Friday, 21 October 2016

Alan Rawsthorne: Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra, Part II

The late John McCabe, in his definitive study of Alan Rawsthorne (Oxford University Press, 1999) only makes two mentions of this work. He places the work in its chronological position, between the only work that the composer completed during 1966, The God in the Cave, for chorus and orchestra, to a text by Randall Swingler. The year 1967 was more productive. Apart from the present work, Rawsthorne completed his short ‘Overture for Farnham’, the Ballade for piano solo and the ‘Scena rustica’ (John Skelton) for soprano and harp.

After enumerating a brief history of the Theme, Variations and Finale, McCabe states that he has some reservations about the work. He also wonders if ‘the larger canvas [it is more than 15 minutes long] enabled [Rawsthorne] to relax somewhat.’ Writing for a good youth orchestra is presumably easier than composing for a secondary school: ‘one may reasonably have higher expectations of their expertise.’
McCabe thinks that the ‘theme’ is one of Rawsthorne’s ‘amiable compound-time tunes (12/8) …not especially memorable either as a tune or in orchestral texture, but with potential for variation.’
The propensity for each variation to gradually die away is seen a negatively by McCabe. For example, he considers the sixth variation ‘opts merely for hints of a possible extra variation’ before ‘drifting’ into the finale.

There is potential in the first (Allegro energico) and sixth (Declamando-Allegretto) variations, although he deems them to have insufficient development. He thinks that the variation 5 (Allegro risoluto) is the ‘best’ with a ‘sometimes raucous 3/4 at a speed bringing it close to the spirit of Beethoven one-in-a-bar scherzo, before it becomes apparent that it is really a somewhat crazy waltz, a highly entertaining one at that.’ ‘Freshness’ is a distinguishing feature of finale, with its ‘hornpipey’ mood and diatonic harmonic structure. John McCabe feels that the work had a clichéd ending: with ‘contrary motion scales to bring the piece to a thoroughly manufactured conclusion.’

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Remains: Music inspired by Ted Highes

Surprisingly few poems by Ted Hughes (1930-98) have been set to music by contemporary composers. The most impressive is the song cycle The New World by friend of the poet, Gordon Crosse. He also devised Meet My Folks! for a children’s musical group. Nicola Le Fanu has included some fugitive lines in her Song for Peter for soprano, clarinet and cello. ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, ‘The Horses’, ‘Pennines in April’ and ‘September’ have been set by Hugh Wood. It may be that copyright issues discourage composers setting this poetry. Music inspired by Hughes’ writing is even rarer. Examples include Sally Beamish’s Cello Concerto No.1 based on the ‘River’ Poems and Benjamin Dwyer’s interpretation of the Scenes from Crow. 

On 8 November 2008, two remarkable new works were heard in Todmorden Town Hall. The ‘Elmet Suite’ by John Reeman and the ‘Ted Hughes Suite’ by Lawrence Killian. They had been premiered a few days previously at the 2008 Ted Hughes Festival in Mytholmroyd (28 October 2008). Both works were introduced by their respective composers and this has been included in the CD.  
The Town Hall concert also included Gustav Holst’s The Perfect Fool and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.5 in D major. 

The Elmet Suite was commissioned by the Elmet Trust as part of the 10th anniversary of the Ted Hughes death commemorations. The composer reminds listeners that Elmet was the ancient name for the kingdom covering Calderdale and the surrounding Pennines.  There are five descriptive movements in this work. ‘Remains of Elmet’ suggests the ancient history of this landscape. This is followed by a powerful scherzo, ‘Football at Slack’ depicting an amateur football match, complete with a final shout of ‘Goal!’. The middle movement, ‘In April’ is almost pastoral, describing a gentler Pennine landscape. There follows another roistering scherzo, ‘Weasels we smoked out of the bank’ that nods to Malcolm Arnold in its vivacity. 
The final movement ‘There come days to the hills’ is a broad portrait of the Pennine landscape. This is positive, wide ranging music that is sometimes discordant as befits the scenery, but reaching a climax of considerable power. The composer quotes Thomas Tallis’ great 40-part motet ‘Spem in Alium’ (Hope in God) which was heard at the poet’s memorial service in Westminster Abbey. In an ideal world, the poems that Reeman used as his inspiration would be read at the start of the work or before each movement. 
This is an inspiring Suite, that is musically sophisticated, well written and competently scored: it splendidly evokes the disposition of the landscape that was beloved by Ted Hughes. It is a perfect fusion of literature and music.

Lawrence Killian’s Ted Hughes Suite takes a different approach to Ted Hughes’ memory. Instead of concentrating on the visual and social aspects of the landscape as in ‘Remains’ Killian presents an impressionistic musical biography of the poet. The opening movement majors on Hughes’ presence in the landscape as a lad. The listener imagines ‘bubbling springs and a clear gusty wind’ and reflect on the young boy’s ‘Red Indian Camp’, and trails and adventures in the woods and hills. The second part is much more serious. It is a roller coaster ride through Ted Hughes’ often turbulent life: ‘excitement, passion, joy, children, then tragedy, overwhelming grief, utter devastation, numbness…’ however, the underlying trend is strangely optimistic. The final movement is a paean of praise to Hughes final years as Poet Laureate. It reflects prizes won and his second marriage. The coda of this movement comes full circle to the half-remembered images of boyhood. 
Musically, this is a beautifully constructed tone poem, that is eclectic (look out for the amazing soft-shoe-shuffle in the middle movement) in style, but retaining a huge overall sense of purpose and unity.  

The Todmorden Orchestra under Nicholas Concannon Hodges give a superb account of both works. John Reeman and Lawrence Killian’s tributes to Ted Hughes demand to be known by a much wider audience. It is no criticism of the present band to suggest that a full professional recording of these two pieces, along with other Hughes’ inspired music is an urgent priority. 

Track Listing:
John REEMAN (b.1946) The Elmet Suite (2008) [20:40] + Introduction [5:41]
Lawrence KILLIAN (b.1959) Ted Hughes Suite (2008) [18:54] + Introduction [3:05]
Todmorden Orchestra/Nicholas Concannon Hodges 
Rec. 8 November 2008 Town Hall, Todmorden, Lancashire.
Elmet Trust Recording [48:20]

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Alan Rawsthorne: Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra, Part I

This is a work that I have come to appreciate since I heard the ‘world premiere recording’ issued on Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7203) in 2008. The work was commissioned by the Essex Education Committee to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Essex Youth Orchestra.  The first performance was given at the King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford on 4 September 1967, by the orchestra with Graham Treacher conducting.  Other works in this concert included Hector Berlioz’s (1803-69) ‘Roman Carnival’ Overture and J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for violin and oboe, BWV1060. The soloists in this work were Christopher Rowland (violin) and Mary Cotton (oboe).  Alas, Rowland died in 2007.
A few days later the orchestra went on tour and played the work on two occasions in Berlin. There have been a number of subsequent broadcasts of the piece featuring the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

John Belcher contributed the liner notes to the Dutton Epoch CD. He begins by explaining that the ‘Theme’ of the work enters after a few introductory bars. This not so much ‘a melodic statement’ as a ‘collection of germinal cells, ideas with developmental opportunities…’
The variations in order are: 1. Allegro energico; 2. Allegretto; 3. Allegro; 4. Adagio mesto; 5. Allegro risoluto and 6. Declamando-Allegretto. One unusual feature of the piece is the way each variation collapses to virtual silence before the next one commences.
The Finale, Allegro commodo, features a considerable mood change. The harmonies are more diatonic and there is dance-like music. In fact, this is really like film music. Belcher suggests the opening titles of the film Uncle Silas (1947) as a possible model. The work closes with a solid C major chord.

