Thursday, 10 February 2011

Henry Walford Davies: ‘Big Ben Looks On’ – an orchestral phantasy

I was looking at some of the music that was composed as part of the George VI Coronation celebrations. These included the Flourish for a Coronation and a Festival Te Deum by Ralph Vaughan Williams. However, the one work that caught my eye was a work composed for children. Sir Walford Davies (1869-19410 wrote an orchestral Phantasy entitled 'Big Ben looks on' for the Robert Mayer Children's Concert held on April 6, 1937. It was dedicated to the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.

There is a good review of this concert in The Argus, May 1 1937, which was published in Melbourne, Australia:-
‘Queen Elizabeth motored up from Royal Lodge, Windsor, with the young Princesses, to take them to the children's concert in the Central Hall, Westminster. These concerts, which are held every Saturday, arc organised by Mr. Robert Mayer. The conductor, Dr. Malcolm Sargent, now happily recovered from his serious illness, prefaces each item of the programme with a few explanations to the children.
Last Saturday was a special occasion because it saw the first performance of the fantasy, 'Big Ben Looks On, by the Master of the King's Music (Sir Walford Davies). It is dedicated to the young Princesses, and there is a special tune for each of them which was played to them separately, and which comes in both at the beginning and end of the piece. This charming and ingenious music, with its suggestions of Big Ben's chime heard not only in London but in Australia, was received with enthusiasm.
Sir Walford Davies had also worked into his music a tune written by young children from a village, in response to a competition he had inaugurated.’

The Times also reviewed this concert:-
‘The Fantasy has the title Big Ben Looks On and in it the Master of the King’s Music has imagined the familiar chimes, which may now be heard broadcast all over the world, as a bond between England and Empire. So we visit, among other places, a village school in Warwickshire, from which a child of nine has supplied what the composer afterwards modestly described as the best tune in the piece, and an outpost in Central Australia [is] characterized by a native melody. The whole fantasy is framed between two charming little tunes – one for each of the dedicatees.
The orchestra on this occasion was the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Sargent with Mr. W.H. Read as leader...’
The Times: Wednesday, Apr 07, 1937

Other works included at the concert were:-
George Frederick Handel: Water Music
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture: The Wasps
Gustav Holst: ‘Jupiter’ from the Planets
Frederick Delius: Dance from Koanga
Edward Elgar: Cockagine Overture

Big Ben Looks On is a work I would love to hear. I do not know if the score exists in the Walford Davies archive, but I guess it would be an attractive work to feature on a CD devoted to miniatures by British composers.


Greg Kostraba said...

Thanks for the informative post! Where is the Walford Davies archive, per chance? I would be interested in finding some of the composer's music for piano, and seeing a list of the composer's compositions at the very least.

Gareth Vaughan said...

Walford Davies' MSS are in the RCM. The autograph score of "Big Ben Looks On" is there, I believe. I have not seen it, however.

Gareth Vaughan

Grandenorm said...

I have now seen the score at the RCM and have programmed the work in a charity concert I am organising to raise money for the relief of leprosy at The Cadogan Hall on 31st October, 2012. The orchestra is the quite superb Orion Symphony Orchestra under their conductor, Toby Purser. The concert is called "Music & Majesty" and consists of music by masters of the King's Music The other works included are: Elgar's Enigma Variations; Parry's Symphonic Variations and Walton's Violin Concerto, with Valerij Sokholov.

Grandenorm said...

Correction to the programe on 31st October at The Cadigan Hall:-
Walton: Crown Imperial
Parry: Symphonic Variations
Arnold: Concerto for 2 violins
(Valeriy Sokolov & Andrej Bielow, violins)
Elgar: Cockaigne
Walford Davies: Fantasy - Big Ben Looks On
Coates: Three Elizabeths Suite