A selection of photos from our recent tour to Liverpool, England in June 2012, featuring the Catholic Cathedral.
Queen’s University Symphony Orchestra and Queen’s Music Society Choir present their annual Christmas Concert. This year’s concert will take place on Wednesday 5th December at 7:30pm, in the Whitla Hall, Queen’s University, Belfast.
With a programme including the famously festive Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, a range of seasonal choral works, and some Christmas carols (audience participation required!), this is an evening guaranteed to get you into the Christmas spirit! Come along to enjoy mulled wine, mince pies, and festive music in a spectacular setting.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Violin Concerto in D, op. 77 May 2010
Allegro non troppo; Adagio; Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace
After years of toil, Brahms finally completed his First Symphony in 1876, marking the beginning of one of the happiest and most productive periods of the composer’s life. The cause of his concern was the formidable shadow of Beethoven which had been cast over him, Brahms having once proclaimed: “Let others do as the will: my master is Beethoven”. His hard labour was rewarded however, producing perhaps the greatest symphony since Beethoven’s Ninth, and any anxieties of unfavourable comparisons with the master were relieved. This success prompted Brahms onto new heights and he did not hesitate in composing his Second Symphony (1877), which was closely followed by the Violin Concerto (1878). Both of these works are in D major and share the cheerful optimism which was to become characteristic of the composer’s mature work, owing no doubt to the idyllic surroundings of Pörtschach am Wörthersee in which they were composed. The choice of key has a deeper significance in regards to the concerto however, for this was also the key of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, though once again Brahms was not found wanting in terms of producing a work of equal stature.
Brahms composed the concerto with his great friend Joseph Joachim in mind, who happened to be one of the most accomplished violinists of the nineteenth century and a capable composer in his own right. Correspondence between composer and violinist from this time shows that Joachim played a significant part in the development of the work; not surprising given his superior knowledge of the instrument. It is interesting however that many of the alterations made at Joachim’s request were not to do with the solo part at all, but were in relation to the compositional aspect of the work such as the thinning out of orchestral textures. Brahms chose to stick to his guns when it came to passages Joachim deemed were not suitable for violin, and the result is a concerto which is incredibly challenging for the soloist and which many dismissed as unplayable in its day. One of the most quoted criticisms came from Josef Hellmesberger who declared that the concerto was “not for, but against the violin”; with a retort coming from Polish violinist Bronislaw Hubermann that it is “for violin against orchestra – and the violin wins!” Credit to Joachim in any case for having such faith in the work, giving the premiere on New Years Day 1899 in Leipzig having only received the final copy of the solo part (no orchestral or piano accompaniment attached) on 12th December. The initial success of the work was largely attributed to Joachim’s championing of it, and in keeping with the Classical tradition the cadenza at the end of the first movement was left to be extemporized by the soloist, the last large scale concerto to do so. Joachim duly obliged with a fine cadenza which is still the most performed version today, just reminder of his contribution to the work’s genesis.
Although it was originally planned as a four-movement work, the two inner movements were discarded at the last minute to be replaced by what Brahms modestly described as a “feeble” Adagio. The lyricism of this movement balances well with the weighty first movement and provides some respite for the soloist before the frantic rondo finale written in the gypsy style which is no doubt a tribute to Joachim’s Hungarian roots. There is little relief for the soloist in this movement, testing a player’s stamina as much as anything else. Daunting though the work may be, it is generally placed along side Beethoven’s concerto as that by which a violinist can be measured, something which Brahms would certainly approve of.
Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957)
Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, op. 39 May 2010
Andante ma non troppo – Allegro energico; Andante (ma non troppo lento); Scherzo: Allegro; Finale (quasi una fantasia)
Like Brahms before him, Sibelius bided his time before beginning work on his First Symphony, recognising that this above all other forms was likely to influence his status as a composer. The Symphony was completed in 1899, at which point Sibelius was thirty-four years old and already established as Finland’s ‘national composer’. Much of his music written during the 1890s was strongly national in character, not an uncommon trait in this part of the nineteenth century. The first instance of a nationalistic composition from Sibelius was Kullervo, premiered in 1892, and it is from here that we can trace the origin of a Finnish national style. In reference to Kullervo, the prominent music critic Oskar Merikanto commented that “we recognise these [tones] as ours, even if we have never heard them as such”, and from here on Sibelius became a national hero.
Sibelius claimed that any nationalistic sentiment was confined to his tone-poems however, always making a clear distinction between these works and his symphonic compositions. He always maintained that his symphonies were “music conceived and worked out in terms of music and with no literary bias”, adding that tone-poems are “a different matter” and “are suggested to me by our national poetry”. Sibelius is the opposite of Mahler in this respect; with the former explaining to the latter that what he admired most in the symphony was “its style and severity of form, and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motifs”. “No, no!” came Mahler’s retort, “The Symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” Whilst Mahler’s symphonies are conjured up with vast proportions in mind and presented on vast canvasses therefore, Sibelius strove for compression and aimed to create unified organic structures imbued with Romantic gesture, though with Classical economy. The general idea was that standard models would be mastered before being deconstructed later on, a process which can be observed over the course of his seven symphonies: the first two adhere to conventional forms with standard Romantic orchestration before a more diminutive approach was taken for the three-movement Third Symphony (1907). This was to be the criterion for the rest of the composer’s creative life, culminating in the one-movement Seventh Symphony (1924).
Despite the composer’s assertion that he did not draw from any external inspiration when composing symphonies, these works contain a palpable Nordic inflection. The First Symphony is significant in that never before had a work of such significance emerged from Northern Europe, and so it broadcast the previously unheard character of Nordic music. For those who first heard it the music must have had the rather odd character of sounding both ‘old’ and ‘new’ at the same time: “new” given the freshness of the sound, “old” in that this was presented in the well versed Romantic idiom. The mood is essentially dramatic and austere throughout, the tone being set with the extended clarinet solo at the beginning of the first movement. The first and last movement are linked by this clarinet theme which reappears at the onset of the Finale in the strings, with the previously sombre mood being replaced by a forceful Largamente ed appassionato. The influence of Tchaikovsky can perhaps be recognized in the tranquil opening theme of the second movement whilst the vigorous Scherzo would not be out of place in one of Bruckner’s symphonies. Overall however, there is no mistake that this is a work by Sibelius, and confirmed his virtually unique status as one who could master both programme and symphonic writing.