Westlake - Flying Dream
Beethoven - Violin Concerto
Mozart - Symphony No.40
Too long, strange, complicated, were words that once were not uncommon when it came to describing some of Beethoven’s music. His (one and only) violin concerto proved so difficult at its premiere that the soloist gave up with the piece altogether, choosing instead to improvise. People left the concert feeling confused at best, ‘exhausted’ at worst. The Violin Concerto didn’t sink into utter obscurity, but it was rarely performed in the four decades following its lukewarm debut. When it was performed, reviewers usually talked about how talented the soloist was to pull off such an attempt, rather than praising the concerto itself. Such was our experience as we watched a performance of the concerto so scintillating as to seemingly confine to obscurity the orchestral suite by Australian composer Nigel Westlake and the Mozart symphony that made up the rest of our one and only session for the month (and our final programme for this year). The links to the session notes and links and to the video recordings used are posted below.
Westlake - Flying Dream
Beethoven - Violin Concerto
Mozart - Symphony No.40
Self-portraits come in a variety of forms. Some are with a paintbrush, some with a camera, others with a pen. It would seem only right - and natural, even - that a musician would choose music. Which is what Camille Saint-Saens is said to have done in his 3rd Symphony. Within in its walls are aspects of the composer – his talents, his doubts, his belief, his fears and his hopes. All his instruments are there – a pipe organ (has was a church organist at one time), the piano (which he had played since childhood), his passion for sacred music, the love of logic and balance (there are two movements each with two sections), the forces of darkness (the Deus Irae haunts the work) and finally there is the element of hope as the symphony gradually progresses from darkness to light. Some say it is expressive of his hope of resurrection, although it is well documented that Saint-Saens was not at all religious. Perhaps his aim was to demonstrate the spiritual power of music. Whatever, it was the standout work we looked at in our August sessions.
Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto which we also heard deserves more acclaim than it gets – tending to be overlooked - coming as it does between the monumental 3rd and 5th concertos - so two totally different recordings were viewed. Love is often in the air when music is being composed and Brahms’ love for Clara Schumann may have inspired his 1st violin sonata, while Mahler’s Adagietto from his 5th symphony definitely was instrumental in the wooing of Anna, his wife to be. These and the ubiquitous overture - every good music programme should start with one – made for happy watching and listening. The video recordings together with the explanatory notes for each performance can be accessed via the links below.
Finally, a reminder that our class on Friday 22nd September has been rescheduled to the Friday 29th September.
Session Notes - 11th August
Weber - Euryanthe Overture
Saint-Saens - Symphony No.3
Mahler - Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Mozart - Piano Trio K 502
Session Notes - 25th August
Rossini - Thieving Magpie Overture
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No.4 - Soloist Nelson Freire
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No.4 - Soloist Eric Lu
Brahms - Violin Sonata No. 1
War, love, family, tragedy: you name it and music has it. Add in a dash of artistic influence and a bit of a ‘walk in the park’ and you have a quick guide to our March programmes.
Session one started out with Wagner’s overture to Lohengrin – an opera about fairy-tale love that ends in tragedy. Beethoven loved nothing more to relieve the frustrations of his encroaching deafness than to go for a nature walk – the sounds he would hear leading him to compose his sixth (pastoral) symphony. Maurice Ravel wrote a concerto which literally can be played with one hand behind your back. His Concerto for the Left Hand being commissioned by a pianist/soldier who lost an arm fighting in the first world war.
First up in session two was Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture written for a play about a fifth century Roman general whose ‘turncoat’ decisions led to his death at the hands of his soldiers – or perhaps he died at his own hand? Brahms, who was never a violinist, struck up a close friendship with one who was the premier violinist of the day. This led to a violin concerto that is one of the most recorded in the violin repertoire. Its premiere saw Brahms as the conductor of the orchestra and his friend as the soloist. A Brahms encore was composed in honour of another of his friends - an artist who died tragically at a young age. “Nänie” is sometimes referred to as Brahms’ “Litte Requiem” (as distinct from his much longer and grander “German Requiem”.
To top off the month’s musical journey Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ – the inspiration for the name coming from Whistler’s painting “Nocturne in Blue and Green”. Written in a hurry (most of it on a train journey) and premiered even before the solo part had been put to paper (Gershwin himself being the pianist), the work went on to become an all-time American classic. You can read the detail and find the links to the music recordings below.
Wagner - Prelude to Act 1 Lohengrin
Beethoven - Symphony No.6
Why Ravel wrote a concerto for only one hand
Ravel - Concerto for the Left Hand
Beethoven - Coriolan Overture
Brahms - Violin Concerto (Substitute recording for the one played)
Brahms - Nanie
Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue
There is nothing like “starting with a bang”, as they say. And so our programme for 2023 got under way with “Workers Union” - a modern composition by Louis Andriessen, a highly innovative contemporary composer known for his individualism, political activism, and creativity. He is considered the most important living composer from the Netherlands.
The piece was written for any combination of loud sounding instruments which was in keeping with the composer’s desire to avoid standard instrumental combinations. Andriessen states that “This piece is a combination of individual freedom and severe discipline: its rhythm is exactly fixed; the pitch, on the other hand, is indicated only approximately, on a single-lined stave. It is difficult to play in an ensemble and to remain in step, sort of like organizing and carrying on political action. No two recordings of the work, it is claimed, are the same.
Mozart’s Concert for Two Pianos – one of the most artful and ambitious works of all his piano concertos - served to quickly bring us back in time to the golden age of Viennese music. For what occasion Mozart wrote this piece is not known for certain, but it is claimed that he wrote it for himself to play with his sister. As youngsters the Mozart siblings often performed together. Fitting it was then that the performance our group watched was by two pianist brothers who had grown up from an early age performing together.
