Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Tone Poems

I'm not certain whether the meal I've just eaten should be classed as the last Christmas Dinner of 2010 or the first of 2011. Whichever, our music group has had our January meeting this afternoon and because of the snow last month we began it with a pot luck Christmas meal. Consequently, I'm late coming to write today and possibly too full to be able to think clearly enough to say anything worth reading. I'm just warning you in advance.

We spent last year exploring various aspects of chamber music and so today were moving on to our 2011 subject, Tone Poems. You couldn't really have anything much more different. Chamber music is for the most part for small scale groups and tone poems are often for very large orchestral forces. Chamber music is normally highly organised, whereas tone poems broke away from the classical forms and were much freer in conception.

There are some big works on the horizon. In April, for example, I'm going to lead the group in an exploration of Smetana's Ma Vlast, a series of six symphonic poems that depicts various aspects of the Bohemian countryside. Today, though, we started easily with Mendelssohn's wonderful music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. His depiction of the woods outside Athens, the fairies, the lovers and, best of all, Bottom and his friends is, in every possible respect, magical, especially when you think that there was seventeen years between his composing of the overture and the rest of the music that makes up the entire piece.

I have twice had the pleasure of seeing a joint production between our local repertory company and the city's symphony orchestra bringing the play and the music together and the two work so well that it is hard to believe that they are separated in conception by around two hundred and fifty years. However, my strongest memory is not of anything very magical at all, but rather, in the first of those productions, of Moonshine's very real dog, who took one look at all those music stands and clearly thought he had been transported to doggie heaven. The musicians, especially those nearest his point of entry, were not so pleased with the situation!

I'm looking forward to exploring this area of musical composition because, with the exception of the Mendelssohn, I know very little about it.  Do any of you have any suggestions as to pieces we should consider?  We are a self-teaching group and all assistance is gratefully received.



  1. A music group. How wonderful. How do you organise yourselves. is there a leader? Are you musically trained? I am not but my husband is, and we have for years attended chamber music concerts in our city - organised by, I think, the world's longest standing Chamber Music Society, Musica Viva (but don't quote me on that!).

    As for tone poems - I thin Debussy wrote a number, and I've hardly met a Debussy I didn't like! The most famous is Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, but he wrote quite a few I think. I think they're tone poems.

  2. WG, our music group is one group within our local branch of The University of the Third Age. The woman who leads us is musically trained and sets us off in our studies but we then each chose an element of the subject we've chosen and go off, research it and then present it to the group along with the appropriate music. It works in very much the same way as a reading group really. I hadn't thought about Debussy, but of course you're right and I do love the Prelude. I was thinking about looking at Smetana's 'Ma Vlast' as so you so often hear the section that depicts the River Volta but not the other five pieces.

  3. Ah, U3A ... they do some good things. I haven't got involved yet but they are something I have up my sleeve for the future.

    I don't know that Smetana by name but would probably recognise it if I heard it --- as is often my wont!

  4. I'm sure you would, WG. Try this link.