Carducci Classics/ Joseph Horovitz CD/Notes
Fantasia on a Theme of Couperin
The Fantasia was completed in April 1962 and is dedicated to Philomusica of London, who gave the first performance on 29 July that year at a Victoria and Albert Museum Concert conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.
The first BBC broadcast was given by the Hirsch Chamber Players on 8 March 1965. The theme is taken
from the chromatic rising ground bass of Couperin’s famous keyboard “Passacaille” in B minor. An earlier composition for wind instruments (1958) was also the result of my long-standing affection for this potent musical idea. The present work is scored for eleven solo string parts: six violins are divided into two groups,
and two violas, two cellos and a bass complete the ensemble. Couperin’s four-bar phrase, with its original harmonisation, is quoted in the middle section of the work. My own opening theme undergoes a gradual
change towards this central point; then Couperin’s theme is developed and eventually brought back to a recapitulation of the opening statement. A radio presenter once summed up the Fantasia - rather neatly –
as a “Couperin sandwich”.
String Quartet No.4
Grave maestoso – allegro molto – lento
This work was first performed in 1953 at the Society for Promotion of New Music by the Alfredo Wang String Quartet, who gave the public première in London’s Wigmore Hall soon after. The first BBC broadcast was given by the Martin Quartet on 9 March 1954. Later broadcasts include a performance by the Cremona Quartet.
My first three string quartets are student works composed during my time at New College, Oxford. The score of the third quartet was accepted as the final part of my Bachelor of Music degree in 1948.
The fourth quartet was completed in October 1953, some three months after the premiere of my ballet Alice in Wonderland for Anton Dolin’s Festival Ballet Company. Now, more than half a century later, I find it curious that this rather dark and disturbing composition emerged after four years devoted almost entirely to light-hearted music-making in the fields of opera and ballet; I was nonetheless very conscious of my effort to create a convincing structure for the piece.
The three movements follow the pattern: slow – quick – slow. The first starts with a fugato on the main melodic idea of the whole work. This is joined by a lyrical companion theme, occupying the middle section, and the rest of the movement is mostly a development of both ideas.
The second movement is a scherzo based on the main theme of the previous movement. This, too, has its companion theme, occupying the middle section, rather like a classical trio. Towards the end, both themes are used in quick alternation, ending with a ghostly upward-rushing passage. The slow finale recalls some elements of the first movement that had remained undeveloped.These appear in a rhapsodic arioso on the first violin, and after gradual intensification erupt in a violent break; a moment of silence is followed by a restatement of the initial theme of the work, sounding far less emotionally secure than at the outset. In terms of human temperament the quartet moves from security to uncertainty.
Quartet for Oboe and Strings
Vivo – larghetto – molto allegro
Completed in February 1957, this quartet was premiered by the Society for Promotion of New Music at the Wigmore Hall, London, on 4 June that year, with Peter Graeme as soloist. The first BBC broadcast was given
by Roger Lord on 20 August 1958. The Quartet followed an earlier Sonatina for oboe and piano written while
I was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. It is essentially of a happy and lyrical nature, influenced by the association of the oboe with pastoral scenes throughout its history. In all three movements the string instruments evoke a landscape background, in which the oboe might be a shepherd playing his pipe.
String Quartet No.5
This quartet was composed as a sixtieth birthday tribute to the famous art historian, Sir Ernst Gombrich, commissioned by his publishers, the Phaidon Press. The premiere was given by the Amadeus Quartet at a concert in the Victoria and Albert Museum on 1 June 1969.
The emotional content of the music was deeply influenced by the fact that the commissioners, the dedicatee, three of the performers and I, the composer, were all Viennese refugees. We had made our home in England in 1938 after the surface Gemütlichkeit of Vienna cracked overnight from the pressure of the festering growth below. I was eleven then and this experience had not consciously influenced my music during the intervening thirty-one years. I believe that the long interval provided an essential perspective for a musical work to encompass extra-musical ideas; without such a digestive process, it might well become limited to mere reportage.
