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  • Writer's pictureHelsingin Kamariorkesteri

War and the Woman

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on March 8th 2019. Martin Malmgren, piano |

James Kahane, conductor. Buy tickets here.

Shaping the 20th Century; War, Music, and Women.

I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.” John Cage

80 years ago, the world exploded. Nazis swept East through Poland before briefly turning their attention West as the Soviets charged in to Finland and Poland. Soon, nearly every nation on the globe was at war, shattering the world order and changing the course of history forever.

Art has always reflected the world around it, and World War Two was no exception. Composers fled their homes, fought on the fronts, and died in concentration camps. Compositions were interrupted, and lives were altered. For this inaugural program, the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra selected three works that represent the so-called “neo-tonal” composers of the time, one from before the war, one interrupted by it, and one from a few years after its conclusion. The program begins with Ernest Bloch’s prewar Concerto Grosso no. 1, explosive but reflective of the fragile peace the world had landed in after the first world war. Then comes the Finnish premiere of Doreen Carwithen’s Concerto for Piano and Strings. Written a few years after the end of World War Two by a survivor of the London Blitz, the piece also serves as our offering to the celebration of International Women’s Day: a powerful piece by a brilliant and forgotten woman. After the intermission, Honegger’s Second Symphony. Interrupted by the war, the work was premiered in 1942 in neutral Switzerland, and ends with a chorale that offers just a whisper of hope for a bright future after a dramatic and oppressive three movements. Three pieces, different in character, but deeply reflective of their time.


  • Ernst Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1

  • Doreen Carwithen: Concerto for Piano and Strings

  • Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2

Ernst Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1

“The work was created in response to complaints by Bloch's students at the Cleveland Institute of Music about the inadequacies of tonality in shaping the music for the next century.” Alexander J. Morin

Bloch's Concerto Grosso was drawn from the third movement of the 1899 Swiss Dance Suite, and its original title was "Suite for String Orchestra". The piece was premiered on May 29, 1925, at the Statler Hotel by the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra under the direction of the composer itself with Walter Scott at the piano. A clear example of a direct answer to the comments about tonality being outdated, Bloch's piece conveys a unique atmosphere through the use of the Piano in the string orchestra and its overall structures and harmonies. Offering a musically resolute response to these comments was Bloch's own way to explain that the debate has much more nuances than the appearances and some critics tend to display.

Doreen Carwithen: Concerto for Piano and Strings

Doreen Carwithen was born in 1922 in Haddenham, Buckinhamshire, and showed a great talent and love for music from an early age. Only in recent years has her music gathered momentum in terms of performance, and this is the first performance of her Piano Concerto in Finland. Gifted with perfect pitch, she started to learn the violin as well as the piano at the age of four, and in 1941 she found herself studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London thanks to a County Scholarship. In spite of the success with her first orchestral work, premiered in 1947 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult - making her the only woman composer to be performed by the orchestra during that season -, she would soon become devoted to writing film music scores, producing music for over 30 movies, and sometimes ghost-writing for several better-known names. In the film music business, she also fought and won the battle of receiving the same salary as her male colleagues. But before devoting herself more fully to movie music, she penned the brilliant, virtuosic and playful Concerto for piano and strings (1948). With clever interplay between soloist and string orchestra, the concerto shifts from timeless lyricism to jarring rhythms similarly to how film music often shifts suddenly, along with unexpected plot twists.

Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2

The Symphony No. 2 in D for strings and trumpet (Symphony for Strings) is a work commissioned in 1937 by Paul Sacher and composed by Arthur Honegger. Originally meant for the Basler Kammerorchester's 10th-year celebration, the completion of work got delayed, partially because of the outbreak of the Second World War. It was composed for string orchestra and received its first performance in 1942 by the Collegium Musicum of Zurich under Sacher on 18 May 1942. The work is for string orchestra, except for the addition of a trumpet in the concluding chorale: "like pulling out an organ stop", according to the composer. Despite the piece's dramatic and oppressive character, Honegger always insisted that the piece's musical idea was not connected to the war. Within the musical language of Honegger in his Second Symphony, we can denote in the character an extremely agile use of the dogmas and expressive tools established in the previous centuries, although some passages of the piece also seem to hint to atonal writing. Through the years, it has remained one of Arthur Honegger's most popular and widely performed works and is a fascinating example of the ties between the "ancient" tonal style and the "modern" atonal writing. By operating in a realm where both exist, the work showcases a third-way position that steers away from the apparent absolute positions on the debate concerning atonal and tonal music.

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