Saturday, 31 January 2009

Adam Pounds: Notes and News

I recently posted about Adam Pounds’s attractive Christmas carol ‘Cradle Song’ and his excellent Festival Overture. I was delighted to hear that in last few weeks he has been very busy. The Carol was performed again on the 16th December in Ely Cathedral. During the Christmas period a new work, ‘To an Evening Star’ was performed at the University Church at the ‘Carols by Candlelight’ service with over 1,000 in the congregation. Who says that no-one attends Church nowadays! And there was another performance of the ‘Festival Overture’ at the same venue.

Recently Pounds has been commissioned to write a new orchestral piece by the Ely Sinfonia. This is to celebrate their 10th anniversary. It will be performed in the Cathedral in October together with Beethoven's Fifth and the Mozart Requiem. The Composer told me that he was “really pleased to have been asked and [that] they have asked me to consider the acoustics of the cathedral in perhaps employing some off-stage performers as well.” It will be an event to look forward to, if his other orchestral works are anything to go by.

The composer is also hoping to produce a CD of his chamber music and naturally I am looking forward to receiving a review copy!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Herbert Howells: On Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry

The original biographer of Sir Charles Hastings Hubert Parry quotes the young Herbert Howells anecdote about his teacher. The words speak for themselves.

“It was Sir Hubert's way with many of us, when we were students at the R.C.M., to give as much attention to our physical as to our mental condition. He was keen to observe signs of fatigue: so keen, that on one occasion - it was on a Saturday morning at the R.C.M.-he pounced on me with a demand to know why my eyes looked so tired and strained. I told him the simple truth-that I had smashed the only pair of eye-glasses I had in the world. With many a 'God's truth!' and gold coin (which last he stuffed into my hand with a helpful sort of bluster), he ordered me off to Bateman's shop in Kensington High Street to get a new pair. 'No prescription here', I confessed. 'Where is it?' 'Somewhere in a shop in Gloucester " I told him.
And he dismissed me with an apparently irrelevant invitation to come and see him on Monday afternoon. It was only when Monday came and I obeyed the invitation that I discovered what reference it had to my dilemma. For he promptly produced a brand-new pair of spectacles and bubbled over with pleasure as he put them on my nose with a 'There now! go and finish that blessed piano concerto!' Later from another source I learned of his extraordinary kindness. He had changed his plans for the week-end, had gone down to Gloucester, had called on the optician who possessed the prescription, and by threat or entreaty had prevailed on the good man to have the new glasses ready by Monday morning. He had collected them and brought them up to London. All this to save time and to spare an obscure student a few extra hours' discomfort."

Charles L. Graves Hubert Parry: His Life and Works Macmillan & Co. Limited London 1926. Volume 1 p 383. This anecdote originally appeared in the memorial numbed ot the RCM Magazine.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Benjamin Britten: String Quartets on EMI - Belcea Quartet

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) CD 1 String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (1941) String Quartet No. 2 in C Major, Op 36 (1945) CD 2 String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94 (1975) Three Divertimenti for String Quartet (1936)
Belcea Quartet (Corina Belcea (violin); Laura Samuel (violin); Krzystof Chorzelski (viola); Alasdair Tait (cello)). EMI CLASSICS 2285182

Over the Christmas period I had the pleasure of reviewing this excellent re-release of the Belcea Quartet’s account of the great cycle of Benjamin Britten’s String Quartets.
For enthusiasts of Britten’s music in particular and English music in general this is an important and exciting event and I was privileged “to have this spectacular release in my collection.”

Michael Cookson has written an extensive essay and comparison of these quartets for MusicWeb International and my review did not attempt to compete with this essential reading! I agreed with Michael’s statement that there are “so many excellent accounts of his [Britten’s] String Quartets available…” that it could be a hard choice for the a person approaching these works for the first time.
I considered the disparity between numbers of recordings- “The Arkiv CD database notes some eleven or twelve recordings of the Second and Third Quartets, whereas the First has only five”.
Furthermore, I agreed with him that few listeners would be disappointed with the three main contenders for attention –the Maggini, the Sorrel or the Belcea versions. Naturally, I was forced to come down on one side and state my preference – I suggested that “I would not like to be forced to choose one single version for my library – I believe that all three bring important insights. I guess that if the chips were down it would be the Belcea CDs for the overall interpretation. However, the Sorrel version (on Chandos would be my choice for ‘value for money’ –as they had the two un-numbered Quartets from 1928 and 1931 and the Alla Marcia as additional material.

