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OSJ Proms at the Ashmolean Wednesday 6th June at 7.30 PM Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Vaughan Williams: Five Shakespeare Songs Elgar: The Showers Tippett: Negro Spirituals from A Child of our Time Holst: Evening Watch Stanford: The Bluebird Walton: Faรงade Oremi and Magwani M'pulele: Two African folk songs


Vaughan Williams: Five Shakespeare Songs The choral music of Ralph Vaughan Williams stands as some of the most-performed, studied, and revered of the twentieth century. Even in his lifetime he was regarded as the most prominent English composer of his generation, a high achievement among such esteemed contemporaries as Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, and Edward Elgar. As a composer he contributed greatly to our current knowledge of English folk songs, of which he was an avid collector, as well ashymns. As a teacher he influenced the lives of many young composers throughout his fifty-year tenure at the Royal College of Music, including Benjamin Britten. His music has been described as being characteristically “English;” according to contemporary music critic John Maitland, when listening to Vaughan Williams, “one is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new.” Three Shakespeare Songs were composed at the insistence of Vaughan Williams’s associate, Cecil Armostrong Gibbs, who implored the composer to submit an offering for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Vaughan Williams was reluctant at first but eventually met the request with a manuscript of the pieces, seemingly scribbled off, and a note that said “Dear Armstrong. Here are three Shakespeare settings. Do what you like with them... Yours ever R.V.W.” The works have since become some of Vaughan Williams’s most endearing choral pieces. Elgar: The Showers Elgar’s evocative setting of Henry Vaughan’s poem The Shower comes from a set of two choral songs composed in 1914, shortly after Elgar had moved to Hampstead in London following his


appointment as conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. In their spare time the Elgars had began to explore the areas to the north of Hampstead, and to several of Edward’s part songs he gave subtitles recording the areas he had visited; The Shower is subtitled At Mill Hill. The song is dedicated to Miss Frances Smart, a former neighbour of the Elgars in Malvern. Cloud, if as thou dost melt, and with thy train Of drops make soft the Earth, my eyes could weep O'er my hard heart, that's bound up and asleep; Perhaps at last, Some such showers past, My God would give a sunshine after rain. Tippett: Negro Spirituals from A Child of our Time Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time was inspired by the assassination in Paris in 1938 of a German diplomat by a young Polish Jew (leading to the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938), and was first performed in 1944. Tippett used the Five Negro Spirituals in the oratorio as Bach used the chorales in his settings of the Passions, and his publishers persuaded him to arrange them for unaccompanied chorus. He did so in 1958 with some reluctance, but later wrote that in this setting 'they became, as it were, the huge voice of a crowd of folk singing together.' He heard this for himself at a performance in Georgia, the home of the Negro spiritual in the Deep South, when the whole audience joined in together in singing them.


Holst: Evening Watch Gustav Holst's composition, Evening-Watch is an interesting example of his later choral work. This short piece for solo tenor and alto with accompanying choir is a setting of "A Dialogue" from Henry Vaughan's Silex Scintillans of 1650. Written in 1924 as a conversation between the Body and the Soul during the shift from wakefulness to sleep, this work has a rather surreal quality. First performed at the Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral in 1925, Holst originally intended that Evening-Watch be the first of two motets but the austere harmonies of this piece were not well received by English audiences and the second motet was never written. Stanford: The Bluebird This quiet, a cappella part song, the third in a set of eight (published in 1910) by Stanford with words by the nineteenth century poetess Mary Coleridge, (whose father was the founder of the London Bach Choir in 1875) is a wonderful expression of the tranquillity and beauty of the scene, as described in the words. Stanford distances the sopranos in this piece, treating them as a solo line accompanied by the lower parts. The shape of the melody represents the flight of the bird, and the haunting repeated use of the word “blue� illustrates the timelessness of the moment, and the blue suspended sky. The lake lay blue below the hill, O'er it as I looked, there flew Across the waters, cold and still, A bird whose wings were palest blue. The sky above was blue at last,


The sky beneath me blue in blue A moment, ere the bird had passed, It caught its image as it flew. Walton: Faรงade The original version of Faรงade, an Entertainment was performed for the first time privately, in January 1923, by a chamber ensemble of six players accompanying Edith Sitwell as she read a series of her poems. The first public performance was six months later, when its 'modernism' and jazz rhythms, and the inconsequential words of the text, caused it to be denounced as cacophonous. In 1931 Walton orchestrated eleven numbers from the original twenty-one for Frederick Ashton's ballet Faรงade, first produced for the Camargo Society and revived later by the Ballet Rambert, the Vic-Wells Ballet and the Royal Ballet. The two orchestral suites soon entered the concert repertoire and have lost none of the satirical bite the music had in the dance theatre. Walton's scintillating score wittily exploits the pop idiom of the 1920s: it was composed at a time when popular dance music was beneath serious notice and 'hot jazz' was thought ugly and vaguely improper. There are numerous targets for Walton's ingenuity as a parodist. The so-called Scotch Rhapsody that follows the opening fanfare, and could hardly be less rhapsodic, is a take-off of the Scotch 'snap' (and ends with a music-hall salute); and the Swiss yodelling song resonates lazily with absurd yodelling calls in irrelevant keys, among which can be heard a distant echo of Rossini's William Tell. Faรงade is that previous rarity, a musical joke that is genuinely funny. Further details of all our forthcoming events can be found at: ww.osj.org.uk

OSJ Proms at The Ashmolean 6 June 2012  

The Orchestra of St John's and the OSJ Ashmolean Voices perform as part of the OSJ Proms at The Ashmolean 2012 season.