Welcome to this evening’s concert by the Meadows Chamber Orchestra.
The programme will be directed by Peter Evans, the Orchestra’s principal conductor and musical adviser. Peter has chosen a programme of music designed to be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
Richard Beauchamp makes a welcome return as soloist in Mozart’s piano concerto K271 ‘Jeunehomme’, followed by Prokofiev’s timeless Peter and the Wolf.
In the latter the narrator will be distinguished actor John Bett, who revives his hilarious Scots version of the text, originally written for Meadows children’s concerts.
The exuberant 2nd Suite from Walton’s Façade concludes the concert with wit, parody, tongue-in-cheek seriousness and a brilliant mastery of orchestration.
(Click on the links for more)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1759 – 1791)
Piano Concerto No 9 in E Flat Major K271 ‘Jenamy’ (‘Jeunehomme”)
Almost exactly one hundred years ago, in a biography of Mozart written by Théodor Wyzewa and Georges de Sait-Foix, the name of ‘Mademoiselle Jeunehomme’ began to appear in connection with the Concerto in E flat major, K271. Mozart himself had never written of anyone by that name, but rather described the concerto, after he had composed it in January 1777, as ’das für die jenomy” (the one for the jenomy). His father Leopold also made a reference to ‘Madame genomai’. Presumably those biographers thought Mozart had for some reason got her name wrong, and subsequently one scholar after the next simply copied them and the nickname ‘Jeunehomme’ was given to the concerto. As late as 1999 one biographer accused Mozart of pronouncing French so badly that he couldn’t even spell correctly.
In 2003 somebody finally decided to research this a bit more. The Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz discovered the mysterious woman’s identity. Mozart hadn’t been all that wrong: her name was in fact Victore Jenamy (1749 – 1812). Her father was the dancer and choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre (1727 – 1810) who was called by no less than David Garrick ‘the Shakespeare of the Dance’. None of his 150 ballets survive, but his book Lettres sur la danse does. It was he who brought drama into ballet, taking it away from its courtly origins and creating the ‘ballet d’action’ which told of human emotions. Some of this must have rubbed off on his daughter, whose performance of a piano concerto in Vienna in 1773 was executed, according to a local newspaper, ‘with much artistry and ease’. Mozart dined with Noverre in Vienna in 1773, this much we know. His daughter could easily have been present. The year after the Concerto K271 was written, Noverre was back in Paris as ballet master, and when Mozart and his mother arrived there, he wrote to his father that he had an open invitation to dine at Noverre’s home, and that Mme Jenamy was there. Mozart also composed some of the music for his ballet Les petits riens. It is amazing that for almost a hundred years nobody made this connection.
I have perhaps told more about Madame Jenamy’s father than is called for, but for a reason. If he was the one who put drama and human emotion into ballet, then it was Mozart who opened up another world of the piano concerto with this piece written for his daughter. Gone are the gestures made purely to please; incomes the most profound lyrical outpouring imaginable and one which is miraculous for a young man of barely twenty-one years of age. Perhaps the two are linked more than we can ever know.
The surprises begin right at the outset. The piano …. simply can’t wait for the orchestra to present all the themes itself, but jumps in already in the second bar, completing their entrance. Mozart kept this concerto unique in his output and never did that again. It immediately establishes a relationship between soloist and orchestra that is closer, more richly entwined than ever before….
The slow movement …. Darkness descends where previously there was light. The muted first and second violins play in canon, a Baroque device which Mozart places over a bass line that is totally Baroque in character. Piercing accents give it a ghostly feel. The oboes and horns enter, sustaining a long pedal note, yet another Baroque feature. All of that reminds us that this music is not that far removed from the late Baroque period and how much Mozart was influenced by it. … The gesture of a sighing, descending scale is followed by a cadential, recitative-like passage that could not be more operatic…. The cadenza …. is a miracle of expression, giving a brief second of hope before resolving into almost unbearable pain. Mutes come off for the final exclamation in the strings. As Michael Steinberg so aptly puts it: this is the concerto in which ‘Mozart, so to speak, became Mozart’.
High spirits immediately return for the final Rondeau, marked Presto. The 34-bar opening theme stated by the piano is the longest by far in any of the concertos. The ensuing action is constant and exciting, …. after some more high jinks, the final surprise of the piece—a minuet. This is one of those goosebump moments, especially when the strings enter, pizzicato and muted. Was this a tribute to Noverre the dancer?
I am grateful to Angela Hewitt for permission to use these excerpts from her sleeve note to her recording of Mozart’s Concertos Nos 6, 8 and 9 with Orchestra da Camera di Mantova.
Excerpt from Angela Hewitt – with permission
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)
Peter and the Wolf
My whole life was inspired by one aim – to bring theatre and music to children. I always had and still have a strong conviction that it would help them to grow up well educated and well cultured, to be more delicate and try to understand feelings of others more deeply, to become real humanists.
Thus wrote Natalya Sats (1903 – 1993), the remarkable woman who founded the Moscow Theatre for Children in 1921. Lauded at home and abroad, in 1937 she was arrested as “Traitor of Motherland Family members” following the arrest of her husband. Accused of being a political spy, she was charged with high treason and sentenced to five years in a labour camp in Siberia where, characteristically, she founded a theatre. After spending some years in Kazakhastan, she was fully rehabilitated after Stalin’s death and returned to Moscow in 1958. In 1965 she founded and directed the first Music Theatre for Children and travelled the world with her troupe. Her name lives on in the Moscow State Opera and Ballet Theatre for Young Audiences.
Following a visit to the Moscow Central Children’s Theatre with his family, Prokofiev and Sats struck up a friendship. In April 1936 she commissioned him to compose music for a new piece to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra. The pair agreed that the story should have characters that could be easily portrayed by different instruments in the orchestra. Prokofiev rejected the first rhyming libretto about a boy called Peter who challenged an adult about some wrongdoing. They worked together to create the version we know in which Peter captures a wolf with the help of his friend, the bird. With politics never far away, the new version featured some of the desired Pioneer characteristics of that era such as perseverance, vigilance and bravery. Prokofiev wrote a piano score in less than a week, and the orchestration ten days later. Eight days after that, it was performed at the Moscow Conservatoire on 2 May 1936.
Our narrator John Bett has translated the text from Russian into Scots. He first performed it with MCO on 6 December 1997 in the Queen’s Hall. Tonight’s performance has a newly revised and even more engaging text.
Prokofiev’s score makes use of leitmotivs or themes that represent the different characters in the story on cleverly allocated instruments.
The wee bird flees aroun’ and warbles on the flute.
The duck waddles aboot on the oboe.
The cat creeps aboot stealthy-like on the clarinet.
Granpa scolds on the bassoon.
The great grey wolf sounds scary on three horns.
Peter’s cantie theme is played by the strings.
When ye hear the drums, ye ken the hunters are comin’.
The adventure unfolds with beautifully paced descriptive musical episodes. It is not surprising that the piece has been translated into many languages and recorded over 400 times. Fittingly, Prokofiev dedicated his score to Sats, who did so much to promote high quality artistic experiences for young people.
William Walton (1902 -1983)
Facade; Suite No 2 for Orchestra
Fanfare; Scotch Rhapsody; Country Dance; Noche Espagnole; Popular Song; Old Sir Faulk
Facade began originally in 1922 -’23 as an ‘Entertainment’ with poems by Edith Sitwell, a member of the Sitwell family with whom Walton was residing at the time. Other members of this family included Osbert and Sacheverel Sitwell. Edith Sitwell herself recited her poems over a musical accompaniment for six players in a jazz-influenced texture conducted by the composer. She used a megaphone placed behind a screen. It was considered controversial at the time, but has subsequently become popular in this version as well as in later rearrangements.
Walton had been born in Oldham in 1902 and after some early lessons in violin and piano had become a singer in local church choirs, and then a chorister in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford, prior to and during undergraduate years at the college. During this period, he had become a protege of the Sitwells.
In 1926 he produced the selection of musical movements which became the first of his two orchestral suites, using a full orchestra to replace the sextet version and omitting the poems. This first suite was made into a ballet for performance in Germany in 1929 and then as a ballet by Frederick Ashton in 1931. This included some movements from the second suite which had already been conceived for concert performance. Suite No 2 as a whole was premiered in complete form in 1938 in New York conducted by John Barbirolli. The music has a spicey, invigorating flavour inspired by the sounds of the 1920s. There are suggestions of dance rhythms of that time, while in ‘Old Sir Faulk’ the score actually has the tempo marking ‘Tempo di Fox-trot’.
The orchestration is dominated by wind and brass instruments along with imaginative percussion. The trumpet is prominently featured and the saxophone has a few solo moments and much noticeable doubling with woodwind instruments. Less noticeable are the strings which are mostly relegated to light accompaniment.
Our next concert will be
Saturday 26th Feb 2022, Conductor Gordon Bragg, Stockbridge Church, Susan Tomes piano soloist Mozart piano concerto K595, Beethoven 4th Symphony and short Schoenberg arrangement that Gordon is working on.
Saturday 11th June 2022, Conductor Peter Evans, Queen’s Hall, 50th Anniversary Concert to include Eleanor Alberga Symphony ‘Firmament’, Barber Violin Concerto with Tom Bowes and Gershwin’s American in Paris. ‘Firmament’ is a joint commission with the Bristol-based Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra. The commission and staging of the concert are with the financial support of Creative Scotland, Hope Scott Trust and Friends of the MCO.