A trumpet concerto by Czech composer Johann Baptiste Neruda and a rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’, the latter performed by Australia’s very own Gondwana Voices, closed out the session in complete contrast to its beginning.
Our second session was on the day of the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Serendipitously the major work selected was Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony originally conceived to honour Napoleon’s victory over the combined forces of Russian and Austria. The dedication to Napoleon, however, was short lived. When Napoleon declared himself as Emperor of France, Beethoven, in fury that Napoleon showed himself as no better than any despot who had previously ruled in Europe, scratched his name from the title page and changed the dedication to “an heroic person”. Hence today the symphony carries the title “Eroica”, a title that many would want to ascribe to those involved in the defence of Ukraine today. The rest of the programme was given over to a series of short works by Ukrainian composers culminating in a presentation of lively and colourful dance routines by a Ukrainian national dance ensemble.
Here are the links to the notes and recordings:
Andriessen - Workers Union
Mozart - Concerto for Two Pianos
Neruda - Concerto for Trumpet and Strings
Faure - Cantique de Jean Racine
Beethoven Symphony No 3
Choir - Prayer for Ukraine & 'Oak'
Melodia on a Ukranian Theme
Impromptu 66 No.2
Orchestra - Prayer for Ukraine
Ukrainian National Dance Ensemble
“Every task, goal, race and year comes to an end…therefore, make it a habit to FINISH STRONG” (Motivational guru Gary Ryan Blair) which is exactly how our year of music has wound up. You may say that November has been full of “endings”.
Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique a saw a strong and happy end of his pursuit of the hand of Harriet Smithson; Schumman’s 3rd Symphony marked the end of his compositional life (although not a happy ending); Gustav Holst gave up on astrology after composing “the Planets”; while Beethoven’s 5th Symphony came about when his deafness saw him give up on being a concert pianist and turn to composing full time.
These are some of the works that saw us finish this year “STRONG”.
And, of course, no music year is ever complete without some reference to Handel’s “Messiah” which is exactly how our year ended up.
Programme - 11 November
Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique - 5th movement
Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 22
Schumann - Symphony No. 3
Programme - 24 November
Holst - The Planets
('Jupiter - Starts 22 minutes 30 seconds in)
Beethoven - Symphony No.5
The Messiah Deconstructed
Meanwhile, as TS Eliot observed: “to make an end is to make a beginning”. 2023 will see Music Appreciation widen its source of recordings and music selections with a little bit of innovation. A fascinating year awaits.
As the year draws to a close, did you know that the original meaning (in English) for “merry” is “strong”? Have a “strong” Christmas.
The final month of our U3A musical journeying has seen us staying close to Beethoven as his world-wide 250th anniversary celebrations draw to a close. There have been a couple of jumps ahead to the 20th century in the first session as we explored the ‘jazziness’ of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F played with “pizzazz” by 18yo soloist Alexander Molofeev, before allowing ourselves to be wafted away by Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp. But after that it was Beethoven all the way : his one and only Violin Concerto, the Waldstein Piano Sonata, a Bagatelle “Für Elise” (whoever she was), and finally the monumental 9th Symphony with its message of the universal brotherhood of mankind to wrap up both the year and our acknowledgement of the place Beethoven occupies in musical history.
To say that we have explored Beethoven in depth would be to stretch the truth, but amongst the many of his compositions we have featured, we at least have included all of the “Top 20” as voted by the listening public in the ABC Classic FM Beethoven Top 100” survey.
You can check out all of Music Appreciation's twice-monthly sessions on this page. If you like what you see, why not enrol with us for 2021? You would be most welcome.
The following recording of 18 year old Alexander Malofeev playing Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F with the Russian National Orchestra is conducted by Mikail Pletnev.
With the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra not having planned concert performances for August, an opportunity presented itself to indulge in Beethoven in this his 250th year. Each of our two sessions, then, this month featured Beethoven compositions entirely. Works from two marvellous concerts in place of the cancelled Solsberg Festival from Switzerland featuring the festival organiser (Cellist, Sol Gabetta) opened each of our sessions, filled out by arguably the best of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas – the Pathetique – and stunning presentations of two “3rds” - the 3rd Piano Concerto and 3rd Symphony.
Our following of the planned MSO concert schedule for July kicked off with a couple of pleasant surprises in Dvorak’s “legends” – 10 piano pieces for four hands and a Beethoven concert aria “Ah Perfido”! To balance out these little known works, a scintillating rendition of an old favourite in Brahms’ Violin Concerto, and maybe “the greatest graduation piece of all time”, in Shostakovich’s First Symphony, rounded out the first session for this month.
“An Anthem for our Time” and “A message of consolation and hope in times of tragedy” is how Brahms’ “Ein Deutsches Requiem” has been described. This was the feature work of the second of our programmes for this month. In a sense then, an appropriate work to listen to and think about as so much of our world is engulfed currently with tragedy and grief on a huge scale. In keeping with that sentiment, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” bookends our programme – a memorial to a departed friend. In between there was Elgar’s lengthy Violin Concerto - a work steeped in mystery – and a little-known (or not so often played) Beethoven Overture.
Here are the links to the programme notes, which include the YouTube links to the music performances:
10th July Beethoven 2020; Anton Dvorak: Johannes Brahms: Dmitri Shostakovich
24th July: Beethoven 2020; Johannes Brahms, Edward Elgar; Modest Mussorgsky
Interested in joining in the Beethoven Celebrations! Enjoy the video links from the Beethoven catalogue suggested in the notes.
27 July 2020
About Music Appreciation
Learning about and listening to classical music from across the ages to the present day is what we do.
Convenor and Contact Details
Bill Squire 5762 6334
2nd and 4th Friday
10 am to 12 noon.
U3A Meeting Room 1 Fawckner Drive
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