Friday, 29 April 2011
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Monday, 25 April 2011
Saturday, 23 April 2011
"Pianist Myra Hess is still well known in Britain, particularly for her life-enhancing concerts during the dark years of World War II, but she is not as well known today in the United States. John K. Adams, who had the privilege of knowing Hess, provides insights into her as an artist and as a woman and recounts her experiences in America."Musicologist and critic Marion Scott (1877-1953) who knew composer-singer Liza Lehmann provides a look at her through a review of Lehmann’s autobiography. A new CD of film music by English composer Doreen Carwithen raises the question “what might have been?” had Carwithen be given the opportunities of her male contemporaries in the film industry. Although her contribution did not contain any well-known films, she had the stuff of greatness as her music reveals."
Thursday, 21 April 2011
The range of articles is wide and is not simply limited to immediate events and people in the Manchester area. For example Robin Walker gives a good account of an afternoon spent with Michael Tippett in Oxford during 1977, which was shortly after the first performances of that composer’s great Third Symphony. Peter Davison contributes an important study of Manchester’s reception of Gustav Mahler, including a complete list of first performance and recordings made by the Hallé and other local orchestras. We are reminded that Neville Cardus wrote a fine book about the composer – Gustav Mahler: his mind and his music (1972).
One of the essays that most interested me is Peter Willis on ‘Chopin in Manchester’ – an exploration of that composer’s only concert in the Northern city – at the Gentlemen’s Concert Hall, Monday 28 August 1848. It is a study that I have long toyed with doing myself. But I was well and truly beaten to the post! However, the detail and genuine erudition of this essay is stunning. Any efforts of mine would have been fourth rate. It is essential reading for all Chopin enthusiasts and is a model for future articles of a similar vein.
Perhaps one of the most important contributions to Manchester Sounds is the ‘Catalogue of Printed Works’ by Graham Peel. This has been prepared as part of Rolf Jordan’s forthcoming study of the composer. It makes fascinating reading and reveals a man who wrote a deal more music than the few Housman settings that he is ‘relatively’ well known for. It is surely essential that an imaginative CD company consider a 'collected songs' of Graham Peel – akin to that recently released for Jack Moeran. I look forward to reading Jordan’s biography when it is published; meanwhile there are a few piano pieces by Peel that I can play – including the Valses Piquantes.
Some of the other articles which caught my eye in this edition of Manchester Sounds include an overview of Graham Peel’s life by Caroline Densham (is this really Peel on page 129?), John Turner and David Lasocki consider the work of Joshua Collinge/Collins, an Eighteenth-Century Mancunian Woodwind Maker and an important study of the ‘compositional worlds’ of David Ellis and Sir John Manduell by Anthony Gilbert. Ernest Tomlinson, who is well known for his major contributions to the world of ‘light music’ as a composer, performer and historian present aspect of autobiography of a young ‘North County composer.
There are the usual offices reviews and a list of ‘First Performances in the Greater Manchester. The book reviews include a memoir about Sir Neville Cardus by Robin Daniels, Charles Halle: A Musical Life by Robert Beale. Important CD release considers include the Dutton Epoch Concerto Lirico by Thomas Pitfield and the Chandos showcase of music by Edward Gregson.
Included in this volume is a CD interview with the Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies made on 26 November 2009. Alas, I was unable to get my CD player to ‘track’ it. However I am assured that this is an impressive tour de force that ranges across many subjects including his 1960’s compositions, his involvement with the musical grouping New Music Manchester, his public role as Master of the Queen’s Music and the ‘problems facing young composers in the twenty-first century’. It would be a pity if this interview is only heard by readers of this journal – it would appear to be an important addition to the musical history of Great Britain.
This is an excellent magazine which promotes music from the Greater Manchester area. By and large every article is a major contribution to the scholarship of this area. It is a journal that will be referred to again and again by musicologist and music lovers wherever they live.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Sunday, 17 April 2011
Friday, 15 April 2011
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
At the time of Stanford’s death in 1924 a number of his friends and pupils set down their thoughts in Music & Letters. In fact George Dyson became director of the RCM in 1938: he was the first director to have studied there. His appreciation of Stanford is very honest: he presents a picture that includes the less appealing side of the great man.
I was a pupil of Stanford for four years. I have more to thank him for than I can attempt to catalogue. But of his particular approach to the art of teaching, the subject with which I am here to deal, it is not easy to write. I remember a good many of his characteristic explosions. I happened once to bring into his room a book or a paper in which he came upon a photograph of Gladstone. He leapt at it. “Look at his face, my boy! Sinister, sinister in every line. Ugh!" Thus Stanford the Orangeman. Another day I heard part of a lesson given to a student who has since become famous. ‘Blank,’ he said, ‘your music comes from hell. From hell, my boy; H E double L.’ Thus Stanford the purist. Once he suddenly observed that my nose was obstructed. He took particular pains to have me examined gratis by a Harley Street specialist: and I know he did the like for others, too, who seemed to be ailing or disabled in any way. From another angle he once said to me: ‘I want to talk to you, my boy. Don't spend too much time with So-and-so. He'll do you no good. I'd rather see you with a painted lady.’
All his judgments were of this uncompromising type. When we were preparing Tod und Verklärung, he remarked: ‘If it's to be Richard, I prefer Wagner. If Strauss, then give me Johann.’ And after the performance at Queen's Hall of a famous work which to him seemed to smack too much of the hot-house, he is said to have relieved his discomfort in the artist's room by playing scales of C major. He once gave me a similar douche in a terminal report. ‘Has a bad fit of chromatics. Hope he will soon grow healthy and diatonic.’ At the end of my time with him I became Mendelssohn scholar. ‘What are you going to do with it?’ he asked me when next we met. My ideas were vague, but I said something about Leipzig. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘you've had four years here. That's enough. You don't want any more of that sort of thing. Go to Italy, my boy, and sit in the sun.’
I have set down these disjointed memories thus at random, because to me they represent him as no carefully chosen adjectives could do. This done, there comes the main question. Was Stanford a great teacher?
In the sense in which it is customary to understand the term, I think Stanford's teaching had most of the major defects that teachers are usually counselled to avoid. The careful exposition of principles, the weighing and collating of detail, the conscientious or laboured endeavour to understand or appreciate an alien or repellent point of view; these faculties had no sure place within his temperament. He could give first-rate technical advice. ‘Keep the double-basses up.’ ‘Percussion is effective inversely in proportion to the amount of it.’ ‘You don't make more noise by scrubbing at a fiddle than by bowing it normally.’ Remarks of this kind came frequently, and were invariably sound. But in matters more elusive, in questions of personal expression, of poetic or dramatic mood, of all the more modern devices of emphasis or atmosphere, he seemed to some of us to be a bundle of prejudices. His judgments in these things were so impatient, brusque and final. If he disagreed with a student's choice of a poem, he was not likely to find much sense in the setting of it. Sometimes his distaste was strong enough to defeat itself. The pupil might become sullen and the teacher bitter.
Something of this feeling of unresolved conflict seemed to lie behind the disappointment which in later years he occasionally confessed. He had aspired to be the acknowledged fount of a school of composers. In his own judgment he had largely failed. And this in spite of the patent fact that an overwhelming majority of contemporary English composers of distinction were his pupils. In proportion as these men developed a novel or personal speech, Stanford seemed to think that they were abjuring just those ideals which he had tried to instill. The ultimate products baffled or distressed him. His mature idol had been Brahms. To his pupils it too often seemed that what he wanted from them was Brahms and water. And hardly any of his most talented students could abide the mixture. It is said that some of them occasionally concocted a deliberate imitation in order to please him. Some certainly wrote in the knowledge that they would be condemned from the first bar. In a certain sense the very rebellion he fought was the most obvious fruit of his methods. And in view of what some of these rebels have since achieved, one is tempted to wonder whether there is really anything better a teacher can do for his pupils, than drive them into various forms of revolution.
Stanford's real and abiding influence lay in qualities of mind and character of which he was probably never even conscious. His fundamental reactions were fierce and intuitive. There were some things to him so elemental that they rarely required to be expressed, much less argued about. And on this plane he carried most of his pupils with him, without their being in the least alive as to what was actually happening. Vagueness, shallowness, sentimentality, froth, and a score of other temptations to which every talent, young or old, is subject, were simply outside his orbit. They could not exist in his presence, and men left them outside his door like a coat or a hat. This was the real infection. His direct judgment, his tightness of speech, his fury of integrity, these were what he gave to those who could digest them. It was an influence as indirect as was the breadth and scholarship of Parry. One did not have to know Parry. He had only to sit in the Director's room at the Royal College, and it was impossible for slack or superficial work to feel at home there. How could an institution be aimless that had Parry at its head? How could a composition be meaningless vapour that had Stanford at its heels?
His passion it was for the artistic faith of his maturity which was the outstanding feature of his work. Something of this he had to pass on, and he did not fail. There is not, to my knowledge, a single one of his pupils who, having talent to do better, has chosen the easy path. To the ablest of them the facile, the imitative, the popular, the best-seller, are completely unknown. Not a few have been content to dig hard and long, to mould with not a little of Stanford's own ruggedness, such metal as they were able to find in themselves. Stanford had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and this alone was a notable experience to those who came in contact with it. He had also been in close touch with all the finest traditions and all the most gifted exponents of his time. And he was, as I have already shown, something of a true father to us all. But above all he had within him a refining fire, hidden it may be, but never quenched. As was lately said of a great headmaster whose outward manner was difficult: ‘When all is done and said, the man cared.’ Stanford cared, and cared passionately, for the art in which he lived. And if any of us, his pupils, have even a spark of that same fire, then, whether we know it or not, we burn it in his honour. George Dyson in Music & Letters July 1924
Monday, 11 April 2011
The first performance of the Festival Te Deum was at the ‘Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’ at Westminster Abbey on 12 May 1937. The specially assembled choir and orchestra were conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. The work was sung whilst the newly-crowned King descended from his throne ‘carrying his Sceptre and Rod in his hands’ and accompanied by the Queen ‘repaired to St Edward’s Chapel to be disrobed of his Royal Robe of State and arrayed in his Robe of purple velvet’. With the exception of the National Anthem it was the final piece of music sung at the ceremony.
