Saturday, 23 February 2008

Percy Whitlock: March Dignity & Impudence

The March: Dignity and Impudence is one of those many pieces of music which, if written by someone else would have had a totally different history. I could name half dozen marches by English composers that languish in the shade of Elgar and Walton. One need only to think of William Alwyn’s 'Festival March' or perhaps Parry’s March from ‘Aristophones’ to see two pieces which have become submerged between Pomp & Circumstance and Crown Imperial.

It is not difficult to see that Whitlock had a great admiration for the music of Sir Edward Elgar. Much of the music on the present CD has quite obvious Elgarian fingerprints. And the Dignity and Impudence March is no exception. References to Elgar's 4th P&C essay have been detected. The title given by Whitlock suggested to my mind the gorgeous if not downright sentimental picture by Sir Edwin Landseer. However, Malcolm Riley assures me that Whitlock was certainly not a ‘dog-lover.’ This was not attempt at presenting two different character sketches of man’s best friend! Actually the piece is a nod and a wink to Elgar himself. Perhaps it is Pomp & Circumstance No 7? Certainly if it had been, it would have been played at the Proms and on Classic FM. Perhaps we can read Imperial for Impudence and Pomp for Dignity. Certainly this is a fine example of a march. All the elements are there. Brass fanfares and a fine opening ‘minuet’ theme, which in many ways nods at both Elgar and the yet unwritten Crown Imperial March. It by and large follows in the traditional form of a march, with the big tune repeated. However the minuet theme is more complex than many marches. It combines two contrasting elements that work together exceptionally well. The trio is quite gorgeous. It is a really big tune; perhaps one of the finest that any composer has written for a march. 

Whenever I listen to it now I cannot help feeling that if this were known it would be widely loved. Everything we expect of a concert march is here; it is a minor masterpiece. Malcolm Riley has arranged it for the organ, although Percy Whitlock used to play it at the Compton organ in the Pavilion, presumably from memory or from the short score. It was composed in 1932 and received its first performance at Bournemouth under Dan Godfrey some two years later.
Thanks to MusicWeb

No comments: