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Alphorn Concertos

Leopold Mozart (1719-1787): Sinfonia Pastorella

Jean Daetwyler (1907-1994): Dialogue avec la nature

Ferenc Farkas (1905-2000): Concertino Rustico

Jean Daetwyler (1907-1994): Concerto for Alphorn and Orchestra

The Alphorn is phenomenal in its size and in its very limited musical range. The instrument is one of great antiquity, a shepherd’s trumpet, made of wood, and is found in the Alps, the Carpathians, Lithuania, the Pyrenees and in Scandinavia. Traditionally a signal instrument, with considerable carrying power, it has undergone various changes in construction, and is now most familiar in the form with an upturned bell at the end of a hollowed wooden pipe some eleven or twelve feet long. Since the early nineteenth century the alphorn has also been made in different keys, to allow a certain amount of ensemble playing between performers on the instrument. In recent years Swiss composers have brought the alphorn into the concert hall.

Leopold Mozart would have earned much greater attention from posterity had he not chosen to sacrifice his own career to that of his son Wolfgang. By 1756, when the latter was born, he had achieved a considerable reputation, particularly by the publication of his treatise on violin-playing, which was translated into several languages. The son of an Augsburg bookbinder, he had entered the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg as a musician in a city where he had been a university student. He was to rise to the position of Vice-Kapellmeister, which he retained until his death, but largely abandoned his own not-inconsiderable work as a composer in order to devote his attention to the development of his son’s God-given talent, the nature of which he was quick to recognise. He was to be disappointed by his son, who never fulfilled, in material terms, the promise of his childhood, when he had toured Europe as an infant prodigy. Wolfgang had relied on his father’s advice and guidance and during the last ten years of his life, in Vienna, after his quarrel with the Archbishop of Salzburg and consequent separation from his father, he proved himself little able to manage his own affairs. Nevertheless it is the achievement of Leopold Mozart that we must celebrate in the music of his son, while regretting the neglect of his own talent.

The Sinfonia Pastorella is scored for strings and a corno pastorito, which some have identified with the alphorn, to which the part is well suited. Leopold Mozart wrote a number of works that involved the use of instruments less usually found in the orchestra. These include the bagpipes, the hurdy-gurdy, the dulcimer, and a variety of sound effects for his Sinfonia da caccia (Hunting Symphony). The present symphony follows something of this pattern, deftly constructed, its character apparent from its title.

The Swiss composer Jean Daetwyler was born in 1907 and studied under Vincent d’Indy at the Paris Conservatoire, returning home to Switzerland in 1933. In the course of a long career he taught at the Sion Conservatoire and left a quantity of music. He died in 1994 at Sierre, where his life is commemorated in a permanent exhibition. Of his Dialogue avec la nature he wrote: "Nature holds an important place in my life. I actively observe nature, I listen, I ask questions, and sometimes Nature answers, clearly or more or less ambiguously. Music is certainly the art that can best describe her, since music too is alive and moving, and reflects those fleeting images that never appear twice the same. The oboe, the flute and the cor anglais translate best these unforgettable impressions on our imagination and sing in our memory. With whom can a shepherd, lost in the mountains, converse, but the birds who perch on the last trees on the mountainside and can still live at these great heights. I wanted to describe this intimate and familiar dialogue by means of the alphorn, the biggest instrument, and the piccolo, the smallest. The horn is solemn. Man poses problems, he reflects, he is anxious, he wants to understand. The bird, the piccolo, is light, carefree and full of vitality. Its life is short and seems happy. Such a dialogue can only inspire music that is both spontaneous and contrasting. A dance rhythm develops gradually between these two beings, brought together by life. The solemn song of the shepherd ends the dialogue in contemplation. The final rondo conjures up the joy of the shepherd man in autumn, when he will rejoin his fellows and find again companionship. This is what my music represents. It tries to express this without emphasis, without useless embellishment or unnecessary development. If the song of the bird amid the sound of the wind in the trees can give the listener the feeling of nature at rest and lavish in her gifts, I shall have achieved my aim."

The Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas was initially a pianist. He later studied composition at the Budapest Academy of Music under Leo Weiner and Albert Siklos. An award took him to Rome, where he became a pupil of Respighi, and to Africa and Spain.

He was to spend two further years abroad, working as a composer for film studios in Vienna and in Copenhagen. He returned to Hungary in 1936, establishing himself as an influential teacher and as a composer who was able to bring to Hungarian music a wider perspective, through the influence of Respighi and the latter’s own teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov. Like Respighi, Farkas has made occasional use of rarer instruments, including the baryton (for which Haydn wrote so much during his time in the service of the baryton-playing Prince Nikolaus Esterházy). The Concertino Rustico by Ferenc Farkas is in three short movements and makes clever use of the solo instrument, with its limited range but richness of timbre.

Of his Concerto for Alphorn and Orchestra Jean Daetwyler wrote: "It is very difficult to write music for the alphorn. The instrument, in spite of its size, has only five notes that can be used to write a melody. The composer is, therefore, reduced to the use of this imperfect scale which allows him no chromatic movement and forbids any change of tonality. For me the alphorn represents solitude, man alone before Nature. With its five notes but above all with its powerful and magnificent sound, the instrument demands of the composer the greatest simplicity in evoking feelings of the deepest truth.

"I had written a cello concerto. In the slow, central section of the work was an expressive passage for horn solo. Jozsef Molnar played this passage, with a sensibility and exactness of expression that amazed me. In the interval I approached him and offered to write for him a horn concerto. He replied that he would prefer an alphorn concerto. I burst out laughing and objected that nothing could be done with an instrument that could produce so few notes; perhaps he would like an ocarina concerto. Molnar explained that the alphorn could be an interesting instrument and he offered to demonstrate this to me. When I heard it, I no longer hesitated. I noted at once on a scrap of paper what the instrument could do, its good and bad notes, the notes it could slur or separate, and the possible speed of articulation. When I returned home and was sitting at my desk, I wrote in a few hours the first movement of my concerto for alphorn and orchestra. The combination gave me immediate inspiration. It impressed itself on my imagination and musical ideas came fast from everywhere. It was a success.

"If the opening is a solo passage for the alphorn, without any accompaniment at all, this is to underline the brutal opposition between the mountain, the glacier, and the shepherd, overwhelmed by this vast motionless landscape that shows him his o
Disc: 1
Concerto for Alphorn and Orchestra
1 Allegro
2 Andante sempre piano
3 Presto
4 Dialogue
5 Rondo
6 Allegro
7 Rubato, a piacere
8 Allegro vivace
9 Betruf: Largo - Moderato - Largo
10 Hirtentanz: Scherzo
11 Pastorale: Misterioso - Lento
12 Totentanz: Barbaro - Furioso - Barbaro
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