This wonderful Holiday idea came to us last season and we think it still deserves you taking time to give it a try:
When we first started planning our Candlelight Christmas concert, we had this beautiful idea of lining the walkways up to St John’s Cathedral with ice lanterns. Patrons would have arrived to our special candlelit evening with beautiful frosty candle light…
Well we decided to do it anyway, even though we don’t have an audience arriving!
And the result…
We loved it so much we thought that you should try it at home to give your yard a magical glow for the holidays.
This post was part of our holiday celebrations in 2020, but we wanted to bring this wonderful recipe back for you!
At the SSO offices, December means one thing…our Director of Administration is bringing Toffee to work.
Natal Laycock’s role at the SSO is an important one (not just because of the toffee!), and we all think she’s part super-human as she handles work, home, kids, even piano lessons! In her 6 years at the SSO, her toffee has become the stuff of legends – its not every day that someone has made toffee for you, so when it happens its a memorable moment.
We invaded Natal’s toffee making this year to steal her recipe for you to give a try as a pairing with our Candlelight Christmas concert!
Delicious – let’s get started!
Here’s what you need – Ingredients:
1 can condensed milk (Orignal, not low fat)
1 cup cane syrup (ie Roger’s Brand)
1/2 cup butter (scant)
2 cups golden or brown sugar
But you’ll also need…
Heavy bottom sauce pan (2.5L or larger)
Long handled wooden spoon
Candy thermometer (optional, but recommended)
parchment paper (or extra butter)
Optional – up to you, but not in ours:
Now let’s get to it!
Step 1: Line the cookie sheet with parchment, or grease with butter and set aside. If using nuts, sprinkle on the sheet now.
Step 2: Combine all ingredients into sauce pan, and set the burner to at least med-high.
Step 3: Stir continuously, scraping the bottom, so the sugar does not burn to the bottom of the pan. The mixture will begin to change color, and fleck with darker pieces.
Warning: boiling candy splatters, and it burns!
The mixture will need to boil until it reaches over 300*F (hard crack). This will take roughly 20 minutes, depending on your burners. Keep stirring and scraping! Stick the candy thermometer in after about 10 minutes, ensuring it stays below the surface, and off the bottom of the pan to get an accurate read.
Step 4: Once the mixture has reached hard crack, remove from heat and pour over prepared cookie sheet.
Optional step: ‘score’ the toffee when it is partially set. Leave the toffee out at room temperature. Drag a butter knife across the surface to create break or ‘score’ lines in roughly the size of the pieces you want to make. If the toffee sticks to the knife, or the lines fill back in, it’s still too hot.
Step 5: Set tray in fridge/freezer/snow bank until set and then break apart. If you’ve scored it, turn the toffee upside down so the score lines are facing down.
Step 6: Break it up! As you can see from the video, even a screwdriver works…
Important: Store in a ziploc bag, or sealed container, and keep refrigerated.
It’s an incredibly tasty treat that is worth all that time standing over the heat! And once you’re done, it can be enjoyed with a number of classic holiday drinks…hot cocoa, milk, tea, coffee (Baileys optional!), and peppermint schnapps.
If you’ve never tried to make homemade toffee, this is your year. Let us know how it turned out!
Not many people do their best thinking during a heat wave. Then again, most people are not Leroy Anderson. The original idea for the light-hearted orchestral romp known as “Sleigh Ride” was born in the mind of the American composer during a heat wave in July of 1946.
Finished in February 1948, the instrumental piece would not receive its classic lyrics until 1950 (when lyricist Mitchell Parish added in the bits about riding in a sleigh and other fun wintertime activities). The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. It quickly became one of the orchestra’s signature songs, and the 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl in celebration of the Christmas season. So catchy was the main melody that other composers of the era tried to pass it off as their own. The main melody of “Sleigh Ride” was used without credit to Anderson in the 1949 western “Streets of Laredo”, scored by Victor Young. Sleigh Ride lyricist Mitchell Parish worked with Young around this time, which might explain how the latter got his not-so-bright idea to “sample” Anderson’s work. That very same year, The Andrews Sisters created the first ever recording of Parish’s vocal version, and the popularity of Sleigh Ride sped off like… well, like a Sleigh Ride!
