Thursday, 30 January 2014

Ronald Binge: Faire Frou-Frou

Most enthusiasts of British Light music will know the name of Ronald Binge for his masterly Elizabethan Serenade with its gentle evocation of an era long past as well as portraying an optimistic future under our present Queen. Other listeners may have been enchanted by the coquettish Miss Melanie or have nodded off hearing ‘Sailing By’ just before the BBC Home Service/Radio 4 late-night Shipping Forecast. However, fewer will have encountered the subtle musical picture of the most famous venues of Parisian night-life explored in Faire Frou-Frou.
When I was last in Paris, I went for a walk past the Folies Bergère in the Rue Richer in the 9 arrondissement: unfortunately I did not venture into one of the famous cabaret shows. This traditional Parisian music-hall epitomises nearly a century and a half of exotic entertainment. Few people will be unaware of the legendary Can-Can dancers as pictured by (amongst many others) the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the composer Jaques Offenbach.
I am not sure what Binge’s definition of ‘Frou Frou’ was. Perhaps it was the nick-name of a dancer at the Folies? Or maybe a character from a Belle-Époque novel or play.  The dictionary definition is more prosaic- ‘Fussy or showy dress or ornamentation’. This would be a good definition of the archetypical Can-Can dress.  Internet browsers will hardly be surprised to find the Faire Frou-Frou is now the trade name of a prestigious French lingerie manufacturer.
Ronald Binge has chosen to present a slightly more reserved picture of the Folies Bergère than Offenbach did. However, the rhythm of the Can-Can underlies the proceedings. The second section of this episodic work has an allusion to the French national anthem. However, after exploring a number of lively moods the main dance theme returns and brings the work to a subtle rather than boisterous close.

Faire Frou-Frou was published as a piano piece by Inter-Art Music Publishers in 1957. Band/orchestra parts are available from Josef Weinberger. The work (as far as I can tell) has only been released on the Marco Polo retrospective of Binge’s music. (8.223515)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Ernest Tomlinson: 'Fairy Coach' & 'Cinderella Waltz'

A few weeks ago I posted about Ernest Tomlinson’s delightful ‘Little Serenade’ which is justly regarded as one of his most popular works.  The piece was derived from some incidental music written for a radio play, with the ‘book’ by Roy Plumley and libretto by Henrik Ege, called The Story of Cinderella. This was broadcast on Christmas Eve 1955. What I had not realised is that two more numbers from this production are also available on CD. What was more galling is that this disc is in my collection! These two other ‘survivals are the ‘Fairy Coach' and the ‘Cinderella Waltz’.  
The ‘Fairy Coach’ opens with the magical sound of bells which soon turns into a lively canter: light syncopation makes this all the more charming. Tomlinson is a great orchestrator, making considerable use of woodwind, romantic strings, and percussion. The beauty of a radio play is that the magical transformation is all done in the listeners head. It is so easy to transform a pumpkin into a coach, six white mice into horses, lizards into footmen and a rat into the coachman.  The music suggests a an opulent, sparkling, golden coach that is fairly bowling down the road to the Prince’s palace. The stars are in the sky and the frost glistens in the trees…
The ‘Cinderella Waltz’ is major accomplishment by any standards. This music is often reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music and the waltz from his Eugene Onegin. One listener has detected an allusion to the ‘waltz’ from Khachaturian’s Masquerade, the suite of which had appeared in 1944.  Whatever the precedents, this is a beautifully wrought waltz that has all the characteristics demanded of that romantic moment when Prince Charming dances with Cinderella.
I wonder if any more extracts from this radio play will surface?  Whatever the case, the three pieces that are recorded are worthy of the composer, and create a magical impression on the listener.
The ‘Fairy Coach’ and the ‘Cinderella Waltz’, conducted by Ernest Tomlinson, can be heard on Marco Polo 8.223413. The Waltz is also available on ‘The Golden Age of Light Music: The 1950’s Volume 5 ‘Sunny Side Up’’ GLCD5142.                  


Friday, 24 January 2014

Percy Whitlock: The Ballet of the Wood Creatures

The Ballet of the Wood Creatures is a deliciously scored miniature wholly in the tradition of British light music. Straight away on the opening one is reminded of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music, then somehow it slips effortlessly into a delicious essay of all that is best in miniature writing. The scoring is delightful - with lovely gentle cymbal clashes creating the emphasis in a typically 'light' tune. The woodwinds are playing little figurations like falling leaves or perhaps chirruping insects. Every now and again there is an image of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. And I suppose this is what it is all about. The wood creatures are not specified, however it is quite manifestly an adult looking at the 'magic' woods with the wistful eye of a man slowly approaching middle age. I should not wonder that these 'creatures' speak. I could imagine this music being used to accompany a 'dance' based on Wind in the Willows. Another work that springs to mind, not only in this piece but in much of Percy Whitlock's other orchestral music is the incidental music to ‘'Where the Rainbow Ends' by Roger Quilter. It has the same pensive qualities. I mentioned Mendelssohn, and it is actually quite strange that Whitlock chooses a 'motto' from the Hebridean Overture. The piece ends rather wistfully. Perhaps the creatures have gone to sleep?
The piece was reworked shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. It belies the imminent crisis in its innocent portrayal of a magic wood. It is just too short, and one is constantly wishing for another movement. What a pity that Whitlock did not compose a full ballet. It would have been a treasure.

Percy Whitlock’s The Ballet of the Wood Creatures is available on Marco Polo 8.225162

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford The Complete Organ Works Vol. 1

Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Fantasia and Toccata, Op.57 (1894) Sonata No.1 in F, Op. 149 (1917) Six Preludes, Op.88:  Minuet; Chaconne; Prelude (in the form of a Toccata); Prelude on the Easter Hymn; Pastorale; Prelude on Tallis's Canon, Op. 88 (c.1903) Sonata No. 2, Op. 151 (1917)
Daniel Cook (The Organ of Salisbury Cathedral)
Priory PRCD1095

The organ works of Charles Villiers Stanford are not a part of his output with which I am familiar. Over the years I have explored the symphonies, concertos, songs, liturgical and chamber music, however apart from a few preludes and postludes heard in church and cathedral I have not discovered the works presented on this CD.
Stanford was involved with the ‘King of Instruments’ throughout most of his career, and was himself an organist for many years. If we assume that his composing career was from 1877 until his death in 1924, it is a fact that most of his organ works were written in the second half of this period. 

The opening ‘Fantasia and Toccata in D minor’, Op.57 is the earliest organ work in Stanford’s catalogue: it was penned in July 1894, but was not published until 1902.  This piece is very much in the ‘classical style’ with allusions to Bach’s ‘Fantasia and Fugue in G minor’ BWV 542 and the ‘Dorian’ Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538. However, this is not a parody of Bach: Stanford has created a romantic mood derived from Mendelssohn and Brahms. The Fantasia has some powerful music, but there is also a delicious middle section that exploits the softer string tones of the organ.  The Toccata, which is introduced by pedal solo, becomes a veritable ‘warhorse’ as the music moves dynamically toward its massive full-organ close. This is a substantial piece that displays the organ at Salisbury to an impressive degree.

