Founded in 1949 by Harry Blech, the London Mozart Players is the UK’s longest established chamber orchestra. Known for its unmistakable British roots, the orchestra has developed an outstanding reputation for adventurous, ambitious programming, from Baroque through to genre-crossing contemporary music. The ensemble has enjoyed a long history of association with many of the world’s finest musical personalities including Igor Stravinsky, Sir James Galway, Dame Felicity Lott, Jane Glover, Julian Lloyd Webber, Stephen Hough, Nicola Benedetti, John Suchet and Simon Callow.
The London Mozart Players is the only professional orchestra in the UK to be managed both operationally and artistically by the players, and has enjoyed the patronage of HRH The Earl of Wessex since 1988.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Divertimento in D major, K136
The title ‘divertimento’ was extremely common in eighteenth-century Austria. At first sight, the ideal it implies – of music as an elegant diversion to while away a potentially tedious hour – seems rather a climb-down from earlier aesthetic theories of music as a language of the emotions or as the most perceptible echo on earth of heavenly harmony. However, Mozart demonstrated time and again that music as entertainment can go along with the most original, enlightening, even profound ideas.
K136 belongs firmly in the Austrian divertimento tradition – music that entertains through a lively interplay of ideas, melodic distinctiveness and an element of instrumental virtuosity.
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG (1874 – 1951)
Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
In the autumn of 1899 Arnold Schoenberg was 25 and largely unknown, scraping a precarious living from conducting workers’ choirs and making arrangements of other people’s music. At the close of the nineteenth century Schoenberg was seeking to extend the boundaries of the late romantic idiom of Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss, under the spell of the chromatic harmonies of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
In 1897 Schoenberg’s String Quartet in D had inspired the critic Eduard Hanslick to proclaim that ‘a new Mozart is growing up in Vienna’; heartened by this reception, Schoenberg composed Verklärte Nacht for string sextet in September 1899. Zemlinsky was impressed.
Verklärte Nacht (‘Transfigured Night’) is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. Two lovers are walking in the moonlight; she confesses that she is pregnant by another man, but so great is his love for her that he agrees to bring the child up as his own. Schoenberg’s work closely follows the five sections of Dehmel’s poem. An introduction, depicting the couple’s hesitant steps through the moonlit wood, is followed by the woman’s confession; a brief interlude introduces the man’s reply. His declaration of selfless devotion is followed by a serene postlude, as they walk on through the ‘high, bright night’.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Souvenir de Florence for string sextet, Op. 70
IAllegro con spirito
IIAdagio cantabile e con moto
The string sextet itself emerged as a form during the 19th century, developed in particular by Brahms in his Op. 18 and Op. 36 works, and by Dvorak. For this work Tchaikovsky chose to write for six instruments rather than the four of the string quartet because of the increased range of textures and colours made available. Souvenir de Florence was written for the St Petersburg Chamber Music Society, which in 1886 had elected Tchaikovsky as an honorary member, and was completed in 1890, but then revised before publication in 1892 and given its first performance in St Petersburg in December 1892, less than a year before Tchaikovsky’s death.
Souvenir de Florence is not a tonal picture of the city or country. Rather, its name derives from one melody, the main theme of the slow movement which Tchaikovsky had heard and noted down during a visit to Florence in 1887. In all other respects the musical idiom is Russian rather than Italian, in particular in the third movement with its Russian dance theme, and the opening music of the lively finale.
Souvenir de Florence is sometimes performed by a full string orchestra, giving it a similar character to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, but the quality and ingenuity of the part-writing is more obvious and effective when it is played, as in tonight’s concert, in its original version.
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