Saturday, 31 October 2015

Penguin Music Magazine: New Music in 1946

One of the pleasures of browsing old newspapers and journals is to come across reviews of music that has become popular over the years but was being reviewed for the first time. Less satisfying is the discovery of works that were deemed to be important by contemporary critics but which have subsequently disappeared from view.
Robin Hull’s chapter ‘New Music’ in the first of the Penguin Music Magazines examines both categories when he considers six recently published scores. He begins with Vaughan Williams’ glorious Symphony No.5, passes on to Gordon Jacob’s Variations on an Original Theme before examining E.J. Moeran’s Rhapsody in F sharp for piano and orchestra and William Walton’s Violin Concerto. The series is concluded with a scrutiny of Alan Rawsthorne’s Concerto No.2 for piano and orchestra,  and Charles Proctor’s Violin Sonata. From the above listing it is fair to say that only the RVW and Walton works have established a strong position in the repertoire. The Moeran and the Rawsthorne compositions are known to enthusiasts of British music of this period. The Jacob and the Proctor have fallen by the wayside: I have heard the former work, but not the latter.

The Penguin Music Magazine was an example of post-war optimism in the world of music. It was first published in December 1946 and continued to July 1949. At this time it changed into ‘Music’ which was an annual published in the trademark Penguin ‘blue cover.’ Only three of these volumes were issued, with the last in 1952. The format of the journal remained largely the same over the years. For example the present edition included a series of essays, such as ‘The Future of Opera in England’ and ‘Soviet Music in Wartime.’ This was followed by regular features such a ‘New Books’, ‘Music on the Air’, ‘Concerts in London’,  and Northern Diary which presented reviews of music performed in Scotland, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. One interesting contribution was Brains Trust by Julian Herbage which answered ‘readers’ question. This was a spin-off from the popular radio programme of the same title which began in 1941 under the chairmanship of Donald McCullough and regularly featured well-known experts including Malcolm Muggeridge, Julian Huxley and Jacob Bronowski. Music was represented by Sir Malcolm Sargent. 
Authors contributing to the Penguin Music Magazine included Alex Robertson, Arnold Haskell, George Dannatt and C.B. Rees. The series was edited by Ralph Hill.

I plan to report on each of the reviews noted above and to give a brief overview of the work’s success and current status. The first piece to be discussed is Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.5 in D major (1938-43)

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