Although the piece is often associated with Christmas, appearing on more Christmas compilation albums than one can even count, its lyrics leave out any mention of a holiday. Perhaps this is what lends a universal appeal to Sleigh Ride. The song is noted for the characteristic sounds of a horse clip-clopping its way down a country road, and the sound of a whip is featured in most versions to give the illusion of the horse being spurred into motion. The percussionist shines in this piece, for it is they who oversee the creation of these sounds on temple blocks and a slapstick, respectively. Toward the end of the piece, a trumpet imitates the sound of a horse whinnying.
Sleigh Ride was written in seven-part rondo form, with the first rondo episode utilizing an unusual modulation to the third (and then the second) note of the scale. This is not easy to sing, and therefore many recorded versions of Sleigh Ride err on the side of caution by changing the harmonies or omitting this first rondo altogether. This decision was made for the 1963 cover made by the American girl group the Ronettes. This Phil Spector-produced recording is easily the most popular version outside the traditional pop standard genre, charting yearly until it became the group’s second-highest chart hit in the US (after “Be My Baby”). This version of Sleigh Ride features the beloved “Ring-a-ling-a-ling, ding-dong-ding” background vocals, and makes use of the clip-clop and whinny of a horse at both its beginning and end. That’s two adorable/scary horse sounds for the price of one Sleigh Ride.
But Leroy Anderson was no one-hit holiday wonder. Composing “A Christmas Festival” in 1950 during his time as an arranger with the Boston Pops Orchestra, Anderson originally conceived of the wintertime smash-hit when Arthur Fiedler (the conductor-in-chief of the BPO) requested a favor of him. Fiedler needed a piece of music that would cover two sides of a 45 or 78rpm ‘single’ for the holiday season. Anderson did not disappoint. He created an orchestral medley of well-loved Christmas songs and carols into a compelling concert overture. The main theme of Christmas Festival relies on the tunes of ‘Joy to the World’, ‘O, Come all ye faithful’ and ‘Jingle Bells’, but other favorites (such as ‘Deck the Halls’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘God Rest you Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, ‘The First Noel’ and ‘Silent Night’) are also utilized to great effect. Relying on subtlety to pull off such an ambitious combination of Christmas music, the arrangement of Christmas Festival boasts exceptional orchestration that provides each instrument with a moment to shine.
Despite numerous contributions to the American orchestral standard genre, Leroy Anderson will be remembered for his prolific contribution to the musical soundtrack of the holiday season. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) have repeatedly lauded “Sleigh Ride”, as it consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most-performed songs written by an ASCAP member. ASCAP named “Sleigh Ride” the most popular piece of Christmas music in the U.S. in 2009–2012, based on performance data from over 2,500 radio stations. And, while Johnny Mathis’s has become the most popular vocal version, Leroy Anderson’s recording remains the most popular instrumental version. As Steve Metcalf put it, “‘Sleigh Ride’ … has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.” For giving us all a song to feel merry and bright about in these dark and chilly days, we salute you Leroy… and that strange trumpet-horse you rode in on.
You can jump on a Sleigh Ride with the SSO at our Holiday Pops! presented by Nutrien.
If you’re like us, you’re looking for little ways to get an escape! With our Trip to the Country live stream our goal is take you on a musical journey away from busyness and stress and into nature…and if you’ve got a tablet or computer you can quite literally take us outdoors!
With that in mind, here are some fun ideas that can give you a chance to take a picnic right in your backyard, on the deck, or inside if its raining!
First up is the Food!
It’s all about being refreshed – and while a picnic takes a little bit of preparation, the pay off is totally worth it. Let’s start with the mix of sweet and savory to give your taste buds their own little adventure. The best part? Each recipe is incredibly easy to make!
Dessert is essential for any good picnic…its a bit early for berry season, but there’s all sorts of amazing Saskatoon Berry treats available at the Berry Barn, you have to grab some chocolates from our friends at Harden and Huyse, or order desserts from Calories!
