Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Robert Farnon: Mr Punch – from Three More Impressions for Orchestra.

I have always had a soft spot for Mr Punch, ever since I watched a show on the seafront at Fleetwood. I was certainly old enough to realise that these characters were puppets operated by a man in the red and white striped tent, but I was curious as to why he was billed as a Professor. I guess I wondered why he was running a show on the Prom and not teaching ‘Rocket Science’ or ‘Pure Mathematics’ at the Oxford University. Perhaps he had been ‘defrocked’ or whatever they do to ‘naughty’ professors? But my father assured me that it was simply an honorary title that Punch and Judy men and women have adopted over the years. I was content to watch the rest of the show. Many years later I discovered the wonderful music ballet by Richard Arnell Punch and the Child on an old recording by Sir Thomas Beecham. This music has recently been recorded by Dutton Epoch as a part of their survey of Arnell’s music.
However it was the short but attractive piece by Robert Farnon that recently caught my eye, so to speak. Mr. Punch was the first of a group of three pieces called Three More Impressions written in 1959. The other two were The First Waltz and the Dominion Day March.
ppp
Mr Punch is an excellent example of how a piece of light music ought to be written: it should be a technically competent work that is tuneful, enjoyable and if possible evoking a response to the title. This work scores on all accounts.
The work opens with a cheeky flourish that soon leads into the main tune. This is repeated, before a brassy variation leads to a fine pizzicato central section that is complemented by the celesta. The opening theme returns, in a slightly more a more romantic mood, which is certainly no commentary on Mr. Punch’s relationship with his wife! Then it is all downhill to the coda, complete with suggestive little counter melodies and a final flourish which somehow suggests Mr. Punch sticking out his tongue at the audience.
Even a cursory hearing reveals a subtle and incisive orchestration that makes good use of the percussion in a quiet way and balances strong brass writing with the effective pizzicato passage. It is really a little gem.
I do not know if this particular Mr. Punch is very wicked – the general mood of the music would perhaps suggests he was an enfant méchant rather than anything more delinquent. The music certainly has no suggestion his propensity to beat his wife or murder his child!

Three More Impressions can be heard on Dutton Vocalion The Queen’s Hall light Orchestra Volume 4 CDLK 4274

Monday, 28 September 2009

Alice Verne-Bredt: A Brief Review in The Music Student

Mrs Alice Verne-Bredt has written three Phantasies-works in one movement of the order revived by the Cobbett Competitions. What appears to be the earliest of the three is for pianoforte quartet: it is written in an easy, flowing style - a style that is familiar and a little out of date, as much out of date, perhaps ,as Goring Thomas; but natural, and what one of our great authorities would probably describe by his favourite adjective, ‘nice’. It shows the composer's familiarity with the best models of pianoforte writing, and a musical thought that is not beyond the means of expression at her command. There is a certain nobility in the chief (minor) theme which makes one impatient of the banalité of the accompaniment ­devices to which she has had recourse.
A published Phantasy for Pianoforte Trio shows an advance in workmanship. There is greater freedom of rhythm already evinced by the first subject being cast in 5/4 time. This is a form of emancipation which always seems a little artificial in composers of Western Europe, but in the present case it is interesting as show­ing a widening of the imagination. That the second subject should relapse into 6/8, with a rather obvious arpeggio accompaniment, must be regarded not merely as inability on the composer's part to sustain the more complicated rhythm, but as a commendable feeling for contrast. Good use is made of the 5/4 theme as a link between the second subject and an Adagio section; and its employment as Coda is thoroughly musical, and gives a feeling of unity to the work. Will chamber music players who have a library subscription kindly note that this work is published by Schott, and make its acquaintance at first hand.
A Quintet (MS.) for piano and strings naturally makes more demand upon the composer’s experience and it cannot be said that Mrs. Bredt has been altogether successful in this combination. The layout is scrappy. No instrument, not even the piano, has a rich part and there are long silences for one or other voice which have a leaden rather than a golden suggestion. There is perhaps more attempt to free the strings than in the other two compositions but the effects are often thin and the construction halting. In its suaver passages the work reminds one of the style of Edward Schutt's charming Walzer-Märchen. Trio, but one feels that the work as a whole is not the composer’s favourite child- not that much love was lost in the writing.
The Music Student Chamber music supplement July 1914 pp.97-8 [with minor edits]

The Phantasy Trio can be heard on English Romantic Piano Trios by the Summerhayes Trio

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Montague Phillips: In Old Verona

In my younger days the piano stool at home was full of pieces of music that had descriptive titles – often referring to romantic-sounding places. I am not quite sure if many of them actually fulfilled the expectation of their various titles – but often they were pleasant to play and enjoyable to listen to. It gave a little bit of warm inspiration when outside the freezing fog was curling round the corner of the gasometer. In Old Verona is a good example of one of these pieces – albeit conceived for the orchestra. It is actually an attractive ‘serenade for strings’ that had the soubriquet attached by the composer for its publication in 1950. Now I am not sure if ‘Verona’ immediately springs to mind with this particular dance tune. There is little here to remind me of the glorious Ponte Pietra, Juliet’s Balcony or the Roman amphitheatre. But that is not the point. The work is actually an accomplished essay in writing for strings that is effective and way beyond the limited scope of a salon piece.

The short movement opens with a good tune supported by a pizzicato base. It is quite a stately dance. However the mood does change in the central section. Things become a little more passionate – perhaps reflecting the Shakespearian connection? There is quite a nice rounded climax, before the music sinks back to the opening measures. It finishes quietly with a violin solo.
This is exactly the kind of music that does a sterling service for ‘light music.’ Here is nothing complicated or profound: it is not even a tone poem. What it does reveal is a composer who was able to provide a well crafted, tuneful and enjoyable miniature.

Montague Phillips's In Old Verona can be heard on Dutton CDLX 7158

Thursday, 24 September 2009

W.W. Cobbett writing on Frank Bridge

Walter Wilson Cobbett was the best known musical amateur of his day: he was a chamber music enthusiast par excellence. What he did for chamber music and almost especially the stringed instruments by means of his famous and well supported competition is almost too great to be estimated. Composers as diverse as Frank Bridge, Elizabeth Maconchy and Benjamin Britten have entered and/or won these competitions.

Frank Bridge has done more than any British composer to bring about consciously or unconsciously, my projected revival of the old English Fancies. The three Phantasies found in the catalogue, which are the outcome of certain of my competitions, are modern Fancies in one movement. The Quartet for piano and strings is memorable for the thrilling climax contained in its concluding bars, and the Trio Phantasy for its wealth of thematic material. All are short works, styled by Sir Charles Stanford in his work on composition, tabloid sonatas.

Other short works by Frank Bridge are still more in the nature of Fancies than those I have mentioned, for example the Londonderry Air, in which some florid passages form an embroidery round the central theme, and Sally in our Alley And Cherry Ripe, which are true folksong Phantasies, though not so styled.

The Miniature Trios for children I hope you all know. The children of today are lucky little people. Their literature, their music, even their toys interest grown-ups as much as the little ones themselves. The reputation, however, of Frank Bridge rests mainly upon his delightful Idylls and the Noveletten, and still more upon his works composed in full sonata form, some of which have yet to be published, notably the Piano Quintet and Sextet. The two full Quartets in the catalogue are of a high grade of excellence. The first, in E minor, contains many features worthy of mention. The lovely second subject of the opening movement always haunts me for days after I have played it, and I find the Adagio as full of deep feeling as anything Tchaikovsky wrote.

