String Quartet No. 1 (Robben Island)
I. Chorale 1
II. Agitated and violent
III. Lilting, but with edge: Restless, quasi-dance
IV. With some panic: From afar
V. Majestically: Joyous
VI. Chorale 2
Robben Island had for a number of years been a symbol of great suffering and suppression of basic human rights. But when I came to visit the island around Christmas of 1998 (after the breakdown of apartheid), having already begun this quartet, I realized that Robben Island was also a place of beauty and mystery, and of course immense inspiration. I appreciated also that it is simply a piece of land, only temporarily abused since its formation.
So the quartet needed to reflect characteristics as well as events, and thus the piece emerges only gradually, almost like the island appearing out of the mist. If it feels uncertain and edgy, then all the better. The second movement had a working title of ‘the road from Natal’, where Nelson Mandela was arrested before his final trial. It is violent, a siren wails in places, although on occasion the chasing has odd elements of farce. For the opening of the third movement I had in mind the misery of being transported to the island, tired, battered, and full of fear and trepidation. A later section is marked ‘Restless, quasi-dance’, and this relates to the earlier history of the island – for some time it was a leper colony and I wanted to convey a lifestyle and mental energy that would be so strange and difficult to comprehend by those on the outside. It draws to a close with more reference to modern times, a confrontation of imprisonment and a theoretical slamming of a cell door gives it a dramatic finale. The fourth movement had a working title of ‘isolation’ and I have used pizzicato chords to symbolize a heartbeat that both stops and runs into panic. An equally nervous ‘pacing up and down’ can be heard in the second violin, viola and ‘cello. This movement gives way to a re-emergence of the opening chorale, but this time with a little offbeat, reggae-like rhythm in the pizzicato first violin. Here I had in mind the hub of ‘real-life’ that was so near to the islanders, and yet so far. And then a fifth movement that had a working title of ‘spirit’. Being marked ‘Majestic: Joyous’ it speaks for itself, and is a celebration of one of the major successes of the twentieth century, the breakdown of apartheid. The work draws to a close with an ornamented version of the original chorale, but this time it finishes with a closer reference to the national anthem of New South Africa.
In programme notes I usually shy away from too much structural analysis, I think I have been worn down by the dominance that the ‘analysis of what someone has done’ takes over the ‘act of creation’. But I will mention here the opening motif of the national anthem of South Africa. I first hid this in a second subject of a Sonatina for guitar (Ricordi) some years ago. It was no coincidence that I settled on this on the afternoon that Mr. Mandela walked from Robben Island. I later experimented with it in a student piece for orchestra, and both of these gave me the preparation for this larger scale work. The rising third of the opening to the national anthem forms the basis of this quartet, as does the three-note response. But in this piece it is not the structure that is important, it is the human element. Yes, this is a tribute to one man, but to the spirit of many others as well.
A Walk Into War
(Tenor and piano quintet)
(Words: Laurie Lee)
- Introduction and Departure
- Sunstroke/ To the Sea
- Conflict and Home
A Walk Into War for tenor and piano quintet is based on two books by the English writer, Laurie Lee. The first, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, is an account of Laurie Lee leaving his village in Gloucester, walking through Wiltshire and the South before working a year in London and travelling to Spain. Laurie Lee left Spain at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, but returned to fight some time later. The account of this is given in a later book, A Moment of War.
This piece has three main sections. The first, an English phase, is concerned with Laurie Lee’s departure from his village, making his living by busking, and working in London. Laurie Lee was just 19 years old (‘still soft at the edges’) and these years were the 1930’s; hence at times there exists a layer of apprehension to the lighter quality. A Spanish section sets some of the dominant aspects of his long walk through Spain, a period of his book which captures so beautifully his own youth and naivety, and the ‘unspoilt’ feeling of Spain at this time. The third and final portion of this piece takes as its basis his return to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Subsequent analysis has brought some controversy to Laurie Lee’s account but his writing still remains one of the most evocative and important descriptions of this period of history, not least because he writes so easily about the contradictions of war – optimism and desolation, organization and confusion.
I have constructed this libretto from the two books and with the exception of one or two minor alterations all the phrases are preserved in their original form. Some deliberate musical references have been made, chosen because their première occurred in the year in question. These include Vaughan Williams and Walton, as well as allusion to Spanish structures of particular regions. A Walk Into War was commissioned by the Allegri String Quartet and supported by Southern Arts for its première at the Salisbury Festival 2002 with guest artists Paul Agnew (tenor) and Daniel Tong (piano).
Laurie Lee was born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in 1914, and was educated at Slad village school and Stroud Central School. At the age of nineteen he walked to London and then travelled on foot through Spain, where he was trapped by the outbreak of the Civil War. He later returned by crossing the Pyrenees, as described in his book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. In 1950 he married Catherine Polge and they had one daughter.
