Tuesday, 27 September 2016

John Ireland: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of John Ireland published in his book Composers Gallery. 
Another of Ireland's most popular works is the Piano Concerto which he wrote in 1930. [1] In the final movement there is a suggestion of modern jazz; a pleasant, lively passage. This work must have been given at least twenty performances in England, and it is worth recording that it was played in Moscow in 1934 under the conductorship of Edward Clark, and shortly afterwards in Budapest under Dohnányi and in Vienna under Konradt.
Foreign countries have also shown considerable interest in his ‘London Overture’ (1936), a work which we might profitably compare with the compositions of Elgar and Vaughan Williams also inspired by our great city. Ireland's picture is a colourful affair, but lacks the spirit and strength of character shown by Elgar, and the deep pensiveness of Vaughan Williams' wonderful ‘London Symphony’. However, ‘A London Overture’ has taken its place in British music, and will undoubtedly become even more popular now that Dr Malcolm Sargent has made such an excellent record of it with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. [2]
In more recent years Ireland has written a Concertino Pastorale, [3] which does not, however, strike me as being particularly pastoral; and among other things, a fine Elgarian choral setting of J. A. Symonds's poem ‘These Things shall be’, which was launched in magnificent style at a BBC Symphony Concert in December 1937. [4] It was a musician's attempt to assist a poet's effort at stimulating the conscience of a nation lulled into a sense of false security by the most incompetent bunch of politicians ever inflicted upon a free but apathetic people.
Another quite recent work, his Epic March (commissioned by the BBC), suggests that Ireland wanted to snatch a little nation-wide popularity for himself, for it is a work full of appeal for the man in the street. [5] The fact that he succeeded in this without being vulgar in the slightest degree all goes to show that he is a very able composer. The Sunday Times described it as "a sincere and deeply felt piece of music" of which the whole atmosphere is that of idealism "as far removed from jingoism as a Persian carpet is from a piece of cheap linoleum." [6] It has a suggestion of Parry as well as Elgar, and the middle section is based on a really beautiful melody that sticks in the memory as persistently as anything I know.
During the early part of the Second World War, John Ireland was staying in the Channel Islands and working on an arrangement of his ‘Downland Suite’ for Orchestra. [7] When a section of the German army also decided to take up residence there he was obliged to leave in a hurry, and alas the greater part of the score was left behind. His ‘Island Sequence’- ‘Sarnia’ was written on Guernsey by the way, and was introduced to the public by Clifford Curzon in January 1942. It is a cycle of three short tone poems; delightful impressions of ‘Le Catioroc,’ ‘In a May morning,’ and ‘[Song of the] Spring tides.’ [8]
Turning to his Fantasy-sonata for clarinet and piano, which was first performed at the Wigmore Hall by Frederick Thurston (for whom it was written) and Kendall Taylor on January 29th 1944, we find one of the best works for the clarinet since the days of Brahms. The Sunday Times [9] declared "One of the most outstanding characteristics of this new fantasy-sonata is its continuous stream of melody; and another is its richness of rhythmic invention." The Times described its material as "concentrated into one self-contained movement, in which the lyrical qualities of both instruments are emphasized in characteristic terms of genial, fluid harmony and iridescent figuration." [10] A notable broadcast followed this premiere, in which the composer himself played the piano part. [11]
A little while ago Ralph Hawkes [12] asked Ireland (and several other composers) to write something for a wind-band in celebration of the approaching centenary of the first military band publication issued by the firm of Hawkes. The composer has now produced a bright little work called ‘A Maritime Overture’, [13] dedicated to its inciter. Ireland says that while he was writing it he had in mind Hawkes's fondness for yachting, and his affection for the sea, ‘which I share, though I cannot yet aspire to a yacht.’
John Ireland is an honorary Doctor of Music of Durham University, and is keenly interested in the work of all his contemporaries, particularly Igor Stravinsky and the late Maurice Ravel. Of the old masters his preferences are for the works of Bach and Mozart. It need scarcely be added that poetry still remains one of his greatest sources of inspiration.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)
Notes
