Friday 30 October 2009

British Piano Music: Some Tantalising Pieces

I recently found a copy of Walton O'Donnell's When the Sun is Setting in an Oxfam shop. This pieces is interesting, but what is perhaps more fascinating is the advertisement on the back of the cover. To be fair, some of the pieces are by composers who are not British. And there are a few famous names, including Bax, Hurlstone, Bowen, Elgar, Stanford and Bantock.
Yet scattered amongst this ''Selection of Modern Pianoforte Music are some truly desirable gems. Some of this music I have in my collection, yet most of it seems to have disappeared 'without trace.' I guess that many of these pieces will not be in the RCM or the RAM libraries: perhaps the only place to locate them will be the British Library?
I do not for one minute suggest that all these works are masterpieces, however I do feel that many of them probably deserve an occasional airing by professional pianists. Certainly most are probably just beyond the gift the amateur: the pieces I know are typically Grade 7 or 8' -ish.
If I had to mention three of the pieces listed that I would most like to hear, or try to play, they would be Pierrot by Ernest Farrar, F.H Cowen's Cupid's Conspiracy Suite and Edith M. Saunders's Impromptu in F minor.
Lastly I am charmed by the name A. E. Horrocks: I wonder where he lived, what he wrote and what his music sounds like. I will certainly keep my eye open in the second hand bookshops for his Six Pieces Op.14.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Graham Lynch: Undiscovered Islands

I was recently sent this fine CD to review by the composer. It made an immediate appeal to me. I listened to the entire album twice, although even on the first hearing I felt comfortable with most of the works presented. The reason, I guess is that the music passes the two fundamental tests: is the music original and is there an obvious trajectory of tradition that enables the listener to relate the pieces to something that is already familiar? The answers to both these questions is ‘yes’. The first thing to be said on the originality aspect is that this music is both demanding and interesting. The stylistic parameters lead to a sense of variety that is well under control. Lynch’s music is not like, say, Einaudi, whose every piece seems to sound the same.
Before I had a chat with the composer, I had decided that there were certain influences (conscious or apparent) at work in Lynch’s music - these included Debussy, Messiaen and for my money Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. Perhaps there were even hints of Fred Delius. However the composer told me that the Japanese composer Takemitusu and the Latin-American Astor Piazzolla also had an important contribution to his music. But as I have often said, listening to music is not about ‘hunt the composer’, unless the composer we are considering has been unable to develop and synthesise their own style”.

The presentation of the CD is excellent [...] a good essay introduces the composer and his music. There follows a more detailed analysis of each piece along with further comments from the performers. The middle pages of the booklet have a collection of photographs that reflect the mood and subject matter of a number of the pieces. The playing by both the pianist and the flautist sounds excellent […] this is an impressive CD that is well within the tradition of British (or Western) music. All the works are approachable, but like all good music continues to reveal their secrets with repeated hearings.

Track Listing:
Graham LYNCH (b.1957) White Book 1 (piano) (2001) Mediterranean (flute and piano) (2007/8) Petenera (piano) (2005) Moon Cycle (solo flute) (2002/6) White Book 2 (piano) (2007/8) Three Tangos (flute and piano) (2003/7)
Mark Tanner (piano); Gillian Poznansky (flute) PRIORY PRCD1024

Please read the full review of Graham Lynch’s CD at MusicWeb International

Monday 26 October 2009

Felix Swinstead: March Wind for Piano

I recently found this attractive piece of sheet music in an Oxfam shop. Even although I already have March Wind in another album, I could not resist the drawing on the cover. I know somebody (who shall remain nameless) who studied with Felix Swinstead and does not rate his music. I guess that they felt it lacked character, interest and technical content – which can be pretty damning. I trended to disagree with tem. Whilst not suggesting that Swinstead’s music has a major place in the canon of British piano music, I think it is fair to suggest that many of his teaching pieces have a charm over and above their intent. Perhaps Swinstead can be bracketed with Thomas Dunhill and Walter Carroll, although I do feel the latter had the ability to present very original music for students. I was ‘brought up’ on much of Felix Swinstead’s music – Fancy Free and the Three Sets of Six Pieces for Children were in the piano stool. Alas these latter have been lost.
March Wind was composed, or at least published by Joseph Williams in 1937. It is a miniature toccata really that certainly manages to give a sense of movement and a feeling of nasty weather. It is not an easy piece, in spite of being (and I am guessing) about Grade 6. The left hand part is typically played staccato and ranges over three octaves. The effect id created by at least three note patterns which are repeated and juxtaposed Most of this piece are largely diatonic, yet in the last four bars there is a considerable amount of key change and a little descending chromatic scale in the left hand. Alas The Musical Times does not give the piece a good review – “it is a rather meagre little breeze set up by quick finger work – a useful study no doubt.”

