- Overture: Don Giovanni: Mozart
- Romance No. 2 in F for violin and orchestra Op. 50: Beethoven
- Threnody for the Passing of Branwen: Morfydd Owen
- Serenade for small orchestra: Matthias
- Symphony No. 40 K.550: Mozart
Overture: Don Giovanni K.527
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
The evening of 29th October 1787 must have been quite a night to remember if you were in Prague at the time for it witnessed the Premiere of an Opera: “The Rake punished, or Don Giovanni, a dramma giocoso in two acts” by Mozart. The work was rapturously received and the reviews were very favourable: the Prager Oberpostamtzeitung reported, “Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague has never heard the like” and the young composer, who had conducted, was greeted with great enthusiasm by the assembled throng.
The plot of the opera is well known and the slow and menacing opening of the overture takes its music from the penultimate act in which the statue of the Commendatore, invited to dinner by Don Giovanni, arrives and demands repentance from the Don. In the opera this is refused and the Don is dragged off to hell consumed by fire however in the overture this introduction is followed by a beautifully crafted fast movement in D major more in keeping with the young rake on his adventures. Despite its mainly lighthearted mood the Commendatore’s menace is never far away in the minor chords that punctuate particularly the development (the movement is in a somewhat compressed sonata form).
In a performance of the complete opera the overture runs straight into the first act but Mozart did provide a separate ending to be used in concert performances of the overture alone. He obviously realised that this minor masterpiece would happily stand apart and get many outings in its own right!
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Threnody for the Passing of Branwen
Morfydd Owen (1891 – 1918)
Branwen ferch Llŷr is a principal character in the second book of the Mabinogion and the sister of Brân the Blessed, a giant and King of Britain. In the story King Brân agrees that Branwen should marry the king of Ireland, Matholwch thereby bringing a strong alliance between the two nations. Unfortunately, things do not work out well and, largely due to the scheming of Branwen’s half brother, Efnysien, there is hugely bloody war between the two nations in which both Brân and Matholwch are killed along with all their men. The few Welsh survivors, including Branwen, return to Wales where, broken-hearted at her loss and at the bloodshed, she dies and is buried at Bedd Branwen on the banks of Afon Alaw, Llanddeusant, Anglesy.
Such is the inspiration for this short piece for strings only by Morfydd Owen whose tragically early death, from complications arising from an operation for acute appendicitis, robbed us of an extremely talented composer. Morfydd Owen was born at Treforest and trained at the University of Cardiff followed by the Royal Academy of Music. Despite her short life she left some 250 pieces which include pieces for chamber ensemble, piano, mixed choir and tone poems for orchestra but her main reputation rests on her output of songs. The Tthrenody dates from 1916 and was apparently left unfinished. As might be expected it is suitably slow and richly sonorous. It was played at the The BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ St. David’s Day concert on 1st March 2019 under the direction of Adrian Partington.
Romance in F Op. 50 for Violin and Orchestra
Soloist and Director: Rachel Podger
The title “Romance” is often used in music for short instrumental pieces. In French it means “song”, in Spanish a type of ballad and in English a song-like instrumental piece which is what Beethoven obviously had in mind. Little is known about the circumstances of the two romances for violin and orchestra which Beethoven composed, although they were written in about 1798 for a violinist, Ignaz Schuppanigh, but not often performed.
The F major romance begins without any introduction, the principal theme being announced by the soloist accompanied by the orchestra. The pattern of solost followed by orchestral tutti is followed throughout.
Mark Foster, 2004
Serenade for small orchestra
William Mathias was born in Whitland, Carmarthenshire, studied under Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music and going on to become professor of Music at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1963 he received a commission from his native Carmarthenshire Education Authority for a piece for the county youth orchestra and produced this short serenade in three movements.
The first movement has prominent parts for the wind and harp. In the wistful, sometimes dark, lento second movement use is made of a folk-like theme fortuitously reminiscent of “Scarborough Fair”. The third movement is definitely dance music – Slancio means “dash and impetus” but here there is no reference to any folk material.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor K.555
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Allegro Molto, Andante, Menuetto, Allegro assai
Mozart’s last three symphonies were composed within six weeks during 1788 and remain one of music’s most astonishing feats. The reason for this exceptional outburst still remains unknown and none of the works were performed during the composer’s lifetime.
The first movement owes its unique momentum to the exploitation of energy created by the semitone motive in the opening theme, the whole movement being deeply serious and turbulent throughout. The Andante is based on a lyrical repeated note figure played first by the violas, although the tranquility of the movement seems to be seeking for something never quite attained. The energy of the opening Allegro returns for the Menuetto, courtly elegance being replaced by the austere determination with only a brief lull for the trio. The finale again plunges into a restless world, its cause remaining both a mystery and a miracle.
Mark Foster 2000