By Colin Kaye
Scotland the Brave
Jackiw. (Photo/Oregon Symphony)
You’ll probably recognise the title as
that of a well-known patriotic song but it’s not as old as you might
imagine. The song appeared around the turn of the twentieth century and the
lyrics that are sung today didn’t appear until the 1950s. It’s one of
several songs considered an unofficial national anthem. I use the word
“unofficial” because strangely enough, Scotland doesn’t have a national
anthem. At international sporting events, a song called Flower of Scotland
is sometimes used in place of one but the song is still under copyright
restrictions, having being written in the 1960s by Roy Williamson of The
Corries folk group.
Several non-Scottish composers have
written music about the country. Malcolm Arnold is an English composer whose
Four Scottish Dances remain popular. The American light music composer,
Leroy Anderson wrote a Scottish Suite and the Czech composer Antonํn
Dvorak wrote a work for piano called Scottish Dances.
It’s quite coincidental that the two
works this week – both inspired by Scotland and written by two German
composers – are played by two orchestras from Galicia. In case you’d
forgotten (or possibly never knew) the area known as Galicia lies on the
north-west Atlantic coast of Spain, directly north of Portugal.
Incidentally, Galicia has its own language, closely related to Portuguese
and spoken by half the population as their first language.
Max Bruch (1838-1920):
Scottish Fantasy Op. 48.
Stefan Jackiw (vln), Orquesta
de Galicia cond. Rumon Gamba. (Duration 33:12; Video 1080p HD)
If Max Bruch hadn’t been a close friend
of several violin virtuosos such as Ferdinand David, Joseph Joachim and
Pablo de Sarasate his music could well have been completely forgotten. Only
two works for violin and orchestra remain in the mainstream repertoire; this
one and the first violin concerto. In his day Bruch was known as a writer
of choral music, but he also wrote many orchestral works including three
symphonies, his first at the age of fourteen. In later years he completed
four operas, several concertos and a large amount of chamber music including
some string quartets.
The Scottish Fantasy was completed in
1880. It’s a violin concerto in all but name, and although Bruch never
visited Scotland, the work uses melodies derived from Scottish folk songs.
It was given its first performance in Liverpool in 1881 with Bruch himself
conducting. The work begins quietly with sustained chords on the brass.
The main violin theme is remarkably beautiful and you might even recognise
some of the folk-inspired melodies, especially the one that kicks off the
sizzling last movement.
This fine performance is given by the
Symphony Orchestra of Galicia conducted by Rumon Gamba, who despite his
foreign-sounding name, is a very successful English conductor of the younger
generation. The star of the show is undoubtedly the brilliant violinist
Stefan Jackiw who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to a Korean mother and a
Ukrainian father. The Washington Post recently described him as
having “talent that’s off the scale” and The Boston Globe described
his playing as “striking for its intelligence and sensitivity”. He has
appeared as soloist with the world’s top orchestras and is much in demand.
His stunning performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the YouTube
Symphony Orchestra at Sydney Opera House was evidently watched by more than
30 million people worldwide.
(1809-1847): Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 (“Scottish”).
Concierto de la Orquesta Joven
de la OSG, dir. Roberto González
Monjas. (Duration 41:33; Video 1080p HD)
Unlike Bruch, Felix Mendelssohn
actually went to Scotland on an extensive walking tour as part of his first
visit to Britain in 1829. Scotland must have had quite an impression on the
composer because it also inspired The Hebrides overture, sometimes known as
Fingal’s Cave. After this was completed he started sketches for the
symphony, although progress on the work was difficult, so much so that he
left it for ten years and didn’t complete it until 1842. Oddly enough,
although it was the fifth and final symphony to be completed by Mendelssohn,
it was the third to be published and has been known as Symphony No. 3 ever
It has an imposing first movement and
unusually the second movement (at 15:49) is a fast one with a lovely, sunny
theme which may strike you as familiar. This movement is meticulously
played with splendid precision and articulation especially by the brass.
The last movement draws ideas from Scottish dance although unlike Bruch’s
Scottish Fantasy, no genuine Scottish folk songs have been identified.
