Monday 29 August 2022

Vaughan Williams on Brass

This survey of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s brass band music opens with the short Flourish for Band, originally devised for wind band, and first heard in 1939 at a pageant Festival of Music and People at the Royal Albert Hall. This event had been organised by Alan Bush. It is typically bold, brash and strident in tone, with a quieter middle section. It was later arranged by Roy Douglas in 1972 for brass band. This recording uses a new edition of the score prepared by Phillip Littlemore. 

No introduction is needed to the English Folk Songs Suite written in 1923: it was formerly scored for military band and was later adapted for full orchestra the following year by fellow composer Gordon Jacob. Frank Wright made a version for brass band in 1956. The present score was prepared by Littlemore. The three movements are March: Seventeen Come Sunday, Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy and March: Folk Songs from Somerset. It is the first that has become popular with listeners to CLASSIC fM.

The Sea Songs were initially scored for military and brass bands in 1923. It was later transcribed in 1942 for full orchestra by RVW. The first performance was “almost certainly” at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. The three tunes majored on include Princess Royal, Admiral Benbow and Portsmouth. Once again Phillip Littlemore has made a brilliant new edition for brass band.

The first of RVW’s “original” brass band pieces on this CD is Henry the Fifth. There is some doubt as to when it was composed. The liner notes suggest that it could have been written for the 1934 Abinger Pageant. The overture was formally premiered in Miami, Florida in 1979 and here in the UK the following year at Thetford, Norfolk. The performing edition had been prepared by Roy Douglas. The work uses four traditional melodies: two French and two English. The opening is based on the Agincourt Song, celebrating Henry’s victory over the French in 1415. It is a powerful, sometimes scary arrangement of this tune. Tranquillity appears in the form of the Provençal air Magali followed by the marching song, Réveillez-vous Piccars. This latter is real battle music. The Overture ends with a reprise of the Agincourt Song followed by an arrangement of William Byrd’s Earl of Oxford’s March embellished with elaborate fanfares.

Three admirable arrangements follow. The Truth from Above makes use of the eponymous folk song sung to the composer by Mr W. Jenkins of King’s Pyon in Herefordshire (1909). RVW also used it in the opening of his Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912) and later in the Oxford Book of Carols. It opens with a tuba solo and explores various settings of the tune, before building up into a stately climax. The last notes are played by the tuba. It has been realised by Paul Hindmarsh. 

The Prelude on Rhosymedre was transcribed by Hindmarsh for brass band in 2008 to mark the 50th anniversary of RVW’s death and was premiered at the Royal Northern College of Music Festival of Brass. This beautiful meditation is most often heard in the original organ solo (1920), or occasionally in its orchestral version (1938) by Arnold Foster.

The 49th Parallel was a successful wartime film following the exploits of the crew of a German U-boat sunk in Canada’s Hudson Bay as they try to reach the then neutral United States. Vaughan Williams provided the film score. The Prelude: The New Commonwealth is often played and regularly heard on CLASSIC fM. In 2004 Chandos Records issued a Suite of this music arranged and edited by Stephen Hogger. It was of symphonic proportions lasting for nearly 40 minutes. The present offering for brass band was devised by Paul Hindmarsh and arranged by Philip Littlemore. It includes the film’s opening scenes, some pastoral images of the Canadian landscape, a scary Lutheran chorale and the “mechanical, jaunty Control Room Alert with its persistent drive and energy.” Also featured briefly is the haunting The Lake in the Mountains, subsequently issued by RVW as a piano solo. And finally, the sumptuous Prelude, brings this superbly dramatic suite to a satisfying and quite moving conclusion.

The second “original” brass band work was completed in 1955. The Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes was first publicly heard during a BBC broadcast on 12 March of that year. The liner notes describe it as an “uncomplicated arrangement, flowing seamlessly from a reverential opening to a noble, triumphant climax.” I am not quite convinced by the word “uncomplicated” here. It seems to me that there is much going on the in the instrumental contrasts and interesting variety of changes to tempo. The three hymn tunes used are Ebenezer, Calfaria and Hyfrydol. It is a well-balanced piece that is “expansive and festive,” as well as having some reflective moments.

The Tuba Concerto in F major was a commission for the Golden Jubilee of the London Symphony Orchestra for 1954. It is often regarded as the first viable concerto devised for this instrument. The work is in three movements, with a beautifully wrought Romanza being bookended by a bouncy Prelude and a vivacious Rondo alla tedesca. Both fast movements have virtuosic cadenzas. The Concerto was originally scored for soloist and a “theatre orchestra.”  An early review described it as “a curiosity rather than a convincing work or art” and the “lumbering gait of the solo tuba, like that of a sea-lion negotiating a step ladder, arouses interest rather than pleasure.” History has proved that not only is this probably RVW’s best known concerto but is regarded as a perfectly stated exploration of the possibilities of the solo tuba. The performance by Ross Knight is exceptional in every way. He makes his instrument dance and sing its journey through the entire concerto. The present brass band arrangement is by Philip Littlemore

The last of the three original brass band compositions on this CD is the Variations for Brass Band. Written as a commission for the 1957 National Brass Championships. The original score was edited by Frank Wright, who described it as being “a new landmark in the history of contesting – perhaps the most significant in the whole history of brass bands.” The new edition heard on this CD has been prepared (once again) by Philip Littlemore and published by Boosey & Hawkes: it corrects a “vast number of errors” and “is substantially different than Frank Wright’s contest edition published for the 1957 contest.”

Of interest here is the origins of the main theme. It first appeared in the early orchestral work, Triumphal Epilogue dating from 1901. It was to reappear in the tone poem The Solent (1903), the Sea Symphony (1903-09) and latterly in the slow movement of the Symphony No.9 (1956-58). It clearly had some special meaning for Vaughan Williams. There are eleven variations which include dance movements, such as a waltz, an arabesque and a Polacca and some more cerebral offerings such as Canon and Fugato. There are some reflective moments as well, including the sad Adagio. The work concludes with a final Chorale. 

The Tredegar Town Band under both their regular musical director, Ian Porthouse and their guest conductor Martyn Brabbins give enthusiastic performances of all this repertoire. I have noted above the remarkable contribution by Ross Knight.

The fulsome liner notes by Paul Hindmarsh and Philip Littlemore were a pleasure to read and give a genuinely helpful account of all the music. The sound quality of the recording is excellent.

