U3A Music Appreciation Group – 16th May 2022

We began by listening to three songs from the Kurt Weil and Ogden Nash musical One Touch of Venus written in 1943.  Kurt Weill was born in Dessau in Saxony to a Jewish family, his father was the local Kantor.  He enrolled in the Berliner Hochschule für Musik where he studied composition with, amongst others, Engelbert Humperdinck.  Although he had some successes with his first mature works Weill tended more and more towards vocal music and musical theatre.  These were extremely popular in Germany in the late twenties and early thirties.  His best known work, The Threepeny Opera, was written in 1928 in collaboration with Berthold Brecht.  He fled Nazi Germany in 1933, being a Jew and having left wing views did not endear him to the ruling party at the time and he ended up in New York via Paris.  Rather than continue to write in the style characterized by his European compositions, Weill made a study of American popular and stage music.  One result was the musical, One Touch of Venus written in 1943.  Like many operas and musicals, the plot is somewhat bizarre and implausible.  Rodney Hatch, a barber, is about to become engaged to Gloria Kramer.  On visiting an Art Museum Rodney becomes strangely attracted to a statue of Venus and, on a whim, he puts the engagement ring, intended for Gloria, on the statue’s finger causing it to come to life.   Venus then falls in love with Rodney and begins stalking him causing turmoil with his relationship with Gloria.  When Venus becomes annoyed with Gloria, she transports her to the North Pole.  To add to the general mayhem Rodney is arrested for art theft, as the statue is now missing.  Venus helps Rodney to escape and he inevitably falls in love with her.  However, under the immutable laws of Goddesses, Venus cannot marry a mere mortal and so is carried away by the Gods and becomes a statue again.  When Gloria returns from the North Pole, quite how remains unclear, she is understandably furious with Rodney, not least because Venus failed to provide her with a suitable wardrobe, and she breaks off the engagement.  Rodney returns to the museum and looks at the statue again.  He unexpectedly bumps into a young woman  who bears a striking resemblance to the statue.  Rodney leaves the museum with her and as she starts to tell him her name he responds ‘You don’t have to tell me I already know’.  We heard two songs from the first Act, Foolish Heart sung by Venus, Speak Low, a duet between Venus and Rodney and I’m a Stranger Here Myself again sung by Venus.  Venus was sung by Anne Sophie von Otter with the NDR Sinfonieorchester conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

This was followed by Variations on a Catalan Folk Song, Canco del Llabre, written in 1956 by John Duarte and played by John Williams to whom it was dedicated.  Duarte was born in Sheffield in 1919 but lived most of his life in Manchester.  He worked as an industrial chemist until, aged 50, he devoted himself to a career in music.  Although largely self-taught, he later taught guitar at the London based Spanish Guitar school where John Williams was one of his pupils.  He formed long lasting friendships with, amongst others, Andres Segovia who included Duarte’s English Suite No 1 in his repertoire.

We went on to listen to the String Quintet No 2 op 111 by Brahms and played by the Alban Berg Quartet joined by Hariolf Schlichtig playing the second viola.  Brahms wrote four string quintets written for the traditional string quartet with a piano, a clarinet and two with an additional viola.  It was composed in 1890.  Brahms intended it to be his last piece of music, though he later produced a number of piano pieces and two sonatas.  The first performance was in Vienna on November 11 1890 and was a sensation; we heard the last two movements.

To follow we heard Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 1, K37.  This is one of his earliest compositions written at the age of 11 in Salzburg.  The autograph edition is dated by his father, Leopold Mozart, as having been completed in April 1767.  Although these works were long considered to be original, they are now known to be orchestrations of sonatas written by various German virtuosi.  The works on which the concerto’s were based were largely published in Paris and presumably Mozart and his family became acquainted with them during their visit to Paris in 1763 to 1764.  While they are not his undiluted work they show Mozart’s prodigious skill at transposing a sonata into a full blown concerto.

We finished the afternoon with Albinoni’s Adagio for organ and strings.  Tomaso Albinoni was a remarkably independent and productive composer of late baroque Italy.  The son of a merchant, he was able to pursue a life as a composer and musician with little support from patrons.  His music was quite popular in his own time with his instrumental music often compared with that of Corelli and Vivaldi and he wrote a trio sonata which was used as the basis of several keyboard fugues by none other than J S Bach.  However, the Adagio in G Minor is actually a twentieth century invention by the musicologist and critic, Remo Giazotto.  Having written on the life of Albinoni in 1945 he then composed the Adagio in 1958 as an elaboration on a theme supposedly taken from one of Albinoni’s sonatas.  However, no sonata by Albinoni containing this material currently exists.  Today, the piece is generally considered to be a neo-baroque composition by Giazotti himself, written in the style of Albinoni and possibly based on a melody by him.  The work has however, proved to be enormously popular both on the concert platform and also in various films.  The piece was performed by I Solesti Veneti conducted by Claudio Scimone.

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