No sooner had Sibelius moved to the town of Järvenpää in 1904 than he was commissioned by the Swedish Theatre to write incidental music for Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande. At the time it was his most ambitious undertaking in the genre of incidental music and his setting included ten scenes, only one of which was cut when he adapted the piece as a concert suite. Dating from the same year, Musik zu einer Szene was originally intended to accompany a tableau and is full of striking contrasts. The two waltzes of 1921 are transcriptions of piano pieces, and reveal the potent influence of Tchaikovsky.
Listen to TRACK 6: Sinfonietta, Op. 38: Allegro con spirito
Born in Cape Town, John Joubert won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, his successful career as a university lecturer and composer keeping him in England thereafter. Based on a short piece composed during the composer’s late teens and inspired by Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way (from Remembrance of Things Past), Temps Perdu is an inventive set of variations ‘each of which sets out to explore some aspect of the memories evoked by the original’. The finely crafted Sinfonietta is notable for the imaginative writing for solo woodwinds, while the song-cycle The Instant Moment indelibly expresses widely contrasting reactions to the experience of love.
John McCabe was a composer-pianist who excelled internationally in both fields. For his own instrument he wrote a distinguished series of works in which variation form is a recurrent feature. Seventeen years separate the Variations, Op. 22, described by John Ogdon as standing “closer to Rachmaninov’s use of variation technique than to Brahms’s”, and the masterly, unorthodox and original Haydn Variations, McCabe’s longest solo piano work. The evocative Bagatelles and Studies are notable for their unceasing exploration of pianistic and compositional techniques.
Listen to Track 8: Duo concertante in G major: III. Andantino grazioso
Virtuoso pianist Carl Czerny was a pupil and friend of Beethoven in Vienna. His prodigious output as a composer included numerous sets of variations on operatic themes, both with orchestra [Naxos 8.573254] and, as with the Trois Rondeaux, Op. 347 on themes by Rossini and Bellini, in the form of entertaining chamber music. With its cadenza and technical flourishes the Introduction, Variations and Finale, Op. 80 is composed in true concerto style, while the elegance and refined artistry of the Rondoletto and Duo concertant are both characteristic of a Classical master whose works have only recently started to gain wider recognition.
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