This new CD, made under the auspices of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, is a splendid contribution to the 2022 celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. For those of us of certain age, it does not seem that long ago when we were celebrating his centenary in 1972!

Track Listing:
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Flourish for Band (1939)
English Folk Songs Suite (1923)
Sea Songs (1923)
Henry the Fifth (1934?)
The Truth from Above (??)
Prelude on Rhosymedre (1920)
Suite from 49th Parallel (1941)
Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes (1955)
Tuba Concerto in F minor (1954)
Variations for Brass Band (1957)
Ross Knight (tuba)
Tredegar Town Band/Ian Porthouse, Martyn Brabbins (The Truth from Above, Prelude on Rhosymedre and Variations)
rec. 4-5 December 2021 and 25 March 2022 (Tuba Concerto), Brangwyn Hall, Swansea.

Friday 26 August 2022

Granville Bantock: A Short Pen Portrait from 1913

Of interest is this early pen portrait of the English compose Sir Granville Bantock by J. Cuthbert Hadden. At the time of writing, Bantock was only 45 years of age. He would live until 1946. Noted for his large scale choral works, four symphonies, many tone poems and four operas, his career also included conducting and teaching. His music is reasonably well represented in the CD catalogues

MR GRANVILLE BANTOCK IS THE SON of an eminent surgeon and was born in London in 1868. He studied first for the Indian Civil Service, but his health broke down, and he had to give up the idea of an official career. Then he took to chemical engineering. Music was never thought of till he was twenty. It was at the South Kensington Museum Library [1] that the attractions of M.S. scores of certain composers caused him to forsake all for the art.

In 1888 he entered the Royal Academy of Music as a student, and took a wide course—composition, clarinet, violin, viola, and organ. He even played the drum in the students' orchestra! At the Academy he became known as a composer of so-called ‘tone-poems,’ and one of his excursions into that region was a piece called ‘Satan in Hell.’ On the occasion of its being tried at a students' concert, the players naturally warmed up to their work, and produced such an orgy of sound as to cause the Principal, who was conducting, to ask the composer: ‘What does this mean?’ ‘That's hell,’ said Bantock.

His master for composition was Frederick Corder [2], and Corder has recorded his experiences with him. He says:

‘Granville Bantock was almost the first of a long line of clever students who have passed through my hands during the last twenty years. He gained the Macfarren Scholarship entirely on the promise of his talent, for at that time he knew nothing at all. It was characteristic of him that he should exhibit as specimens of his powers some wild attempts to set to music large portions of Paradise Lost—indeed, I fear he meditated setting the entire work. My heart went out to the daring enthusiast and remained with him ever after.

His industry and perseverance were abnormal. I do not think I have ever had a pupil who worked so hard. He was none of your born geniuses that the halfpenny papers love to tell us about, who write symphonies at seven and are exploded gas-bags at fourteen.

He dug and tilled his field like an honest labourer, and it was many years before the crop was good. But now he can look with pride upon the just results of good studentship. Let him tell, if he cares to, of his severe and manful struggles against disappointment and hard luck when he first entered the big world: it is only for me to say that no man ever was more deserving of success than Granville Bantock. He never turned his back on a friend; therefore he will never lack helpers and well-wishers. He never deserted his high ideals; therefore his muse will be ever kinder and kinder to him."

Bantock has been ‘through the hards,’ as the saying is. In 1893 he became conductor of a travelling company who performed burlesques in the provinces. His salary was £3 a week, while his orchestra consisted of one violin, one double-bass, one cornet, and ‘the left hand of the conductor on an anaemic piano.’ One of the burlesques was ‘Bonnie Boy Blue," the overture to which consisted of variations on ‘Ta-ra-ra-boom de-ay.’

An important change in his life came in 1897 when he was appointed musical director of the New Brighton Tower Orchestra. That same year he founded the New Brighton Choral Society, and became conductor of the Runcorn Philharmonic Society, thus widening his interests and extending his rapidly-growing influence as a master musician. In March 1898 he married Miss Helena von Schweitzer, who had previously been associated with him in writing the lyrics for the Songs of the East and other librettos. It was during his New Brighton period that he composed his orchestral variations Helena, on the theme H. F. B., his wife's initials - a characteristic work which bears an equally characteristic dedication

"Dearest Wife! —Accept these little Variations with all my heart's love. They are intended as an expression of my thoughts and reflections on some of your moods during a wearisome absence from each other."

After spending three active and useful years at New Brighton, Mr. Bantock found his anchorage and a fine outlet for his energies and administrative skill on being appointed Principal of the School of Music connected with the Birmingham and Midland Institute. Then, in 1908, he succeeded Sir Edward Elgar as Professor of Music in the University of Birmingham, where he has done, and is doing, notable work. Speaking recently of the University music course, he said:

‘The candidate must produce good modern work, human work, music that expresses some phase of human feeling. A candidate who included a fugue in his composition would incur some risk of being ploughed. We shall not value canons that go backwards, or that play equally well with the music upside down. We want to produce musicians who will emulate Sibelius and Strauss and Debussy, whom I regard as being the best orchestral writers now living.’

Mr. Bantock dislikes being called ‘Professor.’ Three or four years ago he was reported to have lost his professional gown, and it is suggested that the one he uses on degree days, &c., is probably a spare one loaned by some colleague.

But Mr. Bantock is really first and last a composer. His works are very numerous, and several of the most important have been produced at the leading festivals. The Viennese performance of Omar Khayyam was one of the most significant details in the history of English music. It is obvious, as one biographer [3] has remarked, that he is a heavy worker. Few, however, seem to meet him when he is busy or rushed. He says he composes to please himself. ‘The impulse to create music is upon me, and I write to gratify my impulse. When I have written the work, I have done with it. I do not want to hear it. What I do desire is to begin to enjoy myself by writing something else.’ The explanation of his great output probably lies in the unusual circumstances that as a smoker he never has to hunt for his matches, and that as a daily railway traveller he never has to run for his train or (given a punctual service) to wait for it at the station. Mr. Bantock, it may be added, finds his chief recreation in chess.

Modern Musicians: A Book for Players, Singers & Listeners: J. Cuthbert Hadden Boston: Le Roy Phillips London & Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis 1913

[1] South Kensington Museum Library, located at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
[2] Frederick Corder (1852-1932) was an English teacher of music and composer. He was Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London, becoming the Academy's curator in 1889. His students included notable British composers like Granville Bantock, Arnold Bax, York Bowen, Alan Bush, Eric Coates, Benjamin Dale and Joseph Holbrooke, as well as his own son, Paul Corder.
[3] Anderton, H Orsmond, Granville Bantock, John Lane, Bodley Head, London, 1914

Tuesday 23 August 2022

The Fair Hills of Éire: Irish Airs and Dances

The theme for this remarkable new CD of Irish airs and dances is summed up by a quotation from the Irish poet, Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Conmara (c.1715-1810): “Far dearer to my heart than a gift of gems or gold/Are the Fair Hills of Éire, O!” It is fair so say that there is a degree of tearjerking in this recital, but also much vivacity and fun.

The opening number, Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself, is by the Irish Chopin, John Field. The source of the original tune would seem to be unknown: it may be one of his own inventions. Field has worked this up into a satisfying rondo. It is one of his earliest published compositions. 

Michele Esposito was an Italian pianist and composer. However, in 1882 he was appointed Professor of piano at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Much of his mature career was spent in Éire. He established the Royal Dublin Society Chamber concerts as well as founding the Dublin Orchestral Society, which he conducted. His corpus includes an opera, The Postbag, an Irish Symphony, an overture to Shakespeare’s Othello, some chamber music and, unsurprisingly, many piano pieces.

The Two Irish Melodies op.39 are based in old tunes: Avenging and Fair on the air Cruachan na Feine and Though the Last Glimpse of Erin on the famous melody The Coulin. Both reveal subtle pianism, but most of all present “a musical expression of affection and admiration for his adopted home.”

It is hardly surprising that the Londonderry Air is included. It has been arranged many times, with popular “classical” versions by Charles Villiers Stanford and Percy Grainger. Stephen Hough’s reworking here is suitably sentimental and dreamy. Strangely similar in melodic progress is the redoubtable American Amy Beach’s The Fair Hills of Éire, O!, op.91 which is a “subtly and evocative meditation on the Irish landscape.” This miniature is an adaptation of an early seventeenth century song.

I admit to never having heard of Edward Swan Hennessey until reviewing this CD. He was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1866. After his musical formation he travelled much in Europe (he owned homes in Italy and England) and ended up in Paris in 1903. Originally, his compositions were influenced by Schumann and the later German romantic tradition. He soon became enamoured with Impressionism. In 1912, Hennessey became involved with a group of French composers who sought to infuse their art with a spirit of Celticism, combining “elements [of] Breton and Irish traditional music and culture.” He promulgated the Irish element in this endeavour. The present Variations sur un Air Irlandais Ancien, op.28 was published in 1908 (it may have been written earlier) thus predating his later interests but may have been a catalyst. It is a satisfying number that explores many moods in its twelve variations. The theme is an unidentified folk tune.

Philip Hammond’s delightful Old Truagh and The Beardless Boy from Miniatures and Modulations were created in 2011 as a part of his 60th birthday celebrations. The composer has explained that they were commissioned for that year’s Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at the Queen’s University and present a series of pieces for solo piano based on the Edward Bunting collection of Irish melodies from the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792. I understand that Bunting, then aged only 19 years, was employed to write down and annotate everything he heard at that event. His subsequent published edition, The Ancient Music of Ireland is in three volumes and “provided a treasure trove of over 300 bardic tunes and their attributions.” Philip Hammond has selected 21 of these. As I understand the situation, Bunting’s original transcription is the Miniature and Hammond’s freely styled variation is the Modulation. The complete set has been issued on the Grand Piano label (GP702) played by Michael McHale. I have not heard this album. 

The short Sionna, Spirit of the Shannon, which was composed by Philip Martin for the present pianist, fits in well with the ethos of this disc. Like Sabrina for the Severn, and Isis for the Thames, Sionna is the personification of that great Irish River.

Many years ago, when I used to rummage in piles of musty sheet music in the famous Glasgow Barras, I often came across pieces by Sydney Smith. I never bought them as they were well beyond my Grade 5 and a bit. His catalogues of published piano music exceeded 400. Every Victorian piano stool would have contained several of his works.

The liner notes rightly suggest that Smith’s The Last Rose of Summer, Paraphrase de concert, op.173, owes much to Franz Liszt. Certainly, there is some remarkably effective pianism here – from a gentle exposition of the well-known melody to the tremendous technical complexity and pyrotechnics and figurations inherent in its gradually expanding development.

I was delighted that David Quigley chose to include the Two Folksong Arrangements by E.J. Moeran. Though not an Irishman by birth, he was by association and often by inspiration. The Irish Love Song was written in 1926: it is based on a folk song that he may have heard from his friend Peter Warlock or his mentor Hamilton Harty. The liner notes should have mentioned that the tune was “I grieve when I think on the dear happy days of my youth” by Michael Hogan (1828–1899), the Bard of Thomond, and published in Padraic Colum’s Anthology of Irish Verse (1922). The second piece is The White Mountain, which is based on the melody The Star of County Down also known as Dives and Lazarus. Moeran’s take is unhurried and introspective. There is little chromaticism here, just a serene diatonicism.

The final track on this CD is Stanford’s A Reel from his Four Irish Dances. This has been “souped up” by Percy Grainger. It is summed up by a note in the score: “…a rollicking Cork Reel engagingly entitled “Take her out and air her” with which is contrasted a graceful middle episode based on a winsome tune named “The cutting of the hay.””  Earlier in this recital, the opening dance of this set was performed. Maguire's Kick was originally a marching song used by Irish rebels in 1798. The middle section uses a Leitrim jig. It is a pity that all four of Grainger’s arrangements could not have been included.      

The playing by David Quigley is both enthusiastic and thoughtful throughout and is complimented by the superb sound quality. 

The liner notes give a good introduction to this repertoire. Although composer dates are given in the text, I would have liked to see them in the track listing. Equally helpful here would have been the dates of composition where known; in some cases they are given in the commentary.

This is a splendid album of arrangements, transcriptions, re-imaginings and variation. It all adds up to an evocative musical portrait of the Island of Ireland.

