Chamber Soiree – 3 May, 10pm
Differing Paths of the 20th Century – 12 May, 10pm
For lovers of Danish music, May promises to be a particularly enjoyable month on Fine Music, courtesy of programmer Phil Vendy. Starting with Chamber Soiree, they’ll have the opportunity to hear bass viol sonata by Buxtehude, a trio by Kuhlau, a string quartet by Rued Langgaard, a wind quintet by Nielsen, and the magnificent octet of Niels Gade. Not content with this vertiginous multiplication of ensembles, Phil has included a work for guitar by the contemporary composer, Poul Ruders.
Then in Differing Paths of the 20th Century, Nielsen and Langgaard appear again, with Nielsen’s Violin Concerto and another string quartet by Langgaard.
The names of Carl Nielsen, considered by some the greatest symphonists of the 20th century, and of Niels Gade, Grand Old Man of the Danish Romantic, are fairly well known. Each rose from modest (in Nielsen’s case, thoroughly bucolic) beginnings and achieved acclaim in his own time, and both their reputations have endured.
Less well known is Rued Langgaard, (1893– 1952) whose string quartets have caught Phil Vendy’s ear in these programs. Yet Langgaard made a salutary contribution to Danish music. Sadly, his contemporaries failed to appreciate his genius, and he was doomed to spend his life not quite obtaining the posts to which his musicianship should have entitled him. Where Nielsen was born to a peasant family on the rural island of Funen and felt himself a lifelong outsider to metropolitan Denmark, Langgaard began his life in Copenhagen in a comfortable bourgeois family.
The story of his best-known work is perhaps a metaphor for his career. He wrote Music of the Spheres in 1916. Scored for orchestra, choir, organ, a “distant” orchestra, and a soprano soloist, it is a complex work that contains radical departures, such as the manual plucking of piano strings. But its most daring stroke is to use two orchestras – one “present” and one “distant”. For most orchestral composers and performers, the physical depth of the orchestra, and the ensemble problems it creates, are besetting problems for performers of large works. Music of the Spheres embraced and extended this distance, adding a dimension, literally, to music. Denmark was unimpressed. The work was performed only twice, in Germany.
Yet when, a dozen years after his death, and half a century after its composition, it was rediscovered, it was hailed as admirably modern, and possessing the pathfinding style with which Langgaaard’s fellow Danes were finally, and belatedly, prepared to credit him.
Live and Local
26 May, 8pm
Although apparently the first, Langgaard was far from the last composer to name a work Music of the Spheres. The philosophical concept of Musica Universalis – literally, the
music of the universe – embodies the belief that the proportional relationships between the motions of the planets were fixed and inherently harmonic.
Although Musica Universalis long predated modern science, the Newtonian revolution, which challenged so much existing belief, appeared to reinforce the idea of a harmonic universe, and modern cosmology has not diminished its appeal. Live and Local on 26 May features Music of the Spheres, a concert by Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellows at Casula Powerhouse on 19 July last year. It showcases the winds, and includes two works by the American composer and winds specialist Eric Ewazen.
The program culminates in the meaty Beethoven Septet, written on the cusp of the 19th century, and of Beethoven’s “middle”, or “heroic” period. It was a time when large private ensembles along Esterhazy lines were being replaced at fashionable entertainments by compact harmoniemusik bands which often made use of the ability of wind players to stand up and perambulate. Beethoven had used the winds as something of a training ground to prepare himself for his assault on the symphony. The Septet is something of an assay piece to mark the completion of this self-directed apprenticeship.
Patrick Thomas Presents
27th May, 1pm
Peter Sculthorpe died in August 2014, and his loss to Australian music is a profound
one. Patrick Thomas has the authority to speak to the contribution he made. With
the assistance of pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, he presents piano works that
include Sculthorpe’s salute to the Rose Bay Quadrilles – the first published music to be
composed in Australia – and the ever-popular Left Bank Waltz.
– Tom Forrester-Paton