In this one-movement quartet the opening thematic material reflects my admiration for the dedicatee. However, this material is soon overtaken by the decadent chromatic gestures prevalent in early twentieth century Viennese music. Healthier diatonic discords tear into these conflicting elements during a long development section and, in a way, finally cleanse them. The melodies of the first section (statements) are entirely based on the intervals of the Third and Sixth, but with garish appendages of extra chromaticism (produced by means of bi-tonality between upper and lower instruments). After the inevitable conflict these intervals emerge in their true and elemental role as essential pillars of a major key.
Notes by the Composer
Joseph Horovitz was born in Vienna in 1926 and settled in England in 1938. After taking a music degree at New College, Oxford, he studied composition with Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music, London, winning the Farrar Prize, and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. His first post was as Music Director of the Bristol Old Vic Company (l950-5l); he then came to London during the Festival of Britain to conduct various ballet companies including the Ballets Russes. From 1952-63 he was Associate Director of the Intimate Opera Company and in 1956 was on the music staff of Glyndebourne Opera.
He received the Commonwealth Medal for Composition in l959 and a Leverhulme Research Award in l96l, and has won two Ivor Novello Awards: for the cantata Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo (Best British Music for Children 1975) and Lillie (Best TV Music 1978). He was awarded the Gold Order of Merit of the City of Vienna in l996, and in 2002 the Nino Rota Prize, Italy, for “an outstanding international musical career”. In autumn 2007 he received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class.
He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Music, where he has been a Professor of Composition since l96l.
He has been a Council Member of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain since l970, served on the Executive of the Performing Right Society from l969-1996, and from l98l-89 was President of the International Council of Composers and Lyricists (CIAM).
His works range widely: 12 ballets, including Alice in Wonderland commissioned by Festival Ballet in 1953 and regularly revived world-wide; 2 one-act operas - The Dumb Wife (libretto Peter Shaffer) and Gentleman’s Island (libretto Gordon Snell); 9 concertos (violin, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, euphonium, tuba, percussion, jazz piano/harpsichord); 5 string quartets; music for orchestra, brass band and wind ensembles; choral works, including an ecological cantata Summer Sunday and an oratorio Samson; works for Hoffnung Concerts – Bournevita and Horrortorio; music for Son et Lumière , and over seventy TV scores, including two BBC Shakespeare plays, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie series, Search for the Nile, Fight Against Slavery, Dorian Gray, Rumpole of the Bailey. In 2006 he completed an opera Ninotchka based on the romantic comedy film (1939).
NICHOLAS DANIEL, oboe
Nicholas Daniel’s long and distinguished career began at the age of 18, when he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition and went on to win further competitions in Europe. At his debut at the BBC Proms in 1992 the Sunday Times described him as one of the greatest exponents of the oboe in the world. Today one of the UK's most distinguished soloists as well as an increasingly successful conductor, he has become an important ambassador for music and musicians in many different fields.
Nicholas has been heard on every continent as a concerto soloist with the world’s leading orchestras, working under conductors such as Sakari Oramo, Sir Roger Norrington, Oliver Knussen, Richard Hickox and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. In addition to his extensive experience in baroque and 19th-century music, he is an important force in the creation and performance of new repertoire for oboe, and has premiered works by composers including Birtwistle, Dutilleux, Osborne, Tavener and Tippett.
Among several performances at the BBC Proms he premiered the Oboe Concerto by John Woolrich and two pieces by Thea Musgrave specially written for him: Helios, and Two’s Company for him and Dame Evelyn Glennie. In 1998 he recorded the Oboe Concerto by Joseph Horovitz (on the ASV label) under the composer’s direction.
Nicholas is a founder member of the Haffner Wind Ensemble and the Britten Oboe Quartet. He enjoys a long-standing collaboration with the pianist Julius Drake and the Maggini and Lindsay string quartets. As a conductor he has worked with orchestras in the UK and abroad, and is Associate Artistic Director of the Britten Sinfonia, and Artistic Director of the Leicester International Festival. He teaches in the UK and in Germany, where he is Professor of Oboe at the Musikhochschule, Trossingen.