Sunday, 26 October 2014

Arthur Butterworth: ‘The Night Wind on the Desolate Moor in Winter’ from The Moors Suite, Op.26

In 1960 Arthur Butterworth composed ‘The Moors’, Suite for large orchestra and organ, op. 26, which was specifically written for the BBC Northern Orchestra in Manchester. At that time the Head of Music was Paul Huband and the chief producer, was the composer, David Ellis. I understand that the work was 'pro bono' and not a paid commission.
The Suite evoked the spirit of the moors during the four seasons under various meteorological conditions. The composer told me that it was the result of many hours spent in his youth, walking the moors between Oldham and Huddersfield which was, and still is, a wild tract of country.
The work was conceived in four sizable movements – 1. ‘Moorland Dawn in early Spring,’ 2. ‘The Pageantry of Sun and Cloud on the High Hills at Midsummer,’ 3.  ‘The Mist on the Bleak Grey Moor at Twilight in Autumn,’ and 4. ‘The Night Wind on the Desolate Moor in Winter’. 
It is possible to hear the final movement on YouTube. This is billed as being played by the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rupert d’Cruze. There is no date of the performance given. However, I do wonder if this extract is not actually played by the Huddersfield Philharmonic. I look forward to being corrected.
I have not heard the entire work: I am not sure that it has been performed recently. The sound-world of the YouTube extract is truly impressive and creates one of the best tone-pictures that I have heard: it is a truly scary experience. The orchestration is masterly and creates an impressionistic painting of the bleak northern landscape.
The Moors’, Suite was first performed at a concert conducted by Stanford Robinson in January 1963. Arthur Butterworth told me that the work was performed a few times in the early 1960s including by the Huddersfield Philharmonic with both the composer and Rupert d’Cruze conducting separate performances. It was also heard in Manchester Town Hall at a Friday midday concert with the BBC Northern Orchestra featuring the once-splendid Cavaille-Coll organ there. Alas, this great instrument has been allowed to deteriorate into an almost unplayable state. (See this YouTube Video for a heart-breaking view of this organ as it is now). I do understand that there is a society working to restore it, however their web page is almost unreadable due to a plethora of 'pop-up' ads. 
Based on this last movement of Arthur Butterworth’s, ‘The Moors’, Suite, op.26 I believe that a full professional recording is demanded. For all intents and purposes this work appears to be a symphony by any other name. 


Paul Serotsky said...

John - you're right, this was indeed played, not by the "Slawit" but by the Huddersfield Phil. The performance took place on 23 April 1994.

Between about 1984 and 2002, I broadcast almost all of the HPO's concerts live on the hospitals radio network and, as a matter of course, I recorded them (on Dolby C cassettes). There is thus a fair possibility that the Youtube item is one of my recordings.

However Mike Briggs, who was the HPO's principal trumpet, and who happened to run a recording studio, sometimes "doubled up" (using equipment of which hard-up hospital radio groups could only dream). From the sound, I suspect that this Youtube piece probably originated from one of his recordings, although it COULD be mine, somewhat "tarted up" by some wave-editing application.

Not that it matters. I still have all those recordings, and would be more than happy to let you have a copy of the complete "Moors" suite (I could even "tart it up" a bit for you!).

Incidentally, Arthur said that his specific inspiration for this finale was a nighttime drive home over the moors through a blizzard; seeing pretty well nothing but whirling snowflakes rushing at him through his headlamp beams was, he recalled, one of the most terrifying experiences he'd ever suffered. Listening to the music, I have no trouble whatsoever believing him!

The confusion over the orchestra might arise from the fact that Arthur himself conducted the SPO in his "Dales Suite" less than two years earlier, on 17 October 1992.


Neale said...

Hello. I just wanted to write a brief note to compliment you on your exemplary blog: it has been both an invaluable resource and a constant source of pleasure to read. Congratulations.

John France said...

Thanks for that Paul, & yes I would love a copy of the complete Moorlands Suite.



John France said...

Dear 'Neale'

Thank-you for the the lovely compliment