Yet all that said, I enjoy playing it and surely one is reminded of the Swinburne poem:-
Mad March, with the wind in his wings wide-spread,
Leaps from heaven, and the deep dawn's arch
Hails re-risen again from the dead
Mad March.
Soft small flames on rowan and larch
Break forth as laughter on lips that said
Nought till the pulse in them beat love's march.
But the heartbeat now in the lips rose-red
Speaks life to the world, and the winds that parch
Bring April forth as a bride to wed
Mad March.

Saturday 24 October 2009

British Piano Sonatas: A Wish List Part 1

I note here a number of Piano Sonatas that have been composed by British composers, but are yet unrecorded (as far as I can tell). It seems unbelievable that there is such a rich vein of untapped Sonatas, some by well known composers and others by names that are barely known even by the ‘experts’. However, based on the pages of the Leo Livens Piano Sonata, that I was perusing the other day, there are certainly some treats in store, should enterprising concert agents and recording companies decide to explore these avenues. I give the composer and work without comments. Most of these works have been published whilst others remain in manuscript.

Ernest Austin: Sonata in B minor Op.31 No.2 [1907] Novello
William Baines: Sonata in F# minor Op.4 [1918] unpublished
Benjamin Burrows: Sonata [1934] F.W. Smith & Lewis
Lawrence Collinwood: Sonata No1 [1915] and Sonata No. 2 [1913] P Jurgensen
Duncan Edmonstoune: Sonata in D minor Op. 100 [1906] Vincent Music Co.
Harry Farjeon: Miniature Sonata in Bb Op.12 [1906] Augener and Sonata in E Op. 43 (1920) Ashdown
Edward German: Sonata [1884] Banks
William Hurlstone: Sonata in F minor [1894] unpublished
H.V. Jervis Read: Sonata [1925] Murdoch
Leo Livens: Sonata [1914 Anglo-French
R.O. Morgan: Prize Sonata [c 1908] Ashdown
Alec Rowley: Sonata No.1 [1939] Durand and Sonata No.2 in D [1949] Chester
William Wolstenholme: Sonata in Eb [c 1908]

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Angela Morley: Starlight - an impresison for orchestra

I guess that a lot of light music portrays pictures of romantic locations – Las Vegas, New York, Paris and the Mediterranean. However, for many people there nowhere more romantic than London by night. One need only think of taking a taxi cab along Piccadilly on a cold winter’s evening, or perhaps taking a late-night stroll by the gaslights in Green Park. Or maybe it is late-night shopping at Harrods in Knightsbridge before popping into the Dorchester for a Cosmopolitan or a Bellini. And all of these moments somehow seem better if there are stars in the sky. Certainly it will be a rare night in London when the Milky Way is clearly visible, but surely there a many times when the stars and the moon peep out and manage to compete with the electric lamps and light pollution.
Angela Morley has captured all this magic in her evocative piece Starlight. It was written around 1956 when the composer was better known as Wally Stott. All the appropriate effects are used here, the sweeping violins that sound so like Mantovani or Henry Mancini, rich parallel string chords in thirds and sixths, pizzicato and harp arpeggios. Later in the piece a definite light touch of percussion gives an effective counterpoint to the main progress of the strings. Yet the work approaches the end all too soon with a passionate reprise of the string theme. The works last few bars conclude with a great splash of colour.
This is a classic example of the genre and certainly manages to create the image intended. It is impossible to listen to this music and remain oblivious to its mood. Naturally, it is only my conceit that sets it in the West End – it would be equally effective to someone imagining a trip across the Lagoon to the Lido or anchored in the bay off the town of Cannes.
Angela Morley’s Starlight can be heard on The Golden Age of Light Music The 1950s Volume 5 Sunny Side Up Guild GLCD 5142

Sunday 18 October 2009

King's College Cambridge: England, My England

I recently had the opportunity to review this latest compilation from King’s College Cambridge. Now I am not a big fan of compilations especially when they excerpt movements from larger works or even excise a small purple passage from a movement or piece. However, this present CD is not too bad on that score. After a brief introduction, I suggested a few tips to use in approaching this CD.

I guess that a lot of purchasers of this new release will just bang it into their CD players in the car and let rip. They will allow this music to envelop them as they drive along the West Lancs Road or around the M25. And there is probably nothing wrong with that. Concentration is what is needed for this present CD, in spite of its largely ‘popular’ appeal. It is not a fashion accessory, but a compendium of some of the greatest and most uplifting music written in England and performed by the country’s most the iconic choirs.
What tips can I give for a logical exploration of England, My England? Well, first of all it can be sliced vertically or horizontally, by which I mean chronologically or by genre. I would prefer the latter. Now I imagine that most purchasers of a double CD of music by the world’s greatest ‘church’ choir (not just my opinion!) will have a certain sympathy with religious and liturgical music even if they do not sit in the choir stalls or the pews twice on a Sunday! So, perhaps the first group of pieces to explore are the Hymns. These are the ones that my late mother would have wanted to listen to. She was always singing them around the house and enjoyed hearing them sung by a good choir. All the big hitters are here. The ultimately tragic Abide with Me written by Henry Francis Lyte as he lay dying from tuberculosis and later to become a favourite of the Military and the F.A. Cup Final. The fine processional Praise my Soul the King of Heaven, the masterpiece of hymnology by Vaughan Williams, Come down of Love Divine and his Coronation arrangement of the massive Old Hundredth- All People that on Earth do Dwell. But King’s College do not forget the more intimate moments associated with the service of Evensong. Favourites include Orlando Gibbons exquisite Drop, drop slow tears and the ever popular The Day that thou gavest Lord is ended is beautifully sung…
I concluded my review by considering the title of the CD and then gave it a strong recommendation:-
The title of the CD is refreshingly ambiguous. Different people will read different things into it. I thought of D.H. Lawrence’s short story, a friend suggested that it was derived from the largely forgotten poet W.H. Henley’s largely forgotten poem “What have I done for you/England, my England”. And then there was a film about the life of Henry Purcell with that name...
…this is great value and is a fine introduction to English Choral music. This is sung with the unmistakable King’s College sound that evokes the atmosphere of the fundamentally Christian religious sensibilities of this country. This is a CD that can be enjoyed by all lovers of choral music, irrespective of their belief. It is a CD that manifests the spirit of Christianity as well as the long tradition of that faith in England and her music.

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International and also listen to short samples from this great album on YouTube.

Friday 16 October 2009

Adam Pounds: The Martyr of Latimer and other news

A few months ago I mentioned in these pages that Adam Pounds was just putting the finishing touches to a new work – The Martyrdom of Latimer.
The work had its first performance on Saturday 3rd October 2009. Unfortunately I was not able to be present. However I do know that the work was extremely well received by an audience in excess of 800. It gained a standing ovation. Please read the review of this performance on Pounds’s website.
Dr. R J Westwell PhD, MA TESOL, MA Ed, B Mus, BA Hons wrote that:- "This profound work explored the excitement and darkness of death and spiritual revival. After the opening appealing melody was taken up in turn by the different sections of the orchestra, the toll of impending doom heralded the contrasting development of dramatic conflict, building up to an exciting climax with trumpets off-stage broadening the experience until the work's final thunderous drum call brought this fine composition to a memorable close."
I only hope that he is successful in having the work broadcast, although I do understand that the work was recorded and a future CD release will be undertaken in February with the Academy of Great St. Mary’s (the new name for the Orchestra of Great St. Mary’s, Cambridge). The venue is Great St. Marys (The University Church) Cambridge, Sunday 13th December, 7.30pm

Two last snippets of news: Pounds plans to compose a new carol, presumably for this Christmas and he will be conducting his ‘Northern Picture’ on December 13th – venue to be announced.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Eric Chisholm: A New Biography by John Purser

I cannot quite remember when I first read about the composer and musician Erik Chisholm. I think it was in a spiral-bound catalogue published by the Scottish Music Information Centre: This booklet had a wealth of interesting information about works that I thought I would probably never hear. I seem to recall that this publication had been on sale at one of the Glasgow Promenade Concerts when they were held at the Kelvin Hall. That would be about 1975. However, I did not hear any music by Chisholm until the relatively recent Dutton Epoch recording of his masterly Symphony No.2 - unless one includes the Harris Dance which was released in 1997. Somehow, I missed the two or three other recordings issued between 1998 and 2004. And lastly, few people interested in British piano music can be unaware of Murray McLachlan’s superb, on-going exploration of the Complete Piano Music.

Up until this present volume, information about Chisholm was hard to come by. There were a few scattered references in the various journals, including the British Music Society Newsletters and the Composer magazine: there is an entry in Grove. Recently the excellent Website maintained by Chisholm’s daughter Morag has done much to promote his music: it is a model of its kind. But there was a lack of a standard biography and a detailed discussion of the compositions.

Erik Chisholm, Scottish Modernist 1904-1965 ‘Chasing a Restless Muse’ by John Purser is a comprehensive study of the composer and his music. It explores his contributions to the musical life of Scotland and latterly his work in the Far East and South Africa. Chisholm was much more that a composer: he was, at various times, a conductor of the Glasgow Grand Opera Society and later the Carl Rosa opera company, an organist, a concert pianist and a director of ENSA in South East Asia. His interest in modern music and its performance led him to found the Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music in 1929 and the Barony Opera Society in 1936. At the end of the Second World War, Chisholm was appointed as Director of the South African College of Music at Capetown. Once again he was instrumental in promoting both new music and opera and set up the University Opera Company and the University Opera School. John Purser examines all these activities and presents a detailed discussion of many of Chisholm’s compositions alongside the biographical account his life.

The book is aimed at a serious audience: it is hardly likely to be read on the off-chance by the average music-lover. However, its appeal is far wider than to those wanting a few biographical details or some information about a particular piece of music. Chisholm’s active involvement in such a wide and diverse area of interest means that his story is central to the history of music, opera and ballet in Scotland in the years between the two World Wars. Furthermore his friendship with a wide range of musicians and composers, including the enigmatic Kaikhosru Sorabji, Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith and William Walton, means that this book will be of interest to students of those particular composers. This is the first book written about Erik Chisholm, and I guess that it may be a long while before another major study is produced by another author. Interestingly, there is a dearth of books about Scottish composers. One looks in vain for biographies of Hamish MacCunn, John Blackwood McEwen, Alexander Mackenzie, William Wordsworth or Iain Hamilton. So, in many ways this book is the first of its kind. Someone pointed out to me that there is a fine biography of Ronald Stevenson - but he was born in Blackburn, although for some reason many people suppose him to be a Scot!

The structure of Purser’s book is a model for future studies. He writes a basically chronological text, but not quite. He intersperses the biographic flow with chapters on various important aspects of Chisholm’s musical activities and influences and friendships. For example, he majors on the Scottish inheritance that was so important for his music. Chisholm was beholden to the folk-music of the past in his task of forging a Scottish vernacular. It is this part of his career that earned him the nickname of MacBartók. It was his largely successful attempt at fusing a modernist style with the music of national music of previous generations that gave the distinctive sound to much of his music. This is expressed most forcibly in the fine series of Piobaireachd and the Sonatine Ecossaise. Another revealing digression is the study of Chisholm’s friendship with Sorabji and his music. A major essay on the Active Society of the Propagation of Contemporary Music is an important contribution to Scottish musical history in general. Later chapters explore the influence of Hindustani music, and the writing of Chisholm’s only book, The Operas of Leos Janacek. 
The apparatus of the book is of supreme interest. I am pleased that John Purser has opted for endnotes rather than footnotes. Two important appendixes present information about the Active Society and the Scottish sources of Chisholm’s Piano works. The first appendix is fascinating: it details the concerts and the office bearers of the Active Music Society between the years 1930 and 1937. The lists of works performed include pieces by Alfredo Casella, Ian Whyte, Arnold Bax and Cyril Scott. The book concludes with the usual offices of Select Bibliography, Discography, Selected Compositions and a comprehensive Index.