Track Listing:
John Field (1782-1837)

Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself (1797)
Stephen Hough (b.1961)
Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) (?)
Michele Esposito (1855-1929)
Avenging and Bright and Though the Last Glimpse of Erin (The Coulin) from Two Irish Melodies op.39 (pub.1896)
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)/Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961) 
Maguire's Kick and A Reel from Four Irish Dances, op.89 (1907/1916)
Edward Swan Hennessey (1866-1929)
Variations sur un Air Irlandais Ancien, op.28 (c.1908)
Philip Martin (b.1947)
Sionna, Spirit of the Shannon (?)
Sydney Smith (1839-89)
The Last Rose of Summer, Paraphrase de concert, op.173 (c.1883)
Philip Hammond (b.1951)
Old Truagh and The Beardless Boy from Miniatures and Modulations (2011)
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
The Fair Hills of Éire, O!, op.91 (1922)
E. J. Moeran (1894-1950)
Irish Love Song and The White Mountain (The Star of the County Down) from Two Folksong Arrangements (1926-27)

Saturday 20 August 2022

Arnold Bax: Sonata for flute and harp (1928)

Arnold Bax’s Sonata for flute and harp balances a Gallic charm with a Celtic melancholy. There are some definite nods towards Irish folk song, but this is tempered by classical form. On other hand, the magic of faery is never far from this piece, especially in the slow movement. 

The Sonata (sometimes referred to as a Sonatina) was commissioned by the Russian harpist Maria Korchinska and her husband, the Count Benckendorff. He was a Russian naval officer, a keen amateur flautist, and the son of the last Czarist Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Although the Sonata was given several performances by the husband-and-wife duo, it never entered the repertoire and quickly fell out of view.

The Sonata is written in three complementary movements. The opening Allegro moderato nods to folksong: occasionally, a jig-like theme emerges. Lewis Foreman has identified allusions to the popular Down by the Sally Gardens in the second subject. This tune is never quoted in full or developed. The Cavatina (lento) is an Elegy. There is no indication as to what was on the composer’s mind. Foreman has proposed that Bax is looking back to events from the past. Maybe this was the failed Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, where he lost several friends. This Cavatina has been played standalone with the violin replacing the flute, most famously at Myra Hess’s legendary wartime National Gallery Concerts.  The finale, Moderato giocoso looks to folksong for inspiration. Typically, this is a dancing, happy conclusion to a deeply personal Sonata. After a few moments of melancholy, the Sonata comes to an end on an optimistic note. It has been suggested that this finale is the nearest that Bax came to neo-classicism.

Interestingly, Arnold Bax rescored the Sonata in 1936 as the Concerto for seven instruments (flute, oboe, harp and string quartet). Bax scholar Graham Parlett noted that apart from some additional melodic lines [for the oboe etc.], there were no alterations to the piece, except for the final two bars.

The Sonata for flute and harp was not published until 1990. It has been recorded several times since. Listeners may be surprised that it is not securely popular with both Bax enthusiasts and harp and flute aficionados.

Arnold Bax's Sonata for flute and harp can be heard on YouTube. It is performed by Philippe Pierlot (fl.), Isabelle Perrin (hp.) on the Arion CD: ARN 68423.

With thanks to the English Music Festival where this note was first published. 

Wednesday 17 August 2022

It's Not British but...Olivier Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps

Three things will assist the listener who is not familiar with the Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Firstly, it is important to understand that in 1940/41 Olivier Messiaen was being held as a prisoner of war at Stalag VIII-A Görlitz, Lower Silesia. Secondly, through the auspices of a sympathetic German camp commander, Franzpeter Goebels, the composer had fresh manuscript paper and a piano to practice on. And, most importantly, the premiere performance on 15 January 1941 was either given in the camp theatre or out in the bitter cold. Some 400 fellow prisoners and some camp administrators were in attendance. Messiaen later recalled that “Never have I been heard with as much attention and understanding.”

The liner notes give details of the original soloists: Jean Le Boulaire (violin), Henri Akoka (clarinet), Étienne Pasquier (cello) and Olivier Messiaen (piano).

The basic theological inspiration of the Quartet was a quotation from the last book in the New Testament, The Revelation of St John the Divine. Chapter 10: 1 declares that “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire …” The work is presented in eight hugely contrasting movements. This represents the seven days of Creation with the final eighth movement evoking Eternity. The general impact is “one of meditation, amity and detachment from the harsh realities of existence.”

My benchmark for any performance of Messiaen’s Quatuor is the resultant ability of the ensemble to “bend time.” Certainly, this is essential in the two heart-breaking slow movements: Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus and the Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus. Both last for about eight minutes but must create the impression that they will never stop, and that the listener would never want them to conclude. This is achieved here. I was impressed throughout by the contribution from the clarinettist, Ib Hausman, especially in the brilliant solo, Abîme des oiseaux. The unison playing in the Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes is clean and well controlled. Great contrast of dynamics is clear in the Vocalise, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du temps.

The booklet was assembled by Ib Hausman: it is printed in German and English. The programme notes are in three parts. Firstly, several personalized comments describing some of the challenges of performing the Quartet. The balance between the strict notation of the work and the fact that each musician “is allowed a certain degree of latitude for inspiration and improvisational freedom” is explained. This is followed by a brief overview of Messiaen’s life and milieu, with emphasis on the composer’s understanding of time and eternity. There is a historical introduction to the Quartet as well as a discussion of the first performance. The booklet includes a translation of Messiaen’s important preface and notes for each movement printed in the Edition Durand score.

There is a detailed resumes of the Amatis Trio and about the clarinettist Ib Hausman. This information can be accessed at their websites, here and here.

The duration of this disc seems a bit mean, with only 46 minutes of music. Seven years ago I reviewed an exceptional performance of this Quartet by the Ensemble Nordlys. (Review here). This Danacord CD managed to include the relatively rare Fantasie for violin and piano (1933) and the Thème et variations for violin and piano (1932). Enthusiasts of Messiaen will know of several other examples of his chamber music that could have been included: Le Merle Noir (1952) for solo flute, the Pièce pour piano et quatuor à cordes (1991), the Chant dans le style Mozart, Fugue sur le sujet de Georges Hüe (1930/31) and the Chant donneé (1953) which are all rarely heard. To be sure, they would have required an additional soloist.

This is an excellent and absorbing version of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps. There is nothing here to repel listeners who may regard some of his music as fearsome. Perhaps the theological superstructure may be difficult for some. However, if the piece is simply regarded as a meditation on the philosophical concept of eternity, and not as a religious tract, then the work can become a revelation to all.

Several years ago I counted more than 39 versions of the Quartet. Some 33 are currently listed on the Eurodisc webpage. The Quatuor pour la fin du temps is one of Olivier Messiaen’s undoubted and abiding masterworks and any new issue is always welcome. This present recording is especially appreciated for its attention to the nuanced balance between freedom of musical expression and the composer’s written demands.

