One of Beethoven’s best loved works, the Pastoral Symphony transports us to the Viennese countryside through hypnotic spirals of time and pattern, joyful motifs and sheer intensity. NFO Chair and Leader, Alan Ford, shares his view to help us better understand this majestic work.
“The Symphony is unusual in that Beethoven rarely wrote programmatic (descriptive) works. Beethoven himself however said “the music is more an expression of feeling than painting”. The movements are as follows:
1. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside
2. Scene by the Brook
3. Merry gathering of country folk
4. Thunder, Storm
5. Shepherd's song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm
The Pastoral Symphony was composed by Beethoven in 1808 and given its first performance that year in Vienna with Beethoven himself conducting. Both the Pastoral and the Fifth Symphony, also composed that year, were included in a mammoth concert lasting four hours.
Beethoven used to walk in the countryside at Heligenstadt (then outside Vienna) enjoying the sights and sounds of nature but always carrying a notebook to jot down musical ideas.
The first movement in F major starts with a tune in the violins over a cello and bass drone. In the second movement, themes suggestive of the movement of water can definitely be discerned. In the coda towards the end of the movement there are birdcall motifs (nightingale, quail and cuckoo) played by woodwind instruments.
The remaining three movements follow each other without a break. The third movement in scherzo form depicts country folk revelling and dancing. It includes a parody of a village band playing.
Proceedings are interrupted by rumbles of thunder in the distance (cellos and basses), the first raindrops heard in violins and then an increasingly violent storm ensues. Eventually the clouds begin to break, the thunder fades into the distance and the melody from the first flute leads straight into the finale.
The main theme of the Shepherd’s Hymn introduced by the clarinet is taken up by the horns and finally realized fully by the first violins as it becomes a hymn of thanksgiving, which dominates the movement. Note the Shepherd’s pipe represented by the Flute. The movement and Symphony ends peacefully.”
NFO Chair and Leader – Alan Ford
New Forest Orchestra are performing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony at St Thomas’ Church in Lymington at 7.30pm on Saturday 29 June. Tickets are available online and include an advance booking discount.
We have something special for you this week - our Musical Director Ieuan Davies shares his thoughts on J.S. Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, a truly spectacular piece we're looking forward to sharing at our Summer Concert in Lymington on Saturday.
"This work (originally for organ) is one of Bach’s great achievements. It was composed some time between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. Looking back to earlier models and the work of Bach’s teachers, it absorbs the old style into a fierce vision of the new, combining a tour-de-force of keyboard skills with audacious compositional experimentation.
In the winter of 1705, the twenty-year-old Bach was given leave of absence to travel north, on foot, to the city of Lübeck on the Baltic coast. He had sought permission from his employers at the church in Arnstadt in Thuringia to stay away for four weeks, “to learn one thing and another about his art”. He didn’t return for four months, thus missing many important services. Despite this, the church authorities did not see fit to sack him. The teacher he went to visit and study with was the venerable Dieterich Buxtehude (circa 1637-1707) whose organ works represent a central part of the standard organist’s repertoire and are still frequently performed at recitals and in church services.
In the mid baroque period one of the most famous styles of organ display was that of the Passacaglia. Originally a Spanish dance in 3/4 time, a Passacaglia is built on a repeating bass line or ostinato, over which a series of variations appear in the upper voices. In principle it’s one of the simplest approaches to music-making, one that crosses all kinds of traditions, from folk to jazz and beyond: to keep the bass-line going and do something different above each repetition of the pattern.
Bach returned Arnstadt with several choice examples of these works; indeed, those that remain from Buxtehude survive mainly because of Bach’s efforts. The earliest source is found alongside Buxtehude’s music in a collection of music copied by Bach’s brother Andreas, who, for some inexplicable reason, turned the book 180 degrees to write in the Passacaglia. Perhaps, with that act, he was expressing a truth: that a great work turns the world upside down. Not only is the music notated upside down, but the principles of its construction are also inverted
This C minor Passacaglia and Fugue is longer and more complex than its predecessors. It’s theme first appears alone in the bass, a new way to begin such a work, and is both simple and challenging. The ostinato defined by the opening bass line, but it as if the old form cannot hold the imagination of the young composer. It breaks free, migrating up through the texture before being absorbed into virtuosic scales and broken chords. It becomes veiled yet still audible as it escapes its anchoring role to be dispersed across the voices and then to vanish off the very top of the keyboard into momentary silence."
By Ieuan Davies, Musical Director
New Forest Orchestra will perform Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in their Summer Concert at St Thomas' Church, Lymington, at 19.30 on Saturday 29 June. Tickets are available online now with an advance booking discount.
With just under three weeks to go until our summer concert, we’re taking a closer look at the charming Capriol Suite, by the British composer Peter Warlock.
This suite was originally composed in 1926 for Piano Duet and later orchestrated for string orchestra and full orchestra. The pieces are loosely based on a set of dances in a book published in 1588 by the French composer Thoinot Arbeau. This name was in fact an anagram of the name of a Canon at Langres Cathedral who found it expedient to publish a secular work under a nom-de-plume.
Warlock’s Capriol Suite consists of six contrasting movements:
Basse Danse: a lively dance in which the feet glide over the floor. Warlock uses three of Arbeau’s tunes, each orchestrated differently.
Pavane: a more stately dance.
Tordion: similar to the Basse danse in mood, but faster.
Bransles: originally a country dance, taken up by the gentry. Warlock uses five of Arbeau’s tunes here, building in speed and excitement to a frenzy.
Pieds-en-l’Air: the distinguishing feature of this dance is that the feet should move so gently that they barely touch the floor. This is the most lyrical movement, providing calm before the finale.
Mattachins: a sword dance. This exhilarating movement is march-like and concludes with dramatic discordant clashes!
In a interesting parallel with his French predecessor, ‘Peter Warlock’ is in fact a pseudonym used by Philip Arnold Heseltine, under which he published all of his compositions. The Warlock name was chosen to reflect his interest in the occult.
Born in London in 1894 to a wealthy family, Heseltine had a fascinating life. He studied at Eton, a place he is recorded to have ‘loathed’. He found comfort in music and developed a passion for the music of composer Frederick Delius, almost to the point of obsession. He was introduced to and became friends with the older man, who lived in France, near to Heseltine’s uncle. Delius became the first strong formative influence of Heseltine’s career as a composer.
Heseltine had a limited formal musical education and worked as a music critic and journalist for some years before turning more to composing. He became friends with composers such as Bartok, E J Moeran, Walton, and Constant Lambert.
His extremely bohemian lifestyle in the late 1920s was followed by a period of depression and he died of coal-gas poisoning in 1930 at the age of 36, most likely by suicide. The art critic Brian Sewell (born in 1931, seven months after Heseltine’s death) revealed in 2011 that he was the illegitimate son of Philip Heseltine.
Peter Warlock’s legacy includes around 150 songs, many for voice and piano. He also wrote choral pieces, some with instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, and a few purely instrumental works. His Capriol Suite is one of his most well-known and loved pieces.
New Forest Orchestra will be performing Warlock's Capriol Suite and other pieces at their concert in Lymington on Saturday 29 June. Tickets are available online now.