I guess that I was a little disappointed that there was not a complete ‘works list’ in this rather expensive book. To be fair, John Purser has provided some mitigation for this less than ideal state of affairs. He explains that Michael Tuffin is currently preparing a full catalogue of Chisholm’s music: this is due to be published in the near future. Furthermore he argues that the Erik Chisholm web pages link to the Scottish Music Information Centre’s Catalogue which is reasonably complete. However if the reader looks at the latest edition of Lewis Foreman’s biography of Arnold Bax, they will find a complete list of works, in spite of the fact that Graham Parlett has produced a fine and indispensable catalogue.

I think that the compromise would have been a complete listing of all the works and their many subdivisions, along with the date of composition, publisher and perhaps the date of the first performance. All other details such as reviews and bibliographical references could have been left to the forth coming volume. I was also a bit disappointed that the discography did not give the dates of the recording and in a few cases the performers are not noted.

These two criticisms apart, this is a superb publication. It is a massive investigation into the life and music of one of Scotland’s great, but massively underrated composers. It will provide the biographical and musical reference material for all interested parties for years to come. I wish that I had this book available when I was writing my reviews of the first five CDs of the Complete Piano Music. This is a book that can be read cover to cover, or can be used as a source book. Once the catalogue is available it will make a hugely valuable resource for Chisholm’s life and works in particular and Scottish music in general.

This is a book that looks good and certainly feels good. The text is printed on high quality paper in a font that is clear and easy to read. The book is well illustrated, with a large number of musical examples, a fine collection of line drawings and a good selection of black and white and colour photographs. The style of the writing is readable without in any sense failing to uphold the highest of scholarly standards. It is an expensive book, retailing at £50 which is more likely to be purchased by libraries and institutions rather than a mass of individuals. However, for scholars and writers who are interested in this composer or the period of his activity, it is an essential purchase.
If I had not received this book as a review copy I would most certainly have been saving up to buy one.

Erik Chisholm, Scottish Modernist 1904-1965 ‘Chasing a Restless Muse’ by John Purser The Boydell Press, hardback, 283 pages ISBN 978-1-84383-460-1 £50:00

With thanks to MusicWeb International

Monday 12 October 2009

Bluebell Klean: Concerto in E minor for Pianoforte and Orchestra

I recently wrote a post about this composer. Basically I collected all the bits and pieces that I could find and which others had given me the references for. There is not much. Even a search of the contemporary Census records has borne no fruit. It seems likely that Bluebell Klean is a pseudonym of some sort, although I do understand the surname Klean is of Jewish origin, and there were a number of people called this reported in the 1891 and 1901 census – but not Bluebell. I have enquired at the Royal College of Music: she did not attend there nor, it seems at the Royal Academy of Music.
It is always difficult to discuss music that one has not heard. With this Piano Concerto it is highly unlikely to be heard – unless the score and the parts were to turn up. Yet it is a good example of how a major piece can be composed, performed and then largely forgotten. The cynic would suggest that it was because she was a women, however I could name at least half a dozen other Piano Concertos from that period that have also been lost to the world. It seems to be a common problem.
The first and most likely the last performance of Bluebell Klean’s Piano Concerto was given at Bournemouth on December 13 1917. The composer was the soloist and the orchestra was conducted by Sir Dan Godfrey. Other works in this concert included Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony in A minor The Scotch Op.56 and Frederic Corder’s Prospero Overture and Charpentier’s Impression d’Italie. The Musical Times records that “this work was ‘very capably played by the composer and proved to be a work of merit’.

We are fortunate in having the programme note for this work, and I make no apology for reproducing it below – with a few minor edits.

