Friday, 6 November 2015

Penguin Music Magazine 1946: Charles Proctor

Few present day music enthusiasts will have come across the composer, pianist, organist, teacher and conductor Charles Proctor. I only recall his name as a contributor to the series of graded piano pieces, Five by Ten. These were published by Lengnick in 1952 and are, believe, still in print. The five volumes were edited by Alec Rowley and had works specifically commissioned from composers as diverse as Edmund Rubbra, Madeleine Dring, Bernard Stevens Malcolm Arnold, Julius Harrison, Elizabeth Maconchy, William Wordsworth, William Alwyn, Franz Reizenstein and Charles Proctor. Many are little masterpieces in their own right.

Charles Proctor is not included in the current edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music nor the British Music Society’s British Composer Profiles (3rd edition, 2012). However, in 2006 Jane Spurr, one of Proctor’s pupils, published a biography - A Song of Farewell - Charles Proctor 1906 – 1996. I have not seen this book.

For the record, Charles Proctor was born in London on 5 April 1906. His education included Highgate School, the Royal Academy of Music and a period in Dresden and Vienna. In this latter city he was a pupil of the great German pianist Emil Sauer (1862-1942). Proctor gave recitals in London, Berlin and Vienna. Much of his work was devoted to conducting. From 1930-36 he directed the North London Orchestral Society and in 1941 he founded the Alexandra Choir based at the eponymous Palace. His engagements included Promenade Concerts, the Stoll and Cambridge Theatre concerts, massed choirs in Hyde Park and répétiteur for Thomas Beecham at Covent Garden.  He was long-time organist at St Jude-on-the-Hill Church in Hampstead Garden Suburb. The church’s webpage suggests that Proctor was a ‘rather serious and intimidating man.’ He taught at Trinity College of Music. His published works include a choral symphony, a piano concerto, sonatas (apart from the above) for cello, piano and viola, various organ pieces, choral works and solo songs. Much is still in manuscript.  Charles Proctor died in 1996.

Robin Hull in his review of ‘New Music’ in the 1946 Penguin Music Magazine points out that the publishing house Lengnick displayed considerable ‘enterprise’ when they issued 'a stout batch of works’ by this composer. These included a Sonata in D minor for the organ, a Sonata in A minor for violin and piano and a selection of songs. The critic went on to say that he ‘examined these works with great interest, but with a feeling of declining confidence about their significance.’ He looks positively on the Violin Sonata which makes clear that the composer has a great gift for lyrical melody…and his craftsmanship is above reproach’ in every work studied. The down-side was that both sonatas have a ‘really fine opening [which] is apt to subside into figuration of too formal a kind’ and that the ‘promising flow of invention does tend to shape itself as exceedingly well-written extemporisation.’

I have not examined Charles Proctor’s music, with the exception of the short piano pieces noted above. However, it does appear that he is a composer who may well benefit from investigation. The Musical Times (April 1946) reporting on his Violin Sonata suggests the works has a ‘friendly atmosphere’ and like Hull notes the composer’s habit of ‘overwork[ing] his patterns.’ However the music is ‘well-spaced and congenial to both instruments.’ Certainly any string player looking for a ‘novelty’ could do worse that examine the scores of one or other of his sonatas.

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