Music From The Time Of 'Downton Abbey' | Nashville Public Radio

Music From The Time Of 'Downton Abbey'

Sep 6, 2019

A new Downton Abbey movie is set to release on September 12, and this chapter of the story moves the clock forward to 1927. Here we have a look at a few pieces of classical music that premiered or were composed that year.

Alban Berg: Lyric Suite

The twelve-tone technique of composition was alive and well by this time, as evident from this string quartet by Alban Berg. There are two quotations blended into the piece. The first, "You are miny own, my own," is a literary nod to Zemlinsky written in the score. The second is a musical reference to Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, which is a noted tale of star crossed lovers. Despite these nods, it was a surprise to musicologists in the 1970s when an annotated copy of the score was found which indicated that the entire piece contained a specific program - the forbidden love story of Berg and Hanna Fuchs-Robbetin.

Frank Bridge: Enter Spring

This tone poem portrays the vernal sense of renewal that spring brings across the English countryside. A 13-year-old Benjamin Britten attended the premiere of Enter Spring, and shortly thereafter became a composition student of Frank Bridge.

Gerald Finzi: Violin Concerto

This piece premiered with the dedicatee Sybil Eaton as the soloist, along with the British Women's Symphony Orchestra. At a time when women were ineligible for most professional orchestras, this group was a standout. In a piece of archival footage for the orchestra a title card reads, "Practically all the great orchestras of the world are staffed by mere man - but to England belongs the proud distinction of having the first Women's Symphony Orchestra."

Béla Bartók: String Quartet No. 3

In 1920 the Treaty of Triannon had been signed between the Allied Forces and Bartók's homeland of Hungary. This loss of Hungarian land put a stop to the composer's efforts to archive the folk music of his country, which he had frequently used as material for compositions. Instead, in this piece Bartók used folk-like motives throughout the piece, as well as expansions of range of existing melodies - using changed intervallic relationships in existing music to create something new. 

Roger Sessions: Symphony No. 1

The Boston Symphony's April premiere of this piece led to two extraordinarily divergent reviews from critics. One described it as "serious" and a "funeral" while another called it "joyfully jazzy." This is certainly reflective of Sessions's two teachers: Ernest Bloch and Horatio Parker.

Reinhold Gliere: The Red Poppy

This is known to be the first Russian ballet with a particularly revolution-based theme. Even this famous dance, now known as the Russian Sailors Dance is titled in the score as Dance of the Sailors from the Soviet Ship. It premiered in June at the Bolshoi Theater, which at the time was known as the "1st Peoples' State Theater For Opera and Ballet," and was a sensation - running 100 performances before 1928.  

Igor Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

This opera-oratorio is sometimes presented fully staged, and also often as a concert work. Stravinsky had turned from his so-called Russian phase, which included the groundbreaking Rite of Spring, to a more neoclassical style in the 1920s. With this came an extended exploration of the ancient classics, including Greek plays as well as nods to the classical music of the 18th century. These characters of Sophocles and Eurypides are given arias that would not have been out of place a century before.

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

While Gershwin premiered the famous piece of jazz/classical crossover in 1924, its first recording was made acoustically rather than electronically. Of the large sections of the score that had been cut to fit the 12-inch record in the first recording, some were restored. The orchestration, by Paul Whiteman's orchestrator Ferde Grofé, was expanded from jazz band to theatre orchestra (it was later made even larger for symphony orchestra in 1942).