But if you have the itch to make it yourself, our pick are these incredibly delicious and refreshing Lemon and Blueberry Bars…trust us, you’re going to love them!
What to Drink?!
It wouldn’t be a proper picnic without refreshments! And picnics are a family affair, so try some thirst-quenching creations like a Berry Smoothie or Apple Mint Iced Tea.
As we asked around the SSO, one drink suggestion kept coming up over and over again…if its a picnic for family or for romance, in Saskatoon it has to include Black Fox.
Black Fox Distillery has garnered international attention for their world class gin, and on first taste you’ll quickly see why…or taste why!
Life has been full of twists and turns for violinist Véronique Mathieu this past year. In March 2020, Mathieu was set to release a brand-new album Cortége, a celebration of French classical music. The album is a collection of pieces her and pianist Jasmin Arakawa hand selected. With the world shut down, the album was quietly released, and Mathieu found herself shifting gears.
“It was music that kept me sane. To have other projects that would allow me to put the pandemic aside and work towards something.”
“It was really difficult at first to adjust to not being able to leave your home. It was difficult to practice because it was hard to see a goal in the future,” Mathieu says. “It was music that kept me sane. To have other projects that would allow me to put the pandemic aside and work towards something.”
Mathieu has been balancing motherhood with her position as the University of Saskatchewan’s David L. Kaplan Chair in Music which has her teaching a combination of online and in-person classes. She says working with her students allows her to continue to grow as an artist.
“It’s funny because it has allowed me to really notice things fast in my own playing and come up with solutions,” Mathieu explains. “Teaching makes you reflective in your own artistic practice. I’ve become much more efficient.”
Mathieu’s latest projects include assembling the works contemporary composers from Brazil, China and North America to develop a series of lessons that can help violinists learn different, experimental techniques for violin. She is also already hard at work on a new album with Toronto pianist Stephanie Chua focused on works by female composers.
Mathieu has performed as a soloist and chamber musician all over the world and while she’s kept busy with other projects, she’s been missing the stage. That’s why she says it’s exciting to be asked back for the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra’s finale performance of the 2020/21 season. Trip to the Country will feature Mathieu performing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending. The piece is a loving tribute to nature and is based on William’s poem of the same name.
“This is a really soothing work. It triggers beautiful images in the imagination that remind me of the green fields and majestic mountains,” says Mathieu. “This will be my big “return to the stage” moment and playing such a wonderful work, it’s just really exciting.”
The Lark Ascending was originally written as a single-movement work for violin and piano by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The composer was inspired by George Meredith’s 1881 poem of the same name, and completed his musical tribute in 1914. However, The Lark Ascending was not performed until 1920, having fallen into obscurity until Williams decided to rework it for solo violin and orchestra after World War One. This is the most popular version of the piece, and is subtitled “A Romance” in reference to the composer’s habit of labelling all slow thoughtful music in this manner.
Ralph Vaughan Williams had trained as a violinist in his youth, and he admired English poets of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Apart from Meredith, these included the likes of Tennyson, Swinburne, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hardy, and Housman. Vaughn Williams’ second wife, the poet Ursula ????, wrote that what made The Lark Ascending such a special musical creation lay in her then-husband having “taken a literary idea on which to build his musical thought … and [having] made the violin become both the bird’s song and its flight, being, rather than illustrating the poem from which the title was taken”. At the head of the original score for The Lark Ascending (now sadly lost), Vaughan Williams wrote twelve lines from Meredith’s lengthy poem:
He rises and begins to round, / He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break, / In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills, / ‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up, / Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows / to lift us with him as he goes.
Till lost on his aerial rings / In light, and then the fancy sings.
The Lark Ascending was written for and dedicated to Marie Hall, a leading British violinist of the time who had studied with the composer Edward Elgar. She worked with Vaughn Williams to tailor the piece more closely to her style of playing, but no record exists of what specific changes she proposed to the composer. Hall premiered the original violin and piano version of The Lark Ascending with the pianist Geoffrey Mendham at the Shirehampton Public Hall on the 15th of December, 1920. Hall also served as the soloist for the first performance of the orchestral version. This version debuted at a concert presented by the British Music Society, and was held in the Queen’s Hall, London, on the 14th of June 1921.