Please read my full review at MusicWeb International

Sunday, 25 January 2009

William Lloyd Webber: Viola Sonatina

The first performance of this quite gorgeous work was not until February 1995. The programme notes relate that the reviewer in the Strad Magazine insisted that all violists “seize on it with delight.” I am not convinced that his has altogether happened. In fact there is only one recording of this work currently available - that by Philip Dukes and Sophia Rahman which was made in the August of that year.
Like with virtually all William Lloyd Webber’s music I find it hard to understand why it does not seem to have captured the public imagination. I do recall Classic FM having a little fad for his music a few years ago – with his Invocation and Serenade for Strings appearing quite regularly.
The Viola Sonatina was composed in 1952 and was especially written for John Yewe Dyer who was the viola player in, and founder member of, the once famous Menges Quartet.

In the post-war years William Lloyd Webber composed a small number of important works. From this period were the oratorio ‘St. Francis of Assisi’, the orchestral tone poem Aurora, the Three Spring Miniatures for piano, a Sonata for flute and piano and the present work. There were also a number of songs, organ pieces and ecclesiastical works.

The two things that define the opening ‘allegro comodo’ are the long melodic phrases on the viola and the often complex and abrupt harmonic changes. This is music that can barely contain itself within the limitations of its notional form. However the balance of the parts is near perfect and the listener is carried to the enigmatic close without losing interest or more to the point comprehension.
The slow movement, a ‘larghetto e molto sostenuto’ is the heart of the work. Lloyd Webber has taken what at first sight appears to have possibilities as a folk-tune and proceeds to develop this into a profound meditation that is full of darkness and foreboding. There is little to ease the heart here – except perhaps for passages in the beautiful piano accompaniment towards the end of the movement.
However the mood changes dramatically for the ‘vivo’ finale. All care, or at least nearly all care is cast aside. However, some of this music is quite acerbic for listeners who are only aware of Lloyd Webber’s Serenade for Strings. It is surely a prime example which shows that in spite of criticism to the contrary, the composer had not totally disengaged from ‘modern trends’. However the big tune given by the soloist just before the coda is of Elgarian breadth and gives this finale considerable stature.


In spite of the fact that it would be easy to try to categorise this music in terms of being 'retro’ when it was composed, or that it is easy to see the influence of Rachmaninov, Franck, Delius Elgar or anyone else for that matter, this is a fine work that is full of meaning, depth and expression.
It could easily be argues that this is hardly a Sonatina but more of a short Sonata. It is a great work that deserves its place in the viola and piano repertoire.

Listen to Paul Dukes and Sophia Rahman play this work on ASV CD DCA 961

Friday, 23 January 2009

Gustav Holst: Orchestral Works on Chandos conducted by the late Richard Hickox

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Orchestral Works - Vol. 1 The Ballet from ‘The Perfect Fool’ (1918-22) The Golden Goose - a choral ballet (1926) The Lure – ballet music (1921) The Morning of the Year - a choral ballet (1926-27) Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox CHANDOS CHSA5069

Rob Barnett at MusicWeb International has given a glowing review of this fine Chandos release of less well known music by Holst. What makes this all the more poignant is that:-
“With the death of Richard Hickox this disc will be the only volume in the intended Chandos Holst series unless another conductor takes over. This utterly splendid disc makes Richard’s passing all the more lamentable. It is in fact the finest Holst disc in years. Otherwise one needs to look back to the Lyrita recordings on SRCD 222 (Boult), 223 (Imogen Holst) and 209 (David Atherton) for anything anywhere near as good. Also don’t forget the essential Decca collection".

I guess that most Gustav Holst enthusiasts will have all the above mentioned CDs. However this music is of such interest and importance that there surely needs to be more than one recording available for listeners to explore. When one considers that there are some 67 recordings of The Planets currently available compared to just two (including the present CD) of The Lure, the urgency is put into focus.

Rob concludes his review by stating that:- “The listening experience of this disc is completed in princely style with full texts reproduced in the booklet. There’s also an attentive and authoritative note by Colin Matthews who has worked on many Holst scores including several used here.”


Please read Rob Barnett’s full review at MusicWeb International

Monday, 19 January 2009

Cyril Scott: Intermezzo for Piano Op 67 No.3

It is strange that Cyril Scott’s Intermezzo appears to be a piece of music that no-one wants to talk about. For example I searched through the programme notes for the Fourth Volume of Leslie De’ath’s fine cycle of Scott's Piano music on Dutton Epoch. I can find no mention of this work here – except for the track listing. And then I looked at his learned article on the Internet, and again no mention except for the catalogue reference. Ian Parrott in his booklet, Cyril Scott and his Piano Music also fails to give any criticism of this short piece. The same is true of Thomas Darson's dissertation, The Solo Piano Works of Cyril Scott – he does not choose to discuss this work. And finally there is no reference to this piece in Eaglefield Hull’s 1918 study of the composer. And finally, even the composer’s own autobiographical Bone of Contention does not consider this piece, however it is fair to say that this book is a little light on musical discussion

The facts of the music are relatively straightforward. In 1909 Cyril Scott had signed a contract with Elkin publishers which required him pt produce a considerable amount of ‘salon’ music. A similar agreement was made with Schott for his larger-scale works. Scott had the Intermezzo published in 1910 by Elkin – it is therefore assumed that it was written in either the same year or perhaps 19019. It was the third number of his Op.67. The Intermezzo was dedicated to Adine O’Neill who was the wife of his fellow composer and friend Norman O’Neill.
The other pieces in Scott's Opus 67 are: No.1 Mazurka (1909) No.2 Serenata (1909) No.4 Soirée japonaise (1910)
Apart form Leslie De’ath’s recent performance, the composer produced a piano roll in his lifetime. (Triphonola 50838). There appear to be no other commercial recordings.


The form of the work is really very straight forward. The piece is written in E major and is marked to be played ‘gently flowing.’ The music is some 52 bars long and consists of a sixteen bar melody which is effectively presented in varied form three times. The work ends with a soft codetta. As a piece of music it is probably about Grade 7 so is just about in the gift of an amateur. However, it requires considerable nuancing to display the subtle contrast between the repetitions of the melody, else interest may be lost. The general effect of the piece is dreamlike and has a feel to it that the listener has always known the tune.

Leslie De’ath plays this work on the Volume Four of the Dutton Cyril Scott Piano Music Cycle


Hear Philip Sear play this work on YouTube

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Paul Carr: A Very English Music

It is perhaps unfortunate that only three pieces of Paul Carr’s music are listed on the Arkiv CD database. For the record, as it were, these are the present suite, and two pieces for flute and piano, Summer was in August and Three Blue Pieces. I came across his A Very English Music the other days whilst exploring some of the fine, but largely ignored music on the Naxos English String Miniature series. Volume 6 of this collection has some superb works by Gustav Holst, Henry Purcell, Adam Carse and Paul Lewis. But it was Carr’s piece that caught my eye as it were.
Paul Carr has composed a variety of works – including a number of concertos for violin, viola, piano, flute and guitar. In 2003 he had a ‘hit’ with a wind quintet Diverting Sundays which was premièred at the Brighton Festival. Another side of his career is the writing of film and television music –this includes the scores for Lady Audley’s Secret and Being Considered.

A Very English Music is a short work lasting less than eight minutes, and consisting of three contrasting (sort of) movements that epitomise the English scene. Philip Lane writing in the sleeve notes declares that this work is a ‘paean to the English countryside and way of life’. The listener can hardly hear this Suite without feeling the urgent desire to pack their Ordnance Survey maps and thermos flask into the Morris Minor and head for the ‘Open Road’ in search of the landscapes that inspired this music.
The first movement is entitled Cuckmere Haven (looking towards Beachy Head). Those who have visited this interesting part of the Sussex landscape will know how well the music seems to mirror the image of the river and the Seven Sisters. It is a beautifully written piece that manages to convey the impressions of the traveller as they survey the landscape, perhaps from South Hill, Cliff End or even the Goldon Galleon public house at Exceat Bridge!
The Cornish Air is a celebration of the composer’s birthplace. This is surely summer’s day music. Sad and reflective maybe – but rejoicing in the sounds and smells of the English Riviera. Rob Barnett on MusicWeb points out that there are none of the notorious Cornish winds buffeting the calm and serene landscape! It is a beautiful and moving piece –recalling William Lloyd Webber’s Serenade for Strings and also Edward Elgar in places. A minor masterpiece.
Finally the last movement is to do with hunting-The Hunt Gathering. The programme notes suggest that the composer paints a picture of a meet at the Wiltshire village of Laycock. A number of characters gather here –the huntsmen, the horses, the dogs, the saboteurs and even the occasional fox! It is a fine example of composition that is totally at home in the great English tradition of writing for string orchestra.

Paul Carr’s A Very English Music can be heard on Naxos 8.557753

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Organ Music: Sounds of St. Asaph

Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697) Praeludium in E minor François Couperin (1668-1733) Three Movements from Messe Pour Les Paroisses: Et In Terra Pax / Benedicimus Te / Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi; J.S. Bach (1685-1750)Wir gläuben all' an einen Gott BWV680 (c.1739) J.D. Edwards (1805-1885)Rhosymedre; Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) Prelude On Rhosymedre (1920) Romanza: The White Rock (1956) Herbert Howells (1892-1983) Master Tallis's Testament (1940) Psalm Prelude Set 2 No 1 Ps 130 v1 Out Of The Deep Have I Called Unto Thee, O Lord (1938-39) William Mathias (1934-1992) Processional (1964) Chorale (1966) Recessional (1964) Camille Saint SaËns (1835-1921)Fantaisie in D flat Op.101 (1895) Petr Eben (1929-2007) The Wedding In Cana: No 4 of Four Biblical Dances (1990-91) A
lan McGuinness on the organ.
REGENT REGCD287

