Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Feeney Trust Music Commissions: 1955-1975

The Feeney Trust was established in 1907 after the death of John Feeney (1839-1905). Feeney was the son of the founder of the Birmingham Post newspaper. He worked for the newspaper from 1863 and latterly became its proprietor. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts as well as having a scholarly understanding of them.
Feeney was a philanthropist, contributing to local hospitals, the University and other charitable causes. The Trust was to be used for the ‘benefit of public charities in Birmingham or for the promotion of art in the city or the acquisition of open spaces in or near the city…’

Since 1955, when it was decided that music fell into their scope, the Feeney Trust has been responsible for commissioning a wide variety of new music for Birmingham based musicians. The first commission was Arthur Bliss’ much undervalued Meditations on a Theme of John Blow. Over the past 60 years many well-known composers, including Michael Tippett, Richard Rodney Bennet, John Tavener and Judith Weir have contributed important works. Alas, few of them seem to have become established works in the orchestral repertoire. Some have gained a toehold, a number have been recorded: others have fallen by the wayside. Maybe that is the way things should be. However, there are many worthy pieces of music included in this list that demand our appreciation.

I have listed the works commissioned by the Feeney Trust for the first 20 years. It is instructive to see how the various works have fared. I have indicated which works have been commercially recorded.  This is as far as I can discover. There may be other private or commercial releases in existence. It is interesting, if somewhat disappointing to note that a number of pieces are represented by a single recording.  

1955 Arthur Bliss: Meditations on a Theme by John Blow [5 recordings]
1956 Michael Tippett: Piano Concerto [5 recordings]
1957 Peter Wishart: Concerto for Orchestra
1957 Edmund Rubbra: Symphony No.7 [2 recordings]
1959 Lennox Berkeley: Symphony No.2 [2 recordings]
1959 Alan Rawsthorne: Symphony No.2 [3 recordings]
1961 Alun Hoddinott: Violin Concerto
1961 John Gardner: Herrick Cantata
1962 Andrzej Panufnik: Piano Concerto [4 recordings]
1962 Humphrey Searle: Symphony No.4 [1 recording]
1963 Robert Simpson: Symphony No.3 [4 recordings]
1963 Arthur Bliss: Mary of Magdela
1963 Elizabeth Maconchy: Serenata Concertante for violin and orchestra [1 recording]
1964 John Gardner: The Noble Heart
1965 Don Banks: Divisions for orchestra
1965 Gordon Crosse: Sinfonia Concertante (revised as Symphony No.1, 1976)
1967 Peter Racine Fricker: Symphony No.4
1968 Thea Musgrave: Concerto for Orchestra [1 recording]
1969 Richard Rodney Bennett: Piano Concerto [1 recording]
1970 Richard Henninger: Catena
1970 Kenneth Leighton:  Piano Concerto No.3 [1 recording]
1970 Peter Dickinson: Satie Transformations [1 recording]
1971 John McCabe: Symphony No.2 [1 recording]
1971 Humphrey Searle: Labyrinth
1974 Anthony Gilbert: Ghost and Dream Dancing
1975 Nicola le Fanu: Columbia Falls

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