SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017
Pre-concert conversation 3:00pm
Howard Performing Arts Center, Berrien Springs
Although his compositional output was large and varied, William Alwyn’s concerto for harp and string orchestra, Lyra angelica, has gained most prominence since American figure skater Michelle Kwan utilized its music in her 1998 Winter Olympics routine. SMSO’s very own principal harpist, Rachel Miller, will be featured on this beautiful composition.
Gabrieli, Sonata pian’ e forte
Alwyn, Lyra angelica
Mozart, Serenade #10, “Gran Partita”
SONATA PIAN’ E FORTE GABRIELI
The Sonata Pian’ e Forte (literal translation: Sonata Soft and Loud) was written in 1597 by Giovanni Gabrieli, principal organist of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The title refers to a style of music evolving from the ability to spatially separate choirs (or groups of instruments) within St Mark’s. The resulting music of alternating blocks of sound became enormously influential, and had a leading role in the transition from Renaissance polyphony to the early antiphonal Baroque.
GRAN PARTITA MOZART
Gran Partita K361 is the grandest of three magnificent Serenades for wind instruments written in the early 1780s, when Mozart was at the height of his mature powers. In these works, Mozart transcended the usual norms of the genre, creating an extended masterpiece in place of what had hithertofore been little more than a string of numbers intended as background music. The work’s greatness was immediately recognized, the critic Adolphe Schink writing of the first performance: “I heard music for wind instruments today, by Herr Mozart – glorious and sublime!....At each instrument sat a master – oh, what an effect it made – glorious and grand, excellent and sublime.”
Amongst the “masters” mentioned by Herr Schink was the famous clarinetist Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart later wrote the Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet. It is very possible that another inspiration for the Serenade was the playing of the oboist Friedrich Ramm, with whose playing the composer was familiar from the recent première of Idomeneo.
The work is orchestrated for pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns (a tenor member of the clarinet family), and bassoons, with four French horns and double bass. Inclusion of the basset horns gives the music a special sonority, the ensemble chords acquiring deep richness through the additional tenor voices. The instrumentation allowed many opportunities for the exploration of multiple timbres in the development of solo lines. It was this last feature so memorably captured in Salieri’s fictional discussion of the Serenade in the movie Amadeus.
The work is in seven movements:
Largo, Molto Allegro – a slow introduction followed by a sonata allegro
Menuetto – a minuet with two contrasting trios
Adagio. Andante – this is the slow movement in Eb major that is described in Amadeus
Menuetto. Allegretto – a minuet with two contrasting trios
Romance. Adagio – a second slow movement, in Eb major
Tema con variazioni – a theme and set of six variations, rescored from the second
Movement of the composer’s Flute Quartet in C major
Finale. Molto Allegro – a rondo finale
LYRA ANGELICA (Angel’s Songs) ALWYN
William Alwyn (1905 – 1985) was an English flutist and composer, equally renowned in his day for both art music (symphonies, concerti, sting quartets and operas) and numerous film scores.
He wrote the following introduction to the present work:
“Lyra Angelica was inspired by my intense love of the 17thcentury English metaphysical poets, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, and Thomas Traherne, of whom Giles Fletcher is probably the least known today although his masterpiece, the epic poem Christ’s Victorie and Triumph (1610) was the direct inspiration of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
My concerto for harp and strings is a cycle of four elegiac movements, each illustrating a quotation from Fletcher’s text:
Adagio - ‘I looke for angel’s songs, and hear him crie’
Adagio ma non tropo - ‘Ah! Who was He such pretious perills found?’
Moderato - ‘And yet, how can I let Thee singing goe When men incens’d with hate
Thy death forset?’
Allegro giubiloso – Andante con moto - ‘How can such joy as this want words to Speake?’
In my interpretation of these lines I have tried to capture in musical terms the sensuous imagery and mystical fervor of the poem as a whole.
The concerto is of symphonic proportions but free and harp-sodic in style.”