Little Music for string orchestra Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998)
1. Prelude. Maestoso - 2. Fugue. Allegro moderato - 3. Air. Andante espressivo - 4. Finale. Vivace.
Tippett wrote Little music in 1946 for the tenth birthday of Jacques String Orchestra founded by Reginald Jacques (1894-1969), organist, and conductor of the Bach Choir, London, from 1931 to 1960.
It belongs to the period immediately following his first major success, the oratorio A child of our time, and as he was starting to think about his first opera, The midsummer marriage. It is a work on modest scale, the sort of piece any composer might write as a relaxation after strenuous effort on a large project. Modest, but not slight. It sums up the hard-won technical mastery which Tippett had acquired up to this point in his career, in particular his skill at handling complex textures of interweaving contrapuntal lines, techniques which would carry some of The midsummer marriage's most radiantly exalted moments.
The four movements are played without breaks, beginning with the declamatory, fanfare-like gestures of the Prelude. The Fugue, actually the first of two, is moderately-paced and genial. For the Air, Tippett resorts to a favourite technique of a favourite composer, Henry Purcell. It is in the form of a chaconne - a series of continuous variations over a repeated theme in the bass, which we hear unadorned on the cellos before the upper parts enter one by one. The Finale is the work's second fugue, opening with a playful two-part invention for the cellos and violas, before the fugue proper starts on the first violins. It reaches a sonorous climax, and is rounded off with a brilliant flourish. This is then repeated softly (each of the parts is marked 'pp echo') - a characteristically good-humoured dismissive wave of the hand.