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Looking to the Heavens

 21 February 2013 at 7.30pm 

Looking to the Heavens

Dora Stoutzker Hall
Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Castle Grounds, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3ER
United Kingdom
02920 391391

Soprano: Claire Booth *
Flute: Marie-Christine Zupancic
Clarinet: Timothy Lines
Piano: Malcolm Wilson
Violin/Viola: Laurence Jackson
Cello: Ulrich Heinen

Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was premiered at the Berlin Choralion-Saal on 16 October 1912. The small mixed ensemble that Schoenberg invented for this masterpiece of early atonal music has over the last 100 years become a ‘standard ensemble’, spawning a large repertoire for this grouping of instruments by subsequent composers.

Pierrot Lunaire is a three-part work that sets German translations of poems by Albert Giraud. The eight instruments played by five performers are arranged differently in every number and produce an amazing variety of sound. A striking feature of the work is the vocalist’s Sprechstimme (speech-singing), an eerie declamation between song and speech, where the pitch is sounded but not held; instead, the vocalist immediately leaves the note, falling or rising to the next.

Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time) was first heard on a brutally cold January night in 1941, at the Stalag VIIIA prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany. The title does not exaggerate the ambitions of the piece. An inscription in the score supplies a catastrophic image from the Book of Revelation: ‘In homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who lifts his hand toward heaven, saying, “There shall be time no longer”.

The Quartet is however, the gentlest apocalypse imaginable. There are no roaring sound-masses of doom, but instead fiercely elegant dances, whose rhythms swing along in intricate patterns without ever obeying a regular beat - episodes of transfixing serenity, to which words fail to do justice. That Messiaen’s apocalypse has little to do with history and catastrophe, but instead records the rebirth of an ordinary soul in the grip of extraordinary emotion, is why the Quartet remains as overpowering today as it was on that frigid night in 1941.

Arnold Schoenberg : Pierrot Lunaire
Olivier Messiaen : Quatuor pour la fin du temps

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