Relayed from Cox's Cafe, Cardiff
Relayed from the Assembly Room, City Hall
National Orchestra of Wales
(Cerdorffa Genedlaethol Cymru)
Leader, Albert Voorsanger
Conducted by Warwick Braithwaite
One of the pioneers of modern orchestral composition, Berlioz is still regarded as holding a foremost place among the groat masters of the orchestra. In his own day-he was born in 1803 and died in 1869-he found himself, as pioneers are apt to do, in conflict with most of the accepted traditions, and his new ideas, long ago accepted as of real worth, were hurled at his colleagues with something of the same violence and extravagance which can often be hoard in his own music. In remembering that, and the rather wild eccentricity of a good deal of his career, the present age is apt to forget that his music holds much that is really beautiful, and sometimes truly impressive.
The Overture 'Le Carnaval Romain' is modest and straightforward as compared with many of his less-known works. Its material is mainly taken from his Opera 'Benvenuto Cellini,' and the scene in the second act of that Opera, which depicts the Carnival, gives the Overture its name.
It begins with a very lively section taken from that scene, in a tarantelle rhythm which hurries along with great speed.
A slower movement follows, with a beautiful tune played by the English horn; it comes from the Love Duet in the first act of the Opera.
The third, and closing, section of the piece returns to the lively measure of the opening, and is based on three vigorous tunes in the same measure, the last one being a repetition of the beginning.
Although the two personages of the last great scene of 'Die Walkure' are both immortals, the music is essentially human in its appeal, and the scene is one of the easiest to understand and appreciate apart from its place in the whole great work.
At the beginning of the scene, Wotan is still wroth with his favourite warrior-maiden, Brutinhilde, for her disobedience. He would condemn her to lose her godhead, to be laid to sleep on the summit of a great rock, there to wait until a mortal shall wake her and claim her as his mortal bride. Little by little she recalls his old pride in her, and persuades him to surround the rock with a great fire so that none may approach her save a hero who knows no fear. Wotan's song of farewell to her, as she is laid to sleep, is blended with the music of the fire as Loge, the Fire god, at Wotan's command, surrounds the crag with flames. It is noble farewell music, touched not only with sadness, but with something of the wonder which Wotan foresees for his child, when Siegfried the Fearless shall come to claim her. The motive of Siegfried is heard, but at the very end we hear the theme of Fate-a grim reminder of the final doom which overhangs the race of gods.
This was one of the first works which aroused the rest of Europe to a recognition of Elgar's greatness, and Richard Strauss was among the earliest to welcome it. He was loud in its praises when it was played first in Germany.
The 'Enigma,' which the Variations have as sub-title, is a two-fold one. Elgar himself tells us that the theme is one which goes harmoniously with another and very well known tune; as musicians would say, Elgar's theme is a counterpoint to the other tune. But what that tune is, Elgar has not told us, nor has anyone yet discovered. The other part of the enigma consists of initials or pseudonyms attached to the several variations, which stand for the composer's friends. The work is dedicated 'To my friends pictured within,' and though a number of these have emerged from so slight a disguise, one or two are even now only guessed at.
There are thirteen variations and a big final one, long enough to be a movement of itself, and space would not permit of a detailed description of each of them. The theme is not always easily traced throughout the variations, and there is at least one which is a little interlude with only a slight relation to the theme. But listeners who hear the opening announcement of the tune attentively will be able to recognize its reappearances, and the very clever use which Elgar makes of parts- of it throughout the course of this beautiful work.
The theme itself falls into two sections, one in minor and one in major, and in the third and fourth bars there is a drop of a seventh which reappears in many of the transformations which the tune undergoes.
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