Thursday, 31 January 2008

Eric Coates – Master of Light Music

I was asked by a more ‘intellectual’ musical friend the other day why I liked the music of Eric Coates.
I freely admit that this so-called ‘light music’ composer often moves me more than some of the more serious candidates including Beethoven himself. There is something deeply comforting about pieces such as the Merrymakers Overture and the Three Bears Fantasy. My mother would probably have said that it was the musical equivalent of nursery food – Ginger Sponge, Bread and Butter Pudding and Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Nothing to do with the consistency of the mixture, I hasten to add – more to do with the 'feel good' factor!

As people get older they often look to the age of their infancy and see there a kind of Golden Age – a fairer and more pleasant land where everything was ‘decent and in order,’ when life was quite simply, simpler.
Eric Coates music takes me into a world of Routemaster buses, steam trains, seaside holidays at Morecambe and Hillman Minx cars. It is very easy to allow ones mind to drift down country lanes and linger at the edge of leaf fringed lakes. If I was honest I see this music in the same tones as 1950’s British Railway posters – a kind of idealised England. Yet it is the kind of England that I would really like to live in.

Someone once said that realism can realistically be a gas works in the East End of London or it can be the view from Box Hill in Surrey with your lover on your arm. Yet it is only a certain kind of mentality that insists that there is a greater artistic merit to the industrial as opposed to the pastoral.
Coates present the listener with a musical image that makes us feel better, reconnects us to our dreams and awakens the magic of England: and this can only be to the good.
 

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Gordon Langford's Spirit of London Overture.

This Overture is another work in a long series of London-inspired works. Perhaps the most famous is Elgar's Cockaigne Overture or maybe Ralph Vaughan William's London Symphony. In a more popular vein who does not know and love Eric Coates 'London' Suites? And the cognoscenti will love John Ireland's London Overture with its musical reference to ‘Piccadilly’ and of course, Elizabeth Maconchy's Proud Thames.

Langford’s is a lesser known work that I first heard in 2003 on a CD release from Chandos. Elizabeth Challenger notes on MusicWeb bulletin board that a search on Google revealed nothing helpful about this work- except one review on that website and a lot of companies advertising the CD for sale. This is a pity since it is a valuable addition to music about London in particular and light music in general.

The Spirit of London Overture is "a tribute to a once great city (Capital of a once great nation) which the composer used to consider the most wonderful place on earth." In particular Langford refers to the 'defiant response' of the Londoners during the Blitz.
The work is a helter-skelter of ideas, images and icons: there are musical references to Bow Bells, to the Westminster Chimes and street cries (I guess that Langford was too young to remember these!) His imagery includes "muffin men, fresh fish vendors, milkmen, carbolic men… Presumably we buy all this from ASDA now - or if we are posh, from Waitrose.
Yet what concerns me with this piece is that he does not accept that cities change. To my mind London is still a great city- and most likely always will be. Of course, it has its good points and its bad. For example, the buildings are much cleaner than they were in 1973 when I first visited. Obviously crime has gone up - but many others things have improved. Politically it is as dynamic as it ever has been – irrespective of whether you support Ken, Boris or any one else.
Perhaps if we consider that the work was composed in 1965 we may have a clue. To many people the 'Swinging Sixties' must have been problematic. I guess that perhaps Langford was somehow protesting against Carnaby Street and the Beatles…!!!

I love London: I always have. I can think of nothing nicer than sitting in Kensington Gardens on a lovely spring day or of walking on Primrose Hill with all of London spread below me or an evening in the French House in Dean Street...the list is endless.
And what is most important is the sense of continuity - if a friend and I are sat in The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia, it is not too hard to hear the voice of Dylan Thomas declaiming his thoughts to Caitlin! Or exploring some of the City streets it seems that Dickens is never too far away. Or taking tea at the Ritz - perhaps one would not be too surprised if Noel Coward were to sit at the next table.
The bottom line is that I guess Langford's London never really existed. No more so than Eric Coates Knightsbridge or Julius Harrison’s Bredon Hill. Yet do not be put off - the magic of his score is that it excites the imagination and invokes nostalgia for a world that inhabits our dreams.


