English music, 20th century music and movie music are all themes of this concert. Although the Vaughan Williams piece was written in 1936, the Arnold in 1960 and the Arnell in 1992, they were all active, famous and familiar composers in the England of the 1950s.
All three pieces we are doing are strikingly cinematic. That’s not surprising, as all three composers wrote film music, and all are well known as Symphonists: Arnold and Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies each, and Arnell wrote six (plus a “Sinfonia Quasi Variazione” that he said was ‘really his 1st Symphony”).
Haydn’s Morning, Mid-Day, and Evening symphonies are extraordinary in many ways. They were the first he wrote after taking the appointment as Deputy Kapellmeister (Music Master) at the Court of Prince Nikolaus I. Esterhazy, “The Magnificent,” in 1761. Haydn meant to both establish himself and usurp the position of the aging Kapellmeister by showing that he had skills that his older colleague could only dream of.
The symphonies are in fact in a hybrid form as there are solos for all the principal players in the orchestra, so they sound as much like a concerto grosso as a symphony. By introducing these solos he was also currying favor with the musicians in the orchestra – who received additional pay for playing solos! – and the highly sophisticated music that he wrote was a delightful shock to the court. Sure enough, he was soon in charge of all music at the Prince’s court.
The depiction of a sunrise at the opening of Symphony No. 6 is deeply symbolic. It was a new beginning for Haydn, who had suffered years of poverty as freelancer, and the beginning of a new era of music. The Classical era of musical composition began with these symphonies, succeeding the Baroque era of Bach and Handel.
This highly controversial work is one of Bach’s most unusual creations. The text is based on Books 18 and 19 of the Lutheran Bible, with some additional texts. It has an interesting distinction between the Choruses, sung by a small group of well rehearsed singers, and Chorales, which could be sung by the congregation.
Featured roles include the Evangelist, Jesus, and Pontius Pilate. The solo part of the Evangelist, who narrates the oratorio, is extraordinarily demanding, even for Bach (who was not kind to singers).
He uses archaic instruments like a lute, viola d’amore and viola da gamba in the orchestra, to great effect The work is controversial because it is based on a Gospel source that is widely regarded as anti-Semitic. but the extent of the anti-semitic intent is very difficult to gauge-this is an issue we want to explore in pre-concert talks and discussions of the music.
The idea of traveling through music is central to this program. First, the Ibert piece Ports of Call, imagines a musical journey on a Mediterranean cruise, as you stop off at various points along the way. The Poulenc Concerto was influenced the composer’s travels to Bali, where he integrated gamelan sounds into the musical fabric.
Nielsen’s clarinet concerto sounds like jazz had infused the Danish character of the music, and the Rameau Suite from Les Indes Galantes is a musical journey through the New World — a truly exotic location for an 18th Century French composer. The incredible “Danse des Sauvages” swings like a ragtime number, and was inspired by Rameau hearing Native American music at an exhibition in Paris some years before he wrote the opera!
In all of these works the exotic elements are integrated in a style that is distinctive to the composer, whose identity remains intact even as he journeys musically into another realm.