Intro: Carol of The Skiddaw Yowes, Gurney
This is Classical Break, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was written by Mike Burrows and takes winter as it’s theme.
We have just heard a song by Ivor Gurney, whose benign shade wanders often into the mind. The Carol of The Skiddaw Yowes sets a poem by Ernest Casson. It is a song for contemporary shepherds watching their sheep.
Now, a setting of a sonnet of Edmund Spenser made by Edmund Rubbra. It comes from his set of Five Spenser Sonnets for Tenor and String Orchestra, a work of his mid-thirties, first performed in 1935. After the first performance, he amplified the original string quartet accompaniment, very likely as the textures of the string parts are often strongly contrapuntal and played on only four instruments may not bear the weight; of course, to thicken the lines may overpower the soloist’s contribution. The sonnet’s compact structure of fourteen lines, balanced phrases and poised rhythms, comparatively long lines and an argument developed tautly within strict metre and rhymes, is not easy to set - its form being a single verse, frequently stating abstract propositions in a manner that does not imply any melody other than its own. In the case of New Year Forth Looking Out Of Janus’ Gate, the tenor sings above a fugue; the quiet climax brings voice and instruments together in a broadened statement before the stalky opening subject, a tempo primo, ends the piece abruptly.
Track Two: Five Spenser Sonnets for Tenor and String Orchestra Rubbra
Tchaikovsky’s twelve piano pieces, The Seasons, were written month by month for the journal Nuvellist. They were intended for readers to play, they were written to deadlines, work on them being often prompted by Tchaikovsky’s valet. It was fortunate for us that Alexei remembered. Small-scale and unambitious as they are in form, The Seasons are anything but ephemeral as music. Each was headed by a quotation from Russian poetry. January (At The Fireside) is headed by words from Pushkin: “A little corner of peaceful bliss, the night dressed in twilight; the little fire is dying in the fire-place, and the candle has burned out...” There you have it, two of Russia’s more sophisticated artists of the 19th Century: but the piece is a miniaturization of much that is best in Tchaikovsky, the song, the thought-provoking forays into rhythmical contrast and overall charmingly sensitive affect conveyed with notable melodic and harmonic skill, all this in a form of simple alternation.
Track Three: January (At The Fireside), Tchaikovsky
Schubert’s Winterreise, composed only two years before his death, frightened his friends. One can imagine that Schubert stared for too for long into its icy regions for their comfort: how far their friend could travel by staring into the flame of a candle and thinking... A twenty-four song-cycle setting poems of Muller, it tells the story of a journey into cold and nightmare, snows and madness, undertaken by a disappointed lover. Here are three contrasting songs from the cycle, No 11, Frühlingstraum, No 18, Stürmische Morgen and No 20, Der Wegweiser - Dream of Spring, Stormy Morning and The Signpost. Spring is the hope of salvation; storms and cold are too much to the lover’s mood; the lover has his path; it is shown him by the sign-post; the beloved did not have to make this journey - she has a home. The wanderer’s journey is far from over.
Track Four, Five, Six: Winterreise - Fruhlingstraum and Sturmische Morgen, Der Wegweiser, Schubert
When news broke that Schubert had died, the eighteen year-old Schumann was heard to sob nightlong. Here is the Slow Movement of Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D Minor. This arioso is possibly Schumann’s most beautiful concertante creation. The entire concerto was written and scored within a few days in the October of 1853 and during a spate of inspiration. It was his last major work and was composed for the young Hungarian violinist, Josef Joachim, who with the twenty-year-old Brahms had done much to brighten what was a difficult time in his professional career. In the event, the concerto was suppressed by Schumann’s musical executors, his pianist-wife, Clara, Joachim and Brahms after a private run-through with an orchestra, two years after the composer’s death. Nearly eighty years later, during a seance, a spirit contacted another Hungarian violinist, Jelly D’Aranhji, and the objections of Schumann’s last remaining daughter, Eugenie, merely delayed performance and publication of the concerto a short time, which took place after Eugenie’s death, in 1938. We hope to devote space to the entire work and the fascinating story surrounding it, in a future programme. Marked Langsam -Slow - and beginning on cellos, the slow movement treats an introduction and violin solo melody to ornamentation and development in ternary form; near the close, the violin sings its melody a third lower and in the minor. Filled with baroque touches, canons, imitations, appogiatura and trills, this is music instinct with the skills of old music made anew, and with all the dignity of the old. The movement as a whole expresses a depth of sadness unusual in Schumann, and yet the sheer, full-hearted purity of means and ends and beautiful sense of form one finds in it confers on it an air of wisdom innocent of self-pity. It seems to sing over the cradle of the vanity of human wishes. Schumann loved his children, six of whom he watched grow: here, it is as if we watch a dear child at the window, its dark eyes hypnotized by the twisting fall of snow-flakes, the fall that seems to rise. We feel the sadness of how much young promise must learn by suffering through a too-short life. This is not to sentimentalize either Schumann’s fascination by the baroque, or his own winter thoughts. “Work,” he had written to himself some time earlier, “while there is still light...” .
Track Seven: Violin Concerto, 11 Langsam, Schumann
The four North Country Sketches were the Bradford-born Frederick Delius’ tribute to his home county, Yorkshire. Most of his life was spent in France with periods when he was resident in Florida, Germany and Norway, but in 1913-14, he wrote an orchestral suite depicting the Yorkshire countryside that he had loved and explored as a boy. Frederick. or Fred, Delius came of German stock, and was named Fritz. As a man he had a curious accent, but at the bottom of a weakness for French idioms and beyond fencing of slightly German gutterals softened by the Norwegian of his wife, one encountered the tell-tale flat vowels of his county of origin. His view of the moors in Winter, Winter Landscape, has the characteristic breadth and light and shade of all his pictures in music, but the violins, violas and woodwind bring an edge, the higher-pitched instruments at first chiming in coldness, the horns subdued, flute and oboe and clarinet only gradually becoming the hope of warmth. The chromaticism of the harmony and rocking ostinati beloved of this composer are restricted and end unresolved, as though keen perceptions of Winter have no contrivable end in themselves, and simply fade out as the focus of one’s gaze is claimed elsewhere...
Track Eight: North Country Sketches, Winter Landscape, Delius
Now, a Branles de la Torche from Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore or book of dances, of 1612. Torch--dances were a favourite courtly spectacle at this time, torches borne aloft throughout. What a symbol for defiance of harsher winters than we know now!
Track Nine: Bransles de la Torche, Praetorius,
The American composer, Bernard Herrmann, wrote many fine film-scores: but also a number of equally striking concert-works, where his colouristic imagination was given full play. Here is his glistening evocation of February, from the song-cycle, Fantasticks, to words by the Elizabethan poet, Nicholas Breton.
Track Ten: February, Fantasticks, Herrmann
Another traditional song: As It Fell Out Upon One Day, otherwise known As Dives and Lazarus. In this,
The miserly contempt of the rich man for the presumably undeserving poor man brings its own reward...
Track Eleven: As It Fell Out Upon One Day, Trad
To Bernard Herrmann the film composer.
Let’s hear his Sleigh-Ride, written for the film The Devil and Daniel Webster, in which a Midford farmer sells his soul to the devil (Scratch) for Hessian gold. The Scots song on which the cue is based is one thing; the prominence of the tritone - the devil’s interval in music - in the harmonies quite another, seeming to be telling us where the enriched Jabez Stone is ultimately headed...
Track Twelve: Sleigh-Ride, Herrmann
“Great God, this is an awful place!”
If one wants to take on Winter and win, it’s best not to take on the Antarctic Autumn and Winter - perhaps the coldest recorded Antarctic Winter - whilst hauling a sledge with four other men, all of whom are starving.
To end, here’s a suite of cues from Vaughan Williams’ music for Scott of The Antarctic, an Ealing film about Captain Scott’s illfated bid for for ‘prority’ at the South Pole in 1911-12. Captain Scott, Doctor Edward Wilson, Captain Laurence Oates, Lieutenant Henry Bowers, and Petty Officer Edgar Evans reached the Pole a month late, on January the Seventeenth, and perished from cold and scurvy on the return journey.
Vaughan Williams’ orchestral mastery may do as much as Scott’s own journals and the sketches of his comrade, Bill Wilson, not to mention Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey In The World, or the photography of the Terra Nova expedition – the artistry of Herbert Ponting and Scott himself - to perpetuate the memory of five extraordinary men. It is music of human endeavour and the inhumanity of the elements. Every stroke of harmony and colour - including tuned and untuned percussion and, notably, soprano voices like banshees, furies or fates in detachment - strikes home. The antics of penguins and moments of expedition-comradeliness, of course, permit warm humour in contrast to the dazzle or sunless glare of snow and ice as damp goes to one’s bones...
The cues are entitled: Prologue, Pony March, Penguins, Climbing The Glacier, The Return, Blizzard and Final Music.
This is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was researched and written by Mike Burrows. We hope that you enjoyed it and will join us again soon. Goodbye!
Tracks Thirteen - Nineteen: Scott of The Antarctic, Vaughan-Williams