GRAHAM WHETTAM (1927 -)

Concerto Drammatico
for violoncello and orchestra
in three continuous movements

I    Scena Moderato molto
II  Danza vigorosa Allegro vivace
III Scena ultima Lento molto e fluido - Adagio cantabile e sostenuto molto

Sinfonia contra timore
in three continuous movements

I      Lento - Allegro molto
II     Adagio
III   Allegro deciso

Redcliffe Recordings RR017
rec 2000, 1975
Special offer £11 post free world wide


Concerto Drammatico

for violoncello and orchestra
in three continuous movements

I     Scena Moderato molto

II   Danza vigorosa Allegro vivace

III  Scena ultima Lento molto e fluido - Adagio cantabile e sostenuto molto

 

In structure the work extends the normal concerto procedure by means of episodes for solo cello, unaccompanied or with light accompaniment, which alternate with episodes for the full orchestral tutti, in which the soloist has no part. The drammatico of the title lies in the soloist’s interaction, and contrast, with the orchestra. It is a constantly varied relationship. At the exposition one follows the other naturally, as the orchestra pick up the opening melody of the cello theme; at first with solo clarinet (1,12), then with full orchestra (1,14).

When the soloist is directly juxtaposed to the orchestral tutti, the contrast is starkly compelling;

I

The three movements are played without a break, and each movement derives from the same material, which emphasises the unity of the work as a whole. Each episode introduces a variation of pace, instrumental texture or tonality. The first movement is structured in eleven such episodes:

1 1-13 Solo cello A
2 14-25 Orchestra repeat of A
3 26-43 Solo cello B, with vibraphone, harp, celesta (pp impressionistic)
4

44-60

Orchestra B abrupt con fuoco

5 61-77 Solo cello C, with light accompaniment (triple stop)

6

78-94

Orchestra alternating with solo cello, light accompaniment, in 2-bar sequences. New rhythmic figure at 81 developed from A.

7

95-105 Solo cello and orchestra, 3-bar sequences; rhythmic ostinato increases to f

8

106-135 Orchestra ff, appassionato molto,broadening into climax.
9 136-152 Solo cello cadenza, with light accompanimen (up to 145)
10 153-1 64Solo cello, with vibraphone, harp, celesta (pp impressionistic)
11 165-173 Solo cello and orchestra bridge to II

The main theme of the whole work; A, is introduced by the solo cello with quiet intensity, and a certain freedom, in a sequence of 2-bar motifs, spelling out the tonal inflections. Over three bars it rises to the tonal centre (C sharp), then gradually falls over a range of three octaves to the lowest C sharp (bar 10). The underlying sonority is coloured by the tonal ambivalence between E and E sharp, spelt out in bar 10 and 12, and recurring throughout the concerto.

After the orchestra’s varied repeat of A, the 3rd episode introduces an impressionistic texture , with vibraphone, harp, celesta, violins pp tremolando, and a triplet rhythm. The orchestral answer to this erupts abruptly and with great violence (bar 44), after which the fifth episode reverts to the solo cello, marked with triple stopping a light accompaniment, and a metre juxtaposing 4/4 with 7/8. Episodes 6 and 7 form the development section, the 2-bar sequences of episode 6 setting up a question and answer between the orchestra and the soloist, and introducing a new rhythm, derived from A, at bar 81 .This soon develops into a rhythmic motif in the course of the 7th episode, which not only dominates the orchestral tutti which follows (appassionato molto) but also defines the phrases of the cadenza, quoting as it does the main features of the theme. This is brought to a close by the 10th episode, which repeats the texture and tonality of the 3rd; but instead of leading to the abrupt con fuoco of the 4th episode, the movement is now brought to a close with articulated chords from the woodwind and brass, leading, accelerarado, into the Allegro vivace.

II

The second movement, scherzando, grows homogeneously from the first.. The strongly accented rhythmic ostinato on which it is based, once established at the opening by the snare drum, cannot be halted, as the alternating metres 4/4 and 7/8, 2/4 and 3/8, pass imperceptibly from soloist to orchestra and back again. Just as the main theme of I rose over two bars, fell over eight, so in this scherzo the main rhythmic theme climbs over two bars, increases to f, then gradually falls over twelve bars, reducing to p at the lowest note D (bar 17).

The scherzo is symmetrically divided into two halves, separated by a Trio (Lento fluido). For the reprise after the Trio the main theme is varied with the addition of a triplet rhythm, spiccato, and martellato interjections from the orchestral strings. Each half is supported by two orchestral statements of the main theme (esuberante), like two massive pillars. On each occasion it is the second statement which carries the greater structural importance. With the 7th episode it brings to a close the first half of the scherzo, with a climactic, vibrant stroke of the tamtam; with the 14th episode it brings to a close the entire movement, with rhythmic antiphony between timpani and brass, and a massive statement of the Trio theme for the entire orchestra over trombone chords ff

1 1-16 Rhythmic prelude (snare drum) Solo cello A
2 17-38 Orchestra alternating with solo cello B Detaché motif (29)
3 39-59 Orchestra A esuberante
4 60-71 Solo cello C short, variant phrases
5 72-85 Orchestra B Detaché motif alternating with solo cello
6 86-96 Solo cello A light accompaniment
7 97-131 Orchestra A climax tamtam (111) bridge
8 132-147 Trio Lento fluido solo cello, light accompaniment, sequential phrases
9 148-167 Solo cello reprise of A
10 168-189 Orchestra reprise of B, alternating with. solo cello. Detaché motif (180)
11 190-211 Orchestra reprise of A esuberante rhythmic postlude (side drum without snares)
12 212-223 Solo cello reprise of C, short variant phrase
13 224-239 Orchestra reprise of B,alternating with solo cello. detaché motif
14 240-266 Orchestra A climax cymbal, unison from 1 against brass chords
15 267-282 Solo cello from opening of I

 

The solo cello, like an echo in the 15th episode, reduces the tension as it heralds the third movement, a sustained, Mahlerian Adagio.

III

After the extrovert dynamism of the scherzo the intense impressionism of the Adagio. The theme is carefully prepared by a long solo introduction, Lento molto, whose last two bars are identical to the concluding bars of the scherzo. The purpose of the introduction is to reduce the rhythmic energy of the scherzo to the sustained lyricism of the Adagio by means of melodic material which is heard again at the climax (bar 140).

The intervals of the introductory material are spelt out in two sections, each consisting of two hexachords; the first, ascending, lightly scored against a characteristic chord for four horns; the second descending, solo.

After the introduction, the first statement of the Adagio chorale theme, with explicit C sharp tonality, and the characteristic E/E sharp inflection, is given out by the solo cello and lower strings, repeated by the orchestra. The ensuing episodes for solo cello arise homogeneously from the main theme; the 4th is sequential, varied melodic moti1~ with tremolando strings and light woodwind; the 6th is impressionistic, with cello harmonics. These solo episodes alternate with three orchestral tutti episodes. The 3rd and the 5th are repeats of the preceding solo passages; the 7th builds up, over the melody in cellos and basses, to a climax (bar 140), con veemenza tremenda, when the unison strings, fff tremolando, give out the theme of the introduction, against the ostinato scherzo rhythm in the snare drum, the first movement theme in the woodwind, the Adagio chords in the brass. Only when the resonance has reduced to a whispered tremolando ppp does the solo cello, summoned by a horn call, begin the long, elegiac theme of the final apotheosis, over a pedal C sharp, con amore e tenereza.

1 1-48 Introduction, part accompanied, part solo
2 49-56 Solo cello Chorale theme A
3 57-72 Orchestra repeat of A, double statement (57-62, 63-72)

4

73-98

Solo cello B

5 99-108

Orchestra free repeat of B

6

108-120

Solo cello, celesta,glockenspiel, violins tremolando

7

120-172

Orchestra development (bar 140), reduction of pace and dynamics (159)

8 172-end

C sharp pedal, concluding solo cello

The first and third movements, Scena and Scena ultima, were composed in their original form in 1962, the same year as Sinfonia contra timore. They were re-written and extended in 1998, when the additional movement, Danza vigorosa, was composed; not as a finale -- the composer considered that nothing could follow the conclusive finality of the Adagio - but as a brilliant scherzando second movement. The intervening years had seen several works for solo stringed instruments, such as the solo violin sonatas, the solo cello sonata, and two Romanzas, for which Whettam found an inspiring interpreter in the young Austrian cellist Martin Rummel. One of the strongest features of these solo works is an intense lyricism, in an idiom of extended tonality, with melodic motifs worked into long phrases. Such small-scale solo pieces, in which the melody is free, the harmony implied, proved to be the genesis of large-scale orchestral works.

The creative impulse behind this concerto is Whettam’s exploitation of the cello’s expressive range. The instrument combines many contrasting characteristics: great power, yet coupled with the gentleness of a quiet, lyrical instrument: the high, middle and low melodic registers, each with its own quality; in this respect it is unique, and really combines several instruments in one; many different methods of note-articulation; a sustained cantabile quality at all dynamic levels, with both natural notes and harmonics, coupled with an aptitude for rhythmic definition and attack. Passages for solo cello occur at defining moments in each movement of this concerto -characteristic melodic writing in which the tonal inflection of intervals colours the overall sonority without supporting harmony.

The world première of Concerto Drammatico was given in America on 30 September 2000, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Sinfonia da Camera was conducted by Ian Hobson, the soloist was Martin Rummel.


Sinfonia contra timore

in three continuous movements

I      Lento - Allegro molto

II     Adagio

III   Allegro deciso

 

I

Sinfonia contra timore, Symphony against fear, is in three continuous movements, with tonal centres respectively of 0 flat, C and F sharp. The opening movement begins with a slow, intensely dramatic introduction, which pre-dates the rest of the symphony by nine years. It is marked Lento and its individual elements are later revealed as thematic germs. Semitonal clashes on the violins create an eerie, unsettling atmosphere and establish -the symphony’s prevailing mood of conflict and unrest. Unison horns and trumpets feature strongly. The opening section of the introduction is repeated up a tone, the intensity correspondingly increased. In a dramatic gesture, four unison trumpets herald the arrival of the Allegro molto - con energia incisa. This main section of the first movement is a lively and trenchant dance in triple metre, driving on unabated until trumpets and trombones instigate a final climax which peaks with a hair-raising downward glissando for horns, trumpets and harp, twice repeated. The music then seems to disintegrate, and a soft timpani roll leads into the ensuing Adagio.

II

The second movement is essentially an outer slow movement surrounding a central scherzo-like section. A long unaccompanied melody, eerie and desolate, emerges from the entire violin section, and is repeated canonically with cellos and basses. An ensuing misterioso is characterised by repeated chords which occur sometimes in melodic parallel seconds, reminiscent of the violins’ crunching dissonances in the symphony’s introduction, and sometimes harmonically, preparing for the following subito con moto.

This central scherzo builds in intensity until the timpani play solo, pitted against the full weight of rhythmic chords from the rest of the orchestra. Eventually the strings’ Adagio theme returns in canon from the full orchestra, set against a percussionist’s ostinato solo, which does not quite coincide with the Adagio theme. The percussion is written as though in a bar of eleven quavers against the orchestra’s twelve. So these two elements gradually diverge, and then re-approach each other, meeting together after eleven bars marked by a gigantic clash from three pairs of cymbals (bar 119).

The Adagio is resumed, the atmosphere muted and calm. A further canon on the main theme, with the lower line inverted, is heard over a resonant, bell-like note intoned by harp, piano, timpani, tamtam and bass drum. As though in a palindrome, the symphony’s introduction is recalled but with the notes in reverse order - the solo clarinet rising instead of falling - until after a massive crescendo the finale breaks through.

III

A brief introduction - Alla breve and Allegro deciso - opens the third movement, being a variation of one of the first movement’s dance themes, and leads into the main tempo, Allegro molto. Increasing intensity ultimately necessitates a halt, and a solo flute appears, Andante desolato, over semitonal chords in the strings, again reminding us of the portentous violins in the symphony’s introduction. Eventually the musical drive is re-established, and in the closing pages, molto staccato e molto accentato, thematic fragments seem to be pitched about in the eye of a relentless rhythmic storm. A short break in the momentum signals a last defiant timpani-led declaration.

For Whettam the writing of symphonies has always been the pinnacle of artistic achievement. His first examples in the genre date from the 1950s, but the Sinfonia contra timore of 1962 is the composer's earliest acknowledged symphony. Since then he has completed five further symphonies, of which only two were commissioned from him. It is clear that Graham Whettam’s symphonism is inherent rather than supplied to order.

The title Sin fonia contra timore, Symphony against fear, refers to the background of public anxiety about global nuclear war against which the work was written. The public mood of the early 1960s was focussed on war; the effects of war, the possible prevention of war. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which Bertrand Russell was the best-known advocate, was at the height of its influence, its message greatly reinforced by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when the world was on the brink of nuclear devastation. The popular concern of that time was further enhanced by the fact that the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War would occur in 1964.

In the event, the prevalent mood of pessimism and anxiety acted as the creative inspiration for many leading composers, who interpreted, warned, prophesied about war through their music. As a result 1962 was something of an annus mirabilis in British music. At least five composers wrote their most distinctive works in that year, all on the theme of war. Three of them were commissioned by the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral for its festival of that year: Tippett’s King Priam, Britten’s War Requiem, Bliss’s The Beatitudes. Two were uncommissioned, and so faced problems of performance: Wilfred Joseplis’ Requiem - written in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the only such work by a British composer - and Graham Whettam’s Sinfonia contra timore.

Whettam began to fashion his piece into its present symphonic form in 1961. In that same year the 89-year-old Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for inciting the public to civil disobedience, and addressing a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Consequently Whettam wrote to Earl Russell offering the new work’s dedication in the following terms: To Bertrand Russell and all other people who suffer imprisonment or other injustice for the expression of their beliefs, or the convenience of politicians and bureaucracies.

The symphony was completed on 7 May 1962, and the world première was arranged for 7 March 1964, with Sir Charles Groves conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. Having had all the details of the work’s first performance confirmed, the composer was then informed that it had been withdrawn, and another symphony substituted. The orchestra’s chairman, one Alderman Livermore, had ordered the cancellation in exception to the work’s dedication, apparently fearful that the nonagenarian Earl Russell might turn the concert into a political demonstration. A further development happened soon afterwards, when the BBC proscribed the symphony’s inclusion in its national programmes. So, ironically, a symphonic work dedicated to freedom of speech and belief was blocked from public presentation.

In the event the symphony’s performance was delayed for less than a year, and on 25 February 1965 the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hugo Rignold, gave the world premiere. The work was received enthusiastically by a capacity audience which included Bertrand and Lady Russell.

Further performances followed. An excellent performance was recorded by the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra under Günter Blumhagen in the autumn of 1975. Conductor and composer first met at the recording studio. During the five days of rehearsals and recording at Leipzig - an extremely generous twenty hours in all - Blumhagen asked whether the composer might have a work for his Philharmonic Orchestra at Jena. This led to the commissioning of Whettam’s Sinfonia Drammatica in 1978.

The supreme confidence with which the orchestra is handled, and the authoritative voice with which ideas are expressed, bespeak an individualist of rare integrity. Whettam is no serialist, though the tide of serialism was running at the flood in the 1960s; nor has he ever been a composer in the "English traditibn". There are no traces in the Sinfonia contra timore of Elgarian nobilmente, Waltonian jocularity, or the pastoralism of Vaughan Williams. However a touch of Holstian mysticism occasionally breaks through (I, 141-150). Whettam’s love of the big, bold statement, and his use of instruments in unison, would appear to ally him with the symphonies of Malcolm Arnold and Robert Simpson; yet, unlike them, Whettam is no Sibelian. Panufnik, Lutoslawski and Shostakovich are closer to him in spirit; and he shares with Bartók and Stravinsky an acute rhythmic sense.

One of the most striking features of the symphony is the importance of the percussion section. Stemming from the example of Bartók, Whettam’s percussive writing has developed its own momentum. There is a continuous 56-bar side drum roIl, pp (1, 201-257), and the percussion ostinato in the middle of the second movement requires several instruments played by a single player, set against the whole orchestra. Perhaps pride of place must be given to the timpanist who, throughout the final thirty bars has to play rapidly across five drums with a rare degree of virtuosity.

Contributors

Paul Conway, Francis Routh


Günter Blumhagen (1930-1996) belonged to the generation of musicians who, in the years after 1945, rebuilt the shattered musical life in Germany. After gaining early experience in the opera houses of Dresden and Mecklenburg, he was Musical Director of the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra 1967-82. In 1975 he was invited to conduct a performance ‘of Whettam’s Sinfonia contra timore by the widely-acclaimed Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra is now known by the title of MDR (Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk) Sinfonieorchester

After study at the Royal Academy in London, and at Cambridge and Yale Universities, Ian Hobson was the winner of the 1981 Leeds International Piano Competition, His career as a pianist has included, as well as concertos and recitals, over thirty recordings, and service on juries, such as the Van Cliburn quadrennial Piano Competition. He is increasingly in demand as a conductor, frequently directing the performance of piano concertos from the keyboard. He Is Professor of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where in 1984 he founded the Sinfonia da Camera, of which he is also the Music Director. This orchestra has established itself over sixteen years with an annual concert series at the Krannert Centre for the Performlng Arts, and with tours, recordings and broadcasts. The world premiere of Whettam’s Concerto Drammatico took place at the opening concert of the 2000-2001 season, and required the forces of a chamber orchestra to be much augmented.

The Austrian cellist Martin Rummel graduated from the Linz Bruckner Academy in 1991, and the Cologne Musikhochschule in 1997. His teachers were Maria Kliegel and William Pleeth. His repertory is wide, and composers with whom he has worked include Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Helmut Rogl and Graham Whettam. This première recording of Whettams concerto is issued, in association with ME-WE Meisterklang GmbH, also on CDM 931, which includes other Whettam cello works performed by Rummel, Ballade Hébraique and Romanza.

Full scores of Concerto Drammatico and Sinfonia

contra timore are published by Meriden Music,

The Studio Born, Silverwood House, Woolaston,

Gloucestershire GL15 6PJ, UK tel (01594)

529026 fax (01594) 529027

The photograph of Graham Whettam with Bertrand Russell, was taken at the première of Sinfonia contra timore, Birmingham, February 1965.

The full list of works recorded in the British Musical Heritage is available from Redcliffe Recordings tel/fax 0208995 1223



Redcliffe Recordings Home Page

Classical Music on the Web
Webmaster Len Mullenger