William Alwyn's Ballade was composed for the violist Watson Forbes and first performed at the RAM New Music Society in 1937. It's hard to imagine this beautiful work as a piece of new music, but the musical choices that Alwyn made will have seemed extremely unusual when they were first performed; that is how I will attempt to convey the music to you today.
I can draw a number of parallels between Paul Hindemith and myself, the most obvious being that he was initially a violinist and progressed to viola, albeit not for the same reasons as me! The Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op.25/4, composed in 1922, provides a strong contrast to the Alwyn due to Hindemith's style of composition – tonal music with free use of all twelve notes.
Ernest Bloch was older than both Alwyn and Hindemith, but the Suite Hébraȉque was composed in 1951 towards the end of his life and as such is the newest piece on the programme. The melodies are reflective of Bloch's Jewish heritage; as a practising Jew myself, the style is familiar despite not being a direct copy of tunes heard in the synagogue. There is a deliberate juxtaposition of this work with Hindemith, who was in and out of favour with the authorities in Nazi Germany and eventually emigrated to Switzerland partly as his wife had Jewish ancestry.
The final piece on the programme is a cut-down version of Hummel's Potpourri for Viola and Orchestra Op.94. The potpurri was a genre of music popular in the 19th century where well known opera melodies were organised into a medley. The Fantasie is in fact simply the introduction and finale of this, separated by a single operatic melody, Il mio tesoro intanto sung by the tenor Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni.