HSO Concert: “Celtic Dreaming”, Sunday July 17th 2011
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 –1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was born into a notable ethnically Jewish family, and was recognised early as a musical prodigy although his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his abilities. Mendelssohn was particularly well-received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, and his ten visits there – during which many of his major works were premiered – form an important part of his adult career. He died at the age of 38 in Leipzig after a series of strokes.
Fingal's Cave is on the uninhabited island of Staffa, near Mull in the inner Hebrides of Scotland. It is formed entirely from hexagonally-jointed basalt columns that are part of the same ancient lava flow that formed the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. The cave's Gaelic name means "cave of melody".
In 1829 Felix Mendelssohn visited Fingal’s Cave. In a letter to his family, after a rather stormy two–day cruise among the Inner Hebrides he wrote “In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there.” The musical extract he enclosed was the opening theme of the overture. However, Mendelssohn changed the name, rather confusingly using the title “Hebrides overture” on the orchestral parts, but “Fingal’s Cave” on the full score.
Although called an overture, it is a self contained work. It conjures up a whole seascape including the grandeur of the cave, the swelling of the sea, the light on the water and the fury of the waves breaking on the cliffs.
The overture uses the sonata form of the classical period. The first subject, played at the opening by the lower strings and bassoons, is a lyrical theme evoking the stunning beauty of the cave. It is developed and extended in various ways suggesting the beauty of the natural surroundings. The second subject, in the relative major key, is longer and more lyrical and evokes the rolling movement of the waves. It builds to a tremendous climax where a closing theme, very strongly related to the first subject explodes with excitement.
Haydn Wood was born in 1882 into a large musical family in Yorkshire. His father was a brilliant amateur who conducted the local brass band. In 1885 the family moved to the Isle of Man, an island which was a source of inspiration for the composer. He entered the Royal College of Music in London at the age of 15 where he excelled in violin, piano and composition and he was soon known as a prodigy. He became a multi-talented professional, as a well-known violinist, a successful composer of light and classical music, and a conductor of his own works.
His “Manx Rhapsody” was written in 1931.
Irish Tune from County Derry:
George Percy Grainger (1882 –1961) was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist. In the course of a long and innovative career he played a prominent role in the revival of interest in British folk music in the early years of the 20th century. He also made many adaptations of other composers' works. “Irish Tune from County Derry” is known to many as "Danny Boy."
This beautiful setting of the ancient Irish air was written in 1909. Grainger dedicated it to the memory of the great Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg who was a close friend.
Eire, Suite for Orchestra:
Anthony Collins was born in Sussex, UK, in 1893. Beginning in 1920 he studied violin with Achille Rivarde and composition with Gustav Holst at the Royal College of Music. In 1926, he began his musical career performing as principal viola in the London Symphony Orchestra. For ten years he performed in that orchestra and also in the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra. For the rest of his career he divided his time between conducting and composition, beginning with opera and moving to orchestra. He died at the age of 70 in 1963.
In 1938 he composed “Eire, Suite for Orchestra” founded upon three Irish Songs: “Battle March”, “To The Mourne Mountains” and “Fluter’s Hooley”.
Lord of the Dance:
Sydney Carter (1916 – 2004) was born in Camden Town, London. He wrote “Lord Of The Dance” in 1963, as an adaptation of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts, which features in Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring. He said that he saw Christ as "the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ, I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other lords of the dance”.
Ronan Hardiman (born 1962, Dublin, Ireland) is an Irish composer, famous for his soundtracks to Michael Flatley's dance shows Lord of the Dance.