Thursday, August 12, 2021 – 7:30PM
Composers and Compositions
Respighi was a unique voice in classical music of the early twentieth century while being one of the leading composers of his day. He composed a huge range of music from operas and ballet to chamber music, songs and interestingly transcriptions of works from Italian composers of the 15th through 18th centuries as well as the works of Bach and Rachmaninoff. He studied strings at the Liceo Musicale di Bologna, leaving school to become a full-time composer. He worked with some for the great artists of his day including the choreographer Diaghilev and the Italian conductor, Toscanini
Il tramonto (The sunset)
This unique work was written in 1914 and is based on a text of Percy Bysshe Shelley. It has been described as a romantic ballad or a tone poem as the strings actually describe the text as well. It takes the listener on an audible journey as the poem unfolds with colourful instrumentation in display through a variety of moods. The story follows a young couple in love that ends in tragedy. Respighi also wrote a string orchestra version with the addition of the double bass.
Prokofiev was one of the most important composers of the first half of the 20th century. He composed and excelled in most of the musical genres of his day writing such memorable works such as the opera Romeo and Juliet, Lieutenant Kiji and a variety of concertos and sonatas. He began composing when he was young and was one of the youngest students at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Originally, he was well known as a pianist, writing his two difficult piano concertos for himself.
After the Russian revolution in 1917, Prokofiev left Russia going first to the United States then Germany and Paris working as a composer, a pianist and a conductor. In 1932 he returned to Russia as opportunities following the depression had slowed in Europe and the United States. He had considerable success back Russia even as he faced criticism for pandering to Stalinist artistic conservatism. Prokofiev had the ill fortune of dying the same day as Stalin, delaying and overshadowing that of his own.
Prokofiev’s arrival in the United States after some hops along the Pacific for concerts, came at a bad time. Concerts were cancelled as the ‘Spanish flu’ made its way through the population and large-scale productions such as ballet and opera were put on hold. ‘To fly from the Bolsheviks to die from Spanish Flu! What sarcasm!’ He did not actually get the deadly flu himself, but suffered from lack of funds, with little work presenting itself. He remained in America for almost two years before deciding to go to Europe, seeking better fortunes.
String Quartet No. 1
Prokofiev’s first string quartet was commissioned by the Library of Congress in 1931, partially as a result of a tour he made back to the Untied States. Prokofiev did not write much chamber music and was already well into his composition career when he wrote it. The composer thought the third movement particularly good and subsequently arranged it for string orchestra
Goossens is not a well-known character to contemporary audiences. He was born in England to a musical family. Early on, known as a successful violinist he transitioned to conducting giving the first British performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in 1921 with the composer present. For many years he conducted orchestras in the United States, most notably with the Cincinnati Symphony. There, in 1942 he proposed a musical commemoration by commissioning a number of American composers to produce fanfares in honour of the war effort. One was from Aaron Copeland who wrote his famous ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ for the occasion.
Goossens conducted in Australia until a scandal ended his career there. He was central though to the development and building of the famous Sydney Opera House
His compositions are few and generally not know today. He did compose some concertos, two string quartets and string octet and operas. His early works are influenced by French impressionism. Later on, he incorporated more elements of chromaticism and atonality.
Three Songs, Op. 26
The songs Op. 26 with String Quartet accompaniment was written in 1920, right after the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic. They are based on the poetry of three sixteenth century British writers. Goossens was just beginning his career as a conductor, encouraged by Thomas Beecham. They display his influence at the time which was from impressionists such as Debussy.