Track Listing:
Olivier Messiaen (1908-92)

Quatuor pour la fin du temps for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (1940/41)
Ib Hausman (clarinet), Amatis Trio: Lea Hausmann (violin), Samuel Shepherd (cello), Mengjie Han (piano)
Rec. 2018, SWR Studio Kaiserslautern, Germany.
C-AVI MUSIC AVI 8553042 [46:00]

Sunday 14 August 2022

William Walton: Chorale Prelude on Wheatley (1916)

Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s when Chandos were releasing their “complete” Walton Edition on record, I was surprised that it did not include one of William’s earliest compositions: the Chorale Prelude on Wheatley. This remains his only surviving organ piece from his student days. 

In 1916, Walton was a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, under the auspices of Dr Thomas Strong. Other works written at this time include Tell me where fancy is bred for soprano and tenor voices, three violins and piano, and A Litany for mixed chorus. In a letter (Hayes, 2002, p.9) to his mother, 10 September 1916, “Billy” mentions having shown a portfolio of works to Henry Ley, the then Organist of Christ Church Cathedral. There was also a six part Motet, which Ley suggested had “wonderful ideas in it.” There is mention of an unfinished [Chorale] Fantasia for organ.

Craggs catalogue (2014 passim) indicates that there was also a The Forsaken Merman, a cantata for soprano and tenor soli, double female chorus and orchestra. This work has never been performed. A Litany is the only piece to have been recorded. It is “fluently and expertly written for choir and a genuine Walton experience, with surprising harmonic progressions.”

The details of the Chorale Prelude on Wheatley are straightforward. It is a mere 39 bars long and was dated 16th August 1916. It was written by Walton when he was only fourteen years old. It has never been published, although the manuscript is secure in the British Library (Add. MS 52384). Craggs notes that this holograph was presented to the British Library by the composer Howard Ferguson. It had been given to him by the English musician Emily Daymond, who in turn had it from Henry Ley. The hymn tune Wheatley was composed by Basil Harwood (1859-1949) and was included in the Oxford Hymn Book published in 1908. The title derives from a village five miles east of Oxford.

In 1981, ITV’s South Bank Show screened a film length documentary about the life and work of William Walton – At the Haunted End of the Day, produced by Tony Palmer. It has been uploaded to YouTube. The feature contained interviews with the composer, his widow Susanah and Laurence Olivier. In an early scene, an uncredited organist (at 12:48) plays the Chorale Prelude on Wheatley. This is hardly a lost masterpiece, but I do feel that it sounds competent for a fourteen year old boy. Certainly, it should be recorded for posterity.

Reference books are unable to provide a date for its first performance, although it is quite likely to be contemporary with its composition.

Luckily, music historians have Walton’s youthful assessment of this early work. Writing to his mother on 10 September 1916, he told her that “A new choral[e] Prelude and two others didn’t sound well on organ but were fairly respectable on piano.”  (Hayes, 2002, p.9)

A full technical analysis of the Chorale Prelude on Wheatley has been included in Gary D Cannon’s dissertation (2014, p.102ff).

Finally, the above letter mentions that he had gone to the village of Wheatley [in homage?] to the east of Oxford: “Some aeroplanes had been over. One looped the loop.”  It must be assumed that during 1916 that these were Royal Flying Corps “kites.”

Cannon, Gary D., From Oldham to Oxford: The Formative Years of Sir William Walton, University of Washington, 2014.
Craggs, Stuart R., William Walton: A Catalogue, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2014.
Ed. Hayes, Malcolm, The Selected Letters of William Walton, London, Faber & Faber, 2002.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Eclogue: a rewarding cornucopia of British music

Latin students will tell you that the word Eclogue is usually taken to refer to a poem in the classical style and is invariably on a pastoral subject. Many poems in this genre are referred to as ‘Bucolic.’  Sometimes, they were devised as a dialogue or even as a singing competition between two shepherds or goatherds. This literary device is helpful in appreciating much of this captivating, but not demanding CD. 

The above noted shepherds often seemed to have played wind instruments (pan pipes and flutes) so it is appropriate that the opening work is written for that most pastoral instrument, the oboe. The Devon born composer Clive Jenkins penned his Three Pieces for oboe and strings as recently as 2021. That said, there is a timelessness about this music that defies stylistic categorisation. The three contrasting movements are, Pastorale (naturally!), Air and Scherzo.

The best known number on this disc is Gerald Finzi’s eponymous Eclogue. Originally the slow movement of an abandoned piano concerto dating from 1927, it was given its present title by his friend, Howard Ferguson. A contemporary reviewer stated that the Eclogue’s “…calm serenity…[was] typical of Finzi’s slow movements...there is a rare mood of tranquillity – it unfolds in a Bachian manner [an aria?]”  It is a perfect synthesis of English pastoralism with an older baroque style. The other movements of the “concerto” would appear as the Grand Fantasia and Toccata, op.38, in 1953.

I have not knowingly come across any music by Don Shearman. The two tracks on this CD come from a charmingly titled (but undated) suite Eine Kleine Leichtmusik. Venice in the Rain celebrates the composer’s “favourite holiday destination.” As the liner notes state, it is only a passing shower and not a downpour. The piece is presented as a gentle barcarolle, the song of the gondoliers, which is often used to evoke the Serenissima. Shearman’s other contribution is Seventeen going on Eighteen. This has nothing to do with celebrating the rite of passage from holding a driving license to being allowed to drink alcohol! The fact is that it is all to do with time signature mathematics. It is characteristic of 1950s light music. It is delightful and has all the hallmarks of that genre. There are obligato passages for solo violin and harp.

Alan Ridout’s Concertino for flute and strings was completed in 1978. It is one of a series of concerted works that he wrote between 1974 and 1979. This Concertino is in three movements with the Scherzo being the second. The heart of the composition is the slow, and pensive, finale. Despite being the most “advanced” item on this CD, there is nothing challenging. This is my big discovery on this album.

