Programme notes and articles on music
Prokofiev: Piano Concerti Nos. 2 and 4
Prokofiev: Cinderella Suite No. 1
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Strauss: Death and Transfiguration
Mahler: Blumine and "What the Wild Flowers Tell Me from Symphony No. 3 (arr. Britten)
Wagner: Mastersingers Overture
I also have translations available for works by Mahler, Strauss and Berg.
The following are examples of my work:
Suite from Cinderella
(Published in RSNO concert programme, April 2016)
- Pas du Châle
- The Quarrel
- The Fairy Godmother and the Winter Fairy
- Cinderella goes to the Ball
- Cinderella at the Palace
- Cinderella Waltz
In 1936, just 5 years after the Fourth Piano Concerto, Prokofiev returned to Russia. Whereas the Parisian musical scene focused on innovation and intellectualism, the Soviet government declared that music should be clear and related to folk music. Modern, experimental music was regarded as elitist and denounced as “formalist”. Previously regarded as an enfant terrible, Prokofiev’s return to his homeland seems a strange decision when viewed in this light. However, in letters to composer and friend Myaskovsky, he declared that he was searching for a new simplicity in his music.
Following a troubled gestation, his previous ballet, Romeo and Juliet, had been declared a great success at its first performance in 1940, and in 1941 he began Cinderella. However, when Russia was invaded by the Germans in June of that year, the fairy story seemed too frivolous, so Prokofiev turned his attention instead to the opera, War and Peace. In exile in the Caucasus, he returned to the ballet, completing the piano version in 1943 and orchestrating it the following year. It was finally produced at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in November 1945 and the Suites were compiled the following year.
In Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev had focused on dramatic action, but in Cinderella he harks back to the great Russian ballet tradition of Tchaikovsky. He sought to create dances “that would emerge naturally from the storyline, that would be varied, that would allow the dancers [...] to exhibit their technique.” The characters are clearly defined in the music: the ugly sisters are caricatured with irony and grotesquerie, whilst Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother and the Prince are shown in a more lyrical and romantic vein.
The Introduction to the ballet shows the two sides of Cinderella’s character: the mistreated servant girl, represented by a bleak melancholic theme, which then blossoms into a passionate melody with a rippling accompaniment, representing Cinderella in love.
The curtain rises to reveal the ugly sisters embroidering a shawl (Pas du Châle) in preparation for the ball to be held at the Prince’s palace. Awkward intervals in the melody and a rollicking section in 6/8 tell us that the sisters may not be the most graceful of dancers! The general mood of contentment is broken in a helter-skelter dance as the sisters Quarrel over the shawl, finally tearing it in two.
An old beggar-woman appears from the street. Only Cinderella shows her any sympathy, giving her a pair of old slippers. Later, when Cinderella is alone in the house, the beggar-woman mysteriously reappears. She returns the slippers, now magically transformed into glass shoes, glimmering with diamonds. Her rags fall away, revealing her as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. The movement begins with the Winter Fairy as she dances to a graceful theme on the woodwind that curls round on itself. The beggar-woman’s music is sparser, with a lean tune on the piccolo accompanied by a static string figure.
Meanwhile, excitement is growing at the Palace. After a short, tense introduction, the guests dance a Mazurka. A fanfare is heard, but it’s a false alarm, and the guests continue dancing. As the prince arrives, we hear the fanfare once more and the dancing is now in full swing.
Cinderella goes to the Ball. She’s late and rushes around frantically. As the coach arrives, the music moves into a graceful waltz with descending woodwind phrases and a nervous violin theme.
High harmonics on the violins, high woodwinds and celeste represent Cinderella at the Palace in all her beauty. The guests are awestruck. Cinderella and the Prince set eyes on each other and are immediately smitten as we hear the love theme from the Introduction. The couple dance a Waltz together, tentatively at first, but becoming increasingly passionate.
The Galop comes from later in the ballet as the Prince urgently scours the land for his lost love. We hear his dismay and desperation in the scurrying strings and the heavily accented music. As he finds Cinderella, the love theme returns.
Skipping back to the Ball, Cinderella dances with her Prince to the darkly passionate Cinderella Waltz. Too late she remembers the words of the Fairy Godmother as the clock strikes Midnight. Prokofiev’s clock is of nightmare proportions as the woodblock marks time and the cogs whirr. Cinderella’s horror is palpable as the clock strikes twelve to doom-laden descending phrases in the bass instruments. The music finishes with a desperate rendition of the love theme as Cinderella runs from the Palace.
Overture to the Mastersingers of Nuremburg - Wagner (Published in RSNO concert programme, October 2014)
“Its splendour seems truly magnificent [...] and the burghers’ dwellings seem to have been built for princes. Indeed, the kings of Scotland would be glad to be housed as luxuriously as the ordinary citizens of Nuremberg.” (Pope Pius II onIt is this vision medievalof 16th century medieval Nuremberg). that Wagner seeks to convey in The
Unusually for Wagner, who generally drew on mythological material, this opera is based on the real-life guild of Mastersingers whose rules and contests were depicted in Wagnenseil’s Nuremberg Chronicles of 1697. He even went so far as to use real historical figures such as the cobbler Hans Sachs and the marker Beckmesser.
When Wagner began work in earnest on the The Mastersingers of Nuremberg in 1862, Tthe first two operas of The Ring cycle were complete and he had recently composed Tristan and Isoldewhen Wagner composed The Mastersingers of Nuremberg between 1862. and 1868. He had recently composed Tristan and Isolde AtAround this time, Wagnerhe was influenced by the philosopher Schopenhauer, who believed music to be the superior art form.. One of the themes of The Mastersingers is music as a craft and perhaps Wagner needed to reflect on how a more opulent musical style might support dramatic action prior to writing the final two great operas of The Ring cycle.
which represented a shift to a more opulent musical style. At this time, Wagner was influenced by the philosopher Schopenhauer, who believed music to be the superior art form.
Unlike his previous works, The Mastersingers is based on real events and characters rather than on mythology and it is his only comic opera. One of the themes of the opera is music as a craft and perhaps Wagner needed The Mastersingers to reflect on music’s role in supporting the action in his music dramas prior to writing the final two great operas of The Ring cycle.
In the opera,The Mastersingers, the young knight, Walther is in love with Eva. Hearing that she is to marry the winner of a song contest the following day, he seeks to enter the guild of Mastersingers. Beckmesser, also in love with Eva, rejects his application, but Sachs is impressed by the young man’s art and undertakes to tutor him in the ways of the guild. Beckmesser secretly learns Walther’s song but lacks the his artistic flair. to perform it. Walther duly wins the contest and the opera closes in celebration of the enduring nature of German art.
The Overture to The Mastersingers was written immediately after Wagner completed the text and was first performed in 1862, six years before the opera’s premiere. It and was immediately hailed as one of Wagner’s best works.
The three main elements of the opera are all
present. The It opens with the pompous music of
the guild, opens the overture, displaying
the splendour of medieval Nuremberg. including brass
fanfares that expand into a luxurious full orchestral
passage. The quieter middle section recalls the
rich harmonies of Wagner’s previous opera, Tristan and Isolde, as we hear the love
themes of Walther and Eva played by the strings. Gradually the
mood becomes more frivolous as the apprentices and townsfolk appear. with an
irreverent version of the opening theme in the woodwind, taken up by the
leads into a famous passage whereAfter a short climax,
Wagner cleverly combines three themesthe opening theme,
Walther’s prize song and the apprentices’ music. The excitement builds once more and the music
ends in a blaze of glory. reminiscent of Pope Pius’
recollections of Nuremberg.
Published in RSNO Programmes 2nd-4th October 2014
Personal Reflections on the Music of James MacMillan
As the RSNO celebrates its 125th Anniversary, we are celebrating many musicians who have played an important part in the orchestra’s life. Tonight we hear a joint commission (with the RLPO and Bournemouth SO) by Sir James MacMillan, a composer who has frequently featured in our concerts since the 1990s.
The first MacMillan piece I played with the orchestra was “The Berserking” for piano and orchestra. I confess to having more than a passing interest in MacMillan’s music at this point: as a composition student at Manchester University I had missed studying with him by one year... Talk about bad luck! What immediately grabbed me about his music was its passion, the wide range of colour he draws from his ensembles and the rhythmic vitality. There have been many emotional journeys for me in this music, not least our performances of “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie” on tour in Sweden in 2004.
As I’ve delved further into MacMillan’s music, I’ve increasingly been drawn from his orchestral to his choral music, which for me is where he is at his most engaging. I remember hearing the beautiful “Strathclyde Motets” at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago interspersed with music from the Renaissance, and my YouTube discovery (I did buy the CD afterwards!) of “Tu es Petrus” for choir, organ and brass written for the Pope’s visit to Westminster Cathedral in 2010. Go and listen to it – it’s mind-blowing.
MacMillan isn’t just a man for the big occasion, though. He is equally at home writing for amateur groups: “The Galloway Mass” for congregational singing springs to mind and it has been announced recently that he is writing a piece for the GSA choir to sing at the Mackintosh Building’s reopening. He is a passionate advocate for music education and in 2014 he founded “The Cumnock Tryst”, a four-day music festival based in the town where he grew up. MacMillan himself acknowledges that if it weren’t for the musical experiences he had there as a boy, he may not have become a musician.
Twenty years after my first encounter with MacMillan’s music, I still wish so much that I’d coincided with him at Manchester University. I’m sure I’d have learnt much about composition, but more than that, as a small-town girl myself, I share a belief with him that music-making of a high standard is for everyone, everywhere.
Published in RSNO Programmes March 2016