Sinfonietta Newsletter 3

October 27, 2014  |  By  | 


Ted irk looks orard to the elcome return o some very talented youn musicians. On Saturday 26th April at 7.30 pm at the United Reformed Church, the Irwell Sextet will give a concert which I’ve rather disrespectfully labelled Six Pack . String sextets are among the rarer forms of instrumental music, and real gems are waiting for our modern orchestra-spoiled ears to discover. Brahms is known to have feared and postponed the responsibility of writing a symphony (“with the shadow of that giant [Beethoven] hanging over me”, he said), but he wanted to write big works nevertheless, and of course in those days, when live music was the only music, works for smaller instrumental groups were the main way composers made their reputation and their living. That giant bothered Brahms much less in this field, and his two Sextets, along with two big Serenades, a Quintet or two, and a monster Piano Sonata, were the “symphonies” of his youth. We are to hear his First Sextet, composed when he was 27. I bet you have never heard, or heard of, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. The title suggests perhaps a little salon piece, but not at all. It’s a massive four-movement work, which could have been a fine symphony if he had chosen to orchestrate it. As in his much more famous Serenade , Tchaikovsky tends to slave- drive his string players, with small regard for such niceties as resting the bow-arm and turning the page. But no doubt this brilliant young ensemble from Manchester will have stamina and skills to spare. Remember their superb Mendelssohn Octet last year, and the dazzling encore of supercharged Bach? If you do, you need no recommendation from me. If you don’t, be there this time! Brahms - Sextet No. 1 Tchaikovsky - Souvenir de Florence Although by all accounts Brahms was far from lacking in self- esteem, he seems to have shown undue modesty when hearing himself compared to fellow composers that he admired, especially Beethoven. Here are one or two of the stories that are told: Once, when a toast was proposed to him as “the most famous composer”, he stood up and said, “Exactly, here’s to Mozart.” At a dinner in his honour, the host brought out what he considered his finest bottle of wine, declaring, “This is the Brahms of my cellar.” After Brahms had had time to sniff and taste it, the host asked what he thought. “You’d better bring out your Beethoven,” he replied. Brahms and Johann Strauss were great admirers of each other’s music. On one occasion, in Vienna, Strauss asked Brahms to sign his autograph book. Brahms took the book and sketched in it the first few bars of Strauss’s The Blue Danube , with the inscription beneath: “Unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms.” Tchaikovsky spent the first three months of 1890 in Florence, where he worked on his opera The Queen of Spades. He loved the city, with its literary and artistic aura, and lived in a villa provided by the mysterious and wealthy Madame Nadezdha von Meck, who over some fourteen years had been his patron, giving him a generous allowance so that he could devote himself to composing. However, they had an agreement never to meet. Their sole communication was by letter, despite their similarity of temperament. There was an intimate bond between the two, who shared in their letters their passionate love of the arts and ideas, and indeed their neuroses. But both seemed to feel the need to keep that bond platonic. It was in 1890, the year of Tchaikovsky’s stay in Florence, that Madame Nadezdha broke off their relationship, on the false pretext of being bankrupt. His subsequent letters went unanswered. The true reasons for this abrupt break have never been satisfactorily explained. After leaving Florence he began writing the sextet we’ll hear on April 26th, to which he gave the title Souvenir de Florence . Florence

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