Louis Spohr Composer
Notturno for Winds and Turkish band in C, Op.34
Musicology:This is hardly the sort of gentle night piece we have come to associate with the term notturno, or nocturne. It's a substantial (thirty-minute) divertimento for a large, noisy assortment of wind and percussion instruments. To the fairly standard woodwind ensemble that Mozart employed in his serenades and divertimenti, Spohr added such items as piccolos, trumpets, a bass trombone, a bass horn, a posthorn, and instruments associated with Turkish band music, which was all the rage in Vienna: a large drum, triangle, and cymbals. Despite its unusual scoring, Spohr's Notturno remained popular in Europe through the first three quarters of the nineteenth century.
Notturno for Winds and Turkish band in C, Op.34Key: C
- 1.Marcia moderato. Trio
- 2.Menuetto. Allegro
- 3.Andante con variazioni
- 6.Finale. Vivace
The work opens with a perky march, fully exploiting the thump and crash of the percussion instruments. The noisemakers retire for most of the trio section, which features a bright but more lyrical clarinet tune, its each appearance in a different key introduced by a tiny bassoon recitative. The march proper returns to close out the movement.
Next is a Minuet, a melodramatic piece mostly for clarinet backed by sharp chords from the other woodwinds. (Spohr featured the clarinet throughout the Notturno, because he wrote the work for an ensemble that was conducted by clarinet virtuoso Johann-Simon Hermstedt.) The central Trio section brings more flowing material offered by the higher woodwinds, supported by the lowest brass; this sonorous, mellifluous music would fit seamlessly into any of Richard Strauss's much later wind serenades.
The Notturno's centerpiece is the long Andante con variazione. The clarinet introduces an almost bel canto opera tune over an oom-pah accompaniment; some phrases are picked up by other instruments, but this is mainly the clarinet's domain. In fact, the first variation is a showcase for the clarinet, requiring smooth negotiation of ornate passagework that contains some treacherously placed little trills. The ensuing variation makes similar demands on the oboe, but the third merely returns the theme to something resembling its original form and passes it around the woodwinds. Fourth is a turn for the horns in hunting mode, with overlapping commentary from the flutes, oboes, and clarinets. Next comes a dour minor-mode march for the full woodwind ensemble, which smoothes out into a more conventional treatment that butts up against a few surprisingly dissonant chords. Eventually the horn plays the theme intact, amid pulsing reed instruments, and the clarinet returns to lead the ensemble through the quiet coda.
The percussion instruments, silent through the Andante, return for a pompous Polacca. The middle section features fanfares for the brass instruments (including the posthorn), interspersed with little dancing passages for the woodwinds and triangle. The thumping Polish-Turkish music makes a brief final appearance at the end.
An Adagio for the "conventional" instruments eases in with a noble theme that regularly veers into brief minor-mode passages. Again, the clarinet appropriates most of the melodic work as the theme is subtly reshaped and contrasted with slightly more active material through the course of the movement.
The Notturno concludes with a Vivace finale that begins with an unexpectedly soft Austrian country dance, punctuated by a few thumping interjections from the Turkish band. This is the recurring theme in a rondo that also includes a wistful little waltz but is built mainly upon variations on the opening tune.
© James Reel, All Music Guide