The Six Preludes were begun in 1903 and were published over the next couple of years. According to Jeremy Dibble these were ‘conceived as six essays in distinctive style-forms which could be performed separately but could also be played as a cohesive set’.
The first is ‘in [the] Form of a Minuet’. This is a quiet, reserved piece that is really a pastoral or an idyll:  the ‘trio’ section is a little livelier with delightful rippling figurations. The second prelude is ‘in [the] Form of a Chaconne. There are ten variations with the ‘ground bass’ presented variously by each hand and the pedals.  Prelude No.3 is a short Toccata in ternary form: the boisterous outer parts are complemented by a ‘chorale like’ trio.  ‘On the Easter Hymn’ is a fine chorale-prelude on the well loved hymn ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today.’ There are nods to Wagner’s Meistersingers in the progress of this piece. The fifth Prelude is ‘In [the] form of a Pastorale.’ This is not some English music-revival type of confection, but owes its inspiration to Handel and possibly the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ from Messiah. It is a beautiful, moving piece that is full of the magic and reverence of Christmas and the Birth of Jesus in a manger. It is surely one of the most delightful miniatures from Stanford’s pen. The final Prelude is ‘a tranquil meditation on Tallis’s Canon for the second evening hymn ‘Glory to Thee, My God, this night.’ This is ‘night music’ that is ideal for Evensong.
Each one of these ‘Six Preludes’ reveals Stanford at his best. These should be listened to at one sitting, as they are largely complementary. However any of them can be used individually for Divine Worship.

Much could, and probably should, be written about Charles Villiers Stanford’s Five Organ Sonatas. These pieces, which were written between 1917 and 1921, are little-known to organ music enthusiasts. So far, I have had the opportunity of listening to the first two which are presented on this CD: I look forward to getting to grips with the following three. My overall impression is of highly competent and characteristic writing for the instrument. This is presented in what was probably at the time of composing a slightly outdated musical language. Yet this does not really matter – it is the quality and the content that matter: not the stylistic provenance.  I am surprised that these works are not in the general repertoire as they are often as impressive as those infinitely better-known symphonies written by the Frenchmen Vierne and Widor.

Sonata No.1 in F major, Op.149 was completed in May 1917 and was dedicated to the composer’s old friend Alan Gray. Like all of the organ sonatas, this is in three movements. The liner notes suggest that this work looks back to the Basil Harwood’s C sharp minor Sonata which was in turn was influenced by Joseph Rheinberger.
The opening ‘allegro’ is in sonata form with a good contrast between the two principal subjects. The second movement opens with some delightful filigree passages. Later, the mood changes and becomes more aggressive. After a climax, the quieter music reprises. This movement is signed as ‘tempo di menuetto’ yet there are more serious things at stake here. The finale is effectively an ‘introduction and fugue’. The liner notes point out that there is a reference to the opening movement in the last pages of this Sonata.

The Second Sonata was completed in August of 1917 and was dedicated ‘to Charles Marie Widor and the great country to which he belongs.’  This is a ‘war’ sonata in its content and substance. Charles Porte has noted that it was inspired by the heroism of France in the ‘terrible and costly struggle’ against the invading German army.  The opening movement is subtitled ‘Rheims’ after the cathedral that was badly damaged in an artillery bombardment. This is music that seems to embrace both patriotism and solemnity. The second movement is a funeral march of considerable depth and thoughtfulness. The finale, ‘Verdun, 1916’ is largely heroic without being ‘triumphant’ or ‘jingoistic.’ This is immense, powerful, almost frightening music that is at one and the same time inspiring and deeply moving. Stanford orchestrated the last two movements which were later performed at an Albert Hall Sunday afternoon concert during 1918.

Daniel Cook, until recently, was Organist and Master of the Choristers at St David’s Cathedral. He had a considerable involvement in the Cathedral Festival.  In 2013 Daniel Cook was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. In September he took up the post of Sub-organist at Westminster Abbey. He is currently artistic director of Mousai Singers. Cook has recorded a number of CDs for Priory Records, including the complete works (all on-going) of Herbert Brewer, Herbert Sumsion and the present composer. He recently released a fine recording of the organ at St Mary’s, Cullercoats in Northumberland.  

The sound quality of this present CD is impressive. It passes my ‘recorded organ music test’ of giving the impression of being in the nave of the cathedral whilst actually sitting in my chair in the music room. The liner notes are by Professor Jeremy Dibble who has contributed so much to the scholarship of Victorian and Edwardian composers. It is a considerable essay that examines each work in detail. The CD booklet includes the all-important specification for the organ at Salisbury Cathedral. This instrument was installed in 1877 by ‘Father’ Henry Willis and in spite of a series of rebuilds, cleans and restorations, this organ sounds exactly like the day it was built.  John Stainer believed that this was ‘even finer than the organ Father Willis had designed for St Paul’s in 1872.  The organ builder himself considered that it was his finest creation.
This is a fascinating first instalment of what promises to be a major contribution to the recorded repertoire of Charles Villiers Stanford. I guess that there will be a further two or three CDs released before this collection is complete. I, for one, cannot wait for Volume 2.

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Greville Cooke: Cormorant Crag and other piano works

Ever since discovering a mimeographed copy of Greville Cooke’s Cormorant Crag in the pages of the British Music Society Journal (Volume 04, 1982), I have regarded it as one of my musical aims in life to hear that piece. It is an evocative title that appeals to my sense of the picturesque. A study of the score reveals sea-music of the first order in a style that is romantic, nods to Bax and is deliberately overblown.   It is way beyond my technical prowess (Grade 6⅓) on the piano so there is no potential for me to play it through with the notes in right or even the wrong order.
Fortunately, the pianist Duncan Honeybourne has come to the rescue in a big way. On 27 April, he is giving a lecture recital, entitled Reef’s End: The Piano Music of Greville Cooke’ in Leominster as a part of a series of Sunday afternoon events that the pianist organises there.
On 24 May, Honeybourne is due to give a recital at the English Music Festival where he will play a number of Cooke’s essays, including ‘Cormorant Crag’, ‘Reef’s End’, ‘High Marley Rest’ and ‘Whispering Willows’.  Other works at this performance will include Frank Bridge’s ‘revolutionary’ Sonata, Ivor Gurney’s ‘Five Western Watercolours’, Ernest Farrar’s Miniature Suite and two works by the forgotten Irish composer Archy Rosenthal.
Duncan Honeybourne is also due to record much of Cooke’s piano music for EM Records –‘Greville Cooke: A Forgotten English Romantic’. This album will be released (hopefully) in time for the Festival. The recording is being made at the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton. I understand that the disc will include the rarely heard ‘Six Teaching Pieces’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which was later ‘rebranded’ as A Little Piano Book The ‘Nocturne’ by Gustav Holst is also on the batting list.

It is hugely encouraging when a composer is rediscovered. Looking at the piano scores of Greville Cooke’s music that are in my collection, I believe that listeners and concertgoers will not be disappointed. Certainly, based on the superb performance that this pianist has given in his recent retrospective of E.J. Moeran’s piano music, this promises to be an exciting project. Perhaps I can encourage Duncan Honeybourne to investigate the equally fascinating piano music of Harry Farjeon and Leo Livens?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Charles Villiers Stanford: Part Songs

Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir/Paul Spicer
SOMM CD0128 Track Listings are at the end of the review.  

Three things can be said in introduction to this excellent new CD from SOMM (for the concerns I have, see below). Firstly, looking at the catalogue of Charles Villiers Stanford’s part-songs reveals that he wrote around a hundred examples of the genre. The earliest was ‘Six Part Songs’ Op.33 which I believe is still in manuscript and the last was possibly ‘Lady May’ written in 1924 for two-part women’s voices. Most of the remainder have been published.
Secondly, Stanford’s taste in literature was eclectic, although possibly not quite as wide-ranging as that of Hubert Parry. Major poets that he ‘set’ as part-songs include John Milton, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Michael Drayton, Thomas Moore and Mary Coleridge, as well as a variety of ‘Elizabethan’ verse. If one examines his major choral works, the poets include Swinburne, Longfellow and Henry Newbolt. It could be argued that much of this literature was ‘Victorian’ however there is considerable diversity amongst the output of these authors.
And thirdly, Stanford has composed most of his part-songs in a trajectory from the secular English madrigal. Jeremy Dibble has summed up the composer’s achievement by noting that he ‘shows a sensitivity for handling voices, and an understanding of how choral texture, harmony, assonance, polyphony and vocal contour can accentuate the meaning of a text.’ These facets have been a feature of the best of English part-songs since Morley and Dowland. Traditionally ‘part-songs’ (as opposed to madrigals) were composed in a largely homophonic style. However, many of Stanford’s essays’ include a deal of polyphony that makes for variety of texture and sound. It is this increasing complexity of musical content that sets Stanford’s part-songs apart from some of the post Mendelssohnian ‘four-part harmony exercise’ type of composition which prevailed in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
I do not wish to explore each of the works presented here, save to make one comment. My favourite number is ‘A blue bird’. To my mind this is the most perfect fusion of words and music ever achieved by a British composer. It is given a memorable performance on this CD.

The organisation and presentation of the programme on this CD troubled me greatly. The track-listing gives only the title of each song. There is no reference to the date of composition or the source of the text. But more worrying is the fact that the opus numbers or titles of the ‘collection’ from which these part-songs are extracted are not stated.  I concede that much of this information is given in the liner notes but these are in a fairly small font and the listener has to carefully search for the required fact.
I am not sure what the principle behind selecting the songs for this CD was? Glancing at my annotations to the track-listings above shows that it was certainly not chronological or by ‘collection.’  Even the ‘Eight Part-Songs’ Op. 119, which are given in their entirety are spread out over the ‘batting list’ and are not given in the order presented in the score.
I happen to be a Stanford enthusiast. I have at my disposal various books, catalogues and articles that have allowed me to piece together exactly what is on this disc, where it came from and when it was written. Even now, I am not sure that I have got it all correct: this is a review, not a dissertation. Most listeners will not bother carry out this research.
I am guessing that Paul Spicer and/or the producer selected this programme based on contrast between songs in order to make for satisfying listening. However, this is not the way I would recommend anyone to explore this CD. Seventy-five minutes and twenty-five songs are more than enough for anyone to take at a single sitting. Most people would approach this disc by selecting their ‘favourites’ or titles that ‘appeal’. If I had been devising the programme I would have opted for a chronological selection. Where possible I would have included all the songs in each collection, unless there was a very good musical reason to omit it. I would also have maintained the published order within each collection.

This is a finely recorded CD.  The performance by the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir under their conductor Paul Spicer, has taken these twenty-five numbers extremely seriously. I guess there is always a danger of singing Victorian and Edwardian part-songs with ones’ tongue firmly in one’s cheek. This is a pitfall that has been studiously avoided.
These songs are beautifully paced, always allowing the attractive part-writing and subtle play on traditional harmony to dominate the performance. The diction of the words is perfect: I had no need to refer to the enclosed text to understand the burden of any of these settings. However, it is always nice to browse the poems ‘offline’ as it were. The breadth of this collection makes for a lovely ‘anthology’ of English poetry.
I am not sure just how many of these part-songs are currently available in score – I guess that some will be ‘anthologised’ in a number of publications’ whilst I know that ‘Heraclitus’ and ‘The blue bird’ are still in print or ‘online’. The preparation of this CD must have involved much exploration in the ‘music library’ to uncover these treasures.
I noted above that the liner notes contain the texts: there is also an excellent introductory essay by the scholar Jeremy Dibble which is well-worth reading. Included are good mini-biographies of Paul Spicer and the Choir. A French translation of the essay is also provided.  A couple of photographs of C.V.S. and the choir would have been a bonus.

Apart from my reservations about the ‘programme’ and the track details, this is a highly desirable CD. I accept that ‘part-songs’ may not be to everyone’s taste but I think that this is a genre that could regain some of its lost popularity. All Stanford enthusiasts will be delighted to purchase this CD, as it offers a chance to hear some largely forgotten music by the ‘master.’  I would love to have been able to conclude my review by stating that I am looking forward to the next volume in the near future. But I fear, is not to be. Hoping for the ‘complete’ part-songs was just hoping a little too much. Meanwhile, we should be grateful for what has been given us. It is essential listening of all lovers of Charles Villiers Stanford and of British choral music.

‘Time’ Op.142 (1914) [5:40]                                   
Four Part Songs Op.110 No.4, ‘Heraclitus’ (c.1909)
To Chloris (1873)
Six Elizabethan Pastorals Op.49 Set I, No.2, ‘Corydon, arise!’ (1892)
Eight Part-songs Op. 119 No. 6,  ‘The swallow’ (1910)]
Six Elizabethan Pastorals Op.53 Set II, No.3, ‘Praised be Diana’ (1894)
Six Elizabethan Pastorals Op.53 Set II, No.2,  ‘Like desert woods’ (1894)
Six Elizabethan Pastorals Op.49 Set, I, No.1,  ‘To his flocks’ (1892)
Six Elizabethan Pastorals Op.53 Set II, No.1, ‘On a hill there grows a flower’, (1894)
Eight Part-songs Op. 119 No. 3, ‘The blue bird’ (1910)
Six  Elizabethan Pastorals Op.67 Set III,  No.3,  ‘Shall we go dance?’ (1897)
Eight Part-songs Op.127 No.3,  ‘When Mary thro' the garden went’ (1910)
Six Elizabethan Pastorals Op.49 No.3, ‘Diaphenia’ (1892)
Eight Part-songs Op.127 No.4, The haven (1910)
Three Part-songs Op.111 No.1, ‘A lover's ditty’ (c.1908)
Choral Song Op.97 ‘God and the Universe’ (1906)
‘Peace, come away’ (1892)
Four Part-songs Op.110, ‘A dirge’ (c.1909)
Choral Songs in Honour of Her Majesty Queen Victoria , ‘Out in the windy West’ (1899) [4:50]
Eight Part Songs Op. 119, No.1, ‘The witch’] No.2, ‘Farewell, my joy!’ No.4, ‘The train’, No.5, ‘The inkbottle’ No.7, ‘Chillingham’ No.8, ‘My heart in thine’ (1910)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Adam Saunders: Overture Pirates Ahoy!

