Sunday, 6 April 2008

Three Choirs Festival: Gloucester 1925

I was recently browsing in the files of the Musical Times. In the September 1925 edition I happened across a short article outlining the highlights for that year's Three Choirs Festival which was to be held in Gloucester. It makes interesting reading – especially with regard to how the ‘novelty’ British works have survived.
However, the biggest blow to the Festival was the fact that Jean Sibelius was due to have had his Seventh and final Symphony given its British première – however he had been unable to complete it on time. The author of this article lamented the fact that this meant the Festival ‘lost’ its only connection with the modern music of the continent!

Other highlights of the programme included performances of Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Verdi’s Requiem. Of the British classics, audiences were to hear Elgar’s The Apostles, Parry’s Job and Stanford’s Stabat Mater. Two major British Symphonies were also to be given – Elgar’s First in Ab and Granville Bantock’s fine Hebridean. And a lesser known and now largely forgotten work was Thomas Dunhill’s Three pieces for Organ & Strings.

The list of British new works include:-
Two Preludes for Orchestra by James Lyon
Motet ‘Love Incarnate’ by Basil Harwood
‘Men and Angels’ – A Choral Suite by Henry Walford Davies
‘The Evening Watch’ by Gustav Holst
Paradise Rondel by Herbert Howells
‘Glory and Honour’ – a motet by Charles Wood
Prelude for Orchestra by John Blackwood McEwen
‘A Sprig of Shamrock’ – song cycle by A.H. Brewer.

Sadly, five out of these eight ‘novelties' have disappeared ‘without trace’ – at least there are no recordings of them available on CD.
Fortunately the works by Howells, Charles Wood and Holst have survived with one, two and nine recordings respectively.
For the aficionado of British music I guess the top priority in the above list must be the Prelude by John McEwen and the Two Preludes by James Lyon. Yet I do feel a twinge of curiosity about “The Sprig of Shamrock” song cycle!

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