Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Friday 20 May 2022, 7.15pm

Tickets: £20
£14 Disabled & Unemployed
£5 Students & Under 35s

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Past Event

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No.30 in E Op.109 (22’)
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat Op.110 (21’)
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor Op.111 (28’)
WALLEN The Negro Speaks of Rivers (6’)
FRANCES-HOAD Invocation (4′)
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.102 No.2 (20’)

To open the evening, Tim Horton performs Beethoven’s three final piano sonatas: intimate and personal, endlessly complex, monuments of this unique musical mind.

This is followed by a new string version of Wallen’s celebrated choral setting of Langston Hughes’ iconic poem and Frances-Hoad’s Invocation for cello and piano, based on Melancholy, a painting by Edvard Munch. The evening concludes with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata Op.102 No.2.

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

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival runs 13–21 May 2022

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BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Piano Sonata No.30 in E Op.109

Vivace ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo
Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo

In February 1820, Beethoven’s friend Friedrich Starke asked him for a ‘little piece’ for a piano tutor he was writing, with contributions from leading composers. Beethoven wrote the piece, but then received a commission from the Berlin publisher Schlesinger for a set of three sonatas – and Beethoven conceived the last three sonatas as a trilogy. He quickly decided that his ‘little piece’ would work very well as the first movement of the E major Sonata (and Starke was instead given five of the Bagatelles Op.119). The structure is certainly unconventional for the first movement of a sonata, alternating between fast and slow sections, in different time signatures and with sharply contrasted moods. In a way, this procedure recalls Mozart’s keyboard fantasias, except that the three sections of fast music in this movement could run continuously were they not interrupted by the Adagios, explaining why some Beethoven scholars have described the form as ‘parenthetical’. The second movement, in E minor, is fast and stormy, while the finale is a spacious and exalted set of variations on a theme in triple time that has been likened to a Sarabande – indeed Carl Czerny wrote that ‘the whole movement [is] in the style of Handel and Seb. Bach.’ At the end of June 1820 Beethoven told Schlesinger that the new work was ‘ready’, though in September he was still making revisions, and wrote again to say it was ‘almost ready’. It was completed soon afterwards and published by Schlesinger in 1821, with a dedication to Maximiliane Brentano. In a letter to her dated 6 December 1821, Beethoven wrote to her: ‘A dedication!!! – and not one that is misused as so often’. He recalled his love and admiration for her family, noting that ‘While I am thinking of the excellent qualities of your parents, there are no doubts in my mind that you have been striving to emulate these noble people. … May heaven always bless you in everything you do. Sincerely, and always your friend, Beethoven.’

Nigel Simeone © 2015

BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat Op.110

Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
Allegro molto
Adagio ma non troppo – Arioso dolente – Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo

During the first few months of 1821, Beethoven was laid low by illness, and was unable to do any composing for weeks on end. It was not until September that he was able to make a serious start on the Piano Sonata Op.110, and even in November he was grumbling to friends that he was still suffering from constant bouts of illness. However, the work was finished on Christmas Day 1821, and quickly sent to Schlesinger. The firm published it in 1822 and unusually, it appeared without dedication, though Thayer speculated that Beethoven intended to dedicate it to Antonie Brentano.

George Bernard Shaw considered Op.110 the most beautiful of all Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The first movement is moderate and elegantly proportioned, leading Charles Rosen to describe it as ‘Haydnesque’. The pithy Scherzo (in F minor) has a slightly folksy roughness – it actually uses a couple of folk tunes – while the Trio is in D flat major and marked by an idea that seems to cascade down the instrument. The reprise of the Scherzo ends in F major and leads straight into the Adagio ma non troppo – initially a recitative that leads to a deeply profoundly expressive Arioso dolente. For many musicians, it is the concluding Fugue (based on a subject built on rising fourths) that places it at or near the summit of Beethoven’s achievements. A sudden interruption of the fugue brings a poignant and tender recollection of the Arioso before the Fugue begins again, the subject now inverted, working towards a climax that is both sublime and majestic. Tovey wrote that ‘this fugue absorbs and transcends the world’, while Stravinsky considered it ‘the climax of this sonata … its great miracle lies in the substance of the counterpoint and it escapes all description.’

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor Op.111

Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato
Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile

The final sonata in Beethoven’s late trilogy was composed in 1821–2, straight after Op.110, and it was dedicated to his pupil and patron Archduke Rudolph, familiar as the dedicatee of the ‘Archduke’ Trio, and also the person to whom Beethoven inscribed the Missa solemnis, work on which was interrupted to compose the three late piano sonatas. Op.111 is in two movements, the first a turbulent and tempestuous Allegro preceded by a dramatic introduction notable for its extensive use of diminished seventh chords. The driving intensity of the main Allegro finds a moment of repose with the arrival of the second theme, in A flat major. At the end of the movement it is as if all rage has been spent as the music works towards a serene pianissimo conclusion in C major. The second movement is based on a hymn-like theme heard at the start of the movement and treated to an astoundingly diverse series of variations and a coda drenched in trills that seem to take the music to a strange and wonderful expressive world. Alfred Brendel has said of this movement that ‘perhaps nowhere else in piano literature does mystical experience feel so immediately close at hand’.

Nigel Simeone © 2015

WALLEN Errollyn, The Negro Speaks of Rivers

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” sets the text of Langston Hughes. The poem was first published in June of 1921 in Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.


FRANCES-HOAD Cheryl, Invocation

Invocation was originally the second movement of Melancholia, my first piano trio, written in 1999.

The piano trio is based on Melancholy, a painting by Edvard Munch that formed part of his Frieze of Life. Munch described the Frieze as a “poem of life, love and death”, and Melancholy, which depicts a man (sometimes thought to be the artist himself) looking out at the sea and oppressive sky, concludes the first of the three sections of paintings called Love blossoms and dies.

I had written a chamber opera, with all manner of instruments at my disposal, before starting my piano trio. In Melancholia I aimed at producing a much sparser music (at many points simply a melody with chordal accompaniment) in an attempt to prove to myself that I could still convey a great deal of emotion with only those notes that were absolutely necessary.

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