University of Cambridge Virtual Open Days 2020

The Faculty of Music is delighted to be taking part in the University Virtual Open Days. If you missed the Performance Webinar today, then there is an opportunity to attend tomorrow (Friday 3 July) at 11.00 am instead.

With Professor Maggie Faultless, Director of Performance at the Faculty of Music, Peter Foggitt, Co-ordinator of the Inter-Collegiate Choral Awards Scheme and Chloe Davidson Executive Director, Cambridge University Musical Society and Co-ordinator of the Instrumental Awards Scheme. They will be delighted to answer all your questions about Performance awards and extra-curricular music in the University.

Reflections from the President

A reflection on the CUMS 2019-20 Season from outgoing Student President Helena Mackie.

Like so many other societies and arts organisations around the world, the virtual nature of the summer term of 2020 has mean that CUMS members and audiences have missed out on what was set to be a fantastically exciting term of music-making. In the middle of the situation we find ourselves in now, it’s very easy focus on what isn’t happening, and lose sight of the concerts that have already taken place this year – and yet, as a graduating student, I now look back at those as some of the high points of my final year, whether in the orchestra or the audience. Somehow CUMS managed to schedule more concerts than usual in freezing cold venues this year, but the incredible energy of the players in the Baroque Suites concert in Senate House, with concerto competition prizewinner Sophie Westbrooke, dispelled at least some of the November chill — for the instrumentalists, hot chocolate provided by Old Schools staff did that job! Not much later in term, I had a huge amount of fun listening to CUWO play a light-inspired programme including the Star Wars music, conducted by the ever-wonderful and flamboyant Carlos Rodríguez Otero. Carlos also brought CUWO to a decisive victory in the Varsity concert with OUWO in February (not a competition, but we still won), and later in that week the CUWO schools concert produced a moment that has been memorialised in what might be the first ever CUMS-related GIF…

The lunchtime concerts this year have been particularly varied, ranging from Walton’s Façade to Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen to Rutter’s Wind in the Willows. A highlight was certainly the outstanding Concerto Competition final, and we look forward to having all the finalists perform concerti when restrictions allow. Another new venture for CUMS was the New Music Ensemble’s Zoology Late, where we swapped the concert hall for an immersive experience walking around zoological skeletons and specimens whilst musicians played compositions recalling the natural world.  Undoubtedly, my favourite memories from the year have to be those concerts I took part in — from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony at the beginning of the year, to Mahler 2 in King’s Chapel with massed choirs and orchestra, and my percussion debut (and probably finale…) in CUS at the end of Lent term. CUO principal trumpet Nick Smith’s outrageous solo in the second movement of the Gershwin Piano Concerto, and the wind section in-jokes in Bernstein’s suite from On the Town brightened up a week of cold weather, with hilarity continuing on to the pub after. Jac van Steen’s visit in February was a truly extraordinary experience, and I will never forget his ability to bring such beautiful colour and phrasing out of the orchestra, his attention to detail, and absolutely terrible jokes.  The end of three years at Cambridge and in CUMS, and my year as president, has come to an end at a very uncertain time for the world, and possibly even more so for the musical life of the University and beyond. What is certain, though, is that CUMS will continue to put on fantastic concerts in whatever way we can — just as we have been for 176 years. I can’t wait to see the results.

CUMS 2020-21 Student President announced:

We are delighted to announce that Music student William Rose of Queens’ College Cambridge has been appointed as CUMS Student President for the 2020-21 Season. He will be supported by new Vice-President Eleanor Medcalf, also from Queens’. Congratulations Will & Eleanor!

Welcome to our new Youtube Channel!

Welcome to our new Cambridge University Musical Society Youtube Channel, where you can be the first to watch concerts in our isolation series. The last two are available already, and the next one will broadcast at 7 pm on 14 May.

CUMS Student President 2020-21 & CULCS applications open

Applications to be the next CUMS Student President for the 2020-21 season are still open, as are applications for the role of President of the Cambridge University Lunchtime Concert Series & other committee positions.
Full details for all roles can be found below. Please note the deadline is 8 May at 1700.

Student President Application Poster 2020

CULC Poster advert 2020-21
CULC 2020-21 committee roles

Leo Appel & Kevin Loh

Last term Leo and Kevin were announced as joint winners of the CUMS Concerto Competition 2020-21, giving them the opportunity to perform with the University Orchestra next season. In the meantime, catch up on Kevin’s Online Lunchtime Recital for St John’s College Music Society here.

©Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Leo and his family have curated a Wednesday afternoon concert series An afternoon withe Appels, giving concerts from their home every Wednesday at 3 pm. Their previous concerts are available to stream on Facebook, and the next concert (6 May) will be posted in the same place.

Easter Term 2020 Concerts

We are deeply saddened to announce that in light of the ever-changing international health situation, many of our Easter Term concerts will not be going ahead. Our Cambridge University Orchestra concert on Saturday 2 May, Cambridge University Wind and Jazz Orchestras concert on Tuesday 12 May, and Cambridge University Symphony Chorus concert on Saturday 13 June have all been cancelled. We hope to include much of the repertoire from these concerts in our upcoming 2020-21 season. We have also cancelled our Easter Term Lunchtime Concert Series. Updates on our next season will be released once more information is available. 

If you have already purchased a ticket for one of our concerts please consider donating the cost of your ticket to CUMS or joining our Supporters’ Circle  – every bit of support will help sustain us at this difficult time. Many thanks for your continued support to Cambridge University Musical Society, and in the meantime please stay safe and well.
Student tickets to these concerts would have cost up to £5, and full-price tickets up to £20. If you felt that you were able to make a donation of a similar amount, CUMS would be extremely grateful. We are, of course, thankful for any support you are able to offer at this time.

The Visions of Elizabeth Barton: a feminist view of a forgotten anti-Reformation mystic.

By Benjamin Graves (Darwin College PhD candidate and CUMS Composer-in-Residence 2019-20)

The Visions of Elizabeth Barton was commissioned by the Park Lane Group. Its first performance was given by the Hermes Experiment (Héloïse Werner, soprano; Oliver Pashley, clarinet; Anne Denholm, harp; and Marianne Schofield, contrabass) on 16th January 2019 in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London.

I included in the score a quote from Alan Neame’s book The Holy Maid of Kent, which perfectly sets the scene for The Visions of Elizabeth Barton:

“In January and February [1526] Kentish days are dark and the nights are long. As the candles gutter and the logs throw up their sparks, the Rector observes the Maid, and through his eyes the eyes of the Archbishop of Canterbury survey Goldwell from afar. And over all that passes at the dinner-table gazes down the all-seeing eye of Almighty God. Outside the winds moan, the ice forms, the snows fall. And inside, the Maid falls into trances and convulsions, begging men to renew their loyalty to God’s Church.”

It took a long time for me to devise a suitable text that did justice to the life of Elizabeth Barton but this paragraph suggested a solution. The “scena” is set on a cold winter’s night, at the dinner table of Thomas Cobb, to whom Barton was servant and gave her first premonitions.

Warning: the following paragraph contains mention of violent sexual acts. 

I first came across The Holy Maid of Kent in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which paints a picture of a defiant voice in opposition to Henry VIII’s Protestant Reformation. The more I researched Barton the more I realised her fate mirrored that of many women who stood up to patriarchal control.  I was reminded of Mary Beard’s London Review of Books Winter Lecture in 2014 entitled The Public Voice of Women in which she outlines the various punishments meted out to women who dared enter public debate, from Penelope silenced by her own son at the very beginning of Western literature (“‘Mother’, he says, ‘go back up to your quarters…speech will be the business of men,’”), to Beard’s own Twitter trolls today. More specifically, she discusses the nature of this silencing, from Philomela in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Lavinia in Titus Andronicus having their tongues removed by their respective rapists, to threats by those trolls such as “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it” and “you should have your tongue ripped out.” These punishments and threats mirror Barton’s own fate of being hanged and her corpse being decapitated. The aim of the piece, therefore, was to give Barton her voice back by setting her prophecies to music.

