Monday, 16 July 2018

William Wordsworth (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962): The First Public Performance

Further to my recent post on the above work, I discovered the programme for the first public performance of William Wordsworth’s (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) in its orchestral guise. This was given on Sunday, 20th March 1966 at the City Hall, Perth. The Perth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John McLeod. Other works at this concert included Mozart’s Overture: Il Seraglio K.384, Sibelius’s Valse Triste, op.44, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, op.58. The piano soloist was Geoffrey Burford. After the interval, concertgoers heard the present Variations and Haydn’s Symphony in G major, No.88. 

The programme note was by John McLeod:
‘William Wordsworth is a great-great-grandson of the poet’s brother Christopher. His music, solidly grounded in tradition, yet extended in a personal and very individual way, owes little to the fashions of the present day, but much to his outstanding teacher, Sir Donald Tovey, with whom he studied from 1934-37. He dedicated the second of his five symphonies [1] (which won first prize in the Edinburgh Festival Competition in 1950) to Tovey’s memory. Since 1961 he and his family have lived in the Inverness-shire Highlands where these Variations were composed in 1962. They were commissioned for the opening of a new Music Room at Bryanston School in the summer of that year. The rather unusual scoring of the Variations is accounted for by the players who were available in the school orchestra at the invitation concert for which the work was designed. For the first public performance by a larger orchestra available this evening, the composer has suggested some alterations to the scoring.  Mr Wordsworth has provided the following note: 
‘There are nine variations. The first two keep closely to the theme, the third and fourt are more fragmentary. The fifth variation is a lyrical slow movement for the oboe, clarinet and solo cello in turn against a background of strings. The sixth variation returns to the original tempo, but places the theme in the minor while in the seventh variation the outline of the theme is shared by the bassoon and horn, the other instruments decorating it with scalic figures. The eighth variation is slower and again in the minor and features an xylophone. The last variation starts off fugally on the strings and reaches a climax with the re-entry of the first phrase of the theme with which the work ends.’’

[1]. William Wordsworth ultimately composed eight symphonies.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra continues its good work in 2018. Their current conductor is Allan Young.

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