BACH CELLO SUITES

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 27 October 2023, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets:
£16
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

JS BACH Cello Suite No.5 (26) 
JS BACH Cello Suite No.6 (24’) 

Concluding her series of Bach’s beloved Cello Suites, Ensemble 360’s celebrated cellist Gemma Rosefield returns to Upper Chapel, interspersing music with conversation and questions.  

Immerse yourself in the intricate melodies of Bach’s cello masterpieces. From the haunting prelude to an energetic gigue, the many movements of each suite showcase the versatility and expressiveness of the cello. 

BACH Johann Sebastian, Cello Suites 5 & 6

Cello Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV 1011 

Prelude 
Allemande 
Courante 
Sarabande 
Gavotte I / II 
Gigue 

 

Cello Suite No.6 in D, BWV 1012 

Prelude 
Allemande 
Courante 
Sarabande 
Gavotte I / II 
Gigue 

  

Bach’s Cello Suites were probably composed in about 1720 during Bach’s time in Cöthen. It isn’t known for whom Bach wrote them, though there are at least two likely candidates working in Cöthen at the time: Christian Ferdinand Abel (1682–1761), a great friend of the composer for whom Bach wrote the three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1027–9), and Carl Berhard Lienicke (d. 1751), the leading cellist of the Cöthen orchestra. Whether either of them was the player Bach had in mind is a matter of pure speculation since no documentary evidence has come to light. Equally uncertain is why Bach wrote them. The likeliest explanation is that they were intended – like much of his keyboard music – for private performance. 

© Nigel Simeone  

LIGETI 100: PIANO & WIND

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 30 September 2023, 7.00pm

Tickets:
£21
£14 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event
Ensemble 360 musicians, oboe player Adrian Wilson, horn player Naomi Atherton and clarinet player Robert Plane

DORTI Duo Concertante (13′) 
LIGETI Selection of Etudes (c.12′) 
LUTOSŁAWSKI Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Piano (12′)
FARKAS Five Antique Hungarian Dances (16′) 
LIGETI Ten Pieces (13′) 

An evening of music for piano and wind celebrating the works of György Ligeti, one of the most innovative and influential composers of the late 20th century.  

Ligeti’s celebrated Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet and a selection of his mesmerising studies for piano are among the highlights of this concert celebrating the 100th birthday of this ground-breaking composer. Other works to feature include dances by Ligeti’s teacher, Farkas, and a breathtaking duo by Doráti, who conducted several premieres of Ligeti’s most famous works. 

DORÁTI Antal, Duo Concertante for oboe and piano

Antal Doráti’s long and distinguished conducting career has tended to overshadow his work as a composer. As a brilliantly gifted teenager, he began his studies at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest at the age of fourteen and from the start, his musical development was in the best possible hands: his composition teachers included Zoltán Kodály and his piano teacher was Béla Bartók. After graduating from the Academy in 1924, he joined the music staff at the Budapest Opera, making his conducting debut the same year.  

Notable later orchestral appointments included posts with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Stockholm Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His numerous recordings included a pioneering set of the complete Haydn symphonies, made for Decca with the Philharmonia Hungarica. 

Doráti also found time to compose a number of pieces, ranging from an opera (The Chosen) to orchestral works (including a symphony) and the present Duo concertante for oboe and piano, completed in 1984 and dedicated to the great Swiss oboist Heinz Holliger who gave the first performance in Washington, D.C. on 21 April 1984 with the pianist Karl Ritter. A modern re-interpretation of a Hungarian rhapsody, the structure draws on traditional Hungarian dance forms, opening with a slow lassú and following this with a friss – a quick movement marked molto vivace 

© Nigel Simeone 

LIGETI György, Études for piano

Ligeti composed a series of 18 études for solo piano between 1985 and 2001, published in three books. When they first became known, these pieces were hailed as instant classics of the twentieth-century piano repertoire, and also provided a remarkable climax to Ligeti’s composing career. Following in the tradition of Chopin, Liszt and Debussy, these pieces pose tremendous technical challenges while also resulting in brilliant musical miniatures, whether dazzling or poetic. Ligeti himself wrote that he imagined in the Études ‘highly emotive music of high contrapuntal and metrical complexity, with labyrinthine branches and perceptible melodic forms … not tonal, but not atonal either.’  

 

They are dedicated to various important exponents of contemporary music, ranging from the composers Pierre Boulez and György Kurtág, to the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Volker Banfield. Described by critic Andrew Clements as ‘the most important additions to the solo-piano repertoire in the last half-century’, one remarkable feature is the way in which, as Clements put is, ‘in the Études, Ligeti effectively created a new pianistic vocabulary’. The influences described by Ligeti on these works included medieval and Renaissance music, African polyphony, Latin-American dances, Balinese gamelan, jazz pianists including Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk and the folk music of Ligeti’s native Hungary. But all of these are subsumed into a language that is entirely Ligeti’s own, with the most exhilarating results. 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

LUTOSŁAWKSI Witold, Dance Preludes

Allegro molto
Andantino
Allegro giocoso
Andante
Allegro molto

In 1954, Witold Lutosławski wrote his five Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano, based on folk tunes from Northern Poland, describing them as his ‘farewell to folk music’. In 1959 he recast the pieces for the Czech Nonet – comprising wind quintet, violin, viola, cello and double bass – in which he makes one significant change: no longer is the clarinet the soloist, but the thematic material is shared between the whole ensemble. Lutosławski’s biographer Charles Bodman Rae has described the way the composer transforms the folk tunes, and generates the propulsive energy in the faster movements: ‘Superimposition of different metres is the main feature of these pieces, resulting in metrical and rhythmic contradictions. This technique is most noticeable in the first, third and fifth pieces and invests them with much of their rhythmic vitality.’

This Nonet version of the Dance Preludes was first performed by the Czech Nonet at a concert in Louny, 40 miles northwest of Prague, on 10 November 1959.

Nigel Simeone 2013

FARKAS Ferenc, Five Antique Hungarian Dances (version for wind quintet)

Intrada 
Lassú (Slow Dance) 
Lapockás tánc (Shoulder Blade Dance) 
Chorea hungaricae 
Ugrós (Leaping Dance) 
 

Ferenc Farkas studied with Leo Weiner at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and later with Ottorino Respighi in Rome. On returning to Budapest in 1932, one of his first commissions was for a film score and he went on to compose extensively for film and theatre productions. At the same time, he began researching Hungarian folk music and began a distinguished teaching career: his pupils included Ligeti and Kurtág. 

