Monday, 30 April 2012

The Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier: New Edition


The Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier, edited by Christopher Fifield (revised and enlarged edition)
The Boydell Press, Suffolk, soft covers, 489 pages
ISBN 9781843830917 £14:99

I had only just opened the parcel containing my copy of this book on Christmas Day when it was immediately pressed into service. I was writing an article about Sir Arthur Bliss’ fine scena for contralto and orchestra, The Enchantress: I needed to find out what Kathleen Ferrier had said about the work. So whilst the roast beef was in the oven, I checked out the dozen or so references to this work indicated in the index. Naturally, one’s eye caught a whole raft of other interesting bits and pieces. So a happy hour was spent exploring her musings about, and connections, with the music of Benjamin Britten, Charles Villiers Stanford and Peter Warlock. However, what impressed me most was the vast number of people, places and musical compositions that had interacted with this marvellous lady. It is this treasury of information that makes this book such a valuable piece of scholarship. However, running virtually neck and neck is the fact that this book is also a remarkable portrait of the life and times, the moods and concerns, the fun and the pain of Kathleen Ferrier. I must state that I did not read the first edition (2003) of this book.

I guess that a biography of Kathleen Ferrier is not required in this review. Save to say that she was, and remains, one of the most iconic singers in the world of British music. The tragedy of her early death has no doubt contributed to the sometimes hagiographical view of her life. However, her illness and subsequent death in 1953 must never detract from the fact that she was a lady who had begun her career as a telephone operator and had ended up performing on the great stages of the world. In many ways it is a fairy-tale story that had a sad, but ultimately positive ending. It is this sense of the affirmative that characterises this book.

Christopher Fifield has many strings to his bow. He is a conductor, a music historian, a lecturer and a broadcaster. The basic premise of this volume is to present a large selection of Ferrier’s letters and diaries. To this, is added the lightest possible, but ultimately vital commentary. He has written what may be regarded as an ideal model of this kind of book.

The Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier is to a certain extent ‘technical.’ It is unlikely to be through read. Scholars and scribblers will find that it contains an enormous amount of essential primary data for their explorations into a vast array of topics. Musical historians will be first in the queue: this will include those who specialise in opera, folksong, Mahler, Brahms and British composers. Other students will want to explore the letters and diaries from a social history point of view. Here is a record of the work and travel arrangements of a very busy lady. Even the train times and the hotels stayed in are mentioned. Another group of interested people will relate to the sad side of these letters and diaries – they will want to understand how she coped with breast cancer.  Certainly these readers will find that through all the stress and pain she never lost her wicked sense of humour.

The book takes its place as the latest in a small but select group of volumes published since 1953. The earliest book was a collection of six tributes written the year following her death – Kathleen Ferrier –A Memoir. Contributions were made by Sir John Barbirolli, Benjamin Britten, Neville Cards, Roy Henderson, Gerald Moore and Bruno Walter. The following year, her sister, Winifred Ferrier published the first biography, The Life of Kathleen Ferrier. This has always been regarded as an excellent and objective account of her sister’s life.  An unauthorised biography by Charles Rigby, also published in 1955 has been the subject of much controversy and is deemed to be inaccurate in some ways. A third of a century later Maurice Leonard’s Kathleen (1988) revealed some aspects of the singer’s life and illness ‘that her sister had been reluctant to focus on so soon after Kathleen's death’. It was written with Winifred’s full cooperation. A second, revised edition was released in 2008. One of the most recent contributions to Ferrier scholarship has been Paul Campion’s Ferrier- A Career Recorded (2005).  This is an annotated discography and filmography covering all the recordings known at the time of writing.  

The present book is quite simply organised. After the usual offices the letters are preceded by an introduction, setting them in context. These letters are then presented by individual year (except those from 1940-1947, which are grouped together) preceded by a short historical and biographical note. The final chapter in this section is a collection of letters defining Ferrier’s relationship with the BBC spanning the years 1941-1943. This is a new chapter added to the present edition of this book.  In all some 409 letters are published.

The second section consists of her diary entries from 1942 to shortly before her death in 1953. There follows a selection of tributes to the singer, a list of persons referred to in the text, a bibliography and a suite of indices. There are some sixteen photographic plates with a good selection of photographs of Ferrier, some of which I believe are previously unpublished.

Possibly the most useful part of this book are the extensive indices. I want to explore this in detail. The first section is entitle ‘Kathleen Ferrier on Composers’. I am not too sure what this achieves, as none of the references here I looked up involve an extensive comment by Ferrier on the composer. The same may be said about ‘Kathleen Ferrier on Conductors.’ However the section ‘Ferrier on Ferrier’ is excellent, although lacking in page references. For example in 1949, she wrote, ‘Some of the audience were knitting!! I could have spat on them.’ And also ‘I will never pay mi [sic] bill!!!!! The reader will have to hunt through the letters and diaries to find the exact date and context. The most important sections of the indices are devoted to the [Musical] works, the places, venues and festivals and finally a general index which is largely a list of people.  The listings of music are impressive. There are dozens of references to works by Gluck, Britten, Schubert and Purcell. But less well-known composers and music are also referenced in some detail. One that caught my eye was Herbert Sumsion’s ‘Watts Cradle Song.’ There are some fifteen references to this lovely, but forgotten song. But beware, these are mainly references and are typically not comments on, or analysis of, the works listed.  The index of venues reveals just how far and wide Kathleen Ferrier travelled: Holland, the USA, Switzerland, Italy and Cleethorpes.

The book is well-presented. The binding, although paperback, is robust. The paper is good quality and the photographic plates are clear and sharp. The price is hardly expensive by today’s standards, so I believe that this represents excellent value for money.  I know that this book is on sale across a wide range of outlets. Mine was bought in Forsyth’s Music Shop in Deansgate, Manchester: I have seen it in Foyles and Waterstones.  

I think it will be obvious to anyone who has followed me so far in this review that I strongly recommend this book. I cannot see for the life of me why I did not beg, steal or borrow the first edition! The new edition contains some 90 newly published letters, the above mentioned chapter on the ‘Ferrier and the BBC’ and some additional memoirs. The book was re-published to mark the centenary of Ferrier’s birth in 1912. To quote the publisher’s blurb for the book, it provides ‘a vivid picture of a life which illuminated the war and post-war years of austerity and hardship. Kathleen Ferrier was surely fun to know. Her personality was a mix of extreme modesty and self-determined ambition, topped with a mischievously blunt sense of earthy Lancastrian humour’.
The final word about Kathleen Ferrier can surely go to Bruno Walter: ‘She should be remembered in a major key.’ Christopher Fifield’s book has surely made a major contribution to achieving this noble desideratum.  
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Annotated Programme: Two Humorous Anecdotes.


Most listeners will have read programme notes for music that they are listening to at the opera, the concert hall and the recital room. However, not all notes are helpful. Sometimes too little is said, at other times the pages read like a chapter from a doctoral thesis using a technical analytical tool.  Percy A. Scholes, in his compendium of writing from the Musical Times, The Mirror of music 1844-1944 has given a few excellent examples of bad, if not dire programme notes. I give to here with not footnotes and no apologies.

Beethoven’s Sonata in E, for Pianoforte
‘The theme is a connected flow, flowing back when it is varied. The second one is very delicate, but not flowing in one wave like the other. The allegretto is a bearable tragedy- not deep or painful: it comes to the surface with incisive notes, but not often. The second part is its relief, or sleep, and it ends in the same strain. The rondo follows. It has a slightly feverish life: its episodes and variations are of an unstable or capricious nature, except one in G, which is decided, but there is no return to that key. 
Musical Times May 1881

An Unspecified Work 
‘The last note is the low E in the basses, bass clarinet, harp and tam-tam. This note is based on material supplied by the composer.’
Musical Times July 1909

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

George Macfarren: Come Away, Death


When I first started listening to British Music I believed the conventional wisdom that the Victorian era was a ‘Land without Music’. The first glimmer of hope had come with Elgar’s Enigma Variations – or was it Parry’s Prometheus Unbound? And some of my contemporaries went further: there had been no decent British music written between the death of Purcell and Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes – or whatever particular work was in fashion. One day, I heard an amateur performance of Arthur Sullivan’s ‘The Long Day Closes’. I was bowled over by this beautiful and moving part-song. During the same concert, I heard George A Macfarren’s ‘Come Away, Death’.  It too, was a revelation. I was convinced that there was more to this music that I had been led to believe. Since that time I have explored music by these ‘dry as dust’ composers and have rarely been disappointed. From John Field (the Irish Chopin) through the two Macfarrens and on towards Parry and Stanford I have found much hidden treasure.  Names such as Francis Edward Bache, William Sterndale Bennett, Hugo Pearson, Cirpriani Potter, Arthur Sullivan and Frederic Cowen have written impressive concert and recital music that does not deserve to be forgotten.  
All this is said to introduce the YouTube recording of George Macfarren’s ‘Come Away, Death’. This part-song was composed around 1850. It is a setting of the Shakespeare’s fine lyric from Twelfth Night given to the character of Feste, the ‘fool that the Lady Olivia's father took much delight in’ (2.4). In the song, he describes the feelings of someone who has died for his uncaring love, and wishes to be buried in a far country and without due ceremony.

Come away, come away, death,
  And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
  I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
  O prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
  Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
  On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
  My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand, thousand sighs to save,
  Lay me, lay me, lay me, O where
Sad true lover ne’er find my grave,
  To weep there!

This is not the forum to give a detailed analysis of this fine part-song. However two things can be said. Firstly the composer does not over sentimentalise his theme. The emotion is kept in check throughout the entire piece. He has not used sugared harmonies. Secondly Macfarren’s skill as a contrapuntalist is clear from the first bar to the last. It is a well balanced presentation of the text and admirably written for the voices.
‘Come, Away, Death’ appears to have been first published in Novello's Part-Song Book. First Series, 1851. It was subsequently printed in Novello's Part-Song Book. Second Series. Vol.1. No. 51, 1869, etc. and Novello's Tonic Sol-fa Series. No. 35, 1886. It is currently available in The New Novello Part-Song Book, Novello, London, 1999.

