Written by Ronald Comber
Arvo Pärt (1935- )
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt first made a career for himself working for the state-run (Soviet-governed) Estonian Radio from 1958, but his then international compositional style, coupled with his overt spirituality was a major source of irritation to Soviet officials. As the years passed, Pärt’s spiritual convictions deepened, leading him to serious study of the liturgical music of the Renaissance. In the mid 1970’s, Pärt had what can only be called a breakthrough, in which he discovered a way of combining the techniques and emotional content of the music of the Renaissance with modern compositional practices, achieving what amounted to a new musical language astonishing in its breadth and range.
Pärt’s new music was remarkable for its spiritual honesty; in what has been aptly described as a tintinnabular technique he was able to express a side of the human experience that had been somewhat neglected for generations. Fratres perfectly expresses the merits of Arvo Pärt’s evolved style, using a set of variations to explore both ritual and improvisation within a highly organized structure. Within the sweet austerity of the form, Pärt achieves a new eloquence that is both severely complicated and tellingly simple.
Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra (2005)
Emannuel Séjourne (1961- )
Percussionist-composer Emannuel Séjourne composed the popular Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra in 2005 for the Austrian marimbist Bogdan Bácanu to perform at the International Marimba Competition in Linz in 2006. An immediate success, the Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra has since been performed around the world to great acclaim. The work is in two movements. The first, marked Tempo souple, explores the uneasy relationship between its two contrasting subjects. The lush string opening leads to a frenetic cadenza on the marimba. The strings return, offering the main theme, and the marimba begins to weave in a lonely tango. The work grows more virtuosic until all forces arrive at a full iteration of the theme. The movement ends with a tentative gesture on the marimba. The second movement opens with aggression, leading to a wonderfully crooked 11/8 dance which partakes of both jazz-rock and of flamenco. The forceful first subject returns, and then the dance continues with ever greater abandon. The stark theme comes back yet again, but transforms into the main subject from the first movement and ends the work with a final flourish.
Symphony No. 103 in E Flat Major “Drum Roll”
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Of the composers working in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Joseph Haydn probably had the most cause to congratulate himself. Starting from humble beginnings, Haydn had survived lean years as a journeyman composer, attained an important position in the service of Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy, and had gradually achieved recognition as the pre-eminent composer of his day. By the mid-1780s, Haydn’s’ music was performed all over Europe, though he himself led a rather circumscribed existence permanently attached to the court of Esterhazy.
In 1790 Haydn’s horizons broadened considerably. Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy died on September 28th of that year, and within a month Haydn found himself comfortably pensioned off and living in Vienna. Offers for his services soon poured in – he was on the verge of accepting a new appointment in Naples – but one December morning a stranger arrived at his door, declaring “I am Salomon from London and have come to fetch you.”
Within a year, Haydn became the toast of London, achieving a personal triumph far greater than he had ever imagined. He spent 1791 and the first half of 1792 in England, and, after a year in Vienna, returned to London for the 1794-1795 concert season. Haydn’s Symphonies were especially popular, and he wrote his last twelve for English audiences.
The Symphony No. 103 in E Flat Major was one of three Symphonies that Haydn produced after the formal conclusion of his contract with Salomon in January of 1795. Written for a new series of concerts in the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, the three new works proved to be so successful that the series was expanded by two concerts to accommodate Haydn’s supporters.
The Symphony No. 103 and the others for the Haymarket could well be described as representing the final distillation of the classical symphony, particularly in light of the fact that it was Haydn, in the 1770s and 1780s, who really established the evolved symphonic forms in the first place. It is, of course, a masterpiece, as are all of the symphonies that he wrote for his tours in England, filled with sublime melodies, brilliant effects and occasional flashes of humour.
The work is in four movements. The first, marked Adagio – Allegro con spirito, opens portentously with the drum-roll of its title, then progresses darkly in the minor; but all gloom is dispelled in the remarkably suave Allegro that follows. The extended second movement, an Andante, is in the form of a double Theme and Variations with concertante passages, the two themes being taken from the Croatian folk-songs of Haydn’s youth. The third movement, a Menuet, is both jolly and grand, with a demurely contrasted Trio. The Finale, built entirely around a single theme, brings the Symphony to a masterfully seamless conclusion.
Gabriel Dharmoo (1981 – )
Gabriel Dharmoo writes:
“Ninaivanjali is a Tamil expression meaning ‘In memory of,’ used to pay tribute after someone’s death. This piece is dedicated to ghatam virtuoso N. Govindarajan, my Indian rhythm teacher, who passed away in May 2012. In addition to being an excellent teacher, fully devoted to sharing his knowledge, Govind was an endearing and admirable man, full of goodness and joie de vivre.
“For this work I was inspired by the three main sound sources of South Indian Carnatic music: melody – flexible, sophisticated and ornate; rhythm – complex and subdivided; and drone – stable harmonic reference point in the background.
“All melodies, with the exception of the last, are freely inspired from the behaviour of the lines in Carnatic music. The final melody is directly based on the section in Sree raga from Patnam Subramaniam Iyer’s Navaragamalika, a work that has marked my last trip to India in 2011. As a background for these melodies, I merged the concepts of rhythm and drone to create rhythmic drones built from camouflaged rhythmical patterns I learned from Govind.”
Concerto for Tabla and Orchestra
Dinuk Wijeratne (1978 – )
Dinuk Wijeratne writes:
“While steeped in tradition, the Tabla lends itself heartily to innovation, and has shown its cultural versatility as an increasingly sought-after instrument in contemporary Western contexts such as Pop, Film Music, and World Music Fusion. This notion led me to conceive of an opening movement that would do the not-so-obvious by placing the Tabla first in a decidedly non-Indian context. Here, initiated by a quasi-Baroque canon in four parts, the music quickly turns into an evocation of one my favourite genres of electronic music: ‘Drum-&-Bass,’ characterised by rapid ‘breakbeat’ rhythms in the percussion. Of course, there are some North-Indian Classical musical elements present. The whole makes for a rather bizarre stew that reflects globalisation, for better or worse!”
“A brief second movement becomes a short respite from the energy of the outer movements, and offers a perspective of the Tabla as accompanist in the lyrical world of Indian folk-song. Set in ‘dheepchandhi’, a rhythmic cycle of 14 beats, the gently lilting gait of theTabla rhythm supports various melodic fragments that come together to form an ephemeral love-song.
“Typically, a Tabla player concluding a solo recital would do so by presenting a sequence of short, fixed (non-improvised) compositions from his/her repertoire. Each mini-composition, multi-faceted as a little gem, would often be presented first in the form of a vocal recitation. The traditional accompaniment would consist of a drone as well as a looping melody outlining the time cycle – a ‘nagma’ – against which the soloist would weave rhythmically intricate patterns of tension and release. I wanted to offer my own take on a such a recital finale, with the caveat that the orchestra is no bystander. In this movement, it is spurred on by the soloist to share in some of the rhythmic complexity. The whole movement is set in ‘teentaal,’ or 16-beat cycle, and in another departure from the traditional norm, my nagma kaleidoscopically changes colour from start to finish. I am indebted to Ed Hanley for helping me choose several ‘gems’ from the Tabla repertoire, although we have certainly had our own fun in tweaking a few, not to mention composing a couple from scratch.”