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: G

GIBBONS Orlando, The Silver Swan

GRIEG Edvard, Cello Sonata

1. Allegro agitato
2. Andante molto tranquillo
3. Allegro molto e marcato

Grieg’s great fame as a composer rests largely on the Piano Concerto, a handful of piano pieces, the Holberg Suite and movements from his incidental music for Peer Gynt. One work from the same period as the Piano Concerto was to provide an important source for the Cello Sonata: the incidental music for the play Sigurd Jorsalfar from 1872. The Cello Sonata was started in late 1882 and the first draft was finished in April 1883. Grieg dated the manuscript of his slightly revised version of the work 18 August 1883. It is one of a handful of major chamber works, along with three violin sonatas, one complete surviving string quartet and one left incomplete. The first movement of the Cello Sonata is in sonata form (something of a rarity for Grieg) and opens with a passionate and agitated theme which eventually gives way to a calmer second theme introduced by gentle chords on the piano. The movement ends with an animated coda based on the opening idea (with added hints of the opening phrase from the Piano Concerto). The expressive slow movement is based largely on the recycled ‘Homage March’ from Grieg’s Sigurd Jorsalfar incidental music (aptly enough, since in the original orchestral version this passage is scored for four cellos). The finale opens with a cadenza for the cello before launching into an extended Norwegian dance which occasionally threatens to become bombastic but which ends impressively. The work was dedicated by Grieg to his brother John, an accomplished cellist, and on 1 October 1883, Grieg sent him the first printed copy. The first two performances were given by two of Europe’s preeminent cellists of the time. The premiere was given by Friedrich Grützmacher in Dresden on 22 October 1883; a few days later (on 27 October) Julius Klengel gave the work in Leipzig. Grieg was the pianist on both occasions.

© Nigel Simeone

GRIME Helen, Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell)

I – UNTITLED (HABITAT)
II – AVIARY (PARROT MUSIC BOX)
III – DESERTED PERCH
IV – FORGOTTON GAME
V – TOWARD THE BLUE PENINSULA (AFTER EMILY DICKINSON)

Cast in five movements, each takes its starting point and character from the works, listed above, by Joseph Cornell. What interests me about his assemblage boxes is his ability to create miniature worlds. They are immediate and alluring but also rich in associations.

Each movement treats the ensemble in a different way, exploring the range of possibilities inherent in the combination. In the first movement, two are pitched against one but the groupings are continually shifting. There is a reference to Ravel’s Oiseaux Tristes in the melody that is spun through it and also in the rapid figuration throughout.

Marked ‘mechanical’, the second movement features a pizzicato cello line in ever changing patterns set against repeated gestures in violin and viola. Gradually everyone plays the pizzicato line with the repeated gestures skittered between violin and viola, this material eventually taking centre stage. The pizzicato becomes the repeated material before shortening at each statement until we are left with just one note.

In the third movement, a solo viola line is punctuated by flurried bursts of activity in the violin and cello. Eventually everyone comes together in a unison line before the viola comes to the fore again.

In FORGOTTEN GAME, an exchange of quiet, ephemeral harmonics is interrupted by fast, violent outbursts. The juxtaposition becomes more rapid and tense before its release.

The final movement opens with a chorale and is interspersed with fleeting, intertwined passages. The two things become one leading to an impassioned climax. A very quiet, slow coda reflects on what has come before.

© 2015 Helen Grime

GRIME Helen, Bright Travellers

i. Soundings
ii. Brew
iii. Visitations
iv. Milk Fever
v. Council Offices

I came across Fiona Benson’s collection ‘Bright Travellers’ by chance not long after I’d given birth to my son. I was very taken and moved by the series of poems about pregnancy and early motherhood and knew instantly that I wanted to set them. The poems are direct, sometimes funny and achingly beautiful and have a natural musicality about them. Writing this set of five songs was an extremely intense and sometimes emotional experience for me, as the poems move between a huge range of emotions from hope and joy to great sadness.

© Helen Grime

GRIME Helen, Five Northeastern Scenes

Five North Eastern Scenes for oboe and piano was commissioned by the Kunstförderverein Kreis Düren e. V. for the 2016 Spannungen chamber music festival in Heimbach, Germany. The piece is in five short movements. The first, third and fifth explore space and melancholy, while the second and fourth are fleeting and at times more violent.

This is the third work in which I have used the paintings of the Scottish artist Joan Eardley as a starting point. Her vast, emotive snow scenes painted outside in the brief periods of calm between snow storms capture the striking yet bleak beauty of North East Scotland, an area where I grew up, but have not visited for many years.

© 2016 Helen Grime

GRIME Helen, Seven Pierrot Miniatures

In Seven Pierrot Miniatures, I took the Commedia d’elle Arte character, Pierrot, as my primary source of inspiration. Other, more tenuous, links to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire also served as a starting point in forming the general shape of the work. The piece is cast in seven short movements whereas the Schoenberg is in three sets of seven movements. Although there is no part for voice, I have taken seven poems by Albert Giraud (none of them set in Pierrot Lunaire) as points of departure:

1. The Clouds
2. Decor
3. Absinthe
4. Suicide
5. The Church
6. Sunset
7. The Harp

Each movement takes its impetus from the corresponding poem, but in the piece as a whole, I wanted to explore the extreme contrasts of the multi-faceted character of Pierrot in a musical setting. There is an almost mirror-like quality to the form of the piece and a sense of ending where it has begun: movements 1, 3, 5 and 7 are closely linked, both in terms of their musical material and a sense of melancholy, dream-like quality and longing. Movements 2 and 6 are also strongly connected, with allusions to the more mischievous, violent side of Pierrot. Movement 4 serves as a sort of pivot point within the work, juxtaposing a surreal, shimmering calm with brutal outbursts. There is never any direct repetition, yet there is a strong sense of material returning and mutating as the work unfolds.