 

This work, officially titled Antique Hungarian Dances from the 17th Century, exists in versions for various solo instruments and ensembles, with the present wind quintet version dating from 1959. In a note on the work, Farkas himself wrote that ‘compared with the rich folk-song heritage of Hungary, our ancient airs and dances that have been preserved in writing have a more modest role. For this work I have been influenced by dances of the 17th century, written by unknown amateurs in a relatively simple style … My interest in this music was first captured in the 1940s. I was so fascinated that I decided to give these melodies new life. I fitted the little dances together, in rondo form, and leaning on Baroque harmony and counterpoint, I attempted a reminiscence of that atmosphere of provincial Hungarian life at the time.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

LIGETI György, Ten Pieces

Ligeti composed his Ten Pieces between August and December 1968. He said that his first idea was ‘to compose a virtuoso work … to bring out the individual character of the five very different instruments available to me. My first idea was to write five short virtuoso pieces, but as I was working on the sketches, I began to sense that this didn’t work in formal terms … It made more sense to have ensemble pieces contrast with virtuoso pieces, in order to supply points of repose. It was thus that the final form came about: ten pieces with a regular alternation of ensemble pieces and virtuoso pieces.’ 

 

The first performance was given on 20 January 1969 in Malmö, Sweden, played by the Wind Quintet of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Each piece is short – the first, marked Molto sostenuto e calmo is one of the longer movements, lasting just over two minutes, while the fourth, fifth and sixth, all very fast, last less than a minute each. In his biography of Ligeti, British composer Richard Steinitz has described the Ten Pieces as ‘both accessible and delightfully characteristic of their composer … The style is intentionally kaleidoscopic’ (likened by Ligeti himself to Tom and Jerry cartoons), and ‘the music is quirky, epigrammatic and comic.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

FOCUS ON THE CLARINET

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 6 October 2023, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

Tickets:
£16
£10 UC, PIP & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event

DEBUSSY Premiere rhapsodie (8’)
YORK BOWEN Clarinet Sonata (16’)
HARRISON Drifting Away (5’)
WEBER Grand Duo Concertant (21’) 

Praised by International Record Review as “an eloquent and impassioned clarinettist [whose] playing is full-blooded and committed”, Robert Plane, the newest member of Ensemble 360, has been a remarkable addition to this highly regarded Ensemble. 

Debussy’s impressionistic Premiere rhapsodie, performed by Rob and pianist Tim Horton, moves from a dreamy opening to a virtuosic conclusion. The pair will also perform Drifting Away, the work of Pamela Harrison, an often overlooked English composer who Rob has done much to champion. The concert concludes with Weber’s celebrated duo marked by soaring melodies and dazzling cadenzas. 

POST-CONCERT TALK Free
Ticket holders are invited to stay for an informal talk from Rob about Pamela Harrison, who features in the concert.

DEBUSSY Claude, Première Rapsodie for Clarinet and Piano

The test pieces specially composed for the final exams at the Paris Conservatoire have something of a bad reputation. Many of them are routine competition showpieces but sometimes a work of much more lasting importance was written for these occasions. Such is the case with Debussy’s Première Rapsodie, completed in January 1910 for the clarinet concours at the Conservatoire that summer (Debussy also dashed off a sight-reading test for the same competition, published as his Petite pièce for clarinet and piano). Debussy himself was a member of the jury and he found most of the players unsatisfactory in the Rapsodie. However, the eventual winner, Vandercruyssen, impressed him. Debussy wrote to his friend and publisher Jacques Durand that Vandercruyssen ‘played by heart, and like a great musician’. A year later, Debussy prepared the better-known version of the piece for clarinet and orchestra, but the original with piano is superbly written for both instruments. The clarinettist David Pino has claimed, with justification, that the Première rapsodie was ‘the first major work for solo clarinet written in the twentieth century’.

It opens in a mood of stillness (marked ‘Rêveusement lent’ – ‘dreamily slow’), with the piano adding gentle momentum in the accompaniment after a few bars, and the clarinet – instructed to play pianissimo but also ‘sweetly’ and ‘penetrating’ – introducing a languorous theme that gradually becomes more animated. A sudden speeding up introduces a more capricious idea that is briefly stopped in its tracks by a series of trills and a return to earlier music. But the faster speed soon returns, starting with rumbling low notes on the piano and a series of upward flourishes on the clarinet. This gives way to a new section marked ‘Modérément animé (‘Moderately animated) and ‘playful’, a passage that quite brilliantly exploits the possibilities of the clarinet, especially its ability to play rapid figurations and lyrical lines. A return to the slower music gives way, finally, to a thrilling conclusion.

What makes this such an outstanding work is that Debussy combines extremely idiomatic writing – appropriate for a piece that was intended to demonstrate a player’s technical command – with musical ideas that have memorable substance. On 16 January 1911 the clarinettist Paul Mimart (to whom the work was dedicated) gave the first performance in a concert, at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, in one of the concerts promoted by the Société musicale indépendante. According to Debussy’s biographer Léon Valas, another performance took place at the end of 1911 in Russia, and it was greeted by the audience with confusion. A baffled Debussy wrote to a friend: ‘Surely this piece is one of the most immediately pleasing I have ever written!’

© Nigel Simeone

YORK BOWEN Edwin, Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op.109

Allegro moderato 
Allegretto poco scherzando 
Finale. Allegro molto 
 

York Bowen was a virtuoso pianist (in 1925 he made the first ever recording of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto) and had a parallel career as a prolific composer whose output included instrumental works written for many distinguished soloists, among them violinist Fritz Kreisler, oboist Léon Goossens, violist Lionel Tertis and horn player Denis Brain. When York Bowen heard the clarinettist Pauline Juler give the first performance of Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles at one of the National Gallery Concerts in January 1943, he was immediately inspired to compose a work for her. The result was the Clarinet Sonata in F minor, given its premiere by Juler and the composer later that year. 

 

Starting with a wide-ranging theme for the clarinet (extending over two and a half octaves), this vibrant, lyrical work explores the technical possibilities of the clarinet with consummate skill. The second theme is closely related to the first, and the movement ends with a coda based on the work’s opening. The Scherzetto is a capricious counterpart to the first movement and elements of it are also heard at the start of the finale, marked Allegro molto. This is a rondo in which music from the opening movement is also recalled before an imposing coda brings this remarkable post-romantic sonata to a powerful close.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

HARRISON Pamela, Drifting Away (for clarinet and piano)

Pamela Harrison studied at the Royal College of Music with Gordon Jacob (composition) and Arthur Benjamin (piano), and she composed several important works during the Second World War, including a String Quartet first performed in 1941 at the National Gallery Concerts. She wrote several important works for clarinet, inspired in part by a warm friendship with Jack Brymer for whom she composed a rugged and dramatic Clarinet Sonata in 1953, following this with a Clarinet Quintet in 1956. Drifting Away dates from two decades later: it was first performed by Brymer in 1975 at Sherbourne School. The title was derived from lines by W.B. Yeats: 

 
I heard the old, old men say 
All that’s beautiful drifts away 
Like the waters. 

