Friday 28 December 2012

Hubert Parry: Mr Punch’s Sketchy Interview from 1903

I recently came across this ‘interview’ in an old copy of the venerable Punch magazine. The humour may not be what we expect some 110 years later, however there are some witty lines and a good balance between ‘fact’ and ‘fantasy.’  A broad understanding of musical allusion is required from the reader.  Parry, aged 55, was at this time the Director of the Royal College of Music. The ‘interview’ is correct in stating that he gained a Bachelor of Music whilst still at Eton – and became the youngest person to have achieved this. Between 1870 and 1877 he did indeed work as an underwriter at Lloyds of London, however the ‘tromba marina’ may be a fabrication! Much of the wit in this piece is predicated on the fact that Hubert Parry was an incorrigible adventurer – on the roads and at sea. The capitalisation is in the original text!

'AVAST there!' cried the genial Director of the Royal College of Music, playfully saluting us with a belaying pin and several marlinspikes, as we entered his sumptuous sanctum in Prince Consort Road. Sir HUBERT, it should be explained, was originally intended for the Navy, and to this day spends all his available leisure on the briny deep. But having inadvertently become a Bachelor of Music while still at Eton, it was impossible for him to be altogether wedded to the ocean wave. Proceeding from Eton to Exeter College, Oxford, he took kindly to cricket, and foreshadowed his distinction in other fields of activity by his free and easy scoring. After Oxford the naval instinct once more asserted itself, and for a short time he occupied a desk at Lloyd's, where he edited a collection of sailors' ‘chanties,’ and practised assiduously on the tromba marina.
Encouraged by the reception of these efforts, young PARRY studied composition under HERRESHOFF, KIEL, DANNREUTHER, [1] and, having submitted a masterly exercise in demonstration of the hitherto unsuspected truth that two consecutive fifths are equal to a submerged tenth, was granted his certificate as Master Mariner, and was shortly afterwards appointed musical critic to the Pilot. His deep interest in the Mercantile Marine was further evinced in the fact that perhaps his most resounding success was achieved in a cantata richly scored for a Pair of Sirens. His notorious prowess as a swimmer is fitly commemorated in his incidental music to The Frogs, while his favourite song is ‘L'esperto nocchiero.’ [2]

The readiness with which Sir HUBERT vouchsafed information on these points encouraged us to ask a few further questions. ‘Have you time,’ we asked, ‘to play any instrument nowadays?’ ‘Nary a blooming one,’ was the prompt response. Then with a swift return to the decorous diction of The Evolution of Music, [3] he added, ‘Unfortunately premature baldness rendered it absolutely impossible for me to attain distinction as a pianistic virtuoso.’ [4]
‘Is it true, Sir HUBERT,’ we timidly queried, ‘that in one of your lectures you alluded to the old Masters as 'those old buffers’?’ ‘Great César Cui,’ exploded the Director, ‘did I really now? Well, it shan't occur again. But I sometimes forget that I am a Choragus [5], and lapse into the breezy vernacular. You see it is harder to play the part when you don't look it.’ We may add that it is the great sorrow of Sir HUBERT’s life that no stranger ever took him for a musician.
Adroitly changing the subject we then inquired: - ‘Which do you think the greater composer, RICHARD STRAUSS or SOUSA?’ [6] ‘O, come now,’ said Sir HUBERT PARRY, ‘you might as well ask me the difference between a March King and a March Hare or a May Queen,’ he added, as a familiar strain of STERNDALE BENNETT'S [7] floated up the corridor. ‘Personally I am more akin to SOUSA, as we are both J.P.'s.’  ‘Your duties then must be very arduous?’ ‘They are indeed. The crew of the Royal College numbers upwards of 400, and, as they all sing or play, the noise is sometimes tremendous. However, I have a bomb-proof turret into which I retire at times. And then I have a splendid set of officers -an eloquent PARRATT, an ARBOS who is never up a tree, a WOOD who never shivers his timbers, a BRIDGE who plays his game two handed -wonderful fellows all of them.’ [8]
 ‘And what are your recreations?’ ‘Well, an occasional novel - being a skipper comes in handy there - and attending my parish council in Gloucestershire. And that reminds me that I have only eight minutes to catch my train at Paddington. You’ll excuse me if I leave you.’
To light a powerful cigar, to seize his coat, hat, and a huge bundle of MS score, take a flying leap into a passing hansom, was for Sir HUBERT the work of fewer seconds than it takes us to describe his meteoric movements. From his courteous registrar, who accompanied us to the vestibule, we learned that the Director is causing his friends no little anxiety by his avowed intention of purchasing a submarine yacht, having so often previously attempted to commit Parrycide on sea and land. [8]

Punch February 25 1903 (with minor edits)

[1] Comically alluding to "Captain Nat," - Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (1848-1938) who was an American naval architect. Between 1892 and 1920 he designed a series of winning America's Cup defenders. Friedrich Kiel (1821-1885) was a composer and teacher, however there is no evidence that Parry studied with him. It is a play on nautical words... Edward George Dannreuther (1844-1905) did give the composer piano lessons which later developed into studies of analysis and composition.
[2] The music alluded to here is the famous Blessed Pair of Sirens (1887) which is a setting of John Milton’s fine poem, At a solemn Musick. The work was recently heard at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding. In 1892 Parry provided incidental music to Aristophanes’ play The Frogs. Finally the song alluded to as ‘L'esperto nocchiero’ is from Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Astarto (1715): the opening lines are 'The expert ship’s pilot- why does he return to the shore hardly set-sail?’
[3] The Evolution of the Art of Music (1896) is a book written by Hubert Parry: the intention of it ‘was to trace the origins of music in 'the music of savages, folk music, and medieval music' and to show 'the continuous process of the development of the Musical Art in actuality'’
[4] Presumably, in those days pianists (and violinists) were stereotyped as having long flowing locks a là Liszt.
[5] ‘Choragus’ - a person who rules or guides or inspires others.
[6] Nothing need be said about the relative merits of Richard Strauss or John Philip Sousa – it would like be trying to equate the keyboard works of Billy Mayerl with Johann Sebastian Bach – steak or ice-cream – both equally delicious in their own way.
[7] The reference here is to William Sterndale Bennett’s (1816-1875) once-popular cantata The May Queen. Having studied the score I do feel that this may be worth the occasional revival.
[8] Doyens of the Edwardian era included the composer and organist Walter Parratt (1841-1924) who succeeded Parry as the Heather Professor of Music at Oxford and was a teacher of the organ at the Royal College of Music between 1883 and 1923. 
Enrique Fernandez Arbo (1863-1939) was a Spanish violinist and conductor. He taught the violin at the RCM between 1894 and 1916. Charles Wood (1866–1926) was a Professor of Composition from 1896–1923. His pupils included Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. The ‘Bridge’ referred to here is Sir John Frederick Bridge (1844 –1924) who was an English organist, composer, teacher and writer. He taught a number of later well-known composers including Edward Bairstow and Arthur Benjamin. His book A Westminster Pilgrim (1918) is a joy to read. .
[8] Charles Hubert Parry was well-known for his propensity to crash cars, to gain speeding fines and to capsize his yacht. The following anecdote gives a flavour of his seamanship and hence the reference to Parrycide – “One day he was enjoying a very Elysium of happiness sailing all alone in a canoe in a very stiff breeze. He was capsized and had to swim about two miles to terra firma. But he would not lose the boat, and towed it ashore with the rope of the boat between his teeth, an operation which took nearly an hour and a half!”

Tuesday 25 December 2012

A Merry Christmas...

A Very Happy Christmas to all readers of
'The Land of Lost Content'

The True Christmas by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695) 
So stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.

Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing.
And mortifies the earth and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flowers, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts' warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show:
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate;
But to the manger's mean estate.

His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth;
And all man's greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.
     Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherd's watchfulness:
Whom light and hymns from heaven did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.

And as a musical offering I recommend Gustav Holst's majestic Personent Hodie sung by King's college Cambridge. 

Sunday 23 December 2012

Charles Burney on the Early Performance of J.S. Bach in the UK

I recently came across this short account by Charles Burney (1726-1814) the English music historian, of the earliest known performances of music by Johann Sebastian Bach.  The passage is taken from an essay on ‘Infant Prodigies’ in the musical world which was issued in 1779. Burney refers to events some thirty years previously. However, it is known that Johann Gottfried Wilhelm Palschau (pictured) gave recitals in London in 1754 – some four years after the composer’s death. Fortunately R. Kaiser has written about these concerts in an article in the 1993 Bach Jahrbuch:- ‘Palschaus Bach-Spiel in London: zur Bach-Pflege in England um 1750’. It is an avenue that I will follow up, once I have brushed up my German.  However, I understand that although this paper shows that a number of periodicals reported that Palschau did indeed play in London, no mention is made of the repertoire.

“Musical prodigies of this kind are not infrequent: there have been several in my own memory on the harpsichord. About thirty years ago I heard PALSCHAU, a German boy of nine or ten years old, then in London, perform with great accuracy many of the most difficult compositions that have been written for keyed instruments, particularly some lessons and double fugues by SEBASTIAN BACH, the father of the present eminent professor of that name, which, at that time, there were very few masters in Europe able to execute, as they contained difficulties of a particular kind; such as rapid divisions for each hand in a series of thirds, and in sixths, ascending and descending, besides those of full harmony and contrivance in nearly as many parts as fingers, such as abound in the lessons and organ fugues of HANDEL”.
Account of an Infant Musician. By Charles Burney Doctor of Music, FRS Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society of London 1779 Volume 69, 183-206 [with minor edits]

Friday 21 December 2012

Frank Bridge: Winter Pastoral for piano solo

Winter Pastoral which dates from 1925 is written in Bridge’s ‘later’ chromatic style. In this case it is not a virtuosic piece; it can be played by any good pianist. However, its ‘chilly’ language and subtle balance of dissonance and traditional harmonies are difficult to ‘pull off’ well. Compared to some of Bridge's more romantic sounding piano music it has a very spare texture. 
The work is played ‘andante molto moderato’ throughout – with a short ‘poco largamente’ at bar 27.  However, there are a couple of time signature changes from the prevailing 6/4 to 9/4. 
Few works of this period (by any composer) opened with a four-bar melodic figure, unsupported by any harmony. Note the preponderance of the interval of the perfect fourth and the use of the tritone harmony (G to C#) at bar 3. This adds to the bleakness of the music. 

The composer repeats and varies this theme, which is the first thematic statement, throughout the work.  The second thematic group is first heard at bar 10:-

The harmonic effect is typically created by counterpoising a dissonant chord followed by, in this case a C major chord with an added 4th. Bridge relaxes the dissonance in this thematic group, however typically the first chord is harsher than the one that follows it. 
At this point (bar 24 below) Bridge makes use of a harmonic cycle of thirds. The progression begins with C major, E minor  then to A major and F major. The following bar has a cycle of seconds: - C major, D major, E minor down a perfect 5th to A major.  There is not a single harsh harmony in these bars. 

The ‘poco largamente’ section begins at bar 27. This is brittle music that has the ‘melody’ played by both hands an octave apart and is decorated with chords of the tritone.

The work concludes with a reprise of the opening unaccompanied theme.

Winter Pastoral describes a cold, frosty morning to perfection. However, it is a million miles away from any kind of ‘folksy’ bucolic pastoral scene.  As Chung Sik Bae has remarked in his thesis Frank Bridge’s Solo Piano Works (1996) ‘its peaceful and bucolic spirit seems warm enough t melt the cold and frosty winter season.’  He suggest that he spacious texture and colorisitic harmonic sonorities create a quiet winter scene with occasional snow dropping from white trees stirred by a gentle wind.’
Jed Adie Galant in his thesis The Solo Piano works of Frank Bridge  (1987) has written that this work is, in fact, a melancholy recollection of the earlier Miniature Pastorals (1917, 1921) and of the English pastoral[e] in general.’
The reviewer in the Musical Times (Septeber 1928) states that Winter Pastoral is a ‘vivid little work giving exactly the right note of bleakness and solemnity’. He concludes by suggesting that ‘it is not over fanciful to say that one can sense in Bridge’s music that the landscape has character apart from its winter bareness or its summer luxuriance. The music seems to touch something not merely superficial, but essential.’
Finally, Calum Macdonald gives a pleasing account of this work in his liner notes for Peter Jacobs recording of this work. He notes that ‘it shows Bridge approaching his latest manner in terms of refinement and economy of gesture.’ He points out the ‘single  dolce tune wending its way through a bare and frosty landscape [with] open fifth hanging in the air like puffs of condensing breaths.’

