I have always been a great enthusiast of the Scottish author Sir James Barrie. He is almost exclusively regarded as the creator of the children’s classic Peter Pan; however, he wrote a wide range of literary genres, including novels, short stories and plays. He was born in the Scottish market town of Kirriemuir in 1860 and died in London in June 19, 1937. It is not my intention to evaluate the man or his achievements save to suggest that like all artists he is subject to various fashions of praise and criticism.
Composers have been attracted to Peter Pan over the years. Perhaps the most important essay is the relatively unknown score of incidental music written by Leonard Bernstein in the late nineteen forties. The play was first produced in 1950 with Jean Arthur as Peter Pan, Boris Karloff as George Darling, the father and also playing Captain Hook and Marcia Henderson as Wendy. Although Bernstein had written extensive lyrics and music, only a handful of songs were used in this production. It was not until 2006 that the first complete performance using all of the music was given at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, London. A recording of the score was released the previous year.
In 1956 the Viennese composer Ernest Toch wrote a delicious orchestral work, Peter Pan, A Fairy Tale for Orchestra op.76. Toch was born in Vienna in 1887 and studied medicine and philosophy. However this largely self-taught musician began to make a name for himself. In 1909 he was awarded the prestigious Frankfurt Mozart Prize. He subsequently studied there and eventually became professor of music at the Mannheim Hochcschule fur Musik in 1913. After four years of military service he settled in Berlin .However, in 1933 he went to Paris and London: finally he emigrated to the United States. He was to settle there and taught in New York for two years and then moved to Hollywood where he worked as a film composer and teacher. Ernest Toch died in Los Angeles in 1964. His catalogue is extensive and includes seven fine symphonies (recorded on CPO), two concertos for piano, one for cello and a deal of orchestral works. Many of his pieces have humorous or evocative titles – the best known including Pinocchio: A Merry Overture, Big Ben: Variation Fantasy on the Westminster Chimes, the unpublished The Enamoured Harlequin and Peter Pan. This Fairy Tale was composed in 1956. As the liner notes of the New Worlds Recording (80609-2) suggest, this ‘is an airy, immaterial piece as befits its subject matter, one might consider it Mendelssohnian or perhaps a companion piece to Berlioz’s 'Queen Mab' Scherzo.’ I was impressed by both the subtle formal construction and the splendid orchestration of this quicksilver piece.
However it the British contributions to the story of Peter Pan that I want to consider. The main event would appear to be Sir Henry Walford Davies’ 'Peter Pan' Miniature suite for String Quartet in five movements written in 1909. A number of other titles appear in the COPAC catalogues search however, the ones that struck me most were Harry Farjeon’s 'Peter Pan Sketches' for piano, Peter Pan: An intermezzo by Arthur Ager and a song cycle by Joan Trevalsa. My next Peter Pan Post will investigate Walford Davies’s Quartet, however this will depend of getting a sight of the score - so do not hold your breath!