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Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin – Work No. 62 in our collection

Franz Peter Schubert (31.01.1797 – 19.11.1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his early death, arising from from typhus and syphilis, Schubert left behind a vast output of fine music. He wrote more than 600 songs (or lieder), more than a dozen string quartets and 21 piano sonatas; he completed seven symphonies, with many more left unfinished; he wrote operas, masses, piano trios and duets. Yet there was only one public performance of his music during his lifetime.

Franz Peter Schubert

His most important works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D667 ‘The Trout’ (see Work 6 in our collection), his last three Piano Sonatas Nos. 19 – 21, his String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’, the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 ‘The Great’Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ and his two great song cycles Winterreise D911 and Die schöne Müllerin, D795.

When it first appeared in 1823, Die schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Maid of the Mill) was unique: a set of twenty interlocked songs for voice and piano with a continuous, first-person narrative, based on poems by Wilhelm Müller. Schubert set only twenty of Müller’s 25 poems in his finished song cycle, omitting those that elucidated the character of the miller-girl to make her seem more an idealization of love than a recognizable human participant in the story. In short, the cycle’s dramatic progression can be summarised thus “The miller goes wandering, the awakening of love, his hopes for love’s realization, the delusion that his love is reciprocated, the arrival of the hunter and the miller-maid’s attraction to him, the miller’s despair and death.”

Despite being over 50 years old, our preferred version remains the 1961 EMI recording of the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the pianist Gerald Moore.

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Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto – Work No. 61 in our collection

Joseph Haydn (31.03.1732 – 31.05.1809) was an Austrian composer of the Classical period. For most of his working life Haydn was a court musician for the wealthy Esterházy family at their remote estate and thus isolated from many other musical influences. Joseph Haydn was a very influential composer and he was a friend and mentor of Mozart, a teacher of Beethoven, and the older brother of composer Michael Haydn. He played a major role in in the development of such forms of chamber music as the piano trio and the string quartet. Haydn  wrote over a hundred symphonies leading to him acquiring the epithet “Father of the Symphony”, even if that is not exactly true!

Joseph Haydn

Haydn also wrote a number of concertos for keyboard, violin, cello and a range of wind instruments together with a trumpet concerto that is a favourite of the trumpet repertoire; and is possibly the most popular of Haydn’s concertos¹.

Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat major, Hob. VIIe:1 was written in 1796 for his friend Anton Weidinger, who had developed a keyed trumpet which could play chromatically throughout its entire range unlike the existing valveless trumpet.

The work is composed in three movements (typical of a Classical period concerto), marked as followed:

I. Allegro (sonata)
II. Andante (A-B-A)
III. Allegro (rondo).

Haydn’s concerto is not only splendidly orchestrated but it also exploits the trumpet’s new technical abilities. The opening Allegro is festive and radiant, with the orchestra introducing the main themes before they’re taken up by the soloist. There’s a motif that initially rises, subsequently allowing the trumpet to show off its new stock of notes in the low register. This motif evolves into a fanfare-like subject, which the soloist enriches with effective trills and other ornamentation. The development section requires the trumpeter to play in different keys, which would have been impossible on a valveless trumpet. The second movement reveals the full lyrical and expressive potential of the new trumpet. In addition, this highly melodic movement, showcases the instrument’s ability to easily modulate from key to key. The final Allegro, in a sonata rondo form, begins with a fanfare-like theme, and continues with material which tests the soloist’s ability to handle trills and places further technical demands quite unlike earlier works for the trumpet. Following a brief development section, a recapitulation leads the trumpeter to a higher, brighter tessitura. The third movement ends with a gleaming, celebratory coda.

We really enjoy Crispian Steele-Perkins performance of this concerto recorded with Anthony Halstead and the English Chamber Orchestra and released in 2009. It comes with five further trumpet concertos and it is available at bargain price!

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¹ His Cello Concertos are also frequently performed and widely appreciated.

Remembering Montserrat Caballé

The opera singer Montserrat Caballé has died aged 85 after being admitted to hospital in Barcelona last month following a period of ill health. Montserrat Caballé must surely number among the most exciting sopranos to grace the opera stage in the second half of the 20th century.
Her career began, during the 1950s, with her performing small roles such as the First Lady (in The Magic Flute) whilst worked as a waitress to supplement her income. She soon graduated to Donna Elvira (in Don Giovanni), Fiordiligi (in Così Fan Tutte) and  Pamina (in The Magic Flute). However, it was not until she replaced an ailing Marilyn Horne in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, in a concert performance in New York, that her career really took off. In that performance what impressed audiences and critics alike was her ability to express character and go beyond the mere bravura display of other divas.

Montserrat Caballé, a short but imposing figure, endeared herself to audiences around the world with her irrepressible personality. Her fans called her La Superba – the superb one. However Caballé became known to a far wider audience than most opera stars as a result of her duet with Freddie Mercury. The song Barcelona was first released in 1987 and later became an anthem for the city’s 1992 Olympic Games, the year after Freddie Mercury died. Caballé sang at the opening ceremony of the games with two of the ‘Three Tenors’ Placido Domingo and José Carreras.

If you are unfamiliar with La Superba then I fine way to become acquainted with her talents is to listen to her recording of arias from operas by Bellini and Verdi, recorded at the peak of her powers in the 1970s.

Tallis’ Spem in Alium – Work No. 60 in our collection

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23.11.1585) is considered to be one of England’s greatest composers. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music, and he wrote the hugely popular, and memorable, Spem in alium for eight five-part choirs ’40-part Motet’.

In 1567, the city of London welcomed the visiting Italian musician and composer Alessandro Striggio and he presented his motet Ecce Beatam Lucem, written for the seemingly extravagant ensemble of 40 voice parts! The London audiences reacted to its rich and unique sonic world with great enthusiasm. As a result, it is suggested that two of England’s leading Catholic noblemen¹ issued a commission to the most senior and revered English composer of the day, namely Thomas Tallis, to match Striggio’s accomplishment. The resulting composition was none other than Spem in alium.

There are many fine recordings of this work in the catalogue but we would encourage you to explore the double CD set of Tallis’ Latin Church Music by the Taverner Consort & Choir and Andrew Parrott. Not only does this include a winning performance of Spem in alium but it also contains a veritable treasure chest of renaissance delights. This was recorded at St John-at-Hackney, London in late 1986 and still sounds simply wonderful.

¹ Thomas Howard, the fourth Duke of Norfolk, and Henry Fitzalan, the twelfth Earl of Arundel.

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