Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Arnold Cooke: Jabez and the Devil

Arnold Cooke was commissioned by the Royal Ballet to write a work for the 1961 season. Jabez and the Devil is based on the American writer Stephen Vincent Benet’s ‘The Devil & Daniel Webster’. Jabez is a poor peasant who makes a pact with the devil. As in all these stories, wealth and fame and fortune are short-lived. Jabez attempts to outwit the devil by tearing up the pact so as to avoid pay-back time. Of course the devil is finally triumphant and claims the soul of poor old Jabez. Critically the ballet was well received, with the writer Andrew Porter declaring that this was the most successful ballet since Benjamin Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas. No small praise!
The Suite’s Introduction is truly spooky before being followed by a rather vigorous ‘Dance of the Devil’. It is as if Satan is looking to make mischief. Soon we happen across a village where the locals are making merry. The Fiddle Polka is interrupted when the Devil grabs the instrument to ‘show them how it is really played’. The Waltz is rather sinister – it is certainly not romantic. This is the moment when the Devil makes his proposition to Jabez. A number of dances follow revealing a group of demons in their true colours: a Slow Dance portrays Jabez’s wife and the villagers mourning the loss of her husband to the Devil. The Devil is driven away from the hamlet in the novel Percussion Dance - portraying the villagers beating the pots and pans to scare away the personification of evil. The finale accompanies the apparent victory of Jabez over his tempter; however this is not the true end of the ballet. In fact Cooke uses less than half of music from the full ballet score – so the suite does not really mirror the story. But we are left in no doubt about the moral of the tale. This is fine music that well portrays the events of this ballet. The suite Jabez and the Devil is a great introduction to Arnold Cooke’s orchestral works. There is nothing complex or high-brow about this music: it is a truly approachable work.

This work can be heard on LYRITA SRCD.203

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