Concert Notes: Art of the Symphony

MCO’s Art of the Symphony can be heard on Sunday 27 August 2:30pm and Thursday 31 August 7:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre and on-tour in Werribee, Portland, Casterton and Daylesford.


The program is built around the symphony in a range of forms. The term symphony is usually applied to an extended work for orchestra and is also used for large, sometimes multi-movement works, for a group of instruments. The word is derived from two Greek words meaning sounding together.


Historically, the term was associated with introductions to larger works such as opera, oratorio, or larger instrumental works. From the eighteenth century with the development of the opera overture, with the contrasting fast-slow-fast sections, contributed to the development of the form. The terms overture, sinfonia and symphony were used interchangeably. It was from this time that we see the emergence of the multi-movement work develop that we now regard as a symphony. Over the centuries the form has evolved and grown.


Carl Stamitz (1745–1801)
Symphony in F major Op 24 No 3
I. Grave – Allegro Assai
II. Andante Moderato
III. Allegretto – Allegro Assai


The Bohemian composer, Carl Philipp Stamitz (1745–1801) was the son of Johann Stamitz (1717–57) and is one of the composers of the second generation of the Mannheim School. He was a violinist, violist and viola d’amore player and travelled widely as a performer. A prolific orchestral composer, he wrote over 50 symphonies, 38 symphonies concertantes, and 60 concertos as well as a large amount of chamber music.


The three symphonies Op 24 were composed in The Hague in 1786 (when Mozart was 30 and Haydn 54). Most of Stamitz’s symphonies follow the fast-slow-fast model. The F major symphony commences with a slow Grave introduction before the Allegro assai. This movement is in a straightforward sonata form with a reduced development section. The Andante moderato movement is lyrical and expressive and leads into the spirited Allegretto – Allegro assai.


Benjamin Britten (1913–76)
Simple Symphony Op 4
I. Boisterous Bourrée
II. Playful Pizzicato
III. Sentimental Sarabande
IV. Frolicsome Finale


The English composer Benjamin Britten (1913–76) composed the Simple Symphony for string orchestra or string quartet between December 1933 and February 1934. The string orchestra version was first performed in Norwich in March 1934 conducted by the composer and published in 1935. It draws on works he composed between 1923 and 1926.


In the introduction to the score Britten wrote: “This Simple Symphony is entirely based on material from works which the composer wrote between the ages of nine and twelve. Although the development of these themes is in many places quite new, there are large stretches of work which are taken bodily from the early pieces – save for the re-scoring for strings.”


The work is in four short movements, each built on two themes of the composer’s childhood compositions with a descriptive and alliterative title: Boisterous Bourrée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande, and Frolicsome Finale. The playful titles give some indication of the intended audience of school children as performers and audience.


Leonora Duarte (1610–78)
Sinfonia à 5 No 1 Decimi toni
Sinfonia à 5 No 2 de Duodesimi toni
Sinfonia à 5 No 6 Octave Toni [Sopra Sol Mi Fa Sol La]


Leonora Duarte (1610–78) was a Flemish musician and composer of Portuguese-Jewish heritage living in Antwerp. Her family were rich jewellers and diamond merchants, and the family home was a centre for music and the arts.


Rudolf Rasch writing in Grove Music Online identified that Duarte wrote a set of seven abstract fantasies (one in two parts) for a consort of five viols in the late Jacobean style. This is music of the domestic sphere. Duarte’s works are reputed to be the earliest music for viol written by a woman in the seventeenth century.


Caerwen Martin (b 1973)
Sinfonia No 1 Embracing Duarte (2023)


Dr Caerwen Martin (b 1973) is an Australian born composer and cellist. Caerwen is the founder and artistic director of Silo String Quartet. They have toured and performed their compositions internationally for over 25 years. They write acoustic and amplified performance-based scores and digital and analogue works, often combining these through multimedia practices. Their primary inspirations are science, the environment, dreams, issues of social significance, LGBTI+ rights, spirituality, and significant emotional experiences. Caerwen works in conventional, alternative, and graphic notation. They developed visual artwork ArtScores using multidisciplinary art practices such as painting, sketching and photography. Commissions include works for symphony and chamber orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo artists, choir, film, dance, art installation, and theatre.


The composer writes: Embracing Duarte was written to honour the life and works early Flemish composer Leonora Duarte. The brevity and elegance of her symphonic works for consort de viol, as well as Duarte’s extraordinary life as a minority female Jewish composer of her time are the inspiration for this piece.


Josef Haydn (1732–1809)
Symphony No 49 in F minor Passion
I. Adagio
II. Allegro di molto
III. Menuet e Trio
IV. Presto


Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) is often considered the “father of the symphony”. James Webster, writing in Grove Music Online, states that “there is no other genre in Western music for which the output of a single composer is at once so vast in extent … so historically important and of such high artistic quality.” His 104 symphonies, spanning his compositional output, provide immense insight into the development of the form that was taken up by Mozart, Beethoven and their successors.


Symphony No 49 in F minor was completed around 1768 and published in 1771 in Paris. During the period from the late 1760s to the early 1770s Haydn was trialling different musical ideas, particularly around rhythmic and harmonic complexity, dynamic contrast and an increased use of counterpoint.


The four movements of this work are scored for two oboes, two horns and strings. The symphony uses the sequence of movements in a sonata da chiesa (church sonata): slow-fast-slow-fast. Unusually each movement is in F minor with a reprieve of the Trio in F major.


There is conjecture as to the nickname “La Passione”. It could be to do with the drive and intensity that pervades the work, or from a performance during Holy Week in 1790.


The opening movement is a solemn Adagio that is mournful and heavy. The Allegro di molto is dramatic and breath-taking with sudden contrasts and syncopations. The Minuet continues the mood of the preceding movements and does not display the dancelike diversion expected of such a movement. The work concludes with the Finale Presto which is spectacularly unrelenting in its drive and flurry.


Notes: David Forrest