Brighton Orpheus Choir

with the Sinfonia of Arun
leader: Robin Morrish

conductor: Stella Hull

a concert given on

Saturday 15 March 2008
All Saints Church, The Drive, Hove

Elgar

The Music Makers
op.69

Jane Money (mezzo soprano)

The Music Makers is based on a poem written in 1874 by Arthur O’Shaunessey which begins:
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams ….

The words have inspired many people and have been set to music not only by Edward Elgar, but by the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

Elgar produced only two major works in the few years before the beginning of the First World War in 1914. He had completed his Second Symphony in 1911 and Falstaff was composed in 1913. The Music Makers lies between the two, finished in 1912, though he had in fact been working on the music intermittently since 1903. It was first performed at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival. Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

There is no doubt that Elgar felt a strong affinity with the words of the poem, identifying himself with the “dreamer of dreams” in the first verse of the poem. It is from this poem that the much-used phrase “movers and shakers” comes. But here it is with some doubt that the new world of the twentieth century was based on much more than scorn for the old world. If he felt the mood reflected his own life it would explain some of the quotations from his earlier works, which include motifs from The Dream of Gerontius, Sea Pictures, themes from his two Symphonies, his Violin Concerto, and Nimrod from the Enigma Variations.

Set for contralto, chorus and orchestra The Music Makers is a deeply personal work reflecting on the role of a creative artist, but also underlining the vulnerability and isolation of creation. Elgar was already fully recognised as a major artist, but himself had mixed feelings about the society which lionised him. The quotes echoing his own artistic life may seem like the Richard Strauss Ein Heldenleben (A hero’s life), but Elgar was depicting the artist not so much as hero as a bard.

Mendelssohn

Hymn of Praise
(Lobgesang) op.52

Zoë Bonner (soprano)
Shona Hull (soprano)
Borja Gómez-Ferrer (tenor)

Where Elgar had reflected on the uneasy changes at a turning point in history, Mendelssohn was commissioned to mark another historical milestone four and a half centuries earlier.

Hymn of Praise was composed to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the invention of printing. It is actually the choral movements which are part of his Symphony no.2, written for the 1840 Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, at that time one of the main centres of the publishing trade. Mendelssohn’s symphony was the final event of this occasion, bringing the festivities to an imposing conclusion.
Mendelssohn described the Hymn of Praise as a ‘symphonic cantata’, possibly to avoid comparisons with Beethoven’s choral Ode to Joy in the Ninth Symphony. Hymn of Praise is set for two sopranos and a tenor as soloists, with four-part chorus and orchestra. The English text is by J Alfred Novello drawing on words from the Lutheran Bible.
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-47)

The choral sections make up much the longest part of the whole Symphony. Recalling that Mendelssohn played a major part in the rediscovery of the works of J S Bach, it can be seen how the Hymn of Praise is influenced by Bach’s example – in the layout of recitatives, arias and choruses, in the fugal writing of the opening and closing choruses, and in the use of the chorale Nun Danket (Now thank we all our God – used here with words “Let all men praise the Lord”).