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: V

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ralph, Concerto for Oboe and Strings

Rondo pastorale
Minuet and Musette
Finale (Scherzo)

Vaughan Williams started to compose his oboe concerto in 1943, immediately after the Fifth Symphony, and it was completed in 1944. His friend and biographer Michael Kennedy wrote that ‘a discarded scherzo from the symphony was turned into part of the oboe concerto’, and he described it as a ‘satellite work’ to the symphony. It was written for the oboist Léon Goossens and the premiere was planned for the 1944 Proms. That concert was cancelled due to the risk of flying-bombs over London and Goossens gave the first performance in Liverpool on 30 September 1944.

The bucolic first movement – an unconventional rondo – is marked Allegro moderato and it uses both the oboe’s spiky agility and its lyrical capabilities, with short cadenzas near the start and finish. In his book on Vaughan Williams, Frank Howes noted that the Minuet and Musette was ‘wayward in its key scheme’ and described the whole movement as ‘pseudo-classical’ in character. The central ‘Musette’ section is based on drones, played by the oboe. Headed ‘Finale (Scherzo)’, the last movement is predominantly very fast, but perhaps the highlight of the whole Concerto is the slower central section, the soloist musing over richly-harmonised string chords, before a return of the fast material and a quiet, sustained close.

© Nigel Simeone

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ralph, Quintet in C minor for violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano

Allegro con fuoco
Fantasia, quasi variazioni

This Quintet in C minor, scored for the same instrumentation as Schubert’s Trout, was composed in 1903 and revised twice before the first performance at the Aeolian Hall on 14 December 1905, but after a performance in 1918 it was withdrawn by Vaughan Williams. It was finally published in an edition by Bernard Benoliel a century after its composition. Vaughan Williams’s friend and biographer Michael Kennedy speaks of ‘the shadow of Brahms looming over’ the work, and this seems especially true of the expansive first movement. The expressive, romantic melody of the Andante second movement is more characteristic of its composer at this stage in his career, and it has some similarity to the song Silent Noon, composed the same year. The finale is a set of five variations, ending with a beautiful bell-like coda.

As Michael Kennedy observes, what matters with an early work such as this is not whether it anticipates Vaughan Williams’s later masterpieces (for the most part, it doesn’t), but that it is impressive in its own right. He does, however, make an intriguing observation: ‘Vaughan Williams may have withdrawn the Quintet but he did not forget it, for in 1954 he used the theme of the finale, slightly expanded, for the variations in the finale of his Violin Sonata.’

© Nigel Simeone

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ralph, The Lark Ascending

Vaughan Williams began The Lark Ascending before the outbreak of the First World War, taking his inspiration from George Meredith’s 1881 poem of the same name. But he set this ‘Romance’ aside during the war and only finished it in 1920. The violinist Marie Hall gave the first performance of the original version for violin and piano in Shirehampton Public Hall (a district of Bristol) on 15 December 1920. Vaughan Williams dedicated the work to her, and she went on to give the premiere of the orchestral version six months later, when it was conducted by the young Adrian Boult at a concert in the Queen’s Hall in London. Free, serene and dream-like, this is idyllic music of rare and fragile beauty.

© Nigel Simeone

VIEUXTEMPS Henri, Capriccio for solo viola, ‘Hommage à Paganini’

Like other nineteenth-century violinists, the Belgian virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps liked to play the viola, particularly in chamber music. The Capriccio is the last of a set of six posthumously published pieces (the first five are for solo violin), probably composed in the last decade of Vieuxtemps’ life, after his playing career was ended by a series of strokes. It was composed as a tribute to Paganini (whose viola playing had inspired Berlioz to compose Harold in Italy).

‘Capriccio’ might suggest something rather whimsical, but Vieuxtemps’ work is marked Lento, con molta espressione (slow with much expression) and it is rooted in the key of C minor. The effect is rather sombre and elegiac, in spite of the virtuoso demands of Vieuxtemps’ writing, and the piece ends with two, quiet pizzicato chords.

© Nigel Simeone

VIEUXTEMPS Henri, Viola Sonata

Maestoso – Allegro 
Barcarolla. Andante con moto 
Finale Scherzando. Allegretto 

The Belgian violin virtuoso and composer Henri Vieuxtemps was also an outstanding viola player and he composed his Viola Sonata in 1860. The first performance was given on 21 January 1861 in London, at the St James’s Hall, played by Vieuxtemps with the distinguished English pianist Arabella Goddard (famous, among other things, for giving the first public performance in London of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata). The performance was reviewed in The Musical World whose critic praised ‘M. Vieuxtemps’s mastery of the viola’ and expressed the view that ‘of the three movements, the Andante in G minor (Barcarolla) created the most marked impression’ and noted that ‘the difficulties presented by the whole work are such that none but a performer of the first class should attempt it.’ 


Several more performances quickly followed including one at the Hanover Square Rooms (15 February 1861) and another at the St James’s Hall on 15 April, this time with Charles Hallé as Vieuxtemps’s pianist. The work was first heard in Brussels a few weeks later and when the sonata was published in 1862, it carried a dedication to King George V of Hanover, a music-loving cousin of Queen Victoria.  


© Nigel Simeone 

VILLA-LOBOS Heitor, Chôros No.1


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