Programme notes

 

Hebrides Ensemble  – 100/350/100 Concert
Live Stream from Perth Concert Hall, Monday 7 May, 1pm

Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp During World War I, Debussy conceived the idea of composing six sonatas of various instrumental combinations as an expression of his intense patriotic feeling and as a contribution to the war effort. “I want to work,” he wrote to his publisher, “not so much for myself but to give proof, no matter how small, that if there were 30 million Boches, they would not be able to destroy French thought, even though they tried to degrade it before annihilating it.” However, he was fatally ill with cancer, and he died after completing only three of the six works.

His intent in the sonatas was to blend his language of musical impressionism with a return to the classical French forms and idioms of the 17th and 18th centuries. The second sonata was initially planned for flute, oboe and harp, but Debussy substituted a viola for the oboe to tinge the work with melancholy. “It is terribly sad,” he wrote, “and I do not know whether one ought to laugh or cry at it. Perhaps both.”

The impressionistic elements are readily apparent in the unusual instrumentation, the exotic harmonies and Debussy’s preference for melodic fragments rather than hummable themes. The classical French influences are harder to pin down – the use of arabesques and other ornamentation, the casting of the second movement in minuet tempo, and a pervasive sense of clarity, restraint and balance.

To a point, the first movement, “Pastorale,” is cast in sonata form. There is a slow-moving exposition with a first theme consisting of a series of related phrases and a second theme in the dominant key. Instead of a formal development, however, there is a faster, more rhythmic middle section. The exposition is restated, but with the themes reversed so that the movement closes with an expansion of the opening phrase.

The main section of the second movement, “Interlude,” is marked tempi di minuetto, but the rhythm is too ambiguous for a true dance movement. The middle section is in 4/4 time and is followed by brief returns of both sections.

The “Finale” is similar to the first movement in design but is more spirited. The work closes with a brief recollection of the “Pastorale” and a brilliant coda.

© Will Hertz

 

Commissioned by Hebrides Ensemble
Les Barricades Mystérieuses
for Chamber Ensemble
by Jay Capperauld

Written in celebration of its 300th anniversary, this piece takes direct inspiration from François Couperin’s 1717 work for Harpsichord Les Barricades Mystérieuses. This new piece, intended as an arrangement, acts as a re-imagining of Couperin’s work by taking a literal interpretation of the ideas of mystery and barricades in a musical context. These ideas are explored in an attempt to compromise Couperin’s original material by creating musical obstacles that bewilder and, occasionally, block the flow of the music to a point where Couperin’s original work is lost in a haze of its own conceptualisation.

Despite this work’s attempt to truly mystify Couperin’s piece, certain aspects of his original composition are retained in homage by envisaging its compositional techniques in a new context. In particular, Couperin’s intended “Style brisé” (defined as a broken style in which irregular arpeggios create an inter-woven texture) is developed rhythmically to an extreme in which this “broken style” divides the performers into independent tempos, meaning that instead of playing the individual pitches of a three or four note chord in an irregular pattern, a
conceptualised metaphysical broken chord is created through a tapestry of fragmented melodies composed using Couperin’s original work. Similar conceptualised techniques aid this new work’s cryptic deviation from the original; however, at the heart of both works is a desire to mystify along with the awareness that, although both pieces are perplexing in their
own ways, they are being mysterious on purpose. 

Jay Capperauld

 

Bernstein: Meditation 1 from 3 Meditations from Mass

Bernstein’s MASS (A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers) was composed at the request of President Kennedy’s widow for the inauguration of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on September 8, 1971. The first Two Meditations were later arranged by the composer for cello and piano, and they have been widely performed by Mstislav Rostropovich. In MASS itself these two Meditations are used as instrumental interludes: the first (Lento assai, molto sostenuto) between the “Confession” and the “Gloria,” and the second between the “Gloria” and the “Epistle.” This second Meditation is a set of four variations with a coda, based on an eleven-note sequence from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, leading to the great outburstof “Brüder!” (“Brothers!”). The “Epistle” which follows is based on the more ancient outburst of St. Paul to his Christian brothers. The third Meditation is derived from various parts of MASS: the “Epiphany,” a kind of solo fantasia; “In Nomine Patris,” a trance-like dance; and the Chorale “Almighty Father.” Although some of these sections are widely separated in MASS, there is an underlying thematic unity, particularly between the Dance and the Chorale. (The Third Meditationwas also arranged by the composer for cello and piano.)

