Thursday 31 January 2013

The First Holbrooke-Hammond Concert 28 September 1946: The Second Half

A few days ago I posted about a concert programme I had found in a second hand bookshop. I gave an overview of the first half of that performance.  Arthur Hammond conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and the soprano soloist was Mary Cherry. The raison-d’être of the concert was the promotion of the music of Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958)
The second half opened with Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine from Richard Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. It was a concert version of the music used at the parting of Siegfried and Brunnhilde and the music that covers the scene change at the beginning of the opera. This was followed by the aria ‘Einsam in Truben Tagen’ from Wagner’s Lohengrin.

The Holbrooke theme was to dominate the remainder of the concert with the performance of three works – the Overture: Amontillado, the Elegy for Strings: Caradoc’s Dream and finally the tone poem The Viking.
Once again Edgar Alan Poe was the inspiration for the dramatic overture. This work was based on story ‘A Cask of Amontillado’ however the composer did not attempt a detailed portrayal of the incidents in the story.  What he has done is to describe the mood and the general character of the story rather than ‘an account of the relentless pursuit of the victim during the Carnival, the visit to the endless vaults where the cask of Amontillado, the lure, is said to be kept.’  I will not tell the rest of the tale, lest readers of this blog have not read it.
The programme notes give a brief description of the music – ‘It is interesting to note that in this, one of [Holbrooke’s] latest works, unlike the symphonic poems where the organic nature of the themes seems frequently to condition the pattern of the music, the composer has enjoyed the traditional overture form with, however a very dramatic coda...’ Amontillado was heard at this concert for the first time.  At present time there is only one recording of this work available – CPO 777442-2. I listened to this work before writing this post: it was my first hearing. I was impressed with every bar and once again feel that if this music had been composed by a German or Russian it would be ‘essential listening.’

The next work is not currently available on CD or MP3. The Elegy for Strings: Caradoc’s Dream (c.1920) is derived from the cycle of Holbrooke’s Wagnerian style operas – The Children of Don, Dylan Son of the Wave and Bronwen. The plots of these music dramas are complex – however suffice to say that the elegy is founded on a selection of themes from the Trilogy – but mainly from Bronwen. The predominant theme is the ‘beautiful ‘Bronwen’ motif and that of her parting from Caradoc, the heroic British chieftain, when she – vainly as it turn out – leaves him to wed the High King of Ireland and save her country from war.  ‘Though it be ice upon my heart to speak it fare you well,’ she says. So the lovers part and when they next meet it is for Bronwen to die in his arms, overwhelmed and broken hearted at all she has endured.’  It sounds absolutely fantastic stuff. Both operatic ‘Trilogy’ and Elegy ‘sound’ as if they ought to be revived.

The final work in this concert is The Viking (1901 rev.1912). It is based on Longfellow’s ballad ‘The Skeleton in Armour.’  In essence the said skeleton appears to the narrator and demands that he record his tale. I will not plot-spoil what is a dramatic story based on a true archaeological ‘find’ –but suffice to say the Viking loved the daughter of a great sea-king: naturally there is a tragic ending.
The programme notes suggest that Holbrooke’s music is ‘full of the exhilaration and flashing colour of the poem.’  Ernest Newman, the music critic, has written about Holbrooke’s The Viking that ‘the boy who could...bring the heart into one’s throat at passage after passage of ‘The Skeleton in Armour’ ...has surely added something to the world’s store of great and lovely things’.
The first performance of this work was given by Sir Granville Bantock at Liverpool and then Antwerp. The work is available on CPO 777442-2: there is an upload to YouTube.

Finally, the programme gave intimation of a subsequent concert to be held on Monday November 4 1946 at 7pm. Non-Holbrookian works included Weber’s Overture: Preciosa, Donizetti’s overtue to Linda de Chamounix, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and George Lloyd’s Entr’acte & Norman March from his second opera The Serf. Holbrooke was represented by his Piano Concerto No.1 (The Song of Gwyn-ap-Nudd), his tone poem Queen Mab and as ‘new’ prelude from the opera Dylan. A formidable concert indeed. Alas I do not have the programme notes for this one!

Monday 28 January 2013

No. 2 of Two Biographies of Maurice Greene:

The second biography of Dr. Maurice Greene is taken from the second edition of Grove (edited by J. A. Fuller-Maitland and published in 1916). It was written by the great scholar William Henry Haddow, so in spite of the dated nature of the essay and the somewhat long and complex sentences, it is still a good account of the composer’s life. For any scholarly purposes I would naturally refer the reader to the current Grove which is available online (subscription required) or in many libraries.  I present this without any notes.

GREENE, Maurice, Mus.Doc, one of the two younger sons of the Rev. Thomas Greene, D.D., vicar of the united parishes of St. Olave, Old Jewry, and St. Martin, Ironmonger Lane (or Pomary), and grandson of John Greene, Recorder of London, was born in London about 1695 or 1696. He received his early musical education as a chorister of St. Paul's Cathedral, under Charles King. On the breaking of his voice in 1710 he was articled to Richard Brind, then organist of the cathedral. He soon distinguished himself both at the organ and in composition. In 1716 he obtained (it was said chiefly through the interest of his uncle, Serjeant Greene) the appointment of organist to St. Dunstan's in the West, Fleet Street, and, on the retirement of Daniel Purcell, in 1717, was chosen organist of St. Andrew's, Holborn. He held both those places until the following year, when, on the death of Brind, he became organist of St. Paul's, and in 1727, on the death of Dr. Croft, organist and composer to the Chapel Royal. Greene had a strong admiration for the genius of Handel, and assiduously courted his friendship; and by admitting him to perform on the organ at St. Paul's, for which instrument Handel had an especial liking, had become very intimate with him. Handel, however, discovering that Greene was paying the like court to his rival, Buononcini, cooled in his regard for him, and soon ceased to have any association with him. 