[1] The Concerto in E flat for piano and orchestra was composed between 1929 and 1930. It was dedicated to the pianist Helen Perkin. The premiere was at the Queen’s Hall, London on 2 October 1930 with the dedicatee and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
[2] ‘A London Overture’ was a reworking of the earlier ‘Comedy Overture’ for brass band written in 1936. The new work was first heard at the Queen’s Hall, London on 23 September 1936. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Sir Henry Wood.  Sir Malcolm Sargent’s recording with the Liverpool Philharmonic was made in Liverpool during April 1944. It was issued on Columbia DX 1155-56 (78rpm) and has subsequently remastered for CD. (Dutton CDAX 8012).  
[3] The Concertino Pastorale was composed for the 1939 Canterbury Festival. It was first performed at Canterbury Cathedral on 14 June 1939 by the Boyd Neel String Orchestra, conducted by the work’s dedicatee, Boyd Neel.  I disagree with Donald Brook: I feel that the pastoral element is present and correct in this work, even if it is more melancholic than bucolic.
[4] ‘These things shall be’, as Brook points out, is a major choral work owing much to Edward Elgar and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.  It was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. The first performance was at a studio recording made on 13 May 1937 by the BBC Chorus, the BBC Orchestra and the baritone Denis Noble. It was conducted by Adrian Boult.  The work remains Ireland’s most substantial choral piece.  This was an idealistic work based on a poem by John Addington Symonds (1840-93) that seems to be out of place in a Europe that was witnessing the rise of Fascism. Consider the lines: New arts shall bloom of loftier mould/And mightier music thrill the skies/And every life a song shall be/ When all the earth is paradise.’ The sentiment is something that all can aspire to, even if the reality is much harder to come by. The work was orchestrated by John Ireland’s pupil, Alan Bush (1900-95).
[5] The Epic March was commissioned by the BBC and was composed during 1941/2. It was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 June 1942 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
[6] The Sunday Times, 28 June 1942. The review was written by Ralph Hill.
[7] ‘A Downland Suite’ was originally composed as the test piece for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. The piece was first heard at London’s Crystal Palace on 1 October of that year. The winning band was the Foden Motor Work’s Band.  In 1941 Ireland ‘freely adapted’ two of the movements, ‘Minuet’ and ‘Elegy’ for string orchestra. In 1978, Geoffrey Bush made a version of the entire suite. This has been recorded on Chandos (CHAN 9376). The music has not just been transcribed: Bush has followed the composer’s example in reconceiving the music as a composition for string orchestra rather than making a literal re-arrangement of the brass band version’. Chandos Liner Notes.
In 1985, the suite was transcribed for wind band by Ray Steadman-Allen.
[8] Sarnia: An Island Sequence was first heard as Brook states, at the Wigmore Hall, 29 November 1941. The pianist was Clifford Curzon. It is not only one of the composer’s most vital works, but was also his last major composition for the piano.  The sleeve notes to the Mark Bebbington’s recording of this work (SOMM SOMMCD 088) notes that 'the 60-year-old composer's evocation of, and tribute to, an island where he had achieved possibly the greatest happiness and contentedness in a life not overflowing with personal fulfilment and 'job satisfaction.' The three movements are ‘Le Catioroc’, ‘In a May Morning’ and ‘Song of the Springtides.’  
[9] The Sunday Times 30 January 1944. The review was written by Ralph Hill.
[10] The Times 01 February 1944. Unsigned review.
[11] Probably first broadcast on Thursday 7 November, 1946 on the BBC Home Service. It was heard again on Thursday 8 January 1948, possibly from the same recording. The second broadcast has been issued on the Symposium record label (1259)
[12] Ralph Hawkes (1898-1950) at this time was the senior director of the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes Limited. 
[13] Brook’s discussion of this work is a little misleading. The Maritime Overture was originally the Symphonic Prelude: Tritons for orchestra which was composed in 1899 and received its premiere in London on 21 March 1901.  It is described by the composer as an ‘RCM Studentship work.’ It has been recorded twice: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult on Lyrita SRCD 240 (2007); reissue of SRCS 45 (1971) and London Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Hickox on Chandos CHAN 8994 (1991). According to Stewart R. Cragg’s A Catalogue, Discography and Bibliography 2nd edition (Ashgate, 2007) Tritons was arranged for military band by Norman Richardson. This version was published in 1946.  It was further arranged for symphonic wind band by Richardson and published in 1988.

Concluded.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

John Ireland: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Clearly he had met these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’ Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second hand books about music that I bought in the days before the internet, it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include a number of footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of John Ireland.

I have a feeling that the creative powers of John Ireland have always been stimulated by the deep love of poetry engendered within him during his childhood by the literary atmosphere of his home. His parents, Alexander and Dorothy [1] Ireland were both authors, and enjoyed the friendship of many prominent writers, so their son, born at Inglewood, Bowden, Cheshire, [2] on August 13th 1879, grew up in a cultured environment in which self-expression through any of the arts was regarded with approval. Alexander Ireland, by the way, was the editor of the Manchester Examiner and Times, [3] and the author of The Book-lover's Enchiridion. [4]
John Ireland was educated at Leeds Grammar School, but was only fourteen when he came to London to study at the Royal College of Music under C. V. Stanford for composition and Frederick Cliffe [5] for the piano. He wrote a number of pieces for solo instruments in his youth, and a fair amount of chamber music, but in later years he destroyed or withdrew from circulation almost everything he had written up to 1908, so that as far as we are concerned his career as a composer did not start until he was nearly thirty years of age. [6]
In 1908 his Phantasy Trio in A-minor won him the second prize in the Cobbett chamber music competition, [7] and in the following year he took the first prize in the same competition with his Sonata in D-minor for violin and pianoforte. [8]
Five years later he aroused the attention of many of the critics with a piano solo called ‘Decorations’ and his first orchestral work ‘The Forgotten Rite’, [9] which is said to have been inspired by a holiday in Jersey. The latter won the approval of many leading conductors, and was performed on several occasions during the ensuing years.
He was still dissatisfied with much of the music he was writing, however. In 1914, for instance, he wrote a Trio in E minor (in three movements) which he withdrew after its first performance with the intention of revising it, but never did. [10]
His first outstanding success came in March 1917, when Albert Sammons and William Murdoch gave the initial performance of his striking Sonata for violin and piano in A minor [11]. This opus seemed to express all the deep emotions that the people of this country were feeling during those dark days of war with more eloquence than the spoken words of many of the war poets. It won the hearts of the audience immediately; the critics were unanimous in their praise, and within a few months most of the eminent violinists in Britain were playing it to a thoroughly sympathetic public. That anything coming under the heading of ‘chamber music’ could become so popular was little short of a sensation, and publishers who normally looked upon the issue of chamber music as a necessary but highly unprofitable speculation actually competed for the right of publishing this sonata! The first edition was sold in advance before it left the printers' hands.
Then came such works as the Piano Sonata (1920), the symphonic rhapsody ‘Mai-dun’ (1921), the Sonata for Violoncello (1924); such songs as Ireland's setting of Masefield's ‘Sea Fever’ and the three settings of Hardy's poems ‘Summer Schemes’’, Her Song’ and ‘Weathers’; and various piano pieces, of which I might mention ‘Amberley Wild Brooks’ (1921), ‘April’ (1925), ‘Month's Mind’ (1935) and ‘Green Ways’ (1938). [12] The title of ‘Month's Mind’ is explained by a quotation from Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities:
". . . days which our ancestors called their 'month's mind' . . . (are) the days whereon their souls (after death) were had in special remembrance —hence the expression of 'having a month's mind' to imply a longing desire." [13]
The longing in this particular piece is suggested by restless over-lapping phrases, but these tend to make it rather monotonous, in my opinion.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

