BACH FOR SOLO VIOLIN

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 11 October 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets: £14.50
£10 PIP, UC & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Book Tickets

A celebration of JS Bach’s much-loved music for solo violin and a chance to enjoy some of the most beautiful works ever written for the instrument.

Programme includes:

BACH FOR SOLO VIOLIN 

Sonata No.1 in G minor (18’)
Partita No.1 in B minor (28’)

BACH Johann Sebastian, Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin

Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin were composed at Cöthen in 1720 (the date on Bach’s beautifully written fair copy of the set), at about the same time as his Cello Suites. The three Sonatas follow the pattern of the sonata da chiesa, with four movements, alternating slow and fast, while the three Partitas are suites of dances. Even though they were not published until 1802, Bach’s contemporaries recognized his superlative achievement in these pieces. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote that his father ‘understood to perfection the possibilities of all stringed instruments. This is evidenced by his solos for the violin and violoncello without bass. One of the greatest violinists once told me that he had seen nothing more perfect for learning to be a good violinist.’ Which violinist Bach may have had in mind when he first wrote the pieces remains unknown. 

© Nigel Simeone 

STRING TRIOS: BEETHOVEN, SCHUBERT & MORE

Ensemble 360

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 15 November 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets
£14.50
£10 UC, DLA & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Book Tickets

Programme includes:
SCHUBERT String Trio in B flat (21′)
BEETHOVEN String Trio No.3 Op.9 (24′)

Ensemble 360 performs works by two of classical music’s most celebrated composers, showcasing this versatile and elegant combination of instruments: violin, viola and cello.

MUSIC FOR OBOE & STRINGS

Ensemble 360

All Saints Church - Darton, Barnsley
Sunday 23 June 2024, 4.00pm

Tickets: £14.50
£10 PIP, UC & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Book Tickets

BRITTEN Phantasy Quartet Op.2 (13′)
ELGAR Andante and Allegro (7′)
MOZART String Quartet in D K.499 (25′)
FINZI Interlude for strings and oboe (11′)
CLARKE Poem for string quartet (10′)
BAX Oboe Quintet (18′)

Ensemble 360 returns with a captivating programme of virtuosic music which combines the haunting world of the oboe with the richness of the strings. Featuring one of Benjamin Britten’s most assured early works, alongside Bax’s celebrated quintet and Rebecca Clarke’s haunting ‘poem’ for string quartet. This is a captivating programme centred on exquisite English music for oboe, beautiful miniatures and expansive chamber music.

In partnership with Hoylandswaine Arts Group.

Seating:
Seats are church pews; feel free to bring your own cushion for extra comfort.

Parking:
Car parking is available behind the church, with a path leading directly to the church building. Postcode: S75 5LZ

BRITTEN Benjamin, Phantasy Quartet in F sharp minor

Andante con moto – Allegro vivace – Andante con moto

Bridge had already been successful in Walter Wilson Cobbett’s competition to write a ‘Phantasy’ – Cobbett’s reinvention of the Elizabeth Fantasy as new single-movement chamber works – and in 1910 he (along with Vaughan Williams and others) was commissioned by Cobbett to compose a Phantasy Piano Quartet. It’s a work in a satisfying arch form based on free-flowing musical ideas all of which derive from the powerful opening gesture. Bridge’s most famous pupil, Benjamin Britten, wrote in a programme note for the Aldeburgh Festival about this piece. He described the music as ‘Sonorous yet lucid, with clear, clean lines, grateful to listen to and to play. It is the music of a practical musician, brought up in German orthodoxy, but who loved French romanticism and conception of sound—Brahms happily tempered with Fauré.’

Nigel Simeone 2013

ELGAR Edward, Andante and Allegro for oboe and strings

This very early piece, composed in about 1878, was probably written to be played at the Worcester Glee Club. The manuscript in the British Library is, curiously, headed ‘Xmas music’ on the oboe part. The Andante is graceful, and the second movement is reminiscent of a Mendelssohn Scherzo.

Nigel Simeone 2013

MOZART Amadeus, String Quartet in D K499

1. Allegretto
2. Menuetto and Trio. Allegretto
3. Adagio
4. Allegro

 

Like Haydn before him, Mozart habitually published his string quartets in groups of six (the ‘Haydn’ Quartets) or three (the ‘Prussian’ Quartets). Between these two sets there is a single work, entered in Mozart’s manuscript catalogue of his own works on 19 August 1786 as ‘a quartet for 2 violins, viola and violoncello’. The autograph manuscript (in the British Library) is simply titled ‘Quartetto’. It was published in 1788 by the Viennese firm founded by Mozart’s friend Franz Anton Hoffmeister and it has come to be known as the ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet as a result. The first movement opens with a theme in octaves that outlines a descending D major arpeggio – an idea that dominates much of the movement despite some startling harmonic excursions along the way. The development section is marked by almost continuous quaver movement that gives way magically to the opening theme at the start of the recapitulation. The Minuet has an easy-going charm that contrasts with the sterner mood (and minor key) of the Trio section. The great Mozart biographer Alfred Einstein thought the Adagio spoke ‘of past sorrow, with a heretofore unheard-of-depth’. It is not only a deeply touching movement but also an extremely ingenious one, not least when the initial idea heard on two violins returns on viola and cello, investing the same music with a darker, richer texture. The finale is fast and playful, but there’s also astonishing inventiveness in the flow of ideas, from the opening triplets with their chromatic twists to a contrasting theme which scampers up and down the scale. A few sudden and surprising dynamic contrasts keep the listener guessing right to the end.