Mosco Carner reviewed the Essex Youth Orchestra concert for The Times (5 September 1967). He considered that the ‘special distinction of the evening was the first performance of a new work, Theme, Variations and Finale…’  Carner declared that ‘it is a reflection on the quality of these young players that Rawsthorne, far from making any concessions, produced music wholly characteristic of his sophisticated style and technically no whit less demanding.’  The composer’s ease with variation form is noted: ‘…the medium in which his individual mode of musical thinking appears to find its natural expression.’
The work opens ‘with a sinuous, shapely theme in siciliano rhythm, and this is followed by six variations concisely worked, spare in their harmonic language and pointedly scored.’  Carner insisted that ‘As always with this composer, one had the impression that every note in the melodic line and every chord in the harmonic texture were in the right place. Which is another way of saying that with Rawsthorne idea and realisation are perfectly congruent.’ The review concludes by noting that ‘The variations represent a kaleidoscope of moods, with the second and central Mesto variations as perhaps the most imaginative ones. On first hearing, however, there seemed to be too frequent changes of mood, an impression which subsequent hearings may prove to have been mistaken.’

John C. Dressler in is invaluable bio-bibliography of the composer (Westport CT, Greenwood Press, 2004) cites a review in the Essex Weekly News (8 September 1967): ‘…’how magnificently the orchestra dealt with [this work] …both the opening and closing sections made a great impact and I look forward to hearing it again.’

Stephen Walsh writing in The Observer (10 September 1967) states that the title ‘suggests something rather more symphonic than the usual set of contrasted variations string together like so many beads.’  He concludes that the work does contain ‘a pattern of quite sharp tempo contrasts, but very carefully worked so as to form a continuous development, with the finale as its logical outcome.’  Walsh considers that the scoring is ‘bold and distinctive, especially in its deployment of antiphonal strings and wind, and there is a winning viola solo.’ He concludes his review by suggesting that it is ‘an acquisition on which Mr Treacher and his orchestra can congratulate themselves.’

The premiere was briefly noted by Bernard Barrell in the Composer journal (Winter 1968/69). He wrote: [The] Essex Youth Orchestra introduced Alan Rawsthorne’s Theme, Variations and Finale at Chelmsford and Elizabeth Maconchy’s ‘Essex’ Overture at Snape (also written for the EYO under Graham Treacher). Sadly, Maconchy’s work still awaits revival.

Part II of this post will review John McCabe’s analysis of the Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Sir Frederic Cowen (1852-1935): Some Witty Definitions

The small book Music as she is Wrote is a ‘glossary of musical terms very much up to date by the composer and conductor Frederic H. Cowen.’ It was published c.1915, however this has not dated the humour. I give four short definitions from it below.

A display of musical fireworks, introduced into a song by a prima donna to show the public that she possesses ever so many good (or bad) high notes that she has not had a chance of singing in the song itself. In a Concerto the cadenza is often nearly as long as the whole piece, but it has the advantage of giving the conductor a well-earned rest.

Part Song
A short unaccompanied piece of vocal music in several parts, which begins in one key and usually ends half a tone or more lower.

A succession of notes used to fill up a bar in a composition when the composer has exhausted every other device he can think of.

An obsolete term. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) Symphony No.1 (1947)

I am convinced that one of the major problems in approaching Arnold Cooke’s music is the presumption that it owes virtually everything to Paul Hindemith. At least this seems to be the prevailing view amongst the few music critics that I have read. Most listeners will acknowledge Hindemith as a well-known composer and teacher, yet I guess he is not universally popular beyond Germany. There is a thinking abroad that somehow Cooke sold-out on his Britishness to become a kind of Germanic clone. On the other hand, there is an expectation that an English composer should write music in a recognisably nationalistic style: perhaps making use of folk tunes or nodding to the vocal lines of Tallis or the romanticism of Elgar. Yet, this assumption would destroy the reputation of a number of fine British composers. Think of Lennox Berkeley and his French connection, or Vaughan Williams’s valuable lessons with Maurice Ravel. And what about the Frankfurt Group including Balfour Gardiner and Cyril Scott? All these composers have absorbed teaching from French or German composers, yet have retained to a greater or lesser degree a sense of Englishness. So it is with Cooke.
Arnold Cooke was one of only two English pupils of Paul Hindemith: the other was Walter Leigh. It is fair to say that he learnt much from his teacher. Malcolm MacDonald sums this up in the programme notes to the Lyrita CD of this work. He writes that what Cooke ‘really imbibed was a broad framework of technique and a sense of direction: a view of music as a living polyphonic entity and a feeling for individual instruments that goes back to the practice of J.S. Bach.’ As Havergal Brian wrote in 1936, Cooke ‘appears to think and breathe contrapuntally … and he has tradition in his bones: his working principles are nearer to the Elizabethans and Bach than to Wagner and Strauss.’ And note here Brian's reference to the Elizabethans.
This is not the place to write even a short biography or musical study of Arnold Cooke. There is plenty of information available on MusicWeb and a fine booklet written by Eric Wetherell and published by the BMS that may still be found in second hand bookshops.
The first Symphony was composed in 1947, when Cooke was 41 years old. The general opinion of the critics seems to be that this work represents the first major statement of Cooke’s fully developed style – a style that was to change comparatively little over the next half century.

There are a number of possible models for this work including Hindemith’s Symphony in E dating from 1940. The British exemplars of that time would have been Walton’s B minor and Vaughan Williams’ 4th and 5th. It is fair to say that Cooke neither parodies nor cribs from any of these works. What he has written is original and quite personal.

There are four movements with the first being the longest. Interestingly, the classical model is altered, with the scherzo coming second. The general mood of the Symphony  as a strong and robust work is immediately apparent in the opening movement. This is in a reasonably traditional sonata form. Yet the tempo does not slow up for the second subject. There is some fine brass writing, particularly for the French horns. A good balance is maintained between what may be deemed ‘aggressive’ and ‘lyrical’ music.
The second movement is not really a proper Scherzo. The classicist would tell us that the ‘trio’ is missing. The impression is of activity: the momentum never seems to stop. It is not quicksilver - more of a whirlwind. There is a swing and a swagger to this movement that continues unabated to the very last bar.
The heart of this work is the elegiac slow movement. This is deeply considered music, timeless and beholden to no man. Here we find music that may nod, according to MacDonald, towards Bach or perhaps even the Elizabethan viol school. However, all this ‘source criticism’ is small beer compared to the overarching power of this expansive and frankly sad music.
Fortunately, the tension is diminished during the finale. This is an exuberant excursion into the world of festivals and fanfares. Lots of different themes and figures and episodes are tossed around before the work concludes with a fine coda.

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published 7 May 2007. 

