UJ Theatre, University of Johannesburg
W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Divertimento in F major K. 138
Paul Hanmer (*1961)
The Malgas-Buckland Case Study (2005)
Shihuahua Express (2006) (first performance)
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor op.11
Romance - Larghetto
Rondo - Vivace
W.A. Mozart - Divertimento in F major K. 138
While everyone acknowledges Mozart (1756-1791) as a prodigy most listen only to music written in his maturity. Some even have said that if Mozart had died aged twenty he would have been an historical footnote. The musical evidence belies such assumptions as this early gem, K. 138 from around 1772, demonstrates. At first glance the work is conventionally in three movements without much of the thematic development or harmonic adventurousness Mozart was to explore later. But closer investigation shows how much care has been put into perfecting every detail of the work. In comparison with contemporary divertimenti by other composers, K. 138 is much richer texturally due to Mozart’s almost obsessive use of incidental counterpoint. Short devices are passed between the players, not only increasing the sense of dialogue between them, but allowing the listener to trace the musical argument from part to part. More often in contemporary works the top part would have had the melody while the bass simply provided harmonic support and the inner parts merely filled in the harmony. But though Mozart does use standard devices here, such as repeated notes and chords in the inner parts, he goes much further as the second violin and viola parts show. For instance, after the unison opening and its consequent phrase the first violin embarks on a lyrical phrase over repeated quavers in the viola and bass. But the second violin scuttles away with a fascinating little counter-melody, which after a short while almost threatens to take over the musical limelight. Similarly, in the slow movement the second violin has an almost subversive counter-melody to the prevailing first violin melody. The overall design of each movement may be conventional, but the detail is uniquely Mozartean.
My connection to the source music began in the winter of 1996 when I was a guest of great Xhosa bow player Nofinishi Dywili at her house in Ngqoko Village in rural Eastern Cape. uNtsiki is a traditional song about a young girl leaving her father’s house to join the household of her betrothed. I have rearranged and adapted it in this version for string quartet. Hopefully the new breath imparted to these very old themes can help sustain them into a living future – so that the ears of the new listeners are opened and made receptive to recognising in this music the echoes of their own belonging.
The Malgas-Buckland Case Study (2005)
This piece is named after Thule Malgas' description of the leather bag I bought in 1997, in which I carry my musical scores from place to place. This movement was really hard to put together from all the bits and pieces that I had written for it. All the references to "The Opening of ‘The Mouth, The Throat, etc’" relate to the physical opening of this bag-of-tricks.
Shihuahua Express 2011 (2006)
This piece was commissioned in 2006 by the members of the then-active Sontonga Quartet, who requested an alternative to the original 4th movement of the string quartet I dedicated to them in 2005. The piece moves at a fair pace and is based on short motifs, which are mainly rhythmic or motoric – rather than especially melodic or harmonically pregnant – in character. The title refers to the initial “pet-name” given to the new high-speed Gautrain service – The Shilowa (as in Sam …. or somewhat later, Mbazima) Express – which was due to be fully operational by 2010. Convinced that this project’s completion would be delayed, I had always retained the 2011 reference. The writing of the piece was financially supported by Distell.
Frédéric Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor op.11
Chopin’s (1810-1849) career could be said to be divided in two: before Paris and in Paris. Before Paris he seemed intent on embarking on a public career of travelling and giving concerts like many other virtuosi of his day, such as Liszt, Hummel and Kalkbrenner. In Paris he all but gave up public concerts, devoting himself to introducing his own music in salons. The E minor Concerto was composed at the time of the shift between the two. He had composed a number of works for piano and orchestra before, including the variations on Mozart’s La ci darem, to which Schumann had responded with the exclamation: “Hats off gentlemen. A genius!”, and the second Piano Concerto in F minor (2nd because it was published after the first). Such acclaim seemed to anticipate the path of his career, and Chopin may have been expecting to follow it after the successful premiere of the E minor Concerto in Warsaw on 11 October 1830, in which, not unusually, the first movement was separated from the other two by an aria. But the political climate did not allow Chopin to remain in Poland. He left in November for Vienna (where he had been very successful on a previous visit) and spent the rest of 1830 and 1831 touring and playing his new concerto to much acclaim in many European towns and cities. Finally he arrived in Paris in September 1831 and settled there for the rest of his life. On 26 February 1832 he made his Parisian debut, performing his E minor Concerto, not in the full orchestral version of the Warsaw performance but in a reduced version for piano and string quintet (quartet and double bass). The audience included Liszt and Mendelssohn (who helped Chopin recruit other performers for the concert) and the celebrated violinist Pierre Baillot who led the quintet.
In many ways the E minor Concerto was everything the audience was expecting. It shared many characteristics with contemporary works by Hummel (Chopin’s mentor), Ferdinand Ries and Mendelssohn. Its sparse orchestration allowed the soloist to predominate, and the pianistic style emphasised the brilliance of the right hand, particularly in the upper registers. Chopin’s piano differed from the modern grand piano in its lighter tone and weaker upper registers, hence a plethora of runs, trills, scales and double thirds were developed to allow the piano to make sufficient impact. These also served to make the piano part sound brilliantly virtuosic. There was no attempt to make a piano concerto resemble the kind of symphonic concerto Beethoven had pioneered. It was designed as a vehicle for the soloist and could sometimes be performed without any orchestra at all. Showy as the intention of the E minor Piano Concerto may have been, in effect it is a much more intimate work that anticipates the kind of sound and mood of the smaller scale pieces Chopin was to make his hallmark in Paris. Even the Slavic final movement seems more restrained than the earlier Krakowiak for piano and orchestra. In many ways the E minor Concerto seems to be a significant bridge between the early public Chopin and the later more private performer. The original string quintet version of the orchestral part has not survived, but it has been reconstructed in the twentieth century. In contrast to the full orchestral version it brings into focus the more intimate, chamber-like aspects of Chopin’s Concerto.