Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Gordon Langford's Spirit of London Overture.

This Overture is another work in a long series of London-inspired works. Perhaps the most famous is Elgar's Cockaigne Overture or maybe Ralph Vaughan William's London Symphony. In a more popular vein who does not know and love Eric Coates 'London' Suites? And the cognoscenti will love John Ireland's London Overture with its musical reference to ‘Piccadilly’ and of course, Elizabeth Maconchy's Proud Thames.

Langford’s is a lesser known work that I first heard in 2003 on a CD release from Chandos. Elizabeth Challenger notes on MusicWeb bulletin board that a search on Google revealed nothing helpful about this work- except one review on that website and a lot of companies advertising the CD for sale. This is a pity since it is a valuable addition to music about London in particular and light music in general.

The Spirit of London Overture is "a tribute to a once great city (Capital of a once great nation) which the composer used to consider the most wonderful place on earth." In particular Langford refers to the 'defiant response' of the Londoners during the Blitz.
The work is a helter-skelter of ideas, images and icons: there are musical references to Bow Bells, to the Westminster Chimes and street cries (I guess that Langford was too young to remember these!) His imagery includes "muffin men, fresh fish vendors, milkmen, carbolic men… Presumably we buy all this from ASDA now - or if we are posh, from Waitrose.
Yet what concerns me with this piece is that he does not accept that cities change. To my mind London is still a great city- and most likely always will be. Of course, it has its good points and its bad. For example, the buildings are much cleaner than they were in 1973 when I first visited. Obviously crime has gone up - but many others things have improved. Politically it is as dynamic as it ever has been – irrespective of whether you support Ken, Boris or any one else.
Perhaps if we consider that the work was composed in 1965 we may have a clue. To many people the 'Swinging Sixties' must have been problematic. I guess that perhaps Langford was somehow protesting against Carnaby Street and the Beatles…!!!

I love London: I always have. I can think of nothing nicer than sitting in Kensington Gardens on a lovely spring day or of walking on Primrose Hill with all of London spread below me or an evening in the French House in Dean Street...the list is endless.
And what is most important is the sense of continuity - if a friend and I are sat in The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia, it is not too hard to hear the voice of Dylan Thomas declaiming his thoughts to Caitlin! Or exploring some of the City streets it seems that Dickens is never too far away. Or taking tea at the Ritz - perhaps one would not be too surprised if Noel Coward were to sit at the next table.
The bottom line is that I guess Langford's London never really existed. No more so than Eric Coates Knightsbridge or Julius Harrison’s Bredon Hill. Yet do not be put off - the magic of his score is that it excites the imagination and invokes nostalgia for a world that inhabits our dreams.

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