I thought I would have a look at the works given their ‘premieres’ at the 1970 Cheltenham Festival held between 3 and 12 July. It is interesting to see how half a century has dealt with these compositions. In most cases the works have disappeared with little trace.
- William Alwyn: Sinfonietta for strings (Festival Commission)
- Jeffrey Bishop: Spells and Incantations for horn trio
- George Brown: Prisms (Festival Commission)
- Howard Davidson: Omega Centauri (Festival Commission)
- Peter Dickinson: Transformations (Commissioned by the Feeney Trust)
- Edward Elgar: Caractacus, op.35 (First modern revival)
- Patrick Gowers: Toccata for organ (Festival Commission)
- Robin Holloway Scenes from Schuman, op.13
- Ian Kellam: Festival Jubilate (Festival Commission)
- Thea Musgrave: Night Music (English Premiere)
- Elizabeth Poston: Anthem: Benediction for the Arts (Festival Commission)
- Howard Riley: Textures for string quartet
- Humphrey Searle: Zodiac Variations, op.53 (Festival Commission)
- Patric Standford: Metamorphosis for organ
- Richard Stoker: Nocturnal for horn, violin and piano, op.37 (Commissioned by the London Horn Trio)
- John Tavener: Coplas for voices and tape (Festival Commission)
- Michael Tippett: The Shires Suite for orchestra and chorus (First complete performance)
- Henry Weinberg: String Quartet, No.2 (British Premiere)
If one is honest, none of these works has truly caught the listeners’ imagination over the past 50 years. Even the ‘modern’ revival of Elgar’s cantata Caractacus, op.35 (1898) has hardly developed great devotion to this somewhat dated cantata. This is not one of Elgar’s best works and is rarely performed nowadays. There are at least three recordings of the work currently available.
One piece which has gained a modicum of success is William Alwyn’s Sinfonietta. The composer wrote that the work ‘…should rightly have been called Symphony No. 5 …[and] is one of my most important works in its harmonic freedom and contrapuntal ingenuity.’
This is a typically astringent work, that moves away from the composer’s film score style: it has been described nodding towards Bartok rather than making ‘a big romantic statement.’ Currently, there are three recordings available: Chandos, Naxos and Lyrita. It is a work that I enjoy, despite its reputed ‘dryness.’
Although Jeffrey Bishop’s Spells and Incantations for horn trio has been published, I cannot find any evidence of a recording of this work. Of interest, is that it contained elements of extended technique for the horn. I found precious little about the composer, save that he seems to have moved to America.
Richard Stoker’s Nocturnal for horn, violin and piano, op.37 has also slipped from view. Fortunately, it possible to hear the premiere performance of this engaging and imaginative work on the composer’s SoundCloud page.
George Brown’s electronic work Prisms has disappeared completely. I was unable to find any trace of subsequent performances or recordings.
One composer who seems to still be busy is Howard Davidson. His website is only available on Webpage Archive. He is a prolific composer of music for film, television and the theatre with over three hundred scores to his credit. It appears that after majoring in electroacoustic music composition at the Royal College of Music, he turned away from ‘art’ music towards composing for film and television. There is no recording of his electronic work Omega Centauri which was a Festival Commission. No ‘score’ is listed in WorldCat.
Fortunately, Peter Dickinson’s Transformations has had a limited success. This work is a dream-like fantasy about the eccentric French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925). It was commissioned by the Feeney Trust for this festival and received its premiere there on 3 July. The Transformations are based on three of Satie’s best-known piano pieces: the first three Gnossiennes (there are seven in all). The concept is to bring together ‘straight and swung’ elements, sometimes played consecutively: at times concurrently. The music has considerable sophistication at a formal and orchestral level, despite its undoubtedly accessible style. In 2016 a recording of this work was released on Heritage HTGCD 211.
Organists can often be relied upon to excavate music from the past. Certainly, Patrick Gower’s powerful Toccata has kept a toehold in the repertoire. It is often coupled with the Fugue written in 1987. Gowers wrote that ‘the Toccata was commissioned by Simon Preston for the 1970 Cheltenham Festival. He asked for a flashy piece with which to end recitals, featuring some (Count) Basie chords. When he gave his magnificent first performance in the Festival Hall, the author of the programme note thought Basie chords must be a misprint; so, he changed it to the totally inappropriate Basic chords.’ The Toccata displays ferocious energy and rhythmic vitality. It should be heard more often. The work can be heard on YouTube played by Adrian Marple on the organ of Canterbury Cathedral.
Patrick Gowers is remembered nowadays for his film and television scores especially his theme tunes to Smiley’s People and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Unfortunately, Patric Standford’s Metamorphosis for organ does not appear to have been recorded nor has it appeared on YouTube.
To be continued…