Thursday 28 June 2018

Gustav Holst—An Appreciation by Arnold Foster, 1934

Little comment is needed on this short appreciation written shortly after the death of English composer Gustav Holst on 25 May 1934. It was written by Sheffield-born Arnold (Wilfred Allen) Foster (1896?-1963) who was a conductor, composer and pedagogue. I will include a couple of notes where appropriate. The article appeared in the The Monthly Musical Record, July-August 1934.

It would be difficult adequately to express the deep sense of loss which the death of Gustav Holst has caused within the circle of his friends and pupils.
He inspired in them a love and devotion which was difficult for anyone outside this circle to understand. In uncongenial company Holst's reserve was so great as often to lead to a misconception of his true nature. His long struggle in early life against ill-health and adverse circumstances had helped to give him a deep insight into the difficulties which others had to contend with. In addition to this, his natural sympathetic qualities were a great asset to him in his capacity as a teacher. He got the very best out of keen amateurs and young people by making even the least gifted among them feel that their efforts were essential to the venture in hand.
The story of his sixteen years' directorship of the music classes at Morley College is an inspiring one. From the beginning he insisted on performing only the best music. This policy led at first to the disappearance of those who did not like hard work, but soon there gathered round him a devoted band of students who, under his leadership, did valuable and important work. To give only one instance, the revival of Purcell's works was undertaken. King Arthur was performed in 1909, The Fairy Queen in 1911, and Dioclesian [1] (arranged in the form of a pageant by one of his most gifted pupils, the late Jane Joseph) in 1921.[2]
The Fairy Queen performance was the first since Purcell's death in 1695. To make it possible the students copied out the entire vocal and instrumental parts-1500 pages of manuscript. The Dioclesian performance was the first since 1784, and again the parts were copied. The labour involved is an example of the willing service which Holst obtained from his students in the cause of music. This capacity of extracting willing and happy service from all kinds of people was one of the greatest characteristics of Gustav Holst, the man. They were eager to follow his own example.
Holst believed intensely in the social value of music and to this end began his Whitsuntide Festivals at Thaxted in 1916. The main purpose was to give pleasure to the performers and to influence them with the idea of making music together for the pure joy of it. The plan followed at first was for players and singers to assemble for the Whitsuntide week-end at some country town or village to provide music for the church services and any other occasion that arose. It is typical of Holst's thoroughness of organization and delicacy of feeling that he always used any local talent and was very careful to work in harmony with the church organist. Saturday was spent in rehearsing, Sunday morning and evening in the church, Sunday afternoon in informal music or a performance at the local hospital or other institution. On Monday morning the parts of a chosen work of a dramatic nature which gave opportunity for pageantry and costume were given out and rehearsed, out of doors if possible. A performance was given in the afternoon.
Holst was by no means a dry academician; in his make-up there was a love of simple fun, and he was fond of ending his festival with some carefully planned item of a humorous nature. After his return from Salonica the festivals were held in London for several years. The places visited were Dulwich, Isleworth, Blackheath, All Hallows (Toc H church) and Camberwell, with the garden belonging to St. Paul's Girls' School as a centre for some of the Whit Monday performances.
One reason for stressing these festivals is that they had an important influence on Holst's own career as a composer. He wrote many works expressly for them. 'A Festival Chime,' 'Turn back O man,' 'Let all mortal flesh,' ' All people that on earth do dwell,' and 'This have I done,' were all written for the Thaxted Festivals in 1916-18. 'A Short Festival Te Deum' was written for Blackheath in 1922 and ‘The Coming of Christ' for Canterbury Cathedral in 1928. Monday programmes included 'Opera as she is Wrote,' a brilliant skit on various operatic styles (Thaxted), 'Seven Choruses from the Alcestis of Euripides,' incorporated into a reading of the play (Blackheath), and The Golden Goose, a choral ballet specially written for the 1926 Festival. These Whitsuntide Festivals will have to be taken into account when a full-length study of Holst comes to be written. They had an essential influence on his career as a composer, and they also show how he put into practice his belief in the social value of music. It is to be hoped that someone will shortly collect the necessary material, a great part of which exists in the memories of people who attended them.
Holst's name will surely always figure on the small list of really great English composers. He was a pioneer and, together with his friend Vaughan Williams, he helped English music to break away finally from a long German domination. His powerful and original mind was influenced by Purcell and our Tudor composers, especially in regard to the problem of the marriage of words and music. His knowledge of choral effect is amazing; writing that often looks dubious on paper comes off magnificently in performance. There is a bleakness about his later works that may prevent their appealing to a large public. The tragedy of his early death is that he seemed to be evolving a new technique, and, had he regained his health, there is no knowing what such an original mind would have achieved.
Holst's favourite Tudor composer was Weelkes. [3] The two men had much in common. Their works are conspicuous for originality and boldness of harmonic outlook, and it is fitting that the ashes of Gustav Holst should have been interred near to the Weelkes tablet in Chichester Cathedral.
The Monthly Musical Record, July-August 1934 (with minor edits).

[1] Henry Purcell wrote King Arthur in 1691, The Fairy Queen in 1692, and Dioclesian on 1690.
[2] Jane Joseph (1894-1929) was an English composer, arranger and music teacher. She had been pupil and latterly a colleague of Gustave Holst. See Holst’s appreciation of her on this blog.
[3] Thomas Weelkes (?1576–1623), was an important English writer of madrigals and liturgical pieces. He contributed to the Elizabethan The Triumphs of Oriana.

Monday 25 June 2018

British Works submitted to the International Society for Contemporary Music, Sienna, 1927

In the Framlingham Weekly News (3 March 1928) a syndicated article appeared enumerating the works selected by the British Music Society for the 1928 International Society for Contemporary Music [I.S.C.M.] to be held in Sienna. The list of works makes an interesting list.

‘FESTIVAL MODERN MUSIC The annual festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music will this year be held at Siena, Italy. These festivals. which are held year by year at various European centres, consist of performances of by works living composers.
The programmes are selected jury whom are submitted compositions that have been chosen by committees established in the countries represented worthy of performance at the festivals.
The British committee, which has its headquarters with the British Music Society, has just made its selection of British compositions from the many which had been sent in for this adjudication.
The works that have been recommended to the Festival Jury are follows; “Facade” (W.T.Walton) for reciter and various instruments (poems by Edith Sitwell); 'Ephemera' (Patrick J Hadley), for soprano or tenor voice and woodwind, string quartet, and pianoforte; Oboe quintet (Arthur Bliss); String quartet [No.3] (Frank Bridge); Pianoforte Trio (Rebecca Clarke): Petite suite for oboe and ’cello (Lennox Berkeley); Fantasy sonata for viola and harp (Arnold Bax); Variations, for pianoforte (B Van Dieren); Sonatine for pianoforte (John Ireland); and Suite for pianoforte (Arthur Benjamin).’

The two works that finally made it thorough to Sienna were William Walton’s Façade and Frank Bridge’s String Quartet No.3. There are many recordings of the former piece and a handful of the latter. Works that did not survive into our own time include 'Ephemera' by Patrick J. Hadley, for soprano or tenor voice, woodwind, string quartet, and pianoforte, and the Variations, for pianoforte by Bernard Van Dieren. The other works have had at least a single recording.

Friday 22 June 2018

British Fanfares on Chandos

This is a challenging CD to listen to, never mind write a review about. The reader would not thank me for a 5000-word-plus review discussing each fanfare in turn. It reminds me of the old joke about the schoolboy asked about the dictionary he was reading. “Fascinating,” he replied, “except that the author keeps changing the subject.” I felt a wee bit like that schoolboy as I listened to this huge collection of Fanfares recently released by Chandos.
Fanfares are an ubiquitous part of British Music making, often associated with special civic and national events.  I needed a strategy to get to grips with them. It is simply not possible for most listeners (including me) to put this CD into the player, press ‘Go’, and sit back and ‘relax.’  I thought first about taking it composer by composer. But even that brought problems. Only the most passionate Bliss ‘groupie’ could listen to 13 fanfares one after the other, not to mention eight by Albert Ketèlbey. I then thought about selecting by genre – municipal or royalty, perhaps, but that proved too difficult to categorise.
Yet, here was a collection of more than 50 fanfares by a representative group of fourteen 20th century composers, some better-known than others.
I finally opted to picking them off three or four at a time and then doing something else…

I confess to not having consciously heard many of these fanfares before. Take Malcolm Arnold, for example. I guess I have the most of his works in my CD/download/record collection. Certainly, looking through his work’s list, there seems relatively few major pieces that have not been recorded.  Turning to the ‘Brass Section’ of his catalogue, nearly all the major works are easily available, with Nimbus having issued the Complete Brass Works (excluding fanfares). It is these fanfares that are so hard to track down. So, for the completist, this CD goes a long way towards closing the gaps in the list. Premiere recordings of ‘A Richmond Fanfare’ and a ‘Fanfare for a Royal Occasion’ are given here. I was unable to find current, convenient versions of the ‘Railway Fanfare’, ‘Kingston Fanfare’ and the ‘Festival Fanfare’, all included on this disc, but not marked up as premiere recordings. They do probably exist somewhere in vinyl/cassette/CD/download/web, but I do not know where. On the other hand, the ‘obsessive’ is bound to be disappointed. Could Chandos not have squeezed in Arnold’s ‘Fanfare for Louis’, the composite ‘Fanfare for One, 80 Years Young’ (Bliss) with contributions from at least 13 other composers, the ‘Savile Club Centenary Fanfare’, to say nothing of two other works including percussion.

As noted above there are 13 fanfares composed by Sir Arthur Bliss. I guess examples of this genre was expected of him: he was Master of the Queen’s Music between 1953-1975. Two of the fanfares here, including the ‘Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion’ (1938) and ‘Fanfare for Heroes’ (1930) were written before he received his first butt of sack or whatever… There are plenty more Blissian fanfares to be recorded – at least another 17!

Dipping into the remainder of this CD, there are some splendid treats. As always Elisabeth Lutyens surprises the listener. Her ‘Fanfare for a Festival’ written in 1975 for the University of York, is approachable, piquant and contains none of the horrors so often (wrongly) associated with her musical style. The shortest piece on the CD is by Hamilton Harty, lasting a mere 21 seconds. It is over before it begins. But it is a good piece to have anthologised: it is the only work of its genre that Harty composed. Tick!
The Leiston Suite by Imogen Holst is an indulgence. This is hardly a fanfare, as it has five short movements using two trumpets, trombone and tuba. It was composed for young musicians at a local school.  Eric Coates’ two Fanfares both sound as if they are the opening bars of a forgotten marches. Good to have these.
Frederick Curzon is best recalled for The Boulevardier and The Dance of the Ostracised Imp. The three ‘mini’ fanfares here are extracted from his ‘Six Brilliant Fanfares. All good stuff and not a sign of an imp, an elf or a fairy.
And it is good to have some ‘hard to find’ Arnold Bax, including his ‘Royal Wedding Fanfares’ written for the wedding of Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I had never come across the ‘Hosting at Dawn’ with its hint of the Celtic Twilight.
The spiky ‘Graduation Fanfare No. 2’ (2013) by Joseph Horowitz is a respectable way to bring this CD to a close.

The Onyx Brass ensemble with their friends, and conductor John Wilson provide splendid accounts of all these works. The liner notes, in English, German and French, by Richard Bratby, are a labour of love. I guess that they will become more of an important work of reference, than a ‘right rivetin’ read.’ The recording showcases the brassy sound of these 50-odd works ideally.

I wonder who will buy this CD? I have alluded to ‘completists’ above, and they will be the top candidates. But, as noted, there are plenty more ‘fanfares’ to go at before the catalogues can be marked off as complete. And then there will be the brass enthusiasts, who will demand this CD for its superb performances and great suggestions for repertoire.
I think that most of these fanfares are ephemeral, occasional works, whose ‘occasion’ has long passed. Yet there is much good music here that does not deserve to be lost. Maybe it is necessary for brass bands, ensembles and orchestras to revisit some of them and introduce their concerts with a carefully chosen example. This is the only way that these fanfares will stay in the repertoire beyond the 58 tracks on this CD.

I am sure the reader will forgive me for not discussing the works of Howells, Tippett, Bantock, Haydn Wood or Ketèlbey. I just want to go and listen to something without any brass instruments. Anything!

Track Listing:
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Fanfare for Schools (1943) [0:52]
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) Festival Fanfare (1961) [1:16]; Kingston Fanfare (1959) [0:33]; A Richmond Fanfare (1957) [0:33]; Railway Fanfare (1975) [1:32]; Fanfare for a Royal Occasion (1956) [1:17]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Fanfare to Precede the National Anthem (1960) [0:32]; National Anthem [0:55]; The Right of the Line (1965) [1:26]; Fanfare for the Princess Anne (1973) [0:59]; High Sheriff’s Fanfare (1963) [0:28]; A Salute to Painting (1954) [1:20]; Research Fanfare (1973) [1:32]; Peace Fanfare (1944) [0:38]; Let the People Sing (1960) [0:22]; Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion (1938) [0:28]; Fanfare for Heroes (1930) [1:46]; Homage to Shakespeare (1973) [1:07]; Fanfare (1944) [1:17]
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) Fanfare No. 3 (1953) [0:57]; The Wolf Trap Fanfare (1980) [1:09]
Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946) Fanfare (1921) [0:22]
Eric COATES (1886-1957) Two Fanfares (c. 1943) [1:02]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Fanfare No. 3 (1938) [0:47]; Six Fanfares (1945) [2:25]
Imogen HOLST (1907-1984) Fanfare for Thaxted (1966) [3:02]
Fanfare for the Grenadier Guards (1966) [2:25]; Leiston Suite (1967) [6:13]
Albert W. KETÈLBEY (1875-1959) Coronation Fanfare (1937/1952) [0:50] Fanfares Nos 1 & 2 for a Naval Occasion (1943) [1:34]; Fanfare for Victory (1944) [1:17]; Fanfare for the Royal Artillery (1944) [0:54]; Short Fanfare for the Air Force (published 1953) [0:33]; Fanfare for a Ceremonial Occasion (1935) [0:57]
Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941) Fanfare (1921) [0:21];
Frederic CURZON (1899-1973) Fanfare Nos 4-6 (1938) [1:31]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) Fanfare for a Festival (1975) [4:18]
Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Hosting at Dawn (1921) [0:36]; Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion (1930) [0:51]; Two Fanfares for ‘Show Business’ (1951) [1:21]; Royal Wedding Fanfares (1947) [2:19]; Salute to Sydney (1943) [1:11]
Joseph HOROVITZ (b. 1926) Graduation Fanfare No. 2 (2013) [2:09]
Onyx Brass with guest players/John Wilson
CHANDOS CHSA 5221 [59:03]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of Lennox Berkeley published in his book Composers Gallery

Berkeley had a suite of Catalan dances, Mont Juic, accepted for the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music [I.S.C.M.] at Barcelona in 1936, and it was there that he first met Benjamin Britten. [1] The two young composers found much in common and have been great friends ever since.
One of Berkeley's best efforts is the music he wrote to Frederick Ashton's ballet The Judgement of Paris, which was produced at Sadler's Wells in the early summer of 1938. Shortly afterwards his setting of the psalm ‘Domini est terra’ was given its premiere at an I.S.C.M. Festival [2] and repeated in September 1938 at the Gloucester Festival. [3]
Since 1935 Berkeley has resided in England, though before the outbreak of the Second World War he made frequent visits to Paris. He at present holds a position on the BBC Music Staff,
to which he was appointed in 1942. [4]
Due perhaps to his French training, he is a great believer in clarity and economy in composition and dislikes the dry intellectual style one finds in what is commonly called ‘composer's music,’ although in my opinion some of his own works have a strong tendency in that direction.
His Symphony, for instance, which was first performed at a Promenade concert in 1943, [5] and which is undoubtedly one of the most important of his recent works, is an interesting but rather discordant effort which abounds with intellectual chatter, entertaining though it may be. Rather more effective are his various piano works, for his percussive style seems more at home on the keyboard. Lennox Berkeley has a deep love for the classics and believes that one's form and technique should always be based on that of the great masters. Mozart is his ‘model’ composer. He is
interested in film music and has written for two productions himself: Hotel Reserve (1944), [6] and Out of Chaos, [7] a documentary film about the lives of the war artists, made in the same year.
Among other recent works we find his Serenade for string orchestra, first performed by the Boyd Neel ensemble in 1940; Sonatina for violin and piano, composed for Max Rostal [8] in 1942; a String Trio, written for the Grinke ensemble in 1943; Divertimento for orchestra, commissioned by the BBC (1943); the Piano Sonata (1945); and the Sonatina for viola and piano written for Watson Forbes [9] in the same year.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] Brook omits to mention that the Mont Juic Suite was a joint effort between Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten. When first performed, the composers did not reveal which who wrote what in this four-movement work. Years later, Lennox Berkeley revealed to composer and musicologist Peter Dickinson that he had composed the first two movement and Britten the last two. The four movements are ‘Andante maestoso’; ‘Allegro grazioso’; ‘Lament: Andante moderato’ ("Barcelona, July 1936") and ‘Allegro molto’. Both collaborated in the work’s orchestration.
[2] The premiere of Domini est Terra (The Earth is the Lord’) op.10 was given at the Queen’s Hall during the opening concert of the 16th I.S.C.M. Festival in London on 17 June 1938.
[3] Domini est Terra was heard again at the Three Choirs Festival, in Worcester Cathedral (not Gloucester, as stated in Brook’s Portrait) on 8 September 1938.
[4] Berkeley worked as an ‘orchestral programme planner.’
[5] Berkeley’s Symphony No.1, op.16 was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 8 July 1943. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the composer.
[6] Hotel Reserve (1944) is ‘British spy thriller somewhat in the mould of 1930s Hitchcock thrillers like The Lady Vanishes. It combines suspense, some tongue-in-cheek comedy and a little romance.’ (Classic Movie Ramblings blog, 8 Jun 2010). It starred James Mason, Louise Mannheim and Charles Lom.
[7] Out of Chaos (1944) featured Anthony Gross, Kenneth Clark, Stanley Spencer, as well as Henry Moore’s drawings of London Underground during bombing raids. It is available to watch at the British Film Institute website.
[8] Max Rostal (1905 1991) was an Austrian-born violinist and a viola player. He later took British citizenship.
[9] Watson Forbes (1909-1997) was a Scottish-born violist and classical music arranger. Between 1964 and 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

Saturday 16 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Lennox Berkeley Society
Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’s Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’ Clearly, he had met many of these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests.
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest books about music that I bought (second-hand) in the days before the internet: it served as my introduction to a wide-range of composers and their music. 
Clearly, this study was written around 1943/4 when Berkeley was 40 years old. He lived until 1989, so many significant compositions lay in the future. This included three more symphonies, four completed operas and several concertos. He married Freda Bernstein in 1946.
I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Lennox Berkeley and made some minor edits to the text. 

LENNOX BERKELEY, I feel, is something of an enigma, and one cannot help wondering what place he will take in modern English music in the years to come. He was born at Boar's Hill, Oxford, on May 12th, 1903, and there is nothing of unusual musical interest in the details of his childhood. His parents possessed no musical ability, but his father, a naval officer, was sufficiently interested in the art to buy a pianola and an enormous library of rolls. It was by this mechanical means that Berkeley's interest in music was aroused during his early childhood.
At Gresham's School, Holt, and St. George's School, Harpenden, he learned to play the piano, but when he proceeded to Merton College, Oxford, he had no intention of making music his profession. He had only the vaguest ideas concerning his future career. He read modern languages, took his B.A., coxed the Eight, [1] and so forth; in fact, his University career was of the pleasantly conventional type enjoyed by the sons of those in comfortable circumstances. Music was an agreeable spare time activity taken rather seriously, it is true, but it was not until
he came down from Oxford in 1926 that he entertained the idea of making it his career. Then, however, the urge to devote himself entirely to the art impressed itself, and he went to Paris for six years to study with Nadia Boulanger. [2]
Residence in Paris [3] brought him wonderful opportunities of enjoying the company of the sort of people whose companionship, in small doses, can be an exhilarating stimulus to any artist intent upon finding his own soul and expressing it in his own way. His studies of counterpoint, fugue and orchestration were done in the congenial company of such dynamic young men as Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, whom we shall meet later in this book. Then there were occasional meetings with composers who had already established themselves or at least made a stir among the critics: Poulenc and Honegger, for instance; and with the two who exerted a dominating influence upon his development as a student, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.

Lennox Berkeley admits that he owes much to Ravel; he knew him quite well and received from him advice that has proved of great value in more recent years. The eminent composer was always extremely kind, and most willing to scrutinize and comment upon Berkeley's early works chiefly compositions of an immature nature which he has now withdrawn. Ravel, he tells me, was always very strict on technical efficiency, and thought that most of the young people trying to compose at that time were too amateurish too keen to dabble in music without troubling to master its technicalities. Incidentally, Nadia Boulanger was always most insistent that her pupils should have a thorough grounding in the classics before attempting to write on modern lines.
Berkeley also acknowledges with gratitude the guidance he received from Stravinsky, [4] whose acquaintance he enjoyed during the latter part of his Parisian days, so that this composer's influence came rather later than that of Ravel. He is a great admirer of Stravinsky's works, some more than others, of course and strongly disagrees with the little group of critics who ridicule the superficiality of them. Few composers, he feels, have been more completely misunderstood than Stravinsky.
When he left Paris, he was obliged to take his invalid mother to the Riviera for a period of two years, and it was during this time that he drew attention to himself as a composer with his Violin Sonata [No.2 in D, op.1] (1933), a work more mature and original than anything he had hitherto produced. At about that time, too, his Oratorio Jonah was written, a more ambitious effort first performed at a BBC concert of contemporary music in 1936 and repeated at the Leeds Festival in 1937. [4] The influence of Stravinsky is apparent in this work, and that perhaps explains why the English listener, rather a conservative fellow when it comes to oratorio, found it difficult to appreciate. Describing the Leeds performance in the Musical Times [5] Herbert Thompson wrote:
‘It is a work almost aggressively modernistic in character and is not easily followed by those who have been accustomed to regard emotion as an essential characteristic in music. For this quality, pattern alone is an inadequate substitute, and though one may somewhat regretfully realize that, as the Romantic period has had a long innings, the wave of fashion is bound to bring along something very different in its wake, one is none the less inclined to wonder whether this intellectual music is likely to retain a place in history. If so, it implies a revolution in aesthetics.’
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] Berkeley was cox of the Merton College Rowing Eight. Whilst at the College he took a fourth class in French (1926).
[2] Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. During the middle years of the twentieth century she was renowned for teaching several generations of music students. This included diverse pupils such as Burt Bacharach, Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, John Eliot Gardner, Nicolas Maw, Astor Piazzolla, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Richard Stoker.
[3] Lennox Berkeley’s regular ‘Reports from Paris’ were published in the Monthly Musical Record between 1929-34. These letters are a fascinating and informative account of concert and opera life in the French capital during a vibrant era of musical history. They are conveniently collected in Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews: edited by Peter Dickinson, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2012. This volume also includes several letters from Berkeley to Boulanger.
[4] A ‘factional’ account of Lennox Berkeley’s meeting with Igor Stravinsky has recently been authored by Tony Scotland: FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Shelf Lives, The Pottery Baughurst, Hampshire 2018. This book recounts a meeting of the two composers on the ‘Golden Arrow’ train during November 1934.
[5] ‘Jonah’ was composed during 1935. It was first heard during a BBC broadcast on 19 June 1936. The first public performance was at Leeds Town Hall, on 7 October 1937. The Musical Times review cited by was included in the November edition of this journal. It is a fact that ‘Jonah’ has not retained a place in the repertoire. The is no recording available.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Gráinne Mulvey: Aeolus (2017) & Christopher Fox: untouch (2017)

Once I got over the shock of the ‘minimalist’ duration of this CD, I enjoyed both electronic works. I do not have a passion for this genre of music, although like many people of my generation, I became aware of its the potential with the theme music to Dr Who, composed by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire. As an aside, my first introduction to ‘musique concrete’ was in the comedy film What a Whopper (1961), starring Adam Faith. One of the characters, ‘Vernon’, played by Terence Longdon, is an avant-garde composer. He manipulates sounds to create the roar of the Loch Ness monster. It was some years after this, that I discovered Boulez and Xenakis!

Aeolus was created by Irish composer Gráinne Mulvey to compliment an installation sculpture, Spatial Reverberation (?) by Mark Garry. This was exhibited at the ‘Sounding out the Space’ conference in 2017. Alas, there is no picture of Garry’s ‘masterpiece’ included in the liner notes, nor could I find one in the internet. Mulvey writes that the music alludes to Aeolus, king of the floating island, referred to in Homer’s Odyssey.  He was keeper of the Winds. Aeolus was also the inventor of the Aeolian Harp which was an ancient Greek ‘stringed instrument that produces musical sounds when a current of air passes through it.’ Garry is an expert, apparently. at making these harps. Recordings of this instrument are combined with ‘ambient’ wind and bird sounds ‘captured by chance when making the field recordings’. The stage is now set for Mulvey’s attractive and satisfying exploration of this unique sound world. It is music to sit back to, close one’s eyes and simply enjoy.

Christopher Fox’s untouch (without a capital) is the first section of a composite work called ‘untouch-touch’ written for the percussionist Serge Vuille. It was first performed at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2017.  The composer explains that in the second part (unrecorded here) the soloist plays six Thai gongs suspended around him in ‘slow, almost ritualised repeating patterns.’  Untouch on the other hand, works in a ‘mysterious way’ – apparently the percussionist does not actually strike the gongs but ‘passes his hand over them creating sine waves.’ How this is engineered is not stated.
Despite the fact the ‘sine wave’ is quite penetrating in sound (goes through one a bit) I enjoyed the sheer simplicity of this highly meditative work: I did not want it to end. There is a video recording of the entire work on Vimeo.

The CD liner notes contain biographical notes about both composers and their collaborators, as well as the usual programme notes.

Finally, I read on the Métier webpage that this CD is regarded as a ‘single’ rather than an ‘LP’. So, the short duration is understandable. It is priced at around £6.00.

Track Listing:
Gráinne MULVEY (b. 1966) Aeolus (2017)
Christopher FOX (b.1955) Untouch (2017)
Rec. Both works realised by the composers during 2017
METIER mds29006 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Sunday 10 June 2018

Charles O’Brien: Scottish Scenes, op.21 for piano

A year or so ago, I wrote a post about Charles O’Brien’s (1882-1968) Scottish Scenes, op.17 and concluded this was a work that was wholly Scottish but devoid of the clichés of rampant tartanry. The second set of Scottish Scenes, op.21 date from the same year, 1917: they are equally effective and musically satisfying. At this stage, I am not sure what works constituted the intervening opus numbers.

Like its companion set, the Scottish Scenes, op.21 consists of three movements. The opening ‘Tor and Tarn’ is powerful and dramatic.  I did wonder if the word ‘Tor’ was particularly Scottish: I rather imagined it was more Peak District or West Country, implying a high rock or top. However, the Oxford English Dictionary assures me that the word is used in Scotland, albeit in a slightly different sense. It would appear to apply to artificial burial mounds. One example given is the village of Torrance in the shadow of the Campsie Fells, to the North of Glasgow. The same could be said for the ‘Tarn’ which seems to be devoid of Scottish usage. This is often associated with the North of England and the Lake District. Word derivations aside, O’Brien has created a work that balances several musical Scotticisms, most importantly the Scotch Snap and its ‘long-short mirror image.’ This is music that is filled with a surprising mix of gloom and grandeur, perhaps appropriate to thoughts of death and still waters. The melodies tend toward ‘pentatonic’ (black notes on the piano), however O’Brien brings several technical devices to this music, including ‘pianistic flourishes’ and subtle chromatic alterations to his tunes.  The formal progress of ‘Tor and Tarn’ never seems to be in the same key for very long. The movement closes with a powerful coda.

I love the gentle ‘Mid the Bracken.’ For me this is a love lilt. The composer has created an attractive melody that sounds Scottish, without quoting any tune. The middle section of this ternary piece is quite beautiful, albeit too short. Philip R Buttall in his review of this work for MusicWeb International, has noted that ‘…the opening few bars sound uncannily like the ‘Young Prince and the Young Princess’ theme from Scheherazade, with a few melodic embellishments.’ Look out also for the subtle use of the whole-tone scale which may be the composer’s homage to Claude Debussy.

Scottish Scenes, op.21 closes with a romping evocation of ‘Heather Braes.’ John Purser (CD liner notes) explains that this movement is ‘to be played with martial decisiveness.’ I am not sure that this is about military manoeuvres in the Western Highlands. There are a few moments of repose, which provides the walker or tourist with a moment for reflection, however the main drive of the piece is quite simply a paean of praise to the Scottish scenery. The massive coda is both exciting and dramatic. Purser wisely concludes that the ‘heather is undoubtedly in full bloom.’

Paul Mann, commenting in the liner notes for Volume 1 of the Orchestral works, summed up the composer’s achievement: ‘O’Brien’s image of Scotland didn’t come from the top of a shortbread tin. His is a country of ruggedly beautiful, sometimes inhospitable landscapes…’  This holds good for the present Suite for piano.

Scottish Scenes, op.21 can be heard on Charles O’Brien: Complete Piano Music Volume 1 Toccata Classics TOCC0256 [65:25] with Warren Mailley-Smith, pianist. Other works on this disc include Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 14 (1910), Deux Valses, Op. 25 (1928) and the Scottish Scenes, Op. 17 (1915)

Thursday 7 June 2018

Arnold Steck: Riviera Rhapsody

As I teenager I always wanted to go to the French Riviera for my holidays. However, it was beyond my parents’ finances, so we made do with Lytham St Anne’s and Morecambe, which I always enjoyed and look back with many happy and glorious memories. It was not until about 2007 that I made my first visit to this romantic part of the French coast. As I stepped off a boat in the harbour, I discovered that Cannes was in the middle of the Film Festival which made it extremely busy and quite difficult to find a restaurant to have a pleasant lunch. I guess I wanted to be a Boulevardier, sitting on the seafront with glass of vino! It was too busy. I did find the Hotel de Provence which was visited on several occasions by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. And I was able to have a swim in the sea, which compared to the North Sea or the Irish Sea was exceptionally warm, even for Maytime.  

Recently I discovered the short Riviera Rhapsody by Arnold Steck: this reminded me of my visit to Cannes and a subsequent trip to Monaco. Steck’s music is all heart-on-the-sleeve romance, in the style of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Charles Williams’ The Dream of Olwen and Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody. However, the tunes are all his own and the passion, the drama and the romance are all packed into about 6 minutes. It was composed around 1955 and reflects the glamour, the post-war confidence and the beginnings of foreign holidays for the massed with great aplomb.

Arnold Steck is a pseudonym. His real name was Leslie Statham. I had heard of neither incarnation before hearing this Rhapsody. Leslie Statham was born on 18 December 1905. After military service with the Welsh Guards where he played in the Regimental Band, Statham continued to compose and arrange music for military bands and other musical groups. He died on 28 April 1974.

Philip Scowcroft, on MusicWeb International, has written about Arnold Steck/ Leslie Statham: ‘[He was] particularly active in the 1950s and 1960s, is remembered mostly for his marches with titles like Piccadilly, Birdcage Walk, Path of Glory and best known of all as it was the original signature tune for Match of the Day [used between 1964 and 1970], Drum Majorette, not to mention other 'production' music' titles for Chappell’s library such as Morning Canter and Important Occasion.’

Arnold Steck’s Riviera Rhapsody is performed on the Guild CD (GLCD 5132) by the New Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dolf van der Linden. The piano soloist was ‘Alexander Glushkoff’ The original recordong was on Boosey and Hawkes O 2254 and was released in 1955. It took up two sides of a 78rpm record.

Jonathan Woolf, reviewing the Guild CD on MusicWeb International has written: ‘Alexander Glushkoff – real name? – turns up with Dolf van der Linden to deal with [the] Riviera Rhapsody, a pocket concerto opus à la Addinsell; Rachmaninov coupling vigorously with Rhapsody in Blue and all over in five minutes.’
Certainly, this tune seems to be the only one I can find that Alexander Glushkoff has recorded.

Arnold Steck’s Riviera Rhapsody can currently be heard on YouTube in this performance. 

Monday 4 June 2018

FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Tony Scotland

As a young railway enthusiast, I was fascinated by the Golden Arrow (or Flèche d’Or). The thought of a train and boat journey from London Victoria to Paris’s Gare du Nord played to my imagination. In my day, it was hauled by an electric locomotive, so it had lost some of its pre-war romance. I was never to travel on this very special train before it ceased running in 1972.

The idea behind this book is simple. In a letter by Lennox Berkeley to his boyfriend Alan Searle, the composer revealed that he had ‘run in’ to Igor Stravinsky, his ‘secretary’ Vera Sudeikina and the violinist Samuel Dushkin on the Golden Arrow as they all returned to Paris. This was immediately after the premiere of the Russian’s Persephone at the Queen’s Hall, London, on 29 November 1934. Stravinsky invited Berkeley to join his party for a rubber of bridge in his Pullman salon and later for lunch in the ‘celebrated Wagon Restaurant. From this meagre reference Tony Scotland has created a ‘factional’ account of the ensuing conversations.

There are a few books exploring the life and times of Lennox Berkeley. The most fundamental is Peter Dickinson’s The Music of Lennox Berkeley 2nd ed. edition (2003) and Stewart R. Craggs, Lennox Berkeley, A Sourcebook (2000). In 2010 the present author published Lennox and Freda which is a biographical exploration of the composer’s life and times. The most recent offering is Peter Dickinson’s fascinating compilation, Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews (2012). The present volume adds something deeply personal and highly imaginative to this selection of books.

