DECEMBER 2011 – JANUARY 2012
FROM OUR MUSIC DIRECTOR
Here is some information about the music that the orchestra will be performing at its spring concert on June 2. This will serve as the basis of the program notes for the concert program, and I hope this preview will give you a more complete understanding of the selections you will be playing.
The flamboyant biography of Alessandro Stradella has served as the subject of no less than three operas, the most famous of which was composed in 1844 by Friedrich von Flotow. Stradella’s escapades led to a scheme to embezzle money from the Catholic Church, a diplomatic incident in Turin that required the intervention of King Louis XIV of France and at least three attempts on Stradella’s life, the last, in 1682, which was successful. Aside from the more colorful aspects of his career, Stradella remains a significant figure in the development of music during the late 17th century. It was Stradella who composed the first concerto grosso, an instrumental form that was to have a decisive impact on the course of Western music in the hands of his younger colleague, Arcangelo Corelli. Stradella’s compositions were held in the highest regard throughout Europe during the late Baroque. Handel borrowed a portion from one and included it in an oratorio, and Purcell expressed sadness at the loss to music when learning of Stradella’s early death.
During the late Middle Ages, the music of English composers increasingly employed chords and the full harmonies we associate with Western music through the present day. By 1400, this style spread to the Continent and within fifty years led to the music we call “renaissance.” John Dunstable was the leading English composer of the early 15th century and one of the most influential in spreading his native style to continental Europe. The impact that this new English sound had on continental composers of the time can be heard in Dunstable’s Sancta Maria, with its full, rich sonorities that build towards a sublime and powerful ending.
Alan Hovhaness was one of the most prominent 20th-century composers to take up residence on the West Coast of the United States. Having settled in Seattle, Washington, he along with his colleague in Aptos, California, Lou Harrison (1917-2003), belonged to a group of composers that came to be known as “mavericks” since their style did not adhere to the prevailing musical trends in the United States and Europe and because their musical vocabulary was extremely independent, personal and often incorporated musical traditions of non-Western cultures, particularly those of Asia. Among the features that characterize the music of Hovhaness are his interest in spirituality, mysticism, renaissance polyphony and fugal writing as well as a strong conviction that music must be, in the composer’s words, “simple enough to inspire all people, completely free from fads, artificial mannerisms and false sophistications, direct, forceful, sincere, always original but never unnatural.” All of this can be heard in the final section of his setting of Psalm 148.
In 1953, ňstor Piazzolla entered his Buenos Aires Symphony in a composition contest and won a grant to study in Paris with the famous teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger told him that his music was well written but that all she could find in it were the traces of well-known 20th-century composers and not him. After intensive questioning by Boulanger, Piazzolla admitted, with some reluctance and embarrassment, that he was by profession a nightclub accordion player in Buenos Aires. She then asked him to play one of his tangos and after hearing it said, “You idiot, that’s Piazzolla!” After her remark, Piazzolla abandoned all of the music he had composed up to that point and returned to Buenos Aires where he formed a tango band in
1955. Eventually, he developed the nuevo tango, which transformed the traditional dance by using elements drawn from jazz as well as the variation technique and counterpoint found in the music of the 17th and 18th centuries. He later experimented with other musical idioms including serial technique and modality and composed several chamber and orchestral works. Until suffering a stroke in 1990, he continued to expand his musical style by exploring an ever more daring harmonic and structural vocabulary in his compositions. The three tangos I have chosen show that Piazzolla was not only a masterful composer but also, because of the diverse influences that he fused into his style, one whose music could appeal to a wide audience.
William Brade was one of several English composers who migrated to the Continent in the late 16th century because of religious issues or to pursue a better career. Brade worked at a number of courts in Germany and Denmark and had a habit of changing posts about once every two years. This did not earn him a reputation for reliability, and one former employer referred to Brade as a “wanton, mischievous fellow” and added that he should not be given his own way. In later life he began to explore current Italian forms and is likely to have been the first English composer to write a canzona as well as a work for solo violin. The piece by Brade that I have selected is typical of the dance music composed in Germany during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, which for the most part is based on earlier models but features a more intricate interplay of parts as can be heard in the final section of this Allmand.
Three major works that were specifically written for an ensemble of recorders from soprano through bass have come down to us from the 17th century. The musical careers of the three composers who wrote them, Bertali, Biber and Schmelzer, were intertwined, and there may have been some common impetus that led the three to write works using a full ensemble of recorders. The one that calls for the greatest number of recorders is the Sonata ą 7 by Schmelzer, and unlike Biber’s Sonata pro tabula, which employs five string parts as well as five recorder parts, Schmelzer’s uses seven recorders alone supported by organ continuo. The Sonata ą 7 has a duration of over eight minutes, and in order to maintain interest and variety Schmelzer combines the different sizes of recorders in various ways and makes use of contrasting chordal, antiphonal and contrapuntal textures. What is missing from this sonata as well as the other two works mentioned is the virtuosic writing common in Schmelzer’s other instrumental compositions as well as those of his contemporaries. This could account for the scarcity of music written for a full ensemble of recorders during Schmelzer’s time since it may have been assumed that this combination of instruments was not a viable medium for an extended work. Schmelzer’s masterful writing in the Sonata ą 7, however, shows what was possible.
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Dear members of the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra,
I want to thank those who took part in the December 3 holiday concert for a very successful performance. I especially appreciated all of the hard work the younger members of the orchestra and their mentors, Grace Butler and Dan Chernikoff, put in preparing the music for the program. The comments I received after the performance from those in the audience were extremely positive and complimentary. Congratulations to all on a job well done. I would also like to thank those who added a special touch to the orchestra’s sound. These include Gwen Freeman on keyboard, the members who doubled on krummhorns and Bill Lazar who played dulcien and viola da gamba.
And now, here are some of the highlights for the second half of the orchestra's 2011-2012 season: MPRO’s spring concert is scheduled for Saturday, June 2, at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 1106 Alameda de las Pulgas in San Carols with the dress rehearsal at the same location on Friday, June 1, Please mark these dates on your calendar. On Saturday, January 21, Glen Shannon will be directing a workshop for MPRO. You will find details about the workshop in this issue of Upbeat. Glenn Shannon is one of the Bay Area’s leading composers for the recorder, having received numerous awards for his music, as well as an accomplished performer and director. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with someone extremely well versed in all aspects of the instrument, and I encourage everyone in the orchestra to take advantage of what promises to be an interesting, informative and entertaining experience next month. Music for the second half of the orchestra’s 2011-2012 season will include a sonata for seven recorders by Schmelzer, a sonata for eight recorders by Stradella as well as the following music from the first half of the season: Sancta Maria by Dunstable, Resurrección del Angel, Un Dia de Paz, Los Paraguas de Buenos Aires by Piazzolla and the Allmand by Brade. We will also be repeating Let them praise the name of the Lord by Hovhaness from last season.
Listed below is the music for the orchestra's first three meetings of the New Year. Please note that there will be sectional seating for the Stradella Sonata, with those playing the Soprano 1 and 2, Alto 1 and Bass 1 parts sitting on the right as they face the conductor and those playing Alto 2, Tenor, Bass 2 and Contrabass on the left. Please observe this seating arrangement when you choose your place at the beginning of the meetings on January 4 and February 1. Please note as well that bass viola da gamba and great bass recorders will be needed at all three meetings and sopranino and contrabass recorders, dulcien and krummhorns, on January 4 and February 1.
Hovhaness: Let them praise the name of the Lord
Schmelzer: Sonata ą 7
Dunstable: Sancta Maria
Piazzolla: Resurrección del Angel, Un Dia de Paz,
Los Paraguas de Buenos Aires
Schmelzer: Sonata ą 7
Hovhaness: Let them praise the name of the Lord
Schmelzer: Sonata ą 7
I look forward to seeing you at these upcoming meetings and working on this music with you. Please let any of your friends who play early instruments know about the orchestra's varied activities and invite them to attend an MPRO meeting, workshop or concert.
Sincerely, Fred Palmer
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On Saturday, January 21 2012, MPRO holds its annual workshop. This year Glen Shannon will direct us. Glen is well known as a performer and composer of recorder music. His theme for our workshop is International Block Party, featuring music old and new from England, Germany, Canada and the United States.
See the enclosed brochure for additional information and registration form.
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The Board: President: Amy Booth; Treasurer: Leslie Pont; Membership: Chris Flake; Publicity: Marguerite Dilley; Newsletter Editor: Dick Davies; Music Sales: Laura Gonsalves; Graphics: Mary Ashley; Webmaster: Dan Chernikoff; Workshop Coordinator: TBD; Consort Coordinator: TBD; Hospitality: Stevie White & Claire Heinzelman; Historian: TBD; Music Director: Fred Palmer. MPRO website: < http://www.mpro-online.org >