Hallam Sinfonia: Resurgence
Saturday 10 October,
4.00pm & 6.00pm
Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, Sheffield
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Fantasia on Greensleeves
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
One of the leading figures in the renaissance of English musical life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Ralph Vaughan Williams began composing when he was six and was still writing the day he died. He studied composition with Parry, Charles Wood, Stanford and Bruch before moving briefly to France for an intensive period of study with Ravel.
It has long been rumoured that the well-known melody ‘Greensleeves’ was written by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn, but there is little evidence to support the idea; the melody’s style would suggest a later provenance. In any case, Vaughan Williams incorporated both ‘Greensleeves’ and the less well-known tune ‘Lovely Joan’ into his opera Sir John in Love, based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. In 1934, Ralph Greaves arranged the relevant music from the opera for an orchestra of flexible composition (‘string orchestra and harp (or piano), with 1 (or 2) optional flutes’), under the watchful eye of the composer.
Brandenburg Concerto no.4 in G major
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Bach was never satisfied with any of the official posts he held, and as a result was constantly looking out for opportunities to network and improve his situation. In 1721 he sent the scores of six concerti – written out in his own hand rather than that of a copyist – to the Margrave of Brandenburg, to whom the pieces are dedicated, ‘begging you most humbly not to judge their imperfections’. Bach may already have had his sights set on the position of Court Composer, and therefore sought to curry favour with royalty. However, as with so many of Bach’s most famous works, large parts of these Brandenburg Concerti may well have been written years earlier, and recycled for the task at hand.
It is hard to believe now that Bach’s music was not acclaimed immediately for the genius it exhibited; outside of a handful of aficionados there were few who appreciated any of his work, either during the composer’s lifetime or in the 50 years after his death. While he was alive, Bach’s fame was eclipsed by men who today are merely footnotes in the history of music. Today we have come to realise not only the value of Bach’s compositions per se, but also their enormous influence on all musicians who came after him. In the words of Ernest Newman:
we wonder at Bach as at any other immense force of nature. The wonder consists of our finding, after this or that development that we look upon as new, that the germs of it are in Bach. Dig almost where we will in modern music, we cannot help coming upon one of his mighty bones.
Elegy from A Downland Suite
John Ireland (1879-1962)
John Ireland studied organ with the Master of the Queen’s Music, Walter Parratt. [Fun fact: at around the same time as Parratt was teaching Ireland, he bought a violin made by Georg Klotz, on behalf of Queen Victoria, to give to the monarch’s grandson Prince Leopold of Battenberg; this violin is now owned by the conductor of today’s concert]. Ireland also studied composition with Stanford at the Royal College of Music, where fellow students included Vaughan Williams and Holst. He held several positions as organist at notable London churches including Holy Trinity, Sloane Street and St Luke’s, Chelsea; he subsequently became a teacher at the Royal College of Music where his pupils included Benjamin Britten, who was not particularly complimentary about him. Though he is hardly a household name today, during his lifetime Ireland was a very popular composer. Despite his success he was extremely self-critical, and in later life destroyed all his works dating from before 1903.
A Downland Suite was written in 1932 as a competition piece for the National Brass Band Championship, and was later arranged for strings by the composer and his pupil Geoffrey Bush. The music was inspired by the Sussex countryside beloved by the composer.
Selections from Water Music
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
2. Adagio e staccato
3. No title (first entry of the horns!)
8 and 9. Bourée and Hornpipe
13. No title (a gentle, lilting number)
14 and 15. No titles (busy, scurrying numbers)
11. No title (first entry of the trumpets!)
12. No title (but you'll recognise this one)
Born Georg Friederich Händel in Halle, the composer of the Water Music began writing music at an early age, though his barber father disapproved of his interest in the arts. Legend has it that young Friederich practised the clavichord secretly (and quietly) in the attic. It was only when a local nobleman heard the nine-year-old Handel play the organ that the boy’s father was persuaded to allow his son to receive musical tuition, though Handel senior died shortly thereafter. At the age of 18, Handel moved to Hamburg as a second violinist in the opera house, where a rivalry began with the composer Mattheson. At a performance on 5th December 1704, Handel refused to give up his place at the harpsichord to Mattheson, who had just finished singing the role of Antony in his own opera Cleopatra, and the two men fought a duel. The story goes that Handel only survived because his opponent’s sword broke on Handel’s coat-button. How different the history of western music would have been without that button!
