Programme note for Tine Thing Helseth Concert at the Cheltenham Festival, June 30th 2011
“The trumpet does no more stun you by its loudness, than a whisper teases you by its provoking inaudibility.” So wrote Charles Lamb, the late-Georgian essayist. So often associated with military calls and royal fanfares, the trumpet, as we shall see tonight, is an instrument capable of a very wide range of expression.
The first group of works in tonight’s concert represent the great golden age of baroque trumpet playing. Given this, it is perhaps ironic that the most iconic of the pieces from this time, The Prince of Denmark’s March by Jeremiah Clarke (c.1674–1707), almost certainly started life as a work for harpsichord, albeit in the ‘trumpet style’. Whilst more often heard at weddings on its own, the piece is also performed, as tonight, as the fourth movement of a suite of pieces that is a modern amalgam of various Clarke pieces in the ‘trumpet style’.
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen by J.S. Bach (1685–1750), forms the opening movement of a cantata by the same name. It is a virtuosic piece for both soprano and trumpet, with the emphasis on fanfare-like figures in the lower register of the latter giving the impression of a religious call-to-arms. Bach’s Concerto in D (after Vivaldi), might more properly be called ‘by Vivaldi’, since it was adapted, with few major changes, from his L’Estro Armonico. Following this baroque tradition of borrowing, it has more recently been adapted for trumpet and organ, in effect bringing it back to its concerto roots. It is cast in three movements, with two fast and brilliant outer movements and a beautifully poised central Larghetto.
G.F. Handel (1685–1759), that most English of German composers, also wrote many fine trumpet parts. The pair of works presented here provides a vivid example of the expressive contrasts of which the instrument is capable. Eternal Source of Light Divine, featuring voice and trumpet soloist, is the first movement from the only court ode written by the composer. The opening, with its ground-bass-like movement, pays homage to Handel’s great predecessor in this genre, Henry Purcell, but Handel subsequently imbues the music with a freedom and magical expansiveness that is quite different from the English master. Let the Bright Seraphim from the oratorio Samson, on the other hand, is a fast and brilliant soprano aria with trumpet obligato.
The two solo organ works take us, in two very different pieces, to the sound world of Scandinavia. Gammal fäbodpsalm från Dalarna, by the Swedish composer Oskar Lindberg (1887–1955), is a beautiful chorale based upon a pastoral hymn from his native Dalarna. Its mystical quality – it almost feels as if the music sprang from the very earth beneath the composer’s feet – is a reflection of the composer’s connectedness to the folk music of this area. Toccata ‘Nu La Oss Takke Gud’ is by one of Norway’s most important living composers, Egil Hovland (b. 1924). It too is based upon a hymn, the well-known Now thank we all our God, though here the tune is treated to a full-organ spectacular; the melody in imitation with extravagant scales and arpeggios in the manuals.
The trumpet has long been used as an instrument of mourning; one thinks of the flatt trumpets in the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary or the military call of The Last Post. Elegy, by the Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin (b. 1957), falls into this tradition. The composer writes: ‘Elegy was written for the funeral of my sister Erna, who died all too early. The funeral took place in the beautiful 800-year-old stave church of Lom, Norway. I played the trumpet.’ Neither dull dirge nor saccharine sentiment, the piece is a melancholic and movingly simple farewell to a beloved sibling.
Fine Thing, by the Norwegian composer Håkon Berge (b. 1954), presents many facets of the trumpet in one piece. Aggressive opening fanfares give way to a lyrical idea whose four-note theme becomes central to rest of the piece. A quick and virtuosic double-tongued central section gives way to a restatement of the lyrical opening, now allowed to build to a radiant climax. Of the piece, the composer writes: ‘Fine Thing was commissioned by the Nordland Music Festival (in the northerly city of Bodø) for Tine Thing Helseth, and was premiered at the festival in 2007. The work has a simple, paraphrasing form, and as a whole relies upon Tine Thing Helseth’s extraordinary qualities as a performer.’
The final piece of the concert, So lokka me over den myra, is a an adaptation of a work by the most famous Norwegian composer of all, Edvard Grieg (1843–1907). The piece is an evocation of a call to cattle across the moors. Though originally written for piano, the melody, perhaps because at times it resembles a bugle call, is very well suited to the trumpet. Though simple and short, it also provides an achingly beautiful end to the programme, a fitting confirmation of the second half of Charles Lamb’s epigram.