Two arrangements follow. In 1960, William Lloyd Webber wrote a series of six Country Impressions for a variety of wind instruments with piano accompaniment. Unfortunately, only two of them have been recorded – Frensham Pond and Mulberry Cottage. The former is one of the loveliest things that Lloyd Webber wrote. Even the title of this little piece for clarinet and piano will inspire the lover of English music. Frensham itself is down near Farnham and is now a beautiful mix of woodland, heath and water. It is small wonder that Lloyd Webber was attracted to this place. Yet this is no rambling pastoral whimsy. It is controlled, economical and straight to the point. Peter Cigleris has provided the present arrangement for clarinet and string orchestra. It is a minor desideratum that someone will issue the full set of Impressions.

No introduction is needed for Ronald Binge’s ubiquitous The Watermill dating from 1955. Readers of a certain vintage will recall its use as an interlude on TV. Slightly more recently it was heard in the BBC television adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s evergreen The Secret Garden (1975). This is a lovely pastoral piece that makes an accomplished use of the solo oboe and strings. Included in the score is a harp which lends weight to the cascading effects of the water. It is music to soothe even the most troubled mood.

The only piece dating from the nineteenth century on this disc is the surprisingly fresh and timeless Romance from Concertino for Harp and Orchestra, op. 34 (1847) by Elias Parish Alvars. Alvars was regarded as one of the “greatest and certainly one of the most significant classical harpists of his day.” This slow movement is quite simply gorgeous in its gentle exposition of musical material. It would be ideal if SOMM could revisit this composer and record the entire work, with the present soloist and band. After all, it did get Hector Berlioz’s “enthusiastic endorsement” when published in Paris.

The poignant Y Deryn Pur was written in 2007 for that year’s Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts. It was scored for oboe, violin, viola and cello. Souped up for full string band for this recording, it is an exquisite bit of impressionism. The title translates as The Gentle Dove. It is another of my “big” discoveries on this album.

Joseph Horowitz is surprisingly ignored by broadcasters and record companies. Born in Vienna in 1926, he emigrated to Britain in 1938. He remained here until his death in February 2022. Not beholden to any particular “school,” he wrote much approachable music. The present Concertante for clarinet and strings was completed in 1948: it was his first acknowledged orchestral work. This short piece encompasses many different moods – from infectious rhythms to moody introspection. It is grateful to the soloist and is balanced by effective string writing.

Originally one of a set of piano duets, Robin Milford’s Mr John Peel Passes By was arranged for string orchestra around 1930. It was the first of Two Orchestral Interludes. It is a short, but subtle, adaptation of the well-known Cumberland Hunting Song. The other Interlude was Ben Jonson’s Pleasure which was an adaptation of the famous melody to his song, Drink to me Only. It is a pity that this could not have been included on this CD. But what to omit?

The final work is the Piano Concertino by Clive Jenkins. This was finished in 2018 and dedicated to the present soloist, Margaret Fingerhut. The liner notes are correct in celebrating the fact Jenkins is “unafraid in the teeming world of contemporary art to write music that communicates itself to the…listener.” It is certainly a gratifying score. The opening and closing movements are vivacious and are balanced by a beguiling Moderato. This latter could easily become a Classic fm favourite.

This enjoyable album is well played in its entirety. The soloists and the Chamber Ensemble of London under Peter Fisher are clearly enthusiastic about this cornucopia of British music. The liner notes by Robert Matthew-Walker provide a satisfactory introduction to all this repertoire. The usual CVs of the performers are given. Best of all is the cover graphics: Wassily Kandinsky’s redolent Painting Impression III (Concert, 1913).

Track Listing:
Clive JENKINS (b. 1938)

Three Pieces for Oboe and strings (2021) [9:09]
Gerald FINZI (1901-56)
Eclogue, op. 10 (1929) [11:01]
Don SHEARMAN (b.1932)
Venice in the Rain (Eine Kleine Leichtmusik)(?) [2:32]
Alan RIDOUT (1934-96)
Concertino for flute and strings (1978) [7:45]
William LLOYD WEBBER (1914–82)
Frensham Pond (arr. Peter Cigleris (b.?) (1960) [2:56]
Ronald BINGE (1910–79)
The Watermill (1955) [3:41]
Elias Parish ALVARS (1808-49)
Romance from concertino for harp and orchestra, op. 34 (1847) [4:57]
Cecilia MCDOWALL (b.1951)
Y Deryn Pur (2007) [8:10]
Don SHEARMAN (b.1952)
Seventeen Going on Eighteen (Eine Kleine Leichtmusik) (?) [3:20]
Joseph HOROVITZ (1926-2022)
Concertante (1948) [8:10]
Robin MILFORD (1903–59)
Mr John Peel Passes By (c.1930) [1:58]
Piano Concertino (2018) [12:05]
Chamber Ensemble of London/Peter Fisher
Margaret Fingerhut (piano), Gabriella Dall’Olio (harp),
Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Judith Hall (flute), Michael Stowe (oboe)
rec. 9 September 2020, Henry Wood Hall, London; 1 December 2009 (Finzi, Jenkins Piano Concertino), 6 December 2015, (Lloyd Webber, McDowall), Kingston University

Monday 8 August 2022

Gustav Holst and Thomas Hardy

In 1922 Thomas Hardy invited Gustav Holst to visit him at Max Gate near Dorchester. Holst set off on a walking trip in Dorset. And he took a Panama hat with him. After a few days he presented himself at the poet’s house, Hardy’s wife mistook Holst identity. “Oh,” she said, “Mr Hardy never sees photographers.” Fortunately, Holst had his invitation, and all was well. 

It is reported that Holst was disappointed with Hardy’s musical interests. It seems that the poet’s favourite piece of music was Drink to me Only with Thine Eyes.

It was during this visit that the foundation for what is possibly Holst’s most profound work was laid – Egdon Heath. The basic mood for this work is found in Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native. Hardy describes the heath as:

“…a place perfectly accordant to man’s nature – neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly; neither common place, unmeaning nor tame; but like man, slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony.”

It is this philosophy that can make much of Holst’s music uncompromising and requiring effort from the listener to engage with. It is not music with the heart worn on the sleeve.

In 1927 Holst paid another call on Thomas Hardy. Unbelievably, he took the train to Bristol and walked down to Dorchester – as distance of about 65 miles. It was a long and pleasant hike through the Mendips to Wells and then via Castlecary and Sherborne. It took him four days. Holst had already written to the poet to announce his visit and to tell him that he was going to dedicate Egdon Heath to him. Apparently, he spent a glorious day with Hardy.

After a delicious lunch they went on a motor trip into the heathlands. The object of their trip was a church with the wonderful name of Puddletown. There they inspected the wooden musicians’ gallery where Hardy’s grandfather had often performed. After their time together, Hardy accepted the dedication of Egdon Heath “with pleasure.”