 

Nigel Simeone

FINZI Gerald, Interlude for Strings and Oboe

Gerald Finzi began work on this piece in 1932 but only completed it four years later, in 1936. The first performance was given at the Wigmore Hall by Leon Goossens (to whom Finzi subsequently dedicated the work) and the Menges Quartet, on 24 March 1936. Finzi was particularly touched by Goossens’s enthusiasm for the piece, having been unsure if the great oboist would be interested in the work: a nervous composer wrote to his friend Howard Ferguson: “I see that Leon, the pride of oboeland, is playing with the Isolde Menges Quartet … Perhaps he’ll say that the Interlude isn’t big enough for him.”

He needn’t have worried, but this lovely work is just one of four published pieces of chamber music by Finzi.

 

Nigel Simeone © 2012

BAX Arnold, Oboe Quintet

Tempo molto moderato – Allegro moderato – Tempo primo
Lento espressivo
Allegro giocoso – Più lento – Vivace

 

Bax wrote his Oboe Quintet in 1922, just after completing the first of his seven symphonies. The inspiration for writing a work for oboe and strings was the playing of the great oboist Leon Goossens, to whom the work is dedicated. Bax’s biographer Lewis Foreman has drawn attention to the Irish elements in the music of this work: not only the jig-like final movement, but also in some of the atmospheric writing earlier in the work. The first movement begins with some richly harmonized string chords, and the oboe’s first entrance is rhapsodic, and rather melancholy. The main Allegro moderato has a strong, muscular drive and also demonstrates Bax’s brilliant instrumental technique, drawing a remarkable range of colours from the strings. A wistful recollection of the opening music brings the movement to a serene close. The slow movement opens with a beautiful first violin melody (again, suggestive of Irish folk music). The oboe enters with something rather different: a wistful, cadenza-like passage that is then developed with the strings. While there is plenty of veiled lyricism in this movement, Bax always remains a little questioning, and there’s a slightly uneasy calm at the close. The finale begins in overtly Irish high spirits, but this movement isn’t quite the romp that the opening might suggest. As Lewis Foreman put it, ‘all too soon clouds cover the sun and the spectres return’ in a passage that is slower and more reflective. The dance-like music returns but even at the close there is a brief moment of reflection before the final cadence.

 

Nigel Simeone © 2011

BACH CELLO SUITES

Ensemble 360

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 23 February 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets 
£14.50
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

Programme includes:

BACH Cello Suites No.1, No.3 & No.6

Ensemble 360’s cellist, Gemma Rosefield presents three of Bach’s well-loved and intimate works for unaccompanied cello. These Suites are some of the most frequently performed and recognisable solo compositions ever written for cello, and regularly feature in film and television soundtracks.

BACH Johann Sebastian, Cello Suites

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. Bach sets the tone of the First Suite with a Prelude made of undulating arpeggios. The Allemande meanders purposefully until it arrives at a strong final cadence in the home key. Downward leaps and rather playful decorations characterize the Courante. Using multiple stopping, the Sarabande is noble and understated. It is in two sections; the first ends on D (the dominant) and the second moves to E minor before returning to the tonic, G. The pair of graceful Minuets contrast major and minor and both are marked by flowing movement. The Gigue brings the suite to a joyful conclusion.

 

Nigel Simeone 2018

INTRODUCING THE BRIDGE ENSEMBLE

Bridge Ensemble

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 19 April 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets 
£14.50
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students and Under 35s

Past Event

VALERIE COLEMAN  Umoja (3′)
OTTO MORTENSEN Quintette (18’)
PAUL HINDEMITH Quintet (15′)
ARTURO MÁRQUEZ Danza de Mediodia (10′)
FLORENCE PRICE Adoration (4′)
VALERIE COLEMAN  Red Clay (6′)
ỌLÁ AKINDIPE  Èkó Scenes (10′)

Introducing the Bridge Ensemble, a wind quintet supported by Music in the Round, who champion music by marginalised composers from backgrounds under-represented in chamber music. Opening with Valerie Coleman’s joyous Kwanzaa dance ‘Umoja’ and concluding with a brand new Afrobeat inspired work by the group’s clarinettist Ọlá Akindipe, this is an inviting tour through unjustly overlooked works.

Please note a change in programme as originally advertised.

ROMANTIC PIANO TRIOS

Leonore Piano Trio

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 17 November 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets:
£14.50
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

HAYDN Piano Trio in B flat Hob. XV:20 (16’)
DVOŘÁK Piano Trio in G minor Op.26 (35’)
SMETANA Piano Trio in G minor (30’) 

The Leonore Piano Trio brings their series of Romantic trios to Barnsley – featuring music full of high drama and intense passion and contrasting with the intimate simplicity of work by Haydn.  

Dvořák and Smetana are two of Bohemia’s greatest composers, and their trios in this concert explore an incredible range of emotions, with both ending in a blazing glory of light and optimism. 

HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in B flat Hob. XV:20

Allegro 
Andante cantabile 
Finale. Allegro 
 

Haydn wrote piano trios throughout his career, but many of them dated from later in his life. The B flat Piano Trio was completed in 1794 during Haydn’s second stay in London, one of a set of three first published in the same year by the London firm of Longman and Broderip with a dedication to Princess Maria Therese of Esterhazy. The first movement (Allegro) is full of typically Haydnesque verve, some unusual sonorities and numerous delightful touches. In the slow movement (Andante cantabile), the theme is presented in the piano left hand before Haydn embarks on a series of delicate and subtle variations, each instrument contributing the colours and contrasts of each iteration of the theme before coming to rather an abrupt end. The finale (Allegro) is an amiable delight, recalling the style and the expressive range of the finales of Haydn’s mature string quartets, moving from quiet charm to moments of pathos and back again, to bring the work to an affirmative close.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

DVOŘÁK Antonín, Piano Trio in G minor Op.26

Allegro moderato
Largo
Scherzo. Presto – Trio. Poco meno mosso – Presto da capo
Allegro non tanto

Dvořák composed this Piano Trio in January 1876 at a time of great personal sadness: his daughter Josefa had died in infancy a few months earlier and the composer embarked on three works: this trio, the String Quartet in E major, and the Stabat mater, each of which can be considered a kind of memorial to Josefa. It was first performed on 29 June 1879 with Dvořák himself at the piano at a concert in the Bohemian town of Turnov. The mood of the trio is predominantly melancholic and tender, with a strong aura of nostalgia, but there is a clear national identity too.

