Friday, 31 August 2012

Clive Richardson: Beachcomber


All of us love to walk along the beach: whether it is during our summer holidays in the Costa Brava or Clacton it is a lovely relaxing way of passing the day. A ‘beachcomber’ was traditionally regarded as someone who lived in the South Sea Isles and made their living by pearl fishery and sometimes by less reputable means. However, in later years the word has come to mean anyone looking for something of value at the tides edge. Perhaps the most famous fictional example is Ben Knox, played by Fulton Mackay in the film Local Hero (1983). Nevertheless there was a lot of ‘beachcombing’ going on in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island.  The present tune suggests something a little less industrial.

Clive Richardson is probably best known for his ‘major’ light music works such as the wartime London Fantasia for piano and orchestra (1942) and his railway inspired miniatures such as Melody on the Move and Running off the Rails. Perhaps less well-known is the fact the he provided the score for Will Hay’s film masterpiece Oh Mr. Porter (1937).

Beachcomber opens almost quietly but comically with a catchy bassoon melody – soon this is joined by other woodwinds.  After this material has played out the middle ‘eight’ is given on strings with light percussion. It is a lot more romantic. The brass section adds their commentary on the proceedings. And then there is even a Spanish moment complete with castanets. However, the bassoon melody always seems to be in the background.  The work ends as quietly as it begins.

Ernest Tomlinson has described this work as presenting the image of ‘walking idly along the sea-coast, inspecting the miscellaneous debris brought in by the tides...’ Perhaps it is as he suggests the retired socialite or businessman who has opted for a quiet life by the seaside?  Or maybe it is just two lovers passing the time of day?  Whatever the background, this is a relaxing piece of music that does not ask too much of the listener.

Clive Richardson’s Beachcomber can be heard on Hyperion CDA66968 or Marco Polo 8.223522

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Gustav Holst Rare Orchestral music in Naxos


Gustav Holst (1874-1934) Orchestral Music
Walt Whitman Overture, Op.7, H42 (1899) Symphony in F major, Op.8, H47, ‘The Cotswolds’ (1899-1900) A Winter Idyll, H31 (1897) Japanese Suite, Op.33, H126 (1915)
Indra – Symphonic Poem, Op.13, H66 (1903)
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falleta

Many years ago I recall talking to a lady at the Glasgow Promenade Concerts. We had just heard a fine performance of the ubiquitous The Planets.  She suggested to me that it was unfortunate that there was not more music like this in the composer’s catalogue. And I think at that time that she was right. Over the years, many listeners must have approached some of Holst’s more ‘neo-classical’ works such as the Fugal Overture or the Double Concerto or even Egdon Heath and felt a little disappointment that they seemed to be written in a completely different musical language to the best known work. The present CD to a large extent remedies this deficiency. I am not suggesting that these piece are in way ‘better’ than The Planets – however at least some of them provide  the listener with the ‘romance’ and the ‘Wagnerian’ power of the masterpiece that often seem to be missing in the later works.

I have never liked the ‘Walt Whitman’ Overture since first hearing it on the Classico CD (CLASSCD284) with the Munchener Symphoniker conducted by Douglas Bostock. I cannot really put my finger on the problem…
The Overture was composed in 1899: some seven years after the great American poet had died.  Listeners will know that at that time Whitman had been ‘discovered’ by British composers including R.V.W. whose Towards the Unknown Region, and Sea Symphony used texts derived from the poet’s Leaves of Grass. Holst himself would later compose The Mystic Trumpeter and the Dirge to Two Veterans based on Whitman’s poems.
The Overture is fairly and squarely composed in a Germanic style with a huge hat tip to Wagner. It just seems a little overblown for my taste – I think perhaps because it tends to play down the mystical side of the poet’s work.  Yet it is an exciting piece of music that deserves an occasional airing at orchestral concerts.

The ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony was a work that I always wanted to hear. Yet, I fear that I was a little disappointed when I heard it performed on the above-mentioned Classico CD. I think that I felt that it did not quite paint a musical picture of that fair region of England.
Gustav Holst wrote the work on the cusp of the new century – between 1899 and 1900.The work was completed at Skegness in Lincolnshire. At this time the composer was a trombonist in the Carl Rosa Orchestra as well as the Scottish Orchestra. The work was duly performed in 1902 by the ‘enterprising’ Sir Dan Godfrey and the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.
The Symphony is written in four stylistically unbalanced movements – and I think that this spoils this work for me.  The opening movement is somewhat rusticated –with lots of allusions (if not direct quotes) to English folk music. It is a ‘march’ that fairly romps along.
The second movement is the deeply moving ‘Elegy’ (In Memoriam William Morris). This is a shadowy, unsmiling work that is funereal in its exposition. It is conceived as a processional march – with a massive climax in the middle section.  I am not a huge fan of Morris’ escapism; however there is nothing of the daydream about this music. I guess that it can be used as a stand-alone piece. Suggestions have been made that this is really the composer’s response to the Boer War, rather than to Morris himself.
The equilibrium of the work is wrenched back to lighter matters with the ‘scherzo’ which balances the ‘will o’ the wisp’ with a little ‘clod-hopping’. It is a good essay in creating all the fun of the ‘fairground’. There are a few moments of a serious nature. Lighter matters this movement may represent, but this is not ‘light music’ in any accepted sense.
The ‘finale’ is a joy to behold. Once again it is a fusion of the world of folk-music and Johannes Brahms. Yet this is a well-written piece of music that Lewis Foreman has suggested has all the trappings of ‘a harvest hymn, a celebration at the end of the country people’s annual cycle.’ All in all it is an interesting work, if somewhat lacking in unity.

A Winter Idyll is a short tone-poem composed in 1897 whilst the composer was studying at the Royal College of Music.  Imogen Holst has noted that her father saw his musical training as running in a trajectory from Mendelssohn, Grieg and Wagner. Certainly there are nods towards ‘Fingal’s Cave’ in this present work. She adds that Stanford’s influence is not too far away from some of the pages in this score.  It is a deliciously romantic work that may or may not suggest the winter scene to the listener. However, it is truly beautiful music that reflects considerable skill and invention on Holst’s behalf. The work was apparently never performed in the composer’s lifetime.

I have always felt that Holst’s Japanese Suite is one of the ‘forgotten gems’ of his opus. In many ways this romantic piece sits well beside The Planets. This work was composed during 1915 when the composer had taken a break from the larger work.
It was composed at the request of a Japanese dancer called Michio Ito who was performing at the Coliseum. He wanted a work based on Japanese melodies.  The story goes that Holst did not know any so, the dancer whistled a selection.
The Japanese Suite has six-movement that consists of four dances preceded by a prelude and an interlude at the suite’s midpoint.  I agree with Michael Kennedy who has suggested that this work does not sound particularly oriental. If I were to characterise the piece I would suggest that it is very definitely a spin-off of The Planets. Both ‘Venus’ and ‘Mercury’ are never too fat away in mood and texture.  Stravinsky is another model – with The Rite of Spring and Petrushka.
It is not known whether the Suite was ever given in its intended form. However, it received its first performance at a Proms Concert on 1 September 1919. 

