Similarly to Vivaldi, Gustav Holst spent a large part of his career as a pioneering music educator at a girls’ school. From 1905 to his death in 1934 he was employed by the St. Paul’s School for Girls, located in Brook Green, Hammersmith, West London. Contained in that address are the titles of three of Holst’s compositions, but it is St. Paul’s Suite that has become a staple of string orchestra repertoire. Who can resist the dances? We have a lively opening jig, a quiet waltz one would hear in a dream, a waltz treatment of Greensleeves and another jig. Between two of the dances is the wonderful Intermezzo, in which the soulful solo violin and viola delicately wind their way through the pizzicato strings, only to have the orchestra suddenly run at full speed and just as suddenly stop to ponder the old soulful melody again. The Finale (The Dargason) was a bold stroke in a composition for students in 1913. The virtuosity of composition and orchestration we enjoy so much in Holst’s most famous piece, The Planets, still a few years in the future, is evident here. Among English composers, only Holst would dare to combine two familiar tunes having different rhythmic schemes and score that combination so masterfully that the two melodies seem destined to be together from birth.
George Gershwin wrote the lullaby for string quartet when he was a young man of 21. By that time he had been penning songs on Tin Pan Alley for about three years. Although his fame had been secured when Al Jolson transformed a little song called “Swanee” into Gershwin’s first big hit, “Rhapsody in Blue” was still four years away. “Lullaby” had been performed just a few times in private settings before 1922, when George borrowed the opening measures to create a new song for his one- act jazz opera, “Blue Monday.” Forgotten for 40 years, Ira Gershwin showed the “Lullaby” manuscript to harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, who arranged it for harmonica and string quartet and gave the piece its first public performance at the 1963 Edinburgh Festival. Four years later, the Juilliard Quartet performed it for the first time in its original string quartet form. Though Ira had “Lullaby” published the following year, it had remained shadowed by his brother’s many other more famous compositions until recently. Nearly a century after it was written, “Lullaby” seems to be emerging on its own merits–a simple, beautiful song without words and the composer’s only piece for strings.
Each of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is based on a sonnet written by the composer himself. As you listen to the selected movements from each concerto, consider how Vivaldi translates his words into music.
Amici Strings will perform the entire “Four Seasons” with readings of the poems and a performance by violin soloist Paul Roby at our free concert on July 29, 2016.
“Spring” awakens with evocative bird calls.
This movement 3 from the “Summer” Concerto evokes thunder and lightning: a summer storm rages…
The third movement of the “Autumn” Concerto depicts The Hunt. Wild beasts flee the hunters with their weapons and dogs, but ultimately, there are those who cannot escape.
The slow movement of Vivaldi’s “Winter” Concerto illustrates a winter rain; the plucked strings (pizzicato) of the orchestra are the raindrops which soak the passersby.
Dag Wirén (1905-1986) was a composer not well known outside his native Sweden. However, his Serenade for Strings, Op. 11, from 1937, is performed by many string orchestras around the world. One reason is the infectious charm of the final “March” movement, with its melody that seems so familiar, even if you have never heard it. Read more about this composer here:
The Carl Nielsen Society is based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The society’s official website is accessible in English, and on it, you can find a detailed biography, photo gallery, a complete list of compositions and recordings, performances around the world, and links to related subject of interest: Carl Nielsen Society
The Elgar Society is Britain’s largest composer society. The current society President is Julian Lloyd-Webber, cellist, and brother of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, composer of “Phantom of the Opera” and other musicals. Membership is free. Elgar Society
Another website, with links to the Elgar Society, but organized in a possibly more useful layout for American audiences is here: Elgar.org
Antonio Vivaldi is a name so well recognized that he is now the namesake of a recently launched web browser. His “Four Seasons” seems to become more popular every year. The composer’s catalog would take a lifetime of listening or performing before reaching its end. The Saint Paul (MN) Chamber Orchestra has a free listening library on its website. Compositions by “The Red Priest” can be found here: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Listening Library
Peter Warlock is the pseudonym Philip Heseltine used on his musical compositions. He was an English journalist, music critic and composer in the early part of the 20th century. Though his list of completed musical compositions is small, “Capriol” is one of the most often performed pieces in the string orchestra repertoire. It reflects the composer’s interest in Elizabethan music, as the suite is a selection of dance melodies from that period in 20th century clothing. Come hear “Capriol” on the August 7 program.
Performed by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (2012). Conductor: Henning Kraggerud.
We celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Denmark’s greatest composer by closing our August 7th concert with his earliest published piece, the “Little Suite for Strings”. First performed in 1888, when the composer was only 22, the piece was a great success for the young composer. While it does not have the voice that was to develop into the great symphonist of the early 20th Century, the charming Intermezzo does show Nielsen’s early fondness for triple time, which was to become a signature characteristic of his later music.
Performed here by the Orquesta Ciudad de Orihuela (OCO) in 2012. Conductor: Sixto M. Herrero Rodes.
Sir Edward Elgar, the most English of English composers, wrote several pieces for string orchestra. His early “Serenade in E Minor, Op. 20” is one of his most elegant, gentle, noble and beautiful creations, as this second movement of three attests.
The Swedish national string orchestra plays “Larghetto” from Edvar Elgar’s “Serenade for strings in E minor” op.20. Live recording from Lund cathedral, July 3rd, 2009. Conductor: Berth Nilsson.
Amici Strings will perform Elgar’s Serenade on the August 7, 2015 program.