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: R

RAVEL Maurice, Sonata for violin and cello

Très vif
Vif, avec entrain

In 1920, Ravel was asked to contribute to a musical supplement in memory of Debussy for the Revue musicale (other contributors included Bartók, Satie and Stravinsky). This ‘Tombeau’ for Debussy (with a front cover specially drawn by Dufy) appeared in December 1920 and included a ‘Duo’ for violin and cello that would become the first movement of the Sonata for Violin and Cello. It was another two years before Ravel completed the other movements and the whole work was published in 1922 with a dedication to Debussy’s memory. Ravel himself described the austere, pared-down language of the Sonata as ‘stripped to the bone’ and said that ‘harmonic charm is renounced’. The Sonata is also remarkable for its thematic unity, and some ingenious cyclic transformations. For instance, the violin theme heard at the start returns later in the work as do other ideas. The Scherzo suggests that Ravel was familiar with Kodály’s 1914 Duo for violin and cello: Ravel includes elements of Hungarian music in a movement of formidable drive and energy. The slow movement is stark and serious and after building slowly to an impassioned climax, its ending is remote and strange. The finale is brilliantly written for both instruments, bringing this extraordinary work to an athletic close, the dissonances finally resolving on to a chord of C major.

© Nigel Simeone 2018

RAVEL Maurice, String Quartet in F

Allegro moderato. très doux
Assez vif. très rythmé
Très lent Vif et agité

The first two movements of Ravel’s Quartet were finished in December 1902 and the next month he submitted the first movement for a prize at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was still a student. The jury was unimpressed and the Director Théodore Dubois was typically acidic, claiming that it “lacked simplicity”. The failure to win a prize meant that Ravel’s studies with Fauré were over but Ravel persisted with the Quartet, and by April 1903 he had finished all four movements. He put it aside for yet another doomed attempt at the Prix de Rome, but it’s likely that he made further revisions later in the year. The pianist and composer Alfredo Casella recalled running into Ravel in the street in January 1904: “I found [Ravel] seated on a bench, attentively reading a manuscript. I asked him what it was. He said: It is a quartet I have just finished. I am rather pleased with it.” The first performance was given at the Schola Cantorum by the Heymann Quartet, on 5 March 1904. It is dedicated “à mon cher maître Gabriel Fauré”.

In a parallel with Debussy’s Quartet, Ravel makes use of cyclic themes – material heard in the first movement returns in various guises throughout. The second movement is notable for Ravel’s brilliant use of cross-rhythms as all four string players become a kind of gigantic guitar. The rhapsodic slow movement includes a dream-like recollection of the cyclic theme. In the finale, Ravel’s use of irregular time signatures generates a momentum that is not only impossible to predict but impossible to resist. Recollections of the cyclic theme are woven into the texture with great subtlety and the kaleidoscopic string writing produces a conclusion that glitters and surges.

Nigel Simeone © 2012

REICH Steve, Electric Counterpoint

Electric Counterpoint (1987) was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival for guitarist Pat Metheny. It was composed during the summer of 1987. The duration is about 15 minutes. It is the third in a series of pieces (first Vermont Counterpoint in 1982 for flutist Ransom Wilson followed by New York Counterpoint in 1985 for clarinettist Richard Stolzman) all dealing with a soloist playing against a pre-recorded tape of themselves. In Electric Counterpoint the soloist pre-records as many as 10 guitars and 2 electric bass parts and then plays the final 11th guitar part live against the tape. I would like to thank Pat Metheny for showing me how to improve the piece in terms of making it more idiomatic for the guitar.

Electric Counterpoint is in three movements; fast, slow, fast, played one after the other without pause. The first movement, after an introductory pulsing section where the harmonies of the movement are stated, uses a theme derived from Central African horn music that I became aware of through the ethnomusicologist Simha Arom. That theme is built up in eight voice canon and while the remaining two guitars and bass play pulsing harmonies the soloist plays melodic patterns that result from the contrapuntal interlocking of those eight pre-recorded guitars.

The second movement cuts the tempo in half, changes key and introduces a new theme, which is then slowly built up in nine guitars in canon. Once again two other guitars and bass supply harmony while the soloist brings out melodic patterns that result from the overall contrapuntal web.

The third movement returns to the original tempo and key and introduces a new pattern in triple meter. After building up a four guitar canon two bass guitars enter suddenly to further stress the triple meter. The soloist then introduces a new series of strummed chords that are then built up in three guitar canon. When these are complete the soloist returns to melodic patterns that result from the overall counterpoint when suddenly the basses begin to change both key and meter back and forth between E minor and C minor and between 3/2 and 12/8 so that one hears first 3 groups of 4 eighth notes and then 4 groups of 3 eighth notes. These rhythmic and tonal changes speed up more and more rapidly until at the end the basses slowly fade out and the ambiguities are finally resolved in 12/8 and E minor.

© Steve Reich


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