Wednesday, 4 July 2018

An Early Appreciation of Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) Part I

Ten years ago, I posted this early appreciation of Lennox Berkeley on my blog. I repost here today, with a few comments. Gordon Bryan wrote his article for the Monthly Musical Record published in 1 June 1929. At this date, Berkeley was 26 years old. The reader will note that several of the musical works mentioned are currently in the recorded or concert repertoire.  The author, Gordon Bryan (1895-1957) was a British pianist, arranger and composer.
I am grateful to Peter Dickinson’s The Music of Lennox Berkeley (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1988/2003) and Stewart R. Craggs’ Lennox Berkeley: A Source Book (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2000) for providing much needed assistance with the commentary on this ‘appreciation.’

THE YOUNGER ENGLISH COMPOSERS V. Lennox Berkeley by Gordon Bryan (1895-1957)
Lennox Berkeley was born in 1903, and was educated at Gresham’s and Merton College, Oxford. He now lives in Paris, and is studying under Mlle. Nadia Boulanger, a brilliant and deservedly popular teacher of composition.
His nearest relatives also prefer France to England, and as Berkeley himself is bilingual, this almost dual nationality (his grandmothers were both French) had had a considerable effect on his music. He frankly declares himself out of sympathy with English musical life, in which he finds a regrettable lack of interest in the newer developments of the art.
While still an undergraduate he composed various songs, among them one very charming example- ‘D’un vanneur de blé aux vents’ - a setting of a poem by Du Bellay, which has been published by the Oxford University Press. [1] It was composed in October 1925. It has a straightforward melody three times repeated; the varied piano accompaniment shows the restraint and delicacy of string-quartet writing, and, indeed, it might easily be arranged for that combination. If the composer of this charming trifle had pursued this vein of unaffected melody he would have won considerably more renown that he actually has.
Since that time, he has passed through successive and concurrent phases of Ravel-worship, Stravinsky-worship and Hindemith-worship; and admirable though such enthusiasms may be, they become a hindrance to originality. The personal note has, however, made itself felt more and more in his recent works. Berkeley’s skill in orchestral colouring and particularly his clever writing for wood-wind as witness the solo part in the clarinet sonata [2] - has always been remarkable.
It should be mentioned that Ravel has taken an interest in the young composer’s development, and by his encouragement and recommendation, some years ago, did much to confirm his choice of a musical career.
Although it is only since October 1926, that Berkeley has been composing seriously, ha has been so fortunate as to hear much of his music performed under the best possible conditions. His very first orchestral work, an Introduction and Dance for small orchestra, [3] was produced by Anthony Bernard [4] at the Chenil Galleries [5] in April 1926, and from this performance the composer learnt much. It was a brief but effective little work –the past tense must be used, for the composer now disowns it altogether.
Under the same auspices, at a concert at the Contemporary Music Centre [6], first appeared the Concertino, also for small orchestra, in April 1927 [7]. This has been repeated at Harrogate and Hastings by Basil Cameron, and at Bournemouth under the composer’s direction. Its success led to a request from Walter Straram, [8] the Paris conductor, for a Suite, this time for full orchestra, which was given at the Salle Pleyel in February 1928. [9] It has not been heard in England, but a performance is probable shortly under Ansermet. [10]
These two works follow the neo-classical pattern favoured by many modernists – of course, with the wide harmonic resources of the present day. Both are concise and well-knit. The Suite consists of four movements –Sinfonia, Bourrée, Aria and Gigue. It is classical both in form and feeling, though free use is made of modern methods of harmonization and orchestral colouring. The slow movement (Aria) is especially fine.
The Monthly Musical Record June 1, 1929

[1] 'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' (You kindly winds who gaily/Go blowing o’er the valley) with words by Joachim du Bellay (c.1522–1560). The English translation was made by M.D. Calvocoressi. It presents a pastoral impression of a reaper working in the fields during high-summer. It was composed in 1924/25 during Berkeley’s second year at Merton College, Oxford. In 1927, the song was revised and given its English title 'The Thresher.' It was to be the composer's first published work. Other songs composed at this time included ‘Pastourelle’ (Anon) and ‘Rondeau’ (Charles d'Orelans).'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' is included on Chandos 10528 (2009).
[2] I am assuming that Gordon Bryan was referring here to the Sonatine pour clarinette et piano and not to any ‘lost’ Sonata. It was composed in 1928, when he had come down from Oxford and had commenced studies with Nadia Boulanger. As noted in the text, the Sonatine was submitted by the British jury for a competition in Geneva. This was probably the 1929 ISCM Festival. It was rejected. The Sonatine has been recorded by the Berkeley Ensemble on Resonus RES10149 (2015).
 [3] The Introduction and Dance for small orchestra was composed in 1926 and was written for Anthony Bernard and the London Chamber Orchestra. Peter Dickinson (2003) writes that it is one of Berkeley’s ‘lost scores.’  The premiere was at the New Chenil Galleries on 26 April 1926. It was also broadcast ‘live’ by the BBC as a part of the BBC Spring Series of Concerts.
[4] Anthony Bernard (1891-1963) was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer.
[5] New Chenil Galleries were in the King’s Road, Chelsea, adjacent to the town hall.
[6] I understand that Contemporary Music Centre was located at Cowdray Hall, 20 Cavendish Square near Oxford Circus, London.
[7] The Concertino for chamber orchestra was composed in 1927. The work was written in three movements. The score is lost. (Dickinson, 2003)
[8] Walther Straram (1876-1933) was a London-born conductor who worked for much of his career in France during the early twentieth century. His professional name, ‘Straram’ was an anagram of his family name, ‘Marrast.’ He is remembered as having given the premiere of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero at the Paris Opéra on 22 November 1928. Ernest Ansermet, who was to have conducted to was ‘indisposed.’
[9] The premiere of the Suite was given on 16 February 1928, played by the Straram Orchestra conducted by Walther Straram. The work appears to have been published by Novello (Dickinson, 2003). There is no recording.
[10] Stuart Craggs (2000.) notes that the British premiere of the orchestral Suite was given at the Queen’s Hall, London on 12 September 1929 by the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. I was unable to find a reference to a performance given by Ernest Ansermet.  

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