George Macfarren’s 'Come Away, Death' can be heard on YouTube

Monday, 23 April 2012

Francis Edward Bache (1833-1858) was a pupil of Willam Sterndale Bennett. These two composers have very different biographies but were similar in their music and in the reception accorded to it. Common wisdom suggests that Sterndale Bennett’s compositional career peaked early on and a life spent teaching music did not allow him to repeat his youthful triumphs. Bache on the other hand quite simply showed great promise and then died early – from tuberculosis. Bache may not have been in thrall to Sterndale Bennett’s musical ethos, but it was certainly influential.

There is quite a large body of work by Bache in existence including some three piano concertos. Yet little reference is made to these compositions in musical literature: Bache’s sister Constance does not discuss this work or the other concerted pieces in her biography of the composer. 
He is usually remembered - if at all - for his Songs Op.16. One teasing anecdote about the composer is that as part of his convalescence he went to live in Torbay. Whilst there he wrote two sets of Souvenirs based on musings from his peregrinations – à la Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage. One, hardly surprisingly, describes Italy but the other looks odd in print – Souvenirs de Torquay! Surely a desideratum for all enthusiasts of English piano music! 

In his three movement Piano Concerto in E major Op.18 we have an excellent work – certainly no-one would claim that it was an essay of enormous originality or that the composer aspired to great genius. But the work has what it takes. It is full of interest, charm and fine pianism and most important of all – lovely tunes. I could not help thinking about the music from Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas as I listened to this work - especially the faster themes. That may put some people off this work – but all I mean to imply by the comparison is that Bache has such a fund of invention for his melodies. And, like the later Sullivan, they sparkle! It is easy to see references to his teacher, Sterndale Bennett, but it is the meditative or reflective nature of much of this music that leads me to rate this concerto so highly. It well balances exuberance and contemplation: it inspires and it moves – what more can a listener ask? 
Francis Edward Bache: Piano Concerto in E major Op.18  can be heard on Hyperion: The Romantic Piano Concerto Volume 43 HYPERION CDA67595
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this material was first published.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Arnold Bax on E.J. Moeran Part II


Moeran's life may be said to have been divided into two clearly cut parts. During his first thirty or so years, he was an Englishman and a diligent collector of East Anglian folk-tunes, [1] whilst for the remainder of his days he was almost exclusively Irish. It was, I would say, about twenty years ago that his consciousness of his Celtic heredity was suddenly aroused. His father (‘a very nice old man’, according to his son) originally came from Cork. (By the way, the Irish nearly always pronounce the name Moeran as Morawn, with the accent on the second syllable. This is probably correct, for in Munster Gaelic the stress usually falls on the end of a word and "a" is heard as ‘aw’. But the composer, and his family, called themselves Moran, as does Lord Moran, I believe.)
Kenmare, where Jack made his Kerry home, is in reality little more than a village picturesquely grouped about the shores of the so-called river, (the name Kenmare means Head of the Sea), with the mountains rearing their austere peaks at the back of the main street. (An English visitor once fantastically confided to us that it reminded him of Innsbruck.) Moeran took an almost proprietary interest in the effect the Kerry scenery made upon the stranger. It was amusing to watch the eagerness of his face as we motored a newcomer up the Kenmare-Killarney road to Windy Gap, where the three lakes and the McGillycuddy Reeks burst into astounding view in a single breathless instant. Jack's predilection for the Irish (or rather Kerry) scene must have been wholly instinctive and emotional. He knew nothing of Irish history, nothing of the heroic legends, nothing of the Celtic literary renaissance. He took no interest in the language revival. Very wisely he refused to take part in any discussion of Irish politics, even if he was ever more than dimly aware that such matters for violent debate existed.
He was not in any sense well read and was, in fact, like Mozart, an almost perfect example of the pure musician. Like Mozart too, he was greatly addicted to billiards. But he knew and loved the Kerry people and understood unerringly how to get on with them. His friendly and unpretentiously   straightforward manner was precisely the same whether he was in the company of a brewery peer, a hotel boots, a priest, an out-at-elbows tramp, or even a drink-sodden and bellicose tinker at Puck Fair in Killorglin [2]. The people of Kenmare adored him. One of them remarked to me: ‘If there was ever a move to elect a mayor of this town Jack Moeran would be everyone's-first choice’. His popularity was immense, even; it must be admitted, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.
I recall an occasion when he and I were in the billiards-room of the Lansdowne Arms [3] and just about to start a game. Into the bar, which was next door and the only passage known to us to the main part of the hotel, there was a sudden irruption of some dozen of Moeran's town friends, all of them in a state of artificial exuberance and all of them anxious, I knew, to force liquid hospitality upon my companion if he could be found. It was only II in the morning and neither he nor I was in convivial mood.
We heard a voice cry, ‘Where is Jack Moeran?’ and glanced apprehensively at one another before searching desperately for a means of escape. By great good fortune we discovered behind a screen a narrow staircase that we had never before noticed. Silently we put away our cues, darted up the stairs and, after much furtive scuffling through box-rooms and attics, found our way to the front door of the hotel and comparative security. Everyone who knew Jack liked him, for he could have had no enemy. Kenmare must have been mourning him, and if the ancient keen were still to be heard in Kerry, as it was when I was young, it would surely have been wailed over the dead body of the village's old friend. His was a simple soul, and a lovable one. Ave atque vale! [4]

Footnotes
[1] For example his Six Folksongs from Norfolk (1923) and his Six Suffolk Folksongs (1931)
[2] Puck Fair, Killorglin. It is thought that the fair started in pre-Christian times as a celebration for a good harvest. The goat may also represent the pagan god, Pan. It is also likely that it is a representation of the Celtic god Lugh and a celebration of Lugnasa (Wikipedia accessed 10/03/12)
[3] Lansdowne Arms, Kenmare. The 3 star Lansdowne Arms Hotel is a beautiful Victorian style Kenmare hotel built 1790. It is an oasis of tranquillity and elegance, situated in the heart of the picturesque town of Kenmare Co Kerry in Kenmare Bay on the famous Ring of Kerry, and the rugged Ring of Beara, just about a 30 minute drive south of Killarney town on the N71 in Co Kerry. (Webpage for Lansdowne Hotel – accessed 10/4/12)
[4] Ave atque vale! Hail and Farewell

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Arnold Bax on E.J. Moeran Part I

This is an excellent appreciation of E.J. Moeran written by fellow composer Arnold Bax. I present t in two parts. Moeran had died suddenly in Kenmare, Ireland on 1 December 1950, most likely from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was aged 55.  

It must have been in the summer of 1919 that I was invited to an evening party somewhere in Kensington or Chelsea: I forget which. These localities always seemed to me, a North Londoner at the time, so remote and foreign that whenever I emerged from the Underground at High Street or Sloane Square I half-expected to hear the aboriginals speaking an alien tongue.
Before starting out that evening, I had become involved in a futile and miserable quarrel with an old friend, and as I reached the doors of the house where the party was to be given my mind was not a little disintegrated and I felt in no mood to entertain or to be entertained. However, only a few minutes after my arrival I found myself conversing appreciatively with as charming and as good-looking a young officer as one could hope to meet. This was my first encounter with Jack Moeran [1] and the beginning of a close friendship which was to continue unbroken until the tragic day when his body was found in the Kenmare River. (It may be mentioned that this is not, strictly speaking, a river at all, but a long arm of the sea.)
At the time of our earliest acquaintance he was about to be demobilized after serving in the army all through the war and, in the course of it, suffering a head wound to the after-effects of which may perhaps be attributed a certain instability in his character later on.
He told me that he was a pupil of John Ireland, whom he always declared to be a most painstaking and conscientious teacher. Ireland himself reciprocated Moeran's respect and thought very highly of the latter's gifts as a composer. He had every right to be proud of his pupil. One of the first of Jack's works to be played and published was the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1923) given at a recital by Désiré Defauw [2] and Harriet Cohen. It was rehearsed one evening before a small audience in Harriet's music-room in Wyndham Place, and amongst those present was Arnold Bennett [3], a true and sensitive music-lover, though he had, I think, no technical knowledge of the art. There came a moment in the rehearsal when Moeran rose and diffidently interrupted the players in order to suggest some slight alteration in the nuance of their interpretation. Hearing strange sounds beside me I turned to Bennett and found him in the throes of his curious stammer, his head thrown back, eyes closed, and one hand sawing the air gently to assist articulation. Then shrilly: ‘He-e-e-e's m-making " (pause-and with a rush) " a noise like a composer!’
Jack, in those earlier days, was a steady and prolific worker. Later his composition became intermittent, though when he did get down to it he filled the pages of his scores with astonishing rapidity and ease. He was one of the last of the true romantics. All his work from first to last is characterized by a deep love of nature. Certainly he was often derivative, and from time to time Delius, Vaughan Williams and Sibelius all held sway over his medium of expression. He wrote so fluently that he probably did not realize his occasional indebtedness to his predecessors. I well remember his perturbation when I pointed out to him that a passage in his symphony bore a remarkable resemblance to the famous whirlwind in Tapiola. [3] But he had his own distinctive musical personality as well, witness the unworldly Western-Irish lights that seemed to glimmer down upon the pages of that same symphony, the second movement of the violin concerto, the piano piece ‘The Lake Island'; and witness too the delicately distilled suggestions of native folk idiom heard in these works.
Music and Letters April 1952 with minor edits


Footnotes
[1] Ernest John Moeran (1894 -1950) was generally known to his friends as ‘Jack.’
[2] Désiré Defauw (1885-1960) Belgian conductor and violinist.
[3] Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) English novelist and journalist. Noted for his evocative novels set in The Potteries, Staffordshire.
[4] Tapiola, Op.112 is a tone poem by Jean Sibelius composed in 1926.  Tapio was the animating spirit of the forest. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

John Holliday: Punchinello.


This is one of my favourite pieces of light music. I have always had a soft spot for Mr. Punch and his antics in the seaside Punch & Judy show. Although I accept that much of it would probably be regarded as politically incorrect by the liberal elite, it has given pleasure to many children of all ages. Punchinello was regarded as a forerunner of Mr. Punch.  Originally, he was a clown from Italian burlesque or puppet shows.
John Cottam Holliday is a bit of an unknown quantity. Fortunately, Philip Scowcroft has provided the listener with a few biographical notes. Holliday was born in London in 1897 and subsequently studied at the Guildhall School.  His main musical contribution was as a solo pianist and chorus master at the Drury Lane Theatre. He served in the army during both world wars.  The date of his death is unknown to me.
Many of Holliday’s pieces appear to have been composed with children in mind. However, there is nothing childish about Punchinello.
Lasting just over two mines this work is delight. It opens with a bassoon solo which is taken up by the orchestra and is passed between strings and woodwind.  The ‘march trio’ is a catchy little number complete with glockenspiel. The cello reiterate the opening bassoon tune before the work closes rather unexpectedly with a ‘forte’ chord.
Finally, according to Philip Scowcroft the tune was orchestrated by Arthur Wood of Barwick Green fame.
As far as I am aware, John Holliday’s Punchinello is currently only available on The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra Volume 2. This is available from Dutton Epoch.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Spike Hughes, Edward Elgar and Venice

Spike Hughes was an all round musician. He is perhaps best remembered (where remembered at all) for his jazz recordings. However, his ‘serious’ music was influenced more by the Second Viennese School and Egon Wellesz rather than the ‘pastoral ruminations’ of the English Musical Renaissance. I present a short extract from the first part of his entertaining autobiography, Opening Bars. It is interesting to come across someone who is not an Elgar enthusiast. I do not agree with all that he says however, it makes a good antidote to some of the more extravagant claims about Elgar’s music.
On the occasion of the visit of the British Mediterranean Fleet to Venice [1], the Piazza [2] band launched out into a special arrangement of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The sailors in whose honour it was played were mostly dead drunk and well out of hearing, the smarter English visitors were out on the Lido at the Excelsior [3]…
…but the gesture was not lost on me. I stood reverently listening to the band, trying to make something of the music of a composer who was completely foreign to me and feeling greatly relieved when it was all over and the Enigma was followed by the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’. [4]
Perhaps it is too much to expect to be able to appreciate Elgar in such circumstances; a naval band, however brilliant, is hardly the medium through which to hear the music of a man who was a fine orchestrator. On the other hand, I first made acquaintance with a large part of Othello, Ermani and Manon Lescaut [5] on the same Piazza and what I heard presented no difficulties.  It was all music which came naturally to me and which I understood instinctively.
Even today, twenty years after my first introduction to English music, I still have trouble coping with what my contemporaries consider to be [the] masterpieces of the English Renaissance. I can manage Elgar for he is so thoroughly professional in his technique and his blatantly pompous vulgarity; I can even suppress my nausea on reading his instruction to play nobilmente, [6] though I feel that it is up to the listener, not the composer, to decide whether a tune is ‘noble’ or not, especially as Beethoven was content to ask for no more than that the slow movement of the Ninth should be ‘adagio molto e cantabile.’ But for the rest I beg to be excused from the interminable rhapsodies on folk tines, the dullness of ‘contemplative’ slow movements and awkward, self-conscious heartiness.
It is an astonishing thing, this lack of genuine virility in so much English music. Elgar, with all his faults, had guts… who thought about the English countryside in terms or rolling hills, rich trees and haystacks… [7]
It is this Elgar, frank and genuine one moment, moody and introspective the next, who stands head and shoulders above his countrymen, the Elgar who wrote the Rondo of the Second Symphony and some (but not all) of Falstaff.
The Elgar who really gets me down is the composer of the opening of the First Symphony. Here the ‘nobilmentality’ gets out of hand a little too much. Yes, yes, I know it’s ‘sincere’; but sincerity does not excuse music though it may easily explain it…
Though my introduction to Elgar’s music in Venice may have puzzled me, and the Enigma Variations have lived up to their title a little too literally I was not downcast by the experience. Within a few days of the event I had packed a suit-case and set off for Salzburg to attend the International Contemporary Music Festival. [8]
Spike Hughes Opening Bars London Pilot Press 1946 [with minor edits]

Footnotes
[1] Probably the Third Light Cruiser Squadron
[2] The Piazza San Marco in Venice. This was and still is the home to the famous Caffe Florian’ orchestra
[3] The Lido is a sandbar located to the east of Venice. One of the more famous hotels there is The Excelsior.
[4] ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ from Richard Strauss’s opera Salome (1905)
[5] Othello, Giuseppe Verdi (1887),  Ermani (1844) and Manon Lescaut Giacomo Puccini (1893)
[6] ‘Nobilmente’ was a musical direction often used by Edward Elgar.  It means played in a ‘noble’ style or even ‘majestically.’
[7] I have deliberately omitted a couple of sentences here. The sentiment would no doubt have appeared amusing when written; however, in my opinion is now unduly sexist.
[8] The first International Festival of Contemporary Music was held at Salzburg in August 1922.  British works performed included Arthur Bliss’ Rout, songs by Arnold Bax, Eugene Goossens and Gustav Holst.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Frederick Delius: A Dance Rhapsody – An Analytical Note


I was delighted to find this short programme note of Delius’s Dance Rhapsody. Further to my postings about Thomas Beecham’s performance of this work in the Free Trade Hall at Manchester it is worthwhile to post it here.

