Friday, 6 March 2009

Arnold Bax: Article in The Chesterian - 'Bax in the Ascendant'

I recently found this article by Leigh Henry in an article in The Chesterian magazine. It may be a little 'overwritten' for today's tastes but it is still interesting to read how one of Britain's great composers was viewed back in 1923.
The most prominent events since the last London Letter have nearly all centred around works by Arnold Bax, the first of these, the concert of his compositions given at Queen's Hall on November 13th, being the most noteworthy. It is no mean indication of the development and trend of public taste that so refined and advanced a musical mentality as that of Bax should be felt sufficiently attractive to warrant the dedication of a whole large concert programme exclusively to his work.
The success of Messrs. Murdoch, Murdoch and Company's undertaking justified their fine zeal in every way, both as a sound gauge of public interest, and as an aesthetic manifestation. The programme, with the opportunities for comparison, which its successive items afforded, was a conclusive proof of the wide scope of Bax's genius, a final refuta­tion of those who would label his music as precious. The range of interest and expressive capacity in a programme embracing the exquisite decorative imagery of The Garden of Fand, the personalism of the Second Piano Sonata, the lyricism of the Viola Fantasy, the luxuriant ritualism in Byzantine-like form of Mater Ora Filium, the Anatole France-like capacity to imbue medieval thought, and tradition with the most modern freshness and vitality, as in the two carols, Of a Rose I Sing, and Christymas, and the capricious joy and verve of Mediterranean, is something suggestive of super-human temperament.
Yet the identity of the personality common to all is ever-manifest in the peculiarly decorative conception which constitutes the fundamental style of each work, and which, together with the luminously poetic feeling, of which each work presents a variation, is so essentially a part of Bax's racial Celtic temperament. A fine assembly of Bax devotees were gathered to render the programme, including Harriet Cohen, who also played the Hill Tune, Lullaby, and Burlesque; John Coates, who sang the Traditional Songs of France, and The Market Girl, I Heard a Piper Piping, and Green grow the Rashes O!, Kennedy Scott, with his admirable Oriana Choir, Eugene Goossens, with his orchestra; Lionel Tertis (in the Fantasy), and Marie Goossens, Cedric Sharpe, and Victor Watson (harp, 'cello, and double-bass), assisting in the carols, with the composer at the piano, the flautist in Christymas being Robert Murchie.
Bax, indeed, has almost become regular fare. At the Barc­lays Bank Musical Society's Concert at Queen's Hall on Decem­ber 13th his carol was alongside one of Byrd; and at the second Philharmonic Society Concert, under Albert Coates, Tintagel shared interest with Strauss' Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentil­homme, a first performance beside which the Bax work stood out with refinement and distinction, the Strauss work being another of the pieces of depictive mummery (futile apart from what it illustrates) to which the German has mainly resorted since his musicality gave out.
The Chesterian January 1923 p.114

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