Monday, February 23, 2015

Schubert, Beethoven, Bach, Family and friends

A delightful family celebration yesterday with many friends and family. The great majority have either known me for more than half my life, or I have known them for more than half their lives - or both.

In addition I had the privilege of playing some music with some wonderful musicians.
  • Kathron Sturrock has worked with some of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century: Schwartzkopf, Rostropovich and Brendel. She is a Professor at the Royal College of Music and directs the Fibonacci Sequence, a wonderful chamber ensemble. I am incredibly fortunate to get piano lessons from Kathron from time to time. 
  • Ruth Palmer shot to the attention of the musical world in 2006 when her independent début CD Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1 & Violin Sonata won rave reviews from everyone. When my nephew Martin and I went to a Wigmore Hall recital her Bach Chaconne seemed to dissolve the hall into a cathedral of sound. I said to Martin I thought this was genius playing and a friend of Ruth’s who overheard suggested I should come and tell her so. We were delighted when she was nominated for a Classical Brit award (Young Classical Musician of the Year) and we went to the Albert Hall to support her. Nicola Benedetti was another nominee and I remember the stunned silence when the winner was announced: the judges had relied on their ears rather than the PR machines and Ruth was the winner. She has since performed to acclaim in the UK, the US and continental Europe and has given world premières of at least 2 concertos.
  • Rupert and Rachael Beale: my son and daughter-in-law, who were both choral scholars at Trinity and are both wonderful singers.
Here are my notes for the pieces we played:
Schubert Fantasie in F Minor D940
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote this in the last few months of his life and dedicated it to his pupil Countess Karoline Esterházy (1811-1851) a descendant of Haydn’s famous patrons. He was unrequitedly in love with her. It is widely considered one of the finest works for Piano 4 hand.
JS Bach Goldberg Variations Theme
JS Bach (1685-1750) is my favourite composer and of all the pieces I can play the Goldberg Variations are my favourite. I try to play them at significant moments in my life. But there was neither the time to play them nor to rehearse them to an adequate standard, so the Theme must stand for them all. It was probably written by Bach for his wife Anna Magdalena (1701-1760): an accomplished singer and mother of 13 of Bach’s children including JCF Bach (1732–1795) and JC Bach (1735–1782). They were influential in developing the Classical style of which Beethoven was a supreme exponent – indeed on JS Bach’s death it was thought that he would be remembered mainly for his sons. The variations are of unsurpassed beauty and compositional virtuosity: Beethoven pays homage to them in his great Diabelli Variations of 1823.
Beethoven Sonata No 6 for Violin and Piano 2nd Movement
Beethoven (1770 -1827) wrote this in 1802 and dedicated it to Tsar Alexander I who had come to the throne in 1801. Alexander I began as a reformer and he also made peace with Britain and opened negotiations with Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor. After the (brief) general peace of October 1801 Alexander began openly to admire French institutions and Napoleon, though from 1804 onwards he became Napoleon’s implacable enemy. He died in 1825 and was succeeded by his brother Nicholas I. Beethoven was an admirer of Napoleon until he made himself Emperor in 1804. The world was at peace and things were looking good in 1802 which may account for the sunny mood of the whole sonata. It may also be the influence of Haydn (1732-1809) who had briefly been Beethoven’s teacher in 1790-91 and who composed his last major work in 1802.
Schubert Der Vater mit dem Kinde (D.906)
Schubert wrote this in 1827. The words are by his close friend Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802 - 1890) who was a prolific playwright and wrote a libretto for an unfinished opera of Schubert’s. Rupert and I first performed this song in public in 1995 at a charity concert in Leighton House. In German “child” has neuter gender so we don’t know if it is a son or daughter. The concept of  “melancholy-filled bliss” (wehmuthsvoller Seligkeit) is very German Romantic! To prepare ourselves for the Leighton House concert we had a memorable lesson from the great English Tenor Ian Partridge – and we still have the marked up copy from this.
The father lies, the child in arm
It rests so well, it rests so warm
It sweetly smiles: dear father mine
And with the smile it falls asleep.

The father bows and hardly breathes
And listens to his child’s dream
He thinks of the vanished time
With melancholy-filled bliss.

And a tear from the depth of his heart
Falls on his child’s mouth.
He quickly kisses the tear away
And rocks it quietly up and down

To win the whole world
He would not give up his heart’s child.
You’re blessed already in this world
Whose fortune in your arms is held

Schubert An Die Musik (D.547)
Schubert wrote this in 1817. The words are by another friend Franz von Schober (1769 - 1882) who was a poet and actor and wrote the libretto for Schubert's 1822 opera Alfonso und Estrella - which was never performed in Schubert’s lifetime and has hardly ever been performed since. It is for obvious reasons a favourite of musicians. Rachael has very kindly agreed to do it in a singing translation I have made. These things are always tricky: the opening words “Du holde Kunst” could be rendered “you gracious craft” but then as WS Gilbert remarked “I admire your ruddy countenance” could also be rendered as “I like your bloody cheek”.
O lovely art! How oft when I am downcast
And am in life’s bewildering coils enfurled
You draw my heart to warmth and love enticing
And carry me into a better world …
Carry me to a better world.

Oft has a sigh that from your harp has flown -
A holy harmony you send below -
The heavenly realm unlocked to my poor spirit
O lovely art, I thank you so profoundly …
O lovely art, I thank you so!

No comments: