Saturday, 17 July 2010

British Novelties at the 1910 Promenade Concerts – the reviews.

I was in the Royal College of Music library the other day and took the opportunity to look up the references to the ‘novelties’ in 1910 Promenade Concerts as reported in The Musical Times -with minor edits. They make interesting reading.
The reviewer writing in the November edition begins by acknowledging a ‘...welcome feature of the present series has been Mr. [Henry] Wood's readiness to revise his programmes in order to grant a second hearing to novelties that were well received at their first hearing’.
This of course is always a problem. Too often the listener when hearing, ‘...this is the first broadcast performance of Buggins’ Concerto for Tuba’ adds ‘and the last’! It would be a good precedent for concert programmers to reintroduce.
He continued, ‘It is gratifying to find this honour accorded to a British composition, namely, Dr. Walford Davies's fine Festal Overture for orchestra. The work was played for the first time in London, as recorded in our last issue, on September 20, and on October 1 it was repeated. It has now been included in the programme of the Queen's Hall Symphony Concert on November 5.' So three performance of this work were surely well deserved – would that we could hear it today.
The reviewer then notes ‘...the performance of Mr. Norman O'Neill's four Blue Bird dances on September 29, threw a more searching light upon these clever and delicate compositions than they have experienced before. It says a great deal for their merit that they gained in estimation under a test which would prove the undoing of most music written for the theatre.’
In my previous post I suggested that the one piece I really wanted to hear from this series was the ‘Sunshine’ Sketch for orchestra by Dr. Joseph W. G. Hathaway.
It was duly performed on October 4. The reviewer gives a little bit of a mixed review, I fear. He says ‘...perhaps the music embodies recollections of a bright but windy day in March or April, for the suggestion of chilliness and a disturbing element was often present. Viewed apart from its programme the work was a welcome example of the inventive and technical powers of one of our promising young composers.’
I wonder, as Noel Coward once said, ‘whatever happened to him?’
And then, ‘...a set of variations for string orchestra on The Vicar of Bray, by Ernest Austin were played for the first time on October 6, and gave universal pleasure by their clever devices and fanciful scoring. The developments of the theme are governed by no programmatic meanings except in the jocular last variation, in which a novel idea in musical humour was found to be exceedingly felicitous in its effect. The work fully deserves a re-hearing.’
Finally, after reviewing a few continental works the reviewer notes the ‘charming, daintily-scored Serenade for small orchestra by Mr. Percy Pitt” which received its first performance on October 18 and was repeated on October 20’.
In the previous months edition of The Musical Times (September 1910) the writer noted that ‘...on August 18, Mr. Easthope Martin's two Eastern Dances for orchestra, named Egyptian Bell Dance and [the] Snake Dance, were performed for the first time and were favourably received. The means by which the composer's quasi-Eastern effects were secured were not of striking originality, but they were effective, and the same may be said of the scoring in general’.
Perhaps it is time to turn to the pages of the London Times and the Manchester Guardian?

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