BRIAN: Symphony No. 18 / Violin Concerto / The Jolly Miller

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Havergal Brian (1876-1972)

Violin Concerto Symphony No. 18 The Jolly Miller Overture

At different points in his career Havergal Brian wrotethree works which he described as 'comedy' overtures\.

Each of them, despite the programmatic connotations oftheir titles, possesses a purely abstract form. DoctorMerryheart (1912) is a set of symphonic charactervariationson an original theme; The Tinker's Wedding(1948) is a ternary scherzo-and-trio design. The thirdand last, The Jolly Miller (1962), is a binary formcomprising an extended introduction, a theme, and ashort series of free variations. The theme itself is oneBrian had known since his childhood, and althoughseveral of his works allude to the character of Englishfolk-melody, this is the only occasion on which heconsciously employed a folk-tune as a thematic subject.

The tune, either a Cheshire folk-song or a sixteenthcenturypopular song, is sometimes known as The Millerof Dee. Millers have had a poor press in Englishliterature, and the miller of Dee, so far from being jolly,is a regular misanthrope, with his constant refrain 'I carefor nobody, no not I, and nobody cares for me'. Brianonce confessed that the words reminded him of twomillers he had known as a boy in Staffordshire, whohated each other. There is nothing misanthropic,however, about his little Overture, which he composedin the spring of 1962, at the age of 86, as a present forthe family of his daughter Elfreda, while he was workingon his Twentieth Symphony. He never heard the workperformed. It was first given in November 1974 in theUnited States by the Main Line Symphony Orchestra ofPhiladelphia under their conductor Robert Fitzpatrick.

Its first English performance took place in Southamptonthe following month. Both of these were with amateurforces, and the present recording constitutes theOverture's first professional performance.

After the completion of his Fourth Symphony, DasSiegeslied (Marco Polo 8.223447), in 1933, HavergalBrian embarked on the composition of a similarly largescaleViolin Concerto. He himself had learned the violinas a child, and all four of the symphonies he had writtenup to that point feature important episodes for soloviolin, so a concerto was certainly a logical project forhim to tackle. He began to sketch it in the spring of1934, and completed a draft of the entire work in shortscore on 7th June. Unfortunately his case containing theentire material for the concerto was either lost or stolenduring the course of a train journey, in the course ofBrian's work as Assistant Editor of Musical Opinion,and never recovered. Nothing daunted, he set to workagain almost immediately: not, it seems, to reconstructthe lost concerto, but to write a second one using thethemes he remembered from the first. The short scorewas finished in November 1934, and the full score on8th June 1935, a year to the day since the work'spredecessor had disappeared. At first he called this newcomposition Violin Concerto No. 2, and gave it a title,The Heroic. Later, however, he dropped both numeraland epithet; history knows only a single Havergal BrianViolin Concerto in C major.

All three of the concerto's movements are centredon C - minor in the first movement, major with aflattened seventh in the slow movement, firmly major inthe finale. The structural contrast is equally great. WhileSymphony No. 4, nominally in C, conforms to notraditional formal patterns and obsessivelymetamorphoses its material into ever new shapes, theconcerto's movements are spacious architecturaldesigns, two of them clearly related to sonata forms andcustomary concerto behaviour, with some of the mostdirect and "tuneful" melodic writing in Brian's entireoutput. There is no doubt that the great Romanticconcertos, up to and including those of Elgar, servedhim as a general model.

In resolving the problem of the relationship betweenthe solo instrument and the orchestra Brian's handling ofthe orchestra remains fundamentally symphonic. Heuses a smaller orchestra than for those first foursymphonies, but this still involves triple woodwind, fullbrass, harp, strings, and much percussion; the scoring isoften weighty or very full-textured, and highlycontrapuntal. His solution - or perhaps deliberate nonsolution- to the inevitable difficulties of balance is towrite a solo part that fights back: a heroic bravura part ofextreme difficulty, requiring the powers of a first-ratevirtuoso with the big tone of a Kreisler or an AlbertSammons. Although the part is of extreme difficulty,full of cruel octave writing, tricky and unusual passagework,and a taxing use of extremes of the register, it isnevertheless conceived with a profound and intimateknowledge of what the instrument can do if pushed hardenough. The fact that, a few years later, Brian wrote inwarm admiration of Schoenberg's Concerto, a workmany violinists then believed unplayable, is sufficientevidence of his attitude to composing for a soloist, butfrequently he allows the violin moments of endearingsimplicity; his approach can be the reverse of"soloistic", sometimes blending the violin in unisonwith the timbres of a large woodwind body.

The concerto begins mediis rebus 3: a single bar ofserpentine chromatics on unison strings, and the soloiststrikes in with a sweeping descending phrase in octaves,touching off a welter of stormy orchestral polyphony.

The various symphonically-metamorphosing motifs(one of them an impressive figure for the violin againstsonorous brass chords) accumulate into a lengthy andcomplex first subject group through which the soloistplots a fervent course. Suddenly the storm is stilled:there appears instead a second subject 4 in the classicalG major, and in utter expressive contrast. Almost at oncethis tender, folksong-like tune with its spare and delicateaccompaniment is turned into an expansive and lyricalwaltz-like development of itself in compound time, witha tiny, mysterious codetta where the violin spirals up toa stratospheric high E. At this point 5 common timereturns and the development section proper starts withangular contrapuntal transformations of the secondsubject in the orchestra alone, soon joined by the violinwith its own pyrotechnics. There follows agrandiloquent tutti 6 developing the various motifs ofthe first subject; and this paves the way for what is ineffect a capricious accompanied cadenza 7. Thisculminates in a dramatic octave descent, and the codabegins with a reminder of the serpentine figure from thework's very opening, before the woodwind state a calm,mellifluous Lento theme in rich harmony 8. Thoughthis feels like an entirely new idea, it is in fact a radianttransformation of the salient elements of the once soturbulentfirst subject. Seraphically the violin takes it up,and reminders of both the first and second subjects arewoven into a dreamily romantic discourse before themovement closes with a stern reminder of its opening.

The slow movement, anticipating Shostakovich, iscast as a passacaglia, on a lyrically ruminative eight-bartheme announced by cellos and basses 9, a unifiedstructures that is also a superb demonstration of Brian'spowers of variation. Although the theme establishes themelodic and harmonic background of the ensuing fifteenvariations, it is itself continuously varied, appearing notjust in the bass but in all the orchestral registers; and thevariations themselves expand through canonicoverlapping and restless changes of time signature. Thefirst three, relatively orthodox, see the violin taking upand then decorating the theme, but the fourth brings afull-orchestral tutti 10, developed in symphonic style.

The violin continues in dialogue with solo flute,increasing in fervour through the next two variations,culminating in a further one for orchestra alone, themovement's central climax. A sense of exalted lyricismprev
Item number 8557775
Barcode 747313277520
Release date 05/01/2005
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Bisengaliev, Marat
Bisengaliev, Marat
Composers Brian, Havergal
Brian, Havergal
Conductors Friend, Lionel
Friend, Lionel
Orchestras BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Producers Dalby, Martin
Dalby, Martin
Disc: 1
Symphony No. 18
1 section 1
2 section 2
3 I. Allegro moderato: section 1
4 I. Allegro moderato: section 2
5 I. Allegro moderato: section 3
6 I. Allegro moderato: section 4
7 I. Allegro moderato: section 5
8 I. Allegro moderato: section 6
9 II. Lento: section 1
10 II. Lento: section 2
11 II. Lento: section 3
12 II. Lento: section 4
13 III. Allegro fuoco: section 1
14 III. Allegro fuoco: section 2
15 III. Allegro fuoco: section 3
16 III. Allegro fuoco: section 4
17 III. Allegro fuoco: section 5
18 I. Allegro moderato
19 II. Adagio
20 III. Allegro e marcato sempre: section 1
21 III. Allegro e marcato sempre: section 2
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