a wide-ranging theme for the clarinet (extending over two and a half octaves), this vibrant, lyrical work explores the technical possibilities of the clarinet with consummate skill. The second theme is closely related to the first, and the movement ends with a coda based on the work’s opening. The Scherzetto is a capricious counterpart to the first movement and elements of it are also heard at the start of the finale, marked Allegro molto. This is a rondo in which music from the opening movement is also recalled before an imposing coda brings this remarkable post-romantic sonata to a powerful close.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

HARRISON Pamela, Drifting Away (for clarinet and piano)

Pamela Harrison studied at the Royal College of Music with Gordon Jacob (composition) and Arthur Benjamin (piano), and she composed several important works during the Second World War, including a String Quartet first performed in 1941 at the National Gallery Concerts. She wrote several important works for clarinet, inspired in part by a warm friendship with Jack Brymer for whom she composed a rugged and dramatic Clarinet Sonata in 1953, following this with a Clarinet Quintet in 1956. Drifting Away dates from two decades later: it was first performed by Brymer in 1975 at Sherbourne School. The title was derived from lines by W.B. Yeats: 

 
I heard the old, old men say 
All that’s beautiful drifts away 
Like the waters. 

 

Appropriately enough, this tender and evocative work, exquisitely crafted, was played by Brymer at the memorial service for Pamela Harrison in 1990.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

WEBER Carl Maria Von, Grand Duo Concertant in E flat Op.48

Allegro con fuoco 
Andante con moto 
Rondo. Allegro 
 

Weber’s own diaries contain a wealth of information about when he composed this work. The first movement to be written was the Rondo finale, completed in Munich on 5 July 1815 and a note from a few days later mentions sketches “for the sonata with clarinet and piano”. By 19 July Weber had also written the slow movement, describing it as an “Adagio”. It wasn’t for another year that he turned his attention to the first movement – noting in Berlin on 5 November that the “First movement of the Duo in E flat was written down”, and finally on 8 November “Allegro in E flat for the Clarinet and Piano Duo finished.” The work was published by Schlesinger in Berlin six months later, Weber noting that he received printed copies on 19 June 1817.  

 

What is remarkable about this work, given its rather fragmented composition history, is that the finished piece has such concentration and coherence. An early review in the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung was full of praise: “The whole piece has an original and fiery spirit as well as tender heartfelt feelings; a thorough development of ideas comes without any pedantry … The harmonic and melodic aspects of each movement are beautifully balanced against each other and both instruments are treated with a perfect knowledge of what each can do.” 

 

The ebullient and virtuoso writing for the two instruments in is one of the glories of the Grand Duo. It was conceived as a real partnership for clarinet and piano, with neither part dominating the proceedings. The results are very rich melodically but also extremely successful in terms of Weber’s handling of large-scale forms. Though the work was called Grand Duo concertant when it was published, it’s interesting to note from Weber’s diaries that he referred to this substantial three-movement work at least once as a “Sonata”. 

 

© Nigel Simeone