Laurie Lee published four collections of poems: The Sun My Monument (1944), The Bloom of Candles (1947), My Many-Coated Man (1955) and Pocket Poems (1960). His other works include The Voyage of Magellan (1948), a verse play for radio; A Rose for Winter (1955), which records his travels in Andalusia; The Firstborn (1964); I Can’t Stay Long (1975), a collection of his occasional writing; and Two Women (1983). He also wrote three bestselling volumes of autobiography: Cider with Rosie (1959), which has sold over six million copies worldwide, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and A Moment of War (1991), which are also published by Penguin in a single volume entitled Red Sky at Sunrise (1992).
Laurie Lee died in May 1997. In its obituary the Guardian wrote, ‘He had a nightingale inside him, a capacity for sensuous, lyrical precision’, and the Independent praised him as ‘one of the great writers of this century whose work conjured up a world of earthy warmth and beauty’.
Copyright © Penguin Books
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A Walk Into War Detailed Notes Notes
Michael Stimpson began his writing with music for the guitar, notably Café Music, Sonatina (Ricordi) and Five Miniatures (OUP). His first major chamber work was Sonatina for Piano Trio premièred at the Purcell Room by the Dussek Piano Trio, described as ‘…a finely poised, lyrical work…a joy to hear.’ by The Strad. The same venue housed the first performance of Three Variants on a Blue for violin and piano and 1999 also saw the première of his Concerto for Oboe at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (John Anderson oboe, Ross Pople conductor, London Festival Orchestra).
His works since have been varied in their subject matter, the stimulus often from contemporary events, favourite authors and poets. String Quartet No. 1 (Robben Island) reflected the breakdown of apartheid; The Stars Have Withdrawn Their Shining (harp), the life of John Ruskin; The Angry Garden (choir and orchestra) explored the issue of global warming; A Walk Into War (tenor and piano quintet) was based on the writing of Laurie Lee; Tales from the 15th Floor (cello and piano) was a personal account of four months in intensive care; and Dylan (baritone and harp) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the death of Wales’s most renowned poet, Dylan Thomas.
These and other works have received their premières from some of the most outstanding performers at the UK’s leading venues: Allegri String Quartet (St. John’s, Smith Square), Sioned Williams, Jeremy Huw Williams (harp/ baritone, Wigmore Hall), Paul Agnew and Daniel Tong (tenor/ piano, Salisbury Festival), Mifune Tsuji and Kyoko Hashimoto (violin/ piano, Japan 2001), Bridget MacRae and Roberto Russo (cello/ piano, Grottammare Festival, Italy), and Roy Wales (conductor, English Concert Singers and Orchestra). Michael was invited to join the jury of the Franz Liszt International Competition for Composers held in Italy in April 2004, a year when his works appeared in the USA, Italy and Iran.
In 2005 Michael’s major choral work Clouds of War was premièred by the English Chamber Orchestra and Tallis Chamber Choir conducted by Simon Wright in Cadogan Hall. In the presence of HRH Prince Michael of Kent, and with guest speaker Kate Adie, the work commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II. 2005 also saw the première of The Sun and the Moon – a clarinet quintet for David Campbell and the RTE Vanbrugh Quartet. In 2006 baritone Roderick Williams performed Dylan with Sioned Williams at the Llandudno Festival to critical acclaim.
2007 saw a tour of Italy and the UK by Italian duo Alessandro Maffucci and Roberto Russo (tenor/piano) with a new set of songs based on the poetry of Giovanni Pascoli (Dall’Alba al Tramonto); and the première of a new work for choir, Songs of Innocence and Experience, performed by the Exmoor Singers of London (conductor James Jarvis).
Michael Stimpson studied at the Royal Academy of Music and subsequently took his doctorate in composition. His work has been supported by South West Arts, Holst Foundation, RVW Trust, and Arts & Business, amongst others. He lives in the Chalke Valley in Wiltshire.
Allegri String Quartet
Peter Carter, Violin
Rafael Todes, Violin
Dorothea Vogel, Viola
Pal Banda, Violoncello
These members of the Quartet are the inheritors of a tradition that began over fifty years ago when four remarkably talented players (Eli Goren, James Barton, Patrick Ireland and William Pleeth) came together to create inspired performances of the great classical and romantic chamber music repertoire. “England’s most respected quartet” today derives both continuity and individuality from its members who are the proud guardians of the original ideals. Peter Carter, leader for 25 years and his colleagues, Pal Banda, Dorothea Vogel and Rafael Todes, each bring to the quartet a wealth of chamber music experience from around the world, and the Allegri’s distinctive personality continues to evolve.
The great classical and romantic works form the core of the Allegri repertoire: the Quartet has probably performed the cycle of Beethoven’s seventeen quartets more often than any other leading group, but equally it has commissioned and performed numerous quartets and quintets over the past 50 years and several of these have become part of the standard chamber music repertoire. The Quartet
worked closely with Benjamin Britten, recording two of his quartets under his personal guidance, and with Michael Tippett, whom they accompanied on a European tour in celebration of his 80th birthday. Champion of the second Viennese School, the Allegri has received critical acclaim for its performances of Berg’s Lyric Suite and of Schoenberg’s first and second string quartets.
The Allegri is committed to its work in the field of education. With the generous support of the Radcliffe Trust the Quartet has for over 30 years held residences at the universities of Bristol, Durham, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton, Bangor and Sussex.