Arnold Cooke’s Symphony No.1 has been recorded in LYRITA SRCD.203

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Harold Craxton: The Plaint of Love

In a recent review of the 2015 Husum Piano Music Festival CD (DACOCD779) for MusicWeb International, I praised Harold Craxton’s ‘Siciliano and Rigadon’ played by Jonathan Plowright. I wondered ‘how many recordings there are of Harold Craxton’s music?’ I imagined that there would have been ‘precious few.’ For one thing I felt that ‘Craxton is a name that is usually remembered in connection with the Associated Board (AB)’ and the hard toil of piano grades. 
So imagine my delight and surprise when Christopher Howell emailed me to explain that, way back in 2000, the Craxton Trust had issued a CD of the composer’s music: piano, cello and vocal. He had been instrumental in its performance and production. It had passed me by at the time: clearly I had not persisted in ‘googling’ as I prepared my review of Husum 2015. In mitigation, I did check a couple of CD websites and found nothing: I found no review on The Gramophone. Neither did I discover that the present CD is, and has been, available from the Craxton Trust website.  Further investigation disclosed a review by Rob Barnett on MusicWeb International (1 August 2001).  
In addition, Howell has completed a major study of the composer for MusicWeb International: Forgotten Artists - An occasional series by Christopher Howell: 12. Harold Craxton (1885-1971). This explores the composer’s life, works and recorded legacy in considerable detail.
So, some 16 years after its release I am reviewing the CD. And I am delighted to say that it has been well worth the (unintended and unrealised) wait. The repertoire may not be ‘revelatory’ but it is honest-to-goodness, always deeply musical, convincingly played and thoroughly enjoyable.

Readers will be glad that I do not intend to elaborate on all 22 tracks. However, a few comments on some of the pieces that particularly struck me may be of interest.  The repertoire is divided into piano solos, songs and a few numbers for cello and piano. The text of the liner notes of this present CD appear on MusicWeb International, as well as a list of the Craxton’s works.

Harold Craxton is best recalled (where recalled at all) for his ‘teaching pieces’. There are also a number of pieces that could be deemed ‘concert works’ and plenty of ‘transcriptions.’  He was the ‘assistant’ editor of the monumental three-volume Associated Board edition of Beethoven’s piano sonatas: the editor in chief was Donald Tovey.  Craxton was interested in early music and published a number of transcriptions of this music.  He was a concert pianist in his own right, as well as a teacher. His pupils included Denis Matthews, Peter Katin and Noel Mewton-Wood. 

One of the problems that would appear to afflict Craxton’s transcriptions and realisations of early music is the boundary between the original and Craxton’s imagination and inventiveness. The opening piece and title track, ‘The Plaint of Love’, derived from ‘A Lute Book, c 1535’ is a deeply thoughtful work that seems to defy time. It could be 16th century or could belong to the 20th century English Musical Renaissance. Witness similar works as Herbert Howells Lambert’s Clavichord etc. The Two Pastoral Pieces, ‘Heather Bells’ and ‘Bird Song’ are poetic tunes that do not conform to historical placement. On the other hand, the ‘Tahitian Dance’ has a tinge (or is it twinge) of modernism about it:  Bartok meets Africa or the South Seas. Craxton apparently used material from this dance in his ‘African Dance.’ My favourite piano piece on this CD is ‘A Shepherdess in Porcelain’ which was often used as a Grade exam pieces. Yet its simplicity and subtle beauty defies analysis. Howell includes the ‘Siciliano and Rigadon’, which, as I noted in my Husum 2015 review, was difficult to work out what was Craxton and what ‘Anon.’ I hold that ‘whatever the provenance,’ it is perfectly contrived piece that cannot be ever be out of date.
I enjoyed the songs. I had not realised that Craxton was such an accomplished composer of this genre. Particularly memorable are the ‘Quilteresque’ setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem ‘Requiem’ and more complex ‘Mavis’ (L.A. Lefevre)

The pieces that feature the cello are all transcriptions. The ‘Almans’ by Richard Johnson, ‘A Maske’ by Giles Farnaby and the plaintive Sonata in B flat by Thomas Arne are all worthy, if a little uninspiring, pieces. They deserve to be given the occasional airing.

The performance is always sincere and showcases these straightforward pieces with integrity and enthusiasm.
As noted above, the liner notes by Christopher Howell have been published online, and represent the most extensive essay on the composer produced so far, as well as being an ideal introduction to the present CD. The booklet also includes the texts of the songs. There are the usual mini-biographies of the performers, although these will now be a wee bit out of date.

I thoroughly enjoyed this CD, even if it came to me 15 years late. I hope that there may be more music from Craxton’s pen in the offing someday. There is certainly plenty of it. Meanwhile, I will keep my eyes open in the second-hand shops for any sheet music featuring Harold Craxton’s original piano pieces. 

Harold CRAXTON (1885-1971)
1. The Plaint of Love (from a Lute Book, c. 1535) Freely transcribed by Harold Craxton. Pianoforte (1935)
2. Two Almans by Richard Johnson transcribed by Harold Craxton. Violoncello and pianoforte (1931)
3. O mistress mine (Shakespeare). Baritone and pianoforte (1944)
4. Meditation (Vita in ligno moritur) (from a Lute Book, c. 1530). Freely arranged by Harold Craxton. Pianoforte (1938)
5. A Maske by Giles Farnaby transcribed by Harold Craxton. Violoncello and pianoforte (1931)
6. It was a lover and his lass (Shakespeare) Soprano and pianoforte. (1944) Performing edition Christopher Howell
7. Siciliano and Rigadon (c. 1735) Freely transcribed by Harold Craxton. Pianoforte (1935)
8. Sonata in B flat by T. A. Arne transcribed by Harold Craxton. Violoncello and pianoforte (1931)
9. A Requiem (R. L. Stevenson). Baritone and pianoforte (1914)
10. Woodland Lullaby. Pianoforte (1917)
11. Oh! To see the Cabin Smoke (P. J. O'Reilly). Soprano and pianoforte (1915)
Two Mazurkas. Pianoforte (1937)
12. 1. F minor
13. 2. D flat major
14. Beloved, I am lonely (May Aldington). Baritone and pianoforte (1926)
15. Mavis (Lefevre). Baritone and pianoforte (1914)
16. A Shepherdess in Porcelain. Pianoforte (1917)
Two Pastoral Preludes. Pianoforte (1931)
17. 1. Heather Bells
18. 2. Bird Song ("I love my love and my love loves me")
19. Hearts in Love (Edward Oxenford). Soprano and pianoforte (1915)
20. The Snowdrop (Norman Gale). Soprano and pianoforte (1924)]
21. A Tahitian Dance (founded upon native rhythms) Pianoforte (1931)
22. Bourrée Humoresque (founded on an 18th Century tune) Pianoforte (1938)
Caroline Goodwin (soprano) James McOran Campbell (baritone:) Alison Moncrieff Kelly (violoncello) Christopher Howell (piano)

Monday, 3 October 2016

Arnold Bax: The Earliest Article, 1915

Lewis Foreman in his magisterial book, Arnold Bax: A Composer and his Times (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1983, 2007) has suggested that the present short article from the Monthly Musical Record (November 1915) is the ‘earliest…on the composer that has been traced other than newspaper reviews and lists of works.’ It comprises a short overview of his life extracted from the Programme Book of the 'Festival of British Music, 1915 as well as a photographic portrait of Bax. Little commentary is needed on this text, however, a number of the concerts and recitals mentioned will bear further investigation.  

