In 1936 Montague Phillips had composed a fine Overture honouring the many faceted character of Charles II. Now, it is known that this monarch occasionally visited Hampton Court, in spite of a preference to his newly enlarged Windsor. So nearly two decades later Phillips turned his attention once again to a royal theme. However, the mood of the Hampton Court Overture is not actually to do with Royalty or the Restoration. It is much more a celebration of the holiday mood. In particular, the exodus of Londoners ‘up the Thames’ to this well known house and gardens.
The composer has written about this work as follows: - "[I wish] to portray the summer scene at Hampton Court, the gaiety of the holiday-making crowds by the river, and all the pageantry and beauty of the Palace and its gardens." However, as anyone who has visited the great palace at Hampton Court will know, it is difficult to separate the vast panoply of history from having a day out from 'The Smoke'. Montague Phillips captures this dichotomy well in his overture.
The Hampton Court Overture opens with a tune full of energy: percussion and brass are well to the fore. This is really ebullient music. Fanfares lead into a more relaxed statement of the theme on the woodwind. Soon the opening music returns. A little catchy rhythm leads into a slightly more ‘ceremonial’ tune before the meditative material is given a first airing. It must be said that this tune is reminiscent of Sir Edward Elgar without being a direct crib. I can imagine a boy and girl walking hand in hand by the riverside or perhaps sitting in some sunny corner of the gardens. The mood soon changes to one of playfulness. Lots of fun – perhaps children playing chases in the maze? Soon the music builds to a restatement of the main theme. Yet soon there is to be a change of mood as the music moves into the closing pages: the playfulness is put to one side and the ceremonial theme re-establishes itself. Perhaps here we have a reflection of royalty and Charles II himself. I understand that if it had not been for the Restoration, Oliver Cromwell was about to sell the Royal Parks for ‘real estate’. So we have a lot to give thanks for the next time we enjoy a day at Hampton Court.
This Overture is one of the last major works from the composer’s pen. It is dated 6th April 1954. The first performance was given in May of the following year with Gilbert Vintner conducting the BBC Midland Orchestra.
Montague Phillips Hampton Court Overture can be heard on Dutton CDLX 7158