 

Appropriately enough, this tender and evocative work, exquisitely crafted, was played by Brymer at the memorial service for Pamela Harrison in 1990.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

WEBER Carl Maria Von, Grand Duo Concertant in E flat Op.48

Allegro con fuoco 
Andante con moto 
Rondo. Allegro 
 

Weber’s own diaries contain a wealth of information about when he composed this work. The first movement to be written was the Rondo finale, completed in Munich on 5 July 1815 and a note from a few days later mentions sketches “for the sonata with clarinet and piano”. By 19 July Weber had also written the slow movement, describing it as an “Adagio”. It wasn’t for another year that he turned his attention to the first movement – noting in Berlin on 5 November that the “First movement of the Duo in E flat was written down”, and finally on 8 November “Allegro in E flat for the Clarinet and Piano Duo finished.” The work was published by Schlesinger in Berlin six months later, Weber noting that he received printed copies on 19 June 1817.  

 

What is remarkable about this work, given its rather fragmented composition history, is that the finished piece has such concentration and coherence. An early review in the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung was full of praise: “The whole piece has an original and fiery spirit as well as tender heartfelt feelings; a thorough development of ideas comes without any pedantry … The harmonic and melodic aspects of each movement are beautifully balanced against each other and both instruments are treated with a perfect knowledge of what each can do.” 

 

The ebullient and virtuoso writing for the two instruments in is one of the glories of the Grand Duo. It was conceived as a real partnership for clarinet and piano, with neither part dominating the proceedings. The results are very rich melodically but also extremely successful in terms of Weber’s handling of large-scale forms. Though the work was called Grand Duo concertant when it was published, it’s interesting to note from Weber’s diaries that he referred to this substantial three-movement work at least once as a “Sonata”. 

 

© Nigel Simeone  

SHOSTAKOVICH & BEETHOVEN STRING QUARTETS

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 28 January 2023, 7.00pm

£21
£14 DLA, UC or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

 

Save £s when you book for 5 concerts or more at the same time 

Past Event

STRAVINSKY Three Pieces for String Quartet (7′)
SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartet No.3 Op.73 (32′)
BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.135 (26′) 

“Must it be? It must be!” Beethoven inscribed these words on the manuscript of his profoundly moving final string quartet. This Op.135 quartet was written towards the very end of his life, and is touched by the wisdom of his years yet as full of contrast, quick wit and struggle as any of earlier works.  

Two masterpieces of the 20th century are presented alongside Beethoven’s quartet: Stravinsky’s wonderfully inventive short pieces and Shostakovich’s masterful third quartet, which encompasses the scope of a symphony in an intimate chamber work. 

STRAVINSKY Igor, Three Pieces for String Quartet

Composed in 1914, Stravinsky revised these pieces in 1918 when he dedicated them to the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. The first performance was given in Paris in May 1915 by a quartet which included the composer Darius Milhaud playing violin, while the 1918 version had its premiere in London on 13 February 1919. The work comprises three short movements without titles or tempo markings. Though the dimensions of the pieces are slight, Stravinsky managed to baffle (and infuriate) early critics with the unusual sound effects and performance markings in places, and the deliberate absence of any conventional forms or traditional thematic development. Instead, the mood is by turns stange and grotesque. The second piece was inspired by the comedian Little Tich (Harry Relph) whose jerky stage act had impressed Stravinsky during a visit to London in 1914. The result might almost be described as an anti-quartet, and as the critic Paul Griffiths later remarked, these little pieces are ‘determinedly not a “string quartet”. The notion of quartet dialogue has no place here, nor have subtleties of blend: the texture is completely fragmented, with each instrument sounding for itself.’  

 Nigel Simeone 

SHOSTAKOVICH Dmitri, String Quartet No.3 in F major Op.73

Shostakovich began his Third String Quartet in January 1946 but made no progress beyond the second movement until May when he went with his family to spend the summer at a dacha near the Finnish border. According to Beria (head of the Soviet secret police) in a letter to Shostakovich, this retreat was a personal gift from Stalin. It was a productive summer and the quartet was completed on 2 August 1946. The same day Shostakovich wrote to Vassily Shirinsky, second violinist of the Beethoven Quartet: ‘I have never been so pleased with a composition as with this Quartet. I am probably wrong, but that is exactly how I feel right now.’ The Beethoven Quartet gave the first performance at the Moscow Conservatory on 16 December 1946. Though there was an ominous silence from official critics, Shostakovich’s reputation was still high among the nation’s leaders: on 28 December he was given the Order of Lenin and each member of the Beethoven Quartet received the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. Just a year later the Third Quartet was denounced in the journal Sovetskaya musika as ‘modernist and false music.’

Although Shostakovich had no overt programme in mind, he invested a great deal of private emotion in the work – sufficient, as Fyodor Druzhinin (violist of the Beethoven Quartet) recalled, for the music to move the composer to tears when he attended a rehearsal in the 1960s, twenty years after he had written it. The start of the first movement, in F major, recalls the Haydn-like mood of the Ninth Symphony (completed in 1945) and this is followed by a contrasting idea, played pianissimo. The development includes some turbulent fugal writing, injecting a sense of unease that hovers over the rest of the movement. The Moderato con moto (in E minor) is based on a series of sinister ostinato figures and frequent repetitions while the third movement is a violent scherzo in G sharp minor. The Adagio is an extended passacaglia (ground bass) that gives way to a Moderato in which some kind of resolution is found in the closing bars, ending with three pizzicato F major chords.

