Programme 26th February 2022

Welcome to this evening’s concert by the Meadows Chamber Orchestra.

The programme will be directed by Gordon Bragg starting with his own arrangement of Schoenbergs 6 Small Piano Pieces Op 19. Following which we are joined by Susan Tomes for Mozart Piano Concerto no 27 in B flat Major, K595. Beethoven’s energetic 4th Symphony completes the evening

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Orchestra players

Gordon Bragg

Susan Tomes

Friends of the MCO

Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)

Sechs kleine Klavierstücke Op.19,

Schoenberg wrote the Sechs kleine Klavierstücke (Six Little Piano Pieces) in 1911 as part of a conscious turning-away from romantic expression exemplified by his 1907 tone poemPelleas und Melisande and the gigantic oratorioGurre-Lieder (1900-1911). These incredibly short musical statements, haiku-like in their brevity, are not tethered to any particular key and there is no real development of any musical idea, Schoenberg’s attempt to break out of conscious logic and write music “not built, but expressed.” The first five pieces were written seemingly in a fit of inspiration on the same day (19/2/1911), the last piece (17/6/1911) having the closest thing to an extra-musical association in that it was written as a response to the death of his friend Gustav Mahler, a movement which in under a minute contains, for me, an almost unbearably elusive dramatic pathos. My idea in arranging it for string orchestra is hopefully interpreted as a tribute, a way of presenting these notes in a different light, and a labour of love intended to get deeper under the skin of the music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

Piano Concerto no 27 in B flat Major, K595

According to Mozart’s own thematic catalogue, this final piano concerto was finished on 5 January 1791, though studies of his autograph score suggest that he drafted it in 1788. Mozart performed it himself in March 1791, and this was his last appearance at a public concert in Vienna. The concerto has such a serene, simple and unhurried character that one could easily imagine it as the work of an old man. But although Mozart was to survive only until December of that year, he was in his mid-thirties when he wrote it. It is one of the great mysteries of Mozart that he could produce music of such qualities at such a young age. If music can be wise, this music is full of wisdom.

Mozart’s later piano concertos often include trumpets and drums, but there are none here; the orchestration is gentler. Several of the piano concertos begin with a movement in march rhythm, softened by lyrical elements. The first movement of this concerto reverses the process. The opening theme is a lyrical outpouring from the violins, and this sets the tone of the movement; even if there are contrasting sparks of energy along the way, it feels as if Mozart is reluctant to tear himself away from the vein of melody that he has discovered. In the centre of the movement comes a development section with a mysterious and searching quality, the pianist leading a quiet conversation which moves through several remote keys before finding its way back to B flat major for the reprise.

The slow movement seems to pare expression down to its essence. Its opening theme, on piano, seems so simple, almost childlike, and yet Mozart balances the phrases of the melody against each other in a very subtle way. In the middle part of the movement, the piano elaborates on the opening thoughts, developing an almost operatic, aria-like line, flowing freely through various keys before winding quietly back to E flat major to reprise the opening section.

The finale has the swinging rhythm of a hunting song. Mozart went on to use its tune as the basis for a spring song, ‘Komm, lieber Mai’ (‘Come, lovely May’) which is often sung by children’s choirs in German-speaking countries. The movement is a rondo in which the theme occurs three times, interleaved with episodes. The first episode introduces two new and cheerful ideas, interspersed with energetic running passages. The second episode is more like a passage of development, in which elements of the first theme are combined with fantasia-like piano writing and, at one stage, a ‘false reprise’ when the first theme returns, but in the wrong key (E flat) and the piano continues on its journey of exploration. Eventually, the music arrives back in the home key of B flat and a large portion of the first episode is revisited. This culminates in a pause for a cadenza, and the movement is rounded off with a final appearance of the first theme and an emphatic final flourish from the full orchestra.

Adapted with permission from The Classical Music-Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music by Robert Philip (Yale University Press)

Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 4 in B Flat, Op. 60       

Adagio, Allegro vivace
Allegro vivace
Allegro ma non troppo

Little is known of the circumstances of the composition of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony except that it was commissioned by Count Oppensdorf on the understanding that it would be in the style of the Second Symphony. Although the composer was already engaged in writing his Fifth he readily put that aside in order to earn a fee of 350 florins. We know that it was written in 1806 and first performed in March 1807 at the home of his patron Prince Lobkowitz, in Vienna. Apart from the Fifth Symphony, it also occupied Beethoven’s thoughts at the same time as the opera Fidelio, the Violin Concerto and the First Rasumovsky Quartet. Together with the usual strings, it is scored for double wind, except that only one flute is required.

The odd-numbered symphonies by Beethoven are generally more weighty than those with even numbers, but all are of equal importance. Schumann described the Fourth as “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants”, but he was thinking, perhaps, more of the lyrical slow movement and the charm of the trio in the scherzo, ignoring the masculine vigour of the outer movements. It opens with a dark, mysterious, slow introduction in B flat minor, an opening which brought from Weber sarcastic remarks as to its sparseness of notes. There is a dramatic effect as a sudden move to the dominant seventh heralds the main Allegro. Swift detached notes on the strings alternate with a smooth legato phrase on the woodwind to form the main theme. Cheerful ideas, allocated mostly to the wind, and inter-related – although this is not immediately obvious – form the second theme. The timpani have an important role in the harmonic structure of the development until the recapitulation arrives with an exciting crescendo.

Music of tenderness and happiness comes with the main theme of the Adagio set against an accompanying rhythmic figure which suggests an underlying strength. A second theme is introduced by the clarinet and taken up by the remainder of the wind, and then we have the double basses reminding us of the original rhythmic figure which comes to dominate the scene. The closing pages of the movement contain music of unsurpassed beauty.

For the first time in the symphonies the third movement scherzo is repeated twice, latterly in an abridged form, and so the intervening trio appears twice. Cross rhythms alternate with unison phrases in the scherzo sections, while the elegance of the two trio sections brings lyrical, playful exchanges between wind and strings. The final movement is a sort of perpetuum mobile, starting with the opening semiquaver subject and later taxing the bassoon in the recapitulation, and the double basses in the coda. High spirits and good humour mark the whole movement.

Programme notes provided by John Dalton, April 2010

Our next concert will be


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.