The Youth Symphony Orchestra of Galicia
is in splendid form and the performance is directed by the orchestra’s
leader. But because the work requires a relatively small number of players,
a conductor is not entirely necessary. Even so, it’s a bit disconcerting to
see an empty space where the conductor usually stands.
From riches to rags
courtyard at the Palace of Mannheim.
One afternoon back in the 1980s, I was
bowling along a German autobahn in my Datsun Bluebird coupé
having spent a pleasant week in Bavaria with some German friends. The car
was a real little stunner, a rich brown colour with a cream vinyl covered
roof and a tasteful go-faster stripe along each side. It was a big hit
everywhere in Bavaria and someone even offered to buy it.
I was driving on the A61, heading in
the approximate direction of Britain. I knew from the road signs that I was
near Mannheim and decided to drive into town and find a cheap hotel for the
night. So as usual, I looked out for the familiar signs with the word
“Zentrum” pointing the way to the city centre but none appeared. After a
time the road signs showed that I was heading for Bingen and I had missed
the turn into Mannheim altogether. I muttered “Oh bother” to myself (or
words to that effect) and spent the night in Bingen instead.
Mannheim is important in musical
history and one of the reasons I wanted to go there. In the late eighteenth
century, Mannheim had the finest and most famous court orchestra anywhere.
It attracted some of Europe’s best instrumental players and composers and
was lavishly funded by Duke Karl Theodor. It eventually became known as the
Mannheim School, but not a building with classrooms and desks. The term
referred not only to the new techniques pioneered by the orchestra but also
the group of composers who wrote for it.
The composer Carl Stamitz is closely
associated with the Mannheim School and his father Johann is considered the
founder. Oddly enough, other composers connected with the Mannheim School
have since faded into obscurity but Stamitz is particularly remembered for
his tuneful and elegant music.
The composers at Mannheim introduced a
number of novel ideas into orchestral music. The most famous was the sudden
crescendo for the full orchestra – a dramatic effect that evidently caused
some ladies in the audience to faint. Then there was the so-called Mannheim
Rocket which was a quick ascending passage in the melody. They invented the
Mannheim Roller, not a fairground ride but an extended crescendo passage
with a rising melodic line over a repeated bass pattern. The so-called
Grand Pause originated in Mannheim too, a dramatic effect still used today
in which the entire orchestra stops playing for a few seconds resulting in
complete silence, only to start again, usually loudly and energetically.
(1745-1801): Flute Concerto in G major. Davide Baldo (flt),
Orchestra cond. Giuseppe Montesano (Duration: 17:56; Video: 1080p HD)
Carl Stamitz was born in Mannheim and
as expected, grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps. By the age of
seventeen he was employed as a violinist in the court orchestra and his
father must have had hopes for him. However, at the age of twenty-five,
Carl left his secure job in Mannheim and began concert tours around Europe.
For a time he lived in London. He was a prolific composer, turning out more
than fifty symphonies, sixty concertos and a large amount of chamber music.
The concertos are noted for melodic appeal and courtly grace rather than
virtuosity. Because they are not too difficult to play, many of them are
popular with music students today.
Despite his musical achievements
Stamitz was less successful at managing his finances. The young Beethoven
observed that Stamitz was dressed poorly at a concert and looked decidedly
scruffy, something that would never have been tolerated in the
well-disciplined Mannheim orchestra.
Concerto in G major (1st mvt).
Vid Veljak (vlc),
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra cond. Aurélien
(Duration: 09:39; Video: 1080p HD)
For some reason only the first movement
of this concerto was recorded but it is worth hearing because of the
splendid orchestral playing. The soloist is the Croatian cellist Vid Veljak
who was sixteen when this video was made although during the orchestral
introduction he occasionally seems slightly bewildered.
Stamitz never managed to hold down a
job with one of the major royal courts. He returned to Mannheim in 1795 but
soon after accepted the post of concertmaster at Jena in Central Germany.
It seems that he taught at the university there, but received only a modest
income. He began to sink deeply into debt and eventually and inevitably his
funds ran dry. Then in January 1801, his wife died. By the following
November Stamitz too was in his grave. All his possessions, including many
tracts on alchemy were auctioned to pay off his debts.
Whether Stamitz was studying alchemy to
try and turn base metals into gold, cure some disease or search for the
elixir of youth we simply don’t know. But he must have felt pretty
desperate. As Doris Day sang a hundred and fifty years later, Que sera,
sera. Whatever will be, will be.
