Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Some Important British Works celebrating their Centenaries

There are several works that were composed/completed/premiered in 1920. As usual they form three categories: those that have gained as secure foothold in the repertoire, those that have totally disappeared and finally, the majority, which are known only to enthusiasts. These latter may have received a single recording.
Works in the first category include Ethel Smyth’s Dreamings. Notwithstanding a growing interest in this composer, it has not been issued on CD. Despite his relative popularity, Arthur Bliss’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, appears to have gone by the wayside. Works that have retained their popularity over the past century include RVWs ubiquitous The Lark Ascending. Organists will regularly play Vaughan Williams’s Three Preludes for organ, especially ‘Rhosymedre’. His Mass in G minor is an integral part of the British choral tradition. John Ireland’s evocative London Pieces for piano and Arnold Bax’s sumptuous tone-poem, The Garden of Fand have managed to hold their own with little difficulty.
I guess all the remaining pieces fall into the last category. There is at least one recording available for all these pieces, sometimes several. On the other hand, they are hardly household names.
My favourite piece from 100 years ago is Arnold Bax’s beautifully almost impressionistic Phantasy, for viola and orchestra. This music captures the Irish enthusiasms of Bax at his best.
I have presented the composers in order of seniority. This reflects Eric Gilder’s  The Dictionary of Composers and their Music to which I owe much of the information below. 

Ethel Smyth: Dreamings, for chorus, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Shepherd of the Delectable Mountains, opera (1920-1); The Lark Ascending, for violin and orchestra; Three Preludes founded on Welsh hymn tunes for organ; Suite de Ballet for flute and piano (composed 1913, first performed 1920); Mass in G minor (1920-1, first performed in 1922)
John Ireland: Piano Sonata; Three London Pieces for piano (completed)
Arnold Bax: The Truth About Russian Dancers, ballet; The Garden of Fand, symphonic poem (first performances in the UK and USA); Phantasy, for viola and orchestra (composed); Ivor Gurney: Five Western Watercolours, for piano (composed)
Arthur Bliss: The Tempest, overture and interludes (1920-1); Concerto for piano, tenor voice, strings and percussion (revised as Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, 1924); Conversations, for chamber orchestra; Rout, for soprano and chamber orchestra (revised for full orchestra (1921)
E.J. Moeran: Theme and Variations for piano; Piano Trio in E minor; Ludlow Town, song cycle)

It should be added that Gustav Holst’s masterpiece, The Planets was given its first complete premiere on 15 November 1920. Previous performances were either private or incomplete.

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