The first recording of The Lark Ascending took place in 1928, with Isolde Menges serving as the violin soloist. Her playing was supported on the recording by an unnamed orchestra, conducted by one Malcolm Sargent. Having heard this recording, the critic A. H. Fox Strangways wrote in his publication Music & Letters that “The violin floats in a long rapture over some homegrown tunes in the accompaniment, taking little bits of them into its song at intervals. Violin cadenzas are apt to have a family likeness, but these jubilations will hardly remind anybody of anything else. There is very little of the harmless necessary arpeggio or of ingeniously wonderful double stops. It is pure carolling.”
Pure carolling it might have been, but the deceptive simplicity of Vaughn Williams’ piece was buttressed by an undercurrent of musical complexity, and this is particularly true of the orchestral version. Beginning with a two-bar introduction by woodwind and muted strings in 6/8 time, the soloist enters with an unaccompanied cadenza. This entrance is marked pianissimo and sur la touche, which means that the player places their bow over the fingerboard to reduce higher harmonics and produce an ethereal tone. Near the end of the cadenza, a melody in G major is introduced which allows the violin soloist to lead the orchestra back in. A second cadenza follows, this one of shorter duration, and builds to the Allegretto tranquillo quasi andante. In this section, Vaughn Williams provides the flutes with a new melody. Soon, the oboe enters with yet another new melody (marked scherzando) develops a complex passage in which the melody introduced by the flutes makes a reappearance in the violin soloist’s melodic line. There is a reprise of the 6/8 section, followed by an unaccompanied violin cadenza to close out the piece.
Musicologist Christopher Mark, in his modal analysis of The Lark Ascending, finds that the work “begins in the Dorian mode and switches between that and the Aeolian mode interspersed with extensive use of the Pentatonic scale.” Fellow musicologist Lewis Foreman maintains that “It is possible to forget what a revolutionary piece this was in the context of the British music of 1914 [with] its rhythmic freedom and flow and its avoidance of tonic-and-dominant cadencing, together with its imagery”. And Jeffrey Davis maintains that, “At one level it seems to be an idyll of rural England [but] in view of its composition on the eve of the First World War, there is perhaps an underlying layer of sadness to the music. Rather like the Edwardian era, as viewed retrospectively from the other side of World War One, it seems to reflect nostalgia for a partly mythological lost age of innocence.”
The orchestral version of The Lark Ascending (scored for solo violin with an orchestra of two flutes, one oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, triangle and strings) is not the only version which was created after the First World War. Vaughan Williams also wrote a version for chamber orchestra, which included flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and triangle, with three or four first violins, the same of second violins, two violas, two cellos and one double bass. Yet it is the orchestral version of this legendary piece of music that stands above all other arrangements, truly a testament to the artistry of its composer and the magic of a bygone era which continues to charm us all. You can watch your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra take wing with The Lark Ascending at our Trip to the Country Concert!
When you think of Ludwig van Beethoven, chances are you hear the infamous pulses of his fiery Fifth Symphony. But did you know that the symphony he composed simultaneously with the Fifth is equally brilliant? Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, referred to as the Pastoral Symphony, is an immaculate offering of sound and color. Described by Beethoven himself as being “more the expression of feeling than painting”, the Pastoral Symphony is a moving tribute to the beauty of nature which served as one of Beethoven’s greatest muses during his life as a composer. Spending much of his free time walking in the countryside surrounding Vienna, Beethoven found a peace in nature which stabilized and nourished his passionate soul.
Composition of the Pastoral Symphony was undertaken in 1802, and the work would take another six years to reach completion. It was debuted at a concert taking place at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, alongside Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony Musicologist Frank D’Accone maintains that the programmatic ideas featured in the symphony (bird song, thunder, a shepherd’s pipe, and the flowing of a stream) were lifted by Beethoven from Justin Heinrich Knecht’s 1784 musical work “Le Portrait musical de la Nature ou Grande Symphonie”.