Tuesday, 29 January 2008

William Mathias Fenestra for Organ


I listened to William Mathias’ fine organ work Fenestra for the first time the other day. I was lucky enough to find a copy of the sheet music in a second-hand bookshop and I had the CD in my collection. Unfortunately there is only one recording of this fine work available at present – John Scott playing the organ of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Fenestra is a sizable piece lasting some twelve minutes. It was composed in 1989 as a Keele Concert Society commission and was first performed by Jennifer Bate on 22nd January 1990.

Luckily the composer provided a programme note: - The English for Fenestra is Windows. The darkness of the work's opening is gradually illuminated by sound windows of varying tempi, brightness and colour. The player is invited to adapt this metaphor on each occasion to the given individuality of the instrument, allied to the acoustic in which it is placed. This work was composed very much with Jennifer Bate in mind as first performer and dedicatee. Its basic idea was, indeed, generated through knowledge of the infinite care Jennifer Bate devotes to the important matter of registration - something which has to be thought out anew for virtually every occasion and location. Important as colour is, it nevertheless remains a metaphor for the work's musical argument, which proceeds and develops in a one-movement span from darkness to light.
Quoted from the Organists Review May 1993

Fenestra is a fantastic piece that certainly challenges the organist’s ability to provide good registrations. It is definitely not possible to play this work on the one manual - six stop organ at St Swithun’s! As with much of Mathias’s music there is a lot of parallel fourth and fifths- but this never becomes excessive in this piece. The work by its very nature abounds in time signature and tempo changes.

I perceive the formal structure of this work rather like looking at a stained glass window with some patterns repeated a number of times – but slightly varied – and offset with totally contrasting design. Lots of triads with added sixths give a certain relaxed feel to the quieter passages of this work – but the big finish with trumpets blaring and a huge chord with seven out of twelve tones finish the work impressively.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet

Good short discussion about Sir Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet. Nice to hear such a positive response to one of the master’s less popular works. He writes that “this is a work that is both uplifting and deeply human.”

Elgar’s chamber works which include a String Quartet and a Violin Sonata along with the Quintet make up a small but select corpus of music.

On an Overgrown Path

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Richard Addinsell & Blithe Spirit


I watched the 1945 movie Blithe Sprit on DVD last night. This film starring Rex Harrison, the gorgeous Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford ranks as one of my all time favourites.
But not only the superb cast, the script was written by the incomparable Noel Coward, the music by Richard Addinsell of Warsaw Concerto fame and the band was conducted by the ubiquitous Muir Mathieson. Fortunately the theme music from this great film is available on Chandos. And lookout for the other great tunes on this CD including Goodbye Mr. Chips and Love on the Dole.
See the review at MusicWeb International…

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Alec Rowley: Outward Bound


This is one of my favourite sheet music covers. Of course, Alec Rowley wrote much piano music for educational purposes or for ‘younger’ pianists along with plenty that can be regarded as concert works. The Suite Outward Bound, is I would guess about Grade 4. However the musical imagery, the titles of the individual movements and of course the picture makes this work well worth digging out and giving it an occasional airing. And it is in the gift of amateur pianists! The first movement is a bold little ‘Chanty’ in 6/8 time. Then follows a bright hornpipe. Perhaps the heart of the work is the ‘Bosun’s Story.’ For a miniature this is actually quite a moving little piece: Rowley uses a variety of tempi and figurations to create the narrative. A ‘Sailor’s Song’ follows – much of it in unison. The Suite ends with a breezy ‘Jack Ashore’ which manifestly nods to ‘pranks’ when the ship is in dock. The piece and the suite end with a reflective two bar phrase.
Outward Bound was composed in 1922 and published by Winthrop Rogers Ltd. It is not possible to identify the name of the artist.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Holst Statue in Cheltenham

Great news from Cheltenham - a fine statue of one of the town's greatest sons will be unveiled on the 4th April 2008 by Mark Elder.
Read all about it over hear at MusicWeb.