The second Quartet, in G, won one of my prizes, and is an altogether bigger work, appealing perhaps to musicians more than anything this composer has written. He has chosen subjects less for their melodic curve than for their rhythmic nature and capacity for musical treatment. I stipulated that the two violins should be of equal importance, and this has led to a richness of effect not surpassed by Brahms himself. In his management of string he is unequalled by any British composer.
The Music Student November 1918 p98/100 [minor edits]

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Promenade Concerts 1959: Novelties

Looking up the listing in David Cox’s invaluable book, The Henry Wood Proms, I note the following British (or Commonwealth) works were given at the 1959 Promenade Concerts. It is interesting to note that out of some eleven ‘novelties’, six of them are currently available on CD.
Hopefully in the fullness of time, the Leighton will appear in the Chandos series. Perhaps Graham Whettam is a composer that deserves to be rediscovered in the near future?

William Alwyn: Symphony No.4 (Premiere)
Richard Arnell: Suite from the Ballet, Harlequin in April (First Concert Performance)
Lennox Berkeley: Symphony No.2 (First London Performance)
York Bowen: Piano Concerto No.4 in A minor (First Concert Performance)
Daniel Jones: Symphony No.5
Kenneth Leighton: Burlesque (First Concert Performance)
Elizabeth Maconchy: Concerto for Oboe Bassoon and Strings (First Concert Performance)
Humphrey Searle: Symphony No. 2
Michael Tippett: Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage
Graham Whettam: Dance Concertante for Two Pianofortes (three hands) and Orchestra (First London Performance)
Malcolm Williamson: Piano Concerto (First London Performance)

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Malcolm Arnold: Concert Piece for Percussion and Piano

I was always taught that it was Bombardier Billy Wells who strikes the gong at the start of Rank Organisation films. I was right and I was wrong. Wells was filmed hitting the gong but the actual sound recording was made by the one-time famous percussionist Jimmy Blades.
Britten composed a Timpani Piece for Jimmy in 1955 and was followed by Malcolm Arnold’s Concert Piece for Percussion in 1958. The work was originally written for a BBC Television production, however the exact time and date of the first performance has not been traced. The original scoring was for three percussionists -and a pianist. A massive array of instruments was used, including timpani, side-drum, bass drum, cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, wood-block, triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, whip maracas and bongos. In 1984 Blades produced a version for single percussionist and piano. Both versions have been published by Faber music in that year.


The Concert Piece came at a time that Arnold was writing film music. That year he composed two of his most impressive scores, including The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and the Roots of Heaven. There were only three other ‘concert’ works that year – the Sinfonietta No.2 for chamber Orchestra, the United Nations March and possibly a little piece called Katherine, Walking & Running for two violins. However the Concert Piece is typical of Arnold and allows him to give full reign to both his skill at instrumentation and, perhaps more vitally it is a vehicle for his wit.

Recently I let a friend hear this piece and they suggested to me that it reminded them of the film music for St. Trinians. The first tow films in this series were written before this Concert Piece.


To my knowledge there is only one recording of this work presently on CD – the recent Maestro Sound & Vision MSV0214CD with Sarah Stuart, Siona Watson and Sarah Gage playing percussion and the pianist Peter Noke.
The version given here is for some reason shorter than Stewart Craggs's catalogue suggests of 4½ minutes – it is just under 3. So there is a little bit of a mystery here.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Liza Lehmann: A Brief Biography by Arthur Elson & Everett E. Truette

Of the long list of song composers, but few have produced anything of marked artistic value. Fore most among these at present is Liza Lehmann, who has recently become famous through her song cycle, In a Persian Garden. She came of a gifted family, for her father, Rudolph, was an excellent artist, and her mother a composer of songs, which were modestly published over the initials "A. L."
Her grandfather was Robert Chambers, famed by his Encyclopaedia. Born in London, she studied singing with Randegger, and composition afterward with Freudenberg, of Wiesbaden, and the Scottish composer, MacCunn. She expected to make a career as a singer, but found herself so extremely nervous whenever appearing that she was forced to abandon the idea. She persevered awhile, however, and has been frequently heard in Great Britain and Germany. In 1894 she retired and married Mr. Herbert Bedford. Only then did she begin those efforts in composition that have since met with such great success. She has published a number of songs and some piano and violin pieces, but is always thought of in connection with her cyclic setting of the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. When she composed this, she was little known, and fortune as well as fame was a stranger to her. Oddly enough, all the London publishers refused this work, which has since then charmed two continents.
Finally it was sung at her house by a gathering of musical friends, the performers being Ben Davies, Albani, Hilda Wilson, and David Bispham. They were so delighted with it that they brought it out at the 'Monday Pops,' and after that its success was assured. There are other song cycles by this composer, notably In Memoriam, but none equal the Persian Garden. It is full of rich passages of exquisite beauty, moving pathos, and strong expression.
Woman’s Work In Music 1903 (1931) p146f

