Kernow Classics: a global musical consultancy service
To discuss your requirements with James, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +44 (0)7989 398782.
James Murray draws on over 30 years of experience in the classical music field:
- label manager of the archive CD label Magdalen
- consultant to major record labels on repertoire and back catalogue
- advising advertising agencies, film and theatre companies
- consultant to opera companies about repertoire
- writer of critically acclaimed sleeve notes (examples of James' sleeve notes may be found here)
- teacher and lecturer
- giving talks and after dinner speeches
- musical research
Particular expertise includes:
- the performance history of opera and opera on record
- music in Germany and France 1789 - 1950
- Gilbert and Sullivan and post G & S British and American musical theatre and film musicals including particularly Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, Arlen, Rodgers and British songwriters of the period
- orchestral music from 1800 to 1950
- early jazz and dance bands
- 19th century Italian opera
Future plans for 2013/14 include a lecture series on opera and recorded music; pre-performance talks for New Sussex Opera; magazine articles; and talks and study days for recorded music societies and other organisations on subjects such as Chabrier, music in Germany between the wars, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, and the Vienna State Opera.
James attended Classical:NEXT in Vienna in May 2013.
- Reviews of Magdalen releases
- Critical Acclaim
- Examples of Sleeve Notes by James Murray
- Participants' Comments About James' Courses
'I look forward to each of Magdalen's new releases with some eagerness. They have a knack of finding interesting recordings deserving reissue which have otherwise been ignored.' (John Sheppard MusicWeb)
'Launched in 2011, Magdalen is the newest label to enter the historic recordings market and is already establishing itself as one of the most interesting and enterprising of its kind. Like many of the best independent labels, Magdalen is the brainchild of a passionate individual, label manager James Murray. A dealer in historic recordings for more than 40 years,
'Magdalen's CDs all come with well-produced booklets, containing succinct but intelligently written and informative notes.' (Opera Now July/August 2013)
METCD 8001 4CD Meistersinger complete and highlights: Kempe, Grümmer, Schock, Frick, Frantz etc; Leitner,Windgassen, Kupper etc (282.39 minutes)
'A truly great experience' 'This magnificent set...is not to be missed' (Amazon reviews)
'a fine memorial to Kempe's fabled strengths in Wagner' (Gramophone)
'Sehr schön ist, dass diese Ausgabe als Zugabe auch noch einen Querschnitt von 1955 enthält, der mit guten Solisten aufwartet - u. a. Wolfgang Windgassen als sehr konzentriertem, lyrischen Stolzing' (CD Stern)
'ein besonderes Schmankerl...mit einer Solistentruppe, die sich liest wie das Who is Who der damaligen Opernszene' (Class:aktuell)
METCD 8002 2CD Gilbert & Sullivan Mikado (D'Oyly Carte 1957)/ Pineapple Poll / Overtures: Godfrey, Hollingsworth, Fiedler (147.04 minutes)
'The pleasure of hearing singers in this music who have both the voice and an understanding of the style is considerable... It is good to have these additional items. The synopsis is clear and there are interesting notes on the performers.' (MusicWeb)
'generously-timed, well-produced issue in every respect' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
METCD 8003 2CD Hänsel und Gretel / 2 Overtures / Arias and Songs: Lehmann, Streich, Fischer, Prey, Schwarzkopf (146.15minutes)
'One of the finest recorded Witches in Res Fischer... well-sounding transfer' (International Record Review)
'One of the real attractions of this issue is the fascinating quantity and quality of extras for which room has been found' (MusicWeb)
METCD 8004 Mahler Symphony No. 4 / 6 Des Knaben Wunderhorn Lieder: COA, Van Beinum, Ritchie, Poell, Prohaska (75.23minutes)
'Good transfers, intelligent annotation' (Gramophone)
'A very likeable Mahler 4...Des Knaben Wunderhorn selections prove a real discovery. A release well-worth catching' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
METCD 8005 The Prof and the Show Girl: Eduard Künneke Tänzerische-Suite & Glückliche Reise highlights; Evelyn Künneke sings Hits of the 1940s (74.00 minutes)
'More please! The songs maintain the jollity of the album...the liner notes by James Murray are a mine of information' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
'Performance is stylish and fresh under the composer's direction in an audibly good transfer...(Evelyn Künneke's) nine novelty numbers very enjoyable...recommendable, should the artists and repertoire appeal' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
METCD 8006 Tchaikovsky 1812 / Capriccio Italien / Marche Slave / Romeo and Juliet: LSO Alwyn, Hallé O Barbirolli (58.48 minutes)
'Still sounds magnificent...This re-issue should be in your collection' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
METCD 8007 2CD G & S Pirates of
'A stellar cast...(bonuses) are really rather good...first-rate notes' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
'Altogether, this is a wonderfully idiomatic performance with juicy and characterful performances from all the soloists and, indeed, the healthy and robust chorus. Those were the days!!' (Amazon ***** review)
METCD 8008 Tchaikovsky Swan Lake; Delibes Sylvia; Lalo Roi d'Ys: Morel, Dervaux, Fournet (77.03 minutes)
'Morel conducts with flair and real attention is given to detail... The woodwind detail is especially captivating throughout, whilst the dramatic passages, not least in the finale, make full impact. The CD is filled up with lusty mono performances of Delibes's Sylvia Suite' (Classical Recordings Quarterly).
METCD 8009 2CD Don Pasquale complete and highlights: Sabajno, Lehmann, Schipa, Streich, Schöne (149.09 minutes)
'I don't think anyone will be disappointed with the technical quality of this reissue of a gramophone classic...substantial fill-ups...Streich's Norina is lovely...The wonderful Schöne / Domgraf-Fassbänder performance of Pronto io son concludes the second disc in great style' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
METCD 8010 Dvorák Slavonic Dances / Smetana Bartered Bride Dances: Malko, Kubelik (75.58 minutes)
'The opening dance (is) splendidly done. Malko brings out their individual characters in the second set...Op. 72 3-6 winningly done' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
'The Philharmonia, under Malko, play (the Slavonic Dances) with plenty of zip in this reissued recording and, with Kubelik, give a lively account of the two Smetana pieces' (Sunday Times)
METCD 8011 2CD Mozart String Quartets dedicated to Haydn:
'Lumineux, tenders mais surtout virtuosos, les 6 Quatuors dédiés à Haydn selon le Quatuor
METCD 8012 Grieg Favourites: Weldon, Barbirolli, Gieseking, Bettendorf, Malko, Münchinger (77.49 minutes)
'The programme as a whole works remarkably well...superb RPO under Weldon...
METCD 8014 2CD Gounod Faust complete / scenes from Roméo et Juliette, Mireille: Steber, Siepi, Micheau etc (152.02 minutes)
'Cleva joue efficacement la carte du grand opera, avec de beaux rubatos. Steber attaint les sommets, plus femme que jeune fille, frémissante et passionée, au chant exemplaire. A la meme altitude, le Méphisto patrician de Siepi, jamais diable aux cornes rouges, inquétant, au phrase Mozartien. Moins gate pour le timbre, le Faust juvenile de Conley a du style, des nuances, du caractère' (Diapason *****)
'Well sung by everyone...Conley sings with good, well-produced tone...Prelude is performed with tremendous gravity and is full of intelligent, thoughtful detail...Magdalen's transfer is excellent' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
METCD 8015 Chabrier Favourites: Irving, Barbirolli, Revoil, Desormière, Meyer, Bernac, Micheau, Lindenberg (76.58 minutes)
'Most attractive and well-balanced collection...a joy to listen to from start to finish' (Gramophone); 'A fascinating collection...the two songs with Pierre Bernac and Francis Poulenc are sheer perfection in terms of style' (MusicWeb)
'Full of life and character...lovely performance (Lindenberg) of the delightful Suite Pastorale...