In 1728, by the artifice of Buononcini, Greene was made the instrument of introducing to the Academy of Ancient Music a madrigal ('In una siepe ombrosa') as a composition of Buononcini's. This madrigal was, three or four years later, proved to have been composed by Lotti. The discovery of the fraud led to the expulsion of Buononcini from the Academy, and Greene, believing, or affecting to believe, that his friend had been unjustly treated, withdrew from it, carrying off with him the St. Paul's boys, and, in conjunction with another friend, Festing, established a rival concert in the great room called 'The Apollo' at the Devil Tavern near Temple Bar; a proceeding which gave rise to the joke, attributed to Handel, that Doctor Greene had gone to the devil.' In 1730, on the death of Dr. Tudway, Greene was elected Professor of Music in the University of Cambridge, with the degree of Doctor of Music. As his exercise on the occasion he set Pope's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, altered and abbreviated, and with a new stanza introduced, expressly for the occasion, by the poet himself. This composition was performed at Cambridge at the Commencement on Monday, July 6, 1730. 

In 1735, on the death of John Eccles, Dr. Greene was appointed his successor as Master of the King's band of music, in which capacity he produced many odes for the king's birthday and New Year's Day. In 1743 he published his ‘Forty Select Anthems’, the work on which his reputation mainly rests. These compositions, it has been remarked, 'place him at the head of the list of English ecclesiastical composers, for they combine the science and vigour of our earlier writers with the melody of the best German and Italian masters who flourished in the first half of the 18th century'. In 1750 Greene received a considerable accession of fortune by the death of a cousin, a natural son of his uncle, Serjeant Greene, who bequeathed him an estate in Essex worth £700 a year. Being thus raised to affluence he commenced the execution of a long-meditated project, the formation and publication in score of a collection of the best English cathedral music. By the year 1755 he had amassed a considerable number of services and anthems, which he had reduced into score and collated, when his failing health led him to bequeath by will his materials to his friend Dr. Boyce, with a request that he would complete the work. Dr. Greene died on December 1, 1755, 1 leaving an only daughter Katherine, who was married to Dr. Michael Festing, Vicar of Wyke Regis, Dorset, the son of her father's friend the violinist. Greene was buried at St. Olave's, Jewry, and on May 18, 1888, his remains were removed to St. Paul's Cathedral and placed beside those of Boyce. A portrait of Dr. Greene was in the possession of Henry Festing, Esq., of Bois Hall, Addlestone, Surrey, in May 1895.

In addition to the before-named compositions, Greene produced a Te Deum in D major, with orchestral accompaniments, composed, it is conjectured, for the thanksgiving for the suppression of the Scottish rebellion in 1745; a service in C, composed 1737 (printed in Arnold's Cathedral Music); numerous anthems—some printed and others still in MS.; 'Jephthah’, oratorio, 1737; 'The Force of Truth,' oratorio, 1744; a paraphrase of part of the Song of Deborah and Barak, 1732; Addison's ode,' The spacious firmament' Florimel; or, Love's Revenge, 'dramatic pastoral, 1737; 'The Judgment of Hercules, 'masque, 1740; 'Phoebe,' pastoral opera, 1748; 'The Chaplet,' a collection of twelve English songs; ' Spenser's Amoretti,' a collection of twenty-five sonnets (1739); two books each containing 'A Cantata and four English songs' 'Catches and Canons for three or four voices, with a collection of Songs for two and three voices'; organ voluntaries, and several sets of harpsichord lessons. It must not be forgotten that Greene was one of the founders of that most valuable institution 'The Society of Musicians.'
William Henry Haddow

Friday 25 January 2013

The First Holbrooke Hammond Concert 28 September 1946: The First Half

I found a programme in a London second-hand bookshop the other day.  It was for the first concert in the Holbrooke-Hammond Concert series given on Saturday September 28 1946.  The venue was the Kingsway Hall in London. The evenings soloists was the soprano Mary Cherry, and the orchestra was the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arthur Hammond. The original cost of the programme was ‘SIXPENCE’: I paid £2. However, as a document it is fascinating.

It is well known that Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958) was a big promoter of is own music. Therefore, it is hardly surprising to find four works presented at this concert.  However, the evening opened with a performance of Cherubini’s Overture: Medea. This work, which was first heard in Paris in 1797, is often regarded as being one of the composer greatest successes. A powerful work manages to sit astride the world of romantic and classical music. The programme notes suggest that the fury and the grandeur of the story find perfect poise. No matter how intense the emotion on stage ‘the walls of classic from hold still.’  Structurally the opera is unusual for the composer did not derive his material from tunes in the opera itself, but created an ‘independent’ study ‘splendidly preparing the listener for the tragic story that was to follow.  This overture can heard on YouTube.

The next work was Josef Holbrooke’s Ulalume (Orchestral Poem No.3 Op.35). This work was first played by Sir Henry Wood in 1905. The works ‘reflects the dreamland atmosphere of Poe’s fantastic vision – the misty dim region of Weir [1], where through ‘an alley titanic’ the hero wanders ‘with Psyche his soul’ until ‘the star-dials pointing to the morn’ he sees afar a nebulous light that becomes the flaming crescent of the goddess Astarte [2]. The hero has a few brief moments of ‘exaltation and hope’ but then is led to the tomb where he recalls that he had buried all that life held dear.’
I believe that if this work had been composed by Richard Strauss, it would be well established in the repertoire. As it is there two recordings of this tone poem currently available – on CPO 777442-2 and Marco Polo 223446. Holbrooke’s Ulalume can be listened to on YouTube Part One & Part 2.

The first half of the programme concluded with Gluck’s O Malheuresue Iphigenie’ from his opera Iphigenie en Tauride and with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s great Symphony No.41 in C ‘Jupiter.’
In subsequent posts I will conclude the description of this concert and will examine Ulalume in more detail.

[1] The region of Weir is likely to refer the type of landscape created by the Hudson River School artist Robert Walter Weir.
[2] Astarte was the Phoenician goddess of fertility and of sexual love.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

No. 1 of Two Biographies of Maurice Greene:

I was asked by a correspondent for a few more details about Maurice Green. Strangely, there does not appear to be a standard biography of the composer, however his name does crop up in a wide variety of musical history books. I have chosen the short portrait in Ernest Walkers once ubiquitous A History of Music in England, first published in 1907 and subsequently revised in 1923 and 1952. Another biographical essay will follow in a later post. I have presented the text without notes. However, for an extensive modern portrait, I suggest the reader peruse Roger Slade's blog. 

‘Maurice Greene, the other great anthem-writer [William Croft] of the period, was seventeen years Croft's junior, being born in 1695. In his boyhood, a chorister of St. Paul's Cathedral, he was at the age of twenty-two elected its organist; and he subsequently combined this position, after the pluralist fashion of the times, with those of organist and composer to the Chapel Royal (in succession to Croft), University Professor of Music at Cambridge, and 'Master of the King's Musick.’
In 1750 he inherited from a cousin a country estate in Essex, and, though still holding all his former offices, spent, it would appear, most of his time in collecting material for the publication in score of a representative selection of English church music a project that was interrupted by his death in 1755, but was subsequently carried out by his pupil Boyce, to whom the task was bequeathed.
In the earlier part of his life he was an intimate friend of Handel, who used frequently to play the organ at St. Paul's; but he [Greene] declined to take sides in the operatic rivalry between Handel and Bononcini until the irascibility of the former threw him, apparently against his will, into the ranks of the latter's vehement partisans. Greene's chief publication was issued in 1743, and was entitled Forty Select Anthems; but he also brought out various other music, both vocal and instrumental. Very much of his work remains, however, still in manuscript; there are numerous odes for various festal occasions, an oratorio on the subject of Jephtha, dramatic compositions, &c., &c.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Handel and Dr. Maurice Greene: A Rare Anecdote

I have recently been reviewing a fine CD of Dr. Maurice Greene’s (c.1695 -1755) Amoretti for tenor and continuo: it will appear on MusicWeb International and in this ‘blog’ in due course. Meanwhile I have found this short anecdote about Handel and Greene.  The reader has to bear in mind two things. Firstly, that Greene was so impressed by Handel’s ability as an organist that he offered to be his organ-blower at St Pauls’ Cathedral – a job that required considerable effort and stamina.  Charles Burney (1726-1814) wrote, “From Greene’s great admiration of Handel’s manner of playing, he had literally condescended to become his bellows-blower, when he [Handel] went to St. Paul’s to play on the organ…. Handel, after the three o’clock prayers, used frequently to get himself and young Greene locked up in the church together, and in summer often stript unto his shirt, and played till eight or nine o’clock at night.” [Hat tip to Roger Slade for this quote]
Secondly, at the time of this anecdote, Handel and Greene were friends; however, there was to be a ‘rift in the lute’ between the two men because of the latter's friendship with Handel’s great rival Giovanni Battista Buononcini (1670-1747) the Italian composer and cellist. 
The author was a little harsh on Greene’s compositional skill, however his anthems have never truly caught on due to his preference for ‘verse –anthems’ utilising a number of soloists rather than full choir. The one major exception is ‘Lord, Let me know my End’

Busby's Anecdote:-
‘Dr. Maurice Greene, whose compositions, whether for church or the chamber, were never remarkably mellifluous, having solicited Handel’s perusal and opinion of a solo anthem which he had just finished, was invited by the great German to take his coffee with him the next morning, when he would say what he thought of it. The Doctor was punctual in his attendance, the coffee was served, and a variety of topics discussed; but not a word said by Handel concerning the composition. At length, Greene, whose patience was exhausted, said, with eagerness, and an anxiety, which he could no longer conceal, “Well, Sir, but my anthem – what do you think?” “Oh, your antum – ah – why I did tink it vanted air, Dr Greene.” “Air, sir?” “Yes, air; and so I did hang it out of de window.”
The yarn, which was recalled by Dr. Busby, may well be apocryphal: certainly, Handel’s accented speech is probably exaggerated. However, the reader needs to realise that the burden of the story is based around the contemporary importance that was attached to ‘air’ or as we would now call it tune or melody.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

David Jennings: Piano Music on Divine Art

When I first received this CD I dreaded that is might be another example of music inspired (if that is the word) by the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. In spite of his popularity, he is a composer that leaves me utterly cold. To parody Stravinsky’s comment on Vivaldi, he appears to have written the same piano piece at least three score times. The New-Age blend or fusion of minimalism and pop is something that I cannot come to terms with.  However, I was wrong. David Jennings is a composer who is beholden to no-one (in spite of a number of trajectories in his musical language). It is serious, well-structured music that I can do business with. And, more to the point, many of these pieces are not only impressive, but are interesting, satisfying and often moving. No listener (or composer) could wish for more.
This present CD represents David Jennings complete ‘musical offering’ for piano – so far. The earliest work is the impressive Piano Sonata, Op.1 which was written back in the 1980s. The most recent pieces are virtually ‘hot off the press’ having been composed in 2009/10.

The composer’s website gives a brief biography, however three things can be said that will help the potential listener approach this music. Firstly, David Jennings is a Yorkshireman, having been born in Sheffield in 1972. Nevertheless, he has crossed the Pennines on a number of occasions including study at Manchester University with John Casken and his membership of the Lakeland Composer’s group.
Secondly, Jennings has had a wide range of musical and non-musical influences. He has a great interest in art, especially the 19th century English water-colourists – which he feels are ‘an inspiring marriage of technique and expression’. It is a quality that he exhibits in his music. The composer is stimulated by the North Country landscape, particularly Yorkshire (naturally) and Northumberland. From a musical perspective, I mentioned ‘trajectories.’ These include Fred. Delius, Kenneth Leighton, Gershwin and Frank Bridge. In the Sonata I felt that the ghost of Sorabji was haunting some of the music.

The first piece I listened to came as a wee bit if a revelation. I noted above that I feared music by an Einaudi groupie. Nothing could be further from this with the Prelude & Fugue, Op.6. The Prelude uses twelve-tone procedures ‘throughout’. This section of the work was composed in 1992 ‘as a response to newer musical influences encountered at university.’ The Fugue had to wait a number of years before being written, with the complete work being issued in 2010.  The Prelude is written in a lyrical form of serialism that also hints at jazz. Whereas the Fugue is a tightly knit piece that is austere and musically sarcastic. To my ear the fugue subject metaphorically ‘sticks out its tongue.’

Next, I decided to listen to the Three Sonatinas, Op.2.  These miniatures were composed in the late nineteen-eighties, when the composer was still in his teens, although they have been subject to a little ‘mature’ revision. David Jennings suggests that they belong to the tradition of Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen. However, like the German master they are a considered balance of innocence and subtlety. Nowhere is there any suggestion that they are children’s pieces. These are urbane, nostalgic pieces that never become mawkish. Technically, they appear to be demanding and are always musically satisfying.  Finally, David Jennings has wisely chosen to cast this set as ‘sonatinas’ rather than ‘character pieces’: they deserve to be listened to as a ‘cycle’ and in the order presented on this dis. For the record, my favourite ‘piece’ is the beautifully written Nocturne from Sonatina No.2.

The longest work on this CD is the Piano Sonata, Op.1 which was composed around 1988 when the composer was ‘nobbut a lad’! However, it is a magnificently impressive work for an Opus 1, in spite of a little tinkering in 1995.  This is a big work in all senses of the word – lasting over twenty minutes, the music fills out a grand canvas with its musical invention.  I was reminded of Sorabji in this work. Not so much in the sound of the piece but in the ethos.  The Sonata exhibits a certain waywardness in the working out of themes – they seem to me to be derived by a sort of continuous development rather than straightforward eight bar themes. Much of musical background is complex: impressionistic colouring is used. There is considerable ornamentation featured in these pages. The music sounds difficult to play. The harmonies, although largely post-romantic in their effect are wilful. And finally there is a mystical quality to much of this music that could be derived from a sense of landscape. Some of these attributes often feature in Sorabji’s massive musical canvasses.
The opening Ballade is ‘deceptively serene’ but soon becomes somewhat more aggressive in its tone. The jazz-coloured Scherzo is as dry as bone – but infinitely varied and intricate as it explores a variety of time signatures.  The third movement, a romance’ is deeply felt. This is introspective music that explores considerable depths. Jennings well-describes this as consolatory music and he is correct. There is a little relief in the ‘trio’ section; however the dominant mood is restored towards the conclusion. Finally, the ‘Finale’ is cast as a rondo. This is a noisy, splashy piece, which explores a number of moods including jazz. There are a couple of episodes that present a mood of calm, but the prevailing exuberance wins the day.
I loved this Sonata. It is surely one of the best examples to have come from the pen of a British composer for many years.

The Miniature Suite, Op.18 is a wonderful piece of Bach parody. The composer’s aim has been to recreate ‘aspects of Baroque style in an updated form.’ The opening ‘Prelude’ is a little ‘toccata’, which nods to a well-known J.S.B. war-horse. Amusingly, the liner notes suggest that the composer was inspired to write the ‘Air’ after watching a ‘remarkably lazy cat going in and out of slumber.’ The third movement is a little ‘Invention’ that has some un-Bachian twists and turns. This is followed by a gorgeous ‘Romance’ which was inspired by a walk along the equally lovely Lancaster Canal: it is the most substantial movement. The Suite concludes with a well-contrived fugue, which brings this ‘modern’ piece to a rollicking conclusion. Jennings does seem to be rather good at writing fugues – which is a breath of fresh air in this post, post modernist age in which we live.

The final work is the important and impressive Harvest Moon Suite, Op.19. This six movement work was inspired by six nineteenth century watercolours. However, it is not a North Country Pictures at an Exhibition: Mussorgsky’s music was largely dramatic, whereas Jennings has opted for a romantic, lyrical and often reflective mood. It is here that I am reminded of York Bowen, although the composer assures me that he had only heard a handful of pieces by this composer before he set to work on the score. I believe that it is the subtle balance between bitter and sweet and romantic that suggests this similarity. The musical pictures include Aira Force, The Haunted Abbey and Harlech Castle.  It is a very lovely work.

This is a beautifully produced CD in every manner. The sound quality is outstanding, with every nuance of the music being clear. The programme is considerable in both scale and concept: the ‘complete piano work lasting over 78 minutes. The interpretation of these pieces by James Willshire is everything that could be wished for.  I loved the painting by Edward Richardson of ‘A Castle in Yorkshire’ – although it is not too close to the composer’s native heath. In fact, it is Barden Tower in Wharfedale. This was a place beloved by Frederick Delius and has latterly become one of Jennings haunts too.  The liner notes by David Jennings are well judged and helpful.

This is a CD of piano music that is inspiring and challenging. I have noted one or two musical signposts in the course of this review. However, I do want to point out that David Jennings has discovered his own voice. It is, as Jomar de Vrind has noted, a successful balance between not being ‘ridiculously reactionary and horrendously modern’. One can but hope that there are much more inspired piano works to emerge over the coming years. In addition, I would love to hear some of works in other genres, such as the Lincoln Imp for Orchestra, the Oboe Sonata and the String Quartet.
Finally have a look at David Jennings' excellent  Web Site .

Track Listing:

David JENNINGS (b.1972)
Piano Sonata, Op.1 (1988/95)
Sonatina No.1 Op.2 No.1 (1980’s)
Sonatina No.2 Op.2 No.2 (1980’s)
Sonatina No.3 Op.2 No.3 (1980’s)
Prelude and Fugue Op.6 (1992/99)
Three Lyrical Pieces, Op.17 (2010) Miniature Suite, Op.18 (2010)  
‘Harvest Moon’ Suite, Op.19 (2009-10)
James Willshire (piano)

DIVINE ART dda25110
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared. 

Sunday 13 January 2013

Sir Arthur Sullivan conducts his own music in Monte Carlo: March 5 1893

My recent post about the concert of English music conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan in Monte Carlo raised a number of questions. Firstly, it would be interesting to know the details of the composer’s regular visits to the Riviera. Secondly, nothing seems to be noted about the orchestra or the audience. For example, was this band a ‘scratch’ outfit or was it the The Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra or musicians associated with the ballet or opera?  One wonders if the audience were French people or whether it reflected the British community in that city.
There are some details of Sullivan’s activities in Monte Carlo in the various biographies and histories. However, the most obvious source is probably the hardest to engage with. Sullivan left a considerable number of diaries which are now located in Yale University Sterling Memorial Library. Fortunately, a microfilm edition of these is available in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile I have discovered the programme of the concert of Sullivan’s music alluded to in the previous post. This performance was heard on March 5 1893. (Musical Standard March 18 1893)
Apparently the concert was a great success. The music included the Macbeth Overture, the ‘Masquerade’ from The Merchant of Venice, two movements from the ‘Irish Symphony’ (En Irlande!), some of the incidental music to Henry VIII and the ubiquitous Overtura di Ballo. Unfortunately I have found no further details of this concert, the venue or subsequent reviews.
I note the popularity at that time of the incidental music to Shakespeare’s plays. The Symphony has to a certain extent held its own over the past 150 years, with some four recordings available. (EMI, CPO, Chandos and Naxos). However the only work that is still regularly performed is the Overtura di Ballo. For most listeners, Sullivan’s music is simply an annexe (a superlative one, no doubt) to W.S. Gilbert’s enchanting libretii. 

I include a link to an old recording of the Macbeth Overture (1888). Surely this is music that demands to remain in the orchestral repertoire?

Thursday 10 January 2013

Sir Arthur Sullivan conducts in Monte Carlo, 1893

I recently came across this syndicated note about a concert held in Monte Carlo on March 19 1893:-
'The Daily News has received some particulars of the English concert given at Monte Carlo a few days since under the direction of Sir Arthur Sullivan. The programme was drawn up by Sir Arthur himself, and, with the exception of the finale from Sterndale Bennett’s Symphony [1], it consisted exclusively of the works of living British composers. It began with the overture written by Dr, Hubert Parry for ‘The Frogs’ of Aristophanes [2], followed by Dr. Mackenzie’s ‘Benedictus’, [3] the ‘Courante’ from the ‘Ravenswood’ music [4] and the scherzo from Professor Stanford’s ‘Irish’ Symphony; all these compositions now being heard for the first time in Monte Carlo. Mr. Cowen’s suite, ‘The Language of Flowers’ [5] which had already been performed at the Concerts Internationaux was repeated, and the concert ended with Sullivan’s own overture, ‘Di Ballo.’'
Leeds Mercury - Tuesday 28 March 1893 (with minor edits)

The Musical News for April 1 1893 adds that ‘there was a first rate orchestra of 75 players under M. Arthur Stock, [6] and the English music was cordially applauded by the audience.’

[1] William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) This probably refers to the Symphony in G minor which was composed in 1864 with the ‘romanza’ movement being added in 1867.  However WSB did compose seven other symphonies between 1832 and 1840.
[2] Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) wrote the incidental music for Aristophanes ‘The Frogs’ in 1892 which was performed at Cambridge in 1892.
[3] Dr Alexander Mackenzie (1847-1935), Scottish composer. Mackenzie wrote a vast amount of music including seven operas, more than a dozen large scale choral works, many tone poems, songs and piano pieces. Yet of all the works that he produced the Benedictus has remained the best known – at least with concertgoers who are aware of his name.  In many ways this piece out ‘Elgars Elgar’ in its elegiac mood.
[4] Mackenzie’s music to Ravenswood was composed to accompany Irving's production of Herman Merivale’s play at the Lyceum during September 1890.
[5] Frederick Hymen Cowen (1852-1935) wrote a considerable range of music, including a number of operas and operettas, oratorios, six symphonies and many songs, piano pieces and chamber works. The Language of Flowers was a romantic ‘Scene du Ballet’ written in 1880. There are six movements: Daisy, Lilac, Fern, Columbine, Yellow Jasmine and Lily of the Valley. The first performance would appear to have been at the St James Hall, London on November 27 1880.
[6] M. Arthur Stock. I cannot trace this gentleman, however, he would appear to be the leader of the orchestra. 

Monday 7 January 2013

Michael Allis: British Music and Literary Context: Artistic Connections in the Long Nineteenth Century

The basic ‘thesis’ of this book is a refutation of the impression that British composers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century lacked literary credentials.  I must admit that it is not something that I had ever considered a problem. For example, even the briefest of studies of the dozen or so volumes of Hubert Parry’s English Lyrics reveal a wide-ranging literary taste that is invariably expressed in an appropriate musical setting. To be fair, Delius joked about Parry’s propensity for setting biblical text, however Blake, Milton, Shelley and Tennyson are all grist to his mill. Exactly the same observation can be made about Charles Villiers Stanford. So, I approached this book with a little scepticism. Was Michael Allis about to tell me something that I already knew – that these composers were well-read, had wide connections with the great and good in the literary world and had a considerable appreciation of English literature – old and new? Fortunately, there is much more to the argument than that.

In recent years, there has been a small but important increase in the number of books, theses and reviews of nineteenth-century British Music.  A review is not a bibliography: however, I cannot resist mentioning a few highlights. Pride of place must go to Professor Jeremy Dibble’s important studies of the life and music of Stanford, Parry and John Stainer. Other Parry volumes include Bernard Benoliel’s Parry Before Jerusalem and Anthony Boden’s The Parry’s of Golden Vale. At about the same time as Dibble’s book on Stanford appeared, Paul Rodmell issued an important study of that composer. Elgar has never been short of enthusiastic supporters and books ranging from comprehensive biographies such as that by Jerrold Northrop Moore to monographs like J. P. E. Harper-Scott’s Edward Elgar: Modernist. Additionally, several important volumes of collected essays have been produced by Ashgate Publishing.
The only exception to this explosion of interest appears to be Granville Bantock. To my knowledge, there is only Myrrha Bantock’s ‘Personal Portrait’ and the 1915 study by H. Orsmond Anderton. There is also a thesis by Matthew Louis Kickalsola entitled Granville Bantock and the Choral Imagination.  However, I have heard rumours that a major study of Bantock’s music is currently in preparation.

I do wonder exactly who this monograph British Music and Literary Context is aimed at. On the one hand, it is hardly likely to be read by the ‘average’ music lover –and that is not being superior: it is a fact.  This is a book written by an academic for academics. On the other hand, that is not to suggest that this book is impenetrable or beyond the grasp of the musically savvy reader.  However, I do think that as this is a multi-disciplinary approach to the subject, an understanding of music and literary theory is required. I certainly found that some of the ‘lit-crit’ parts of the book were ‘beyond my ken’ and needed re-reading and having Google close at hand.

The most important thing to remember about approaching this text is to ‘read the introduction’. It defines the approach that the reader should take as well as giving an ‘abstract’ of each of the chapters. Michael Allis suggests that this book can be read in any order.  However, he insists that the principle argument is twofold. Firstly it explores ‘a new assurance with which a generation of British composers refigured poetry and literature in their works.’ This can be explored by examining ‘straight forward musical settings’ or ‘representations’.  The former being where the composer sets a text for singers and the latter where he uses a text as inspiration  for an instrumental composition.  The second ‘aim’ of this book is ‘to offer suggestions (strategies) as to how modern audiences might interpret or appreciate the music-literature connection presented in these chapters’.
The author suggests that a useful approach is to ‘take a literary perspective as a ‘way in’ to appreciating selected late nineteenth-century British composers and their music’. Allis has decided to look at different facets of this relationship.

Firstly, he has considered the collaboration between poet and composer - in this case the poet laureate Robert Bridges and Hubert Parry. Bridges (1844-1930) is a poet who is largely forgotten today, however according to the Oxford Encyclopaedia of British Literature he ‘represents an independent and profound engagement with both the literary tradition and the ideas and innovations of his age.’ He is now best-remembered as being a friend of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  In 1895 Bridges and Parry collaborated in writing the cantata Invocation to Music and some three years later in A Song of Darkness and Light.  Michael Allis explores this relationship between author and composer in considerable detail and emphasises the poet’s frustration with Parry’s approach to the setting of the texts.

The following chapter examines the ‘sustained musical promotion’ of a literary figure by Charles Villiers Stanford, in this case Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  I was certainly astonished at the number of works that were based on this poet’s works and imagery, which occurred throughout the composer’s lifetime. These include incidental music, motets, solo songs, part-songs and a symphony (No.2 ‘The Elegiac’).  Four facets of these works are explored: the ‘heroic, the covert Irish connections, the deeper thought of In Memoriam and finally some of Tennyson’s late poetry.

Perhaps more challengingly, Allis has studied Granville Bantock’s attempt at ‘refiguring in music’ a collection of poetic texts by Robert Browning. This is especially the case with the great symphonic work Fifine at the Fair which the author carefully maps between text and music.  He concludes this chapter by suggesting that Fifine can be ‘interpreted as a closer reading of the poem...particularly in the context of his [Bantock’s] interest in the musical potential of the dramatic monologue.’ This is a long, complex chapter of musical and literary analysis that I will need to study again in conjunction with the CD recording by either Beecham or Handley.

Finally, Edward Elgar has two perspectives devoted to him. Firstly there is ‘a hidden’ narrative where musical plot and imagery parallel a literary source and secondly the great Overture: In the South is examined from a ‘travelogue’ perspective.
I have always imagined Elgar’s Piano Quintet as a piece of music largely influenced by the peaceful surroundings of Brinkwells in Sussex in the summer of 1918. Other works composed at this time included the Violin Sonata and the String Quartet. They were the only three major chamber works written by the composer.  However, Lady Elgar’s hints that there was a programmatic element to the Quintet – it apparently ‘represented’ a group of trees near Brinkwells. According to a local legend these trees were the ‘remains’ of Spanish monks accused of ‘sacrilegious ceremonies’ struck by lightening. However, Allis notes that another diary entry suggests that ‘[Edward Bulwer] Lytton’s ‘Strange Story’ seems to sound through it too.’ The author presents a ‘close reading’ of the novel and the music and highlights the parallels such as the musical device of a recurring chant-like motive and the ‘juxtapositon of the musical ‘other’ and the salon [to mirror] the two strange worlds of A Strange Story.’ It is a process which is fascinating, even if it does not quite make me hear Elgar’s Quintet in an entirely new light.

I want to look at this last chapter in a little more detail and briefly explore how the author has approached this great work by Elgar.  The first section examines the ‘composition’ history –at least as far as the historical facts go. In November 1903, Elgar journeyed to Italy with his wife and was later joined by his daughter Carice and friend Rosa Burley. Elgar’s intention was to use this ‘warmer climate’ to work on his symphonic project for the forthcoming Elgar Festival at Covent Garden, which was to be held in March 1904. Allis notes that this project ‘foundered’.  The Overture: In the South was largely sketched out in Alassio and was duly completed in England.  The author then considers the Overture’s reception. Two main arguments seem to dominate the musical criticism of this piece. Firstly, there is a debate as to whether the work was an overture or a tone poem. This was argued from a structural point of view. Secondly, there was the relationship between this Overture and the music of Richard Strauss – especially Don Juan or Don Quixote.
Michael Allis then considers the work’s structure – using both a ‘Tovey-ian’ analysis as well as Elgar’s own numbering of the themes. Extensive quotation is made of the composer’s literary commentary on the work. Musical examples illustrating this commentary are liberally printed.
A fascinating study of ‘Imaginative Topography’ ensues where the author gives a concise review of Victorian and Edwardian travel literature – particularly pertaining to Italy. Important to this study are the strategies ‘used to communicate the nature of foreign landscape to the reader.’  This is identified as ‘imaginative topography’ by Chloe Chard. These literary parallels are then used to analyse the ‘musical context’ of Elgar’s Overture and ‘help us appreciate the composer’s striking approach to narrative from a number of perspectives.’
These strategies include ‘Motivation’ and ‘Title’. This looked at what the author was trying to ‘capture’ in his text. Was it, for example, ‘youthful enthusiasm of the Classical world?’ Titles of travelogues were also important – Allis lists a number of  titles such as ‘Sketches, Notes, Dairies, Gleanings, Impressions, Pictures, Narratives, Leaves from a Journal, Tours, Visits, Wanderings, Residences, Rambles and Travels. I was amazed at just how many of these descriptive’ words used in travel literature title have also found their way into the works of composers –especially piano music from the first half of the 20th centiry.
Further refinements of the travelogue are considered including the need for authors to assert their individuality, especially when following in the footsteps of another writer, a desire to push away from the beaten track, the balance between presenting an ‘otherness’ or attempting to show that the places described are ‘different’ to the readers usual points of reference. On the other hand, a writer may use his own country as a point of reference in describing his experience of travel. Travel writers will balance a sense of the past and present – possibly presented as a dream sequence.  Finally, there are references to scenic structure. The travelogue can be presented a series of scenes.
Michael Allis concludes this study of ‘strategies’ by suggesting that a literary perspective helps to identify a number of elements which mirror strategies in travel literature and which a purely musical approach might overlook.  He suggests that ‘In the South represents Elgar’s most focused and extended account of the travel experience. Never again did he [Elgar] incorporate the foreign landscape quite so vividly within a musical setting.’

I was disappointed that no brief note about the author was included: I had to access the Leeds University webpage to find out about him. Dr. Michael Allis is a Senior Lecturer in Historical Musicology. He has contributed to the field of music and literature including a significant monograph about ‘Parry’s Creative Process’.  In 2004, he wrote an essay for Music & Letters entitled 'Elgar, Lytton, and the Piano Quintet, op.84' –this argument has been incorporated into the present book.   

Throughout this volume, there are many musical illustrations, tables and figures. For example, there are some eighteen quotations from Elgar’s Piano Quintet and many more from compositions by Stanford and Bantock.  Some of the tables provided are most helpful –for example the list of works by Stanford with ‘Tennysonian associations’: I was amazed to find twenty works listed- from the great ‘Elegiac’ Symphony down to a setting of ‘Jack Tar’ for voice and piano.  The same can be said of Granville Bantock – there are literally dozens of pieces of varying genres that were inspired by Browning.  A number of structural overviews will assist the reader in approaching Fifine at the Fair, Elgar’s Quintet and his Overture: In the South.
The book is printed on quality paper, although on my copy a little bit of ‘warping’ seemed to have taken place. My age and my eyes protest a little at the size of the print - just a wee bit too small for me. Furthermore, many quotations in the text are in an even smaller font. The same applies to the footnotes and their references.
Whilst on the subject of footnotes, it is fair to say that the book is a little overburdened with them. For example in the 50 pages devoted to Parry and Bridges, there are 128 examples!
This is not the place to enter into the argument for endnotes, footnotes (or both), however in the present volume, the sheer ‘weight’ of footnotes tends to make the pages look cluttered.  I believe that the expansions of the text along with the citations should have been placed as endnotes with only clarifications in the footnotes. However, contrariwise, bearing in mind the huge number of notes, I am glad that I do not have to flick constantly to the back of the book (or chapter) to keep abreast of the argument, which requires 100% attention to read and digest. Therefore, it is an open question...
There is a massive ‘select’ bibliography: nearly seventeen close written pages of books the author has consulted. Additionally many references to ‘primary sources, unsigned articles and additional literary and musical criticism in the periodical literature’ are referred to in the text/footnotes.  The indices are extensive with special emphasis on the many musical works discussed or alluded to.

This is an expensive book. £60.00 is a lot of money even by today’s standards.  However, as the cliché goes ‘research is not cheap.’  This is a book for the specialist: furthermore, the areas of specialisms are wide. Any reader will have to be familiar with both musicology and literary criticism. As noted above, this is not to say the text is opaque, or a closed book for those of us who are not academic. However, there is a density of meaning in these pages that does not allow for skimming. It is a book that needs to be ‘closely read’ and (re-read). An understanding of the arguments and an appreciation of the conclusions are hard won but ultimately both challenging and rewarding.  

British Music and Literary Context: Artistic Connections in the Long Nineteenth Century
Music in Britain, 1600-1900 Series
by Michael Allis, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge
ISBN: 9781843837305

£60.00 Hardcover

Friday 4 January 2013

1963-2013 – Great British Music reaching their Half-Centenary

1963 was an impressive a year for new works by a whole variety of composers.  Havergal Brian, aged 87 presented his 21st Symphony to the world. It is hard to believe that there were still another 11 to come before the composer’s death in 1973.  A sprightly Arthur Bliss (72) was composing important works including the Belmont Variations for Brass Band.  Amongst the older (middle aged!) generation of composers still active were Gordon Jacob, Roberto Gerhard and Alan Bush.  Gerhard produced his great choral work The Plague in this year.
Still in their 50s composers such as Alan Rawsthorne and Arnold Cooke were composing approachable, if challenging music; however 12-tone Lizzie (Elisabeth Lutyens) was producing a large quantity of more ‘difficult’ works.
A number of these composers are still active: these include Gordon Crosse, Peter Maxwell Davies, Peter Dickinson, Bryan Ferneyhough, Alexander Goehr, John McCabe, Thea Musgrave and John Tavener.
Many thanks to the Eric Gilder and his indispensible Dictionary of Composers and their Music. I have simply presented this list in alphabetical (by surname) order rather that chronological (by composer’s age). Please note that 1963 may be the date the work was composed, completed or received its first performance.

Richard Arnell: Musica Pacifica, for orchestra
Malcolm Arnold: Little Suite for Orchestra No 2 
David Bedford: Piece for Mo, for instrumental ensemble; Two Poems, for chorus
Lennox Berkeley: Four Ronsard Sonnets, for tenor and orchestra; Justorum Animae, for mixed choir
Arthur Bliss: Belmont Variations, for brass band; A Knot of Riddles, for baritone and eleven instruments; Mary of Magdala, cantata
Havergal Brian: Symphony No 21
Benjamin Britten: Symphony for cello and orchestra; Cantata misericordium, for tenor, baritone, string quartet, string orchestra, piano, harp and timpani; Nocturnal, after John Dowland, for guitar
Alan Bush: Prelude, Air and Dance for violin, string quartet and percussion (1963-4)
George Bush: Wind Quintet
Arnold Cooke: ‘The Lord at First did Adam Make’, for chorus; ‘The Country of the Stars’: motet
Gordon Crosse: ‘Meet My Folk’, for children's chorus and instruments; Ceremony, for cello and orchestra; Violin Concerto
Peter Maxwell Davies: Veni Sancte Spiritus, for soli, chorus and small orchestra
Peter Dickinson: Motets
Bryan Ferneyhough: Sonatina for three clarinets and bassoon
Peter Racine Fricker: ‘O longs desires’, five songs for soprano and orchestra
Roberto Gerhard: The Plague, for speaker, chorus and orchestra (1963-4)
Hymnody, for eleven players
Alexander Goehr: Little Symphony; Little Music for Strings; Virtutes, cycle of songs and melodramas for chorus, piano duet and percussion
Iain Hamilton: Sonatas and Variants, for ten wind instruments
Nocturnes with Cadenza, for piano 
Alun Hoddinott: Sinfonia for string orchestra [fp] Divertimento for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon [fp]
Herbert Howells: Stabat Mater, cantata
Gordon Jacob: Suite for brass band 
Wilfred Josephs: Pathelin, opera-entertainment; Chacony for violin and piano; Piano Sonata; Requiem, for baritone, double chorus, string quintet and orchestra
Four Chinese Lyrics, for two voices and piano or guitar
Elisabeth Lutyens: Music for Orchestra III; Encomion, for chorus, brass and percussion; String Quintet; Fantasie Trio, for flute, clarinet and piano; Wind Trio;
Presages, for solo oboe
John McCabe: Variations for Piano; Three Folk Songs for high voice and piano
Elizabeth Maconchy: Serenata Concertante for violin and orchestra; Samson and the Gates of Gaza, cantata (1963-4)
William Mathias: Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon
Nicolas Maw: Round for children's choir, mixed choir and piano; The Angel Gabriel, for unaccompanied voices
Thea Musgrave: The Five Ages of Man, for chorus and orchestra
Alan Rawsthorne : Carmen Vitale, for soprano, chorus and orchestra
John Tavener: Three Sections, from T. S. Eliot's The Four Quartets, for tenor and piano (1963-4)
William Walton: Variations on a Theme of Hindemith, for orchestra
Malcolm Williamson: Our Man in Havana, opera; Elevamini Symphony

Tuesday 1 January 2013

A Happy and Prosperous New Year 
To All Readers of 
The Land of Lost Content

Composer Anniversaries for 2013
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Centenary of Birth
George Lloyd (1913-1998) Centenary of Birth
Cedric Thorpe Davie (1913-1983) Centenary of Birth

Some Important Works that are Celebrating Significant Anniversaries include:-
100 years Ago:-

Arnold Bax: Scherzo for Orchestra [piano version: scored for orchestra 1933] Spring Fire for Orchestra [Composed fp. 1914]
Frank Bridge: Dance Poem for orchestra [Composed]
George Butterworth: Banks Of Green Willow, Idyll for Orchestra
Hamilton Harty: The Mystic Trumpeter, Cantata
Gustav Holst: St Paul's Suite, for Strings [composed 1912-13]
Herbert Howells: Piano Concerto No 1 [completed by John Rutter]
John Ireland: The Forgotten Rite, for Orchestra [Composed] Decorations for Piano [composed fp. 1919?]
Cyril Scott: Nativity Hymn, for Chorus and Orchestra [Completed fp. 1914]
Charles Villiers Stanford: Irish Rhapsody No.4 ‘The Fisherman of Lough Neagh and what he saw.’ [Composed fp. 1914]
Ralph Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (Symphony No 2) [Completed f.p. 1914]
2013 is also the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Death of:-
Julius Harrison (1885-1963)
William Henry Squire (1871-1963)

The 50th Anniversary Compositions will feature in a subsequent post.