We have great pleasure in publishing in this number a portrait of Mr. Arnold Bax, who was born in 1883, and entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1900, where he studied composition for five years under Professor Frederick Corder. He made his debut as a composer in 1903 at the old St. James's Hall. [1] Since that date he has been prolific in the matter of composition.
‘A Celtic Song Cycle’ (settings of some of Fiona Macleod's poems) was produced by Mr. Thomas Dunhill at one of his British chamber-music concerts in 1907, and several large works were included in the programmes of Mr. Balfour Gardiner's two seasons of concerts at Queen's Hall in 1912 and 1913, notably a large choral work, ‘Enchanted Summer’ which was subsequently performed at one of the London Choral Society's concerts under Mr. Arthur Fagge. A new orchestral work in four movements, ‘Spring Fire’ was down for performance at last year's Norwich Festival, which did not take place owing to the war. [2]
Much of Mr. Bax's music is steeped in the mysterious atmosphere of Celtic mythology. In this respect it has some affinity with the poetry of Mr. W. B. Yeats. Nearly all the orchestral works are, according to the composer himself, "based upon aspects and moods of external nature and their relation to human emotion." Mr. Bax's latest compositions include a Piano Quintet and an orchestral poem, ‘The Garden of Fand’ inspired by the legend of the enchanted islands in the Atlantic, off the western shores of Ireland; and some highly interesting pianoforte solos, entitled ‘In a Vodka Shop’ ‘The Princess’s Rose Garden’, ‘Sleepy head’ and ‘Apple Blossom Time.’  (Programme Book of the 'Festival of British Music, 1915).
Monthly Musical Record November 1915.

[1] The premiere of the String Quartet in A major composed in 1902. The third movement only was given on 23 November 1903.

[2] ‘Spring Fire’ was not performed until 8 December 1970, by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra under Leslie Head. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Rose Tree: Music in Memory of Basil Deane

I forgot to post this at the time. So here it is a few years late.
I first came across Basil Deane (1928-2006) when I discovered his study of the great French composer Albert Roussel. It was based on his doctoral thesis. At present it is still quoted in most bibliographies of the composer as being a seminal work. Certainly, it guided me in my exploration of this fascinating music and for that I am eternally grateful. Other books from his pen included important monographs on Cherubini and Alun Hoddinott.
Basil Deane was born in Ulster and spent most of his working life in a trail of academic appointments including Professorships of Music at Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham Universities. He was Director of Music at the Arts Council of Great Britain during the late nineteen-seventies. His activities were not limited to the United Kingdom. Basil Deane was the first Principal of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, and had held office in the University of Melbourne.  He was also a prolific broadcaster on radio and television. In his final years, Basil Deane lived in Portugal and was involved with local music-making.
The present CD is a tribute featuring music composed ‘in his memory for a concert at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester’ which was given in September 2007. The main thrust of this tribute is settings of songs by Deane’s ‘beloved’ poet W.B. Yeats. However non-vocal works are also included.
A word of warning. I believe that all the pieces on this disc are worthy of the listener’s undivided attention. Please approach them individually: do not just play-through the CD from end to end.

The opening piece on this CD reveals another facet of Basil Deane’s achievement – that of a composer. The composer Raymond Warren notes that at the time of Deane’s death, he was working on a set of songs for soprano, recorder and cello to texts by Yeats. The manuscript was presumed lost, but subsequently turned up amongst his papers. Warren has ‘realised’ the songs by completing the accompaniment and making a few minor changes to the vocal line.  It is not mentioned how many poems Deane originally planned to set although two have been completed here – the eponymous ‘The Rose Tree’ and ‘I am of Ireland.’ A recurring theme of this CD is the timelessness of much of the music: it is difficult to apply any kind of stylistic or analogous label to describe this music. Certainly these spare, Spartan settings have a lilt of Irish folksong seen though the prism of an almost atonal fragmented sounding accompaniment. They are fine examples of song composition.

I found Anthony Hedges contribution a little unbalanced. I think it is the scoring that causes this issue. Each of the four songs has a different accompaniment – 1) recorder 2) cello 3) recorder and cello and 4) recorder, cello and piano. I accept that the musical reason for this is to underscore the concept of ‘change’ that the composer has found in the four poems by W.B. Yeats. The journey would appear to be from innocence to experience, hence the ‘building up’ of forces in the accompaniment. That said, these are attractive songs that are expressive, moving and vocally challenging. The four poems set are ‘To a child dancing in the wind’; ‘O Do not love too long’; ‘Sweet Dancer’ and ‘The Cat and the Moon’. No date is given for this work in the liner notes.

John McDowell was born in Armagh City in Northern Ireland in 1935 and subsequently studied music at The Queen's University of Belfast. His tutors there included Raymond Warren for composition. He was Head of Music at Stranmillis University College, Belfast, for seventeen years, and founded and directed the Stranmillis Singers and the Stranmillis Operatic Society. He has broadcast regularly as pianist and conductor, and continues to teach piano. His compositions include chamber music, choral pieces and songs, and works for piano, as well as music, both original and arranged, involving recorders.
McDowell has managed to capture the mood and spirit of the landscape in his short setting ‘On the Sussex Downs’ for soprano, recorder and cello. The text set is by the American poet Sara Teasdale. The composer has noted that Basil and his first wife Norma spent a number of years living in this locality. The music is utterly simple (in the best possible sense) developing a sense of spaciousness appropriate to the landscape. There is nothing ‘simple’ about the virtuosic vocal line, which perfectly exploits Lesley Jane Rogers’s high tessitura.

Elizabeth Poston is a composer who only occasionally crops up in discussions of British music – which is a pity. Encouraged by Peter Warlock and Ralph Vaughan Williams she made a significant contribution–especially with her incidental music for radio broadcasts, vocal pieces and a deal of chamber works. Unfortunately, where she is still recalled it is for her one carol ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.’ The ‘Concertino da Camera on a theme of Martin Peerson’ is a major work by any standards. It is scored for recorder, oboe d’amore, gamba and harpsichord. I guess that the listener may suspect that this work is going to be ‘pastiche’: nothing could be further from the truth. Poston has certainly used gestures derived from baroque and sixteenth century music. However, she is a child of her time and has introduced a variety of textures and harmonies from the neo-baroque music that was in the air at the time of writing – such as Stravinsky’s ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ (1937-8).  It is interesting that Poston was a gifted harpsichordist and had played Walter Leigh’s Harpsichord Concerto (1934) on a number of occasions.

I struggled with Geoffrey Poole’s ‘After Long Silence’ for soprano, recorder and cello. He makes use of declamatory vocal style that appears to detract from the text. The accompaniment is fragmented and disjointed and makes use of a number of ‘novel’ instrumental effects. Yet there is depth and a power in this setting that transcends my reservations and makes an appropriate memorial to Basil Deane and to the composer’s [Poole] late wife. Perhaps I just need to hear this work a few more times?

I found John Joubert’s setting of A Woman Young and Old, Op. 162, for soprano, recorder, cello and harpsichord much more approachable. What impressed me with this cycle was the composer’s ability to bring considerable diversity and variety to what is a series of strophic settings. The poems, by Yeats, are themselves written using stanzas, regular metres and rhyming schemes.  The cycle explores ‘the experience of love as known to youth and age.’ It is beautifully written and makes effective use of the accompaniment which is varied in every detail.

Sir John Manduell chose to set part of one of Yeats’ ‘playlets’ as his tribute to Basil Deane. In this case ‘Calvary’.  The play was written during turbulent times in Ireland and depicts Christ dreaming of his Passion and attempting to come to terms with the existentialist fact that He is alone in the Universe. In spite of His sacrifice He has been rejected.  The work is scored for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello.  I find it an introverted work that is inherently depressing. The accompaniment is integral to the entire construction of the work. The composer has made use of some excellent word painting. For me, there are echoes of the bleakness of Peter Warlock’s masterpiece, The Curlew. This is a work that has been evacuated of any warmth or hope. Yet, this is effective and the music is in perfect equilibrium with the text. A masterpiece.

The final work on this disc is the remarkable Una and the Lion, Op 98 by Lennox Berkeley. It is one of the composer’s final works. This cantata was commissioned by the recorderist Carl Dolmetsch and was first performed at the Wigmore Hall in March 1979. The text is derived from Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Fairy Queen’ (Part 1, Canto 3) and describes an incident between the young queen and a lion. Initially the lion’s intention is to eat the girl, but instead he is ‘charmed’ by her and ‘befriends her.’ The words are truly beautiful and bring a tear to the eye (‘Still when she slept, he kept both watch and ward/And when she waked, he waited diligent). Berkeley’s music is the perfect compliment to this text. The musical language seems to me to be timeless. Peter Dickinson has noted that Berkeley admitted to struggling with the ‘early’ music instrumentation but this does not show in the finished work. This is my favourite piece on this CD.

I have reviewed a number of CDs featuring the beautiful voice of Lesley-Jane Rogers and needless to state, she excels herself in these challenging works. Again, I need make no special pleading for the major contribution made by John Turner. He not only plays on most of the tracks but has acted as the ‘impresario’ for the genesis of the disc. As always, his playing is stunning. The other soloists are equally talented and make a major contribution to the music on this CD. The liner notes are excellent, with short but pertinent programme notes on all the works. There are good mini-biographies for the performers. Included in the booklet are the texts to the songs by W.B. Yeats, Edmund Spenser and Sarah Teasdale. 

Altogether this is a superb CD. I am surprised that reviews of this album seem few and far between. I was impressed by virtually every work on this disc and hope that they will find a suitable place in the repertoire of the artists concerned and venture out into the wider world. 

Track Listing:
Basil DEANE (1928-2006) /Raymond WARREN (b.1928) The Rose Tree, for soprano, recorder and cello (c.2007)
Anthony HEDGES (b.1931) Four Poems of W. B. Yeats, for soprano, recorder, cello and piano (?)
John McDOWELL (1935) On the Sussex Downs, for soprano, recorder and cello (?)  Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987) Concertino da Camera on a Theme of Martin Peerson, for recorder, oboe d'amore, gamba and harpsichord (1957)
Geoffrey POOLE (b.1949) After Long Silence, for soprano, recorder and cello (2007)
John JOUBERT (b.1927) A Woman Young and Old, Op. 162, for soprano, recorder, cello and harpsichord (c.2007)
John MANDUELL (b.1928) Verses from Calvary for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello (2007)
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Una and the Lion, Op. 98, for soprano, recorder, gamba and harpsichord (1978)
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano)  John Turner (recorder ) Richard Simpson (oboe) Richard Howarth (violin) Richard Tunnicliffe (viola da gamba) Jonathan Price (cello) Ian Thompson (harpsichord & piano)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

John Ireland: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of John Ireland published in his book Composers Gallery. 
Another of Ireland's most popular works is the Piano Concerto which he wrote in 1930. [1] In the final movement there is a suggestion of modern jazz; a pleasant, lively passage. This work must have been given at least twenty performances in England, and it is worth recording that it was played in Moscow in 1934 under the conductorship of Edward Clark, and shortly afterwards in Budapest under Dohnányi and in Vienna under Konradt.
Foreign countries have also shown considerable interest in his ‘London Overture’ (1936), a work which we might profitably compare with the compositions of Elgar and Vaughan Williams also inspired by our great city. Ireland's picture is a colourful affair, but lacks the spirit and strength of character shown by Elgar, and the deep pensiveness of Vaughan Williams' wonderful ‘London Symphony’. However, ‘A London Overture’ has taken its place in British music, and will undoubtedly become even more popular now that Dr Malcolm Sargent has made such an excellent record of it with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. [2]
In more recent years Ireland has written a Concertino Pastorale, [3] which does not, however, strike me as being particularly pastoral; and among other things, a fine Elgarian choral setting of J. A. Symonds's poem ‘These Things shall be’, which was launched in magnificent style at a BBC Symphony Concert in December 1937. [4] It was a musician's attempt to assist a poet's effort at stimulating the conscience of a nation lulled into a sense of false security by the most incompetent bunch of politicians ever inflicted upon a free but apathetic people.
Another quite recent work, his Epic March (commissioned by the BBC), suggests that Ireland wanted to snatch a little nation-wide popularity for himself, for it is a work full of appeal for the man in the street. [5] The fact that he succeeded in this without being vulgar in the slightest degree all goes to show that he is a very able composer. The Sunday Times described it as "a sincere and deeply felt piece of music" of which the whole atmosphere is that of idealism "as far removed from jingoism as a Persian carpet is from a piece of cheap linoleum." [6] It has a suggestion of Parry as well as Elgar, and the middle section is based on a really beautiful melody that sticks in the memory as persistently as anything I know.
During the early part of the Second World War, John Ireland was staying in the Channel Islands and working on an arrangement of his ‘Downland Suite’ for Orchestra. [7] When a section of the German army also decided to take up residence there he was obliged to leave in a hurry, and alas the greater part of the score was left behind. His ‘Island Sequence’- ‘Sarnia’ was written on Guernsey by the way, and was introduced to the public by Clifford Curzon in January 1942. It is a cycle of three short tone poems; delightful impressions of ‘Le Catioroc,’ ‘In a May morning,’ and ‘[Song of the] Spring tides.’ [8]
Turning to his Fantasy-sonata for clarinet and piano, which was first performed at the Wigmore Hall by Frederick Thurston (for whom it was written) and Kendall Taylor on January 29th 1944, we find one of the best works for the clarinet since the days of Brahms. The Sunday Times [9] declared "One of the most outstanding characteristics of this new fantasy-sonata is its continuous stream of melody; and another is its richness of rhythmic invention." The Times described its material as "concentrated into one self-contained movement, in which the lyrical qualities of both instruments are emphasized in characteristic terms of genial, fluid harmony and iridescent figuration." [10] A notable broadcast followed this premiere, in which the composer himself played the piano part. [11]
A little while ago Ralph Hawkes [12] asked Ireland (and several other composers) to write something for a wind-band in celebration of the approaching centenary of the first military band publication issued by the firm of Hawkes. The composer has now produced a bright little work called ‘A Maritime Overture’, [13] dedicated to its inciter. Ireland says that while he was writing it he had in mind Hawkes's fondness for yachting, and his affection for the sea, ‘which I share, though I cannot yet aspire to a yacht.’
John Ireland is an honorary Doctor of Music of Durham University, and is keenly interested in the work of all his contemporaries, particularly Igor Stravinsky and the late Maurice Ravel. Of the old masters his preferences are for the works of Bach and Mozart. It need scarcely be added that poetry still remains one of his greatest sources of inspiration.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)
[1] The Concerto in E flat for piano and orchestra was composed between 1929 and 1930. It was dedicated to the pianist Helen Perkin. The premiere was at the Queen’s Hall, London on 2 October 1930 with the dedicatee and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
[2] ‘A London Overture’ was a reworking of the earlier ‘Comedy Overture’ for brass band written in 1936. The new work was first heard at the Queen’s Hall, London on 23 September 1936. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Sir Henry Wood.  Sir Malcolm Sargent’s recording with the Liverpool Philharmonic was made in Liverpool during April 1944. It was issued on Columbia DX 1155-56 (78rpm) and has subsequently remastered for CD. (Dutton CDAX 8012).  
[3] The Concertino Pastorale was composed for the 1939 Canterbury Festival. It was first performed at Canterbury Cathedral on 14 June 1939 by the Boyd Neel String Orchestra, conducted by the work’s dedicatee, Boyd Neel.  I disagree with Donald Brook: I feel that the pastoral element is present and correct in this work, even if it is more melancholic than bucolic.
[4] ‘These things shall be’, as Brook points out, is a major choral work owing much to Edward Elgar and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.  It was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. The first performance was at a studio recording made on 13 May 1937 by the BBC Chorus, the BBC Orchestra and the baritone Denis Noble. It was conducted by Adrian Boult.  The work remains Ireland’s most substantial choral piece.  This was an idealistic work based on a poem by John Addington Symonds (1840-93) that seems to be out of place in a Europe that was witnessing the rise of Fascism. Consider the lines: New arts shall bloom of loftier mould/And mightier music thrill the skies/And every life a song shall be/ When all the earth is paradise.’ The sentiment is something that all can aspire to, even if the reality is much harder to come by. The work was orchestrated by John Ireland’s pupil, Alan Bush (1900-95).
[5] The Epic March was commissioned by the BBC and was composed during 1941/2. It was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 June 1942 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
[6] The Sunday Times, 28 June 1942. The review was written by Ralph Hill.
[7] ‘A Downland Suite’ was originally composed as the test piece for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. The piece was first heard at London’s Crystal Palace on 1 October of that year. The winning band was the Foden Motor Work’s Band.  In 1941 Ireland ‘freely adapted’ two of the movements, ‘Minuet’ and ‘Elegy’ for string orchestra. In 1978, Geoffrey Bush made a version of the entire suite. This has been recorded on Chandos (CHAN 9376). The music has not just been transcribed: Bush has followed the composer’s example in reconceiving the music as a composition for string orchestra rather than making a literal re-arrangement of the brass band version’. Chandos Liner Notes.
In 1985, the suite was transcribed for wind band by Ray Steadman-Allen.
[8] Sarnia: An Island Sequence was first heard as Brook states, at the Wigmore Hall, 29 November 1941. The pianist was Clifford Curzon. It is not only one of the composer’s most vital works, but was also his last major composition for the piano.  The sleeve notes to the Mark Bebbington’s recording of this work (SOMM SOMMCD 088) notes that 'the 60-year-old composer's evocation of, and tribute to, an island where he had achieved possibly the greatest happiness and contentedness in a life not overflowing with personal fulfilment and 'job satisfaction.' The three movements are ‘Le Catioroc’, ‘In a May Morning’ and ‘Song of the Springtides.’  
[9] The Sunday Times 30 January 1944. The review was written by Ralph Hill.
[10] The Times 01 February 1944. Unsigned review.
[11] Probably first broadcast on Thursday 7 November, 1946 on the BBC Home Service. It was heard again on Thursday 8 January 1948, possibly from the same recording. The second broadcast has been issued on the Symposium record label (1259)
[12] Ralph Hawkes (1898-1950) at this time was the senior director of the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes Limited. 
[13] Brook’s discussion of this work is a little misleading. The Maritime Overture was originally the Symphonic Prelude: Tritons for orchestra which was composed in 1899 and received its premiere in London on 21 March 1901.  It is described by the composer as an ‘RCM Studentship work.’ It has been recorded twice: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult on Lyrita SRCD 240 (2007); reissue of SRCS 45 (1971) and London Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Hickox on Chandos CHAN 8994 (1991). According to Stewart R. Cragg’s A Catalogue, Discography and Bibliography 2nd edition (Ashgate, 2007) Tritons was arranged for military band by Norman Richardson. This version was published in 1946.  It was further arranged for symphonic wind band by Richardson and published in 1988.


