Monday, 6 April 2009

An Introduction British Orchestral Music: Twenty Key Works

Recently, someone asked me for a list of ‘essential’ 20th century British orchestral music for someone who is new to the genre. It had to avoid large works such as symphonies, concertos and oratorios. It was a tall order, but after some considerable thought on the train yesterday I have come up with what I think is good list. It does not claim to totally representative of the last 150 years of British Music, it is not a list of my favourite pieces, although I do like them all. I have not included any vocal music or chamber music in this list as the individual expressly asked for relatively short and approachable orchestral works. The twenty pieces a given in alphabetical order.
The list is designed to give an overview of music that represents a variety of ‘schools’ within the genre of British Music- Anglo Germanic, impressionist, modernist, neo romantic etc.

Alwyn, The Magic Island
Arnold, English Dances – Sets 1 & 2
Bax, Tintagel
Berkeley, Serenade for Strings
Bliss, Introduction and allegro
Bridge, Summer
Britten, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge
Butterworth, A Shropshire Lad
Delius, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Elgar – Introduction & Allegro
Finzi, A Severn Rhapsody
Holst, St Paul’s Suite
Howells, Paradise Rondel
Ireland, Downland Suite
Orr, A Cotswold Tune
Parry, Lady Radnor’s Suite
Sullivan Overture di Ballo
Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Walton, Portsmouth Point
Warlock, Capriol Suite

If the listener was to hear all these pieces, and were to read the accomannying programme notes or CD liner texts they would have a good grounding of the subject of British Music.

If I were pressed to suggest only five pieces, these would be:-
Bridge’s Summer
Butterworth, A Shropshire Lad
Delius, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Ireland, Downland Suite
Parry, Lady Radnor’s Suite

And finally if I had to sugges a single piece from the above list, to give an impression of music in a single short space it would be:-
Frank Bridge’s Summer.


Michael Herman said...

That's a really excellent selection. However, for Finzi I would substitute his more characteristic "Romance for Strings."

John France said...


I do tend to agree with you, but for me the Severn Rhapsody has certain 'historical' associations - so I let my heart rule my head on this one!