Monday, 25 August 2014

Lost Works No.1: Felix White’s Overture Shylock

Felix White’s Overture, Shylock showed ‘great promise,’ according to ‘X’ writing in the socialist New Age Journal. He further pointed out that the composer was only 23 years old and this perhaps explained his tendency to ‘…wallow in psychological analysis.’ I must confess I cannot imagine this discipline rigorously applied to the composition of a Concert Overture! The orchestration was excellent and resulted in some delightful scoring. ‘X’ considered that the construction of the Overture was ‘puzzling’ and he lamented the fact that a ‘programme’ was not provided. He felt that the composer had produced an ‘involved piece of writing.’ The conclusion of the work was doubtless meant to portray the state of Shylock’s mind as Shakespeare leaves him to us at the conclusion of the Merchant of Venice. However it was of concern that the overture ‘petered out’ and this is surely not the emotional state of Shylock at this time. The conclusion of the review has a sting in its tail. Apparently ‘Mr White might as well have been describing the collapse of a favourite writing desk for all the emotion he squeezes out of the subject.’
Stewart R. Craggs writing in 1984 writes that White regarded his work as being ‘a little Straussy’ here and there. White himself noted that the work was ‘voted extremely difficult at its first performance.’ The Musical Times critic stated that the overture was ‘a cleverly-scored production that so appealed to the audience that he was recalled to the platform three times. Although the design is entirely modern in conception the development is rational and the scoring clear and exaggerations are carefully avoided.’
This is certainly a work that would bear re-discovery. Although whether it ought to come before some of Felix White’s other orchestral compositions such as the Impressions of England or The Deserted Village, after Goldsmith is a debatable matter.

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