Welcome to this month’s Discovering Music newsletter!
Discovering Music explores pieces of music in detail, providing a unique insight into the inner workings of a millennium of musical history. Programmes are either built around a featured work or cover a musical topic like melody, harmony or rhythm. The two main presenters are Stephen Johnson and Charles Hazlewood:
THIS MONTH’S PROGRAMMES (OCTOBER 2009)
Programmes are broadcast live on Radio 3 at 5.00 pm on Sundays on 90 - 93 FM on DAB and online.
Malcolm Arnold has gained a posthumous reputation as a composer of light and superficial music. Charles Hazlewood and the BBC Concert Orchestra delve into the world of his 5th Symphony however and discover a surprisingly dark and complex world - a work full of irony, conflict and, above all, anguish.
The programme also looks back at Arnold's views on social music making, featuring archive interviews with the composer.
11 October 2009
Shostakovich Piano Trios Op.8 and Op.67
Stephen Johnson visits Wootton Upper School in Bedfordshire for an exploration of Shostakovich's two very different trios for piano and strings. The first was written in 1923 when the 17-year old composer was a student at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. At that time, Shostakovich often played music to accompany films at a local cinema, and his sister remembers Shostakovich being booed and whistled by the paying audience when he and his friends tried playing the trio along to the movies!
A recording of the slow movement of Shostakovich's second trio was played at the composer's memorial service in 1975. It's a much more mature work than the first trio for piano and strings, full of emotion, but also full of sardonic humour; grotesqueries which act as thinly veiled stabs at the Soviet dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.
It also contains some fascinating Jewish music in the finale - something Shostakovich had been particularly intrigued by in his middle years: "Jewish music has made a most powerful impression on me. I never tire of delighting in it; it is multifaceted, it can appear to be happy when it is tragic. It is almost always laughter through tears".
The programme ends with a complete performance by The Kungsbacka Trio of Shostakovich's Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op.67.
18 October 2009
Britten Cello Symphony
Stephen Johnson visits Glasgow for an exploration of Benjamin Britten's Cello Symphony, including a complete performance of the work by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Takuo Yuasa with soloist Tim Hugh.
It was written in 1963 for the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the premiere a year later, with the Moscow Philharmonic, conducted by the composer.
Rostropovich in 1971
It's full of very dark colours, using the bass sonorities of the orchestral texture, like low strings, bassoons, tuba and bass drum, allowing the cello's tenor register to sing out of the mire. It has a four movement symphonic structure, with the last two movements linked by a solo cello cadenza, which, Stephen Johnson argues, makes the piece more of a symphony than a cello concerto, as the composer suggests in the work's title.
25 October 2009
Mussorgsky arr. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Mussorgsky and Ravel
Following the death of the Russian artist Victor Hartmann in 1873, Modest Mussorgsky attended an exhibition of his close friend's work and was inspired to compose a piano suite depicting some of the paintings, drawings and designs that he had seen. Mussorgsky composed the suite very quickly and it became a potent example of his Russian nationalist sentiments and his desire to capture pictorial ideas realistically in music. The piano suite cried out to be arranged for orchestra, and one who took up the challenge was the Frenchman, Maurice Ravel, who made his remarkable orchestration in 1920. The work has never waned in popularity since.
Charles Hazlewood joins BBC NOW before an audience at the Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, and the pianist Ashley Wass for an examination of both the original and orchestral versions of Pictures. He's joined in his analysis by an authority on Russian music, David Nice.
What exactly were the images that so fired Mussorgsky's imagination and what do they tell us about the personality of this complex and often misunderstood 19th century composer? Why did the composer seek a synthesis of Western and Slavic influences and how has this led to his music being regarded, often unfairly, as rough and awkward? This programme offers listeners an informed vista on the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures.
This month’s Listening Notes below look at the piece in more detail.
THIS IS A SAMPLE ONLY - THESE EVENTS HAVE ALREADY TAKEN PLACE
Monday 5 October 2009 7.00 pm
BBC Hoddinott Hall
Pictures at an Exhibition
BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW)
Charles Hazelwood conductor/presenter
Ashley Wass piano
David Nice writer on Russian music
Wednesday 21 October 2009 7.00 pm
Bach Double Concerto
Vivaldi Double Concerto Op 3 No 8
BBC Hoddinott Hall
Conductor Nicholas Kraemer
Presenter Stephen Johnson
Violin I Alina Ibragimova
Violin II Lesley Hatfield
Wednesday 28 October 2009 7.30pm
Royal Concert Hall
Nottingham Royal Centre
Petri Sakari conductor
Stephen Johnson presenter
Bruckner Symphony No 6
It’s one of the paradoxes of classical music that Anton Bruckner, a humble and self-doubting man, was capable of producing symphonies of such astonishing scale and grandeur. His simple religious faith found its expression in ‘cathedrals of sound,’ music capable of profound stillness and calm but also awesome power.
Bruckner wrote his Sixth Symphony between 1879 and 1881, a pivotal period in his career when he overcame previous disappointments and personal demons to become a celebrated musical visionary. From the hushed intensity of its opening to its blazing finale, the Sixth remains one of the most imaginative and agile of his symphonies in which his gifts for expansive melodies and rich orchestral textures are deployed to spine-tingling effect.
Stephen Johnson is your guide to this great Romantic symphony, exploring its background and musical ideas before a full performance by the BBC Philharmonic.
THIS IS A SAMPLE ONLY -THESE EVENTS HAVE ALREADY TAKEN PLACE
Sunday 1 November 2009 2.00 pm
Glasgow City Halls
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins, Conductor
Stephen Johnson, Presenter in conversation with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies A Reel of Seven Fishermen
This recording is part of the 75th Birthday celebrations in Glasgow for Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. In addition to performances by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Hebrides Ensemble, Scottish Ensemble, and students from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra gives the world premiere of a new work - Overture, St. Francis of Assisi – under Ilan Volkov (29 October), and later a concert performance of his seminal opera Taverner, conducted by Martyn Brabbins (8 November).
The work featured in today’s programme, A Reel of Seven Fishermen, is dedicated to the composer’s adopted home on Orkney.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is an English composer and conductor and is currently Master of the Queen's Music. Universally acknowledged as one of the foremost composers of our time, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has made a significant contribution to musical history through his wide-ranging and prolific output. He lives in the Orkney Islands, where he writes most of his music. In a work list that spans more than five decades, he has written across a broad range of styles, yet his music always communicates directly and powerfully, whether in his profoundly argued symphonic works, his music-theatre works or witty light orchestral works.
THIS IS A SAMPLE ONLY -THESE EVENTS HAVE ALREADY TAKEN PLACE
Each month we’ll be identifying a work or a style of music from one of the programmes and providing informative listening notes that bring out some of the music’s interesting features, focusing on the musical elements of melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, timbre, pitch and structure.
These notes will not necessarily repeat what the presenter says in the programme. They are designed to enhance the listening experience by focusing in more detail on a particular work or genre that is featured in the programme.
The Listening Notes are prepared by John Arkell. The views expressed are his and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC.
Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky orchestrated by Maurice Ravel
View a complete performance of the work, a detailed analysis, and a discussion of the background to the music - visit Discovering Music's online video library.
In Russia during the 1860s, Balakirev gave four other amateur musicians lessons in the craft of composition. Balakirev was by profession a mathematician, Rimsky- Korsakov followed a career as a sailor, Borodin was a chemist and Cui and Mussorgsky had both been soldiers.
The aim of the group was to write Nationalistic music that was essentially Russian in flavour and not influenced by the prevailing taste for Germanic composers. The group became known as ‘The Mighty Handful’ or the ‘Russian Five.’
Modest Mussorgsky came from a well to do family and was the son of a rich Russian landowner. As his grandfather had been in the Imperial Guards, Mussorgsky was sent to a military academy. However, he also studied the piano becoming a brilliant performer and made friends with many Russian musicians including Balakirev. As a result of this, Mussorgsky gave up his military aspirations to pursue a career as a composer. As this occupation was precarious and paid little money, Mussorgsky had to take on a government office job just to make ends meet.
Following the death of his mother, Mussorgsky’s life became marred by bouts of excessive drinking. He lost his government post and died at the relatively young age of 42 in a charity hospital.
His music was often left incomplete and was criticised for being brash and crude. His friend Rimsky-Korsakov was left to complete and orchestrate much of the music and to iron out the many errors and roughness of Mussorgsky’s orchestrations. It seems that Mussorgsky composed on the spur of the moment and was not concerned about achieving perfection in his scores. As Tchaikovsky said of him,
‘As far as talent is concerned, Mussorgsky is the most important of them all, but he never seeks perfection. He is convinced of his own genius and seems proud of his ignorance….But truly his absolutely original talent is shown everywhere in his music. He speaks a new language’.
Pictures at an Exhibition
Following the death in 1873 of Mussorgsky’s friend Victor Hartmann, who had been a famous artist, architect and stage designer, a memorial exhibition was staged showing hundreds of pictures, drawings and sketches. Mussorgsky attended the exhibition and was inspired by what he saw to compose ten solo piano pieces, each describing one of the exhibits in music. This was to be his only large scale piano work and was later orchestrated in the version we commonly hear today by Maurice Ravel. Linking most of the movements is a Promenade (from the French verb promenader meaning to stroll), rather like a prelude designed to take the listener from one picture on to the next. Some paintings were clearly next to each other in the gallery as they lack this musical promenade link!
NOTES ON THE MUSIC:
The music in the opening movement demonstrates the use of the orchestra in sections. A solo trumpet announces a fanfare like figure that is then answered in a call and response style by the brass section of four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba. It is also interesting to note that the theme is in 5/4 time alternating with 6/4 time. This five beat rhythm pattern is a characteristic of Russian folk music .The opening contrasts a solo monophonic texture with full harmony in a homophonic texture.
The regular straight crotchet rhythms of most of the movement provide a solid feel of a stately ‘left- right’ walking motion to carry the listener from one picture to the next
The music depicts a goblin like creature that shuffles along, rather like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings! The repeated scrabbling seven note quaver phrases in octaves heard throughout the music in the lower strings and lower woodwind, suggest the wild movements of the creature. Listen out for some effective percussive effects on the cymbals, rattle and whip! Eerie glissandi (sliding) effects can also be heard on the violins. Trills and slides feature in the music too. The movement ends with a flourish as the Gnome scampers away.
The Old Castle:
The picture here is of a troubadour singing outside a medieval castle. To create this medieval flavour, Mussorgsky uses a drone-like accompaniment and the repeated tonic notes (G sharp) form a tonic pedal underpinning the musical texture. The haunting ‘song’ of the troubadour is played on an alto saxophone. The melody is actually modal and again this helps create a folk like feel to the music.
The Tuileries used to be the gardens of the French Royal Palace. The Palace was later destroyed and these gardens became a fashionable venue for Parisians to enjoy.
The music is a Scherzo and Trio which is ternary form (ABA structure), in which the first section repeats. Mussorgsky writes a fast scherzo in which the music depicts children running around, chatting and playing games. The music features fast semiquaver passages particularly in the flutes and oboes. The middle B section, by contrast, is more reflective and the strings play a refrained melody more akin to the world of adults in conversation or strolling casually through the gardens.
Bydlo (The Ox Cart):
The picture here shows a lumbering peasant driving home his ox-cart after a hard day’s work. The music brings the picture to life by starting very softly yet pesante (heavy) then building to a massive fortissimo (very loud) as more instruments are gradually added to the orchestral texture. The illusion is of the ox-cart approaching the listener, then the music gradually dies away again as the oxcart seems to pass off into the distance again.
The relentless quavers and crotchets from the basses of the orchestra imitate the slow plodding feet of the peasant. These parts are in octaves and when the folk like tune comes in the tuba in bar 1, it creates a homophonic texture. The tuba cleverly depicts the heavy plodding of the weary peasant drawing his ox-cart. As more instruments join in with the tune, the musical texture increases in parts until we have an fff rendition of the folk like melody in octaves by full orchestra over the persistently plodding quaver bass line. As the music quietens down, the solo tuba returns again as at the start of the piece.
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks:
Canary Chicks in their Shells;
a Costume Sketch for Gerber’s Ballet Trilbi
This movement is a Scherzo and Trio (ABA) structure entitled ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ The orchestration is light and delicate with some ‘clucking’ sounds created with the acciaccaturas on the flutes and oboes. There is quite a lot of chromatic writing too which adds a sense of spice to the music. The music is fast and helps to conjure up an image of a ballet scene, in which the chicks are furiously pecking their way out of the shells.
Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle:
A Rich Jew in a Fur Hat
A Poor Jew
The music depicts paintings of two Polish Jews - one rich and one poor, who engage in conversation on a street corner. Samuel Goldenberg’s strong voice is represented by the unison strings and woodwind (at the opening of the movement). In contrast to this, the whining muted trumpets imitate the pleadings of the destitute Schmuÿle.
Limoges – the market
The market place at Limoges is a hive of feverish activity! Housewives quarrel with market traders who are crying out for customers to buy their wares. The music uses lots of quick rhythms – mainly semiquavers and the strings, woodwind and brass can be heard in a musical dialoguing texture. The melodies soar up and down in scalic fashion and the majority of the movement is performed at a loud dynamic level.
Following a change of time signature from 4/4 to 3/4, the music subsides to a piano dynamic before a gradual crescendo as the music reaches fff and demisemiquavers patterns prevail. The music ascends skywards to run abruptly into the low blast of trombones and tuba which herald the murky depths of the music of Catacombs.
Paris Catacombs (including Hartmann, V. Kenel and guide with lantern)
Hartmann’s drawing shows a guide holding up a lamp as the artist and a friend explore the Catacombs beneath the city of Paris.
Skulls – detail
This movement is scored mainly for brass and comprises chordal, almost hymn-like music in a stark homophonic texture.
The Hut on Fowl’s Legs:
Baba-Yaga’s Hut on Hen’s Legs;
Sketch for a Clock in Russian Style
The picture here represented a clock in the form of a cottage belonging to the Russian witch Baba Yaga. Perched on top of the hut were two cockerels’ heads and the whole thing stood on fowls’ legs. The hut could fly away and pursue its prey whenever the witch so desired. The music pictures the witch taking flight and pursuing her victim. The opening pounding rhythms suggest movement of the hut, played in strong octaves. The trumpet fanfare like figure suggests a triumphal war cry as the hut takes off.
The hut loses speed and lands again as the witch continues to stalk her victim (represented in the music by the opening hopping phrases accompanied by sinister sounding trembling woodwind).
Sudden fortissimo chords on violins, celesta, harp and xylophone send the hut off again and a dramatic chord represents the victim being seized by the witch. The music from the first section then returns as the hut takes off and the music goes straight into the final picture:
The Great Gate of Kiev:
Design for Kiev City Gate: Main Façade
Hartmann’s design was to include an elaborate Gate topped with a dome in the shape of a Slavonic helmet. The whole structure was to be made of stone and contain a small church. The Great Gate was to commemorate the escape of Czar Alexander II from an assassination attempt on April 4th, 1866 and was due to be a commission from Kiev City Council. However the gate was never built!
The music combines two Russian melodies. The opening great fortissimo chorale is set in a homophonic texture and contrasts with a pianissimo plainchant like melody which gives the impression of a quasi religious procession. The reprise of the main tune adds tubular bells imitating the bells of Kiev ringing out across the city. The triumphant effect is enhanced by scalic passages on the violins.
Pictures by Victor Hartmann
Canary Chicks in their Shells; a Costume Sketch for Gerber’s Ballet Trilbi: Institute of Russian Literature, Pushkin House, Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg.
A Rich Jew in a Fur Hat: State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow
A Poor Jew: State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow
Paris Catacombs (including Hartman, V. Kenel and guide with lantern): State Russian Museum, St Petersburg.
Baba-Yaga’s Hut on Hen’s Legs; Sketch for a Clock in Russian Style: National Library of Russia
Design for Kiev City Gate: Main Façade: Institute of Russian Literature, Pushkin House, Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg.
LISTENING NOTES ONLINE
Listening Notes which form part of each month’s Discovering Music Newsletter are available in an online archive.
The Notes are intended as a resource for music teachers and students. The archive contains Notes as follows:
Bach Partita No 4
(The Sarabande and Gigue are A Level set texts)
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.