MENOTTI Cantilena and Scherzo (10’)
L BOULANGER D’un soir triste (16’), D’un matin de printemps (17′)
BARBER Sonata for cello and piano (18’)
WALL Pibroch Patterns (7’)
TRADITIONAL The Blacksmith; Gaelic Waltz; The Marquis of Tullibardine (9’)
MEREDITH A Short Tribute to Teenage Fanclub (4’)
FITKIN ‘Recur’ for harp and string quartet (16′)
A personal celebration of musical connections and friendships for Festival Curator Kathryn Stott.
Marking the 60th birthday of Kathy’s long-term collaborator, post-minimalist composer Graham Fitkin, this concert includes his piece for harp and string quartet performed by award-winning harpist Ruth Wall with Ensemble 360.
A second theme running through this evening’s programme: Menotti, Barber, Lili and Kathy all have links to Nadia Boulanger, one of the most influential teachers of musical composition of the 20th century. Kathy joins Ensemble 360 for Lili’s exquisite trio and Gemma Rosefield for Samuel Barber’s intense sonata for cello and piano.
MENOTTI Gian-Carlo, Cantilena and Scherzo
Menotti is best known for his operas, ranging from the chilling drama of The Consul to the seasonal delights of Amahl and the Night Visitors. But his lyric gifts have also been directed towards purely instrumental works, including the Cantilena e scherzo, completed in 1977 and first performed on 15 March 1977 at the Alice Tully Hall in New York’s Lincoln Center by an ensemble led by the great Welsh harpist, Ossian Ellis. Menotti’s musical language was in no sense progressive by the 1970s, but the work remains a lovely one. Reviewing the premiere in the New York Times, Donal Henahan wrote that it ‘caressed the ear … lovely on its own terms, a haunting visit to old musical ruins, so to speak.’ The Cantilena opens with a long-breathed melody on the strings, supported by the harp. Chords on the harp introduce the Scherzo. An extended harp cadenza is followed by a varied reprise of the Cantilena.
© Nigel Simeone
BOULANGER Lili, D’un soir triste, d’un matin de printemps
The phenomenal gifts of Lili Boulanger were recognised when she was in her teens, and in 1913 she became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome for composition with her cantata Faust et Hélène. She was nineteen at the time, but her musical language was already distinctive. D’un soir triste (‘Of a sad evening’) was one of her last compositions, finished in 1918 and it demonstrates the more harmonically adventurous and austere style that Boulanger had developed in works such as her Psalm settings made in 1914–17. D’un soir triste exists in an orchestral version, but the original scoring for violin, cello and piano is the only one for which an autograph manuscript survives (the orchestral version is in the hand of Lili’s sister Nadia). Subtitled ‘pièces en trio’, the opening melody (first on cello, then violin) unfurls over solemn piano chords and the harmonies darken as the musical argument becomes more complex and works towards an intense climax and an anguished central section. Though the later part of the work seems to be seeking some kind of repose, it never really comes until settling on the final open fifths. Lili Boulanger died on 15 March 1918 at the age of twenty-four: a brilliant musician whose surviving works are all the more poignant for their hints of what might have been.
© Nigel Simeone
BARBER Samuel, Cello Sonata Op.6
Allegro ma non troppo
Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata is one of his first major works, composed as he was finishing his studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. The Sonata was started during an Italian holiday in the summer of 1932, while Barber was staying with fellow-composer Gian-Carlo Menotti near Lake Lugano. He returned to Curtis that Autumn and showed his unfinished Sonata to the cellist Orlando Cole (whose suggestions Barber gratefully accepted) and it was finished in December 1932. A month later, Barber and Cole gave a private performance in Philadelphia, and the public premiere took place on 5 March 1933, at a concert by the League of Composers in New York.
Barber shows himself to be a thoroughly individual composer in this work: happy to draw on the influence of earlier works such as Brahms’s cello sonatas, and by the music of composers such as Debussy. In short, even at the early stage in his career, it was clear that Barber was not going to sound like his American contemporaries. Instead there is a sureness of touch – and great technical command – of a musician whose language was entirely his own: reinvigorating tonal harmony with a sensitivity and character that was to mark out the works that followed. Fastidious and self-critical, Barber was a lyrical composer, and much of the Cello Sonata has a passionate, song-like eloquence that is ideal for the instrument.
© Nigel Simeone 2013
MEREDITH Anna, A short tribute to Teenage Fanclub
Anna Meredith wrote this very short string quartet in 2013 for the Maxwell Quartet, who gave the first performance at Inverness Town House on 26 September 2013. According to her own note on the work, ‘it was written as a partner piece to Songs for the M8 [a quartet from 2005] and when I was thinking about writing it, I found myself looking back to the same (grungy, teenagery 1990s) time.’ Founded in 1989, Teenage Fanclub are a Scottish alternative rock band and Meredith was an enthusiastic fan in the 1990s. A Short Tribute does not involve any quotation but as Meredith explains: ‘I didn’t want to take any material directly from the band but have worked with layering scaley step lines and rotating chords, and keeping the texture pizzicato throughout.’
© Nigel Simeone
FITKIN Graham, Recur for harp and string quartet
Recur was commissioned by Aberdeenshire’s SoundFestival and written for harpist Ruth Wall and the Sacconi Quartet who gave the first performance in Aberdeen in October 2016. In his own note on the work, Fitkin writes that ‘The piece revolves around one very simple rising melodic fragment. It is in C minor of all things. It reappears throughout the piece with varying degrees of similarity. Initially there is much use of the instruments’ plucking capabilities but as the piece progresses increasingly sustained notes are integrated. I think the character of the music shifts constantly, sometimes gently over a period of time but occasionally with more obvious sudden kicks. Ostensibly though, that initial idea seems to crack on through the piece regardless.’ In his review of the premiere, David Kettle in The Scotsman described Recur as ‘a gem of a piece, sparkling with plucked textures, its four-note earworm of a tune cast in endlessly inventive new contexts, funky and foot-tapping yet also full of piquant emotion.’
© Nigel Simeone