SORRY IF YOU MISSED IT!
CantiaQuorum performs Stravinsky and Walton
Posy Walton - Narrator
Anthony Weeden - Conductor
The Soldier's Tale - Igor Stravinsky
Façade - William Walton
7.30pm, 14th November 2014
The Colyer-Fergusson Hall, University of Kent
Ali's programme notes from the concert.
The Soldier's Tale - Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
This year we embark upon a four year commemoration of the First World War. The luxury of hindsight enables us to start this journey in the knowledge of how it ended, and so a 2014 performance of Stravinsky's 1918 masterpiece The Soldier's Tale provides a fascinating lens through which we can begin to contemplate this anniversary.
Stravinsky had spent the War exiled in Switzerland, where he struck up a friendship with the novelist C.F. Ramuz. Both artists had seen their circumstances change radically: for Stravinsky his days of plenty with the Ballet Russe had vanished, and it became clear that anything he wrote needed to be simple and economical to produce. Together they decided upon a mobile theatre piece, wanting the production to be open to all from cities to villages both at home and abroad: a theatre that could exist anywhere as the world started to recover.
The work itself is consciously universal: Ramuz chose not to base the libretto in any specific time or place, while Stravinsky used comparatively few Russian melodies and instead incorporated all sorts! These include Spanish Pasodoble, French Song, Argentinian Tango, Viennese Waltz, German Chorale and American Ragtime. The unusual orchestration gives an amazing palette from which Stravinsky moulds these melodies, and the use of percussion is distinctive: indeed, he even bought a set of percussion instruments in a shop in Lausanne and learned how to play them.
In spite of the five year gap, The Soldier's Tale was Stravinsky's first major instrumental composition since the Rite of Spring. He wrote of it: "I could imagine jazz, or at least I liked to think......Jazz meant, in any case, a wholly new sound in my music, and The Soldier's Tale marks my final break with the Russian orchestral school in which I had been fostered."
The work has become a masterpiece and has easily fulfilled its creators' desire for universality: the piece is performed in numerous incarnations. One famous concert in New York in 1966 included Elliott Carter as the narrator, Aaron Copland as the soldier, and John Cage as the devil. While none of these will be joining us this evening, CantiaQuorum is absolutely thrilled to present its interpretation of this incredible work in this wonderful hall.
Façade (An Entertainment) - William Walton (1902-1983)
A mere three years after the end of World War One and the appearance of The Soldier's Tale, the twenty one year old William Walton started to compose Façade. While he frequently claimed to be self taught, Walton had studied music at Oxford University where he befriended the Sitwell family: Edith and her two brothers Osbert and Sacheverell. On arriving in London early in 1919 they invited Walton to lodge with them and in doing so became his patrons. He was to stay there for fifteen years and the family had a lasting influence on the young composer.
When he came to London Walton had been experimenting with Expressionism. His string quartet received praise from Berg and yet Walton was not happy with it. He searched for other inspiration and looked to Stravinsky, whose mastery in the recent Solider's Tale struck him greatly. The use of such unusual dance forms as well as the narration and orchestration undoubtedly influenced Façade.
His other inspiration was the poetry of Edith Sitwell, who had begun writing using a technique which she described as “transcendental”: poetry which focused on exploiting the sounds of words more than their meaning. The family quickly suggested a collaboration with Walton, and he describes how: "Osbert and Sachie were both very much excited and involved with it all once I had started, and they were the ones who were really keen on making me continue with the music. I remember thinking it was not a very good idea, but when I said so, they simply told me that they'd get Constant [Lambert] to do it if I wouldn't - and of course I couldn't possibly let that occur".
It was very much a collaboration, and Edith describes how: "Sometimes I wrote the poems and he put the music to them and sometimes it was the other way around”. Osbert Sitwell writes: "I remember very well the rather long sessions, lasting for two or three hours, which my sister and the composer used to have, when together they read the words, she, going over them again and again, while he marked and accented them for his own guidance, to show where the precise stress and emphasis fell, the exact inflection or deflection."
The first performance of Façade took place at the Sitwell house in January 1922. The brothers became stage managers, conceiving a performance with curtains and megaphones which only served to heighten the theatre of the work. Walton subsequently revised the piece on numerous occasions, and as with The Soldier's Tale it exists in all sorts of interpretations.
It seems fitting that we perform it second this evening: as Tuesday marked the beginning of the four years of remembrance which lie ahead of us, we can look further than the bleak Soldier's Tale of 1918, and in doing so we discover glimmers of eventual optimism in the boundless exuberance of Façade.