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.
There are so many good reasons to join an orchestra we hardly know where to begin. Here are just eight of them...
1. To improve your playing.
There’s nothing like tackling new material with other musicians to improve all aspects of your playing. That first step can be nerve wracking, but it is worth taking!
2. To meet new people and make new friends.
We’re a diverse group here at the NFO – all ages covered, all of us doing different things with the rest of our weeks – all of us having fun playing music together and doing something we love. It makes for some enjoyable conversations during the tea break!
3. To relax and have fun
There’s nothing like playing music to switch your mind off any worries as you concentrate on the notes - and nothing like the satisfaction from a piece played well!
And did we mention there’s a tea break halfway through rehearsals? With biscuits?
4. To discover new music...
5. ...and to rediscover ‘old’ music
We have a wide repertoire at the NFO and have worked on some lesser known pieces – Gurney’s beautiful War Elegy from our last term comes to mind, a moving piece that most of us in both the orchestra and audience wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. This term we are playing Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony, and rediscovering an old favourite like this brings a deeper appreciation when listening to it.
6. To inspire others
We love sharing our music with audiences around the New Forest, some of whom will hear pieces they hadn’t heard before, some may even consider taking up an instrument or revisiting one.
7. For the health benefits
Playing an instrument is a wonderful cognitive workout, whatever your age. Research shows it also lowers blood pressure and reduces the levels of cortisol in the body, in turn reducing stress – all a welcome bonus.
8. To escape the day-to-day
For lots of us, Wednesday evenings in rehearsals offer something very different to the rest of our weeks. Shaking up the routine to escape the office/the family/the housework and to be immersed in wonderful music for a couple of hours can have a truly rejuvenating effect.
If you’d like to join us we'd love to hear from you, please get in touch and come along to a rehearsal soon!
In our concert tomorrow night we feature Beethoven's powerful Egmont Overture. With a stately orchestral opening and a dramatic and powerful finale so typical of Beethoven, it is no wonder the Egmont Overture is so well-known and loved by audiences around the world, but not everyone is quite as familiar with the story behind the music.
The piece is derived from incidental music he wrote for Goethe’s play of the same name, which tells the story of Count Egmont, a statesman and general in the Spanish Netherlands in the 1500s. Count Egmont was arrested and executed for his part leading the resistance to the Inquisition; the uprising that followed eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands. John Suchet beautifully describes the way Beethoven’s music so exquisitely depicts the story in his article on the Classic FM website:
“Triple piano, slowly building to a massive fortissimo, an exhilarating passage in the major key which tells us that Count Egmont’s spirit, and all he fought for, lives on; that the people of the Netherlands ultimately threw out the rapacious invader. That – as in so much of Beethoven’s work – darkness has given way to light, freedom has triumphed over oppression.”
The Egmont Overture is one of several compositions which illustrate Beethoven's enduring passion for the concepts of freedom and social justice. There is of course the famous story of Beethoven withdrawing his dedication of his Eroica symphony to Napoleon on learning that Napolean had declared himself Emperor.
Both Schubert and Beethoven were based in Vienna, although had very different lives and little contact with each other. Unlike Schubert, Beethoven was celebrated in Vienna and across Germany and held concerts for aristocratic patrons and the public alike. His piano concertos and symphonies were held in high regard during his lifetime. Around death there was some connection between the two composers; Schubert, 27 years the junior, is said to have visited Beethoven on his deathbed, when Beethoven saw some of Schubert’s songs he said “He has a divine spark”. Schubert was a torchbearer at Beethoven’s funeral, attended by an estimated 20,000 people, and it was only a year later that he himself died aged just 31, and was buried next to Beethoven.
The New Forest Orchestra will be performing Beethoven's Egmont Overture in their concert at 7.30pm on Saturday 30 March at All Saints' Church in Milford on Sea.
As our next concert falls on the weekend of Mother’s day, it got us thinking… about mothers and music! For many of us in the orchestra our mothers played a huge role in our musical education, in fact as I grew up my own mother spent many an evening and weekend driving me to rehearsals and concerts.
Of course mothers were also important in the lives of the composers that we will feature in our concert on the 30th of March.
