Written by Ronald Comber
Pastoral Suite, for Orchestra, Op. 19
Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986)
One of Sweden’s most respected composers, Lars-Erik Larsson had from the start of his career an eclectic style that embraced everything from full-blooded romanticism to the most modern twelve-tone techniques, though as the years passed he looked more towards his native Scandinavian roots, with the later works of Sibelius as a model.
After studies in Vienna with Alban Berg and with Fritz Reuter in Leipzig, Larsson returned to Sweden just in time to be offered a major position in the musical life of his country, as the composer-conductor of the Swedish Radio Service.
As Larsson settled into his new position, he soon discovered that part of his duties were to compose, or at least produce a regular series of lyric suites of pleasantly inoffensive music for broadcast. Studying the situation, Larsson decided to create something a little more robust, and over the course of the next few years created a host of new works combining descriptive pieces with spoken poetry by some of Sweden’s best poets. These proved to be immensely popular, but were not necessarily repeatable. In 1938 he determined to pick out his favourite movements from a production called Dagens stunder and today’s Pastoral Suite was born!
The work is in three movements. The first movement opens in a mood reminiscent of the opening of Sibelius sixth before moving on to a joyous Allegro. The second movement is a wonderfully melodic Adagio Romance which leads to the third movement, a delightful romp of a scherzo.
Violin Concerto No. 1
Magnus Lindberg (1958- )
One of Finland’s most important composers, Magnus Lindberg grew up in Helsinki. Trained as a pianist at first, He went to the prestigious Sibelius Academy to study with Einojuhani Rautavaara and Eino Heininen, before travelling for further studies in Siena and Darmstadt. As a young composer he became quite successful, writing music that was exciting and strongly dissonant, culminating in a major work, Kraft, which so dominated his life and was so complicated that he found himself drained and unable to compose for two years. That time of silence gave him the opportunity to re-evaluate his whole compositional style and to begin to write music that was more about texture and lyricism. His growing success in this new style led to full fruition in his Clarinet Concerto of 2002 and in today’s Violin Concerto No. 1, written in 2006 for a commission by the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Centre, the Barbican Centre in London, the Casa de Musica – Porto, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
The commission was awarded to celebrate the 250 anniversary of Mozart’s birth, but was only limited in its conception by having to be scored for a Mozart-sized orchestra: two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings. This proved to be both a challenge and a blessing, as it led Lindberg to discover and explore a new translucency in his orchestral writing. This led in turn to Lindberg’s developing a new lyricism for the soloist that combines melodic interest with flights of the utmost virtuosity.
The work is in three numbered movements, designed to be performed without breaks. The first (I) could almost be said to be a battle for dominance between soloist and orchestra in which the glorious solo flights of the violin are subsumed in waves of orchestral drama. The second movement (II) is at first much more austere, rising out of a chorale-like beginning into a powerful centre section, followed by an extended cadenza, moving and virtuosic at the same time. The last movement (III) is vividly energetic, soloist and orchestra working together now to lead to an emotional climax in which the chorale reappears to bring the work to a close.
Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
The three last symphonies of Mozart, numbers 39, 40, and 41, are truly pivotal works in the history of music. Each of them has an emotional depth quite unprecedented in the orchestral repertoire and in their different ways did much to point the way towards the Romantic Movement that was to follow.
It is interesting to note that the three last symphonies were composed in about six weeks, between June and August 1788. We don’t know why Mozart produced them. They are all scored differently, so he must have had actual performance occasions in mind. Whatever arrangements had been made fell through, though, for none of the symphonies were performed in Mozart’s lifetime. There is fairly strong evidence that Mozart never heard them played.
The Symphony in G minor, No.40 has for long been the subject of emotional commentaries by scholars and composers. The author of the first biography of Mozart’s life, the Chevalier Georg Nikolaus Nissen, (who married Mozart’s widow) wrote in 1828 that it was “the expression of a moving and restless passion, a struggle, a combat against a powerful penetrating agitation”. Wagner, on the other hand, found the Andante to be “exuberant with rapture and audacity”. The best interpretation comes from the pen of one of this century’s finest Mozart scholars – George de Saint-Foix. He described the first movement as having a “concentrated energy that rises in the last pages to a ferocious exultation, yielding only at the end to a resigned lassitude”. In the second movement he found “expressive depths scarcely matched in Mozart”. He characterizes the minuet as “a bitter and relentless struggle”, although the trio is “gentle, placid, illuminated, and truly idyllic”. The finale shows “a fury of abandon”.
The first movement, marked Allegro molto, opens without the customary slow introduction. There is a statement of the first subject by the first and second violins. Passagework follows, leading into the second theme, a less aggressive chromatic melody in the strings and woodwinds. Counterpoint on the first theme progresses into a section for full orchestra to complete the exposition. The development begins with the first theme, but through an extended new plan, with frequent modulations, works itself into great contrapuntal complications. The recapitulation is, as it should be, quite similar to the exposition, although some modulations are changed. The final coda is short and concludes with a four-part canon.
The second movement, marked Andante, is in Sonata form, as are the first and fourth movements. Without getting into too much detail, for the music really does speak for itself, I should point out the peculiar construction of the first theme. There are two separate entities in the theme, and their alternation also entails rather drastic rhythmic changes. The second theme is mostly passagework and is replaced by a melodic concluding theme. The development is very short and is based on the second theme. The recapitulation is directly related to the opening.
The Minuet, marked Allegro, has a stern, contrapuntal nature, which contrasts well with the much more delicate trio.
The Finale, marked Allegro assai, has at first a certain dance-like quality, but the tension soon grows with the counterpoint, which is occasionally relieved by the gentler second subject. The development is an excellent reminder of Mozart’s formidable powers. The first theme, elaborately worked out, eventually leads to the recapitulation.