U3A Music Appreciation Group Meeting 16th July 2019
The first piece we listened to was the second adagio movement from Mozart’s piano concerto number 23 in A major. The pianist was Walter Gieseking with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan. The work was completed in 1796 two months prior to the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro and some three weeks prior to the completion of the next piano concerto. Clearly this was a busy time for the composer. It was written for a series of subscription concerts and was probably performed by Mozart at one of these concerts. Although he was undoubtedly a genius, he still managed to produce such masterpieces in short order without the heart searching struggles of later composers. It is interesting to speculate whether, if he had had more time to revise the piece, it would have been even better, possibly not! The adagio movement was used by the Dutch singer, Petra Berger, as the musical setting for her song about Mary Magdalene, “When He Spoke My Name” from her album Eternal Woman.
Following on from Mozart we heard two folk songs collected by Percy Grainger and sung by Peter Pears, Brigg Fair and Green Bushes. Percy Grainger was born in Australia in 1882 but he left at the age of 13 to study the piano in Frankfurt. Some six years later he moved to London and became established as a concert pianist and began collecting folk songs. His interest in folk songs had begun earlier after meeting Grieg in Germany. While visiting friends in Lincolnshire he visited a folk song competition in Brigg where Joseph Taylor won first prize with his rendition of Brigg Fair. Using what was then state of the art equipment he made many recordings of folk singers on wax cylinders. He emigrated to the America in 1914 and became a US citizen. He continued composing and giving concerts until his death in 1961.
The next piece we listened to was one of the lesser known works by Beethoven, a selection of Contra Dances played by the Capella Istropolitana conducted by Oliver Dohnányi. Oliver was descended from a brother of the well known Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnányi. The Contra Dances were completed in 1802 and they were dedicated to Johann Baptist Friedrich who was the assistant to Dr Johann Schmidt, Beethoven’s doctor who had inspired Beethoven with the possibility, sadly unfulfilled, of a cure for his deafness.
After that we returned to more Mozart piano concertos listening to the third allegretto finale presto movement of concerto No 17 and the third, Allegro Vivace, movement, of concerto No 18 both of which were written in 1784. Mozart acquired a pet starling in 1784 and, according to legend the bird sang what was fairly close to the opening bars of the third movement of concerto No 17. Whether the bird composed the music, or whether he was taught to sing this tune by Mozart remains unknown.
Continuing with the piano theme we heard the first movement of Beethoven’s piano concerto No 2 played by the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Gould was a famously eccentric pianist and was well known for singing and humming during recordings to the despair of the recording engineers. During the recording of the second concerto with Bernstein, apparently, after the initial tutti, he slid out from behind the piano and loped casually about the Hall, shaking his head, beating time and generally acting in a manner that any conductor, not used to Gould, would have found trying in the extreme, Bernstein just ignored it. Beethoven completed the work in 1795 but it was not published until 1801. In the meantime he wrote another piano concerto in 1797 which is referred to as Piano Concerto No 1 and this piece, despite being written earlier, is known as Piano Concerto No 2. Beethoven did not rate this work particularly highly, remarking to the publisher, Franz Anton Hoffmeier that, along with the Piano Concerto No 1 that it was “not one of my best”. Nevertheless the work became an important display piece for the young Beethoven as he sought to establish himself after moving to Vienna from Bonn.
We finished the afternoon with an encore from The Holy Virgin Vocal Ensemble singing a capella. Russian Orthodox church music is traditionally sung without musical accompaniment.