 

Nigel Simeone

“Vividly present playing and discreet virtuosity”

PlanetHugill.com

BRAHMS, SCHUMANN & MORE

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 10 February 2023, 3.00pm / 7.00pm

£16
£10 DLA, UC or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

 

Save £s when you book for 5 concerts or more at the same time 

Past Event

R SCHUMANN Three Romances for Oboe & Piano (12′)
BRAHMS Viola Sonata Op.120 No.1 (23′)
KLUGHARDT Five Schilflieder (20′) 

Luxurious music from three Romantic masters. Schumann’s three romances are beguiling, colourful works that showcase the contrasting tones of the oboe and piano. Brahms’s rhapsodic sonata is characterised by a yearning intensity that builds toward a lively conclusion by way of a widely celebrated, achingly beautiful slow movement. Klughardt’s evocative and dreamy ‘Songs of the Reeds’ entwine the three distinct musical voices of viola, oboe and piano to describe a wanderer’s journey through changing scenes and weather, concluding in gentle moonlight. 

SCHUMANN Robert, Three Romances for Oboe and Piano

Nicht schnell  
Einfach, innig  
Nicht schnell   

Having written pieces for clarinet and horn early in 1849, Schumann finished what he called his ‘most fruitful year’ with the Three Romances for oboe and piano, completed at Christmas 1849. Like the Fantasy Pieces for clarinet, the Romances were written for domestic performance, described by the American musicologist Stephen Hefling as ‘Poetic Hausmusik’. But in Schumann’s case, there’s a reflective quality that invests these pieces with a depth that goes beyond their modest purpose. 

© Nigel Simeone 

BRAHMS Johannes, Viola Sonata in F minor Op.120 No.1

Allegro appassionato
Andante un poco adagio
Allegretto grazioso
Vivace

When Brahms wrote his two clarinet sonatas for his muse Richard Mühlfeld during a summer at Ischl in 1894, he always conceived alternative versions of them with a viola in place of the clarinet. He made careful alterations to create idiomatic viola parts and when the two sonatas were published in June 1895 they were issued with both clarinet and viola parts (Brahms also made versions for violin as well).

The viola is certainly ideally suited to the darker hues of the F minor Sonata. The differences in the viola version are mostly to do with passages taken down an octave, the occasional addition of appoggiaturas and double stoppings as well as changes to expression and dynamic markings, while the piano part remains completely unchanged. The viola versions present the same music in subtly different instrumental colours and in both works this provides a distinctive alternative view.

The F minor Sonata is in four movements: the first is often stern and dramatic, though there are some heart-stoppingly beautiful moments of repose. The movement ends quietly in F major. The Andante un poco adagio that follows (in A flat major) has a restrained eloquence that makes a profound but extremely poetic impact. With the Allegretto grazioso the mood genial – a scherzo substitute that serves as a kind of lyrical intermezzo. Robust and forthright, the finale opens in F major – its expressive intentions made clear from the three repeated notes that begin the main theme – and brings the work to an impassioned conclusion.

© Nigel Simeone

KLUGHARDT August, Schilflieder Op.28

Drüben geht die Sonne scheiden [The sun is sinking over there] 
Trübe wirds, die Wolken jagen [Darkness falls, the clouds are flying] 
Auf geheimen Waldespfade [Along a secret forest path] 
Sonnenuntergang [Sunset] 
Auf dem Teich, dem regungslosen [On the pond, the motionless one] 
 

August Klughardt may not be a familiar name today, but his career as a composer and conductor was distinguished. In 1869 he moved Weimar to become music director at the ducal court, and there he met and befriended Franz Liszt. A few years later he met Wagner and became associated with the New German School, a group of young composers who promoted the progressive values of Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz. But Klughardt was also attracted to Schumann’s music and to conventional forms (he wrote six symphonies). The Schilflieder (‘Reed Songs’) were composed in 1872 during his time in Weimar, are they notable for several reasons. First, there’s the instrumental combination for oboe, viola and piano – an ensemble for which very little has been composed. Second, the poetic inspiration is quite explicit: in the published score, Nikolaus Lenau’s poems are printed above the music, almost like song lyrics, with specific moments and moods reflected by Klughardt in his sensitive musical reflections on Lenau’s melancholy tales of man amid nature. Third, the score bears a fine dedication: ‘To Franz Liszt, in deepest admiration’ – an indication of the warm friendship between the two composers at this time.  

 

Published in 1832, Lenau’s Schilflieder have been set as songs by numerous composers from Robert Franz in 1842 to Schoenberg and Berg at the turn of the century, but Klughardt’s instrumental settings are notable for being a piece of chamber music that is so intimately linked to the poems that inspired it. Lenau’s poems prompted several great composers to write purely instrumental music – Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1, Richard Strauss’s Don Juan and the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.3 – but Klughardt in his Schilflieder seems to be the only composer to have taken Lenau as the source for a piece of chamber music.  The subtitle – ‘Fantasiestücke’ – at once recalls Schumann, and his influence is strong throughout these five pieces. The first, is marked ‘slow and dreamy’ and the second ‘Impassioned’. The central movement, ‘Gentle, quietly moving’ is followed by the most dramatic of the five, marked ‘Fiery’, and the final piece brings the set to close in a mood of tranquillity.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

“The emotional chemistry here was manifestly unusual… pure magic!”

Sunday Telegraph

CLASSICAL WEEKEND: CELLO SONATAS

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 17 March 2023, 1.00pm / 7.00pm

£5

(Special price for all as part of Classical Weekend) 

 

Save £s when you book for 5 concerts or more at the same time 

Past Event

BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.5 No.1 (24′)
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.5 No.2 (25′) 

To launch Classical Weekend 2023, Ensemble 360 presents a recital of Beethoven’s virtuosic music for cello and piano.  

These two early works for piano and cello are the perfect introduction to the unique musical mind of Beethoven. Breaking out of the established formula of simple keyboard accompaniment for a solo instrument, Beethoven broke the mould by creating works in which the two instruments were true equals: in conversation and competition, wrestling and supporting one another to create dazzling musical journeys that remain thrillingly fresh and deeply moving.  

Classical Sheffield’s biennial celebration of live music-making continues 17 – 19 March 2023. 

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Cello Sonatas Op.5 No.1 & No.2

Cello Sonata No.1 in F, Op.5 No.1 

Adagio sostenuto. Allegro 

Rondo. Allegro vivace 

 

Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.5 No.2 

Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo – Allegro molto più tosto presto 

Rondo. Allegro 

 

In 1796 Beethoven travelled from Vienna to Prague, Dresden and Berlin. In Berlin he heard the cellist Jean-Louis Duport at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm II. The King himself was also an enthusiastic amateur cellist to whom Mozart had dedicated his ‘Prussian’ Quartets, and though it was Duport who gave the first performance of the Op.5 sonatas, Beethoven was eager to attract aristocratic patronage and dedicated them to ‘His Majesty Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia’. He was rewarded handsomely, with a gold box full of gold coins, but no commissions followed, since the musical monarch died a year later. In his 1838 reminiscences of Beethoven, his pupil Ferdinand Ries wrote that ‘Beethoven played several times at the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, where he played the two grand sonatas with obbligato violoncello, Op.5 which he had composed for Duport, first violoncellist of the King, and himself. On his departure he received a gold snuffbox filled with Louis d’Or. Beethoven told me with pride that it was no ordinary snuffbox, but one of the kind that are presented to ambassadors.’  

