Virtual Concert: Eternity

Thursday 1.4.2021 19.00 Spring Series 1 & 3
Spring Series 1 Spring Series 3
Thursday 1.4.2021 19.00 YouTube
Spring Series 1 Spring Series 3

Ryan Bancroft and Tuuli Takala have planned an interesting, vibrant programme. Britten´s song cycle Les Illuminations lead to The Unanswered Question by Ives. The concert concludes with Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, a reflection on the wanton destruction wrought by war on art and its institutions.

Virtual concert on Tapiola Sinfonietta´s YouTube channel on the 1st of April 2021 at 7 pm.

NOTE: The programme has changed: instead of the works of Hilli and Schreker the programme includes Benjamin Britten´s Les Illuminations.



Benjamin Britten

Les Illuminations op. 18

French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) was one of the founders of modern poetry but also a deeply perplexing and conflicted person. He arrived in Paris at the age of 16 and soon made a name for himself in the Symbolist salons of the city. He became involved with a fellow Bohemian, poet Paul Verlaine, and documented their time together in Une saison en enfer [A Season in Hell]. He then stopped writing poetry at the age of 20 or so and began to travel around the world. In Africa in the 1870s, upon learning that his poems were becoming famous in Paris, he remarked: “Absurd, ridiculous, disgusting.” He later described his poetry as “dishwater, mere dishwater”.

Rimbaud’s prose poem Les Illuminations was published posthumously. In the 1930s, it was picked up by Benjamin Britten, living in the USA at the time. His setting of extracts from the poem, likewise titled Les Illuminations, for high voice (soprano or tenor) and strings was completed in October 1939.

Rimbaud’s startling poetic imagery is opaque and ambiguous, and it cannot have been an easy task to reflect it in music. Britten, however, did a superb job. Compared with some of his earlier works, Les Illuminations is written with a lighter touch, but the music deftly parallels the multiple dimensions and sensitive irony of the text. The work is structured as a song cycle in nine movements, although it is noted in the score that the pauses between the movements should be as short as possible. The work opens with a fanfare whose motif recurs throughout. Having passed through a variety of shifting moods, the cycle comes to a sombre and subsiding close.

1. Fanfare
2. Villes
3a and 3b. Phrase and Antique
4. Royauté
5. Marine
6. Interlude
7. Being beauteous
8. Parade
9. Départ

Charles Ives

The Unanswered Question

US composer Charles Ives had one of the strangest careers in the history of music. He was a successful businessman by profession, and the insurance company he founded was once one of the largest in the country. In parallel with that, hidden from the public, he wrote a rather extensive and often mind-bogglingly modern body of music that was not properly discovered until he had stopped composing. Ives experimented with the most astonishing stylistic means. He is perhaps best known for his penchant for taking familiar folk tunes, hymns and marches and superimposing two or three of them, usually in different keys.
The orchestral works The Unanswered Question and Central Park in the Dark both date from 1906. Although conceived as a pair under the heading Two Contemplations, both are also performed separately. They are studies of musical space and the relationship between static and mobile situations.
The Unanswered Question consists of three kinds of material. There is a quiet background formed by an extremely static string texture that according to the score should be played offstage. The other two elements are the question posed seven times by the trumpet and the increasingly long and complicated answers given by the four flutes (or other woodwinds). True to the title, the trumpet’s last question remains unanswered.

Richard Strauss

Metamorphosen for 23 strings

When the tide of the Second World War began to turn against Germany, Richard Strauss had the misfortune of witnessing the venues where his operas had been performed turn to rubble one after the other. The opera house in Munich was bombed in late 1943; the Dresden Opera, where Strauss had enjoyed many of his greatest successes, was obliterated in February 1945, and one month later the Vienna State Opera endured a similar fate.
The destruction of opera houses affected Strauss deeply and revealed to him the dual nature of the German psyche. He was suspected of being a Nazi sympathiser, but an extract from his diary reveals his true sentiments. In May 1945, when the fighting was over, he wrote: “On the first of May, the most terrible period in the history of humanity came to an end – 12 years of brutalism and ignorance, with the greatest criminals in charge who very nearly destroyed 2,000 years of German civilisation.”
After the bombing of the opera house in Munich, Strauss made a note of a brief motif under the title ‘Lament for Munich’. On the day following the destruction of the Vienna State Opera, he took out the sketch and began to outline a work which he completed a month later, in April 1945. Metamorphosen, subtitled ‘Study for 23 solo strings’, is a distillation of Strauss’s personal feelings into a compelling universal elegy.
Metamorphosen is in a single expansive movement, dominated by a rich and often polyphonic string sound. The music flows in broad arcs, escalating at times into grand climaxes. There is a reference to the funeral march in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony at the very beginning, and subsequent studies have revealed references not only to Beethoven but also to Bach, Mozart and Wagner. After the greatest culmination, the music returns to the opening slow tempo, and the conclusion is dominated by sombre, tragic tones. A more extended quote from the Eroica funeral march emerges in the bass. Adjacent to this in the score, Strauss wrote the eloquent words “In memoriam”.

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