Monday, 31 August 2009

Herbert Howells: String Quartet In Gloucestershire

Herbert Howells was exceedingly unlucky. On two occasions he lost manuscripts whilst travelling by rail. The score of Missa Sabrinensis was in a briefcase thrown out of a train window by a thief. This was later recovered from the line-side. However he was not so lucky with the String Quartet In Gloucestershire. It is understood that the composer had completed the work in 1916. Travelling on a local train between Gloucester and Lydney he left the score on the train and it has never been seen since. However three years later he began to remember themes and progressions from the original work and decided to rewrite the entire composition. The outcome was a completely new quartet, with some of the themes from the original and many new tunes for good measure. There were a couple of other revisions in 1920 and later in the 1930s. Palmer points out that the 'textual history' of this quartet is exceptionally fraught and suggests that there is much work to be done unravelling the revisions. As the notes were written in 1984, perhaps this detective work has been done?

There is no way that this quartet, Howells's third, can be epitomised as 'pastoral' music in the sense of a 'cow leaning over a fence.' It is, instead, a reflection on the emotions generated as a response to a very particular landscape, perceived perhaps with very special people in mind. There is a hill just outside of Gloucester that is called Chosen or Churchdown Hill that commanded a fine view of the Malverns and the Severn Valley. This hill was beloved by Howells and was haunted by his friends, including Ivor Gurney and Gerald Finzi; it is the inspiration for much of Howells' music and certainly forms a backdrop to the present piece.
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The Great War had been killing 'doomed youth' for two years when Howells first set pen to paper. Due to ill health he was unable to enlist in the army and this led him to considerable feelings of guilt. His rewriting and revisions were carried out in the aftermath of the war. He had seen what it had done to his friends - especially the poet and composer Ivor Gurney. The same poet, recalling his explorations with Howells remarked that the scherzo sounded like 'a great spring wind blowing the hair of the exultant traveller wandering without purpose save to find beauty and be comrade with the wind.'
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Yet this work is not all depression. It is a response to the landscape, in many ways a celebration of Howells' native heath. It is work of many moods. The first movement feels like a summer's day in the Cotswolds. The slow movement is a personal statement by Howells. This is the heart of the work; elegiac by design and deeply felt. The third is a breath of fresh air as Gurney pointed out in the quotation above. The last is almost dance-like.
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In Gloucestershire can be heard on Hyperion. Unfortunately there only appears to be one recording of this work at present

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Erik Chisholm: Music for Piano, Volume 5

Erik CHISHOLM (1904-1965) Music for Piano - Volume 5 Piobaireachd for solo piano (undated)Sonatina No.5 (undated) Sonatina No.6 (1946) Cameos (1926) Sonatina Ecossaise (1929 rev. 1951) Harris Dance (undated) Tango (1926) Sonata Electra (undated) Dance Bacchanal (1924)
Murray McLachlan (piano) DIVINE ART DIVERSIONS DDV 24140

I recently was able to review the fifth in a series of CDs dedicated to the complete piano works of the great, but relatively unknown Scottish composer and musician, Erik Chisholm.

It is virtually impossible to fault this fifth volume of an ongoing series of Erik Chisholm's piano music. In my review of the first four discs I noted the huge commitment made by the pianist Murray McLachlan. It is always a momentous task to record a cycle of piano works. It is even more onerous when the works are typically not in the public domain. This has to be definitive. It is unlikely that there will be a subsequent recording of the 'complete' works for many years, if ever. Fortunately McLachlan has risen to the challenge. He is ably assisted by the fine acoustic of the Whiteley Hall at that great Mancunian institution, Chetham's School of Music.
The presentation of the CD is rather good, with a nice photograph of 'pleasure boats on Loch Lomond'.
It is altogether a fine production and essential for anyone who is an enthusiast of British piano music. In fact, I believe that Erik Chisholm is so important that his music ought to have International status rather than just a local interest. I repeat my assertion that this series of CDs showcase one of the most important 'musical discoveries and revelations of the Twenty-First Century'.
Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Bluebell Klean: Composer, Concert Pianist [and Angler?]

Recently, whilst browsing the 1906 volume of The Musical Times in the Royal College of Music Library, I came across the name Bluebell Klean in connection with a Piano Quintet. Her name is but a small glimmer of light in the great mass of the history of British and European music. Certainly there is no society dedicated to the performance of her works or the keeping alive of her memory. There is no entry in Grove. I cannot find a photograph. Here and there I have found a few references but no substantial information. I have even checked the 1901 census records and have found no trace of her. For all one knows her name may be a pseudonym. I present here all that I have been able to find in the Musical Press and the Newspapers.

“Miss Bluebell Klean, a native of London, who gave her first chamber concert on 13 November [1906] at the Bechstein Hall, claims special attention, as the programme consisted almost entirely of her own compositions. The most important of these was a Quintet in C minor for pianoforte and strings, which proved a pleasing and genial work based on melodious themes, which are tersely and clearly developed with admirable perception of effectiveness and contrast. Six songs from the same pen, and some short and bright pianoforte pieces, show considerable originality in their harmonic scheme and avoidance of conventionality, while the songs, severally named Open the door, Come to me and The Water-Sprite, should find publishers. They were charmingly sung by Miss Esther Palliser, and the pianoforte pieces were expressively played by Miss Johanna Heymann. The Quintet was excellently rendered by the Hans Wessely Quartet with the composer at the pianoforte”.
The Musical Times 1 December 1906

Some eight years later, The Musical Times reported a concert held at the Bechstein Hall on 15th June 1914. Klean’s Piano Quintet was performed along with a selection of her songs performed by Miss Ada Crossley and Miss Xena Beaver.

The report of this concert was elaborated by Marion Scott and Katharine Eggar writing in The Music Student:-
"A Quintet for the usual allotment of strings and piano, and of more than usual merit, is that by Bluebell Klean. This work has already been heard several times in London, and is both vigorous and agreeable. The first movement opens in virile manner, and its themes are handled with great freedom of style. The second movement, Air Varié, is slightly ‘ordi­nary’ in its conception, but the extremely vivacious Scherzo is a brilliant movement, very well laid out for all the instruments. The Finale, though of very good ‘finalé’ character at its start, suffers a little from diffuseness, .and from disconnectedness in its very relationships; but the whole quintet is spontaneous, thoroughly musical, and, again to use that unsatisfactory word, most "effective."
The Music Student Chamber Music Supplement July 1914 p.97 [with minor edits]

The Observer newspaper also picked up on this concert and a short review stated that “In offering her compositions for criticism Miss Bluebell Klean at her concert in the Bechstein Hall on Monday evening obviously claimed only the consideration that is necessary to a refined type of drawing-room music. The composer has heard much music of a similar kind, had an assimilative disposition, and is capable of reproducing her acquisitions in an emulative spirit that permits an occasional fresh look on her material”.
June 21 1914 Observer

I found a reference to a concert given on 13 December 1917 at Bournemouth under the baton of Sir Dan Godfrey. The concert included the Prospero Overture by Frederick Corder and the Mendelssohn’s ‘Scotch’ Symphony. But the novelty was Bluebell Klean’s Pianoforte Concerto in E minor. This work was ‘very capably played by the composer and proved to be a work of merit’.

However, one of the strangest notices I found was also in The Observer newspaper. A report on the Hastings Angling Festival noted that a certain Miss Bluebell Klean took the greatest number of sizeable fish. This was out of a field of 300 competitors, including a ‘number’ of women. I wonder if it is the same lady? [October 5 1924 The Observer ]

Unfortunately there appears to be only two published works-
A Fancy from Fontenelle words by A. Dobson, (London : Weekes & Co), 1907
Humoresque for the Pianoforte (London : Weekes & Co), 1907

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Patrick Hadley: The Music

Patrick Hadley was influenced by the music of Frederick Delius and also to a certain extent folk music. But there were other non-musical influences in his life too - Ireland and Norfolk gave him a profound sense of landscape and location.
His output was limited. He found the business of composing quite exhausting. Most people think of Hadley as composer of one or two church anthems - I Sing of a Maiden and the mildly erotic My Beloved spake. The catalogue shows a wide variety of musical forms - from a Symphonic Ballad to incidental music for the Twelfth Night. However, there are no cycles of symphonies, concerti or string quartets.

He maintained throughout his a career a sense of the lyrical. Not for him was the experimental music of the Second Vienna School. He had an exceptional understanding of how to set words to music. Much of his music is meditative and quite inward looking. One is left wishing he had written more music for chamber and orchestral forces. Much of Patrick Hadley's music seems to evoke the English and the Irish landscape. This is sometimes overt and sometimes intangible. However it is always done in a very subtle and beautiful way.

One of Hadley's undoubted masterpieces is the Symphonic Ballad - The Trees so High. This is a large-scale setting of the folk song of that name for baritone, chorus and full orchestra. The work is in four movements and it is only in the last, that Hadley deploys the chorus and soloist. It is in this movement that Hadley quotes the folk-song in its entirety.
The Hills was completed in 1944 and is perhaps the finest of Hadley’s cantatas. The others two being Fen and Flood and Connemara. It has strong personal links with the composer’s life, dealing with the meeting, courtship and marriage of his parents. The landscape described is Derbyshire and this is well reflected in the music. One is reminded, perhaps of Delius’ Mass of Life.

Perhaps the gentlest introduction to Hadley is his short orchestral work – One Morning in Spring, which was composed to celebrate Ralph Vaughan Williams 70th birthday. It is a fine example of an English tone poem.
Perhaps the desideratum is the early orchestral sketch ‘Kinder Scout.’ However this is still in manuscript and will take an adventurous record company to produce it.

Although Hadley was best of friends with Ralph Vaughan Williams, he never truly bought into the so-called folk song revival. Much of his music has folk characteristics, however not for him the old adage of Constant Lambert - all you can do with a folk tune is to repeat it -louder! Hadley's use of the folk idiom was subtle.
Much of the composer's output was connected with the Caius Choir. He did a number of arrangements of works in many different genres - from Verdi's Stabat Mater to Waltzing Matilda.
Patrick ‘Paddy’ Hadley’s music will never be widely popular. However, he will appeal greatly to those interested in British music. If he had only composed the Symphonic Ballad – The Trees So High and nothing else, he would be respected as a fine composer. As it is all his works exhibit a great degree of skill, craftsmanship and sheer musicality.

Originally Published on MusicWeb International

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Herbert Howells: Music from Hereford Cathedral

Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Te Deum and Jubilate (Collegium Regale) (1944) O pray for the peace of Jerusalem No.1 of Four Anthems (1941) Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Gloucester Service) (1946) We have heard with our ears No.2 of Four Anthem (1941) Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Hereford Service) (1969) Like as the hart No.3 of Four Anthems (1941) Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Worcester Service) (1951) Let God arise No.4 of Four Anthems (1941) Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Regale) (1946)
The Choir of Hereford Cathedral conducted by Geraint Bowen with Peter Dyke, organ
REGENT REGCD316

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this excellent CD of music by Herbert Howells. I confessed that I have always loved Hereford - both the Cathedral and the town. It seems to me to be the most unspoilt of the Three Choirs venues. Although I do concede that many people would question my judgement!
I believe that this “is an essential CD for all Howells enthusiasts as well as being a fine introduction to listeners who are not familiar with the composer's liturgical music”.
For most listeners, the main event on this CD is the three sets of Canticles for Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. Few readers will be unaware of the importance of the great Three Choirs Festival in the lives of countless musicians - both from the local area and without. Howells had a long association with the Festival, from the time that he was studying with Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral, through the revelatory premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia down to the performance of Howells's own masterpieces Hymnus Paradisi and Missa Sabrinensis. It is hardly surprising that he chose to compose three of his finest settings of the 'Mag. and Nunc Dim' for 'his' cathedrals. All three of these works reveal a mature composer who was able to synthesise the traditions of Anglican choral music with his own personal impressionistic language.

Please read my full review at MusicWeb International

Friday, 21 August 2009

Angela Morley: Rotten Row – A miniature for orchestra.

I was walking across Park Lane into Hyde Park the other day in the summer sunshine (such as we have had this year) and headed towards the Serpentine. As I passed the bandstand I could see a number of horsemen riding along Rotten Row. Unusually, they were not cavalrymen, but seemed to be members of the public. I wondered where they stabled their horses in Central London?
It is not the place to speculate on the name of this bridleway, save to say that I was always told that is was the Route de Roi – but I shall leave that to the local historians and philologists. As a musician my mind thought of the attractive miniature by Angela Morley, Rotten Row. This is surely one of the most attractive pieces of light music in the repertoire. It is strange that only a single recording of this work is currently available.
It is a little confusing when considering any piece by Angela Morley as she changed name and sex in the early ‘seventies – until that time she was known as Wally Stott. However, although Rotten Row was composed in 1960 it is assigned to the composer’s latter name. Morley is best known for her scores to the films Watership Down and The Slipper and the Rose. She also wrote the music for the Goons and for Hancock’s Half Hour. She died in January of this year.
The piece opens with an upward harp glissando before the main theme establishes itself. This is totally untroubled music that makes you feel good. The clip-clop, the harness bells and jogging-along imagery are maintained throughout most of the piece. However the orchestra passes the theme and its variants between sections – with the horns having a marginally reflective moment. The orchestration is typically delicate and is well varied. The piece ends with a little pizzicato figure and a downward glissando from the harp – taking the miniature a full circle.
Rob Barnett on MusicWeb has described this piece as a “frilly and flouncy piece of pink ‘fifties fluff. It is suggestive of debonair horsey folk taking the air- elegant and superficial.” This seems as little harsh on both the horse-riding fraternity and the music – I do not think that Morley was trying to be particularly profound, pink is not the colour that suggests itself to me and horsey folk are not always superficial!
The reviewer in Gramophone “enjoyed [this piece] clip-clopping along like Leroy Anderson.
I like this piece: it is in same mould as Benjamin Frankel’s Horse and Pair. However, what impressed me most was the subtle orchestration, which is really rather good. And finally, it is a fine impression of an era that has all but disappeared. It is only with a little imagination that I could feel my way back to 1960, far less an earlier period, with the roar of traffic on Park Lane and the mass of the Hilton Hotel behind me and roller-bladers in backward- baseball caps swerving to avoid me on the path.

Angela Morley’s Rotten Row is recorded on White Line CD WHL 2138

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

Monday, 17 August 2009

Charles Villiers Stanford: Tennyson, the Isle of Wight and Stage Intrigue.

A short extract from the composers fascinating and often extremely funny Pages from an Unwritten Diary. Stanford manages to deal with student ‘howlers’, a meeting with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and back-stage intrigue in under five-hundred words.

In the Christmas vacation of 1879 I was saddled with the appalling burthen of examining some thousand papers on music for the local examinations of the
University. Knowledge of the art at that time amongst the youth of the country was limited in extent and superficial in quality. The dullness of the process of paper-marking was however relieved by some 'howlers’ which still live in my memory:
notably the names of three oratorios, which were cited in answer to a request for the names of some of the choral works of Handel and Mendelssohn. The three novel titles were Jacabenus, a portmanteau word for Judas Maccabaeus and Jack and the Beanstalk which was worthy of Lewis Carroll himself, another version of the same oratorio dubbed Judius Macabeth, and best of all a modest general-servant title of a score, which would only need to be written to command instant success, and even acceptance at the Albert Hall, Eliza.

I migrated to the Hotel at Freshwater [1] to get some Atlantic air in the intervals of this penal servitude. From my window I saw on the first morning a figure in a large cloak with a broad-brimmed wide-awake [2] pounding up the avenue in the rain and wind, in company with a young man and a grey Irish deer-hound. It was Tennyson. I had already had experience of his kindness, when I was an unknown student at Leipzig. He had heard of me through his sons, and asked me to write the music for Queen Mary, [3] when that tragedy was produced by Mrs. Bateman at the Lyceum Theatre. His friendly intentions were defeated at the last moment by the conductor who, as it appeared, desired the commission for himself, and by the manageress who discovered rather late in the day, and after I had been instructed what instruments were available and had scored it accordingly, that there was not sufficient room for the players without sacrificing two rows of stalls. Tennyson privately, and without telling me a word, offered to pay for the loss of the stalls for a certain number of nights, but his offer was refused. When the performance took place, there turned out to be as many players in the orchestra as the score required. It was my first experience (and unhappily not my last) of stage intrigue. Henry Irving, who played Philip, but who had not at that time any voice in the management, was as perturbed about the matter as the poet himself, and took care when Becket [3] was produced in 1893 to make more than ample amends for the disappointment.

Charles Villiers Stanford Pages from an Unwritten Diary (London, 1914) p.229 [with minor edits]
[1] Small town at the western end of the Isle of Wight
[2] A broad-brimmed, low-crowned felt hat.
[3] In 1876. The music for the actual performance was composed by a certain Robert Stoepel, who, according to Jeremy Dibble, had wanted to write the score for Tennyson’s play.
[4] Becket Op.48 This music to Tennyson’s play was composed in 1892.


Saturday, 15 August 2009

Patrick Hadley: The Man

Patrick Hadley was born in Cambridge on 5th March 1899. His father, William Sheldon Hadley was at that time a fellow of Pembroke College. His mother, Edith Jane, was the daughter of Rev. Robert Foster, Chaplain to the Royal Hibernian Military School in Dublin.

Patrick studied initially at St Ronan's Preparatory School at West Worthing and then at Winchester College. However the First World War interrupted his education. He enlisted in the army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. He managed to survive unscathed until the last weeks of the war when he received an injury that resulted in his right leg being amputated below the knee. This had a profound effect on his confidence and also caused him to perhaps drink more than was wise; alcohol acted as relief for the considerable pain he was constantly in. Hadley's elder brother was himself killed in action during the Great War.

After the War he went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was fortunate to study with both Charles Wood and the undervalued English composer, Cyril Rootham. Hadley was awarded Mus. B in 1922, and an MA in 1925. He then went to the Royal College of Music in London. Here he came under the influence of Ralph Vaughan Williams for composition and Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent for conducting. Eric Weatherall notes that Hadley's contemporaries at the RCM included Constant Lambert and Gordon Jacob. He won the Sullivan prize for composition at that time the princely sum of 5/-.

He eventually became a member of the RCM staff in 1925 and taught composition. He became aquainted with Delius (see Eric Fenby's account in 'Delius as I knew him') E.J. Moeran, Sir Arnold Bax, William Walton, Alan Rawsthorne and Herbert Howells. In fact his friends are a litany of all that was best in English Music at that time.

In 1938 he was offered a Fellowship of Gonville and Caius College in Cambridgeshire and a position as lecturer at Cambridge University. Much of his time was spent in run of the mill activities associated with the administration of the music faculty. However, there was still time available for composition. Some of his greatest works were written during and after the war.
During the Second World War he deputised for Boris Ord as the conductor and musical director of the Cambridge University Music Society. There he introduced a number of important works, including Delius' Appalachia and The Song of the High Hills.
He was keen to promote a wide range of music - including the formation of a Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Much of his time was spent in making arrangements for the use of the 'chaps' in the choir. However, most of these have not survived. We know them only from programmes notes and hearsay.
In 1946 he was elected to the Chair of Music at Cambridge University. He retained this post until his retirement in 1962. Some of the students taught by Hadley have gone on to make big names for themselves; Raymond Leppard, David Lumsden and Peter le Huray.
In 1962 Hadley retired to his house at Heacham. He wished to pursue his interest in folk-song collection. However, he latterly struggled with throat cancer and this caused many of his activities to be suspended.
Patrick Hadley died on 17th December 1973 at Kings Lynn. He was 74 years old.

Originally Published on MusicWeb International

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Jane Joseph: A brief discussion of her published music by Gustav Holst

Following on from a short but sympathetic appreciation of Holst’s former pupil, he gives some account of her music and a partial list of works. It is worth quoting the entire list as it does not seem to appear in any other publications.

Among her published works my favourites are:
I.-‘Venite' for chorus and orchestra. After its first public performance by the Philharmonic Choir under Kennedy Scott at Queen's Hall, the Spectator of January 30, 1923, contained an article on Jane Joseph in which it called this work "a very notable addition to modern British music. Miss Joseph's 'Venite' is written in a great tradition ... however much the 'Venite' owes in spirit to the Tudor composers, it is an individual and self-supporting growth from that great tree, and its roots draw energy and life from fresh, unvitiated ground."
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II.-'Bergamask’ for orchestra. This was produced by the 'Patron's Fund' on November 14, 1DlD. It received very eulogistic Press notices and was the first piece to be performed at the London Coliseum under an excellent scheme of Sir Oswald Stoll's for the popularizing of British music.

III.-'Morris Dance' for small orchestra. This was written for a Morley College Whitsuntide Festival at Thaxted. It is a charming and brilliant little work, well within the scope of a good amateur band.

IV.-'A little childe there is ibore' for women's voices and strings. This is the best of Jane's many carols, and perhaps the hardest to perform well. The MS. orchestral score and parts are lost. If any reader of The Monthly Musical Record can give me any information about them I shall be most grateful [a bit late now as the magazine has ceased production - but you could let me know! .ed]

V.-'Whitsunday.'-A flawless little motet for mixed voices. It is both beautiful and easy.

In the death of Jane Joseph we lost an artist before her powers were fully developed. Those who knew her are rich in possessing the memory of one whose genius for friendship will remain a living inspiration.

Published Works of Jane Joseph

Choral
Three old carols for women's voices (unaccompanied) 'The Three Kings'; 'Adam lay i-bounden '; 'Of one that is so fair.'
Seven two-part songs for sopranos (piano accompaniment) 'The Ladybird'; 'Wind Flowers'; 'Boats and Bridges '; The Pig'; 'Hope and Joy'; 'The Rose '; 'Lullaby,'
'Hymn for Whitsuntide '; chorus (unaccompanied).
'Noel': Carol for voices in unison (piano accompaniment).
'Wassail Song' and' The Carrion Crow': Women's voices (unaccompanied)
'Morley Rounds'; Sets I. and II,
'Venite.'
'A little Childe there is ibore '; chorus and orchestra.

Pianoforte
Playing Time Duets.
Five Progressive Pieces.
'Scrap Book'
Suite of Five Pieces: Minuet; Bourree; Sarabande; Air; Jig.
Seven short pieces: Little Piece; Sonatina; Song without words; Court Dance; Legend; Cradle Song; Humoresque.
Bergamask.
Morris Dance.

Orchestral

Bergamask
Morris Dane

Unpublished works

Orchestral
Rabbit Dance (strings);
Cradle Song (strings);
Country Dance (strings);
Sonatina for School Bands (strings);
Passepied (full);
'I will give my love an apple' (full) ;
Andante (full);
Symphonic Dance (full);
'The Enamoured Shepherd,' ballet (full).

Chamber Works
Miniature Quartet (oboe, violin, viola and violoncello);
String Quartet

Variations on an American Air (horn and piano);
Duet (violin and cello);
Allegretto (two flutes, two oboes, one clarinet, one bassoon);
Two Short Trios (violin, cello and piano).

Songs with String Accompaniment
‘Two Doves '; 'Oh, Roses'; 'One foot on sea'; 'Sleep, cast thy canopy'; 'I'll give my love an apple' (with oboe); ‘The seeds of love.'

Chorus with Orchestra
Christmas Cantata
A 'Wedding Antiphon
Kyrie
'Noel'
Christmas Song
'The Night '
'The Morning Watch'

Incidental Music to Plays.
‘Amy Clarke's Play'
‘With the Dawn'
'Famine Song '
'Awake the Shade '
'Spirit Music'
'The Moon's Eclipse '
‘Procession and Ballet’

Also: Nine piano pieces; 4 unaccompanied songs; 29 songs with piano; 2 two-part songs with piano; 26 choral pieces, unaccompanied; 10 orchestral arrangements (including folk-dances); 28 unison songs (arranged with orchestra); 5 choral pieces (arrangements, unaccompanied); 5 rounds.

Gustav Holst The Monthly Musical Record April 1 1931 p.98 (with minor edits)

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Montague Phillips Hampton Court Overture Op.76

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

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Frederic Herbert Wood: Scenes from Kent

Recently I was reading through a short essay on organ music by Charles F. Waters and came across a section about music reflecting lines of poetry and prose. Reference was made to a suite by Alec Rowley called The Four Winds. I have this piece somewhere in my collection of organ music, so perhaps more about that piece another day. But it was the following paragraph that caught my eye. Waters wrote: - “The pictorial path was pursued further by Frederic H. Wood (1880-1963) in his suite Scenes in Kent, published by Stainer and Bell in 1924. The four movements comprise and expressive movement for Aylesford Bridge, a rapid moto perpetuo for Allington Lock, a romantic soloed piece for Orchard Blossom, and a carillon for Rochester Bells.”
These are pieces that I have neither heard, nor heard of. Wood followed up the success of this pieces with further suites depicting scenes in other parts of the country –
Scenes from Northumberland Op.25 (1925)
North Tynedale, Cilurnum, Allendale, Borcovicus

Scenes on the Wye (1926)
Rhayader, Monmouth, Tintern, Symonds Yat

Scenes on the Downs Op.29 (1929)
Sunrise on Stonehenge, A Down's Morris, Evening on the Downs, Morning on the Downs

Frederic H Wood was the organist at Blackpool Parish Church for 45 years. He composed a great deal of music for liturgical and recital purposes. Yet as Philip Scowcroft has pointed out, it is the topographical suites that seem to be his musical trademark. Scowcroft suggests that these Suites are “very much in the style of Coates ... contemporary orchestral music and perhaps ranging further than Coates in a geographical sense. Finally, he notes that “The first and last of these suites have been recorded recently; surprisingly they do not appear ever to have been orchestrated. If they were they might have achieved greater popularity.”

At the earliest opportunity I am going to download the two Suites from Amazon and I will then be in a better position to report back as to whether Philip Scowcroft is justified in his enthusiasm. Something tells me that I will be impressed.

Finally in Wood’s obituary in the Musical Times, Peter Dickinson has pointed out that composer’s “published organ music gave him great satisfaction because the photographs used on the covers were his own. The acquisition of the sheet music seems to me to be a priority.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Ian Venables: At Malvern A Pastoral or a Confessional Poem?

Ian Venables is a composer who appeals to me considerably. His style of composition is a perfect balance between tradition and modernity, without ever indulging in effect for effect's sake. He is not a minimalist, a serialist or any other kind of 'ist'. Neither has he taken one successful tune and regurgitated it umpteen times. His music is a fusion of the reflective and the optimistic. It reminds the listener of Finzi, Gurney and other 'English Masters' without ever descending into pastiche or parody.
He is especially convincing when it comes to writing songs. I recently made a considerable study of Venables fine setting of the largely ignored Victorian poet John Addinton Symonds - 'At Malvern'. It opened my eyes to a largely forgotten poet who was also a champion of classical learning and an early supporter of gay rights. The musical setting is impressive and allows and assists the text to speak for itself. Yet I was not happy with the general consensus that this song was somehow a pastoral idyll - either textually or musically. I began my essay by suggesting that:-
Rob Barnett in a review on MusicWeb International suggests that At Malvern is “all moonlight and the lapping of cool waters.” On one level this sums up the song’s mood, but it fails to intimate the considerable emotional depth of the poem and its musical setting. The liner note provided with the CD also down-plays the true nature of this piece – it suggests that the poet has “evoked the calm and serenity of Malvern in the 1860’s where little could be heard, but the sounds of nature and the distant bells of the famous priory”.
I believe that this misses the point of the poem. What may seem to be a pastoral idyll is in fact a cry from the heart of a poet who is suffering from confusion, frustration and angst: it is played out against the rural backdrop of the Malvern Hills. This dichotomy is a sentiment that is well expressed by both the words and the music.