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Jack Strachey: Top of the Bill

It is fair to say that Jack Strachey’s (1894-1972) best known songs are the ubiquitous These Foolish Things and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. These are tunes that have been heard in many incarnations – from Frank Sinatra through to Reginald Dixon on the Tower Ballroom at Blackpool. Yet his most popular piece of light music is undoubtedly the catchy In Party Mood which was to be the signature tune for the BBC Radio Programme Housewife’s Choice and is a tune one still hears people whistle in the street.
Strachey has written a number of pieces associated with the theatre – Theatre Land, Up with the Curtain and Top of the Bill. All these evoke a time when the theatre had much more variety than is common nowadays. Naturally one tends to think of London in this context, yet this piece evokes memories of provincial theatres as well as the West End.
Top of the Bill is a fine march which nods towards a dancing quickstep. From opening bars it is a work that could easily have come from the pen of Eric Coates. Strachey is able to create an atmosphere that is redolent of the smoke-filled theatres of a previous generation. It is easy to imagine the audience arriving outside the theatre on a dark winter’s night and settling down in the auditorium to a night of variety at the Palladium or the Carlton Theatre where some big-named star would follow a feast of dancing, songs, acrobatics and comedy. There is a feeling of excitement and expectation from the first bar to the last.
The piece opens with a short fanfare-like introduction that leads by way of a bridge passage to the main theme. This is really a march tune that is jaunty and has an open-air feel to it. The music swings along with one or two oblique modulations which add variety. There is a short link to the second theme which is really a quick-step. This music is repeated a number of times before the march return, this time a little less exuberant. Yet this mood is to held long, the March tune reappears with bouncy and exuberance before the work concludes all too soon with a little coda. As the piece heads towards its short coda a number of counter melodies can be heard.
The piece was probably composed in the late nineteen-forties, although the present recording was made in 1950.
ppp
Jack Strachey’s Top of the Bill can be heard on Dutton Vocalion The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra Volume 2 CDEA 6061

Monday, 14 September 2009

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford: A Short Appreciation by Herbert Howells

Corner any Stanford pupil you like, and ask him to confess the sins he most hated being discovered in by his master. He will tell you ‘slovenliness’ and ‘vulgarity’. When these went into the teacher's room they came out, badly damaged. Against compromise with dubious material or workmanship Stanford stubbornly set his face.
None of us lived in the easy atmosphere of neutrality when we took lessons with him. Mastery of subject carried with it, in him, a very definite sense of where he stood; and that definition ill accorded with vagueness of attitude in others. By methods in which long practice taught him to believe he brought his pupils themselves to know where, and for what, they stood. Whatever else one might have become under his shrewd guidance, it never could have been a wobbler, a neutral, a befogged practitioner. It was often his way to make a student fight hard in defence of a point of view, an expression, or a mere chord. Failure in this was apt to bring trouble upon the pupil. But that the defence generally prevailed, and brought self-reliance-as Stanford, in his wisdom, always hoped it would or ought to be clear to anyone who observes the remarkable degree to which most of his pupils have established their own particular identities in composition.

Howells, Herbert, Music & Letters, vol. 5 no.3 (July 1924) p. 199 [minor edits]

Saturday, 12 September 2009

John Ireland: Elegiac Meditation (arranged by Geoffrey Bush)

Elegiac Meditation is a transcription by Geoffrey Bush of a piece that was written for the organ in 1958 and was originally titled Meditation on John Keble’s Rogationtide Hymn.
The work was in fact a commission from a New York publisher. Fiona Richards quotes the composer as writing “[I] would have refused the commission but was implored for something by the H.W Gray Co. of N. York and they are paying a reasonable sum for the job.” Muriel V. Searle notes that Ireland informed his amanuensis Charles Markes that he had ‘concocted a piece for the organ.” She relates how the piece was written with great difficulty due to the composer’s failing eyesight. The work brought Ireland’s career full circle. Searle suggest that the Meditation ended as his first major work had begun, with “the soft, mystic, beautiful chords introducing The Forgotten Rite.”
Of course this begs the question as to whether it was a deliberate self quotation whether it was subconscious. But the fact is that it these chords were the very last notes the composer ever wrote. The manuscript is dated J.I. 29 May 1958.

The Hymn
g
Lord, in Thy Name Thy servants plead,
And Thou hast sworn to hear;
Thine is the harvest, Thine the seed,
The fresh and fading year.
g
Our hope, when autumn winds blew wild,
We trusted, Lord, with Thee:
And still, now spring has on us smiled,
We wait on Thy decree.
gg
The former and the latter rain,
The summer sun and air,
The green ear and the golden grain,
All Thine, are ours by prayer.
g
Thine too by right and ours by grace,
The wondrous growth unseen,
The hopes that soothe, the fears that brace,
The love that shines serene.
g
So grant the precious things brought forth
By sun and moon below,
That Thee in Thy new heav’n and earth
We never may forgo.
q
Rogationtide is a festival that has a tendency to drift back to its pagan roots where the crops and the flock were blessed. It also involved the beating of the bounds with particular attention being paid to sacred wells and stones.
The piece was the very last to be composed by Ireland. Robert Gower has noted that most of the composer’s organ works were, in fact, written between 1902-1911, the last work can be seen as a kind of musical autobiography. Ireland seems to be looking back over his life and ‘meditating’ on some of his great works – including the slow movement of the Piano Concerto and The Forgotten Rite.
The Meditation is in itself relatively straight forward. It is written in ternary form with a six bar coda that presents a quotation from The Forgotten Rite. Gower concludes his thoughs by suggesting that this is appropriate – because Ireland’s heart was never far from the organ loft.

Geoffrey Bush transcribed this work for strings in 1982. He headed the score with a quotation from J.B Priestley’s play The Linden Tree:-
"Listen –he’s remembering the earlier themes now…and saying goodbye to them. Wandering through the darkening house of life – touching all the things he loved – crying Farewell – for ever – for ever”

In many ways I am reminded of Gerald Finzi by this music. However, this is not so much in style as in substance. There is a definite valedictory feel to this Elegiac Mediation –a mood that suffuses much of Finzi’s music. Robert Gower sums the work up well. He writes that “Behind the quiet unassuming exterior lies great inner strength; the deeply felt, personal character of writing is obvious. In the Mediation we see a musical affirmation of faith from a devout man nearing the end of his life.” (Musical Times August 1979 p683)
It is a mood and a character the Geoffrey Bush has maintained and even amplified in this beautiful transcription.

The Elegiac Mediation is available on Chandos 8390

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Susan Spain-Dunk: A Note in The Music Student

In Miss Susan Spain-Dunk [Mrs Henry Gibson] we have a composer of real promise, and one who ought to count for something in the progress of women chamber music writers. In her Violin Sonata, her Phantasy for Pianoforte Trio, and her String Quartet in the usual four-movement form, we have music which is the direct result of an impulse toward expression. One feels that something is being expressed-not merely that a structure of notes has been laboriously compiled. The Trio would appear to be the earliest opus, and this astonishes one with the amount of ideas which it contains. There is no question of paucity of material-no flogging of a dead horse, no dressing up of lifeless dummies. Real vital subjects spring into sound and clothe themselves in appropriate technical vesture without appearance of effort. The Violin Sonata is perhaps a little commonplace, a little monotonous in subject; but here again one is glad to notice the nice musical instinct which makes an idea develop naturally, which keeps the music alive and growing. The String Quartet is undoubtedly the best work of the three. Each of the four parts has an individuality, and there is a significance in all the phrases which marks a great advance in musical thought. Points of imitation are made, not because they are "something for the instruments to do," but because they contribute to the musical argument; and other effective details, such as some special treatment of the 'cello or viola, occur, not haphazard, but at the bidding of a refined musical sense. The imagination has been at work all through, and, marvellous to say, the Scherzo shows a sense of humour!

