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An English Elegy
Consolation No. 3
Meditation from Thais
Adagio for Strings
The Four Seasons
The City of Oxford Orchestra
Roland Roberts – Director/Violin
Levon Parikian – Conductor
An English Elegy is the second in a projected set of four works for solo violin and chamber orchestra depicting the different seasons in the English countryside. Written during the summer of 2002, the Elegy is a portrait of the river Deben wending its way past my home in Suffolk en route to the ancient burial site of King Raedwald at Sutton Hoo. The work makes extensive use of modal harmony in the English folk song tradition. Sparse textures of strings and solo violin alternate with richer tutti episodes featuring solo wind instruments and harp. The Elegy begins and ends with an impassioned cadenza played by the solo violin. (Roland Roberts).
Elgar married Caroline Alice Roberts in May 1889. During their engagement she wrote for him a poem entitled “Love’s Grace” and he reciprocated by writing for her a short piece of music which he called Liebesgras, “Loves Greeting”. This miniature masterpiece was inscribed “A Carice”, a contraction of her forenames and the name which they subsequently gave their daughter. Elgar sold the work to the publisher Schotts for two guineas and the title was changed, with his approval, to Salut d’Amour, in the belief that a French title would help sales. They appear to have been right, for this, the first of Elgar’s work published, became popular immediately. In later years he was to regret that he had not made a royalty arrangement! Salut d’Amour suggests tenderness and sentiment rather than passionate desire. It has historical value for it indicates the skills that Elgar would develop in later works.
Liszt wrote six Consolations in 1850. Each is a brief mood picture in either a sentimental, passionate or religious vein. In the third (Lento placido) a serene atmosphere is projected though a flowing singable melody. Roland Roberts has arranged the piece for solo violin and orchestra.
Jules Massenet was the most important French opera composer of the late 19th century. Vincent d’Indy described Massenet’s style as “discreet and semi-religious eroticism”, a phrase that especially describes Thais. Massenet wrote the opera, based on the story by Anatole France, for the American soprano Sibyl Sanderson, who was a discovery of his and also his ex-mistress. Thais was an Athenian courtesan who travelled with the army of Alexander the Great during its invasion of Persia. In Massenet’s opera, the monk Athanal, after a brief taste of temptation, decides to save the soul of Thais and thus save Alexandria and himself from the corruption and degradation instigated by this glamorous and beautiful woman. He disguises himself as a wealthy man in order to confront her, and for some reason, she is convinced by him that there is a love nobler than the physical. While Thais reflects on her life, the orchestra plays the famous Meditation, its spiritual melody, on solo violin, describing the conversion and salvation of Thais. She is then ready to obey Athanl’s commands, and the consequences for both are tragic.
Arturo Toscanini, eager to programme new American music with his newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra, received a work by Samuel Barber, the Adagio from his 1936 String Quartet in B minor, transcribed for string orchestra. It was first played over the airwaves in November 1938. The Adagio has become a classic of American music and has been played at many memorial concerts of world renowned figures. It was broadcast at the death of President Roosevelt, and Leonard Bernstein conducted a performance to mark the death of Barber himself. With its slow building melodic lines, breath-like pauses and general mood of subdued sadness, Adagio has been aptly described as “possessing a poignant beauty which few composers of our time have surpassed.”
I originally wrote Summer Song as a clarinet quintet for the 2003 Waldringfield Flower and Music Festival and later performed it in Oxford. I have since re-orchestrated the piece for the current CD. As well as capturing the mood of a sleepy Suffolk village in summer, I have added other musical summer ingredients: a hint of Gershwin, a dash of Delius and a suggestion of Brahms, all bound together in a light soufflé of post war Britain. (Roland Roberts).
The Four Seasons form the first four concertos of a set of twelve published in 1725 under the title of Il Cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione. Vivaldi wrote many other descriptive pieces but The Seasons are peculiar in that they appear to have been written with specific reference to four sonnets, written by Vivaldi himself, which were printed in the original solo violin part.