The author, John F. Porte continues his assessment of Arnold Bax with a note about the Piano Music and the Songs. He concludes with a paragraph on the lack of superficiality in Bax’s music.The Piano Music
The chamber music of Bax is not at present extensive. The example that has gained most distinction is his second sonata in D, for violin and pianoforte; a work that is worth acquaintance, if not intimate friendship. A quintet for strings and harp may help the success of a harpist who gives a chamber concert. The most advanced chamber work so far, a quintet for pianoforte and strings, leads one to hope that the composer’s progress in this direction will go no further, for it is so complex and elaborate that its musicianly qualities were only available to a first class combination of players after intensive study. The work presents technical and rhythmical difficulties only to be surmounted by artists of considerable accomplishment - and there is so much else wanted to be heard from players of this calibre.
A notable album is Christmas
Carol, which, by its creating of fifteenth century atmosphere by modern
means, indicates the composer’s link of sympathy with the past which we have
already referred to when discussing his choral: music.
Few songs are more delightfully
old-world than Me suis mise en danse, found in Traditional Songs of
France, arranged by Bax from the old French. Up to the present time the
songs of Bax have not found very extensive support, but I would make a special
plea for Green Grow the Rashes O! (Burns), a song of genuine inspiration
The best of Bax’s three ballets is the latest one, The Truth About the Russian Ballet [Dancers], a charmingly observant musical comment on an entertainment that fascinated artistic, if not intellectual London.
The music of Arnold Bax is not of
the kind that makes a direct appeal at first hearing. Even his enthusiastic
admirers will tell you this, with the precautionary intimation that when
understanding comes, enduring affection is the certain result. Certain it is
that the reputation of Bax is growing, and musical critics who believe in
“safety first” are becoming increasingly cordial to his music. The warm
approval of enthusiastic supporters of modern music has, naturally, for some
years regarded him as a worthy leader of their cause.
For the opinion that Bax’s music will become more appreciated on closer acquaintance, there is much to be said. It has a certain poetical beauty and refinement that is deep rooted, but rather shy and elusive. In its earlier days it had a distinct tendency to over-elaboration, which served merely to obscure sincerity. Later, the composer cast aside much of the superfluous matter, and we are now able to see the root matter more clearly.Not Superficial
Arnold Bax will never give us the story of a man who tried to be a
great composer and couldn’t. Neither does he write with his tongue in his
cheek, so that he will not be numbered among those modern composers we are
finding out. He has not escaped the modern preference for presenting difficult complications
in his music that discourage the interest of the amateur musician, but I
believe these are subservient to his ideas. It may be a matter of opinion
whether musical ideas are better served according to the amount of intricate
technical and rhythmical dress with which they may be clothed.
He seems to favor moods that have
a shy wistfulness, although he has given others equal consideration. I greatly
admire his unaccompanied choral music, in which he is a worthy descendant of
the great English madrigalists, though these men are beyond competition.
I have a certain opinion as to
the identity of the half-dozen or so living composers whose music will be heard
in fifty years’ time; but there are some others who will sink into an honorable
oblivion after having unselfishly served their part in a phase of their art.
John F. Porte,
Musical Courier, 10 January 1924