A review in the Athenaeum following the first London performance in May 1880 expressed some reservations about Dvořák’s handling of form in the first movement, but praised ‘a succession of charmingly fresh and piquant ideas, more or less suggestive of the nationality of the composer. Some of the themes are so unmistakably Slavonic in character that Dvořák may possibly have culled them from the stores of folksongs ready to be utilized with effect in instrumental composition. Whether this be so or not, the entire trio, and especially the two middle movements, pleases on account of its thematic beauty and easy, unstudied expression.’

© Nigel Simeone

SMETANA Bedrich, Piano Trio in G minor

Moderato assai
Allegro, ma non agitato
Finale. Presto

Smetana noted down the tragic circumstances in which he composed the Piano Trio in his catalogue of works. He described it as ‘written in memory of my first child, Bedřiška, who enchanted us with her extraordinary musical talent, and yet was snatched away from us by death, aged four-and-a-half years.’ The grieving Smetana wrote this work – his only piano trio – between September and November 1855, and it was first performed in Prague on 3 December with the composer at the piano. Given that the work was written as a memorial, the surprise is that this trio contains no slow movement – and it’s certainly possible (as musicologist Basil Smallman suggested) that Smetana had to modify an earlier scheme that included one owing to pressure of time.

Two features of this trio are noteworthy: one is the powerful motto theme first heard at the very start – an idea that unifies much of what follows – and the other is Smetana’s use of popular Czech dance forms: the second movement is a Polka and the finale is based on the Skočná, a rapid jig-like dance. The reviews of the first performance included some negative comments about the work’s rhapsodic structure, and its use of folk elements that deviated from the abstract ‘purity’ expected in chamber music at the time. Smetana was understandably upset by this, but he was greatly heartened by the positive reaction to the work by a revered colleague: Franz Liszt.

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN FOR SOLO PIANO

Tim Horton

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 13 October 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets
£14.50
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

CHOPIN Two Nocturnes Op.48 (14’)
RAVEL Gaspard de la Nuit (23’)
CHOPIN
Scherzo No.1 in B minor Op.20 (9’)
Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor Op.31 (10’)
Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor Op.39 (7’)
Scherzo No.4 in E Op.54 (11’)

Tim returns to Barnsley to perform another in his compelling series of concerts exploring Chopin’s most beguiling music.
Again, he includes music inspired by the mastery of the composer. This time it’s the great Maurice Ravel. In ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’, Ravel’s piano-writing creates dazzling portraits of characters and landscapes, with moments of thrilling energy and serene beauty. With Tim on the piano stool, this is guaranteed to be a breathtaking evening of music.

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne Op.48 No.1

Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor is among the finest of all his explorations of this form. More overtly dramatic than most of his other nocturnes, it begins with a solemn, halting melody in the right hand, supported by chords that have some of the characteristics of a funeral march. The result, though, is more lyrical and more plangent (reminding us of Chopin’s fondness for bel canto opera) than the austere tread of his most famous funeral march (in the B flat minor Sonata). The central section is a richly harmonized chorale in C major, that is – in due course –infiltrated and disturbed by a quicker, more chromatic figure in a triplet rhythm that eventually provokes an explosive climax – complete with Lisztian octaves – before the music turns back to the minor key, and the material from the opening. Here Chopin does something unexpected. The uneasy triplet rhythms that had disrupted the chorale are now transformed into a restless, agitated accompaniment for the melody, and it is only in the last two bars that the nervousness finally subsides.

 

This Nocturne was the first of a pair dedicated to a favourite Chopin pupil – Laure Duperré, the beautiful daughter of an admiral – and was first published in 1841 by Schlesinger in Paris. The following year, it was reviewed in the Revue et Gazette musicale by Maurice Bourges. Writing in the form of a letter to an unnamed Baroness, Bourges offers a description of the work’s design that was quite novel for the time outside the pages of composition treatises (Schumann was one of the few who had attempted something similar in the general musical press): ‘Here in a few words is an outline of the thirteenth nocturne. A first period, in C minor, is distinguished by the character of the melody that dominates it; the second, in C major, begins pianissimo; it belongs to the complex form that has been very aptly called melodic harmony; then it ends with a restatement of the first theme, accompanied this time by pulsating chords that give the general rhythm a new warmth.’

Nigel Simeone 2010

RAVEL Maurice, Gaspard de la Nuit

Maurice Ravel completed Gaspard de la nuit on 8 September 1908, and the first performance took place on 9 January 1909, at the Salle Erard in Paris. The pianist was Ricardo Viñes, one of the most energetic advocates of new French and Spanish music, and a long-time friend of Ravel’s. Exact contemporaries, they were both members of Les Apaches, a group of like-minded artistic friends. While they were students, Viñes had introduced Ravel to the poetry of Aloysius Bertrand that was later to inspire Gaspard de la nuit. Gaspard refers to a Persian treasurer guarding the royal jewels at night. 

