Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Horace E. Randerson: another forgotten and lost composer

I recently noted a number of piano works published under the auspices of John Ireland – The Clarendon Piano Series. Amongst a small number of composers – some well known: others less so –there were two pieces by a certain Horace E. Randerson. A search of the internet has revealed nothing about the man, save that he wrote a handful of musical works. I have collated those listed in the catalogues below. However this only represents the published pieces and there may well be many more works remaining in manuscript. On the Internet, I have come across a pianist called Heather Randerson, who may well be a relation of this composer. There are a handful of reviews in the musical press, but the only worth reporting is from the Musical Times for April 1928: ‘H. E. Randerson's ' Eclogue ' belies its title, for it is dry stuff, not at all pastoral or poetic.’
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Work List
1. Brave Autumn' - unison Song, to words by R. Bennett, J. Curwen & Sons, London 1935
Ecologue, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
2. ‘Now Robin lend to me thy Bow’ an Old English song arranged by H. E. Randerson for mixed voices, Oxford University Press, London 1928
3. An Oxford Quadrangle for piano, Oxford University Press, London c1929
4. 'The Piper of Dundee'- arranged by H. E. Randerson for mixed voices Oxford University Press, London 1928
5. Sextet for Voices Oxford University Press, London 1926
6. ‘To the maypole haste away’ arranged by H.E. Randerson for mixed voices Oxford University Press, London 1928

Monday, 27 September 2010

Muriel Herbert: ‘Fountains Court’ – a song to words by Arthur Symons

I recently received a copy of an unpublished review by Marion M. Scott from her biographer Pamela Blevins which she felt would be of interest to me because of a reference to Muriel Herbert. Last year I wrote a major essay about Herbert’s music for the Maud Powell Society Journal Signature and also a review of a CD dedicated to her songs. Muriel Herbert largely wrote for voice and piano, however there are a number of instrumental works in her catalogue, including two unpublished violin sonata and a piano sonata.
However, what I was not aware of is that she also set at least one of her songs for chamber orchestra. In a small part of Marion Scott’s review she notes that, ‘In a handful of new songs with orchestral accompaniment, the “Aubade” by Elizabeth Poston and “Fountain Court” by Muriel Herbert stood out from the others by their freshness of view and sincerity.’ This was performed at a concert held on June 14, 1926. One other work played at that concert at the New Chesil Galleries, Chelsea was Dorothy Howells’ Nocturne.

In Fountain Court by Arthur Symons
The fountain murmuring of sleep,
A drowsy tune;
The flickering green of leaves that keep
The light of June;
Peace, through a slumbering afternoon,
The peace of June.

A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,
The white curved moon;
June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I
Wait too, with June;
Come, through the lingering afternoon,
Soon, love, come soon.

The Musical Times reviewer notes that ‘‘Fountain Court’ is ...atmospheric and fairly successful in catching the feeling of a hot, still afternoon. One or two harmonic commonplaces rather detract from its effect, but it is on the whole a musical and sincere little work.’ The Musical Times October 1, 1927

I have seen a copy of the piano versions of this song, which was published by Elkin & Co. In 1927, however it came as a surprise to me that there is an orchestral version. What undiscovered treasures remain, indeed!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Havergal Brian: Symphonies 11 and 15 on Naxos

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972) Concert Overture: For Valour (1902-06) Comedy Overture: Doctor Merryheart (1911-12) Symphony No. 11 (1954) Symphony No. 15 (1960)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Tony Rowe (For Valour and Symphony No.15) & Adrian Leaper. Originally released on Marco Polo 8.223588 NAXOS 8.572014 [77:10]
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The symphonic LP discography of Havergal Brian has been largely distorted by a number of pirated recordings released on the so-called ‘Aries’ label. These were derived from BBC broadcasts and were (with one exception) issued under assumed names of both orchestras and conductors. A number of other CD companies issued selected symphonies over the years, but the mainstay has been the eleven examples released by Marco Polo. These original discs appeared in the nineteen-nineties and according to the Brian Society webpage have now been largely deleted - although many are available as MP3 downloads. Naxos has to be congratulated for re-issuing a number of these recordings: it is a process that I hope will be continued in the coming months and years. I believe that there are a further six symphonies still to be re-issued.

The entry point to this fine CD must surely be the captivating Comedy Overture: Doctor Merryheart (1911-12). As Reginald Nettel points out in his book, ‘Havergal Brian and his Music’, the title of ‘overture’ is misleading. This work is in fact ‘a symphonic poem in the form of a set of continuous variations on two converging lines’ [of music]. Even the most cursory hearing of this overture must impress the listener with the sheer confidence and technical mastery presented by the composer. The piece is based on the life and doings of a certain Dr Merryheart, whose persona was the creation of the composer. Merryheart was both an astronomer who indulged in Pythagorean speculation and also a dreamer. The subtitles given to the variations suggest the sort of dreams he had. For example, the first variation was ‘Whimsies and Sunshadows’, another was ‘Dreams: Asleep in the arms of Venus’ and another, ‘Merryheart as a chivalrous knight chases Bluebeard.’ Before Dr Merryheart awakes he has fought a dragon and led a procession of heroes. The work concludes with ‘The Dance of Merryheart’ where the composer recapitulates a number of the preceding themes. It is perhaps a good idea to see this overture as a kind of English Til Eulenspiegel. Certainly there are a number of Straussian references and even parodies in this music. It is interesting that Brian retained a lifelong affection for this work – possibly because it is one of the few works that retained a tentative place in the concert repertoire. But more to the point it may well be because the character of Dr Merryheart is largely that of the composer himself!

Before starting work on the Symphonies I would recommend backtracking to the opening number on this CD - the Concert Overture: For Valour (1902-06). In many ways it has the assurance and confidence of the Edwardian period, yet I think it would be wrong to assume that it was simply a sort of pastiche of ‘ceremonial music’ nodding towards jingoism. There is an ambiguity here. This is not a piece of music that exalts war: if anything it is a work that questions the fact that men have to go and fight and die in the battlefield in the first place. It is no coincidence that ‘For Valour’ is the inscription on the nation’s highest battle order –the Victoria Cross. The Overture, which was written after the Boer War may reflect the dichotomy between the reality that many VCs were won in that campaign for outstanding bravery and the fact that the war was largely unpopular ‘back home.’ The work is certainly not anti-war but neither is it a kind of ‘Froissart-ian’ glorification of it. It is the balance between the marital music in this overture and the more ‘pastoral’ imaginings that gives the work it character and emotional depth. Interestingly, the literary inspiration for this work was a quotation from Walt Whitman’s 'Drum Taps' – the passage beginning with ‘Adieu dear Comrade’ and concluding with ‘To fiercer weightier battles give expression.’

I always have a major problem when I listen to any Symphony by Havergal Brian – it immediately becomes my favourite of the series! Furthermore, I am always depressed as to how such inspiring works of art can be ignored by the great and the good. If pressed, I would have to declare my contention that Brian is up there with the ‘Top Five’ symphonists from Great Britain. Who the other four would be is always a matter of debate and not for these pages! It is redundant to attempt an analysis of these Symphonies for my review. The Havergal Brian Website carries such a vast array of information, reviews, analysis and bibliography on virtually all of Brian’s works. Furthermore Malcolm MacDonald, who has produced the three-volume study of Brian’s 35 Symphonies, has given a comprehensive analysis of both works in the liner notes. However, a few comments are essential to allow any potential listener the opportunity to decide if this music is for them.

The 11th Symphony was composed between February and April 1954. It is scored for a large orchestra with an array of percussion instruments, including sleigh bells and gong. The work is conceived in three movements with the middle movement being longer that the other two together. MacDonald notes the unusual form of the work – with a deeply felt ‘adagio’ preceding what is effectively the central scherzo-like movement. He suggests that the nearest parallel is Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony (1939) which is of similar length and form. Yet the mood of the two works are very different, especially in the opening movement – the Brian work seems to be much more positive and even relaxed in its outlook whereas the Russian adagio is tragic. Furthermore, the finale of the Brian work is a ‘ceremonial’ style march in E major which is followed by a country dance tune, whereas the Shostakovich concludes with ‘a full-blooded and debauched music-hall galop’.

The 11th Symphony is a fine work and one where the composer has seemingly enjoyed himself. The music travels a huge distance in its half hour duration. Quoting Malcolm MacDonald, who gives an excellent summary in a review of this CD:- [The] ‘Symphony 11 runs a gamut, from exalted lyric expression at the start, through truly comic episodes in this big central movement, to a Finale of swaggering ceremonial—which nevertheless is itself qualified, once again, by more pastoral images in a central country dance...in fact it ranks among Havergal Brian’s occasional (and usually ironic) nods to the ‘English pastoral’ school of composers who were the Establishment throughout much of his career.’

The Symphony No.15 was written in the spring of 1960 when the composer was a mere 84 years old. It is almost incredible to imagine that at this point he was not yet half way through his symphonic career: the final essay, the 32nd Symphony was not completed until 1968. The work is scored for a large orchestra and is formally conceived as a single movement. Malcolm MacDonald suggests ‘that this work takes another look at pompousness and circumstance and magnificence and ceremonial, and ways of undercutting these things. This is monumental subversion raised to a fine art.’ Yet this is not to say that Brian totally mocks this genre. He stated in a letter that this symphony was ‘a work of [both] power and tenderness.’ The 15th Symphony is a complex and involved work that needs a lot of attention from the listener else much will be missed. What is not in doubt is the sheer technical mastery – both of the formal structures, the melodic transformations and the instrumentation. This is a Symphony that is totally ambivalent. On the one hand it appears to sit in the tradition of English ‘ceremonial’ music, yet on the other hand it represents this genre in a manner which although recognizable is totally transformed. I think that there is also a huge dash of humour in much of this music. There seems to be a reference back to the success of Dr Merryheart with much of the thematic transformations: nothing is ever at it seems. In some ways Brian does for this style of music what Charles Ives did for hymn-tunes and hoe-downs. Both the performance and the sound quality of these recordings are superb. There is so much potential for going wrong in any presentation of Brian’s music – the scoring is surely difficult to balance either in the concert hall or the studio. Yet every nuance is given here – from the most extrovert moments in the 15th Symphony, through to the instrumental complexities of Merryheart by way of the weight of sound of the For Valour Overture and the depth of the ‘adagio’ of the 11th Symphony.
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With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Where are the Survivors?: Works played at the 1960 Cheltenham Festival

I was reading the lists of music played at the Cheltenham Festivals that are published in Frank Howes' excellent short study. In particular I wondered how the ‘novelties’ or first performances from 1960 (fifty years ago) had fared over the years. The result alas is not too inspiring.
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Alexander Goehr (1932- ): Four songs from the Japanese for voice & orchestra
Richard Rodney Bennett (1936- ): Five Pieces for Orchestra
Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960): Divertimento for wind quintet
Francis Burt (1926)-: Expressionale Orhcestrale, Op.10
Matyas Seiber (1905-1960): Sonata for violin & piano
R.W. Wood (?): Concert for piano and orchestra
Richard Drakeford (1936-2009): Oboe Quartet
Nicholas Maw (1935-2009): Six Chinese Songs and also Nocturne for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra
Fred. Turner (?): Suite for violin and piano
John Wilks (?): Divertimento for horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass
John Ogdon (1937-1989): Variations and Fugue for piano, Op.4
Peter Maxwell Davies (1934- ): Ricercar and Doubles on ‘To Many a Well’
Thea Musgrave (1928- ): Colloquy for violin and piano
Arthur Bliss (1891-1975): Ballads for the Four Seasons
Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971): Sonata for violin and piano
Reginald Smith Brindle (1917-2003): Cosmos, four movements for orchestra
Benjamin Frankel (1906-1973): Symphony, Op33.

Some eighteen pieces were given their premieres from seventeen composers. Nicholas Maw having had two works heard for the first time. Out of these composers I can no details for Fred. Turner, John Wilks or R.W. Wood – perhaps they are still alive and composing? Nine of them have died, with two passing away in 2009. Thankfully, Alexander Goehr, Richard Rodney Bennett, Francis Burt, Peter Maxwell Davies and Thea Musgrave are still busy composing music.
However the pieces themselves have fared very badly. I based my assessment on their presence or otherwise in the CD catalogues- Crotchet and Arkiv.
I have located recordings of the Seiber Violin Sonata, two versions of the Rawsthorne Violin Sonata, one of Bliss’ Ballads for the Seasons and one of Benjamin Frankel’s Symphony, Op.33. The rest appear to have slipped into oblivion. Of course, I may have missed some recording somewhere or other: it would be great to hear that I had!! And of course any information about Messrs. Turner, Wilks and Wood would be of great interest.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Josef Holbrooke: Fantasie-Sonata for cello and piano

With Josef Holbrooke’s Fantasie-Sonata the listener has moved into a sound world that is decidedly romantic and rhapsodic. Brahms is surely a major influence on this ‘big’ work that explores a wide range of emotions and musical moods. The sonata opens with a ‘molto allegro fuoco’ that appears to define the mood. Yet the contrasting subject is much quieter and seemingly represents a lull before the storm. The central ‘adagio’ is truly beautiful: the cello is muted throughout giving a misty ‘Celtic’ mood to the music. But it is the finale that will stay in the listeners mind long after the music has finished. This ‘allegro giocoso con brio’ is ‘like a patter song from an operetta.’ Certainly there are a lot of notes played by both soloists. As in all good music there is an expressive contrasting tune, but this is soon flung aside and the ‘joyful’ tune has its head. The Fantasie-Sonata ends on a hugely positive note. It is a work that appeals immediately: it is romantic music that touches the heart much more than the head. Yet the technical content of this work is certainly impressive.
The Fantasie-Sonata was written in 1904.

Josef Holbrooke's Fantasie-Sonata can be heard on British Music Society BMS436CD with music by William Wordsworth and William Busch.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Montague Phillips: Empire March, Op. 68

This Empire March is not a pastiche of William Walton’s Crown Imperial or Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance or Imperial Marches yet, there is definitely a nod in this direction. The work was first given at a Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1942 and was conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
The march opens with a rousing first theme. This is characterised by clarity of material and a certain incisiveness of part writing that is perhaps unusual in ‘concert marches’. However we soon arrive at the inevitable big tune which is actually quite gorgeous and moving. There is a hymn like quality about it without the implied religion. After a few mock fanfares the opening theme re-establishes itself - but with some variation. The inevitable build up begins leading to the reprise of the ‘trio’ theme. This time it is played ‘ff’ with full organ accompaniment. After a final flourish the march ends in triumph.
Of course we no longer have an Empire – perhaps even in 1942 the philosophy of Empire was nearly evacuated of meaning. Yet the war was at its nadir – and the Commonwealth of Nations and the Allies were fighting to retain the freedoms associated with all that was great about Britain’s achievements. In those dark days victory was not yet guaranteed.

This march is as good as many that have been composed over the years. If it had been written by Elgar or Walton it would have been a ‘favourite’ with the musical public. We are lucky to have it available on the Dutton Epoch CDLX 7158

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ernest Markham Lee: composer, author, lecturer, pianist and organist.

There is not a lot about poor old Ernest Markham Lee on the Internet or in the music reference books. Yet he is a name that crops up on a regular basis in The Musical Times where he used to provide an analysis of the Associated Board piano pieces for each academic year. He is also a habitué of second-hand music and bookshops where a number of his piano pieces are often found in various stages of disintegration.

Briefly, Markham Lee was born in Cambridge in 8 June 1874 where he later began his education at the Perse School. He was later to become an organ scholar at Emmanuel College. Between 1896 and 1912 he was the organist as All Saints’ Church in Woodford Green and was also involved in directing and promoting chamber music concerts. However, his main career was to be in musical education at a variety of levels. He was an extension lecturer to London, Oxford and Cambridge Universities and spent much time travelling the Commonwealth as a lecturer-examiner for the Associated Board. He was the President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians between 1927-28.
His compositions tend to be aimed at young people and amateurs, but include a light opera, Paris in Spring, which was published in 1939. He was a prolific author and wrote about musical theory and knowledge for examinations, articles and monographs on a variety of composers and three important books, the Story of Opera (1909) and the Story of Symphony (1916) and Brahms’ Orchestral Music (1931)
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I am grateful to Philip Scowcroft on MusicWeb International for pointing me towards a number of Markham Lee’s compositions. There were a whole host of piano suites and pieces –for both solo and duet. These included Dreams and Delights, By the Wayside, The Land of Make-believe, Cliff and Tide Rip and Summer Days. For piano duet he published 12 easy duets based on the story of Alice in Wonderland. Most of these works are for children or technically less competent pianists. However, he did write for the recital room, and these include the preludes Hesperis (q.v.) and Serapis and the Modern Suite.
Markham Lee composed much for choral singing, including cantatas and part-songs. They are very much typical of the genre with Smugglers and Sea-Mates Bold for male voice choir and ‘Sing We Merrily’ which was an anthem written for a festival competition. The organ lost was not forgotten: there was a Capriccietto & Scherzo, an Overture alla Marcia and a Romance.
Much of the Markham Lee’s catalogue is devoted to arrangements of other composers’ music. However he did transcribe his own Moorland & Torland and the West Country Suite into orchestral arrangements. Finally Philip Scowcroft notes his suite for orchestra Round the North Sea, Lightheart and the intermezzo Florestina, which apparently ‘enjoyed a modest popularity.’

This composer is never going to alter the way we think about British music. Yet he represents a common thread through much that was written by a whole variety of composers including Felix Swinstead, Alec Rowley and Walter Carroll. He was competent, understood the principles of musical composition and the technical requirements of players with widely differing abilities. But most of all he had a vivid imagination that resulted in pieces that music surely appeal to all those who are young at heart.

Ernest Markham Lee died at Eastbourne on 13 November, 1956.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Arthur Butterworth: New CD of Orchestral Music on Dutton Epoch

Arthur BUTTERWORTH (b.1923)
Symphony No.5, Op.115 (2001-02) Three Nocturnes: ‘Northern Summer Nights’, Op.18 (1958) The Quiet Tarn, Op.21 (1960)The Green Wind, Op.22 (1960) Coruscations, Op.127 (2007)
Gigues, Op.42 (1969)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Arthur Butterworth
World Premiere Recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7253 [67:49]

I think that the first piece of Arthur Butterworth’s music I heard was the brass band version of The Path across the Moors. I cannot now recall where or when. A few years ago, this piece was released in its orchestral guise as a part of Brian Kay’s Light Music Discoveries series [White Line 2126]. At around the same time the now defunct ClassicO Label issued the composer’s First Symphony (a work now accessible on Dutton). For me, both of these works marked Butterworth as a man to watch. My only war story about the composer is when I was telling a friend how impressed I was with this Symphony, she said to me - ‘I did not know that Butterworth wrote a Symphony?’ I replied that I understood he had composed five or six. She responded, ‘Ah well what do I know: but I do enjoy his settings of ‘The Shropshire Lad’.’

The present CD is the one I have been waiting for. For one thing, any composer who writes a piece of music called ‘A Quiet Tarn’ or 'Three Nocturnes: Northern Summer Nights’ has my vote. So much descriptive British music seems to be predicated in the South and West of England or at the very best Ireland. So few composers seem to have turned their sights to places north of the Trent as a source of their inspiration. There are honourable exceptions, including Frederick Delius and his North Country Sketches, John McCabe with Cloudcatcher Fell and Cecil Armstrong Gibbs with his Westmorland Symphony. But the ‘scenic’ works in the common psyche tend to be spread out from Bredon Hill or the banks of the Thames and Severn.
And that brings me to one sad fact. Arthur Butterworth is largely unknown outwith the North Country - with the exception of brass band enthusiasts. It is a fate that seems to befall northern composers. Think of Humphrey Proctor-Gregg, Thomas Pitfield, Edward Isaacs and Eric Fogg. John Foulds, Alan Rawsthorne and, once again John McCabe to a certain extent buck this trend. Yet, even in their own backyard they are ignored. The Hallé is typically a disgrace when it comes to programming ‘local lads’: it took the CBSO to rediscover the works of Foulds.

