Sunday, 29 June 2014

Arthur Butterworth: The Path across the Moors- some further thoughts

I recently wrote an appreciation of Arthur Butterworth’s excellent tone-poem The Path across the Moors, in which I suggested that in spite of it having been issued on a ‘light music’ CD, it had considerable depth and emotional content beyond what is normally considered belonging to that genre. I sent the composer a copy of my article and fortunately he approved of what I had written. However, he sent by return some additional comments which deserve to be noted for posterity. There is no doubt in my mind that Butterworth is the ‘Composer of the North Country’ (amongst many other things) - with its millstone grit, wide-open spaces and extensive moorland.

Butterworth acknowledged my thoughts about the work’s genre:
‘Yes, whilst the format of the piece is not long, and, at least superficially it falls into the category of 'light music' there was the intention - quite specifically - to evoke something, ‘beyond that’’.  
He recalled walking on those ‘often-sullen hills’ where there is invariably ‘even on the balmiest summer's day, an indelible sense of long-past earlier times: the days of the beginning of the 19th century industrial revolution.’  
He reminded me that ‘the great industrial centres of Lancashire and Yorkshire are never far away - artefacts of earlier farming and sheep husbandry; some of them seemingly crude and suggestive of the hard life on those hills.’

When I have stood on one of the hills above Stalybridge or on Blackstone Edge, I have been conscious of the great disparity of landscape that can be discerned. There is the cityscape of Manchester and the Northern mill-towns with the more pastoral Cheshire Plain beyond: Winter Hill, a Pennine outlier stands above Bolton and looks towards the sea and the Isle of Man. In the far distance the rolling green hills of Denbighshire and even the mountains of Snowdonia can be picked out. 
Arthur Butterworth picked up on this challenge of landscape:
‘Whereas, on the softer plains of Cheshire, Lincolnshire and the south-country generally, when travelling through them, one gets the impression that life had at one time been "Merrie England" in a way that the moorland landscape had never really been.   A lot of this comes from nature itself: the very difference in seasonal feelings’.   
When visiting a relation in Warwickshire he invariably thinks that ‘this is not really my country! I much prefer the higher moorland where I have always felt at home’.

Having mused on Butterworth’s music for a number of years, I have been conscious that there appears to be relatively little vocal music and no operas. The composer explained to me why this was the case:
‘Years and years ago, after the première of my 1st Symphony (July 1957), Ernest Bradbury suggested in The Yorkshire Post   that I was the one to write an opera on Wuthering Heights and I could see what he meant.    So I bought a new copy of it; spent about eighteen months making my own libretto, making sure all the dates fitted the plot.  
Some weeks later I began drafting out the music: the arrival back from Liverpool of the father, along with the rough boy, his jealous reception by the Earnshaw family.   But after maybe five or six pages of musical manuscript I decided that opera, as an art for was not for me!’
However, there was to be a setting of Emily Bronte’s work:-
In 1969 the Arts Council of Great Britain, commissioned from me a song cycle which I based on Emily Bronte's poem:  ‘The Night Wind’.  This was for soprano, clarinet and piano, which very soon afterwards I was persuaded to score for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra which they then took on tour all over the south west of England.   It had been an enormously successful work, but that was in the 1960s and early 1970s’.  
He concluded his notes to me with what can be seen as an interpretive paradigm for much of his music:-
‘My expression of the Bronte stories and poems has ever been in the symphonies and other orchestral music. I have not generally pursued vocal writing: I have preferred to express what my northern environment means to me through the abstractedness of the orchestra.’

Interestingly it was the America composer Bernard Hermann who recorded his opera Wuthering Heights in 1966, having worked on the score between 1943 and 1951.  It was not given a full performance until 2011. There is also an opera of the same title with music and libretto by Carlisle Floyd.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Philip Lane: Cotswold Dances (1973)

For many listeners, the Cotswolds represent a ‘pastoral’ ideal for their music and poetry. It is easy to be transported into thoughts of some rural idyll that never really existed, except as wishful thinking. The names of the villages are evocative: Ducklington, Filkins & Broughton Poggs and Upper Swell. Rolling hills and field patterns and honey-coloured stone buildings seem to typify this area of outstanding natural beauty even in the first decades of the 21st century.
Georgian Poets have presented its charms in verse. Poster painters have created idealised images.  English composers such as Herbert Howells and Ivor Gurney have found inspiration in this idyllic landscape. Howells great Piano Quartet in A minor (1916) was dedicated ‘to the hill at Chosen (Churchdown) and Ivor Gurney who knows it’. Gerald Finzi lived for a time in the beautiful town of Painswick. Holst wrote his Cotswold Symphony, an early and to a certain extent, atypical work, which was completed in 1900. C.W. Orr’s only orchestral tone poem was entitled A Cotswold Hill Tune.

The first thing to do is to remove the confusion over the title of Philip Lane’s Cotswold Dances. The present work dates from 1973: it is the earliest orchestral piece that the composer is prepared to acknowledge. However, in 1978 Lane composed his Suite of Cotswold Dances. The two works are unrelated, except by title.
The liner notes for the Marco Polo recording of this work gives the necessary topographical information for each dance. 
The first movement or dance is entitled Seven Springs and evokes the source of the River Thames. It is easy to hear the gurgling, purling streams and to imagine the gentle, almost intimate, start of a long, watery journey to the river’s mouth at Southend - presided over by Father Thames himself. Malcolm Arnold is never far away in these pages. It is a beautiful piece. Badminton House which is renowned for the horse trials, has a touch of the ‘archaic’ in its mood, perhaps acknowledging my lord, the Duke of Beaufort’s largely eighteenth-century house. The clip-clopping of horses can be heard as well as echoes of a stately dance. A fine confection. The third movement, is Pittville Park which is in Cheltenham close to Gustav Holst’s birthplace and the famous Pump Room. The liner notes recall that Lane had many childhood walks there with ‘varying degrees of success in catching newts…in the central lake’. The music is restrained and oddly melancholic. The penultimate dance describes Cleeve Hill which dominates Cheltenham. This 1083ft hill has wide ranging views towards Exmoor in the south-west, The Malverns in the north and the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Wales. The music that Lane has created for this piece is misty and deliberately unfocussed. There is an eerie mood to this dance that reflects the adjacent ancient burial site at Belas Knap. However, all this introspection is blown away by the final Wassail Dance. It is a delightfully wayward piece that suggests Morris men, village greens and the spirit of the Festive Season. Some of the material of the Dances was culled from the composer’s student ‘notebooks’.
Andrew Lamb reviewing the Dances in The Gramophone (May 2002) noted these ‘attractive works from Lane’s own part of the country that makes a very worthwhile addition to the range of English regional dances.’ He concludes his review by suggesting that Lane’s music ‘is expertly written and has an easy-going charm that makes it well worth getting to know.’ 
Paul Snook writing in Fanfare (November 2002) states that the early Cotswold Dances, with their marvellously nostalgic melodies, borrow a leaf from Malcolm Arnold's book[s] of dance suites.’
Hubert Culot (MusicWeb International April 2002) wrote that The Cotswold Dances ‘are more in the nature of gently nostalgic vignettes, though the beautiful Cleeve Idyll really is a small-scale tone-poem, than [a] real dance movements. The last movement Wassail Song is a colourful, unidiomatic arrangement of the well-known carol’.

Philip Lane was born in Cheltenham in 1950 which is at the north-western corner of the Cotswolds. Lane’s musical achievement is considerable, however he is probably best known for his ‘light’ music and his major contribution to the reconstruction of lost film-scores.
Philip Lane’s Cotswold Dances were released on Marco Polo 8.225185. They are available as CD or download. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Premieres at the 1964 Cheltenham Festival

I thought I would have a look at works given their premieres at the 1964 Cheltenham Festival. It is interesting to see how half a century has dealt with these compositions.
  • John Wilks: Beata L’Alma for soprano and orchestra
  • Humphrey Searle: Song of the Sun, Op.42 for unaccompanied chorus
  • Alan Rawsthorne: Symphony No. 3
  • Peter Maxwell Davies: Veni Sancte Spiritus
  • Harrison Birtwistle: Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments
  • Robert Sherlaw Johnson: Sonata for Piano (1963)
  • Alun Hoddinott: Sonata for Harp, Op36
  • Lennox Berkeley: Diversions –four pieces for eight instruments
  • Wilfrid Mellers: Rose of May – threnody for speaker, soprano, flute, clarinet, and string quartet.
  • Edmund Rubbra: String Quartet No.3 Op.112
  • Elisabeth Lutyens: Music for orchestra III, Op.56
  • William Schuman: Concerto for violin and orchestra
  • John McCabe: Three Pieces (1964)
  • Robert Starer: Duo for violin and viola
  • David Cox: Four Pieces
  • William Wordsworth: Sonatina for viola and piano, Op, 71

On first glance is would appear that only Alan Rawsthorne’s Symphony No.3 has survived into the recorded repertoire with two versions currently available on CD (Lyrita and Naxos). Humphrey Searle’s a cappella piece Song of the Sun, Op.42 has avoided being recorded as has John Wilks’ Beata L’Alma for soprano and orchestra. In fact, Wilks seems to have sunk below the horizon in every way.
It is strange that Peter Maxwell Davies Veni Sancte Spiritus is currently not recorded: so much of his music is available on disc or online.   Harrison Birtwistle’s piece Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments has been issued by KOCH International Classics.
Robert Sherlaw Johnson’s atonal, Messiaen-influenced, Piano Sonata No.1 was recorded by the composer on Argo back in 1972. I cannot find any reference to the work being reissued on CD or download.
More surprising is that Alun Hoddinott’s Sonata for Harp has not been taken up by an enterprising harpist.  John McCabe is currently one of the senior composers in the British Isles, with a large catalogue of accomplished works, many of which have been recorded. The Three Pieces for clarinet and piano are available on Linn Records played by Maximiliano Martin and Scott Mitchell. A live performance is posted on YouTube in three files: Nocturne, Improvisation, and Fantasy. I find it hard to believe that there does not appear to be a recording of Lennox Berkeley’s Diversions –four pieces for eight instruments. 
I can only find one piece in the Arkiv catalogue for Wilfrid Mellers: Opus alchymicum for organ solo. His music has been airbrushed from musical history. Mellers is now best remembered for his many musicological books including Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion and Caliban Reborn.
We are lucky to have a recent recording of Edmund Rubbra’s String Quartet No.3 available on Naxos. See my review of this disc here.
William Schuman is an American composer whose Concerto for violin and orchestra is available on CD and download from Naxos and EMI. It is also been uploaded to YouTube complete with piano reduction of the score on screen.  It is a great work that deserves to be better known.  Music for orchestra III, Op.56 by Elisabeth Lutyens has not survived, with no recordings in the catalogue.
Robert Starer was a Viennese composer, born in 1924 and who died in 2001. His catalogue of music is considerable, including two symphonies, two piano concerto, ballets and a huge array of chamber works. Why (up to now) have I never heard any music by him? I can recommend his Evanescence for brass quintet which is on YouTube.  David Cox is recalled for his illuminating study of the Promenade Concerts. In 1965 Jupiter Records released an LP entitled A Recital of Music by William Wordsworth which included William Pleeth and the composer playing the Sonatina for viola and piano, Op.71.

It is unfortunate that none of the British works listed have become part of the recorded, concert or recital room legacy. Enthusiasts of Rawsthorne will have both versions of the Symphony No.3 and Rubbra fans will be collecting the String Quartets on Naxos. As for the rest, it is only to be hoped that the works that have been recorded in the past will be re-released on CD or as download.  Perhaps one or two can be rediscovered for concert performance? 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cyril Watters: Piccadilly Spree.