'Great melodic appeal and zest...This album should put a smile on your face' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
'An admirably varied collection of gems ...three (of which) are recorded on CD for the first time. As a Chabrier fan I would not be without this disc...truly excellent notes and biographies by James Murray' (Music Web)
METCD 8016 2CD Rachmaninov Piano Concertos Nos. 1 - 3, 18 Preludes: Lympany, Malko, Collins (150.15 minutes)
'A reissue to cherish' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
'This set, which brings together for the first time her performances of the first three Rachmaninov concertos and a selection of the preludes, is most welcome' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
METCD 8017 Scandinavian Smörgäsbord : Works by Halvorsen, Svendsen, Kuhlau, Lumbye, Grieg, Nielsen, Alfven, Bull: Fjeldstad, Friisholm, Frandsen, Barbirolli (78.34 minutes)
'A flavoursome compilation of superior lighter classical music...very well mastered by Paul Arden-Taylor and James Murray's liner notes are exemplary' (Robert Farnon Society Journal)
'There are good notes on the music and performers, and overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable disc' (MusicWeb)
'James Murray is the guiding hand and mind behind this nostalgic and tightly packed collection... The sound is crystal clear and enjoyable... a confident romp through innocent Scandinavian fare' (MusicWeb)
METCD 8018 Egk Zaubergeige highlights / Tentation de Saint Antoine: Cordes, Holm, Frick, Lefort, George Ales etc De Froment (74.09 minutes)
'These excerpts, conducted by the composer, make a strong case for an opera that is enjoyable and likeable...presentation excellent with a detailed commentary on the opera's history and its synopsis...(Tentation) rather lovely and vital...confidently turned and declaimed by Lefort with some expert work from these string players' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
'I am delighted that once again we are in Magdalen's debt with an opportunity to get to know not only Die Zaubergeige but also the song cycle La Tentation de Saint Antoine...It is varied, entertaining and not a moment too long. Well worth exploration. This inexpensive but well filled disc merits a very strong welcome' (MusicWeb)
'I can see Dahin sind alle Plagen (the 'hit song' from Die Zaubergeige) making a coup on the next celebrity tenor compilation. The simple yet lissom design values of the booklet and card insert stand out in today's marketplace. Looking to challenge your preconceptions? Then this disc is for you. (MusicWeb)
'Seulement des extraits ici, mais dirigés par le compositeur, avec une équipe de haut vol: Köth, Holm, Frick entourent le Kaspar de Marcel Cordes...C'est très années 1930, voluntiers parodique ça swingue même parfois et ça vaut le detour. En complement, La Tentation de Saint Antoine' (Diapason ****)
'Le quatuor, challereux et virtuose, porte le baryton Bernard Lefort vers un phrase et des nuances d'une grande finesse, auxquels une diction très claire ne cede en rien' (L'avant-scène Opéra)
'du beau monde munichois' (Classica 150 ***)
METCD 8019 Verdi Otello highlights: singers include Del Monaco, Vickers, Caruso, Vinay, Tibbett, Gobbi, Zenatello, Ruffo, Ponselle, Rethberg, Tebaldi, Martinelli (77.17 minutes)
'This fascinating collection takes us through the work in mostly quite sizeable chunks' (Sunday Times 19 May 2013).
METCD 8020 Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Leonore Overture No. 3 / Schubert 'Unfinished' Symphony: BPO, Lehmann (76.35 minutes)
Released March 2013; awaiting review
METCD 8021 2CD Massenet Operatic and Orchestral Favourites: Beecham, Fournet, Wolff, Vallin, Vezzani, Thill, Heldy etc (153.09 minutes)
'Le Cid ballet music ... given a first-rate performance by Robert Irving and the LSO and is very well produced. Cesare Valletti...is impressive and enjoyable in Pourquoi me reveiller...Rosa Ponselle ...confirms her reputation as one of the greatest singers of the last century' (Classical Recordings Quarterly)
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'James Murray's booklet notes are distinctly superior'
International Record Review Aug 2002
Graham Simpson's comments about James Murray's sleeve notes have been echoed by other critics. The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs 2005/6 edition states of James' notes to Regis RRC 1161 Dyson Vocal Music 'there is an excellent leaflet with this reissue..giving much useful information about the composer and his music, a model of its kind'. Some other comments about his work from MusicWeb:
'Regis ... also provide texts and translations and an essay on Dame Janet's career by James Murray, so what walked in the back door as a dirt-cheap bargain is now revealed as a quality product.' (Rob Barnett November 2005) Janet Baker Regis RRC1225
'the accompanying documentation is well above average, since the booklet includes a perceptive essay about Di Stefano, written by James Murray, and short but useful programme notes on the various musical items. Recital discs seldom fare so well as this in terms of documentation.' (Terry Barfoot June 2005) Giuseppe di Stefano Regis RRC1202
'There are excellent notes by James Murray. Why can't Decca provide this kind of detail in their notes?' (Raymond Walker June 2002)
Gilbert and Sullivan HMS Pinafore Regis RRC1088
'Not only is the booklet beautifully presented, clearly printed and well edited, it has the benefit of excellent and informative notes by James Murray' (Terry Barfoot October 2003)
Glinka Overtures and Dances Svetlanov Regis RRC1142
'Invaluable notes by James Murray again' (Rob Barnett September 2004)
Tchaikovsky Cantatas Regis RRC1182
'The booklet notes from James Murray are concise yet interesting and informative' (Michael Cookson December 2003)
Tartini Five Violin Concertos Regis RRC1157
'James Murray's notes offer excellent insights' (Rob Barnett September 2000)
Rachmaninov Preludes / Etudes-tableaux with Richter Regis RRC1022
'As always, an excellent note from James Murray' (Christopher Howell March 2006)
Victoria de los Angeles The Modest Prima Donna Regis RRC1232
'James Murray's informative sleevenote' (Robert J Farr June 2004)
Mahler / Brahms Kindertotenlieder / Rückert Lieder / Vier ernste Gesänge with Ferrier Regis RRC1153
'well written liner-note by James Murray' (Gregory W Stouffer April 2005) Joan Hammond Last Rose of Summer Regis RRC1197
'Presentation is excellent with a 16 page booklet with really useful notes by James Murray' (Arthur Baker September 2003)
Gilbert and Sullivan Yeomen of the Guard / Gondoliers / Ruddigore Regis RRC3003
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James' sleeve notes have been critically acclaimed. Several examples of his recent work are the notes for:
- Chabrier - Piano Works Regis RRC 1133
- Hollywood Award Songs Forum FRC 6109
- La Traviata Regis RRC 2067
- Paul Robeson - Songs of Struggle and others Regis RRC1229
- Mozart - String Quartets K458 'Hunt' & K465 'Dissonance' Regis RRC1180
- Dame Janet Baker - Schumann / Brahms / Schubert Regis RRC1225
- Shostakovich - Symphony No 13 'Babi Yar' Regis RRC1102
- Shostakovich - Symphony No 4 Regis RRC1103
- Cosi fan tutte / Opera Arias Regis RRC3010
There is a famous colour drawing by Detaille of the composer Chabrier playing the piano. He sits with his back to the artist, top hat askew, swathed in a mustard-coloured greatcoat, wine bottles at his feet and musical notes cascading from the open piano lid. He was clearly a remarkable pianist and there are many affectionate tributes to his formidable technique from friends and fellow composers: 'Though his arms were too short.his fingers too thick, and his whole manner somewhat clumsy, he managed to achieve a degree of finesse and expression that very few great pianists have surpassed' (D'Indy). More in tune with the Detaille caricature are two affectionate descriptions: 'He would pound the piano with his hands, his elbows, his forehead, his stomach and his feet, extract from it the most fantastic sounds, attacking it like a whirlwind, forcing it to give out the most piercing clamour and only letting it go when the unfortunate instrument had no voice left and was staggering on its feet like a drunken man' (sadly anonymous); and 'one day Chabrier came and he played España for me. It sounded as if a hurricane had been let loose. He pounded and pounded the keyboard. It was summertime and the window was open. While he was playing I happened to look into the street. It was full of people and they were listening, fascinated. When Chabrier reached the last crashing chords, I swore to myself that I would never touch the piano again.Besides, Chabrier had broken several strings and put the piano out of action' (Mme Renoir).
Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier was born in Ambert in the Puy-de-Dôme departement of the
All of his spare time was spent making music and socialising with his many friends. Perhaps more than any other composer, Chabrier throughout his life mixed with others in the Arts and counted among his close friends fellow musicians D'Indy, Saint-Saens, Massenet, Messager, Faure, Duparc and Chausson; writers such as Verlaine, Zola, Mallarmé, Mendès, de L'Isle-Adam and Richepin; and the painters Manet, Renoir, Fantin-Letour, Degas, Sargent and Tissot. His collection of paintings was simply awesome and included Manet's Un bar aux Folies-Bergère and La rue Mosnier, Monet's beflagged La rue Saint-Denis, Sisley's La Seine au point du jour and Cezanne's Les Moissonneurs.
Chabrier took the momentous step of resigning from his post at the Ministry following an emotional visit to Munich to see Tristan und Isolde - it took just a few bars of music to have him exclaim tearfully to his neighbour that he had waited eighteen years to hear that A on the cellos. Until then his most successful work had been the operetta L'étoile which had seemed destined for a long run in 1877. The theatre management however took the piece off before the fiftieth performance to prevent Chabrier taking a share of the profits. Even allowing for the fact that his choice of librettists was dreadful, no one can deny that in his stage works Chabrier was extraordinarily unlucky: Gwendoline (1886) lasted just four performances before the management were declared bankrupt; the theatre was destroyed by fire after just three performances of Le roi malgré lui (1887); and Briséis (which contains some of his greatest music) lay incomplete at the time of his death in 1894.
Until his resignation from the Ministry, Chabrier had been regarded by the outside world as a gifted musical amateur. Chabrier and his wife took a holiday in
The earliest piano piece on this collection Impromptu (1872/3) was first given by Saint-Saens at the Societe Nationale de Musique on 27 January 1877 and was dedicated to Mme Manet. It sets itself apart from salon pieces by a delightful improvisational feel and its glittering and often unexpected harmonies.
In 1880, whilst on holiday at the seaside resort of Saint-Pair (near Granville), Chabrier composed his Pièces Pittoresques. He had earlier written of the inspiration that filled him upon visiting this coastline: 'all this poetry, painting, harmony, this panting and repeated rhythm of the waves .contains all that transports, paralyses, sets me on edge, ravishes me and fills me with joy'. These ten pieces are not directly inspired by the sea; however they possess a freshness and an ear for colour that make these works absolutely unique in the pianist's repertoire.
Chabrier's love of painting has already been mentioned and he was eager to translate this appreciation into his music: 'if one must handle only pearl-grey or canary-yellow, that is not enough for me, and there are 300 shades of pearl-grey in the Bon Marche catalogue alone. A little red, for God's sake! Down with being ordinary!' Both Alfred Cortot (in La musique française de piano 1932) and Poulenc (Emmanuel Chabrier 1961) discuss these short works enthusiastically and D'Indy, at their premiere in 1881, made the much quoted remark that those present had 'just heard something exceptional. This music links our own time to that of Couperin and Rameau'. For Poulenc Paysage portrayed a landscape where life was to be enjoyed. Writing about Mélancholie Cortot was moved to write that its 'nostalgic charm and discreet perfection' defied analysis. Ravel, another huge fan of Chabrier, saw the soul of Manet's
D'Indy writes amusingly of an occasion when, whilst he was playing the Trois valses romatiques Chabrier took exception to his playing, finding it too straight-laced and lacking in dynamism, and proceeded to give his friend a lesson in playing à la Chabrier. The composer gave the waltzes informal titles as follows: The Woman of Pleasure, The Fat Frau and The Beautiful Jewess. Debussy hugely admired these pieces and Ravel had the honour of playing them with Ricardo Viñes to Chabrier shortly before the composer's death. Chabrier's playful character is amply demonstrated by the message in the form of an acrostic he sent to his publisher upon completion to make 'J'ai fait la troisième valse' [Geai (Jay) - fée (fairy) -La (note in the scale) - Troie (
Kathryn Stott also includes five works published posthumously in 1897. Aubade was composed in 1883, and unsurprisingly since Chabrier had just returned from Spain, contains music of a Spanish inflection; Ballabile is a heavily ornamented waltz which opens vigorously and gradually runs out of steam; since Caprice contains reference to Wagner's Tristan it might be imagined that it was composed shortly after Chabrier's visit to Munich in 1880. Feuillet d'album, dedicated to its first interpreter Risler, is a tender waltz and Ronde champêtre is a rustic work, which though not as rumbustuous, is not dissimilar to Danse villageiose.
Chabrier's end was tragic. This supremely talented and likeable man suffered increasingly from mental and physical paralysis so that by the end he could scarcely recognise his own music. Many composers since, including Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Satie, Ibert and members of Les Six have freely and affectionately acknowledged their debt to him.
Kathryn Stott, one of the finest interpreters of French piano music, has also recorded a number of twentieth century works by British composers. Her acclaimed recording of Chopin's Nocturnes is also available on Regis (RRC 2034). Ms Stott is also the recipient of a Grammy award for her Piazzola collaboration with Yo Yo Ma. Copyright James Murray 2002
Almost all of the songs featured in this collection, despite being over fifty years old, will be familiar to listeners. Most were nominated for (and in some cases won) Academy Awards.
As Time Goes By is so much associated with the classic Warners film
Likewise, Singing In The Rain had been well-used before finding its way into perhaps the most famous of all musicals in 1952. Written in the very early days of screen musicals, it was sung first by Cliff 'Ukulele Ike' Edwards in
Frank Loesser (who wrote Guys and Dolls) had been a famous lyricist before turning to composition. His song Baby It's Cold Outside won the Academy Award for best song in 1949, being performed in the film Neptune's Daughter first by Esther Williams and Riccardo Montalban, and later reprised by the comedy leads Betty Garrett and Red Skelton.
The title song from My Foolish Heart was also nominated in 1949. This film starred Susan Hayward as a woman whose marriage is breaking up, but she is unable to bring herself to tell her husband (Kent Smith) that he is not the father of her child.
1942 was a bumper year for film songs and in addition to As Time Goes By this CD includes other songs from that year's releases: The Fleet's In was a remake of a Clara Bow film in which a sailor on leave bets with his friends that he can kiss the owner of a nightclub. I Remember You (as sung by Dorothy Lamour and Helen O'Connell with Jimmy Dorsey's orchestra) gave us a reason to remember the film. Some years later Frank Ifield's rather different version made the charts.
Johnny Mercer provided some truly memorable lyrics and his partnership with Harold Arlen is unjustifiably neglected. Their song That Old Black Magic was first sung by Johnny Johnston and danced by Vera Zorina in one of the best all-star pictures made during the war:
Mercer teamed up with Hoagy Carmichael for the award winning In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening, sung in the Capra 1951 film Here Comes The Groom by Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman. It is sung by Dean Martin in this recording and suits his laid-back style every bit as well as it did that of
Golden Earrings (1947) is yet another film that is remembered solely for its theme song, sung here by the gorgeous Peggy Lee. The film itself starred Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich - he was a British spy attempting to retrieve a poison gas formula out of Nazi Germany, she was a gypsy helping him!
Blue Velvet was a hit song long before its use in film, but gained another lease of life when it was used as the title song for David Lynch's 1986 cult film starring Kyle McLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper.
Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer were in prime form for the 1943 film The Sky's the Limit in which Fred Astaire was surprisingly well paired with the eighteen-year old schoolgirl Joan Leslie. Not only did it feature the lovely nomination My Shining Hour but also the spectacular glass smashing song One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).
Westerns generally get a bad press nowadays. High Noon (1952) is one of the great exceptions and Gary Cooper deservedly won an Oscar for his performance as the
Back to Arlen and Mercer for two contrasting Oscar song nominations: Accentuate the Positive from the 1944 film Here Come The Waves (starring Crosby with Betty Hutton) is a swingy sermon whilst Blues In The Night was the title song for a 1941 film about the life and times of a jazz band. Several artists made best-selling recordings of this song, including Jimmy Lunceford's orchestra,
Love Letters was the title song for a 1945 war film starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotton. The film may be largely forgotten, but the song was nominated for the Academy Award.
Cole Porter's stage shows far outshine his films. However during the war he composed some fine film songs including You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, sung in the film Something For The Boys by Janet Blair and Don Ameche.
Yet another Johnny Mercer hit song from 1942 was Dearly Beloved, set to music by Jerome Kern for the lovely Astaire/Rita Hayworth classic You Were Never Lovelier. This song almost succeeded in displacing Oh Promise Me as being
Four years earlier, Mercer collaborated with Harry Warren to produce the score for Going Places, a curious musical film that starred Dick Powell but one in which that great crooner scarcely sang a note. Jeepers Creepers was the name of a horse in this film, Powell was its jockey and Louis Armstrong the groom! Another oddity was that Jeepers Creepers was kept in a stable labelled 'Lady Ellen'! Still, it's a great swing number.
Back to 1942 with another love song Moonlight Becomes You from the first (and for some, the best) 'Road' film: Road To Morocco. Strangely, this song was not even nominated for an Oscar, but then, as we have seen, 1942 was an exceptional year.
In The Toast of New Orleans (1950) Mario Lanza played a singer with the New Orleans Opera, coincidentally the one house where he appeared as a professional opera singer (1948 in Madam Butterfly). From this film comes the Oscar-nominated song Be My Love.
Deanna Durbin was another wonderfully gifted singer, who burst upon the scene as a teenager and made a number of delightful films as a young adult before retiring to
Kurt Weill's wistful September Song stems from the 1938 show Knickerbocker Holiday and was originally sung by Walter Huston. A film of the show was made in 1944 with Charles Coburn and Nelson Eddy.
It seemed inevitable that the greatest screen tenor of the 1950s would play the greatest tenor of all time and Mario Lanza duly portrayed Enrico Caruso in The Great Caruso in 1951, from which comes The Loveliest Night Of The Year.
We close with one of the greatest of all film songs: Over The Rainbow from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's classic 1939 score to The Wizard Of Oz. So many singers, from Ella Fitzgerald to Eva Cassidy, have recorded classic versions of the song, yet none have been able to imbue it with a similar frisson of innocent, hopeful sincerity as its first interpreter Judy Garland.
Copyright James Murray 2004
Verdi's opera of 1852 was based on the play La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas Jnr (1849), which was in turn based on his short novel of the same name which first appeared in 1848. The novel caused something of a sensation at the time since it took as its subject Dumas' affair with the glamorous courtesan Marie Duplessis who had died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-three. The affair lasted eleven months until Dumas, finding himself unable to support Duplessis in the style to which she had become accustomed, left her in August 1845. He then travelled abroad with his father (author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo) and only heard of Duplessis' final illness when it was too late for him to do anything for her.
Marie Duplessis was born Alphonsine Plessis in
Dumas had attempted a reconciliation the previous October, but her reply, if any, has never surfaced. Once Dumas arrived back in
There was much in the play which ran parallel to Verdi's personal life at that time: for some years he had been living openly with the retired opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who had created the role of Abigaille in Nabucco (1842). Verdi had been a widower for some years before their next meeting in
Verdi, an unerring seeker of effective subjects, had already set something along similar lines: in 1850 he composed an opera telling of adultery and eventual forgiveness in a strict Protestant sect. With this opera, Stiffelio, Verdi encountered huge opposition from the censor. Verdi's score, which has only comparatively recently become accepted for the near masterpiece it is, is full of contrasts and quite unlike anything heard before that date. With Rigoletto (1851), a score at times similarly bleak and in other ways breaking with tradition, Verdi also had trouble with the censors, but he nevertheless had a great popular success. Il Trovatore (premiered in 1853) was more conventional and equally successful.
Whilst at work on Trovatore Verdi had written to his librettist Cammarano of his desire to work on 'another subject both simple and tender' should Trovatore fall by the wayside. It is not known whether Verdi had by that time read Dumas' novel but it seems difficult to equate this shocking contemporary tale with Verdi's letter. In any case it was not until some months following the premiere of the play version of La dame aux caméllias that Verdi purchased a copy of the playscript. Having done so, he had to work quickly at composing Traviata as he had promised a new work for the Teatro la Fenice in
The management at La Fenice approved the subject but insisted that the contemporary setting be changed to the beginning of the eighteenth century, a rather pointless demand since Dumas' play was also due to be staged in the city that season! Verdi experienced difficulty obtaining his preferred artistes for the premiere and blamed the lacklustre performance and consequent cool reception on these singers. The original Violetta, an unlikely looking consumptive Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, has received much of the blame. However it was she who was most consistently applauded at the premiere. Following this less-than-enthusiastic premiere on 6 March 1853 Verdi partially revised the score and fourteen months later it was given at a different opera house in
It was common knowledge that Dumas' novel and subsequent play were based upon real events and people. However Marie Duplessis' name was changed to Marguerite Gauthier and Dumas himself became Armand Duval. In Verdi's opera Marguerite was named Violetta Valéry and Armand was changed to Alfredo Germont. It all three works several of Duplessis' lovers and friends were thinly disguised.
The Prelude begins with high divided strings playing a motif which also opens the final act depicting the icy grip of consumption upon Violetta. This changes to a slow, waltz-like tune anticipating her despair at her treatment by Germont père et fils.
The action begins at a party in Violetta's home in
Three months separate Acts One and Two, by which time Violetta has become Alfredo's mistress and they have set up house in the country. Alfredo sings of how his life has changed since he and Violetta have moved in together De miei bollenti spiriti. His present happiness is short-lived however as he is told by Violetta's maid Annina that her mistress has found it necessary to sell certain belongings. Alfredo rushes off to
The stranger introduces himself as Alfredo's father. He has learned that Alfredo had planned to turn his inheritance over to Violetta but is surprised to hear of Violetta's own plans to sell her own possessions to settle her debts. In a softer tone he tells Violetta of the damage her liaison with Alfredo is doing to the Germont family, in particular to the marriage prospects of Alfredo's sister Pura siccome un angelo. Germont tells Violetta that she must renounce Alfredo forever. Violetta pleads with Germont, saying that Alfredo has all her love Non sapete quale affetto. Although becoming increasingly sympathetic Germont declares that as she is young and beautiful, she will soon find another lover Un di, quando le veneri. Violetta sees her whole world collapsing, but agrees to Germont's demands. In sacrificing her happiness, she will allow Germont's daughter to marry as planned. She only hopes to die at peace with the world Dite alla giovine. They decide that the best course of action is to have Alfredo believe that she has returned voluntarily to her former ways, but before he leaves Germont agrees to let Alfredo know eventually that Violetta loved him to the end.
Alfredo returns unexpectedly to find Violetta writing a letter (it is her farewell note). In her confusion she declares her undying love and leaves. Alfredo is expecting his father to call and awaits his arrival. Whilst waiting he learns that Violetta has left for
Violetta's former friend Flora is giving a fancy dress party Chorus of gypsy girls and matadors but the ensuing confrontation between Alfredo and Violetta (who has arrived with Baron Douphol) soon takes centre stage. At the gaming table Alfredo wins huge sums of money. Douphol warns Violetta to ignore Alfredo but he himself finds it difficult to avoid Alfredo's taunts. Alfredo and Violetta find themselves alone and in their stilted conversation, during which Violetta begs Alfredo to leave before violence ensues, Alfredo mistakes her concern for an admission of her love for the Baron. In a fury he then publicly insults Violetta by hurling his winnings at her feet 'for services rendered'. Alfredo's father enters, witnessing his shameful behavior and the act closes in a moving ensemble during which all characters voice their conflicting sentiments.
