Friday, 21 August 2015

Arthur Hervey: Tone Poem ‘Summer.’

In W.J. Galloway’s Musical History (London, Christophers, 1910) the author discusses the achievement of the Philharmonic Society. In particular he refers to the then recent 1908/9 seasons where a number of British works had been performed. These included Hamilton Harty’s ‘Comedy’Overture, Edward German’s Symphonic Suite ‘The Seasons’, Edward Elgar’s Symphony No.1 in A flat and Enigma Variations, William Wallace’s tone-poem ‘Francois Villon’, Ethel Smyth’s Overture ‘The Wreckers’, Frederick Delius’s ‘In a Summer Garden’ and John Blackwood McEwen’s ‘Grey Galloway’. It is gratifying to see that all these works have received a modern recording, even if only the Delius and Elgar works are still heard in the concert hall. However, Galloway mentions one work that has totally disappeared by the wayside: Arthur Hervey’s (1855-1922) tone-poem ‘Summer.’ I will give a brief biography of the composer in a future post.
‘Summer’ received its first performed on 25 September at the opening day of the 1907 Cardiff Festival, for which it was especially written. Three important premieres were given at that concert including Part II of Granville Bantock’s massive oratorio Omar Khayyam, Hamilton Harty’s Ode to a Nightingale and the present work. The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Frederic Cowen.

The most extensive review of‘Summer’ was given in The Times (26 September). It began by reminding the reader that three of the composer’s tone poems have been given at previous Cardiff Festivals: these included On the Heights and On the March, both performed in 1902 and In the East which was premiered in 1904. The reviewer considered that ‘Summer’ ‘is a remarkably successful piece of landscape-painting in music.’ He insisted that the ‘two beautiful themes of voluptuous warmth are interwoven with great skill, and the section which represents a thunderstorm does so in an unconventional manner, which never once suggests [Beethoven’s] Pastoral Symphony and surely deserves credit for not suggesting it, especially since the key of both is F major.’ The reviewer concludes by noting that the‘scoring is rich and scholarly, and that the ‘structure of the piece is interesting and the manipulation of the themes most skilful.’

The reviewer in the Gloucester Citizen (26 September) damned with faint praise: he suggested that ‘the performances were excellent and all the [new] works proved interesting.’ The Manchester Courier (26 September) noted that the subject of Hervey’s tone poem ‘is the familiar one of a typical sunshiny summer day, with a thunderstorm suddenly breaking on its stillness and departing.’
The Observer (29 September) was less enthusiastic: Mr Arthur Hervey‘who has so often given proof of his freshness and melodic gifts in the‘descriptive overture’ style, was not heard at his best in ‘Summer’. It contains some graceful writing and it is true, but it lacked the character which made his ‘Youth’ and ‘On the Heights’ so pleasing and, in a sense, distinctive.’
‘Summer’ was given its London premiere on Thursday 18 February 1909 with the Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer. Other works in the concert included the Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 in C minor the Prelude to Act II of Goldmark’s opera Die Königin von Saba, a performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F minor with soloist Leopold Godowsky, Luigi Mancinelli’s Overture to Cleopatra. Godowsky also played two solo pieces by Brahms –Capriccio op.76 no.2 and the Paganini Variations. The Musical Times (March 1909) briefly noted Hervey’s ‘genial tone poem ‘Summer’successfully produced…conducted by the composer.’
As far as I can see, Arthur Hervey’s tone-poem ‘Summer’ was never published. It is to be hoped that the manuscript/parts is languishing in an archive somewhere.

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