Sunday, 7 September 2008

Elisabeth Lutyens: An easy introduction to her music - Number One

I own up to not being the greatest fan of Elisabeth Lutyens. However, over the past couple of years or so I have begun to reconsider my opinions of her works – and feel that perhaps I have been a little harsh in my estimation of her compositions.  My suspicion of her music goes back a number of years (37 actually) to a piece called O Saisons, O chateau. I can still remember feeling that this was some of the most appalling music I had heard up to that date. I realise that the work had been applauded and encored at its 1947 performance; historically it received mixed reviews However, I loathed it. Many years were to pass before I heard my next piece of Lutyens.
One of her dislikes was what she called ‘cow-pat’ music. By this I guess she meant the folksong-inspired works of RVW, Butterworth and the like. So perhaps it does seem surprising that with this strong view in mind, she composed music for a British Transport Film production called The Heart of England. Both screenplay and music contrive to present a countryscape that is evocative and reminiscent of much that she supposedly disliked.
The British Transport Film unit describes this film as portraying “…that area of England which is most English - gentle hills, shut-in valleys, picturesque villages, historic towns - these make up the Cotswold countryside, the heart of England. The delicate changes the seasons bring to this are seen first in early spring, with the harrowing of the rich fields, the first buds on the trees, the blossoming orchards. Later come the Three Counties Show at Hereford, cricket at Cheltenham or on the village green, and finally the harvest and the traditional fairs. Here are the little towns with the great stone churches, rich in English history, and Tewkesbury, and Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon.”
All full of potential for ‘cowpats’. But somehow she manages to provide an attractive score without falling into the overtly ‘pastoral’ trap. This music is entirely appropriate for this kind of promotional, tourist film. However it is closer to her hated genre than it is to her beloved serialism!
Yet the fact is that Lutyens regarded this type of work as being simply to pay the bills. She did not regard it as being an important part of her artistic achievement.
This is a great work to begin ones acquaintance with Elisabeth Lutyens. I guess that when I first saw The Heart of England I imagined that somehow it was a one off. Yet even the briefest of glances at her catalogue shew a surprising number of film scores. So it is a fruitful area of exploration. Alas, not all of them are available on DVD

The The Heart of England has been released on DVD by British Transport Films.

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