Continue from here having avoided potential triggers.

Beard further describes the act of public speaking in antiquity as being viewed as an exclusively male preserve: ‘as one ancient scientific treatise explicitly put it, a low-pitched voice indicated manly courage, a high-pitched voice female cowardice.’ So, Barton – as indeed were all notable medieval and renaissance mystics – was required to ‘man-up’ her voice to be heard. God was speaking, not Barton.

The soprano’s music, therefore, aims to allow Barton her own voice. Her vocal lines are signified “dolce”, modal in character and mellifluous, with extended melisma and ornamentation.

Opening line of Vision I from The Visions of Elizabeth Barton
Opening line of Vision II from The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

It is the ensemble’s music which expresses the turmoil of her visions and is best described by Thomas Cranmer:

“[God’s] voice, when it told any thing of the joys of Heaven, it spake so sweetly and so heavenly that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof; and contrary, when it told any thing of Hell, it spake so horribly and terribly that it put the hearers in great fear.”

Vision I speaks “sweetly and so heavenly” with combinations of clarinet multiphonics, contrabass natural harmonics high up in its range and a flowing harp accompaniment culminating in harmonics. The clash in quartertones only enhances the colour of the passage.

Bars 15 and 16 (Vision I) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

To suggest a feeling of the divine, the clarinet and contrabass in Vision I play an augmented chorale, the harmony evoking a cadence onto a major triad.

Chorale harmony from bars 10 to 20 (Vision I) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

Vision II speaks “horribly and terribly”, employing the clattering sounds of clarinet slap tongues and staccato tonguing on false fingerings, harp heavily prepared with thick layers of blu-tac on its strings, plucking using a thumb-pick and its pedals set in clusters, and contrabass ricochet. The ensemble sound is muddied by close double stops and glissandos in the contrabass’ lowest range.

Bars 53 and 54 (Vision II) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

This vision concerns itself less with harmony than with gesture and the rise and fall of waves of sounds.

Wave gestures from bars 47 and 52 (Vision II) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

The notes chosen are loosely based on the resulting interval of the clarinet’s downward glissandos. The top line of the example 27 is the extent of the glissando, the first being a major second. The second line is the harp, which expands this interval, in the first instance by one step, to a minor third and adds a seventh. The contrabass on the bottom line expands this still further, to a major third and adds to this, two sevenths. Any deviation from this pattern is a result of the harp’s pedal settings, so the nearest note was chosen.

I hope with this piece I have produced a suitable account of a highly important and interesting, but unfortunately silenced figure in British Tudor history.

The University of Cambridge New Music Group performs The Visions of Elizabeth Barton, along with works by Grisey, Kaija Saariaho, John Luther Adams, Darren Bloom and students of the University of Cambridge. 31 January 2020 at 730pm; in the Museum of Zoology, Downing Street. Click here for tickets.

CUWO On Tour!

CUWO Tour Amsterdam 2019 Blog

Monday 1stJuly

On Monday 1stJuly, members of CUWO arrived bright and early in Cambridge to kick off the 2019 tour to Amsterdam. We assembled in Robinson Chapel to rehearse and refresh our memories of the pieces we had played throughout out the year. The programme comprised Jazz Suite No. 2 (Shostakovich), a Disney medley, East Coast Pictures (Nigel Hess) Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Adams), Suite in F (Holst) and Hoedown (Copland). We also revived the fabulous and fun Danzon No. 2 (Marquez) from our 2017-18 repertoire. After a promising rehearsal, we loaded up the coach around lunch time. Squeezing all the percussion, instruments and luggage into the coach and trailer we set off for Amsterdam.