This work was first performed at the Hereford Festival of 1909, having been written the previous year. It is scored for a large modern orchestra, including a heckelphone.  It opens with a short ‘Introduction’ (Lento), in which the cor anglais, bass-oboe (or heckelphone), and horn fore shadow some of the subjects to come. The first of these is given by the oboe in 'easy dance movement'. The second, a brief two-bar phrase for the flute, returns from time to time. The first theme is repeated by clarinet, and the second by cor anglais. These materials are developed by various instruments with much that is charming and original in the scoring and harmonization. A change of tempo to ‘vivo’ (almost twice as quick') brings a fresh theme, introduced by the basses (strings and wind); a second being given later by the violins in octaves. Both these motives are now discussed, oboe and cor anglais dealing with them as solos. A figure presented by the 'cellos and double-basses, and echoed by wood-wind, is afterwards developed and emphasized by trumpets and horns. Further on two of the subjects are worked in combination. A diminuendo and rallentando lead to the recapitulation of the first principal subject, in slower time, by flute and clarinet in octaves, with accompaniment for strings, and afterwards repeated in a more rapid tempo by first violins and violas. This is also treated by other instruments, trumpets included, and a vigorous climax is built up. In a section headed ‘molto adagio’ a solo violin next presents a rhythmically modified version of the subject, accompanied by muted strings only, which are sub-divided. This is followed by quotations of other thematic material by clarinet and bass-oboe. There is now a return to ‘molto vivo’, and the principal theme is given out by the strings with great energy, the brass having an equally vigorous accompaniment. The melodies used strike one as being thoroughly English in character, while their treatment is that of a musician versed in all schools and imitative of none.
Rosa Newmarch  (Minor edits)

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Golden Age of Light Music: Holidays for Strings

The Golden Age of Light Music: Holidays for Strings
Guild Light Music GLCD5189 ADD [79:08]
 The mood of this excellent disc is summed up in its title and the nostalgic picture on the CD cover. It is one of the sad features of life that so many lidos have disappeared from our seaside towns. The present picture is from a London & North Eastern Railway poster advertising Clacton-on-Sea Butlin’s Holiday Camp. Alas, this camp closed in 1983 and I guess that all traces of the lido have long disappeared. Yet, one can recover the fun and the sun of holidays past in the tracks on this disc.

I usually divide the musical content of ‘light’ music into two parts. Firstly, there are the arrangements of other works – often songs from the shows, film music and sometimes even the classics. And then there are the pieces that were especially written and provided with evocative titles. These may be ‘concert’ pieces or used in newsreels or documentaries.  Both ‘genres’ appear on this CD

Considering first the arrangements, the proceedings get off to a sunny start with music from the film Monte Carlo – ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’. Then George Gershwin provides the tune for an upbeat version of ‘Love is Sweeping the Country’ played by the ever popular Frederick Fennel and his Orchestra. There is great brass work here and good percussion too.  Borodin’s contribution to popular music is his unforgettable ‘Stranger in Paradise’ which all music snobs know was taken from the opera Prince Igor. ‘Thanks for the Memory’ and ‘Adios’ are given a characteristic swing by Geoff Love and his orchestra.  Gigi is a film that has captured the hearts of young and old for more than fifty years: the Parisian magic is created by the main theme played here.  ‘Perfidia’ by the Mexican Alberto Borras Dominguez is perfectly fitted to this particular faithless, treacherous and false lady.

Richard Rogers ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ is given an attractive and slightly ‘dipsy’ treatment. And ‘Then you may take me to the Fair’ from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot is powerfully treated.  I am not sure whether Cliff Friend and Charles Tobias’ ‘Time waits for Me’ is an arrangement, but it is a good, romantic tune. I did not know the music from the film The Rebel which was composed by Frank Cordell. Certainly in ‘Oo-La-La’ the sights and sounds of a typical Parisian evening are effectively created. The theme from the cult film The Singer not the Song that starred Dirk Bogarde and John Mills has a sultry Spanish mood.

The mood pieces begin with the master of syncopation Leroy Anderson’s Belle of the Ball. Even a flat-footed person like me would like to dance with her. Our own George Martin of Beatles fame has written an upbeat Serenade to Double Scotch that parodies Caledonian music and is a million miles away from A Hard Day’s Night. Great stuff- with a little stagger too.  I do not know who or what Cumana by Barclay Allen and Roc Hillman, is or was – but this is a hard hitting piece of light music that has a touch of Spanish and a lot of percussion. Fortunately Cyril Watters calms the mood down with his romantic Willow Waltz. Romance is in the air again with Percy Faith’s Bouquet: this is certainly a love song written for a beautiful lady.  Spending Spree by Andy Burlow was written before the advent of the flexible friend, but we get the gist of this fast-moving walk down Regent Street – or Deansgate, Manchester. I can just see the ladies and gentlemen, laden with parcels emerging from the doors of Liberty’s or Kendall Milne’s. Angela Morley has restored us to innocence with her chirpy Nurseryland. Good part for bassoon here.  Pat Beaver and Tony King allow us to be On the Loose again: hopefully not spending too much more money. This is a hugely upbeat piece that evokes all kinds of mental images of days gone by.  I do not know who Vanessa was, but the way that Bernie Wayne portrays her she does seem a little wayward. However, there is a touch of romance in her too. Steve Race has created an image of holidays in the Mediterranean with his gorgeous Faraway Music. I guess the balalaika situates it somewhere in Greece? Sometimes we just have to head back to base. Robert Farnon’s Strolling Home presents an image of someone who is not quite sure that the fun for the evening is over. Periwinkle by Frank Sterling is pure fun. Jeunesse is a piece that has youth at heart: Anthony Mawer writes a number that is both optimistic and a touch wistful. Light music enthusiasts will all know Edward White’s Runaway Rocking Horse and he has achieved a similar fresh open air piece of music with his Romance in the Breeze. Finally David Rose (of The Stripper fame) has given holiday music to beat all holiday music- Holiday for Strings. This piece epitomises the excitement of heading off in the Ford Anglia or on the Cornish Riviera Express for the annual fortnight by the sea. All the hopes and dreams of fun and romance are here. A great conclusion to a fine section of music.
Most of these works were recorded in the late fifties and early sixties. Many of them are in ‘stereo.’ David Ades has done an excellent job in repristinating these tracks which have been gleaned from a wide variety of records. He also provides the outstanding liner notes. All the details of the pieces, their composers (though, I do wish they would give the dates for all the composers) and arrangers are present and correct. This is yet another fine addition to the ever increasing number of CDs in ‘The Golden Age of Light Music’ series. Long may they continue!
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.  