The Pastoral Symphony is scored for full orchestra, and makes use of trumpet, timpani, trombone, and piccolo in specific movements. The Symphony begins with the Allegro ma non troppo, in which the composer arrives in the country amidst an atmosphere of cheerful melodies. Set in 2/4 meter and sonata form throughout, each musical theme is developed to its greatest potential by Beethoven. The orchestral texture is thickened by the composer’s reliance on short, repeating motifs.
The first movement ends in comfort and the second (Andante molto mosso) begins with speed, mimicking the fast flow of a stream by way of a motif in the string section. Also in sonata form, the second movement is delivered in 12/8 meter in the key of B♭ major. The cello section is split in their duties during this movement, with many players assisting the double basses in jubilant pizzicato notes while only two cellists stay with the babbling brook. This movement is unique within the context of the work because it delivers a cluster of bird calls rendered in a woodwind cadenza towards its end. Interestingly, Beethoven was very specific about which birds were to be imitated by which instruments: the flute plays the song of the nightingale, the oboe provides the somber notes of the quail, and two clarinets warble the jubilant sounds of a cuckoo or two.
After a refreshing chorus of birdsong, movement three (Allegro) unfolds. A scherzo in 3/4 time, this country folk dance returns us to the main key of F major to revel and frolic amongst the trees. The doubling of the trio movement makes this an unusual, but memorable scherzo. Another odd choice on Beethoven’s part was to prematurely end the appearance of the third scherzo theme. Beethoven forever changed how scherzi would be composed through the creativity he displayed within this movement. As the tempo builds in excitement and vitesse, the movement suddenly stops without warning. We are catapulted immediately into the fourth movement with no time to prepare ourselves as a thunderstorm threatens in the distance.
Beethoven outdoes himself in this fourth movement (which bears the same name as the third) by using a 4/4 meter in F minor to depict a lightning shower of violent proportions. What starts as a few drops of rain quickly turns into an awe-inspiring musical downpour. After the storm passes, Beethoven borrows from Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor of 1787. He accomplishes this by simmering a stormy preface into a rich final movement of serenity.
The finale of this symphony (Allegretto) is in F major and features a meter of 6/8 time. Capitalizing on sonata rondo form, in which the main theme appears in the tonic key at the beginning of the development as well as the exposition and the recapitulation, the finale presents a symmetrical eight-bar theme to conjure the sounds of a shepherds’ thanksgiving song. The coda is soft at first, but soon grows to encompass the entire orchestra. The violin section is incredibly active in this final section, playing rapid triplet tremolo to increase the emotional tension. There comes a moment in every great piece of music that is utterly unforgettable, and for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony this moment occurs during the final passages of the coda. The prayer-like quality of this passage culminates in two victorious F-chords, summarizing the majesty of nature like no one else could. Beethoven found his gentle side in nature, and we hope you enjoy your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony at our Trip to the Country concert!
Saskatoon composer Kendra Harder instantly grabbed the attention of the SSO’s Wind Quintet a few years ago when they workshopped an arrangement Harder had done for one of her classes at the University of Saskatchewan’s Music Department. Our premiere of her piece “All the Different Parts” comes as such a joy to the quintet musicians who’ve been able to workshop the piece this year with Harder.
“I began composing All the Different Parts with the intention of writing music simply for the sake of writing music – no plots, no programmes, no character developments. But as with all best laid plans, this one was thrown out the window and fell into a snow bank two meters deep. With no programme driving the music, what came out while writing was music exposing my inner-most feelings – feelings I wasn’t even yet aware of. Life threw life at me (as it does), and this music became the vehicle that helped me process it. By the time I started writing the fourth movement, I realized that this music was simply expressing all the different parts of me.”
