Master and Commander: Chamber Music on the High Seas

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Image of a British sea captain holding a violin by John Ott Sr. Click the image above to watch the concert replay.

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Here’s the program! Available as a full booklet or 1-page PDF:

Our October livestream visits the cabin of Captain Jack Aubrey, where he and his friend Stephen Maturin play duets on violin and cello in the famous Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian (adapted for film in the 2003 movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).

The Aubrey/Maturin Series of novels, written by Patrick O’Brian 1969-2000, follow the fictional career of Captain Jack Aubrey, a captain in His Majesty’s Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and his friend Dr. Stephen Maturin, a ship’s doctor, naturalist and spy working for the English. In between their adventures, the two play duets on violin and cello, respectively, in the captain’s cabin. This aspect of their friendship was portrayed very well in the 2003 movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. We thought it would be fun to play a concert of music they would have enjoyed.

Our program opens with a sonata by Corelli, who was one of Jack’s favorite composers. Corelli is mentioned several times in the books, though in particular Jack liked playing an arrangement he had made of a Corelli piece (perhaps a Concerto Grosso) for violin and cello. But Jack also liked his sonatas, and we have selected an appropriate one.

The very first scene in the first novel has Jack and Stephen watching a concert of a quartet (possibly trio sonata?) by Locatelli. Jack is entranced by the performance, while Stephen is annoyed at Jack’s humming and gesturing during the concert. However, this is the start of their iconic friendship. Locatelli is later mentioned as one of their favorite composers. We are presenting a sorrowful sonata by Locatelli, to show that they played together sometimes in sadness as well as in joy.

Of course, the pair knew and enjoyed the music of Haydn. The great master of music (in real life, too) had visited London twice in the 1790’s, and his music was well-received and popular throughout England. We are playing a duet by Haydn in which the two parts are mostly equal, rather than having the violin dominate.

O’Brian lists a number of lesser-known composers who the pair enjoyed, and from this list we have selected the A Major sonata of Fasch, which is brilliant and sparkling with joy.

The movie adaption only shows them playing a single work, which has since become associated with the Aubrey/Maturin story. Boccherini’s Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid (Night Music from the Streets of Madrid) was originally scored for string quintet, but most of the important parts are in either the first violin or first cello part. It was not difficult to arrange it for violin and cello duet.


Arcangelo Corelli: Violin Sonata in D Minor, op. 5 no. 7
Pietro Antonio Locatelli: Violin Sonata in G Minor, op. 8 no. 3
Franz Joseph Haydn: String Duo in D Major Hob. VI:D1
Johann Friedrich Fasch: Violin Sonata in A Major
Luigi Boccherini: Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid (arr. for violin/cello)