Mozart Hornology

Mozart’s best-known horn concerto, No 4 – K495, the one with a famous last movement, is heard at this Saturday’s concert from the BBC Philharmonic in the Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

In chronological order of composition, No 4 was, in fact, the second of the four concertos Mozart wrote for his friend Joseph Leutgeb between 1783 and 1791. No 2 was the first and No 3, in reality, the third.

Long thought to have been the first, No 1 was actually the unfinished last, although Süssmayer had a not particularly successful go at completing it.

Here’s an interesting fact unearthed by Mozart’s first biographer in 1793, Friedrich Schlictegroll: the composer had an acute aversion to the horn until he was nearly a ten-year-old.

A Mozart family friend from the composer’s childhood years told Schlictegroll: “He had an insurmountable horror of the horn when it sounded alone without other instruments; merely holding a horn towards him terrified him as much as if it been a loaded pistol.

Happily for posterity, and Leutgeb, or he would have been merely a historical statistic as the finest horn player of the time in Vienna instead of being forever immortalised, Mozart grew out of his aversion.

By the way, the popular, often cited tale that Leutgeb was also a Viennese cheese-maker when he was not engaged in horn playing is pure mythology.

Another long-held belief that the manuscript for the K495 horn concerto, written out in red, green, blue and black ink, was one of Mozart’s many pranks played on Leutgeb is losing its jocular edge in the face of a growing belief that it is in fact some kind of colour code.

Fingering Gymnastics

A new Sheffield International Concert Season begins at the City Hall this Friday when it is difficult to avoid Rachmaninov; in fact, it is impossible after Glinka’s Overture to his opera Ruslan and Ludmilla has opened proceedings.

Pity the poor chorus that has to gets its collective thorax round the same music – same speed! at the opera’s finale.

Following it, Sunwook Kim will be getting his ten fingers round Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto when another ten would be useful – it was alright for the composer, he had extra large hands to play it!

Such are the technically challenging demands of ‘Rach Three’ as it also known, all the more so after John Gielgud’s continued reference to it thus in the 1996 film Shine, many pianists steer clear of it, although more take it on these days than used to do.

American virtuoso Gary Graffman is said have regretted not learning the concerto in his teenage years when he didn’t “know fear”!

Rachmaninov completed the concerto in Russia towards the end of September 1909, eight years after his much more familiar Second Concerto, and premiered it two months later in New York at end of November. He practiced it on a silent keyboard while sailing to America!

He called it the favourite of his piano concertos and authorised cuts (mainly second and third movements) hoping it would gain popularity, which were regularly made in performances and recordings until more recent times.

Nowadays, it is more common to perform the work without cuts; a complete performance lasting around 40 minutes, if you want to time Sunwook Kim to see if he is playing it in its entirety.

The South Korean pianist won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006 at the age of 18 when he played the First Brahms Concerto with The Hallé and Sir Mark Elder, his partners this Friday when, a little enterprisingly, Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony is also on offer!

Completed in 1936, it is generally reckoned as a transitional work in his output. Gone are the romantic excesses of his lush Second Symphony 30 years earlier, though glimpses remain in its leaner style of retrospection and dramatic utterance.

Classical Sheffield Festival of Music

Quite a few years back one of its most famous musical sons, dear old Roger Bullivant, said that Sheffield had the most active music scene outside of London – and he would have known!

Things have not changed, in fact the activity has increased, and over three days in October it will be rather uniquely publicly blowing its own trumpet!

Even Arts Council England was taken by the idea and provided funding when the website, Classical Sheffield, came up with the notion of a co-ordinated festival in venues around the city centre over a weekend.

The idea was that it would feature as many of the city’s music-making organisations as wished to be involved. ‘Feelers’ were put out to gauge interest and the response was overwhelming enthusiasm.

More than 30 of them, orchestras, ensembles, choral and operatic, are involved on Friday, the 23rd of October; Saturday the 24th; and Sunday, the 25th; most of them on the Saturday.

A detailed run-down would be turgid, especially as the who and the when can be found at www.classicalweekend.com

However, with some imaginative programming on offer, a few ‘sign-posts’ by way of what to expect seems apposite.

Such as on Saturday, for instance, with Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms from the Hallam Sinfonia, Hallam Choral Society and Tideswell Singers at Sheffield Cathedral between 12.30pm and 1pm.

Leaving time to get to the City Hall Ballroom to hear the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus giving voice to Tippett’s five Child of Our Time spirituals, Tavener and Pärt: 1.30pm-2.15pm.

