Programme Notes May 2013

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

A Somerset Rhapsody (1906-1907)

Gustav Holst was a man of many varied interests. His initial musical influence had been Wagner (he had been bowled over by hearing Mahler conduct Wagner at Covent Garden). He was also passionate about Hinduism and its literature and taught himself Sanskrit. He had spent several years working on pieces inspired by this when, together with his close friend Vaughan Williams, he started to discover the English folk music tradition. This soon dispelled any remaining Wagnerian tendencies. A Somerset Rhapsody was one of his first forays into this genre and the work that established his broader reputation as a composer.


Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Tuba Concerto (1954)

Prelude  (allegro moderato)

Romanza (andante sostenuto)

Finale - Rondo alla tedesca (allegro) 

This concerto was the first concerto written for the tuba and has become the most performed such work.  It was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its golden jubilee in 1954 and was performed by the LSO's principal tuba at its gala concert that year. Concertos for the tuba are rare, largely because of the deep register of the instrument. This makes it harder for the instrument to come through the textures of the orchestra. Vaughan Williams overcomes this technical difficulty by allowing the soloist sections with sparse and quiet accompaniment.

Vaughan Williams was in his eighties when he composed it and whilst the choice of instrument was novel, he stays within a traditional harmonic world. Within that world however he explores the full range of the instrument combining virtuosity and lyricism.

We are delighted to welcome our own principal tuba, Leslie Shadrake, as soloist this evening.


Peter Maxwell Davies (born 1934)

An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (1985)

Peter Maxwell Davies was born in England but has for many years made the Orkneys his home. The composer's own note on the piece cannot be bettered:

"This was written for the Boston Pops Orchestra as a commission for its centenary, and conducted at the first performance by John Williams. It is a picture postcard record of an actual wedding I attended on Hoy in Orkney. 

At the outset, we hear the guests arriving, out of extremely bad weather, at the hall. This is followed by the processional, where the guests are solemnly received by the bride and bridegroom, and presented with their first glass of whisky. The band tunes up, and we get on with the dancing proper. This becomes ever wilder, as all concerned feel the results of the whisky, until the lead fiddle can hardly hold the band together any more. We leave the hall into the cold night, with echoes of the processional music in our ears, and as we walk home across the island, the sun rises, over Caithness, to a glorious dawn. The sun is represented by the highland bagpipes, in full traditional splendour."

We are delighted to welcome Clive Troubman as our bagpipe soloist for this evening.


Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Enigma Variations (1899)

Elgar was himself something of an enigma, or at least a frustrated and, at times moody, outsider. A Catholic in a very Anglican late Victorian England, the son of a shopkeeper moving in a society that, despite the source of the country's wealth, looked down on trade, a man with close attachments to other women but devoted to his older wife whose establishment parents had disowned her on her marriage, a very private man trying to make his mark on a public stage.

In 1899 he was 42.  He had not yet achieved recognition as a composer and lived modestly, giving music lessons and doing concerts in and around Malvern. His close friend Augustus Jaeger urged him to compose a large scale work and, like Beethoven, throw off his depression by working.

The result was the Enigma Variations and was the work that brought him national and then international recognition.  Elgar was himself enigmatic about what the enigma was and mischievously enjoyed not being drawn on it. The literature on this subject is enormous. Suffice it to say that the theme and 14 variations illustrate the personalities or behaviour of 12 of his friends plus his wife and himself. They vary from the intimate to the grandiose but all show great affection, at times gently teasing them for their mannerisms.

After the statement of the theme, the first variation is a tribute to his wife, the final one how he saw himself. The imposing variation 9, Nimrod, is a tribute to his friend Jaeger (Nimrod was a biblical hunter and Jaeger means hunter in German).


Charles Clark

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