Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Haydn Wood: Soliloquy

It is possible to distinguish between Haydn Wood as a light music composer and as a 'serious composer. For example the "Dance of a Whimsical Elf" is quite manifestly light, as is the March: The Horseguards, Whitehall which was use in the programme Down Your Way. On the other side of the coin the excellent Piano Concerto is quite definitely serious in design and execution: it is one of the finest of the late romantic British essays in this form. And of course there is the rumour of a 'lost' symphony. In 1905 Wood had taken a prize in the first Cobbett chamber music competition.
However Wood's Soliloquy is a piece that seems to straddle the genres. It is most certainly not of ‘the Potter’s Wheel’ type of tone poem, yet neither does it explore any new musical direction. This is quite simply a moving piece that almost seems to be a retrospective. It was composed when Wood was in his late sixties -in 1948. Wood had been born in 1882 and had witnessed two World War- he had lost a number of friends and relations. He, like all his generation had witnessed huge changes in society –the advent of air travel and broadcasting for example.

The Soliloquy is a work that is at once approachable yet touching deep thoughts and moods. There is nothing difficult about it, but neither does its conservative musical language repel the listener. Even the briefest of hearings reveals more than a touch of Fred. Delius and perhaps even Edward Elgar.

The piece achieved its first performance on the BBC's light programme on 6th January 1948. It was played by the John Blore Orchestra. Ernest Tomlinson quotes a programme note saying "Soliloquy gives the atmosphere of a lazy summer afternoon, with the humming of the bees and the smell of flowers and new mown hay." Yet this is not trifle: Haydn Wood seems to be reflecting on a life of music and looking back over the years. This is not valedictory music - he still had some ten years to live - but it is a million miles away from some of his pot boilers. It reveals a thoughtful and introspective composer who was perhaps writing a work for his own purposes rather than satisfying audience demand.

British Light Music Haydn Wood on Marco Polo


William Zucker said...

I am very familiar with this piece, having known it for over 60 years. The reading that I learned the piece from was by the Queen's Hall L:ight Orchestra under Robert Farnon. Apparently this was abridged from the original, but please allow me to state her, not abridged as far as I'm concerned. I have more recently heard an extended version by the Slovak Radio Orchestra under (I assume) Adrian Leaper. While I do not question in any manner or form the quality of the performance, I do question the additional material evidenced in this version - actually I cannot even say at this point whether this is even the original version - it is also possible that the composer decided to expand the piece from what he originally had - I cannot assert the truth for either of these possibilities.

All I can say is that with the extended version, I get the sensation of the piece having begun in the middle of nowhere, on a tonally indeterminate chord, and that the piece does not actually begin until 10 seconds later. Additionally, I do not feel that an extended reprise, covering every last bar that was previously presented, is structurally necessary for the piece to set out its full purpose. The feeling overall is that of an epilogue, suggesting the image of a landscape at dusk, with a very strong "When day is done" feeling. Heightening this impression is the fact that in the Queen's Hall/Farnon album, the piece was placed as the very last in the album, and I feel very fittingly so. And in that presentation, the piece seems well-nigh perfect for me and does not require anything additional.

The author of the article suggests an influence of Elgar and Delius. With certain works of Delius, I feel that the influence may well be acknowledged, but I would question the suggestion of an Elgarian tendency in this piece.

I certainly would agree that the piece straddles the line between serious and light music, and as a result would be difficult to properly classify.

John France said...

Thanks for that! I will investigate the RF versionnn

John F

William Zucker said...

On 2 August of this year (2017,to be repeated on 13 October,I gave a presentation from the piano, featuring both playing as well as talk, within which this piece was included. Needless to say, it was presented in the shorter version that I referred to in my previous comment, and my allegiance to that version remains firm and unchanged.

John France said...

Thanks for that

John F