At the same venue: 3.30pm-6pm, ‘Sheffield Sings’, a collection of the city’s choirs, including the Bach Choir, Oratorio Chorus, Escafeld Chorale and Sterndale Singers, doing their own thing in approximately 25-minute slots.

Back over at the Cathedral, after the contemporaneous sounds of new music from Sheffield’s composer collective Platform 4: 4.45pm-5.30pm, those of North Indian Ragas are heard from John Ball and his Sheffield University Indian music ensemble: 6.30pm-7.15pm.

The decks are then cleared again to make room for the Sheffield Chamber Choir to perform Frank Martin’s splendid Mass for double choir: 8.30pm-9pm.

Meanwhile, earlier at the Crucible Studio, members of Ensemble 360 warm up for Dvořák’s Op 77 string quintet: 7.20pm-8.05pm, with some technically demanding music from the 20th century by Huw Watkins, Kurtág, Boulez and Bartók: 6pm-7pm.

As Dvořák wafts into the distance, Opera on Location move into the Studio: 8.30pm-9.15pm, with Menotti’s operatic 20-minute two-hander The Telephone and the much shorter one with four characters, A Hand of Bridge by Samuel Barber; plus his solo Knoxville of 1915.

Sheffield City Opera get in on the act on Sunday with excerpts from the company’s recent production of Massenet’s Cinderella (Cendrillon) at Sheffield Cathedral: 1pm-1.35pm.

Further operatic music is in the City Hall Ballroom soon after: 2pm-2.25pm, Kodály’s Háry János Suite, from the Sheffield Senior Schools Orchestra which remains in-situ to join to play Arturo Márquez’s Danzon No 2 with the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra before the latter takes on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: 2.40pm-3.45pm.

St Andrew’s Music Festival

St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church stages a second music festival in an already congested November, daily from the 5th to the 14th with a day off on the 10th.

As last year, the person arranging it, Ray Kohn, says: “I am still attempting to showcase young Sheffield talent – not me, as I’m not young! – and have managed to organise a concert of new commissions played only by young Sheffielders.”

Also, as last year, music by the 66-year-young Ray Kohn figures rather prominently! – and Beethoven!

“I suggested Beethoven as a featured composer and most ensembles agreed. However, there has been, for me, a very pleasing desire by some young ensembles wanting to perform my work,” he says.

“Last year the Northern String Quartet had their performance of my 12th quartet seen on YouTube and I was quite surprised, but very pleased when both the Cavaleri and Villiers said they would be happy to perform my quartets at St Andrew’s.

“I simply asked the Cavaleri and they said yes to my earlier 9th quartet.

“With the Villiers, I entered their biennial quartet competition and, when I asked them what they thought about the 15th quartet I sent, they said they would like to perform it.

“I later asked them if they would be prepared to play the 16th instead, as I like it better. I sent them the score and they agreed.”

The significance here is that both the Cavaleri and Villiers are two of the finest young British string quartets around with glowing national and international reviews to their name.

Incidentally, the Villiers was prominent on the soundtrack of the BBC TV adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover this past Sunday.

The quartet’s concert at St Andrew’s (November 14) sandwiches Ray Kohn’s No 16 between Beethoven’s Op 18 No 6 and Op 59 No 2; while the Cavalieri (November 8) book-end his No 9 with Haydn’s Op 74 No 1 and Beethoven’s Op 74.

Having watched, and listened to Kohn’s No 12 and No 11, three-movement works and around 15 minutes long, on YouTube you appreciate what the attraction is.

They are certainly not Beethoven or Shostakovich, but are well-constructed and grateful works to play, though not always easy, with an appealing quality largely grounded in klezmer inflection.

Wonder if a vocal work by him, Time’s Dance for soprano, cello and piano, is which crops up in the concert of commissions (November 11) given by Karen Hadas, Lucy Revis and Christopher Hedland, respectively, along with pieces by the latter and Gareth Widdowson.

Ditto: another new work by him, Seven Glimpses of One Secret, which is premiered by the Gavin Usher’s Larkin Strings (November 12) who programme it with Dvořák’s Op 77 string quintet.

Well-known local violinist Ralph Dawson offers Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ violin sonata (November 9) with York-based pianist Polly Sharpe, plus pieces by de Falla, Brahms and Kreisler.

Sheffield Music Academy (November 6) and Sheffield Music School (November 13) have free-admission showcase concerts and some familiar faces on the city’s jazz scene, including Pete Lyons and Jude Sacker, will be doing what they do best on the 7th of November.

All the concerts begin at 7pm and admission is £10 on the door, or £8.80 in advance at www.samfest.uk