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Barber, Samuel (1910-1981)

Adagio for Strings, Op. 11

One of the most iconic works for string quartet, or in this case expanded for string orchestra by the composer, Barber’s Adagio evolves a single ascending phrase into a rich tapestry of string orchestral writing. The emotional response that this work evokes has led to it being used in a great many film scores, and often used at solemn occasions, most notably the funerals of former US President Franklin Roosevelt, and the famous composer Leonard Bernstein.

©Andrew Doyle 2016

Holst, Gustav (1874-1934)

St Paul’s Suite, Op. 29 #2

  1. Jig
  2. Ostinato
  3. Intermezzo
  4. Finale

Whilst an extremely influential and prominent musician in his own right, Holst spent a great deal of life committed to musical dealings with students and other non-professional musicians. From 1905 until his death, Holst was musical director at St Paul’s Girls’ School, and the St Paul’s Suite was the first piece he composed there.

The work was originally composed for strings, however Holst added wind parts in order to include more students. The 1st movement, the jig, is an irresistible dance that accelerates towards the end. The ostinato is provided by the high strings with a violin solo on top. The intermezzo includes a charming duet between solo viola and solo violin, and the movement concludes with a calm passage seemingly suited more to a chamber group than full orchestra. The final movement is quite similar to his 2nd Suite for Military Band, wherein he uses the two popular English folk tunes, ‘The Dargason’  and ‘Greensleeves’. These 2 tunes are cleverly intertwined and a final statement from the trilling solo violin in the upper registers overlays the orchestral conclusion.

©Andrew Doyle 2016

Grieg, Edvard (1843-1907)

Holberg Suite


  1. Praeludium
  2. Sarabande
  3. Gavotte
  4. Air
  5. Rigaudon

The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was particularly gifted in the composition of works that are small in scale but nonetheless passionate, poetic and perfectly formed. Although he composed only one symphony, which he banned from performance in his lifetime, and most of his orchestral compositions were arrangements of piano works, Grieg was actually a talented orchestrator – as shown in his famous Peer Gynt suites and the beloved piano concerto. The Holberg Suite for string orchestra is another example of this. Originally composed for piano to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Holberg, a Danish-Norwegian playwright, the composer then arranged the work for strings with such skill and inspiration that it is now one his most adored and regularly performed works.

As Holberg’s lifespan overlapped with those of three of the most famous of Baroque composers – Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, Grieg decided to use the form of the Baroque suite as a framework for his own musical language. The five movements are all French dances, with the exception of the opening Praeludium, which traditionally opened the Baroque era suites. There is an element of folk music throughout the work – in the rhythms of the Praeludium, the song-like melodies of the Sarabande and Air, and in the energy of the delightfully boisterous Rigaudon, and an overarching vision and beauty that has rightly won it a central place in the string orchestra repertoire.

©Andrew Doyle 2016

PIAZZOLLA, Astor (1921-1992)

Double Concerto




Astor Piazzolla wrote his Double Concerto for Bandoneon, Guitar and String Orchestra in 1985. The bandoneon is a type of accordion used extensively in Argentine tango and by the mid 1980s Piazzolla was recognised internationally as both a bandoneon virtuoso and an innovative composer of tango. The Double Concerto was written for guitarist Cacho Tirao and premiered at the Fifth International Guitar Festival in Leige (Belgium) with Piazzolla himself on bandoneon.

The work is in three movements. The first, Introduccion is played by the solo instruments without orchestra. Slow and haunting, this movement is marked ‘Ad. Lib’ for the soloist, allowing them expressive freedom to evoke a sorrowful atmosphere. Movement Two is marked Milonga; a milonga is generally a more relaxed, lighthearted form of tango dance. Here, the soloists are joined by the string orchestra who provide rhythmic drive and pulse for the guitar and saxophone’s dialogue. Movement Three is marked Tango and is typical of Piazzolla’s tango nuevo style.  This movement employs modern harmonies and rhythms into the traditional tango setting. This tango nuevo genre attracted Piazzolla international acclaim but also derision in his homeland of Argentina from lovers of traditional tango.

Nick Russoniello has transcribed the bandoneon part to be played on the saxophone for The Metropolitan Orchestra.

©Nicholas Russoniello 2017

Mendelssohn, Felix (1809-1847)

String Symphony No. 10

Adagio-Allegro-Piü presto

Born in 1809, the year of composition of this string symphony (1823), makes its musical significance even more remarkable. The young boy of just 14 completed composition of this work in May of 1823, and it is uncertain as to whether this was a single or multi-movement work, and whether this is the only surviving movement. A Haydn-esque slow introduction is followed by the typical drama and flair that was to become synonymous with all of the young composer’s later compositions.Adagio-Allegro-Piü presto

©Andrew Doyle 2016


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