Holst developed his interest in Indian philosophy at the turn of the twentieth-century. Keith Anderson suggests that is was perhaps through his father’s second wife who was a theosophist. This interest resulted in a number of important works including the well-known songs from the Rig Veda, the operas Savitri and Sita and the present work ‘Indra’, Symphonic Poem, Op 13.
This impressive tone-poem was composed in 1903 and is based on the legend of the Indian god of the heavens, of rain and storm and his conflict with the demon Vritra. Vritra had been brought to life by the Brahman Tvashtri to avenge the death of his son.  The legend relates how the demon was eventually defeated by Indra with the help of Vishnu. The drought that had been caused by Vritra is finally ended –and as the rain falls the people rejoice.
What is most remarkable about this work is the sheer brilliance of the orchestration. Imogen Holst has noted the contrasts between the quieter sections and the more ‘bombastic’ music. It is a score that was certainly ahead of its time – at least in British music. I suggest that it can be listened to without reference to the myth and can be seen as a contrast between cool, impressionistic music and more aggressive passages that are more Wagnerian or perhaps Straussian than the music that Holst would come to write in later years. It is a stunning work that does not deserve its obscurity. On a personal note it is one of my favourite Holst scores.

The sound quality of this disc is excellent- as is expected from Naxos. The Ulster Orchestra under their Principal Conductor JoAnn Falletta give an authoritative account of these scores. I would have liked slightly more detailed liner notes. Lewis Foreman’s for the Classico editions of the ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony are a model of their kind.
All of the works presented here have already been recorded in the past, either on Lyrita under Sir Adrian Boult or David Atherton and on Classico with Douglas Bostock. 
It would be invidious to suggest which recording was ‘better’ than the other. Holst enthusiasts will demand this new CD to sit alongside the earlier releases. It is encouraging that Naxos has chosen to record these relatively rare, but extremely worthy pieces. Furthermore, I can heartily recommend this CD to all those people who long for more of the same of (or at least stylistically analogous to) The Planets.

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Bax, Dermot O’Byrne and the First Symphony


I recently found an old copy of the Book and Magazine Collector (September 1996) in a second-hand bookshop. Amongst the discussions and bibliographies of E.H Shepherd, Miss Read, Victor Hugo and F. Scott Fitzgerald there is a superb study by Colin Scott-Sutherland of Arnold Bax’s literary alter ego Dermot O’Byrne.  This is worthy of study. However one section of this review caught my eye in particular – the consideration of a book published in 1913 by Maunsel & Co called Children of the Hills. In this book Bax (O’Byrne) presented a number of savage tales. 
Scott-Sutherland wrote that ‘one of the stories...tells of a strange experience which (he believes) eventually found its musical counterpart in the dark, ‘druidical’ second movement of Bax’s First Symphony. In this particular story called ‘Ancient Dominions’ O’Byrne describes ‘a strange nocturnal excursion in the moonlit incandescence of a May night in Donegal.  Quoting from Scott-Sutherland book Arnold Bax (1973) he writes that ‘with growing apprehension of uncanny doings the teller of the tale stumbles on the entrance to a vast underground cavern in whose awesome bowels the dark tides of the Atlantic provide the backcloth to a strange unearthly ritual to the sea-god of the Ancient Irish.
Bax wrote: - And then suddenly over this threshold of vision a presence passed. For an instant I saw again the wave-crowded mouth of the cavern and the green light in which it was bathed invaded by something vast and dominating, whether breath or light or shadow I could not tell, but I knew that all those men and women below me were again kneeling with veiled heads, their brows almost to the ground, that all were shaken by some obscure ecstasy of terror and joy. Then over myself it swept like a sun-smitten storm and my soul seemed pierced through with shafts of blinding green light and to vibrate and rock in an awful and delirious rapture as though cradled within the soul of the sea.

The ancient sea-god of the Celts was a certain Manannán mac Lir who also had jurisdiction over the Isles of the Blessed and Mag Mell.  Manannán’s wife was Fand, with whom Bax was to engage in later years with a magnificent description of her ‘Garden.’

The second movement, Lento solenne, of Bax’s Symphony No.1 can be heard on YouTube conducted by Bryden Thomson with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.




Friday, 24 August 2012

James Friskin Chamber Music on Nimbus


James Friskin (1886-1967)
Quintet in C minor (1907) Phantasie for String Quartet (c.1905) Elegy for viola and piano (1912) Phantasy (for piano quintet) (1910)
The Rasumovsky Quartet: Frances Mason (violin) Hilary Sturt (violin) Christopher Wellington (viola) Ian Pressland (cello) Catherine Dubois (piano)
Nimbus Alliance NI6182
As a fellow Glaswegian, I feel that I ought to know more about James Friskin.  Apart from the fact that he was born in the same city as myself, wrote a number of works for Cobbett’s chamber music competitions and was married (eventually) to the composer Rebecca Clarke, I know very little. 
Some additional biographical information may be of interest to potential listeners. James Friskin was born in Glasgow on 3 March 1886.  At the early age of fourteen, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study the piano with Edward Dannreuther and composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. He taught at the Royal Normal School for the Blind between 1909 and the outbreak of the Great War. In 1914 he was invited by Frank Damrosch to become a ‘founding teacher’ at the Institute of Musical Art in New York. This was the forerunner of the Julliard School of Music.  He furthered his career as a pianist, specialising is Bach: he gave the first performance of the Goldberg Variations in the United States.
Friskin published two important books – The Principles of Piano Practice (1921) and Music for the Piano: a Handbook of Concert and Teaching Material from 1580 to 1952 (1954). There was also a critical edition of Bach’s music. In his seventies, he made a number of recordings of Bach’s music that has been released on CD in recent years.  Additionally, there is a fine recording of his Phantasie in E minor for piano trio on the British Music Society CD label. From a compositional point of view, the corpus is relatively small: most of the surviving works for piano, singers and chamber groups. However, there is a Piano concerto and a Concert Overture for orchestra. James Friskin died in New York on 16 March 1967.

Stylistically, Friskin’s chamber works fit into the general sweep of Western classical music. I was often reminded of Schubert whilst reviewing this CD. Certainly, there is not a general reliance on ‘pastoral musings’ or ‘heuchter-cheuchter’ Scottisms – in spite of the Scottish character of the main tunes in the ‘scherzo’ and ‘adagio’ of the C minor Quintet

One of the great-unsung heroes of British chamber music is Walter Wilson Cobbett (1847-1937). Fortunately, he is now becoming more appreciated as many of the works inspired by his competitions and commissions are finding their way into the recording studios.  Friskin’s achievement in these competitions was excellent.  In 1905 he was a runner-up with his Phantasie for String Quartet. However, in 1907 he gained second prize with the Phantasie Trio, which is available on CD BMS 418. Frank Bridge won first prize and John Ireland came third.  Interestingly, Cobbett himself in his massive Cyclopaedic Survey of Chamber Music places Friskin third! In 1910, Cobbett commissioned a number of works from leading British composers. This included Walter O’Donnell’s Cello Sonata and Bridge’s Piano Quartet. Friskin produced his Piano Quintet which is heard on this present recording.