Saturday, 24 September 2016

John Ireland: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Clearly he had met these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’ Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second hand books about music that I bought in the days before the internet, it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include a number of footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of John Ireland.

I have a feeling that the creative powers of John Ireland have always been stimulated by the deep love of poetry engendered within him during his childhood by the literary atmosphere of his home. His parents, Alexander and Dorothy [1] Ireland were both authors, and enjoyed the friendship of many prominent writers, so their son, born at Inglewood, Bowden, Cheshire, [2] on August 13th 1879, grew up in a cultured environment in which self-expression through any of the arts was regarded with approval. Alexander Ireland, by the way, was the editor of the Manchester Examiner and Times, [3] and the author of The Book-lover's Enchiridion. [4]
John Ireland was educated at Leeds Grammar School, but was only fourteen when he came to London to study at the Royal College of Music under C. V. Stanford for composition and Frederick Cliffe [5] for the piano. He wrote a number of pieces for solo instruments in his youth, and a fair amount of chamber music, but in later years he destroyed or withdrew from circulation almost everything he had written up to 1908, so that as far as we are concerned his career as a composer did not start until he was nearly thirty years of age. [6]
In 1908 his Phantasy Trio in A-minor won him the second prize in the Cobbett chamber music competition, [7] and in the following year he took the first prize in the same competition with his Sonata in D-minor for violin and pianoforte. [8]
Five years later he aroused the attention of many of the critics with a piano solo called ‘Decorations’ and his first orchestral work ‘The Forgotten Rite’, [9] which is said to have been inspired by a holiday in Jersey. The latter won the approval of many leading conductors, and was performed on several occasions during the ensuing years.
He was still dissatisfied with much of the music he was writing, however. In 1914, for instance, he wrote a Trio in E minor (in three movements) which he withdrew after its first performance with the intention of revising it, but never did. [10]
His first outstanding success came in March 1917, when Albert Sammons and William Murdoch gave the initial performance of his striking Sonata for violin and piano in A minor [11]. This opus seemed to express all the deep emotions that the people of this country were feeling during those dark days of war with more eloquence than the spoken words of many of the war poets. It won the hearts of the audience immediately; the critics were unanimous in their praise, and within a few months most of the eminent violinists in Britain were playing it to a thoroughly sympathetic public. That anything coming under the heading of ‘chamber music’ could become so popular was little short of a sensation, and publishers who normally looked upon the issue of chamber music as a necessary but highly unprofitable speculation actually competed for the right of publishing this sonata! The first edition was sold in advance before it left the printers' hands.
Then came such works as the Piano Sonata (1920), the symphonic rhapsody ‘Mai-dun’ (1921), the Sonata for Violoncello (1924); such songs as Ireland's setting of Masefield's ‘Sea Fever’ and the three settings of Hardy's poems ‘Summer Schemes’’, Her Song’ and ‘Weathers’; and various piano pieces, of which I might mention ‘Amberley Wild Brooks’ (1921), ‘April’ (1925), ‘Month's Mind’ (1935) and ‘Green Ways’ (1938). [12] The title of ‘Month's Mind’ is explained by a quotation from Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities:
". . . days which our ancestors called their 'month's mind' . . . (are) the days whereon their souls (after death) were had in special remembrance —hence the expression of 'having a month's mind' to imply a longing desire." [13]
The longing in this particular piece is suggested by restless over-lapping phrases, but these tend to make it rather monotonous, in my opinion.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] John Ireland’s mother was actually Anne Elizabeth (Annie) Ireland, nee Nicholson (1842-1893). She was a writer and a biographer. Her magnum opus was a biography of the Jane Welsh Carlyle which was published in 1891. The only Dorothy in John Ireland’s life would appear to be Dorothy Phillips (1909) who was briefly the composer’s wife (1926-8). She was a young pianist studying at the Royal Academy of Music. The marriage was later dissolved.
[2] John Ireland was born at Inglewood, Bowden, Cheshire. This large house is now divided into a number of flats. There is a plaque indicating that the composer was born here.
[3] The composer’s father, Alexander Ireland was born in Edinburgh on 9 May 1810. He was an author, a journalist, businessman and a booklover. He wrote a major biography of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as producing bibliographies of William Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt (1868). In 1882 Ireland published the once-famous The Book-Lover's Enchiridion under the pseudonym ‘Philobiblios’ (Booklover). Ireland was business manager of the Manchester Examiner newspaper and subsequently the Manchester Examiner and Times. Alexander Ireland died on 7 December 1894.
[4] The Book-lover's Enchiridion: A Treasury of Thoughts on the Solace and Companionship of Books was a once-popular collection of quotations from a multitude of authors including Cicero, Petrarch, William Hazlitt, Anthony Trollope and John Ruskin. It was first published in 1882 and reissued in a number of editions.  The book is headed by a quotation from Christopher Marlowe: ‘Infinite riches in a little room.’ (The Jew of Malta, c.1589).  The word ‘Enchiridion’ means ‘a book containing essential information on a subject’.
[5] Bradford-born Frederick Cliffe (1857-1931) was an organist, pianist and composer.  He studied with Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir John Stainer and Ebenezer Prout, before, in 1884, taking up a post at the Royal College of Music as professor of piano and at the Royal Academy of Music from 1901. As a composer he is best remembered, where recalled at all, for a fine symphony (he composed two), a tone poem ‘Cloud and Sunshine’ and an accomplished Violin Concerto.
[6] Donald Brook is correct in suggesting that John Ireland’s first major triumph was the Violin Sonata in D minor and that a number of early works were subsequently suppressed or destroyed. However, the enthusiast of the composer will find much of interest in the catalogue for the years between 1895 and 1908. This includes a number of piano pieces, two delightful youthful String Quartets, the corpus of organ music, the Phantasie Trio in A minor and a number of songs and part-songs. 
