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
“Listening to the music while stretching her body close to its limit, she was able to attain a mysterious calm. She was simultaneously the torturer and the tortured, the forcer and the forced”. That quote by Japanese writer and translator Haruki Murakami, kind of describes some of the class reactions to the first of our June sessions as we endeavoured to get our musical minds around Karl Jenkins’ composition The Armed Man, commissioned by the British Royal Armourers to mark the transition from the 20th to the 21st century and their move to a new Museum in Leeds. Dedicated by the composer to the victims of the Kosovo conflict, the work is a 13 movement Mass for peace loosely set within the Christian Mass, with additional texts from Muslim and Hindu sources and secular writers. A mind and body exercise occupying us for the whole of the session.
No such concerns with our second session as we watched a scintillating performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 given in the final round of the 18th Chopin Competition in 2021. The work was bookended in our programme by Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni and Schumann’s Symphony No.4 leaving us in a buoyant mood as the curtain came down on Semester 1. Semester 2 for us kicks off on Friday 14th July.
Meanwhile you can check out recordings and notes for our June programmes below. Enjoy!
Session Notes 9th June
Karl Jenkins - The Armed Man
Session Notes 23rd June
Mozart - Don Giovanni Overture
Chopin - Piano Concerto No 1
Schumann - Symphony No.4
It has been said that “the most glorious works of art, the ones that bring the purest joy – perhaps they need not be touched or known, but seen only with the heart”.
Both of the major musical compositions for the month of May can be understood a “masterpieces in their own way.
Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ – an impression of the sea as seen from the heart - is regarded today as a masterpiece of musical impressionism, although that wasn’t always the case. The premiere of the work in 1905 was met with a mixture of boos, whistles and restrained applause. There were no boos and whistles as our group listened to it, and neither was there an enthusiastic reception overall. Masterpiece or not, impressionism is clearly not to everyone’s taste.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 was regarded by Brahms as a “masterpiece of art, full of inspiration and ideas. Beethoven remarked to a pianist friend “we’ll never be able to write anything like that”, while some scholars and musicologists claim it to be one of the greatest piano concertos ever composed. Yet this concerto is written in the minor key - unlike most of Mozart compositions – and so for other listeners a work not easily recognisable as belonging to Mozart. Such was the case with our group’s listening experience.
For those reading this, then, perhaps you can listen to each and form your own opinion. It’s all available (recordings and notes) via the links below. While you are at it, why not check out the rest of the month’s music selections: - something a little more recognisable as Mozart, some Mendelssohn and Haydn, Tchaikovsky and, of course, given the other big event of the month, some Coronation music.
Session Notes 12th May
Session Notes 26th May
Debussy - La Mer
Mozart - Piano Concerto No.24
Mozart Symphony No.35
Handel - Zadok the Priest
Handel - The King Shall Rejoice
Handel - Let Thy Hand be Strengthened
Elgar - Pomp and Circumstance March No.1
Mendelssohn - Hebrides Overture
Haydn - Symphony No. 83
Tchaikovsky - Capriccio Italien
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.
Yet another Covid-19 induced lockdown has seen our July gathering limited to one session. There we looked at the 3rd of Bach’s six (and each very different) Brandenburg Concertos; a Mozart piano concerto once thought to have been inspired by the chirping of Mozart’s pet starling; an early concert piece by Austrian-Jewish composer Franz Schreker who had the double misfortune to arrive on the music scene in the late romantic period as the world was beginning to move away from his style of music and to be removed from it with the rise of anti-semitism in the 1930s; and finally Schubert’s fifth Symphony – a work composed at the age of nineteen and full of the cheerful optimism and whimsy of youth that belied the sickness and suffering that was to come his way leading to a premature death at the age of 32.
Hopefully by the time our next planned session (13th August) comes around, restrictions will have been eased sufficiently to allow us to come together when works by Elena Kats-Chernin, Brahms, Prokoviev and Haydn will be in the spotlight. If you haven’t enrolled for our second semester and maybe would like to check us out, please feel free to come along.
Links to Session Notes and Music:
Bach - Brandenburg Concerto 3
Mozart - Piano Concerto 17
Schreker - Intermezzo
Schubert - Symphony 5
A bright start to this year’s music with an appreciation of the life and music of J S Bach - the composer of some of the most famous works of the classical repertoire, and who has influenced perhaps more composers than any other figure in music.
Better known during his lifetime primarily as an outstanding organ player and technician, the youngest of eight children born to musical parents, Johann Sebastian was destined to become a great musician.
Bach’s use of counterpoint was brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities of his compositional style still amaze musicians today. Many consider him the greatest composer of all time.
Because of the vast number of compositions (1100 or so catalogued – goodness knows how many there are in total) time allowed only for a sampling of his musical output. Hence we named it “A Dégustation of Bach” and framed our selection of his music around the instruments he composed for and some choral work.
Our second programme in February saw us move down the years (just a little) from the “Baroque” period of Bach to the “Classical” era and the music of Mozart. Another prolific composer - but with only a little more than half the catalogued works of Bach - so again it was “smorgasbord” of Mozart music across the various genres he composed for, although with not quite the same volume of music to choose from, we were able to lengthen the time a little for our listening experience of the items presented.
Full programme notes of each of the two sessions together with links to the appropriate “Youtube” site for the music presented in February:
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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