Arpeggione Sonata Schubert (1797 – 1828)
The arpeggione, also known as the “guitar violincello”, was an instrument invented in 1823 by a Viennese named Georg Staufer. It was played with a bow, but had the six strings of a guitar and a fretted fingerboard, and is now remembered only because of this fine work, composed for it in 1824. The first movement, in sonata form, has a wistful first subject, contrasted with more dramatic elements for the second subject. The charming adagio is a brief song without words, and leads directly to the allegretto, where a tuneful principal theme and a scherzando figure alternate in rondo form.
Last ACMC Performance: the Preston/Long Duo, flute and piano, December 2000
Märchenbilder op. 113 Schumann (1810 – 1856)
Langsam mit melancholischem Ausdruck
It is a surprising fact that Schumann seems to have been the first to write specifically for viola and piano – surprising as he was not a string player, while so many of his great predecessors, including Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, had themselves played (and loved) the instrument. The Märchenbilder (Fairytale Pictures) come from 1851, when Schumann was Director of Music in Düsseldorf, and was in the midst of composing a number of works for instrumental duet – for example the Fantasiestücke, which we heard a couple of years ago from the cellist Philip Higham, and the violin sonatas. The Märchenbilder were dedicated to his friend, leader of the Düsseldorf orchestra and subsequent biographer, Joseph Wasiliewsky, who must also have been an exceptional viola player.
Perhaps best seen as “character pieces”, each of the four movements is complete in itself, rather than forming part of a formal sonata. The first, “not fast”, is gentle and reflective. The second, “lively”, seems a gallop through fairy woods. The third, “fast”, is a rush of slightly menacing triplets. The most touching movement is the last, “slowly with melancholy expression”, which exploits to the full the dark singing tones of the instrument. First ACMC Performance
Two Scots Songs arr. Watson Forbes (1909 – 1997)
The Lea Rig
Whaur Gadie Rins
Born in St. Andrews, Watson Forbes studied with Sevčik in Czechoslovakia, before commencing his career as eminent viola player, member of the Stratton Quartet (which was the favourite ensemble of Elgar, and which later became the renowned Aeolian Quartet of the 1950s), and Head of Music for the BBC in Scotland (where he safeguarded the BBC Scottish Symphony, then under threat). Above all, however, his legacy to all viola players is a large collection of music edited or arranged for viola, from the Bach Cello Suites, to the Two Songs we hear today.
First ACMC Performance
Two Songs Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924)
Après un Rêve
Much of Faure’s finest music is found in his songs. Après un Rêve is a setting of an Italian poem, freely adapted into French by Romain Bussine. It tells of a dream of romantic elopement, away from darkness towards an awakening light. The long, flowing vocal lines adapt perfectly to the viola. In the more intense and anguished Fleur Jetée, the poet Armand Silvestre compares his love to a plucked flower that withers and is blown away on the wind. First ACMC Performance
Viola Sonata Rebecca Clarke (1886 – 1979)
Rebecca Clarke showed early musical promise, and studied composition at the Royal Academy with Charles Stanford. Although initially a violinist, she soon turned to the viola as the basis of a performing career, studying with the master Lionel Tertis. Like Ethel Smythe, she had to succeed in music in a man’s world, becoming the first female member of the Queens Hall Orchestra in 1912. She played in a quartet with the virtuosi sisters Adila and Jelly d’Aranyi and the cellist Suggia, probably one of the first all-women ensembles. After 1916 she divided her time between England and America, where she had her first successes as a composer. In 1919 her sonata for viola and piano came a close second to the Suite by Ernst Bloch for the Coolidge Prize at the Berkshire Festival, and her piano trio did similarly well two years later.
The sonata is prefaced by a quotation from de Musset: “Poet, take your lute; the wine of youth ferments tonight in the veins of God”. The link between this and the music is not immediately obvious, though there are moments where the harmonies are reminiscent of those of the FrenchschoolofDebussyand Ravel, and also of an medieval, modal mood. The first movement begins with a declamatory theme on the viola, which influences the whole movement by contributing subsidiary figures to other themes which have more formal prominence. The scherzo is ingeniously wrought, and very effective. The last movement, unusually in a slow tempo, begins with the modal-sounding theme, which in the final coda is combined with the opening declamatory theme. This fine sonata deserves to be much better known!
Last ACMC Performance: the Plane-Dukes-Rahman Trio, February 1996