Thursday, 11 February 2010

Manchester Sounds. The Journal of the Manchester Musical Heritage Trust. Edited by David Fallows and David Ellis. Vol. 7 (2007-8).

Quite simply, this is one of the best music journals on the market. I was about to say classical music journal, but that would be a misrepresentation – both of this present volume and of previous issues. Perhaps it would be better to define this as a ‘serious’ music’ magazine. Manchester Sounds is produced by the Manchester Musical Heritage Trust, which is an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the city and surrounding area’s musical heritage.
It is aimed at a wide range of musical interest – for example, I doubt if the bandleader Richard Valery and John Foulds would immediately appeal to the same person on the same day. Yet this would be a mistake. It is the direction of musicology these days to deny a priority to one kind of music. It is no longer correct to suggest that a Schenkerian analysis of William Walton’s String Quartet in A minor is inherently more worthy than a debate about Lancashire folk music in Oswaldwistle. That said, the kind of article written in Manchester Sounds tends to be towards the ‘classical’ and is often, but not necessarily written with the academic apparatus of footnotes and bibliography.
Glancing through the contents page of this present issue the reader will find a long lost essay on John Ireland by Peter Crossley-Holland, an introductory article on the little-known composer Phillip Lord, a ‘conversation piece’ with Arthur Butterworth and an exploration of the ‘Manchester Years’ of John Foulds. There are also regular features including Michael Kennedy, Philip Grange and John Turner reviewing a selection of new CDs featuring music from Manchester composers (amongst others), and Geoffrey Kimpton’s comprehensive list of first performances in the locality in 2005.
The balance of material in this edition is superb. For example, in the massive essay on John Ireland, Peter Crossley-Holland approaches his subject from a number of perspectives - most especially the ‘mystical’ element in Ireland’s life. He apologises for the ‘technical’ analysis between pages 43 and 57 but hopes that the ‘layman’ will give it their best shot. But even if this style of writing is not to the reader’s taste they will find much of interest in this unpublished manuscript from over sixty years ago. It is a period piece, yet none the less enjoyable for that. The author knew that the first critic of the work would be the composer himself. It is a major plank in the edifice of Ireland scholarship and sits well beside the volumes by John Longmire, Fiona Richards and Muriel Searle.
John Foulds is a composer who has had a considerable lift in recent years. A fair number of his works have been issued on CD. However it is ironic that it takes the City of Birmingham Orchestra and their then conductor Sakari Oramo to make this impact. Why has the Hallé been so reticent in exploring the music of one of Manchester’s great sons? The article by Stuart Scott looks at Foulds’ early works written whilst he was living in his home city. Few of the compositions from this period have made it onto CD, however it is from this period that the ubiquitous Keltic Lament was written as the middle movement of the Keltic Suite. Let us hope that time will resurrect some, if not all these Manchester works.
The step aside from classical music is the thirty-page essay on Manchester-born Richard Valery (real name, Richard Duckworth) by Martin Thacker. This is based on an old press cuttings scrapbook and explores the life, the times and the performances of a once popular dance-band leader. The article chronicles his time in New York, on board the cruise liner Calgaric, the BBC and, more parochially in the Marine Ballroom on Morecambe Pier. It is an interesting exploration of the early days of ‘swing’ music in the North of England.
Phillip Lord is a composer who died young. Very little of his music has been released on CD. He was born at Waterfoot in the Rossendale Valley and subsequently studied at Manchester University and The Royal Manchester College of Music. In 1952 he gained a scholarship at Cambridge. This was followed by National Service and then a position in a London publishing house. After a spell at Aberdeen University he returned to the other side of the Pennines to the Music Department of Sheffield University. He died in 1969. Three of Lord’s works are available on CD: the Celtic Dances, the Three Court Dances and the Nautical Overture. The present essay is an excellent introduction and it is to be hoped that it will generate interest in this composer’s life and works.
Christopher Thomas presents a fascinating ‘conversation’ with the senior composer Arthur Butterworth. As the introduction to the journal points out, of all the composers featured in this edition he is the only one still alive! It is not so much an interview as the composer’s response to some succinct and exploratory questions. Another great introduction to a composer: in this case one who is well represented in the CD market.
Two other articles explore ‘The Birth of the Hallé’ by Robert Beale and Michael Talbot’s ‘Discovering Vivaldi’s Manchester Sonatas’. I must confess I once imagined that the Italian had made his way North in the 1730s and spent a few fruitful days writing sonatas in a hotel off Albert Square. However my dream was shattered when I discovered that they were works that were found in the Central Music Library: Michael Talbot discovered the sonatas languishing in a pile of unsorted manuscripts in the library basement. Robert Beale’s article about the Hallé explores the earliest days of Manchester’s famous orchestra. He makes use of contemporary articles and reviews, mainly from the Manchester Guardian newspaper. Of great interest are the lists of works performed at these early concerts.
This magazine fulfils a vital role for music-making in Manchester in particular and musicology in general. It is all too easy to suppose that ‘stuff’ only happens in London, and that the provinces are actually quite provincial. This is untrue. Even the briefest of explorations into the history of music reveals that Manchester is a major centre for both the composition and performance of music. It is also a centre of musicological and historical excellence. It is to all these facets that Manchester Sounds appeals.
The magazine feels impressive; it is printed on good paper with a nice clear type. There are some 236 pages of text and a wide variety of illustration: photographs and musical examples. The price is £10, but this a very fair price to pay for a quality production. Additionally, in this issue there is the bonus of an excellent CD of music of interest to readers. This includes John Ireland’s Piano Concerto with Eileen Joyce and the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Leslie Heward, Colin Henry’s rare hornpipe Ship Ahoy and Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies played by Richard Valery.
Manchester Sounds is a ‘must’ for everyone interested in music – no matter what part of the country – or even the world – they come from. So often in ‘academic’ journals there is only one article that appeals or interests the reader: many are virtually unintelligible to all but Doctors of Musicology. I can safely say that virtually every page of this Journal is important, fascinating and even essential to all students of music, however advanced they may be. And lastly, it is worth seeking out previous volumes of this journal. Each issue is just as good as this one!

Manchester Sounds is published by the Manchester Musical Heritage Trust and copies are available from Forsyth Brothers Ltd. 126, Deansgate, Manchester M3 2RG. Price £10-00

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