Heinrich von Biber.
hundred and seventy-two years ago Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber was
baptized on 12th August 1644 in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg.
Although he had a modest background, he was to become one of the most
important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. But not
only that, Biber (BEE-buh) developed violin playing techniques that
were previously unknown.
he was able to reach much higher notes than were previously thought
possible, he developed the difficult skill of playing several notes at the
same time, a technique known as multiple-stopping. He also experimented with
alternative bowing techniques and tunings, enabling the playing of chords on
the violin that was previously impossible. And of course, all these
brilliant new developments were incorporated into his music for solo violin.
Despite the fact that he gave relatively few concerts, his music was
imitated throughout Europe, demonstrating once again that imitation is the
sincerest form of flattery.
was born, it was the musical period now known as the Middle Baroque. The
Italian composer Vivaldi was not born until thirty years later and the
composers Bach and Handel didn’t see the light of day until 1685. In Biber’s
time, composers were often considered no more important than servants. But
Biber worked his way up the social and professional ladders and eventually
became music director or Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg.
At the time, you couldn’t get a much better job than that.
years later, the English music historian Charles Burney wrote “of all the
violin players of the last century, Biber seems to have been the best.”
There’s no doubt that he was a virtuoso performer who could tackle the most
difficult music and even today some of his solo violin pieces are
notoriously challenging to perform.
Heinrich Ignaz von Biber (1644-1704): Battalia.
Matheus Ensemble dir. Jean-Christophe Spinosi (Duration: 09:53;
remarkable work is one of the earliest examples of descriptive music and was
one of Biber’s several “representational pieces”. It’s a musical description
of a battle and was written in 1683 probably for carnival celebrations at
the Salzburg Court. It’s scored for three violins, four violas, cello,
double bass and harpsichord continuo. You’ll sometimes see this work
referred to as Battalia à 9 or sometimes Battalia à 10
referring to the number of individual instrumental parts, not the number of
players. The difference in the numbering depends on whether the continuo is
eight-movement suite is full of musical special effects and novel string
techniques some of which were years before their time. In the first
movement, string players are instructed to tap the strings with the wood of
the bow, an effect known as col legno (“with the wood”). The
technique was later used over two hundred years later by Gustav Holst in
Mars from The Planets suite.
movement (at 01:50) is also two hundred years ahead of its time and features
eight popular songs played in different keys anticipating the music of
Charles Ives. It is incredibly dissonant and symbolizes a crowd of drunken
soldiers dejectedly singing different songs. Later in the work we hear
left-hand pizzicato. At one point, the cello imitates a drum and at another,
Biber writes in the score that the double bass player must “place a piece of
paper on the string” to create the cracking sound of artillery. The bass
player is also instructed to pluck the string with such force that it
rebounds against the fingerboard, perhaps the earliest historical example of
surprisingly beautiful and moving last movement (at 08:22) gives a picture
of a desolate misty battleground littered with dying soldiers. However,
despite these dramatic effects which must have raised seventeenth century
eyebrows, the work exudes a kind of quaint charm. It’s directed with
infectious enthusiasm by violinist Jean-Christophe Spinosi.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: Requiem in F minor.
University of North Texas Singers, UNT Baroque
Orchestra cond. Richard Sparks (Duration: 29:36; Video: 1080p HD)
limit himself to music for the violin. He was also a prolific composer of
sacred vocal works: masses, requiems and motets. One of his best-known
choral works is this resplendent five-movement Requiem in F con terza
minore (Requiem in F minor). Composed in 1692 for voices, strings and
brass it’s regarded as one of the most original and impressive seventeenth
century settings of the requiem mass. From the commanding opening chords the
music radiates authority and consummate musical skill. Biber contrasts solo
voices with the choir and with the instruments, using a rich harmonic
language and often complex rhythms. The recorded sound is especially
compelling and with headphones, you’ll get a wonderful sense of
spaciousness. It must have sounded magnificent when it was performed at
When the word
Switzerland is mentioned what springs to mind? Perhaps lakes and mountains,
or if you’re a food-orientated type, perhaps it’s chocolate and cheese. You
might be surprised to know that the country produces over four hundred
varieties of cheese, although we don’t see many of them in these parts. Then
there’s fondue and of course rösti - the up-market version of hash-browns.
Or maybe you’d think about those absurdly expensive Swiss watches. Don’t
mention cuckoo clocks because some clever dick is bound to tell you that
they originally came from Germany.
One thing that probably won’t spring to mind is a long
list of Swiss classical composers. With neighboring countries like Germany,
Austria and Italy you can make a list of composers as long as your arm, but
not so with Switzerland. According to historians Denis Arnold and John
Borwick, musical development there was hindered not only by its mountainous
terrain but also by the lack of wealthy patronage which had prevailed in
neighboring countries for centuries.
The early developments in Swiss choral music ended
abruptly with the Reformation. The stern-faced reformer and kill-joy Ulrich
Zwingli detested elaborate church music and insisted on simple chants.
Church organs were unceremoniously hauled away removed or even destroyed.
Unlike other countries, there was no encouragement to write church music and
no wealthy royal patrons to pay for anything else. Anyone who wanted to
write music for a living simply drifted off elsewhere. Classical music in
Switzerland never really found its feet until the twentieth century.
Wikipedia lists 265 Swiss composers, the majority of the
twentieth century but it’s unlikely you’ll recognise many names. One of the
most famous is Arthur Honegger, best-known for his Pacific 231, an
atmospheric symphonic poem inspired by the eponymous locomotive. Then
there’s Ernest Bloch, Frank Martin and Rolf Liebermann. Oh yes, I mustn’t
forget the Renaissance composer Ludwig Senfl - one of those who left
Switzerland in search of better things. He became the music director to the
court of Maximilian I in Germany though you’re more likely to encounter his
name in history books rather than in concert programmes.
Bloch (1880-1959): From Jewish Life. Vid Veljak (vlc), Zagreb
Soloists (Duration: 09:29; Video: 1080p HD)
Ernest Bloch was born in Geneva and studied composition
with Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, who later became better known for his work in
music education. As a teenager Bloch moved to Brussels and studied with the
legendary Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. He eventually settled in America
Bloch composed the suite From Jewish Life in 1924.
If you know Max Bruch’s work for cello and orchestra entitled Kol Nidrei
which is based on a mournful melody from the Yom Kippur service, Bloch’s
haunting music will seem strangely familiar. The composer himself wrote “it
is neither my purpose nor desire to attempt a reconstruction of Jewish
music... I am not an archaeologist; for me the most important thing is to
write good and sincere music.” Bloch’s role as a composer was to write music
from the heart; music which spoke of passion and sorrow.
This beautiful work has declamatory melodies and
characteristic rich harmonies within an atmosphere of intense sadness. There
are three movements entitled Prayer, Supplication and the
plaintive Jewish Song beautifully performed by this young, talented
Croatian cellist. The second movement contains echoes – intentional or
otherwise - of Wieniawski’s second violin concerto.
Frank Martin (1890–1974):
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Felix Froschhammer (vln),
Ensemble Symphonique Neuchâtel cond. Alexander Mayer (Duration: 33:13;
Video: 1080 HD)
The name sounds so terribly English, yet Frank Martin was
a true European. Like Bloch he was born in Geneva; the tenth and youngest
child of a clergyman’s family. He was attracted to music as a child and by
the age of nine he had started composing. When he was twelve, he discovered
the music of J.S. Bach which had a profound impression on him for the rest
of his life. He turned out to be a young man of talent, studying mathematics
and physics at the University of Geneva and at the same time studying piano
and composition. Between 1918 and 1926 he lived in Zurich, Rome and Paris,
later moving to Amsterdam.
This concerto dates from 1951 and like much of Martin’s
music has a sense of organic growth. The slow movement (at 15:11) is
particularly rewarding. Martin developed his own intensely personal musical
idiom that blended tonality with a kind of modified serial technique
borrowed from Arnold Sch๖nberg. It’s been described as “tonal atonality”.
Perhaps that was his role as a composer. Anyway, if it all sounds a bit
daunting, don’t be put off. I admit that this concerto isn’t chewing-gum
music, but it’s profoundly lyrical and has many compelling moments. It
really wants to tell you something. You just need to give it the chance.