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this excellent CD or organ music from the small but perfectly proportioned Cathedral of St Asaph in North Wales. Perhaps the thing that impressed me most on this recital was the Vaughan Williams pieces –with a little extra:-
"One of the little treasures on this CD is the hymn tune Rhosymedre. Probably better known in its incarnation as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Prelude, it is nice to hear the original tune that was written within the bounds of the Diocese of St. Asaph. The Parish of Rhosymedre was established in 1844 and is situated in the River Dee valley. The first vicar of the parish, a certain Rev. John David Edwards wrote this tune during his time at the parish.
RVW wrote comparatively few works for the organ - or piano for that matter. Most impressive is the Prelude and Fugue in C minor. However his Prelude on Rhosymedre is probably the most popular and best known: it was the second of his Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymns. This is surely one of the loveliest pieces of organ music in the repertoire. It sounds surprisingly easy to play, but the simplicity belies a subtlety and poise that is near perfect".

Another interesting part of this recital are the three pieces by the great Welsh composer William Mathias, He was:-
“...the founder of the North Wales International Music Festival in St. Asaph is well represented on this disc with three fine pieces. I have always been a great fan of his Processional, which was written in 1964. I can recall just about getting my fingers round this work when I used to play the church organ. Unlike Alan McGuinness I was hardly note perfect and the pedal part was largely ‘faked’. It is well performed here, even if a little restrained. The Choral which was written at Easter 1966 is introverted and quite mysterious: I guess it has more to do with a misty Welsh landscape than anything Anglican or churchy. Perhaps the most impressive of Mathias’s ‘warhorses’ is the colourful Recessional. This work, as its title implies, would be played at the end of a service as the congregation leaves the Cathedral. I would probably hang on until the organist finished! After an impressive tuba solo, the piece develops contrasting moods of ‘dark brooding’ material with a much brighter tune that nods back to the Processional. The tuba solo at the conclusion banishes all care”.


Please read my full review at MusicWeb International

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

W.G Whittaker: Lancashire Sketches

I was perusing the Musical Times the other day when I came across a reference to a piece of music called “Lancashire Sketches” by the redoubtable William Gillies Whittaker (1876-1944)
Now, just for the record this Newcastle-born musician was very much a polymath: he was a composer, choral conductor, scholar and a teacher. Amongst his compositions are the large-scale Lyke-Wake Dirge and a piano quintet – Among the Northumbrian Hills which was composed in 1918.

However, it was the Lancashire Sketches that caught my eye. It was given a performance by the Catterall Quartet in the Picton Hall Liverpool on 8th December 1925. The other works in the programme were the Quartet in D by Cesar Franck and the Quartet in Bb by Johannes Brahms. No other details are available on the ‘net.

Does anyone known anything about this work by Whittaker? Was it published?

Please let me know…

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Arnold Bax: November Woods and article from the Sackbut by Edwin Evans

In pursuance of their plan for publishing the larger works of Arnold Bax, Messrs. Murdoch, Murdoch & Co have just issued their first orchestral score, that of his tone poem November Woods. It is a fine piece of printing, clear and not too crowded in view of the complex nature of the music. Moreover, it bears on its title-page two inscriptions which should make a wide appeal. To the patriotically inclined that which reads ‘printed in England’ will be welcome. Those whose instincts are more materialistic will be equally glad to learn that this sumptuous score can be obtained for the price of twenty five shillings, (£1.25p) which, as things go, is very moderate for nearly one hundred pages of full score. The Garden of Fand is to follow in the near future.

November Woods is one if the most interesting of Arnold Bax’s orchestral works. Appropriately enough its first performance took place in [18th]November 1920, at Manchester, under Mr. Hamilton Harty, who also gave the first London performance, a month later, [December 16th 1920] at a concert of the Royal Philharmonic Society. Since the perennial discussion of programme-music has recently broken out afresh it is perhaps advisable to accentuate that it is essentially a poem and not a picture.
It is not so much “the dank and stormy ruin of Nature in the autumn” that is its basis as the moods and impressions which are attuned to such surroundings. The idea took shape in a Buckinghamshire wood in November, but “if there are sounds in the music which recall the screaming of wind and cracking or strained branches, I hope” the composer writes, “they may suggest deeper things than these at the same time.
The middle part may be taken as a dream of happier days, such as may sometimes come in intervals of stress, either physical or mental.”

Bax is evidently anxious to disclaim any intentional realism, but a perusal of the score shows little ground for his concern. Such descriptive elements as can be discerned are employed symbolically, and in a tone-poem such as this there is an obvious advantage in taking symbols from Nature in preference to manufacturing arbitrary note-patterns and pinning labels to them. Aesthetically the process has more kinship with the impressionism of Debussy than with the illustrating methods of Strauss and other modern Germans. But in its application it is strictly personal, owing nothing to either. Impressionism of this kind employs suggestions, not for their own sake, but a contributory material for the moulding of works of beauty.
Had Bax been preoccupied with recording sounds heard in the woods, he must necessarily have deviated from his path towards a form of tone-painting which would have admitted unbeautiful sounds. To do so would have been utterly foreign to all that we know of him as a composer, for in his works, great and small alike, he has proved himself to be preoccupied with tonal beauty. In November Woods he takes a harsh mood of Nature, and presents its human reactions without the cheap aid of cacophony. In the truest sense of the word his poem is lyrical. Just as a literary poet inspired by the same subject would naturally fall into the use of words the very sound of which, apart from their significance, assisted to express his mood, Bax has employed elements of sonority, melodic, harmonic, and instrumental, which are charged with suggestion, but his use of them is lyrical. Therein lies the entire difference between tone-poetry and tone-painting. The divergence is that which divides musical opinion of today upon the subject or programme-music, and this work should be in itself sufficient to prove, if it were necessary, that Bax is on the right side of the dividing line- that is to say, the side on which pure music lies.

It is in keeping with this that, as in most of Bax’s works, the main melodic ideas are diatonic, and chromaticism is used for subsidiary purposes, though with his habitual freedom. In a technical sense this employment of chromatics is so characteristic that it would furnish proofs of identity in almost any page of his writing that had contrived to stray away from its context. An endless variation of ornament, of chromatic arabesque, is, as it were, his sign-manual. This is his personal solution of the problem of combining formal consistency with fluidity of invention. In the moulding of works of beauty it is the mark of his potter’s thumb. But enough of craftsmanship. There is already far too muck discussion of composer’s method. November Woods is the work of an inspired ton-poet, and it is of far greater importance that the details of its orthography.

Edwin Evans The Sackbut February 1922 pp33-4

Sunday, 11 January 2009

E.J. Moeran: Cherry Ripe- a two-part song.

I have often wondered what a copy of the E.J. Moeran’s two part song Cherry Ripe was doing in a second-hand bookshop in Wales. Especially as it used to belong to the Pontefract Music Festival up in the West Riding. It is not clear from the Festival’s Webpage if it is still extant: the latest update appears to be for 2004!

However the aims of this worthy society were/are quite simple. They provide a “competitive week of music, speech and drama for enthusiastic amateurs of all ages and levels of competence. Original and established works of poetry, speech and acting are performed as well as vocal solos, duets and choral pieces. Instrumental classes provide for solo performances, small groups, bands and orchestras and all participants benefit from help and guidance from very experienced adjudicators”

And perhaps most important of all, the “local people in the audiences enjoy the high standards of competitive performances at a very reasonable cost, the whole festival concluding with a superbly relaxed concert of the week's winners.”

But back to my copy of Moeran’s music. It cost me a princely sum of 25p (or five shillings in real money). Scribbled on the back of the music is the date 1982. I guess that this must have been the last time the work was sung – at least from this particular copy.

THERE is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies blow;
A heavenly paradise is that place,
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow:
There cherries grow which none may buy
Till 'Cherry-ripe' themselves do cry.
fffffffff
Those cherries fairly do enclose
Of orient pearl a double row,
Which when her lovely laughter shows,
They look like rose-buds fill'd with snow;
Yet them nor peer nor prince can buy
Till 'Cherry-ripe' themselves do cry.
vvvvv
Her eyes like angels watch them still;
Her brows like bended bows do stand,
Threat'ning with piercing frowns to kill
All that attempt with eye or hand
Those sacred cherries to come nigh,
Till 'Cherry-ripe' themselves do cry.

Cherry Ripe is one of Four English Lyrics that Jack Moeran composed in 1934. This was a providential time, for the composer, as he had also restarted work on his great G minor Symphony. Recently, in 1929, he had produced the excellent setting of James’ Joyce’s poems and the choral Songs of Springtime.
The Four Songs were Cherry Ripe by Thomas Campion, Willow Song by John Fletcher, The Constant Lover by William Brown and The Passionate Shepherd by Thomas Marlowe.

Geoffrey Self has noted that Moeran had little time for singers and he suggested that these songs were in fact ‘dumbed down’ so as to appeal to singers who typically ignored his music. Of course this version of Cherry Ripe is not the same tune as that used by Eric Coates in his Tarantella from the London Suite or even that used by Cyril Scott in his eponymous piano piece nor Frank Bridge in his exquisite miniature for string orchestra.

These pieces of music was based on other words and another tune:-
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.
Moeran sets the three verses of Campion’s song more or less strophically with only the second voice, the alto, and the accompaniment showing signs of variation. However, the effect is pleasing as it is one of those arrangements that are actually quite catchy and linger in the brain after hearing. Of course there is no current recording of this piece currently available, although I believe that it was issued on an old Hyperion vinyl LP.

One last thought. If this music ended up in the recycle bin at the Pontefract Music Festival offices, I wonder what else has been deemed to be old-fashioned, irrelevant and no longer required. Imagine, Ernest John Moeran being chucked out to make space for Andrew Lloyd Webber or Einaudi!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Phantasy & Fact: Mr Cobbett’s Unique Services to Chamber Music.

I recently found this excellent appreciation of the great 'promoter' of chamber music in the United Kingdom, Walter Willson Cobbett. This article is taken from the pages of The Music Student published on 17 January 1917.

It is difficult for various reasons to write on the subject of one so intimately connected with the work of The Music Student as is W.W. Cobbett. Even without this intimate connection, there are difficulties of superabundance of material and of the enthusiasm aroused by his personality and his work. Though rapidly approaching the close of his seventieth year (he was born on July 11th 1847, Mr Cobbett is still in spirit and in mind a young man. His great passion in life – Chamber Music - he approaches with all the ardour of a novice, though with the discretion and balance of a veteran. Of the various competitions he has inaugurated and conducted, providing both the money and the work from his own resources, it is necessary to speak only in passing.
In this direction he has not only established for himself a world-wide reputation; he has done a far greater and more useful work, for he has restored and developed a characteristic British Art form and has proved to the world and to England herself, that our country is not behind others in the highest and most subtle creative faculty. The art-form and the name of “Phantasy” was obtained form the Elizabethan composers, who however, spelt the name ‘Fantasie,’ and treated it in a somewhat free and easy way. Mr Cobbett modernised the spelling, and at his instigation many young composers encouraged by the competitions, have modernised the form. His methods have stirred and directed the powers of many of our young composers, who have found in Chamber Music a medium of expression congenial to the British nature.

Catholic Mind and Education
By nature as well as by education Mr. Cobbett is broad-minded and very catholic in his tastes. Most of his education was acquired in England but in his ‘teens he had the advantage of a long stay at Caen in Normandy, where he studied along with some young Frenchmen, attending lectures at the Faculté and getting a thorough insight into French literature. This gave him a taste for French life and letters which has never left him. From Caen he went to Frankfort-on-the-Main, where he spent six months receiving instruction from a German pastor, whom he describes as a typical Teuton. This worthy was so thorough that he committed the whole of his Greek and Latin dictionaries to memory; but he never in Mr. Cobbett’s recollection, made any reference to Greek or Latin literature.

The Soul of Chamber Music
Mr. Cobbett’s musical interest up to this time had been slight, although he played the violin to some extent. On his return home, however, his interest in Chamber Music (an interest that has gathered strength with the flight of the years) was aroused through attending Dando’s Quartet Concerts at Crosby Hall and Ella’s Musical Union Concerts at St. James’ Hall. From that time forward his solace from the cares of business has been the playing of Chamber Music, his ambition being to make practical acquaintance with every work of capital importance in the literature of the art, whilst his hobby since his retirement from these cares, has been the exhaustive study of the possibilities of Chamber Music, and its propaganda as part of the essential scheme of life. By word and his example, by his lectures (particularly to the Music Association) and by his own practice, he has constantly urged that the essential soul of Chamber Music is to be found in the home rather than the public performances, however beautiful these may be;; for the mere hearing of it cannot give the permanent satisfaction which arises from the actual participation in the work.
He is only a degree less interested in orchestral music, and was for nine years leader of the Strolling Players Amateur Orchestral Society.

Literary Propaganda
Literary work of various kinds in connection with his main subject has come in Mr. Cobbett’s way, and he has dealt with it in the same thorough and public spirited manner as his more purely musical work. To the later edition of Grove’s Dictionary he has contributed no less than sixty articles, including the one written on the Joachim Quartet. He has also written for the Musical Times (on Bohemian music) and for T.P.s Weekly, but his chief journalistic interest (apart, of course from The Music Student) has been to the Musical News. To this journal he has contributed many scores of articles, reviews, concert critiques and miscellaneous paragraphs. For an amateur to write so largely for a professional journal is quite unusual and note worthy, but it is the quality rather than the quantity which has been most striking. From the earliest days of the paper, Mr. Cobbett’s contributions were invariably marked by a real conception of the position and thoughts of the professional man.

