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Loughborough Orchestra

Programme Notes for 25 January 2020

Trinity Methodist Church

 

 

Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture                       Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)

Glinka initially pursued a profession in the Russian civil service, working for 4 years in the Ministry of Roads and Communications before deciding to follow a musical career.  He was particularly influenced by Russian peasant folk music, and his compositional style was a conscious effort to bring about a Nationalist Russian art music.  Consequently, his works are infused with folk-style melodies and idioms.  The opera Ruslan and Ludmilla was based on a poem of 1820 by the Russian writer Pushkin, an epic fantasy tale based in mediaeval Russia.  Ludmilla is the daughter of Prince Vladimir who on the night of her marriage to the knight Ruslan is abducted by an evil sorcerer.  Ruslan enters on a long quest to recover his bride, in competition with other suitors.  Pushkin’s death in a duel prevented him from writing the opera’s libretto, as had been intended, so Glinka began to write the opera without a libretto at first; the premiere took place in 1842 in St Petersburg.  The Overture opens with the fast and energetic marriage theme from the opera, while the broad and lyrical second subject is the melody of Ruslan’s aria in the second act in which he sings of his love for Ludmilla.

 

 

Concerto No. 1 for Clarinet, Op. 7          Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

Weber was the son of an opera singer mother and a father who ran a small theatre troupe.  It was apparent that Weber was a musically talented child, so he was taught music from an early age.  For a while he was the pupil of Michael Haydn, brother of composer Joseph Haydn.  Weber was one of the earliest voices of the German Romantic movement, both as a musician and as a writer. 

 

He became friends with the celebrated clarinettist Heinrich Bäermann, for whom he wrote many works, including two concertos.  The clarinet was a relatively new instrument at that time, only having become established as part of the symphony orchestra at the end of the 18th century, when it was used by Mozart in his later symphonies.  Bäermann used a new key system for the clarinet, which allowed great flexibility and even tone across the instrument’s range.  Weber demonstrated the clarinet’s range and capabilities and Bäermann’s skilful playing in his compositions.

 

Weber’s First Concerto for clarinet was written in 1811 and was dedicted to Bäermann.  There are three movements:

1. Allegro
The dramatic and expressive first movement combines lyrical melody and fast virtuosic passages for the soloist.

2. Adagio ma non troppo
The slow second movement is a calm contrast to the first movement.  A long melody for the clarinet leads into a more dramatic central section, followed by a return of the first theme.  There is an unusual and very expressive passage for soloist and horns towards the end of the movement.

3. Allegretto
The last movement is a light-hearted Rondo, in which the main theme alternates with contrasting sections, and the clarinet is required to demonstrate great technical skill.


Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27         Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

Rachmaninov was fortunate to have been born into a wealthy, aristocratic, musical family.  He began to learn the piano at age 4, and it was soon apparent that he was an exceptionally gifted musician.  His family employed a live-in music teacher for him, and he eventually completed his studies at the Moscow Conservatoire where he studied piano and composition.  In 1896 his First Symphony was disastrously reviewed by fellow composer César Cui, which contributed to Rachmaninov entering a period of depression and reduced creativity which lasted for some years.  After successful treatment he was able to return to composition.  After working as a conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre for several years, Rachmaninov eventually emigrated to the United States with his family after the Russian Revolution, where he pursued a busy career as a conductor and pianist until his death in Beverley Hills.

 

Rachmaninov is noted for his richly late-Romantic compositional style and colourful orchestral writing.  Though living most of his life in the 20th century, his music was not touched by the modernist sounds of, for instance, his fellow emigré Russian composer Stravinsky.  Though it is difficult to believe now in the light of Rachmaninov’s huge popularity, his music was disparaged by fellow composers during his lifetime; though he was highly regarded as a pianist. 

 

The Second Symphony was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1908, written shortly after Rachmaninov was employed at the Bolshoi.  It was conducted by the composer, and was an immediate success, winning the Glinka Prize of 1,000 rubles. 

 

1. Largo – Allegro moderato

In the symphony’s slow opening,  the cellos and double basses introduce the rising and falling motif which pervades the symphony.  The allegro moderato section of the first movement begins with a restless sighing motif, the pace soon slowing to reveal the more lyrical second subject of the movement.  This long and complex movement develops and expands on its themes, coming to a triumphal end.

 

2. Allegro molto

The second movement is a scherzo, whose lively opening soon leads into a expansively melodic slower section.  This is followed by a fugue which refers to the Dies Irae plainchant melody which the composer used in other works, including Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  The earlier passages return, and the movement winds down to a mysterious conclusion.

 

3. Adagio

The slow third movement begins with a long, flowing melody which unwinds on the clarinet.  A more urgent central section then leads back into a return of the opening melody.

 

4. Allegro vivace

The finale opens with a fast and dance-like character, slowing down for a broader second subject.  A brief reminiscence of the third movement leads into a passage of bell-like descending scales.  The first theme returns, then the broad melody of the second subject brings the symphony to its conclusion.