Program Notes for 03/28/2021 Concert

St. Paul Suite, Opus 29, No. 2
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Gustav Holst finished his St. Paul Suite in 1913, but it was not published until 1922, due to revisions. The suite takes its name from the St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London. Holst served as St. Paul’s “music master” from 1905 to 1934 and was grateful to the school for building a soundproof studio for him. The suite is one of many pieces he wrote for the school’s students.The suite has four movements, titled Jig, Ostinato (a name for a repeated melody), Intermezzo, and Finale (the Dargason).

The Finale will be familiar to anyone who knows band music. It was arranged from the “Fantasia on the Dargason” from Holst’s Second Suite in F for Military Band. The folk song, “Dargason,” is heard in its introduction—then “Greensleeves” appears, played by the cellos. The two folksongs are played together until the end of the movement.

Gustav Holst is best known for his orchestral suite, The Planets. He composed many other works, but none achieved comparable success. He played the trombone professionally, and was also known as a composition teacher—a great one, according to his colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was a significant influence on several younger English composers, including Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten.

Holst pioneered music education for women, at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, where he taught from 1905 until his death in 1934.

March for Two Pairs of Kettledrums
Andre Philidor (transcriber)

The March for Two Pairs of Kettledrums was first performed by the brothers Philidor (Andre and Jacques) in the presence of King Louis XIV at the Royal Court of Versailles in 1683.  For perspective, this was the same year that William Penn signed a peace treaty with the Delaware Indians of the Pennsylvania colony.

King Louis XIV was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and the music of his court, as well as the musicians and composers he employed, became the envy of Europe. In addition to the brothers Philidor, the composers Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin were also employed by the royal court.   Notably, Lully was responsible for bringing the new Italian art form of opera to the king’s court and subsequently establishing a distinctly French operatic style.

In 1683, timpani were just beginning to be used in orchestras with one of the earliest appearances being Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo in 1607.  Outside of the orchestra, one of the primary uses of timpani at this time was in the military where, paired with trumpets, they were most effective in signaling troop movements because their sound was capable of being heard over long distances.  This use was imported to the European continent by the armies of the Crusaders who borrowed the practice from the Ottoman Turks.  In the military, timpani were part of the cavalry and were carried on horseback with a drum slung on each side of the horse and the timpanist playing from a seated position on the animal’s back.  (This use can still be seen today in Great Britain during royal military parades or ceremonies.)   Due to their importance on the battlefield, timpanists and trumpeters were most often stationed next to the commander.  This made timpanists and trumpeters highly protected units of an army – but it also made them a high-value target for the enemy.   The ability of timpani and trumpets to be heard over long distances made them a natural fit for ceremonial music and for the grand royal palaces of Europe where they became a key part of the corps of court musicians.

The timpani used at this time were considerably different than the drums you see on the stage today.  In 1683, the pitches were changed by means of a number of hand screws at the top of each drum and rapid pitch changes were not possible.   The drum heads were made of calfskin or goatskin which were greatly affected by temperature and humidity changes.  Todays drums typically use heads made of mylar plastic and pitch changes are possible by means of a foot pedal.   The drums used during the time of Louis XIV were also smaller than modern day timpani due to the limits of what could be practically mounted on a horse.

Canzon Duo Decimi Toni a 10
Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557-1612)

Giovanni Gabrieli was one of the most influential musicians of his time, and represents the culmination of the style of the Venetian School, at the time of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque idioms. He was the principal organist at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Gabrieli’s work there made him one of the most noted composers in Europe. The vogue that began with his influential volume Sacrae symphoniae (1597) was such that composers from all over Europe, especially from Germany, came to Venice to study.

Sacrae symphoniae is a collection of 45 motets for anything from six to sixteen parts; fourteen canzonas (songs) in eight to fifteen musical lines; and two sonatas, one with eight musical lines, the other with twelve. Canzon Duo Decimi Toni is one of several 10-voice pieces in the collection.

Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Edward Elgar composed his Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 36, popularly known as the Enigma Variations between 1898 and 1899, for orchestra. Each variation is a musical sketch of one of Elgar’s circle of close acquaintances.

The “Nimrod” variation (the ninth one) has become popular in its own right and is sometimes used at British funerals, memorial services, and other solemn occasions. It is always played at Britain’s National Service of Remembrance on the second Sunday in November (similar to the United States’ Veterans Day). An adaptation of the piece appears at the ending of the 2017 film, Dunkirk, as part of the score.