Gustav Holst Statue in Cheltenham

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Bill Worland’s Broadstairs Suite


I really recommend Bill Worland's Broadstairs Descriptive Suite produced on the British Composers Series [Cameo 2017] It is not a new CD -but is one that I have been listening to this week.
I realise that it is ‘light music’ and to some people this may offend their highbrow notions. But this is ‘light music’ of a very high quality, invention and construction. Interestingly the work was written or assembled over a period of some 40 years! The 'Broadstairs' consists of five movements, which although claiming to be 'descriptive' are also quite simply enjoyable.

The first movement depicts the main bay in the town - Viking Bay and Pierremont Park. It opens quietly and is perhaps an early morning reflection on the scene. Nearby is the holiday house of Princess Victoria before she became Queen. Look out for Worland’s musical portrayal of the merry-go-round.
Stuff and Nonsense nods towards the local Dickens Festival. Lots of locals dressing up in pseudo period costume and ‘promenading.’
I love the Pavilion Waltz -so typical of its era. Most of the seaside orchestras have now gone (except Bournemouth!) - and this piece has a certain sadness about it that perhaps laments these lazy hazy crazy days gone by.
There is a street in Broadstairs that is called Serene Place. The fourth movement echoes this calmness. Certainly this street could be used as a film set - and I guess it has been.
The last movement tips its hat to Dickens once again. This time it is Bleak House and Joss Bay - where the great man wrote a number of his famous novels. Joss Bay has associations with smugglers.
Altogether this is a gentle work. It is consummate and deserves our attention.
I love the seaside - and this Suite makes me feel nostalgic for the days gone past - on the beach, in the swimming pool and looking for hermit crabs in the rock pools playing cricket on the beach with my father…
... I will be musing on Worland over the next few months too!

Campion Cameo

MuscWeb Review (he is obviously not quite as enthusiastic as I am!)

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Dramatic Choral Symphony by Josef Holbrooke

Further to my post about Centenary Compositions, here is a brief description of the missing work – Holbrooke’s Dramatic Choral Symphony

“The next important composition of Holbrooke's was his Dramatic Choral Symphony. This creation was inspired by four poems of the composer's favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe, to whom so much of his work owes its impulse. The poems on which the new symphony was founded were The Haunted Palace, Hymn to the Virgin, The City in the Sea, and The Valley Nis. It was not completed until the year 1908, though six years went to the making of it.
Two of its movements were performed at the Bristol Festival in 1907, but the complete rendering of the work was first given by the Leeds Choral Union in 1908, and was conducted by the composer. Holbrooke has said that this is the last musical poem that he is likely to write on subjects taken from Poe's works, as he considers that he has now utilised all the best of them”
George Lowe

Monday, 21 January 2008

Some Centenary Pieces for 2008

Arnold BAX: Lyrical Interlude for string quintet
Frank BRIDGE: Dance Rhapsody, for orchestra Suite for strings
Fred. DELIUS: Dance Rhapsody No 1 for orchestra; In a Summer Garden for orchestra
Percy GRAINGER: Country Gardens, for piano
Henry Walford DAVIES: Solemn Melody, for organ and strings
Josef HOLBROOKE: Dramatic Choral Symphony
Gustav HOLST: Savitri, opera; Choral Hymns from the Rig-Veda Group I
Roger QUILTER: Songs of Sorrow
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: String Quartet in G minor

Interestingly I believe that the only piece here that is not available on CD is the Holbrooke!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Elgar's Violin Concerto - New Recording