Everyone loves Piccadilly. Whether it is the statue of Eros which was once deemed to be the centre of the Empire. Or perhaps it is the promise of high-octane shopping in Regent Street. Maybe it is afternoon tea at the Ritz or heading down Haymarket towards the theatre or a snifter at the club. Perhaps it is just to see and be seen? Remember Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan’s delightful railing against the aesthetic movement, Patience: he chose to ‘walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in his medieval hand'.  Everyone loves Piccadilly.
Cyril Watters is one of the lesser-known, but hugely productive exponents of British light music.  He was born in the Edwardian era in 1907 and wrote extensively for the music libraries that publishers maintained for use in TV, radio and film productions. He gave many radio concerts during the 1950s. Latterly he was secretary of the Light Music Society. One of his most treasured pieces was the Willow Waltz which was used in a BBC serial called ‘The World of Tim Frazer.’  Cyril Watters died in 1984.
In 1953 Cyril Watters had secured work as the Chief Arranger at the publishing house of Boosey and Hawkes.  That same year he produced what was one of his most promising miniatures Piccadilly Spree. It was used as the signature tune of the television series ‘Performance.’
This work is pure fantasy from the first note to the last. There is nothing but sheer pleasure and enjoyment awaiting the protagonists of this music. I imagine them to be a middel-aged couple, in from Richmond or Twickenham to enjoy a night on the town. The mood appears to be a winters night. After a bit of shopping in Simpson’s (now Waterstone’s) and possibly Hatchard’s the couple would walk as far as the Ritz. Possibly too late to pop into Green Park, they would make their way back past the Burlington Arcade and the Royal Academy. Stopping to admire the neon lights at Piccadilly Circus, they would then head on for a light evening meal before taking in a show…
After a quick rising passage for strings the jaunty main theme is presented. Watters’ makes good use of woodwind decoration of the tune. Brass is very much to the fore, muted sounds give a subtle jazz mood to this piece. There is also a battery of percussion including xylophone.  Piccadilly Spree is almost a rondo in the sense that the main theme keeps reappearing after various digressions. It is the orchestration that impressed me most about this short work.
Cyril Watters’ Piccadilly Spree can be heard on YouTube. It is also available on The Golden Age of Light Music: 1950s from Guild Records with the New Concert Orchestra conducted by R. de Porten.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Cheltenham Festival: Twelve Years of New Symphonies (1957-1969)

Continuing my exploration of the much misaligned ‘Cheltenham Symphony,’ I find that the genre has tended to become rarer from 1957 onwards. Between 1945 and 1956 there were some 20 symphonies or symphonic works receiving their first performances at the Cheltenham Festival. The following dozen years produced only thirteen.  Four years, 1958, 1959, 1967 and 1968 saw no new works from this genre performed.  However, I believe that the survival rate is greater that for the previous decade. Some of these works have gained a tentative foothold in the recorded repertoire, if not the concert hall.  Where there is a recording of the work in question I have given a link to the CD. [Not a complete discography] 
1957 Robert Simpson – Symphony No.2  Hyperion EMI
1957 Arthur Butterworth – Symphony No.1 Dutton Epoch Classico
1960 Benjamin Frankel - Symphony No.1, Op.33 (British premiere)  CPO
1961 Malcolm Arnold – Symphony No.5, Op.74 Chandos Naxos
1962 Alun Hoddinott – Symphony No.2, Op.29 Lyrita
1962 Benjamin Frankel – Symphony No.2, Op.38 CPO

1962 Peter Maxwell Davies - Sinfonia, Op.20  Regis
1963 Thea Musgrave – Sinfonia
1964 Alan Rawsthorne – Symphony No.3 Lyrita Naxos
1965 Wilfred Josephs - Symphony No.2, Op.42
1965 Gordon Crosse - Sinfonia Concertante, Op.13
1966 John McCabe - Symphony No.1, Elegy On LP Pye Virtuoso TPLS13005
1966 Egon Wellesz - Symphony No.6, Op.95 (British premiere) CPO
1969 Lennox Berkeley - Symphony No.3, Op.74  Chandos Lyrita

Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No.5 has a strong contention to be the most ‘popular’ of the list with some six versions currently listed in the CD catalogue. All of Robert Simpson’s Symphonies were recorded by Hyperion in the 1990s. The present Symphony No.2 was released in 1997 coupled with the Fifth. Arthur Butterworth has seen some of his eight symphonies recorded with the First currently available on Dutton Epoch as an historical recording dating from 1958 and also on the Classico Label, which I believe has been deleted. Benjamin Frankel has fared well in so far as all his symphonies have received a single recording from CPO between 1995 and 1998.  The same record company also delivered the complete corpus of Egon Wellesz’s Symphonies which were issued in the early 2000s.
Alun Hoddinott’s Symphony No. 2 was originally released on the old PYE Virtuoso label and was subsequently reissued on CD by Lyrita.   Lennox Berkeley’s Third Symphony is available on Lyrita and Chandos.   Rawsthorne was released on Lyrita and on Naxos. Finally, John McCabe’s Symphony No.1 was issued on PYE Virtuoso in 1968. It has not appeared on CD. However, there is a YouTube file of this fine work.
Gordon Crosse’s Sinfonia Concertante Op.113 was rewritten by the composer and was published as Symphony No.1. This has been recorded on vinyl in 1981: it does not appear to have been reissued on CD, nor has it shown up on YouTube. Unfortunately, Thea Musgrave’s Sinfonia does not appear to have been recorded: nor does Wilfred Josephs’ Symphony No.2, Op.42.

