Saturday, 14 June 2014

Cheltenham Festival: Ten Years of Symphonies (1946-1956)

At one time the expression ‘Cheltenham, Symphony’ was used as a disparaging term. Peter Pirie in his The English Musical Renaissance (Victor Gollanz, London, 1979) states that the phrase ‘was coined to describe a work in simple-minded sonata form, simple-minded tonality, and simple-minded faith in a scissors-and-paste method of composition.’ He further contended that ‘a certain division in English music became apparent at this time: young progressive composers were arising in England and they saw what was happening.’ Perhaps the reader may be reminded of Peter Maxwell Davies withering attack on ‘tonal’ music in The Listener (October 8, 1959, pp. 563–564) ‘Problems of a British Composer Today’.  Pirie finishes is discussion by noting that the Hallé Orchestra was the main ‘band’ at Cheltenham and that its ‘much-loved’ conductor Sir John Barbirolli ‘had very conservative tastes.’ As a result he influenced the festival committee to adopt programmes that were ‘safe’ and ‘academic.’  
On the other hand, from 1947 the Hallé Orchestra had been closely involved with the performance of orchestral music at Cheltenham giving four July concerts.  Michael Kennedy reports that the ‘novelties’ had been ‘assiduously prepared by Barbirolli for weeks beforehand at no cost to Cheltenham. He lists some of the composers that featured in these concerts including Malcolm Arnold, Peter Racine Fricker and Arthur Butterworth (as well as those others listed in this posting). It is interesting to note that each concert which featured a new work also included ‘a standard-repertory symphony or with a substantial work by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bax…’ Kennedy goes on to suggest that the term ‘Cheltenham Symphony’ was ‘coined to describe the result of Barbirolli’s predilection for works written in what was then seen as a declining romantic tradition – ‘sham antiques’ was another pejorative barb.’
It is an argument that will no doubt continue to rage, often fuelled by people who have never bothered to listen to these works: however in 2014 listeners are more likely to be impressed by these works rather than repelled by them.
I append a list of symphonies and symphonic works given their premieres at the Cheltenham Festival from 1946-1956.  Where there is a recording of the work in question I have given a link to the CD. [Not a complete discography]  It is interesting to note that more than 50% of these symphonies are currently available on CD. None of these symphonies have entered the common repertoire (such as those by Elgar and RVW) however those by Rubbra, Alwyn and Arnold have a reasonable foothold amongst enthusiasts of British music.
  • 1946 Edmund Rubbra – Symphony No.2 (revised version) Chandos
  • 1947 Ian Whyte – Symphony No.1 
  • 1948 Arthur Benjamin – Symphony No.1 Lyrita Marco Polo 
  • 1949 Richard Arnell – Symphony No.4, Op.52 Dutton Epoch
  • 1949 Gordon Jacob – Symphonic Suite 
  • 1950 Anthony Collins – Symphony No.2 for Strings 
  • 1950 Peter Racine Fricker – Symphony No.1 Op.9 
  • 1950 William Alwyn – Symphony No.1 in D Chandos Naxos Lyrita
  • 1951 Arnold Van Wyk – Symphony No.1 in A minor (British premiere) 
  • 1951 John Gardner – Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.2  Naxos
  • 1951 Malcolm Arnold – Symphony No.1, Op.22  Chandos Naxos
  • 1951 Maurice Jacobson – Symphonic Suite for Strings
  • 1952 William Wordsworth – Sinfonia in A minor for Strings 
  • 1952 John Veale – Symphony No 1
  • 1953 Richard Arnell – Symphony No.3, Op.40 Dutton Epoch
  • 1953 Iain Hamilton – Symphony No.2, Op.10 
  • 1953 William Wordsworth – Symphony No.3 in C, Op.48  Lyrita
  • 1954 Stanley Bate - Symphony No.3 Dutton Epoch
  • 1954 Geoffrey Bush – Symphony No.1 Lyrita
  • 1956 Iain Hamilton – Symphonic Variations, Op.19 
  • 1956 Daniel Jones – Symphony No.3 

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