Sunday, 9 June 2013

C.W. Orr: The Cotswold Hill Tune

The Cotswold Hill Tune is one of those compositions that is in many ways arch-typical. It represents one of the finest tributes to Fred. Delius as well as being a superb example of string writing in the so-called ‘pastoral’ mood. It is important to recall that Delius had encouraged Orr’s “early efforts” and had shown them to Peter Warlock.
C.W. Orr was born in Cheltenham in 1893: he was not a child prodigy. In fact, it was not until he was in his early twenties that he began a musical career. His military service was curtailed by his health and he eventually went to live in the village of Painswick on the Cotswold escarpment overlooking the valley of the Severn.
Orr was noted primarily for his songs: he set words principally by A.E Houseman but included texts by James Joyce, Helen Waddell and Robert Bridges. There is one chamber work - a Midsummer Dance for cello and piano. His only excursion into the world of the orchestra is the present Cotswold Hill Tune.

The work has as its exemplar the Serenade for the Birthday of Fred Delius by Peter Warlock and perhaps the ‘Summer Valley’ for piano by Jack Moeran.
The score was as a result of a request from the conductor and composer Eugene Goossens for an orchestral version of four of Orr’s ‘Shropshire Lad’ settings. However, for some reason Orr decided to ignore this request and write a short piece for String Orchestra. The work was written in 1938 and was dedicated to Goossens. Jane Wilson quotes the conductor's reply, “I can’t tell you how completely delighted and touched I am at receiving the beautiful ‘Cotswold’ piece.” He said he was planning to play the work the following year in Cincinnati, yet no record of a performance exists.
The Cotswold Hill Tune was published in 1939, so it is really rather behind the times in its musical language.
The piece is written for string orchestra, with each section ‘divisi’ for most of the piece. This, as Philip Lane points out gives the work a rich and somewhat impassioned texture.
The work opens quietly, presenting a misty landscape. After a short pause the ‘tune’ emerges. This is not based on a folksong, but is a deliberate parody of Delius. The mood is of quiet reflection and resignation. Yet there is a building intensity here – after the harmonic shifts that characterise the style of the models, the music sinks into a misty reflection. After another short pause the mood lightens and the music becomes a little less intense, perhaps wistful. Yet as the conclusion approaches there is a gradual lifting of the mist to reveal a sunlit landscape over the Severn Plain. The work ends with a pizzicato chord.
The only available recording of this work is on Naxos 8.554186

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