A Favourite Theme
A favourite theme of Mr. Cobbett’s is that of the necessity to study literary culture alongside of musical culture, and he has offered prizes for essays on the subject. Another favourite theme is that of Cremona violins, the craftsmanship of which he finds very attractive. Thought not a collector, he has acquired four instruments of the first class, selected for their tonal qualities, and made by Stradivari, Guarneri, Montagnana and Stainer (viola).
As an organiser, Mr. Cobbett has won wide recognition, and is on the Councils of Trinity College of Music, the Musical Association, the International Musical Society, Society of British Composers, King Cole Chamber Music Club, the Professional Classes War Relief Council and the Committee for Music in War-time. The last of these he was to some extent instrumental in forming, and acted as Secretary during the first year of the war, the meetings being held at his house. Can it be wondered that all who are concerned in the production of the Music Student are pleased and proud to be associated with so active and enthusiastic a musician.?

Colleagues Appreciation.
At the last meeting held on December 9th 1916, the Directors of The Music Student, Ltd., passed the following resolution:-
“That a very heart vote of thanks be tendered on behalf of The Music Student, Ltd., to Mr. W.W. Cobbett, for his valuable contribution to its activities, as shewn in the Chamber Music Supplement, which publication for the past three-and-a-half years has been rendered possible solely by his generosity and literary ability.

The Music Student January 1917 p.190

Monday, 5 January 2009

John White & Alun Hoddinott: Piano Music on Lyrita.

John WHITE (b. 1936) Piano Sonata No.1 (1956) Piano Sonata No.5 (1959) Piano Sonata No.4 (1959) Piano Sonata No.9 (1960) Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008) Piano Sonata No.1, op.17 (1959) Nocturne No.2, op.16/1 (1959) Piano Sonata No.2, op.27 (1962) Nocturne No.1, op.9 (1956) Elegy, op.18/3 (1959) Colin Kingsley & Valerie Tryon, pianists. LYRITA REAM.2108


Alas I did not get this excellent CD to review – and I have not yet got round to buying it. Although I have had the vinyl for many years in my collection, I just do not get a round to playing them. The cycle of Hoddinott Sonatas were issued on Nimbus with Martin Jones at the piano. These have satisfied my listening over the last few years. However it is certainly great to have this music from the Lyrita archives back on-line - as it were! Furthermore it is surely good to have this release at the end of the year in which Alun Hoddinott died.

Bob Briggs has given a thoughtful review at MusicWeb International. He begins his consideration of these discs by suggesting that “This may seem an unusual marriage of composers, but it's not as strange as you might think. Both composers have written extensively for the piano - White is a fine pianist himself - and both have displayed a fascination with instrumental sonorities. Each has composed in all genres, and composed prolifically. Most importantly, and I keep writing this, but I do feel that it's important, each can really communicate with the audience.”

After an impressive resume of the Sonatas and other works from both composers he concludes by noting that “these are amongst the most important re-issues from Lyrita's early days. Although both composers have been recorded subsequently, these recordings represent some of their very earliest musical thoughts. These are the very pieces which tend to be overlooked when assessing a composer's works."

Please read Bob Briggs full review at MusicWeb International

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Malcolm Arnold: Blue Tune – a study in rhythms and colour

A few weeks ago, I was searching in the Oxfam Shop in Chester. Now over the last few years I have found a fair few gems of sheet music in this shop. However, that day I only managed to find one thing that interested me – a copy of the Grade 4 Guildhall School Pianoforte Examination Syllabus for a year unknown and un-stated on the publication. Amongst the pieces by Handel, Hook, Mozart and Walter Carroll was one called Blue Tune by a certain M. Arnold? Now even travelling home on the train and perusing the score I was able to divine that this small 16 bar ‘study’ was by Sir Malcolm – although the syllabus did not give the composer’s dates, the date of composition or even the work’s source.

I must admit to forgetting about this piece until a couple of days ago when I was tidying up my piano and organ music. Now that is always a big problem – for I usually find that every piece of music I pick up and try to sort into some kind of order has to be ‘played through’ – so either I get very little done, or else I am tidying up for a very long time!

I came across the above mentioned Blue Tune-a study in rhythms and colour by Arnold. So it had to be played. Immediately, I was struck that this work, in spite of its small scale, had a number of Arnoldian fingerprints.
However, the first problem was to find out what it was. My reference books on Sir Malcolm did not mention a ‘Blue Tune’ in any of the indices. However, the Internet soon solved the problem. It is part of a little known work called a Children’s Suite. Now I had all the information I required. The Bio-bibliography by Stewart R. Craggs told me that this Suite was composed in 1947, and was Arnold’s Op. 16. There are some six ‘movements' to this work:-Prelude, Carol, Shepherd’s Lament, Trumpet Tune, my Blue Tune and lastly a Folk Song. Stewart Craggs pointed out that, at least in 1998, the work had not been published and that the first performance details were untraceable. However a search on COPAC reveals that the work was indeed published by Alfred Lengnick & Co. in 1948.

