Thursday, 19 July 2018

William Wordsworth: Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) Glasgow Herald review


After my post on 16 July about the recent release on the Toccata CD label of William Wordsworth’s Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962), I found a review of the premiere performance at Perth. It was published in the Glasgow Herald on 21 March 1966. 

The reviewer, P.J.H. begins with a historical musing. He considers that ‘In the eight years since Vaughan Williams’s death (26 August 1958) his music has suffered a considerable eclipse, yet the traditional English style is still manifest in the works of William Wordsworth, whose Variations op.72 on a Scottish theme were given their public premiere in the City Hall, Perth last night (20 March) by the Perth Symphony Orchestra under their new conductor, John McLeod, a Trinity College, Glenalmond music master.’
Glenalmond is an independent boarding and day school located on the banks of the River Almond, some eight miles west of Perth. It was originally called Trinity College, Glenalmond. John McLeod, is still an active composer, clarinettist and teacher.

The Glasgow Herald review continues: ‘These eight variations and fugue on the chorus of ‘The Campbells are Coming’ were conceived for the pupils of Bryanston School [Dorset], who must have possessed a brilliant solo woodwind team and also a considerable xylophonist, as the oboe, clarinet, and percussion are prominently featured in the less facile and more rhapsodic inner variations.
At this point, one wonders if the reviewer was really listening. Wordsworth’s theme was in fact ‘A Hundred Pipers an a’ and not ‘The Campbells are Coming’.

As for the remainder of the concert, P.J.H. felt that the conductor ‘was at pains to provide a tight rhythmic backing to Geoffrey Burford’s youthful and brilliant account of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto.’ I could find out little about Burford, save that he is an English pianist, harpsichordist and organist. Finally, the critic noted that the concert began with Mozart’s overture ‘Il Seraglio’, featured Sibelius’s Valse Triste and concluded with Haydn’s ‘jolliest symphony, that in G [major] No.88.’ He felt that it ‘drew that most attractive playing of the evening from this well-disciplined orchestra…’
As a reminder, Williams Wordsworth’s Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) is available on Toccata (TOCC 0480) and includes the Divertimento in D, op.58 and the Symphonies No. 4 in Eb, op.54 and No.8 ‘Pax Hominibus’. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

William Wordsworth (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962): The First Public Performance

Further to my recent post on the above work, I discovered the programme for the first public performance of William Wordsworth’s (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) in its orchestral guise. This was given on Sunday, 20th March 1966 at the City Hall, Perth. The Perth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John McLeod. Other works at this concert included Mozart’s Overture: Il Seraglio K.384, Sibelius’s Valse Triste, op.44, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, op.58. The piano soloist was Geoffrey Burford. After the interval, concertgoers heard the present Variations and Haydn’s Symphony in G major, No.88. 

The programme note was by John McLeod:
‘William Wordsworth is a great-great-grandson of the poet’s brother Christopher. His music, solidly grounded in tradition, yet extended in a personal and very individual way, owes little to the fashions of the present day, but much to his outstanding teacher, Sir Donald Tovey, with whom he studied from 1934-37. He dedicated the second of his five symphonies [1] (which won first prize in the Edinburgh Festival Competition in 1950) to Tovey’s memory. Since 1961 he and his family have lived in the Inverness-shire Highlands where these Variations were composed in 1962. They were commissioned for the opening of a new Music Room at Bryanston School in the summer of that year. The rather unusual scoring of the Variations is accounted for by the players who were available in the school orchestra at the invitation concert for which the work was designed. For the first public performance by a larger orchestra available this evening, the composer has suggested some alterations to the scoring.  Mr Wordsworth has provided the following note: 
‘There are nine variations. The first two keep closely to the theme, the third and fourt are more fragmentary. The fifth variation is a lyrical slow movement for the oboe, clarinet and solo cello in turn against a background of strings. The sixth variation returns to the original tempo, but places the theme in the minor while in the seventh variation the outline of the theme is shared by the bassoon and horn, the other instruments decorating it with scalic figures. The eighth variation is slower and again in the minor and features an xylophone. The last variation starts off fugally on the strings and reaches a climax with the re-entry of the first phrase of the theme with which the work ends.’’

Note:
[1]. William Wordsworth ultimately composed eight symphonies.


The Perth Symphony Orchestra continues its good work in 2018. Their current conductor is Allan Young.

Friday, 13 July 2018

It's not British, but its Bach! The Legendary Danish Organist: Finn Viderø Volume 1


First things first. I was absolutely amazed at the sound quality of this retrospective CD of Bach’s organ music played by Danish legend Finn Viderø. Bearing in mind that these recordings were made in in the nineteen-fifties, they have all the clarity, freshness and power of the digital age. The one exception is the final track on the second CD, which presents the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565. This was remastered from an old 78rpm record. However, this is well-worth having for the imaginative interpretation and fascinating sound of the Fredericksburg Church (Denmark) organ.

A few biographical details may be of interest. Finn Viderø was born on 15 August 1906 in Fuglebjerg, Næstved in Denmark.  He served in several churches as organist, including the Reformed Church, the Jægersborg Church, the Trinitatis and St. Andreas Church all in Copenhagen. Besides his duties as an organist, Viderø was a harpsichordist, a composer, a musicologist and a music teacher.
Viderø became known outside Denmark for of the many recordings he made of organ works. Some were issued on 78rpm records. These were highly-regarded interpretations that were deemed to be ‘authentic’ performances. Finn Viderø died in Copenhagen on 13 March 1987 aged 80 years.

Readers will be pleased to know that I am not going to discuss all 46 chorale preludes in the Orgelbüchlein. A few general remarks will suffice. The Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) is a collection of relatively short organ works by J.S. Bach. Albert Schweitzer calls it ‘the lexicon of Bach’s musical speech.’  It was originally conceived by the composer to include 164 preludes based on 161 hymn tunes used by the Lutheran Church on ‘high-days and holy-days’ during the Church’s Year. It is to be eternally regretted by organ enthusiasts that he only completed 46 of these pieces (BWV 599-644). Bach abandoned the project when he was appointed to the Court at Köthen. The Orgelbüchlein served (and serves) a dual function – liturgical use and as a ‘primer’ for organ students. The British organist James Lancelot remarked that Bach’s Orgelbüchlein ‘has become the organists bible.’ He further suggests that ‘No organist should be ignorant of the collection and every organist should master some at least of these chorales which have adorned the liturgy of churches throughout and far beyond Lutheran communities’
The Orgelbüchlein largely features chorales from the first half of the Christian year – Advent to Whitsun. As noted they are short. The chorale is typically presented in the right hand ‘treble’ part and does not have ‘interludes’ between the sections of the tune. The ‘added value’ of these chorale preludes is found in the registration, the harmonization and the embellishment with musical ornaments. Finn Viderø gives a definitive performance of this great collection of organ music. It is characterised by ‘rhythmic precision’ and (for me at least) a perfect and inventive choice of registration. The organ at All Sorø Church was built by Marcussen and Son in 1942 and is ideally suited to Viderø’s interpretation of this music. It is regarded by many critics (apparently) as one of the most successful examples of the ‘organ movement’ once associated with the ‘Back-to-Bach’ concept. Based on this recording, I agree.

