Subscription Concert No.831 B Series

Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow

Butterworth (1885-1916) had the hard luck of facing the First World War while he was still young. He was sent to the front, and was killed in the summer of 1916, at the age of only 31.

While studying at Oxford University, Butterworth made friends with Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW) (1872-1958), and embarked upon a professional career in music. He collected and studied English folksongs, and eagerly used their idioms in his composition. Unfortunately, there are not many works of his left to us, due to his early death.

“The Banks of Green Willow” (1913) contains two melodies from the folksongs he collected. The opening melody is a ballad called “The Banks of Green Willow”. After horns play another new melody of his own, the folksong develops in a faster tempo. In the latter half of the piece, oboe plays another folksong “Green Bushes”, which is then taken over by flute and harp.

Tippett: Piano Concerto (1955) (Japan Premiere)

Tippett (1905-98), who died in 1998 at the age of 93, was revered as “The Grand Old Man” in the English music community, succeeding the late RVW. However, since he kept writing in a limpid style and never stopped experimenting, he deserves the title of “The Eternal Youth”.

When Gieseking visited England in 1950, Tippett had a chance to hear the famous German pianist rehearse Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, which impressed him and inspired him to write a piano concerto of his own. This is the only extant piano concerto of his. The piano part, rather than coming to the front too frequently, seems to unite itself with the orchestra throughout the work.

Ⅰ Allegro non troppo: Sonata form, but on the freer side. At the beginning of the movement, the first theme is introduced as a duet between the piano and the first flute. After the orchestra reaches the first climax, the second flute plays an elaborate rhythm that consists of repetition of the same note accompanied by the first theme, which turns out to be the second theme. A colorful development section follows, and then mysterious echo of the celesta leads to the recapitulation section.

Ⅱ Molto lento e tranquillo: A slow movement comprises roughly three sections. The first one is a canon played by flute and clarinet. In the second section, the third and fourth horns take over the canon, and hand it over to oboe and bassoon. Up to this point, the piano has confined itself to ornamental passages. Then, in the third section, violin and viola join the ensemble for the first time in this movement, and exchange a passionate dialogue with the piano.

Ⅲ Vivace: A rondo with an unusual sequence of A-B-A-C-A-D-AB. Section A is a brisk tutti of the orchestra. The piano joins in during Section B with jazz-like liveliness. In Section C, the powerful brass blows a melody with sustained notes, after which comes a quiet scene of Section D with piano in the center. The return of Section B at the end also functions as the coda, closing the entire piece in a bright tone.

Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (Symphony No.2) (1920 version)

Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW) is not a native of London, but spent most of his time there after boyhood, and regarded himself to be a Londoner. “A London Symphony”, which was later numbered as the second symphony, is a musical description of various images of Edwardian London (1901-1910) and of the sentiments they arouse. However, later in his life, RVW did not like his work to be seen as program music depicting concrete scenery, and preferred it to be considered “A symphony by a Londoner”.

Ⅰ Lento - Allegro risoluto: Sonata form. In the introduction, strings depict the river Thames in morning mist. After the harp rings Big Ben’s morning signal, the music turns into allegro in tutti, and the noisy day starts in the big city of London.

Ⅱ Lento: A slow, melancholy movement which RVW described as “Bloomsbury Square in an afternoon in November”. The square is in a cultural area of London that includes British Museum and London University.

Ⅲ Scherzo (Nocturne). Allegro vivace: A scherzo which RVW called “On the banks of Westminster”, with two trio sections. Bustling from the Strand on the north shore, as well as the noises from factories in the south echo on the river Thames.

Ⅳ Andante con moto - Maestoso alla marcia (quasi lento) - Epilogue. Andante sostenuto: A solemn introduction is followed by a rough march which RVW called “The March of the Poor”. Behind the prosperous main streets of London, social unrest is hidden; the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and there are physical conflicts between the workers and the police. When the music calms down, the harp quietly rings the Big Ben again, leading us to the epilogue. “A London Symphony”, which started in the morning mist of the Thames, now ends, melting into the evening dusk on the same river.

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