Canzonetta Op.44

Composed: 2013
Duration: 10 minutes
First performance:  21st March 2014, Bromsgrove Concerts, Artrix Centre, Bromsgrove, Cavaleri String Quartet and Timothy Orpen (clarinet)
Commissioned: Jointly commissioned by the Droitwich Concert Club and Bromsgrove Concerts.
Available: Unpublished (only available through this website)

The Canzonetta Op.44 was written as the result of a joint commission from the Bromsgrove and Droitwich Concert Clubs and was made possible through the generosity of the Kay Trust. The work was written for Huw Ceredig, a former principal percussionist of the CBSO and Chairman of the Droitwich Concert Club. Huw accepted the dedication shortly before his untimely death and this evening’s performance is a tribute to his memory.

A ‘Canzona’ is a short, fairly polyphonic instrumental piece which was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 20th century, the American composer Samuel Barber composed a ‘Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra’ Op.48 and it is this valedictory work that became the starting point for Venables’ own Canzonetta. Both works inhabit a similar emotional soundscape, contrasting reflective and elegiac interludes with moments of affirmation.

A number of important melodic ideas make up this single movement structure. The clarinet’s opening solo ‘cantilena’ is the first of three statements of a theme that Venables took from his Op.33 no.5 song, ‘Break, break, break’ – a setting of Tennyson’s poem of the same name. The theme occurs on the words, ‘Oh for the touch of a vanished hand and for the sound of a voice that is still’ and although each statement inhabits a different emotional sound world they appear at pivotal points in the work; the second statement being more optimistic in tone, while the third is profoundly reflective and tinged with an almost unbearable poignancy. Having said that, the principal string theme that follows the clarinet’s solo introduction is not without its emotional energy. This wistful melody is passed between the strings and clarinet and leads to an impassioned climax. The music then winds down and introduces a new theme of tranquil beauty before ushering in a restatement of the clarinet’s opening theme. The work’s second climax is a powerfully assertive idea that is played by all five instruments. Here the harmonic language becomes highly chromatic with exotic chords adding to its passionate intensity. As a result of what has gone before, the all-important restatement of the opening evokes a desolate aural landscape as the clarinet intones its poignant melody above a forlorn E natural from the ‘cello. By way of a recapitulation the earlier wistful melody returns but this time gathering momentum as we move towards Canzonetta’s exciting and jubilant coda.    

Graham J Lloyd