Friday 28th August at 11a.m.
Malbrouck s'en va‐t‐en guerre
for about 50 minutes
at St John's Church, off Red Lion Square, Stamford
(opposite ASK Italian restaurant)
Katharine Parsons and Leon King play Biber Harmonia Artificiosa no. VII for two viola d'amores and continuo, and Carl Stamitz's Marlborough Sonata, which includes variations on the famous French folk song Malbrouck s'en va‐t‐en guerre, (the soldier being John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough).
Leon studied viola with Rudolph Botta in Manchester and Roger Best of the Alberni Quartet in London before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he continued his studies with Stephen Shingles, the principal violist of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. At the RAM he also studied chamber music under the renowned quartet leader Sidney Griller and composition with Paul Patterson and Edward Gregson. Leon has worked as a freelance player with many British orchestras including the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. He also studied baroque viola with Jan Schlapp and is an experienced specialist in period performance practice having worked with a number of period instrument orchestras including the Academy of Ancient Music, Gabrieli Consort, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Leon has a special interest in the viola d’amore and has edited an Urtext edition of Vivaldi’s complete works for viola d’amore. This is published by his own company, Quall Publications, which specialises in rare 18th century repertoire for viola d’amore.
Katharine studied viola with Graeme Scott at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and then went on to study English Literature at Cambridge University. After graduation, she established herself as a viola player and upper strings teacher in Oxfordshire, where she did many recitals with the Courtenay Quartet as well as other freelance work. More recently she studied viola with Roger Bigley at the Royal Northern College of Music as part of a PGCE in Specialist String Teaching. Katharine now teaches for Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust and in 2007 she established the Hereward Ensemble, a chamber music group based in Peterborough. Leon has introduced Katharine to the viola d'amore and she is enjoying exploring its repertoire and unique sound-world.
The viola d’amore
The viola d’amore emerged in the late 17th century and is distinguished by a viol like shape but with flame shaped sound holes and a carved head (often a blindfolded cupid or winged cherub) in place of the scroll found in the violin family. It is also characterised by its sympathetic strings (strings that run beneath the fingerboard) that are not played but resonate in sympathy with the bowed strings above and give the instrument an ethereal sound. Sympathetic strings are also found on eastern instruments such as the Indian sarangi and sitar among others. Its name is thought by some to derive from “Viol of the Moors” and the flame shaped sound holes from the flaming sword of Islam. However, it could equally well be simply a reference to its plaintive tone quality. Indeed many variants of western orchestral instruments that display this tonal quality are also known as “d’amore” for instance, the oboe d’amore.
Largely thanks to the sympathetic strings, the viola d'amore has a particularly sweet and warm sound. Leopold Mozart, writing in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, said that the instrument sounded "especially charming in the stillness of the evening.” The first known mention of the name viol d'amore appeared in John Evelyn's Diary (20 November 1679): "for its swetenesse & novelty the Viol d'Amore of 5 wyre-strings, plaid on with a bow, being but an ordinary violin, play'd on Lyra way by a German, than which I never heard a sweeter Instrument or more surprizing." Vivaldi wrote a number of works for the instrument and certainly played it himself. A contemporary eyewitness account also confirms that on April 25, 1717, Vivaldi played a well-received concert on "a special kind of twelve stringed viola called the viola d’amore" on his way back from Bologna in Cento.
Early accounts, such as Evelyn’s, cite a five stringed instrument with wire strings but no sympathetic strings. Vivaldi's and Bibers' works are written for a version of the instrument with six playing strings and a matching number of sympathetic strings. By the late eighteenth century, a low seventh string had been added and it was this type of instrument that Carl Stamitz himself played and wrote for. Many different tunings are known but by the late 1700’s , D Major tuning was the most common. The instrument continued to be played throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is used in a number of operas as an obbligato instrument by composers incuding Meyerbeer in “Les Hugenots” and Janacek in “Katya Kabanova”. The composer Paul Hindemith was also a keen player and wrote many works for viola d’amore. It was used by the composer Bernard Herman in the 1962 sound track of “Little Girl Lost”, an episode of the popular American TV series “The Twilight Zone”.
Scordatura notation was first used in the late seventeenth century as a way to quickly read music for string instruments where the tuning is not in the usual fifths. Biber, his student Vilsmayr and Vivaldi among others all wrote works for violin in which retuning of the instrument is indicated. These were written using scordatura notation to make them easy to read. The tuning is usually given at the beginning of the music but the notation does not always indicate the note that will sound. Instead, it tells you where to place your fingers as if you are playing in standard fifths tuning. It is in effect a form of tablature which is familiar to lutenists and guitarists. In the eighteenth century the viola d’amore was usually played by violinists as a ‘novelty’ where a special sound was required. As many different tunings were used, scordatura notation was a natural choice for many composers who were familiar with scordatura for the violin.
Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644-1704) was born in the `Bohemian town of Wartenberg but lived and worked for most of his life in Salzburg. Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. He was also a virtuoso performer. During Biber's lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. Biber's finest scordatura writing is represented in two collections. The first dates from c. 1676 and is known as the Mystery Sonatas, or Rosary Sonatas. The second work in which Biber explored scordatura techniques is Harmonia artificioso-ariosa (1696), his last known published collection of instrumental music. It contains seven partitas for two instruments and basso continuo: five for two violins, one for two violas d’amore and one for violin and viola. Six of the partitas require scordatura tunings, including those for viola and two violas d'amore; Biber utilises the full potential of the technique, including all possibilities for complex polyphony. The piece we will hear today is number VII for two violas d’amore and continuo. It is in seven movements.
Harmonia Artificiosa VII
Carl Stamitz (1745-1801) was born in Mannheim and succeeded his father as Konzermeister of the Mannheim Orchestra. In 1770 he moved to Paris and later toured extensively in Europe including a successful trip to London in 1777 - 78. He was a virtuoso violinist and wrote a range of works including symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. He also played the viola d’amore and wrote a number of works for the instrument which use its range of technical possibilities to the full.
Sonata a Due for Viola d'amore, with Violin or Viola accompaniment [No.2, "Marlborough"]
This work is in five movements: Allegro, Rondo Allegro (La Chasse), Andante moderato, Allegro, and Andante con Variazione (Marlbrough s'en va-t-en Guerre). Most likely from his Paris years, it is unquestionably one of Stamitz's finest works for viola d'amore. This sonata brings out all of the technically virtuosic demands of the player. It is an utterly charming work from beginning to end. Not only does one hear rapid scale and broken chord passages, but left-hand pizzicato and harmonics. The second movement is based on the Halali from La Chasse -- a melody taken from the music of the hunt in the time of Louis XV. Even more striking are the theme and variations on Marlborough s'en va-t-en Guerre [Marlborough Goes Off to War], an anonymous, derisive song, popular at the time. This burlesque lament on the death of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, (1650–1722) was written on a false rumour of that event after the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709. It tells how Marlborough's wife, awaiting his return from battle, is given the news of her husband's death. The melody probably predates the song's lyrics, and is used in two other songs, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "The Bear Went Over the Mountain."