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Alun Hoddinott: Two Welsh Nursery Tunes

Alun Hoddinott is reasonably well represented in the CD catalogues; however there are still plenty of works that have not yet been recorded.  Every so often a new work appears on disc which demands our attention. Recently, Dutton Epoch has released the sixth volume of their ‘British Light Music Premieres’ including music by Philip Lane, Anthony Hedged, Carey Blyton Richard Addinsell and others. In amongst these somewhat variable works are Hoddinott’s Two Welsh Nursery Tunes.
This work was composed in 1959 and is dedicated to the composer’s son Huw Ceri who had been born on 27 March 1957. The composer stated that this work was written whilst on holiday in New Quay, Cardiganshire. The tunes used were those that his wife was habitually singing to their little son. 
Hoddinott has written a wide variety of music over his career including operas, symphonies and many concertos. Most of his music is approachable, although often requiring some application by the listener. However, amongst the ‘serious’ works are a number of excellent and well-crafted ‘light’ pieces. These include the four sets of Welsh Dances, the Investiture Dances and a Quodlibet on Welsh Nursery Tunes.
The late nineteen fifties were a busy period for the composer: a wide variety of pieces had appeared including the Concerto for harp and orchestra, the Piano Sonata No.1 and the first set of Welsh Dances.
The two movements of the Two Welsh Nursery Tunes form a ‘a simple but effective diptych of traditional tunes.’ The first is ‘Suo Gän’, which means ‘lull-song’, is a traditional Welsh lullaby which was first printed around 1800. The composer is unknown. The words of the song were collected by the Welsh folklorist Robert Bryan (1858-1920).  The second tune is ‘Pedoli’ which is translated as a ‘shoeing song.’  Although the programme notes do not state the fact, this was a song sung by the blacksmith as he shoed horses. 

Hoddinott uses a ‘Sibelius-size’ orchestra with two each winds, horns, trumpets, trombones, optional harp and celesta and strings. The piece does not make use of timpani.
The ‘Lullaby’ is naturally the slow movement, whilst the ‘Pedoli’ is considerably faster. The first piece opens gently with an oboe stating the tune accompanied by the harp. Strings enter and repeat the tune. Soon the music builds up to a considerable climax before collapsing to near silence.
The ‘Pedoli’ has an attractive lilt to it from the very first bar. Lots of woodwind figurations accompany the simple tune on strings. Once again the formal process is basically repetition of the tune with considerably varying orchestral devices. The movement ends with a little flourish. Both movements together last just over five minutes.
eter J. Pirie, writing in The Musical Times (November 1962) noted that that the tunes [are] simply stated, [with] the usual Hoddinott orchestral fingerprints. His habit of rather sectional orchestral writing, winds usually playing an arpeggiated theme in unison, is becoming a mannerism. But these two functional movements are quite pleasant and written with easy skill.’
The reviewer, E.R. writing in Music and Letters, October 1962 suggests that ‘Alun Hoddinott's piece…keeps rigidly to the modal implications of the nursery tunes used’. 
He considers that both tunes ‘use the orchestra with a high regard for effectiveness and imaginatively enhance the beauty of the tunes. Neither is difficult to perform.’

The first performance of the Two Welsh Nursery Tunes was at the BBC Studios in Cardiff on 22 January 1961. The BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the composer.  The work was duly published in the following year by Oxford University Press.
The Two Welsh Nursery Tunes is a delightful work. It would make an excellent entry piece to any listener who has not any of Alun Hoddinott’s music. It is not particularly typical of his musical style, however it is a piece that is worthy of the composer in every way.
The Two Welsh Nursery Tunes are available on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7283

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Thirty Five Years of Gilbert & Sullivan: Henry A. Lytton.


I came across this short essay by the D’Oly Carte singer and actor Henry A. Lytton (1865-1936). It had been published in October 1925 under editorship of Percy Pitt [1].  It is a good personal insight into life with D’Oly Carte and also his relationship with W.S.  Gilbert. I have included a few footnotes and have made some slight edits to the text.

Thirty Five years is a long time to have played the same parts, and I am sometimes asked whether I am not tired of them? Probably I should be if they belonged to anything else except the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. But I never tire of these. They are so perfect from every point of view; they are such a wonderful blend of everything that should be there, that they seem to have eternal freshness and the capacity to keep one's interest constantly alive.
The public takes very much the same view. One might imagine that the enthusiasm shown for these operas in years past could not be exceeded. The D' Oyly Carte Company, in its travels,
visits a particular town and breaks its previous records there; the limit appears to have been reached. Yet when the town is revisited records are broken again. So it goes on all over the country.
The older people who have been listening to the operas for thirty or forty years flock to the theatres as if taking part in a yearly ritual; the younger ones go to see if all the fuss is justified, and quickly become as enthusiastic as their elders. Many people keep a record of their attendances. Often enough, while making my way through crowds at the stage-door,
someone has shouted to me: ‘Good old Lytton! This is my fortieth time at The Mikado.’
I know a man at Liverpool who books two stalls for every performance during our season here. He invites a friend to dinner and theatre each evening.
One night, unfortunately, he found the odd man who does not like Gilbert and Sullivan. The opera was Patience, and when I came on as Bunthorne he asked what my part was. ‘That is Bunthorne, a poet,’ he was told. Then Grosvenor entered. ‘Who is he?’ was his next
question. ‘He is another poet,’ was the reply. What, two poets in one opera?’ he exclaimed. ‘I've had enough of this!’ and out he went.
Perhaps Irish audiences are the most demonstrative of all. They do not merely applaud, but shout and cheer at the top of their voices, and simply insist upon I had not been on the stage more than a few minutes before I felt glad that he encore after encore. But the enthusiasm
everywhere is tremendous. We members of the company always feel that our audiences and ourselves belong to one big family: that there is an atmosphere of friendliness in front and that even if we do make a slight slip we shall be forgiven
More than one actor has found a decided change on leaving to join another company. He misses immediately the Gilbert and Sullivan ‘goodwill’ if I may give it that name; the constantly crowded houses, and the never-failing appreciation.
I remember that when I left the company many years ago, to take part in the new production of The Earl and the Girl [2] at the Adelphi, Walter Passmore [3] said on the opening night:
‘Let me say a friendly word to you. Don't lose heart if you don't find the usual enthusiasm. You've really got to start all over again here. You won't begin with a friendly atmosphere; you'll have to manufacture it.’

I had not been on the stage more than a few minutes before I felt glad that he had spoken to me. How different from the infectious enthusiasm of a Gilbert and Sullivan audience! The piece was a big success, but I have never forgotten the chilly ordeal of the first few nights.
It is all a great tribute to the Savoy operas. The goodwill of the public has not been won without reason: only a combination of circumstances of the rarest kind could have brought it into existence. It is late in the day to heap fresh praises upon the extraordinarily perfect blend of music and libretto, but perhaps I may speak of the great personal care which Gilbert bestowed upon the production of the operas.

His knowledge of stagecraft was remarkable, and this stood him in excellent stead. He has sometimes been spoken of as a martinet. I knew him for many years, and never found him anything but a perfect. English gentleman, kindly and considerate in every action. As an example of his thoughtfulness, he always arranged, if it were humanly possible, that an actor's entrances and exits should be on the side of the stage nearest to his dressing-room.
What that means in the course of an evening only an actor knows. Yet he could be satirical to a degree when it suited him, as all the principals of the company at the time knew. I had an
experience of it during a rehearsal of Ruddigore.
My part was that of Robin Oakapple, a nephew whom his uncle tells at a certain point to leave. I wondered how I should make my exit, and, turning to Gilbert, asked him how he thought it should be done.
“Oh, exit like a nephew," he said, without a smile. I had asked a rather silly question, and Gilbert gave me what he considered a suitable reply.
The late George Grossmith [4] once suggested to him that if certain ‘business’ were introduced it would make the audience laugh.
“So it would if you sat down on a pork pie," was the dry reply.
Gilbert knew exactly what he wanted, and insisted upon having it. The operas are still presented as he directed, and so they will continue to be.
Musical Masterpieces, October 1925

Footnotes
[1] Percy Pitt (1870-1932) English organist, composer and conductor.  From 1926 to 1930 he was General Musical Director of the BBC.
[2] The Earl and the Girl is a musical comedy in two acts by Seymour Hicks, with lyrics by Percy Greenbank and music by Ivan Caryll. It was produced by William Greet and opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London on 10 December 1903. It transferred to the Lyric Theatre on 12 September 1904, running for a total of 371 performances. (Wikipedia accessed 17/3/12)
[3] Walter Henry Passmore (10 May 1867 – 29 August 1946) was an English singer and actor best known as the first successor to George Grossmith in the comic baritone roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. (Wikipedia accessed 17/3/12)
[4] George Grossmith (9 December 1847 – 1 March 1912) was an English comedian, writer, composer, actor, and singer. His performing career spanned more than four decades. As a writer and composer, he created 18 comic operas, nearly 100 musical sketches, some 600 songs and piano pieces, three books and both serious and comic pieces for newspapers and magazines. (Wikipedia accessed 17/3/12)