Please read the complete article at MusicWeb International

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Alun Hoddinott, William Mathias & Daniel Jones: Welsh Dances on Lyrita

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this fine new release from Lyrita. It is a significant CD that seems to me to tidy up a lot of loose ends. I do not mean to imply that somehow these works are scraps or inconsequential. A brief look at the CD catalogue shows that there are a fair number of major works by Mathias, Hoddinott and Jones. These are by and large from the Lyrita and Nimbus stables and more often than not represent a serious diet of concertos, quartets, sonatas and symphonies. However there is a definite shortfall in the lighter and more approachable works from these three composers. Lyrita have presented here a series of Welsh or Celtic inspired dances alongside an Overture and Concerto Grosso by three of the most important composers from the Principality. Each and every one of these works is worthy of their composer and all deserve to be represented in the CD catalogues. 
I first came across Alun Hoddinott through an old Golden Guinea LP (GSGC1410 7) that featured his Clarinet Sonata and String Quartet No.1. It was coupled with two major chamber pieces by Alan Rawsthorne. I guess that it was a strange introduction to Hoddinott's music but it did introduce me to a composer who seemed to cross the boundary between avant-garde and traditional musical expression. It was not until a couple of years later, when on holiday in Llandudno that I found the Pye BBC (RRC 22) record of music from Wales that included a number of the works that are performed on this present CD. These included the second suite of the Welsh Dances, the Concerto Grosso, the Investiture Dances and Mathias's Celtic Dances and his Sinfonietta. It was a fine introduction to a really attractive series of 'modern' yet approachable, works: they have been unavailable to listeners for far too long.

All the works impressed me but perhaps the only piece I had not heard before was the Dance Fantasy by Daniel Jones.
Jones is a grossly underestimated composer. He is only represented by two CDs dedicated to his magnificent symphonies on Lyrita, and a couple of pieces here and there. The present Dance Fantasy is a welcome addition to the short list of works available. The piece was composed in August 1976 and was commissioned for that year's North Wales Music Festival and was first performed at St. Asaph by the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Norman del Mar. It is a powerful but ultimately jolly work that the composer has insisted could be danced to throughout. Geraint Lewis writing Jones' obituary in the Independent in 1993 suggests that 'The Welsh sense of rhetoric is never far away from Jones's music and his most frequently performed orchestral piece - the popular Dance Fantasy (1976) is imbued with a stirringly Celtic sense of heraldic display'. Just how much of Wales is here I am not sure -but certainly there are nods to the Appalachian Spring and perhaps even to Spain. Paul Conway writing in the liner notes that it is 'Daniel Jones' most popular and frequently performed work.' I guess that he is not really a 'household name' but let us hope that this present CD will encourage more listeners to explore his music.

TrackListing

Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008) Four Welsh Dances Op.15 (1958)* Overture, Jack Straw Op. 35 (1964)** Concerto Grosso No. 2 Op.46 (1966)*** Investiture Dances Op. 66 (1969)*** Welsh Dances, Set 2 Op.64 (1969)*** William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Celtic Dances Op.60 (1972)*** Daniel JONES (1912-1993) Dance Fantasy (1976)**** Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Groves* Philharmonia Orchestra/Charles Groves** National Youth Orchestra of Wales/Arthur Davison*** BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson**** LYRITA SRCD.334

Please read my full review on MusicWeb International

Monday, 3 August 2009

Paul Lewis: Festival of London March

I once met a man on Hungerford Bridge who told me he had watched the Royal Festival Hall being built. In fact he recalled the Red Lion Brewery, which he reckoned, was there before the war and was demolished either by the Luftwaffe or the builders. I think he suggested that as a young man he had drunk this company’s beer. He told me about the Festival of Britain and all the exciting buildings that were erected on the South Bank including the ‘dome’ and the Skylon. Certainly he rated the Festival Hall, but bemoaned the other ‘Brutalist’ buildings such as the Hayward Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the National Theatre that have been constructed subsequently. I concurred. I remember my father telling me how he had taken my mother to the Festival in 1951 and how he had described to me many of the exhibits. I have always felt that I missed out on something very special.

Paul Lewis, who was born in 1943 was a young lad of eight at the time of the Festival of Britain, however he recalls being “enthralled” when taken there at that time. Although not the direct inspiration of this work, the Festival was certainly a background contributory factor.
The Festival of London March was sketched out in 1960 but had to wait another eleven years before it was orchestrated. In 1971 it was used as the finale of the London Festival Ballet’s 21st Birthday Gala Performance at the London Coliseum.

The listener should be warned that this piece does not necessarily fulfil the expectation. I guess that when I saw the title I expected either a ‘sixties version of ‘pomp and circumstance’ or more likely a pastiche of Eric Coates London Suite or his Holborn March or perhaps something akin to Haydn Wood’s descriptions of the London scene. The reality is that Lewis’s piece is a lot lighter and does not strive to emulate any particular style of ‘ceremonial’ music. If anything the nods are to an earlier generation, certainly in the ‘march’ part of the music. The ‘trio’ is a little more typical of the genre, but never quite manages to give me goose pimples or cause the hair to rise at the back of my neck. I guess that Handel’s Water Music is perhaps the best comparison, seen through the lens of modern day London. I was impressed with the orchestration of this piece, even if it is a little on the light side. Yet it is this lightness that gives the texture of the music a greater clarity..

Unfortunately there has been little criticism of this work. I was unable to find any reference to the 1971 celebrations in the contemporary media. Rob Barnett on MusicWeb International suggests that the March rolls and sways “with Handelian breadth but without the crushing Germanic weight of that composer.” I think this is a fair judgement.

Paul Lewis’s Festival of London March is recorded on White Line CD WHL 2138

Saturday, 1 August 2009

George Butterworth: Firle Beacon for piano solo




The other day I heard George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow on Classic FM. Now, I think this is a great work, and have loved it since I first heard it on an old Decca Eclipse record some 35 years ago. However, it is sad to note that this is the only piece by the composer scheduled in their play-lists. In fact it has been played three times in the past week!
Butterworth’s catalogue is exceedingly small – three short choral pieces, four orchestral works, some eighteen songs, and an unpublished Suite for String Quartet. In addition to this list, there are a considerable number of folksongs and Morris Dances that were collected and edited by the composer: many of these are still in manuscript. Furthermore it is known that he destroyed a number of pieces before going to fight on the Western Front in 1915. He died there on 5th August the following year at Pozières.
A number of his folksongs were collected whilst on tramping holidays in the Sussex Downs. About four and a half miles due north of East Blatchington, and not far from Seaford and Newhaven, there is a fine local landmark. This is Firle Beacon. This hill is connected to the Downs where they run south to Beachy Head. It is part of a landscape that is littered with ancient monuments and burrows. Rudyard Kipling has alluded to this timeless landscape in a little couplet:-
“Firle, Mount Cabiarn and Mount Harry
Go back as far as sums'll carry."
In the last century local residents had, and may still have, a little weather rhyme:
When Firle Beacon wears a cap
We in the valley gets a drap ;
When Firle Beacon's head is bare
All next day it will be fair.

George Butterworth was obviously inspired by this landscape – he composed a piano piece called simply Firle Beacon. Michael Barlow notes that it was completed sometime before 1911. There is no manuscript, it was never published and there is no history of a public performance.
However there is a reference to the piece in short tribute to the composer by Ralph Vaughan Williams. He writes:
"One of my most grateful memories of George is connected with my London Symphony, indeed I owe its whole idea to him. I remember very well how the idea originated. He had been sitting with us one evening talking, smoking, and playing (I like to think that it was one of those rare occasions when we persuaded him to play us his beautiful little pianoforte piece, 'Firle Beacon'), and at the end of the evening, just as he was getting up to go, he said, in his characteristically abrupt way, 'You know, you ought to write a symphony.' From that moment the idea of a symphony—a thing which I had always declared I would never attempt-- dominated my mind. I showed the sketches to George, bit by bit as they were finished, and it was then that I realized that he possessed, in common with very few composers, a wonderful power of criticism of other men's work and insight into their ideas and motives. I can never feel too grateful to him for all he did for me over this work and his help did not stop short at criticism".
Geogre Butterworth (1885-1916): Memorial Volume 1918 - privately printed memoir and appreciations.

Firle Beacon will never be recovered. Yet it remains one of those lost works that I would live to have heard. There is something evocative about the title that suggests it would have been an attractive piece. Of course there is no way of telling what its stylistic parameters were. But perhaps it may have owed something to the style of John Ireland or Frank Bridge. Of course it could have been a folk song rhapsody. All we can tell is that R.V.W thought that it was a beautiful little piano piece.