I’ve been down in New York City the past few days. As marathoners on Fifth Avenue faced frigid winds, the maidens in the Central Park Conservatory Garden danced blithely amid chrysanthemums in bloom.
When not at concerts, viewing art, in the parks, or visiting friends, I continued involvement in rousing discussions at ModPo about, among other things, the various properties and functions of words. Meanwhile, all of us participating in the Great Composers Appreciation Society (GCAS) gathered around a virtual campfire to listen to “music of the night.”
While almost perpetually distracted by other things, I did manage to finish one book (Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear) and start another (Caroline Bergvall’s Drift), both of which I recommend (though perhaps to different audiences . . .).
According to the venerable Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia, composer John Field (b. Dublin, 1782; d. Moscow, 1837) was
a great though gentle revolutionist of music, to whom much of Chopin’s glory belongs, for Field developed the more lyric manner of pf.-playing and carried it into his composition, in which he gave the piano-song or poem its first escape from the old stiff forms. He created the Nocturne, and many of his comps. in this form have practically every quality and mannerism characteristic of those of Chopin, who excelled him in passion, resource, and harmonic breath.
All I can say is, based on the collection of “Music of the Night” we’ve gathered at GCAS, we owe John Field quite a lot. The selections for this month include the following (listening months run from the 15th of the month through the 14th of the following month):
Frederic Chopin: Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2
John Field: Nocturne no. 2 in C Minor
Claude Debussy: Three Nocturnes
Gustav Mahler: Movements 2, 3 & 4 from his Symphony no. 7
Benjamin Britten: Nocturne for tenor, 7 solo instruments & strings, Op.60
Along the way, members of the group contributed a number of additional musical works, and Curt, our in-resident art curator, contributed several “artworks of the night” to which others added, as well.
For Spotify playlists of the month’s selections and most of the additional contributions by group members (I couldn’t find two of the pieces on Spotify), click here and here.
(This is only a small subset of selections from the total group of works. For the rest, come join the conversation at the Great Composers Appreciation Society here.)
From the month’s main selections
John Field, Nocturne No. 2 in C minor, H. 25 (1812)
Benjamin Britten, Nocturne for tenor, seven obligato instruments, and strings Op.60 (1958)
More information on Britten’s Nocturne may be found here and here, and the texts which he set may be found here.
From the month’s additional selections
Arnold Schoenberg, Notturno for Strings (1896)
On 2 March 1896, in the hall of the Merchants’ Society, the first official orchestral concert of Polyhymnia took place; on the program, alongside works including Alexander Zemlinsky’s Conversation in the Wood, was the first public performance of a work by Schoenberg: ‘a very atmospheric Nocturne (manuscript) for string orchestra and solo fiddle’ (Neue musikalische Presse, 15 March 1896).
The source of the quotation may be found here.
(This is one of two pieces I didn’t locate on Spotify. The other, Frédéric Burgmueller’s Nocturne No. 1 for cello and guitar, may be found here.)
Jean Sibelius, Nocturne from Belshazzar’s Feast, Op. 51 (1906) (first selection on the video)
More information on Belshazzar’s Feast may be found here.
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No. 5 (1934), Movements II and IV
More information on Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5 may be found here.
Witold Lutoslawski, Les Espaces du Sommeil (Spaces of Sleep) for baritone and orchestra (1975)
More information on Les Espaces du Sommeil may be found here. The text set is the eponymous poem by Robert Desnos, which may be found in English translation here.
Postscript: With thanks to David Nice for recommending the addition of Carl Nielsen’s Søvnen (The Sleep), for chorus and orchestra, Opus 18 (1905), to the listening lists, here it is, and it can now be found on Spotify as well.
Credits: Quotations are from the sources linked in the text. More about Rebecca Allan’s art may be found here. The photographs, as always unless otherwise indicated on the blog, are mine.
A lovely post. What a culturally rich life you lead, Susan. It is a great example of how much we can make of what we are given.
Brian: Yet another wonderful month of listening and conversation at GCAS was of course a large inspiration for this post. As for the cultural life, I don’t feel I take nearly enough advantage of cultural opportunities as I “should,” though what I find is it’s necessary to have breathing room between experiences or they all crowd together Berio-Sinfonia like!
how much time it must take to create these wonderful posts – the slide show alone is worth to look at it with rapture! (I love especially the two fauns (?) playing flute with the leaves in the basin at their feet).
And the you find time to read so much? I know Gregor von Rezzori, of course – in Germany he is more known for his light novels, so I am a bit surprised when Wiki writes: “his posthumous reception has arguably confirmed him among the most important modern German-language authors.”. I will not deny his worth – but knowing the market quite well I just can say: surprising, as he isn’t noticed very much.
