Subscription Concert No.832 C Series

Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61

Elgar’s (1857-1934) violin concerto is a major work comparable to those of Beethoven and Brahms in length, size of the orchestra, and technique required of the soloist. It was written in 1908-10, when the composer reached the most mature period in his creative life. Elgar dedicated the concerto to Kreisler (1875-1962), who gave him an initial inspiration to start the composition.

In this concerto are seen Elgar’s intimate personal sentiments. The title page carries a short sentence in Spanish “Aqui está encerrada el alma de ..... (Here is concealed the soul of.....)”. Among the several assumptions as to whose name was to fill the blank space, Alice Stuart-Wortley (1862-1936) is the most probable. Elgar called this person by her nickname “Windflower”, because she shared the same first name of Alice with his wife.

While Elgar was writing the violin concerto, letters were frequently exchanged of mails between him and Windflower. Since he was calling this piece “your concerto” and “our concerto” in these letters, Alice must have been the muse who kept inspiring the composer during the composition. It is not clear whether they were in love. Elgar’s wife acknowledged her as her husband’s muse, and there is no evidence that Elgar, who loved his wife affectionately, veered to adultery. The concerto, however, is brimming with insuppressible yearning.

Ⅰ Allegro: Sonata form. A majestic orchestral exposition opens the movement, and six themes that are related to it are introduced in turns. It is only the orchestra that plays until the middle of the first theme in the second exposition, when it hands the music over to the solo violin.

Ⅱ Andante: Ternary form. After a short meditative introduction by the orchestra, the solo violin sings quietly.

Ⅲ Allegro molto: Sonata form. The movement is made up of a lively first theme appearing in tutti and the delicate second theme rendered by the solo violin. After the climax subsides, the soloist plays a long cadenza with a misty rain of pizzicato-tremolo in the background, which then leads to the brilliant coda of the last movement.

Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica (Symphony No.7)

The movie “Scott of the Antarctic”, which was released in 1948, tells the tragedy of the British expedition team, on its way back from the South Pole, which they reached only after the Norwegian party. Ralf Vaughan Williams (RVW) (1872-1958) wrote the music, on which he based “Sinfonia Antartica” composed in 1949-52, later renaming it as his seventh symphony.

The playing force includes a vocalise soprano solo and women’s chorus, in addition to various percussion instruments, an organ, and a windmachine. It is a grand work, in a way comparable to Richard-Strauss’s “Alpine Symphony” in that both deal with “mankind facing the fierce nature”. RVW headed each movement with an “Epigraph” of poems, psalms from the Old Testament, excerpts from Scott’s diary (see page 20), and we sometimes hear them recited at some concerts.

Ⅰ Prelude. Andante maestoso: It begins with a gloomy tone. The orchestra describes a cold and dreary scene, and the wind-machine, soprano solo and then women’s chorus layer upon it, as if mystic aurora and icebergs were appearing in front of you.

Ⅱ Scherzo. Moderato: The ship, which Scott and his party embarked on, sails through the Antarctic Ocean, and they encounter a whale. When the troop lands on the Antarctic Continent, the members are busy setting up the base. Penguins are sketched humorously, as they curiously watch the men working there.

Ⅲ Landscape. Lento: The longest movement. The troop struggles as they march on the ice field. At its climax, the solemn organ describes the men who are impressed by the greatness of nature, but also feel helpless in face of the menace it can impose on them.

Ⅳ Intermezzo. Andante sostenuto: Escorted by harp and oboe, the solo violin and the orchestra describe the troop’s momentary rest in an idyllic tune. The intermezzo also speaks of their renewed resolution to commit to the forthcoming attack on the South Pole.

Ⅴ Epilogue. Alla marcia, moderato (non troppo allegro): After the trumpets’ fanfare, a theme of the first movement is revisited. A brave but tragic march seems to praise the unfailing spirit of Scott and his party. When it calms down, a condensed essence of the first movement returns. The soprano solo and women’s chorus sing the elegy to conclude the entire symphony.

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