The final act takes place in Violetta's bedroom the following February. The doctor and Annina are attempting to offer Violetta hope, but she knows that she will not recover. Whilst Annina is out of the house Violetta reads a letter from Germont in which he tells of Alfredo's duel with the Baron and Alfredo's subsequent flight. However, Germont states that now Alfredo knows the truth and is returning to ask Violetta's forgiveness. But he will be too late, cries Violetta Addio
Maria Callas' career is so well documented that she requires little introduction. Born in 1923 in New York of Greek parents, she made her debut in 1940 in Suppé's Boccaccio and by the time of her Italian debut (Verona La Gioconda in 1947) had sung Beethoven's Leonore Fidelio, Isolde, Brünnhilde, Turandot and Kundry Parsifal! The conductor Tullio Serafin suggested a change of direction and over the next few years she concentrated on those roles for which she later became famous including Tosca, Elvira I Puritani, Violetta, Norma and Lady Macbeth. At times she played the typical diva and her stormy personal life was rarely out of the media. Her acting ability drew forth unanimous praise (audiences were however sharply divided over her voice) and at her death in 1977 the entire arts world mourned the passing of a great star.
Francesco Albanese was born in August 1912 and studied in
Ugo Savarese's (1912 - 1997) fine baritone can be heard on a number of recordings including Trovatore for Decca in which he can be heard alongside the young Mario Del Monaco. It might be said that the more declamatory roles suited his voice better and Savarese made a fine Gérard in Andrea Chenier and an even better Jack Rance in a performance of Puccini's Fanciulla del West recorded for Italian Radio in 1950.
Gabriele Santini (1886 - 1964) began his musical career in
Copyright James Murray 2003
Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976) once said: 'The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative'. This statement, spoken during a rally for anti-fascist supporters in
Paul Robeson won a scholarship to
Robeson was described by Eugene O'Neill in 1923 as 'a young fellow with considerable experience, wonderful presence and voice, full of ambition and a damn fine man personally with real brains'. O'Neill cast him in All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924 - 5) as Jim Harris, a black lawyer who marries a white woman, a scenario which predictably raised the blood pressure of Ku Klux Klan activists. He next appeared as Brutus Jones in Emperor Jones, a role which brought him standing ovations in
Robinson had moved to
Between 1927 and 1939 Robeson was mostly resident in the
In 1934 Robeson first visited the
Following the Second World War Robeson became increasingly concerned at the growing coldness between the
Robeson had already performed in
Shortly afterwards the House Un-American Activities Committee 'persuaded' three black Americans to testify against Robeson. Despite strenuously denying membership of the Communist Party, his passport was revoked and he was unable to travel outside the
Wolfgang Mozart moved to
Leopold's arrival in Vienna on 11 February 1785 coincided with a typically hectic period in Mozart's life, and Leopold was given no time to recover from an exhausting journey in appalling weather: that evening the first of six subscription concerts organised by his son took place at the Mehlgrube (a concert hall converted from the old flour hall in the Neue Markt) for which subscribers, including many titled admirers of Mozart's music, had each paid a gold sovereign. The concerts were apparently well-attended and since Mozart hired the hall on each occasion for half a sovereign only one can easily imagine Leopold reconsidering his son's ability to manage his financial affairs.
The concert that first evening of the visit consisted of a couple of arias, symphonies and a 'new, superb piano concerto' (No 20 in D minor K466) which Mozart had only completed the preceding day and was still being copied as Leopold arrived! Since this Piano Concerto is regarded by many as Mozart's finest and most advanced, we cannot dismiss Leopold's comments about the 'magnificent orchestra' as being pure hyperbole: as there was no time for rehearsal of the Rondo, the orchestra must have sight read at least this part of the work during the performance, by all accounts rising superbly to the challenge to perform successfully such a complex work.
The following day (12 February 1785) Leopold participated in private performances of Wolfgang's three latest string quartets (K458, 464, 465). The honoured guest on this occasion was Josef Haydn, whom the younger Mozart had first met in December 1781. Afterwards Haydn told the proud father 'I tell you before God, and as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by reputation; he has taste and what is more the greatest possible knowledge of composition'. Next day Leopold attended a concert of Mozart's music given at the Burgtheater at which the Emperor Joseph II was seen to doff his hat and cry out 'Bravo Mozart'.
It is not known at which point Mozart decided to dedicate to his friend Josef Haydn the three quartets played on 12 February. Haydn, whose own string quartets had been for many years admired by Mozart, had composed a set of six quartets (Opus 33) in 1781 (which were published the following year) which in their way were considered to be ground-breaking. The good-natured Haydn in his generous comments to Leopold was acknowledging the fact that his own efforts, which he himself had described as being composed in 'an entirely novel and special manner' had been stunningly superseded.
In 1782 Mozart began composing his own series of string quartets and on 26 April 1783 wrote to the Parisian publisher Jean-Georges Sieber offering to sell the six quartets for a minimum price of fifty Louis d'or. At the time of this letter only the first Quartet (K387) had been completed and nothing came of his approach to Sieber. The second and third Quartets of the set (K421, 428) were completed in June and July 1783 and we know from Alan Tyson's study of paper and watermarks published in 1987 that Mozart also began the 'Hunt' Quartet that summer. There followed a gap of some sixteen months before that Quartet (K458) was completed on 9 November 1784. The fifth Quartet (K464) is dated 10 January 1785 and the final Quartet of the set (K465) was completed four days later.
The six String Quartets were published by the Viennese firm of Artaria in September 1785 with a lavish and heart-warming dedication from Mozart to his 'dear friend' Haydn: 'A father who had decided to send his children out into the world thought he should entrust them to the care and protection of a famous man who also happened to be his greatest friend. Here then, oh famous man and greatest friend, are my six children. They are the result of long and arduous labour, and yet some friends have assured me that one day I shall be rewarded by these children offering me some comfort. On your last visit to the capital, dearest friend, you told me of your satisfaction with them and it is this praise which encourages me to commend them to you. I hope that you will not find them unworthy of your favour. May it therefore please you to receive them kindly and to be their Father, Guide and Good Friend. From now on, I surrender to you all my rights in them but would ask you to look leniently upon their defects which have remained hidden to the partial eye of their father. Despite these defects I, who love you dearly, hope that our greatly valued friendship may be preserved. I remain your most Sincere Friend, etc., W A Mozart.'
If Haydn found any such 'defects' in Mozart's six children, he kept such thoughts to himself. Others however were bewildered by the brilliance and apparent ease of Mozart's writing, finding it all too much of a good thing: fellow composer Dittersdorf was perplexed at the fact that one beautiful thought was replaced so quickly by another, greater one that one ran the risk of retaining not one of 'these beautiful melodies'. Another writer found the quartets 'too highly seasoned, and whose palate can endure this for long?'.
The opening twenty-two bars of the String Quartet in C major K465 caused the greatest upset and gave the piece its nickname 'Dissonant'. It was assumed that the publication contained mistakes that Mozart could not be bothered to correct. Yet those who had access to Mozart's manuscript could see that this part was written down with very few corrections. Haydn chose not to enter into the debate but said only that Mozart must have had his own very good reasons for composing such a strange sounding opening.
Generally speaking, Mozart lifted the String Quartet as a genre to a higher, more expressive plane; Haydn as a fore-runner is certainly in evidence, especially in the minuets and finales but the deeply felt slow movements, especially the great Adagio movement of the 'Hunt' (so called because of the horn calls of the opening movement) clearly anticipate the profound quartets of Beethoven in the following century.