Great review in the Daily Telegraph of the Elgar Violin Concerto & Serenade for Strings with James Ehnes as the soloist and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis.
Geoffrey Norris writes that this offering is “a heart-stoppingly sensitive interpretation which has now been further consolidated through experience, making for a performance that seems to strike at the music's very soul.” Wow!
This is my all time favourite Violin Concerto – I was introduced to the work on the old Decca Eclipse Campoli/Boult recording then bought the Menuhin version and saw him play it live in the Glasgow City Hall.
My favourite CD up to press is the Nigel Kennedy recording with Vernon Handley and the LPO.
But this one sounds great-it is on my list of CDs to buy…
It is released on Onyx 4025
Elgar Violin Concerto Review

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Joyce Grenfell - Requests the Pleasure (1939-1954)


One of my current CD review copies is a selection of monologues by Joyce Grenfell on the Naxos label.
At first glace this would seem to have little to do with British Classical Music. But that would be a false assumption. The composer and pianist William Blezard was for many years Joyce’s accompanist.
Read about Blezard’s life and orchestral music here – and do not forget to enjoy Miss Grenfall’s comedy at some stage too…


Friday, 18 January 2008

Sir Arnold Bax Web Site


Great web pages on this link for one of Britain's finest composers. The more I hear of Bax the more I resent the fact that he is largely overlooked in popular classical music circles.



And for anyone not too sure - the lady is Harriet Cohen. She was a pianist and one of Bax's muses...

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Judith Weir

This is a nice concise pen sketch of the Scottish composer Judith Weir who is one of the better know composers working in the UK. Lookout for her Piano concerto and the interesting Ardnamurchan Point for two pianos.


Judith Weir by Julie Williams

“If there is one word I would use to sum up Judith Weir’s music, it has to be ‘enjoyable’. It is pleasant, likeable and accessible but never banal. It has a simple, clean sound which is modern without ever being difficult or obscure.”

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

New Release from Lyrita


This is an interesting offering from Lyrita – but the two eye openers for me are Contrasts by the Welsh composer David Morgan and the Symphonic Poem: Macbeth by Henry Hugo Pierson.

This CD balances works that are relatively well known with one that has been ignored for generations and one that just demands recognition. Most of the pieces are available elsewhere, and I guess British music enthusiasts will have these alternative recordings. My bottom line is that this CD is well worth the price for the Pierson and more especially for the David Morgan alone. The other five works are attractive and interesting additions to this ‘must have’ CD.
Read my review on MusicWeb here!
Lyrita SRCD 318

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Classic FM & Ralph Vaughan Williams




I am not a big listener to Classic FM. However it is often on when I am in the car or early in the morning when I am making the coffee.

I listen enough to know that typically RVW is represented by three pieces:- The Lark Ascending, The Fantasia on Greensleeves and Seventeen Come Sunday from the English Folk Song Suite. These works are played over and over again - it is almost as if the great man wrote nothing else. Now I guess that there will be other compositions given on an occasional basis - but these three are obviously the tops.

So it was nice to be wakened to something different this morning- Elihu's Dance of Youth & Beauty from Job. This is where the young Elihu rebukes Job for daring to curse God - 'Ye are old and I am very young.'

This is one of most moving parts of the work and perhaps even in RVWs total output.

Thanks Classic FM! Only one snag - poor old Nicola pronounced Job as in 'Bob' rather than Job as in 'Robe'!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The Clarinet Trio of John Ireland

Stephen Fox has written a fascinating study of a work that I never knew existed. Now, John Ireland is one of my favourite composers and I especially love his piano music and songs but I have never picked up on this particular 'lost' work. The Clarinet Trio was composed before the Great War and after a couple of performances was quietly forgotten. The holograph has become mutilated and Fox needed to do considerable reconstructive work. All congratulations to him for a good job well done!

The piece is scored for clarinet, cello and piano – a rare chamber combination indeed. In fact, the author states that “as the only piece for this standard instrumental combination to be found in the rich and distinctive genre of British late Romantic music, it should become a significant addition to the repertoire.” The work has been given a number of performances and I look forward to hearing the Riverdale Ensemble's recording.

Ireland later wrote a fine Clarinet Sonata which is regarded as being one of his masterworks. I wonder how critics will regard the Trio?

Ireland Clarinet Trio

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Lyrita Classics


I am not a big fan of pot-pouris of music - call me a musical snob if you will. Especially annoying are excerpts from symphonies or other large works. However, this Lyrita CD is actually rather fun - even if it does pick out just one of Elgar's Enigma Variations (Dorabella). All these tracks are now re-released on CD and were originally presented on vinyl.

There are a number good and one or two great pieces on this exploration of British Music. Works by Grainger, Delius, Balfe, Warlock and Holst.
As such it would make an ideal introduction for the newcomer to the field. The RVW Tallis Fantasia is of course the main event. But look out for the Lord Berners Hornpipe and Hamilton Harty’s description of an Irish Fair-day – complete with tune up of fiddles!

Check out my review at MusicWeb

Lyrita Classics

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Strings in the Earth and Air


Any CD with songs by Jack Moeran and Peter Warlock must be of interest to British music enthusiasts. This is especially so when the repertoire is rare and previously unrecorded or presently unavailable in the CD catalogues.

Check out Em Marshall’s review of this disc on MusicWeb. I include my own assessment of this CD for completeness.

My personal highlight on this disc was the Six Folksongs from Norfolk by Moeran. But the minor masterpiece is probably the same composer’s Joyce Songs.


Monday, 7 January 2008

Elgar's Enigma Solved? I doubt it...


Yet another attempt at solving the riddle of Elgar's Enigma Variations..
Other solutions have included Auld Lang Syne, Rule Britannia, God Save the King and many other more obscure suggestions.

Leeds University professor Clive McClelland has joined dozens of amateur Sherlock Holmes in giving his 'answer'...

See the link below!

http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/I39ve-cracked-Elgar39s-Enigma-code.3594245.jp

Sunday, 6 January 2008

An Interesting Find (Robin Milford)

Second-hand book browsing can be compulsive. But when the second hand bookshop specializes in music it can become a time consuming and expensive pastime.
I always keep a weather eye open for rarities. Especially long forgotten piano pieces by obscure British composers. Alec Rowley, Thomas Dunhill and Felix Swinstead are all grist to the mill. But every so often one finds something special. A signed copy.
A wee while ago I was digging amongst the choral music in a York book shop. I spotted a 6d piece of music - like millions produced for choirs and glee clubs. ‘It was a lover and his lass’ by Robin Milford. At the top of the page in small spidery writing was the legend - “Dr. Vaughan Williams - from Robin Milford, January 1942’ The bookseller had priced it 20p.
I was impelled to search further through the pile of yellowing sheets. And behold another signed copy of ‘Songs of Escape - Five Songs for Unaccompanied Chorus.’ Same dedicatee, same signature.
Some 20 inches of paper pile later I found a third. ‘Joy and Memory - A song cycles for children’s voices and Piano.’ This time the dedication was ‘with love’.
Total investment 80p. But here was a piece of history. Ephemera yes, but musical history.

Of course, I had heard of Robin Milford. He is certainly not in the top twenty of British composers, but he is a figure to reckon with.
I knew a few of his orchestral works and songs - from the excellent Hyperion Disks - ‘Fishing by Moonlight’ and ‘Songs by Finzi and his Friends’ I can remember hearing an elderly pianist and organist - Kenneth Dawkins - playing an organ piece. What it was I have forgotten. And then I recalled my piano stool. Long had I known a set of miniatures called ‘Littlejoy’ produced in the Oxford Piano Series - Four sketches of medium difficulty headed with the quotation –
“And now tis little joy
To know I’m further off from heaven
Than when I was a boy.”
Words by the poet Thomas Hood.

I rushed to Grove for the facts. But it was not helpful (Why is the current Grove so short on information on the obscure composers that I am interested in?)

