SSO’s Picasso Connection

Saskatoon’s art scene is coming of age this week.

Opening the Remai Modern is the most highly anticipated arts events of the decade in Saskatoon.  And particularly exciting for Saskatoon to have a chance to finally see its remarkable new Picasso collection on display for the first time.

In 1964, the same year that the Mendel Art Gallery opened, the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra commissioned a new work by Canada’s leading composer of the time, Harry Somers.  Somers was paramount to the development of the identity of Canadian classical music, and was involved in the development of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Music Centre.  Among his many notable compositions is his opera Louis Riel which was written to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the confederation of Canada.

The 1960s proved to be a pivotal decade in Somers’ career. He became more involved in diverse aspects of the Canadian music scene and his career as a composer finally took off. Although he had struggled to make a living on his compositions prior to this point in his career, this was the decade in which Somers no longer needed to hold a permanent position at any establishment and instead was able to live off of his commissions alone.

He began the decade by returning to Paris for more compositional studies, thanks to a Canada Council for the Arts fellowship. While there, he concentrated on Gregorian chant, particularly its revival by the Solesmes Abbey.

When he returned to Canada, Somers became interested in how young people were being exposed to and educated about Canadian music. He sought to improve upon their education via a number of different methods. In 1963, he became a member of the John Adaskin Project, which was an in-school initiative involving the teaching and performance of Canadian music in schools. Also in 1963, Somers began his part-time career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation by hosting televised youth concerts.

John Adaskin was the brother of Murray Adaskin who was the SSO’s 4th Music Director.  Through the Adaskin connection, the SSO commissioned a new work for chamber orchestra from Somers.

In 1964, Somers wrote the SSO the “Picasso Suite”.  It was adapted from music for a television program on the life of Picasso. The suite is nine movements long. The performing forces consist of: a flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet, strings, two percussionists, piano, and celesta.  It’s jazz infused and captures the many artistic eras of Picasso’s life…the Blue period, Cubism, Neo-Classical, you get the idea!

The first movement, “Paris 1900 – Snapshot” is in B flat major. it is marked Allegro and is in 4/4 time. It opens with a trombone glissando, which leads directly into a snappy parody of a ragtime melody played by the trumpet and trombone. The piano and percussion parts are improvised over a pizzicato bass. The short, symmetrical phrases feature syncopated rhythms. A siren, whistle, and triangle add color. The final measures are marked accelerando.
The eighth movement, “Arcadia – Faun with Flute – Innocence” is in G major. The tempo is marked allegretto. It is in 3/4 time and is played in a delicate waltz style. The melody is derived from a simple Spanish folk song. The music box-like theme is played first on the solo glockenspiel. The solo flute repeats the melody to a simple pizzicato accompaniment. The enchanted mood is maintained by the celesta and glockenspiel in the closing measures.

Click to Take a listen!


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