Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cyril Scott: Overture ‘Princess Maleine – Three Reviews

I have posted lately about Cyril Scott’s Overture: Princess Maleine. I have conceded that it is unlikely that it will be heard in its original form. However, out of interest I have copied out three contemporary reviews of the work when it received its first performance at the Proms. These reviews are of more than academic interest as a number of the criticisms have been features of debate on Scott’s music over the years (vagueness and ‘mannered’). My last contribution to this sequence of posts will be a brief resume of the plot of the play.

The novelty on August 22 [1907] was an overture entitled 'Princess Maleine,' by Mr. Cyril Scott. This is not a new work, inasmuch as it was written in 1902, but it had not previously been performed. It is necessary therefore to remember the date of composition in criticising the work, because during the last five years the composer has made great advance in clearness of expression. 'Princess Maleine' is not one of the best of Maeterlinck's plays, and its vagueness has found its way into Mr. Scott's music. This may be regarded by some as a merit, but to us the persistent avoidance of determinative expression becomes wearying in spite of the clearness shown in command of orchestral colour and the realistic suggestion of the storm.
The Musical Times: September I, 1907.

Up until quite recently it was the constant complaint of the young British composers that no matter how many or how serious the works they they evolve nobody seemed in the least disposed to give them a hearing. Of late years, however, a change has come over the spirit of the scene, and no one has benefited more greatly thereby than Mr. Cyril Scott, whose innumerable compositions figure in concert programmes with a frequency which he must find eminently flattering. The latest of them to be given a hearing, his Overture to Maeterlinck’s ‘Princess Maleine’ is not actually new, but though it was written some five years ago it had never been played in public till last night, when it was included in the programme of the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert. The Overture is not intended to be a musical picture of the events in the play, but rather a study in atmosphere. And only here and there does the composer permit himself an allusion to the happenings on the stage, such as the storm, the music in the chapel, and the crowing of the cock. Like much of Mr. Scott’s music, the Overture seems a little vague and diffused, but it has merit nevertheless, and Mr. Wood was well advised to give it a hearing. An excellent programme also included a fine performance of Liszt’s rarely-heard but beautiful Symphonic Poem ‘Orpheus.’ Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser: Friday 23 August 1907

The third new work to be heard at Queen’s Hall this week, Mr. Cyril Scott’s overture ‘Princess Maleine’, was played to-night. The composition was inspired by Maeterlinck’s play ‘Princess Maleine’, and the music aims at expressing the atmosphere of the drama rather than a portrayal of its actual incidents.
Mr. Scott’s work was written as far back as 1902, and it was scarcely worthwhile rescuing from its obscurity. A work of this kind must obviously possess a purely musical value if it is to have any reason for existence, and one can only say that the inspiration in this case does not appear to have been very strong. The music is pretentious and full of the composer’s well-known mannerisms, such as the avoidance of cadence and the constant indefiniteness of tonality.
One does not object to idiosyncrasies if they really help the expression of idea, but in this overture the material is undistinguished, some of it even commonplace, and the development dull, the music leaving on without an impression of another kind. The scoring, as usual with Mr Scott, is very ingenious and elaborate, but the incessant division of the strings and the use of their high registers throughout the work tends to a monotony of effect.

The Guardian: August 23 1907

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