In the orchestral suite Ouvertüre des nations anciens et modernes, Georg Philippe Telemann – an astonishingly prolific and versatile composer – demonstrated the contrasts between contemporary and past styles of music in the ‘German’, ‘Swedish’ and ‘Danish’ idioms. Telemann’s approach to his des nations anciens et modernes illustrates his unique ability to educate and entertain the listener, with music that has a keen awareness of national style and musical history. When writing programme notes about music ancient or modern, I try a similar approach, combining biographical and historical insight with a thorough examination of musical style and structure.
As a performing musician I approach writing about music from a practical as well as an academic perspective; orchestral and chamber music experience means that I can write about repertoire from the ‘inside’. A thorough understanding of the intricacies of the score and the affective qualities of these details are always central in my notes.
In 2017 I am writing notes for many programmes in Chamber Music New Zealand’s Kaleidoscopes 2017 series: Ensemble Paladino, Masaaki Suzuki and Julliard 415, Kathryn Stott and NZSQ, Kuijken Quartet, Takacs Quartet, and Houstoun & Hristova.
It has also been a great pleasure to provide notes for several recent concerts by Opus Orchestra, including Mozart through Russian Eyes, and Legends of Leipzig. In addition, I’m still involved with London Handel Festival and The Bach Players, keeping up connections with organisations in the UK.
Some exciting recent commissions include notes for two programmes for the Faust Quartet‘s tour for Chamber Music New Zealand and their performances with Dimitri Ashkenazy, notes for The Bach Players’ concerts ‘The Seasons’, ‘Laments for Passiontide’, ‘A Musical Offering’ and ‘Stabat Mater’. My notes for the subscription series at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building include performances by Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola) & Maciej Grzybowski (piano), the Belcea String Quartet, Steven Isserlis (cello), Jonathan Powell (piano), Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord), and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet.
Sample Programme Note
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 (1892)
The intermezzo is a genre which preoccupied Brahms and dominated his compositions for piano the early 1890s. As well as the Op.117 Intermezzi, there are four intermezzi in the Op. 116 Fantasien, four intermezzi in the set of six Pieces for Piano Op. 118, and three intermezzi in the four Pieces for Piano Op. 119. Brahms’s late piano music has a very special character; it casts back to the music of Schumann (redolent, for Brahms, of memories of his own youth) and combines this with the melancholy yet uniquely affirmative nature that defines the music which Brahms wrote in his final decade.
The instrumental intermezzo had its origins in the theatre, where it was played as an entr’acte or between scenes. In the nineteenth century, the intermezzo began to be used as a discrete movement in multi-movement instrumental works, where its role was similar – it could be a contemplative or lyrical respite from the great drama of the surrounding movements. The intermezzo was also adapted as an independent genre for piano, often with a contemplative or improvisatory nature, suggesting that it provided a small interlude between the manifold incidents in the drama of daily life. The intermezzo is also a particularly apposite genre for Brahms in the 1890s. The 1880s had been successful for him, but in the early ‘90s he suffered a loss of confidence in his ability as a composer, and although he would later break this promise and compose some stunningly beautiful music, there was a time when he vowed never to compose again. The Op. 117 Intermezzi date from shortly before this unhappy time, but seem to convey Brahms’s liminal state in a year when he mourned the death of his beloved friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg.
The Intermezzo in E-flat major has the character of a lullaby; its inspiration comes from the German version of a Scottish ballad Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament which Herder included in his Volkslieder. To emphasise the soothing character of the lullaby, the melody is often heard as a shrouded inner voice. The mood of the Intermezzo in B-flat minor is quite different. It has a restless and disconsolate quality, as though the goal of its improvisatory wanderings is proving elusive. The Intermezzo in C-sharp minor is the most lyrical of the three, in which the vocal and piano parts of a lied are combined. Its second section moves to A major, and the mood is more expansive and less foreboding. However, with the final section comes a return of the opening material, which is now desolate rather than melancholy. The Op. 117 Intermezzi are an example of Brahms’s consummate ability to express grief and sorrow, without ever subscribing to a histrionic or sentimental expression of these emotions.
Programme note © Corrina Connor, 2014
Additional examples are available on request