Further good-news was that the work had been recorded by Benjamin Frith on Koch International Classics and even better news was that I had this CD in my collection!
The excellent programme notes by Martyn Williams brought the piece into perspective. The Children’s Suite was conceived as a short set of teaching pieces that addressed “areas in an accessible manner.” For example the Prelude is a study in fourth and fifths over which a gentle melody is floated. Other musical techniques are explored including; legato thirds for the left hand, triplets, trills and phrasing. Maurice Hinson in his excellent guide to the Pianist's Repertoire believes that these six pieces are “short, attractive and clever.”

So my lessons for the New Year are three-fold. Firstly is to try to remember what I have in my CD collection! Secondly to try to find the sheet music for the Children’s Suite and lastly to listen to a bit more of Malcolm Arnold's music –especially his largely ignored piano works.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A Happy New Year to all the Readers of The Land of Lost Content 'Blog'.

The New Year is a time for looking back and for looking forward…I guess that I will be posting about some or all of these composers and their anniversary works over the coming weeks and months.

Composer Anniversaries

Births
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) 350
Charles Avison (1709 -1770) 300 years
Basil Harwood (1859-1949) 150 years
Robin Orr (1909-2006) 100 years
James Macmillan (1959- ) 50 years

Deaths
Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) 250 years
Haydn Wood (1882-1959) 50 years
Felix Swinstead (1880-1959) 50 years
Stanley Bate (1911-1959) 50 years
Robin Milford (1903-1959) 50 years


In 1909 (Centenary) the following works were composed (largely composed) or received their first performances:-

Arnold BAX: In Faery Hills for orchestra
George BUTTERWORTH: ‘I Fear Thy Kisses’, song
Edward ELGAR: Elegy, for string orchestra
Edward GERMAN: Fallen Fairies, comic opera
Hamilton HARTY: Violin Concerto
Josef HOLBROOKE: Pierrot and Pierrette, opera
Gustav HOLST: First Suite for Military Band (composed); A Vision of Dame Christian, incidental music;
John IRELAND: Violin Sonata No 1
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: A Sea Symphony (completed) The Wasps, incidental music; On Wenlock Edge, song cycle
Roger QUILTER: Seven Elizabethan Lyrics


In 1959 (50th Anniversary) the following were composed (largely composed) or received their first performances:-


William ALWYN: Symphony No 4
Malcolm ARNOLD: Guitar Concerto; Five Songs of William Blake, for voices and strings
Arthur BENJAMIN: String Quartet No 2;
Lennox BERKELEY: Overture for light orchestra; Sonatina for two pianos;
Harrison BIRTWISTLE: Monody for Corpus Christi, for soprano, flute, horn and violin;
Havergal BRIAN: Symphony No.13
Benjamin BRITTEN: Cantata Academica; Carmen Basiliense, for solo voices, chorus and orchestra; Missa Brevis
Alan BUSH: Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue; Symphony No 3, Byron, for baritone, chorus and orchestra (1959-60)
Geoffrey BUSH: Songs of Wonder
Arnold COOKE: Ballet Suite: Jabez and the Devil; Five Part-songs for unaccompanied chorus
Peter Maxwell DAVIES: Ricercare and doubles on 'To many a well'; (revised 1976)
Peter DICKINSON: Three Juillard Dances, for instrumental ensemble; Variations, ballet; Vitalitas, ballet; Monologue for strings
Benjamin FRANKEL: Bagatelles for eleven instruments; Eight Songs for medium voice and piano
Peter Racine FRICKER: Serenade No 1 for flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, cello and harp; Serenade No 2 for flute, oboe and piano
Roberto GERHARD: Symphony No 2
Iain HAMILTON: Sinfonia for two orchestras
Alan HODDINOTT: Nocturne and Dance, for harp and orchestra; Piano Sonata No 1
Wilfred JOSEPHS: Concerto a Dodici, for wind ensemble
Elisabeth LUTYENS: Quincunx, for solo voices and orchestra (1959-60)
John McCABE: Violin Concerto No 1
Thea MUSGRAVE: Triptych, for tenor and orchestra
Priaulx RAINIER: Trio-suite for violin, cello and piano (composed) Pastoral Triptych (1958-59)
Alan RAWSTHORNE: Symphony No 2, A Pastoral Symphony
Edmund RUBBRA: Violin Concerto
Robert SIMPSON: Variations and Fugue for recorder and string quartet


With thanks to ‘THE DICTIONARY OF COMPOSERS AND THEIR MUSIC A LISTENER'S COMPANION’ by ERIC GILDER on MusicWeb International