Thursday, 15 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Composer’s and Judges’ Comments

On 29 March 1946, the Daily Express reported details of the two winning composers. It noted that Mr [Bernard] Stevens, a Cambridge graduate in Arts and Music has been called up in 1940, cutting short his studies at the Royal College of Music. In 1946, Stevens was 30 years old. As noted previously, he continued to compose during the war years whilst carrying out fire-watching duties during air raids on London. He is quoted, ‘I just had to keep on.’  The first two movements of his ‘A Symphony of Liberation’ were completed during the air raids. He then occupied himself with a Theme and Variations for piano (1941) and a Piano Trio (1942). Both works had been performed, with the latter being heard at the Wigmore Hall during 1943. With the advent of the competition, Stevens completed the symphony, for which he had ‘deep affection.’  It is noted that Mr Stevens will be ‘demobbed in May, and hopes to live by composing.’ He said ‘This success has given me intense encouragement.’  Finally Stevens pointed out that his symphony was ‘not a descriptive work but I felt the necessity of writing something to sum up my feelings about a wonderful episode.’ The ‘episode’ presumably being the cessation of hostilities.

Turning to Cedric Thorpe Davie, (33 years old at the time) the paper stated that he took three months to compose his symphony in C major. It points out that, unlike Mr Stevens, who plays the violin and enjoys conducting, he ‘plays only the piano.’ A composer who works rapidly, he wrote the music for an official film, ‘Scotland Speaks’ on a fortnights leave from his National Fire Service (N.F.S.) duty at the Glasgow docks. Davie pointed out that ‘there are no bombs, guns or sirens in my symphony. It was meant to be cheerful and I hope that is how it sounds.’  The Symphony was inscribed ‘In honour of my brother.’
Unfortunately, Cedric Thorpe Davies’ Symphony has not been given a commercial recording, although a broadcast performance circulates amongst enthusiasts.

The article then explained what the judges had said. All the entries were inspected separately by each judge. Discussion agree what works were to be given ‘further examination.’ A run through of the four best works (Stevens, Gipps, Thorpe Davie: it is not known who wrote the ‘fourth work’. Schaarwächter states that there is no further information in the Daily Express archives) was arranged at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

‘Shirt-sleeved’ Constant Lambert conducted the orchestra whilst Bliss and Sargent sat in the auditorium making notes.  Malcom Sargent stated that Stevens’ symphony ‘has poignancy and great emotional sincerity.’ Lambert’s view was that the ‘Liberation Symphony’ was ‘not merely a glorification piece full of the usual clichés. It had great emotional stress handled with skill.  Finally, Arthur Bliss wrote ‘The temper and spirit of this work are attractive and exciting.’ 

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