Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Frank Bridge Gargoyle (1928) for piano solo


The last original solo piano piece that Frank Bridge wrote [1] is usually regarded as his ‘harmonically most advanced piano work.’ This short piece, lasting about three minutes, is certainly one of the hardest of composer’s works to come to terms with.  
Gargoyle was composed in at Friston, Sussex during July 1928. It was given the title provisionally: the manuscript has a question mark against the name. It was rejected by his publisher Boosey and Hawkes: ‘the advanced bitonal procedures being [apparently] an uneconomic proposition’. It was returned to the composer and placed in an envelope: it lay unheard until 1975, when the pianist Isobel Woods performed it on 21 December 1975 at a Glasgow University Annual Conference of Research Students. It was given its first concert performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by Richard Rodney Bennett on 31 January 1977. The score was edited by Paul Hindmarsh and duly issued by Thames Publishing the same year.

It is perhaps easiest to follow Jed Adie Galant (The Solo Piano of Frank Bridge, 1987, Thesis) and regard ‘Gargoyle’ as being ‘essentially a bitonal or perhaps even atonal, two-part invention in ternary form.  Bitonal typically means music written in two keys at once, played simultaneously. Ternary form usually means and ABA structure. However in the present case the form is not obvious to the causal listener.  Finally, an invention is a two or three-part work for keyboard that is designed for technical proficiency rather than public performance. The most famous examples are Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two and Three Part Inventions and Sinfonias BWV 772–801.

Calum MacDonald in the liner notes for Peter Jacob’s recording of ‘Gargoyle’ suggests that the music is an ‘astonishing, eldritch, (weird, uncanny) [and] sardonically witty piece’.  He notes the ‘spiky, angular melodic material, bitonal harmonies, frequent biting dissonance and stark, uncompromising textures’. He concludes by suggesting that this is ‘...a brilliantly vivid impression of some scuttling, sarcastic, impish being.’
According to Anthony Goldstone in the programme notes for his recording of the work, ‘Bridge's transformed musical language was eminently suited to suggest a grotesque, grimacing figure, and an alarming, ironic mood is instantly set. Jagged motifs, fanfares and a violent 'curse' give way to a pitiful central song; after a modified reprise the coda quotes a sardonic version of the song and a final violent outburst melts into a Scriabinesque haze.’
Yet in spite of the bitonal procedures, its largely atonal mood and the impressionistic feel, there is certain intangible something to ‘Gargoyle’ that makes this piece equally a part of Bridge’s canon of piano music as the salon pieces of the Edwardian years.

Frank Bridge’s ‘Gargoyle’ is currently available on three recording, although not all of them may be easily obtainable:-
Frank Bridge Piano Music Vol.III, Mark Bebbington SOMM CD0107
Frank Bridge Complete Music for Piano Volume 1, Peter Jacobs CONTINUUM CCD 016
Britten Resonances, Anthony Goldstone DIVERSIONS 24118
For immediate hearing there is a YouTube file which also displays the score. 

Notes
[1] One further ‘original’ piano piece did appear from Frank Bridge’s pen – Todessehnsucht (Come Sweet Death) was an arrangement of a piece by J.S. Bach for A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen published in 1931 and given its first performance by the dedicatee on 17 October 1932 at he Queen’s Hall. 

Thanks to Britain Express for web-photo

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ignaz Moscheles: New Year in Edinburgh 1828


I do not apologies for my continued interest in Ignaz Moschles (1794-1870): he is one of the most significant characters in European musical history. The fact that he spent a considerable amount of time in the United Kingdom makes him of importance to all historians of Victorian musical endeavour. 
In 1828, while people were still wishing each other ‘a happy new year,’ Ignaz Moscheles arrived in Edinburgh. Someone had found him lodgings in Frederick Street, and curiously, he was ‘much struck by the ‘curious specimens’ of architecture’ that he saw there. I guess that it is strange to find such discussions in a musician’s diary.

EDINBURGH, 3rd January—Yesterday's walk through the streets was a series of surprises. As I looked at the old houses, consisting in some instances of sixteen stories, inhabited by the poorest families, renting single rooms, each with its dimly lighted window, I seemed to look at a feeble attempt at illumination. Standing on the viaduct [1] which connects the Old and New Town, I had these old houses to my left, on the right, the handsome Princes Street, and the whole of the new quarter, now in the process of building, which is to consist of a number of crescents, squares, and streets, filled with palatial houses, built of freestone. Such buildings are to be seen elsewhere, but Princes Street is certainly unique in its way; there is a long row of houses on one side, intersected by sloping streets, from which you get a view of the Frith of Forth, while the opposite side opens to your view Edinburgh Castle on its rock, to which you ascend by a terrace garden. As I was taking my evening stroll, I saw a party of Highlanders, kilt and all, coming off guard. They marched down from the Castle and passed close by me, regaling my ears with genuine Scottish music of drum and fife’. [2]
‘Our lodgings in Frederick Street, which were taken for us beforehand, were curious specimens of architecture. One peculiarity consisted in a raised ground-floor, that ran under the neighbouring house, but disconnected with any staircase leading to the upper stories. The next house that, on the contrary, had no rooms on the ground-floor, and the visitor, after mounting a staircase, found a bell, which secured his admission to the first story. House doors and steps were quite open; many other houses were constructed on this curious principle."
The success of this winter expedition, undertaken by Moscheles for professional purposes, was seriously imperilled by an Italian Opera Company [3] which had forestalled him, and he was obliged to put up with a third-rate orchestra, got together any how from regimental bandsmen ; the Highlanders, with their bare legs and kilts, being the poor substitutes for a well-trained orchestra. The concert room was only two-thirds full, but Moscheles, in his fantasia, the ‘Anticipations of Scotland,’ created great enthusiasm; and the newspapers, one and all, condemned the apathy shown by this poor attendance at his concert. This appeal to the good sense of the Edinburgh folk had its effect, for the two next concerts were filled to overflowing.

Notes
[1] Old North Bridge built in 1763 and demolished in 1894 when the current North Bridge was constructed by Sir William Arrol.  The new Bridge opened in 1897.
[2] No mention of the bagpipe; that was to come later.
[3] However, the Italian Opera were not performing on the first night of Moscheles recital. Caledonian Mercury, Thursday, January 10, 1828

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Deems Taylor: Suite, Through the Looking Glass


I know that Deems Taylor is not British, but I feel that the new release of his Suite, ‘Through the Looking Glass’ on the Naxos CD label is so important that it deserves a little bit of creative license. Besides there could be no-one more British than Lewis Carroll! I have been helped in this short essay by the programme notes devised by Felix Borowski and the Deems Taylor himself.  I hope to write some more about Taylor and this piece in later posts.  
In spite of a course of musical lessons from a certain Oscar Coon, Deems Taylor was a self-taught composer.  His earliest achievements were in journalism where was a reviewer for the New York World. He resigned from that post in 1921 to concentrate on compositions. The Suite ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was originally written during the Great War – 1917-19 and was then scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, piano and strings.  This arrangement was first heard at a concert of the New York Chamber Music Society on 18 February 1919.  After this the composer rescored the work for full orchestra and it was heard in this form at a New York Symphony Orchestra concert under Walter Damroach on 10 March 1923.  
The composer wrote in the programme notes that ‘the suite needs no extended analysis. It is based on Lewis Carroll’s immortal nonsense fairy-tale, ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There,’ and the five pictures it presents will, if all goes well, be readily recognizable to lovers of the book. There are four movements, the first being subdivided into two parts.’
The opening movement begins with a ‘Dedication’. Deems Taylor has musically described the author’s preface to the work – ‘Child of the pure, unclouded brow and dreaming eyes of wonder!’  This leads straight into ‘The Garden of Live Flowers ‘which is descriptive of the Looking Glass Garden flora which spoke to each other. The next movement is a little bit more sinister. The ‘frightful’ beast the Jabberwock is described. Here a little march heralds the approach of the hero.  The ensuing fight is musically represented with a short fugue.  Taylor has noted that ‘his vorpal blade (really the xylophone) goes ‘snicker-snack’ and the monster impersonated by the double bassoon, dies a lingering and convulsive death.’  
The third movement is The Looking Glass Insects. The composer has cleverly portrayed all these ‘favourites’ - the Rocking-Horse Fly, the Gnat, the Bee-Elephant, the Snap-Dragon Fly and the Bread-and-Butterfly. Deems Taylor has suggested that there are several themes running through his movements but advises against trying to allocate theme to fly!   Finally, the last movement is a brilliant portrayal of The White Knight.  Taylor has made use of two themes here; he suggests that ‘the first [is] a sort of instrumental prance, being the knight’s own conception of himself as a slashing dare-devil fellow.  The second is bland, mellifluous, a little sentimental –much more like the knight he really was.’
Deems Taylor’s Suite, Through the Looking Glass has been released on NAXOS 8.559724. However, if you cannot wait to purchase this, the music is available on YouTube in an early recording.  Part I and Part 2