The two sonatas were published in 1797 and they were innovative in terms of the instrumentation – neither Haydn nor Mozart had written sonatas for cello and piano. But their significance goes far beyond the scoring, since some of Beethoven’s boldest early musical ideas are to be found here. 

The 1st Sonata in F major opens with a slow introduction in which cello and piano creep in with a theme in octaves, but as the musical argument develops so does the distinctive role of each instrument. Billed – as was the custom of the time – as a ‘Sonata for Piano and Cello’, Beethoven establishes a sophisticated dialogue between the two musical partners. The main Allegro theme is introduced by the piano, with the cello providing the accompaniment, and the roles are then reversed for the second statement of the tune. The second (and last) movement begins with the cello and piano mirroring each other’s every gesture, and with only brief moments of respite, the music works towards a dramatic close.   

The 2nd Sonata in G minor begins with a slow introduction that presents a dramatic dialogue between the instruments. A more lyrical melody is heard on the cello, echoed by the piano, and the ideas already introduced are woven into a texture dominated by the descending scale from the opening, but now mirrored by an ascending scale, in an impassioned interchange between cello and piano. The slow introduction sinks into uneasy silences before the main Allegro molto più tosto presto. Here the principal theme is introduced by the cello, quickly answered by the piano. There are moments of repose (including a dancing theme introduced in the development section), but for most of this movement, there’s a powerful feeling of energetic momentum. Beethoven already demonstrates in this early work an ability to create a startlingly vivid musical landscape with the greatest economy – something he was to do in so many later works – by developing a few terse ideas to the fullest possible extent. For the concluding Rondo, Beethoven moves to G major, in a movement with a certain formal elegance at the start, and interrupted with a few darker outbursts, but above this finale is an affirmative celebration of instrumental virtuosity. 

 © Nigel Simeone  

MOZART, JANÁČEK & BEETHOVEN

Marmen Quartet

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 24 March 2023, 7.00pm

£21
£14 DLA, UC & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

 

 

Save £s when you book for 5 concerts or more at the same time 

Past Event

MOZART String Quartet in E flat K428 (25’)
JANÁČEK String Quartet No.2 Intimate Letters (27’)
BEETHOVEN String Quartet in E minor Op.59 No.2 Razumovsky (38’) 

In 2015 the Marmen Quartet was selected by our founder, violinist Peter Cropper, as the first ensemble to be supported by our new Bridge scheme. Established for musicians at the start of their professional career, the scheme provided the young quartet with coaching and development opportunities for three years.   

Since then, the Marmen Quartet has established themselves as a leading quartet, with a worldwide touring schedule and an impressive list of major prizes to their name. For their hotly anticipated return to Sheffield, they’ll be treating us to three of the greatest quartets in the repertoire, showcasing the intuitive brilliance of these four exceptional musicians. 

 

This concert is dedicated to the memory of Lord Menuhin of Stoke d’Abernon OM KBE, an inspirational violinist, conductor and educator whose personal kindness means so much to one of the sponsors.

MOZART Wolfgang Amadeus, String Quartet in E flat K428

Allegro non troppo 
Andante con moto 
Menuetto and Trio. Allegro 
Allegro vivace 

In 1785 the Viennese publisher Artaria issued a set of six string quartets by Mozart, the title page of which reads: “Six Quartets for two violins, viola and violoncello. Composed and dedicated to Signor Joseph Haydn, Master of Music for the Prince of Esterhazy, by his friend W.A. Mozart.” This was a most unusual dedication for the time: composers nearly always dedicated works to the aristocrats who supported them financially, not to fellow musicians. The long dedicatory epistle is headed “To my dear friend Haydn”. Mozart explains why he dedicated these quartets to Haydn, wanting to confide them “to the protection and guidance of a very celebrated man, especially when the latter by good fortune was at the same time his best friend.” The quartets, he writes, are “the fruit of a long and laborious study,” but that Haydn himself had told Mozart of his “satisfaction with them during your last visit to this capital. It is this above all which urges me to commend them to you … and to be their father, guide and friend!” 

After hearing these quartets, Haydn declared to Mozart’s father that “Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” Mozart’s “long and laborious study” included a detailed examination of Haydn’s Quartets Op.33 (composed in 1781), but while he had studied Haydn’s magnificent model, the results were no pastiche, but six works of extraordinary originality. 

The Quartet in E flat, K428, is the third of the “Haydn” Quartets and it was completed in 1783. It opens with a spacious theme in octaves that already reveals some of the chromatic colouring that gives this work its strikingly individual character. This harmonic daring is continued in the extraordinary slow movement – rich and intense – which seems to hint at the music of later composers, especially Brahms (the persistent drooping figure) and even Wagner. The Minuet is bracing but never predictable, while the central Trio is again more sinuous and chromatic. The delectable Rondo finale is a brilliant example of Mozart’s quartet writing at its most witty and inventive: a dazzling homage that captures the very essence of Haydn.  

© Nigel Simeone  

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

Andante 
Adagio 
Moderato 
Allegro  

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

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, String Quartet in E minor Op.59 No.2 Razumovsky

Allegro 
Molto Adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento  
Allegretto. Maggiore (Thème russe)  
Finale. Presto 

“Demanding but dignified” was how the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung described Beethoven’s new quartets dedicated to Count Rasumovsky when they were first heard in 1807. Composed in 1806, and including Russian melodies from a collection of folk tunes edited by Ivan Prach (published in 1790), these quartets were a major development in the quartet form. But though they were longer and more challenging than any earlier quartets, they were an immediate success. Before the Rasumovsky Quartets were played, Beethoven offered them to publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig – in a job lot with the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Fourth Symphony and Fidelio, but the deal fell through and the quartets were first published in Vienna by the Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie and in London by Clementi. 

