Spring Concert 2023 Programme and Programme Notes
The Music for the Royal Fireworks
George Friedrich Handel, 1685-1759
This Suite was written by Handel in 1749 to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, hence movements entitled ‘La Paix’ (the peace) and ‘La Réjouissance’ (the rejoicing). Much to Handel’s disgust, but to our advantage, George II expressed a preference for wind instruments only and requested that there be ‘no fiddles’. Those who have been followers of LWO for some time may remember us performing this in Vauxhall Gardens in 2014. This was in fact where the music was originally played for the first time - ‘in rehearsal’ but nevertheless to paying members of the public. The event (the original performance, not LWO’s) was so popular that by all accounts it caused a three hour traffic jam of carriages on London Bridge, as some 12,000 people flocked to this ‘rehearsal’. The following week, the official celebratory performance, with fireworks, took place in Green Park. The weather was rainy and many of the fireworks misfired, setting fire to one of the pavilions and injuring several people. Happily, LWO’s performance went off safely although the fireworks were alarmingly close and sometimes drowned out the sound of our playing!
The original scoring was for 24 oboes (imagine that!), 12 bassoons, 9 trumpets, and 9 horns. A month later, Handel rescored the music for full orchestra for a performance at the new Foundling Hospital in London, in order to raise funds for it. This was just the first of his fund-raising concerts there and it contributed towards the completion of the Foundling Hospital Chapel. Some of you may know that LWO’s Jane King (one of our clarinettist) is a patron of the Foundling Museum and gives talks there.
Concerto for Four Saxophones
Stephen McNeff, 1951
Born in 1951, Stephen has composed extensively for wind orchestras, though is perhaps best known for his operas and songs. He has featured recently in a concert on BBC Radio 3, where his songs were performed by the BBC Singers to great acclaim. Stephen studied at the Royal Academy of Music, has been Composer in Residence with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and is currently on the composition staff of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Stephen has been the patron of Lambeth Wind Orchestra for many years and we have performed a number of his works including The Winged Lion, Image in Stone, Ghosts, Moving Parts, his Clarinet Concerto, and his Flute Concerto. This new Concerto for Saxophone Quartet was commissioned by John Holland, while he was still conductor of LWO.
Dame Ethel Smyth, 1858-1944
Ethel Smyth was born into a military family, one of eight children. She underwent quite a battle with her father to be allowed to pursue a career in music, but eventually attended Leipzig Conservatoire, where she studied under Carl Reinecke. Key influences were Wagner and Richard Strauss. She wrote songs, chamber music, choral and orchestral music and a number of operas, ‘The Wreckers’ being the most famous. It was first performed in Leipzig in 1906 and eventually, having been championed by Sir Thomas Beecham, was staged in England in 1909. It has been described as the most important British opera composed during the period between Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten.
The story for ‘The Wreckers’ was inspired by a walking tour of Cornwall in 1886, when Smyth became fascinated by stories of ships lured onto the rocks by false or extinguished coast lights, the subsequent murder of their crews and the plundering of the ships… The opera is set in a Cornish village at the end of the eighteenth century. For some time, no ships have foundered on the rocks and the villagers are so poor, they need the bounty from shipwrecks in order to survive; they are encouraged in this by their preacher. Beacons have been seen burning on the cliffs to warn ships of danger, and the villagers conclude there is a traitor in their midst. Mark, a young fisherman, has been courting Avis, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, but is now in love with Thirza, the wife of the local preacher. He serenades Thirza while the villagers are at chapel (Psalms can be heard offstage) and Avis overhears this and flies into a jealous rage.
In the second act, Thirza finds Mark on the shore collecting wood to light a beacon. They are both horrified by the murderous practices of the village and after declaring their mutual love, they decide to run away together. They seize a torch and ignite the bonfire. The preacher arrives in time to see his wife running away with Mark and collapses in distress. However, when the villagers find the preacher near the bonfire, they believe he must be the traitor lighting the beacons and they seize him. In the final act, the villagers are calling for the preacher’s death, but Mark returns and confesses his guilt; Thirza, too, steps forward and acknowledges her part. Avis attempts to save Mark, but to no avail. As punishment, the lovers are chained in a cave as the tide comes in and they are left to drown. The preacher begs his wife to repent, but she prefers to die with Mark.
The opera was a reasonable success, but performances have been very occasional. Smyth’s music was both praised and criticised as being ‘too masculine’ for a female composer. In 1910 she joined the suffragist movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, and was at one point arrested and imprisoned for two months in Holloway Prison. In 1913 she began to lose her hearing, and thereafter composed very little. In 1922 she was made a Dame, the first female composer to be so honoured. Recognition came late in England, however; in 1934 her work was celebrated in a festival by Sir Thomas Beecham, but by then she was 75 years old and completely deaf and could not hear her music or the applause.
English Folk Song Suite
Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1951
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) is well known for travelling around England collecting traditional songs and working them into his compositions. His Folk Song Suite, premiered in 1923, was originally composed for military band, although, proving to be popular, it was later arranged for full orchestra. The Suite consists of two Marches, with an Intermezzo in between. The first March contains three folk songs: 'Seventeen Come Sunday', 'Pretty Caroline' (here featuring solo clarinet) and 'Dives and Lazarus'. The Intermezzo then slows the tempo down for the lovely folk song 'My Bonny Boy', with the livelier 'Green Bushes' making an appearance in the middle. The third movement, also a March, is entitled 'Folk Songs from Somerset' and contains a further four songs. So, 9 folk tunes in total. See if you can count them!
The Devil's Galop
Charles Williams, 1893-1978
Charles Williams composed the rather brilliant Devil’s Galop. For those of you wondering, Galop in the title has only one ‘L’ because it refers to the ballroom dance, not to the action of a horse! The music was the signature tune for the BBC’s radio thriller series ‘Dick Barton - Special Agent’, which was broadcast from 1946 to 1951. It has since been featured in ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Danger Mouse’, and most recently, ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’, which is a testament to the enduring popularity of the tune.
Charles Williams was a prolific composer of popular music. Born in 1893 in East London to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland, his real name was Isaac Cozerbreit. He changed his name to Charles Williams for professional reasons, as his father had done before him, and, after attending the Royal Academy of Music, he began his career as a violinist, playing in an octet, in the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and also, importantly, in cinema orchestras for silent films. Moving then into conducting cinema orchestras, he soon collaborated on writing the music for one of the first British sound films, Blackmail, by Alfred Hitchcock. Although he went on to spend some 20 years writing music for over 100 different films, composers of film music were not publicly credited and celebrated in that era as they are now. Consequently he did not achieve the recognition we might expect. However, in 1942, Williams took over the New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, writing and recording a stream of patriotic tunes for radio broadcast. They achieved great popularity and his compositions went on to be used for, amongst others, the BBC Television Newsreel, Friday Night is Music Night and the BBC ‘Farming’ programme.
Sadly, by the time Williams died in 1978, British Light Music was no longer in fashion and he was largely forgotten
Summer Days Suite
Eric Coates, 1886-1957
Eric Coates was born in Nottinghamshire in 1886 and studied viola and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He was principal viola in Henry Wood’s orchestra until he retired in 1919 to become a full-time composer. He wrote many suites and fantasies for orchestra as well as concert marches and waltzes, and songs. Coates is often called the King of British Light Music, a type of music which, although less well-known than it was a hundred years ago, is still part of popular culture. Everybody knows the signature tunes of 'Desert Island Discs' and the film 'The Dam Busters', both of which are by Coates.
In our Spring Concert we are performing his Knightsbridge March, the last movement of the London Suite and also an arrangement by Roger Cawkwell of his earlier 'Summer Days Suite' of 1919. The three movements of this are 'In a Country Lane', 'On the Edge of
the Lake' and 'At the Dance'.
Fantasia on British Sea Songs
Henry Wood, 1869-1944
Henry Wood (1869-1944) is best known for conducting the Promenade Concerts which were named in his honour. At these concerts he occasionally conducted his own compositions, the most famous of these being his 'Fantasia on British Sea Songs' in 1905, which celebrated the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Its mixture of popular tunes was such a success that he went on to conduct it at the Proms more than 40 times and to this day it is still a feature of 'The Last Night of the Proms'.
We are performing two of the most well-known sections, the 'Hornpipe' and 'See, the Conquering Hero Comes'. Of the Hornpipe, Wood said:
'They stamp their feet in time to the hornpipe – that is until I whip up the orchestra to a fierce accelerando which leaves behind all those whose stamping technique is not of the very finest quality. I like to win by two bars, if possible; but sometimes have to be content with a bar and a half. It is good fun, and I enjoy it as much as they.'