Saturday, 7 July 2018

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


Gordon Bryan's 1929 appreciation of Lennox Berkeley continued...

A ‘Prelude, Intermezzo (Blues), and Finale’, for flute, viola, and piano was first heard in London in October 1927, [1] and was subsequently repeated in Oxford and Paris. It contains many skilful instrumental effects, and audiences have received it with favour; but the later Sonatina for clarinet and piano (1928) [2] marks a definite advance. Though here Hindemith’s influence is apparent, the general effect is novel and striking. The work was submitted by the British jury for the recent Geneva Festival, but the international committee did not endorse the selection. Two other Sonatinas - for violin alone and for piano [3] – were completed this year. The former has already been played in Paris. All three Sonatinas are conceived in much the same spirit and all are in three movements. In the first two considerable use is made of “bi-tonality” – for example, the slow movement of the Clarinet Sonatina which continues almost the whole time in C major against G flat major in the upper parts. The result is much less discordant that might be imagined and presents no difficulty to those accustomed to modern music. The Violin Sonatina naturally contains practically no harmony; nevertheless, in another sense a similar system is followed- that is to say, a definite tonality is established in that a phrase begins on a certain note and comes back to it again, but the scale which that note would suggest is not necessarily adhered to. This procedure has been much exploited by Hindemith.
Jan Smeterlin [4] included three short piano pieces (composed in 1927) [5] at a London recital a little time ago. There are also five songs, to poems by Cocteau, entitled Tombeaux, which have many flashes of wit. [6] They were broadcast in March, [7] with orchestral accompaniment, under the direction of Anthony Bernard. The composer’s most recent work is a Sinfonietta for small orchestra. [8]
The last three years show a steady output of increasing importance; and as Berkeley’s technique and self-confidence alike develop, we may expect an ever-growing personality. But while Paris at present no doubt affords more opportunities than London for the study of contemporary music, it is no less true that much he has heard there has had the effect - enthusiastic musician though he is – of narrowing his outlook into what may be styled anti-diatonicism.
An experiment which might have useful results (but which is quite unlikely to be carried out) would be to prevent him for six months from attending any concerts where music other than that of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries was performed. At the same time all scores of any later date should be removed from his reach. His reaction to this treatment would be extremely interesting, and his compositions would show considerably more originality than he has, as yet, allowed himself to attain. A remark once passed by Haydn is to the point. He wrote of his enforced isolation at Esterhàzy’s country residence of Esterhàz: ‘I was cut off from the world; there was no-one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.’
The Monthly Musical Record June 1, 1929

Notes:
[1] ‘Prelude, Intermezzo (Blues), and Finale’, for flute, viola, and piano is a piece I would love to hear. It was premiered during October 1927 by the Aeolian Players which included the author of this present appreciation playing piano. It was dedicated to Bryan. The holograph survives and is located at the British Library. It has not yet received a recording.
[2] The Sonatine pour clarinette et piano was composed in 1928, when Berkeley had come down from Oxford and had commenced studied 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 Sonatina for solo violin was composed in 1927 and was unpublished. It had three movements: Allegro moderato, Allegretto (Tango) and Presto. Dickinson (2003) has declared the score as being lost.
[4] Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967) was a Polish concert pianist. He was highly regarded as an interpreter of Frédéric Chopin and Karol Szymanowski.
[5] The Three Piano Pieces were composed sometime during 1927. They feature an ‘allegro’, an [andante] and a concluding ‘moderato.’ As noted in the text they were premiered by Jan Smeterlin. Dickinson (op. cit.) notes that they were forgotten and only rediscovered in the 1980s.  They were published in Lennox Berkeley: Collected Works for Solo Piano by Chester. As far as I am aware, they have not been recorded.
[6] The five songs, Tombeaux, were setting of texts by the French poet and polymath Jean Cocteau.  These songs were originally composed in 1926 for voice and piano. However, they were also arranged for voice and chamber orchestra in the same year. This version was premiered in Paris during spring 1926.  The songs included: ‘Le Tombeau de Sapho’; ‘Le Tombeau de Socrate’; ‘D’un Fleuve’; ‘De Narcisse’ and ‘De Don Juan’. These songs have been released on an album of Berkeley’s songs. (Chandos 10528, 2009)
[7] Lennox Berkeley’s Tombeaux was broadcast on 11 March 1929 during a concert of music that included music by Gabriel Fauré, Bach and Mozart in the first half and by Peter Warlock and Igor Stravinsky in the second. The soloist in Berkeley’s Tombeaux was the Swiss soprano Sophie Wyss (1897-1983)
[8] Peter Dickinson, (2003) includes the Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1927) as being a ‘lost work’ in his catalogue.  I was unable to find any contemporary reviews of this piece.  This work should not be confused with the Sinfonietta, op.34 dating from 1950.

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