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: J

JACOBSEN Colin & AGHAEI Siamak, Ascending Bird

American composer and violinist Colin Jacobsen spoke about the background to this exhilarating piece before a performance in 2011: ‘I wrote Ascending Bird with my friend Siamak Aghaei, a wonderful musician from Iran. The piece tells the story of a mythic bird that tries to reach the sun. It tries at first and falls back down. It tries again, then finally on the third time it receives the radiant embrace of the sun and loses its physical body, in a metaphor for spiritual transcendence.’ Written in 2007, the music is an arrangement of an old Persian folk tune, starting gently and working up to a thrilling close. 


© Nigel Simeone

JACQUET DE LA GUERRE Elisabeth, Les rossignols, dès que le jour commence

Guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/music/2023/jun/23/out-of-her-mouth-cantatas-elisabeth-jacquet-de-la-guerre-dunedin-hera


About the piece and translation https://www.vmii.org/iej-1-cephale-et-procris/56-les-rossignols-des-que-le-jour-commence-chanten

JANÁČEK Leoš, Concertino

For piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon

Più mosso
Con moto

Janáček started his Concertino after hearing the pianist Jan Heřman playing his song-cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared in November 1924. The composer told Heřman that he’d played it ‘magnificently, like no one else’, and he soon set to work on a piece for him. The first sketches are dated ‘Prague, 1 January 1925, by the Vltava’ and ‘11 January 1925, on the train from Prague’, but this piece recalls not the nation’s capital where it was conceived, but the Moravian countryside where Janáček grew up and where, in fact, the work was finished: the manuscript is dated on the title page ‘Hukvaldy, 29 April 1925’. Though not stated on the score, the Concertino is programmatic. Janáček wrote to Heřman that ‘it arose from the youthful mood of the sextet Mládí’ and in a letter to Kamila Stösslová he told her that he had composed ‘a piano concerto – Spring. There’s a cricket, midges, a roebuck, a torrent – yes, and a man!’ In a later description from 1927, the theme of spring remained, but Janáček assigned a specific animal character to each of the first three movements: a hedgehog for the first, a squirrel for the second, and various nocturnal animals for the third. According to a note on the autograph manuscript, the fourth movement represents a rushing torrent. The result is one of Janáček’s most enchanting and untroubled chamber works, notable for some typically inventive scoring as well as its great charm. Much to Jan Heřman’s understandable irritation, he didn’t give the first performance of the Concertino that Janáček dedicated to him. In a letter of 1 July 1925, Janáček agreed to let the young pianist Ilona Štěpanová-Kurzová give the première, which she did on 16 February 1926, at a concert of the Club of Moravian Composers in Brno.

Nigel Simeone © 2011

JANÁČEK Leoš, String Quartet No.1 Kreutzer Sonata

Adagio – Con moto 
Con moto 
Con moto – Vivo – Andante 
Con moto – (Adagio) – Più mosso 

Janáček composed his 1st String Quartet in 1923, taking as his inspiration Kreutzer Sonata, the novella by Tolstoy that had in turn been inspired by Beethoven’s famous violin sonata. Janáček’s quartet was composed in just a few days, and it’s probable that he drew on material from an earlier piano trio (now lost) based on the same story. The music does not follow Tolstoy’s narrative in detail, but it does evoke the rage and passion of the protagonists, using a musical language made up of generally quite short motifs that form both the melodies and the urgent, thrilling ideas that accompany them. Janáček also alludes to Beethoven’s Kreutzer, most obviously at the start of the third movement where he recalls the second theme of Beethoven’s opening movement. Janáček’s own motto theme in the Quartet is the rising idea heard at the opening. This returns at the start of the fourth movement, but this time it is followed by a melancholy violin theme, marked ‘as if in tears’. Janáček’s final transformation of the motto theme is magnificent: a furious fortissimo, accompanied by chords marked ‘festive, like an organ’. After this ecstatic moment of release, the music subsides back to the brooding, unsettled mood of the opening. 


© Nigel Simeone 

JANÁČEK Leoš, String Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”


This extraordinary work was the result of extraordinary circumstances. As a married man in his 70s, Janáček had been head over heels in love with the much younger Kamila Stösslová for a decade by the time he wrote his 2nd String Quartet. This was a passionate (if largely one-sided) love that is eloquently expressed in the hundreds of letters he wrote her, and in the pieces that were directly inspired by her – from operas such as Katya Kabanova to the much more private world of chamber music. On 29 January he told Kamila about the latest piece to be inspired by her: ‘Today it’s Sunday and I’m especially sad. I’ve begun to work on a quartet; I’ll give it the name Love Letters.’ By 19 February the sketch was finished, and a couple of weeks later Janáček had written out a fair copy. He changed his mind several times about the title, eventually settling on Intimate Letters. The original scoring, noted on the manuscript, was to include a viola d’amore – the viola of love – but this was more symbolic than practical and after a private play-through, Janáček abandoned the idea.   

Janáček’s letters to Kamila are revealing about the programmatic content of this quartet. The first movement he described as ‘the impression of when I saw you for the first time!’ and the third evokes a moment ‘when the earth trembled’. The fourth movement was ‘filled with a great longing – as if it were fulfilled.’ As for the whole work, he confided in April 1928 that ‘it’s my first composition whose notes glow with all the dear things that we’ve experienced together. You stand behind every note, you, living, forceful, loving.’  

Janáček died on 12 August 1928, and the quartet had to wait another decade before it was published, by which time both Kamila and Janáček’s long-suffering wife Zdenka were dead. Intimate Letters stands as one of the most personal and original works in the twentieth-century quartet repertoire. The Czech novelist Milan Kundera summarized the essence of Janáček’s art as ‘capturing unknown, never expressed emotions, and capturing them in all their immediacy’. 

Nowhere is it more immediate – or more emotional – than in this quartet.  

© Nigel Simeone

JARRETT Keith, My Song

Keith Jarrett is one of the giants of modern jazz, who began his career performing with Miles Davis, released the best-selling solo jazz album of all time, and has managed to successfully straddle multiple musical worlds for decades.

My Song is the second track from an album of the same name that Jarrett recorded in Oslo in 1977 with one of his regular collaborators, the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Tonight Steven Osborne will perform his own transcription of My Song.

© Music in the Round


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