Winter Concert 17th February 2024

Conductor: Alison Rushworth
Leader: Cath Cormie
Soprano: Claire Taylor

Programme Notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito


Opera Seria – the subject of which was usually mythological or, at the very least, historical – died out at the end of the 18th century. La Clemenza di Tito was one of the last examples. Mozart was commissioned to write it for the coronation of Leopold III of Bohemia. The commission came in July 1791, at a time when he was busy with The Magic Flute and had just received (in mysterious circumstances) a request for a Requiem Mass. Mozart and his wife Constanze set off immediately for Prague. Such was the urgency that he had to start sketching the music in the stage-coach so that rehearsals could begin immediately on his arrival. The opera was completed and rehearsed within a space of 18 days; perhaps not surprisingly it was not a success and Mozart received only the modest sum of 200 ducats for his efforts. On his return to Vienna he managed to complete The Magic Flute but left the Requiem unfinished at his death in December that year.

Although the opera has been largely forgotten, the overture has become a favourite concert piece in its own right. It opens with a fanfare, aggressive thrusts on the lower strings, reminiscent of the Jupiter Symphony, descending carillon effects, elegant woodwind exchanges and sudden changes of dynamics – familiar formulae not unique to Mozart but woven together with unerring balance, proportion and artistry.

Programme notes provided by Thomas Radice, Making Music      

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito
Aria “Parto, parto ma tu ben mio”  

This Act 1 aria is sung by Sesto, a “trouser role” which is now usually sung by a soprano or mezzo soprano, with a clarinet obligato originally composed for the virtuoso Anton Stadler. Sesto is a friend of the Roman emperor Tito, and also in love with Vitellia, who was to have married Tito but was subsequently spurned. In order to demonstrate his love for Vitellia, Sesto agrees to plot a revolt against Tito and sets off to kill him. The aria begins slowly and builds through faster tempi as Sesto’s passion increases.  
Parto, ma tu ben mio,
Meco ritorna in pace;
Saro qual piu ti piace;
Quel che vorrai fato.
Guardami, e tutto oblio,
E a vendicarti io volo;
A questo sguardo dolo
Da me si pensera.
Ah qual poter, oh Dei!
Donaste alla belta.
I go, but, my dearest,
make peace again with me.
I will be what you would most
Have me be, do whatever you wish.
Look at me, and I will forget all
and fly to avenge you;
I will think only
Of that glance at me.
Ah, ye gods, what power
You have given beauty!

Antonín Dvořák – Czech Suite, Op.39
Praeludium - Pastorale
Sousedska - Minuetto
Finale - Furiant

Born in Nelahozeves, a village on the Vltava (Moldau) a few miles north of Prague, Dvořák narrowly escaped following his father as the village butchercum-innkeeper. Fortunately, musical talent rarely passed unnoticed in 19thcentury Bohemia and, starting with local music teachers, he reached the Prague Organ School (now the Conservatory) when he was 16, and on the completion  of his studies played the viola in the orchestra of the National Theatre, where he came under the influence of Smetana. Later in life he was to become Director of the Conservatory.  

Dvořák's Slavonic Dances had proved an immediate success on their publication in 1878 and the Czech Suite, which followed in 1879, used three Czech dance forms in the course of its five movements. Although the whole suite requires a normal chamber orchestra, the instruments are not used all together until the final movement.  

The Prelude or Pastorale is reminiscent of the bagpipes even though the drone consists of two alternating notes rather than one sustained note. Bagpipes are popular in Bohemia, and their exponents can become local heroes. Dvořák seems to have preferred rather plaintive themes for his polkas; this one, in D minor, has a happier trio in the major. Oboes, bassoons and horns join the strings in the first two movements, flutes, clarinets and bassoons in the third, a Sousedska or Neighbours' Dance (a dance thought suitable for the more senior citizens of the village). Although subtitled Minuet it has some characteristics of a Mazurka.  The beautiful Romance uses flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns, and a cor anglais which echoes the flutes in the opening and closing sections. The Finale uses the full orchestra, the Furiant rhythm of its title appearing in the majormode middle section.  

Programme notes provided by Making Music 


Edward Elgar – Serenade for Strings

Allegro piacevole

This, the first undisputed orchestral masterpiece by Elgar, was written in the spring of 1892 when the composer, having failed to find fame and fortune in London, was giving violin lessons in Malvern and Worcester. Novello's the publisher refused the score ("We find that this class of music is practically unsaleable"). To hear his music Elgar tried it out, possibly performed it, with the Ladies Orchestral Class which he trained in Worcester. This gem of the string repertoire did not receive a complete professional performance until 1899.  

A restless staccato figure on the violas opens the Allegro; out of this rise perfectly balanced melodies for the upper strings, including a solo for the leader. At the centre of this movement is a warm major-key tune beginning with an upward leap. The Larghetto, the composer's first important slow movement, is utterly Elgarian with its wide leaps and its mood of contemplation and yearning. The brief finale begins in the new key of G. Soon material from the first two movements reappears in transmuted form. At the end of a radiant E major coda a descending bell-like figure tolls down through the orchestra before a final ascent to the heavens.

Programme notes provided by John Kane, Making Music  

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No 2 in D major, Op. 36
Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
Scherzo - Allegro
Allegro molto

Beethoven's Second Symphony was written in the summer of 1802, while the composer was staying in the beautiful countryside outside Vienna. Although at this time he was enduring a period of great inner turmoil as he began to realise the extent of his approaching deafness, this symphony seems to give little hint of this, being full of joy.  

The first movement opens with imposing unisons in the whole orchestra followed by a stately melody in the woodwind. It runs without a break into the Allegro con brio section, which is in classical sonata form. The first theme moves with increasing urgency towards the key of A major and the appearance of the second subject which, like the first, is built around a triad. This second theme is of a more ceremonious nature and the movement follows the usual pattern of development and recapitulation with both subjects in the tonic, followed by a coda based on fragments of the first.  

The slow movement is in complete contrast, the prevailing mood being one of serenity and calm. This, too, is in sonata form but the themes are much more lyrical and sustained. There is often a dialogue between strings and wind with a theme passing from one group of instruments to another.  

The Scherzo is characterised by sharp dynamic contrasts, accentuated by the colourful use of the orchestra. The theme is fragmented and tossed from instrument to instrument. The Trio opens with just oboes and bassoons, providing a sharp contrast to the full scoring of the Scherzo.  

The Finale begins with an extraordinary angular theme almost like a burst of laughter, as if the prevailing joy of the symphony had overflowed into sheer fun. The explosive theme punctuates the entire movement, which continues with a more lyrical melody with long sustained notes for woodwind and brass. There follows a short, thinly scored section for violins and bassoon but this is soon interrupted again by the opening "laughter", which provides a basis for the coda and the end of the symphony.

Programme notes provided by Finchley Chamber Orchestra, Making Music
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