While the first of the Rasumovsky Quartets is unusually expansive, the second is more concentrated. From the opening two-chord gesture establishing E minor as the home key, the first movement is tense and full of rhythmic ambiguity. The hymn-like slow movement has a combination of richness and apparent simplicity that blossoms into a kind of ecstatic aria: Beethoven himself is reported to have likened it to “a meditative contemplation of the stars”. The uneasy rhythms of the Scherzo are contrasted by a major-key Trio section in which Beethoven quotes a Russian tune that famously reappeared in the Coronation Scene of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. The finale begins with a surprise: a strong emphasis on the note C that is tantalising and unexpected in a movement that moves firmly towards E minor.  

© Nigel Simeone 

“The entire concert radiated note-perfect brightness.”

Now Then magazine

WRACKLINE ALBUM TOUR

Fay Hield & Guests

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 31 March 2023, 8.00pm

£21
£14 DLA, UC & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Doors open 7.30pm
Concert starts 8.00pm

Past Event

Back on stage, after a couple of years pursuing other musical projects, award-winning folk artist, Fay Hield teams up once more with Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and Ben Nicholls to tour her new album, Wrackline. 

Exploring ideas of the space between, Wrackline looks to ghosts, fairies, spirits and talking animals to understand what it is about the unknown that entrances us. Working with traditional materials and ideas, Fay explores the feelings they evoke and how they relate to her experience in the contemporary world. Universal ideas of death, love and motherhood echo through time and space.  

Shifting between lighthearted and darker sides of the human psyche, Fay breathes life and meaning into old stories presenting them with a fresh twist and consummate musicianship from her guests, including fiddle, concertina, guitar, banjo and double bass.   

Expect to be enveloped in music, woven through magical stories and teased into thinking about your relationship with the world around you. 

Pre-concert event, 6.15pm – 7.15pm
FREE
Observe Fay and guests as they create a brand-new folk arrangement for performance later in the evening. (Please request ticket when booking for the 8pm concert) 

 

“A stunning and complete work of art, performed with Hield’s distinctive magic.”

Folk Radio UK Wrackline review

PIERROT LUNAIRE & MORE

Ensemble 360 & Claire Booth

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 1 April 2023, 7.00pm

£21
£14 DLA, UC & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

 

 

Save £s when you book for 5 concerts or more at the same time 

Past Event

GRIME Seven Pierrot Miniatures (12’)
BRAHMS Clarinet Trio (25’)
SCHOENBERG Pierrot lunaire (40’) 

One of Arnold Schoenberg’s most celebrated works, Pierrot lunaire is a masterpiece of ground-breaking melodrama. The music, written for five instrumentalists and a reciter of Sprechstimme or ‘spoken-singing’, features poetry by Albert Giraud that explores an obsession with the wonders of moonlight.  

Helen Grime, who curated the 2022 Sheffield Chamber Music Festival, took the same poems by Giraud as the starting point for her own brilliantly eccentric miniatures, while Brahms’s soul-searching trio is a sublime and celebratory work. 

When Ensemble 360 performs Pierrot Lunaire, they’ll be joined by star soprano Claire Booth, whose many dramatic interpretations of Pierrot over the years have been lavished with praise. She’s become the go-to singer to take on this astonishing role, with her perfect understanding of the complex and ever-changing character of Pierrot’s obsession with the beauty of the moon. After a recent performance, The Guardian’s critic Andrew Clements was stunned by Claire’s ability to tread the line between cabaret and nightmarish extremes, but with her caricature staying just “on the right side of winsomeness”.

If Claire and the Ensemble’s performance will be your first experience of Pierrot Lunaire, then be prepared for a truly unforgettable evening.

 

BRAHMS Johannes, Clarinet Trio in A minor Op.114

Allegro  
Adagio  
Andantino grazioso – Trio 
Allegro  
 

When Brahms first heard the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, he had not written any chamber music involving the clarinet. But after a meeting in March 1891 he was inspired – following more than a year of creative silence – to write two major works for his new-found muse. On 24 November 1891, Mühlfeld, the Joachim Quartet and Brahms himself played both the Trio and the Clarinet Quintet at a private concert for the Duke of Meiningen. The first public performances followed on 12 December 1891, in the Berlin Singakademie. For the Trio Mühlfeld was again joined by the cellist Robert Hausmann and Brahms. 

 

The four movements of the Trio are concise and clear in design, without quite the mystery or the rapturous spirit that pervades the Quintet. However, the writing for the three instruments is unusually closely integrated, intertwined even – prompting Brahms’s friend Eusebius Mandyczewski to write in a letter to the composer that ‘it was as if the instruments were in love with one another.’ Brahms’s technical prowess can also be seen at its most ingenious: the second theme of the first movement is introduced as a canon in inversion, a procedure that can also be found in Haydn, and perhaps this was a nod from Brahms to one of the composers of the past he most admired. As well as the Trio and Quintet, Brahms went on to write the two Clarinet Sonatas Op.120 for Mühlfeld – all late masterpieces inspired by this great clarinettist.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

SCHOENBERG Arnold, Pierrot Lunaire

  1. Mondestrunken (Drunk with Moonlight)
  2. Columbine
  3. Der Dandy
  4. Eine blasse Wäscherin
  5. Valse de Chopin
  6. Madonna
  7. Der kranke Mond (The sick moon)
  8. Nacht. Passacaglia (Night)
  9. Gebet an Pierrot (Prayer to Pierrot)
  10. Raub (Theft)
  11. Rote Messe (Red Mass)
    12. Galgenlied (Gallows Song)
  12. Enthauptung (Beheading)
  13. Die Kreuze (The Crosses)
  14. Heimweh (Homesickness)
  15. Gemeinheit! (Foul play!)
  16. Parodie
  17. Der Mondfleck (The Moon spot
  18. Serenade
  19. Heimfahrt (Journey home)
  20. O alter Duft (O ancient fragrance)

The first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris in May 1913 may have provoked the most famous riot in musical history, but it wasn’t the only one. A few months earlier in Berlin on 16 October 1912, some members of the audience at the premiere of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire were enraged by what they heard. When Albertine Zehme – the actress who had commissioned the work from Schoenberg – appeared on the platform in a Pierrot costume, she was, according to one eyewitness ‘greeted by an ominous murmur from the audience. One could not help admiring her courage, as she went on from poem to poem, disregarding the hissing, booing and insults shouted at her and Schoenberg. There were also fanatical ovations from the younger generation, but the majority were outraged. A well-known virtuoso, his face purple with rage, shouted: “Shoot him. Shoot him,” meaning Schoenberg, not the poor undaunted Pierrot.’ 

What was it that caused such rage? While Schoenberg’s use of Sprechgesang (speech-song) was not new (both Schoenberg and Humperdinck had used it before), its other-worldly effect in Pierrot lunaire is something that must have been disconcerting. So, too, was the sense of disorientation (and unpredictability) of Schoenberg’s music. To listeners in 1912 it’s easy to see how this might have seemed downright peculiar, but to audiences today, Pierrot lunaire is a work of eerie beauty. 

© Nigel Simeone 

“Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire belongs alongside Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and a few other modernist masterpieces as one of the truly groundbreaking scores of the early 20th century”

The Guardian

SCHUBERT & RACHMANINOV

Steven Osborne

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 10 March 2023, 7.00pm

£21
£14 DLA, UC or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

***POSTPONED***

Past Event

***

Tonight’s concert in Sheffield with Steven Osborne has been postponed. Please bear with us while we make the arrangements for a new date. Tickets will be automatically transferred and box office will be in touch with ticket holders. Thanks for your patience, and sorry for any disappointment.

***

BEETHOVEN Bagatelle in A Op.33 No.4 (3’)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No.20 in A D959 (40’)
RACHMANINOV Preludes Op.23 & Op. 32 (selection) (10’)
RACHMANINOV Études Tableaux (selection) (10’)
RACHMANINOV Sonata No.2 in B flat minor (24’) 

Steven Osborne is one of the world’s most sought-after pianists, whose extraordinary musical depth has seen him in huge demand both on stage and in the recording studio, so it’s wonderful to welcome him back to Sheffield for what is sure to be a spectacular evening.  

Steven will open with Beethoven at his most perfectly simple, before the poignant beauty of music by Schubert, with a work he composed near the end of his life. Finally, the evening is completed with three breathtaking examples of pulse-racing works for piano by Rachmaninov. 

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Bagatelle in A Op.33 No.4

Beethoven’s Bagatelles,Op.33, were first published in 1803 and they serve as a wonderful demonstration of his mastery of small forms. The A major Bagatelle, the fourth of the set, is a quiet, tender piece, its mood of calm entirely unruffled by drama. Though eminently Beethovenian in terms of its musical language, the serene feeling of this Bagatelle certainly seems to point the way forward to some of the music Schubert was to write more than two decades later.  

 

Nigel Simeone

SCHUBERT Franz, Piano Sonata No.20 in A D959

In May 1838, the Viennese firm of Diabelli published Schubert’s last three piano sonatas. Schubert had originally intended to dedicate this trilogy of sonatas to the pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, but by the time they appeared in print Hummel, too, was dead and the publisher dedicated them instead to Robert Schumann, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of Schubert’s music. Schumann’s love of Schubert’s music had begun as a very private passion, as he wrote when reviewing the newly-published sonatas: ‘Time was when I spoke of Schubert reluctantly, and then only at night to the trees and the stars.’ In turn, Schumann’s great protégé Brahms wrote to his friend Adolf Schubring about Schubert, in words that could almost be a description of parts of Schubert’s A major Sonata in this concert: ‘Where else is there a genius like his, which soars with such boldness and certainty to the heavens, where we see the very greatest enthroned? He impresses me as a child of the gods who plays with Jove’s thunder and occasionally handles it in an unusual manner. But he plays in a region and a height which others cannot hope to attain.’ 

Composed in September 1828, two months before Schubert’s premature death, the A major Sonata opens with a noble first subject, soon contrasted with delicate triplets. Some typically adventurous harmonic excursions eventually arrive at the serene second subject. All this material is worked out in a spacious, unhurried sonata-form. The main theme of the slow movement (in F sharp minor) suggests a kind of cradle song, interrupted by a highly charged central passage full of dissonance and drama (pianist Alfred Brendel characterised it as ‘unease and horror’). The Schubert scholar Brian Newbould has written that in the delectable Scherzo, Schubert ‘uses the piano as percussionist and songster by turns’, while the finale combines elements of sonata form and rondo to create a sublime movement anchored by a gentle song-like main theme. 

 

Nigel Simeone 

RACHMANINOV Sergei, Preludes Op.23 & Op.32

One of the greatest pianists of his age, Rachmaninov’s own compositions for solo piano ranged from shorter works including sets of Preludes and Études-tableaux, to much more grandly-conceived pieces, notable among them his two piano sonatas. The Preludes (Op.23 and 32) were composed between 1901 and 1910. Unlike Chopin’s Préludes, Rachmaninov’s two sets were not conceived as a whole, but even though it wasn’t his initial plan, Rachmaninov eventually mirrored Chopin (and Bach before him) by composing one prelude in each of the twenty-four keys.

 

Nigel Simeone

RACHMANINOV Sergei, Études Tableaux

Rachmaninov’s conception of the form is more expansive than Chopin’s, with some preludes amounting to miniature tone-poems, but this tendency became more explicit in the two sets of Études-tableaux (Op.33 and 39), composed between 1911 and 1917. Reviewing an early performance, one Russian critic noted the stylistic evolution that can be detected in these works: ‘In the Études, Rachmaninov appears in a new light. The soft lyricist begins to employ more severe, concentrated and deepened modes of expression.’  

 

Nigel Simeone

RACHMANINOV Sergei, Sonata No.2 in B flat minor

Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor was composed between January and August 1913, written simultaneously with his choral masterpiece The Bells. It was first published the following year but Rachmaninov was never entirely happy with the results and he made an extensive revision of the sonata in 1931, claiming that the original version was ‘too long’. Always ferociously self-critical, Rachmaninov’s 1931 revision has often been considered to be too drastic and pianists from Horowitz (with Rachmaninov’s blessing) to Steven Osborne in our own day have made performing editions which combine the best of both versions. The first movement, marked Allegro agitato, opens with a dramatic descent into despair, though this is by no means the only mood: one of the contrasting ideas is richly lyrical and the recapitulation is heralded by a glorious pealing of bells. The slow movement is a lilting intermezzo (with a more intense central section), while the Allegro molto finale brings the work to a thrilling and powerful close. The movements are played without a break and they are unified by thematic references which recur throughout the work.  

 Nigel Simeone

“A masterclass in the true beauty of pianism, delivered with an intelligent and instinctive musicality.”

The Scotsman

BOHEMIAN QUARTETS

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 18 November 2022, 7.00pm

£20 
£14 Disabled / UC and PIP recipients
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event
String players of Ensemble 360

SUK Meditation on an Old Czech Chorale (7’)
SMETANA String Quartet No.1 From My Life (31’)
Arr. BURLEIGH  (adapted for string quartet by Jeremy Birchall)
   I’ve been in the storm
Oh Lord, what a morning
(7′)
DVOŘÁK String Quartet No.12 American Quartet (26’) 

Opening with Suk’s Meditation on the Chorale St Wenceslas and including the African-American composer Burleigh’s quartet settings of I’ve been in the storm and Oh Lord, what a morning, this sumptuous evening of music concludes with Dvořák’s most famous quartet.  

