Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Programme Notes Sterndale Bennett

Programme notes

This programme, which provided an opportunity to hear some less frequently played works of the 19© piano repertoire, contains a linking theme: Mendelssohn complimented, and received a tribute from the young Englishman William Sterndale Bennett, who himself received a tribute from Robert Schumann. Another Englishman (Sydney Smith) also paid homage to Mendelssohn a generation later.

Rondo Capriccioso in E major, Op. 14    Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

Mendelssohn was remarkable for the excellence of his teenage compositions, such as the miraculous octet (1825), the opus 13 quartet (1827) and this popular Rondo (written between 1824 and 1829). It is almost as though his more structured, intellectual, and aesthetically perfect work came to him when he was learning his craft, and before the full flowering of the romantic vein with which his name is inextricably linked. The rondo itself (Presto) seems to have been completed around 1828, but in 1830 it was published in its present form with the introductory Andante. In 1835 Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig to conduct the Gewandhaus Orchestra. There he founded the Conservatoire that became (perhaps) the most famous in Germany. He himself rarely took pupils and only when he saw genius or potential; among these were the composer William Sterndale Bennett, and the pianist Camille Stamaty.

Piano Sonata in F minor, op. 13  — William Sterndale Bennett (1816 - 1875)

i. Moderato Espressivo,  ii. Allegro Agitato,  iii. Moderato Grazioso, iv. Presto Agitato

In 1833 the 17 year old Bennett played his first piano concerto to the King in Windsor castle and again in London. Mendelssohn was in the audience. He befriended the youth, and invited him to come to Germany to study and develop his talent, first in Düsseldorf and later in Leipzig. At one point Mendelssohn said of Bennett: "I think him the most promising young musician I know…". Bennett made several trips and spent many months at a time in Germany, meeting among others Robert Schumann, with whom he spent much of his free time in terms of easy familiarity. This opus 13 sonata was completed at the end of such a visit in 1837 and was offered to Mendelssohn as a wedding present on his marriage to Cécile Jeanrenaud. Not surprisingly the work shows traces of  both Mendelssohn and Schumann. Back in England, marriage (1844), teaching (London and Cambridge universities) and administration (Royal Academy) took up much of the rest of his life.

++++++++     Interval of 20 minutes     ++++++++

Etudes Symphoniques, op. 13     —————    Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

In 1837 Schumann dedicated this work to Sterndale Bennett (who replied with his opus 16 Fantasy, dedicated to Schumann). The work stems from 1834 when Schumann was living in the Wieck household and secretly engaged to Ernestine von Fricken, a fellow pupil under Friedrich Wieck (whose daughter Clara eventually became Robert's wife). Ernestine's guardian, Baron von Fricken, had composed a theme and variations for flute and piano. Schumann wrote 16 variations on the Fricken theme, though before its publication as opus 13 in 1837 these were trimmed to 9 variations on the Fricken theme, two new studies and a brilliant finale based on a theme from a Marschner opera itself based on Scott's 'Ivanhoe'. This represented (in Schumann's mind) a compliment to his young Yorkshire friend W. Sterndale Bennett. Why 'Studies'? Because they each tackle an issue of technique. Why 'Symphonic'? Perhaps because of the greatness and orchestral nature of the conception.

Theme - Andante

Etude 7 (Variation 6) - Allegro molto

Etude 1 (Variation 1) - Un poco più vivo

Etude 8 (Variation 7) - Sempre marcatissimo

Etude 2 (Variation 2) - Andante

Etude 9 - Presto possibile

Etude 3 - Vivace

Etude 10 (Variation 8) - Allegro con energia

Etude 4 (Variation 3) - Allegro marcato

Etude 11 (Variation 9) - Andante espressivo

Etude 5 (Variation 4) - Scherzando

Etude 12 (Finale) - Allegro brillante on

Etude 6 (Variation 5) - Agitato

   Marschner's  " Du stolzes England freue dich"


Reminiscences of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor —  Sydney Smith (1839 - 1889)

This once popular but now forgotten piece reminds us that in 1873 there were no gramophone records, few orchestras, but a great many pianos; most people would only encounter Beethoven symphonies, Verdi operas and Mendelssohn concertos, in the form of piano transcriptions. Sydney Smith, born in Dorchester as the grandson of a professor of piano, and the son of a noted violinist, was (like Arthur Sullivan) sent at the age of 16 to study for 3 years at the famous Leipzig Conservatoire, where he studied piano, cello (and no doubt composition). On returning to England he set up in London as a piano teacher giving regular concerts with his pupils. His transcriptions and original compositions (over 400 in all) became enormously popular throughout the English-speaking world, being effective without being enormously difficult. (The present work is by no means easy, combining as it does the solo piano and the orchestral material.)  Incapacitated by illness, he died in poverty.

L. Cawstein

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