Monday, 22 October 2012

Charles Villiers Stanford: Festival Overture in B flat

I recall a well-known conductor once telling me that one of the hardest things to do is to write about music that one has never heard: and with this I totally agree, having tried it a number of times. However, what can be interesting is to read tantalising accounts of music that has disappeared from the repertoire – and because the score/manuscript has been lost, will never be heard.  The main justification for this is twofold – firstly it allows the listener to gain more contextual knowledge about the composer in question and secondly it may spur someone to look for and maybe even discover the ‘lost’ work. Who knows?

Charles Villiers Stanford’s Festival Overture was composed around 1870 [1] and was given its first performance in the Shire Hall at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival on 6 September 1877, conducted by Charles Hartford Lloyd.  It was subsequently performed at the Crystal Palace on 17 November of that year, conducted by August Manns.  The manuscript has been lost.  The reviewer in the Musical Standard wrote:-
“The performance of the seventh Saturday concert contained, as usual, some works which had not been previously heard at Sydenham, the novelties being C[harles] Villiers Stanford’s Festival Overture (written for the Gloucester Festival lately held [1]), the scene of Isolde’s death from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and the ballet music from Mose in Egitto ... [2]
Mr Stanford’s overture is rather disappointing to those who watch the career of this rising young English composer, not much on account of any lack of constructive skill, but simply because inventive power appears, to a great extent, to be wanting.  Mr. Stanford masters the technicalities of his task with ease, and his method of scoring proves him to be quite at home in all matters appertaining to the treatment of the orchestra. But the themes of his overture do not display much originality, nor are they attractive in themselves, which leaves all the commendation we can bestow upon the production for the ingenuity it undoubtedly reveals. The tone of the compositions hardly appears to warrant the fact of its being written for a festal occasion; but this, after all, is a mere matter of opinion.”
CRYSTAL PALACE CONCERTS  Standard 26 Nov. 1877

Jeremy Dibble gives some interesting information about this work in his book Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician. He notes that Hubert Parry had gone to Gloucester especially to hear this work.  In his diary he [equivocally] wrote ‘’It is better than the ordinary run of such things well enough scored; with plentiful use of brass- and figures of little significance much used, rather made up I think altogether.’ CHHP Diary 6 September 1877.

Dibble also observes that the analytical notes written by George Grove suggested that ‘the spirit, rhythm, and power over the Orchestra which characterise this interesting work, augur well for Mr. Stanford’s artistic future, and encourage us to look for more orchestral works from his pen’.
Certainly this last wish was granted, and we are fortunate in having the vast majority of Stanford’s orchestral compositions available on CD or MP3.

NOTES
[1] Jeremy Dibble suggests that this work was composed c. 1870 whereas Paul Rodmell concludes that it was in 1876.
[2 Mose in Egitto (Moses in Egypt) is a three-act opera written by Gioachino Rossini to an Italian libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola, which was based on a play by Francesco Ringhieri, L'Osiride, of 1760. It premiered on 5 March 1818 at the recently reconstructed Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy. [Wikipedia]
[3] Other major works at this concert included Robert Schumann, Symphony No.3 in E flat ‘Rhenish’ and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C minor No.3.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Another Short Handelian Anecdote: A Duel


Not many of the great composers have gone down in history as having taken part as one of the principals in a duel. Among them, perhaps this honour must be awarded solely to Handel. The cause of this affair was to be found in one of the curious customs of his day.
In the early part of the last century it was the custom for the director of an opera to play the accompaniments on a harpsichord which had its place on the stage. Distinguished personages who were present often claimed a seat on the stage and felt free to interpose a running fire of audible conversation and comment. This is now relegated to that part of the audience who have little musical understanding and less of good manners.
In the early part of Handel's career he was associated with a composer named Mattheson, [1] a man of talent, but of no great depth, but from whose writings we may catch some enjoyable glimpse of the customs of his time. On the occasion in question, in Matheson's opera of Cleopatra, the composer was acting the part of Antony, and Handel was seated at the harpsichord. When Antony died, early in the opera, Mattheson came into the orchestra and desired to take Handel's seat as director. There was some excuse for this wish as Mattheson had been the regular director of the opera. But Handel, with that irritability which characterized him later in life, crustily refused to give up his place, whereupon a violent quarrel ensued, and as they were leaving the theatre Matheson gave him a hearty slap in the face. Handel drew his sword, Mattheson defended himself, and a duel was fought then and there. Luckily, perhaps, for our musical literature, Mattheson's sword was broken against a metal button on his opponent's coat, and the honour of each was vindicated! Soon after, the two composers were at peace and hearty good friends again. This was a good example of a discord, prepared and resolved.

NOTES
[1] Johann Mattheson was born in Hamburg on September 28 1681 and subsequently died there on April 17 1764. After a general liberal education as a law student his decided musical talent was developed by Braunmuller, Pratonus, and Kellner. At an early age he sang, composed, and played the organ and harpsichord. He entered the opera chorus 1690, and between 1697-1705 sang operatic tenor roles. He wrote at eight operas including Cleopatra. In 1705 he became tutor in the English Ambassador Sir john Wich’s family.  From 1715-28 he was musical director and cantor, at the Hamburg Cathedral.  In later life he suffered from deafness which led to his retiral from the Cathedral.  

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Short Handelian Anecdote


It is good policy for a singer to keep ‘on the good side of’ his accompanist. A really fine accompanist is a ‘rara avis’. Besides the technical skill necessary to a soloist, an accompanist must have the finest musical feeling and discrimination, and at the same time sacrifice himself to the interests of the singer.
And oftentimes the accompanist has to shoulder the sins of the singer. It is an easy way to relieve one's self from the blame of a ‘bad break’ by charging the fault to the accompanist. A singer once tried this with Handel, and declared that if Handel didn't accompany him better he should jump over onto the harpsichord where the player sat, and smash it. Said Handel: "Let me know ven you vill do dot, and I vill adverdise id. I am sure more beoble will come to see you shump as vill come to hear you sing."
The singer didn't jump.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Gordon Crosse: The New World (1969)


I have never been able to read any of Ted Hughes’ poetry without seeing a dead sheep in my mind’s eye: it was something to do with one of the images (page 42, opposite a poem entitled ‘The sheep went on being dead’) in his book Remains of Elmet (1979).  I guess that this somewhat morbid image sums up the darkness of much of Hughes poetic output. However, praise where praise is due: there is nothing of the rotting carcasses in these poems set by Gordon Crosse in his excellent The New World: Six Poems by Ted Hughes. In fact, these poems were written especially for the composer. The liner notes state that they have not been separately published without the music –however, I have checked the Collected Poems (2003) and discover that they are included there in the ‘Uncollected (1971-1973)’ section. Additionally, there are some discrepancies between the text in the book and those published in the liner notes. For example, ‘When the star was on her face’ is given in the book and ‘When the star was on her brow’ in the song. The track listing gives ‘I said goodbye to the earth’: the Collected Poems omits the word ‘the’ as does the printed poem in the liner notes. However, the singer includes the word ‘the’! Not serious stuff, but it makes one wonder if there was a new rescension of these poems when they were published.   
There is depth to these words, and considerable bleakness, however, every so often there is a flash of light – of hope. Appropriately, this work was written in 1969 the year that man landed on the Moon.
I was very impressed by the music. As Peter Aston has noted, the composer has managed to find a musical equivalent for every emotional nuance of the text: Crosse has created a magical sound world that truly compliments the poetry. Without a perusal of the score, it is impossible to analyse the form of this cycle –however with just a couple of hearings it is clear that the work is tightly knit. The musical texture at times feels Spartan. Nevertheless, there are moments of considerable effusion and drama.  This work is another ‘classic’ example of why Gordon Crosse should hold a far higher place in the pantheon of British composers than has so far seems to have been the case. ‘The New World’ was commissioned by Lord Dynevor and is dedicated to Meriel and Peter Dickinson. The work was first performed at the 1972 ‘Three Choirs Festival’ in Worcester.  
The Stevie Smith Songs can be heard on the Heritage Label (HTGCD240) with Meriel Dickinson and Peter Dickinson. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Elisabeth Lutyens: En Voyage –suite for orchestra.


Introduction
Much has been written about the relative unapproachability of Elisabeth Lutyens’ music. I have often told the story of how hearing a performance of her O saisons, O châteaux! (1946) put me off her work for nearly thirty years. I felt that it was the most appalling piece I had heard up to that time. However, a few years ago I got a surprise: I bought a DVD of British Transport Films. One of these attractive pieces of ephemera from the nineteen-fifties was an advertising ‘featurette’ for the Midlands entitled The Heart of England (1954). It was not until watching the film and being impressed with the ‘score’ that I wound back the disc and discovered that the music was by ‘Twelve-Tone Lizzie.’ Now all artists have to make a living: Lutyens used the medium of films to augment her income. Yet, whilst watching this ‘bucolic’ film, it was hard not to imagine that the ‘lady doth protest too much’ with her condemnation of the ‘cow-pat’ school of music. Any of that happy band of ‘clod-hoppers’ would have been delighted to have penned this attractive and picturesque commentary on one of many beautiful haunts in England.  
Elisabeth Lutyens tended to repudiate her ‘light music.’ Nevertheless, there are over a hundred film scores, many of which feature ‘traditional and approachable’ music rather than dodecaphonic explorations. Furthermore, there are sundry examples of ‘light music’ dotted throughout her catalogue.
In 2007, Lyrita Records gave listeners a surprise. They released an excellent sampler of ‘bon-bons’ with the John Masefield-inspired title of A Box of Delights. This featured works by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Granville Bantock, Phyllis Tate and Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Amongst these delicious gems was short suite called En Voyage by Elisabeth Lutyens.

Composition &Content
The years 1943/5 called forth a number of disparate works from Lutyens’ pen, however the style of much of that period’s production was, in her terms ‘tonal.’  There were the film scores for Jungle Mariners and Bustle for WAAFs.  She wrote a suite entitled Proud City in honour of London, which had ‘come through’ the Blitz.  Art music included the Petite Suite and the Divertissement for percussion and strings.  Lutyens also completed the important Chamber Concerto III for bassoon, strings and percussion –which is a serial work.
En Voyage was composed in 1944 as an orchestral suite; however, it appeared to languish before the composer ‘re-discovered’ it. Some years later, it metamorphosed into a Divertissement for double wind quintet.  Meirion and Susie Harries in their A Pilgrim Soul: the Life and Work of Elisabeth Lutyens (1989) have suggested that ‘Liz was pleased with it [En voyage] or at least felt that it was serviceable’
The work was meant to be a musical picture of a journey from London to Paris via Dieppe. In those days, there was no tunnel and all passengers had to cross the English Channel on board one of the many ferries.  There are four short movements in this suite – ‘Overture: Golden Arrow’, ‘Channel Crossing’, ‘Yvette: la Dieppoise’ and ‘Paris Soir: City Lights’.  According to Harries & Harries (1989) Lutyens proposed a fifth movement which would have been entitled ‘Flanders Fields’. However, this would have implied ‘a devious route between London and Paris’. This ‘sentimental’ section was never composed.

The first movement, ‘Overture: Golden Arrow’ has a softly dissonant introduction, which suggests the train beginning its journey from Platform 2 at London’s Victoria Station. However, this is not developed. Soon, a largely ‘mock-Tudor’ mood is introduced. Lutyens makes clever use of woodwind tone-colour in this section. This part of the movement is certainly not a description of the train journey but reflects more on the rural aspect of the countryside through which the Golden Arrow is speeding. Pleasant ‘songs and snatches’ topple over each other: delightful ‘pastoral’ flute and oboe melodies are characteristically supported by strings. Then the composer recalls the subtitle of this ‘Overture’ – there is a short section that nearly approaches ‘rhythm on the rails’ before a recapitulation of the ‘landscape’ themes. The movement closes with a reference to the opening ‘train noise’ passage and, after a short codetta, Lutyens brings the train to a halt at Dover Maritime Station buffer stops.

The ‘Channel Crossing’ is hardly a major seascape in musical terms: this is not Debussy’s La Mer or Frank Bridge’s The Sea. It actually represents a rather ‘calm and prosperous’ voyage across La Manche: maybe there is the odd ‘squall.’ The music begins with a few bars of softly dissonant, brassy music. This is followed by a rumble in the bass. Then a catchy melody, almost nautical in character, takes over in the strings leading to a short climax before the music subsides. A bassoon is heard muttering a short phrase in the depths.  Lutyens presents a lovely string tune tune, however the brass is always threatening in the background. There follows an interlude with another ‘jaunty’ melody, before the movement nearly comes to a complete halt. There is then a recapitulation of foregoing themes including the ‘jazzy’ opening and the carefree sailor’s tune.

I am not sure what is being depicted with ‘Yvette: la Dieppoise’. This is the most rustic movement in the suite – complete with pipe, drum and tambourine. There is a succession of attractive tunes for a variety of woodwind instruments, and then a reflective moment before the main dance theme is recapitulated. This is quite serious music, however the sense of wistfulness soon returns and the movement concludes in the same mood as it began. It certainly seems to conjure up an era long before the Golden Arrow began running the London to Paris cross-channel service. Dieppe was subject of considerable military activity during the Second World War including the ill-fated attack by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division who suffered many casualties and failed to gain all their objectives. Undoubtedly, Yvette is a ‘type’ of a lady who had enjoyed happier times.

The last movement is the most impressive: certainly, it is the most dramatic. After a romantic opening, worthy of a contemporary film-score, the music moves up a gear to reflect the Café life of Paris. However, the mood is sometimes challenged by more profound phrases in the brass section. This is not all about ‘gaîté’ and ‘joie de vivre’. At the mid-point of the movement, Lutyens lets down her hair. This is the Paris of Jacques Offenbach – complete with ‘can-can’ dancers. Even so, there is still time for the lovers to stroll down the Champs Elysses. The movement concludes with a reflective glance back across the years to less-frivolous history.
The score of En Voyage was published circa 1965 by Mills Music, London.  This was a photocopy of the composer’s manuscript.

Performance & Reception
En Voyage was first heard at the BBC’s Light Music Festival Concerts on 2 July 1960.  This was one of a series of five weekly concerts given at the Royal Festival Hall between 4 June and 2 July.  It was played by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Vilem Tausky. Lutyens’ suite featured in an ‘all-British’ night alongside works performed by the Max Jaffa Trio, Owen Brannagan and Osian Ellis.  Lutyens was not pleased with the BBC for including music that she felt was untypical of her output.  At this time the Corporation was consistently rejecting her ‘serious’ chamber music as being ‘unacceptable for broadcasting.’  To a certain extent, one can have sympathy for the composer. Other music given first performances during the Festival included Sidney Torch’s Duel for Drummers, John Gardner’s Suite of Five Rhythms, Peter Yorke’s Suite for Brass Band and Brian Boydell’s Shielmartin Suite.

I feel that Harries & Harries (1989) are a little unfair in their evaluation of En Voyage. They begin by suggesting that this is ‘red-herring music’: it is ‘traditional pictorial music slightly on the skew.’  The reasons that they advance for this ‘skew’ are in my opinion features of the work that add to its charm. For example, they suggest that the music is ‘constantly missing beats, or allowing ‘the bottom to drop out of the harmony.’ They consider that the work is both ‘poignant and unsatisfactory’ and accuse it ‘of building towards grand climaxes which never arrive, always hitting the nail slightly off centre and driving it in at an angle.’ Surely, these idiosyncrasies make this a first-rate piece of ‘light music’ and not one that simply utilises a number of tried and tested clichés.
There has been little critical comment about En Voyage: I was unable to find any reviews in contemporary newspapers or journals.
However, there have been a number of favourable remarks made about the Lyrita recording. Andrew Achenbach wrote in The Gramophone for August 2007 that ‘En voyage [was] a tuneful and deftly scored four-movement suite...’ Jonathan Woolf writing for MusicWeb International noted that ‘Lutyens summons up some evocative nature painting for a Channel squall vibrant gaiety as the train approaches the bright lights of Paris and a generous winding down.’  Rob Barnet, reviewing the same CD has given a more detailed account. He suggests that the first movement ‘Overture’ is reminiscent of Ronald Binge’s Elizabethan Serenade – ‘a sort of mock Tudor’ that is also found in Vaughan William’s The England of Elizabeth.  He records a number of allusions in the second movement, ‘Channel Crossing’: some of this music has ‘jazzy disruption[s] whilst there is the ‘stamping terpsichore’ of Constant Lambert...’  Finally, his description of the final movement is interesting. He suggests that ‘Paris Soir’ has a surprisingly desolate’ beginning. However, this soon develops into a ‘carousel of Parisian street-life.’  Barnett concludes by noting that in the last part of this movement, ‘Lutyens suddenly forgets the Parisian locale and comes away with a sighingly lovely and yearning grandeur looking out across the Seine’.
Perhaps this last gesture echoes the fact that the Second World War was moving into its final stage. Paris was not liberated until August 1944 so this ‘epilogue’ could be a vision of hope or a reflection on the sadness of days passed.
  
Bibliography  and Discography
Meirion Harries, Sussie Harries, A Pilgrim Soul: the Life and Work of Elisabeth Lutyens, Joseph, 1989

Box of Delights - British Light Music Gems LYRITA SRCD.214


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Some British (and Commonwealth) Piano Pieces: An Interesting List


I recently bought a second-hand copy of Arthur Banyon’s Two Preludes for piano. These were published by Oxford University Press as a part of their Oxford Piano Series in 1929. More about these later. However, on the back cover the publishers have listed a selection of numbers in this series. It makes an interesting list.
Three things can be said. Firstly, none of these pieces appears to have entered the repertoire –either as a recital piece or as teaching material.  The exception is York Bowen’s Nocturne Op.78 which has found its way onto the ‘Complete Piano Works’ edition on Chandos.
Secondly, a large number of these composers have truly sunk below the radar – even of enthusiasts of British Music.  The [half] remembered composers include Martin Shaw, Edgar Bainton, Harry Farjeon, Martin Shaw and Benjamin Burrows. However, what happened to Ethel Boyce, Eric Mareo (New Zealand)and Michael Mullinar?  Jane Joseph was a pupil of Gustav Holst, yet no one really knows any of her music.
Thirdly, some of these composers were prolific. Certainly, an investigation of Norman Demuth and Harry Farjeon would repay the effort. Although I noticed that Mareo and Boyce have dozens of entries in the music catalogues.
I present the list without further comment.

Edgar L. Bainton: White Hyacinth
Arthur Banyon: Wayside Pictures Set I & Set II
York Bowen: Nocturne
Ethel Boyce: Cinderella Book 1 & 2
Benjamin Burrows: Chimes
Harold Clark: Five Lyrics
Norman Demuth: Rigaudon; Reverie
Percival Driver: Three Pieces
Harry Farjeon Invention & Pavan
Ralph Greaves: Miniature Suite
Jane Joseph: Suite of Five Pieces
E. Markham Lee: Ten Little Pieces
Eric Mareo:  Storyettes
Michael Mullinar: Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Martin Shaw: In the Garden; The Path through the Wood; Follow my Leader; The Winter Evening; Puppets; Round Dance.
Gordon Slater:  Three Little Pieces; Bouree in A; Rhapsody in B flat
Felix Swinstead: Two-Part Invention
Colin Taylor: Capriccieto; Powder & Patches
Percy Turnbull:  Piano Suite
Ernest Walker: Prelude in e flat
Gerrard Williams: Four Traditional Tunes; Scottish Traditional Tunes

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Jonathan Harvey: Correspondances for mezzo-soprano & piano (1975).


I recently had the pleasure of reveing an album of British Song featuring  Meriel Dickinson (mezzo soprano) and Peter Dickinson (piano). The CD included works by Lennox Berkeley, Gordon Crosse, Jonathan Harvey, Elisabeth Lutyens and Peter Dickinson.
However, from this particular listener’s point of view, the hardest work to come to terms with was Jonathan Harvey’s Correspondances (1975). These are settings of four poems by the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-67).  The songs are separated by a number of interludes and fragments for solo piano. The ‘novelty’ of this work is that it is left up to the performers to decide which particular order the songs are sung. Just let us hope that pianist and singer agree before the recital!  Harvey has intellectualised this ‘aleatory’ process by suggesting that it is ‘variable, just as in Baudelaire new life may precede or succeed death, and life and death are both contained in love…’  
The ‘blurb’ in the Arkiv CD catalogue states that Jonathan Harvey can be ‘thought of as an English Stockhausen’. I would need to hear more of his music to decide if this is a true or fair assessment. Certainly, based on the present offering, his style seems to be more approachable than the German ‘meister.’ Much of this song-cycle is moving and often quite beautiful. Baudelaire’s poetry has never been a favourite of mine: it is dark, ‘satanic’ and often depressing. However, as Paul Verlaine wrote, [Baudelaire’s poetry represent[s] powerfully and essentially modern man in all his physical, psychological and moral complexity.’ He is a poet that transcends the stylistic hiatus between ‘romanticism’ and ‘modernism.’ Harvey’s music is distinctly modern with its emphasis on symbol and suggestion – however there is a strong infusion of the more romantic qualities of emotion and straightforward musical statements. Whatever my personal tastes are, there is no doubt that one is in the presence of a masterpiece with Correspondances.  I understand that this was Harvey’s first recorded piece.
Jonathan Harvey’s Correspondances can be heard on the Heritage Label (HTGCD240) with Meriel Dickinson and Peter Dickinson

Monday, 1 October 2012

Antony Hopkins: Café des Sports – a contemporary review in Ballet Today.

As part of my interest in Antony Hopkins ballet score Café des Sport I found this review in the Ballet Today journal. This well-respected magazine appears to have folded in the early nineteen-seventies. Peter Craig-Raymond gives a succinct appreciation of this ballet. Once again, it is considered good in parts. What does seem to be a consistent feature of these reviews is the superb character of the ‘Urchin’ created by Maryon Lane.  Compared to a ballerina such as Margot Fonteyn or even Moira Shearer, Lane appears to have sung beneath the radar.

Ominously titled, Alfred Rodrigues’ new ballet for Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet lived up to expectations. It should be recorded here, in advance, that Rodrigues gave us blood Wedding – that first work so full of choreographic promise.
Deciding that its successor must be a comedy is admissible. Even that it be facetious. But why must English comic ballet be set in the pre-depression era? Do all of us live in the perpetual paranoia of the twenties?
Café des Sports concerns an Urchin’s love for the Lame Dog who is losing a bicycle race. Urchin replaces Lame Dog and wins race, grand prix sash and L.D. as lover. Betwixt times come some bourgeoisie, a group of existentialist (i.e. girls in long wigs) and essentialist (not so long), a waiter (straight from Deuil en 24 heures) and a café proprietor whom I thought would surely lead the ensemble in a rousing can-can-finale. She did not.
Apart from this single virtue, there is little more to say for this Cafe des Sports. For Maryon Lane it is an excellent, further opportunity to show her gamin presence and zestful technique. For the remainder of the company it is a romp.

Décor and costumes are simple but fitting, designed by Jack Taylor. Antony Hopkins’ music is circa Ferde Groffe and George Gershwin and only needed Paul Whiteman and eighty-six grand pianos to complete its archaism. And the orchestra excelled itself by reading ‘blues’ as ‘dirge’ and having a trumpeter who confirmed my worst fears or what a pit bandsman can achieve.
The ballet as a whole is thin-lipped Petit spiced by rather gawky sex. I found it a major disappointment and spent the evening mourning for a man who choreographed a superb first ballet called Blood Wedding
The audience, and I say this as much in judgement as in truth, found the ballet uproarious and greeted the entrance of the cyclists with cheers and laughter no less than six times. It is upon such foundations as this that the English find their love of sport and the aliens fond themselves with fixed furrows on their brows.
Peter Craig-Raymond Ballet Today January  1955 (With minor edits) p4