Notes:
[1] John Ireland’s mother was actually Anne Elizabeth (Annie) Ireland, nee Nicholson (1842-1893). She was a writer and a biographer. Her magnum opus was a biography of the Jane Welsh Carlyle which was published in 1891. The only Dorothy in John Ireland’s life would appear to be Dorothy Phillips (1909) who was briefly the composer’s wife (1926-8). She was a young pianist studying at the Royal Academy of Music. The marriage was later dissolved.
[2] John Ireland was born at Inglewood, Bowden, Cheshire. This large house is now divided into a number of flats. There is a plaque indicating that the composer was born here.
[3] The composer’s father, Alexander Ireland was born in Edinburgh on 9 May 1810. He was an author, a journalist, businessman and a booklover. He wrote a major biography of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as producing bibliographies of William Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt (1868). In 1882 Ireland published the once-famous The Book-Lover's Enchiridion under the pseudonym ‘Philobiblios’ (Booklover). Ireland was business manager of the Manchester Examiner newspaper and subsequently the Manchester Examiner and Times. Alexander Ireland died on 7 December 1894.
[4] The Book-lover's Enchiridion: A Treasury of Thoughts on the Solace and Companionship of Books was a once-popular collection of quotations from a multitude of authors including Cicero, Petrarch, William Hazlitt, Anthony Trollope and John Ruskin. It was first published in 1882 and reissued in a number of editions.  The book is headed by a quotation from Christopher Marlowe: ‘Infinite riches in a little room.’ (The Jew of Malta, c.1589).  The word ‘Enchiridion’ means ‘a book containing essential information on a subject’.
[5] Bradford-born Frederick Cliffe (1857-1931) was an organist, pianist and composer.  He studied with Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir John Stainer and Ebenezer Prout, before, in 1884, taking up a post at the Royal College of Music as professor of piano and at the Royal Academy of Music from 1901. As a composer he is best remembered, where recalled at all, for a fine symphony (he composed two), a tone poem ‘Cloud and Sunshine’ and an accomplished Violin Concerto.
[6] Donald Brook is correct in suggesting that John Ireland’s first major triumph was the Violin Sonata in D minor and that a number of early works were subsequently suppressed or destroyed. However, the enthusiast of the composer will find much of interest in the catalogue for the years between 1895 and 1908. This includes a number of piano pieces, two delightful youthful String Quartets, the corpus of organ music, the Phantasie Trio in A minor and a number of songs and part-songs. 
[7] As noted by Brook, John Ireland’s Phantasy Trio in A-minor won the third prize in the 1907, not as stated, 1908, Cobbett Competition for Phantasy Piano Trio. The first prize was awarded to Frank Bridge’s masterly Phantasy in C minor, the second prize was given to James Friskin’ Phantasy in E minor. The fourth prize went to Alice Verne-Bredt for her Phantasy: Trio in one movement.
[8] The 1909 competition prizes were awarded to the composers Eric Gritton, Geoffrey O’Connor Morris, both works unknown, and Susan Spain-Dunk’s Sonata in B minor for violin and piano (unpublished).
[9] John Ireland’s first orchestral work was ‘Midsummer’ for orchestra which is regarded as a student work. It was composed in 1899 and has subsequently disappeared.  The first surviving orchestral works are Tritons: Symphonic Prelude for orchestra (1899) and the Orchestral Poem in A minor dating from 1904. There is also a tantalising reference to the lost tone poem ‘The Princess Maleine’ composed in 1905.  It is possible that the above mentioned Orchestral Poem may in fact be this ‘lost’ work. The Forgotten Rite is the composer’s first orchestral work to have a permanent hold in the repertoire.
[10] What Donald Brook is referring to is the Trio in D originally conceived for clarinet, cello and piano which was written between April 1912 and October 1913. It was subsequently revised as a Trio for violin, cello and piano which was withdrawn after a few performances. It was finally revisited in 1937 when the composer used some of the material for his Trio [No.3] in E major-minor for the same forces. This was published by Hawkes and Co. in 1938.
[11] The Sonata No.2 in A minor for violin and piano was first performed by Albert Sammons (violin) and William Murdoch (piano) at the Aeolian Hall, London on 6 March 1917. The work was published by Winthrop Rogers in the same year.
[12] The dates of these works typically reflect the date of publication or first performance.
[13] Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities was originally published in 1813, but has been subject to many revisions and editions, the most recent being issued by Cambridge University Press in 2011.  The actual quotation from Brand is:
To have a Month's Mind, implying a longing Desire, is a figurative Expression, of which the Subsequent is the Origin: Minnyng Days, says Blount, (from the Saxon Gemynde, i.e. the Mind, q. Mynding Days) Bede Hist. lib. 4. ca. 30. Commemorationis Dies; Days which our Ancestors called their Monthe's Mind, their Year's Mind, and the like, being the Days whereon their Souls (after their Deaths) were had in special Remembrance, and some Office or Obsequies said for them; as Obits, Dirges, &c. This Word is still retained in Lancashire; but elsewhere more commonly called Anniversary Days.

To be continued…

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Provincial Performance -Manchester

On 16 June 1946, the winners of the Daily Express Victory Symphony Competition duly had their Manchester performance at the King’s Hall, Bellevue. In the aftermath of the bombing of the Free Trade Hall in 1942, the Halle Orchestra often made use of this 7,000 seater venue.

Neville Cardus gave a detailed review for the Manchester Guardian (17 June 1946). He began by insisting that ‘both composers achieve many of their best effects by a clean economy of line and colour. There is an astringent quality in the music that springs from a determination to reject material that would be merely decorative.’  However, there is a down side to this process: Cardus feels that ‘sometimes the music flags beneath the burden of a too conscious thought process.’ He believes that this may be result of being ‘lured from their own orbit by the attempt to convey their meditations on some tremendous event or course of events.’ In this case the Allied victory after six years of war.
The reviewer considered that Bernard Stevens and Cedric Thorpe Dave ‘are excellent musicians who would show more originality in works of lighter form than that of the symphony.’ Lack of recordings and performances of these two composers make it difficult to judge whether Cardus is totally correct in his assumption. However, with Thorpe Davie in particular, he is close to the mark (based on a consideration his catalogue and the few works I have heard).
Cardus acknowledged the ‘great freedom of symphonic style’ that is permissible ‘these days’, however he felt that ‘the voice of a more commanding and less scholastic spirit is needed…’ Hearing these works 70 years later, the listener will consider that there is little ‘scholastic’ about this music, but will agree with the reviewer that both works lack ‘power.’  In the ‘Liberation Symphony ‘much of what we associate with a most intelligent kind of modern contrapuntal technique dominates the finale’ – in other words a fugue. Cardus’ preference was for ‘the first part of that movement – ‘a slow and solemn section…[where] thought and feeling are concentrated expressively.’
Looking at each individual work, Cardus felt that Thorpe Davie was ‘rather aggressive in his use of dissonance.’ This would pass largely unnoticed in 2016.
In conclusion Cardus wrote that ‘when both musicians have had time and opportunity for a true expression of mood and outlook and for a buoyancy of style they will probably make rapid advances.’  If anything, history has side-lined both composers, their music being rarely heard and only occasionally recorded.
Other works heard at Belle Vue that evening included Miss Edna Hobson singing a Tchaikovsky aria and the ‘brilliant and powerful’ playing of Kendall Taylor in a performance of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto.  Neville Cardus wrote that John Barbirolli conducted the whole concert with his usual splendid skill, vitality and judgement.’

If and when I find a review of the Scottish Orchestra’s performance of the two symphonies in Glasgow, I shall post it here. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Premieres

The Daily Mail (10 June 1946) reported on the success of their rival newspaper’s Victory Symphony competition. Ralph Hill insisted that the paper has to be congratulated on its success in bringing to ‘the notice of the musical public two gifted young composers, Cedric Thorpe Davie and Bernard Stevens.’
Thorpe Davies’ Symphony in C major and Stevens’ 'A Symphony of Liberation’ were given their premiere performances by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Constant Lambert and Dr Malcolm Sargent respectively at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday evening.
Hill considered that ‘both symphonies show skillful craftsmanship in their construction and orchestration, an individual and expressive melodic sense, and a wide range that is free from eccentricity.’
He finishes his review by suggesting that Stevens’ symphony ‘is undoubtedly the more important work on account of the greater imagination displayed in its construction and treatment.’  He will regard the future of these two composers ‘with interest.’ 