Perhaps because it is associated with memorials, Nimrod has been transcribed for band, and for brass ensembles, many times. The NPOI brass section is playing an arrangement by Don Joseph.

Funeral March of a Marionette
Charles Gounod (1818-1893), arr. Jeff Craig

Funeral March of a Marionette was originally written for solo piano in 1872 and orchestrated in 1879. It is best known as the theme music for the television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The music was used to accompany at least four early films, including Sunrise” a Song of Two Humans (1927; silent), Habeas Corpus (1928; silent), with Laurel and Hardy; and Welcome Danger (1929), Harold Lloyd’s first sound film.

Alfred Hitchcock had heard the music in the 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. In 1955, when choosing the theme music for his television series, he remembered the effect that “Funeral March of a Marionette” had on him. It was through Hitchcock’s program that the music achieved its widest audience, although few people would have been able to identify the composer or title. The series continued for ten years, and the theme music appeared in five versions by as many arrangers: in 1955, 1960, 1962, 1963, and 1964 ‒ the last version being arranged by Bernard Hermann. The “Funeral March of a Marionette” was one of eight compositions that Hitchcock selected to take to a fictional desert island on the 1959 BBC radio program, Desert Island Discs.

Serenade for Wind Instruments, Opus 44
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)

Antonin Dvořák dedicated  his Serenade for Wind Instruments to the music critic and composer Louis Ehlert, who had praised the composer’s Slavonic Dances in the German press. The serenade (which also includes cello and string bass) was one of fifteen compositions Dvorák submitted for the Austrian State Stipendium. The serenade evokes the old-world atmosphere of music from the castles of the Rococo period, and is composed in a “Slavonic” style.

The serenade, written in 1878, was originally composed for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, and three French horns. After the first performance of the work, the composer added optional contrabassoon, ‘cello, and double bass in order to enhance the bass voice of the ensemble. This version is what we know and perform today, writes analyst Katrina Walczyk. The original instrumentation was quite similar to the traditional ensemble, however, Dvořák decided to add a third horn which allows the trio of horns to be able to play full chords, filling out the texture of the orchestration. The work is divided into four movements: Moderato quasi Marcia, Minuetto, Andante con moto, and Allegro molto.

The first movement, Moderato quasi Marcia, begins in D minor. As with many of his other works, it is easy to tell that this piece was influenced by folk material. This movement primarily features the first oboe as the soloistic voice throughout, as does much of the rest of the piece. For most of this movement, the ‘cello and double bass are in unison octaves with the two bassoon parts.

The second movement of the serenade is labeled as Minuetto. Within its three large sections, however, Dvořák used traditional Czech dance forms as the inspiration. The opening section of the piece is based on the dance called dumky or dumka. This traditional dance form was used by several other Czech composers of that time. Composers such as Leos Janáček and Bedrich Smetana have several instances of these dance forms throughout their own works. The dumka, meaning “thought,” is described as “a piece of Slavic music, originating as a folk ballad or lament, typically melancholy with contrasting lively sections.” To reflect this, the dumka often switches from major to minor keys throughout the opening section.

The contrasting second section of the piece, or the “furiant”, is a fast dance that alternates between a two-beat and three-beat feel. Dvořák highlights this change by having the bass play every other beat when the feel changes to two.

Dvořák’s furiant has an odd phrase structure. It begins with five measures of 3/4, four measures of a 2/4 feel, then switches back to three for two bars before restating the theme with an extension in the 2/4 section. Dvořák uses fragments of this theme throughout the trio.

The third movement, Andante con Moto, features a near-constant motor rhythm in the French horns and ‘cello. Above this, the melody is shared equally between first clarinet and first oboe. Unlike in the first movement, the ‘cello and double bass play a more crucial role, as their parts are not just doubling the woodwinds. This movement is primarily in A major, the dominant key for the work.

The final movement begins with a loud unison line in all of the voices. This movement consists of four major themes. After the fourth theme, there is a twenty-measure transition, which modulates back to D minor and leads into a restatement of the theme from the first movement. The oboe and clarinet take the trilled fragment of the melody and repeat it, modulating chromatically down an octave.

The piece ends with a flourish of fortissimo triplets, beginning in the horns and played by the entire ensemble, before culminating in a fortissimo D major chord played by the full ensemble.

—notes compiled by Susan Scheib