Puppets, Angels & Tin Soldiers

Concert of words & music on Saturday 4th May at 1.15pm at St Michael & All Angels Church, Victoria Road, Brighton

By Ambrose Page

Heather Waterman & Peter Morris (narrators)    Ambrose Page (piano)

One might think ‘Puppets, Angels and Tin Soldiers’ a curious title for a ‘concert’ of words and music.   It was chosen because it was considered suitable as a way of conjuring up the world of make belief, which is what this recital is essentially about. Indeed, the common message running through all the pieces and stories are that anything is possible in the world they inhabit.  It is a land where snowmen can sing, angels and mermaids actually exist, and where an ugly duckling can be transformed into a beautiful swan.  Magic!  I hope that you enjoy this concert, and perhaps you will leave it believing that the world is not, after all, such a predictable place as you might have first thought!


Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was born in a church tower in the Bohemian country town of Policka.  As a child he was a prolific composer, and in 1906 entered the Prague Conservatory as a violin student. His interest, however, lay in composition, and he failed to complete his course at the Conservatory or at the Prague Organ School, to which he had been transferred. He worked as an orchestral player before moving to Paris in 1923, and moved to the United States prior to the Second World War. Political events in Czechoslovakia prevented his intended return after peace resumed, and he spent his final years abroad, dying in Switzerland in 1959.

Martinu was an immensely prolific and varied composer.  He wrote over four hundred pieces of music, some eighty of which were for piano.  Even though they make up a significant portion of his work, the reputation of his piano music has been overshadowed by that of his orchestral and chamber music.

Included amongst his piano works are the three books of suites entitled Puppets (‘Loutky) written between 1912 and 1924, and published in reverse order to their composition, with suite three being written first. Martinu drew his inspiration for these works from the puppet plays of the Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck. However, the various movement titles from the Puppets are drawn from the characters of the commediadell’arte, which inspired much of traditional European pantomime and puppetry, whilst the music itself comprises stylized dances. The pieces included here are drawn from each of the three suites.

The neglected Russian composer and pianist SergeBortkiewicz (1877-1952)was born in the Ukrainian City of Kharkov.  His mother was herself an accomplished pianist and co-founder of the Kharkov Music School where Bortkiewicz received his early musical training, followed by further studies in St Petersburg and Leipzig.  He eventually settled in Vienna where he remained until his death. 

Influenced by the music of Anton Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky, Bortkiewicz’s music is intensely melodic and romantic in style, though sadly, a substantial number of his works were lost in the destruction brought about by the Second World War. Nevertheless a large number still remain for us to enjoy, with his output including concertos, symphonies, songs, chamber music and an opera.

However, the main bulk of his output comprises solo piano works of which the suite of pieces entitled From Andersen’s Fairy Tales (‘ Aus Andersen’s Märchen’), Op 30 is one example. Bortkiewicz wrote several sets of pieces whose appeal is clearly aimed at children. His ‘From Andersen’s Fairy Tales’ are subtitled ‘A musical picture book’, with each of the twelve pieces reflecting in music the narrative of one of Andersen’s fairy tales. In this performance each piece will be preceded by an abridged version of the story it illustrates.

Copyright@ Ambrose Page      

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