I first came across ‘pirates’ in Morecambe when I was about 5 years old.  Amongst many happy days spent playing cricket on the wide expanse of sand, exploration of Happy Mount Park, excursions on the miniature railway and splashing in the lido was Moby Dick. This was an old cargo schooner that had been built just down the coast at Glasson Dock in 1887 as the ‘Ryelands’.  In the late nineteen–forties she had been purchased by Disney/RKO and appeared as the Hispaniola in the 1950 film version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island starring Robert Newton.  Four years later she was again used as the Pequod in the movie Moby Dick featuring Gregory Peck. The music for that film was by the British ‘classical’ composer Philip Sainton.  In 1960 she was moored in Morecambe opposite to Brucciani’s (a well-known café and ice cream parlour) and became a popular tourist attraction. 
My father took me on board the ‘Moby Dick’ on numerous occasions. I seem to recall that there was a model-railway ‘down below’. However, my imagination was exercised exploring the decks, holding the ships wheel, and hoping that somehow the vessel would quite suddenly put out to sea, head across Morecambe Bay, past Barrow-in-Furness, bound for the Spanish Main. For me this was indeed a pirate ship and not a schooner.

Adam Saunders has told me that his Overture: Pirates Ahoy was written in 2006 especially for the Dutton Epoch CD British Light Music Premieres: Volume 4. This disc was recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland.  The Overture was intended to be an ‘entertaining and fun-filled concert overture, depicting different aspects of life on board the pirate ship - from swashbuckling adventures with sword fights and canon-fire to humorous adventures on-board ship, with the stowaway 'little hero' having his own mini-adventures, with an element of mischief!’
The Overture is about five minutes long. It opens with swirling ‘sea-music’ that suggests the pirates approaching, the skull and crossbones flying, from over the horizon on a stormy day. The brass section delivers a strong nautical tune. The pace settles down a bit. I assume that even pirates have some down time or R&R. Traces of the hornpipe suggest merry-making, and I detect the bassoon pointing out that some AB has been at the rum ration... Naturally, pirates in real-life were not quite as romantic as Hollywood (and Saunders) portray. However, this really does not matter- this is an overture for the imagination. What impressed me most about this short piece was the orchestral colouring which, in my opinion, is masterly.
This is an impressive piece that surely deserves its place in concerts, especially where younger listeners are being targeted. I wonder if there is a brass-band version of this piece in the composer’s mind. Then it could indeed be played on the ‘prom’ by the local town band.
Adam Saunders was born in Derby in 1968 and subsequently studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won a number of prizes for musical composition.  His focus as a composer is divided between the concert hall and media including television and film.  He writes a deal of library music, which can be used by producers to give a suitable background to their screen-plays.  Saunders has had works performed by leading British and European orchestras including the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Other works that have been recorded include the 'Comedy Overture' on British Light Overtures Volume 3 (ASV White Line WHL 2140), the 'Fairy-tale Sleigh-ride' on Another Night before Christmas (Naxos 8.572744) and 'The Magical Kingdom' on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7147 (incorrectly titled 'The Magic Kingdom').
Finally, the Moby Dick (Ryelands) was destroyed by fire in (c.)1972.  I am sure that it was the end of swash-buckling, sea-faring dreams for many ‘children’ young and old. At least Adam Saunders’s Overture captures much of the magic and the memories.
Adam Saunders’ Overture: Pirates Ahoy can be heard on Dutton Epoch British Light Music Overtures Volume 4 CDLX 7190. It is available now as a download only, although second hand copies can be secured.  

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Arnold Bax: Magician by Yorke Bannard,

This short article was published in The Musical Standard October 13, 1917. It was written at a time when Arnold Bax was beginning to establish a reputation for himself. However it was before the composer had declared himself as a symphonist. The article needs little commentary, however I have provided a handful of footnotes.  I have also provided new musical examples.

Arnold Bax is a front bencher in our English Musical Constitution. In that Constitution he represents the Celtic West. He is to our music what W. B. Yeats is to our literature.
There are two elements at work in Bax- the classic and the Celtic. The former is seen in an honest love of fact, scholarship, fidelity to Nature; the latter stands revealed in love of colour, emotion, sentiment, quickness of perception, a pressing onward towards the impalpable, the ideal. The classic stream and the Celtic current met in his person; skill and scholarship are carried away into the mysterious atmosphere of Celtic mythology. Nearly all his orchestral works, as he himself states, are ‘based upon aspects and moods of external nature and their relation to human emotion’ [1]-the very essence of Celtism.
Bax's quick feeling for what is noble and distinguished, his abhorrence of the commonplace, gives his music style -not an acquired manner or mannerism, not a conscious eccentricity, but a full pressure of personal force. There is life behind it, the life of the mind. His personality gives it passion. His sensibility, his soul, gives it fairy charm and magic. Youthfulness is on his side, not the youthfulness of immaturity, but the youthfulness of a spirit that has strengthened itself in the joy of the earth and all its immeasurable liberations. No mere journeyman, he breaks away from the bondage of existing formulae. His music breathes freedom. There is space in it, and height, and depth.  It contains within it the sense of enlargement and enfranchisement and' 'escape.
Bax was born in 1883. In 1900 he entered the R.A.M. where for five years he worked at composition under that distinguished professor-Frederick Corder. As early as 1903 [2] he made his debut as a composer. Since that date a ‘Celtic Song Cycle,’ an orchestral work, Spring Fire, a Piano Quintet, a most exquisite orchestral poem, ‘The Garden of Fand’, and many other works of rare merit have fallen from his prolific pen.
Amongst pianists his popularity is largely assured by four solos [3]- ‘In a Vodka. Shop,’ ‘The Princess's Rose Garden,’ ‘Sleepy Head’ and ‘Apple-blossom time,’ These four pianistic productions reveal Bax at his best. ‘In a Vodka Shop’ breaks away from the old ideas of rhythmic outline; its time signature is free, containing sometimes six, generally seven, and rarely eight crotchets to the bar. A coarse roughness is intended throughout, as seen in the following quotation, fairly representative of the whole.
 
This element of unhewn bareness and rude simplicity gains in strength and character by being sandwiched between passages of lighter and more delicate texture, There is a certain recklessness of speed and movement throughout it, but everything is safe and so its general effectiveness is delightfully fresh and stimulating.
There is natural magic about the second number-‘The Princess's Rose Garden.’ The spirit and ecstasy of the movement are captured and ‘photographed’ in a wonderfully near and vivid way. Magic is the one word for it- the magic of Nature; not mere realism so typical of the German school, nor a laboured beauty of Nature so much in evidence in much of modern French creative art; but the intimate life of Nature, her weird power and captivating charm. It is large in idea and in treatment, full of big beautiful melody, growing from elaborate details which conveys the richly coloured blooms of a soft June landscape; while overall hangs a veil of mystery and melancholy, suggesting that the latter pages in the book of summer have been reached and that the season of death and decay is fast approaching. ,
A soft twilight pervades ‘Sleepy-head.’ There is just light enough to make the trees magic and the pavements shine like silver, and darkness enough to make shadows velvety, purple, and full of errant fancies. In the language of the Lotos-eaters [4]:
‘There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass…
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.’

Here are the opening bars:-
 

"Apple-blossom-time" is interesting, playful, very direct, in short, almost choppy phrases, with a quiet section for variety set in the middle. There is, perhaps, something crude in its vigour; but tenderness there is too, deep and lovely, as at the end where the music dies down after the exuberant climax of the central section:
  

These four pieces should be far more widely played than they are. All advanced pianists should know them. As studies of modern art they are of extreme value; as pieces of music they are magnificent.
           
[1] This quotation seems to be derived from the earliest article published about Arnold Bax in the Monthly Musical Record 1 November 1915.
[2] Bax’s first composition was ‘Butterflies all White’ for voice and piano, composed in 1896.
[3] The four piano pieces discussed were composed as follows: ‘In a Vodka Shop’ (Jan 22nd 1915) dedicated ‘To Tania’ –Harriet Cohen. Although the printed score is inscribed ‘To Miss Myra Hess.’ It was subsequently orchestrated in 1919 as a part of the 'Russian Suite'.  ‘The Princess’s Rose Garden’ was dated Jan 9th -13th 1915 on the manuscript.  It was dedicated 'To Tania'.  ‘Sleepy Head’ was the only piece that Bax dedicated to his wife, Elsita. It was written c.1915 (May 24th 1915 on the printed score)  'Apple-Blossom Time' was dedicated to the composer/artist S.H. Braithwaite. The printed score carries the date May 1915.
[4] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘The Song of the Lotos-eaters’, 1833.

These four piano pieces can be heard performed by a variety of pianists. Perhaps, Ashely Wass on Naxos is a good place to begin exploration. They are on Naxos 8.557439 and 8.557769  

An Important New Study of Sir Hamilton Harty by Jeremy Dibble

Hamilton Harty: Musical Polymath Jeremy Dibble
Boydell Press, Boydell and Brewer ,390pp
ISBN: 9781843838586
£45.00

I still find it incredible that my late father met Sir Hamilton Harty. It was after we had been listening to the composer’s Piano Concerto on the radiogram that he casually mentioned the story. One afternoon (c.1932) he had come home from school (in Audenshaw) and had been shown into the ‘parlour’ and introduced to Harty who had been visiting my grandfather ‘on business.’ Unfortunately, at about 11 years old my father did not grasp what this ‘business’ was. My grandfather was a part-time stage manager at a Manchester theatre, and was also a point of contact for organising Cheshire and East Lancs performances of Messiah, so I can only assume that this may have had something to do with amateur musical life in the area. It is a story I have long conjured with. Other visitors to the house apparently included Gracie Fields, George Formby and Arthur Askey.

For most music-lovers Hamilton Harty is probably just a name – if that. For habitués of the Hallé he will be recalled as having re-established this orchestra as one of the finest in Europe. For enthusiasts of British music he may be remembered for his romantic Piano Concerto or his heart-achingly beautiful tone poem With the Wild Geese. Many will know the ‘The Fair Day’ from his symphony without being aware of who composed it.

Jeremy Dibble has made a major contribution to British musical scholarship. Major studies include the critical biographies of Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, John Stainer and most recently the ‘honorary Irish’ composer and pianist Michele Esposito. Amongst his other achievements are editions of music by Parry and Stanford. He is the author of many articles and CD liner notes.  Jeremy Dibble is currently Professor of Music at Durham University.
This impressive biographical study of Hamilton Harty and his achievement is a timely re-discovery of one of the most important and charismatic figures in British music. It is the first major biography of this composer/conductor to be published.

It will come as little surprise that the literature directly concerning Harty is sparse. Until the present book, the only major study was Hamilton Harty: his Life and Music (Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1978) edited by David Greer. This consists of a number of essays examining different facets of Harty’s career as composer and conductor. The same author has also issued a short book containing his Early Memories. Much important information concerning Harty is found in Michael Kennedy’s The Hallé Tradition (Manchester University Press, 1960). Grove’s Dictionary has been down-sizing the length of the dictionary article since the 1950s. The present entry runs to a mere 500 words: there is no list of works. 
Investigating the literature further, discloses many short articles and essays hidden in back-numbers of various music journals and newspapers. The Hallé archive in Manchester contains the administrative records and a complete run of programmes for the Harty years. The main autograph collection of the composer’s manuscripts is held at Queen’s University, Belfast.
For the general listener the most immediate source of information is contained in the liner-notes for the largely Chandos-oriented corpus of music that was recorded some 30 years ago with the Ulster Orchestra under Bryden Thomson. These were written by David Greer and provide considerable insight into the man and his music. Finally there is an excellent and highly detailed discography of Hamilton Harty’s own recordings compiled by John Hunt -More Musical Knights. Discographies of Hamilton Harty, Charles Mackerras, Simon Rattle & John Pritchard.
The Arkiv CD catalogue currently (December 2013) references some 25 discs featuring Harty’s music. The most popular works are his arrangement of the ‘Londonderry Air' and the tone-poem In Ireland. With the exception the Symphony, most other compositions that have been recorded are represented by single releases. There are also a baker’s dozen of discs featuring historical performances with Harty as conductor.

It will be helpful to give a thumbnail sketch of the composer to remind readers of his place in British music. Herbert Hamilton Harty was an Ulsterman born in Hillsborough, County Down on 4 December 1879.  At the age of 12 he was appointed organist at Magheracoll Church in County Antrim, He had further organ appointments in Belfast and Dublin and subsequently studied informally with the Italian émigré Michele Esposito at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. In 1900 Harty came to London where he soon gained a reputation as an accompanist and began to be considered a composer. He directed operas at Covent Garden and orchestral concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1904 Harty married the soprano Agnes Nicholls.
During the Great War, Harty conducted the Hallé Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall: in 1920 he accepted the appointment of Principal Conductor, a post he was to retain for 13 years. He made considerable improvements and established it as a world-class orchestra. His resignation in 1933 was acrimonious.  Thereafter, Harty worked with London-based orchestras giving concerts at home and abroad and making a number of recordings. 
Hamilton Harty had a wide range of musical interests: he is noted as an enthusiast of Berlioz and championed a number of modern (albeit musically conservative) British and American composers.  As a composer, Harty has a fair-sized catalogue of music. His ‘best-loved’ work is In Ireland –a tone poem arranged for orchestra or chamber ensemble. His Piano Concerto is a considerable achievement that unites the style of Rachmaninoff with an Irish temperament. Harty’s arrangements of Handel’s Water and Firework Music are attractive and satisfying if not particularly scholarly.  Sir Hamilton Harty died from cancer on 19 February 1941.

Hamilton Harty Musical Polymath is one of The Boydell Press’ ‘Music in Britain, 1600-2000’ series which is a developing collection of books addressing a variety of musical people, events and movements.  Recent volumes include monographs on William Lawes, the appreciation of Thomas Tallis in the nineteenth- century and the present author’s study of Sir John Stainer.
The basic format of the present book is a chronological survey of the Hamilton Harty’s life and works. This begins with his early life in Ireland and follows his career in London as an accompanist and then a composer. Two important chapters deal with Harty and the Hallé, which in many ways is the core of this book. Finally, his work with the London Symphony Orchestra, the tours to America and Australia and the late masterpiece The Children of Lir are addressed.
Primarily, this is a scholarly book that leads the reader beyond any superficial assessment of Harty’s achievement. Multiple trajectories of interest are implied by the sub-title of the book- Musical Polymath. Scholars, historians and general readers interested in British musical history will find much fascinating source material and helpful insights into a wide variety of topics. This includes an examination of Harty as accompanist, conductor, occasional controversialist, lover and composer. Important assessments are made of the influence of Irish culture on Harty’s work. Glancing at the index reveals that he knew virtually everyone in the early 20th century musical world. Many of these relationships are explored in detail. An examination is made of Hamilton Harty’s musical aesthetic, which struggled with modernist music but was open to other developments such as George Gershwin and his ‘American in Paris.’
From my own point of view, the critical examination of most of Harty’s compositions was my first port of call. This makes for a challenging assessment that is complimentary to the essays collected by Greer (1979).

One of the most poignant stories is that of the composer’s ill-fated ship-board romance with Lorie Irving Bolland. From Harty’s point of view, she was his ‘ideal’ woman however as both were married the affair was fated to come to naught.  In fact, she was the only woman that he truly loved. 
It is interesting to compare Dibble’s interpretation of Harty’s friendship with Olive Baguley. Michael Kennedy, in his book on the Hallé Orchestra (Manchester University Press 1982, p.17) notes Harty’s interest in administrative matters of the orchestra after the ‘installation of his mistress [my italics]...as secretary of the Society.’ This is an interpretation that Dibble challenges and points out that this view ‘caused outrage’ from Harty’s friends including Archie Camden, Maurice Johnstone and Olive Baguley herself. There is also a tantalising glimpse of a possible affair with the singer Elsie Swinton which was to end with her largely giving up her career.

When reviewing any book, I first turn to the appendices and the index. The ‘list of works’ is a striking part of this volume.  Dibble has sorted the works by genre and then chronologically. I take as an example the delightful ‘A Comedy Overture’ composed in 1901.  The work is given its German title, the opus number and key. The date of completion and, usefully, subsequent revision dates are given. From the point of view of the ‘reception history’ the date, venue and performers of the premiere is always helpful.  The location of the manuscript along with the publishers closes the entry. One detail omitted here, which is included in Greer (1979), is the instrumentation of the work. 
I never realised quite how much chamber music Harty composed. Although there has been a recent release of the first and second String Quartets (there was also an early quartet written in 1898) and the admirable Piano Quintet, there are still plenty of opportunities for adventurous trios or duos to ‘take up’ some of this music.  Almost completely lacking from CDs are any of Harty’s 39 songs and song cycles. Even the once ubiquitous ‘Sea Wrack’ seems to be unavailable.  The songs are listed here chronologically, and include the poet/author of the text set. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of these songs were composed between 1900 and the outbreak of the Great War. Only a few settings of Irish poets and folksongs were composed in later years. Included in the list of works are Harty’s ‘Articles, Broadcasts Lectures and other writing.’
I would have liked a detailed chronology of the composer, his life, times and compositions which would have been helpful in dovetailing the various facets of Harty’s career together.

The ‘Discography’ is a vital part of this book. The reader needs to be aware that this is listing of recordings made by Sir Hamilton Harty over his career and does not include subsequent recordings made of his music. The author acknowledges previous research by Cyril Ehrlich (Greer, 1978) C. Niss in ‘Le Grand Baton’ and John Hunt in his More Musical Knights (1997, 2009) The discography is conveniently divided into two major sections – Harty as conductor and as pianist. The listings are by composer and include dates (where known), work and catalogue numbers.  Interesting entries include Bax’s Overture to a Picaresque Comedy, the unissued Parry’s Blessed Pair of Sirens and William Walton’s First Symphony. I was surprised at how few of his own works the composer recorded – the inevitable ‘Londonderry Air’, ‘The Fair Day’ from the Symphony and ‘With the Wild Geese’.  Much of Harty’s contribution as a pianist is as accompanist to a small number of soloists including Agnes Nicholls and the cellist, W.H. Squire. For a charming example of this former partnership listen to Horatio Parker’s ‘The lark now leaves his watery nest’ on YouTube.
Bearing in mind the lack of studies of Hamilton Harty’s music, Jeremy Dibble has created an impressive bibliography. This encompasses books, articles and theses. It is interesting to note the considerable number of entries of the pioneer Harty scholar David Greer. The listings include radio broadcasts about the composer and also a helpful note on where the many concert programmes are located.
The index is divided into two sections – Harty’s works and a general index. This is detailed, essential and runs to some thirty pages of close- written text.

This well-bound, hardback book is printed in reasonable-sized font on quality paper.  Included in the text are 21 musical examples which are clearly produced and generally form a helpful addition to the argument. Orchestral extracts are given in ‘short score’ however the chamber music examples are printed in full.  There are seventeen black and white photographs presented between pages 112 and 113: these include rare examples of Harty conducting the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl and a performance of Elijah at Sydney Town Hall in 1934. I have not seen any of these before. There are three important text figures giving facsimiles of various Harty scores including the masterpiece, With the Wild Geese. Most of the illustrations are from the Harty Collection at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Copious footnotes provide a wealth of important detail including expansions of the text and citations and references. For example, Chapter 2 has some 136 footnotes. As I always read these notes, I am pleased that Jeremy Dibble has chosen this format rather than end-notes as I would not have enjoyed flicking back and forward between chapters or the end of the book.

Hamilton Harty Musical Polymath is priced at £45.00 which some readers may regard as expensive. However, for textbooks and monographs this is actually quite reasonable. The amount of effort put into the research of this book is clearly massive: the synthesis of this material is masterly and the presentation is ideal.

The secret of this book’s success is in the subtitle:  Hamilton Harty Musical Polymath. It is indispensable reading for anyone who is interested in his compositions, the influence that Harty had on orchestral playing and administration, especially with the Hallé, his enthusiasm for Mozart, his championship of Berlioz, Sibelius and Gershwin and his achievement as an instrumentalist and communicator. But the most important feature of this book is the exploration of Harty’s relationship with contemporary musicians.
Jeremy Dibble presents strong and coherent arguments to ensure Sir Hamilton Harty his place in the Valhalla of British conductors such as Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood and Malcolm Sargent.  It convincingly proves that Harty was a fine, if not great, composer and most important of all, he was an individual subject to the temptations, the prejudices and the failings of all mankind, but who transcended these to become one the great figures in British music.
John France December 2013 ©

Monday, 6 January 2014

Charles Villiers Stanford: The Complete Works for Violin & Piano

Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
CD1
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op. 11 (c.1877) Three Intermezzi, Op. 13 (1879) Legend (c.1893) Album Leaf (c.1899) Six Irish Dances, selected and arranged for violin and piano (c.1922/23) Five Bagatelles in valse form, Op. 183 (pub.1921)
CD2
Six Irish Fantasies, Op. 54 (1893) Five Characteristic Pieces, Op.93 (1905) Three Irish Airs, arranged for violin and piano (c.1922/23) Four Irish Dances, Op.89 Nos. 1, 3 & 4 (1917)
CD3
Six Irish Sketches, for violin and piano Op. 153 (1918) Six Irish Marches, selected and arranged for violin and piano (c.1922/23) An Ancient Melody, for violin and piano (c.1922/23) Planxty Sudley (c.1922/23) Six Sketches for violin and piano, Op.155 (pub.1918)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 70 (c.1897/8)
Alberto Bologni (violin) Christopher Howell (piano)
SHEVA SH100 
If this collection had arrived on my doorstep a few weeks earlier, it would have stood a great chance of being my MusicWeb International CD of 2013 (notwithstanding my devotion to RVWs The Solent). It is not that the music on this latest release from Sheva is ground-breaking or in some way requires rewriting the history of British chamber music. It is quite simply a stunning package of extremely effective, enjoyable and well-written works that claim our attention and guarantee pleasure and enjoyment.
The works presented on these CDs resolve into three broad groups. Firstly, there are the two Violin Sonatas, secondly there are the Irish-inspired pieces and lastly a selection of miscellaneous instrumental forms which include intermezzi, bagatelles and other ‘characteristic’ pieces.  I do not intend to discuss or analyse these pieces as this is done admirably in the liner notes.

There are three important points to make about this music. Firstly, as an inveterate completest, it is good to be able to explore everything that Charles Villiers Stanford composed for violin and piano. I must admit that I have not done a detailed examination of the catalogues in Jeremy Dibble and Paul Rodmell’s biographies of the composer, nor have I ticked-off against an earlier list (work in progress) by Frederick Hudson in the February 1964 edition of The Music Review. There are two works that are not included on this release –the Op.165 ‘Sonatas’ for violin with piano accompaniment written c.1919. These were never published and unfortunately the manuscript is missing. It is understood that they were not ‘duo’ sonatas as such but were works for violin solo with a piano accompaniment rather like for a song.
Secondly, it would be easy to suggest that Stanford’s violin and piano music is simply ‘warmed up’ Brahms. It is often assumed that he was in ‘hock’ to the elder composer and simply produced a body of music that was effectively Brahms with an Irish accent and an English stiff upper lip. It is clear from the Sonatas in particular that Beethoven and Schumann were also important influences. Christopher Howell points out that by the time Stanford wrote his Second Violin Sonata, he had assimilated Brahms’ three major sonatas written between 1878 and 1888. However Stanford’s earlier example was written without this understanding and is none the worse for that.  As for the Irish-inspired works I can do no better than quote George Bernard Shaw – he considered that these ‘made excellent fiddling, and gave us at their best points a sense of the thatched roof, the clay floor, the potcheen, and the entire absence of professional spirit proper to genuine Irish violinism.’  It may be an exaggeration and miss some of the subtle ‘classical’ poise that Stanford brings to these Irish Airs, Dances, Marches and Fantasies but we get the idea.
The third point is that Stanford wrote music for violin and piano throughout his career. The earliest work was the First Sonata, Op.11 which was composed in 1877 when he was 25 years old. The characteristic pieces such as the Bagatelles and the Sketches were written in the first years of the 20th century: these may be characterised as well-written ‘salon’ pieces.  The ‘Six Irish Dances’ and ‘Three Irish Airs’ were composed in the last few years of the Stanford’s life. There is little in the way of stylistic development in all these works, however the standard of invention, instrumentation and interest are consistently high.

The liner notes consist of a major ‘dissertation’ by Christopher Howell which includes a discussion of Stanford and the Violin. It is difficult to know what the composer’s ‘hands-on’ relationship with the violin actually was. Certainly contemporary sources suggest that he was competent, if not a virtuoso.  The second part of this considerable essay examines the composer’s relationships with violinists of his day such as Joseph Joachim and Herman Franke.  In 1904 the composer’s First Violin Concerto was played by Fritz Kreisler at the Leeds Festival.  Margaret Harrison made her debut with Stanford’s 1st Violin Concerto at the Royal College of Music in 1918.  Lady Hallé was the soloist in a number of Stanford’s chamber works including the Six Irish Fantasies with the ‘famous’ Caoine.
A dozen pages are given to a detailed, but not overly technical discussion of each work. This makes for fascinating reading, and I suggest a great deal of research and study has gone into this. It deserves perusal before approaching the individual works. I just wish the font size was a little larger.
One point is of interest: Christopher Howell notes that the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major was unpublished and ‘so far as known, unperformed until recently’. In actual fact it was first heard on Wednesday 7th December 1898 at the Curtius Club, meeting at the Prince’s Galleries in Piccadilly, London. The soloists were Johan Kruse and Fischer Sobell. I will provide contemporary reviews of this work at a later date on my blog.

One of the perennial problems of any ‘complete’ works is that the playing can be uneven. Three and three quarter hours is a large musical canvas to fill and it would hardly be surprising if some pieces were not prepared and practiced quite as well as others. However, this is not the case with these three discs. I was captivated with every number, most of which I have not heard before. The playing is always balanced and nuanced. The enthusiasm is palpable in every bar. I particularly enjoyed the many Irish-inspired pieces: these are all presented with a sense of native wit and ‘Celtic’ mood that belies Alberto Bologni’s Italian birth and background. Christopher Howells contribution as pianist is impressive. He maintains a perfect balance between soloist and accompanist. I think that Stanford’s piano writing is often underestimated:  here it is revealed to fine effect.
The sound quality of these CDs is excellent. Just occasionally I felt it was a little dry. But this is nit-picking.

My approach to these three discs with their 16 individual works or groups of pieces would be to explore them slowly. My strategy whilst reviewing was to play a ‘character piece’ back to back with one of the ‘Irish’ works. I listened to the Sonatas as a pair. As I noted above, there is nothing here that is particularly challenging for the listener. Yet, every piece is attractive, full of melodic felicitousness and harmonic delight. These are works that are interesting, often quite beautiful, and sometimes deeply moving. It ought to be in every Stanfordian’s record library, but must also appeal to all enthusiasts of chamber music. These works have an importance way beyond the banks of the Liffey and Albertropolis in South Kensington. They demand and deserve our study. 

Friday, 3 January 2014

1964-2014 – Great British Music reaching their Half-Centenary

1964 was another hugely impressive a year for new works by a whole variety of British and Commonwealth composers.  This ranges from the ‘elder statesman’, Havergal Brian, aged 87 who began his 22 Symphony and completed a Concerto for Orchestra and a Cello Concerto, to a very youthful Michael Finnissy presenting his ‘Song 6’ for ensemble. There was a wide variety of styles apparent, with contributions from the relatively conventional William Alwyn and Malcolm Arnold to the more experimental works of David Bedford and John Tavener. ‘The Manchester School’ of Alexander Goehr, Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies were also prolific. The young generation (under 25) were beginning to make their mark, with Michael Finnissy, Robin Holloway and the late John Tavener contributing important music. John McCabe seemed to have written a deal of music in this year, including the important Johannis-Partita, for organ.

Other senior composers still active in 1964 included Herbert Howells, Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Benjamin Frankel, Daniel Jones, Elisabeth Lutyens, Alan Rawsthorne and Edmund Rubbra.
Most productive composers in this year seem to include Malcolm Williamson, John McCabe and Alun Hoddinott.  
Composers who are now largely forgotten (unjustly) include Iain Hamilton, Peter Racine Fricker, Don Banks and Wilfrid Josephs.
Fortunately a number of the names listed below are still active: Gordon Crosse, Harrison Birtwistle, David Blake, Peter Maxwell Davies, Michael Finnissy, Alexander Goehr, Robin Holloway, John Joubert, John McCabe and Thea Musgrave.

Many thanks to the Eric Gilder and his indispensable Dictionary of Composers and their Music. I have presented this list in alphabetical (by surname) order rather that chronological (by composer’s age). Please note that 1964 may be the date the work was composed, completed or received its first performance.

William Alwyn: Concerto Grosso No 3
Malcolm Arnold: Sinfonietta No 3 for strings and wind
Don Banks: Three Episodes, for flute and piano; Divisions, for orchestra; Choral Fantasy
David Bedford: A Dream of the Seven Lost Stars, for mixed chorus and chamber ensemble (1964-5)
Richard Rodney Bennett: The Mines of Sulphur, opera; Jazz Calendar, ballet; Aubade, for orchestra; String Quartet No 4; Nocturnes, for piano
Lennox Berkeley: Diversions, for eight instruments;
Harrison Birtwistle: Three Movements with Fanfares, for orchestra; Entr'actes and Sappho Fragments, for soprano and instruments; Description of the Passing of a Year, narration for mixed choir a cappella
David Blake: Three Choruses to poems by Robert Frost, for chorus
Havergal Brian: Cello Concerto; Concerto for Orchestra; Symphony No 22, Symphonia Brevis
Benjamin Britten: Cello Suite No 1; Curlew River, parable for church performance
Geoffrey Bush: Greek Love Songs
Peter Maxwell Davies: Seven In Nomine, for instrumental ensemble (1964-5); Second Fantasia on John Taverner's In Nomine, for orchestra; Shakespeare Music, for instrumental ensemble; Ave, Plena Gracia, for SATB with optional organ
Gordon Crosse: Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2
Michael Finnissy: Song 6, for ensemble (1964-5)FRANKEL (58) Symphony No 3
Peter Racine Fricker: Symphony No 4 (1964-6)
Alexander Goehr: Five Poems and an Epigram of William Blake, for chorus; Three Pieces for piano
Iain Hamilton: Organ Concerto; Cantos, for orchestra; Jubilee, for orchestra
Alun Hoddinott: Jack Straw, overture; Harp Sonata; Intrada, for organ; Sarum Fanfare, for organ, Toccata all Giga, for organ;  Danegeld, for unaccompanied voices
Robin Holloway: Concertino No 1 for small orchestra (1964-5); Three Poems of William Empson, for mezzo and ensemble
Herbert Howells: Motet on the Death of President Kennedy, for chorus
Daniel Jones: Symphony No 6
Wilfred Josephs: Symphony No 2; Octet for clarinet, bassoon, horn, string quartet and double-bass; Protégez-moi, children's chorus and instruments; La Répétition de Phédre, ballet (1964-5)
John Joubert: The Holy Mountain, canticle for chorus and two pianos; The Beatitudes, for unaccompanied chorus; The Quarry, one-act opera; Communion Service in D for chorus and organ
Kenneth Leighton: Symphony; Mass for chorus and organ
Elisabeth Lutyens: Music for piano and orchestra; Music for wind; Scena, for violin, cello and percussion
John McCabe: Variations on a Theme of Hartman, for orchestra; Symphony for ten wind instruments; Musica Notturna, for violin, viola and piano; Three Pieces for clarinet and piano; Movement for clarinet, violin and cello (revised 1966); Five Bagatelles for piano;
Prelude for organ; Johannis-Partita, for organ; Mary Laid Her Child, for unaccompanied chorus
Elizabeth Maconchy: Three Settings of Poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, for high voice and chamber orchestra (1964-70)
William Mathias: Piano Sonata; Divertimento for flute, oboe and piano; Prelude, Aria and Finale for strings; Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord, for mixed voices and organ
Nicolas Maw: One Man Show, comic opera; Corpus Christi Carol; Balulalow, carol for unaccompanied voices
Wilfrid Mellers: Laus Amoris, for strings
Thea Musgrave: The Decision, opera (1964-5)
Andrej Panufnik: 'Song to the Virgin Mary'
Edmund Rubbra: String Quartet No 3; Improvisation for solo cello
Priaulx Rainier: Concerto for cello and orchestra
Alan Rawsthorne: Symphony No 3; Elegiac Rhapsody, for strings
voice and guitar; Mass for five voices
Robert Still: Concerto for strings; Symphony No 4
John Tavener: The Cappemakers, for narrators, soli, chorus and instruments
Malcolm Williamson: The Display, dance symphony; The Merry Wives of Windsor, incidental music; Piano Concerto No 3; Sinfonia Concertante for piano, trumpets and orchestra; Variations for cello and piano, Elegy J.F.K., for organ, Three Shakespeare Songs for voice and guitar (or piano)