Janet Baker (born in Yorkshire in 1933) studied in
In 1961 Janet Baker sang in Bach's St John Passion in
Baker was now an international star: 1962 saw her performing again at the Edinburgh Festival, in
Despite her early recordings with Klemperer Baker's real breakthrough with the record-buying public came with the Barbirolli records of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius and Sea Pictures issued in 1965, as well as a recording of Verdi's Four Sacred Pieces with Giulini. One of my favourite of her recordings from that period is also one of her least familiar, her rendition for DGG of Werner Egk's song cycle Le tentation de Saint Antoine made under the composer's direction in
In December 1966 Baker experienced one of her greatest triumphs when she made her
In 1972 Glyndebourne presented another Raymond Leppard realisation: Monteverdi's Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, again directed by Peter Hall and with exceptionally heavy but mechanically ingenious sets by John Bury. Backstage the opera became known as Monteverdi's Flying Circus on account of the elaborate devices used to transport the deities on and off stage. Baker as Penelope 'revealed all the dignity, resolution and sadness of a part that Monteverdi, by his musical characterisation, made one of the most sympathetic and convincing figures in the history of opera' (Spike Hughes Glyndebourne 1981).
Glyndebourne was by no means the only company to take advantage of Janet Baker's magnetic stage presence; Scottish Opera in 1967 mounted a revelatory production by Anthony Besch of Cosi fan tutte in which Janet Baker and Elisabeth Harwood played the two sisters. Conrad Wilson, in his history of the company written in 1972, found Baker's the most 'complete and bewitching portrayal' who considering her association with darker music found 'her touch astonishingly light, her flair for comedy delightfully natural'. In 1971 she played another lighter role, that of Octavian in Rosenkavalier about which Harold Rosenthal wrote that 'it was all of a piece - youthful, ardent and very, very moving'. Having stated that he would be happy to travel across half Europe to see Baker in opera Rosenthal drew attention to 'that very personal quality of her voice (which) brings to this listener a lump in the throat' (Opera July 1971). Also for Scottish Opera Baker sang Gluck's Orpheus and the Composer in Strauss' Ariadne auf
Baker had first sung at
Janet Baker's concert career continued thereafter for a number of years. In this area her repertoire was vast as was her discography. It is become evident that Janet Baker's voice had a huge following and that there were many who, like Harold Rosenthal, would have travelled huge distances to hear her sing anything, be it a selection of Baroque arias, a group of English songs (of whatever period), German or French art song or something from the twentieth century. Whatever the music, each item was attacked with an intensity which was akin to religious fervour. This particular recital, first issued in 1966 by the budget label Saga, has over the years attracted many plaudits. John Steane in his volume The Grand Tradition (1974) devoted half a page to this LP mentioning that 'it included performances which it would be hard to improve upon throughout the whole range of recording' whilst the writers of the Penguin Guide also wax lyrical saying that her singing was 'of a quality that you find only once or twice in a generation' finding the Brahms extracts 'beyond praise'.
Martin Isepp was born in
Schumann composed his song-cycle Frauenliebe und Leben (Woman's Love and Life) in 1840 to texts by Adalbert von Chamisso, whose words make disquieting reading nowadays with their implied injunction that a wife should bend herself to her husband's will.
Brahms' op 43 songs were published in 1868, a year in which he seems to have concentrated particularly heavily on vocal music, since his opp 46 - 49 songs (twenty five songs in all) are all thought to have been composed at that time. However two songs heard here (Die Mainacht and Von ewiger Liebe) are thought to have been composed in 1866 and 1864 respectively. Nachtigall dates from 1885 whilst Das Mädchen spricht followed a couple of years after.
The power struggle following Stalin's death in 1953 eventually resulted in Nikita Khrushchev emerging as the most significant figure in the
Khrushchev's speech in 1956 had been considered by intellectuals as presenting a green light for open criticism of the Stalinist era. Certain books such as I G Ehrenburg's Thaw (in which the unquestioning loyalty of farm and factory managers to Stalin, the prostituting of artistic talent, and the terrorising of the Jews in the aftermath of the 'Doctor's Plot' were discussed) had already appeared, and in 1957 Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago was published in
As well as intellectuals various ethnic groups found the going rather easier post 1956. During World War Two great swathes of the Jewish population had been murdered in occupied areas, and not just by Nazis. Following the creation of the state of
In September 1961 the young poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko published his poem
Once word seeped out about Shostakovich's collaboration with Yevtushenko he too began to face fresh criticism: having joined the Communist party in 1962 and been elected to chair important conferences about the future of Soviet music (both serious and light) doubts about his suitability for the post were aired. One official was heard to say 'We let Shostakovich join the Party and then he goes and presents us with a symphony about Jews!' In early August Shostakovich approached the esteemed conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky to premiere the symphony. As Mravinsky had premiered many symphonic works by Shostakovich since the Fifth Symphony in 1937, he had no reason to doubt the conductor's acceptance. The Ukranian bass Boris Gmirya was also approached. Both Shostakovich and Yevtushenko, all too aware of the 'sensitive' nature of the
Kondrashin and Shostakovich next approached the bass Victor Nechipailo who agreed unconditionally to perform in the premiere. As a precaution however they also secretly engaged a second singer, Vitaly Gromadsky, who would alternate with Nechipailo in subsequent performances of the symphony. All went well until the day of the concert 18th December 1962. A quarter of an hour before the dress rehearsal was due to begin, Nechipailo rang in to say that he had been suddenly asked to sing in Verdi's Don Carlo that night at the Bolshoy as the advertised singer had been taken ill. It seemed fairly obvious that this was an eleventh hour attempt on the part of the authorities to sabotage Shostakovich's symphony. Luckily Gromadsky had decided of his own accord to attend the rehearsal and he was able to step in. During a break in the rehearsal Kondrashin was contacted by Georgi Popov who bizarrely asked a) after Kondrashin's health; b) whether there was any reason to prevent him conducting that night; c) whether he had any political doubts about the piece; and d) could the symphony be performed without the first movement. Kondrashin gave Popov unequivocal replies to the effect that come what may, the symphony would be performed in full. At this point Popov gave way adding 'Do what you think is best'.
warning shots had been fired across artistic bows on 1 December. At the opening of an exhibition entitled '30 Years Of Moscow Art' Khrushchev had taken exception to the sculptors and painters exhibited therein calling them 'abstractionists and pederasts'. On the night before the premiere he singled out Shostakovich at an artistic gathering shouting at him 'Your music is like jazz - it gives me a belly ache!' At the same event Yevtushenko was criticised publicly by Ilyichyov who was Khrushchev's spokesman on ideological matters.
At the premiere the audience began to applaud enthusiastically after the opening
Tolling bells open the first movement. A massive funeral march in which huge sighs from the woodwind and bass chorus singing syllabically (as in Mussorgsky) small intervals. The poet identifies himself with Jewish victims massacred in the ravine at Babi Yar, forced into slavery in ancient Egypt, with Jesus crucified and with Dreyfus (sentenced to life imprisonment in 1894 on shaky evidence and only pardoned twelve years later). A vicious passage describes horrific acts of anti-Semitism by Russians followed by a moment of great stillness (possibly implying impassivity on the part of the Russian people as the poet appeals for moderation). The core of the movement surrounds the fate of Anne Frank in which Shostakovich recalls the mood of the Fourth Symphony as the family's hiding place is discovered (marked ffff). As the subject returns to the setting of the Babi Yar massacre, so does the funeral march featuring the dotted rhythmical beat of that most sinister of instruments, the bass clarinet. The march reaches its height at the words 'let the Internationale thunder out when the last anti-Semite has been buried'. In the coda the poet asserts that it is not in the true nature of Russians to be anti-Semitic since they have been victims as well (presumably a reference to their suffering under Stalin).