Although the focus of this first volume is the masterly Orgelbüchlein, several other pieces are included. The opening track is a 1952 recording of the stunning Variations on ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’, BWV 768. This is one of Bach’s masterworks that explores the melody by way of 10 fascinating variations which explore many possibilities of chorale-ornamentation. The mood of each variation is nominally based on the sentiment of each verse of the hymn.  The piece ends with an intricate five-part chorale, which sums up the Work and the whole World!
Other pieces include a selection of six quieter chorale preludes, including ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ BWV 654 and the deeply moving ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’ BWV 731. I was impressed with the inventive recital of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544, which is from Bach’s Leipzig period (1723-50). It is one of the most mature and satisfying examples of the genre.

The excellent booklet gives details of Finn Viderø’s life and times, which would seem to be the most comprehensive discussion of him available, at least in English. The organ specification of the instrument at All Sorø Church is given, but not the one Frederiksberg Church, Denmark.

This is splendid ‘retrospective’ of Bach’s music recorded by Finn Viderø. I have been impressed by every piece. I understand that there are four further volumes planned to be released shortly, exploring recordings made by Viderø in the 1950s of music by Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel and several other composers.
One final note. Before a wedding at which Finn Viderø was playing the organ, the groom asked if he could ‘make the organ sparkle and bubble.’ He looked at them over his glasses and abruptly replied: ‘Do you think I am a fizzy drink?’ This reflected his often spartan but wholly effective ‘take’ on organ registration.

Track Listings:
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Variations on: Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig BWV 768
Choral Preludes:  Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 762; Nun komm', der Heiden Heiland BWV 659; Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier BWV 731; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen BWV 658; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV 654
Prelude and Fugue B Minor BWV 544
Orgelbüchlein
Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 565
Finn Viderø (organ)
Rec.  All Sorø Church, Denmark, 1952 (Variations & Chorale Preludes); 1953 (BWV 544); 1958 (Orgelbüchlein); Frederiksberg Church, Denmark 1950 (BWV565)
DANACORD DACOCD 791 & 792 


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

William Wordsworth (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962)


I was delighted to discover the fascinating Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) by Scottish by adoption composer, William Wordsworth (1908-1998). It is included in an exciting CD (Volume 1) from Toccata dedicated to the composer’s orchestral music. The album includes the Divertimento in D, op.58 and the Symphonies No. 4 in Eb, op.54 and No.8 ‘Pax Hominibus’.  
For enthusiasts of British Symphonic music this means that six of Wordsworth’s eight Symphonies are now available on CD or download. (1,2,3,5 are issued on Lyrita).
The Variations on a Scottish Theme is a short work lasting for about 10 minutes. Paul Conway (who wrote the extremely helpful liner notes) sets the work in context. It was one of the first pieces to be composed after the family had moved from the Home Counties to the village of Kincraig in Speyside.  It was commissioned for the inauguration of a new music room at Bryanston School, which was not in Scotland, but in Dorset! The Variations were premiered during the summer of 1962. Seemingly, it was originally scored to accommodate the school ‘band’ – oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion, string quartet and double bass. The revised version for full orchestra was given at the City Hall, Perth on 20 March 1966. John McLeod conducted the Perth Symphony Orchestra.
The theme is the based on the popular Scottish song, ‘Wi’ a hundred pipers an’ a’’. This is not a particularly ancient tune, having been ‘composed’ by Carolina Nairne, Lady Nairne (1766-1845). It refers to events in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s captured the Border town of Carlisle on 14-15 November 1745. This was at the start of the campaign, three months before his advance on London fizzled out at Swarkstone Bridge, Derby.
The song was published posthumously in Lays from Strathern (1846). The tune may be a confection, provided by Lady Nairne as no contemporary tune has been located.

Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
We'll up an' gie them a blaw, a blaw
Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a'.
O it's owre the border awa', awa'
It's owre the border awa', awa'
We'll on an' we'll march to Carlisle ha'
Wi' its yetts, its castle an' a', an a'.

The first two variations are simply a more elaborate and decorated version of the theme. The third and fourth deconstruct the tune into ‘melodic and rhythmic fragments.’ The heart of work follows, played ‘adagio espressivo.’ It is scored for solo oboe, clarinet and cello, against a moody string accompaniment. This has all the brooding melancholy of the Western Highlands. The sadness continues in the 6th  with the tune heard in the minor key. The 7th variation is more complex, with the melody played on the bassoon and horn supported by vigorous scales and chords from the rest of the orchestra. The composer introduces the glockenspiel into the 8th variation which lightens the mood. The treatment of the theme here, is the farthest removed from the original. The finale begins with a fugato passage seemingly derived from a counter-subject to the main theme. The music builds up before the main tune returns, first accompanied by the glockenspiel and then just for strings. 

William Wordsworth has provided a somewhat relaxed take on this music. It must be recalled that the composer was a ‘militant’ pacifist and conscientious objector during the Second World War. It is hardly likely that he would have relished Charles Stuart’s actions, nor the Duke of Cumberland’s subsequent response culminating at Culloden. 
With thanks to Paul Conway for the excellent liner notes to this CD. 


Saturday, 7 July 2018

An Early Appreciation of Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) Part II


Gordon Bryan's 1929 appreciation of Lennox Berkeley continued...

A ‘Prelude, Intermezzo (Blues), and Finale’, for flute, viola, and piano was first heard in London in October 1927, [1] and was subsequently repeated in Oxford and Paris. It contains many skilful instrumental effects, and audiences have received it with favour; but the later Sonatina for clarinet and piano (1928) [2] marks a definite advance. Though here Hindemith’s influence is apparent, the general effect is novel and striking. The work was submitted by the British jury for the recent Geneva Festival, but the international committee did not endorse the selection. Two other Sonatinas - for violin alone and for piano [3] – were completed this year. The former has already been played in Paris. All three Sonatinas are conceived in much the same spirit and all are in three movements. In the first two considerable use is made of “bi-tonality” – for example, the slow movement of the Clarinet Sonatina which continues almost the whole time in C major against G flat major in the upper parts. The result is much less discordant that might be imagined and presents no difficulty to those accustomed to modern music. The Violin Sonatina naturally contains practically no harmony; nevertheless, in another sense a similar system is followed- that is to say, a definite tonality is established in that a phrase begins on a certain note and comes back to it again, but the scale which that note would suggest is not necessarily adhered to. This procedure has been much exploited by Hindemith.
Jan Smeterlin [4] included three short piano pieces (composed in 1927) [5] at a London recital a little time ago. There are also five songs, to poems by Cocteau, entitled Tombeaux, which have many flashes of wit. [6] They were broadcast in March, [7] with orchestral accompaniment, under the direction of Anthony Bernard. The composer’s most recent work is a Sinfonietta for small orchestra. [8]
The last three years show a steady output of increasing importance; and as Berkeley’s technique and self-confidence alike develop, we may expect an ever-growing personality. But while Paris at present no doubt affords more opportunities than London for the study of contemporary music, it is no less true that much he has heard there has had the effect - enthusiastic musician though he is – of narrowing his outlook into what may be styled anti-diatonicism.
An experiment which might have useful results (but which is quite unlikely to be carried out) would be to prevent him for six months from attending any concerts where music other than that of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries was performed. At the same time all scores of any later date should be removed from his reach. His reaction to this treatment would be extremely interesting, and his compositions would show considerably more originality than he has, as yet, allowed himself to attain. A remark once passed by Haydn is to the point. He wrote of his enforced isolation at Esterhàzy’s country residence of Esterhàz: ‘I was cut off from the world; there was no-one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.’
The Monthly Musical Record June 1, 1929

Notes:
[1] ‘Prelude, Intermezzo (Blues), and Finale’, for flute, viola, and piano is a piece I would love to hear. It was premiered during October 1927 by the Aeolian Players which included the author of this present appreciation playing piano. It was dedicated to Bryan. The holograph survives and is located at the British Library. It has not yet received a recording.
[2] The Sonatine pour clarinette et piano was composed in 1928, when Berkeley had come down from Oxford and had commenced studied with Nadia Boulanger. As noted in the text, the Sonatine was submitted by the British jury for a competition in Geneva. This was probably the 1929 ISCM Festival. It was rejected. The Sonatine has been recorded by the Berkeley Ensemble on Resonus RES10149 (2015).
[3] The Sonatina for solo violin was composed in 1927 and was unpublished. It had three movements: Allegro moderato, Allegretto (Tango) and Presto. Dickinson (2003) has declared the score as being lost.
[4] Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967) was a Polish concert pianist. He was highly regarded as an interpreter of Frédéric Chopin and Karol Szymanowski.
[5] The Three Piano Pieces were composed sometime during 1927. They feature an ‘allegro’, an [andante] and a concluding ‘moderato.’ As noted in the text they were premiered by Jan Smeterlin. Dickinson (op. cit.) notes that they were forgotten and only rediscovered in the 1980s.  They were published in Lennox Berkeley: Collected Works for Solo Piano by Chester. As far as I am aware, they have not been recorded.
[6] The five songs, Tombeaux, were setting of texts by the French poet and polymath Jean Cocteau.  These songs were originally composed in 1926 for voice and piano. However, they were also arranged for voice and chamber orchestra in the same year. This version was premiered in Paris during spring 1926.  The songs included: ‘Le Tombeau de Sapho’; ‘Le Tombeau de Socrate’; ‘D’un Fleuve’; ‘De Narcisse’ and ‘De Don Juan’. These songs have been released on an album of Berkeley’s songs. (Chandos 10528, 2009)
[7] Lennox Berkeley’s Tombeaux was broadcast on 11 March 1929 during a concert of music that included music by Gabriel Fauré, Bach and Mozart in the first half and by Peter Warlock and Igor Stravinsky in the second. The soloist in Berkeley’s Tombeaux was the Swiss soprano Sophie Wyss (1897-1983)
[8] Peter Dickinson, (2003) includes the Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1927) as being a ‘lost work’ in his catalogue.  I was unable to find any contemporary reviews of this piece.  This work should not be confused with the Sinfonietta, op.34 dating from 1950.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

An Early Appreciation of Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) Part I


Ten years ago, I posted this early appreciation of Lennox Berkeley on my blog. I repost here today, with a few comments. Gordon Bryan wrote his article for the Monthly Musical Record published in 1 June 1929. At this date, Berkeley was 26 years old. The reader will note that several of the musical works mentioned are currently in the recorded or concert repertoire.  The author, Gordon Bryan (1895-1957) was a British pianist, arranger and composer.
I am grateful to Peter Dickinson’s The Music of Lennox Berkeley (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1988/2003) and Stewart R. Craggs’ Lennox Berkeley: A Source Book (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2000) for providing much needed assistance with the commentary on this ‘appreciation.’

THE YOUNGER ENGLISH COMPOSERS V. Lennox Berkeley by Gordon Bryan (1895-1957)
Lennox Berkeley was born in 1903, and was educated at Gresham’s and Merton College, Oxford. He now lives in Paris, and is studying under Mlle. Nadia Boulanger, a brilliant and deservedly popular teacher of composition.
His nearest relatives also prefer France to England, and as Berkeley himself is bilingual, this almost dual nationality (his grandmothers were both French) had had a considerable effect on his music. He frankly declares himself out of sympathy with English musical life, in which he finds a regrettable lack of interest in the newer developments of the art.
While still an undergraduate he composed various songs, among them one very charming example- ‘D’un vanneur de blé aux vents’ - a setting of a poem by Du Bellay, which has been published by the Oxford University Press. [1] It was composed in October 1925. It has a straightforward melody three times repeated; the varied piano accompaniment shows the restraint and delicacy of string-quartet writing, and, indeed, it might easily be arranged for that combination. If the composer of this charming trifle had pursued this vein of unaffected melody he would have won considerably more renown that he actually has.
Since that time, he has passed through successive and concurrent phases of Ravel-worship, Stravinsky-worship and Hindemith-worship; and admirable though such enthusiasms may be, they become a hindrance to originality. The personal note has, however, made itself felt more and more in his recent works. Berkeley’s skill in orchestral colouring and particularly his clever writing for wood-wind as witness the solo part in the clarinet sonata [2] - has always been remarkable.
It should be mentioned that Ravel has taken an interest in the young composer’s development, and by his encouragement and recommendation, some years ago, did much to confirm his choice of a musical career.
Although it is only since October 1926, that Berkeley has been composing seriously, ha has been so fortunate as to hear much of his music performed under the best possible conditions. His very first orchestral work, an Introduction and Dance for small orchestra, [3] was produced by Anthony Bernard [4] at the Chenil Galleries [5] in April 1926, and from this performance the composer learnt much. It was a brief but effective little work –the past tense must be used, for the composer now disowns it altogether.
Under the same auspices, at a concert at the Contemporary Music Centre [6], first appeared the Concertino, also for small orchestra, in April 1927 [7]. This has been repeated at Harrogate and Hastings by Basil Cameron, and at Bournemouth under the composer’s direction. Its success led to a request from Walter Straram, [8] the Paris conductor, for a Suite, this time for full orchestra, which was given at the Salle Pleyel in February 1928. [9] It has not been heard in England, but a performance is probable shortly under Ansermet. [10]
These two works follow the neo-classical pattern favoured by many modernists – of course, with the wide harmonic resources of the present day. Both are concise and well-knit. The Suite consists of four movements –Sinfonia, Bourrée, Aria and Gigue. It is classical both in form and feeling, though free use is made of modern methods of harmonization and orchestral colouring. The slow movement (Aria) is especially fine.
The Monthly Musical Record June 1, 1929

Notes:
[1] 'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' (You kindly winds who gaily/Go blowing o’er the valley) with words by Joachim du Bellay (c.1522–1560). The English translation was made by M.D. Calvocoressi. It presents a pastoral impression of a reaper working in the fields during high-summer. It was composed in 1924/25 during Berkeley’s second year at Merton College, Oxford. In 1927, the song was revised and given its English title 'The Thresher.' It was to be the composer's first published work. Other songs composed at this time included ‘Pastourelle’ (Anon) and ‘Rondeau’ (Charles d'Orelans).'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' is included on Chandos 10528 (2009).
[2] I am assuming that Gordon Bryan was referring here to the Sonatine pour clarinette et piano and not to any ‘lost’ Sonata. It was composed in 1928, when he had come down from Oxford and had commenced studies with Nadia Boulanger. As noted in the text, the Sonatine was submitted by the British jury for a competition in Geneva. This was probably the 1929 ISCM Festival. It was rejected. The Sonatine has been recorded by the Berkeley Ensemble on Resonus RES10149 (2015).
 [3] The Introduction and Dance for small orchestra was composed in 1926 and was written for Anthony Bernard and the London Chamber Orchestra. Peter Dickinson (2003) writes that it is one of Berkeley’s ‘lost scores.’  The premiere was at the New Chenil Galleries on 26 April 1926. It was also broadcast ‘live’ by the BBC as a part of the BBC Spring Series of Concerts.
[4] Anthony Bernard (1891-1963) was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer.
[5] New Chenil Galleries were in the King’s Road, Chelsea, adjacent to the town hall.
[6] I understand that Contemporary Music Centre was located at Cowdray Hall, 20 Cavendish Square near Oxford Circus, London.
[7] The Concertino for chamber orchestra was composed in 1927. The work was written in three movements. The score is lost. (Dickinson, 2003)
[8] Walther Straram (1876-1933) was a London-born conductor who worked for much of his career in France during the early twentieth century. His professional name, ‘Straram’ was an anagram of his family name, ‘Marrast.’ He is remembered as having given the premiere of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero at the Paris Opéra on 22 November 1928. Ernest Ansermet, who was to have conducted to was ‘indisposed.’
[9] The premiere of the Suite was given on 16 February 1928, played by the Straram Orchestra conducted by Walther Straram. The work appears to have been published by Novello (Dickinson, 2003). There is no recording.
[10] Stuart Craggs (2000.) notes that the British premiere of the orchestral Suite was given at the Queen’s Hall, London on 12 September 1929 by the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. I was unable to find a reference to a performance given by Ernest Ansermet.  

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The End of Flowers: Piano Trios by Maurice Ravel and Rebecca Clarke


What a touch of genius to programme two of my favourite piano trios on one CD!  How could they have possibly known...
I cannot recall when I first heard Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. I think it might have been a recording by the Beaux Arts Trio. I have relished it ever since. Ravel began thinking about this Trio in 1908. Work progressed slowly. It was not until the First World War began that he got a move on. He wanted to enlist in the French army so had to work ‘with mad fury’ to complete the Trio by August 1914.
This is a long work, lasting for just under half an hour. The opening ‘modéré’ movement is inflected with Basque folk-music, without quoting an actual tune. This typically relaxed music is beautifully poised on this recording. The difficult second movement scherzo ‘pantoum’, presents a wide array of exciting contrapuntal devices and instrumental effects. This is vivacious music that carries the listener along in breathless anticipation. The heart of the work is the ‘passacaille.’ This set of ten variations demands to be played slowly and with great concentration of sound. The liner notes suggest that ‘in its final moments, the theme disintegrates, perhaps an ominous premonition of the breakdown of peace in Europe.’ The finale is a ‘tour de force.’ The present performance explores fittingly the dichotomy between romantic music and the fears of war that are presented in this movement. The movement builds toward a terrifying climax with ‘crashing chords, shrieking trills and [a] general cacophony’ that surely foreshadows the dogs of war but ultimately ends in triumph.
Ravel never did enlist, due to his physique: he was, though, able to join the army as a lorry driver.

The Anglo-American composer Rebecca Clarke is best known for her Viola Sonata (1919) and the present Piano Trio. Her catalogue includes several chamber-works as well as many songs.
The Piano Trio was composed in 1921. Several commentators have correctly (I believe) identified this as a ‘war work.’  The CD insert points out that Clarke left no programme for her trio, however, there are plenty of musical suggestions in this piece that imply the horrors of the Great War and her revulsion against it. The opening ‘moderato ma appassionato’ is full of angst and despair. The violent repeated note theme acts as a kind of motto through the work. Another important theme is based on a ‘bugle call’ adding emphasis to the war-torn mood of the work. After a passionate development, the movement closes quietly.  The ‘andante molto semplice’ opens with a quiet version of the ‘motto theme.’ Much of this movement is based on a folk-tune-like melody. This is quiet music that could be described as an elegy or even a lullaby. Clarke has moved away from the harsher Bartokian sounds of the opening movement to something more pastoral in its effect.  It closes with a wistful passage for solo violin.
All the stops are pulled out for the final movement. This is powerful dance-like music that uses ‘pizzicato, cross rhythmic play and metre changes’. The excitement is interrupted by a passionate recapitulation of the ‘bugle call’ theme. The dance returns, bringing the trio to a rumbustious conclusion.
I think that this Trio’s undoubted success relies on Rebecca Clarke’s perfect synthesis of several music conceits, including Bartok’s powerful rhythms and nods to Vaughan William’s pastoralism.

I appreciated the playing by the Canadian ensemble the Gryphon Trio in both the Clarke and the Ravel Trios. Their playing matches the mood, whether it is sunshine, lyricism, despair or violence. The liner notes, written by Robert Rical, present a good introduction to both works. They are printed in English and French.

There are several versions of both Ravel’s and Clarke’s Trio available. The MusicWeb Piano Trio Survey lists seven recordings (not including the present one) of the latter. The Arkiv website clocks up some 65 versions of the Ravel: some may be re-packagings. For an ideal coupling, the present CD cannot be ignored. Both composers were clearly affected by the First World War and both produced trios that are well-summed up by the disc’s title ‘The End of Flowers.’ They achieve this mood by writing music that matches despair at the violence of war. with a recognition that a seemingly more idyllic age has past. On the other hand, both works do present some optimism for the future.

Track Listing: 
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979) Piano Trio (1921)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Piano Trio in A minor (1914)
Gryphon Trio, Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin) Roman Borys (cello), Jamie Parker (piano)
ANALEKTA AN2 9520
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 


Thursday, 28 June 2018

Gustav Holst—An Appreciation by Arnold Foster, 1934


Little comment is needed on this short appreciation written shortly after the death of English composer Gustav Holst on 25 May 1934. It was written by Sheffield-born Arnold (Wilfred Allen) Foster (1896?-1963) who was a conductor, composer and pedagogue. I will include a couple of notes where appropriate. The article appeared in the The Monthly Musical Record, July-August 1934.

It would be difficult adequately to express the deep sense of loss which the death of Gustav Holst has caused within the circle of his friends and pupils.
He inspired in them a love and devotion which was difficult for anyone outside this circle to understand. In uncongenial company Holst's reserve was so great as often to lead to a misconception of his true nature. His long struggle in early life against ill-health and adverse circumstances had helped to give him a deep insight into the difficulties which others had to contend with. In addition to this, his natural sympathetic qualities were a great asset to him in his capacity as a teacher. He got the very best out of keen amateurs and young people by making even the least gifted among them feel that their efforts were essential to the venture in hand.
The story of his sixteen years' directorship of the music classes at Morley College is an inspiring one. From the beginning he insisted on performing only the best music. This policy led at first to the disappearance of those who did not like hard work, but soon there gathered round him a devoted band of students who, under his leadership, did valuable and important work. To give only one instance, the revival of Purcell's works was undertaken. King Arthur was performed in 1909, The Fairy Queen in 1911, and Dioclesian [1] (arranged in the form of a pageant by one of his most gifted pupils, the late Jane Joseph) in 1921.[2]
The Fairy Queen performance was the first since Purcell's death in 1695. To make it possible the students copied out the entire vocal and instrumental parts-1500 pages of manuscript. The Dioclesian performance was the first since 1784, and again the parts were copied. The labour involved is an example of the willing service which Holst obtained from his students in the cause of music. This capacity of extracting willing and happy service from all kinds of people was one of the greatest characteristics of Gustav Holst, the man. They were eager to follow his own example.
Holst believed intensely in the social value of music and to this end began his Whitsuntide Festivals at Thaxted in 1916. The main purpose was to give pleasure to the performers and to influence them with the idea of making music together for the pure joy of it. The plan followed at first was for players and singers to assemble for the Whitsuntide week-end at some country town or village to provide music for the church services and any other occasion that arose. It is typical of Holst's thoroughness of organization and delicacy of feeling that he always used any local talent and was very careful to work in harmony with the church organist. Saturday was spent in rehearsing, Sunday morning and evening in the church, Sunday afternoon in informal music or a performance at the local hospital or other institution. On Monday morning the parts of a chosen work of a dramatic nature which gave opportunity for pageantry and costume were given out and rehearsed, out of doors if possible. A performance was given in the afternoon.
Holst was by no means a dry academician; in his make-up there was a love of simple fun, and he was fond of ending his festival with some carefully planned item of a humorous nature. After his return from Salonica the festivals were held in London for several years. The places visited were Dulwich, Isleworth, Blackheath, All Hallows (Toc H church) and Camberwell, with the garden belonging to St. Paul's Girls' School as a centre for some of the Whit Monday performances.
One reason for stressing these festivals is that they had an important influence on Holst's own career as a composer. He wrote many works expressly for them. 'A Festival Chime,' 'Turn back O man,' 'Let all mortal flesh,' ' All people that on earth do dwell,' and 'This have I done,' were all written for the Thaxted Festivals in 1916-18. 'A Short Festival Te Deum' was written for Blackheath in 1922 and ‘The Coming of Christ' for Canterbury Cathedral in 1928. Monday programmes included 'Opera as she is Wrote,' a brilliant skit on various operatic styles (Thaxted), 'Seven Choruses from the Alcestis of Euripides,' incorporated into a reading of the play (Blackheath), and The Golden Goose, a choral ballet specially written for the 1926 Festival. These Whitsuntide Festivals will have to be taken into account when a full-length study of Holst comes to be written. They had an essential influence on his career as a composer, and they also show how he put into practice his belief in the social value of music. It is to be hoped that someone will shortly collect the necessary material, a great part of which exists in the memories of people who attended them.
Holst's name will surely always figure on the small list of really great English composers. He was a pioneer and, together with his friend Vaughan Williams, he helped English music to break away finally from a long German domination. His powerful and original mind was influenced by Purcell and our Tudor composers, especially in regard to the problem of the marriage of words and music. His knowledge of choral effect is amazing; writing that often looks dubious on paper comes off magnificently in performance. There is a bleakness about his later works that may prevent their appealing to a large public. The tragedy of his early death is that he seemed to be evolving a new technique, and, had he regained his health, there is no knowing what such an original mind would have achieved.
Holst's favourite Tudor composer was Weelkes. [3] The two men had much in common. Their works are conspicuous for originality and boldness of harmonic outlook, and it is fitting that the ashes of Gustav Holst should have been interred near to the Weelkes tablet in Chichester Cathedral.
The Monthly Musical Record, July-August 1934 (with minor edits).

Notes:
[1] Henry Purcell wrote King Arthur in 1691, The Fairy Queen in 1692, and Dioclesian on 1690.
[2] Jane Joseph (1894-1929) was an English composer, arranger and music teacher. She had been pupil and latterly a colleague of Gustave Holst. See Holst’s appreciation of her on this blog.
[3] Thomas Weelkes (?1576–1623), was an important English writer of madrigals and liturgical pieces. He contributed to the Elizabethan The Triumphs of Oriana.


Monday, 25 June 2018

British Works submitted to the International Society for Contemporary Music, Sienna, 1927


In the Framlingham Weekly News (3 March 1928) a syndicated article appeared enumerating the works selected by the British Music Society for the 1928 International Society for Contemporary Music [I.S.C.M.] to be held in Sienna. The list of works makes an interesting list.

‘FESTIVAL MODERN MUSIC The annual festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music will this year be held at Siena, Italy. These festivals. which are held year by year at various European centres, consist of performances of by works living composers.
The programmes are selected jury whom are submitted compositions that have been chosen by committees established in the countries represented worthy of performance at the festivals.
The British committee, which has its headquarters with the British Music Society, has just made its selection of British compositions from the many which had been sent in for this adjudication.
The works that have been recommended to the Festival Jury are follows; “Facade” (W.T.Walton) for reciter and various instruments (poems by Edith Sitwell); 'Ephemera' (Patrick J Hadley), for soprano or tenor voice and woodwind, string quartet, and pianoforte; Oboe quintet (Arthur Bliss); String quartet [No.3] (Frank Bridge); Pianoforte Trio (Rebecca Clarke): Petite suite for oboe and ’cello (Lennox Berkeley); Fantasy sonata for viola and harp (Arnold Bax); Variations, for pianoforte (B Van Dieren); Sonatine for pianoforte (John Ireland); and Suite for pianoforte (Arthur Benjamin).’

Notes: 
The two works that finally made it thorough to Sienna were William Walton’s Façade and Frank Bridge’s String Quartet No.3. There are many recordings of the former piece and a handful of the latter. Works that did not survive into our own time include 'Ephemera' by Patrick J. Hadley, for soprano or tenor voice, woodwind, string quartet, and pianoforte, and the Variations, for pianoforte by Bernard Van Dieren. The other works have had at least a single recording.

Friday, 22 June 2018

British Fanfares on Chandos


This is a challenging CD to listen to, never mind write a review about. The reader would not thank me for a 5000-word-plus review discussing each fanfare in turn. It reminds me of the old joke about the schoolboy asked about the dictionary he was reading. “Fascinating,” he replied, “except that the author keeps changing the subject.” I felt a wee bit like that schoolboy as I listened to this huge collection of Fanfares recently released by Chandos.
Fanfares are an ubiquitous part of British Music making, often associated with special civic and national events.  I needed a strategy to get to grips with them. It is simply not possible for most listeners (including me) to put this CD into the player, press ‘Go’, and sit back and ‘relax.’  I thought first about taking it composer by composer. But even that brought problems. Only the most passionate Bliss ‘groupie’ could listen to 13 fanfares one after the other, not to mention eight by Albert Ketèlbey. I then thought about selecting by genre – municipal or royalty, perhaps, but that proved too difficult to categorise.
Yet, here was a collection of more than 50 fanfares by a representative group of fourteen 20th century composers, some better-known than others.
I finally opted to picking them off three or four at a time and then doing something else…

I confess to not having consciously heard many of these fanfares before. Take Malcolm Arnold, for example. I guess I have the most of his works in my CD/download/record collection. Certainly, looking through his work’s list, there seems relatively few major pieces that have not been recorded.  Turning to the ‘Brass Section’ of his catalogue, nearly all the major works are easily available, with Nimbus having issued the Complete Brass Works (excluding fanfares). It is these fanfares that are so hard to track down. So, for the completist, this CD goes a long way towards closing the gaps in the list. Premiere recordings of ‘A Richmond Fanfare’ and a ‘Fanfare for a Royal Occasion’ are given here. I was unable to find current, convenient versions of the ‘Railway Fanfare’, ‘Kingston Fanfare’ and the ‘Festival Fanfare’, all included on this disc, but not marked up as premiere recordings. They do probably exist somewhere in vinyl/cassette/CD/download/web, but I do not know where. On the other hand, the ‘obsessive’ is bound to be disappointed. Could Chandos not have squeezed in Arnold’s ‘Fanfare for Louis’, the composite ‘Fanfare for One, 80 Years Young’ (Bliss) with contributions from at least 13 other composers, the ‘Savile Club Centenary Fanfare’, to say nothing of two other works including percussion.

As noted above there are 13 fanfares composed by Sir Arthur Bliss. I guess examples of this genre was expected of him: he was Master of the Queen’s Music between 1953-1975. Two of the fanfares here, including the ‘Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion’ (1938) and ‘Fanfare for Heroes’ (1930) were written before he received his first butt of sack or whatever… There are plenty more Blissian fanfares to be recorded – at least another 17!

Dipping into the remainder of this CD, there are some splendid treats. As always Elisabeth Lutyens surprises the listener. Her ‘Fanfare for a Festival’ written in 1975 for the University of York, is approachable, piquant and contains none of the horrors so often (wrongly) associated with her musical style. The shortest piece on the CD is by Hamilton Harty, lasting a mere 21 seconds. It is over before it begins. But it is a good piece to have anthologised: it is the only work of its genre that Harty composed. Tick!
The Leiston Suite by Imogen Holst is an indulgence. This is hardly a fanfare, as it has five short movements using two trumpets, trombone and tuba. It was composed for young musicians at a local school.  Eric Coates’ two Fanfares both sound as if they are the opening bars of a forgotten marches. Good to have these.
Frederick Curzon is best recalled for The Boulevardier and The Dance of the Ostracised Imp. The three ‘mini’ fanfares here are extracted from his ‘Six Brilliant Fanfares. All good stuff and not a sign of an imp, an elf or a fairy.
And it is good to have some ‘hard to find’ Arnold Bax, including his ‘Royal Wedding Fanfares’ written for the wedding of Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I had never come across the ‘Hosting at Dawn’ with its hint of the Celtic Twilight.
The spiky ‘Graduation Fanfare No. 2’ (2013) by Joseph Horowitz is a respectable way to bring this CD to a close.

The Onyx Brass ensemble with their friends, and conductor John Wilson provide splendid accounts of all these works. The liner notes, in English, German and French, by Richard Bratby, are a labour of love. I guess that they will become more of an important work of reference, than a ‘right rivetin’ read.’ The recording showcases the brassy sound of these 50-odd works ideally.

I wonder who will buy this CD? I have alluded to ‘completists’ above, and they will be the top candidates. But, as noted, there are plenty more ‘fanfares’ to go at before the catalogues can be marked off as complete. And then there will be the brass enthusiasts, who will demand this CD for its superb performances and great suggestions for repertoire.
I think that most of these fanfares are ephemeral, occasional works, whose ‘occasion’ has long passed. Yet there is much good music here that does not deserve to be lost. Maybe it is necessary for brass bands, ensembles and orchestras to revisit some of them and introduce their concerts with a carefully chosen example. This is the only way that these fanfares will stay in the repertoire beyond the 58 tracks on this CD.

I am sure the reader will forgive me for not discussing the works of Howells, Tippett, Bantock, Haydn Wood or Ketèlbey. I just want to go and listen to something without any brass instruments. Anything!

Track Listing:
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Fanfare for Schools (1943) [0:52]
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) Festival Fanfare (1961) [1:16]; Kingston Fanfare (1959) [0:33]; A Richmond Fanfare (1957) [0:33]; Railway Fanfare (1975) [1:32]; Fanfare for a Royal Occasion (1956) [1:17]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Fanfare to Precede the National Anthem (1960) [0:32]; National Anthem [0:55]; The Right of the Line (1965) [1:26]; Fanfare for the Princess Anne (1973) [0:59]; High Sheriff’s Fanfare (1963) [0:28]; A Salute to Painting (1954) [1:20]; Research Fanfare (1973) [1:32]; Peace Fanfare (1944) [0:38]; Let the People Sing (1960) [0:22]; Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion (1938) [0:28]; Fanfare for Heroes (1930) [1:46]; Homage to Shakespeare (1973) [1:07]; Fanfare (1944) [1:17]
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) Fanfare No. 3 (1953) [0:57]; The Wolf Trap Fanfare (1980) [1:09]
Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946) Fanfare (1921) [0:22]
Eric COATES (1886-1957) Two Fanfares (c. 1943) [1:02]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Fanfare No. 3 (1938) [0:47]; Six Fanfares (1945) [2:25]
Imogen HOLST (1907-1984) Fanfare for Thaxted (1966) [3:02]
Fanfare for the Grenadier Guards (1966) [2:25]; Leiston Suite (1967) [6:13]
Albert W. KETÈLBEY (1875-1959) Coronation Fanfare (1937/1952) [0:50] Fanfares Nos 1 & 2 for a Naval Occasion (1943) [1:34]; Fanfare for Victory (1944) [1:17]; Fanfare for the Royal Artillery (1944) [0:54]; Short Fanfare for the Air Force (published 1953) [0:33]; Fanfare for a Ceremonial Occasion (1935) [0:57]
Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941) Fanfare (1921) [0:21];
Frederic CURZON (1899-1973) Fanfare Nos 4-6 (1938) [1:31]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) Fanfare for a Festival (1975) [4:18]
Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Hosting at Dawn (1921) [0:36]; Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion (1930) [0:51]; Two Fanfares for ‘Show Business’ (1951) [1:21]; Royal Wedding Fanfares (1947) [2:19]; Salute to Sydney (1943) [1:11]
Joseph HOROVITZ (b. 1926) Graduation Fanfare No. 2 (2013) [2:09]
Onyx Brass with guest players/John Wilson
CHANDOS CHSA 5221 [59:03]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.


Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II



The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of Lennox Berkeley published in his book Composers Gallery. 

Berkeley had a suite of Catalan dances, Mont Juic, accepted for the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music [I.S.C.M.] at Barcelona in 1936, and it was there that he first met Benjamin Britten. [1] The two young composers found much in common and have been great friends ever since.
One of Berkeley's best efforts is the music he wrote to Frederick Ashton's ballet The Judgement of Paris, which was produced at Sadler's Wells in the early summer of 1938. Shortly afterwards his setting of the psalm ‘Domini est terra’ was given its premiere at an I.S.C.M. Festival [2] and repeated in September 1938 at the Gloucester Festival. [3]
Since 1935 Berkeley has resided in England, though before the outbreak of the Second World War he made frequent visits to Paris. He at present holds a position on the BBC Music Staff,
to which he was appointed in 1942. [4]
Due perhaps to his French training, he is a great believer in clarity and economy in composition and dislikes the dry intellectual style one finds in what is commonly called ‘composer's music,’ although in my opinion some of his own works have a strong tendency in that direction.
His Symphony, for instance, which was first performed at a Promenade concert in 1943, [5] and which is undoubtedly one of the most important of his recent works, is an interesting but rather discordant effort which abounds with intellectual chatter, entertaining though it may be. Rather more effective are his various piano works, for his percussive style seems more at home on the keyboard. Lennox Berkeley has a deep love for the classics and believes that one's form and technique should always be based on that of the great masters. Mozart is his ‘model’ composer. He is
interested in film music and has written for two productions himself: Hotel Reserve (1944), [6] and Out of Chaos, [7] a documentary film about the lives of the war artists, made in the same year.
Among other recent works we find his Serenade for string orchestra, first performed by the Boyd Neel ensemble in 1940; Sonatina for violin and piano, composed for Max Rostal [8] in 1942; a String Trio, written for the Grinke ensemble in 1943; Divertimento for orchestra, commissioned by the BBC (1943); the Piano Sonata (1945); and the Sonatina for viola and piano written for Watson Forbes [9] in the same year.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

Notes:
[1] Brook omits to mention that the Mont Juic Suite was a joint effort between Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten. When first performed, the composers did not reveal which who wrote what in this four-movement work. Years later, Lennox Berkeley revealed to composer and musicologist Peter Dickinson that he had composed the first two movement and Britten the last two. The four movements are ‘Andante maestoso’; ‘Allegro grazioso’; ‘Lament: Andante moderato’ ("Barcelona, July 1936") and ‘Allegro molto’. Both collaborated in the work’s orchestration.
[2] The premiere of Domini est Terra (The Earth is the Lord’) op.10 was given at the Queen’s Hall during the opening concert of the 16th I.S.C.M. Festival in London on 17 June 1938.
[3] Domini est Terra was heard again at the Three Choirs Festival, in Worcester Cathedral (not Gloucester, as stated in Brook’s Portrait) on 8 September 1938.
[4] Berkeley worked as an ‘orchestral programme planner.’
[5] Berkeley’s Symphony No.1, op.16 was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 8 July 1943. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the composer.
[6] Hotel Reserve (1944) is ‘British spy thriller somewhat in the mould of 1930s Hitchcock thrillers like The Lady Vanishes. It combines suspense, some tongue-in-cheek comedy and a little romance.’ (Classic Movie Ramblings blog, 8 Jun 2010). It starred James Mason, Louise Mannheim and Charles Lom.
[7] Out of Chaos (1944) featured Anthony Gross, Kenneth Clark, Stanley Spencer, as well as Henry Moore’s drawings of London Underground during bombing raids. It is available to watch at the British Film Institute website.
[8] Max Rostal (1905 1991) was an Austrian-born violinist and a viola player. He later took British citizenship.
[9] Watson Forbes (1909-1997) was a Scottish-born violist and classical music arranger. Between 1964 and 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Lennox Berkeley Society

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’s Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’ Clearly, he had met many of these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests.
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest books about music that I bought (second-hand) in the days before the internet: it served as my introduction to a wide-range of composers and their music. 
Clearly, this study was written around 1943/4 when Berkeley was 40 years old. He lived until 1989, so many significant compositions lay in the future. This included three more symphonies, four completed operas and several concertos. He married Freda Bernstein in 1946.
I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Lennox Berkeley and made some minor edits to the text. 

LENNOX BERKELEY, I feel, is something of an enigma, and one cannot help wondering what place he will take in modern English music in the years to come. He was born at Boar's Hill, Oxford, on May 12th, 1903, and there is nothing of unusual musical interest in the details of his childhood. His parents possessed no musical ability, but his father, a naval officer, was sufficiently interested in the art to buy a pianola and an enormous library of rolls. It was by this mechanical means that Berkeley's interest in music was aroused during his early childhood.
At Gresham's School, Holt, and St. George's School, Harpenden, he learned to play the piano, but when he proceeded to Merton College, Oxford, he had no intention of making music his profession. He had only the vaguest ideas concerning his future career. He read modern languages, took his B.A., coxed the Eight, [1] and so forth; in fact, his University career was of the pleasantly conventional type enjoyed by the sons of those in comfortable circumstances. Music was an agreeable spare time activity taken rather seriously, it is true, but it was not until
he came down from Oxford in 1926 that he entertained the idea of making it his career. Then, however, the urge to devote himself entirely to the art impressed itself, and he went to Paris for six years to study with Nadia Boulanger. [2]
Residence in Paris [3] brought him wonderful opportunities of enjoying the company of the sort of people whose companionship, in small doses, can be an exhilarating stimulus to any artist intent upon finding his own soul and expressing it in his own way. His studies of counterpoint, fugue and orchestration were done in the congenial company of such dynamic young men as Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, whom we shall meet later in this book. Then there were occasional meetings with composers who had already established themselves or at least made a stir among the critics: Poulenc and Honegger, for instance; and with the two who exerted a dominating influence upon his development as a student, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.

Lennox Berkeley admits that he owes much to Ravel; he knew him quite well and received from him advice that has proved of great value in more recent years. The eminent composer was always extremely kind, and most willing to scrutinize and comment upon Berkeley's early works chiefly compositions of an immature nature which he has now withdrawn. Ravel, he tells me, was always very strict on technical efficiency, and thought that most of the young people trying to compose at that time were too amateurish too keen to dabble in music without troubling to master its technicalities. Incidentally, Nadia Boulanger was always most insistent that her pupils should have a thorough grounding in the classics before attempting to write on modern lines.
Berkeley also acknowledges with gratitude the guidance he received from Stravinsky, [4] whose acquaintance he enjoyed during the latter part of his Parisian days, so that this composer's influence came rather later than that of Ravel. He is a great admirer of Stravinsky's works, some more than others, of course and strongly disagrees with the little group of critics who ridicule the superficiality of them. Few composers, he feels, have been more completely misunderstood than Stravinsky.
When he left Paris, he was obliged to take his invalid mother to the Riviera for a period of two years, and it was during this time that he drew attention to himself as a composer with his Violin Sonata [No.2 in D, op.1] (1933), a work more mature and original than anything he had hitherto produced. At about that time, too, his Oratorio Jonah was written, a more ambitious effort first performed at a BBC concert of contemporary music in 1936 and repeated at the Leeds Festival in 1937. [4] The influence of Stravinsky is apparent in this work, and that perhaps explains why the English listener, rather a conservative fellow when it comes to oratorio, found it difficult to appreciate. Describing the Leeds performance in the Musical Times [5] Herbert Thompson wrote:
‘It is a work almost aggressively modernistic in character and is not easily followed by those who have been accustomed to regard emotion as an essential characteristic in music. For this quality, pattern alone is an inadequate substitute, and though one may somewhat regretfully realize that, as the Romantic period has had a long innings, the wave of fashion is bound to bring along something very different in its wake, one is none the less inclined to wonder whether this intellectual music is likely to retain a place in history. If so, it implies a revolution in aesthetics.’
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

Notes:
[1] Berkeley was cox of the Merton College Rowing Eight. Whilst at the College he took a fourth class in French (1926).
[2] Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. During the middle years of the twentieth century she was renowned for teaching several generations of music students. This included diverse pupils such as Burt Bacharach, Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, John Eliot Gardner, Nicolas Maw, Astor Piazzolla, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Richard Stoker.
[3] Lennox Berkeley’s regular ‘Reports from Paris’ were published in the Monthly Musical Record between 1929-34. These letters are a fascinating and informative account of concert and opera life in the French capital during a vibrant era of musical history. They are conveniently collected in Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews: edited by Peter Dickinson, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2012. This volume also includes several letters from Berkeley to Boulanger.
[4] A ‘factional’ account of Lennox Berkeley’s meeting with Igor Stravinsky has recently been authored by Tony Scotland: FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Shelf Lives, The Pottery Baughurst, Hampshire 2018. This book recounts a meeting of the two composers on the ‘Golden Arrow’ train during November 1934.
[5] ‘Jonah’ was composed during 1935. It was first heard during a BBC broadcast on 19 June 1936. The first public performance was at Leeds Town Hall, on 7 October 1937. The Musical Times review cited by was included in the November edition of this journal. It is a fact that ‘Jonah’ has not retained a place in the repertoire. The is no recording available.