Friday, January 31, 2014

Montage #141 – Theme and Variations: The Orchestra Edition

As of February 28, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:

https://archive.org/details/pcast141



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Finally, we have come to the fifth and final installment of our look at Themes and Variations. This week’s common thread between the works is that they are all intended for full orchestra, and two of the works are very familiar compositions by British composers.

Benjamin Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell is also commonly known as “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, and is often performed with a narrator introducing the different variations which, in turn, showcase sections of the orchestra. One could rightly say that this work is a “concerto for orchestra:. The version I chose today simply showcases the orchestra without the benefit (or distraction) of a narrator. The foillowing is a link to an animated narrated version:


The second British piece is the equally famous set of variations composed by Sir Edward Elgar, whose unique subtitles and supposedly mysterious theme comspire to its moniker “Enigma” variations.  My detailed playlist skips the long list of subtitles – you are invited to visit this page for the entire list, as well as some of the “inside joke” explanations. Is the theme really an enigma? Though never revealed fully, I subscribe to the theory tha the theme is derived from Thomas Arne’s Rule Brittania.

The montage proposes two more sets of variations. Schönberg’s 1943 Theme and Variations, Op. 43a is presented here in a version for full orchestra, but was originally composed for wind band. This work is one he composed after fleeing Nazism for the warm climate of Southern California.

Another composer with an American period to his output is Antonin Dvořák. From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, and he encouraged his stuidents to find inspiration in traditional folk music – something he had made a point of throughoput his composing career. Fifteen years before coming to America, during four days in the middle of January 1877, Antonín Dvorák composed the three part-songs for male voices (now known as B. 66), the first two of which are settings of Moravian folk poems. While the third song of B. 66, "Huslaf" (The Fiddler), cannot boast a folk origin, it can claim a much greater distinction than either of its two sister-pieces: seven months after its composition, Dvorák used its music as the theme for his Symphonic Variations for orchestra, Op. 78.


I think you will love this music too.


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