Inside the Music: Myths and Majesty

Discover more about classical music with our new video series and interactive programme notes.

Music by kind permission of Naxos Records
This video was commissioned and created before the unexpected change to conductor and programme and the title cards were correct at the time of production.

Love is in the air

Love is most definitely in the air with Brahms’s heart-on-sleeve Violin Concerto, Dutilleux’s Metaboles and Ravel’s ambitious tale of erotic love, told on a vast orchestral canvas. To hear this music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra will surely be one of the highlights of this season’s offerings.

VIDEO: Oliver Condy on the violin concerto

VIDEO: Jonathan James on the Impressionists

Moments to listen out for

Brahms Violin Concerto
For two and half minutes, the violin waits to makes its entry. And then – wham – the impact from its opening salvo is immediate. This is heroic Brahms in all his brazen glory.

Brahms Violin Concerto
Contrast that with the second movement – the violin again waits for its moment in the spotlight, but enters floating on a cloud. Violinist that are convincing in both the first and second movements are rare.

Ravel Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2
Around two and half minutes into the second movement of Ravel’s ballet suite, marvel at the ravishing flute solo that calls on the two lovers to dance.

Ravel Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2
The final few minutes of the suite are frantic and climactic – a sizzling end to a sensual ballet as Daphnis and Chloé collapse in exhaustion…

Delve deeper into Brahms and Ravel

It’s difficult to imagine a finer team performing the opening work of this concert. Alina Ibragimova, that most fearless and brilliant of young violinists; Robin Ticciati, whose music directorship of Glyndebourne has taken the opera house in daring new directions; and the LSO – the zenith of symphony orchestras, full of energy and vitality. Brahms’s Violin Concerto requires every ounce of a musician’s resources, from Romantic swagger to tender intimacy – with plenty of energy left to dance! In fact, its violin part is so challenging, that the great violinist Josef Hellmesberger declared it to be ‘not for, but against the violin’. No wonder Brahms’s concerto took over half a century to be fully accepted into the performing canon, Yehudi Menuhin and conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler finally injecting the work with the high spirits and virtuosic showmanship it deserved.

Brahms wrote the work in 1878 and is conceived on a grand, symphonic scale – the first movement alone is over 20 minutes in length. And there’s no doubt that soloist and orchestra are indeed pitted against each other – the violinist has to work hard in the face of a sizeable orchestra. But, as you’ll hear, Brahms requires his soloist to reach into their soul for some of his most exquisite melodies. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear that the movement is actually in 3/4 time, which gives this otherwise overtly serious movement a certain waltz-like sheen. The challenging cadenza, written by Brahms’s friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, is a beautiful, yet challenging interval before an exquisite coda brings the movement to a close.

The second movement is dominated by one of Brahms’s most noble themes, played not on the violin, not on the oboe. When the violin does come in, it’s to elaborate on this melody, rather than repeat it. The final few bars of this stunning movement anticipates the fun to come – Brahms in full gyspsy mode! The final movement is a whirlwind of eastern European dances, with orchestra and violin uniting in a weary rallentando in the last couple of bars… before both summon up the energy to end the concerto in three triumphant chords.

The other major work in this concert is Ravel’s ravishing second Daphnis and Chloé suite, commissioned by the choreographer Serge Diaghilev for his Ballet Russe in 1909 and considered by many to be the very finest of all French ballets. Ravel’s depiction of the two lovers (from a third-century poem) includes music of dazzling imagination and sensuality. Suite No. 2 is especially beautiful, with its portrait of a sultry dawn as Chloé and Daphnis are reunited following her abduction and subsequently fall into each other’s arms. They then dance to the tune of Pan’s flute – watch how this extraordinary solo is passed between all the flute players of the orchestra. The final, frenetic ‘Danse générale’ is a celebration as the lovers reunite, and features some of Ravel’s most exotic soundworlds.

10 things you didn’t know about Ravel

1. Stravinsky once referred to Ravel as a Swiss watch maker – an allusion to the intricate beauty of his music.

2. His most famous work, however, gradually infuratiated him – he grew so tired of hearing Bolero performed that he requested it not to be performed when he attended concerts.

3. Gershwin asked Ravel to teach him; Ravel declined the invitation, adding ‘Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?’

4. Ravel did, however, teach the English composer Vaughan Williams, and once said that Vaughan Williams was ‘my only pupil who does not write my music.’

5. Ravel became a master orchestrator, carefully studying every musical instrument to uncover its textures and colours. His famous orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition earned Ravel substantial income.

6. The Pavane pour une infante défunte was written as a piano piece for Princesse Edmond de Polignac, whose father was Isaac Singer, the famous sewing machine manufacturer.

7.Ravel’s house, Le Belvédère in the small town of Montfort-l’Amaury, south-west of Paris, was recently threatened with closure. It has since managed to win a stay of execution.

8. Ravel spent World War I as a truck driver stationed at the Verdun front. The war caused him such deep distress that a number of important projects never came to fruition.

9. Ravel was a perfectionist – it’s rumoured that the slow movement to his Piano Concerto in G went through at least 15 revisions.

10. In 1932, Ravel suffered a blow to his head in a taxi accident after which he was frequently absent-minded. The remainder of his life was plagued by an affliction of the brain – probably caused by Pick’s disease which affected his speech and movement.

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