In a nutshell, Robin Humphrey Milford was born in Oxford in 1903. He had a slight advantage over the rest of us as his dad was head of Oxford University Press. All the pieces I had found in the shop were published by this company.
Robin had been educated at Rugby and later at the RCM. He studied under Holst, R.O. Morris and Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams.
He had private means and so was able to spend his life composing. Milford was prolific. Groves mentions a Violin concerto in G minor (1937); an oratorio ‘A Prophet the Land’; a full scale opera ‘The Scarlet Letter - still unperformed.
Michael Hurd thinks that Robin’s ‘creative gifts, though slight, were genuine and not without individuality.’
It would appear that large scale works were not Milord’s forte. It is with the smaller pieces that he has had most impact: the songs, the piano pieces and the choral music.
And that was all Grove could tell me. Passing another secondhand bookshop in York - which had for sale a copy of Grove 1954 edition, I looked up the composer’s entry. It was four times the length of Hurd’s. But perhaps the article length represents the composer’s perceived worth at a particular point in time.

So here was my three pieces of Milford. Part of the smaller scale works. And copies of these had been sent on publication to his teacher, RVW. I wonder what the master thought of his pupil’s efforts?
For my part I played through the works on the piano. They are good but not great: simple, pleasant, diatonic and in a straightforward practical style.
But who said all music must be masterpieces?

Article about Milford at MusicWeb

E.J. Moeran's 'Bank Holiday' played on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmsnmOYEZqU

One of the pieces of music that meant so much to me a teenager was Jack Moeran’s Bank Holiday. To me it summed up all the excitement of day trips to Blackpool and Morecambe. I always wanted to be able to learn to play it – but never succeeded!

Nice to hear the young Norfolk pianist Danny Evans playing this piece so convincingly!

This is a lively and totally optimistic work that truly relishes a day off work! Geoffrey Self suggests that it is an encore piece, in spite of his concern that some of the writing is a little slipshod.
It was at this time of Moeran’s life that he was sharing a cottage with Warlock at Eynsford in Kent. Moeran was not writing much music at this time – but he was living a happy and carefree life in the countryside.

Bank Holiday is written as an ‘allegro molto ritmico’ (fast with tons of rhythm!) from end to end with only a slight slowing down for the middle section. Not too difficult to spot echoes of Percy Grainger in these pages – perhaps Shepherd’s Hey? Of course the listener may also detect nods to John Ireland and Peter Warlock. It has been described as being ‘splashy’ in its use of big chords in the coda.

This piece was composed in 1925 and was published in 1928. It was dedicated to Gordon Bryan.

Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture – another picturesque analysis. This time by J.F. Porte written in 1921.

Cockaigne is the most popular of Elgar's three large overtures. Composed about the same time as the first two Pomp and Circumstance marches, it reflects in many places, the broad, British, and almost vulgar spirit of the victorious military events of the period. The overture opens with a swinging scherzando theme, the little figure of three reiterated semiquavers giving the impression of gaiety. This theme is succeeded by a still more sprightly tune, and the two are developed with great exuberance until a passage of some dignity announces the theme of the nobler Londoner. This is indicated Nobilmente, and is at once lofty and sustained. With a return of the cheerful atmosphere, the brass has some brilliant work, but soon a mood of peacefulness comes over the whole, and after a few cheeky ejaculations, the episode representing the lovers occurs. This is followed by a new theme, which is the sole property of the couple, and the music is now strikingly tranquil and expressive, becoming still more so in the elaboration of the love scenes. The romantic atmosphere, however, is suddenly squashed by the pert tune of the London street-boy. His theme is happily and significantly derived from that of the nobler Londoner, although the element of fun is naturally irresistible. The music becomes increasingly jerky until presently the opening theme appears fortissimo, presently associated with the lovers' theme. The Nobilmente now enters softly, followed by the concluding strains of the lovers over arpeggio figures, the whole of this portion forming one of the most beautiful in the work. As this serene atmosphere becomes enjoyable, the jaunty, swinging tune of a military band is heard in the distance. The lovers make several attempts to resume their peaceful conversation, but the growing activity of the urchins and approach of the band makes this impossible at the moment. The music continues to increase in intensity until at last, with a blaring splendour, the band passes by. The passage is strikingly imaginative, the din of drums, bells and triangle, the shrilling of piccolos, and the brazen tune in the brass, combine to make up a most exhilarating and realistic effect. After the street-boys' glee has been testified, the opening theme appears under a sparkling little accompaniment. This is followed by a thump, thump, thump, that unmistakably tells of another body of musicians. This band is a stationary one, however, as the sounds come no nearer and it turns out to be a Salvation Army meeting. The tune is discordant with the accompaniment, but as soon as one makes an attempt at perfect harmony, the other obligingly shifts into a different key. Peace comes to the lovers again through the medium of a neighbouring church, the music now being engaged with contrapuntal working. The street-boy turns up again, and his theme is mingled with that of the lovers as they leave the church. The opening theme appears vigorously in the trombones, the whole being colourfully treated. The military band approaches again, and passes by with all its former swagger and magnificence. A big ritardando passage now occurs and leads to the final statement of the nobler Londoner theme. The utmost splendour is now used, and the broad tune comes out in the full strength of the orchestra, now joined by the organ. The overture concludes with a last, vigorous reference to the opening theme. Altogether the Cockaigne Overture is a clever work. In places it is inclined to be rather vulgar, but that is because of Elgar's endeavours to obtain local colour of the Bank-Holiday London, The work is not to be counted among the finest of the composer's symphonic achievements, although it is often played and well known. The expressiveness of passages appertaining to the lovers, and the noble dignity of the Nobilmente.
J.F. Porte 1921

Edward Elgar - Pathe News

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpDP9VTamZY



A great opportunity to watch the man himself conducting the ubiquitous Pomp & Circumstance March No.1. For anyone wondering where the title comes from - it is from that other great Englishman, Shakespeare...

"Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!"

Othello Act 3 Scene 3

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Elgar's Cockaigne Overture

I found this somewhat fanciful description of Sir Edward Elgar's Overture, Cockaigne (In London Town) in an old American book. However it is worth recording here.
NB Joseph Bennett was a music critic, librettist and journalist living and working in London in the early twentieth century.

At the time of the first performance of this overture (at a London Philharmonic concert, June 20, 1901), the following outline of the dramatic significance of successive episodes in the music was put forth by Mr. Joseph Bennet, presumably with the authority of the composer:
1. CHEERFUL ASPECT OF LONDON.
2. STRONG AND SINCERE CHARACTER OF LONDONERS.
3. THE LOVERS' ROMANCE.
4. YOUNG LONDON'S INTERRUPTION.
5. THE MILITARY BAND.
6. IN THE CHURCH.
7. FINALLY, IN THE STREETS.


When the overture was first performed by the Boston Symphony orchestra (in November, 1901), Mr. Philip Hale included in his programme-notes this more detailed exposition: "The overture is a succession of scenes: it may be called panoramic. The scenes are connected by a slender thread. The composer imagines two lovers strolling through the streets of the town. The first picture suggested is that of the animation, of the intense vitality of the street life. Then comes a section which, according to the composer's sketch, expresses the 'sincere and ardent spirit underlying the Cockaigner's frivolity and luxury. The lovers seek quiet in a park and give way to their own emotions. They grow passionate, but they are interrupted and disconcerted by the rough pranks of young Cockaigners. The lovers leave the park and seek what Charles Lamb described as the sweet security of the streets. A military band approaches, passes with hideous rage and fury, and at last is at a safe and reasonable distance. The lovers go into a church. The organ is playing, and even here they cannot escape wholly the noise of the street. To the street they return, and the former experiences are renewed."
LAWRENCE GILMAN 1907

Frank Bridge Chamber Works


I recently wrote a review of the Lyrita CD of Frank Bridge's Third & Fourth String Quartets, coupled with the Piano Trio No.2, the Phantasy Piano Quartet and the Miniatures for Piano Trio (Set 3)

This is essential if challenging listening for all enthusiasts of British Music.

Lyrita are doing a sterling job in re-releasing their archive of music.


The Land of Lost Content

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A.E. Housman