Mercoledi Musicale

I had my first class of a ten week course on opera with my friend David Nice on Monday. The first five weeks are devoted to Beethoven’s only opera(s) – Leonore (1805) and its subsequent revision/reincarnation as what we know today as Fidelio (1814). It is a work that is definitely in my top ten list and I have been privileged to see several remarkable performances of it.

Now I may be wrong on this, and I hope David will correct me if I am, but though Beethoven revered Mozart he was not all that fond of his operas. However he did compose variations on music from Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Zauberflöte. The Nozze variation was composed in 1793 when Beethoven was 22 years old and first living in Vienna. It is dedicated to Elenore von Breuning, one of his students, with whom, it is said, he was infatuated. The “tendresse” was not returned – as often seemed to be the case with poor Ludwig. However they were to remain friends.

Rather unusually Beethoven introduces the original theme – Figaro’s Act I aria Se vuol ballare – picked out in pizzicato by the violin with a very unassuming accompaniment by the piano. However what follows in the 12 variations is a challenge for both violinist and pianist.

In writing about the piece in 1794 Beethoven said:
‘I should never have written down this kind of piece, had I not already noticed fairly often how some people in Vienna after hearing me extemporize of an evening would note down on the following day several peculiarities of my style and palm them off with pride as their own. Well, as I foresaw that their pieces would soon be published, I resolved to forestall these people’.

The word for January 13th is:
Variation /ˌverēˈāSH(ə)n/: [noun]
1.1 A change or difference in condition, amount, or level, typically with certain limits.
1.2 A different or distinct form or version of something.
Late Middle English (denoting variance or conflict): from Old French, or from Latin variatio(n- ), from the verb variare.

Mercoledi Musicale

I wasn’t sure what category this post was going to fit into.  It’s music but today is Thursday (though I suppose it could be Mardi Musicale for alliteration); it’s Robbie Burns Day which to some is a Feast and Festival; and for some reason I thought I had posted this video previously so there was a chance it was a Throwback Thursday.  Well a search indicates that the video that I made back in April of 2015 was never posted so it can’t be a Throwback.  Since Laurent will be consuming a dram of scotch (no rubbish Dr. Spo)  in honour of the poet tonight it qualifies as a Festival. And again it definitely is musicale of the highest order.

In previous posts I have mentioned the efforts of George Thomson to published folk songs from the British Isles in a form that would be appropriate for “respectable” drawings rooms of the early 1800s.  He had collected melodies and lyrics from Scottish, Irish and Welsh sources including some 25 that he had received from Robbie Burns. He ordered adaptions – mostly for the popular combination of piano, violin and violincello – from  Joseph Haydn, Leopold Kozeluch, Ignaz Pleyel and Beethoven. All in all 150 song adaptations by Beethoven of Irish, Welsh and Scottish songs have been preserved.

schottischelieder_opus108_4
Beethoven’s settings of Scottish Folk Songs was published in Berlin in 1822 with lyrics translated into German.

In 1818 Thomson published Beethoven’s op 108 Scottish Songs (Schottische Lieder) which contained twenty-five melodies that the composer had adapted – remarking that this was a less pleasant work for an artist but surely a good work for business.  He was to arrange 175 pieces for Thomson based on folk melodies that had been collected from various sources throughout Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  One hundred and fifty of them were published in various anthologies – twenty-five were left unpublished.  Amongst the 1818 songs was Faithfu’ Johnnie with lyrics attributed to “Mrs. Grant”, and it is presumed that is Anne Grant of Laggan* who both collected from and wrote poetry inspired by the Highlands.  The melody is of an unknown origin and in several music books is simply listed as “old Scottish melody”.

Here is that “old Scottish melody” with lyrics by Mrs Grant in an arrangement by Ludwig von Beethoven sung by the great Janet Baker accompanied by Yehudi Menuhin (violin), George Malcolm (piano), and Ross Pople (cello).  Not a bad pedigree for a folksong!

When will you come again, my faithful Johnny
When will you come again, my faithful Johnny
When the corn is gathered, when the leaves are withered
I will come again, my sweet and bonnie, I will come again

Then winter winds will blow, my faithful Johnny
Then winter winds will blow, my faithful Johnny
Though the day be dark with drift that I cannot see the lift§
I will come again, my sweet and bonnie, I will come again

Then will you meet me here, my faithful Johnny
Then will you meet me here, my faithful Johnny
Though the night be Hallowe’en when the fearful sights are seen
I will come again, my sweet and bonnie, I will come again

§ An old dialect word meaning “sky”.

So to all my friends who are celebrating Burns Night and to all of you who aren’t but wish you were and just to all of you I wish:

Sláinte Mhath! – Good Health!

*Anne Grant is a fascinating woman and her short biography on Wikipedia is worth the click.

On this day in 1858: The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is played at the marriage of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Victoria, and Friedrich of Prussia, and becomes a popular wedding processional.