A series of concerts with British pianist James Lisney, exploring the late piano music of Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin

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What is ‘Late Style’? It’s a question that has preoccupied writers and thinkers, from Theodor Adorno, who coined the term in relation to Beethoven’s late music, to Edward Said, whose book ‘On Late Style’ explores the output of composer, artists and writers in the later years of their creative lives.

We expect the late works of composers (and writers and artists) to be concerned with valedictory thoughts, of resolution and acceptance, that age and ill-health bring a state of serenity or resignation. Yet many composers’  late work is often intransigent, challenging and contradictory, inventive and transcendent.

Late style is also associated with an aesthetic mastery and a distillation of what matters most, as if an awareness that the end may be near has the effect of really concentrating the artistic focus. Beethoven, for example, reveals in his late piano sonatas an intense heroism, otherworldliness and non-conformity. For Adorno, Beethoven’s late works are an emphatic and triumphant assertion of his refusal to resolve life’s exigencies peacefully, a view which Edward Said endorses, regarding it as a strength in its own right, rather than a negative factor in Beethoven’s late music.

For Schubert and Chopin, both of whom died young (by today’s standards), lateness is relative, almost a philosophical construct. The “late” works of these composers demonstrate that lateness is not just about physical or creative maturity, but also an attitude of mind. In their music there is the sense of life lived with intensity, that time is finite and there is much more to say, and this seems to have focused these composers’ imaginations in a very specific way.

‘Endgame’, a new series of concerts by British pianist James Lisney, at venues in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic, explores the notion of Late Style through the lens of four composers who are particularly close to Lisney’s heart – Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. These recitals include some of the best-loved, most intriguing and satisfying music of these composers’ late output.

Full details on James Lisney’s website

Meet the Artist interview with James Lisney

 

I have nothing but praise for James Lisney`s piano playing; he combines velvet touch and wide range of colour with complete understanding of phrasing and dynamic shading. This is someone who can really give the mechanical box of wires and wood a singing soul.

The Telegraph

 

On the 24 March Sir Neville Marriner will unveil a commemorative plaque in central London to celebrate the work of the composer Joseph Haydn.

The plaque is the first dedicated to Haydn in London. When he visited for the first time in 1791, the composer was at least as popular as his contemporary, Mozart. Though Mozart has three plaques in London, Haydn had none, despite fifty years of attempts to establish one.

Now, taking inspiration from the successful subscription concerts of his day, the Haydn Society of Great Britain has raised funds through a crowdfunding campaign to commission and install the plaque. In addition to Sir Neville Marriner, both the director of the Haydn Society Denis McCaldin and the Austrian ambassador will speak at the unveiling.

The Haydn plaque will be unveiled at 18 Great Pulteney Street, Soho, London W1F 9NE in Soho on 24 March at midday (12pm), a week before the composer’s birthday.

haydnsocietyofgb.co.uk

The Haydn Society of Great Britain is putting up the first commemorative plaque in London to the composer Franz Joseph Haydn.

There have been a number of attempts over the past fifty years to put up a plaque to Haydn in London but none has succeeded, perhaps because there are no original buildings left with which he is associated. However, the Haydn Society of Great Britain has been granted permission to put a plaque on the building occupying the site of 18, Great Pulteney Street in Soho.

We know from Haydn’s letters and diaries that he lived in a house on this spot when he first arrived in 1791, in rooms arranged for him by his promoter, Salomon. We also know he found 18th-century Soho very noisy, just as it still is today!

It’s hard to over-estimate the importance of Haydn to the development of classical music. Often referred to as “the Father of the Symphony” for the contribution he made to the development of that genre, ‘Papa’ Haydn is equally remembered for his influence on the development of the string quartet. Haydn’s music forms the the foundations on which Mozart and Beethoven built their greatest work.

The Haydn Society will commission a plaque from Ned Heywood MBE, a respected manufacturer responsible for many similar plaques across London (and all the square plaques in the City of London). It will look something like this:

The Haydn Society of Great Britain are doing this independently of any official plaque scheme and need to raise all the money themselves. This will be the first permanent commemoration of Haydn’s presence in London and his huge contribution to the cultural life of the city. The original subscribers to his Hanover Square Rooms concerts were attracted equally by his reputation and his musical genius – both of these will be acknowledged in a lasting memorial.

Help make a plaque for Haydn in London a reality by contributing to the Haydn Society of Great Britain’s Kickstarter campaign. Every donor will receive a Haydn-related gift, from an animated thank you from the composer himself to honorary membership of the Haydn Society of Great Britain, and more.

Pledge your support now via this link

Follow the Haydn Society of GB on Twitter @HaydnSocGB, #haydnplaque

 

 

 

 

[text source: Haydn Society of GB Kickstarter campaign site]

On a fine mid-September afternoon a group of adult pianists, piano fans and music lovers gathered at Craxton Studios for a recital and talk by acclaimed pianist, teacher and writer Graham Fitch.

Craxton Studios, a beautiful Arts & Crafts house in Hampstead, north London, has an important musical heritage and is therefore the perfect place for concerts and gatherings of musicians. Originally built by the artist George Hillyard Swinstead for his family and as his art studio, the house was bought by Harold Craxton and his wife Essie in 1945 after they and their family were bombed out of their home in St. John’s Wood during the Blitz. Professor Harold Craxton OBE was an eminent and much-loved pianist and teacher (he was a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music), and those of us of a certain age will know his name from ABRSM editions of Beethoven and Co, edited by him and Donald Francis Tovey. The house on Kidderpore Avenue became a meeting place for musicians to come together and the house became a focal point for the artistic and musical milieu of London. This tradition continues today, as the house is used not only for concerts but also rehearsals, auditions and as a film location.

When Harold Craxton died in 1971, a trust was established in his name to support young, extremely talented musicians embarking on a professional career.

I first visited Craxton Studios in December 2013 for a concert by pianist Sarah Beth Briggs. I was impressed by the warm atmosphere and particularly the special ambiance and decor of the venue. Concerts are held in the artist’s studio, a large airy room at the back of the house, adorned with paintings, which looks out over the garden. The piano, which was Harold Craxton’s own instrument, is an early 20th-century Blüthner. (There is another grand piano in the small rehearsal studio on the top floor of the house.) The Craxton family still manage the property and it continues as a lively hub for musical activities in London.

‘Notes&Notes’ with Graham Fitch was a new concert concept for the South London Concert Series. I have always found concerts in which the performer introduces the music most interesting, and I find audience members enjoy hearing anecdotes about the music or why particular pieces are important, and as such offer something more personal and interesting than a standard written programme.

Graham Fitch introducing his programme
Graham Fitch introducing his programme

Graham’s programme consisted of Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat and the French Suite, No. 5 in G, both popular and accessible works, and Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 50 in C, Hob. XVI/50, written while the composer was living in London. Graham introduced the music, explaining that Bach was drawing on a tradition of presenting a suite of stylised dances popular at the time (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue etc). He also described his first encounters with this music and his studies with Andras Schiff, who has received high praise for his own intepretations of Bach, and who “gave” Graham the ornaments in the French Suite. Graham also explained that there is no “right way” to play Bach and that a romantic interpretation is as valid any other.

Graham combines a vibrant, colourful sound with an ability to highlight all the different strands of melody, voices and interior architecture in the music, together with subtle use of pedal, sensitive phrasing and restrained rubato. As his introduction to the Haydn Sonata, he explained that Haydn was working with John Broadwood, the London piano maker, and the Sonata shows the composer experimenting with the range of possibilities afforded by an English piano (as opposed to the Viennese instruments which Haydn had previously been used to). Graham’s performance sparkled with wit and humour, while the middle movement had a lovely arching melody, warm and supple.

Afternoon tea & scones
Afternoon tea & scones

After the music came the tea party and guests gathered in the dining room to enjoy tea and scones (with clotted cream, of course) and the chance to meet Graham and talk to other pianists and piano fans. There were many friends amongst the audience and the house was full of conversation. Some people even went to try the piano, before the studio was cleared ready for an audition the following day. The general consensus was that this was a really lovely event, combining music, words and conviviality, and we hope to host a similar concert at Craxton Studios next year.

