Thursday, 29 May 2008

Arnold Bax: Apple-Blossom Time for Piano

Arnold Bax composed six piano works during 1915: The Princess’s Rose Garden, In a Vodka Shop and The Maiden with the Daffodil in January, Apple-Blossom Time and Sleepy Head in May and finally A Mountain Mood and Winter Waters in September. He also issued the second version of his Sonata No.1 for violin and piano, his Quintet in G minor for piano and strings and Nympholept for orchestra. During this year he was working on a projected opera, Red Owen. In addition Bax began the first version of his Second Violin Sonata.
Apple-Blossom Time was dedicated to the composer/artist S.H. Braithwaite. It is perhaps useful to present a few facts about this little know artist. He was born Sam Hartley Braithwaite on 20 July 1883 at Egremont in Cumberland. He went up to the Royal Academy of Music where he studied performance and composition. His first interest was the piano although he also studied the clarinet. He was later to become a professor at the R.A.M.
Philip Scowcroft has informed us that Braithwaite composed a number of works for the piano including an English Dance and a Suite of Ancient Dances. He composed an Overture for military band for the Pageant of Empire at Crystal Palace. Apparently most of his works were for orchestra and included an overture The Fighting Temeraire, an Idyll, an Oriental Fragment, By the Hot Lake, a scherzo, Night By Dalegarth Bridge and - perhaps an echo of Albert Ketèlbey - Near an Eastern Bazaar. Braithwaite had begun life as a composer but eventually decided to concentrate on painting and etching. He lived in Bournemouth until his death in 1947.
Bax’s piano music often exploit a significant practical knowledge of the piano along with a distinctly romantic personality and a vivid imagination. A variety of influences lie behind his pianistic style including an early visit to Russia and an understanding of Irish literature and Celtic folk music. In addition there are a number of passages that could be described as ‘impressionistic.’
The formal structure of Apple-Blossom Time is as straightforward as one of Haydn’s minuets, yet the chromatic harmonic language is typical of Bax’s writing at this period: the key signature is ostensibly G major. There is an almost kaleidoscopic colouring which again suggests the work of Hornell. The work opens by creating an enigmatic spring like atmosphere with perhaps ‘a glimpse of graceful, delicate apple blossoms as seen in their spring glory’. Great use is made of spread chords and complex chromatic writing. It is signed to be written ‘fresh and rhythmical.’Yet the middle section is written in 7:4 time and, although it is meant to be played ‘gay and playful’, is actually reflective and reminiscent of the loss of innocence. After the music virtually comes to a standstill and then with the introduction of a much deeper mood the piece ends with a certain sadness and feeling of loss. The piece lasts just under 3 ½ minutes.
Interestingly, Bax alludes to this opening melody in his Spring Fire (1913) as a part of the ‘Full Day’ movement.
Christopher Palmer describes Apple-Blossom Time as “now light and delicate, now exuberant, the piece has a happy open air feeling.” However this mood is darkens in the last page and the Celtic feel takes over – the coda is marked to be played slow and sad.
The critic of the Monthly Musical Record reviewing this piece in September 1915 suggests that it is a “correlative of the characteristic canvas work of Mr E.W. Hornell”. Hornell was an Australian born artist who moved to Kirkcudbright in Scotland. He was to specialise in Celtic and Japanese imagery –and pictures of orchards! The reviewer suggests that “summer happiness, trees in full blossom, happy carefree childhood, [and] luxurious natural setting”, all appear in the piano music of Bax as clearly as they are seen in the pictures of Hornell.
The first performance of Apple-Blossom Time was given by Phyllis Emanuel at the Steinway Hall on 15 November 1915: this was a War Emergency Entertainments All-British Concert. The work was published by Augener in 1915.

Discography for Apple-Blossom-Time:
Iris Loveridge. Lyrita LP: RCS 30 (m)—not issued.
Malcolm Binns. Pearl LP: SHE 565.

Eric Parkin. Chandos TC: ABTD 1372; CD: CHAN 8732; Chandos 10132(four-CD set)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This work is one of the most beautiful gems of twentieth century piano music. Thanks for writing about it!