A soprano, horn-player and pianist walk into a church. No, not the opening line of a joke, but what promises to be the concert of the year: Patricia Rozario and her husband Mark Troop (who need no introduction) will be joined by Timothy Jones in “a recital of Romantic music for Horn, Voice and Piano” (entry by invitation passes) at the St. Francis of Assisi church, Old Goa on 26 October 2017.
So, although there will also be works for voice and piano (Schubert Lieder and Benjamin Britten’s song cycle ‘On this Island’, opus 11 based on texts by W.H. Auden) and for horn and piano (Romanze opus 7 by German composer and virtuoso horn player Franz Strauss 1822-1905, father of the more famous composer Richard Strauss), there are three substantial works for all three. They are worth examining, as they do not often get a public hearing due to the unusual combination.
As the concert title suggests, all three works are by composers of the Romantic period: Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), with an eclectic distribution in terms of geography, style and language. Interestingly, all three are songs of farewell.
The Donizetti offering even has Farewell in its title: ‘Dirti Addio’ (‘To bid you Farewell’), although it is also known as ‘L’Amor Funesto’ (Sad or Baleful Love) or by its first line ‘Più che non m’ama un angelo’ (‘More than an angel loves’). It is termed a ‘Romanze’ in the score as well. Scored for voice, horn and piano or harp, it opens after a brief chordal introduction, to a lovely lyrical bel canto line for the horn floating above a rocking arpeggio piano accompaniment. By the third line after the singer’s entry, it becomes a duet worthy of a Donezetti opera. There is tenderness, laced with bitterness and anger (in the agitated, stormy third stanza) with opportunity for marvellous coloratura singing.
“Fleurs des landes’ (Wildflowers, or Flowers of the heath) is a collection of five songs for voice and piano published by Berlioz in 1850. ‘Le jeune pâtre breton’ (The young Breton shepherd) was written in 1834 and later arranged for soprano and orchestra (with the French soprano Cornélie Falcon in mind) with an ad libitum part for horn. Although eight stanzas long, often just the first four are sung in concert performance. But the last line of the last stanza is a farewell greeting.
The highlight of the concert will certainly be Schubert’s ‘Auf dem Strom’ (‘On the Stream’), D. 943. Written in 1828, the last year of his life, it is a particularly poignant farewell song. Schubert had been an admirer of Beethoven all his life. When Beethoven had died in 1827, just the previous year, Schubert had been one of the pall-bearers. Beethoven looms large in ‘Auf dem Strom.’
The first and only time Schubert held a public concert of his own music was on 26 March 1828, the first anniversary of Beethoven’s death. ‘Auf dem Strom’ was composed specifically for this occasion. It is a setting of a poem by Ludwig Rellstab (1799-1860), who also provided the text for Schubert’s song collection ‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swan Song’). It is believed that Rellstab had given ‘Auf dem Strom’ to Beethoven, who died before he could set it to music. This gives Schubert’s setting of this poem additional significance.
As in many of Schubert’s ‘water’ songs, the ‘musical current’ is suggested at the outset by the fluid triplets in the piano accompaniment (which would have been played by Schubert himself in the 1828 concert). The text of the poem dictates the inexorable flow of the piece: ‘Already the waves of the stream are pulling briskly at my boat’ in the first verse; and ‘the waves bear me forward with unsympathetic speed’ in the second.
In its expression of yearning, Schubert would also have noticed the parallels between this text (particularly in the second verse: ‘Hopelessly my lament echoes around my fair homeland, where I found her love’) and Beethoven’s own (and only) song cycle ‘An die ferne Geliebte’ (‘To the distant beloved’).
There is even a ‘quotation’ from Beethoven, from the second movement of his Eroica symphony (Marcia funebre), a very apt quotation, bearing in mind both the text, and the occasion. It appears several times in the work.
The French horn part was written with the noted French-German horn-player Josef Rudolf Lewy (1802-1881) in mind. Schubert had written a piece ‘Nachtgesang im Walde’ D. 913 for male voice quartet and four horns, for Lewy’s own benefit concert the previous year, so Lewy perhaps agreed to return the favour by allowing himself to be included in Schubert’s concert. But the French horn also has musical symbolism: heroism, nobility, and heroic death. Schubert writes a noble, elegiac passage for the instrument at the beginning and between the verses. It could also be a tribute to Beethoven who wrote for the horn in his orchestral and chamber music (notably his Wind Quintet Op. 16, Horn Sonata Op. 17, and Septet Op. 20). The inclusion of the horn perhaps dictates the choice of key, E major, with the part for natural horn written (but not sounding) in C major.
Although several programme notes cite this work as the “first” work for valved horn by a major composer, it is apparently also playable on the natural horn. Nevertheless, it is a challenging work for the instrument; a version for obbligato cello (instead of the horn part) was also published posthumously along with the horn version. Whether this was at Schubert’s behest or the publisher’s whim is unclear.
‘Auf dem Strom’ has a completely different mood from that other Schubert Lied for voice, piano and another obbligato instrument, the clarinet, ‘The Shepherd on the Rock’ (‘Der Hirt auf dem Felsen’, D. 965) that Rozario and Troop performed here last year with Spanish clarinettist Joan Enric Lluna, and also written in Schubert’s final year.
As I said before, Rozario and Troop are well-known to our audiences; it remains therefore to summarise the impressive biography of Timothy Jones. He is Professor of Horn at the Royal College of Music London. When still in his teens, he gained a position in the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. He is currently Principal Horn of the London Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 1986, and has played guest principal with the world’s top orchestras, most recently the New York and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. An active chamber musician, he has collaborated with Andre Previn, Daniel Barenboim, the Borodin trio and the Emerson quartet among many others. He is owner/director of the renowned French horn manufacturing company ‘Paxman Ltd.’
(An edited version of this article was published on 22 October 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)