The second movement acts as the symphony's scherzo. The poet tells how oppressive regimes have been unable to stamp out humour. Superbly orchestrated, humour's cheekiness is depicted by piccolos, squeaky clarinets and solo violin; the 'dark looks' of authority by growling tubas and trombones; rowdy interludes illustrate the irrepressible cheeriness of the people. Shostakovich recalls an earlier work Macpherson before his execution at the words 'Borotsa s nim delo trudnoye' (Fighting humour is tough work) and he anticipates the vocal style of his later collaboration with Yevtushenko The Execution of Stepan Razin with the frequent upward semitone slides.
The third movement describes the uncomplaining attitude of the women in the bread queues, women who 'have endured everything and will continue to endure everything'. There is an undulating motif in the low strings that recurs often during the symphony and castanets and woodblock describe the rattling of their pots and pans as the women shuffle forwards. Every movement is an effort. In what could be said to form the emotive climax of the symphony the poet castigates the authorities for short changing these heroines. At the movement's close the bass chorus splits for the only time in the work.
Movements 3 - 5 continue without a break, the dark colours of the third movement continuing into the fourth with a claustrophobic tuba solo reminiscent of Fafner's cave in Siegfried. The monotonous tread of the chorus is zombie-like whilst the sudden jab as the soloist sings 'Ya ikh pomuju vo vlasti I sile.' (I remember the powerful and mighty fears at the court of the lie triumphant) acts like a nightmarish recall of memories too unpleasant to contemplate. Mahlerian parade ground fanfares illustrate the helpless feeling of every sense being beaten out of the people and once again, as other fears are catalogued, the shadow of the Fourth Symphony looms large. A deceptively cheerful marching song recalls the memory of the construction worker's in Stalin's time but this boils over into paranoia and the 'fears' come thick and fast culminating in the 'fear of trusting oneself too much'. As the chorus returns to the zombie-like low G sharps, so does the undulating passage that transforms itself miraculously at the beginning of the final movement into a bittersweet melody, a sense of longing, of what might have been.
Like the 'Humour' movement, the final movement appears at first hearing to be a strophic song with interludes based upon the bittersweet motif. A jaunty bassoon motif reminiscent of an operatic drinking song introduces each verse and the interludes vary in tone from angry to the classically dainty (pizzicato strings). Finally the tone becomes elegiac at the words 'Vse te, kto rvalis v stratosferu.' (All those who strove towards the stratosphere, the doctors who died from cholera, they were following careers!) and a divided strings rendition of the 'bittersweet' melody brings a moment of indescribable pathos. As the work winds down the celesta plays its own variation of the motif and the chimes that are never far from the surface bring the work to a close.
Rudolf Barshai (b1924) has been associated with the music of Shostakovich for many years. He studied violin with Lev Zeitlin and viola with Borisovsky at the Moscow Conservatoire. He was a founder member of the Moscow Philharmonic Quartet (renamed Borodin Quartet) and later joined the Tchaikovsky Quartet. The Borodin Quartet often played the string quartets of Shostakovich in rehearsal for the composer, although he chose the more prestigious Beethoven Quartet to perform the premieres. Having also studied conducting, Barshai formed the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in 1955 and in 1969 he premiered Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony, having assisted in instrumentation and other artistic matters. He later arranged the Fourth and Eighth String Quartets for chamber orchestra, these being known as the Chamber Symphonies. Barshai emigrated first to
Copyright James Murray September 2002
Much of Shostakovich's early music illustrated his attitude to the Revolution in Russia in 1917: Symphonies 2 and 3, composed between 1927 and 1929, were subtitled To October and The First of May respectively; the opera The Nose from the same period was a satire of pre-Revolutionary Russia after a short story by Gogol; and the ballet The Golden Age (1929 - 1930) compared Soviet culture favourably to the decadent West. In the 1930s Shostakovich became more introverted, identifying with subjects of a more personal character. This new direction is most noticeable in his two largest scores of the decade: the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (composed between 1930 and 1932 and premiered in 1934) and Symphony No 4 (composed 1934 - 1935 but not performed until 1961).
The nineteenth century short story by Nikolai Leskov forms the basis of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District: the central character Katerina Ismailova is bored with her situation but finds comfort and satisfaction in the arms of one of her husband's workers. She and her lover murder her husband and father-in-law, are caught and punished. They are sent to a labour camp where the lover finds another woman and Katerina, totally distraught, drowns both herself and her lover's new mistress. Shostakovich empathised with Katerina more than Leskov had and made the real monsters within the piece those (including her husband) who bully her. Lady Macbeth was premiered almost simultaneously in
At this time the
It was against this background that Lady Macbeth was criticised in the Party broadsheet. In 1934 Shostakovich's personal life had reached something of a crisis: his affair with a colleague on tour led to a separation from his wife which only ended when his wife announced that she was pregnant the following year. Their first child was born in 1936 by which time Shostakovich was being shunned by the musical world. In the atmosphere that prevailed in the
Towards the Autumn Stiedry began rehearsals in
The stamping theme that opens the first movement has been likened by Ian MacDonald in The New Shostakovich (1990) to the megalomaniac shouts that greet a brutal dictator at a rally. The quieter second theme might be the artist casting back his mind to more sympathetic times. Once more the 'rally' thunders past, gradually fading into the distance. An ear-splitting scream (of anguish, of pain, of fear?) introduces a passage of unbearable tension during which the image put forward by many commentators of the composer nervously awaiting the nocturnal 'knock at the door' is impossible to ignore. Shostakovich was an imaginative and effective composer of film music (the cinema incidentally being Stalin's favourite medium) and once again MacDonald's description of the stabbing motifs being like the secret police torches flashing into dark corners during the search for incriminating evidence is extremely vivid. In the fugue which follows, Stalin's chaotic terror machine is unleashed on the Soviet people: the strings play a vicious game of tag in which the accusers find themselves accused. The nightmare becomes more horrific yet as six grinding crescendos see a return to the 'rally' theme. Exhaustion however sets in and the massive opening movement closes quietly with a violin solo, the composer perhaps mulling over his own and his country's horrific recent experience.
The shorter scherzo second movement is the most formal section of the symphony, its four-note figure recalling Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and its structure (ABABA) being easy to decipher. There is however within its span considerable disruption as the wind and brass's three-note pattern successfully assault the strings' attempts at normality. Unsettling ticking sounds (time running out for the composer?) close the movement.
One can only guess the identity of the soul being laid to rest in the Mahlerian funeral march that opens the last movement. Before dying away a terrifying climax is reached. Once again the tense nocturnal waiting theme is heard, now played in unison by the entire orchestra. The disconcerting middle section begins with a long horn pedal note. Groups of instruments led by the bassoon, trombone and piccolo chatter in an apparently trivial manner and the strings lead the orchestra in a waltz. Suddenly the timpani introduce a massive reiteration of the funeral march which grinds onward in huge waves of sound. Despite the volume (and this must be one of the loudest passages in music) the march is unable to resolve itself and instead it broods exhaustedly over a long throbbing pedal point. As the symphony closes the only signs of life now remaining are a series of oscillations between E flat and G on the celesta.
Although Shostakovich continued to perform the work privately in a two piano version, it was not until the Kruschevian 'thaw' that an official interest was shown in his Fourth Symphony. In 1958 Shostakovich finally contemplated a resurrection of his two forgotten masterpieces: the Fourth Symphony received its belated triumphant premiere under Kirill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic in 1961 whilst the revised Lady Macbeth, now renamed Katerina Ismailova, was performed worldwide the following year. Critics noted that both works were undoubtedly among the most original scores of the twentieth century and that their invention and depth of feeling was in stark contrast to his Twelfth Symphony, also premiered at much the same time. In 1973 the composer with reference to the symphony's original withdrawal stated that 'I didn't like the situation. Fear was all around. So I withdrew it'.
It is not known who commissioned Cosi fan tutte in 1789: neither Mozart's nor his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte's correspondence reveal this fact, and indeed da Ponte's only comment about the opera is that it held 'the third place among the three sisters born of that most celebrated father of harmony'. Mozart mentions the work in two letters to Michael Puchberg, inviting him to the rehearsal on New Year's Eve 1789 and the first orchestral rehearsal on 21 January 1790 (it appears that Haydn also attended the rehearsals). Mozart's fee was 200 ducats (900 gulden), double that usually paid in
However in April 1789 the Emperor had fallen seriously ill.
It has been said that Mozart was not da Ponte's first choice of composer, but that he intended it for Salieri. Mozart however was the only composer emotionally capable of handling such a work, having created in Don Giovanni a serial seducer whose fate is far more terrifying than anything previously been seen on the musical stage.
The only surviving account of the premiere of Cosi merely comments that the music was charming and the text amusing. During the nineteenth century the opera was rarely performed. The idea of testing a woman's fidelity in such a cold-hearted manner can be seen as somewhat distasteful, but one should recall that Cosi was written in the era of Laclos' Liaisons dangereuses and in the same century as Clarissa, Pamela and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.
The title of the opera itself is taken from Le nozze di Figaro; during the first act trio sung by Susanna, Count Almaviva, and Don Basilio who chuckles that 'cosi fan tutte le belle' (that's what all the pretty girls are like). His line of music at this point is repeated by the woodwind during the overture to Cosi fan tutte.
Two officers Ferrando and Guglielmo are in a
The scene changes to the house and garden of the two ladies in question: Fiordiligi, lover of Guglielmo and her sister Dorabella, who loves Ferrando. Whilst they are admiring their sweethearts' miniature portraits (Ah guarda, sorella), Don Alfonso enters to tell them that the officers have been called up. Ferrando and Guglielmo arrive to bid their lovers a tender farewell as Don Alfonso can hardly contain his laughter (Sento, o Dio) and an offstage chorus cheer the troops on their way (Bella vita militar). Don Alfonso and the ladies bid them a safe journey (Soave sia il vento).
Despina, Fiordiligi's and Dorabella's maid, is considerably more down-to-earth than her mistresses and cannot understand why they are so upset by the absence of the two officers; Dorabella in particular is throwing a mighty diva strop (Smanie implacabili)! Despina advises the sisters to take advantage of their boyfriends' absence to seek a little diversion as it is certain that Ferrando and Guglielmo will do the same (In uomini, in soldati)! The girls are appalled. Don Alfonso finds Despina alone and, offering to pay her well, asks for her help in providing an introduction for a couple of his friends to Fiordiligi and Dorabella. No sooner has Despina agreed than his two 'Albanian' friends appear (Alla bella Despinetta). They are of course Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise, although Despina does not know this, and they proceed to court each other's girlfriend. The girls resist, Fiordiligi in a lengthy aria (Come scoglio) and as Guglielmo draws attention to his manly attributes, both sisters leave in a huff (Non siate ritrosi). The officers are exuberant, convinced that they have won the bet, but Alfonso informs them that there is still a long way to go (E voi ridete?). Ferrando sings of his love and leaves with Guglielmo (Un' aura amorosa) whilst Alfonso and Despina consider what to do next.
Fiordiligi and Dorabella mourn the departure of their loved ones (Ah, che tutto in un momento) but following a commotion offstage (Si mora, si si mora) the Albanians rush in, semi-restrained by Alfonso and swallow poison before the horrified gaze of the ladies. Whilst Alfonso goes in search of a doctor the sisters helplessly attempt to revive the men, showing for the first time an interest in the men. Alfonso returns with the doctor (Despina in disguise armed with a huge magnet Eccovi il medico), introducing 'him' as a friend of Dr Mesmer. The magnet miraculously revives the Albanians (Dove son?) who resume their wooing with increased ardour (Dammi un bacio, o mio tesoro). The sisters have difficulty holding them off.
As the Second Act begins and with a little encouragement from Despina (Una donna a quindici anni), Dorabella declares that she fancies the dark one (Guglielmo) whilst Fiordiligi is quite taken with the fair haired one Ferrando (Prenderò quell brunettino). The Albanians serenade the sisters (Secondate, aurette amiche) and Alfonso and Despina encourage both couples, and leave them to it (La mano a me date). Guglielmo offers Dorabella a little gold heart, in return getting Ferrando's miniature locket (Il core vi dono). Ferrando has had no luck with Fiordiligi, and left alone, Fiordiligi determines to be strong (Ei parte.Per pieta). The two officers meet and compare notes. Ferrando tells Guglielmo that Fiordiligi has remained constant, but is livid when he sees Guglielmo has been given the locket (Donne mie, la fate a tante.Tradito, schernito). He does not need much persuasion to redouble his wooing of Fiordiligi.
Dorabella admits that she now wishes to marry her Albanian (È amore un ladroncello). Fiordiligi however tells her that she has decided to follow Guglielmo to the front. Her decisiveness however soon passes as Ferrando turns on the charm (Fra gli amplessi), the entire seduction scene being witnessed by Guglielmo and Alfonso. Both men feel betrayed, but Alfonso's advice is to marry the girls anyway: all women are the same and sooner or later they will be unfaithful (Tutti accusan le donne). Despina announces that the sisters will marry the Albanians.
The last scene opens as the wedding celebrations are beginning (Fate presto, o cari amici). As the two couples toast their future, only Guglielmo seems out of sorts (E nel tuo, nel mio bicchiero). Despina, now disguised as a notary, reads out the contracts for them to sign in a kind of legalese mumbo-jumbo (Augurandovi ogni bene). Suddenly a drum roll announces the return of the officers! The Albanians hide in another room and presently Ferrando and Guglielmo re-enter in their soldiers' uniforms (Sani e salvi). They demand to know why the notary is present and the sisters' confusion mounts as the notary is revealed as Despina. Alfonso then allows the soldiers to discover the marriage contracts (Giusto ciel! Voi qui scrivesti) and he blurts out the hiding-place of the Albanians. With drawn swords Ferrando and Guglielmo enter the room where the Albanians were last seen and return obviously wearing part of their disguises (A voi s'inchina). Both sisters and Despina furiously turn on Don Alfonso, who defends himself by saying that they will all have learned a good deal about themselves from this experience. All six characters join together in singing that 'Happy is the man who lets himself be guided by reason' (Fortunato l'uom che prende).
This legendary performance of Cosi fan tutte was recorded by
Schwarzkopf was also a renowned Countess Almaviva in Nozze di Figaro. In Porgi amor which opens the second act, she laments the fact that her husband no longer finds her desirable. It is difficult to imagine Schwarzkopf playing Cherubino on stage but here she sings the delectable Voi che sapete, a song that the perpetually lovesick boy has recently composed.
For many years Idomeneo, despite containing some of his finest music, was not as popular as other Mozart operas. Performed in
Copyright James Murray October 2005
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Introduction to Italian and German Opera
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Gershwin - Fascinatin' rhythms ( 'A useful follow-on from G & S, widening the whole field in England, Europe and America, aided by your knowledge and enthusiasm and the wealth of examples you are able to present. Enthusiasm already generated for your next course on later musicals and their composers.my feet are tapping!.excellent handouts and bibliography.' 'It was a pleasure to hear about this time of the early musicals from a man who obviously enjoys his subject.' 'I have gained an insight into the cultural and historical factors that developed into the musical in the 20s, 30s and 40s as well as some knowledge of the musical instrumentation.'
Gershwin - Fascinatin' rhythms (
'A useful follow-on from G & S, widening the whole field in England, Europe and America, aided by your knowledge and enthusiasm and the wealth of examples you are able to present. Enthusiasm already generated for your next course on later musicals and their composers.my feet are tapping!.excellent handouts and bibliography.'
'It was a pleasure to hear about this time of the early musicals from a man who obviously enjoys his subject.'
'I have gained an insight into the cultural and historical factors that developed into the musical in the 20s, 30s and 40s as well as some knowledge of the musical instrumentation.'
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