Analytical Programme Note by F Gilbert-Webb

“The composer of this work is British born, and has received her musical training entirely in England. The most noteworthy of her compositions are a Quintet in C minor, for pianoforte and strings, which has been performed twice at the Wigmore Hall, London, and a Piano Trio in F. Miss Klean has also written many songs, the best known of which are The Water Sprite and A Fancy of Fontenelle. She has twice had the honour of playing before Queen Mary.
The concerto is constructed on classical line. It begins with an orchestral tutti which starts the delivery of the principal subject, Allegro ma non troppo. It is of emphatic character, in E minor, and is followed by what is technically known as a bridge passage leading to the second chief subject in G major. The bridge passage should be observed as much use is made of it in varied forms as the work proceeds.
If the first theme is taken as expressive of the masculine element of the music, the second theme is amiably feminine. The pianoforte enters with a short cadenza built upon the first subject. When the orchestra re-enters it is with the same subject which is dealt with simultaneously by the solo instrument. In due course the pianoforte takes up the second theme and when it is repeated by the orchestra it is ornamented by the solo instrument. After the return of the first subject in a tutti in C, the pianoforte indulges in an important cadenza. These portions form the development section, in which is contained the recapitulation of the thematic material. In this the second subject returns in E major and proves its feminine character by dominating the situation. The conclusion is approached by a long pedal passage on F sharp, which leads to an exuberant finale.
The second movement is an Andante in E major in three-four measure. It opens with an introduction of twelve bars leading to the announcement by the orchestra of the principal melody, the significance of which is increased by a syncopated accompaniment. The pianoforte repeats the theme slightly varied. Presently the solo instrument introduces two phrases from the principal subject of the first movement. These are repeated by the orchestra on its re-entrance. A climax is worked up and proves the herald of the second subject in C sharp minor. The pianoforte repeats it with varied treatment. Later on the first melody returns in E major on the flutes and violins. Another big climax is built up, but the movement ends quietly with passages based on the principal melody.
The finale is in Rondo form. It is in E major and begins with a short introduction based on the first tow notes of the Rondo subject. The pianoforte announces this theme which gains in vivacity by being written in the rhythm of the Polka and by the manner it is supported by the orchestra. The second subject is in C major, is of a light character, and is ingeniously approached by the orchestra, which announces it. Some frisky passages on the pianoforte seem to express satisfaction with the second subject while being delivered by the orchestra. Subsequently the principal themes are heard in combination. A climax having been achieved there ensues an episode in B flat. This is founded on a singing melody given out by the pianoforte. When repeated by the orchestra the solo instrument indulges in some chattering remarks in counterpoint. In due course the Rondo theme returns slightly varied for full orchestra. The melody of the Episode comes back, but now in E major and in augmented form. The pianoforte has some airy passages, and a big climax is worked up in Eb upon the episode from which, by an ingenious modulation, the conclusion is approached, the concerto ending brilliantly in E major.”

Saturday 10 October 2009

Percy Whitlock: The Feast of St Benedict

Percy Whitlock’s only concert overture – The Feast of St Benedict, was actually written some time before the appointment to the post of organist at the Bournemouth Pavilion The work was conceived as an entry into a competition run by the Daily Telegraph newspaper in 1933/34. It is very hard to imagine the said broadsheet having such an event in the 21st century. However, it was an important event in its day. They managed to get a few big names on the panel of judges. Sir Henry Wood and Sir Hamilton Harty were the conductors and Arthur Bliss and Frank Bridge were considering the work from a composer’s point of view. The prize went to the fifty-five year old Cyril Scott for his less than typical Festival Overture.
There is no doubt that Percy Whitlock was a touch peeved at being overlooked. He claims that he did not even get a mention, far less a commendation. He added a note to the score stating that ‘…an arrangement is pending for two toothpicks and a gas jet.’ Although this was a typical Whitlockian jest, it does betray a degree of bitterness.

The work itself is extremely competent – inhabiting that territory which lies well beyond light music. This work owes much to the ‘romanticism’ of Elgar - especially in the extremely effective opening section. It perhaps reflects the In the South type of mood that flooded light into so many works of this period. It is quite manifestly not an ‘Anglican’ celebration of this Saint’s feast day; the intention of the composer was to write it in the spirit of a ‘continental’ fiesta. There are ostensibly three sections or themes running through the work; that of Festivity, Love and Religious feeling. Yet these themes interplay. There are moments of quiet amongst the boisterousness of procession. If any criticism could be made of the work it is that in places it is a little too diverse in style. There are some extremely constructive sections whereas occasionally one feels that the composer is padding a little. Some of the tranquil moments are extremely poignant. These betray an almost ‘Finzian’ pastoralism, yet we know that Finzi had written little at this time. What one cannot fault is the scoring. This was a piece for full orchestra, which also called for harp and organ. To balance such forces was an achievement for any composer. However, Whitlock’s handling of the brass is especially effective. I have regretted in other places that he never chose to compose for brass band – the March Phoebe excepted. Some of the scoring and the textures look forward to the magisterial Organ Symphony. This work is no whimsical joke; it is the product of a fine and balanced musicianship; it is romantic music at its best and deserves to take its place as one of the fine concert overtures produced by any English composer in the last century.
Listen to Whitlock’s The Feast of St Benedict on Marco Polo

