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Whilst we are unable to come together with audiences at our Barbican home, we are pleased to continue releasing a programme of online content and streamed broadcasts, making music available for everyone to enjoy digitally in the coming weeks. A warm welcome to the numerous conductors and soloists joining us, among them many firm friends and regular collaborators with the Orchestra. We are delighted also to welcome back members of our family of conductors.
It is a pleasure to invite you to watch and listen today online, and we extend thanks to our broadcast partner Marquee TV for streaming this concert. I hope you enjoy the performance, and look forward to welcoming you back in person when we are able to re-open our doors.
Folk songs go to town, as three composers take a handful of freshly picked melodies and give them an urban twist in this exuberant concert.
The young György Ligeti grew up amongst the hills of Transylvania. Béla Bartók gathered raw folk dances straight from the wild, then distilled their spirit into a riotous toast to the city of Budapest. And Joseph Haydn crowned his journey from the fields of Central Europe to the streets of Georgian London with a symphony that brims over with warmth and wit.
This is music that still breathes the air of the countryside, magically transformed by three of the liveliest and most original musical imaginations of all time. Sir John Eliot Gardiner has an unparalleled flair for musical colour, and from Ligeti’s blazing fiddles to the London street-cries of Haydn’s last (and some would say greatest) symphony, he won’t stint on energy – or humour.
Bartók, Ligeti & Haydn
Béla Bartók Dance Suite
György Ligeti Romanian Concerto
Franz Joseph Haydn Symphony No 104, ‘London’
Sir John Eliot Gardiner conductor
London Symphony Orchestra
This performance is broadcast on Marquee TV. Available to watch for free for seven days from Thursday 4 March 2021, then on demand with a subscription.
Recorded at LSO St Luke's on Thursday 18 February 2021 in COVID-19 secure conditions.
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✒️1923 | ⏰17'
2 Allegro molto
3 Allegro vivace
4 Molto tranquillo
After decades researching and documenting Hungarian folk tunes, Béla Bartók started to let the shape, spirit and rhythms of those tunes infiltrate the music he wrote. He referred to the results as ‘invented peasant music.’
Bartók coined that phrase to describe his own Dance Suite. It was written in 1923 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Buda and Óbuda on the north side of the Danube with Pest on the south side – creating Budapest.
There were extra political complications in the 1920s. Since 1918, Hungary had itself been divided. Many of the territories from which Bartók had harvested his tunes now found themselves in different countries.
In reaction, Bartók conceived his Dance Suite as an act of unification. Its sections are linked by a recurring tune he described as ‘a true imitation of Hungarian folk tunes’.
The music then travels through specific geographical characters: Arabic (movements 1 and 4), Hungarian (movement 2), Hungarian and Romanian (movement 3) and ‘simple peasant’ (movement 5). In the sixth and final movement, each theme is recalled in an embracing cosmopolitan dance.
Note by Andrew Mellor
1881 (Hungary, now Romania)–1945 (US)
Béla Bartók’s family boasted how the boy was able to recognise different dance rhythms before he could speak. Born in 1881 in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (now Sinnicolau Mare, Romania), he began piano lessons with his mother at the age of five.
From 1899 to 1903 he studied piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest, where he created a number of works that echoed the style of Brahms and Richard Strauss. After graduating he discovered Austro-Hungarian and Slavic folk music, travelling extensively with his friend and fellow composer Zoltán Kodály, and recording countless ethnic songs and dances which began to influence his own compositions.
His music was also influenced by the works of French composer Debussy, to which he was introduced by Kodály in 1907, the same year he became Professor of Piano at the Budapest Conservatory. Bartók established his mature style with such scores as the ballets The Wooden Prince (1914–16, completed 1917) and The Miraculous Mandarin (1918–19, completed 1926–31), and his opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (1911, completed 1918). He revived his career as a concert pianist in 1927 when he gave the premiere of his First Piano Concerto in Mannheim.
Bartók detested the rise of fascism and in October 1940 he quit Budapest and travelled, via Lisbon, to the US. At first he concentrated on ethnomusicological researches, but eventually returned to composition and created a significant group of ‘American’ works, including the Concerto for Orchestra, his Third Piano Concerto and the draft of a Viola Concerto.
His character was distinguished by a firm, almost stubborn refusal to compromise or be diverted from his musical instincts by money or position. Throughout his working life, Bartók collected, transcribed and annotated the folk songs of many countries, a commitment that brought little financial return or recognition but one which he regarded as his most important contribution to music. He also declined the security of a composition professorship during his final years in the US, although he did accept the post of visiting assistant in music at Columbia University from March 1941 to the winter of 1942, until ill health forced his retirement
Composer profile by Andrew Stewart
✒️1951 | ⏰12'
1 Andantino –
2 Allegro vivace –
3 Adagio ma non troppo –
National boundaries in central Europe cannot take account of the area’s mingled populations. György Ligeti was born into a Hungarian Jewish family living in a region that had been granted to Romania following the repartition of the Habsburg empire after World War I. For the young composer to write a ‘Romanian Concerto’ in 1951 was therefore not so strange – especially when, not long after another war had changed the colours on the map, expressions of solidarity among the new communist countries were being encouraged.
What Ligeti came up with, however, did not make the authorities smile. Though he based his work on recent recordings he had made on the spot, here and there he slipped the reins of safe folksy interpretation. After a private reading the score was put aside and lost, until 20 years later the rediscovery of the parts meant it could be reconstructed.
Of the four linked movements, the first two were adapted from a Ballad and Dance for two violins, written by Ligeti the previous year. The Ballad is based on a tune presented by strings and clarinets in unison, with no identifiable harmony. Similarly ambiguous is the time signature, changing every bar or two. This is territory which the composer was to revisit 40 years later in his Viola Sonata and Violin Concerto.
There are foretastes of the future, too, in other movements – the third uses horn tones, which sound raw, wild and untamed, and the fourth is full of swarming textures.
Note by Paul Griffiths
1923 (Romania)–2006 (Austria)
György Ligeti is considered to be one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, alongside the likes of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Unlike his contemporaries, his undogmatic approach to compositional techniques resulted in an output covering a vast range of styles and expressivity. His influences can be traced to sources including folk, 12-tone techniques and American minimalism.
His music is characterised by rhythmic vitality, stylistic freedom, a keen sense of wit, and his use of texture and timbre as primary compositional elements. Another characteristic feature of his music is its brevity. With the exception of a handful of works, Ligeti composed perfectly formed miniatures that distil mammoth compositional ideas and processes into a few minutes of music. Among his most popular works showcasing his style are the Piano Etudes, his Requiem, and the coloratura soprano showpiece Mysteries of the Macabre (see below).
In 1968 Ligeti’s music came into the public consciousness when two of his pieces, Atmosphères and Lux Aeterna, were used (without consent) in the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Composer profile by Benjamin Picard
Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No 104, ‘London’
✒️1795 | ⏰28'
1 Adagio – Allegro
3 Menuet & Trio: Allegro
4 Finale: Spiritoso
The death in 1790 of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy brought an important change in the life of his court music director, Joseph Haydn. Haydn had happily served the Esterházy family for nearly 30 years. But Nikolaus’ successor, Prince Anton, did not share his father’s enthusiasm for music. Haydn was kept on, but, with the rest of the court’s musical establishment disbanded, his position became a largely titular one. He was effectively a free agent.
It was now that Johann Peter Salomon, a London-based impresario, violinist and orchestra-leader, saw his chance. He hastened to Austria to invite Haydn to become resident composer for his concert series in Hanover Square. Haydn accepted, and by early 1791 was in England. It is clear that the whole adventure of the visit, which lasted until the summer of 1792, and of a second that he made in 1794–95, had a rejuvenating effect that was to fuel his creative powers not only while he was here, but for the next decade as well.
Central to his composing activities in England were his twelve ‘London’ symphonies (Nos 93–104), state-of-the-art examples of the genre which carefully catered to the taste of their intended audience. Haydn wrote to a friend that he had had to ‘change many things for the English public’.
The 'London' Symphonies
Of these symphonies, the last has attracted the nickname ‘London’, a recognition perhaps of its culminative position, though in its combination of genial good humour, intellectual strength and musical surprises it is certainly a worthy representative of the set of twelve symphonies as a whole. Though he lived another 14 years, Haydn did not write another symphony: Symphony No 104 is his last, and a fitting summation of his achievement in bringing the symphonic genre to a central position in Western music.
Like most of his late symphonies, it begins with a slow introduction, in this case a surprisingly mournful-sounding one which eventually gives out on to a more predictably relaxed cheerfulness. Haydn is extremely economical with his material: much of the music here is based on fragments of the first song-like theme, and at the point where many composers would introduce a second theme, he instead restates the first in a new key.