 

Betrand’s prose poems had been published in 1842 (a year after his death), and influenced later Symbolist poets, notably Baudelaire and Mallarmé. Ravel’s Gaspard, subtitled ‘three poems’, begins with Ondine, a dream-like depiction of a water sprite. Ravel’s music seems to mirror the strange beauty of the poem:  

 

Listen! … it is Ondine who brushes drops of water on the resonant panes of your windows, lit by the gloomy rays of the moon; and here in gown of watered silk, the mistress of the chateau gazes from her balcony on the beautiful starry night and sleeping lake. 

 

Le Gibet is a grim evocation of a corpse hanging from the gallows. A bell – incessant and obsessive – tolls throughout the piece, represented by repeated B flats, the first and last sounds we hear. 

 

Ravel once said his initial idea for Scarbo had been to ‘make a caricature of Romanticism’, but admitted that ‘perhaps it got the better of me.’ The result is music of dazzling originality. The poem depicts a goblin who darts in and out of the shadows, and Ravel’s piece mirrors this with quiet passages disturbed by sudden outbursts. The critic Vladimir Jankélévitch described Scarbo as ‘a fiendish encyclopedia of all the traps, obstacles and snares that a limitless imagination can devise for a pianist’s fingers.’ 

 (C) Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Four Scherzos

Chopin’s Scherzos were composed between the mid-1830s and 1843. Scherzo means ‘jest’ or ‘joke’ and earlier composers such as Haydn and Beethoven often invested scherzo movements with playful elements. But Chopin took the form in a quite different direction prompting Robert Schumann to ask about the B minor Scherzo, Op.20: ‘How is “gravity” to clothe itself when “jest” goes about in such dark veils?’ Certainly, the mood of the B minor Scherzo (published in 1835) is sombre and sinister, the outer sections full of suspense and wildness. Only in the central section (in B major) is there any sense of repose.  

 

The B flat minor Scherzo, Op.31 (1837), was likened by Schumann to Byron’s poetry, ‘overflowing with tenderness, boldness, love and contempt.’ Chopin himself is said to have compared the hushed opening to a question, the explosive second phrase providing the answer, but the piece as a whole is remarkably intense and unified, its ideas seeming to grow from one to the next to create a remarkable inner coherence.  

 

His approach in the C sharp minor Scherzo, Op.39 (1838–9) is rather different, depending for its effectiveness on the sharp contrasts and surprising juxtapositions between the rapid octaves at the opening and the hymn-like second theme and the exquisite tumbling cascades with which it is decorated. The mood at the close is dazzling and defiant. 

 

The E major Scherzo, Op.54 (1843), is the one which perhaps most clearly matches the expectations of its title: there is a certain playfulness and elegance in a work that was composed tandem with the Fourth Ballade and the Polonaise in A flat, Op.53. But in spite of its apparent conformity with the title, this is late Chopin and the music is full of innovation, whether in the exploration of piano textures or Chopin’s increasingly rich harmonic palate. More introspective than its predecessors, it is also a work which seems tinged with sadness as well as mercurial brilliance.  

 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

‘AMERICAN’ STRING QUARTET & MORE

Ensemble 360

Tickets
£14.50 
£10 UC, PIP and DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event
String players of Ensemble 360

SUK Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Clarinet Quintet
HOWELLS Rhapsodic Quintet
DVOŘÁK Quartet in F Op. 96 ‘American’

A sumptuous afternoon of music performed by Ensemble 360, including Dvořák’s beloved ‘American’ string quartet and two clarinet quintets showcasing the lush harmonies of Howells and Coleridge-Taylor.

Part of Hoylandswaine Festival

SUK Josef, Mediation on the Old Czech Chorale

Josef Suk, a student of Antonín Dvořák and later his son-in-law, was a composer with a distinct artistic voice and strong ties to Czech musical heritage. His composition, the “Meditation on an Old Czech Chorale,” pays homage to the Bohemian patron saint, St. Wenceslas, and was written when a member of the Bohemian String Quartet to supplement the obligatory playing of the Austrian national anthem (after 1914) with a more distinctively Bohemian piece, and prayer for the wellbeing of the Czech people.

The “Meditation on an Old Czech Chorale’” is a single-movement for string quartet, which was later expanded into a version for string orchestra, adding a double bass line, and later still adapted for violin and organ. Suk‘s use of the violin as the leading voice enhances the expressive nature of the piece, allowing for moments of spiritual contemplation. The work commences with a solemn and tender introduction, featuring the initial statement of the hymn melody. Through subtle variations, this simple melody moves from serene introspection to intense and soaring passages as a recurring motif. The piece reaches a climax with the violin in its highest register, conveying a profound yearning. It gradually fades away, into tranquility.

COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Samuel, Clarinet Quintet Op.10

Allegro energico
Larghetto affettuoso
Scherzo. Allegro leggiero
Finale. Allegro agitato – Poco più moderato – Vivace

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London and entered to Royal College of Music in 1890 to study the violin. His ability as a composer soon became apparent, and he studied composition with Stanford, becoming one of his favourite pupils. His Piano Quintet Op.1 (1893) heralded the arrival of a remarkable talent, but the Clarinet Quintet, composed in 1895, demonstrates Coleridge-Taylor at the height of his creative powers. Stanford had given his students a challenge, declaring that after Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, written in 1891, nobody would be able to escape its influence. Coleridge-Taylor couldn’t resist trying, and when Stanford saw the result he is said to have exclaimed ‘you’ve done it!’ Coleridge-Taylor took his influences not from Brahms but from another great contemporary composer: in places this work sounds like the clarinet quintet that Dvořák never wrote. That’s a mark of Coleridge-Taylor’s wonderfully fluent and assured writing. The sonata form first movement is both confident and complex, with the clarinet forming part of an intricately-woven ensemble texture. The Larghetto has a free, rhapsodic character, dominated by a haunting main theme. The Scherzo delights in rhythmic tricks while the central Trio section is more lyrical. The opening theme of the finale governs much of what follows until a recollection of the slow movement gives way to an animated coda. The first performance took place at the Royal College of Music on 10 July 1895, with George Anderson playing the clarinet. Afterwards, Stanford wrote to the great violinist Joseph Joachim describing the piece as ‘the most remarkable thing in the younger generation that I have seen.’

