Monday, 22 September 2008

Geoffrey Self: Sonatina No.1

For me, Geoffrey Self is primarily the author of a study of E.J. Moeran – a book which has been an inspiration to me for nearly quarter of a century. I have been grateful for his fine biography of the neglected composer Julius Harrison. Over the years I have perused his ‘Hiawatha Man’ to try to understand Samuel Coleridge Taylor and his music and his In ‘Town Tonight’ which examines the life and work of Eric Coates is essential. There is also an instructive exploration of British Light Music...

Geoffrey Self was born in 1930 and has combined musicology with teaching, performance and composition. For a number of years he was County Music Advisor for Somerset. In 1964 he moved to Cornwall to become Head of Music at the Cambourne Technical College. During his time in Cornwall he was the principal conductor of the Cornish Symphony Orchestra.

Over the years he has composed works for the organ, the orchestra, choral and chamber ensembles and the piano, very little of which seems to be in the general public domain.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a CD of music by the Severnside Composers. I remarked there that apart from the fine collection of Preludes by Ivor Gurney, Self was the only composer I had come across before!

The Sonatina is an almost neo-classical work that is presented in three roughly equal movements. Yet there is an interesting anomaly here. Self writes about this work, “In the 70’s I amused myself by building a clavichord and wrote this piece to play on it.” I must admit, it hardly seems suited to that instrument, a view that Self admitted. He said that “subsequently it seemed to be more suited to the piano. A further comment by the composer is interesting. He suggests that what “I write what used to be called ‘light’ music.” Now perhaps he and I have different concepts of what light music is. This is certainly not Eric Coates or Robert Farnon – it is much more like Walter Leigh’s Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings – a point noted by Colin Scott-Sutherland in his review on his review of this work on MusicWeb International. 

This is an extremely attractive work that deserves its place in the repertoire. I guess that is probably a Grade 7 piece so is possibly in the gift of a competent amateur.
The Toccata is an impressive tour-de-force but I especially liked the slow Elegy – which to me is not 'light’ but actually ‘reflective’ and quite profound. The Rondo is fun, but once again a million miles away from Haydn Wood or Trevor Duncan. It is self-evident that there is a certain amount of internal thematic referencing –although this sonatina is not cyclic.

Severnside Composer’s Alliance Inaugural Piano Recital February 23rd 2005. Played by Peter Jacob. Dunelm DRD0238

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