Britta: The GCAS discussion group handed this one to me on a platter, so, while I contributed the two Sibelius works, the real credit for the listening list goes to Brian, who started the group, and to the wonderful participants there. It would have taken me weeks to come up with these selections on my own (and I doubt very much I would have found even half of them).
I love that little statue, too. I think you might enjoy this, about the statue: “At the center [of the English garden] is sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh’s lovely Frances Hodgeson Burnett Memorial Fountain, a tribute to the author of the children’s book, The Secret Garden. The children — a girl and a boy, said to depict Mary and Dickon, the main characters from the classic.”
Interesting about von Rezzori’s reception in Germany. This is the only book of his I’ve completed, and if you knew when I started The Snows of Yesteryear, you would not be so impressed! I waste a lot of time and, in particular, I’m much too easily distracted, so it was a “landmark” occasion to have completed these two books this weekend. (Drift is not so long, but a brain-teaser; it would take a few re-readings to plumb its depths.)
I love it that you keep faith with the seasons by taking us back to see Innisfree and the Central Park Conservatory Gardens so often. The blurred-surface shot is pure Monet.
Interesting nocturnes programme. So glad you chose the late, great and much loved Jerry Hadley in Britten’s Nocturne – that was my favourite recording of the piece, but it went walkabout and so time to revisit here. Just a couple of thoughts: do listen to how the amazing Elisabeth Leonskaja handles Chopin’s Op. 27 No. 2 D flat Nocturne as her encore at the end of this Wigmore lunchtime available for the next three weeks: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04mb5c6 It starts almost matter-of-factly only for EL to produce magic out of nowhere. And the placing of the last chord is a little miracle in itself. I’d have counted myself blessed if I only heard this live – but there was also extraordinary Beethoven and clear-headed Berg.
And add Nielsen’s Sleep cantata to your listening list: a very haunting and typically singular take.
David: Pleased you picked out the Monet-blur. That was taken from the train window, and what you see is a blur of trees in autumn color, so a happy accident. I never know how such things will turn out.
It’s Brian who must be thanked for the choice of Hadley on the Nocturne, and lovely it is, indeed. (Funny how CDs/albums can go walkabout, isn’t it?) I’m so glad to have been pointed to this work. Though I was aware of it, I hadn’t followed up for a listen. I’m going to have to get a CD of it–do you prefer Hadley to Robert Tear (that’s the one I have on Spotify)? It’s been a Britten-centric few days, as I also saw the Britten Sinfonia’s Curlew River in New York. Such a remarkable composer!
I look forward to a listen to the Leonskaja very soon. I’ve just listened to Nielsen’s sleep cantata, and what a beautiful piece it is. It’s now on the Spotify “supplementals” list, and I’m going to add a link to it on the post, as well. (I was hoping you might have an additional suggestion. Thank you so much for that!)
Have now listened to the Leonskaja concert, to the Chopin encore more than once, and I want to revisit the Berg. The announcer spoke of her fluidity in playing, and it’s certainly audible, even if only listening and not watching her. She has a magnificent musical pedigree, too, with S. Richter and Gilels. Many thanks for noting this.
Like Britta, I know Rezzori as a light-ish novelist. But on your recommendation I have just bought The Snows for my Kindle; I’ll let you know how I get on.
Writing, photography and music, your posts serve up a rare feast, but ——–
I am almost forgetting that this a blogpost, the Nocturne has me in thrall. Sorry, must get back to giving it my full attention. O my.
Friko: Yes, by all means forget the blogpost; Britten’s Nocturne is the thing! He was a master, wasn’t he? The final setting, of Shakespeare, is sublime.
Hi Susan .. I loved reading this – and appreciate you take the time to list things out, so we can all have a chance to listen to the music, or to read the author’s works …
I’m limited in my knowledge – but am slowly adding new ideas to my thought processes … I went out to listen to a talk on Music inspired by Paintings that really opened my eyes to another vista … I made notes and typed them up – otherwise I forget …
A great educationally interesting read – thanks – Hilary
Hilary: The talk on Music inspired by paintings sounds so interesting. I certainly would have taken notes, too (or I, also, would forget!). There is a book, by the way, called The Music of Painting, by Peter Vergo, that looks very interesting. I have it on my ever-growing wish list, needless to say!
Sue, it really has been a lovely listening month over at GCAS, and your post enhances it delightfully. I so enjoy reading the conversations between you and David Nice in this space, and now he has added the Chopin Nocturne No. 27 to the No. 9, which we have been listening to. And he has introduced me to Elisabeth Leonskaja. My breath is gone! — Elizabeth
Elizabeth: Hasn’t it just? And your comment here prompted me to add Leonskaja performing Chopin’s Op. 27 No. 2 D flat Nocturne to the Spotify “GCAS Music of the Night Additions” listening list. Yes, I suspect we’ll both be on the lookout for Leonskaja from here on out.
Elizabeth, Leonskaja is probably my piano goddess – and her recitals are like a sacred rite (with nothing of the sober about them which that might suggest). She can create magic in a single note or chord (I’m thinking of the upper three in that opening arpeggio of Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, which she plays quite differently in the repeat, and the very end of the Chopin encore). I’m in a state of keen anticipation because next Thursday up in Edinburgh she’s playing BOTH Brahms piano concertos in a single programme – is that a first? – with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a conductor I haven’t heard (of) for years, the excellent Okko Kamu. I’m privileged to be going.
Her Schubert is off this planet, and worthy of her mentor Richter. Good news is that all her Schubert sonatas are coming out on CD next year.
David: With the Leonskaja Chopin and the Nielsen suggestions, you’ve contributed wonderfully to our listening month. Curt wrote at GCAS with especial thanks to you for the Nielsen, and we’ve scurried off to find the text (found in Danish, not yet in English); the backstory is interesting too.
I envy you those two Brahms concertos with Leonskaja at the keyboard. While I haven’t revisited them in some time, they were early favorites of mine, so early that I own them only on records, not CDs. It doesn’t appear that Leonskaja has recorded the concertos, or, clearly, those would be the ones to get today. I’ll keep a look-out for your concert review (if I’m assuming correctly that you will be reviewing it, of course).
Yes. And I apologise if I hijacked the thread with my Leonskaja mania. Writing notes on the Horn Trio and the concertos have really turned me back to Brahms, and I hope I hear his true originality better now. I worked my way through the Nocturnes in the rather fine hands of Garrick Ohlsson, and there are astonishing harmonic novelties in the later ones, especially the first of Op. 62. Fascinating comparative listening of Leonskaja, Pires and Ohlsson in our D flat subject, too: the centres of gravity are so different in each, but equally valid.
David: Very happy to have you “hijack” the thread, for such a purpose, particularly. (I’m going to see if I can locate the three pianists on the Chopin on Spotify to see if I can hear what you’re noting.) As to the remainder of your comment, how I wish I had even the smallest capability to listen for/identify harmony! I’ve belatedly discovered it’s possible to view scores online for free at Boosey & Hawkes and have been listening to Britten’s Nocturne (the first two songs so far) with the score in hand. I can pick up some of the interesting ways in which he orchestrates and have enjoyed learning something of how he bridges from one song to the next, but I would love to understand what’s going on in the harmony, as well. In another life, maybe . . .
David: I’ve just listened to recordings of the Chopin by each of the pianists you noted. The differences are striking. Ohlsson’s, for one, comes in at just over a minute shorter than Leonskaja’s, and 90 seconds shorter than that by Pires! I wouldn’t have thought, in such a short piece, there would be so wide a range. I liked Ohlsson’s interpretation, which offered the most muscular touch at points, but I thought not overdone. Pires, particularly on the heels of Ohlsson, struck me as overly attenuated and verging on the melodramatic. Leonskaja’s I did think was the best. Her pacing and assured, yet delicate, touch brought out, to my ears, the nuances of the piece better than the other two had done. It’s a lovely piece, and I don’t believe I’ve heard it before. Thank you again for bringing it to our attention. (For anyone who would like to listen to the three versions on Spotify, here’s the link: http://open.spotify.com/user/prufrocksdilemma/playlist/5TqC6HoNvtKrIyxqDtopbt,)
Spot on, which only means that I agree with you and so, as if we didn’t know it already, you pass the Good Ears Test (interestingly, I mentioned Pires’ late night Chopin Nocturnes Prom when I interviewed Leonskaja and she said, without snarkiness, that she thought MJP could be ‘a little too sentimental’). It always amazes me how you have the curiosity and energy to follow these things up – I always have the best intentions to read/listen to/go see the warmest recommendations of people whose opinions I value, but I don’t always carry it out in practice. Even so, as you know, I’m eternally grateful to you for drawing my attention to Dylan Mattingly and Contemporaneous, at the top of a long list.
David: Well, I sure feel in good company here with you and Leonskaja. As for the following up, you know, there’s a little thing called w-o-r-k that doesn’t any longer get in my way, but even at that, I miss much more than I “should.” In this case, actually, I jumped at the chance for an opportunity to do a little “ear training” in distinguishing performances on a piece short enough to keep hold of it mentally from performance to performance. (For example, I would not “try this at home” with complete Parsifals, as you did!)