Archive for havergal brian

BBC Proms 2011: Highlights

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Pianist Lang Lang, described by BBC Proms director Roger Wright as “arguably the best known classical artist in the world”, will become the first artist ever to perform at both the Proms in the Park and the Royal Albert Hall on the same night.

Classical music meets comedy at the Proms for the first time. Tim Minchin, the Australian performer, presents an evening of music and laughs with Sue Perkins, cabaret duo Kit and The Widow, pianist Danny Driver, soprano Susan Bullock and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra will take requests from the crowd in a highly unusual late night Prom. The audience will choose from a list of up to 300 pieces, none of which the orchestra has rehearsed.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra will use rubber gloves and coat hangers to perform extracts from Sergio Leone film soundtracks. Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio 3 and the director of the Proms, called them “five cracking musicians”.

Havergal Brian’s vast Gothic Symphony which has been rarely performed since it was composed in the 1920s will be played on 17 July when the 1,000 musicians required – including two orchestras and 10 choirs – are marshalled. Wright said: “Once we have fitted in the performers there will be hardly any room for the audience.”

Rossini’s William Tell is another work hardly ever performed. The opera lasts nearly five hours. Audiences will have a rare chance to hear this gripping story of Swiss nationalism conducted by the Royal Opera House music director, Antonio Pappano.

I can’t go on …

Johannes Brahms: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Personally, I’m passionate about Brahms; but I’m very aware that some people, including some quite eminent composers, feel or have felt the opposite.

There are some composers whose work is more likely than that of others to invite extreme reactions, although I would not immediately have singled out Brahms as a particularly notable example, for all that there are some for whom he could do no wrong and others who detest much of his work – in other words, I’m less than convinced that these extreme positions vis-à-vis Brahms are especially common. Britten’s loathing of Brahms, whilst well known, was by no means universal; he had, for example, a lot of time for the D minor piano concerto.

Delius strikes me as one example of a composer whose work tends to elicit mostly very positive or very negative responses; Havergal Brian is another. Why it is that certain composers’ works more often than not tend to attract these extreme reactions is quite another matter.

It’s interesting that most people associate Brahms with his chamber and orchestral works, when around three-quarters of his output includes voices. Many, many songs (countless treasures in there), numerous works for multiple solo voices and instruments, and much for choir (Brahms conducted several choirs through the course of his career) and choir and orchestra.

I tend to believe that the problem with a lot of Brahms performance lies not so much with the use of vibrato, larger orchestras, modern pianos, or whatever (all of which Brahms experienced on occasion), but the approaches to phrasing and articulation – already problematic in editions appearing very soon after his death (for example those of the piano music by Sauer) which tend to smooth out the many very subtle details in this respect, and replace his sometimes fragmentary and delicate approach to the balance between small-scale units and longer lines with a rather homogeneous approach stressing maximum continuity. And the rests are very important (and Brahms took immense care over them when preparing editions) – many pedal markings in others’ ediions of the piano music make little sense in this respect, nor do some conductors’ attempts to artificially make contrasting fragments cohere into a continuous whole, negating some of the inner tensions.

Flats, Harps & Sharps

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


The key of B is occasionally written as C flat, so I presume that it is technically possible for the key of E to be written as F flat? If this is the case, I can’t think of a piece of music written in the key of F flat.

Am I correct (yes I know I am) in thinking that it suits harpists (sometimes) to play in keys like C flat?

I also understand that Havergal Brian would write in E sharp rather than F.

So far as Brian was concerned, it is (I presume) that writing with all those sharps and double sharps gave a somewhat more exotic flavour than the mundane single flat (B flat) of F major. Equally, moving sharp feels to the composer as if he is turning the screw, whereas going flat does the opposite. None of this can of course be heard by the listener.

Part of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen uses F flat major, which one commentator has called “a bitter enharmonic parody” of the earlier manifestations of E major in the piece.

But I must admit I wouldn’t have noticed.

In the case of the harpists it is to do with the neutral, up and down position of the seven pedals.

A modern concert harp when “glissandoed” will play a diatonic scale of C flat major when all seven pedals are in the up position. This is why harpists always use a C flat tuning fork to begin their tuning routine. Each pedal has three positions (up, middle and down) respectively raising the pitch of the strings it controls by one semitone. Each pedal is dedicated to altering one of the notes of the scale, hence the C-pedal will affect all the C-strings, the D-pedal all the D-strings, etc. Thus when all 7 pedals are put into their middle position the harp will play a scale of C major, and when in their fully down position, they will play C sharp major. By fiddling around with the pedals (which you will notice harpists do all the time, like some demented organist) they can set their harp to play any sort of scale. It needs quite a brain to do it, but if you look at an orchestral harp part it does have instructions about what to do.

Well, it’s easy, really. Most of the harpists I know are extremely serious.

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