This turbulent and thrilling selection of music tracks the relationship between nineteenth century quartet writing in eastern Europe and the musical conversations that played a decisive role in the evolution of chamber music.  

SMETANA Bedřich, String Quartet No.1 in E minor ‘From my Life’

Allegro vivo appassionato
Allegro moderato à la Polka
Largo sostenuto
Vivace

In 1874 Smetana fell ill with an infection that led within months to total deafness. For peace and quiet he moved to the village of Jabkenice in Central Bohemia, and it was here that he produced this overtly autobiographical quartet in 1876. Smetana supplied his own commentary on the work. It opens with ‘the call of fate (the main motif, first heard on the viola) into the struggle of life. The love of art in my youth; inclination towards romanticism in music as well as in love and life in general; a warning about my future misfortune – that fateful ringing of the highest tones in my ears which told me of my coming deafness.’

The second movement (à la Polka) brings back, according to Smetana, ‘memories of the merry time of my youth’, while the third ‘reminds me of the beauty of my first love for the girl who later became my faithful wife. The struggle with unhappy fate, the final achievement of my goal.’ For the fourth movement Smetana wanted to depict: ‘the recognition of a national awareness of our beautiful art, the pleasure derived from it and the happiness of success along the way until a terrible-sounding high tone starts ringing in my ear (in the quartet a high E) … as a warning of my cruel fate.’

The first performance took place in Prague on 29 March 1879. During his last years, Smetana’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. Early in 1884 he was moved to an asylum in Prague where he died a few months later.

© Nigel Simeone 2015

BURLEIGH Henry Thacker, I’ve been in the storm & Oh Lord, what a morning

Henry (Harry) Burleigh was born in Pennsylvania in 1866 – his grandfather had been emancipated from slavery in the 1830s and his father fought for the Union Navy during the American Civil War. As a child, Burleigh’s grandfather taught him the melodies that were commonly sung by enslaved African-Americans. In his teenage years he developed into a fine classical singer, making regular solo appearances at churches and synagogues.

At the age of 26 he moved to New York to study at the National Conservatory of Music, which coincided with the arrival of the Conservatory’s new director, Antonín Dvořák, who’d been brought to America with the specific role of laying the foundations of an authentic national musical style. Dvořák was thrilled by Burleigh’s voice, and there’s some evidence to suggest that it was Burleigh who introduced certain melodies to Dvořák which would find their way into the ‘New World’ Symphony and ‘American’ String Quartet.

Burleigh’s long career was centred around performing and publishing his arrangements, helping to popularise Swing Low, Deep River and Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. He died at the age of 82 and his body is interred in Erie, the town where he was born and which celebrates his music and wider legacy with a week-long annual festival.

© Tom McKinney

DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quartet in F Op.96 The American Quartet

Allegro ma non troppo
Lento
Molto vivace
Finale. Vivace ma non troppo

Dvořák was teaching in New York in 1893, and for his summer holiday he travelled over a thousand miles westwards, to the village of Spillville in Iowa, set in the valley of the Turkey River. It had been colonized by Czechs in the 1850s and in these congenial surroundings Dvořák quickly wrote the String Quartet in F major. On the last page of the manuscript draft, he wrote: ‘Finished on 10 June 1893, Spillville. I’m satisfied. Thanks be to God. It went quickly.’

Coming immediately after the ‘New World’ Symphony (which was to have its triumphant première in New York later in the year), the quartet has a mood that suggests something of his contentment in Spillville. Dvořák’s assistant Josef Kovařík recalled the composer’s routine: walks, composing, playing the organ for Mass and talking to locals, observing that he ‘scarcely ever talked about music and I think that was one of the reasons why he felt so happy there.’

Just how ‘American’ is the quartet? While remaining completely true to himself, Dvořák admitted that ‘as for my … F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville) – I should never have written these works the way I did if I hadn’t seen America’. The first performance was given in Boston on New Year’s Day 1894 by the Kneisel Quartet.

© Nigel Simeone

THE LARK ASCENDING

Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 4 November 2022, 7.00pm

£20 
£14 Disabled / UC and PIP recipients
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Past Event
Five classical musicians from Ensemble 360 pose together, seated and smiling. They are our resident musicians in Sheffield and nationally.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS The Lark Ascending (15’)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Concerto for Oboe and Strings (19’)
RAVEL Sonatine for piano (12’)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Piano Quintet in C minor (30’) 

Celebrating the 150th birthday of the celebrated composer who embodies the sound of English music. The evening opens with Vaughan Williams’ most famous work, The Lark Ascending, recently voted No.1 in the Classic FM Hall of Fame for a record 12th time, in its original version for piano and violin. This is followed by his Concerto for Oboe and Strings, the compact Sonatine by the composer’s friend and mentor Maurice Ravel, and the evening concludes with his expansive Quintet. 

***Tickets for this event have now sold out. Please check with box office for returns.****

Tickets are still available for the same concert at Cast in Doncaster on Saturday 5 November at 7.00pm. Book here. 

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

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

RAVEL Maurice, Sonatine

Modéré
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Animé

Ravel composed his Sonatine in 1903–5, just after finishing the String Quartet and the song-cycle Shéhérazade. After several fruitless attempts to win the Prix de Rome, Ravel finally decided that he should pursue his own musical path, and the Sonatine was one of the first results – a work of great refinement, on a much smaller scale than the piano cycle Miroirs that he worked on at the same time.

Ravel’s title evokes something of the elegance of the Classical period, though from the very start it is obvious that Ravel is not attempting any kind of pastiche. Even so, the first movement is in a clearly defined sonata form. The opening presents a singing theme in octaves with a shimmering accompaniment in the inner parts. The second theme is gentler, supported by typically luminous harmonies. The Minuet is a graceful dance, and the finale is driven by the almost omnipresent rapid notes heard at the start of the movement. There are moments of repose, but the movement surges to a flamboyant conclusion.

Ravel dedicated the Sonatine to his friends Ida and Cipa Godebski. The premiere was given in Lyon on 10 March 1906 by Mme Paule de Lestaing, and first performed in Paris on 31 March 1906, by Gabriel Grovlez.

© Nigel Simeone

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

Allegro con fuoco
Andante
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