Over the years the Allegri has performed with a long list of distinguished artists including Paul Agnew, Cecil Aronowitz, William Bennett, Benjamin Britten, Jack Brymer, James Campbell, Roger Chase, Clifford Curzon, Michael Evans, Annie Fischer, Michael Kaznowski, Dame Thea King, Rosemarie Laundry, Martin Lovett, John Ogden, Gervase de Peyer, Marisa Robles, Anton Kuertie, Susan Tomes, Rian de Waal, Moray Welsh and many more.
Recordings by the Allegri of Schubert’s String Quintet (with Moray Welsh cello) and the Death and the Maiden Quartet and of Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet (with James Campbell) have been chosen by the BBC ‘Building a Library’ programme as first choice. Its recordings encompass quartets and quintets by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, all of Schuberts’ and many of Brahms’ chamber works, the three quartets by Britten and quartets and quintets by Schumann, Bruch, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Ravel and Francaix.
The Allegri has performed all over the world: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Vienna, Moscow, St Petersburg, Sydney, Cape Town, Los Angeles, New York, Montreal and played at many international festivals: Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Casals’ Prades, Prague Spring, Berlin, Hong Kong, Ottawa, Stavanger, Turku, Tashkent and Parry Sound.
Now in its fifty first season, the Allegri is continuing its busy schedule with concerts in Europe, North America and of course Britain where it continues to fulfil residencies at five major universities.
Paul Agnew was born in Glasgow and read music as a Choral Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford. As an outstanding interpreter of baroque and classical repertoire he works regularly with the world’s leading early music groups and conductors including William Christie, Marc Minkowski, Ton Koopman, John Eliot Gardiner, Phillippe Herreweghe and Emmanuelle Haïm, both in concert and in opera.
Regarded as the leading interpreter of the French Baroque haute-contre roles, he made his Paris opera début singing the title role in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie to high critical acclaim at the Palais Garnier conducted by William Christie. He has returned to Opéra National de Paris to give performances of Rameau’s Platée, Les boreades and Les Indes galantes. Other operatic performances include appearances at Festival d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence, Opéra de Lyon and Zurich Opera.
In continuous demand on the international concert platform Paul Agnew was Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music Artist in Residence in 2004 and is a regular performer at the Edinburgh Festival. Other concert performances have included Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ with the orchestra of Komische Oper Berlin; Mozart’s Davidde Penitente at Konzerthaus Vienna as well as with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Alceste in Vara’s Zaterdag Matinee series at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam; Handel’s La resurrezione with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Radio Sinfonie Orchester Frankfurt under the baton of Emmanuelle Haïm.
Paul Agnew’s discography includes Beethoven Lieder for Naïve, L’enfance du Christ with La Chapelle Royale under Herreweghe for Harmonia Mundi; Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Bach Cantatas with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Koopman; Monteverdi’s Vespers, Charpentier’s La Descente Orphée aux Enfers and Rameau’sGrands Motets with Les Arts Florissants under Christie all for Erato; and Sally Beamish’s In Dreaming with Fretwork for Virgin Classics. On DVD his performances as Abaris (Les boreades) and Les Indes galantes are both released by Opus Arte and his acclaimed performance as Platée is released on TDK.
Highlights in the 2006/07 season include performances of Idomeneo with Les Arts Florissants, Theodora with Le Concert d’Astrée and Haydn’s Nelson Mass with Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI under the baton of Jeffrey Tate.
Daniel Tong studied in London with Irina Zaritskaya and Paul Roberts. He enjoys a varied career, performing frequently at Britain‘s major concert halls, festivals and on BBC Radio 3. He performed solo recitals for the Park Lane Group on the South Bank, at Steinway Hall and the Cheltenham Festival. Concerto appearances have included works by Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninov and Gershwin.
His own group, The London Bridge Ensemble, presents varied programmes of chamber music, often alongside song. They have already played in St John’s Smith Square, St George’s Bristol, the City of London Festival. They are resident ensemble at the Ponte de Lima Festival in Portugal and have played at festivals in Kerry and Sofia. In 2005 they made their debut at the Wigmore Hall with a programme that included a new commission for Piano Quartet and baritone by David Matthews. In 2007 they will make their first recording of Frank Bridge chamber and vocal works and give concerts in Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam.
In 2004 Daniel performed Dvorak’s Piano Quartets with the Picander Ensemble (Benjamin Nabarro, Lawrence Power and Jonathan Cohen) in venues including Wigmore Hall, the South Bank and Aldeburgh Festival to commemorate the composer’s centenary. They recorded these works last year for Merlin Classics. He regularly appears in recitals with baritone Ivan Ludlow and has also partnered tenors Paul Agnew and Charles Daniels, soprano Valerie Gabail and baritone Stephan Loges.
Daniel has a long-standing duo with violinist Fiona McNaught with whom he has been playing for ten years. They have been recipients of awards from the Craxton, Tunnell and Tillett Trusts and the Musicians’ Company. In 2002 they performed the complete Sonatas by Beethoven in several venues around the country.
Daniel is artistic director of the annual Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival.