by Alexandra Nightingale

From Imperial Rome to Communist Russia....

Our Winter Concert on 21st January 2017 takes us on an extraordinary journey from imperial Rome to communist Russia to the heavenly heights!
The concert starts at 8 pm, and is in St Olave’s Church York.


We have the emperor Titus to thank for the completion in A.D.80 of Rome’s most famous landmark, the Flavian amphitheatre and of the triumphal arch at the entrance to the Roman Forum, which commemorates the Roman capture and destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70, under Titus’ leadership.

The Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus at the entrance to the Roman Forum – source: Wikipedia

An opera based on the violenza inherent in Titus’ military campaigns and in the bloodlust of the amphitheatre might have turned out rather differently.  Happily, the circumstances surrounding the commissioning of Mozart’s opera (the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia) called for a celebration of imperial clemenza instead.

Titus’ romantic exploits during his Jerusalem campaign (he was forced to abandon the Judaean princess Berenice for reasons of political expediency) ultimately led to the marital complications and intrigues back in Rome which inspired Mozart’s plot.  The details of the conspiracy which calls for Tito’s clemenza are (rather loosely) drawn from Suetonius, who deviates from his usual salacious gossip about the Roman emperors to describe Titus as amor ac deliciae generis humani – ‘the love and delight of the human race’.

We can be thankful indeed as we hear Mozart’s charming overture that Suetonius gave Mozart the material with which to celebrate la clemenza di Tito.

'Jewish' theme of a different nature

Whilst the Arch of Titus depicts an imperial triumph against the Jews in A.D. 70, Shostakovich in his Chamber Symphony (originally composed as a String Quartet in 1960) quotes a ‘Jewish’ theme of an altogether different nature.

Horrified by the scale of the wartime destruction in Dresden and tormented by pressure to join the Communist party, Shostakovich quotes extensively from his own works (the ‘Jewish’ theme from his second Piano Trio, his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the First and Fifth Symphonies) in a work described by his friend Lebedinsky as ‘his farewell to life’.

Dresden war damage 1945
The bombing of Dresden in World War II – source: Wikipedia
Having originally dedicated the quartet to himself, Shostakovich was forced to change the dedication to ‘the victims of war and fascism’ – but there is no mistaking the hauntingly personal quality of a work which Shostakovich described, in tears, as his last.

The work of an archangel

We move now from the intensely personal to a work described by Berlioz as not that of a human at all:  so enamoured was he of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony that he claimed it was the work of the Archangel Michael.  Michael’s counterpart, Gabriel, appears thus in our wonderful stained glass at St Olave’s.

Gabriel - St Olave's, York - Shrigley and Hunt, 1902

Gabriel – St Olave’s, York – Shrigley and Hunt, 1902 – source: Flickr (Image © Roger Walton)

Not performed as often as its mighty neighbours, we hope you will enjoy the graceful charms of Beethoven’s Fourth, called by Schumann ‘a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants’.

York Against Cancer

York Against Cancer logoBy embarking with us on our Winter journey, you will also be supporting the work of York Against Cancer, a local charity helping local people affected by cancer.  The charity provides care and support for patients and their families in York and North Yorkshire, funds pioneering cancer research and provides cancer awareness and information.  All their work is funded by fundraising and donations.  The Academy of St Olave’s is delighted to be offering this concert as a contribution to their wonderful work.  Please come prepared to face our customary collection buckets!

Tickets and Directions

Tickets for our concert on Saturday 21 January can be purchased in advance from our website, or from Visit York, 1 Museum Street, York.  Alternatively, just come along to the concert at St Olave’s Church between 7 and 8 pm and you will be able to pay at the door.

Directions for getting to the concert, complete with map, are on the How-to-find-us page of our website.

We look forward to seeing you!