Mansion House Concert 2014: Programme & Programme Notes

Programme

Adolphe Blanc (1828-1885)      Romance for Oboe, Horn and Piano Op. 43bis 

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)    Piano Solo

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)   from “6 Metamorphoses after Ovid” Oboe Solo

Johann Carl Eschermann (1826-1900)   Phantasiestuecke for Horn and Piano                                                         

**********INTERVAL***********

Heinrich Molbe (1835-1915)     Air arabe, op. 77, for Oboe Horn and Pian0

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900)  Trio for Oboe, Horn and Piano, Op. 61 

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Programme Notes Part 1

Adolphe Blanc  was a French violin prodigy and composer who was born in Manosque, France. He began to study the violin at the age of 13 at the Conservatoire de Paris. He also studied composition with Jacques Fromental Halévy, the teacher of Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet and Léon Gastinel.
 In 1855 Blanc became leader at the Théâtre Lyrique, and in 1860 he joined the Konzertvereinigung of the Conservatoire de Paris. Although he made his living as conductor at the Théâtre Lyrique after 1855 and as violinist of the Conservatoire de Paris, he understood himself as a composer. He wrote numerous chamber music works, mainly for strings and piano. Together with George Onslow he kept the French chamber music tradition alive, while most French music was centered on the opera. His chamber music works were in the tradition of the Viennese Klassik, thus his Romance for oboe, horn and piano is better suited to a house concert than a large concert hall.
In 1862 he was awarded the Prix Chartier of the Academy of the Arts in Paris. He is a fairly unknown composer today and not many of his works have been played or recorded.
Benjamin Britten was an English composer, conductor and pianist who is well known all over the world for his operas and is one of the most acclaimed composers born in the 20th century. Besides, he produced important music in such varied genres as orchestral, choral, solo, vocal,  chamber and instrumental, as well as film music. The programme music Six Methamorphoses after Ovid, Op. 49 was composed in 1951. The piece relies on the fifteen books the Latin poet Ovid wrote to describe the history of the world from its creation to the time of Julius Caesar in a mythical narration. For the composition Britten took six main stories out of the fifteen books to set to music. As a result the music is in six movements, each of which contains a superscription. At tonight’s concert three of these metamorphoses will be played.
Johann Carl Eschmann was born in Winterthur, Switzerland. His father was an instructor for wind bands, and a conductor with the army band of the Canton of Zurich, as well as playing the horn and bassoon. Johann had his first piano lessons in Zurich with Alexander Müller, a friend of R. Wagner, and from 1845 to 1847 he studied at the Conservatoire Leipzig with Felix Mendelssohn. Later he taught piano in Zurich and Winterthur. Because of competition with Theodor Kirchner in Winterthur, he moved to Schaffhausen in 1859 and held positions as a choir conductor as well as piano and voice teacher.
Eschmann played solo piano in concerts with the “Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft Zürich” (today: Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich), and played violin in the orchestra conducted by Richard Wagner. He was a good friend of Wagner and he met Johannes Brahms when he moved back to Zurich in 1866. One of Eschmann’s pieces for piano is dedicated to Brahms. J. C. Eschmann is one of the most important Swiss composers of the Romantic Era. Even though he must have been influenced by his friendships with Brahms, Wagner and Liszt, his music is more easily compared to that of Mendelssohn, Carl Maria von Weber, and Louis Spohr.
Some of Eschmann’s works were influenced by Robert Schumann, as seen in the romantic, song-like character of the six fantasy pieces for horn and piano. Titles and poems by the Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen (“little mermaid”) give an idea of the various characters of the movements. The listener is carried away to a world of romantic melancholy, lost love, and youth. Even the happier movements cannot entirely get rid of the sad atmosphere, with the fifth movement being the saddest. Despite all the gloominess, a jolly waltz at the celebration of the grape harvest temporarily makes us forget, through wine and dancing, about these sorrows.
Poems (5th mvt.) by Hans Christian Andersen:
•Was soll es denn bedeuten,
•Dass so wild du pochst, mein Herz?
•Noch am Grabe die Hoffnung flüstert,
•Wenn der Tod den Blick umdüstert:
•„Schlafe, mein Püppchen, mein Engel bist du!“
•Unter der Erde, da wird dir Ruh’
•Und Frieden im himmlischen Saale.
Domenico Scarlatti was one of the most prolific composers for the keyboard. He spent most of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families and the 555 piano sonatas he wrote during his lifetime influenced composers of the Classical style strongly. Most of his sonatas are written in binary form and were intended for the harpsichord and, during the later years of his life, the early pianofortes. Scarlatti’s piano sonatas have attracted notable admirers, including Chopin, Brahms, Shostakovich to name a few and they are widely performed by pianists across the world. Despite them being ‘Baroque’-pieces chronologically, they seem surprisingly modern and fresh, which explains their permanent place among concert repertoire.
Maurice Ravel was one of the major figures of French impressionism around the end of the 19th and early 20th century alongside Claude Debussy, the so-called father of impressionist music. Ravel had an incredible ability to create unique sound-worlds that had not been discovered before. Not only in his orchestral works such as his Bolero does he show his seemingly endless range of instrumental sounds and colours, but also his piano works show his unique style clearly.
His Jeux d’Eau is one of his most famous and equally demanding pieces. It is a programmatic piece that he wrote in 1901 about the water fountains at the Villa d’Este. At the time of composition, Ravel was a student of Gabriel Fauré, to whom this piece is dedicated. It is a great example of Ravel’s early endeavours to find new techniques and textures on the piano. He himself said about the piece: ‘Jeux d’eau, appearing in 1901, is at the origin of the pianistic novelties which one would notice in my work. This piece, inspired by the noise of water and by the musical sounds which make one hear the sprays of water, the cascades, and the brooks, is based on two motives in the manner of the movement of a sonata – without, however, subjecting itself to the classical tonal plan.’ This quote clearly shows the strong influence that music from the Classical era had on him but at the same time it shows his visionary compositional ideas that went far beyond anything that had existed previously.
Francis Poulenc is an equally important figure of French music of the 20th century. He composed music for a wide range of genres such as art songs, solo piano music, chamber music, oratorios, choral music, operas, ballets and orchestral music. He was very fond of the compositional technique of bi-tonality, which is a way of writing in two key signatures at once, for instance C major and E major at the same time. A lot of Poulenc’s music is very ironical in character, juxtaposing old dances and new dissonances and generally mocking old forms.
The Napoli Suite is one of his rarely played works for solo piano. It comprises three movements, the first and third being dances that frame a slow and melancholic Nocturne.

Programme Notes Part 2

‘H. Molbe’ was the pseudonym for Dr Heinrich Freiherr von Bach. He practised as a barrister in Vienna (probably after Herzogenberg had left the city) while also composing some 200 songs and 140 chamber works. His brothers were perhaps better-known than him; Otto Bach was Director of the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and Alexander von Bach was a prominent Austrian politician.
Alexander also ran a series of ‘Thursday Evenings’ at his home where music would have been played. He had trained as a diplomat, was fascinated with the Orient, and studied several languages, including Arabic. It therefore seems likely that the Air arabe was composed for one such evening. The title has nothing to do with actual Arabian music, it is an example of the exoticism that was part of nineteenth-century Romanticism. As the European upper-middle class became more comfortable, they also became fascinated with the world outside – a place seen as more relaxed, more colourful, more sensual.
No matter that these are simple and wishful stereotypes, they gave Bach an opportunity to indulge in soulful melodies, chromaticism, unusual harmonic changes, and a sensual mood – a mood that he sustains brilliantly throughout the piece. His writing for the instruments, and the balance between them, is also consistently effective. He may have been a part-time composer, but this is a thoroughly professional piece of work.
Heinrich von Herzogenberg was born in Graz, Austria, and lived later in Leipzig. He was a descendant of an aristocratic French family who moved to Austria after the French Revolution.
His Trio in D major is very similar in style to the trio for violin, horn and piano by Johannes Brahms which was written 24 years earlier in 1865. The three instruments have equal roles in the music and the melody is passed around and shared.
Herzogenberg actually met Brahms personally and they became friends, exchanging many letters about musical and compositional affairs. In 1868 he married Elisabeth von Stockhausen, a pupil Brahms was very fond of. Brahms only once commented on Herzogenberg’s work, saying: “Herzogenberg is able to do more than any of the others.”
The Herzogenbergs frequented the Swiss town of Heiden as their holiday destination, even building a house named Abendroth (sunset) with a view over the Bodensee (Lake Constance). After Elisabeth’s unexpected death Herzogenberg focused his work on church music. Throughout his life he wrote songs for choir, various chamber ensembles, a violin concerto and two symphonies. Several of Herzogenberg’s major works were thought to have been destroyed during World War II but resurfaced during the 1990s.

The programme and the programme notes were put together by the musicians, Immanuel Voigt, Florian Hunziker and Katharina Fritzsche.

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