PROGRAMME NOTES FOR JANUARY 29TH
by Helen Simpson
This is an all English programme which celebrates composers and the performer Julian Bream who in the mid twentieth century did so much to promote the Lute, the Renaissance and Baroque guitar in solo performances. The four twentieth century pieces in today’s concert were written for Bream and Dowland’s well known Forlorn Hope Fancy was transcribed for the modern Guitar which is Sean Shibe’s instrument today.
John Dowland 1563 – 1626
Forlorn Hope Fancy (1604)
Dowland was a composer and Lutenist who travelled widely in Europe, working in England, Germany, Italy and Denmark. His output included several hundred songs and also many solo pieces for the Lute written in the styles of dances. His melancholy nature was recognised and is demonstrated in this well known piece published in a collection of seven fantasias. The piece is in three short sections and its chromatically descending opening motif of six notes is heard six times at different registers in the course of the piece. After the somewhat sparse opening commanding the listener’s attention with a single line the texture, rhythmic complexity and harmonic interest increase before a series of full chords signal a transition into much thinner texture where the running lower part propels the piece towards its conclusion. A reiteration of the opening note E is settled harmonically and the piece is completed with a full Major chord. Maybe Hope is justified after all.
Forlorn Hope Fancy has maintained its popularity and has been arranged for four guitars elucidating the contrapuntal writing as each line is taken by an instrument.
Sean Shibe has summed it up thus: “Forlorn Hope Fancy holds some of the richest harmonic language that the guitar can muster and is almost post-romantic in its pure chromaticism”
Fantasia No. 1A
This bright and positive piece is in E Major in contrast to the previous E minor. It is based on four bar phrases which weave around using three part writing. There are various rhythmical and textural episodes with imitation and obvious cadences marking the ends of sections. A feature is made of the echoing device using the high and low registers of the guitar. The fantasia is rounded off with gigue-like syncopation and a flourish of cadential chords.
Malcolm Arnold 1921 – 2006
Fantasy op 107 (1970)
The Fantasy, a piece in seven short sections was written for Julian Bream. Arnold and Bream shared an interest and enjoyment of Jazz and this can be clearly recognised in the second section of the piece. Bream appreciated Arnold’s tonal and melodic compositional style which suited his Guitar technique and this was highly influential in the writing of the Fantasy.
1 Prelude. This has a freely moving impressionistic melody which is set over a bass pattern of two notes repeated.Tambura technique, drawing the side of the thumb across the strings is used here as contrast. A series of harmonics closes this section.
2 Scherzo. Tremolando and rapid fingerwork characterise this and the diversity of techniques show the influence of Django Reinhardt, the jazz guitarist.
3 Arietta. This has a sweet almost sentimental melody which having been played high in the register is then echoed in the lower more mellow range.
4 Fughetta. A fugal section with the contrapuntal lines delineated clearly by the Guitar.
5 Arietta. In contrast to the previous Arietta, this is pensive and introspective and the listener is drawn in closely.
6 March. Here another technique,of crossing the lower two strings together producing a snare drum effect gives this section its martial sound. The march has strong and constant rhythm supporting the confident melody.
7 Postlude. This is a much more melodic section which acts as a reminder of the opening mood of the piece.
William Walton 1902 – 1983
Five Bagatelles (1972)
This set of short contrasting movements was first performed in 1972 by Julian Bream for whom it was written. Walton dedicated it to Malcolm Arnold to celebrate his 50th birthday. It was written late in life and Walton was well known for Belshazzar’s Feast and Facade amongst other works by the time he wrote the Five Bagatelles. His musical influence ranges widely from English choral music, Jazz and the music of European modernist composers and audiences accepted this readily, enjoying the rich palette of sounds and effects. The five bagatelles are not obviously Spanish in style but no.3 has a slow Latin/Cuban feel.
1 Allegro. This is energetic with strong impetus and rhythm. There is a slight influence from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez written some thirty years previously.The mood calms in a central section and the movement closes with a flourish.
2 Lento. A slow waltz with a lyrical theme set over a repeated bass pattern giving the harmonic framework. It is reflective and maintains the same texture and rhythm throughout.
3 Alla Cubana. A lush beguiling movement with a melody that reaches and yearns until this sentiment is interrupted by the “battente” technique, a rapid striking of all strings and soundboard.
4 Sempre espressivo. In contrast this is pensive and relaxed with a very clear melodic line fragmented by harmonic responsive phrases. It is a conversation between different lines of music within one instrument.
5 Con slancio. With enthusiasm. Energy is shown with a short nervy melody at the outset which is repeated almost without interruption throughout the movement. The momentum is held throughout and the Bagatelles finish with an augmented rendition of the theme descending from the high register to the lowest.
Lennox Berkeley 1903 – 1989
Sonatina op 52/1 (1957)
This was written for Julian Bream in 1957 and the first performance was given in 1958. Berkeley studied in Paris and counted among his friends Ravel and Poulenc. The writing in this Sonatina is idiomatic for the guitar and Berkeley’s elegant melodic style characterises the piece. Cantabile melodies, clear harmonic progressions and strong rhythmic interest all contribute towards making these three movements complement each other to form the whole.
The first movement, an Allegretto has lyrical charm with the melody moving along above a chordal harmonic structure. It has an undoubted Spanish feel. This gives way to a statement and response section before the first Spanish idea is reiterated.
The second movement marked Lento begins in the low register. There is a searching quality with unresolved musical ideas, any of which might be expanded.A slow melody takes over and the movement closes in a reflective mood.
The character of the third movement, a Rondo derives from the switching around of emphasis within a strong rhythmic framework. Tremolando is employed together with long melodic lines, both very evocative of Spanish inflected twentieth century Guitar sound.
Benjamin Britten 1913 – 1976
Nocturnal after John Dowland op 70 (1963)
Slow and quiet
This was written for Julian Bream in 1963 and was given its first performance in 1964. It can be described as a set of variations on John Dowland’s song “Come heavy sleep”, first performed with the Lute as accompaniment. Britten draws the listener in to the condition of insomnia, restlessness and then finally sleep with eight short sections. He portrays in sound the imaginings of the unconscious mind which he maintains support the creative mind when fully awake. The piece culminates in Dowland’s theme, simply set for the guitar. This practice of concluding a set of variations with the theme is not unusual; Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli variations are well known predecessors of Britten’s Nocturnal.
A poised, rhetorical opening gesture reminds us of Dowland’s era. the melancholia is shown here with the interval of a falling 4th, readily understood by listeners of the time. This is to be played very softly and with time for the lines to be placed, heard and assimilated.
2 Very Agitated
This is very energetic and carries the listener with strong propulsion.
Repeated chords hold this firm in the centre while above and below them the melodic material moves with a different pulse. Is this the mind churning and leaping around whilst the body’s pulse keeps steady?
Here everything has fragmented and there is a stuttering erratic quality with frequent changes of mood and Guitar figuration.
This has a brisk feel with closer rhythmic cohesion than previously. Chords mark out the music’s pulse and melodic lines are played in octaves.
Rolling chords give way to erie sounds made by the Guitar’s harmonics. The expanse between the high and low registers is increased noticeably as a result.
7 Gently Rocking
A very short variation which is characterised with repeated note lyrical motifs.
Here another glance back in time is demonstrated with a Ground bass – a repeated pattern of notes. Another descending melancholic line around which other lines are woven. The final dissolution of the texture rounds this variation off on a single bass note.
9 Slow and quiet
This clear rendition of Dowland’s Come heavy sleep echoes the original Lute song.