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Sunday 2nd December 2007 7.30pm
Elizabeth de Lacey - Conductor
 
Koussevitsky - Concerto for Double Bass
Meherban Gillett - Double Bass
 
Haydn - Symphony no 49 (La Passione)
 
Beethoven - Mass in C
Nicola Mills - Soprano
Zoe South - Contralto
Nathan Vale - Tenor
John MacKenzie - Baritone
Nicki Heenan © 
Programme Notes
Koussevitsky (1874 - 1951)
Concerto for Double Bass & Orchestra
    Allegro
    Andante
    Allegro
Serge Koussevitsky was born into a humble Jewish family in the town of Vyshny Volochyok, approximately 150 miles from Moscow. Both his mother and father were professional musicians and they taught their young son violin, cello and piano. At the age of fourteen, Serge won a scholarship to study in Moscow. At twenty he was playing double-bass in the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, and at twenty-seven he had risen to principal. He also performed as a virtuoso soloist.
His real aim, however, was to be a conductor and, after marrying a woman of means he moved to Germany with his wife where he studied conducting with Arthur Nikisch, then conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Back in Moscow he founded both his own orchestra and his own publishing company, buying the rights to the works of many young up-and-coming composers including Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Scriabin.
After the 1917 Revolution, the Koussevitskys left Russia permanently, finally settling in America where Serge secured the conductorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He retained this position for twenty-five years, bringing the orchestra up to world-class standard, and at the same playing a major part in the development of the orchestra's summer educational programme at Tanglewood. One of his most notable pupils was Leonard Bernstein. Always ready to champion the works of young composers, he conducted the first performances of many contemporary works including Copland's Appalachian Spring, Scriabin's Prometheus, Poem of Fire and Prokofiev's Second and Fourth Violin Concertos. He also commissioned many new works including Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
After his wife died he set up the Koussevitsky Foundation which funded many important commissions including Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes and Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony.
His composing output was tiny. The Concerto for Double Bass was composed in 1902 when he was 28. It is romantic in style with a hauntingly beautiful slow movement.
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Haydn (1732 - 1809)
Symphony 49 (La Passione)
    Adagio
    Allegro di Molto
    Menuet e Trio
    Presto
Joseph Haydn entered the world on April 1st 1732 - so states his family registry. Haydn himself claimed that the date was in fact March 31st. This was purportedly because 'he did not want people to think that he had come into the world as an April fool.' The fact that a second contemporary source confirms the date as March 31st leads one to believe that Haydn might simply have been enjoying a good joke at his own expense. This would certainly match with what we know of Haydn's mischievous sense of humour.
As a child Haydn had a beautiful singing voice and he was sent to live with his uncle who was a teacher and choirmaster. Aged ten he was picked to become a chorister at the cathedral in Vienna and here he remained until the age of seventeen, when an incident - involving the cutting off of the pigtail of a fellow chorister - resulted in his immediate expulsion.
At the age of twenty-nine Haydn was appointed Kappellmeister to the Esterhazy family - one of the richest and most powerful families in Europe. Haydn provided music for their courts in Vienna, at Eisenstadt and at the palace at Esterhazy, and he remained in their employ for the rest of his life.
Haydn became the most famous composer of his day; both Mozart and Beethoven studied with him. Nowadays he remains in the younger composers' shadows but undeservedly so. Largely self-taught, Haydn never wanted for work and was extraordinarily prolific. During his lifetime he wrote more than 100 symphonies. In fact he is generally credited with being the ÔfatherÕ of both the symphony and the string quartet. His music is full of wit, verve and charm and takes the listener on a journey full of unexpected twists and turns.
The symphony we hear tonight, no 49 in F minor - perhaps Haydn's most personal key - was composed in 1768 and is known as 'La Passione'. It belongs to a time when composers were beginning to express much more personal emotion in their music, a trend which corresponded historically with the literary movement in Germany known as Sturm und Drang or 'storm and stress'. The symphony starts with a reflective slow movement which is recitative-like in style. The second and fourth movements, both fiery in nature, are sandwiched together with a Minuet and Trio. The introduction of a minuet and trio into symphonic form is attributed to Haydn, and became standard practice.
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Beethoven (1770 &;#45 1827)
Mass in C
    Kyrie
    Gloria
    Cavatina from Beethoven String Quartet op 130
    Credo
    Sanctus and Benedictus
    Agnus Dei
The first performance of Beethoven's Mass in C took place at the Bergkirche at Eisenstadt exactly 200 years ago, on September 13, 1807. The first of Beethoven's settings of the Catholic Mass, and somewhat overshadowed by his mighty Missa Solemnis of 1821, the Mass in C was commissioned by Haydn's former employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, in celebration of the name-day of his wife Maria Theresa. In previous years this commission had fallen to Haydn, but Haydn was now old and frail and no longer composing. Beethoven presented his Mass to the Prince with 'considerable apprehension since you are accustomed to have the inimitable masterpieces of the great Haydn performed for you.'
Perhaps as a result both of insufficient rehearsal and of inaccuracies in the hastily prepared scores, the first performance was something of a fiasco and the Prince wrote the music off as 'ridiculous and detestable', adding 'I am not convinced that it can even be taken for a righteous work. I am furious and ashamed.' For Beethoven, however, it was a work that remained close to his heart and he believed that he had 'set the text in a manner in which it has rarely been treated.' Certainly, in terms of sheer drama, the Mass in C was unprecedented in music written for church use.
At this time Vienna was under constant threat from Napoleon's army, being occupied by the French in 1805 and again in 1809. 'We have been suffering misery in a most concentrated form...the whole course of events has in my case affected both body and soul. I cannot yet give myself up to the enjoyment of country life which is so indispensable to me....what a destructive, disorderly life I see and hear around me, nothing but drums, canons, and human misery in every form.' The music from Beethoven's middle period reflects its historical context, and the sounds of 'drums and canons' finds their way even into his religious music. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that the Mass in C was also composed at around the same time as his Fifth Symphony, one of the most dramatic pieces of music of all time.
At the same time Beethoven was struggling to come to terms with the horrific realisation that he was going deaf. His determination to survive, and his desire to create music which would 'strike fire from a man' and, 'like glorious wine, make men drunk with the spirit' are evident in every note of this wonderful and undeservedly neglected work.
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© Elizabeth de Lacey