About The Music

Dip into our programme notes for pieces presented by Music in the Round. Covering music that is forthcoming and has been recently performed, learn more about the works and also listen to brief extracts. 

About The Music: C

CAGE John, Nocturne for violin and piano

In this piece, Cage tries to soften the distinctions inherent between the two instruments used. Overall, the piece has an atmospheric character, like many other compositions from this period. It should be played with sustained resonances, and ‘sempre rubato’, giving the work a quirkily Romantic feel. The piano part employs mostly chordal arpeggios and tone clusters, the violin part mostly sustained tones.

From JohnCage.org

CASALS Pablo, Song of the Birds (arr. Catalan traditional song)

The Catalan Christmas carol El cant dels ocells tells of birds singing with joy on hearing the news of the birth of Jesus. Pablo Casals made his cello arrangement after leaving Spain in protest at Franco’s dictatorship in 1939. He played it in almost all his concerts thereafter, including a memorable performance for President John F. Kennedy at the White House in 1961. The song became a musical emblem of Casals’s Catalan homeland, and his self-imposed exile. The great cellist himself made it clear that his reasons for making this arrangement were both musical and political, expressing the hope that ‘these sounds may be like a gentle echo of the nostalgia we feel for Catalonia. These sentiments must make us all work together, with the hope of a peaceful future, when Catalonia will once again be Catalonia.’  

 

Notes by Nigel Simeone, 2022 

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne Op.15 Nos.1 & 2

Chopin’s fourth nocturne is in simple ternary form (A–B–A). The first section, in F major, features a very simple melody over a descending triplet pattern in the left hand. The middle section in F minor, in great contrast to the outer themes, is fast and dramatic (Con fuoco) using a challenging double note texture in the right hand. After a return to the serene A theme, the ending does not contain a coda, but rather two simple arpeggios. Some critics have remarked that this nocturne has little to do with night, as if sunlight is “leaking” from the piece’s seams. Chopin’s fifth nocturne is marked Larghetto, featuring an intricate, elaborately ornamental melody over an even quaver bass. The second section, labelled doppio movimento (double speed), resembles a scherzo with dotted quaver-semi quaver melody, semiquavers in a lower voice in the right hand, and large jumps in the bass. The final section is a shortened version of the first (14 bars rather than 24) with characteristic cadenzas and elaboration, finishing with an arpeggio on F♯ major, falling at first, then dying away. Many consider this nocturne to be the best of the opus, stating that its musical maturity matches some of his later nocturnes.

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

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne Op.55 No.2

The second nocturne in E flat major features a 12/8 time signature, triplet quavers in the bass, and a lento sostenuto tempo marking. The left hand features sweeping legato arpeggios from the bass to the tenor, while the right hand often plays a contrapuntal duet and a soaring single melody. There is a considerable amount of ornamentation in the right hand. The characteristic chromatic ornaments often subdivide the beats in a syncopated fashion in contrast with the steady triplets in the left hand. It differs in form from the other nocturnes in that it has no contrasting second section, the melody flowing onward from beginning to end in a uniform manner. The monotony of the unrelieved sentimentality does not fail to make itself felt. One is seized by an ever-increasing longing to get out of this oppressive atmosphere, to feel the fresh breezes and warm sunshine.

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

COPLAND Aaron, Duo for Flute & Piano

Duo was commissioned by seventy pupils and friends of the celebrated flutist William Kincaid after his death in 1967. Copland described it as lyrical and in a pastoral style. “Lyricism seems to be built into the flute,” he wrote. Duo is in three movements. “The whole is a work of comparatively simple harmonic and melodic outline, direct in expression. Being aware that many of the flutists who were responsible for commissioning the piece would want to play it, I tried to make it grateful for the performer…it requires a good player.” The piece has become a standard in the repertoire of flutists worldwide and is also available in a version for violin and piano.

Donate

Support from individuals is vital to our work. Your gifts help us engage the very best in UK and international talent in our concerts, and to run our annual Sheffield Chamber Music Festival.