On the evening of Wednesday 17th July, 1717, at about 8 p.m., King George I and a considerable portion of his court took to the river Thames in a number of well-appointed boats, for the purpose of entertaining themselves. In one of the vessels there were fifty musicians, who performed music by Handel which so pleased the King that he demanded that everything be repeated, and not once but twice. There is a delightful (and therefore probably untrue) story that prior to this event Handel had been out of favour with the King, because when George was simply the Elector of Hanover the composer had stayed too long in England, to George’s annoyance. Allegedly Handel’s involvement in the party on the Thames was kept a secret, until the King asked ‘who has written this wonderful music?’ whereupon Handel was presented, begging humbly for forgiveness for his sins, and they all lived happily ever after.
Richard Laing is an artist of remarkable versatility. In an age of increasing specialisation he is a true polymath, bringing a wide variety of influences to his music-making. He is Principal Guest Conductor of Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, Associate Conductor of Chandos Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of Leamington Chamber Orchestra and of choirs in Nottingham, Leicester and Somerset. He began his career as Sinfonia ViVA Conducting Scholar at Birmingham Conservatoire, where after nine months of study he was awarded his Masters Degree, a Postgraduate Diploma, and the Postgraduate Prize for the most outstanding contribution to the musical life of the college. Shortly thereafter he was appointed to the post of Associate Conductor with the virtuoso young ensemble Sinfonia Cymru.
As one of the nation’s foremost choral conductors, Richard frequently undertakes choral preparation, off-stage conducting and pre-concert talks for Britain’s top orchestras. For the Hallé he has prepared Belshazzar’s Feast, Alexander Nevsky, The Music Makers, The Planets and Poulenc’s Gloria. For the BBC Symphony Orchestra he has prepared Carmina Burana. As a violinist Richard is a core player with the Orchestra of the Swan, a guest Principal with the English Symphony Orchestra, and a guest leader for several orchestras in London and the Midlands.
Richard’s recent conducting engagements include Britten’s War Requiem at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, Bach’s St John Passion in Wells Cathedral with James Gilchrist, and his debut performances with the Orchestra of the Swan and the Bardi. Last year Richard was guest leader for Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of Das Rheingold at Symphony Hall. He works as a competition adjudicator and an external examiner in orchestral conducting at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
In his limited spare time Richard writes on a wide range of subjects. While still an undergraduate, his work on John F. Kennedy’s policy in Vietnam won the Kaiser Award for American History. He has presented papers on subjects as diverse as apocalyptic cinema, M.C. Escher, and reality TV at the International Conferences on Film and Literature at Florida State University. He is now studying for a Certificate in Astronomy and Planetary Science with the Open University. Richard is an expert on the work of Wagner, and as a student was the youngest of the sixteen authorities from around the world invited to present his research at the International Wagner Symposium at the University of Adelaide. His articles and reviews are regularly published in The Wagner Journal, Wagner News, and online, though his proudest achievement is being published in the iconic games magazine White Dwarf.
Hannah Thompson Smith, Kate Fehler, Amanda Johnson, Richard Gilbert, Ellis Ash
John Cooper, Charlotte Pinder, Debs Blewitt, Catherine Bowman
Helen Mather, Charlotte Kenyon, Barbara Chisholm
Jeremy Dawson, Charlie Hardwick, Joy Paul, Sue Dumpleton
Judith Ennis, Kathryn Hathaway
Jo Towler, Frank Edenborough
Matthew Redfearn, David Tonkin