Thursday 8 October 2009

Frances Allitsen : A Brief Biography by Arthur Elson & Everett E. Truette

I recently found this short note about a certain Frances Allitsen (real name Mary Bumpus) in Arthur Elson's Woman’s Work In Music. I had never heard of this lady before. However, I brief search on Google found a fair few references to her, including a number of recordings of her song, The Lord is my Light on YouTube.
The COPAC website returns nearly two hundred catalogue references to her, so she was quite prolific. Philip Scowcroft on MusicWeb International mentions a fair few songs including Psalm 62, Two Christmas Songs, Love is a Bubble, Margaret, Break, Diviner Light, Prince Ivan's Song, The Sou'Wester, Since We Parted, A Song of the Four Seasons, Youth and Thy Voice is Heard Thro' Rolling Drum. Finally he notes that “she did not...confine herself to songs. During the 1880s she brought out a Piano Sonata (1881) and, for orchestra, a Suite de Ballet and the overtures Slavonique and Undine (both 1884). Her cantata For The Queen was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1911 and her works also embraced a "romantic opera", Bindra the Minstrel.”

Sophie Fuller in her article in the National Bibliography notes that Allitsen “died of pleurisy on 1 October 1912 at her home, 20 Queen's Terrace, St John's Wood Road, London, and was buried in Hampstead cemetery.” Francis Allitsen is also referenced in Grove. 

“Frances Allitsen passed a lonely childhood in a little English village. She would improvise war-like ballads for amusement, though her later works and her character are marked by gentleness of thought She hoped to make a name by singing, but unfortunately lost her voice. Her family were all hostile to a musical career, and regarded her tastes as most heinous. She describes the scene of her youth as a place "where, if a girl went out to walk, she was accused of wanting to see the young men come in on the train; where the chief talk was on the subject of garments, and the most extravagant excitement consisted of sandwich parties. Domestic misfortunes and illness left their mark on her, but could not hinder her musical progress. She finally sent some manuscripts to Weist-Hill, of the Guildhall Music School, and with his approval came to London. Her days were spent in teaching, to earn money with which to pay for her studies in the evening, but she braved all difficulties, and finally won success. She is best known in America by her songs, which are really beautiful settings of Browning, Shelley, Longfellow, Heine, and other great poets. But she is a master of orchestral technique as well. Her overture, Slavonique, was successfully performed, and a second one, Undine, won a prize from the lady mayoress. Her room is a delightful gallery of photographs of artists and musicians. She has a picture of Kitchener, whose example, she says, ought to cure any one of shirking ; hence the mistaken anecdote that she could not work without a picture of Kitchener on her desk.”
Elson, Arthur, Woman’s Work In Music 1903 (1931) p148f

Listen to a versions of Francis Allitsen’s The Lord is my Light on Youtube

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Some information about Miss Kimpton

Pamela Blevins has sent me this very interesting piece of information about Miss Kimpton, whom I referred to in my post about Eugene Goossens Miniature Phantasy. I was hoping someone would know about her . Thanks for that, Pam! And also to Audrey Salkeld for the great photograph!

Miss Kimpton was Edith Gwynne Kimpton (1873-1930 -- she died following surgery), known as Gwynne Kimpton. She was another pioneering woman who ignored convention and struck out on her own. She taught at Bromley High School for Girls and was the energetic founder/organizer of a variety of musical groups and events. She co-founded the Bromley Symphony Orchestra and was the founder of the 88-member Women's Symphony Orchestra. She championed British music and women composers. While critics might ridicule her as another of the "stick-wagging females" she never faltered in her mission to bring music to the people and to provide performance opportunities for women where there had been so few before. Marion Scott, the critic and musicologist, ran all over London one day in 1924 as she interviewed the very busy Kimpton.