An unsigned review in The Times (10 June 1946) explained that both symphonies were in three movements and both were ‘compact in form.’ Cedric Thorpe Davie had made use of the traditional central slow movement between two allegros, whereas Stevens has a ‘more definite programme [with] his movements entitled ‘Enslavement’, ‘Resistance’ and ‘Liberation’ respectively.’ This allows the composer to work from ‘darkness to light, placing his slow movement first.’  The reviewer thinks that both works ‘contain effective music, especially Davie’s funeral dirge and Steven’s scherzo.’  In his opinion both finales proved to be the weakest parts of each work. He writes, ‘one relied on popular themes to represent the construction of the brave new world: the other sought to express joy in liberation in a fugal movement, which unhappily disintegrated halfway through, owing, one suspects, to ineffective orchestration.’
He concludes the review by suggesting that ‘what was lacking in both was a great tune that would have provided a true climax embodying our joy and thankfulness and resolution.’ I am glad that neither composer did compose a popular tune: there would be plenty of time in the future for Malcolm Arnold to oblige in this direction.

Both works were given fine performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Constant Lambert (Davie) and Dr Malcolm Sargent (Stevens). 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Composer’s and Judges’ Comments

On 29 March 1946, the Daily Express reported details of the two winning composers. It noted that Mr [Bernard] Stevens, a Cambridge graduate in Arts and Music has been called up in 1940, cutting short his studies at the Royal College of Music. In 1946, Stevens was 30 years old. As noted previously, he continued to compose during the war years whilst carrying out fire-watching duties during air raids on London. He is quoted, ‘I just had to keep on.’  The first two movements of his ‘A Symphony of Liberation’ were completed during the air raids. He then occupied himself with a Theme and Variations for piano (1941) and a Piano Trio (1942). Both works had been performed, with the latter being heard at the Wigmore Hall during 1943. With the advent of the competition, Stevens completed the symphony, for which he had ‘deep affection.’  It is noted that Mr Stevens will be ‘demobbed in May, and hopes to live by composing.’ He said ‘This success has given me intense encouragement.’  Finally Stevens pointed out that his symphony was ‘not a descriptive work but I felt the necessity of writing something to sum up my feelings about a wonderful episode.’ The ‘episode’ presumably being the cessation of hostilities.

Turning to Cedric Thorpe Davie, (33 years old at the time) the paper stated that he took three months to compose his symphony in C major. It points out that, unlike Mr Stevens, who plays the violin and enjoys conducting, he ‘plays only the piano.’ A composer who works rapidly, he wrote the music for an official film, ‘Scotland Speaks’ on a fortnights leave from his National Fire Service (N.F.S.) duty at the Glasgow docks. Davie pointed out that ‘there are no bombs, guns or sirens in my symphony. It was meant to be cheerful and I hope that is how it sounds.’  The Symphony was inscribed ‘In honour of my brother.’
Unfortunately, Cedric Thorpe Davies’ Symphony has not been given a commercial recording, although a broadcast performance circulates amongst enthusiasts.

The article then explained what the judges had said. All the entries were inspected separately by each judge. Discussion agree what works were to be given ‘further examination.’ A run through of the four best works (Stevens, Gipps, Thorpe Davie: it is not known who wrote the ‘fourth work’. Schaarwächter states that there is no further information in the Daily Express archives) was arranged at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

‘Shirt-sleeved’ Constant Lambert conducted the orchestra whilst Bliss and Sargent sat in the auditorium making notes.  Malcom Sargent stated that Stevens’ symphony ‘has poignancy and great emotional sincerity.’ Lambert’s view was that the ‘Liberation Symphony’ was ‘not merely a glorification piece full of the usual clichés. It had great emotional stress handled with skill.  Finally, Arthur Bliss wrote ‘The temper and spirit of this work are attractive and exciting.’ 

Monday, 12 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: Introduction

In 1945 the Daily Express ran a special competition which encouraged composers to write a ‘Victory’ Symphony. One cannot imagine a similar event in 2016.
An announcement was made in the newspaper on Tuesday 5 June 1945: ‘Who will write Victory Symphony?’
The article continued: ‘Britain has many promising young composers who are worthy of recognition, and the Daily Express is giving them the opportunity they seek.’  Two prizes were offered – the first of £250 and the second of £150. That would be about £10,000 and £6,000 at today’s (2016) prices.  Composers would not only be seeking financial reward, but would also have a ‘rare opportunity in the world of music.’
The rules were straightforward.  The symphony would consist of one or more movements, would be fully orchestrated and would last between 15 and 20 minutes.  It was open to all British composers (male and female) under the age of 35 on 1 January 1946.  The closing date was 31 October 1945. Submissions were to be made to the Daily Express office in Fleet Street, London, accompanied by a suitable ‘nom de plume.’
The scores would be examined by Arthur Bliss, Dr Malcolm Sargent and Constant Lambert.   Stephen Lloyd in his magisterial study of Lambert has suggested that it is likely that Sargent and Bliss did most of the adjudication.
Finally, a public performance of the two winning works would be given in the Royal Albert Hall as arrange by the newspaper. The top six scores would also be circulated to leading conductors for perusal and possible performance.

Some weeks later, on 29 August 1945 the Daily Express reported that ‘one evening during winter (it was actually to be in high summer of 1946) a well-known conductor on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall will conduct an orchestra through the first public performance of the Victory Symphony composed by the winner of…the contest.  It was announced that the winning work would also be presented in Scotland by the conductor of the Scottish Orchestra, Warwick Braithwaite.

On 29 March 1946 the results of the contest were front page news.  ‘Private 7674010 Bernard Stevens [(1916-83)] 30-year-old Londoner in the Army Pay Corps travelled on special leave from his Bournemouth unit yesterday to be told that he had won the £250 first prize…’  The winning work was his ‘A Symphony of Liberation’ which had been begun during ‘the blitz nights when he had been billeted in Bloomsbury.’ The first two movements, ‘Enslavement’ and ‘Resistance’ were written there against the background of ‘London’s ack-ack noise.’  He completed the work with the ‘sunny, spirited’ third movement when the war ended in Europe.’

Clearly the work had been ‘on the stocks’ before the competition was announced as it was begun in 1940 and completed in the autumn of 1945.  The work was dedicated to Clive Branson, a poet and artist who had been killed in Burma during 1944.  The score carries an epigraph from William Blake’s America, ‘Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field. Let him look up into the heaven and laugh in the bright air.’
The winner of the £150 second prize was the Scottish composer Cedric Thorpe Davie (1913-83), who at that time was living in North Street, St Andrews. He was then Master of Music at St Andrews University.  The paper reiterated that both works would be performed publicly in London, Manchester and Glasgow.
Two composers known to have competed included Richard Arnell (Symphony No.3) (suggested in Jürgen Schaarwächter’s study of Two Centuries of British Symphonism) and Ruth Gipps (Symphony No.2). It would be fascinating to know what other composers entered this competition and what became of their symphonies.  Interestingly, although Gipps did not win the competition, her symphony was played on a number of occasions and was recorded in 1999 on the Classico CD label (CLASSCD 274).
The first performance of both works were given at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 June 1946. Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  I will present the review in a subsequent post.

As an aside, if I had been judging, I would almost certainly have made Ruth Gipps’ Symphony No.2 the winner, based on the four works I understand to have been entered. 

Bernard Stevens A Symphony of Liberation is available on CD (Meridian CDE 84124)  It is coupled with his fine Cello Concerto. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

Ten British Symphonies (1945-60) I would love to see recorded.

