Churchill Music

Promoting musical excellence in Somerset since 2007

Music for Lockdown 16

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness”.  Maya Angelou, American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer and poet, best known for her fabulous 1969 memoir, “I know why the caged Bird Sings”.  Thoroughly recommended – a brilliant portrayal of courage and determination in the face of adversity.

A gentle explore of the ‘concerto ’.  We all know and love them, but how did they evolve? When?  What about concerto grossos?  Where do they fit in.  Why?   Editor of BBC Music Magazine and member of Bristol’s Exulate singers, Oliver Condy gives a brief (3.5 min) talk  on the ‘Concerto’ – in particular, the violin concerto.  Highly recommended.
Follow this with Jonathan James’, fascinating talk on how Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was trying to break through to a radical new language with his ‘Four Seasons’ Violin Concertos to make them more theatrical.  Jonathan’s video (just 3 minutes) is packed full of interesting snippets.   Jonathan is described as having a “Unique gift to bring a piece of music to life through speaking…He has the ability to inspire the casual listener as well as to engage and surprise those who think they know the music well”. Well worth a listen.  

Following on from Jonathan’s talk there is nothing more vibrant than  Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ Concerto ‘Presto’ in G minor from his Four Seasons violin concerti performed by Anne- Sophie Mutter to get the day off to a flying start.  Written around 1716-1717 Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying sonnets which could have been written by Vivaldi himself.  They certainly elucidate well the spirit of each season that his music was intended to evoke.  The sonnet for Summer which adds another dimension to listening is as follows:
Allegro non molto – brisk but not fast pace
Under a hard Season, fired up by the Sun,
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine
We hear the cuckoo’s voice;
then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard
Soft breezes stir the air, but threatening 
the North Wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles,
fearing violent storms and his fate.

Adagio e piano – slowly and gently
The fear of lightning and fierce thunder
Robs his tired limbs of rest
as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Presto – very quickly
Alas, his fears were justified
The Heavens thunders and roar with hail
Cuts the head off the wheat and damages the grain

You may have missed a fascinating programme on BBC featuring Elgar’s ‘cello concerto.  (Use the link to listen to this fascinating discussion on BBC Sounds.  You may find you have to set up a BBC account – very simple it just means you need a password).  We have mentioned Sheku Kanneh-Mason before now – his concert with Isata in Wrington Church was on another stratosphere altogether.  In this BBC programme Sheku talks about Elgar’s ‘cello concerto along with Julian Lloyd-Webber and the the musical director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. Spare yourselves just 1/2 hour of sheer indulgence – it is a ‘Must’  You can also see Sheku and Isata talking about their music filmed in our kitchen by Will and Ian Maitland Round. It is also on the ‘Home’ page of this CM website

I am always uplifted by hearing of the positivity and creativity particularly of our young people during this difficult time.  We have missed our concerts in St. John’s Church but in this next video, kindly sent to me by Paul Harrison (performing Arts, Churchill Academy) not only can we hear a beautiful motet performed by Churchill Academy Chamber Choir in lockdown but we also get reminded of the simplicity and etherial atmosphere that concerts in St. John’s give us.   Paul writes, If Ye Love Me” by English composer, Thomas Tallis 1505 – 1585 (considered to be one of England’s greatest composers) is a beautiful motet setting from John 14: 15-17 where Jesus has been foretelling His death but promises the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  The text is taken from the William Tyndale translation which was so important in the time of the English Reformation.  The use of English words is a significant reformation requirement as is the compositional style – “To each syllable a plain and distinct note”.  This latter instruction is a strong reaction to the ever more complex and embellished compositions in Latin which had, for some, turned sacred music into performance rather than worship and become inaccessible for the majority of worshippers.  Tallis uses a simple homophonic style for 4 a cappella voices.  However you will note that there are points of embellishment which draw the worshipper to key words enhancing rather than distracting and making this piece poignant and really quite powerful.  This recording (learnt in lockdown and the first “performance” ever by Churchill Academy Chamber Choir) captures these qualities and left one very proud Director feeling quite speechless at the ability of the choir to follow his “virtual” conducting.  The superb recording and video quality is due to the talented Jeff Spencer with his choice of St John the Baptist, Churchill highly appropriate.”  A beautiful and reflective workto end the day.

AND FINALLY following the parrot singing Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria last week, Soprano and singing teacher, Margaret Thomas kindly reminded me of Florence Foster Jenkins 1868 -1944 singing Mozart’s Queen of the Night.  I cannot resist including it today.  Florence is described as a ‘wealthy American socialite and amateur soprano’.  She started life as a pianist, but following an accident to her arm, she took to singing and would perform in flamboyant robes designed by herself, to private audiences.  She had a huge following of well-known singer/entertainers who would not miss a performance.  In Stephen Pile’s ‘Book of heroic failures’, he wittily writes of Florence Foster Jenkins, “No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation”!!  You may have seen the brilliant film staring Meryl Streep about this remarkably lady who clearly thought that she could sing.   Happily some commentators claim that Florence knew that she could not sing and it was part of the entertainment.  Others begged to differ.

With every possible good wish to keep safe, happy and healthy,

Jan