With our winter compilation, we present you an eclectic selection of works that are in one way or another reminiscent of winter. Among the visual images music can bring to mind, many works give a perception of ice, snow, introversion, death, journeying and isolation, from Schubert’s Winterreise to the late, sombre works of Brahms and Beethoven. On the other hand, a celebratory mood can be perceived in Arvo Pärt’s jolly Bogoroditse Djevo and Tchaikovsky’s perennial holiday treat, The Nutcracker. Nature rings out in Morten Lauridsen’s earthy-sounding choral piece “Like Snow.” Winter in all its beauty is well represented in this high-res primephonic SELECTED album.
Franz Schubert – Winterreise – “Auf dem Flusse”
Winterreise was composed in two volumes of 12 songs and are predominantly in the minor key – this could be a reason why they were met with mixed reactions initially, deemed by many as gloomy. On his deathbed, Schubert requested that part II of Winterreise be corrected and the work was published posthumously. “Auf dem Flusse” comes from the first volume and is awash with genial bass lines and fluid melodies. Among the images, we get a perception of ice, snow, introversion, death, journeying and isolation. Here, Jonas Kaufmann’s strong smooth tenor voice lends itself effortlessly to the expression of mood and emotion.
Best known for his enchanting choral work O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Laurdisen was named an “American Choral master” by the American Endowment for the Arts. Mid-Winter Songs is a setting of poems by the English 20th century poet Robert Graves and the first of his eight song cycles. “Like Snow” is light and brisk, full of uneven meters, giving a syncopated effect. The song cycle was commissioned in 1980 by the University of Southern California for its centennial celebrations.
Sibelius’s Symphony No. 4 was composed between 1910 and 1911, during a period in which Sibelius faced many difficulties with his health and finances and not least his growing self-criticism. Doctors found a tumour in his throat which he feared was the beginning of the end for him. The symphony has been deemed by historians as Sibelius’s most harmonically and technically advanced composition. Stylistically this symphony was the climax of his modern-classical style, emphasising the tritone at its centre and is a work of profound complexity. In a letter to Rosa Newmarch, Sibelius says: ‘[My symphony] stands as a protest against present-day music. It has nothing, absolutely nothing of the circus about it’.
March is from Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. Following its premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, The Nutcracker was not immediately successful, which may sound surprising, considering it is now wildly popular to such an extent that it transcends genre. In fact, it is in such demand that that the major American ballet companies generate approximately 40% of ticket sales from The Nutcracker each year. The ballet is based on the fantasy tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, adapted by the librettist Marius Petipa, about a nutcracker in the shape of a toy soldier that comes to life under a Christmas tree.
Bogoroditse Djevo is a cheerful setting of the Russian Orthodox Hail Mary liturgy, praising and celebrating the Virgin Mary. Like most of Arvo Pärt’s work it is composed in the tintinnabuli style, a compositional technique invented by Pärt, which proved to be his most important defining characteristic. According to Pärt’s wife, Nora, “The concept of tintinnabuli was born from a deeply rooted desire for an extremely reduced sound world which could not be measured, as it were, in kilometres, or even metres, but only in millimetres....By the end the listening attention is utterly focused. At the point after the music has faded away it is particularly remarkable to hear your breath, your heartbeat, the lighting or the air conditioning system, for example.”
A vocalise was originally a vocal exercise to be sung on one or more vowels. It was not until the 20th century that composers began to compose vocalises as concert works. The form was cultivated in France, most notably by Fauré and Ravel, however, the most frequently performed of all vocalises is Rachmaninov’s Vocalise op. 34 no. 14, written in 1912. It is part of a set of 14 songs, mostly vocal settings of Russian Romantic poems of Pushkin, Tyutchev, Polonsky and others. They were composed with particular singers in mind. The uniquely wordless Vocalise was dedicated to the Russian lyric coloratura soprano Antonina Nezhdanova.
Johannes Brahms – 6 Klavierstücke (6 Piano Pieces), Op. 118 - No. 1 Intermezzo
Brahms’s repertoire is dominated by the piano, from beginning to end. The Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118 were among Brahms’s last ever compositions. He dedicated them to Clara Schumann. The works can be perceived as much more introspective than virtuosic compared with his earlier works. One striking feature of Brahms’s late work is the deconstruction of the conventional distinction between harmony and melody.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 1 in G minor op. 13 (Winter Daydreams) – Land of Desolation
Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony was nicknamed Winter Daydreams. It was composed during Tchaikovsky’s early years in Moscow and proved to be a pivotal work which crystalized Tchaikovsky’s reputation as a composer of note. He composed and revised it in 1866 and finally completed it in 1874. This timeframe was one in which Tchaikovsky became acquainted with the composers known as the “Mighty Handful” and it is most likely to have been their influence around this time that prompted him to take on a more distinctly Russian overtone in subsequent symphonies.
Joseph Haydn – The Seasons - Knurre, schnurre, knurre
The Seasons was one of the last major works that Joseph Haydn composed, completed and premiered in 1801. On the strength of his wildly successful Creation, Joseph Haydn was inspired to compose this large-scale orchestral and vocal work, based on the libretto by Baron Gottfried van Swieten. It was intended as a bilingual work in both German and English, because of Haydn’s popular appeal in England. The libretto was based on the pastoral epic poem by James Thomson telling the story of the four seasons. Van Swieten’s English was less than perfect and the passages in English initially provoked disdain, but it does not detract from the beauty of the work as a whole.
Antonio Vivaldi composed his Four Seasons during a lucrative period in which he was commissioned to write two concertos per month. The Four Seasons is a set of four violin concertos, in which each season is conveyed. The most unusual feature of the Four Seasons is that each ‘season’ is accompanied by a poem, which Vivaldi may have written himself. He made an effort to transmute the meanings and imagery into the music, for instance, birdsong, dripping rain, chattering teeth, strong winds and stamping feet.
Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto da chiesa in g minor "fatto per la notte di natale" - Vivace – Grave
Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 by the 17th century Italian composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli, is accompanied by the inscription Fatto per la notte di Natale (Made for the Night of Christmas), commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who was known to have regarded Corelli as more of a friend than an employee. It was published in 1714, after Corelli’s death but its exact composition date remains unknown.
Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartet No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131 - VII. Allegro
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-Sharp minor was his fourth in a phase towards the end of his life, in which he composed nothing but quartets. Work was interrupted by illness, including abdominal pain and aching joints, as well as grief related to the attempted suicide of Beethoven’s nephew Karl. Beethoven dedicated the quartet to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim as a token of gratitude for taking Karl into the army, thereby giving the young man a fresh direction in life. The quartet is one of the most difficult to define and its meaning and theme has been hypothesised by writers from Richard Wagner to musicologists of today.
“Troika” takes its name from a traditional Russian three-horse led and Prokofiev’s festive-sounding piece drums up images of a winter journey in the snowy Russian countryside. The principal melody comes from an old Hussar song, which Prokofiev presents in different guises: first slow, dissonant and somewhat laboured, then briskly, accompanied by sleigh bells and pizzicato strings, and closing with a fanfare-like finale. Owing to the sleigh-bells, “Troika” is often thought to be a Christmas piece and has been adopted into the Hollywood Christmas sound world since the release Home Alone in 1990. “Troika” is the best-known movement from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé suite, which was originally composed as film music for the 1934 Russian film of the same name.
Interview: Peter Whelan on the Bassoon's Unique Standing
17 March 2017
Irish bassoonist Peter Whelan is a much sought-after soloist and chamber musician who possesses charisma, a rich sound, impeccable technique and an impressively diverse repertoire spanning more four centuries.