The premiere of the work in its orchestral form also took place at the Kennedy Center on October 11, 1977, the composer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra, with Mr.Rostropovich as the soloist.

© Jack Gottlieb
 

Nocturne & Masquerade

In writing a piece to commemorate the centenary of Debussy’s death I decided to explore a topic to which the great French composer was himself drawn on various occasions:commedia dell’arte (a form of masked and largely-improvised theatre that originated in Italy in the sixteenth century). Whilst Debussy’s view of the subject was through the decidedly French prism of Paul Verlaine’s poetry and the paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau, the starting point for my own piece, Nocturne & Masquerade was a series of frescoes by the Italian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo, in which rustic scenes are populated by multiple Pulcinella, rather than by people.

Inspired by the title of one such fresco, Pulcinella innamorato (Pulcinella in love), the first movement of my piece, Nocturne with bells imagines a fantastical, commedia-esque night in which the ringing of bells frames a melancholy serenade, and the strumming of guitars and a mandolin hang in the air.

In the second, more playful movement Masquerade, contrasting musical characters – some
dance-like, others virtuosic – jostle for position in a series of quirky episodes. Many of the musical ideas in this movement share the same falling-then- rising contour and this is a response to Tiepolo’s fresco L’altalena dei Pulcinella in which several masked figures await their turn on a swing.

Nocturne & Masquerade is a musical cryptogram in that the notes upon which the piece isbased are drawn from the letters of Debussy’s name. Debussy used the same approach in his piano work, Hommage à Haydn, which was written to commemorate the centenary of Haydn’s death and so it seemed fiting that I should employ this technique in my own tribute.

Peter Longworth

 

Bernstein Piano Trio

Leonard Bernstein was a multi-dimensional force of nature in the world of American music
as a conductor, composer, educator, pianist and media figure straddling the worlds of popular and classical music from Broadway to Carnegie Hall. He was one of the first American conductors to achieve international fame as well as the first non-European to become director of the New York Philharmonic. One important legacy of Bernstein’s conducting career was his promotion of Mahler with two complete recorded symphony cycles largely responsible for establishing Mahler’s contemporary reputation. Bernstein’s legendary televised ‘Young People’s Concerts’  introduced an entire generation to music appreciation. Bernstein as a composer will most likely be remembered for his dramatic theatrical works such as On the Town, Candide and West Side Story, but his serious classical compositions include incidental and ballet music, three symphonies, a concertante serenade and chamber music.

Bernstein’s first published work was the sonata for clarinet and piano from 1942. But several years earlier in 1937, a 19-year- old Bernstein attending Walter Piston’s composition class at Harvard composed what some have called his true ‘Opus 1’ a three-movement piano trio eventually published over forty years later in 1979. Though Bernstein categorized it as ‘juvenilia’, it is a compelling work full of confidence, energy and some sophistication if not possibly some foreshadowing of Bernstein’s more mature oeuvre.

The first movement is a rather ambitious (and effective) essay in counterpoint featuring
three different short themes weaving violin, cello and piano into imitative textures propelled by rhythmic drive and sparkling figurations to an exciting climax featuring a formal fugue roughly in the manner of Bach. Some have suggested this was Bernstein proving to his professor he knew how to write a proper fugue after a prior incident of criticism in the
classroom.

The second movement marked ‘Tempo di marcia’ is a jocular set of variations on a tuneful
pizzicato theme with ‘blues’ notes that not only suggests Bernstein’s familiar style but was actually repurposed for ‘On the Town’. The variations are full of scherzando syncopations sounding ‘jazzy’ and ‘American’ on one hand and a bit like the neo-classical hijinks of Prokofiev or Stravinsky on the other.

The finale begins rather neatly with an atmospheric slow introduction reprising the first movement’s fugal theme. The main part of the last movement launches into a modal theme sounding somewhat like an Eastern European folk song with a Gypsy accelerando. The subsequent music shimmers with pulsing rhythmic energy one might associate with American music of time from the likes of Walter Piston or, more famously, Aaron Copland who eventually became Bernstein’s mentor and his primary teacher of composition.

© Kai Christiansen and earsense.org, the chamber music exploratorium