Charles Stanford (1852-1924)
Irish Rhapsody No. 1
To say that Sir Stanford was a proud and devoted Irishman would be an understatement. From 1876 to 1900 he published approximately 250 arrangements of Irish melodies for solo voice and piano, including some of the best-known Irish works. Renowned for his choral works in the Anglican tradition, he was also a prolific opera and instrumental composer. He became professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in London in 1883 and professor of music at Cambridge in 1887. Among his most famous pupils were Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Stanford’s first Irish Rhapsody enshrines Ireland’s best-loved melody Danny Boy. It was no mistake that he chose to open the first of six rhapsodies with this stirring melody. In fact, he caps his last piece with a thoughtful rendering of what it means to be Irish, similar to how he opens his first with Danny Boy. He was very careful to use traditional Irish melodies, unlike his counterpart Bedrich Smetana’s six symphonic poems that carried the ideal of nationalistic music through the use of original melodies to depict aspects of his Bohemian homeland’s history and legends. Smetana’s work is sometimes compared to Stanford’s rhapsody.
Although his music is not common in orchestral catalogs, Stanford truly was a prolific composer. He composed masters-level technical command in how to shape the sound of the orchestra through his compositions. In our opinion, Stanford’s charming works deserve more recognition.
CPE Bach (1714-1788)
Flute Concerto n D minor
The three sons of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach were all accomplished musicians, composers and some would say geniuses. However Carl Phillip Emmanuel (CPE) is the most accomplished and well-regarded. As a composer, CPE was very involved in the transition from Baroque to the newer classical style. He is noted for his compositional style of empfindsamer Sill (or sensitive style) full of long melodic lines and sometimes turbulent converging lines. CPE was sometimes referred to as “Berlin Bach” during his time in the city as his half-brother Johann Christian, from his father’s second marriage, was known as “London Bach,” due to his position as music master to Queen Charlotte of England.
His flute concerto was originally written for Princess Anna-Amalie of Prussia and sisters Zippora Wulff and Sara Levy. Bach was in the princess’s favor while in Berlin. His flute concertos are rumored to have begun as harpsichord concertos but were transcribed most likely by flautist Johann Quantz. Quantz is well known for his decorative and virtuosic playing with a well-defined solo flute part. These concertos have many of CPE’s hallmarks including the furious drive and shock constrasts in the finale of his D minor concerto. This hallmark is best known as Sturm und Drang (storm and passion) movement.
This concerto presents a lively contrast between tempos and emotions. The piece puts all flutists to the test with rather quick tempos and very involved passages as the flutist explores the ranges of their instrument. This concerto is deeply felt and full of passionate expressions of music. Above all, it expands the role of the soloist beyond that of equal to orchestra yet in a single voice, to feature with the orchestra filling in the gaps of the harmony and tempo.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 1 “Spring”
Composed in 1841
The last name Schumann and the piano are forever intertwined. Robert and Clara Schumann’s piano works are undoubtedly their most popular and frequently played. In 1840, Robert had the itch to try his hand at composing a symphony but it wasn’t until the urging of his wife in 1841 that he dedicated his time to composition. She has been noted for saying, “it would be best if he composed for orchestra; his imagination cannot find sufficient scope on the piano… His compositions are all orchestral in feeling…My highest wish is that he should compose for orchestra…May I succeed in bringing him to it!”
Once motivated, Schumann mapped out his symphony in only four days and completed the orchestration (filling out the voices of the orchestra) in roughly one month. The title is attributed to Adolf Böttger’s poem Frühlingsgedicht citing the famous line “Spring blooms forth!” When speaking with composer colleague Louis Spohr, Schumann said: “I wrote the symphony in that rush of spring which carries a man away even in his old age and comes over him anew every year.”
Schumann opens his symphony with a trumpet call, heralding the arrival of Spring and the joyful end to the winter doldrums. The symphony is spirited without pause from the second into a third movement containing lovely melodic lines. He is credited with significantly expanding the use of timpani with this symphony, which adds to the richness of the many harmonies.
He was the first to incorporate the big sound of three kettle drums, ultimately becoming the traditional four or five of today. This elevated the tuned drums above the traditional “boom-boom” role they played at the end of many pre-romantic compositions.