The opening work on this CD is the almost ‘symphonic’ Quintet in C minor (1907). This massive work, lasting for more than half an hour has four movements. Thomas Dunhill (and not Cobbett as the notes suggest) described the Quintet as ‘one of the most brilliant Opus Ones in existence.’  The liner notes point out it was composed after just two years study with Stanford. This sweeping, romantic work exploits the full range of possibilities offered by this chamber grouping. This is indeed, big music.
The principal subject of the first movement acts as a kind of motto theme that runs through the entire work. Ideas follow each other in a profusion of melody that eventually leads to the first movement’s quiet ending. As noted above, the ‘scherzo’ makes use of a Scottish popular song (I confess to not knowing which one) – according to the liner notes, this passage scandalised Charles Villiers Stanford.  Yet it is a strong movement that is full of energy and interest.  The following adagio also has a Scottish flavour to it without descending to the mawkish or trite. In fact, this truly gorgeous music paints a picture of Scotland in the listener’s mind seldom achieved by any composer of Scottish or any other nationality. The final movement is a treasure. It is prefaced by a slow introduction before opening out into an expansive movement. I guess it is here that I am most conscious of Schubert’s E flat major Trio.  There is much excitement with contrasting reflective episodes to keep the listener’s attention from the first bar to the last. The optimistic concluding coda is hugely impressive.

The Phantas(y)[ie] for String Quartet was composed in 1905 and not 1909 as the liner notes suggest.  It was an entry for the Cobbett competition of that year. [See Musical News July 1906 p.19] The genre was one especially devised by Cobbett, designed to revive the Elizabethan Fancy, which was deemed a composition of relatively free construction, and lasting between 12 and 20 minutes.  It is a form taken up by many composers in the first three decades of the Twentieth Century. Examples are extant from the pens of composers as diverse as Britten, Holbrooke, Vaughan Williams and Arnold Bax.  Less obvious names include Waldo Warner, Susan Spain-Dunk and Haydn Wood.
The work opens with a ‘jaunty’ theme, which declares ‘youthful high spirits.’ This Presto section is full of humour and wit and reveals superb craftsmanship at every turn.  The main theme of the ‘adagio’ as been described as ‘frankly and freely obvious’ however this does not detract from the quality of the music. There is a will o’ the wisp central section that is full of trills and shakes before the rather charming tune returns played on the viola. The final section is march-like which features strong syncopation and a well marked rhythm. The ‘trio’ of this march surely recalls the music from the adagio. The work closes with a long coda. Of all the pieces on this CD this is the one that attracted me most. A well-crafted, musically interesting work that is at times moving and always enjoyable.

The beautiful Elegy for viola and piano (1912) is a well-wrought work. Christopher Wellington writing in the liner notes suggests that he has ‘a strong impression that this piece embodies [Friskin’s] feeling for the beautiful Rebecca [Clarke]’.  This seems a reasonable guess when one considers that her instrument was the viola and his was the piano. However, the elegy is actually a little more profound than love’s young dream. There is passion; there is violence and a number of tentative explorations that never resolve. If this work had been written a few years later, it could have been seen as a kind of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth,’ without sinking into abject depression or despair. This Elegy is meditative, reflective and ultimately beautiful: it ought to be in the repertoire of all violists.  As for the playing of this piece, I am not convinced that it it being heard at its best.  Something seems a wee bit amiss with the balance between piano and soloist: the tone of the viola tends to lack the sheer romantic quality required for this work.

The final work on this CD is the above-mentioned commission (not mentioned in the notes) – the Phantasy (1910) for Piano Quintet. It opens with a mournful passage for solo viola, which is interrupted by a sharp chord, before being joined by the other strings. Soon the mood changes and the entire ensemble launches into the impassioned and occasionally aggressive ‘allegro.’ The mood then changes once again for the lively ‘presto.’ Yet, the heart of this work is the central ‘poco adagio which is at times heart-rendingly beautiful. The inverted arch form of this piece then progresses to an ‘allegro con fuoco.’ This big passionate music occasionally reverts to a quieter, more tranquil mood.  However the intensity returns before leading into a gloriously expansive and finally optimistic coda.
Christopher Wellington is correct in noting that ‘although this ‘Phantasy’ is only half the length of his C minor Piano Quintet, Friskin has filled it with incident and contrast.’ It never sags or causes loss of interest. It is a work that will surely move the listener, as the composer marks out his musical journey.

There is a good analysis of each of these pieces alongside placing the work in its context in the liner notes.  The playing by the Rasumovsky Quartet just does not seem to ‘gel’ in my mind although there is a genuine sympathy with the music here.  However, whether they are ultimately the best advocates for this unjustly neglected repertoire I am not too sure.  Nonetheless, I was particularly impressed by the pianist Catherine Dubois’ contribution.

As with so many composers, much of Friskin’s music would appear to be in manuscript – assuming that it is still extant. This no doubt will put off artists resurrecting his music. However, based on the music presented on this CD, I am convinced that the search for other ‘lost’ works will be well worth the effort. James Friskin is no ‘forgotten genius’: his essays are never going to usurp the chamber works of Frank Bridge and John Ireland. However, he is a worthy and often inspired voice that demands to be heard as a part of the re-evaluation of the so-called English (British) Musical Renaissance. 
This review fist appeared on MusicWeb International

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Mendelssohn and the Bagpipes


When Felix Mendelssohn stopped in Edinburgh during the first leg of his Scottish tour, he was attracted by the Highland soldiers apparently returning from church. He described them as ‘victoriously leading their sweethearts in their Sunday attire, and casting magnificent and important looks over the world; with long red beards, tartan plaids, bonnets and feathers, naked knees and their bagpipes in their hands.'
It does not need a qualified historian of Scotland to realise that there may have been a little bit of stereotyping going on here. It seems strange that they all had red beards and carried bagpipes.  And Mendelssohn does not elaborate.
J. Cuthbert Hadden suggests that the Scottish national instrument seems to have taken the composer’s fancy. On the following Monday there was a competition of Highland pipers in the Theatre Royal [1]. The composer was present.  Alas, there is no record of how he enjoyed the event.

However, Hadden continues, Dr. Donald Macleod [2] not long ago [1899] told a story which would seem to indicate that he [Mendelssohn] thought more highly of them than the ill-natured people who refuse to recognise it as an instrument of music.
It appears that a near-relative of Dr. Macleod was a piper. The gentleman chanced to be staying in the same hotel at which our travellers [Karl Klinegemann & Mendelssohn] had put up; and according to the story, it was his custom to take a ‘quiet’ practise in his own room. Mendelssohn hearing the ‘distant strains,’ sent his card to the player, and begged to be allowed to listen at close quarters.  He became, as we are told, greatly interested in both music and instrument, and paid several visits to the piper’s room during his stay.
Hadden concludes his anecdote by suggesting that if the story is true, the composer…'did not suffer from weak nerves'. [!!] Finally, Hadden wonders ‘where is the Edinburgh hotel-keeper who would nowadays allow a piper to practise in his room?  No wonder Mendelssohn exclaimed, when he thought of leaving, ‘How kind the people are in Edinburgh, and how generous is the good God!’

Derived from J. CUTHBERT HADDEN The Scottish Review, 1882-1920; Jan 1899; 33, British Periodicals pg. 94

Notes
[1] 29th July 1929
[2] Possibly, Donald Macleod DD (Glasgow: Park Church) who was Moderator of the Kirk in 1895.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Edward Elgar: Cockaigne Overture review of first performance


Edward Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town) has always been one of my favourite works by the composer. It was composed in 1901 at a time of great industry –although no major oratorios or symphonic or concerted works were written. Works from this year included the Incidental music for Grania and Diarmid, Op.42, the first two Pomp and Circumstance marches and the lovely May song for violin & piano (or orchestra). Other pieces composed at this time are the ‘Concert Allegro’and ‘Skizze’ for piano solo –a medium that was relatively rare for Elgar.

Cockaigne, Op.40 was dedicated ‘To my many friends the members of British Orchestras.’ It was given its first performance at the Queen’s Hall in London on 20 June 1901. The review posted below was duly written for the Musical Times by an anonymous writer. I have included the references to the other works in the concert programme.

DR. ELGAR'S NEW OVERTURE. At the seventh and last concert, on June 20, was produced a new Overture, 'Cockaigne' (In London Town), from the pen of Dr. Edward Elgar, a composer from whom, after his Orchestral Variations and his Dream of Gerontius, great things are naturally expected. One hearing of this 'Cockaigne' Overture is not sufficient for its due appreciation, but throughout one feels it to be the work of a composer of strong feeling and of rare power in expressing his thoughts. There is vigorous, healthy life in the music, though so full of interesting details of workmanship that it cannot be summed up in haste. The overture has not only a title, but also a programme, and we would frankly acknowledge that, however much it may add to the meaning of the score, the attempt to follow it while listening to the music proved somewhat arduous. The story, or' argument,' is so intimately connected with the varying moods of the music, that it seemed unfair to try to judge the latter merely from a purely abstract point of view. For the moment, then, let us record the fact that in 'Cockaigne' we have a work of high purpose and of high merit, and one which ought soon to be heard again. It was brilliantly performed under the composer's direction, and if the audience could have had its own way the overture would have been repeated.

Mr. Leopold Godowsky played the pianoforte part of Brahms's Concerto in D minor (Op. 15) The performance, as regards technique and taste, was admirable, albeit we should have liked a more intense reading of the first and last movements. Miss Maud Powell was heard to advantage in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D. She plays with vigour and with feeling, and her brilliant execution won for her much applause. It was, however, in the expressive Canzonetta that she satisfied us best. Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony, with which the programme opened, was thoroughly well rendered; yet we think that the Andante would have gained by being taken one shade faster- it is marked ‘con moto’. Miss Lydia Nervil sang songs by Mozart and Massenet, and was much applauded.

The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular July 1 1901 (with minor edits)

Sir Edward Elgar’s Overture, 'Cockaigne' (In London Town) can be heard on YouTube. It is from a live broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall in London, UK, 3 September 2011. Jac van Steen conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance: A Review of the First Performance at Paignton


A few weeks ago I posted a couple of reviews of the premiere of Gilbert & Sullivan classic opera The Pirates of Penzance along with a brief overview of the reasons why the performance took place in Paignton. I did not include this review from The Glasgow Herald. I do not believe that the reviewer actually witnessed the performance. However it is worth quoting for completeness. I include a picture of the vessel which brought the score from New York.
Yesterday afternoon [1] Messrs. Sullivan and Gilbert’s new extravaganza The Pirates of Penzance was announced to be performed for the first time on any stage at the theatre of the little town of Paignton, in Devonshire. The representation was, of course, a purely formal one, and was in compliance solely with our curious copyright law, which declares that, to secure the various rights attending to it, a work by English subjects must be first performed in England.
Therefore one of Mr. D’Oyley Carte’s [2] travelling companies was ordered to come across from Torquay, and, although the score was only expected by the Bothnia from New York yesterday, the provisions of the law will have been duly complied with. The new piece, which will not succeed H.M.S. Pinafore in this country till Easter, is a burlesque upon the sensational stories and the sensational melodramas of the present day. The bold pirate is represented as a very effeminate individual, who woos the daughter of a Major-General — a part, by the way, destined to be played here by Mr. George Grossmith. A policeman, a former nurse of the pirate, and two or three subordinate buccaneers also figure in the dramatis personae. The piece will be produced next Saturday [3] at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York — Mr. Arthur Sullivan conducting.
Glasgow Herald January 2 1880 From our London Correspondent, London, Wednesday 31 December 2012 (with minor edits)

Notes
[1] Tuesday 30th December 1879
[2] This is a spelt wrongly: it should read Mr.[Richard] D’Oyly Carte.
[3] It was in fact first heard at the Fifth Avenue Theatre on the evening of Wednesday 31 December.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Ignaz Moscheles: Blunder in Polite Society


I have adopted Ignaz Moscheles as an ‘honorary Englishman’ so I found this short anecdote rather amusing. Of course it is not side-splittingly funny in today’s terms but is a little bit of gentle humour. It is worth recording.

One of the most popular of the classical virtuosi was Ignaz Moscheles, whose seventy-six years of life was ended in 1870. A friend of Beethoven, a teacher of Mendelssohn, a great player, teacher, and composer, he exercised a most beneficial influence in the musical world with his strong personality. For twenty years or more, Moscheles made his home in England. A remark of his made at a dinner table soon after his arrival there illustrates the difficulty which foreigners have in conquering the English language.
One evening, when the cloth had been removed and the hostess had asked him what fruit he preferred, he hastily referred to the knowledge of English he had secured by a study of the dictionary, and politely answered that he wished to be helped to ‘some sneers.’
This answer produced a burst of laughter on the part of the guests, who could not contain their merriment at the dilemma in which the musician's ignorance of the language had placed him. Moscheles hastened to explain. It seemed that on searching for English sentences he had learned that the idiom ‘not to care a fig’ was synonymous with the verb ‘to sneer,’ and so supposed that in asking for a ‘sneer’ he had the right word for fig...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Antony Hopkins: Portrait of a Composer CD2 (concluded)

Tango for piano (1948) [2:35]
Three Seductions for recorder and piano (1949) [3:59]
‘First Love’ from Early One Morning, for soprano and piano (1980) [3:32]
‘I've Lost my Love’ from Hands Across the Sky for soprano, recorder and piano (1953) [3:31]
‘A Melancholy Song’, for soprano, recorder and piano (1945) [1:04]
Four Dances from Back to Methuselah, for recorder and piano (1946) [4:03]
Three Poems (?) [7:58] read by the author.
Eight Tributes (2011):-
Andrew Plant: On How to Sing, for soprano, recorder and piano[2:03]
David Matthews (b.1943): A Little Pastoral, for solo recorder [1:46]
David Dubery (b.1948) Evening in April, for soprano, recorder and piano [3:28]
Anthony Gilbert (b.1934) Above all That, for recorder and piano[2:52]
Gordon Crosse (b.1937) CantAHta, for soprano, recorder and piano [3:07]
David Ellis (b.1933):Head Music, for recorder and piano [1:53]
Joseph Phibbs (b.1974): Pierrot, for soprano, recorder and piano [3:43]
Elis Pehkonen (b.1942): Pieds en l'air, for recorder and piano [1:57]
BONUS TRACKS:
Two extracts from Johnny the Priest starring Jeremy Brett (1960) [6:35]

Trio from Three's Company, an opera by Antony Hopkins, libretto by Michael Flanders. OBE (1953) [3:38]
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), John Turner (recorders), Paul Barritt (violin), Matthew Jones (viola), Philip Fowke (piano), Michael Hampton (piano), Janet Simpson (piano), Antony Hopkins (speaker) 
Jeremy Brett, Stephanie Voss and Phillada Sewell (vocals) (Johnny the Priest)
Elizabeth Boyd, Stephen Manton, Eric Shilling (vocals) and Antony Hopkins (piano) (Three’s Company)
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The second CD opens with a delicious Tango for piano (1948). It was composed for Vivien Leigh’s ‘seductive’ entrance in Act 2 of Thornton wilder’s play The Skin of our Teeth.  This is pure pastiche at its very best.  The mood lingers with Hopkins’ Three Seductions (1949) for recorder and piano. They were originally composed for ‘beginner’ flute and piano.  The first piece is a ‘Wanton Waltz’, which does not really live up to the title, charming as it is. The second piece is quite definitely a ‘Flirtatious Fancy’ whilst the final number, ‘Sensuous Sarabande’ is music much more serious and introverted. 

Three songs follow – ‘First Love’ from the choral work Early One Morning is a faultless synthesis of words and music. ‘I’ve Lost my Love’ is a moody number, however I am not sure about the plot of the ‘opera’ Hands across the Sky that the song is excerpted from.  It is all about a green-skinned alien crashing his spaceship and a besotted scientist, Miss Fothergill.  The recorder part was originally played by the oboe.  ‘A Melancholy Song’ is a miniature setting of traditional words.   Once again Lesley-Jane Rogers sings them beautifully.

The Four Dances (from Back to Methuselah) for recorder and piano are a delight. They were written in 1946 as ‘brief curtain raisers’ for a production of George Bernard Shaw’s play.  It was originally conceived for spinet and recorder; however, Hopkins now prefers the current recorder and piano version. The four dances are a ‘Farandole’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Wilman’s Grounde’ and an ‘Air’. They would be perfect in either arrangement.

Three poems from the composer’s pen are then presented. Two are rather good – a ‘golfing’ pastiche on ‘Good King Wenceslas’ called ‘Good King Jack Nicklaus’ and rather fine little number about a string quartet performance of Op.147 (Beethoven) and Bartok. However the second poem, ‘Charlie’s Revenge’ is a little politically incorrect, if amusing.

One of the most remarkable parts of this CD is the Eight Tributes to Antony Hopkins which was presented to the composer in 2011. They were gifted by eight contemporary composers.  Andrew Plant’s ‘jeu d’esprit ‘On How to Sing’ is a little gem. Written for soprano, recorder and piano, it tells of an argument between the Frog School of Song and that of the skylark.  It is beautifully sung by Lesley-Jane Rogers. The ‘Little Pastoral’ for solo recorder written by David Matthews left me cold: it meanders aimlessly and sounds more like a dirge than a pastoral. Things get much better with David Dubery’s delicious ‘Evening in April’ for soprano, recorder and piano. It is based on a poem by Douglas Gibson from his collection The Singing Earth. This is heart-achingly beautiful. Anthony Gilbert’s fine ‘Above all that’ for recorder and piano inhabits a totally different sound world to Dubery – yet in spite of the over-inflated description in the composer’s programme notes, this is an attractive piece written in an uncompromisingly modern style. I have always had a soft spot for Gordon Crosse since being introduced to his Changes many years ago. His present ‘CantAHta’ is a ‘miniature cantata’ that bases it vocalised text simply on ‘AH’ - the composer’s initials. Not quite pastiche and not really a parody it nods towards Handel and Telemann in its concept if not its musical attributes. It is surprisingly beautiful.  David Ellis’ ‘Head Music ‘is reflective in mood. However, I am not too sure where the ‘Head’ bit comes in! [I am told that it is an anagram of AH & DE]  I have never come across Joseph Phibbs. His pointillist score for soprano, recorder and piano has a ‘seventies feel to it. However, the music is a haunting and a near perfect setting of the text by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933).  The final tribute is ‘Pied’s en ‘l’air’ for recorder and piano by Elis Pehkonen. Apparently, this is one of Antony Hopkins’ favourite tunes. All in all this is a very attractive and competent tribute to the composer. Whether it will be played in the future as a ‘group’ or as individual pieces remains to be seen.

The final section of this Hopkins’ celebration is two extracts from the musical Johnny the Priest which was composed in 1960. The first is ‘Vicarage Tea’ and second is ‘Be not Afraid’. The show starred Jeremy Brett, Stephanie Voss and Phillida Sewell. The final track is the Trio from Hopkin’s one act opera Three’s Company
There is no way that these ‘show’ numbers are profound music, however they are attractive and have just about stood the test of time. I guess that they could be described as being a little bit ‘Friday Night is Music Night’. However, that is no bad thing. 

This is a superb retrospective of Antony Hopkins’ achievement as a composer (but also recognises his talent as a poet.) It is a well-produced CD that allows the listener to approach a considerable variety of musical moods, styles and genres. There is a considerable stylistic gulf between the ‘Partita’ and the ‘Tango’. However, both works are infused with technical skill and sustained interest. The same applies to virtually all the music on these CDs.

A few minor criticisms of this recording probably seems churlish.  However, three things should be mentioned. Firstly, most of Hopkins’ pieces heard here date from the 1940’s. There are a couple from the early fifties and one written in 1980. Unfortunately, I do not have access to a ‘works list’ so I do not know what other music has been written since 1953, however it would have given a wider perspective of Hopkins’ achievement if a broader range of works had been included.
Secondly, I wish the ‘programme notes’ had been a little bit more detailed. Most of these works would seem to be ‘premiere recordings’ so are not in the public domain. Little critical reception appears in the pages of The Musical Times, Tempo and other contemporary journals about the major works.
Lastly, I fear that the recorder features just a little bit too much in some of these pieces. Where the work was conceived for that instrument that is fine, however where it has been added in as an afterthought or has been substituted for the original ‘flute’ it seems to be unnecessary.
The performance of all this music is excellent. I will single out the beautiful voice of Lesley-Jane Rogers and the inspired playing of Matthew Jones on the viola for special mention. However all the soloists impressed me.  Finally, I have to pay tribute to John Turner. He conceived the project, organised it and played on a number of tracks. All this reveals his unquenchable enthusiasm and massive musical ability. It is a major achievement. 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Antony Hopkins: Portrait of a Composer CD1...

Antony Hopkins (b.1921)
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1945) [14:15]
Rondo from Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor (1945) [2:59]
A Humble Song to the Birds-cantata, for high voice and piano (1945) [8:02]
Partita in G minor for solo violin (1947) [10:10]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C sharp minor (1946-48) [15:54]
Suite, for descant recorder and piano (1952) [6:06]
Pastiche Suite, for treble recorder and piano (1944) [3:44]
Three French Folksongs, for soprano, recorder and piano) (1947) [6:20]
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), John Turner (recorders), Paul Barritt (violin), Matthew Jones (viola), Philip Fowke (piano), Michael Hampton (piano), Janet Simpson (piano),
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For many people there is a confusion between Anthony Hopkins the actor (and now revealed as a composer) and the 91 year old gentleman who is celebrated in these two excellent CDs. However, my misunderstanding was slightly different. I hate to admit it, but I thought the composer and the author of many extremely helpful books, articles and broadcasts about music were the two different men!
Looking at CD catalogues reveals a sad lack of interest in his music. However, one rarely sees a good second-hand bookshop that does not have at least one of his many books.  Unfortunately, there seems to be very little in the way of publicity for the composer: I was unable to find a website dedicated to his music. There is only a short note in the current Grove. Therefore, it is difficult to get a handle on Hopkins’ biography and his catalogue of works and music.
This is not the place for a life history; on the other hand, a few notes may of of service.  Antony Hopkins was born on 21 March 1921. After study with Cyril Smith and Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music (1939-1942), he took up lecturing at Morley College. However, he soon discovered that he had ‘an unusual gift’ for composing incidental music for stage, radio plays and films.  His initial success was highlighted with the scores for Louis MacNeice’s productions of The Golden Ass and Cupid and Psyche.  Grove includes references to his scores for the radio productions of The Oresteia and The Song of Roland alongside music for some fifteen Shakespeare plays.  His film scores include The Pickwick Papers.  On a larger scale, there are a number of operas including Hands across the Sky, Lady Rohesia, The Man from Tuscany, and Three's Company (1953). There is also a ballet Café des Sports that may well deserve revival in a concert version.
Alongside his composing career Hopkins made an important contribution to popularising classical music. His major achievement in this direction must be the radio series 'Talking about Music' which ran for 36 years.  It is his ability to discuss the ‘history, content and structure’ of music in an engaging, straightforward but never condescending manner. They are a model of musicology, which is designed to help the listener and not to hinder them, as some more esoteric examples of musical analysis tends to do.
In his compositional style, Hopkins also exhibits the desire to communicate to a broad public.  His music is a careful balance between tradition and a well-considered modernity.  It is no criticism to suggest that he is a master of pastiche. It is this ability to absorb and synthesise that gave him his considerable reputation as a writer of incidental music.
The first CD contains what may be regarded as the heart of this recording project. It includes the superb Viola Sonata, the Partita in G minor for solo violin and the considerable Piano Sonata No.3 in C sharp minor.
The Viola Sonata was composed in 1945 and was dedicated to Jean Stewart who at that time was a ‘notable’ viola payer with the Menges Quartet.  This well-wrought work sounds as fresh as it must have done nearly seventy years ago. The work is in four balanced movements: - March, Ground, Scherzo and and Epilogue. There is a spaciousness about the formal structure of this piece that belies its quarter of an hour timeframe. The composer explains that there is a ‘motto theme’ running through the work, however this disintegrates in the last movement. It is a work that is stylistically conservative without ever becoming old-fashioned. I am surprised that with the relative dearth of Viola Sonatas that Hopkins’ essay has not entered the repertoire. I found this work well-balanced, interesting and often moving. The performance by Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton is outstanding.

The musical press greeted Hopkins' Piano Sonata No.2 in F sharp minor with a mixed message. The reviewer in Tempo (December 1946) suggested that the composer’s works, ‘given at Queen Mary Hall showed little achievement, but considerable promise...’ He continued by noting that ‘their ingenuity, a little too self-conscious, hardly relieved the dryness or disguised their frequent shortness of breath...’ however he suggested that the Piano Sonata ‘…came near to mature composition. Its vigour and obvious delight in the keyboard, lead one to hope that when he has liberated himself from confused traditions, a mature Hopkins may emerge, thought he will probably instantly withdraw this ‘promising’ work’.  
The Sonata was dedicated to Hopkins' friend Michael Tippett. Alas, we are treated only to the final movement on this current CD. Neo-classical, I guess the music is, however the composer assures us that it ‘consciously tries to imitate his [Tippett’s] idiom.’  I enjoyed this Rondo; it seems well-structured with a broad theme that swings along. Some of the episodes are a little darker but a reprise of the exuberant principal tune brings the movement to an end. The excellent soloist here is Michael Hampton.

James Gilchrist and Janet Simpson give a telling account of the beautiful cantata A Humble song to the Birds (1945). If this piece had been composed by Benjamin Britten it would have found a permanent place in the repertoire. I am not suggesting that it is pastiche, but I was reminded of the older composer’s music. The words, which are not provided in the liner notes, are from a poem by Rosencreutz.  I must confess that I am not sure who this poet was. It sounds a very difficult piece to bring off, although the present soloists give what appears to be a definitive performance.

The Partita in G minor for solo violin is a lovely work. It was written in 1947 for Max Saltpeter’s concert at the Wigmore Hall and was dedicated to Neville Mariner. It is an extremely short piece; however there is a concentration and intensity of material that makes the work appear much more imposing than the ten minutes duration would imply. I have a sneaky feeling that this Partita may be the most impressive work on these two CDs. It appears that this is a minor masterpiece: I will be interested to see if anyone else agrees with me. It is finely played here by Paul Barritt.

The Piano Sonata No.3 in C sharp minor is a serous work. It was completed in 1946/48 for the pianist Noel Mewton-Wood who sadly died before he was able to perform the work.  Unfortunately the liner notes give no analysis of this piece. The Sonata lasts for quarter of an hour and has three movements. The mood of the entire work is ‘exploratory’. One feels that the composer has found his style that the Tempo reviewer felt lacking. It is a strong sonata that sounds quite chromatic and occasionally wayward, but without ever loosing its classical simplicity. The middle Largo has ponderous, deeply felt music that strains upwards before descending into tranquil repose. There is a disturbed, hard-edged, middle section before the sense of calm reappears.   This mood continues in the opening of the finale before the work concludes with a flamboyant display of pyrotechnics.  It is a balanced, finely wrought work that ought to be in the repertoire. Yet again, how many piano sonatas from British composers are a part of the canon? It is brilliantly played by Philip Fowke.

The Pastiche Suite for treble recorder and piano dates from the war years. Hopkins notes that during the 1940s he was often involved at Morley College. At that time, the choir’s accompanist was Walter Bergmann, who also happened to be an enthusiastic recorder player.  There are three attractive movements, an opening ‘allegro molto guisto', a sadder ‘alla siciliano’ and a toccata like ‘vivace non troppo. It is delightfully played by John Turner and Janet Simpson who recognise all the twists and turns of the ‘pastiche.’   I guess the only problem is that the piece is over all too soon.

The simply named Suite (1952) for recorder and piano is quite an involved work that sounds difficult to interpret, however it is given an accomplished performance by John Turner and Janet Simpson.  There are four movements in the Suite – a Prelude, a Scherzo, an introverted Canon and a final jig.  The musical language here is subtly retro, whilst having a whiff of modernity to it. Some would call it eclectic; I would suggest it is a good fusion of overlapping styles. This is one of the most enjoyable things on this retrospective. The work was also composed for Walter Bergmann.

The Three French Folksongs were written in 1947 for soprano and piano. They were devised for a tour of France and Switzerland, which had been organised, by the composer and Sophie Wyss.  The songs are ‘Les Trios Rubans’, ‘Gai Lon La’, and ‘Quand mon mari se fachera’.  I was especially taken by the second song, which tells of a nightingale singing in the garden for girls with no husbands. However, the vocalist reflects that she does have one; alas he is a prisoner in Holland. It is a beautiful song. These simple arrangements feature the lovely voice of Lesley-Jane Rogers.  I feel that the recorder part was an unnecessary addition to the original scoring. 
Review to be concluded in the next post.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Montague Phillips: A Shakespearean Scherzo – ‘Titania and her Elvish Court.’


Philip Scowcroft describes this as a ‘sparkling’ work; no better adjective could be used. The programme notes tell us that this work received its first performance on 31st July 1934. It is a tone picture of some of the events from A Midsummer’s Night Dream. I suppose that my imagery of this scene is derived from the great fairy paintings by Sir Joseph Noel Paton; this music does nothing to destroy this perception.
There are fairy trumpets at the beginning of the work, somehow metamorphosing into the horn of Oberon. However the Elvish Court soon arrives on the scene – there is a lot of ‘tripping hither and tripping thither.’ The music just bubbles along like a spring stream in spate. There is much fine instrumentation here – especially for the woodwind. It is not quite a moto perpetuo – but it comes close. About a third of the way through this dainty theme gives way to a lovely string tune. For the rest of the work this tune tries to reassert itself but never fully succeeds. There is an interlude where the interplay of strings and woodwind weave a particularly magical spell before a little march takes all before it. Much of this music has a feel of Tchaikovsky about it; it would make an excellent ‘scene de ballet,’ in its own right. The music ends with considerable excitement; quite reminiscent of Eric Coates. Altogether a fine Scherzo that lives up to its promise to ‘depict’ Titania and her Elvish Court.
Montague Philips’ Shakespearean Scherzo -Titania and her Elvish Court can be heard on Dutton CDLX7140

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Thomas Dunhill: In the Chimney Corner for pianoforte


In my last post (at least for a wee while) about Thomas Dunhill I want to study one of his admirable piano pieces for educational purposes.
Many years ago I found a copy of Thomas Dunhill’s In the Chimney Corner in a second-hand bookshop. It is a work that will hardly find mention in any learned tome discussing pianoforte repertoire. In fact, it is not even mentioned in the list of works recently published in Paul Vincent’ admirable new website dedicated to the composer’s life and music. Nevertheless, this collection of ‘four short pieces for pianoforte’ is an excellent example of Dunhill’s workmanship and imagination.
In the Chimney Corner was published in 1929 by Keith Prowse and Co. Limited, London, priced 2/- (10p). However, the pieces would appear to have been composed a few years earlier. The lovely third movement is dated ‘Christmas Day, 1927’ in the score.  Until more of the composer’s diaries are published online it is probably not possible to understand if this work was conceived as a suite or whether it was assembled out a number of previously written pieces. Whatever the compositional history, the resultant work is well-balanced and stylistically unified. There are four movements, each with a poetic title.

The sheet music cover indicates exactly the kind of ‘chimney corner’ that the composer had in mind. I guess that even in the 1920s their kind was few and far between. However, it is conventionally the portrait of a place where stories were told, usually on a wild, cold winter’s night. Interestingly, the title page shows a small pencil sketch of the outside of a cottage with the smoke rising vertically – so at least it was a still winter’s night.

 The first piece is entitled ‘A Fireside Story’. This is a crisp little number that is virtually through-written without any repeats and limited restatement of themes. This is exactly as a story should be. Throughout the thirty-three bars there is some allusion to previous material with only a handful of bars identically restated. The key is F major, although there are a couple of modulations to the dominant and to the subdominant. Playing requires a gentle legato with some neat staccato chords. However, the knack to performing this piece is to try to maintain a sense of variety and changes in mood.
The second piece is ‘A Dance Memory’. Interestingly, this is a folk dance in 6/8 time rather than a more obvious ‘remembered waltz’. The form of this little dance is unusual. After an opening eight bars in G major the second section is largely in d minor. This is repeated and is then followed by a coda with only the barest of references to the opening theme. The piece is played ‘allegro molto’ and calls for clear phrasing and precise placing of the accompaniment chords.
Perhaps the heart of the suite is the simple but poignant ‘In the Day’s Dusk End. This is signed to be played ‘andante espressivo’ and is actually quite involved technically. Certainly the pianist will have to examine the phrasing which is almost contrapuntal in places without there ever being any suggestion of canon of fugetta. The piece is written in D minor and modulates to G minor.
The final tale told in the ‘Chimney Corner’ is ‘The Shepherd of Dreams’. What these ‘dreams’ are I am not sure, however there is a lilting 6/8 maintained throughout the piece. It is ostensibly composed in A major, with a transition to the tonic minor in the middle section. However the harmonic structure is surprisingly varied –with the median chord being used to good effect. A number of major seventh chords add to the pastoral mood. This is both the longest and the technically most difficult piece in the suite.  

In a Chimney Corner is hardly likely to be heard these days. It is simply one of a vast array of music that was written for didactic purposes. However, the added that value that Dunhill brings to this music is the imagination and the interest. The Musical Times suggested that this work is ‘an admirably designed suite of four movements [sutable for the] Lower Grade. I guess that this is about Grade 3 in the Associated Board standard. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Thomas Dunhill: A man of large endowments.

In 1920 the critic, composer and musicologist Marion Scott wrote a fine pen-portrait of Thomas Dunhill for American readers. It is an excellent article that needs little commentary. I have maintained American spelling, but otherwise made a few minor edits.

LONDON, England – Ask a man, whose ideas of British music were formed from concert programs, ‘Who is Thomas Dunhill?’ and he would probably reply, ‘a well-known composer who has written a number of fine works himself and has consistently championed his fellow-composers by giving concerts of their works’. That would be a true, but not an exhaustive answer, for though Dunhill is above all things a composer, composition being to him what the keystone is to an arch, his gifts and abilities are of many kinds. He is an accomplished pianist and conductor, is on the teaching staff of the Royal College of Music, is an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music; has edited several series of pieces by British composers; is an experienced organizer and concert-giver; lectures admirably; is a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society; and is a most successful adjudicator at competitive festivals.

Editor and Contributor
Along with his musical gifts he possesses the literary faculty. His book on chamber music is a model of its kind, and has already become a standard work. He has edited the Royal College of Music magazine for five years with conspicuous ability, and is a frequent contributor to the Monthly Musical Record, and other journals. A man of large endowments, he has used them lavishly and unselfishly in the service of music. Well-known as he is, he might be receiving still wider recognition had he devoted his time to furthering personal interests, but instead he has helped literally hundreds of other people in their careers, and it is no unusual thing to hear his students say quickly, when his name is mentioned, ‘Mr. Dunhill? Oh! He’s splendid.’
Thomas Frederick Dunhill is a Londoner, a member of that nation within a nation, and possesses as by right of heritage the Londoner’s optimism and pluck. Interestingly enough he arrived at music by a detour. As a child he wrote plays to perform with his toy theater, composing the music for them himself; later he did musical plays which he acted with his friends. To this day he retains a keen interest in the drama, though, with the exception of incidental music to The King’s Threshold by W. B. Yeats, the overture in which was rescored for large orchestra, and played at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts in 1913, he has not included dramatic work in his mature output.

Composition as Vocation
Once started on the path of composition, it was clear that his vocation lay along it. He was sent to school at Hampstead, and in 1893 entered the Royal College of Music, where he remained for seven years, first as a student, then as the holder of an open scholarship, Sir Charles Stanford being his professor for composition, and Franklin Taylor for pianoforte. Here Mr. Dunhill speedily came to the front, and in addition to outstanding excellence in his own subjects, he took a leading part in the general activities of the place. His scholarship came to an end in 1900, and the same year saw him appointed as assistant music master at Eton College. Five years later he was also appointed to the staff of the Royal College of Music, to teach harmony, counterpoint, analysis, and so forth, besides composition and orchestration, and his classes there have grown steadily in size and popularity.
In 1907 he founded the Thomas Dunhill Chamber Concerts, with the object of producing new works by British composers and giving second performances to works already produced elsewhere – a most practical help to native art, for good compositions were often shelved at that time, after one appearance. These concerts were always an artistic success and ran for a number of years, even though in their early days many difficulties had to be encountered.
It must have been somewhere around 1907 that Dunhill resigned his Eton post. He had already been round the world in 1906 on an examining tour for the Associated Board; in 1908 he made the trip again, while in 1912 he went to Canada. Many other shorter journeys have been made before and since on the same errand, and few British composers can possess a wider experience of travel than he has.
In 1914 he married Miss Mary Penrose Arnold, great-grand-daughter of Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby, and grandniece of Matthew Arnold, the poet, and their home has become the center of a charming circle of friends, literary and musical. After the war broke out Dunhill joined the volunteer force, and later, on the age limit being raised, he served in the Irish Guards. Most happily for British music, the military authorities kept him in England, and soon after the armistice he was demobilized.
Such, then, is Dunhill’s career up to the present. It remains now to speak of his compositions. His only large choral work is an early affair, Tubal Cain, a ballad for chorus and orchestra, but in the region of orchestral music he has written a good deal. There is the rhapsody in A minor. Composed years ago, containing right good stuff, though perhaps too well controlled to fit the title; a suite for small orchestra called The Pixies, published by Ascherberg; a concertstück; and a Manx fantasia for violin and orchestra; while for ‘cello and orchestra there is the charming set of Capricious Variations, on an old English tune, published also with piano accompaniment.

A Song-Cycle
A song-cycle called The Wind Among the Reeds, written by invitation of the Royal Philharmonic Society for their centenary season of 1911-12, and sung by Gervaise Elwes, is one of Dunhill’s best known works, and deservedly so, while the dance suite for string orchestra, recently produced at a promenade concert, is both delightful, direct and distinctive. But his biggest orchestral works are not yet public property. The new symphony which occupied his thoughts for three years, 1913 to 1915, will be rehearsed this winter by the Patron’s Fund, and he is at present at work upon a set of elegiac variations for full orchestra, designed as a tribute to that noble composer, Sir Hubert Parry, for whom Dunhill had so deep an affection, and who in return held the younger man in such warm regard.

His Chamber Music
From what has been said of Dunhill’s book on chamber music and his series of concerts it will be already clear that he has rendered signal services to chamber music, but the most valuable of all his contributions to this cause are his own compositions. There is the quintet in E flat for violin, violoncello, clarinet, horn and pianoforte, Op. 3, a youthful work, but young only in the best sense; clear, clean music, unclouded by any vacillation, the unusual combination of instruments being treated with happy effect. Then there is a quintet for strings and horn, also a student work, and a quintet in C minor for strings and piano, which has more intensity and breadth of idea than his technique at that time could completely express, though the quintet is excellent. The quartet in B minor for pianoforte, violin, viola and violoncello is wholly delightful, brimming over with melody, and strong also on the intellectual and constructive side, very grateful to play or hear. The fantasia-trio in E flat for pianoforte, violin and viola commissioned by W. W. Cobbett, is full of delicate poetry, a valuable addition to the limited literature for this combination of instruments. It is published in the Cobbett Series No. 6, by Stainer and Bell. A fantasia quartet for strings, not written in connection with any phantasy competition, but just because it came so to the composer, must also be mentioned.
There are several good solos for violin, or violoncello and piano, notably the variations on an original theme, Op. 13, for the latter two instruments, but the violin sonatas stand out above them all, indeed, they occupy a commanding place in his chamber music, for they best represent his mature thoughts. The first violin sonata in D minor is a strong, inspiring work, with unflagging melodic and harmonic charm, but the second sonata in F major is better still, stronger, deeper, more tender, and speaking thoughts which perhaps only music can utter. Altogether a most notable work, and an honor to British art.
Besides the compositions already mentioned, Dunhill has done any number of songs, part songs, piano solos, etc., and has a special gift for writing children’s music. In surveying his work as a whole, one can trace a steady evolution of style most interesting to watch. He is not one of those composers who come to their zenith suddenly in youth, set the world talking with a few brilliant successes, and then decline away from their own best standard. Rather is he one who gathers strength with each passing yea, whose thoughts deepen and broaden, whose powers are enriched by experience. His earlier compositions, though very fresh and delightful, do not move in the same region as his later ones. He has always possessed a conspicuous gift for form in music, a power of lucid and engaging exposition, but in early days this clear-cut music was like a crystal goblet filled with water from the sunlit pools of a river; now it is filled from the main current itself, the swift onward rush of humanity.
Marion M Scott: The Christian Science Monitor Saturday, January 24, 1920

With thanks to Pamela Blevins for permission to publish this article.