I have heard all these works (Musgrave, Crosse and Josephs excepted) and consider that all are worthy pieces. Whilst none could be described as ground-breaking in their sound world or construction, they surely all to better represented in the concert listings.  My personal favourites include McCabe, Wellesz, Hoddinott and Butterworth, although most of the others impress me and are part of my listening experience. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Cheltenham Festival: Ten Years of Symphonies (1946-1956)

At one time the expression ‘Cheltenham, Symphony’ was used as a disparaging term. Peter Pirie in his The English Musical Renaissance (Victor Gollanz, London, 1979) states that the phrase ‘was coined to describe a work in simple-minded sonata form, simple-minded tonality, and simple-minded faith in a scissors-and-paste method of composition.’ He further contended that ‘a certain division in English music became apparent at this time: young progressive composers were arising in England and they saw what was happening.’ Perhaps the reader may be reminded of Peter Maxwell Davies withering attack on ‘tonal’ music in The Listener (October 8, 1959, pp. 563–564) ‘Problems of a British Composer Today’.  Pirie finishes is discussion by noting that the Hallé Orchestra was the main ‘band’ at Cheltenham and that its ‘much-loved’ conductor Sir John Barbirolli ‘had very conservative tastes.’ As a result he influenced the festival committee to adopt programmes that were ‘safe’ and ‘academic.’  
On the other hand, from 1947 the Hallé Orchestra had been closely involved with the performance of orchestral music at Cheltenham giving four July concerts.  Michael Kennedy reports that the ‘novelties’ had been ‘assiduously prepared by Barbirolli for weeks beforehand at no cost to Cheltenham. He lists some of the composers that featured in these concerts including Malcolm Arnold, Peter Racine Fricker and Arthur Butterworth (as well as those others listed in this posting). It is interesting to note that each concert which featured a new work also included ‘a standard-repertory symphony or with a substantial work by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bax…’ Kennedy goes on to suggest that the term ‘Cheltenham Symphony’ was ‘coined to describe the result of Barbirolli’s predilection for works written in what was then seen as a declining romantic tradition – ‘sham antiques’ was another pejorative barb.’
It is an argument that will no doubt continue to rage, often fuelled by people who have never bothered to listen to these works: however in 2014 listeners are more likely to be impressed by these works rather than repelled by them.
I append a list of symphonies and symphonic works given their premieres at the Cheltenham Festival from 1946-1956.  Where there is a recording of the work in question I have given a link to the CD. [Not a complete discography]  It is interesting to note that more than 50% of these symphonies are currently available on CD. None of these symphonies have entered the common repertoire (such as those by Elgar and RVW) however those by Rubbra, Alwyn and Arnold have a reasonable foothold amongst enthusiasts of British music.
  • 1946 Edmund Rubbra – Symphony No.2 (revised version) Chandos
  • 1947 Ian Whyte – Symphony No.1 
  • 1948 Arthur Benjamin – Symphony No.1 Lyrita Marco Polo 
  • 1949 Richard Arnell – Symphony No.4, Op.52 Dutton Epoch
  • 1949 Gordon Jacob – Symphonic Suite 
  • 1950 Anthony Collins – Symphony No.2 for Strings 
  • 1950 Peter Racine Fricker – Symphony No.1 Op.9 
  • 1950 William Alwyn – Symphony No.1 in D Chandos Naxos Lyrita
  • 1951 Arnold Van Wyk – Symphony No.1 in A minor (British premiere) 
  • 1951 John Gardner – Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.2  Naxos
  • 1951 Malcolm Arnold – Symphony No.1, Op.22  Chandos Naxos
  • 1951 Maurice Jacobson – Symphonic Suite for Strings
  • 1952 William Wordsworth – Sinfonia in A minor for Strings 
  • 1952 John Veale – Symphony No 1
  • 1953 Richard Arnell – Symphony No.3, Op.40 Dutton Epoch
  • 1953 Iain Hamilton – Symphony No.2, Op.10 
  • 1953 William Wordsworth – Symphony No.3 in C, Op.48  Lyrita
  • 1954 Stanley Bate - Symphony No.3 Dutton Epoch
  • 1954 Geoffrey Bush – Symphony No.1 Lyrita
  • 1956 Iain Hamilton – Symphonic Variations, Op.19 
  • 1956 Daniel Jones – Symphony No.3 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Arthur Butterworth: The Path across the Moors, Op.17 (1958)