Interestingly, by this time, Thomas Hardy had heard The Planets on gramophone records belonging to T.E Lawrence (of Arabia) who was stationed at Bovington nearby. His musical education was improving!

Holst wrote to his daughter explaining that “It has been an unbelievable day.” Later he was to say of Thomas Hardy: “There was a wealth of experience of town and country, deep and controlled emotion, wisdom and humour all clothed in perfect courtesy and kindliness.”


Friday 5 August 2022

Eric Coates Orchestral Music on Naxos

First things first. This present album is a repackaging of the 1998 Marco Polo CD (8.223521) issued as part of the record company’s exploration of British Light Music series. This sequence featured many well-known names from that genre: Ronald Binge, Robert Farnon, Richard Addinsell, Trevor Duncan and many others. There were two albums of music by Eric Coates. It is fair to say that the present CD’s companion volume contained the pot-boilers, including the ubiquitous Dam Busters March, the evocative London Suites and the wartime favourite, Calling All Workers. That said, the opening track on this present CD, Sleepy Lagoon, is world famous as the theme tune to Roy Plumley’s long running Desert Island Discs. How many people hear this and think it must evoke a tropical island in the sun. In fact, it was inspired by the view from Selsey towards Bognor Regis. 

Springtime (1937) is Coates’s eleventh suite. It has never gained the popularity of some of the other examples. There are three well-balanced movements: 1. Fresh Morning: Pastorale, 2. Noonday Song: Romance and 3. Dance in the Twilight: Valse. The opening two movements cast a backward glance to a lost pre Great War idyll, whereas the final Valse is both optimistic and thoughtful at the same time. Overall, this is one of Coates’s most subtle works that deserves more popularity.

I have never really enjoyed the Saxo-Rhapsody (1936), and I cannot tell the reader why. Although it is written in a single movement, the structure is ternary with an “energetic” Allegro vivace bookended by a sympathetic Moderato passage. Unusually for Coates, this is the only orchestral work “that [is] not pictorial or programmatic, but a piece of ‘absolute’ music.” It majors on the instrument’s lyrical characteristics.

At the time of composition, the saxophone was looked at suspiciously by serious artists. But as a contemporary critic noted, “…when its resources are skilfully exploited, when its melancholy tones are blended with those gender and nobler instruments, it is capable of effects both novel and pleasant.” It is given a splendid performance here by Kenneth Edge.

Romance is in the air with the pensively-titled rhapsody Last Love. It has been described as a “song without words.” Whatever the emotions evoked by this dreamy music, it is a romantic number that pushes beyond the trite to something deeper and more expressive. Last Love is one of only two pieces written in the fateful year of 1939. The other is the Footlights Waltz. This is a wistful reflection on Coates time working in the theatre. Rob Barnett in these pages has described it as ‘dreamy, silvery and convey[ing] that floating effortlessness so typical of the Coates magic’. Footlights Waltz is the third of only three concert waltzes that the composer wrote: the other two are Sweet Seventeen and Dancing Night. It is probably the best.

The Four Ways Suite was completed in 1927. It was dedicated to the conductor Basil Cameron. The idea here is to celebrate the four corners of the world. The first movement, the North, is a rhapsody on the well-known Scottish tune Ca’ the Yowes. The atmosphere is sometimes pastiche Scots. This is followed by a “languorous waltz” depicting points South. Just how far in this direction is not clear. The night-time venues of London are nearer the mark, rather than some more exotic locations. Eastwards looks to East Asia and is full of “oriental clichés.” Albert Ketèlbey’s In a Persian Market is never far away from the listener’s memory. Equally stereotypical is the West movement which majors on things American, especially the Charleston. It is a jazz parody, and one of the best. Sadly the Four Ways Suite did not generate a deal of enthusiasm. It has fallen out of Coates’s repertoire.

Lazy Night (1931, not 1932, as in the track listing) is another “nature work.” Like Sleepy Lagoon, it was inspired by the surroundings of Selsey. That said, this is not a tone poem, more of a mood picture. The clue is in its subtitle – 'valse romance'. It is evocative of someone dreaming, perhaps whilst sitting in the garden of a big art deco hotel in Bournemouth, and hearing waltzes in the ballroom, or an early evening stroll in a London Park.

The Eighth Army and the High Flight Marches have not retained the popularity of the Dam Buster’s. The former was dedicated to General Montgomery after his victory at Alamein in 1942. Later, it was used as the signature tune for BBC Middle East broadcasts. Once again, the main theme bounces along, and the trio is more invigorating than may be expected. The orchestration is remarkable. High Flight was Eric Coates’s final composition, finished in 1956. It was devised for the eponymous film, telling a story of officer cadets training at Cranwell. Coates’s march was incorporated into the film score, which was devised by Douglas Gamley and Kenneth Jones. The movie was a failure, but the march remains a success, and deserves to be heard more often. The “big tune” is every bit as good as The Dam Buster’s March.

The sound quality of this CD is excellent. The playing is enthusiastic and never patronising. The original 1993 liner notes by Michael Ponder are most helpful.

This disc introduces repertoire that is a little beyond the better-known potboilers of the companion disc, Naxos 8.555178. That said, there is much wonderful stuff here that deserves the listener’s attention. Optimistically, this present delightful re-release will be purchased by those Coates’s enthusiasts who missed it thirty years ago.

Track Listing:
Eric Coates (1886-1957)

By the Sleepy Lagoon (1930)
Springtime Suite (1937)
Saxo-Rhapsody (1936)
Footlights Waltz (1939)
Four Ways Suite (1927)
The Eighth Army March (1942)
Lazy Night (1931)
Last Love (1939)
High Flight March (1956)
Kenneth Edge (Saxophone)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Penny
rec. 23-30 April 1993, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovakia
NAXOS 8.555194
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday 2 August 2022

Gustav Holst in America, 1932: A Rare Interview

For the first six months of 1932, Gustav Holst was the visiting Horatio Lamb Lecturer to Harvard University. Holst had departed from Southampton on the SS Bremen on 8 January 1932 and arrived in New York on the evening of 13 January. Part of his trip included conducting, teaching and lecturing. He also found time to compose.

It is understood that the composer was “irked” by attention from press interviewers and photographers. One such interview was published in Musical America (10 February 1932, p.6). It was written under the by-line of the American writer and arts administrator, Quaintance Eaton (1901-92).

