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On Saturday 20th July, from 1400-1630, APO will be back on the transfer deck at Reading station, following our award-winning appearance there in 2017. Like last time, the event will be part of the Reading Fringe Festival and can take place thanks to the support of Network Rail and Great Western Railway, as well as our generous Crowdfunders.
Like last time, this event will be FREE (ask the gateline staff to be let through the barriers to hear the orchestra – just don’t get on a train without a ticket). The noises and activity of the train station are all part of the atmosphere. Station operations, which always put safety first, have priority over our performance. Partly because of this (we must not block thoroughfares for the travelling public) and partly due to cost (we have to hire in the orchestra’s seating and it’s not cheap!), there won’t be any audience seating. The station is completely accessible to wheelchair users, via the lifts, including toilet facilities.
This time round we’ll be presenting a programme of Scandinavian music (well, Sibelius isn’t technically Scandinavian, but he was Nordic, at least!). The event is completely informal – you can come and go as you like. In case you want to hear your favourite piece, and to know when our grand conducting relays are going to happen, the approximate timings for the event are:
- 1400 – APO performs Grieg – Peer Gynt Suite No.1, with movement 4 (the famous ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’), conducted by Crowdfunder supporter, Andy Button.
- 1420 grand conducting relay on movements from Peer Gynt
- 1445 Lumbye’s Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop, complete with audience participation!
- 1500 – a well-deserved break for the band
- 1530 – Dalberg – ‘Capriccio’
- 1540 – Sibelius – Finlandia
- 1550 – grand conducting relay part 2!
- Depending on when the relay finishes – another performance of movements from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
Peer Gynt Suite No.1 – Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg (born 1843) is now considered the most quintessentially Norwegian composer in the history of Norwegian music. However, initially he found limited opportunities in in his homeland, and spent time studying and working in Germany and Denmark from 1858 until 1866. At this time, Norway’s most significant literary figure was Henryk Ibsen who, conversely, had stayed in Norway, and found some success as a playwright. Ibsen had written Peer Gynt based around the exploits of a character from Norwegian folk tales. In the play, Peer has very few attractive characteristics, being a notorious liar, swindler, and unfaithful friend.
Ibsen asked Grieg to compose incidental music for the play, to which Grieg readily agreed. He soon regretted this, as he found composing about such “a most unmusical of subjects” extremely difficult. The folklore aspect of the story, however, seemed very suitable for a musical treatment. So Grieg did eventually produce a score for the incidental music, which turned out to be very well received. Grieg extracted two suites of music from the score, of which Suite No. 1 is the better known, and helped to cement Grieg’s international reputation.
Peer Gynt Suite No.1 has four movements, though they are not in the chronological order as they occur in the original order of the play:
- Morning Mood
- The Death of Åse
- Anitra’s Dance
- In the Hall of the Mountain King
Morning Mood is often incorrectly assumed to depict a Norwegian sunrise. In fact, it depicts a sunrise over the Moroccan desert, with Peer Gynt making a reed pipe. It has a pastoral melody which unfolds quietly, waxing and waning in intensity.
In the play, Peer Gynt has a difficult relationship with his mother Åse, and he returns to Norway when he hears that she is dying. “Death of Åse” is a lament for her as she dies, and also depicts her last utterances. The simple melody is repeated, growing to a climax, and then fades out. It is written for strings alone.
We return to Morocco for “Anitra’s Dance”. Peer is mistaken for a prophet by a local tribe. The Chieftan’s daughter Anitra seduces Peer Gynt with her dancing. The dance is a seductive, quirky mazurka. Again this movement is written for strings, this time complemented by a triangle.
The suite ends with one of Grieg’s most popular works – “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, made famous by its use, for many years, as the music for Alton Towers adverts. Peer engages with a troll king together with goblins and gnomes in a large cavern. The music becomes grotesque and menacing as it grows in volume and tempo. In the end, with trolls screaming obscene threats at him, Peer Gynt finally escapes from the troll king’s clutches.
Programme note by Stephen Kerry (trombonist)
Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop (1847) – Hans Christian Lumbye
Hans Christian Lumbye was a Danish composer who lived from 1810-1874. He began his musical life as a trumpeter in a military band and his earliest known compositions are pieces for dance from the 1830s written whilst working as a trumpeter in Copenhagen’s Royal Horse Guards, and as a member of the Town Musician’s Ensemble. In 1839 Lumbye assembled his own orchestra and from there his reputation as a composer and conductor grew. From 1843-1872 he served as the in-house composer and music director for Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and only left the post when deafness forced him into retirement two years before his death. Whilst based at Tivoli gardens Lumbye composed around 700 dances including polkas, waltzes and gallops, one of which is the piece you’ll hear today.
There is, believe it or not, a bit of a tradition of music written about trains. The two Johann Strauss’s both wrote train pieces: Eisenbahn-Lust Walzer (or Railway Joy Waltz) by Strauss I and Vergnügungszug (or Pleasure Train) by Strauss II. There’s also Villa-Lobos’s Little Train of the Caipira, Honneger’s Pacific 231, and a little more recently Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Lumbye’s Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop was written in 1847 as a contribution to celebrations surrounding the opening of the first Danish railway line. Although the noises that trains make might have changed a bit since then, the piece is unmistakably a musical recreation of a train travelling (sometimes at very high speed) from one stop to the next.
Programme note by Laura Shipsey
Capriccio for Orchestra (c. 1918) – Nancy Dalberg
“…had I not learned by chance that it was composed by a woman, considering also the austerity and native strength of her music, it would never have occurred to me that it was a woman speaking to us.”
The words of esteemed chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann, on Nancy Dalberg’s String Quartet No. 2. Savage, you might think, but this was no doubt intended to be a great compliment to the composer who earned the title of the first Danish woman to write a symphony. Dalberg was Danish, born in 1881, and started off learning the piano before later moving onto composition. Although not hugely prolific over her career, her talent did not go unnoticed, and she began to study under Carl Nielsen. Nielsen encouraged Dalberg to experiment with her orchestration, and the pair ended up working closely together – Dalberg was even tasked with completing Nielsen’s work when he was short of time.
Dalberg’s dramatic Capriccio for Orchestra in B minor, which you’ll hear today, opens with unison strings introducing the first theme. This quickly shifts off the beat, giving the music a dance-like quality. The section unfolds with the help of the woodwind supplementing the string sound until the main theme returns, this time with the flutes and trumpets joining the string melody and the rest of the wind busily weaving intricate chromatic patterns in the background. After a sudden reduction in the texture, the music builds to a triumphant, major climax announced by the brass section. A melancholy bassoon solo marks the beginning of a more relaxed, pensive middle section with other solos lazily wending their way through the orchestra, first with the principal violin, then the oboe, flute, horn and back to the bassoon. These melodies are characteristically chromatic, sometimes finding uncomfortable clashes, only to be resolved later on.
We then revisit the theatrics of the opening material, daylight once more breaking through the texture with the reiteration of the theme in a major key. The piece ends with a series of triumphant chords echoing across the orchestra.
Programme note by Aoife Dudley
We are extremely grateful to the Dalberg estate for giving us permission to perform Capriccio, to the Royal Danish Library for helping us seek that permission, and to Harmony Sinfonia, without whom we would never have discovered the work, nor have a viable set of parts with which to perform it.
Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899) – Jean Sibelius
“Pay no attention to what the critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.”
Jean Sibelius; a Finnish composer with a French name, a lover of good times, and a staunch dismisser of professional critics. Born Johan Julius Christian in 1865, Sibelius was a relatively late developer in a world of musical geniuses and prodigies, only picking up the piano at the age of nine. Despite his modest beginnings, Sibelius would go on to become a national hero and a champion of the Finnish identity as told through his music. A great lover of the violin, Sibelius focused his studies initially on his instrument before regretfully deciding in his late twenties that he didn’t have what it took to become a professional violinist. Luckily for us he turned his hand to composition, which up until this point in his life had been little more than a rainy day activity, by his own admission.
Sibelius grew up as a subject of the Grand Duchy of Finland, the predecessor to modern day Finland, which was an autonomous state within the Russian Empire. This sets the scene for the piece you’re listening to today; initially written as one of a set of pieces to be performed in support of the staff of a Finnish newspaper who had been suspended after criticising Russian rule. Initially called ‘Finland Awakes’ it was an instant hit, and the piece that saw Sibelius venerated as a national hero particularly as part of the rise of Karelianism in Finland at the time.
The opening chords of the piece echo those of Dalberg’s Capriccio, which you will also hear today. The menacing crescendi of the lower brass opens out into a chorale accompanied by rolls from the timpani. This is answered calmly by the wind, before the richness of the strings takes over and brings us back down to the murkiness of the opening chorale. This unrest bubbling beneath the surface is a nod to the oppressive rule enacted by Russia on the Finnish people, and sets the scene for their triumphant rise later in the piece. The melody is passed from a pair of clarinets back to the strings, taken over by a pair of oboes, then overthrown by the whole orchestra leading to the climax of the first section. The mood changes rapidly as the tempo picks up and the new section is greeted with fanfares from the brass. The melody from the beginning develops and becomes more frenetic before triumphantly breaking into a major key. A moment of calm settles upon the orchestra as the wind introduce another chorale, which you may recognise as the tune to ‘Be Still, My Soul’. The melody has been adopted as a popular hymn tune, as well as the unofficial national anthem of Finland. The music resumes its rambunctiousness one final time as we hear the strains of the hymn in the brass with tremolo strings above. The piece ends with chords from the full orchestra, interspersed with rolls from the timpani.
Programme note by Aoife Dudley
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