The major event on this superb CD is the Fifth Symphony which Arthur Butterworth composed when he was approaching his eightieth birthday. I had not heard this work before. I guess that I somehow assumed that with the composer’s enthusiasm for Sibelius, it would be a great outburst of power and passion like the Finnish composer’s Fifth. However, Butterworth has chosen a different direction for this work. It has been described by the composer as being akin to William Wordsworth’s ‘emotions reflected in tranquillity.’ Although there is great power in this work, it is more classical in its intent than romantic or post-romantic. This is a deeply thought out work that manages to provide the composer with a forum for contemplation and reflection - especially in the superb and ultimately moving adagio.
Ostensibly, the inspiration for this work derived from the ‘aura’ of the Scottish Highlands with especial reference to Rannoch Moor. However, knowing the composer’s love of his native Lancashire and that ‘terra incognito’ on t’other side o’ Pennines, I feel that perhaps there is a lot of love for these landscapes in here too. Like RVW’s late Symphonies this is not an elderly man’s work. It is full of hope and optimism, even if it also reflects a backward glance over a successful career.
Do not try to dig around for influences in this work. It is pure AB. However it is quite clear that the composer has had the music of Elgar, RVW, Sibelius and Bax close to his heart. This is a great Symphony - in fact one of the best examples I have heard for a long time. It achieves its aim at presenting the mood of the landscape, and the composer’s emotional reflection on it by using a language that is largely conservative without ever becoming ‘retro’, pastiche or a parody of someone else’s music.

I was delighted to discover Coruscations, Op.127. As someone who has had a soft spot for Morecambe and its Bay for half a century, I never thought that any composer would ever write a tone-poem based on that area. This work, which reflects the lights - starlight, moonlight, aurora borealis and the promenade illuminations, creates a memorable musical impression using a language that sometimes nods to Debussy. It was composed for the Haffner Orchestra at Lancaster to celebrate their 25th Anniversary. I have written a more detailed appreciation of this work on my blog.

The Three Nocturnes: ‘Northern Summer Nights’ are fascinating. Way back in 1948 Arthur Butterworth wrote one of his very few piano pieces - Lakeland Summer Nights. It is a piece that I would love to hear - along with a complete recording of Proctor-Gregg’s Westmorland Sketches. The present work grew out of certain ideas contained in the piano piece and duly appeared in 1958. In fact, the middle movement ‘Rain’ was a direct transcription from the piano score.
The first movement, Midsummer Night was inspired by a landscape much further north that the Lake District - it was a recollection of being alone ‘somewhere’ on the Sutherland coast of north-west Scotland.
Once again the final movement, ‘The eerie, silent forest in the stealthy darkness’ owes its inspiration to the land north of the border - Rothiemurchus Forest in Inverness-shire. This is a marvellous essay in writing dark, introverted music that paints the perfect image of the scene.
All three ‘impressions’ rely heavily on the superb orchestration: in fact the formal structure is almost invisible to the listener - at least on a first or second hearing. Yet there is an integrity and satisfaction about this music that will inspire the listener. I will make a heretical statement! I love the music of Debussy dearly - yet I would happily swap his Nocturnes for Arthur Butterworth’s. No doubt someone will call for my removal from the panel of MusicWeb International reviewers for that opinion! Fortunately we can all enjoy both works.

The Quiet Tarn, Op.21 and The Green Wind, Op.22 stand together as two tone-poems that again engage the listener with the North Country landscape. The former was written after the composer spent a glorious summer’s afternoon at Malham Tarn back in 1959 (see article). It was surely the quietness and the remoteness of the West Riding Landscape that inspired this work.
The Green Wind is based on some words from Shelley’s poem Summer and Winter:-
It was a bright and cheerful afternoon,
Towards the end of the sunny month of June,
When the north wind congregates in crowds
The floating mountains of the silver clouds

This is music that largely defies categorization. Once again I feel that perhaps Debussy and maybe even Ravel have been inspirational here. But this is music that is many miles away from France: it is exactly the kind of emotion that is raised in the heart and mind when exploring some Lakeland hillside or Derbyshire Tor. The work shows itself to be a master-class in instrumentation and orchestration.

Gigues is a great way to finish off this CD. It was a work that was composed for the amateur Oldham Orchestral Society in 1969. The conductor of that group, George Cottam, had told the composer that he wrote too much serious music and that ‘for once he ought to turn his attention to writing some ‘proper tunes.’ The resulting work is at the one and same time serious, light and very ‘proper’. The music fairly jogs along as befits a dance form that largely derived from the British jig. But it is not all light-hearted - there are some very short, reflective moments that serve to point up the general enthusiasm of the music. Once more the orchestration is absolutely brilliant.