© Helen Grime

GRIME Helen, String Quartet No.1

When I was approached to write a piece for the Edinburgh Quartet I was delighted – I had wanted to write a string quartet for quite some time and was waiting for the right time and opportunity to do so. The string quartet has one of the richest repertoires and histories behind it, so for me, one of the main challenges was letting go of all those associations and approaching it like I would for any other combination. I am not a string player, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Although I’m constantly thinking of the technical challenges and making the music playable, not actually being able to play can be freeing, leading you to take musical risks that you might not take otherwise. I came to the string quartet after writing a lot of chamber music for strings, including two piano trios (a combination which I found equally daunting) and a string sextet.

This is the first piece I have completed since having my son, Samuel, last August. This has been an emotionally rich and creative time for me and although I started the piece (about a minute or so) when pregnant, most has been written this year. I’m unsure if this has affected the piece or not, but interestingly the form of the piece (which was quite carefully planned beforehand) underwent quite a huge change when I began composing again.

The piece is in three movements, but they all run together without a break, the material of the new movement overlapping with the end of the previous one. My music tends to be very organic generally and this is very much true of the quartet. The speeds of each movement are very closely related to create seamless links between ideas and there are also very strong links between the musical material in each movement. To some extent, I imagined the piece in one long movement and I think this will come over to the listener.

The first movement opens with a fast duo for violin II and viola – different pairings are a feature of the piece in general – and ends with a duo for violin I and cello. The second movement is by far the longest of the three and the third movement is a sort of moto perpetuo, featuring virtuoso writing for each instrument.

© Helen Grime

GRIME Helen, To see the summer sky

To see the summer sky for Violin and Viola falls into four movements. The first movement opens with the two instruments sounding almost as one playing very high, glassy harmonics. Gradually, an expressive viola solo emerges, with both instruments descending to their lower ranges. A livelier quasi scherzando solo for violin accompanied by viola pedal notes leads to a chorale like passage, the violin at the top of its range, whilst the viola is at its lowest. The movement ends with the two instruments coming together once again on a unison Bb and fades away almost as it has begun, but this time in the husky lower registers.

The second movement is much faster and opens with a downward flurry for both instruments. A continuous pizzicato line for viola is interrupted by more violent passages in the violin. The two instruments come together in a dance-like passage before the roles are reversed. Finally an ecstatic melody surfaces in the viola and is later continued in the violin before the movement closes with the spiky figures of its opening, the two instruments ending in unison.

The third movement encompasses is the most delicate and still music of the piece. After a very tranquil opening, an expressive violin melody is accompanied by a gentle rocking figure in the viola. Tentative at first, intensity and speed gather until the violin reaches stratospheric heights. Both of the instruments play at the extremes of their registers before moving to common ground for a more lively textural passage. This is followed by a passionate reminder of the movement’s opening, gradually fading away to nothing.

The piece ends with a Moto Perpetuo. The instruments begin by dovetailing a single line which develops into two strands before a more violent section appears, punctuated by strident double stops. Both instruments have slightly manic solo episodes before the movement quickly dies away in the single line of its opening.

© Helen Grime

GRIME Helen, Whistler Miniatures

Three Whistler Miniatures falls into three movements, contrasted in mood and tempo:

I: The Little Note in Yellow and Gold (Tranquillo)
II: Lapis Lazuli (Presto)
III: The Violet Note (Lontano, molto flessibile)

The titles refer to three chalk and pastel miniatures, which are displayed in the Veronese Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Although the music does not relate directly to the pictures, I was taken by the subtly graduated palate and intimate atmosphere suggested by each of them.

Throughout the piece the violin and cello form a sort of unit, which is set against the contrasting nature of the piano.

The first movement opens with a very quiet and gentle piano melody. Gradually the violin and cello become part of the texture, but moving at a slower pace. The violin and cello form an overlapping two-part melody, very high in register and ethereal in quality whilst the piano moves at a quicker pace with a more detailed and elaborate version of the string material creating a delicate, layered effect. This leads to a faster section, the two string instruments have overlapping material with more agitated outbursts from the piano. This builds to an impassioned and somewhat flamboyant piano solo, featuring falling gestures and is interspersed with an intensified and quicker version of the previous string material until the end of the movement.

The second movement is lively and virtuosic for all three players. A running continuous line is passed back and forth between the cello and violin, eventually being taken by the piano before a more melodic section. Lyrical lines are contrasted with the more jagged material of the opening, the three instruments coming together in rhythmic unison before an extended and complete melody is heard in the violin and cello. Each melodic entry is lower in register and dynamic, seeming to die away before the final presto section takes over until the movement’s close.

Beginning with a distant high piano melody and set against muted strings ‘quasi lullaby’, the third movement alludes to the textures and material of the opening of the piece. A more agitated florid section leads to a heightened rendition of the piano melody for high cello surrounded by filigree passagework in the piano and violin. The violin takes over before the final section, which combines the piano writing from the opening of the first movement, but here it is much darker in nature.

© Helen Grime

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