With a smooth coach and ferry journey, we arrived in Amsterdam late on Monday night. At this point, many decided to have an early night to recuperate ready for the rest of the week, whilst others went in search of some tasty food before turning in for the night. 

Tuesday 2ndJuly

Tuesday was our first full day in Amsterdam. We spent the day rehearsing in a small theatre about a 30-minute walk from the hostel, allowing members to enjoy a scenic walk along the canals to introduce them to the city. Although the rehearsal was long and intensive, it definitely made a difference to our playing after having a break for exams, and giving further chance to rehearse the deps (who made up around one fifth of the orchestra – with many past players returning!). After the rehearsal, the managers had organized a bowling session followed by a pizza group dinner. This was a great way to integrate deps and catch up with friends, as well as to relax after the rehearsal with food and drinks. 

After bowling many explored the evening sights of Amsterdam, including some bars along the canal in addition to catching the tail-end of the England-USA Football World Cup match. 

Wednesday 3rdJuly

On Wednesday, we had our first free morning in Amsterdam. Several people took this opportunity to have a bit of a lie-in after the long rehearsal the day before, while some of CUWO decided to take advantage of the hostel’s excellent central location and go for a 7.30am run alongside the beautiful canals twisting through the city. After another good hostel breakfast, the orchestra set off in groups to explore the capital. Some went immediately to the Rijksmuseum, while others just wandered through the city, enjoying copious amounts of ice cream and waffles. 

After lunch, we departed south for the town of Delft, which is situated just east of The Hague. We had a few hours to do some sightseeing – a highlight of which was climbing the 350ft tower of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) – and then we had an incredible tapas dinner at Tapas & Mezzes. This was delicious, with no less than twenty separate dishes, including ones specially prepared for the vegetarian and vegan members of the group. In the evening, we performed in a joint concert with Royal Wind Orchestra Delft in the charming Beestenmarkt (Market Square). Both orchestras were very well received by the Delft residents, who were relaxing in chairs and bars around the square; it was great to experience a different style of wind band playing. Special mention goes to the percussion and the other setting-up volunteers for unpacking and repacking the percussion trailer in record time!

Thursday 4thJuly

Thursday began with an insightful and moving visit to one of Amsterdam’s most renowned museums; the Anne Frank House. It was a group activity kindly organised by Olivia and Richard in advance, meaning there was no stressing about tickets and no long queues. Splitting then into groups, further activities included taking a two-hour-long boat trip along the city’s famous canals, which turned out to be a perfect way to see a huge amount of the city without having to walk around! 

In the evening, we played our second concert of the tour, this time in Amsterdam’s Oosterkerk, about a half-hour walk from the hostel. The slight delay of the bus’ arrival treated us to some delightful performances from our orchestra’s members, of which a personal favourite was Toby [clarinet] serenading Ed [conductor] with an interesting rendition of Mamma Mia. The concert was well received to say the least, and we were met with a standing ovation! It was an excellent opportunity to play in one of the Netherland’s beautiful churches.

The day ended with a whole orchestral trip to the supermarket to stock up on essentials (crisps, Tony’s Chocolonely’s and stroop-waffles), before our last full day in the Netherlands!

Friday 5thJuly

On the Friday, members took the opportunity to enjoy our last free morning in Amsterdam. Destinations included the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, a trip to the beach, as well as the social secs sorting prizes and presents for later! In the afternoon, we took a short coach ride to the beautiful city of Haarlem, just on the outskirts of Amsterdam. 

We enjoyed dinner and drinks around the beautiful squares, before we headed to our rather unusual location of an abandoned prison to play our final concert. We were welcomed by the committee arranging the ‘Night of the Choirs’, part of the unique Koorbiennale festival (the only choir festival in the world). The Night of the Choirs involves members of the public cycling to various secret concert locations in pelotons, and CUWO (playing in their dashing stash) were effectively a warm-up act for this as ticket holders gathered before they departed. The audience was incredibly warm, and even conga-lining their way out of the arena! As part of this, we were lucky enough to be let into the old panopticon prison – a spooky yet fascinating experience, the abandoned property is soon to be turned into a university! 

After this, we headed on the coach home where tour awards and presents for the committee and conductor were handed out by our social secs, before we spent the rest of the night in the bar (with a plentiful supply of drinks bought by the managers) and hostel club to celebrate the end of the week! This was before we had to be rudely awakened very early the next day (for those of us who went to sleep at all), all very tired, to take the coach back to Cambridge via Calais. 

It was a week much enjoyed by all, and we look forward to seeing what next year’s committee has in store! Huge thanks go to Olivia Dodd and Richard Moulange for masterminding the whole tour without the help of a tour company, and Robin Otter (last year’s manager) for being an astute treasurer. It was a definite success!

Blog by Alex Hunt, Bridget Morris, Emma Macrae, Richard Moulange and Olivia Dodd

CUMS Conducting Scholar Toby Hession on Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony

On Saturday 4 May Robert Cohen directs Cambridge University Orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, ‘Jupiter’. Tickets available here

Toby Hession writes of addiction, tragedy and the sublime in his programme note for the ‘Jupiter’ symphony:

It is remarkable that, given Mozart’s inestimable status among the very ‘greatest’ composers of the canon, there are so many questions about his life and work that remain unanswered. Almost nothing is known of the composition of Mozart’s forty-first (and final) symphony – a situation that is symptomatic of modern Mozart scholarship’s increasing tendency to define itself by the things that it does not know, rather than what it can say with certainty. 

One such unknown is why, by 1788, Mozart had lost much of the popularity he had at one time enjoyed with his Viennese audiences. Mozart’s personal life at this time was certainly in turmoil – not only did he and his wife, Costanze, lose three of their children between 1786-88, but financially they were struggling too, their lavish lifestyle gradually proving to cost well beyond their means. Mozart secured the position of “Kammer-Kompositeur” at the Imperial Court, but the very modest salary did little to alleviate the family’s hardship; successes in Prague with Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro were not taken for granted, but they did little to help the struggling Mozarts back at home.

Wolfgang also developed a serious (and expensive) gambling addiction, possibly as a result of the personal tragedy he was experiencing at home, damaging his once-resplendent public image. It is also well-documented that Costanze did not have the wherewithal to responsibly manage the household while Wolfgang burned most of the family income. Almost certainly in the spirit of admission to serious financial misjudgment, Wolfgang wrote several times over the summer of 1788 to Michael Puchberg, a friend and Freemason (like himself), pleading for significant sums of money. One such request (worth “a hundred gulden”) was to last for one week, to see Mozart through to the start of his “Casino concerts”. It is not known where or what the ‘Casino’ was, but it known that a number of Mozart’s Piano Concerti had been performed there – and given that Mozart was working on a trio of symphonies at the time of writing to Puchberg (which would turn out to be his last, and of which the ‘Jupiter’ would be the ultimate), it had been assumed that they too were to be performed at the same venue.  

It has long been believed that Mozart never heard any of these three symphonies performed during his lifetime (on account of the absence of any documentation pertaining to such performances). However, in recent years this view has been challenged – partly due to the discovery of the Puchberg correspondence – several potential opportunities for performance have been identified, both in Vienna and in Germany. It has been argued by several individuals, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, that the three final symphonies (Nos. 39 – 41) were conceived as a large, unified work, citing in particular the fact that No. 41 has no introduction (unlike No. 39) but instead has a finale of significantly more epic proportions than either of its companions. Whether or not this is true, the final symphony quickly earned a reputation for being one of the greatest symphonies of its age. Even by the end of the nineteenth-century, more than a century after Mozart’s death, it retained its place, with Johannes Brahms claiming that the last three symphonies by Mozart were “much more important” even than Ludwig van Beethoven’s ground-breaking first Symphony.