Felix Mendelssohn’s mother, Lea Mendelssohn Batholdy, was a brilliant pianist herself and taught by one of J S Bach’s students. She played a huge role in the development of her children’s musical talent, teaching Felix and his sister Fanny to play the piano. Fanny Mendelssohn was also a great composer, writing over 460 pieces of music, some of which were published under her brother’s name.
Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich Beethoven, had a hard life, with only three of her eight children surviving into adulthood. She described her marriage to Ludwig’s father, who suffered from alcoholism, as a ‘chain of sorrows’. Despite the difficulties she had to bear she was a good mother - as Ludwig wrote;
"She was such a kind, loving mother to me, and my best friend".
We extend a warm welcome to all the mothers joining us in Milford on Sea on the 30th of March! Some of us in the orchestra are lucky enough to be expecting our own mothers to be in the audience, still sharing our enjoyment of music today. Thank you, Mum!
Tone, or Symphonic, poems are single movement works that attempt to depict a scene, landscape, theme or the content of a written piece such as a novel or poem. Although the idea was not new (thinking of Vivaldi’s The Fours Seasons for example) it particularly developed in the nineteenth century and there is an argument for considering Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” an early example.
Mendelssohn, from a well-off Berlin family, could afford to have his European travels and travelled to Scotland. A boat trip to the island of Staffa inspired his depiction of Fingal’s cave, and only hours later he had written the opening theme and sent them in a letter to his sister, with the comment “How extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me”. He originally named the piece ‘To the Lonely Island’ before deciding upon ‘The Hebrides’ - though some confusion was caused when a publisher produced an edition named ‘Fingal’s Cave’ a little later, a title which stuck.
For those of us that haven’t had the pleasure of a visit to Fingal’s Cave, the cave itself is over 60 metres deep and stormy tides cause the sounds of the rumbling waves inside it to reverberate for miles. Mendelssohn’s music beautifully captures the drama of the sea with intense and mysterious rolling melodies full of crescendos and crashes, and calmer passages conveying stiller waters.
New Forest Orchestra will be performing this beautiful piece at their upcoming concert in Milford on Sea on Saturday 30 March.
As we approach our next concert we were remembering fondly some of the appreciative, generous, and sometimes amusing comments we’ve had from audiences in the past. It always means so much to hear that the audience have had (almost?) as much fun as we have, and have perhaps discovered pieces or composers they’ve not listened to before. After all, music is for sharing.
We had a ‘fly on the wall reporter’ at a previous concert just over a year ago, who noted down some of the fabulous comments heard at that event…
‘It’s nice to hear different music’
‘Lot of work there, I wonder how long they take to rehearse it’
‘They’ve got a lot of musicians haven’t they?’
'That was fast and very intricate, lovely’
‘Pity you can’t see the man at the back playing’
‘Aren’t we lucky to have an orchestra like this coming here’
‘Some of them aren’t that young to be playing all this time!'
Thank you to all of our wonderful audience members, past and present – we’d be nothing without you. We hope to meet more of you at our next concert on the 30 March!
Rehearsals are well underway for our upcoming concert, Mainly Schubert, and excitement is building at the NFO as we prepare to perform music from this great composer. An Austrian composer from the late classical/early romantic period, Schubert was only 31 years of age at the time of his death. Despite his short lifetime he left behind a huge number of extremely highly-rated musical works — art songs, piano works, chamber music and symphonies in addition to sacred choral works, operas and incidental music for the stage, however, he was predominately known as a composer of song in his own lifetime. In a way it is strange that we are left with little in the way of remnants of Schubert’s considerable efforts in the Theatre. He composed quite a few Singspiel Operas (musical numbers separated by passages of dialogue) and sacred Oratorios which are rarely, if ever, performed. Maybe he was unlucky or poor at choosing collaborators? Contrast this with the fact that his other vocal works (i.e. Lieder and late Song Cycles such as Die Schoene Mullerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill) and Winterreise (Winter Journey)) are widely considered to be absolute masterpieces.
It is interesting that much of Schubert’s music was performed solely in intimate gatherings of friends and adherents, and in fact only one public concert took place in his lifetime. None of his orchestral works had been published or performed. After his death, various musicians (Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and even Arthur Sullivan) did much to bring his music to the attention of the public and music publishers and raise it to the ranking it now has today. On Saturday 30 March we feature his Unfinished Symphony, plus some reminders of his musical interest in the stage and their possible links.