That revealing interview is available in the Maud Powell Signature, Autumn 2008 issue available online at

Sunday 4 October 2009

Eugene Goossens: Miniature Phantasy

As far as I am aware the Miniature Phantasy for String Orchestra has never been recorded, however I would love someone to prove me wrong. It does not appear to have been written or commissioned by W. W. Cobbett as part of his chamber music competitions. Furthermore, I can find no reference to this work in contemporary reviews. The score was published c 1915 in London by Goodwin & Tabb.
I recently found an anonymous programme note for this work and give this below. Perhaps there is potential for investigating who Mrs Kimpton was?

“This work, written in the autumn of 1911, was originally designed for string quartet, and received its first performance as such at the Patrons Fund Concert in 190912. It was adapted in the following year, with a few modifications and the addition of a bass part, for string orchestra, the new version was heard later for the first time at one of Miss Kimpton’s orchestral concerts at the Aeolian Hall.
The thematic structure of the work does not require detailed analysis, consisting simply of a few bars introduction founded on the principal subject, which is heard in the 1st violins, and which forms the rhythmic basis of the entire movement. Later, a second subject is announced, also in the violins, and the ensuing development and climax is built up of harmonic and rhythmic elaboration of the two themes.
There follows a short recapitulation of the principal material, and the work ends quietly with a short coda merging, in the last few bars from minor to major. From this it will be seen that the Phantasy is structurally conventional, and though hardly typical of the composer’s recent harmonic experiments, is none the less written in free harmonic style. The Phantasy is dedicated to Sir Henry Wood.”
[With minor corrections and edits]

Friday 2 October 2009

Parry & Stanford: A Brief Note by Helen Henschel

I came across this rather interesting note about Parry and Stanford by Helen Henschel. It is a book that has many interesting anecdotes and notes that deserve recording. Helen Henschel (1882-1973) was a singer, pianist and author. Her father was the well known conductor and composer Sir George Henschel who had died in 1934. His daughter was to write his biography. Interestingly both father and daughter used to give song recitals where they accompanied themselves at the piano. The story of Helen’s life was told in her book, When Soft Voices Die: A Musical Biography.

A MORE ideal Director than Sir Hubert Parry could hardly be imagined: In her fascinating book Without Knowing Mr. Walkley, Miss Edith Olivier [1] describes Parry as a "whirlwind of genius." It was' the whirlwind 'side of him that would blow him suddenly round the corner from his, office at College, to catch you by the ankle as you were running upstairs, while he asked you with mock ferocity where you were going and how dare you, anyway? And the genius, apart from its musical manifestations, lay in the balance he kept between boyish friendliness and the dignity essential to his position as Director. Parry was a big man in every sense of the word; a big man and a great gentleman.
Dr. Villiers Stanford, professor of composition at the College can rightly be called the spiritual father of practically' all our best contemporary English composers. In considering the brilliance of his pupils, one is apt to forget what lovely music he wrote himself. Not only the songs, so inextricably associated with their ideal exponent, Harry Plunket Greene, but no less than six symphonies [2], of which the Irish is the most widely known, some delightful operas, and an oratorio, Eden. My father sang the part of Satan when this oratorio was produced in Birmingham in 1921. To musicians, the names of Parry and Stanford are usually coupled together in the mind, probably because they appeared side by side in a musical firmament which for many years had been devoid of bright stars. This is largely true, also, of their bodily appearance at College.
In a topical revue of the time, they might easily have been depicted as "Parryanstanford"-a sort of Siamese twin, like “Williamanmary" in the revue 1066 And All That. Though it would have been difficult for these two to have kept their equilibrium in the part; because, as against Parry's speed and rush, Stanford moved very slowly with an odd and most charac­teristic walk, of short, shuffling steps, the feet turned out almost at right angles. I never saw him hurry.
Henschel, Helen, When Soft Voices Die: A Musical Biography (John Westhouse (Publishers) Limited 1944) p.110

[1] Olivier, Edith, 1879-1948, an author who specialised in books set in Wiltshire
[2] Of course, Stanford wrote seven symphonies!