Autumn Concert 2023 Programme and Programme Notes
Carnival of the Animals
Camille Saint-Saëns, 1835-1921
The Carnival of the Animals is a humorous musical suite, comprised of fourteen short movements, written in 1886. Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) composed it in secret, for a bit of light relief, after returning from a difficult concert tour and needing a break from his work on his 3rd Symphony (Organ Symphony).
A darling of the French establishment, Saint-Saëns was considered at the time to be a conservative composer of serious music. In the interests of protecting his reputation, he banned Carnival of the Animals from being performed in public until after he had died.
Therefore, it was published in 1922, a year after his death, and received its public world premiere on 25 February that year.
Carnival is full of musical jokes. The braying donkeys in the Personnages with Long Ears might have represented the music critics of the time, at whom Saint-Saëns wanted to poke fun: he neither confirmed nor denied this. The Tortoises is an incongruously slow rendition of Offenbach’s Can-can. In a moment of self-deprecation, The Fossils opens with a bone-rattling melody that quotes his own work, Danse Macabre, as well as later poking fun at French nursery rhymes and at Rossini, with a musical quote from the Barber of Seville.
We have not included The Pianists in our selection, for fear of upsetting any pianists present who might be offended by Saint-Saens’ inclusion of them in his menagerie of wild creatures. However, we have included The Swan, the famous cello solo: listen out for our creative solution to that one!
A Symphony of Fables
Julie Giroux, 1961
Commissioned by the United States Air Force Band of Flight and their conductor Alan Sierichs in 2006, Julie Giroux’s A Symphony of Fables is the second of her six symphonies, all of which have some kind of programme as their basis. The five movements in this symphony were all composed in response to an animal-based fable, with the music loosely corresponding to each fable’s storyline. While A Symphony of Fables does not follow the traditional symphonic four-movement format, it is still very much grounded in this tradition, opening with a rousing brass fanfare and closing with a wonderfully chaotic rondo.
When discussing the musical style of the symphony, Giroux has written that she was inspired by the hugely evocative use of music in Disney’s Fantasia but that she “did not want this work to come off as ‘cartoon’ music, but as "an emotionally serious and highly programmatic work.” It is worth noting, though, that although the programme certainly adds to the overall conception of this work, the music is not entirely indebted to it: each movement is not just a static vignette. Instead, Giroux gives them a real sense of development and contrast, often with the various themes in the symphony returning later on in transformed and altered forms. Much of the sense of forward motion and progression in A Symphony of Fables is derived from Giroux’s short and highly rhythmic musical ideas, which are passed around the ensemble to create an ever-changing array of textures and timbral combinations.
While it is these techniques that underpin Giroux’s musical language, in her own terms, this piece is very much not art for art’s sake but is instead intended “to make the audience and performers alike, regardless of age or circumstance experience the wonders of a childhood story heard for the very first time through the magic of music.”
The Seal Lullaby
Eric Whitacre, 1970
In 2004 Eric Whitacre was invited by a major film studio to write music for an animated feature film based on Rudyard Kipling's story The White Seal. The composer relates the events that followed, in his own programme note:
"The White Seal is a beautiful story, classic Kipling, dark and rich and not at all condescending to kids. Best of all, Kipling begins his tale with the mother seal singing softly to her young pup. (The opening poem is called The Seal Lullaby).
I was struck so deeply by those first beautiful words, and a simple, sweet Disney-esque song just came gushing out of me. I wrote it down as quickly as I could, had my wife record it while I accompanied her at the piano, and then dropped it off at the film studio.
I didn’t hear anything from them for weeks and weeks, and I began to despair. Did they hate it? Was it too melodically complex? Did they even listen to it? Finally, I called them, begging to know the reason that they had rejected my tender little song. “Oh,” said the exec, “we decided to make Kung Fu Panda instead.”
So I didn’t do anything with it, just sang it to my baby son every night to get him to go to sleep. (Success rate: less than 50%.) "
Luckily, a few years later a choir commissioned an arrangement of the lullaby and it took on a new life. It is now extremely popular and available in a number of instrumental arrangements. Here is the poem which inspired the music:
Oh! Hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us,
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
Oh weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas!
Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936
The Old Grumbly Bear
Julius Fučik, 1872-1916
Fučik composed Der Alte Brummbaer or the Old Grumbly Bear (Opus 210) in 1910. This humorous novelty solo piece is a ‘polka comique’ and was originally scored for bassoon and symphony orchestra. Fučik studied with Dvorak at the Prague Conservatory, where he took lessons in violin and bassoon. He went on to play bassoon at the German Theatre in Prague before being appointed in 1897 as the bandmaster of the 86th Austro-Hungarian Regiment. It was here that Fučik began writing pieces for wind band. In 1910 Fučik became bandmaster of the 92nd Regiment stationed at Theresienstadt. Fučik retired from the military in 1913 and died in Berlin in 1916. It has been suggested that this piece might be a form of musical portrait, either of the composer or a ‘grumbling’ older bassoonist Fučik may have met during his performance career. Today the piece is most often performed by a low-voiced instrument, such as bassoon, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, euphonium, or tuba, with band accompaniment.
The Year of the Dragon
Philip Sparke, 1951
Composed for a concert in St David’s Hall, Cardiff in 1984, The Year of the Dragon was originally written for brass band and the following year arranged for wind orchestra. Philip Sparke wrote it for the centenary of the Cory Band (said by some to be the best brass band in the world), with Welsh Arts Council funding. Sparke said, “At the time I wrote The Year of the Dragon, Cory had won two successive National Finals and I set out to write a virtuoso piece to display the talents of this remarkable band to the full.” At the time, Sparke was a fairly new composer to the brass band world, and his fresh approach saw him writing concert pieces that were enjoyable to play as well as to listen to.
For this concert, Lambeth Wind Orchestra is playing ‘Toccata’, the first of the piece’s three movements, which Sparke suggests is played “with malice”! It begins with a side-drum solo followed by a low, ominous motif, leading to a broad and powerful theme which asserts itself from the middle of the band. A central dance-like section soon gives way to the return of this theme, subsiding until faint echoes of the opening material fade to a close.
The Lion King
Elton John, 1947
Hans Zimmer, 1957
The Lion King needs little introduction. Released in 1994 by Disney as an animated musical film, it quickly transferred to Broadway in 1997 and has remained a favourite ever since. The lyricist, Tim Rice, was engaged by Disney and he proposed working with Elton John. Together they wrote 5 original songs, described as ‘ultra-pop’, with an appeal to children and adults alike. These form the basis of the medley we are performing: ‘Circle of Life’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’, ‘Be Prepared’, ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’. The score for the film, however, was composed by Hans Zimmer and he wrote ‘King of Pride Rock’, which completes our medley.
How To Train Your Dragon
John Powell, 1963
The film How To Train Your Dragon was produced in 2010 by Dreamworks Animation and is loosely based on a book by Cressida Cowell. The music is attributable to John Powell, who had earlier co-produced hugely successful scores for Shrek, Chicken Run and Kung Fu Panda. Powell exploits Scottish and Irish music, to create a sense of place, and adds frequent heavy percussion and bombastic brass for maximum drama and excitement. The score was lauded by critics and earned Powell his first Academy Award nomination.
Elephant Act from 'A Circus Suite'
Stuart Johnson, 1936
Stuart Johnson’s ‘A Circus Suite’ conveys all the excitement of the Big Top in four short movements. We are presenting just the second movement, which offers the tuba chance to shine, as it portrays a reasonably acrobatic elephant……