[7] As noted by Brook, John Ireland’s Phantasy Trio in A-minor won the third prize in the 1907, not as stated, 1908, Cobbett Competition for Phantasy Piano Trio. The first prize was awarded to Frank Bridge’s masterly Phantasy in C minor, the second prize was given to James Friskin’ Phantasy in E minor. The fourth prize went to Alice Verne-Bredt for her Phantasy: Trio in one movement.
[8] The 1909 competition prizes were awarded to the composers Eric Gritton, Geoffrey O’Connor Morris, both works unknown, and Susan Spain-Dunk’s Sonata in B minor for violin and piano (unpublished).
[9] John Ireland’s first orchestral work was ‘Midsummer’ for orchestra which is regarded as a student work. It was composed in 1899 and has subsequently disappeared.  The first surviving orchestral works are Tritons: Symphonic Prelude for orchestra (1899) and the Orchestral Poem in A minor dating from 1904. There is also a tantalising reference to the lost tone poem ‘The Princess Maleine’ composed in 1905.  It is possible that the above mentioned Orchestral Poem may in fact be this ‘lost’ work. The Forgotten Rite is the composer’s first orchestral work to have a permanent hold in the repertoire.
[10] What Donald Brook is referring to is the Trio in D originally conceived for clarinet, cello and piano which was written between April 1912 and October 1913. It was subsequently revised as a Trio for violin, cello and piano which was withdrawn after a few performances. It was finally revisited in 1937 when the composer used some of the material for his Trio [No.3] in E major-minor for the same forces. This was published by Hawkes and Co. in 1938.
[11] The Sonata No.2 in A minor for violin and piano was first performed by Albert Sammons (violin) and William Murdoch (piano) at the Aeolian Hall, London on 6 March 1917. The work was published by Winthrop Rogers in the same year.
[12] The dates of these works typically reflect the date of publication or first performance.
[13] Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities was originally published in 1813, but has been subject to many revisions and editions, the most recent being issued by Cambridge University Press in 2011.  The actual quotation from Brand is:
To have a Month's Mind, implying a longing Desire, is a figurative Expression, of which the Subsequent is the Origin: Minnyng Days, says Blount, (from the Saxon Gemynde, i.e. the Mind, q. Mynding Days) Bede Hist. lib. 4. ca. 30. Commemorationis Dies; Days which our Ancestors called their Monthe's Mind, their Year's Mind, and the like, being the Days whereon their Souls (after their Deaths) were had in special Remembrance, and some Office or Obsequies said for them; as Obits, Dirges, &c. This Word is still retained in Lancashire; but elsewhere more commonly called Anniversary Days.

To be continued…

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Provincial Performance -Manchester

On 16 June 1946, the winners of the Daily Express Victory Symphony Competition duly had their Manchester performance at the King’s Hall, Bellevue. In the aftermath of the bombing of the Free Trade Hall in 1942, the Halle Orchestra often made use of this 7,000 seater venue.

Neville Cardus gave a detailed review for the Manchester Guardian (17 June 1946). He began by insisting that ‘both composers achieve many of their best effects by a clean economy of line and colour. There is an astringent quality in the music that springs from a determination to reject material that would be merely decorative.’  However, there is a down side to this process: Cardus feels that ‘sometimes the music flags beneath the burden of a too conscious thought process.’ He believes that this may be result of being ‘lured from their own orbit by the attempt to convey their meditations on some tremendous event or course of events.’ In this case the Allied victory after six years of war.
The reviewer considered that Bernard Stevens and Cedric Thorpe Dave ‘are excellent musicians who would show more originality in works of lighter form than that of the symphony.’ Lack of recordings and performances of these two composers make it difficult to judge whether Cardus is totally correct in his assumption. However, with Thorpe Davie in particular, he is close to the mark (based on a consideration his catalogue and the few works I have heard).
Cardus acknowledged the ‘great freedom of symphonic style’ that is permissible ‘these days’, however he felt that ‘the voice of a more commanding and less scholastic spirit is needed…’ Hearing these works 70 years later, the listener will consider that there is little ‘scholastic’ about this music, but will agree with the reviewer that both works lack ‘power.’  In the ‘Liberation Symphony ‘much of what we associate with a most intelligent kind of modern contrapuntal technique dominates the finale’ – in other words a fugue. Cardus’ preference was for ‘the first part of that movement – ‘a slow and solemn section…[where] thought and feeling are concentrated expressively.’
Looking at each individual work, Cardus felt that Thorpe Davie was ‘rather aggressive in his use of dissonance.’ This would pass largely unnoticed in 2016.
In conclusion Cardus wrote that ‘when both musicians have had time and opportunity for a true expression of mood and outlook and for a buoyancy of style they will probably make rapid advances.’  If anything, history has side-lined both composers, their music being rarely heard and only occasionally recorded.
Other works heard at Belle Vue that evening included Miss Edna Hobson singing a Tchaikovsky aria and the ‘brilliant and powerful’ playing of Kendall Taylor in a performance of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto.  Neville Cardus wrote that John Barbirolli conducted the whole concert with his usual splendid skill, vitality and judgement.’

If and when I find a review of the Scottish Orchestra’s performance of the two symphonies in Glasgow, I shall post it here. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Premieres

The Daily Mail (10 June 1946) reported on the success of their rival newspaper’s Victory Symphony competition. Ralph Hill insisted that the paper has to be congratulated on its success in bringing to ‘the notice of the musical public two gifted young composers, Cedric Thorpe Davie and Bernard Stevens.’
Thorpe Davies’ Symphony in C major and Stevens’ 'A Symphony of Liberation’ were given their premiere performances by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Constant Lambert and Dr Malcolm Sargent respectively at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday evening.
Hill considered that ‘both symphonies show skillful craftsmanship in their construction and orchestration, an individual and expressive melodic sense, and a wide range that is free from eccentricity.’
He finishes his review by suggesting that Stevens’ symphony ‘is undoubtedly the more important work on account of the greater imagination displayed in its construction and treatment.’  He will regard the future of these two composers ‘with interest.’ 