I. mistakes make great motifs
IV. end with joy
Instrumentation: Wind Quintet
Premiere scheduled for May 9, 2021 by Mistral 5, Saskatoon, SK
Provincial premieres by Blythwood Winds in Ontario, and Fifth Wind in Nova Scotia TBD due to pandemic
It was autumn in Copenhagen, 1921. Scandinavian composer Carl Nielsen had just put down the receiver of his telephone after having a brief conversation with his friend, the pianist Christian Christiansen. On that evening in particular, Chrisrtiansen was rehearsing for an upcoming concert to be performed by himself and the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. So it was that the background music of the rehearsal hall (in which the musicians of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet were rehearsing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante) made its way to Carl Nielsen’s ear for the first time. He was immediately struck by the incredible musical synchronicity between flautist Paul Hagemann, oboist Svend C. Felumb, clarinettist Aage Oxenvad, hornist Hans Sørensen, and bassoonist Knud Lassen. Nielsen vowed that very evening to begin writing a wind quintet with the talents of these specific players in mind.
One of Nielsen’s biographers, the British composer Robert Simpson, stresses that it was Nielson’s fondness for the great outdoors and the people he met which served as the greatest inspiration for the Wind Quintet’s inception. “Nielsen’s fondness of wind instruments is closely related to his love of nature, his fascination for living, breathing things. He was also intensely interested in human character, and in the Wind Quintet composed deliberately for five friends, each part is cunningly made to suit the individuality of each player.”
Nielsen’s programme notes provide a window into the composer’s relationship with the work itself. He writes that “The quintet for winds is one of [my] latest works, in which [I have] attempted to render the characters of the various instruments. At one moment they are all talking at once, at another they are quite alone. The work consists of three movements: a) Allegro, b) Minuet and c) Prelude – Theme with Variations. The theme for these variations is the melody for one of C.N.’s spiritual songs, which has here been made the basis of a set of variations, now merry and quirky, now elegiac and serious, ending with the theme in all its simplicity and very quietly expressed.” Critics of Nielsen’s work have pointed out that it is this delicate balance between aspects of modernism and neo-classicism which make the composer’s work on the Wind Quintet so prolific.
The first movement of Nielsen’s Wind Quintet (Allegro ben moderato) is in sonata form, beginning with the bassoon’s statement of the theme in E. The upper winds echo this in their reply before it is repeated once more by the French horn (this time in the key of A major). The theme is played in fragments until the arrival of the second theme in D minor. First played by the French Horn, the bassoon and oboe are soon to follow with an accompaniment of triplet figures by the flute and clarinet. With a restatement of the first theme, the development of this movement’s melody begins. In the final segment of the movement, the recapitulation of the first theme in E major flows into the second theme (now in B minor) with harmonizing thirds in the horn and bassoon employing a rich texture throughout.
The second movement (Menuet) takes the shape of a pastoral minuet and enjoys a certain neoclassical sensibility. The French horn is scored lightly in this section, which allows the player to rest before their involvement in the third and final movement. The first theme of the Menuet features a duet between clarinet and bassoon, while the second theme follows a similar pattern of exchange between the oboe and flute. A simple and elegant dance, the movement sees all instruments engage in a recapitulation of the first theme. After this, a trio (played by oboe, flute, and bassoon) makes use of contrapuntal textures to provide contrast to the simplicity of the first two themes.
The third movement of the Wind Quintet sees a brief Praeludium executed before the piece embarks on a set of variations. For the Praeludium, the English horn takes the place of the oboe. Music historians have posited that this change was included after Nielsen fell in love with oboist Felumb’s English horn solo during a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Nielsen himself conducted this performance in Bremen, and was absolutely blown away at the raw emotion that Felumb’s English horn skills could evoke. The central theme of this third movement is taken from Nielsen’s own chorale tune “Min Jesus, lad min Hjerte faa en saaden Smag paa dig” (My Jesus, make my heart to love thee). The eleven variations which stem from this theme are very complex, not only in the skill required to execute them but also in their harmonic structure. The theme from Nielsen’s chorale is restated at the end of the Wind Quintet and builds to a triumphant climax.
Nielsen’s Wind Quintet was completed in 1922 at his residence in Gothenburg, Sweden. First performed on April 30th at a private gathering at the home of Herman and Lisa Mannheimer, the piece became an immediate sensation. Each of the five musicians who had performed in the Copenhagen Wind Quintet (and who had directly inspired the work’s composition) debuted Nielsen’s Wind Quintet on this occasion. They reconvened for an official concert debut on October 9th of that same year at the Odd Fellows Mansion in Copenhagen, a relatively intimate venue which showcased superbly the unique qualities of each instrumental voice.