This is an excellent CD. It is good to see that Arthur Butterworth is gradually getting the attention that he manifestly deserves. The playing is superb, the sound quality equally so. However, one slight criticism: I would have liked more detailed liner notes. A glance at the catalogue of AB’s music reveals a host of other music that just seems to demand recording. Let us hope that it happens sooner than later. And finally, I understand that the composer has completed his Sixth Symphony which was premiered in Russia in 2009. I wonder if he will get to a Number Nine? Let us hope so.
This CD can be bought direct from Dutton Recordings

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Clarendon Piano Series: A selection of excellent British piano music

I recently found a piece of music by Hilda M. Cooper, called Tarn Hows of which more will be said in a later post. However this work was published as a part of a short-lived series issued by the Oxford University Press under the Clarendon Piano Series.
The aim of this new library of piano music was ‘to provide solo pieces of high musical value and varying difficulty, for recital, festival, and practice purposes.’ Interestingly it was edited by John Ireland who ‘as an English composer enjoys in an unique degree both serious admiration and genuine popularity.’ Ireland selected these pieces to reflect his own preferences in piano music.
The advert for the series concluded with a statement that there were other pieces in preparation and that they were sure that ‘the Clarendon Piano Series will figure in many concert and wireless programmes’ in years to come.
This has partly come to pass as the list below shows. However I guess that only Ireland’s own contribution has really stood the test of time. Fortunately both Bowen and Moeran’s piano music has been reappraised in recent years and has not been found to be wanting. Perhaps some of the other pieces will be performed in the future and will add to the stock of worthy British piano pieces. Certainly my first glance at Hilda Cooper’s Tarn Hows reveals a competent and musically descriptive piece.

Roy Agnew
A May Day for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Rabbit Hill for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Elf Dance: a study for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

York Bowen
Berceuse for piano, Op.83, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Three preludes: No. 1, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Three preludes: No. 2, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Three preludes: No. 3, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

Hilda M. Cooper
Tarn Hows for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

Dorothy Howell
Prelude in A flat for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1929
Prelude in C major for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1929
Prelude in F minor for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1929

Herbert Howells
Country Pageant: four short pieces for the piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Gadabout, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
A Little Book of Dances for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

John Ireland
Spring will not wait for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

E.J. Moeran
Bank Holiday, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
Summer Valley, for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

H.E. Randerson
Eclogue for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
An Oxford Quadrangle for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928

Harold Rutland
Toccata for piano, Oxford University Press, London 1928
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All dates are approximate.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

York Bowen: Toccata, Op.155 (1957)

York Bowen composed at least three important toccatas during his career. The first was a student work dating from 1901: the second was the ‘finale’ to his Third Piano Suite, Op38 which was composed in 1920. The final essay in this virtuosic form was written in 1957. The work was not published and was subsequently edited by Stephen Hough from the autograph score.
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Lasting for some five minutes this work is exactly what one would imagine a toccata to be. Full of highly technical writing, it is well laid out for pianists allowing them at least half a chance of playing this demanding work. Jonathan Frank, in the programme notes for the Lyrita recording of York Bowen’s piano music has stated that ‘The Toccata might be described as the peak of Bowen’s virtuoso writing.’ He then notes that ‘incredibly subtle harmony abounds and in the ‘allegro furioso’ tempo is pursued relentlessly throughout, building up into an impressive climax at the finish.’
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The composer gave the first performance broadcast performance in 5 December 1958 on the BBC Home Service He also played the Romance No. 1 in G flat, Op.35 No.1. The first public performance being at the Wigmore Hall in 13 June 1960 – the year before his death. Other works given at this recital included the Partita Op.156 (1960) and a selection the Preludes Op.102. Additionally he played eight Scarlatti sonatas, the Nocturne in B major and the Barcarolle by Chopin. Two other works were also given, the Whispering Willows by Greville Cooke and the Liebesleid by Kreisler-Rachmaninov.
At the time York Bowen would have been 76 years old. It is surely a tribute to his enduring keyboard technique that this work was a huge success at that recital. The Toccata is virtuosic and requires a massive piano technique. It would make a fine encore to a recital of York Bowen’s or anyone else’s piano music for that matter.

There are currently three versions of the Toccata, Op.155 available on CD.
York Bowen on Lyrita REAM 2105
Joop Celis on Chandos CHAN 10506
Stephen Hough on Hyperion CDA66838
The piece can also be heard in an excellent performance (and seen played) on YouTube

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Plethora of Tarns – Descriptive British Music


I recently posted about Arthur Butterworth’s fine impressionistic tone-poem A Quiet Tarn which was inspired by Malham Tarn in the West Riding. Idle fingers typed the word ‘tarn’ into the catalogue and discovered a number of other pieces of music that are ‘descriptive’ of this natural feature. I list them below. Three of them are recorded and one of them, a suite by Arthur Wood has a very well known finale which is recorded on YouTube.

Arthur Butterworth (1923- ) A Quiet Tarn for orchestra, Op.21 (1960)

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962): Two Sketches for String Quartet Op.15 No. 1 By the Tarn, No. 2 Jack O’ Lantern (1915) and also arranged string orchestra with clarinet (ad lib)

Edward Cowie (1943- ): Les gorges du Tarn for horn, violin and piano (2007) But this is descriptive of a French Landscape so only scrapes into a listing on The Land of Lost Content as the composer was born in Birmingham.

Hilda M Cooper: Tarn Hows for piano (1928)

Maurice Johnstone (1900-1976): Tarn Hows –A Cumbrian Rhapsody for orchestra (1950)
Brian H. J. Reaks: At Easdale Tarn for piano (1945)

Arthur Wood (1875-1953): Suite –My Native Heath for small orchestra (1922) No.1 Knaresbro; Status or Hiring Fair No.2 Ilkley Tarn or The Dance of the Sprites No.3 Bolton Abbey and No.4 Barwick Green- a maypole dance

Edgar Barrett (1877-1928): Scottish Tone Pictures for Pianoforte (1911) No.1 A Moorland Tarn No.2 In a Woodland Glen No.3 Cloud Shadows No.4 Dawn No.5 The Western Isles & No.6 The Sea-Mew’s Flight.

John Wilson (1940- ): Three Westmorland Sketches for oboe and piano No.1 Sunbiggin TarnNo.2 Cote Flat Mull and No.3 Raisbeck (1971)

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960): Three Pieces for String Quartet (c.1928) No.1 Above Blea Tarn, No.2 Winster Valley & No.3 Loweswater: Calm after storm

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

E Markham Lee: Moorland and Torland

I recently found a copy of Ernest Markham Lee’s Moorland and Torland Suite for pianoforte in an Oxfam shop. It was prices £1.29 which compared favourably to the original publication price of 2/6 (12½p)
The work consists of six sketches describing various locations and features of the Devon landscape. Markham Lee was attracted to this area of the country and also wrote a West Country Suite and a Rivers of Devon Suite for orchestra. The titles of each piece are accompanied by short pieces of verse which were contributed by the composer’s friend Dr. S. King Alcock. They are:-
1. The Tors at sunset
2. Taw River
3. The Lonely Pool
4. In the Purple Heather
5. Silent Water
6. Farewell
The composer has provided a footnote for the third and fifth pieces. 'The Lonely Pool' is in fact ‘Cranmere, the deserted pool in mid-most moor, whence all Dartmoor rivers take their rise.’ 'The Silent Water' was the local name given to part of the Taw River, where it ‘loses its character and moves almost imperceptibly, deep down between heather covered banks.
The music in each of these short sketches probably suggests the composer’s response to what he is seeing, rather than a musical picture of the landscape. To my eye and ear, these are well written numbers that hover somewhere between Grade 5 & 6 ability. But like so much music composed for amateurs, nothing is a simple as it seems. There are plenty of places to trip up the unwary player.
The strongest sketch is probably Silent Water. It comes closest with its tempo, ‘slowly with deep expression’ to creating a genuine mood picture.
So long the journey to the destined goal
The river well nigh dozes. Frown nor smile
Disturbs its placid face-yet, all the while
Deep down, the steadfast waters seaward roll.

The least successful sketch is the rather simplistic waltz which accompanies 'In the Purple Heather'. Yet even this reflects Alcock’s words:- 'If the heather is trampled with respect/While the children laugh and sing'.
I enjoyed playing through this work, however it is one of many pieces that it would be nice to have just one ‘professional’ recording of.

A short biography of Ernest Markam Lee will follow in a few posts time.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Arthur Butterworth: A Quiet Tarn for orchestra, Op.21

Dutton has recently released a compact disc (CDLX7253) of music by Arthur Butterworth’s orchestral music, which includes the impressive Fifth Symphony Op.115, Coruscations, Op.127, Gigues, Op.42, the Three Nocturnes, Op. 18 and The Green Wind, Op. 22. However one piece that really impressed me was the impressionistic A Quiet Tarn, Op.21.

I asked the composer how this work came about. He told me that the inspiration came on 1st June 1959 when he decided to have a walk into this part of the Yorkshire Dales. It was a perfect summer’s day. Butterworth was born and bred in Manchester so the Pennines to the east of that city were well-known to him, however the area round Malham was new territory. Although he did not tell me, I guess that he had use of a motor car that day; as he mentioned that he had visited Top Withen’s the legendary ruin of Wuthering Heights on Haworth Moor. He recalled that “even then, more than fifty years ago it was quite a desolate ruin. A heavy shower came on and I sheltered as best one could, under the few slates still on the roof, and shared this with a shepherd and his dog for ten minutes or so. He seemed to be the living incarnation of Heathcliffe, taciturn, un-smiling and very much a loner.”
Later that day he motored up to Malham which is some thirty miles to the north of Haworth. The day turned out to be ‘gorgeously sunny and very hot.’

Arthur Butterworth explained to me that, ‘at Malham one could go on almost endlessly northwards; there is no further industrial region to come up against; no twinkling town lights, just the light of the stars. Indeed, that is, I suppose, one of the fascinations that Malham had for me that June day - the realisation that this marked the beginning, as it were, of some vast tract of truly wild and almost unending landscape, stretching to the Scottish border. So, there was to me, an indefinable sense of remoteness about it all; stimulating the imagination as to what might lie beyond. Such is the awe inspired by Malham Tarn at sunset - the utter solitude, the silence - save for the curlew, and a few other melancholy moorland birds - it has an inexplicable aura about it. However, towards mid evening the clouds came over, and cool wind came out of the west; there were hints of rain again and I set off back home to Manchester.’
Yet it was this quietness and remoteness of Malham Tarn that made the deep impression on Arthur Butterworth which has remained with him all his life.

A Quiet Tarn opens with a strangely suppressed power in the orchestra which promises much to come. A woodwind figure appears over this background and is then followed by a mysterious cello solo as if rising from the tarn and trying, but failing to reach the sunshine. A key constructive feature of this work appears to be a variety of downward pressing motives and chordal sequences. The music moves on a little bit, as if awakening from a deep sleep. After a passage for woodwind supported by shimmering strings the music sweeps up to the first climax, before quickly being called to check. The horn once again adds a legendary feel to the music. There is an unsettled, almost disjointed tune for the strings, before the second climax. Once again the shimmering strings appear and slowly bring the work to a conclusion. Thematic fragments are gently thrown about before the flute and other woodwind bring the work to a quiet close. The tarn is at rest one more.
There is much in this piece that is full of foreboding and certainly the composer has used the darker tones of the orchestral palette to great effect. Certainly the music of Sibelius is never too far away.
A Quiet Tarn is one of the most evocative music descriptions of the ‘North Country’ of England and ought to be regarded alongside Maurice Johnstone’s Tarn Hows and Eugene Goossens By the Tarn as a definitive British tone poem.
This music is available on Dutton CDLX 7253

Friday, 3 September 2010

Arthur Butterworth: An Addendum to the Discography

I recently posted a discography of music by Arthur Butterworth. I included recordings that I thought were easily available in the record shops, online or perhaps in second-hand shops. However the composer has advised me of a number of other recordings of his music. Some of these are easily attainable, but one or two may be a wee bit harder to acquire. I have linked to a record company, shop or other source where possible.

Orchestral
Romanza for horn and string orchestra
Martin Hackleman (horn)
CBC Orchestra, Vancouver conducted by Mario Bernardi
CBC Records SMCD 5186

Brass Ensemble/Band
A Triton Suite for brass ensemble
Brass Partout conducted by Hermann Bäumer
BIS Records BIS CD 1354

Three Impressions for Brass:- Wylam Colliery; Deserted Farm & The Royal Border Bridge
Passacaglia on a theme of Brahms, Op.87
Sinfonia Concertante, Op.113
Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Handel Op. 24, Brahms, Trans. Butterworth
Black Dyke Band conducted by Nicholas Childs
Doyen Records DOYCD130

Maoriana, Op.85 –a sinfonia for brass
BNFL Band conducted by Richard Evans
Polyphonic Records QPRL062D

Partita, Op.89
Steven Mead (euphonium) Joyce Woodhead (piano)
Polyphonic Records QPRZ014D

Odin, from the Land of Fire and Ice - symphony for brass band
Norwegian Brass Band Championship 2008
DOYEN DOYCD243

Odin and the Passacaglia on a theme of Brahms are the composer’s two major essays for the brass band.

Vocal Music
Ancient Sorceries for counter tenor, recorder and harpsichord
Nicholas Clapton (countertenor) John Turner (recorder) & Ian Thompson (harpsichord)
Guild GMCD 7348

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Edward Elgar and Gerald Cumberland: Story of an interview in Manchester.

The writer Gerald Cumberland (Charles Frederick Kenyon) wrote a fine collection of anecdotes and reminiscences in his book Set down in Malice –which was published in 1919. Much of this book had been written down in the trenches in Salonika during 1918. The date of the meeting was most likely 2nd or 3rd December when Elgar was in Manchester for the first performance of his First Symphony at the Free Trade Hall. The work was played by the Halle Orchestra and conducted by Hans Richter.

My first meeting with Elgar was ten years ago [c.1908], when, being commissioned to interview him for a monthly musical magazine, I called on him at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, where he was staying for a night. On my way to his room I met him in the corridor, where he carefully explained that he had made it a strict rule never to be interviewed for the Press and that under no circumstances could that rule be broken. His firm words were spoken with hesitation, and it was quite obvious to me that he was feeling more than a trifle nervous. I have little doubt that this nervousness was due to the fact that in an hour's time he was to conduct a concert at the Free Trade Hall. However, he was kind enough to loiter for some minutes and talk, but he took care, when I left him, to remind me that nothing of what he had said to me must appear in print. I, of course, obeyed him, but, in place of an interview, I wrote an impressionistic sketch of the man as I had seen him during my few minutes' conversation at the Midland Hotel. Of this impressionistic sketch I remember nothing except that, in describing his general bearing and manner, I used the word "aristocratic." At this word Elgar rose like a fat trout eager to swallow a floating fly. It confirmed his own hopes. And I who had perceived this quality so speedily, so unerringly, and who had proclaimed it to the world, was worthy of reward. Yes; he would consent to be interviewed. The ban should be lifted...