By Marion M Scott - originally published in The Music Student Chamber music supplement July 1914 pp.97-8 [with minor edits]

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

British Piano Pieces: Some Forgotten Works

I recently found an advert at the back of an old copy of The Musical Times in the Royal College of Music. There are some 37 pieces or sets of pieces by thirteen composers. Apart from the recordings of music by Frank Bridge and John Ireland and a little known CD of Roger Quilter’s piano works, virtually all of these composers and their music are not represented in the CD catalogues. This is perhaps most surprising in the case of Samuel Coleridge Taylor and the considerable amount of piano music that he wrote. Perhaps the titles of the works listed here (Six Negro Melodies etc.) would be deemed insensitive and therefore will be ignored? This is a pity as I have perused the score of these pieces and believe that they are deserving of interest. Maybe someone, someday will republish the score with a revised title.
For my taste the key desideratum from this advert would be Alec Rowley (anything in this list, but especially the North Sea Fantasies) and the Joseph Speaight’s Tone Pictures. However, I would be interested in and delighted to hear the lot!

And finally before someone writes to tell me, I do realise that Ethelbert Nevin – of Narcissus fame – was an American. One or two of the others I am not so sure about.

Alec Rowley:-
A Flower Suite
A Lantern Suite
A Chinese Suite
From the Fairy Hills
North Sea Fantasies
Miniature Dance Suite
Kew Gardens Suite


Anthony Bernard:-
On Merivale Green

Charles Vincent:-
Venetian Sketches
The Garden of Allah
The Garden of Sweet Perfumes
Atmospheric Sketches
Three Short Poems
The Bride’s Bouquet
Six Miniatures

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:-
Scenes from an Imaginary Ballet
Six Negro Melodies
Second Book of Six Negro Melodies


Ernest Fowles:-
Hook Norton Suite

Ethelbert Nevin:-
Four Songs without Word

Frank Bridge:-
Three Sketches
Four Characteristic Pieces
Three Improvisations (for left hand)
Three Miniature Pastorals


John Heath:-
Six Inventions

John Ireland:-
Rhapsody
Four Preludes
Leaves from a Childs Sketchbook


Joseph Speaight:-
Tone Pictures

Leo Livens:-
The Moorlands

Norman Peterkin:-
Dreamer’s Tales

Roger Quilter:-
Dance in Twilight
Summer Evening
At a Country Fair
Lanterns
In a Gondola
Three Studies

Friday, 4 September 2009

Hubert Parry: Choral Masterpieces from Manchester

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918) Choral Masterpieces
I was glad when they said unto me- Coronation Anthem (1902) The Great Service: Magnificat (1881) The Great Service: Nunc Dimittis (1881) Songs of Farewell (1916) Hear my word, ye people* (1894) Judith - Oratorio: Long since in Egypt's plenteous land (1888) Jerusalem (1916) Mark Rowlinson, baritone; Jeffrey Makinson, organist, Manchester Cathedral Choir conducted by Christopher Stokes NAXOS 8.572104
I recently reviewed this new CD from Naxos of ‘famous’ choral music by one of Britain’s great composers – Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.
I declared an interest: I noted that I always had a soft spot for Manchester Cathedral: my father's family were from Lancashire and looked towards this great City for work, worship and pleasure. It was there fore a great pleasure to listen to this music of one of my favourite composers.