It is understood that the composer was “irked” by attention from press interviewers and photographers. One such interview was published in Musical America (10 February 1932, p.6). It was written under the by-line of the American writer and arts administrator, Quaintance Eaton (1901-92).

THE VERY IDEA OF AN INTERVIEW spoils what might have been a good talk,” said Gustav Holst plaintively. “I never give them in England. And I am impossible.” Thereupon, the noted British composer, who is now visiting America to lecture at Harvard, and has thus laid himself open to the clamorous journalistic customs of this country, almost succeeded in proving his contention of impossibility as an interviewee—but not quite. For he will talk if urged—about gardens and lawns and walking trips. But not about his contemporaries. Not one word.

And as a further dash of cold water he said: “I have no opinions, you see. And few convictions.”

Transplant the man whose orchestral suite, The Planets, has perhaps made him best known here, from a quiet téte-a-téte to the head of a speaker’s table or a lecture platform, however, and this diffidence disappears. The inscrutable blue eyes behind their thick glasses grow warm with his subject (most often the art of composition, sometimes British music through the ages - still minus discussion of contemporaries), and the flow of speech has none of those hiatuses that an interviewer tries desperately to fill.

Anecdotes upon which his lips are sealed in the rare interviews he grants are told without reluctance in public, if he wants to make a point. There was, for example, the story in illustration of the snobbishness of the English in regard to their native musicians, which he told at the dinner given him in New York by the National Association of Organists.

Mr. Holst was once a trombonist, this being one of the musical activities of his younger days which he grouped under the general head of “doing anything and everything in music” when questioned privately, and which included study of the piano and organ.

“In the ’nineties,” he said (at the diner), “I was one of a little band that used to look for seaside jobs in the summer. One summer we had an English conductor, two-thirds of the men were English, and one-third foreign musicians. We got paid two pounds a week, no traveling expenses. The next summer we had a foreign conductor, were dressed up in uniforms with gold

braid, and billed as a foreign orchestra. Two-thirds of the players were still English, but the difference was this: we got paid three guineas a week and all expenses found.”

This modest gentleman, who so startlingly reverses the usual procedure of public shyness and private garrulity, is English through and through, but his name might puzzle genealogists.

“You are of German ancestry?” we questioned, having seen a parenthetical “von” before his father’s name.

“Now let’s thrash this out,” he replied, surprisingly communicative. “Holst is a Swedish name, and my family came originally from Sweden. But there was a migration to Russia, and my great-grandfather was born in Riga. Where the ‘von’ came from I do not know, but I have dropped it myself. I once met some von Holsts in this country who came from a German branch. But frankly, family trees, even my own, do not interest me very much,”

Another silence. “Your teaching?” This proved a venture into the void, despite the fact that he has long been noted for his pedagogical talent and has been music master in several well-known London schools. Particularly interesting has been his work with adult amateurs in Morley College, and he has been music master at St. Paul’s Girls’ School since 1905.

“Have I any theories, you mean? No, no theories. No fixed ones. It all depends upon the students. How can I set a formula and abide by it when every individual is different? Oh, you Americans, how you love to analyze everything!” This was said, not scornfully, but in amusement. Mr. Holst likes us very much. This is his third visit to America. The first, in 1923, was followed by another in 1929. On his first visit he conducted his Hymn to Jesus at the Ann Arbor Festival. The present one of six months’ duration has already included appearances as guest conductor with the Boston Symphony, [1] where he introduced his orchestral scherzo, “Hammersmith,” and led several of his other works.

Mr. Holst was greatly pleased at the news that Albert Stoessel [2] has rearranged the New York Oratorio Society program of March 14 to include his Two Psalms, for chorus, string orchestra and organ. The composer plans to come down from Cambridge [3] to hear the performance.

Other ties than musical ones bind him to this country. “I really came over also to see my brother, Ernest Cossart [4],” he confided. “He is an actor, playing in The Devil Passes, [5] on Broadway. He has a daughter, Mary, [6] who is in the New York production of Hay Fever. He has been here for more than twenty years.”

American ways interest this quiet Britisher. The open sweeps of country, rolling green lawns, miraculously without any of the exclusive walls and hedges which make an English walk so shut in, delight his soul and satisfy that longing for wide spaces which even an Englishman may feel.

“But there is one thing I do not understand,” he declared. “That is your avowed longing to do a great many things for which you say you have not time. I believe - now do not be angry - that if you really want passionately to do something, you will find time. I used to study Sanskrit in the train - I learned the alphabet, at least. Much good it did me, but I learned it. “Now, however, my attitude is far better than yours. I frankly admit I’m lazy when I don’t want to do anything very much. It saves so much wear and tear.”

But the man who has quietly gone on his way and won a name for himself as a composer and teacher is not lazy —he merely knows what he wants most and has very efficiently set about to get it, without any fuss. He cannot talk about it, but others can—and do.
Musical America (10 February 1932, p.6).

Due to illness Holst some of Holst’s activities in the States and Canada were curtailed. After recovering, he managed to fulfil some last engagements before setting sail for England on 26 May. He arrived back in Southampton on 2 June 1932 aboard the SS Europa.

[1] The concert held at the Albee Theatre, Boston on Tuesday, 19 January 1932. It featured the St Paul’s Suite, A Somerset Rhapsody, The Perfect Fool ballet score, Hammersmith Prelude and Scherzo in its orchestral version and an arrangement of Bach’s Fugue a la Gigue. The concert opened with Holst’s favourite Haydn Symphony, E flat (No.99). The programme was repeated on the 22 and 23 of January.
[2] Albert Stoessel (1894-1943) was an American composer, conductor and violinist.
[3] This refers to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard University is based.
[4] Ernest Cossart was the stage name of Gustav’s brother. His birth name was Emil Gottfried Adolf von Holst (1876-1951). After war service with the Canadian Army, he appeared in musical comedy in London, in Broadway, New York and as a film actor in Hollywood.
[5] The Devil Passes was a play by Ben W. Levy. It opened in Broadway on 4 January 1932 and ran for 96 performances. Interestingly, it starred Sherlock Holmes icon, Basil Rathbone as the Rev. Nicholas Lucy.
[6] Gustav’s niece. Valerie Livingston (née von Holst) (1907-94). She appeared in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever under her stage name of Valerie Cossart.