Sunday, 15 October 2017

Arnold Cooke: Sonata No.1 for organ (1971)

I was listening to Daniel Cook’s splendid 2010 recital from St Bees Priory, Cumbria (PRIORY PRCD 1052) the other day. Amongst the rarely heard pieces by Sir John Stainer, Arthur Milner and David Halls, I discovered Arnold Cooke’s Sonata No.1 for organ.  To my knowledge, this is the only recording of Cooke’s Sonata on disc. It is played on the Father Henry Willis organ originally installed in 1899, but subsequently restored and remodelled by Harrison and Harrison. 

In the liner notes Daniel Cook explains that this Sonata is now largely forgotten. Cook insists that the work is ‘compelling for its elegant structures and sparse textures.’ The notes point out that the first movement is in sonata form, having two contrasting themes: one based on long pedal notes with the second theme made up of ‘broken fourths and arpeggio figures.’ The andante is lyrical and restrained in its exposition but never becomes a ‘pastoral.’ The ‘middle’ section of the slow movement presents a short ‘scherzetto’ section which is quite magical. The finale appears to have two subjects which sit well together. The first is a typical ‘toccata-like’ semiquaver figuration, whilst the second theme seems more restrained, perhaps harking back to the mood of the ‘andante.’ The music eventually builds to a short, but considerable climax, that concludes with several loud chords.

Arnold Cooke’s Sonata No, 1 for organ was composed in 1971: it was commissioned by the Music Department of University College, Cardiff, with funds provided by the Welsh Arts Council. The premiere was given at the Cardiff Festival in 1973 by Richard Elfyn Jones.  The Sonata was duly published in 1973 by Hinrichsen Edition Ltd, Edition Peters 7182.

There have been precious few reviews of this work. The American Record Guide, January 2012, (reviewing PRCD 1052) has pointed out that the Sonata ‘is transparently an imitation of Hindemith, whom he studied with in Berlin.’
I have often argued that there is more to Arnold Cooke’s music than a simple debt to Paul Hindemith, his composition teacher. I have noted a touch of Bartok, an undeniable English lyricism and even some nods to Walton and Vaughan Williams. On other hand, Malcolm MacDonald sums up Arnold Cooke’s obligation to Hindemith writing that what he ‘really imbibed was a broad framework of technique and a sense of direction: a view of music as a living polyphonic entity and a feeling for individual instruments that goes back to the practice of J.S Bach.’  This is a perfect description of the Sonata No, 1 for organ.

No comments: