Concert Notes: The London Sketchbook

MCO’s The London Sketchbook can be heard in Melbourne on Friday 18 November at The Deakin Edge, Federation Square & Sunday 20 November at Melbourne Recital Centre.


All the works in this program have connections to London: the composers, the works and the premieres were associated with the city.


Felix Mendelssohn
The Hebrides Overture Op. 26

In 1830 Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) composed the concert overture The Hebrides (Die Hebriden) Op. 26 with a revised version completed in 1832. The original title of the work was The Lonely Island (Die einsame Insel) and it is also known as Fingal’s Cave (Die Fingalshöhle).

Mendelssohn first visited England in 1829 and then travelled to Scotland. On this trip he visited the Isle of Staffa in the Hebrides islands off Scotland’s west coast, and this was the inspiration for the composition. The same visit also prompted the writing of his Symphony no. 3 in A minor, “The Scottish”.

The Hebrides Overture was premiered in London in May 1832 and is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. The work is in sonata form with two contrasting themes evoking the desolation and tempestuous character of Fingal’s Cave.


John Ireland
Concertino Pastorale: II Threnody

The English composer John Ireland (1879–1962) studied composition with Sir Charles Stanford. Ireland’s pupils in turn included Britten and Moeran. He is remembered for his concert overtures, chamber compositions, works for solo piano and particularly his songs.

The first performance of the Concertino Pastorale was presented by the Boyd Neel Orchestra in Canterbury Cathedral in 1939 prior to the outbreak of World War II. The work, which featured in concert programs during the war, is in three movements: Eclogue, Threnody, and Toccata. The title Threnody is roughly synonymous with Elegy or Lament.


Wolfgand Amadeus Mozart
The London Sketchbook K15: selections (arr William Hennessy for string orchestra)
Siciliano K15u
Sonata in G minor K15p
Andante con espressione K15q
Rondo in C major K15s

The London Sketchbook (Londoner Skizzenbuch) K.15 a–ss (Anh 109b) is a series of some 40 pieces written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, between 1764 and 1765 while in London. It was during the fifteen-month stay in London that the young Mozart and his sister Nannerl performed at Court. In addition, during this time, Mozart met Johann Christian Bach who was to remain an important influence on him. It was a time of great learning and the absorption of ideas and styles for the eight-year-old. The short pieces in The London Sketchbook were some of Mozart’s earliest compositions written in his own hand (as opposed to even earlier works that were notated by his father, Leopold). The diversity of the manuscript presents the ever-widening horizons of the young composer. The Sketchbook commences with short keyboard utterances and by the time he concluded he had already composed a number of symphonies.


Ralph Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending

The Lark Ascending is a poem by the English poet George Meredith reminiscing about the song of the skylark. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) was inspired to write a Romance of the same name for violin and piano in 1914. The first performance of the work was in 1920 and in the following year the composer scored the work for violin and orchestra. Vaughan Williams inscribed selected non-consecutive lines from the Meredith poem on the score. He included these lines:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aërial rings,
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Written between A London Symphony (No 2) and the Pastoral Symphony (No 3), The Lark Ascending is arguably Vaughan Williams most enduring and popular composition. The work is a remarkable evocation of the English landscape. Vaughan Williams dedicated the work to the violinist Marie Hall who premiered both versions of it.


William Byrd
Sing joyfully (arr string orchestra)

William Byrd (c.1540–1623) was a prolific English composer of the Renaissance period who wrote sacred and secular vocal polyphony and solo and consort instrumental music. His life traversed the reign of Elizabeth I through to James I, with its associated religious upheavals. Although a Catholic he composed music for the Anglican Church service.

Sing joyfully was written as a six part church anthem that is in the style of the late motets of 1611. The text is from the opening of Psalm 81 “Sing joyfully to God our strength; sing loud unto the God of Jacob!” The music is imbued throughout with the spirit of the text.


Peter Warlock
Capriol Suite
I. Basse-Danse, Allegro moderato
II. Pavane, Allegretto, ma un poco lento
III. Tordion, Con moto
IV. Bransles, Presto
V. Pieds-en-l’air, Andante tranquillo
VI. Mattachins, Allegro con brio

Peter Warlock was the pseudonym of the British composer and writer Philip Heseltine (1894–1930). He wrote more than one hundred songs, vocal works and a small number of instrumental works. The Capriol Suite, one of Warlock’s most successful compositions, was originally composed as a piano duet in 1925, with a version for string orchestra completed in 1926 and for full orchestra in 1928.

The Capriol Suite was inspired by a 1925 English translation of Jehan Tabourot’s 1588 book on dance, Orchésographie. The book is presented as a dialogue between the author and a lawyer Capriol. Warlock provided a transcription of the dances for the publication and in 1927 he composed the suite based on dance tunes from the book.

Warlock has freely used his source materials over the six contrasting movements. The suite opens with a lively Basse Danse, followed by a stately and restrained Pavane, and then a spirited Tordion. The Bransles is a country dance that builds into a frenzy marked by cross-rhythms. The gentle Pieds en l’air provides a sense of repose with the beautifully flowing melody before the final movement Matachins, an exhilarating sword dance.


Felix Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor Op 64
I. Allegro molto appassionato
II. Andante
III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace

The Violin Concerto Op 64 is one of Mendelssohn’s last orchestral works. From its premiere it has remained one of the great pillars of the violin repertoire. The violinist Joseph Joachim described it as ‘the dearest of all German violin concertos, the heart’s jewel’.

Mendelssohn composed a number of concertos for violin and piano in various combinations. Of the concertos with an opus number there are the two piano concertos and the violin concerto. There are also concertos for solo piano, solo violin, duo piano, and piano and violin as well as a number of single movement works for solo instrument and orchestra. The works composed around the violin concerto include the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Six Sonatas for organ Op 65, the second piano trio, and Opp. 62 & 67 sets of Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words).

The Violin Concerto in E minor was written for Ferdinand David, who was a close friend and concert master of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Commenced in 1838, it was not completed until 1844 and premiered in 1845 by David. It is scored for solo violin and an orchestra consisting of double flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani, and strings.

Apart from its virtuosic demands and sheer beauty, the work stands out for a number of reasons. The concerto is presented as three connected movements. Unlike most of the classical concertos, the soloist enters early in the first movement and not after a lengthy exposition by the orchestra. The first movement cadenza is not placed towards the end of the movement but provides a link between the development and recapitulation sections. The second movement is a lyrical Lied ohne Worte in ternary form, and the final movement is a capricious scherzo.

*David Forrest