HOWELLS Herbert, Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet and Strings Op.31 

Lento, ma appassionato – A tempo, tranquillo – Piu mosso, inquieto – Doppio movimento ritmico, e non troppo allegro – Più elato – Meno mosso – Lento, assai tranquillo – Più adagio 

Herbert Howells is probably best remembered for his church music (including the famous hymn tune ‘All my hope on God is founded’ as well as several outstanding settings of service music) and for his choral masterpiece Hymnus paradisi. But he was also a gifted composer for instruments and wrote a good deal of chamber music at the start of his career. The Rhapsodic Quintet was completed in June 1919 and Howells himself said that there was ‘a mystic feeling about the whole thing’. Still, mystic feelings didn’t come without some serious hard work, and the Howells scholar Paul Spicer has drawn attention to an entry in the composer’s diary where he noted that the quintet had involved quite a lot of preparatory thinking. Howells wrote of his ‘long ponderous thoughts on problems of musical form … hours spent in an easy-chair, fire-gazing, form-thinking.’ The ‘form-thinking’ was clearly productive, since this beautifully written quintet for clarinet and strings in one movement appears to flow effortlessly from one idea to the next as well as having overall coherence. This was an early work – Howells had only recently finished his studies at the Royal College of Music with Stanford and Charles Wood – but his handling of the instruments shows tremendous assurance. Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music makes particular mention of this, describing the work as having a ‘sensitive appreciation of instrumental needs’, but there is more to it than that, since Howells also shows a great gift for unfolding long, lyrical melodies, and contrasting these with more capricious ideas. It’s this combination of fluent and idiomatic writing with memorable thematic material that led Christopher Palmer, in his biography of Howells, to call the Rhapsodic Quintet ‘an outstanding achievement’.  

DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quartet in F Op.96 The American Quartet

Allegro ma non troppo
Lento
Molto vivace
Finale. Vivace ma non troppo

Dvořák was teaching in New York in 1893, and for his summer holiday he travelled over a thousand miles westwards, to the village of Spillville in Iowa, set in the valley of the Turkey River. It had been colonized by Czechs in the 1850s and in these congenial surroundings Dvořák quickly wrote the String Quartet in F major. On the last page of the manuscript draft, he wrote: ‘Finished on 10 June 1893, Spillville. I’m satisfied. Thanks be to God. It went quickly.’

Coming immediately after the ‘New World’ Symphony (which was to have its triumphant première in New York later in the year), the quartet has a mood that suggests something of his contentment in Spillville. Dvořák’s assistant Josef Kovařík recalled the composer’s routine: walks, composing, playing the organ for Mass and talking to locals, observing that he ‘scarcely ever talked about music and I think that was one of the reasons why he felt so happy there.’

Just how ‘American’ is the quartet? While remaining completely true to himself, Dvořák admitted that ‘as for my … F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville) – I should never have written these works the way I did if I hadn’t seen America’. The first performance was given in Boston on New Year’s Day 1894 by the Kneisel Quartet.

© Nigel Simeone

MOZART, BRUCH & MORE

Ensemble 360

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 21 April 2023, 7.30pm

£14.50
£10 DLA, UC & PIP recipients
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event

MOZART Kegelstatt Trio K498 (20’)
SCHUMANN Märchenerzählungen (16′)
KURTÁG Hommage à R Schumann (11’)
CLARKE Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale (15′)
BRUCH Selection from 8 pieces Op.83 (c.20’)

Pianist Tim Horton is joined by the two newest members of Ensemble 360, Rachel Roberts on viola and Robert Plane on clarinet, for a varied programme. Programme will include a selection of Bruch’s elegiac, lush fragments and Mozart’s innovative Kegelstatt Trio.

The perfect introduction to these fabulous musicians.  

MOZART Amadeus, Trio in E flat K498 Kegelstatt

Andante
Menuetto
Rondo. Allegretto

This is Mozart’s only trio for his three favourite instruments: clarinet, viola and piano. The nickname ‘Kegelstatt’ means ‘skittle alley’, and legend has it that Mozart wrote the work during a game of skittles. This may be far-fetched, especially given the rather noble character of the music, but what is certain is that he wrote the trio in Vienna, and entered it in his own thematic catalogue on 5 August 1786. The first movement is a marvellous example of Mozart’s invention at its most concentrated and unforced: every element in this sonata-form movement derives from the ornamental turn that is such a distinctive feature of the opening. The Minuet surprises by its almost grand character – no mere courtly dance, but something more imposing – and this is followed by an unhurried Rondo that brings this radiant work to a lyrical conclusion.

© Nigel Simeone

SCHUMANN Robert, Märchenerzählungen Op.132

Lebhaft, nicht zu schnell
Lebhaft und sehr markiert
Ruhiges Tempo, mit zartem Ausdruck
Lebhaft, sehr markiert

Schumann wrote his Märchenerzählungen (‘Fairy Tales’) for the unusual combination of clarinet, viola and piano in October 1853. Whether he chose these instruments with Mozart’s ‘Kegelstatt’ Trio in mind is uncertain, though it was the only other significant work for that particular ensemble. The pieces are haunting and enigmatic: if these miniatures were intended to depict particular stories, Schumann never said. Soon after finishing Märchenerzälungen he had a catastrophic breakdown and spent the last years of his life in an asylum. The pieces are dedicated to Albert Dietrich, who studied with Schumann and was a friend of Brahms. All three collaborated on the F-A-E Sonata for Joseph Joachim.

© Nigel Simeone 2015

KURTÁG György, Hommage à R Schumann for clarinet, viola and piano, Op. 15d 

Vivo 
Molto semplice piano e legato 
Feroce agitato 
Calmo scorrevole 
Presto 
Adagio poco andante  

Kurtág scored his Hommage à R. Sch. for the same instrumental combination as Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, Op. 132, completing the work in 1990. Each of the movements has a subtitle, and most of them refer to the imaginary characters that were such a significant spur to Schumann’s imagination. The first – whimsical and capricious – is headed ‘Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler’s Curious Pirouettes’, a reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s character who inspired Kreisleriana. Next is a quiet canon subtitled ‘Eusebius: the delimited circle’, alluding to the introspective Eusebius figure in Schumann’s own writings. After this comes ‘Florestan’s lips tremble in anguish once more’, evoking Florestan, Eusebius’s outgoing counterpart. The fourth movement has a subtitle in Hungarian which translates as ‘I was a cloud, now the sun is shining’, a quotation from a poem by Attila Jószef (1905–1937). It is followed by ‘In the Night’, an urgent and restless night piece. The sixth movement is much the longest, subtitled ‘Meister Raro discovers Guillaume de Machaut’. Raro was the moderating influence in Schumann’s imaginary brotherhood, between the extremes of Florestan and Eusebius. Here the music resembles a solemn processional recalling both the Medieval spirit and technical procedures of Machaut.   

© Nigel Simeone, 2022 

 

CLARKE Rebecca, Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale

After studies at the Royal College of Music (where her teachers included Stanford for composition and Lionel Tertis for the viola), Rebecca Clarke began her career as a viola player in Sir Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra, one of London’s first female professional orchestral players. After moving to the United States, Clarke completed her best-known work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, in 1919. It tied for first place (with a piece by Ernest Bloch) in a composition prize offered by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Clarke followed this with a Piano Trio in 1921. Coolidge commissioned Clarke’s Rhapsody for Cello and Piano in 1923. After returning to London in 1924, Clarke became a busy chamber music performer with less time to devote to composition. When war broke out in 1939, Clarke was in the United States visiting her brothers, one of whom was Hans Clarke, a distinguished biochemist. With the war at its height, she could not return to Britain and in the end she settled in New York. There, by chance, she met James Friskin, a pianist and composer she had known in their student days. They married in 1944 and Clarke stopped composing.

The Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale is one of her last works, written in 1941. It was dedicated to Clarke’s brother Hans and his wife Fietzchen. In an interview in 1978, Rebecca Clarke described the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale as ‘very simple’ and admitted that she didn’t offer it to any publishers: it ‘came at a time when I was just not bothering about showing things to publishers.’ This was partly due to modesty, but it also reveals something of the obstacles Clarke had to overcome in order to achieve the recognition she deserved (it was eventually published in 2000). Writing for clarinet and viola without piano accompaniment was clearly a challenge Clarke relished and the ingenuity of the dialogue between the two instruments is testimony to her inventiveness and skill. The work is in three sections: the quiet sobriety of Prelude (marked Andante semplice) leads to an angular Allegro vigoroso followed by a rather melancholy Pastorale, marked Poco lento. The quality of the musical ideas here reveals a composer of real character whose career had been blighted by discouragement and depressive illness.

© Nigel Simone 2018

BRUCH Max, Eight Pieces Op.83 for clarinet, viola and piano (extracts)

Bruch composed these pieces in 1908 for his son, Max Felix, who was a clarinettist. Three of the pieces were originally written with an additional harp part, but by the time the work was published in 1910, Bruch had settled on a trio of clarinet, viola and piano. Discussing publication with Simrock in February 1910, Bruch wrote that the pieces had been ‘met with great approval where they were played from the manuscript’ and it’s easy to see why. Bruch always intended separate performances of individual pieces (indeed, he advised against playing all of them together), and selections can be used to make an effective suite.

© Nigel Simeone

SHOSTAKOVICH & BEETHOVEN STRING QUARTETS

Ensemble 360

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 27 January 2023, 7.30pm

£14.50
£10 DLA, UC or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event

STRAVINSKY Three Pieces for String Quartet (7′)
SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartet No.3 Op.73 (32′)
BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.135 (26′) 

“Must it be? It must be!” Beethoven inscribed these words on the manuscript of his profoundly moving final string quartet. This Op.135 quartet was written towards the very end of his life, and is touched by the wisdom of his years yet as full of contrast, quick wit and struggle as any of earlier works.  

Two masterpieces of the 20th century are presented alongside Beethoven’s quartet: Stravinsky’s wonderfully inventive short pieces and Shostakovich’s masterful third quartet, which encompasses the scope of a symphony in an intimate chamber work. 

STRAVINSKY Igor, Three Pieces for String Quartet

Composed in 1914, Stravinsky revised these pieces in 1918 when he dedicated them to the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. The first performance was given in Paris in May 1915 by a quartet which included the composer Darius Milhaud playing violin, while the 1918 version had its premiere in London on 13 February 1919. The work comprises three short movements without titles or tempo markings. Though the dimensions of the pieces are slight, Stravinsky managed to baffle (and infuriate) early critics with the unusual sound effects and performance markings in places, and the deliberate absence of any conventional forms or traditional thematic development. Instead, the mood is by turns stange and grotesque. The second piece was inspired by the comedian Little Tich (Harry Relph) whose jerky stage act had impressed Stravinsky during a visit to London in 1914. The result might almost be described as an anti-quartet, and as the critic Paul Griffiths later remarked, these little pieces are ‘determinedly not a “string quartet”. The notion of quartet dialogue has no place here, nor have subtleties of blend: the texture is completely fragmented, with each instrument sounding for itself.’  

 Nigel Simeone 

SHOSTAKOVICH Dmitri, String Quartet No.3 in F major Op.73

Shostakovich began his Third String Quartet in January 1946 but made no progress beyond the second movement until May when he went with his family to spend the summer at a dacha near the Finnish border. According to Beria (head of the Soviet secret police) in a letter to Shostakovich, this retreat was a personal gift from Stalin. It was a productive summer and the quartet was completed on 2 August 1946. The same day Shostakovich wrote to Vassily Shirinsky, second violinist of the Beethoven Quartet: ‘I have never been so pleased with a composition as with this Quartet. I am probably wrong, but that is exactly how I feel right now.’ The Beethoven Quartet gave the first performance at the Moscow Conservatory on 16 December 1946. Though there was an ominous silence from official critics, Shostakovich’s reputation was still high among the nation’s leaders: on 28 December he was given the Order of Lenin and each member of the Beethoven Quartet received the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. Just a year later the Third Quartet was denounced in the journal Sovetskaya musika as ‘modernist and false music.’

Although Shostakovich had no overt programme in mind, he invested a great deal of private emotion in the work – sufficient, as Fyodor Druzhinin (violist of the Beethoven Quartet) recalled, for the music to move the composer to tears when he attended a rehearsal in the 1960s, twenty years after he had written it. The start of the first movement, in F major, recalls the Haydn-like mood of the Ninth Symphony (completed in 1945) and this is followed by a contrasting idea, played pianissimo. The development includes some turbulent fugal writing, injecting a sense of unease that hovers over the rest of the movement. The Moderato con moto (in E minor) is based on a series of sinister ostinato figures and frequent repetitions while the third movement is a violent scherzo in G sharp minor. The Adagio is an extended passacaglia (ground bass) that gives way to a Moderato in which some kind of resolution is found in the closing bars, ending with three pizzicato F major chords.

 

Nigel Simeone

“Vividly present playing and discreet virtuosity”

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CHOPIN WORKS FOR SOLO PIANO

Tim Horton

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 30 September 2022, 7.30pm

£14.50 
£10 Disabled / UC and PIP recipients
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event

Tim Horton

R SCHUMANN Kreisleriana Op.16 (32′)
STOCKHAUSEN Klavierstück VII (7’)
CHOPIN Two Nocturnes Op.27 (12’)
CHOPIN Three Mazurkas Op.59 (11’)
CHOPIN Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58 (26’) 

Tim Horton continues his exploration into the music of one of the greatest composers for piano, Frédéric Chopin. Few musicians have had an influence on other composers quite like Chopin, and Tim has selected a sequence of some of his most beautiful music to illustrate this. Robert Schumann’s music is of intense passion that leaps without warning from tender to wild melodies, while Karlheinz Stockhausen’s approach to the piano was to find an entirely new world of sound, creating fascinating spine-tingling sonorities. 

Please note the change to the previously advertised programme for this concert.
We apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

CHOPIN Frédéric, Two Nocturnes Op.27

Chopin completed the pair of Nocturnes Op.27 in 1836 and they were dedicated to Countess Thérèse d’Apponyi, wife of the Austrian ambassador in Paris. In the rather desolate first nocturne, in C sharp minor, the Chopin scholar Arthur Hedley detected hesitation and anxiety, and a mood of night-time and mystery. Its companion piece, in D flat major, serves as a complete contrast, bringing light where there had been darkness. The opening melody – described by Hugo Leichentritt as ‘achingly beautiful’ – unfolds over a gently undulating accompaniment. Listening to this magnificent pair of pieces, it is no surprise that Schumann welcomed Chopin’s nocturnes as heralds of a new age in piano composition.

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Three Mazurkas Op.59

Chopin’s mazurkas, inspired by the folk dances of his homeland, are often where he was at his most experimental, particularly with harmonies. The three Mazurkas Op.59 were composed in 1845. The first, in A minor, contains daring modulations, the second (dedicated to Mendelssohn’s wife, Cécile) is richly melodic (the main theme subtly varied and decorated as the piece progresses), while the third presents a rather brittle angular melody, often supported by chromatic harmonies.

© Nigel Simeone

CHOPIN Frédéric, Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58

Chopin developed many new forms of piano music, from the kind of audacious miniatures found among the mazurkas to extended single-movement works such as the ballades and scherzos. But he also wrote three piano sonatas, drawing on structures inherited from Mozart and Beethoven. The Piano Sonata No.3, Op. 58, was completed in 1844 and its first movement is in sonata form. Even so, the music seems closer to the world of Chopin’s ballades than to any classical models, particularly in the rhapsodic development section. The outer sections of the Scherzo are filled with rapid movement, the ideas delicate and airy, while the slow Trio is richly harmonised but never loses its hints of unease. After a declamatory opening, the slow movement – a Chopin nocturne in all but name – is dominated by the song-like melody heard near the start, the mood changing for a dream-like central section before returning to the opening idea. The finale has a seemingly unstoppable momentum and energy, and for Marceli Antoni Szulc, Chopin’s first Polish biographer, this movement evoked images of the Cossack Mazeppa on a galloping horse.

© Nigel Simeone

SCHUMANN Robert, Kreisleriana Op.16

Writing to a Belgian friend in 1839, Schumann wrote that of all his piano pieces, ‘I love Kreisleriana the most’, though he went on to admit that ‘only Germans will understand the title.’ In the same letter, he explained that ‘Kreisler was created by E.T.A. Hoffmann, an eccentric, wild and ingenious musician. There are many things about him you will like.’ The volatile mood-swings of Kreisleriana and the almost improvised feeling of some pieces are brilliantly imaginative musical evocations of the fictitious Kreisler’s personality. By turns passionate, intimate, capricious, dream-like and dramatic, Schumann wrote the pieces for Clara Wieck (whom he was to marry in 1840). Schumann told her that in Kreisleriana ‘you will play the main role, and I wish to dedicate it to you. You will smile so sweetly when you recognize yourself in them.’ Ultimately, the dedication was changed (Clara was afraid that accepting it would risk worsening the strained relations with her father), and the first edition, published in 1838, had an inscription from Schumann ‘to his friend F. Chopin’. Although Chopin’s reaction to the work was lukewarm, the following year he reciprocated by dedicating his Second Ballade to Schumann.

Nigel Simeone

STOCKHAUSEN Karlheinz, Klavierstück VII

Karlheinz Stockhausen began his series of Klavierstücke in 1952 while he was studying with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire. Klavierstück VII was composed in 1954 (a year after he left Paris) and extensively revised in 1955. One of the most remarkable features of the piece is the use of silently depressed keys allowing sympathetic vibrations to be set up. The result is that different sonorities are created by the same pitch – a technique that can be heard throughout the work.

© Nigel Simeone

CLARINET QUINTET: BRAHMS & MORE

Ensemble 360

Emmanuel Church, Barnsley
Friday 25 November 2022, 7.30pm

£14.50 
£10 Disabled / UC and PIP recipients
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event

Ensemble 360

BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet (40’)
BRAHMS 3 Intermezzi for piano Op.117 (16’)
DOHNÁNYI Sextet (30’) 

Ensemble 360’s clarinettist Robert Plane takes centre stage in this programme of sumptuous Brahms and bravura Dohnányi. The concert opens with an autumnal quintet full of subtle turns between languid themes, playful conversation and wistful melodies. Dohnányi’s unusually scored sextet brings together piano, clarinet, horn, violin, viola and cello to create a dramatic and sassy piece that draws on the influences of Brahms, waltzes and dance-like jazz. 

BRAHMS Johannes, Clarinet Quintet Op.115

Allegro
Adagio
Andantino. Presto non assai, ma con sentimento
Con moto

In 1890, while only in his late fifties, Brahms declared that he was retiring: the String Quintet Op. 111 was to be his farewell from composition. A few months later he heard Richard Mühlfeld, clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra, and wrote to Clara Schumann that ‘the clarinet cannot be better played’. It inspired him to carry on composing. In the summer of 1891 Brahms went to stay at Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut where he wrote the Clarinet Trio and Clarinet Quintet. Mühlfeld gave the premieres of both works on 12 December 1891 in Berlin. On hearing a performance in London the following year, George Bernard Shaw wrote that ‘it surpassed my utmost expectations’, and when the conductor Arthur Nikisch heard the Quintet, he fell to his knees in front of Brahms.

It has a rare and hypnotic beauty, thanks to its pervasive mood of melancholy, occasionally interrupted by quiet rapture, or by fiery gypsy figurations. The opening is played by the strings alone (like Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet), from which the clarinet emerges as if through the mists. Ideas gradually become more fully formed, and Brahms uses the tension between the home key (B minor) and its relative major (D major) to great expressive effect. The slow movement is a song-like Adagio, interrupted by a clarinet outburst in which Brahms evokes the improvisations of gypsy players. The third movement is a gentle interlude, with a more animated central section, and the finale is a theme and variations in which music from the opening movement is recalled at the end, to magical effect.

© Nigel Simeone

BRAHMS Johannes, Three Intermezzos Op.117

Andante moderato
Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
Andante con moto

These three short pieces were composed at the Austrian spa town Bad Ischl in 1892 and first performed in Berlin on 6 January 1893 by the pianist Heinrich Barth. Like the first of the Ballades Op.10, the first Intermezzo is based on a Scottish poem printed in Herder’s collection, this time a lullaby (and, informally, Brahms sometimes called the whole set ‘Lullabies’). Clara Schumann was enchanted by these pieces when she first saw them, telling Brahms that ‘In these pieces I at last feel musical life stir once again in my soul’. When Brahms’s publisher Simrock suggested using Lullabies instead of Intermezzi as the official title, Brahms’s response was endearingly curmudgeonly: ‘It should then say, lullaby of an unhappy mother or of a disconsolate bachelor’.

© Nigel Simeone

DOHNÁNYI Ernst von, Sextet in C Op.37

Allegro appassionato
Intermezzo
Allegro con sentimento
Presto, quasi l’istesso tempo

Born in Hungary, Dohnányi’s early compositions had been praised by Brahms, and he always had a strong sense of being part of the Austro-German Romantic tradition. In this respect he was very different from his classmate at the Budapest Academy, Béla Bartók, but his music is always beautifully crafted and has very individual harmonic touches. The Sextet for piano, violin, viola, cello, clarinet and horn was completed on 3 April 1935 and it is the most unusually scored of his chamber works. It was first performed in Budapest on 17 June 1935, with the composer at the piano, and received warm reviews. One critic specifically praised the unusual choice of instruments, commenting that ‘the combination … is neither coincidental nor arbitrary.’

The musical structure is unified by Dohnányi’s use of a dramatic rising motif – often on the horn – that is first heard right at the start. The first movement is brooding and tense, but ends with hope (the rising motif returning in triumph). The Intermezzo includes a rather sinister march, while the third movement is a set of variations that includes one that is scherzo-like. This leads directly into the finale – an almost dizzyingly ebullient movement which suggests a kind of jazzed-up Brahms.

Nigel Simeone © 2011