WILLIAM WALTON 1902-1983 Crown Imperial (Coronation March) William Walton originally wrote the Crown Imperial intending it to be used for the coronation of King Edward VIII, but since Edward abdicated, it was used instead for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. It also later appeared at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. It follows a familiar pattern in English marches with a brilliant main section followed by a gentler “trio.” After the recurrence of the opening music, returns, the trio music returns in a much more triumphant version.
BENJAMINBRITTEN 1913 – 1976 Four Sea Interludes from the opera, Peter Grimes, 1945 Born on the east coast of England in 1913, Benjamin Britten showed such precociousness in music that early comparisons were made between him and the young genius Wolfgang Mozart.The seven-year-old was so enthralled by music that he gathered up scores of symphonies and operas to read at bedtime, with the same wide-open-eyed fascination his peers held for comic books.By age 15 he had produced 800 compositions including a symphony, six quartets, ten piano sonatas, and many smaller works.In 1930 intensive study began at the Royal College of Music and the young student was awarded a degree in composition, as well as one for his piano abilities.Later he would be recognized as a first rate conductor.
The young composer had little difficulty breaking into the business of music publishing, but his father’s death forced him into the less-time-consuming occupation of composing for television and films.Still, his works composed on the side became well known and were heard at international festivals of contemporary music.
Before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, pacifist/conscientious objector Britten sought a quiet refuge for composing and moved to the United States.Many diverse works were produced, including the beginning of an American commission, which eventually became his first opera, Peter Grimes.Then, realizing the effects of the terrible German blitz on England, Britten returned to his homeland where he contributed to the war effort by giving concerts in hospitals, shelters, and bombed-out villages.
He also finished Peter Grimes and its immediate success led Britten to compose additional operas, which soon indicated that his genius gift was for theater music. Nevertheless, the prolific composer was equally successful in creating sacred and secular music; he was able to weave a complex polyphonic texture into his choral works, as well as to create music with a medieval atmosphere. A salient point is that whatever music form he chose, the results were always of the highest caliber and recognized as such.Certainly he was then and remains one of the greatest contributors to the history of British music.
In addition to endless tributes and other awards Britten was awarded Life Peerage in 1976 (Baron Britten).He died of heart failure later that year and was quietly buried in the little seaside village of his birth.
English operatic composition had been dead since the 17th century. The scarcity of modern British operas had been due to limited performance opportunities because of complicated production costs and staging.However, in a post-war rebuilt theater, the premiere of Peter Grimes took place.With features such as piercing dissonance, simple jigs, complicated contrapuntal sea chanteys, polytonal duets, and starkly realistic musical tone painting, its dramatic impact was inescapable. Audiences were spellbound by both the music and the plot development, and a five-minute ovation greeted the composer. Most importantly, Peter Grimes stirred British pride and brought audiences back to opera.It was translated into eight languages and performed more than 100 times in Europe.The opera’s first American performance occurred in 1946 under Leonard Bernstein’s baton.
A narrative poem by George Crabbe inspired Britten to write this opera about a cruel fisherman who enjoys beating his young apprentices and leaving them to die of neglect.The opera focuses on the relationships between three entities: the dark personality of fisherman Peter Grimes, the judgmental citizens of the town, and the changing moods of the sea itself.
In the opera, the Sea Interludes act as scene changes by serving to move the plot smoothly from one physical set to the next.Britten later modified these interludes into a seventeen minute set for concert repertoire; the sequencing of the interludes as a concert work no longer related to their place in the operatic plot.Dawn, the first interlude, serves as a bridge between the Prologue (an inquest into the death of Peter’s first apprentice) and the early morning.The orchestra is divided into three choirs that present three elements: flutes & violins play a high melody depicting seagull cries by shimmering arpeggios (harp, violas, and clarinets).One can picture morning sunbeams and chirping birds while the other orchestral instruments emit surging chords indicating a restless sea and stormy times to come.
Sunday Morningis the second and brightest of the sea interludes. The music offers solemn church bells in horns, festive flights in the woodwinds, and for contrast, a songlike passage for lower strings.
Next is Moonlight which bridges night and the following day (a prologue to the third act), designating shafts of light breaking through a glistening overcast sky.
Stormacts as a bridge between Grimes waiting for an oncoming storm while townspeople watch from inside a pub.A sweeping theme indicates a retreating of the stormy weather. In the plot it is the last music that Grimes sings and hears before he goes down with his sinking boat.
SERGEIRACHMANINOFF 1873 – 1943 Piano Concerto No. 3, 1909
Sergei Rachmaninoff, son of a land-owning, well-to-do, aristocratic family, was born in a Russian province outside of Petersburg.His grandfather was an exceptional pianist and his mother followed suit. When Sergei was four years old, she became his first piano teacher. However, bad business dealings, gambling problems, and reckless living swallowed up the family estate and fortune, and the family was forced to move to Petersburg, and then to Moscow.This is where the 12-year-old’s music career began, as a pupil of a prestigious piano teacher, Nikolai Zverev.Overnight the young student’s life changed from carefree fun and games to all day study and practicing the piano.After two years of work under Zverev, the young student entered the Moscow Conservatory of Music, and received an Honors degree in 1892.Just before graduation, Sergei composed his famous Prelude in C Sharp Minor; its popularity was quick and enduring.
The creation of further compositions came to a standstill with the death of highly admired Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff’s teacher Zverev.However, the premiere of his Symphony No. 1 in 1897 was not well received due to its excessive dissonance, and this drove the composer into deep depression and alcoholism.This began periods of melancholia and psychoanalysis which centered around self-doubts about his talents and accomplishments, and whether to concentrate his energies on piano, composition, or conducting— or all three.He split his musical life into three parts and the personal conflict within himself continued.
His Piano Concerto No. 2 marked Rachmaninoff’s successful return to full-time music, and made him an internationally famous musician. Then came the Revolution of 1917. Unhappy with the political repressions and consequences of the Soviet regime, Rachmaninoff and his family slipped across the Russian border that year and returned to America to carry on his three-part music career.Successful concertizing as a pianist, composer, or conductor led Rachmaninoff to settle in Beverly Hills, California where he died of cancer in 1943, shortly after becoming an American citizen.
In addition to giving concert performances with the six most prestigious American orchestras, the composer agreed to write Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor in 1909. Secretly, his biggest motivation for accepting the commission and tours was to purchase an American car, the huge status symbol of the new century. Rachmaninoff claimed that he wrote the concerto “ for elephants.”It contained massive chords, cascading and leaping octaves, high-speed runs, dense counterpoint, many changes in orchestral textures, and, at 45 minutes, was too long. The piece demanded a pianist with finger and arm strength and dexterity, complete control of spin-on-a-dime expressiveness, and overall stamina.It was meant to only be played by pianists of exceptional abilities and endurance. The composer wrote, “Musicians loved it but not the audience or critics who found the work too complex.”In the 1920s young Vladimir Horowitz popularized the concerto, with Rachmaninoff claiming that the young pianist played the concerto better than he did and Rachmaninoff dropped it from his own concert repertoire.
First Movement: The opening theme is thought to be derived from a very simple Ukrainian chant that lends itself to repetition in a variety of ways.This theme is repeated in piano and orchestral figures that grow more complex.A singing second theme appears, first in pianissimo strings, then elaborated on in a highly dramatic section. Detailed development leads to a grandiose cadenza for piano.
Second Movement:The Intermezzo opens with an elegiac mood and provides the pianist with the only respite in the concerto. The piano enters explosively to break the somber mood, and a sumptuous and lavish treatment of the main theme follows.A light waltz theme by solo clarinet, then bassoon, and the piano appears with a short cadenza which propels the work directly into the next movement without pause.
Third Movement:Following the restatement of the two main themes and distinctive march-like variations, the pianist plays an exciting coda, bringing the concerto to a solemn but jubilant close.