24th March 2024 – Northern Chords Ensemble – Programme notes


Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Piano Trio in A minor (1914)

Pantoum. Assez vite
Passacaille. Très large
Final. Animé

The music of the young Maurice Ravel did not appeal to the contemporary, conservative musical taste of the Paris Conservatoire. For example, he never won the Prix de Rome; and not for want of trying – five attempts between 1900 and 1905. His last attempt (he had reached the age limit of 30) was triaged out because his fugue contained parallel fifths and the last chord contained a major 7th. This Strictly Ballroom-style failure provoked l’affaire Ravel, with even his usually hostile critics affronted that such a distinguished composer should be so perfunctorily dismissed. After the press got their teeth into the fact that all the finalists were students of one particular jury member, the director of the Conservatoire resigned and was replaced by the reforming Fauré (nicknamed Robespierre).

Ravel’s independent spirit sought out new musical and literary genres, such as the Gamelan and the contemporary Russian music that he heard at the 1889 Paris exhibition. Around 1902 he joined Les Apaches (The Hooligans), a group of broadminded literary, musical and artistic contemporaries. The group was joined in 1909 by Stravinsky, and Ravel was commissioned by Diaghilev to write Daphnis et Chloé for the Ballets Russes. In 1913 Ravel joined Stravinsky at Clarens in Switzerland where they jointly orchestrated a piece by Mussorgsky for Diaghilev and Ravel was shown the score of the yet-to-be-performed The Rite of Spring.

When war broke out in 1914, Ravel was working on his Piano Trio in the French Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz near to his home town; he completed the work in five weeks before volunteering for military service. He was also working on a piano concerto (Zazpiak Bat) based on Basque themes, which was later abandoned, but whose main theme is identical in rhythm (though half speed) to the opening of the Trio (illustrated). The time signature is anopening of the Ravel Trio unusual 8/8 – eight quavers in a bar rather than the more usual 4/4 (four crotchets) since the quavers in each bar are grouped 3+2+3. This rocking rhythm is a dominant feature of the movement. Notice also how the theme moves in single note steps until a downward jump of a fourth near the end. The opening themes of the other three movements are similarly constructed—in the second and fourth movements, the jump is of a fifth.

The second movement is in the form of a Scherzo and Trio but mysteriously titled Pantoum. A pantoum is a Malaysian verse form in which two themes are interlocked: the second and fourth lines of each four line stanza become the first and third of the next. Debussy had previously set to music a pantoum-structured poem by Baudelaire, but Ravel appears to be doing something more ambitious. According to Brian Newbould the alternating development of two contrasting ideas in this movement follows a pantoum structure: the skittish opening theme, and the smoother rather breathless one that follows it. Combining this construction with a Scherzo and Trio form leads to an extraordinary passage where the strings continue to play in the Scherzo’s 3/4 time while the piano introduces a new melody for the Trio in 4/2. The movement poses additional problems for the strings with each of a group of rapidly repeated notes having to be played in a different way including left hand pizzicato.

The slow dark Passacaille theme

The slow dark Passacaille makes a fine contrast to the scherzo’s scintillations and its theme (illustrated) is a slowed down version of the Pantoum’s opening. The movement is arch-shaped, starting with a single voice, building to a climax and receding back to the solo piano.

Tarpeggio consisting entirely of harmonicshe Final moves into the major and like the first movement is built on unusual Basque-inspired time signatures – here shifting between 5 and 7 beats in the bar with an occasional 4 or 6 thrown in. The opening texture is unusual and technically demanding for the violinist, who has to play an arpeggio consisting entirely of harmonics (illustrated). The difficulty here is that each of the four fingers has to lightly touch a different string in precisely the right position or the note completely fails to sound.

After he had finished composing the Trio, Ravel’s repeated applications to enlist were rejected on health grounds until finally in March 1916 he was accepted as a driver for the motor transport corps, naming his vehicle Adélaïde after his ballet, sub-titled le langage des fleurs.

Matthew Kaner Piano Trio

Matthew Kaner was born in London in 1986 and studied music at King’s College and composition with Julian Anderson and Richard Baker at the Guildhall. He has been a Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama since 2013.

His works include the 2022 BBC Proms commission ‘Pearl’ for the BBCSO, Chorus and baritone Roderick Williams setting medieval poetry in a modern translation by Simon Armitage.
His debut solo album of chamber works was released by Delphian Records in November 2022 and was described as revealing ‘a composer deftly able to draw the listener into his far-reaching imaginative world’.

Amongst his upcoming projects is a concerto for violinist Benjamin Baker.

His Piano Trio of 2021 which lasts around 12 mins is in three movements:

1. Glints in the Water
2. Ripples
3. Eroding Lines

The piece was written for Benjamin Baker, Matthias Balzat and Daniel Lebhardt.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Piano Trio No.1 in B-flat major, D.898 (1827)

Allegro moderato
Andante un poco mosso
Scherzo & Trio: Allegro
Rondo: Allegro vivace

Schubert’s two Piano Trios date from the final years of his life when, frustrated by his lack of success at opera and dissatisfied with his song writing, he returned to instrumental music, overcoming the daunting shade of Beethoven to compose a series of masterpieces. His two piano trios were written after the octet and the late string quartets (including ‘Death and the Maiden’ and the G major quartet) but before the 2-cello string quintet. The trios are both very substantial works, matching his contemporary ‘Great’ C major symphony in length and musical depth. At that time, Schubert was known to Viennese concert-goers almost exclusively as a writer of songs: many male-voice part songs plus the Erlkönig (and a few others). By the end of 1827 the only public performances of his chamber music had been of just three of his works (including the first Piano Trio) in the Schuppanzigh Quartet’s subscription concerts.

Despite Schubert’s failing health and erratic mood swings, the B-flat Trio is radiant. Robert Schumann wrote of it: “One glance at Schubert’s Trio and the troubles of our human existence disappear and all the world is fresh and bright again.Schubert's glorious opening theme The glorious opening theme (illustrated) in unison on violin and cello is confident and optimistic. It also contains two ideas, one local, one global, which reappear in various forms throughout the piece. The local idea is the triplet – crochet pattern under [1]. The global idea is the pattern of the first four bars: simply put, “slow, slow, quick, slow”.

The same pattern reappears immediately in the tender second themeSchubert's tender second theme (illustrated) introduced by the cello. After an expansive development of this material Schubert gives us three false starts for the recapitulation in ‘wrong’ keys.

The glorious Andante with its opening cello theme joined rhapsodically by the violin was, incredibly, an afterthought. Schubert originally wrote a slow Adagio, which was posthumously published as a Notturno in E-flat D.897.Notturno's opening theme The Notturno’s opening theme (illustrated) is a slowed down version of the opening of the first movement. It is not clear why Schubert rejected it, but we are lucky that he did since the replacement Andante is one of those movements that you cannot imagine being without – and we do still have the Notturno.

The Scherzo and Trio are based on two dance forms – the Ländler and the waltz.opening figure of the Scherzo The opening figure of the Scherzo (illustrated) is based on the local triplet-crotchet figure of the first movement, whereas the first four bars of the Trio (illustrated) are in its global ‘slow, slow, fast, slow’ pattern. This globalTrio pattern also appears in 2-bar units in the 8-bar opening of the Rondo last movement (illustrated) with the dotted rhythm providing the ‘quick’ quality.
opening of the Rondo last movement

Programme notes by Chris Darwin (Ravel and Schubertl) and Guy Richardson (Kaner).

See Chris Darwin’s Programme Notes for other works on his web page.

3rd March 2024 – Lumas Winds with Jonathan Ferrucci, piano – Programme notes


Dutilleux  1916 – 2013
Au Gré des Ondes    Along the waves
Prélude en berceuse
Movement perpétuel
Hommage à Bach

This suite for piano was written in 1946, as incidental music for radio. The “waves”, being radio waves. It is an early, neo classical work in style, with Debussy and Ravel clearly reflected. Critics at the time were disparaging of its old fashioned form, harmony and expression. Audiences however, found it appealing and it was broadcast frequently. Dutilleux’s family were amateur musicians and it is thought that their influence was stronger than that of the current musical developments in Paris, his home.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
‘Le tombeau de Couperin’
(1918)  arranged by Hans Abrahamsen  for wind quintet.
Prélude. Vif
Fugue. Allegro moderato
Forlane. Allegretto
Rigaudon. Assez vif
Menuet. Allegro moderato
Toccata. Vif

Musically, ‘un Tombeau’ is a piece written in memory of someone. Ravel’s original six movement piece for piano is patriotically titled as being in memory of François Couperin (1668-1733), who established a distinctively French keyboard style of composition; but each of the movements is also dedicated to the memory of a different close friend killed in the first world war. When war broke out Ravel was working on his piano trio, the symphonic poem La Valse and a few other projects including LeTombeau. He completed the piano trio in five weeks and then volunteered for service. His several attempts to enlist as an aircraft pilot were turned down on health grounds, but he finally became a driver in the motor transport corps. Despite the death in January 1917 of his mother, who was perhaps the only person to whom he was ever closely emotionally attached, Ravel finished the six pieces of Le Tombeau and planned to perform them. When bombing postponed the initial performance, Ravel used the time to create an orchestral version of four of the original six movements.