The slow movement has the feel of a variation set, though its theme is heard only once before a powerful contrasting section, and only once after that, this time with constantly evolving decorations and digressions. The Menuet introduces the flavour of some grand ball and contrasts it with the genteel folk atmosphere of the central Trio, before the drone-driven finale takes the rustic flavour to another level. This Finale makes an exhilarating finish to Haydn’s symphonic career: ‘The whole company was thoroughly pleased’ wrote the composer after the premiere on 4 May 1795, ‘and so was I’.
Note by Lindsay Kemp
Franz Joseph Haydn
Most general histories of music emphasise Joseph Haydn’s achievements as a composer of instrumental works, a pioneer of the string quartet genre and the so-called ‘father of the symphony’. In short, he was one of the most versatile and influential composers of his age. After early training as a choirboy at Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral and a period as a freelance musician, Haydn became Kapellmeister to Count Morzin in Vienna and subsequently to the music-loving and wealthy Esterházy family at their magnificent but isolated estate at Eszterháza, the ‘Hungarian Versaillles’. Here he wrote a vast number of solo instrumental and chamber pieces, masses, motets, concertos and symphonies, besides at least two dozen stage works.
In old age Haydn fashioned several of his greatest works, the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, his six Op 76 String Quartets and his so-called London Symphonies prominent among them. By June 1790, Haydn was tired of the routine of being a musician in service. He envied his young friend and fellow composer Mozart’s apparent freedom in Vienna, but was resigned to remaining at Eszterháza Castle. The death of Prince Nikolaus prompted unexpected and rapid changes in Haydn’s circumstances.
Haydn was enticed to England, attracting considerable newspaper coverage and enthusiastic audiences to hear his new works for London. Back in Vienna, Haydn was feted by society and honoured by the imperial city’s musical institutions.
Composer profile by Andrew Stewart
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Sir John Eliot Gardiner is an international leader in today’s musical life, an innovative and dynamic musician and interpreter. His work as Artistic Director of his Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique has marked him out as a central figure in the early music revival and a pioneer of historically informed performance. As a regular guest of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, such as the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, Gardiner conducts repertoire from the 17th to the 20th century.
Gardiner’s repertoire is illustrated in his catalogue of award-winning recordings with his own ensembles and leading orchestras for major labels (including Decca, Philips, Erato and 30 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon), ranging from Mozart, Schumann, Berlioz, Elgar and Kurt Weill to works by Renaissance and Baroque composers. Since 2005 the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras have recorded on their independent label, Soli Deo Gloria, established to release the live recordings made during Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, for which he received Gramophone’s 2011 Special Achievement Award and a Diapason d’or de l’année 2012. His many recording accolades include two Grammy awards and more Gramophone Awards than any other living artist.
Gardiner’s long relationship with the LSO encompasses complete symphony cycles and recordings on LSO Live, most recently of Mendelssohn and Schumann. Other guest conducting highlights this season include invitations to the Czech Philharmonic (Janácek The Cunning Little Vixen), Santa Cecilia (Rossini, Mozart and Mendelssohn) and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Don Carlos).
Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras perform regularly at the world’s major venues and festivals, in Salzburg, Berlin and Lucerne, the Lincoln Center in New York and the BBC Proms, where Gardiner has performed over 60 times. In 2017 they celebrated the 450th anniversary of the birth of Monteverdi, when Gardiner was named Conductor of the Year at the Opernwelt Awards. Gardiner has conducted opera at the Vienna State Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Opéra national de Paris and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he has appeared regularly since his debut in 1973. From 1983 to 1988 he was Artistic Director of Opéra de Lyon, where he founded its new orchestra.
Gardiner’s book, Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, was published in October 2013 by Allen Lane and from 2014 to 2017 Gardiner was the first ever President of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. Among numerous awards in recognition of his work, Sir John Eliot Gardiner holds honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, the universities of Lyon, Cremona, St Andrews and King’s College, Cambridge where he himself studied. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, he became the inaugural Christoph Wolff Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in 2014/15 and was awarded the Concertgebouw Prize in January 2016. Gardiner was made Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 2011 and in the UK he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1990. He was awarded a knighthood for his services to music in the 1998 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Sofia Silva Sousa
Laurent Ben Slimane
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© Mark Allen
© Mark Allen