Monday, January 16, 2017

Bartok's Viola Concerto

Violists around the world know that, compared to the violin, their solo repertoire is rather limited. That is likely why 20-century violist William Primrose commissioned Béla Bartók (1881–1945) to write him a Viola Concerto in the 1940s. Unfortunately for Primrose, Bartók never got around to finishing the concerto. Leukemia took his life in 1945 leaving two works incomplete – his Third Piano Concerto and the Viola Concerto.

While the Third Piano Concerto was just about complete (the only thing still needing a few tweaks was the final measures of the work), the Viola Concerto was still sketches on manuscript pages without any notes in regards to instrumentation. Bartók composed in ink so the pages were likely difficult to read as he scratched out passages and re-wrote portions.

While William Primrose probably thought Bartók’s death would mean the end of his commissioned concerto, little did he know that he would get an opportunity to premiere the work in 1949. Read how this premiere came to be next time in Clef Notes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Anthony Payne's Completion of Elgar's Symphony

It is not uncommon for music to be left unfinished, whether a composer abandons a work, or whether death prevents completion. After receiving a commission from the BBC to write his Symphony No. 3, Elgar began sketching out his ideas. It wasn’t long after this, however, that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died, leaving his final symphony unfinished. But what ever happened to the sketches the composer left behind?

During the 1970s, composer Anthony Payne came across the sketches that Elgar left behind. He spent years studying the sketches and compiling what he thought may be the symphony Elgar sought to write. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the BBC commissioned Payne to complete a symphony based on these sketches. The work was premiered in 1998.

What is your opinion of the symphony? Do you think it was wrong of Payne to take the liberty of writing Elgar’s work based on these sketches? Or do you think by completing the deceased composer’s work, he helped to carry on Elgar’s legacy and give voice to something Elgar was never able to finish?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sketches from Elgar's Third Symphony

Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony was left unfinished. But why?

It had been quite some time since Elgar composed a major work. He lost motivation after the death of his wife in 1920 and it wasn’t until 1930 that inspiration struck and he produced several works including the Severn Suite, the fifth Pomp and Circumstance march, and the Nursery Suite. After being prompted by critic George Bernard Shaw to write a Third Symphony, Elgar received a commission from the BBC and began sketches for his final symphony—one that would remain unfinished.

The composition process for the Symphony No. 3 moved rather slowly. Elgar worked on The Spanish Lady opera at the same time and also began to suffer from health issues that delayed his progress.

In 1933, Edward Elgar was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He would never complete his final symphony, but left behind plenty of sketches.


The story of Elgar’s Third Symphony does not end there. Join me next time to hear what became of the sketches that the composer left behind.