Sequence and Variation is built around a central theme that I wrote on a Prophet synthesiser. I used the inbuilt sequencer of the synthesiser to program a series of 16 notes that form the basis of this piece. A sequencer is a programable electronic device for storing a series of musical notes, chords or rhythms and transmitting them to an electronic musical instrument.
The Sequence is most clearly outlined in the 2nd movement by the woodwind instruments. The theme starts with an upwards leap of a minor tenth, also characteristic of the harp and pizzicato parts at the beginning of the piece. After writing the 2nd movement, I developed the theme further to include the 1st and 3rd movements in the form of a Theme and Variation
©Heather Shannon 2016
(Soloist – Giuseppe Zangari)
The inspiration for Rodrigo’s famous concerto for guitar and orchestra came from the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the Spanish palace built by Phillip II in the 16th century. Sadly, a bout of diphtheria at age three caused Rodrigo to lose his sight, and the depiction of the Palace was designed to depict, ‘the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains.’ Rodrigo added that the concerto ‘is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks; it should be as agile as a butterﬂy, and as tightly controlled as a veronica [a term from bullﬁghting referring to a pass with a cape]; a suggestion of times past.’ Masterful writing ensures that the orchestra never overpowers the guitar, but is free to explore the Palace’s orchestral palette whilst the soloist is resting.
©Andrew Doyle 2016
Beethoven’s Eroica symphony is an immeasurably significant work, on both a personal level for the composer himself, and in the development of all symphonic composition that followed. It marks the beginning of the ‘middle period’ of Beethoven’s output, and it was a turning point in symphonic writing – a monumental and complex work with an uncompromising artistic vision that aims far beyond mere entertainment.
Beethoven first became aware that his hearing was deteriorating in 1798, and by 1802 was beginning to tell those close to him about the terrible affliction. Whilst staying in Heiligenstadt, a village outside Vienna, Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers that is now known as the Heiligenstadt testament. It is a heart breaking account of the suffering he was experiencing with the increasing deafness, and describes how it was only Beethoven’s belief in his art that prevented his suicide. It was around this time that he began sketching the third symphony, and it is often suggested that the power and heroism of the symphony are direct consequences of the huge emotional struggle and the resulting victory over despair that Beethoven was experiencing at the time.
The Eroica is also significant in its relation to the political upheavals that occurred in Europe in the early 19th century. Beethoven originally intended to dedicate and name the work after Napoleon Bonaparte, having long had a strong interest in republican attitudes and having closely followed Napoleon’s rise. When Napoleon declared himself Emperor, however, Beethoven was quickly disenchanted, disgusted that this supposed champion of the common man was showing himself to be a power hungry tyrant. Beethoven apparently crossed out the dedication on the manuscript so forcefully that he tore right through the paper, and the symphony was renamed ‘Sinfonia Eroica: Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man’.
Unlike Beethoven’s previous symphonies there is no slow introduction to the Eroica, instead opening with an immense Allegro that is in a much expanded sonata form, unravelling two contrasting themes. The second movement is an anguished funeral march, contrasting spectacularly with the following Scherzo that is fast, exciting and, especially the horn writing in the trio, rather showy. The Finale is in essence a set of variations on a theme taken from Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus ballet music, but the form is expanded far beyond its classical structure so that the movement is a continuous symphonic development of ideas that ends in exhilaration and triumph.
©Andrew Doyle 2016