 

 

 

Craxton Studios website

Meet the Artist……Graham Fitch

 

A guest post from Jane Shuttleworth

Among amateur musicians, we choral singers are an incredibly lucky bunch. We get to perform with top professional soloists, conductors and orchestras in the country’s best concert halls, without needing music college degrees and whilst still being able to do regular day jobs that pay the mortgage. When I was invited to contribute to this series, there were any number of memorable performances I could have chosen: my first ‘Messiah’, in the Royal Albert Hall; Bach Passions with professional baroque players; a Remembrance day War Requiem in Toronto; another ‘Messiah’ with Ben Heppner; Mahler’s Eighth Symphony… I’ve chewed through a fair proportion of the choral repertoire, but the piece I’ve chosen to write about comes from one of the works that has thus far eluded me – Haydn’s ‘Creation’.

The chorus, “The Heavens are telling” closes Part One of Creation; it was a staple of my church choir’s repertoire when I was a young girl soprano, and we often sang it either as an anthem during a service or at concerts. Everything about it delighted me, particularly the sheer exuberance of the opening phrases, and the madcap dash to the end when the words all tumble out with increasing urgency and the harmony ratchets up the tension; and the simple fact that it was really loud. But the contrasting trio sections with their graceful fluidity, their cast of angels and air of mystery enchanted me too.

To this day, it’s a bit of a mystery why I joined the choir: I think it was mainly to escape Sunday School, but I had always enjoyed trying to sing along with hymns. One of my earliest memories is standing on a pew next to my father, trying to sing a hymn and asking him what all the words meant. I wasn’t particularly good at singing – the school choir-mistress had made that quite clear. But David Strong, the choirmaster, was willing to take on any trebles who wanted a go, and he put in extra time with us before adult choir practice to help us learn our parts.

And this is really the point of this article. Thanks to that early experience of good Anglican choral music, I have spent my whole life singing in choirs; church and chapel choirs, big choral societies, and smaller chamber choirs. I’ve sung in big concert venues, a fair number of cathedrals and have been moved to all extremes of the emotional compass by music I’ve sung. And it’s all thanks to David Strong, that organist who took the time and effort to bring children into his church choir, and just as importantly to let us sing the same music as the grown-ups. This sort of thorough, accessible and (most importantly) free musical education is so hard to come by and should be valued, supported and lauded wherever it can be found.

I only realised just how grateful I was to David Strong when I heard last year that he was seriously ill, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to get back in touch and thank him. He died a few days before I sang my first St Matthew Passion, in Durham Cathedral, and some of the tears I shed during that concert were tears of gratitude.

We sang plenty of other good repertoire but “The Heavens are telling” captured my childhood imagination so strongly that it’s the piece that sums up my early choir years, and whenever I hear it, I think of my 10-year old self, singing out with more enthusiasm than accuracy, and still oblivious to just how much amazing music-making I had ahead of me. And if I ever get to sing Creation, I’ll be thinking of David…and probably resisting the temptation to attempt the soprano line that I used to sing with such delight.

Jane Shuttleworth is a singer, recorder player and writer, reviewing
for Bachtrack, Early Music Review and her own local music website
Music in Durham (www.musicdurham.co.uk). She currently sings alto in
The Durham Singers, a 40-voice chamber choir specialising in
unaccompanied music, and in Voces Usuales, an occasional cathedral
choir.

 

‘Music Notes’ is a new occasional series, mostly comprised of guest posts, in which contributors discuss favourite or significant concerts, performances, artists, recordings or musical experiences. More ‘Private Passions’ than ‘Desert Island Discs’, the series is an opportunity for people to share their love of music and attempt to explain why certain pieces, places and artists have such distinct resonances and associations for them. Further information about the series here:

https://crosseyedpianist.com/2014/04/29/music-notes-a-new-occasional-series/