Nielsen would pass away only nine years later, but his Wind Quintet would live on to inspire countless woodwind musicians in the decades following. The Wind Quintet itself is regarded as a staple of modern woodwind repertoire, and is performed more often in Nielsen’s native Scandinavia than any other piece he composed during his lifetime. Your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is delighted to bring this classic to the stage at our Mother’s Day Concert!
André George, a French reviewer for the periodical Les Nouvelles littéraires, once wrote that “with Poulenc, all of France comes out of the windows he opens.” One could extend such a compliment to include the whole world, for his contemporary musical stylings gave compositions like his Sextet an air of well-traveled sophistication and compelling emotional range.
An influential member of the composer group Les Six, Francis Poulenc composed his Sextet somewhere between 1931 and 1932. Originally composed as a piece of chamber music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, piano and French horn, the Sextet came to Poulenc during a period of great musical productivity. The composer had just finished their Concerto for Two Pianos in addition to a cantata, Le Bal Masqué. Poulenc’s popularity as a member of Les Six was reaching its zenith, and he wanted to ensure his next musical gift to the world wouldn’t disappoint.
Poulenc struggled throughout his life with a musical form of writer’s block, something which inexplicably came and went depending on the nature of the musical work he was composing at the time. With the Sextet, Poulenc laboured for months to pull the music together in a way that best fitted his vision for the piece as a whole. The composer would return to his manuscripts for the piece in 1939, seven years after his Sextet’s premiere, in order to revise what he felt was a work of great potential that failed to execute properly the first time around.
After extensive revisions, Poulenc wrote a letter to his friend and confidante, the conductor and composer Nadia Boulanger. In this letter, Poulenc shared the experience of rewriting the Sextet to better fit his original vision for the piece. “There were some good ideas in [the original]” he wrote, “but the whole thing was badly put together. With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.” Poulenc’s decision to rewrite his Sextet was ultimately a positive one, as critics cite the evocative capacity of each instrument within the quintet increased substantially following Poulenc’s return to the musical drawing-board.
The sextet is separated into three sections and is approximately eighteen minutes in duration. The first movement, “Allegro vivace”, features a rhythmic piano line upon which the quintet can layer rapid-fire melodies which draw inspiration from elements of jazz. The movement creates the sensation of movement by utilizing abrupt rhythmic changes in all instrumental voices, and it flurries away just as quickly as it arrived to reveal a beautiful bassoon solo.
Movement two, the Divertissement: Andantino, exhibits a fast section framed by two slower and majestic passages. The bassoon solo which opens the movement is repeated by other instrumental voices in turn before the oboe and clarinet drive the pace forward through the faster section. Recapitulating the themes explored in the movement’s beginning, the sumptuous strains of this second movement recall Classical influences while also parodying elements of Mozart.
The Finale: Prestissimo represents the emotional highpoint of the entire work, and the accelerated tempo reflects this. The movement is in rondo form, and begins with “an Offenbachian gallop”. The jazz influences from the first and second movements are more pronounced here, and the spirit of ragtime is explored to delightful effect. Critics have interpreted this element of the Finale as being a “satirical depiction of neoclassicism in music”. After revisiting themes from the first and second movements at greater speeds, the Finale takes inspiration from Ravel in the execution of a coda brimming with lyricism and beauty.
Premiered in 1933, the Sextet’s original lineup featured Poulenc himself on the piano alongside Marcel Moyse, Roland Lamorlette, Louis Cahuzac, Gustave Dhérin, and R. Blot on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, respectively. Although the piece itself was not lauded by some of the more traditional critics in the musical community of France, (with critic Florent Schmitt of Le Temps criticizing it as wandering and vulgar), others found it to be a musical breath of fresh air.
Pulling from a multitude of musical styles, Poulenc’s Sextet is a triumphant example of what can be produced if one persists in the depths of a frustrating case of brain fog. You can hear your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra perform Poulenc’s Sextet at our upcoming Mother’s Day concert!