An unsigned review in The Times (10 June 1946) explained that both symphonies were in three movements and both were ‘compact in form.’ Cedric Thorpe Davie had made use of the traditional central slow movement between two allegros, whereas Stevens has a ‘more definite programme [with] his movements entitled ‘Enslavement’, ‘Resistance’ and ‘Liberation’ respectively.’ This allows the composer to work from ‘darkness to light, placing his slow movement first.’  The reviewer thinks that both works ‘contain effective music, especially Davie’s funeral dirge and Steven’s scherzo.’  In his opinion both finales proved to be the weakest parts of each work. He writes, ‘one relied on popular themes to represent the construction of the brave new world: the other sought to express joy in liberation in a fugal movement, which unhappily disintegrated halfway through, owing, one suspects, to ineffective orchestration.’
He concludes the review by suggesting that ‘what was lacking in both was a great tune that would have provided a true climax embodying our joy and thankfulness and resolution.’ I am glad that neither composer did compose a popular tune: there would be plenty of time in the future for Malcolm Arnold to oblige in this direction.

Both works were given fine performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Constant Lambert (Davie) and Dr Malcolm Sargent (Stevens). 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Composer’s and Judges’ Comments

On 29 March 1946, the Daily Express reported details of the two winning composers. It noted that Mr [Bernard] Stevens, a Cambridge graduate in Arts and Music has been called up in 1940, cutting short his studies at the Royal College of Music. In 1946, Stevens was 30 years old. As noted previously, he continued to compose during the war years whilst carrying out fire-watching duties during air raids on London. He is quoted, ‘I just had to keep on.’  The first two movements of his ‘A Symphony of Liberation’ were completed during the air raids. He then occupied himself with a Theme and Variations for piano (1941) and a Piano Trio (1942). Both works had been performed, with the latter being heard at the Wigmore Hall during 1943. With the advent of the competition, Stevens completed the symphony, for which he had ‘deep affection.’  It is noted that Mr Stevens will be ‘demobbed in May, and hopes to live by composing.’ He said ‘This success has given me intense encouragement.’  Finally Stevens pointed out that his symphony was ‘not a descriptive work but I felt the necessity of writing something to sum up my feelings about a wonderful episode.’ The ‘episode’ presumably being the cessation of hostilities.

Turning to Cedric Thorpe Davie, (33 years old at the time) the paper stated that he took three months to compose his symphony in C major. It points out that, unlike Mr Stevens, who plays the violin and enjoys conducting, he ‘plays only the piano.’ A composer who works rapidly, he wrote the music for an official film, ‘Scotland Speaks’ on a fortnights leave from his National Fire Service (N.F.S.) duty at the Glasgow docks. Davie pointed out that ‘there are no bombs, guns or sirens in my symphony. It was meant to be cheerful and I hope that is how it sounds.’  The Symphony was inscribed ‘In honour of my brother.’
Unfortunately, Cedric Thorpe Davies’ Symphony has not been given a commercial recording, although a broadcast performance circulates amongst enthusiasts.

The article then explained what the judges had said. All the entries were inspected separately by each judge. Discussion agree what works were to be given ‘further examination.’ A run through of the four best works (Stevens, Gipps, Thorpe Davie: it is not known who wrote the ‘fourth work’. Schaarwächter states that there is no further information in the Daily Express archives) was arranged at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

‘Shirt-sleeved’ Constant Lambert conducted the orchestra whilst Bliss and Sargent sat in the auditorium making notes.  Malcom Sargent stated that Stevens’ symphony ‘has poignancy and great emotional sincerity.’ Lambert’s view was that the ‘Liberation Symphony’ was ‘not merely a glorification piece full of the usual clichés. It had great emotional stress handled with skill.  Finally, Arthur Bliss wrote ‘The temper and spirit of this work are attractive and exciting.’ 

Monday, 12 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: Introduction

In 1945 the Daily Express ran a special competition which encouraged composers to write a ‘Victory’ Symphony. One cannot imagine a similar event in 2016.
An announcement was made in the newspaper on Tuesday 5 June 1945: ‘Who will write Victory Symphony?’
The article continued: ‘Britain has many promising young composers who are worthy of recognition, and the Daily Express is giving them the opportunity they seek.’  Two prizes were offered – the first of £250 and the second of £150. That would be about £10,000 and £6,000 at today’s (2016) prices.  Composers would not only be seeking financial reward, but would also have a ‘rare opportunity in the world of music.’
The rules were straightforward.  The symphony would consist of one or more movements, would be fully orchestrated and would last between 15 and 20 minutes.  It was open to all British composers (male and female) under the age of 35 on 1 January 1946.  The closing date was 31 October 1945. Submissions were to be made to the Daily Express office in Fleet Street, London, accompanied by a suitable ‘nom de plume.’
The scores would be examined by Arthur Bliss, Dr Malcolm Sargent and Constant Lambert.   Stephen Lloyd in his magisterial study of Lambert has suggested that it is likely that Sargent and Bliss did most of the adjudication.
Finally, a public performance of the two winning works would be given in the Royal Albert Hall as arrange by the newspaper. The top six scores would also be circulated to leading conductors for perusal and possible performance.

Some weeks later, on 29 August 1945 the Daily Express reported that ‘one evening during winter (it was actually to be in high summer of 1946) a well-known conductor on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall will conduct an orchestra through the first public performance of the Victory Symphony composed by the winner of…the contest.  It was announced that the winning work would also be presented in Scotland by the conductor of the Scottish Orchestra, Warwick Braithwaite.

On 29 March 1946 the results of the contest were front page news.  ‘Private 7674010 Bernard Stevens [(1916-83)] 30-year-old Londoner in the Army Pay Corps travelled on special leave from his Bournemouth unit yesterday to be told that he had won the £250 first prize…’  The winning work was his ‘A Symphony of Liberation’ which had been begun during ‘the blitz nights when he had been billeted in Bloomsbury.’ The first two movements, ‘Enslavement’ and ‘Resistance’ were written there against the background of ‘London’s ack-ack noise.’  He completed the work with the ‘sunny, spirited’ third movement when the war ended in Europe.’

Clearly the work had been ‘on the stocks’ before the competition was announced as it was begun in 1940 and completed in the autumn of 1945.  The work was dedicated to Clive Branson, a poet and artist who had been killed in Burma during 1944.  The score carries an epigraph from William Blake’s America, ‘Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field. Let him look up into the heaven and laugh in the bright air.’
The winner of the £150 second prize was the Scottish composer Cedric Thorpe Davie (1913-83), who at that time was living in North Street, St Andrews. He was then Master of Music at St Andrews University.  The paper reiterated that both works would be performed publicly in London, Manchester and Glasgow.
Two composers known to have competed included Richard Arnell (Symphony No.3) (suggested in Jürgen Schaarwächter’s study of Two Centuries of British Symphonism) and Ruth Gipps (Symphony No.2). It would be fascinating to know what other composers entered this competition and what became of their symphonies.  Interestingly, although Gipps did not win the competition, her symphony was played on a number of occasions and was recorded in 1999 on the Classico CD label (CLASSCD 274).
The first performance of both works were given at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 June 1946. Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  I will present the review in a subsequent post.

As an aside, if I had been judging, I would almost certainly have made Ruth Gipps’ Symphony No.2 the winner, based on the four works I understand to have been entered. 

Bernard Stevens A Symphony of Liberation is available on CD (Meridian CDE 84124)  It is coupled with his fine Cello Concerto.