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12th February 06
Concert in Aid of the Senahasa Trust
Elizabeth de Lacey - Conductor
Bruch - Violin Concerto
Emanuel Salvador - Violin
Dvorak - Symphony No. 8
Brahms - Alto Rhapsody
Anna Stephany - Mezzo Soprano
Programme Notes
Max Bruch (1838 - 1920)
Violin Concerto no 1 in G minor
It is a popular misconception that Max Bruch was Jewish. In fact Bruch’s ancestors were staunch Protestants; his grandfather, Christian Gottlieb Bruch became a theologian and eventually a vicar.
The confusion regarding his ancestry may have arisen as an indirect result of one of his best known compositions, the Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, which is an arrangement of the traditional Hebrew melody. For Bruch, melody was the soul of music, and he was not ashamed to base his music on folk songs: As a rule, he said, a good folk tune is more valuable than 200 created works of art.
Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor was written when he was in his early 30’s. Dedicated to the world-famous virtuoso violinist, Joseph Joachim, it took Bruch four years to complete. For its time it was innovative: instead of a traditional fast opening movement, it opens with a slow chorale in the woodwind, from which the solo violin emerges, softly soaring upwards like a bird in flight. Once the movement gets properly under way, the solo violin begins a virtuoso display above a persistent ostinato from the lower strings. Eventually the movement runs out of steam and comes slowly to rest on a held chord before leading seamlessly into the beautiful and tranquil slow movement in Eb major. This in turn gives way to a showy Hungarian style finale reminding us that the concertos dedicatee was of Hungarian origin.
The Concerto was as popular in Bruch’s lifetime as it is today, so much so that it overshadowed everything else he ever wrote. Despite living until he was 82 years old, Bruch had few other major successes in his lifetime, and very little else that he wrote has survived. Bruch himself grew to dislike the piece, so much so that he could hardly bear to listen to it.
Towards the end of his life he seems to have became a rather sad character, embittered by the success of others, even his contemporary and friend, Brahms, who was usually very generous towards other composers, lost patience.
Bruch does appear to have had a somewhat laconic sense of humour: he once wrote of the concert Police prohibition concerning MB’s First Concerto. As, very recently, it has emerged that violins play the concerto by themselves, with the utmost dispatch we make it known, for the relief of anguished souls, that we hereby ban the said concerto.
The fact remains, however, that this concerto is still one of the most popular in the repertoire, for performer and listener alike.
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Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
Symphony no. 8
Like Max Bruch, Antonin Dvorak was a lover of folk music and a supreme melodist. During his three year stay in NewYork (1892-95), as Director of the newly formed Conservatory he incorporated the melodies of many negro spirituals into his compositions, and voiced his opinion that classical American composers might use the musical language of spirituals to cultivate a national style.
Dvorak came from humble beginnings: his father was a butcher and he was expected to carry on the family business. His mothers family were all highly musical and it soon became apparent that Dvorak was destined to be a musician. His career as a composer was launched when he was awarded the Austrian State Grant by a jury, which included the composer, Brahms. Brahms was only eight years Dvoraks senior but he took the younger composer under his wing and introduced him to the Music Publisher, Simrock.
Despite influences from his travels abroad, Dvorak always insisted that he remained first and foremost a Bohemian composer, and his music bears a strong nationalistic feeling, many movements of works having the names and characteristic rhythms of popular folk dances; his favourite seems to have been the energetic furiant, which you can listen out for in the finale of the 8th Symphony. At around the same time as he was writing this symphony, Dvorak also wrote a set of piano pieces each with a descriptive title, and the movements of the 8th Symphony are far from abstract, conjuring up wonderful images in the mind.
When at home, Dvorak always liked to start the day with a walk and, even in his symphonies, the music is full of the sounds of the countryside, especially bird-calls in the woodwind.
On his many visits to London Dvorak enjoyed walking in Hyde Park. Perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that he knew the Italianate Garden - fountains being a particular love of his.
Dvorak’s other passions, apart from music, were pigeons, in fact all types of bird -and locomotives. He once said that he would give all his symphonies to have invented the locomotive! Is that a train I hear in the last movement..?
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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Alto Rhapsody
Although Johannes Brahms never married, women played a central role in his life.
For many years his muse was Clara Schumann, wife of the composer Robert Schumann, and Brahms was always welcome in their house, even lodging there with them for a time. Strangely, Brahms’ passion for Clara seems to have waned after she was widowed; instead he transferred his affections to Clara's daughter, Julie, regardless of the fact that Julie seems to have been indifferent to him to his attentions.
When Brahms heard that Julie was to be married, he was desolate, and as usual poured his feelings into his music. The result was the Rhapsody for Alto soloist and male choir.
He played it for Clara, who wrote in her diary: "Johannes brought me a wonderful piece, the words from Goethe's Harzreise. This piece seems to me neither more nor less than the expression of his own heart’s anguish. If only he would for once speak as tenderly!"
The poem describes a man who, having once tasted loved and been scorned, has lost the capacity to love. He is drawn deeper and deeper into the wilderness, and away from the rest of mankind. The poem culminates in a prayer to the Father of Love to find in his Psaltery, some sound that might open the man’s eyes to the good things all around him, to which he has become blind.
Brahms paints a dark picture; the image of the thickets closing together behind the man as he walks is portrayed by melodic phrases weaving through each other in contrary motion. Only now and then does a little light shine through the branches, but the man is incapable of seeing. Finally the music turns from a tormented and grief - stricken Cminor to a radiant C major full of hope as the singer interceeds for him, making a heartfelt plea to God to save his soul with the sound of music.
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