Debussy  1862 – 1918
Images  Book 2
Cloches à travers les feuilles     Bells through the leaves
Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût   and the moon descends on the old temple
Poissons d’or     Golden fish

Debussy was taught the piano at an early age and he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire where he took up composition and won the Prix de Rome in 1884. Earlier, in 1879 Debussy travelled to Italy, Austria and Russia where he heard the music of Tchaikovsky and Borodin. In the restaurants and bars of Moscow he heard “gypsy music” and these influences all gave Debussy a liking of unusual music and sound worlds far away from the academic models he was expected to follow in the conservatoire. In 1889 the Universal Exhibition employed a Russian orchestra and also an utterly different sound from a large group of instruments. This was the Gamelan from Java. The different tuning, scale, timbre and the structure of pieces played by the collection of gongs mounted on ornate wooden frames, captured Debussy immediately and his piano compositions reflect this. After all, the piano is a percussive instrument like the gong.

Images book 2 begins with a piece inspired by the church bells of the village of Rahon in the Jura region of France. The second piece evokes Javanese and more generally East Asian music, as understood by Debussy with his French sensibilities. The third piece is an aural picture of a golden fish in a bowl, in a painting or as embroidery on fabric. The exact influence is not recorded.

Francaix   1912 – 1997
Wind Quintet No 1
Andante tranquillo – Allegro assai
Tema con variazioni  Andante
Tempo di Marcia Francese

Jean Francaix was born into a highly musical family and he was enrolled as a composer and pianist at the Conservatoire of Le Mans, where he lived. Nadia Boulanger taught Francaix and many of his compositions were played in Paris. He won a prize as a pianist at the Paris Conservatoire and toured Europe and the US. He was a prolific composer and wrote for many different instrumental ensembles as well as for the full orchestra. Stylistically Francaix’s music is neo classical and he was strongly influenced by Ravel, Poulenc and Stravinsky. There is a lightness of touch and humour running through his work.

Poulenc   1899 – 1963
Improvisation in A minor No 13
Sextet for piano and wind
Allegro vivace
Divertissement: Andantino

Poulenc was born in Paris to a prosperous family and his mother taught him the piano as a young child. Later, as a young man he became one of a group named “les six”. All six friends lived and worked in Montparnasse. Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germainne Tailleferre.  They shared musical ideas and developed their differing styles alongside each other. Despite not attending a conservatoire Poulenc managed to have his music performed and he was helped by Stravinsky who had publishing contacts in London. Poulenc was an excellent pianist and this, together with his Catholic faith gave him confidence to write much vocal and choral music. He travelled in Europe, meeting Schoenberg in Vienna and Casella in Italy.

Poulenc resisted French influences from Messiaen and the mixture of neo classicism and light-weight attractive melodic music, leavened with intense Catholicism, has ensured that his is a singular and instantly recognisable voice.

Improvisation No 13 is one from a group of 15 short pieces. They were composed between 1932 – 59 and some were dedicated to friends. No 13 is a dark mysterious sounding piece and the instruction to use the sustaining pedal helps foster the mood. The languorous melody is simple yet with chromatic shifts and an utter lack of sentimentality it avoids kitsch.

Poulenc’s sextet was begun in 1932 and revised in 1939. It is said to have been influenced by Poulenc’s visits to the circus with his musical friends such as Satie and Milhaud. The first movement is in ternary form.  A-B-A.  Jazzy rhythms and high energy are its characteristics. The second movement has two obviously contrasting sections; one considerably slower than the other. It is a glance back to the contrasting pace of movements in the classical period of Mozart’s time. The final movement is heavily indebted to jazz and ragtime and there are repeats from the previous two movements which help to bind the whole together.

Programme notes by Helen Simpson (Dutilleux, Debussy, Francaix, Poulenc) and Chris Darwin (Ravel)

See Chris Darwin’s Programme Notes for other works on his web page.

18th February 2024 – Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective – Programme notes

Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective  Sunday 18th February 2024Print/PDF

The music to be performed this morning was written within eighteen years.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 1875-1912

Piano Trio in E minor

Moderato, Allegro con moto
Scherzo, Allegro leggiero
Finale, Allegro con furiant 

Coleridge-Taylor was born in Continue reading 18th February 2024 – Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective – Programme notes