The general progress of the book is from London to Paris, with several digressions along the way. Chapter I introduces the reader to the Golden Arrow train, the scene at Victoria and the meeting between Lennox Berkeley and the Stravinsky in the on-board Pullman bar. A brief resume of their careers, their family connections and their ‘complicated’ love lives follows.
The second chapter, ‘En Route to Dover’ deliberates on the recent performance of Persephone, introduces Vera Sudeikina and her relationship with Stravinsky. Tony Scotland imagines Vera’s interrogation of Berkeley about his boyfriend Alan Searle. There is a discussion between the two composers about Persephone, followed by an assessment of the work by contemporary music critics.
‘Crossing the Channel’ (Chapter III) finds the them aboard the SS Canterbury, where they settle down for a game of bridge. There is a conversation between Berkeley and Samuel Dushkin about Stravinsky and his musical and personal ‘paradoxes.’
Soon they are aboard the French train running from Calais to Paris. Chapter IV opens with a brief study of music inspired by steam locomotives. Stravinsky treats Berkeley to lunch where they enjoy Crayfish and several prestigious wines. Vera Sudeikina and Samuel Dushkin have retired and leave the two composers to chat. Perhaps the most important moment for Berkeley on this journey was the ‘discussion’ he had with Stravinsky about his ‘new’ work, the cantata Jonah, with the older man providing suggestions as to the piece’s progress and content.  
Chapter V examines the relationship between Stravinsky’s son Soulima with Daintha Roberts Walker.  Finally, the train arrives at Paris Gard du Nord and the two composers go their separate ways.

Flèche contains several illustrations reflecting the journey to Paris. These include a colour print of a painting showing the Golden Arrow train leaving Victoria, albeit hauled by a British Rail Britannia locomotive (post 1952), rather than a Southern Railway Lord Nelson class engine. Other transport images show the SS Canterbury, Paris du Nord Statin, the French Super-Pacific loco and the ornate hall of the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria.  There are portrait photographs of all the main protagonists in the story, including characters who are mentioned, but were not aboard the train, such as Alan Searle, José Raffalli, Nadia Boulanger, André Gide, Ekaterina Stravinsky and Freda Berkeley.
There is a good bibliography which details several important sources for this book, including the Meccano Magazine (May 1927), studies of the game of bridge and several railway books. There are references to the standard works on Berkeley and Stravinsky. 
The book is a nicely bound hardback, with the single word ‘Flèche’ (underlined by an arrow) on the front cover. There is no dust jacket and no clue to the volume’s subject matter. I guess a bookshop browser would not begin to imagine what the book was about, unless they opened it.

The book is quite expensive, at £15:00 for 80 pages. Yet it is an attractive production that feels good, is well produced, printed in a readable font, and, as noted, well-illustrated. Flèche was designed by Susan Wightman of Libanus Press and is published by Shelf Lives. It is a signed and numbered limited edition. My copy is No.102 of 250.

This book will appeal to three groups of readers. Firstly, enthusiasts of Lennox Berkeley, one of the most important (but undervalued by concertgoers) of 20th century British composers. For these folks this is a major story of a crucial meeting between ‘their’ man and one of the towering giants of ‘modern’ music. For Stravinsky fans, this story will prove an interesting footnote. And finally, for railway enthusiasts this is an absorbing portrayal of iconic pre-war travel. I guess that it will be the first category that will invest most heavily in this volume.

Clearly, this book as a ‘moment in time’ for the two main characters and does not pretend to provide extensive biographical and musical details of both composers’ music. That said, there is plenty of background information given ‘incidentally’ as the story unfolds. I guess that most readers will have a basic grounding in 20th century musical history and the lives and times of these composers before beginning to read this volume. This book makes an attractive short read. I finished it in a single sitting in the garden on a warm spring day. I felt that I knew a lot more about Stravinsky and Berkeley than I did before I began: this increase in understanding is inversely proportional to the relatively short length of the book.

FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Tony Scotland 
Shelf Lives, The Pottery Baughurst, Hampshire 2018
ISBN 978-0-9955503-2-2

Friday 1 June 2018

Peter Warlock queries Moeran’s Name: A Witty Thought

I first discovered E.J. Moeran on an old Revolution Record (vinyl, RCF.003) back in the early 1970s. This featured his delightful Serenade, featuring Vernon Handley and the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra. The other work was Arnold Bax’s dark, brooding The Tale the Pine Trees Knew. It was to be a few years before I discovered that Moeran’s initials E.J. stood for Ernest John, and that his friends called him ‘Jack.’ Even today writers use the initials rather than his full title. Interestingly, Moeran had a second middle-name: Smeed. It is never used in discussion.  

In in his essay on E.J. Moeran, written for the June 1924 issue of the Music Bulletin Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine) wrote:
‘I must confess that when I first encountered the name of E J Moeran in the Daily Telegraph [1] some years ago, no clear impression was made upon my mind. In the first place there is something cold and inhuman in the indication of the Christian name by a mere initial. A good tradition has ordained that composers shall be more than N or M until such time as fame bestows on them the dignity of a surname tout court. J S Bach is admissible - though the sonorous Johann Sebastian is vastly preferable; but R V Williams gives but a distorted image of a personality singularly clear in its full denomination; and the monstrosity of F A T Delius has never even been perpetrated by those who are pedantic enough to announce a work by W A Mozart.’
Philip Heseltine, ‘E. J. Moeran’, The Music Bulletin June 1924.

[1] I was unable to find any reference to Moeran in the Daily Telegraph prior to March 1924.