About this Piece
As a student in the early 1930s, Bernard Herrmann had been particularly struck by a course in composition and
orchestration given at New York University by Percy Grainger, and he began to develop two passionate enthusiasms: one for the music of Charles Ives and the other for British composers, especially Elgar (whose Falstaff he particularly loved) and Vaughan Williams. His first major concert work was the Moby Dick Cantata, dedicated to Ives and first performed by the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli in 1940. Subsequent non-film works included operas (notably Wuthering Heights) and concert pieces (his Symphony was finished in 1941 and he wrote a string quartet in 1965).
Herrmann’s last concert piece was a clarinet quintet entitled Souvenir de voyage. It was completed in 1967, by which time he had lived in England for several years, and its program is deeply rooted in British (and Irish) culture. The first two movements also have direct links with texts that inspired Vaughan Williams. The expansive opening movement evokes the world of A.E. Housman’s Shropshire Lad, and the turbulent contrasting music was inspired by Housman’s poem “On Wenlock Edge.” The second movement is an impassioned cradle song that captures the atmosphere of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, and the austere mood of J.M. Synge’s play Riders to the sea. The last movement is quite different, taking as its starting point the Venetian watercolors by Turner. At the opening, we hear the violins in thirds, with hints of gondola songs, and later episodes in the movement include a section in which the clarinet theme in rising fourths and fifths is accompanied by shimmering string figurations, and a lively tarantella before the music from the opening returns, bringing the work to a tranquil close. —Nigel Simeone © 2015, used by kind permission of the author and Hyperion Records, Ltd.