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8.223887 - BOYDELL: In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi / Violin Concerto
Brian Boydell (1917-2000)
Brian Boydell was born in Dublin and educated at Cambridge University, the University of Heidelberg, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He was awarded the MusD degree of Dublin University in 1959 and was Professor of Music at Trinity College from 1962 to 1982. He was a Fellow Emeritus of the college.
Brian Boydell was a founder member of the Music Association of Ireland and founder and director of the Dowland Consort. For more than twenty years he was conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players and has frequently been a guest conductor with the RTE Symphony Orchestra. For some years he was a member of the Arts Council. The many honours he has received include an Hon. D Mus from the National University of Ireland, Commendatore della Republica Italiana, and Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He was also a member of Aosdána, Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of creative artists. His compositions, written for a wide variety of media, include four string quartets, a violin concerto, orchestral, chamber and choral works.
In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at the end of January 1948. Deeply moved by the death of one whom many consider to have been the greatest figure of our age, Brian Boydell immediately began the composition of this In Memoriam, which was completed that year at the end of June. Since its first performance, shortly after it was completed, it has become the most widely performed of the composer’s works.
Formally, the work consists of a Prelude and Funeral March, with a Coda based on the ideas contained in the former. The Prelude sounds a note of human tragedy, and after the Funeral March builds up to a big climax, the final section transforms the mood into one of unearthly peace.
Brian Boydell’s Violin Concerto is undoubtedly the most important work by an Irish composer to make its appearance during 1954. It was a worthy winner of the Carolan Prize, and received its first performance on October 1st in the Phoenix Hall, with Jaroslav Vanecek, to whom the work is dedicated, as soloist, and the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra conducted by Milan Horvat. As far back as the summer of 1951, Professor Vanecek had asked the composer to think about writing a Violin Concerto, but the medium did not prove immediately attractive, and it was not until over a year later that the job began to be tackled in earnest. The Concerto began to take final shape between April and July of 1953, and the scoring was completed by the end of the following October; it should be emphasized, that during the process of composition, the composer was working in close collaboration with Professor Vanecek, who offered many valuable suggestions, particularly regarding the solo pan. As a result, Boydell subjected his work to a thorough revision before beginning the scoring, so that the composition, at its first performance, was not only the outcome of a compelling musical impulse, but also the result of much careful preparation and reflection.
However, since the first performance Boydell has undertaken considerable further revision, and one can be certain that his Concerto has now assumed its final shape. This further revision has nearly all been in the direction of compression and concision, and chiefly affects the last movement. It was felt by some, that the work, although indubitably a composition of power and force, could do with a little pulling together, here and there, and it speaks well for the composer’s integrity and sincerity of purpose that he should have undertaken this difficult task so soon, for it is never an easy thing to sacrifice the children of one’s own invention.
While the composer has not specified any particular key for his Concerto, he does tell us that “tonality is related to the note ‘E’”. He has written a solo part of really remarkable virtuosity and skill, and his music is always close-knit, rising more than once to moments of great excitement, both mental, and emotional.
Note by Fred May
There was once a marvellous innocence in the spirit of life on earth. It may have been a harsh innocence, with seemingly cruel moments, but it appears to have conformed to a positive plan, so that life could gradually adapt to changing conditions, and negative or destructive forces were ecologically balanced, resulting in changes that were beneficial to continuity. A deep concern about the increasing erosion of this natural balance brought about by human greed and misguided ideas of ‘progress’ has always occupied my mind. These ideas were brought to the surface as something which I had a strong urge to communicate in music by the marvellous experience of being a guest of the animals in their land in the great game park in Kenya known as Masai Mara. There, in a landscape that had changed so little from the time it was the cradle of the human race, I could feel what it might have been like to live in harmony with the natural world.
Birds are the inheritors of an ancient timeless music which has evolved from the earth itself, and speaks of its mysteries. The magical sounds of strange birds provide the musical starting-point and the germinal material of the work. At the beginning of Masai Mara, I would like the listener to imagine the feeling of being on a vast open plain, where the bird-calls evoke a timeless and mysteriously peaceful world, as it was before human beings began to disturb its natural beauty. Since no standard orchestral instrument can produce the sound I want for the birds, a tenor recorder is used; and the player is instructed to ‘bend’ the pitch, so that the birds inhabit a different sound-world from the accompanying string harmonics.
Shortly after the beginning, disturbing elements begin to intrude, giving rise to alarm-calls and cries of anguish. The disturbing music becomes increasingly dominant, and leads to a threatening middle-section in much faster tempo, with vigorous uneven rhythms. This angular threatening episode calls forth a response in the form of more anguished and desperate cries, building up to an emotional climax. The disturbing middle-section, which should not be interpreted too literally, acts as the musical antithesis to the peaceful mystery of the beginning, and prepares for the contrast of the final section, in which a passionate prayer for a positive resolution of the struggle against destructive forces culminates in a mood of unearthly peace, with the birds calling once again in a peaceful, timeless landscape. The passionate prayer in this final section is built on a metamorphosis of an idea from my first string quartet, written about forty years previously. This work was commissioned by RTE.
Megalithic Ritual Dances
Introduction: Maestoso -First Dance (2/2) -Second Dance (6/8) -
At various places in Ireland, circles of immense stones remind us of the strange religious rituals which took place before the arrival of St. Patrick. The fascination of these rituals, with their dark hints of human sacrifice, suggested the title of these orchestral dances. Although the music does not follow any strict ‘programme’, the imagination of the listener may well suggest many details; the slower dances in 2/2, for instance, could obviously be connected with the part played by the maidens in these rituals, or even with the virgin who might have been the victim of human sacrifice.
The music begins with an introduction in which the horns and trumpets play an important part in establishing a mood of ominous anticipation. This leads directly to the first dance, based on a pastoral folk-like melody introduced by the oboe. The accompaniment is a swaying ostinato figure, in which a tom-tom marks the languid rhythm. The second dance has two contrasting sections, like a scherzo and trio; the first exploits the rhythmically powerful possibilities of syncopated 6/8 measures, while the second, with its sensuous canonic melody, is calmer. A brief reminder of the introduction and the lyrical first dance leads us into the barbaric energy of the Final Dance. This exploits the rhythm of 11/8 (4/4 plus 3/8). After an initial climax, the music becomes warmer and quieter, and then a long crescendo in which the timpani relentlessly beat out the rhythm, drives through to the frenzied excitement of the final measures.
The work, which received its first performance on February 12th, 1956, was commissioned by the then Radio Eireann (now RTE). It has since been recorded, and played in London and Toronto, and frequently in Ireland.
Notes by Brian Boydell
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