Concert Notes: A Little Night Music

MCO’s A Little Night Music can be heard in Melbourne on Friday 20 November at The Deakin Edge, Federation Square & Sunday 22 November at Melbourne Recital Centre.


Luigi Boccherini

La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid Op 30 No 6 G324 in C major

Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca, Italy, spent some time in Vienna and Paris, and from 1776 lived and worked in Spain. He was a prolific composer of chamber music with over 100 string quintets, nearly 100 string quartets and more than 100 other chamber works.

La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid (Night music of the streets of Madrid) was composed in 1780 (but not published until 1822) and is one of only two programmatic works Boccherini composed. The program of the work takes us through the tolling of church bells, drum rolls from a military barracks, the minuet of the blind beggars where the cellists have to play their cellos like guitars, the Rosary prayer, the movement of the street singers, a drum roll, and La Ritirata di Madrid (the retreat of the Military Night Watch of Madrid) bringing in the curfew and closing the streets.

Of this work Boccherini wrote, “One must imagine sitting next to the window on a summer’s night in a Madrid flat and that the band can only be heard in the far-off distance in some other part of the city, so at first it must be played quite softly. Slowly the music grows louder and louder until it is very loud, indicating the Night Watch is passing directly under the listener’s window. Then gradually the volume decreases and again becomes faint as the band moves off down the street into the distance.”


Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky

Nocturne for cello & string orchestra
Andante cantabile for cello and strings

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky arranged the Nocturne in C sharp minor from the fourth of the Six Morceaux Op 19 for piano, composed in 1873. He arranged the work for a performance of his music in Paris in 1888. At the same concert his arrangement of the cello version of the Andante Cantabile was also performed. The transcription of the Nocturne does not move far away from the original version. The tempo marking is Andante sentimentale. The work is structured simply with an opening cello solo accompanied by the other strings, a flowing middle section, and a small cadenza that leads to a reprise of the opening melody.

The Andante cantabile in B major is an arrangement of the second movement of the String Quartet No 1 Op 11 (1871). The melancholy folk like melody of the opening is contrasted to a brighter yet wistful melody before a return to the initial melody.


Nicholas Buc

A Little Night Music

The composer writes: A Little Night Music is in many ways a love song to everything nocturnal. There is always a sense of uncertainty that comes with the fall of darkness, a time when the imagination can run wild and shadows can inspire hidden desires. The musical portrait painted here takes the listener on a journey through the nighttime of their conscience. A place where the sinuous meets the sensuous, where the romanticism of one’s dreams meets the otherworldliness of one’s imagination. Under the watchful eye of the moon, nothing is too strange, too grand, or too beautiful for the mind.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Divertimento in F major K138
i. Allegro
ii. Andante
iii. Presto

The Divertimento K138/125c was composed in 1772 in Salzburg. The teenage Mozart composed a set of divertimenti after returning from his second tour of Italy. These works are considered early efforts at the string quartet as his first cycle of quartets was composed shortly after these divertimenti.

The fast moving outer movements are dominated by the first violin, while the lengthy central Andante has a sense of charm and repose. The work is sparkling and exuberant.

The terms divertimento, serenade, notturno and cassation have been used at times interchangeably for a work with a collection of movements that were primarily designed for the entertainment of the listeners and the players. The terms were often associated with music for outdoor entertainment.

Serenade No 13 K525 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”

In German “Nachtmusik” is a serenade, and the title of this work is “a little serenade”. The slide to “a little night music” comes in the definition of a serenade where on one hand it is a performance given outdoors to a lady being courted, as well as an instrumental composition in several movements, written for a small ensemble.

The Serenade in G was completed in August 1787 while Mozart was working on Don Giovanni. The origin of the work and its first performance are not recorded. It was not published until 1827.

The work provides an elegant introduction to a number of forms of the time: sonata-allegro form, rondo, and minuet and trio. These forms dominated classical composition and influenced work for the next century. The first movement is in Sonata-Allegro form with the opening assertive theme contrasted with the graceful second theme. The Romanze marked Andante is a tender and intimate movement in rondo form where the opening theme continues to return against a series of contrasts. The third movement is a minuet and trio with the standard minuet, trio, minuet form. The finale is a high-spirited Rondo in sonata form.


Gustav Holst

St Paul’s Suite Op 29 No 2

The English composer Gustav Holst wrote a considerable amount of music for St Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith, London where he was Director of Music from 1905 to 1934. The St Paul’s Suite or Suite in C Op 29 No 2 was written for his school ensemble. Although composed in 1912 it was not published until 1922. The work is one of Holst’s most performed works and stands admirably alongside The Planets Op 32.

The work is in four movements. The opening movement is a Jig. It contains a single theme that is stated at the beginning and then goes through various transformations. The second movement is marked Ostinato (literally an obstinate repetition of a phrase or rhythm – in this case it’s a four note phrase). The figure is repeated throughout the movement with a lyrical melody attempting to find its place.
The third movement is an intermezzo. The term is usually used to designate an interlude between sections of a longer work. This opens with a solo violin over pizzicato strings and quickly changes to Vivace with an increase in energy. There is a return to the solo violin at the end of the movement.
The finale is a direct transcription of the composer’s Second Suite in F for wind band. This is another ostinato with the folk song – “Dargason” – passed around the instruments. Against this activity the folk song “Greensleeves” emerges and the interplay of two songs dominates the movement.

*David Forrest 2015