I began by pointing out that “this CD is a perfect introduction to the choral music of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. The repertoire covers his three most popular choral works alongside three great works that are typically known to Parry enthusiasts and those who inhabit the organ loft or choir stalls: the two groups are not mutually exclusive. I did a little survey: I asked five people (not British Music fans) to name a piece of music by Parry. Only one was able to suggest Jerusalem, but added that it might have been by Elgar ... The other four, unsurprisingly, had heard of this great hymn, but the composer remained a blank spot.

I felt that the work that most impressed me on this CD is Hear my words, ye people. It is a compendium of texts taken from the Old Testament books of Job, Isaiah and the Psalms. The work was originally composed for the 1894 Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association. Unbelievably, it was conceived for 2000 singers with a semi-chorus of some 400! There was an organ accompaniment and brass band present at the first performance. The choral music part was kept relatively simple, as there was little time for rehearsal. The more complex music was given to the soprano and baritone soloists. In this recording the baritone part is sung by Mark Rowlinson: the other solo parts are taken by groups of choristers. The work concludes with the well-known hymn O Praise ye the Lord, which was a paraphrase of Psalm 150 by Sir Henry Baker. Something tells me that this 'pared-down' version is actually more effective and satisfying than the original. It is a truly gorgeous work that ought to have a secure place in the repertoire.
This present recording is a fine monument to a great musical and ecclesiastical tradition. It will be an essential addition to many collections

Please read my full review on MusicWeb International

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Eric Coates: Calling All Workers

Calling all Workers is one of the most recognizable of all of Eric Coates marches. This work, which was composed in 1940 was used as the signature tune for the once ubiquitous radio programme Music While you Work, which ran from 1940 to 1967.
The tune for this programme had been carefully chosen from a wide variety of pieces and was designed to cheer people up in the war factories and no doubt to increase the output by suggesting that the speed of the music ought to match their production! Philip Scowcroft reminds us that many people heard this March four times a day for five days a week!

Coates himself has written about this piece and suggested that during 1940 he had struck a ‘blank patch’ which lasted for some months. It had been a couple of years since he had composed the Enchanted Garden Ballet and the Footlights Concert Valse. He wrote in his Autobiography that it was his wife Phyllis who 'came to the rescue with the suggestion that I should write something especially for the Red Cross Depot whither she went daily to treadle her way with a sewing machine through miles of hospital supplies.' Coates told how the March was born - 'I sat me down at my desk in the window, looking far away across London to the twin-towers of the Crystal Palace…and wrote what Phyl still calls her signature tune.' Interestingly, they had some difficulty in coming up with a suitable title, and after a 'number of abortive efforts to find one, a gangster film with G-men tapping out the usual ‘calling all cars’ supplied the solution, and Calling all Workers it was. The March was dedicated ‘to all workers’ and carries the inscription “To go to one’s work with a glad heart and to do that work with earnestness and goodwill”'. The Manchester Guardian noted that the composer had ‘just finished’ the work in mid August.

Geoffrey Self wrote that the composer was so impressed with the title that 'unheard of security precautions were enforced, lest someone else use it.' The original score was engraved without a title: it was added at the very last moment.

Calling all Workers is  an example of a typical march in the style made famous by Elgar, Walton and Coates himself, although it is not of the ‘ceremonial’ genre and is generally a ‘light’ piece. After a short fanfare of C major chords, the opening march theme bursts on the scene at a foot tapping rate, but soon the slightly slower ‘trio’ theme in F major launches itself before the customary repeat. The march them returns at the exact halfway point and is preceded by another little fanfare. Of course there is a final reprise of the ‘big tune, this time played expansively in the tonic key and taken at a much slower pace. A reprise of the fanfare music as a part of the coda concludes the work.

The first broadcast of the work was by the B.B.C Theatre Orchestra conducted by Stanford Robinson from their wartime base in Cheltenham. In the autumn of 1940. Coates recalls that he and his wife “kept their fingers crossed” that an air-raid would not curtail the broadcast”.

The March was quickly recorded by Columbia (DB1945) with the Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer and was coupled with By a Sleepy Lagoon.

Listen to Eric Coates’s Calling all Workers on YouTube