When ASV records released the second volume of British Light Music Discoveries (CD WHL2126) in 2000, I was delighted to find Arthur Butterworth’s attractive tone poem The Path across the Moors (1958) included alongside music by composers such as Malcolm Arnold, William Blezard, Anthony Hedges and Philip Lane. I am not convinced that The Path  is ‘light’ music except in so far as it is tuneful and approachable. On the other hand, it cannot be claimed to be at the cutting edge of musical adventures in 1958, the year of its composition.
Arthur Butterworth (b.1923) has become increasingly valued for his particular musical style, which consistently acknowledges the broad tradition of ‘tonal’ music, as exemplified by mid-20th century composers, such as Arnold and Leighton, but without completely ignoring more radical developments in contemporary musical language.  It has been wisely suggested that much of Butterworth’s music derives its inspiration from a deep empathy with ‘the North of England.’ In fact, the composer has extended this inherent ‘northern-ness’ to include the furthest reaches of the forests, mountains and lakes of Scandinavia.
Arthur Butterworth’s music written at this time included a number of works that were clearly inspired by this extended ‘Northern Landscape’ including the The Quiet Tarn: Malham (1960), Three Nocturnes: Northern Summer Nights (1958) and the ‘Moors’ Suite for organ and large orchestra (1962). His early triumph with the powerful First Symphony in 1957 reflected the strong impact of Jean Sibelius on his music.

I asked Arthur Butterworth to explain the genesis of The Path across the Moors, Op.17. He told me that it was conceived when he was living in Manchester in 1958. It was on an early spring day – late February - whilst sitting at his piano, just ‘strumming.’ His late wife, Diana, suggested that she liked the tune, and asked what it was. Butterworth recalled to her that it was ‘something I remember from years ago – when, with two other boys from school, we used to go walking over the Pennine moors between Oldham and Huddersfield.’ Butterworth describes this landscape as:-
 ‘…wild, exhilarating moorland terrain, deep in heather, grouse and remote paths.  On a rather windy day, with damp clouds and drifts of rain it is marvellous walking country.  In the pre-war days …it was not bisected by the M62 but the old main road, the A62,  could be seen like a thin ribbon, with motor lorries, like toys, far below us, piled high with cotton bales between the mills of Lancashire and the far off West Riding.’  (Email 19 May 2014] 
Butterworth recalled that one day he and his friends came across ‘some rusty, derelict farm machinery and one of us took a photograph of it’.   The main theme of The Path was inspired by mature reflection on these boyhood adventures.

The Path across the Moors is presented in an arch form – however, there is no defined climax as such. Most of the work’s progress is relatively restrained, rarely rising much above ‘forte.’ The music opens with some dark, almost eccentric, woodwind phrases that quickly establish the legendary nature of this music. The strings take over, accompanied by an ominous sounding beat on the timpani.  Repeated brass notes followed by a gloomy chord announce something a little more impressionistic in mood, yet the menace in this music is never totally denied. The chords are insistent and create an edginess that becomes almost sinister: the moors between Manchester and Huddersfield can be scary places with little light emerging from the gloom. The millstone grit can impress dark thoughts on the mind.  
Dissonant brass chords suddenly dissolve into a more relaxed temper, before a reappearance of the prevailing woodwind melody. There is an anguished moment after which the music dies down to a reprise of the opening melody. A flute tune reminiscent of Debussy’s  -midi d'un faune, brings the music to a quiet close. Throughout this work the orchestration is dominated by effective woodwind writing which emphasises the piece’s haunted nature.

The Path across the Moors was well received by reviewers at the time of its release on CD. The Gramophone (September 2000) suggests that it is ‘memorably haunting’ and notes that ‘orchestra treads steadily and nostalgically, and at the close (after simple horn calls) generates an almost profound melancholy.’  I do wonder if ‘nostalgic’ is an appropriate adjective: to my ear the prevailing mood is melancholy.
Rupert Kirkham in his ‘blog’ has drawn attention to the ‘the subdued tones of the scoring, favouring the alto and [the] bass-register, [which] are dark but various owing to the use of many blendings-together of woodwind and strings, reinforced… by brass - particularly horns and trombones - and timpani. The quirky theme passes through shiftings of tonal light and shade like a walker who has much on his mind but is not oblivious to nature about him’.

Ian Lace writing on MusicWeb International in June 2000 gives an attractive (if a little quirky) review of this piece: he describes it as ‘vividly evocative of hikers plodding up steep, stony slopes (with ‘Mrs Ramsbottom’ [Albert’s mother from Albert & the Lion perhaps[S1] ?] puffing and panting in the rear?) There are also intimations of bleating sheep, thunder claps and winds. But all seems to be worth the glorious view from the peak. The work ends quietly as the walkers fade into the distance leaving the landscape empty and still.’ I am not convinced that this music is meant to be pictorial to this degree: I have more sympathy with Kirkham’s largely interiorized interpretation.
Finally, Rob Barnett on MusicWeb International has noted the strong influence of the composer’s ‘heroes’ Arnold Bax and Jean Sibelius.’ He considers that The Path ‘is one of the most accomplished and serious pieces’ on the CD.  
I, too, was reminded of Bax, not in detail, but in legendary mood – of his The Tale the Pine Trees Knew.
The Path across the Moors is available on ASV CD WHL2126 with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland. The music was published in it brass band version by Edition Peters: Hinrichsen Edition, 1970.  I understand that the orchestral score remains unpublished, but is available for hire.  I was unable to find a reference to the work’s premiere,  but the composer told me that it was first performed in February 1958 by the BBC Northern Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic) under the baton of George Hurst.  Butterworth indicated that The Path received many radio broadcasts during the ‘sixties and early 1970s.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Ten British Composers Ripe for Discovery

A very short, but important post: Ten composers that I consider worthy of rediscovery. Odd recordings of their music exist in the catalogues, but typically they have been ignored by concert promoters and record companies:-
  • Francis Chagrin (1905-1972)
  • Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990)
  • Ian Hamilton (1922-2000)
  • Daniel Jones (1912-1993)
  • Priaulx Rainier (1903-1986)
  • Humphrey Searle (1915-1982)
  • Robert Still (1910-1971)
  • John Veale (1922-2006)
  • Ian Whyte (1901-1961)
  • William Wordsworth (1908-1988)

All of the above are important ‘symphonists’ – except for Priaulx Rainier. I have heard many of these and all demand to be in the catalogue. Why not a cycle of Fricker or Hamilton rather than yet another version of Beethoven or Elgar?  Searle’s symphonies are all available on CPO and they are superb.  I am listening to an old radio broadcast of Francis Chagrin’s First Symphony as I write. It just cries out to be heard. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Proms Novelties: 1964

Every year there are a number of first performances or ‘novelties’ at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. This year (2014) is no different with new works by John Adams, Sally Beamish, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Jonathan Dove, William Mathias and Roxanna Panufnik.  But how many of these will survive concert and record (whatever media) life over the coming half century? I looked at the list of ‘novelties’ from 1964 as presented in David Cox’s book The Henry Wood Proms (BBC Publishing, 1980) and found that the story is mixed. I list only the British or Commonwealth works that received their ‘Prom’ premieres.
  • William Alwyn: Concerto Grosso No.3 (Tribute to Henry Wood) [World Premiere]
  • Richard Rodney Bennett: Aubade [World Premiere]
  • Arthur Bliss: The Beatitudes
  • Reginald Brindle Smith: Creation Epic [World Premiere]
  • Benjamin Britten: Choral Dances from Gloriana
  • Alan Bush: Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue
  • William Byrd: Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis (Great Service)
  • Alexander Goehr: Little Symphony
  • Gustav Holst: The Hymn of Jesus
  • Elizabeth Lutyens: Wittgenstein Motet
  • Bernard Naylor: Cantata: Sing O my Love (BBC Commission) [World Premiere]
  • Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
  • Priaulx Rainier: Cello Concerto [World Premiere]
  • Michael Tippett: Concerto for Orchestra
  • Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem
  • William Walton: Suite from Henry V
  • Malcolm Williamson: Concert Suite: Our Man in Havana

Concentrating on the ‘world premieres’ of which there were only five this year, only one work has truly survived half a century, and here only by the skin of its teeth. William Alwyn’s Concerto Grosso No.3 has had two recordings since 1964. In 1992 Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia released it as part of a major retrospective of Alwyn’s music on Chandos CHAN.8866. Nineteen years later Naxos issued it on 8.570145 as a part of their series of the composer’s music. The work has not featured at a subsequent Promenade Concert and it can hardly be said to be in the ‘repertoire.’
Richard Rodney Bennett’s Aubade with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by David Atherton was released on an Argo LP (ZRG907) in 1979 coupled with ‘Spells’ for soprano and orchestra. To my knowledge it has not been re-released on CD. The reviewer in The Gramophone (January 1980) praised this ‘attractive well shaped work which avoids any hint…of the inflated.’  I had hoped that this work would appear on Chandos’ series of orchestral music by Rodney Bennett, but they seem to have given up on this project with only the first volume released in 2006. 
As far as I can tell, Reginald Brindle Smith’s Creation Epic has not been recorded, nor has it received any further performances at the Promenade Concerts. The Times (6 August 1964) reviewer suggested that the work ‘seemed to fail.’ The music was considered ‘spiky, spare, [and] occasionally exciting’ as the work sought to display the clash of good and evil in the creation of the world.  The finale of the work was ‘eerily peaceful as a sympathetic string melody alternated with an evocative flute solo.’ The reviewer concluded by suggesting that ‘someone’s musical judgement at the BBC seems to have come unstuck.’
The same fate seems to have overtaken Bernard Naylor’s Cantata: Sing O my Love. There is no recording (to my knowledge) of this work available.  Naylor was a British-born composer who spent much of his time in Canada. The cantata, which considers ‘sacred and profane’ love was described by the Musical Times as using ‘a conservative English idiom with individual, fastidious concentration.’ It appears to be a work that may deserve revival.
Finally, what I consider to be the unsung masterpiece from this list of ‘novelties’: Priaulx Rainier’s Cello Concerto.  This stunning work will feature in a subsequent post, however, it is fair to conclude that she has been ill-represented on CD and on record. Fortunately a recording of this great work has been uploaded to YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.  

Other important non-British works given their first hearing at the Proms included Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Berlioz’s The Childhood of Christ, Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Schoenberg’s Erwartung

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Vivian Ellis: Muse in Mayfair

Mayfair is a part of London that I feel very at home in. I guess it is the expensive hotels and opulent houses. Beginning at Handel’s former residence in Brook Street, the explorer can discover the Church of St George in Hanover Square, hear the nightingale in Berkeley Square, have quick snifter in The Punch Bowl public house before shopping in the Burlington Arcade and indulging in afternoon tea at Claridges or The Dorchester.  Vivian Ellis has captured some of this magic in his charming music. It is not as flamboyant as Eric Coates’ Mayfair Valse from his popular London Again Suite: it is a bustling mood that Ellis majors on.  The work opens with a jaunty, cocky little tune that suggests the once-ubiquitous message boy on a bicycle. The music does expand with a romantic string and woodwind section that suggests lovers sitting in a square. But the message boy is never quite absent. The piece ends with a quiet little upward twist.
Vivian Ellis is probably best remembered for his evocative portrayal of railway travel in the nineteen-fifties with his Coronation Scot: it is one of the most recorded and anthologised pieces of light music. However, Ellis' created much more than one all-time favourite.  Beginning his career as a concert pianist, he was a successful writer and producer of musical comedy, as well as the author of a number of humorous books, such as ‘How to Survive your Operation’. He was onetime president of the Performing Rights Charity.  The most successful of his musical comedies included Mr Cinders, Bless the Bride, The Fleet’s Lit Up and Big BenThis particular genre is largely a thing of the past, and it is highly unlikely that they would or could be revived. However, Vivian Ellis has a number of attractive short orchestral miniatures scattered throughout the light music catalogues.  
It is difficult to work out when Muse in Mayfair was composed however it was probably the late 1940s. It was written for Chappels, most likely as one of a number of pieces for their musical library collection, which would have been used by radio and film producers to give suitable background music. Other works written at this time included The Jolly Juggler and Flight 101Muse in Mayfair was arranged for orchestra by Sidney Torch. The piece was recorded by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra in 1948, conducted by Torch.
Muse in Mayfair is currently only available on Guild: The Golden Age of Light Music: Great British Composers Volume 2 GLCD 5203