My Fantasy Concert, by Martin Harvey
Updated: Apr 26
Our first Fantasy concert programme, way back, was a largely light-hearted concoction – a sort
of classical ‘easy-listening’. This one is about as far away from that as you can get and not for the faint-hearted!
Symphony No. 4
‘When I am Laid in Earth’
(Dido & Aeneas)
Death of Tybalt
(Romeo & Juliet)
Full Fathom Five
There is Sweet Music
The Lord Bless You & Keep You
Tchaikovsky’s symphony opens broodingly with fanfares on horns and trumpets heralding a recurring foreboding theme. ‘This is fate’ he wrote to Madam von Meck, ‘that inevitable force which prevents our hopes of happiness from being realised’. Throughout, sadness is expressed in a variety of haunting themes, particularly on woodwind, although there are joyful interludes ‘recalling happy moments’. The last movement opens in happier mood and romps away furiously until it is abruptly and perhaps inevitably interrupted by the brass returning to the original baleful theme. Finally however, the symphony ends triumphantly on an exciting and exultant note.
Marche Funebreis is an extraordinary theatrical tour de force – a piece to be experienced
perhaps rather than enjoyed. It opens with a startling crashes on Tam-tam and continues with anguished cries from the brass, heart-rending sighs on strings - a constant outpouring of grief alternating between quiet gentle reflection and noisy brass punctuated by violent crashes on cymbals.
Then a moment of calm with Dido’s wistful plea ‘remember me, remember me but forget my
fate’. Solo soprano above strings, especially bass viol. Just lovely.
Prokoviev takes us back to the theatricality of Cherubini with a vivid sound picture of flashing blades and sword play ended abruptly by the sudden shock of Tybalt’s death and playing out
with an insistent pounding, funeral march as his body is carried away.
And Verdi piles on the pressure with his terrifying Dies Irea – 'The day of wrath, that day
will break up the world into ash'
But Elgar comes to the rescue with sweet music indeed, setting words by Tennyson -‘Music that
gentlier on the spirit lies ... brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies’. Elgar achieves a
wonderfully ethereal effect by placing the female voices of the eight-part choir in A flat, while the male voices are in G Major. (I wish I understood how that works).
Vaughan Williams continues the idea of consolation with his setting of Shakespeare’s words from The Tempest ’Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made’.