Concert: Elgar’s bike
The energy, challenge, and camaraderie of cycling in musical motion. Did you know that Elgar’s Enigma Variations depicts several of his cycling partners? Hear this famous work in a whole new light alongside other works inspired by the kinetic energy and inspiring vistas of cycling.
Josef Strauss – Velocipede Polka
Timo Andres – Running Theme
Edward Elgar – Enigma Variations
We hope you enjoy our personal approach to program notes: insights from Jason into how and why pieces were selected, followed by notes and quotes from composers and artists about their work.
Introduction from Jason: Tonight’s concert is something of a culmination: the end result of my many hours on the bike all over the Cedar Valley pondering connections between the indelible experience of cycling and my work in music. With our very first symphonyCycle benefit ride coming up next month, this is the perfect time to present what I believe may be the first-ever orchestra concert devoted to bicycling!
We begin with the evening’s most obvious connection to cycling, Strauss’ quirky Velocipede Polka. Like many works of its time and place this delightful romp depicts a social craze that swept through Vienna, exposing us not only to the popularity of cycling historically but also to the way in which Viennese music always reflects its context. Timo Andres, himself an avid city cyclist, captures cycling’s unique combination of repetition and climax in his ceaselessly rolling string ensemble work. Finally, we’ll journey through Elgar’s Variations, a piece which intrigues on its musical merits as much as its ‘enigma’ but also has a little-known cycling connection I’ll share from the stage.
Enjoy the ride on our unique musical fondo!
Timo Andres on Running Theme: Recently, I’ve started to see contrast for its own sake as something best avoided; I’d rather listen to music that gnaws every last scrap of meat off of one bone. Variety will eventually come, I think, if the material’s good, and it will feel earned rather than obligatory.
Running Theme, then, is a proof of concept. It’s a 12-minute romp for string orchestra, entirely based on the interval of a fifth broken over a dotted rhythm. The music flows into three informal sections, not quite movements. A spare and athletic opening gradually accrues harmonic complexity, weighing down its momentum. The second leaps forward again, as if launched forward by this drawn tension—a galloping bass hocket underscoring volleys of high arpeggios. After reaching a series of irreconcilable harmonic confrontations, the music slows its pace of modulation and quickens its rhythmic pulse simultaneously, before dissolving in a ghostly echo of the opening motto.
Learn more at timoandres.com
Conversation between Elgar and his wife Alice, who asked him about the Enigma Variations theme as he was developing it at home: Nothing, but something might be made of it. Powell [Variation II] would have done this, or Nevinson [Variation XII] would have looked at it like this … What I think they would have written – if they were asses enough to compose!
In the program note for the 1899 premiere: The Enigma I will not explain – its 'dark saying' must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connection between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme “goes”, but is not played . . . . So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some late dramas – eg Maeterlinck’s L’Intruse and Les sept Princesses – the chief character is never on the stage.
Later, in 1911: This work, commenced in a spirit of humour & continued in deep seriousness, contains sketches of the composer’s friends. It may be understood that these personages comment or reflect on the original theme & each one attempts a solution of the Enigma, for so the theme is called. The sketches are not “portraits” but each variation contains a distinct idea founded on some particular personality or perhaps on some incident known only to two people. This is the basis of the composition, but the work may be listened to as a piece of music apart from any extraneous consideration.
Elgar’s descriptions of each variation and the individuals represented in them:
I C. A. E.
There is no break between the theme and this movement. The variation is really a prolongation of the theme with what I wished to be romantic and delicate additions, those who knew C.A.E. [Elgar’s wife Alice] will understand this reference to one whose life was a romantic and delicate inspiration.
II H. D. S.-P.
Hew David Steuart-Powell was a well-known amateur pianist and a great player of chamber music. He was associated with B.G.N. (Cello) and the Composer (Violin) for many years in this playing. His characteristic diatonic run over the keys before beginning to play is here humorously travestied in the semiquaver passages, these should suggest a Toccata, but chromatic beyond H.D.S.-P’s liking.
III R. B. T.
Richard Baxter Townshend, whose Tenderfoot books are now so well known and appreciated. The Variation has a reference to R.B.T.s presentation of an old man in some amateur theatricals - the low voice flying off occasionally into ‘soprano’ timbre. The oboe gives a somewhat pert version of the theme, and the growing grumpiness of the bassoons is important.
IV W. M. B.
W. M. Baker, Country Squire, gentleman and scholar. In the days of horses and carriages it was more difficult than in these days of petrol to arrange the carriages for the day to suit a large number of guests. This variation was written after the host had, with a slip of paper in his hand, forcibly read out the arrangements for the day and hurriedly left the musicroom with an inadvertent bang of the door. In bars I 5-24 are some suggestions of the teasing attitudeof the guests.
V R. .P. A.
Richard P. Arnold, son of Matthew Arnold. A great lover of music which he played (on the pianoforte) in a self-taught manner, evading difficulties but suggesting in a mysterious way the real feeling. His serious conversation was continually broken up by whimsical and witty remarks. The theme is given by the basses with solemnity and in the ensuing major portion there is much light-hearted badinage among the wind instruments.
Isabel Fitton, Malvern lady, an amateur viola player. It may be noticed that the opening bar, a phrase made use of throughout the variation, is an exercise for crossing the strings-a diffculty for beginners; on this is built a pensive and, for a moment, romantic movement.
Troyte Griffith, a well-known architect in Malvern. The boisterous mood is mere banter. The uncouth rhythm of the drums and lower strings was really suggested by some maladroit essays to play the pianoforte; later the strong rhythm suggests the attempts of the instructor (E. E.) to make something like order out of chaos, and the final despairing slam records that the effort.
VIII W. N.
Really suggested by an eighteenth-century house. The gracious personalities of the ladies are sedately shown. Winifred Norbury was more connected with music than others of the
family, and her initials head the movement; to justify this position a little suggestion of a characteristic laugh is given.
The variations are not all portraits; some represent only a mood, while others recall an incident known only to two persons. Something ardent and mercurial, in addition to this movement, would have been needful to portray the character and temperament of A. J, Jaeger
(Nimrod). The variation bearing this name is the record of a long summer evening talk, when my friend discoursed eloquently on the slow movements of Beethoven, and said that no one
could approach Beethoven at his best in this field, a view with which I cordially concurred. It will be noticed that the opening bars are made to suggest the slow movement of the Eighth Sonata (Pathétique). Jaeger was for years the dear friend, the valued adviser and the stern critic of many musicians besides the writer; his place has been occupied but never held.
The pseudonym for Dora Penny is adopted from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti. The movement suggests a dance-like lightness. The inner sustained phrases at first on the viola and later on the flute should be noted.
XI G. R. S.
George Robertson Sinclair, Mus. D., late organist of Hereford Cathedral. The variation, however, has nothing to do with organs or cathedrals, or, except remotely, with G. R. S. The first few bars were suggested by his great bulldog Dan (a well-known character) falling down the steep bank into the river Wye; his paddling up stream to find a landing place, and his rejoicing bark on landing. G. R. S. said, “Set that to music.” I did; here it is.
XII B. G. N.
Basil G. Nevinson, an amateur cello player of distinction and the associate with H. D. S.-P. and the Writer (violin) in performances of many trios - a serious and devoted friend. The variation is a tribute to a very dear friend whose scientific and artistic attainments, and the whole-hearted way they were put at the disposal of his friends, particularly endeared him to the writer.
XIII * * *
The asterisks take the place of the name of a Lady Mary Lygon who was, at the time of the composition, on a sea voyage. The drums suggest the distant throb of the engines of a liner, over which the clarinet quotes a phrase from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage.
XIV E. D. U.
Bold and vigorous in general style. Written at a time when friends were dubious and generally discouraging as to the composers musical future, this variation is merely to show what E.D.U. (a paraphrase of a fond name) intended to do. References made to Var. I (C.A.E.) and to
Var. IX (Nimrod), two great influences on the life and art of the composer, are entirely fitting to the intention of the piece. The whole of the work is summed up in the triumphant,
broad presentation of the theme in the major.
Alice Elgar on the millennial fashion for cycling: In the summer I went cycling with some cousins to Scotland where we had a thrilling time which was duly reported to Edward by letter. The result was that when I returned to Malvern I found that he had bought a bicycle which he had been taught to ride by Mr Little of Birchwood and on which at the first opportunity he wobbled round to The Mount with the suggestion that I should go for a ride with him.
We are here in the woods which is very lovely. E loves orchestrating here in the deep quiet hearing the ‘sound of summer winds amidst the lofty pines’. I wish you & Mr. Kilburn cd. see the lovely scenery here. It is a nice little cottage on the edge of woods. We have both been learning to bicycle, E can now go beautifully & I am just beginning, our landlord friend and neighbour has been unweariedly patient in teaching us.
Cycling, especially in a hill country, is often arduous work and no doubt my temper as well as his would sometimes be to blame. On one occasion we had taken with us as an addition to the party two neighbours whose conversation irritated him and, to make matters worse, a drizzle of rain overtook us. "Oh I can't stand this," Edward suddenly exclaimed in exasperation. "Let's go home!" And without waiting for us he turned back.