Frank Bridge added the date 4 December 1928 at the end of the holograph. However, the composer produced a ‘final autography copy’ of the work which incorporated a number of changes. Winter Pastoral (H168) was published by Augener in 1928. 

Peter Jacobs, Frank Bridge: Complete Music for Piano Volume 1:  Continuum CCD1016
Mark Bebbington, Frank Bridge Piano Music Volume III: SOMM CD0107

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Herbert Howells (1892-1983): Sing Lullaby (Carol-Anthem)

In 1916 Herbert Howells had been diagnosed with Graves’s disease and was given only a short time to live.  Radium injections, which were then an advanced medical procedure, were largely successful in providing a cure; however it left the composer in a weakened state. His first major appointment as sub-organist at Salisbury Cathedral was cut-short due to the stress of travel and this treatment. During his long convalescence between 1917 and 1920, Howells was employed by the Carnegie Trust as an editor of Tudor manuscripts, assisting R.R. Terry of Westminster Cathedral.  During this period he composed a considerable corpus of orchestral and chamber music.  These include Puck’s Minuet, Merry Eye and the Elegy, Op.15, for viola, string quartet and string orchestra. In 1918 he composed the second and third Rhapsodies for organ.  The two Violin Sonatas also date from this time.  Howells also wrote three important choral works during these years: the cantata Sir Patrick Spens for baritone, chorus and orchestra, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis in G major and the Three Carol-Anthems.

The first carol-anthem was ‘Here is the Little Door’ (1918) to a text by Francis Chesterton, the wife of the poet and writer G.K. Chesterton. In 1919 Howells composed ‘A Spotless Rose’ to words from an anonymous 14th century carol.  The present ‘Sing Lullaby’ was set to words by F.W. Harvey during 1920.
We are lucky to possess a short note by the composer about ‘Sing Lullaby’: they were written for the Argo record sleeve notes (RG507 Herbert Howells Church Music) - ‘This was the third in the set. Here too a poet found the verses for me. FW Harvey, the Gloucestershire poet, friend of Ivor Gurney had written and published the poem only a short time before this setting was made.’ (Palmer, 1992)

Frederick William Harvey was born in Hartpury in Gloucestershire in 1888. He was educated at the King’s School in Gloucester and then at Rossall School on the Lancashire coast. During this period he formed close friendships with the composer/poet Ivor Gurney and with Herbert Howells.  Prior to the Great War, Harvey began training for the legal profession. However, in 1914 he volunteered for the Gloucestershire Regiment. He served in France, was promoted to Lance-Corporal and was awarded the DCM. After officer training, he was again posted to France where he was captured whilst operating behind the German lines. Harvey was held in a prisoner-of-war camp until after the Armistice.
After the war he returned to the legal practice where he worked largely as a defence solicitor. However, this was not financially secure and he sold the practice in the 1930s. The remainder of his life was spent in a Bohemian manner and he was much involved in the promotion of his beloved Forest of Dean and Gloucestershire. He died whilst living at Yorkley in 1957. Harvey wrote a considerable quantity of poetry which was mainly published between 1916 and 1926. His most famous poem is ‘Ducks’ (From troubles of the world/I turn to ducks). Some of the poet’s work was set by Ivor Gurney, Herbert Brewer and Herbert Howells.

Sing lullaby, sing lullaby,
While snow doth softly [gently] fall,
Sing lullaby to Jesus
Born in an oxen-stall.

Sing lullaby to Jesus,
Born now in Bethlehem,
The naked blackthorn’s growing
To weave His diadem.

Sing lullaby, sing lullaby
While thickly snow doth fall,
Sing lullaby to Jesus
The Saviour of all.
F.W. Harvey (1888-1957)

‘Sing Lullaby’ was first published in Harvey’s volume Farewell in 1921.  Interestingly, it is not included in the Collected Poems of F.W Harvey (1983) or in Anthony Boden’s F.W Harvey Soldier, Poet (1988, 1999).  There is a significant textual variation in the first stanza: Howells has set the line, ‘While snow doth gently fall’ whereas the published text is While snow doth softly fall.’  Both words are equally effective as the idea is to counterpoise this ‘gentle’ image with that of ‘thickly falling’ in the final verse. It is possible that Howells’ ‘setting’ reflects the poet’s original thought and that it was revised by Harvey for publication in the book.
The carol was dedicated to Harry Stevens-Davis. Davis was a City of London banker who became a pupil of Herbert Howells. He was one-time organist of Beaconsfield Parish Church. In 1920, the carol was published by Stainer & Bell in the Church Choir Library series No.228.

‘Sing Lullaby’ is a four-part ‘a cappella’ setting for mixed chorus. The key structure is largely modal, with the prevailing tonality being F Dorian. Jeffrey Shawn Wilson (1996) has noted how the carol begins with ‘the soft lulling of voices in a seamless flowing texture in which bar lines appear to be unnecessary.’  It is a perfect musical analogy to the text ‘Sing lullaby, /While snow doth gently fall.’  The effect is created by parallel second inversion chords with the occasional root position triad for variety. When the bass part enters it is independent of this flowing harmony and creates a good melodic phrase. This tune is then taken up by the sopranos.
The second stanza is treated very differently to the opening gentle lullaby. The words of this section allude to the Crucifixion – ‘The naked blackthorn’s growing/To weave His diadem’. This is presented in chordal harmony with little in the way of passing notes. Howells has used some very complex modulations which add to the unsettling feel of this part of the carol. However, the mood of the opening pages returns with the third stanza. Once again the basses and then the sopranos provide the tune whilst the other parts sing flowing ‘lullabies’’. Shawn Wilson (1996) notes that the ‘soporific snow’ which characterised the opening verse and ‘symbolized the sleeping of a newborn baby’ now represents ‘the completion of  the acts required for the salvation of the world, that is, the death and resurrection of Christ.’ 

In his thesis ‘The Music of Herbert Howells,’ Peter John Hodgson quotes the musicologist and composer Marion Scott. Writing in The Music Bulletin in May 1924 she suggested that: - ‘The three carol anthems...are singularly lovely, and afford examples of Howells’ command of flexible rhythm and sensitive beauty of melodic line. In the simple, highly finished design of ‘A Spotless Rose’ there is something indeed difficult to describe in words, but which, when heard or seen upon the pages of his score, raises insistent sense of kinship with the designs of Celtic art during its great period hundreds of years ago.’ It is a sentiment which equally applies to ‘Sing Lullaby’.
I asked the musicologist Pamela Blevins what Scott meant by her reference to ‘Celtic art’.  She referred me to her book Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott (2008). In her Introduction to Herbert Howells (in manuscript) Scott had noted that Howells’ music was influenced by both his Celtic heritage and the landscape of Gloucestershire - ‘He came naturally by an inheritance of beauty, hill, sky, cloud, river ‘blossomy plain.’  Scott continued by suggesting that ‘[A]ll these things are Gloucestershire and behind them one glimpses the successions of centuries flowing down from the mists of Celtic times in an almost unruffled and ever-widening intellectual tide.  She further observed that Howells had an ‘extraordinary affinity with the Latin, the Celtic type of design towards which he tends when embellishing a passage, his innate sympathy with Folk Song, his strong natural attachment to the countryside, particularly under its pastoral aspects, his spontaneous intimacy with Tudor thought in music, all these can be related to each other and to him as a son of Gloucester.’ 

Patrick Russill (liner notes CHAN 9458) has suggested that the Carol-Anthems as a group were the first of Howells’ choral works to ‘consistently display the same level of aural imagination and technical refinement as his chamber music and songs of the same period...’ It is certainly the case that Howells has managed to create an almost ‘impressionistic’ mood in ‘Sing Lullaby’ that transcends and elaborates its Christian origins.

Blevins, Pamela, Ivor Gurney & Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 2008)
Boden, Anthony: F.W. Harvey – Soldier, Poet (Stroud, Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1988, 1999)
F.W. Harvey: Collected Poems (Coleford, The Forest Bookshop, 1983)
F.W. Harvey: Farewell (London, Sidgwick & Jackson, LTD., 1921)
Hodgson, Peter John: The Music of Herbert Howells (Diss. University of Colorado, 1970)
Palmer, Christopher: Herbert Howells – A Centenary Celebration (London, Thames Publishing, 1992)
Scott, Marion: Introduction: XVII Herbert Howells, The Music Bulletin VI (May, 1924), 142
Spicer, Paul: Herbert Howells (Bridgend, Seren, 1998)
Wilson, Jeffrey Shawn: The Anthems of Herbert Howells 1892-1983 (Diss. University of Illinois, 1996)

Selected Discography
Herbert Howells Choral Music Hyperion CDA67494
Adeste fideles Christmas Music from Westminster Cathedral Hyperion CDA66668
Howells Choral Works Chandos CHAN9458
A Winter’s Light Naxos: 8573030
YouTube   The Choir of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, New York with James Kennerley, Organist and Music Director.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Piano Music of John Ireland on SOMM Volume 4

I have said this before – but it bears repeating. In the early nineteen seventies, I got hold of three Lyrita LPs of piano music by John Ireland played by Alan Rowlands.  I treasured these, as it was unlikely that it would ever be recorded again. Therefore, it is hard to believe that 40 years later, there are some five complete or near complete cycles of this music available in the CD catalogues.  Out of interest, these are by Alan Rowlands, Eric Parkin (two separate recordings –one on Lyrita and the other on Chandos) John Lenehan (Naxos) and finally by Mark Bebbington.  One of the desiderata of reviewing is to compare versions. Yet in this case, it is a matter beyond my capability or desire. I admit to a preference for the Lyrita versions by Alan Rowlands and Eric Parkin. However this is probably predicated on the fact that it was with these recordings that I first seriously explored this repertoire.  Both of these pianists worked with the composer – so there is a certain authority to their interpretation that may be lacking from Lenehan and Bebbington. However, I have never been disappointed with any of these recordings: all these performers give valid and sympathetic accounts of Ireland’s music. They are all in my collection.
There are three facets to Mark Bebbington’s fourth and final disc in this present cycle. Firstly, there are the ‘standard’ pieces from Ireland’s repertoire – such as ‘Merry Andrew’, ‘Equinox’ and ‘The Towing Path’. Secondly there is the delightful ‘children’s’ piece Leaves from a Child’s Sketchbook and finally there are a number of extremely rare or première recordings.  It is the last two aspects on which I wish to concentrate. 

However, a few words about the potboilers. The CD gets off to a great start with the barcarolle-like ‘The Towing Path’. It is one of the earliest Ireland pieces I heard ‘live’ and it is still one of my favourites.  The deeply expressive Three Pastels date from 1941 and are revisions of earlier pieces: they are sensitively played here.  ‘Summer Evening’ is a delightful piece of ‘South Downs’ pastoral music. Its 1919 date suggests that the composer was harking back to the Edwardian pre-Great War era.  The ‘Soliloquy’ is one of Ireland’s easier pieces to play. However, this technical facility does not hide the deeply-introverted mood of the music: it is heartbreakingly beautiful in its exploration of love and loss. ‘Spring will not wait’ is the last ‘movement’ or ‘epilogue’ to the song cycle ‘We’ll to the Woods no more’ (1928).  I am never convinced that this piece should be excerpted from the vocal work, although Stainer & Bell have issued it as a separate piece.
Included on this disc are the two pieces ‘Daydream’ and ‘Meridian’ from In those Days. These were composed when Ireland was still a student at the Royal College of Music however, he did not agree to publish them until 1961 after some gentle revision in 1941.
The final four pieces on this CD present the reflective ‘Month’s Mind’ with it 'longing desire’, the ebullient ‘On a Birthday Morning’ dedicated to close friend Arthur George Miller, the ‘Ravelian’ waltz ‘Columbine’ and lastly the toccata-like ‘Equinox’ portraying a summer storm in both the landscape and in the heart.

In 1918 Winthrop Rogers issued Ireland’s offering to a younger, less technically competent audience – probably at about today’s Grade 4 level.  If I am honest, one of the reasons I like Leaves from a Child’s Sketchbook is because I can play them – whereas the majority of the composer’s ‘grown up’ music is beyond my gift.  As the Musical Times reviewer noted, these numbers ‘show the not too frequent combination of simplicity and significance.’ I am pleased that Bebbington has chosen to play these wistful pieces with seriousness and with no condescension.

I have never had the opportunity of hearing ‘Meine Seele’, although it has been recorded before by Jonathan Plowright. This was part of the well-known, but now rarely-heard A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen assembled in 1931. This volume contained a number of miniatures by Granville Bantock, Arnold Bax, Lord Berners, Arthur Bliss, Frank Bridge, Eugene Goossens, Herbert Howells, Constant Lambert, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and W. Gillies Whittaker.  All were direct transcriptions of Bach’s music arranged for the piano. Ireland’s contribution was ‘Meine seele erhebt der herren’ (My soul doth magnify the lord) which was derived from the fourth (BWV 648) of the Six Schübler Chorale Preludes for organ.  The cycle was first performed at the Queen’s Hall on 17 October 1932 by the dedicatee. I must admit that the piece does not really appeal to me- somehow it lacks interest. However, it is good to have this piece for ‘completeness.’

In 1941, John Ireland was approached by the Ministry of Information and invited to compose a patriotic march. The ‘Epic March’ was duly first performed at a Promenade Concert on 27 June 1942.  The piano transcription of the Epic March does not work – but then neither (in my opinion) does that of Walton’s Crown Imperial or even Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance No.1. They seem to lack any sense of pianism. I also believe that it (Epic March) is a little too long. However, that does not belittle the piece – the middle section is truly lovely and presents a deeply felt tune that deserves to be part of the ‘ceremonial music' repertoire. There is nothing particularly epic about the march – except for the wartime circumstances in which it was composed.  It is well played by Mark Bebbington, and once again, it deserves its place in this ‘complete’ survey of Ireland’s music.
The third ‘novelty’ is the ‘Pastoral’. If this piece were played to the ‘innocent ear’ listener would not guess that it was written by John Ireland. This splendid work was written in 1896 by the student composer whilst he was staying at the village of Pontwgan in the Conwy Valley. The work portrays the landscape in a near perfect way. I noted in a previous review of this piece that the music ‘contrasts the the darker, introverted mood of the hills with smiling fields in the valley on a hot summer’s day.’  I do wonder if Wales was the actual inspiration for this piece or whether its true genesis was events or locations nearer to London. It was previously included in John Lenehan’s survey of Ireland’s piano music.

The CD is attractively presented with a fine ‘sepia’ photo of 'The Towing Path’ at Pangbourne. The liner notes by Bruce Phillips (President of The John Ireland Charitable Trust) are well-written and extremely helpful. The disc is filled with some 74 minutes of music.  Finally, the sound quality is all that I have come to expect from SOMM.
This present recording concludes Mark Bebbington’s exploration of the ‘complete’ piano music of John Ireland. Each CD has presented a well-balanced programme that examines different aspects of the composer’s remarkable achievement. I have enjoyed Bebbington’s performance on this disc and throughout the series. I consider that his playing is excellent, is sympathetic and reveals a deep scholarly and emotional engagement with this important and beautiful music. 

I stick by my assertion that all lovers of John Ireland’s music will insist on owning all the currently available editions of the piano works – including the excellent EMI discs by Daniel Adni and Desmond Wright. However for completeness, the Bebbington cycle cannot be beaten. It is an excellent place to begin (and complete) a detailed exploration of some of the finest piano music in the repertoire of British music. Finally, if SOMM and Mark Bebbington are looking for other composers’ music to ‘explore’ – how about Harry Farjeon, Leo Livens or Alec Rowley?

Track Listing:
Piano Music of John Ireland Volume 4
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Towing Path (1918) Three Pastels: A Grecian Lad, The Boy Bishop, Puck’s Birthday (1941) Summer Evening (1919) Soliloquy (1922) ‘Spring Will Not Wait’ (1926-7) In Those Days: Daydream, Meridian (1895) Merry Andrew (1918) Leaves from a Child’s Sketchbook: By the Mere, In the Meadow, The Hunt’s Up (1918) Meine Seele (1931) Epic March (1942), Pastoral (1896) Month’s Mind (1933) On a Birthday Morning (1922) Columbine (1949/51)
Equinox (1922)
Mark Bebbington (piano)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

The Complete C.W. Orr Songbook- Volume 2

It does not seem long ago since I reviewed Volume 1 of this most desirable CD production. In fact, it was only March of this year.  I am delighted that the second volume has followed so rapidly: often these projects get a wee bit bogged down in cash-flow matters and time scales.  However, the present CD concludes what is an exceptionally valuable and important programme of English song. Let us be honest: if C.W. Orr had been called ‘Henri Duparc’ there would probably have been over a hundred discs devoted to his music. As it is, there are only odd songs in remote corners of song recital CDs. The ‘Complete Songs of C.W. Orr’ will probably be the one and only ‘complete’ survey of Orr’s vocal music in my lifetime. Yet these songs are not only important, they are (often) beautiful examples of the genre.

Twelve out of nineteen songs are settings of texts by Alfred Edward Housman. The disc opens with the important Five Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad.’ These include ‘With rue my heart is laden’, ‘This time of year’, ‘Oh, when I was in love with you’, ‘Is my team ploughing’ and ‘On your midnight pallet lying’. These were composed between 1924-26 and were published a couple of years later.  However, they were not issued as a collection until 1959. It is fair to say they are not a ‘song-cycle’ but a set of songs that benefit being sung together and in the order presented.
Perhaps the finest song in this group is ‘Is my team ploughing?’ It is hard to forget the R.V.W. and Butterworth settings of this text; however, Orr does not try to parody these. There is always a danger that this poem can sound a little banal – especially with the line ‘The goal stands up, the keeper/Stands up to keep the goal’ eschewed by Vaughan Williams. Orr has managed to create a sound world that explores the depth of the poem rather than the detail.
The other song that stood out for me was ‘On your midnight pallet lying’ which reflects the thoughts of a young man about to leave his lover and join his comrades setting out for war. Its mood sums up the depressing thoughts of the soldier.

Arthur Waley was a well-known ‘Orientalist’ who taught himself Japanese and Chinese. He published many books including a number of volumes of poetry in translation.  ‘Plucking the Rushes’ was first published in the 1918 collection of 170 Chinese Poems.  The song is remarkable for its attractive melody and unexpected chromatic twists. The setting is Orr’s earliest surviving song. 

For his ‘Four Songs’ (1959) Orr turned his attention to a wide variety of poets. The first is ‘Banhofstrasse’ by James Joyce (1882-1941).  This was the composer’s contribution to the ‘Joyce Book’ which were settings by various hands of 13 poems from the poet’s volume Pomes Pennyeach. Joyce suffered from his first attack of glaucoma on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse. The poem is a reaction to a realisation that ‘youth was behind him, but that he had yet to obtain the sagacity of old age.’ This, to my mind this is one of the best of Orr’s songs: it is an ideal musical evocation of the poem’s sentiment.

Helen Waddell (1889-1965) is justly famous for her translation of ‘Medieval Latin Lyrics’ published in 1929 and still in print. The liner notes point out that the words ‘Take, him, earth for cherishing’ are best-known in Herbert Howells’ choral setting in memory of John F. Kennedy. However, Orr’s 1954 song is equally moving and once again reflects on the the composer’s sense of his own mortality. This is a powerful song that is both introverted and lugubrious. The original Latin text was written by the Christian poet Prudentius.
Thomas Hood (1799-1845) provides the words for ‘The time of rose.’ It is one of the more optimistic settings on this CD, although the words can be interpreted as being more depressing than the music would suggest.
Robert Bridges (1844-1930) is a poet who is largely ignored today, in spite of the fact he was Poet Laureate.  ‘Since thou, O fondest and truest’ was Orr’s final song. I must admit that it is hard work to listen to: I would love to be able to appreciate and enjoy this work being the composer’s last ‘word’ on song-composition; however, I find it too miserable and dirge-like.

Two other settings from Helen Waddell translations are included on this CD. The first is the withdrawn ‘Hymn before Sleep’, also translated from Prudentius. ‘While summer on is sleeping' is taken from the Benediktbeuern Manuscript is the easiest on the mind in this present collection. The text is taken from the same source as Carl Orff’s well-known Carmina burana.  It is a simple, if passionate, love song that does not end in tragedy or too much despair. 

It is difficult to get George Butterworth’s setting of ‘The lads in their hundreds’ out of one’s head when reading Housman’s text. It is a problem that Orr faced when he wrote this song some twenty-five years later.  The liner notes point out that Butterworth’s is a strophic setting whereas Orr has applied melodic development. I prefer the earlier number.

‘The Isle of Portland’ is a ‘sea-scape’ for singer and piano. The accompanist plays a rocking barcarolle that suggests the ‘star-filled seas are smooth tonight.’ However, the song does become more animated as the singer reflects on the fact that ‘Far from his folk a dead lad lies.’ It has to be recalled that prisoners were sent to Portland to quarry stone as penal labour. It was a dangerous occupation.

I am baffled by the inclusion of a song called ‘1897’. Ok, it is a confection. C.W. Orr’s only offering for the orchestra is the short but near-perfect Cotswold Hill Tune.  This was originally composed for string orchestra in 1937.  In this present CD it has been ‘arranged’ as a song compassing the words of A.E. Housman’s poem From ‘Clee to heaven the beacon burns’.  It is a great poem – there is no doubt about that. The poet contrasts the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, with thoughts about the fallen in a variety of ‘colonial wars.’    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this ‘song’ it just appears to my mind to have been forced into the mould of the the little tone poem.  I guess that it only appears as a makeweight to bring the CD duration up to nearly the hour mark. It should be promptly forgotten.

‘In valleys green and still’ was the last of C.W. Orr’s Housman settings.  In many ways, I feel that it is one of his best. Like much of the poet’s output, this poem meditates on the theme of soldiers going to war.  It is an involved number that sounds just a little bit awkward for the voice. The piano part is quite minimalist, creating an unfocused mood.

The final three tracks on this CD are settings of Housman’s poems. These ‘Three Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’’ were published as a group in 1940. However, they were composed over a period of some five years. The first, ‘Into my heart and air that kills’ was composed in 1935. It makes an interesting song-form being a set of variations on the melodic phrase from the first line. It is a deeply moving setting that reflects the mood of anyone ‘away from the place they love.’
The liner notes explain that Orr’s setting of ‘Westward on the high-hilled plains’ reflects the composer’s yearning for his ‘old life’. The poem itself is construed as an elderly man looking at someone much younger and reflecting on the dichotomy between ‘plus ca change’ and the continuity of existence between generations (vide ‘On Wenlock Edge’) It is not a setting that immediately appeals, but repeated hearing reveals the song’s character and ultimate strength. The piano part is powerful and essential to the song’s success.  The final song in this group ‘Oh see how thick the goldcup flowers’ was composed in 1939. It is another example of Housman meditating of the transience of time and the need to ‘seize the moment.’ 

With the exception of ‘1887’ (noted above), I relished this CD. As I noted in my review of Volume I it is great to hear a number songs by Orr that have eluded me for many years.  The two soloists give a sterling performance of all (most) of these numbers that is both sympathetic and enthusiastic. It is obvious to any listener that Mark Stone and Simon Lepper both have a deep understanding of the words and music of these songs.
As with the previous volume, the liner notes are helpful and are required reading before approaching the music.  The format of each song having its own little mini-programme note has been maintained. The text of the song is included. Part II of the essay Charles Wilfred Orr: The Unsung Hero of English Song is presented as a preface to the notes.

I guess that I would have enjoyed a little bit of variety in these songs – a mezzo-soprano perhaps. However, this is an album to sample – not to through-listen to. Much of the music is melancholic and could become a touch depressing if listened to end-to-end. It is fair to suggest that these songs need to be approached no more than three or four at a time.
However, there is much here to listen to, to think about and ultimately to enjoy. 

Track Listing:
Charles Wilfred ORR (1893-1976)
Five Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’: With rue my heart is laden, This time of year, Oh, when I was in love with you, Is my team ploughing?, On your midnight pallet lying (1924-6) Plucking the rushes (1921) Four Songs: Bahnhofstrasse; Requiem, The time of roses, Since thou, O fondest and truest, (1932-57) Hymn before sleep (1953) While summer on is sleeping (1953) The lads in their hundreds (1936) The Isle of Portland (1938) '1887' (?) In valleys green and still (1952) Three Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’: Into my heart an air that kills, Westward on the high-hilled plains, Oh see how thick the goldcup flowers (1935-29)
Mark Stone (baritone) Simon Lepper (piano)
Stone Records 5060192780192
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Sunday 9 December 2012

George Melachrino: ‘Winter Sunshine’

The liner notes of the Naxos recording of this work suggest that the composer set out to reflect the glamorous ski slopes and the even more glamorous people who frequented them. Presumably he had France, Austria and Switzerland in mind. However, when I hear this piece I think of the North Yorkshire Moors. I remember a happy day walking along part of the Cleveland Way – there was a carpet of snow, the sun was shining and there were clear blue skies. I had extensive views towards the Pennines across the Vale of York. They used to say that in the days of steam locomotives a keen-sighted person could see the smoke trail of a train leaving York and arriving in Darlington some forty miles to the North.   That was not the case in the electric age when I visited this viewpoint; however, after the walk I remember returning to a lovely hotel in Helmsley where there was a warm coal fire!
George Melachrino was a successful composer and musical director during the 1940s and 1950’s. He was born in London in 1909 and began to compose music at an early age. When he was fourteen he commenced studies at Trinity College of Music.  In 1927 he began his performance career working in many of the then popular bands, including at the Savoy Hotel off the Strand. In 1939 he was leading his own band and had an important contract at the Café de Paris. During the war years he trained as a PT instructor in the Corps of Military Police. However, Melachrino managed to keep up his musical playing and duly became Musical Director at the Army Broadcasting Department. He conducted the British Band of Allied Expeditionary Forces – which was the British equivalent of Glen Miller.  After the conclusion of hostilities he formed the George Melachrino Orchestra. This band led him to considerable success and he is rated alongside Ron Goodwin, Frank Chacksfield and Mantovani.  George Melachrino died in 1965.
‘Winter Sunshine’ is written in simple ternary form. The piece opens with a catchy tune that possibly suggests a sleigh ride – certainly there are sleigh bells. There is considerable movement and activity. However, a romantic tune soon tries to establish itself into the prevailing fun. The middle section is introduced by harp figures, before a slower version of the ‘big’ tune is presented. Eventually the lovers are left to their own devices, as the fast-moving music returns before a flashy coda brings the piece to a conclusion. The composer makes good use of woodwind as well as the strings. Altogether this is a vibrant, well-balanced piece.
Winter Sunshine is one George Melachrino’s most famous works: others beings the ‘Starlight Roof Waltz’ and the ‘Autumn Concerto’ which charted at No.18 in 1956.
This work can be heard on British Light Miniatures: NAXOS  8.570332 Unfortubnealty there is no YouTube file, however a sample can be heard on Amazon

Thursday 6 December 2012

Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews

I believe that this book will serve a double-purpose. Anyone who is studying or reviewing the life and works of the Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) will find a tremendous amount of primary material here. Furthermore, because of Berkeley’s largely cosmopolitan nature and his wide-ranging interests all students of twentieth-century music will find this a key text in developing their understanding of much that happened in British and European music during the middle years of the 20th century.  
The literature about Sir Lennox Berkeley is rather meagre bearing in mind that he is one of the most important 20th century composers. Most recently, Tony Scotland produced an excellent study of Lennox and Freda (2011). This book combined a study of the life and times of the composer as well as being an interesting and often moving love-story. It is the main biographical study of the composer presently available, even although it does not claim to be a ‘biography’.
Peter Dickinson has contributed the only significant study of Berkeley’s music. This was originally published in 1988 but was extensively revised and reissued in 2003. Stewart R. Craggs has made a valuable contribution to the musicologist with his essential Lennox Berkeley: A Source Book. This was published in 2000 so is to a certain extent out of date. However, it is still the starting point for any serous study of the composer. Over and above these basic texts there is a great deal of periodical essays, reviews and articles. Douglas Stevens has recently [2011] produced a PhD thesis ‘Lennox Berkeley: a Critical Study of his Music’ however this does not appear to be readily available. Perhaps it will be published in the near future? 
Lennox Berkeley and Friends is conveniently divided into a number of sections. After an important introduction, which deserves to be read (!) the first group of texts are Berkeley’s reports from Paris. These were originally published in the Monthly Musical Record which was one of the most influential journals of its day (1871-1960). In 1927, Berkeley went to Paris to study under the redoubtable Nadia Boulanger: he remained there for five years. During this period he met all the ‘big’ names in 20th century music, including Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Albert Roussel and Igor Stravinsky. These letters are a fascinating and informative account of concert and opera life in the French capital during a vibrant era of musical history.

Part 2 consists of letters written by Berkeley to Nadia Boulanger.   A few words about Juliette Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) may be of interest. She was one of most important figures in Western music of the twentieth century. Her dates show that she straddled a huge variety of musical developments. She was a composer, a conductor and perhaps most significantly a teacher.  It is in this latter role that she had the most considerable influence. The list of major American and European composers and performers who studied with her must be one of them most impressive lists in musical history. These include Aaron Copland, John Elliot Gardiner, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Richard Stoker, Nicolas Maw, Thea Musgrave and Lennox Berkeley. Boulanger taught in the great music schools including the Julliard, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. However much of her teaching was based at her flat in 36 Rue de Ballu, Paris. She continued work until her death aged 92 years.
The letters have been ‘selected and annotated’ from the collection held at the Bibliotheque National in Paris. The author tells me that the content of these letters becomes less concerned with musical matters as time goes by. In fact, by the 1950s they tail off into family news, Christmas greetings and other day to day matters. These more ephemeral letters have been omitted. Everything of interest from the pre-war letters is included. Peter Dickinson suggests that more than 70% of Berkeley’s side of the correspondence has been given.
The idiomatic translation of these letters makes for easy reading. Footnotes have been provided to give the reader a context for each letter and to explain the many allusions and references. Unfortunately, most of the letters from Nadia Boulanger to Lennox Berkeley have not survived.

Part III includes a large selection of Lennox Berkeley’s contributions to journals and newspapers as well as interviews with the composer.  In this digital age, more and more publications are finding their way into various databases. No longer does the student have to order dusty copies of The Musical Times or The Sackbut from the ‘stacks’. However, most of these are only available to academics or to people ‘signed up’ to various libraries. Secondly, there are still many publications not available ‘on-line’ – just yet.
Many of the articles given here are from The Times or The Listener (the BBC’s erstwhile arts magazine). However, a number of the present writings and talks come from these hard-to-find sources – for example the essay on Maurice Ravel is from the Adam International Review (1978) and ‘Britten’s [Operatic] Characters’ from About the House (1963).  Of special interest is the programme note for the first performance of Francis Poulenc’s Piano Concerto in England (1950).  Of greater difficulty to access are the various radio interviews and ‘talks’.  I enjoyed reading the composer’s thoughts on being a ‘song-writer’ transcribed from a Radio 3 broadcast 16 November 1973. He states there that ‘very well known poetry of the past is probably best left alone [by the composer]’. It is certainly a view that deserves a thesis!

The next subdivision (Part IV) of the book includes four important interviews with the composer. The first two are with Peter Dickinson; one is with three literati and lastly a wide-ranging discussion of the Fourth Symphony with Michael Oliver.
The interview with C.B. Cox, Alan Young and Michael Schmidt was published as ‘Talking with Lennox Berkeley’ and appeared in the Poetry Nation No.2 journal. Michael Schmidt is the well-known founder of the Manchester-based Carcanet Press Ltd that has successfully published poetry since 1969. The present interview is of considerable length and detail; however, it is not musically ‘technical’. The interviewers quiz Berkeley on a number of subjects including his view on John Cage’s ‘4’33”.  Berkeley replies, ‘Quite honestly it doesn’t mean anything at all to me.’ However, the question that caught my eye was ‘Is there a distinctive English quality in English music? The composer responds by suggesting there is a ‘distinctive sort of English nostalgia which you find in Vaughan Williams sometimes, and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro that’s quite unique.’  This idea of ‘English nostalgia’ is certainly something to ponder.

Part V of the book is a comprehensive selection of Lennox Berkeley’s diaries drawn from the years 1966-1982.  Peter Dickinson notes that the composer ‘wrote his diaries with some reluctance.’ I do not know if there are earlier diaries in existence, however the editor has told me that all of interest is contained in this selection.  The short entries tell of the composer’s travels, his meetings with ‘VIP’s and accounts of performances of music by him, and many other composers. Footnotes have been provided to help explain the context.   A good example of his forthright style may be seen in the entry for 19 December 1971. The LPO had just given a performance of Berkeley’s Third Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall. He wrote, ‘I think it is one of my better things and I enjoyed hearing it. (So far so good). However, he suggests that ‘John Pritchard conducted a rather perfunctory performance.’ He added that he hoped the ‘record is very much better than this.’ Finally he admits to two good notices of the works given by William Mann (‘to my very great astonishment’) and Ronald Crighton.’ This Symphony was duly released on LYRITA SRCS.57 (LP) (1972).

The last major section (Part VI) of this book is the ‘Interviews with Performers, Composers, Family and Friends’ 1990-1991. The list is striking and includes Colin Horsley who was a powerful advocate of Berkeley’s music and Nicolas Maw (1935-2009) one of ‘the leading British composers of his generation’ who studied with Berkeley. The family is represented by two excellent interviews with the composer’s wife, Freda and his eldest son, Michael.  The ‘Friends’ section includes a conversation with Desmond Shaw-Taylor who was chief music critic of The Times between 1958 -83. He was especially drawn to Berkeley’s music. All these eminent people were in discussion with Peter Dickinson in the early 1990s.

Part VII of this book as a reprint if the ‘Memorial Address’ given by Sir John Manduell CBE. Manduell (b.1928) is both composer and musical administrator, having worked for the BBC, and the Cheltenham Festival (1969-94). He was Director of Music at Lancaster University (1968-71) and Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music between 1972 and 1996. At present he is the President of the Sir Lennox Berkeley Society.  The Address was delivered at Westminster Cathedral on 10 March 1990 at the Memorial Requiem Mass for the composer. It is a moving tribute from a former student of Berkeley 

A very useful inclusion in this book is the ‘Catalogue of Works’. I accept that Berkeley-enthusiasts will have most of this information at their fingertips in either Craggs’ Source Book or Peter Dickinson’s study of the composer. However, for anyone not possessing these volumes this catalogue is essential in assisting them to a structured hearing of Berkeley’s music. It goes way beyond the listings in Wikipedia and even the Sir Lennox Berkeley Society Website. This catalogue is arranged by genre and includes date of composition, first performance (for major works) and the publisher.
The bibliography is impressive, if not exhaustive. All the extant writings of Lennox Berkeley are listed in chronological order. Some of these texts are included in the present volume, however, there are still a considerable number of essays and articles that will of interest to the musicologist and deserve to be hunted down. The second part of the bibliography is a selective list of articles, essays and books published about the composer since 1929. Helpfully, this is also chronological. The bibliography concludes with a useful list of general works that deal with contemporary composers, poets and history
There is an extensive index, conveniently divided into two parts – ‘Berkeley’s Music’ and a general index. The former section will be particularly useful to the reviewer or essay writer studying a particular work.

Peter Dickinson is a well-respected name –as an academic, a composer and a performer. I have had the pleasure of reviewing a number of his recently issued CDs and I am impressed by the wide range of his imagination and technical achievement. His style has allowed him to cross a number of compositional boundaries – from jazz to electronic and from ragtime to aleatory music. This is always done with skill and sympathy and results in interesting and enjoyable music. As a pianist, Dickinson has achieved much for contemporary music, most especially with his sister, the mezzo-soprano, Meriel Dickinson.  Apart from his books about Lennox Berkeley, Peter Dickinson has contributed a major study of the ‘popular’ composer-pianist Billy Mayerl and a study of Lord Berners, which highlights this eccentric’s achievement as a composer, a writer and a painter. Other volumes, which reflect the author’s deep interest in American music includes CageTalk: Dialogues with and about John Cage, Samuel Barber Remembered and Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews.  I find that most of these books are on my bookshelves!

I was impressed with the quality of the production of this book. The excellent paper and strong binding is typical of The Boydell Press and adds greatly to the general impression of this book. Included in the text are a fine selection of rare photographs of Berkeley, his family and friends.  

‘Lennox Berkeley and his Friends’ is an expensive book, being priced at £45.00. However, when one considers the vast amount of primary material contained in these pages it does put the matter into perspective.   The price is similar to many ‘academic’ books on the market at present. Research, in any discipline, does not come cheap.  This book is essential reading for all enthusiasts of 20th century music, and will be of tremendous value to all scholars of British music in particular and Western music in general. 

Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews
Edited by Peter Dickinson, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge
ISBN 978-1-84383-785-5
£45.00 Hardcover