Ingvar Lidholm’s Music for Strings

Notes by TŌN violinist Yinglin Zhou

The Composer
Music for Strings is one of the most famous pieces composed by Ingvar Lidholm, who was a Swedish composer born in 1921. He started his music journey at an early age. By the time he was 19, in 1940, he went to a musical school in Stockholm to continue his advanced musical studies. There, he would gather with his friends Sven-Erik Bäck and Karl-Birger Blomdahl, who later also become important Swedish composers, to discuss and critique music. This activity drew a lot of attention from students and instructors. Lidholm’s composing teacher, Hilding Rosenberg, was also part of this gathering, and he would often lead the discussion into modern composers, such as Stravinsky and Hindemith. Because they always gathered on Mondays, people later came to know them as the Måndagsgrupp (the Monday Group).

The Music
Lidholm began working on this piece in 1945, the same year Shostakovich released his Symphony No. 9. It is interesting to hear almost opposite characters in these two pieces. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, different than his other symphonies, sounds more transparent and bright, whereas Lidholm’s Music for Strings sounds more tragic and intense. When I listen to the piece for the first time, the repetitive accented eighth-note patterns at the end of the last movement reminds me a lot of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Even though Lidholm never traveled nor studied in Hungary or Russia, based on what he discussed with the Monday Group, it is not hard to understand and to assume that modern composers of the time like Stravinsky and Bartók had a huge impact on Lidholm.

Andrés Gaos’ Impresión Nocturna

Notes by TŌN violinist Nicole Oswald

The Composer
Andrés Gaos was a violinist, composer, and conductor born into a family of Galician music merchants. He made his debut playing the violin at a young age and was recognized with a scholarship to take private lessons in Brussels with Eugene Yasÿe. In 1893, he traveled internationally to perform in Cuba, settled for a short period in Mexico City a year later, and landed in Buenos Aires in 1895. There, he met his wife, had five children, and worked at the Alberto Williams Conservatory and later the Public Administration of Argentina. Gaos and his wife, America Montenegro, formed the Gaos quartet alongside the string faculty of the Williams Conservatory. After they divorced in 1917, Gaos remarried a student with whom he had three children. He mostly taught music and worked for the government until retirement. His fourth son, Andrés Gaos Montenegro, was a cabaret singer and composer who had success recording several albums in the 1920s. His eighth son, Andrés Gaos Guillochon (1932–2018) published unlikely stories about his father’s life. Notably, Gaos gave the Latin American premiere of Camille Saint-Saëns’ famous Violin Concerto No. 3 under the baton of Saint-Saëns himself in 1904. Even though Gaos never became an internationally recognized violinist, he holds a place in time representing Galician composers through his compositions. His catalog of work includes a myriad of violin pieces written for himself and his first wife, as well as an opera, symphony, symphonic poem, four symphonic paintings, and two works for string orchestra.

The Music
Similar to Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings and Mahler’s Adagietto from the 5th Symphony, Impresión nocturna is not shy by comparison with its lush string orchestration. One would wonder if Gaos was inspired by the rich harmonic texture and endless melodic material in Mahler’s Adagietto, while keeping the sincere sentiment of the Adagio for Strings. By comparison, Gaos’ orchestration has a dense harmonic texture at times with overlapping suspensions almost reminiscent of the old Hollywood sound we expect to hear from Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The sonorous quality of string orchestra coupled with the mild tempo and rich harmony creates a beautiful palate for any listener. The work begins in D major and, to end the 12-minute journey, Gaos concludes in a somber D minor.

Bruce Montgomery’s Concertino for String Orchestra

Notes by TŌN violinist Shaina Pan

The Writer/Composer
English composer Bruce Montgomery wrote mostly choral and film music, but was also known for his classic crime novels and short stories which he wrote under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin. Born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1921, he went on to study modern languages at Oxford while also an organ scholar and choirmaster. After graduating, he became a teacher at a boarding school, and it was during this time when he began writing his crime novels, as well as his first choral and concert works. It was not until almost a decade later that he would establish himself as a film composer.

The Intersection of Language and Music
Montgomery never strayed far from the intersection of language and music; in addition to scoring nearly 40 films, he was also known for writing novels with many musical references and backdrops. There were common elements between his life and his art; the protagonist of his famous Gervase Fen novels is a professor at an Oxford-like institution, and his novel Frequent Hearses is set in a film studio. His novel Swan Song is set during a production of a Wagner opera. Montgomery himself wrote a children’s ballad opera called John Barleycorn and two additional dramatic works which were never finished because he was preoccupied “writing filthy film scores and stinking stories for the popular press,” according to his friend and collaborator, Kingsley Amis.

His Sole Instrumental Work
Concertino for String Orchestra, completed in 1948, is Montgomery’s sole instrumental work. After its first performance, a review described the piece as “a graceful, flowing, three-movement work, well written, economical in notes and notable for a lyrical lento espressivo of imaginative warmth.” In particular, the second movement “moves the listener with its thoroughly English mixture of pensive nostalgia,” according to biographer David Whittle. Of Montgomery’s choral and concert works, the Concertino for String Orchestra is the only one that is widely available as a recording.

TŌN IN: Sunset Serenade on Oboe

As part of The Orchestra Now’s “Sunset Serenade” series, TŌN oboist Shawn Hutchison performed the first four movements from Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for a physically distanced audience at Old Dutch Church in Kingston, NY on September 11, 2020. Watch the full concert by clicking here.