Program Notes for Isaiah Chapman’s Fall Recital



William Alwyn – Pastoral Fantasia for Viola and String Orchestra (1939)

Premiered in a BBC broadcast on 3 March 1940, violist Watson Forbes and pianist Clifford Curzon débuted William Alwyn’s Pastoral Fantasia in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Latham in London. Forbes would perform this piece again with the string orchestra of the BBC Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult on 3 November 1941.

Opening with a lush harmonic sequence from the orchestra, Alwyn establishes a scene for the soloist to quietly enter in. Instantly engaging the listener by starting on the lowest note of the instrument, the melodic contour explores the range of the instrument through the first cadenza, gradually building momentum to meet with the reentrance of the orchestra. After this gesture is repeated, a seamless connection into the first theme occurs. A series of pastoral tunes eventuate, evoking nostalgia of an England before the war took place. In a very intricate manner, Alwyn climaxes with an impassioned cadence, subsequently restating the opening passage. The restatement connects to what dually functions as a pastoral hymn–a sacred, yet rustic tune. The piece concludes with one last desiring hope: to regain and retain tranquility in the world and for all humanity.


William Walton – Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1929, rev. 1937)

Originally proposed by Sir Thomas Beecham to write a concerto for violist Lionel Tertis, William Walton’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra remains a dominant force in the standard viola repertoire. With reasons ranging from ailment to the disapprobation of Walton’s music, Lionel Tertis’s denial in performing the piece led to Walton asking Tertis to suggest another violist to play, with Tertis proposing the violist and composer, Paul Hindemith, to premiere on 3 October 1929 in London with Walton conducting the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra. With a successful premiere, Tertis’s original stance was regrettably squashed, subsequently, taking on the work and performing it. With such eminent violists – Lionel Tertis and William Primrose – frequently performing this piece, it was Frederick Riddle’s revision that left an impression on Walton, thus, becoming a revision published through the Oxford University Press. Riddle would also record this piece with Walton conducting in 1937. Other emendations of this piece, namely William Primrose’s, would also be a version typically performed. Expressed through the British romantic tradition, Walton’s viola concerto will forever leave an indelible impression on the composer’s life and his music.


Darius Milhaud – Quatre visages, Op. 238 (1943)

Commissioned by violist Germain Prévost and pianist Gunnar Johansen in 1944, Milhaud composed a musical joke about four imaginary women that are depicted in the following movements: I. La Californienne; II. La Wisconsonian; III. La Bruxelloise; IV. La Parisienne. Throughout this piece, Milhaud’s characteristic influence of jazz and polytonality are exemplified.

I. La Californienne

The opening of this movement starts in the viola with a perfect fourth motive – an important interval throughout this movement. With a buoyant interplay between the viola and the piano, Milhaud creates arched harmonies that are filled in with colorful transitions. To play on the joke of the piece, Milhaud endearingly ends on a harmonic to emphasize the charming nature of La Californienne.

II. La Wisconsonian

Whimsically brisk, the perpetual feel of La Wisconsonian commences with sixteenth notes in the viola, answered by syncopated chords in the piano. To ensure the fleeting fickleness in this very short movement, Milhaud alternates the positions of the violist and the pianist, uniquely interweaving chromatic harmonies and themes. The two instruments meet together for a brief syncopated section, clearly influenced by jazz. Once again, the violist resumes the sixteenth notes, concluding in a coquettish upward scale and met by a surprising ending.

III. La Bruxelloise

Bluesy and sultry in form, La Bruxelloise gives Quatre visgaes a true connection between classical and jazz. With a very melancholic opening, the violist colors the melodic line with blue notes, glissandos and a contour draped over the bar lines. Milhaud’s sardonic wit closes this movement with a paraphrase of the Belgian National Anthem, distorting the time signature, the rhythm and the key.


IV. La Parisienne

The piano opens this movement with a majestic march, emphasizing the half-step interval. When the viola comes in, Milhaud cheekily denies the interval by having the violist open with a whole-step interval. Adorned with grace notes and arpeggios, Milhaud juxtaposes the themes to show La Parisienne’s eclecticism. With the momentum driving towards the end, the piece cadences in a stately manner.

Notes written by Isaiah Chapman





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