The Festival Te Deum is ostensibly ‘founded on traditional themes’ most of which do not seem to have been positivly identified. However Frank Howe has indicated that one tune used at ‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee...’ is based on a Dorian tune ‘It’s a rich young farmer’ and Dives and Lazarus is used at ‘When thou tookest upon thee...’ Sir William McKie in an anecdote has suggested that there may also be an allusion to ‘Tarry Trousers’ or ‘Lovely Joan.’The work is written in three-part form with a short introduction and a coda. Vaughan Williams makes a careful balance between chant-like music and that which is declamatory. The central section is more melodic and chant-like compared to the declamatory and fanfare-like music used in the first and last sections. He has made use of modal melodies throughout this work. The singing from the choir is largely often in unison. The sense of the words is reflected by the use of reduced choral resources for the more reflective parts of the setting with full-choir featuring in the triumphant moments.
The Festival Te Deum has not had a particularly good press. On a positive note, the reviewer in The Times noted that this was ‘spontaneous and jubilant music’ and considered that unlike many festival settings of the Te Deum ‘the jubilation is not allowed to obscure the deeper implication of the words.’ However, James Day has suggested that the composer was on ‘auto-pilot’ when he composed this work. A.E.F Dickinson is even more critical, ‘this setting...is an incredibly derivative work.’ Michael Kennedy considers that ‘the words and the music do not go well together.’
However, Kennedy does admit that this effort is a ‘thoroughly extrovert ceremonial piece, right for the right occasion.’ Perhaps listeners should use this judgement when listening to this Te Deum – it is not a ‘timeless work of art’ but an ephemeral piece that well serves its purpose and deserves to be revived on occasion.
The Festival Te Deum can be heard on Chandos Collect
Saturday, 9 April 2011
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Sunday, 3 April 2011
Charles Williams (1893-1978) is a composer who became one of the leading figures of the classic age of British Light Music. He is perhaps best known for the theme music for the radio programme Dick Barton – The Devil’s Galop. However he composed a number of film scores including Hitchcock’s version of the John Buchan story The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Night Has Eyes. Many people know The Dream of Olwen, which is a mini-concerto for piano and orchestra.
However it is his mood music that provided his bread and butter. There are literally dozens of pieces such as Rhythm on the Rails, High Adventure and Sally Tries the Ballet.
Model Railway was a fine example of this mood-music that has largely lain hidden in the archives for many years. Certainly the one recording of this evocative work was made in 1950 and had to wait over half a century before it appeared on CD.
It is one those works that is exactly what the title says. There can be no doubt that this is firstly real railway music and secondly it is not the full-scale variety. The music fairly chugs along complete with wooden whistle. Perhaps it is miniature railway like those still in operation at Rhyl or Arbroath? Or maybe it is the good old Hornby Dublo?
Model Railway is available on Guild Light Music GLCD 5125 and ASV WHL2151.
Friday, 1 April 2011
Stanford's Irish Rhapsodies, founded on the traditional airs of his native land, will, I believe, outlive all his longer orchestral works. No. 1  of these became obstinately popular to the exclusion of the others, a fact which so displeased him that he expressed extreme annoyance whenever he heard it was to be played. It is, nevertheless, a delightful work, though inferior at all points to No. 2  or the later "Ulster " Rhapsody , which is, perhaps, his most beautiful orchestral composition. None of the Rhapsodies are really rhapsodical.
They are skilfully developed movements, perfectly proportioned and balanced with the greatest regard for thematic cohesion. This is not, however, the really vital quality which distinguishes them. Nothing Stanford did, except some of his songs, makes so strong an appeal, by reason of the wild natural poetry which is in them. The scoring, too, is more inspired than that of the symphonies, more full of light and shadow, of colour and glamour.
If I wanted to impress a foreign unbeliever with the real beauty of British music at its best I should take him to hear a performance of the "Ulster" Rhapsody, that he might have a glimpse of what the "Fisherman saw at Lough Neagh," and of what the great Irish composer was able to reflect of this vision in his music. "Dark and true and tender is the North" is the quotation attached to the closing page of the score-a mere expression of an Orangeman's sympathies, probably-but the three adjectives describe the loveliness of the music itself in a way that no other words could do. It is a work of imperishable quality.
From the Proceedings of the Musical Association, 53rd Sess. (1926 - 1927) with minor edits.
 Irish Rhapsody No. 1 in D minor, Op. 78 (1901) made use of the Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) hence its one-time popularity.
 Irish Rhapsody No. 2 in F minor, Op. 84 "The Lament of the Son of Ossian" (c. 1903)
 Irish Rhapsody No. 4 in A minor, Op. 141 "The Fisherman of Lough Neagh and What He Saw" (1914)
 Dunhill did not refer to the Irish Rhapsodies Nos 3, 5, & 6. These were still in manuscript at that time.