April 2018

Dear ECMC Member,

We continue with the Brandenburgs programme in April, with No.6; more of this later. But we are also looking forward to No.4 in June, for which we have two recorder and one violin soloist and cello continuo but still need a volunteer for piano continuo – not a virtuoso part. Volunteers for this or the orchestra, please contact me (Hilary) during the week or speak to one of the other Committee members at the next concert, and note that if possible we will rehearse this after or before the May concert.

We hope to have a good audience on Monday 9th April, when we have two major works.

The concert will start with Hindemith’s Sonata for Clarinet and piano of 1939. Paul Hindemith was born near Frankfurt in 1895 and died there in 1963 after a much-travelled life as violinist, violist, teacher, festival organiser, conductor and composer. Just one of his claims to fame is that he premiered Walton’s viola concerto after Tertis (who had commissioned it) turned it down. His own earlier compositions got him into difficulties with the Nazi regime, with Goebbels describing them as “degenerate” and the composer as an “atonal noisemaker.” He emigrated to Switzerland, Turkey and finally the USA, where he was a successful teacher and became a citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe in 1953. As a composer, he was keenly interested in the physical possibilities and characteristics of each instrument, and wrote sonatas and chamber pieces for many of them, including such oddities as the viola d’amore, trautonium and heckelphone. The Clarinet Sonata conveys a neo-Classical concern for formal balance and a rigorous approach to counterpoint, as well as an expressive approach to mood and melody. There are four movements: the first movement, marked Allegro Moderato, assumes a leisurely pace, with the clarinet and piano trading phrases of a plaintive, long-breathed melody. The second, though thematically connected to the first, is much more nimble and the individual parts more assertive. The third movement provides a sharp contrast with its “Very Slow” tempo indication, its more dramatic and gestural lines, and its emphasis on minor modalities. The featured instrument enhances the sense of mystery and melancholy in its languorous quasi-cadenza passages. Hindemith includes for his final movement a “Little Rondo,” in which a quirky march figure alternates with various episodes of thematic elaboration. Neither instrument rests for any length of time, but the clarinet frequently assumes a lesser role to the piano’s more extroverted moments.

Brandenburg No.6 occupies the other half of the concert. The story of these compositions need not be repeated in detail. As with the rest of the set, the full score of No.6 was left unused in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for 24 groschen – perhaps about £20-worth in modern prices  –  of silver. The autograph manuscript of the concertos was only rediscovered in the archives of Brandenburg  in 1849, and the concertos were first published in the following year. The manuscript was nearly lost in World War II, when being transported for safekeeping to Prussia by train in the care of a librarian. The train came under aerial bombardment, and the librarian escaped the train to the nearby forest, with the scores hidden under his coat.

The absence of violins is the distinctive feature of this work. “Viola da braccio” means the normal viola, and is used here to distinguish it from the viola da gamba. When the work was written in 1721, the viola da gamba was already an old-fashioned instrument: the strong supposition that one viola da gamba part was taken by his employer, Prince Leopold, also points to a likely reason for the concerto’s composition—Leopold wished to join his Kapellmeister playing music.

The two violas start the first movement with a vigorous subject in close canon, and as the movement progresses, the other instruments are gradually drawn into the seemingly uninterrupted steady flow of melodic invention which shows the composer’s mastery of polyphony. The two violas da gamba are silent in the second movement, leaving the texture of a trio sonata for two violas and continuo, although the cello has a decorated version of the continuo bass line. In the last movement, the spirit of the gigue underlies everything, as it did in the finale of the fifth concerto.

The  viola soloists will be Alison Evans and David Smith, and the orchestra will be Polly Kaufman and Janet Robinson (Violas da gamba), Helen Thomas and Paul Robinson (celli), Linda Shanks (Double bass) and Siaw-Lynn Ng (continuo).

Please come and feel free to bring non-members.