Saturday, 6 November 2010

Alan Rawsthorne: Overture Hallé – a last few thoughts.

I asked the composer Arthur Butterworth if he recalled the first performance of Alan Rawsthorne’s Overture Hallé in 1958. At the time he was playing the trumpet in the Hallé Orchestra. Fortunately, although this was more than fifty years ago, he did have a clear memory.
He told me that “Yes, indeed I do very well remember Rawsthorne's concert overture written for the Hallé centenary season. It was quite an exhilarating piece, but, we all thought the title was somewhat unimaginative. Could he not have thought of something more evocative than the plain word ‘Hallé’? Were it to have had a more inviting and less prosaic title perhaps it would have had more performances. But it has to be remembered that a title can have far reaching effects and influence a work's potential future. The very name 'Hallé' more or less limited it to this one orchestra. The Liverpool Orchestra was hardly likely to welcome it, since they were our rivals! I often think that a composer's choice of title can be too casual. It is like the dust jacket of a book; if this is not carefully and subtly designed it can fail to attract, because in a sense, it gives out the wrong message.’
Butterworth recalled that Barbirolli and the Hallé played the Overture no more than a couple of times: Manchester of course, then Sheffield and Bradford.
Finally Arthur Butterworth suggested to me that ‘the formal designations: ‘symphony,’ ‘sonata,’ ‘concerto,’ ‘quartet,’ ‘overture,’ are neutral and leave the music to speak for itself, but some titled things can be off-putting rather than inviting, whereas a carefully thought-out title can be provoking and suggestive of what the music itself is about, for example:- In the Hall of the Mountain King, La Mer, Tintagel, The Hebrides, Brigg Fair, The Planets A London Symphony...

Perhaps if Rawsthorne had thought up more appropriate title the work may have survived?

Finally, I found a reference to a radio broadcast of the piece in August 1958. Hugh Ottoway noted in The Musical Times that ‘Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé gave the first broadcast of Rawsthorne's Hallé Overture, a work commissioned for the centenary of the Hallé Society. This seemed to me a laboured, fabricated piece, quite inferior to the neglected Street Corner; its original design, and in particular the violent contrasts in the opening section, did not convince’.

1 comment:

Peter J. King said...

Well, your examples of famous named works include incidental music, folk song, etc., so that the titles are ready made, as it were. Some of the others ("La mer", for example) aren't exactly brimming with imagination (and is it Debussy or Trenet?).

More interesting, perhaps, and offering support for your theorylet, would be a list of pieces whose popularity has led to their being given names where no name originally existed (beyond, for example, "Symphony no 94").