Tuesday, 11 March 2008

John Foulds: April - England Op.48 No.1


Further to yesterday's thoughts on Manchester-born composers, I was listening to John Foulds’s (1880-1939) ebullient tone poem, April-England Op.48 No.1 whilst travelling through the English landscape on one of Mr Branson’s trains. In spite of the high winds and the cold there is a touch of spring in the air. Foulds’s work seemed appropriate.
This little known piece is surely a ‘paean of joy’ that spring has returned to the earth: this is music revelling in the sheer ‘boundless fecundity (and) opulent burgeoning of springtime.’ The critic Malcolm MacDonald has stated that this is an ‘extravagantly virtuosic’ work.
It has been suggested by a commnetator that April-England is ‘light-hearted’ – although that same writer goes on to suggest that "the scoring is transparent and masterly, the sound world entirely of this isle." Further he mentions the debt that this music appears to owe Percy Grainger. Yet why would this make it light-hearted? This is certainly not the Gumsuckers March or Handel strolling along the Strand.
Foulds has written that "such moments as those of the Solstices and Equinoxes always seem to be particularly potent to the creative artist, and no less significant the place in which he happens to be at the time."
I do agree that there are nods to Grainger here – especially the ‘ebullient’ opening and closing pages. And certainly the Australian was never averse to using a folk-song or two. But the philosophy of April-England gives it a more serious intent. Foulds stated that there are two main thematic constructs for this work – the opening fanfare type music which is supposed to represent the idea of ‘April’ and the folksong middle section symbolizing ‘England.’
This work, in its original piano solo form, was composed (or at least completed) on 21 March 1926 which happened to be the Vernal Equinox. It was orchestrated in 1932 and received its first performance in this version in 1934. Yet this is not the full story. The orchestral version expands considerably on the original piano piece – especially in the complex and even ‘riotous’ middle section. It is here that we find the composer rejoicing in the beauty and diversity and freshness of spring.

4 comments:

David Love said...

I heard this piece for the first time a few days ago at a concert given by the CBSO Youth orchestra. I wonder if I am the only person who thought that, particularly at the start of the work and the recapitulation at the end, there was something of Resphigi in the orchestration. I know little of the composer's background so I am not sure what his influences might have been - from his dates he is roughly contemporary so perhaps I am either wrong or it was just a coincidence.

John France said...

David,

Thanks for your comment..I think it was something in the air - and I agree.
I love Ottorino Respighi's music and would like to hear more of it and write about it! And yes the dates are similar.

John Foulds is one of the great, relatively undiscovered composers of the UK...

David Love said...

I wonder if the something was an essence of Debussy. I know Resphighi was consciously influenced (did he study with him? - not sure). Maybe for many others it was just osmosis.

Anonymous said...

As an expat Englishman resident in South Africa, Foulds April-England certainly is evocative of the notion of an English spring. Thank goodness they play it regularly on Classic FM in South Africa. Fascinating to hear that there may be a Debussy or Resphigi influence there - truly a 20's piece.