Equally open to contention is the origin of the popular nickname for the final symphony, ‘Jupiter’. One theory (supported by Mozart’s son, Franz) attributes it to Johann Peter Salomon, the English impresario responsible perhaps most famously for his musically prosperous friendship with Joseph Haydn, bringing him to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95. Salomon died in 1815 – yet, the earliest documented use of the ‘Jupiter’ nickname does not appear until at least 1817 (possibly later), casting doubt on this theory. In fact, the finale of the ‘Jupiter’ is considered to be a re-working of the opening movement of Carl Ditter’s (1739-1799) Symphony in D, Der Sturz Phaëton (The Fall of Phaëton) – Phaëton being the Greek name for the same planet that the Romans referred to as ‘Jupiter’. It has been suggested that this may more plausibly account for the origins of the nickname.

In terms of its music, the final symphony stands as one of Mozart’s most triumphant achievements in instrumental drama, melody and counterpoint. The first movement can be heard very much in the vein of Don Giovanni, characterised by three distinctly prevailing themes: first, the opening music – strong, imperial and subtly militaristic (perhaps a reflection on the ongoing Austro-Turkish struggles); second, a more tender, lyrical theme sounded by the violins and woodwinds; and third, a humorous violin melody in which Mozart self-quotes from his comic aria, Il bacio di mano (A Kiss of the Hand). The development section of the opening movement, imitative in nature, foretells of the spectacular counterpoint to come in the finale.

The second movement takes on the guise of a Sarabande – an old (possibly 16th-century) Spanish dance, betrayed by its slow, triple meter, and possibly reflective of the cosmopolitan side of Mozart’s personality. Lyrical at the outset, this movement soon twists into an agitated working out of its theme, struggling with painful dissonances as it winds back to the more sedate sound of its opening. The third movement returns to Austria – but this time, the dance is a Ländler, a quicker, more spritely folk-dance. 

But, of course – what makes the ‘Jupiter’ symphony so famous is its finale. Here is a movement that epitomizes Mozart’s adoration of J.S. Bach (and is perhaps a culmination of his almost life-long study of Bach’s music). The four-note motif (C-D-F-E) that opens the movement – but that was also heard very brazenly in the third movement – is a common plainchant motif (thought to originate in the Latin hymn, Lucis Creator), and had been in common currency with composers since at least the time of Josquin de Prez’s Missa Pange Lingua. More significantly, it can be found in numerous other works by Mozart, including (perhaps in a bitter case of accidental irony) his very first symphony, from 1764. 

 A fugal texture soon ensues, with up to five different motifs heard sounding at once at any point in the music. To make matters more complicated, Mozart arranges his fugal sections in an overarching ‘sonata’ model, creating a kaleidoscopic musical world in which the rigorous contrapuntal tradition of the late Renaissance and Baroque is fused with the Galant style of the Enlightenment. In this sense, the work came very close to achieving the status of ‘sublime’ – a term that 18th-century philosophers used to define an experience that was simultaneously humbling and uplifting, and most importantly transcended and evaded capture by human media (i.e. words or pictures).

Little did Mozart know that in just 26 years’ time, in 1824, Beethoven would turn the world of instrumental music on its head with his Ninth Symphony – a symphony that would include words, and therefore validate the skepticisms of thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, who had denigrated instrumental genres to the realm of ‘low’ art on the basis that, without words, they were not an adequate vehicle for ideas. Perhaps this explains the enduring popularity of the ‘Jupiter’ symphony – not just in the nineteenth century, but also today.


Watch Toby direct Cambridge University Sinfonia in Stravinsky/Bach Chorale Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her’ in King’s College Chapel, Saturday 15 June




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Cambridge University Musical Society
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Sian Edwards
Director, Cambridge University Symphony Chorus
Richard Wilberforce
Director, Cambridge University Chamber Choir
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