Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Arnold Bax & CDs

In the early seventies I remember looking at the list of Arnold Bax’s compositions in Grove in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow: there seemed so many of them. I guess that I had heard a couple of pieces that had been released on the old Revolution label - I think they were The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew and the Viola Sonata. There were others available, but in those days I could not afford to buy everything I wanted. Besides, there were also albums of music by Led Zeppelin and Yes to buy! Yet, I had been hooked on Bax’s music: the sound-world had captured my imagination. Being a Scot, with Irish and English blood in my veins the music was designed to appeal to all those facets of my inherited character.
One thing is certain: as I looked at the listings of symphonies, piano pieces, tone poems and chamber music, I knew that I would never hear them all. None of my friends had heard of Bax: he was certainly not performed in the concert halls of Glasgow and Edinburgh. I imagined that these evocative titles such as The Garden of Fand, Tintagel, In the Faery Hills or Rosc-catha would remain closed scores, as it were, for the rest of my life.
Fast forward 35 years. Who would have believed that there would be at least two versions of each of the works presented on this CD? In the wider context virtually every major work by the composer would be available – including four cycles of the symphonies! Yet his music is rarely played in concert halls and recital rooms. This year’s Proms is a rare treat for Bax lovers, however the fact remains that most listeners engage with Arnold Bax by way of the iPod and the CD player rather than ‘live’.


Ralph Spurrier said...

Hello John,
We seem to have very similar musical tastes! In the 70's I was soaking up Gentle Giant, Yes and Pink Floyd while also adding Bax, Moeran and Finzi to my sum of musical knowledge through the Lyrita LP series.
Bax's "Tintagel" I have always surmised to be much more about his relatively new passion for Harriet Cohen than it was for about any Arthurian legend or the physical Cornish coast. Bax and Cohen were "holidaying" in Tintagel at the time of its composition and read the score as one may there is, I would argue, more than a touch of the erotic (the references to Tristan would only serve to underline this.)
The Bax symphony prom this year will be the first for over 60 years I think - I shall be there!
Love your website by the way - you do a grand job flying the flag for British music.

John France said...

Thanks for that Ralph. It is nice to know that others enjoyed the music of their generation -as well as the riches of British Classical music... I have Yes & Zeppelin (plus many others) on my iPod!!!