Over the past 45 years, British music enthusiasts have been fortunate in having a large number of symphonies issued on vinyl, cassette, CD and ‘download.’  Major projects (for me) have included the cycles of symphonies by Arnold Bax, Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry, William Alwyn, Malcom Arnold, Richard Arnell, Benjamin Frankel and Egon Wellesz. Some of these have resulted in multiple editions: Bax, Alwyn and others have at least two versions of each symphony: Stanford, Arnold, etc. My list of recorded symphonies could go on: other listeners will suggest other highlights. Yet there is work for the record companies to do.
I list ten symphonies which have not been released commercially. There may exist studio recordings or tapes made of radio broadcasts. The list includes examples composed or first heard between 1945 and 1960.  I have based my selection on other music that I have heard of these composers, or in the case of John Greenwood, sheer curiosity. It is possible that the score and/or parts for some of these works have been lost. That would be a tragedy.
Finally, I know someone will tell me that one or other of these ten are in fact recorded. That would be great news!
  1. Cedric Thorpe Davie (1913-1983): Symphony in C major
  2. John Veale (1922-2006) Symphony No 1 (1944-7)
  3. John Greenwood: Symphony No 2
  4. Iain Hamilton (1922-2000): Symphony No 1 “Cyrano de Bergarac”
  5. Denis ApIvor (1916-2004): Symphony No 1, op 22
  6. David Wynne (1900-1983): Symphony No 1
  7. Wilfred Josephs (1927-97): Symphony No 1, op 9 in one mvt
  8. Alan Ridout (1936-96): Symphony No 1
  9. Anthony Burgess (1917-93): Symphony No 2 for orchestra and brass band
  10. David Campbell Dorward (b.1933) Symphony No 1 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Life and Works of Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) by Beata Bolesławska, translated by Richard J. Reisner

Andrzej Panufnik is one of four Polish composers who changed the face of that country’s music: the others were Witold Lutosławski (1913-94), Krzystof Penderecki (b.1933) and Henryk Górecki (1933-2010)). In the United Kingdom, certainly, he is sadly undervalued. One of the most important and innovative of the émigré composers who arrived in Britain to escape Fascism or Communism, his musical style has been seen as too modern by traditionalists and too conservative by the ‘Glockian’ avant-garde in the 1950s and 60s. 
There is no need to give a detailed biography of the composer in this review. There is ample information in the standard reference works as well as Wikipedia, and the Panufnik webpages. A few brief notes will suffice. Andrzej Panufnik was born in Warsaw on 24 September 1914.  After study in Warsaw, Paris and London, he went to Vienna to master conducting with Felix Weingartner. During the tragic war years, he performed as a concert pianist with his fellow composer Witold Lutosławski.  After the war, Panufnik worked with the Krakow Philharmonic and was instrumental in the re-formation of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He was regarded as one of Poland’s most significant composers and conductors.  However, he became disenchanted with ‘socialist realism’ as demanded by the Communist authorities. Panufnik defected to the United Kingdom in 1954. He and his music were ‘officially’ forgotten in Poland. After two years as conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra he decided to concentrate wholly on composition. He took British citizenship in 1961. In 1991, the year of his death, he was awarded a Knighthood. His native country gave him a posthumous award of the Polonia Restituta Medal.
Panufnik’s catalogue includes ten symphonies, eight or so concerted works, three string quartets and a number of vocal pieces. Many of his early compositions have been lost or destroyed.  His most ‘popular’ work would appear to be the Concerto for violin and strings, commissioned by Menuhin in 1971. He is reasonably well-represented on CD, with most of his works available in at least a single recording.

Andrzej Panufnik’s life and music has been explored in some detail in books, essays, thesis and websites. Clearly, his Polish background results in much of the literature being written in that language. The first attempt to provide a scholarly overview of Panufnik’s achievement in English, was written by the composer and writer Harold Truscott (Tempo, Autumn/Winter 1960). This is still a valuable introduction to his music. Other articles followed, including Peter French’s ‘The Music of Andrzej Panufnik’ (Tempo Spring, 1968) and a similarly entitled submission by Stephen Walsh (Tempo, December 1974).  Truscott was to revisit his theme with his article ‘The Achievement of Andrzej Panufnik’ (Tempo, December 1987) and ‘The Symphonies of Andrzej Panufnik’ (Musical Times, July 1989).

A major source for musical historians is the composer’s autobiographical Composing Myself, published in 1987, some four years before his death. This account majors on his life and times in Poland and England, rather than providing a detailed commentary on the music. Included is some discussion, albeit non-technical, of his methodology for the ‘manipulation’ of three note cells. A further short booklet by the composer was Impulse and Design in my Music (London: Boosey & Hawkes, 1974)
There is an unpublished doctoral thesis, An Analytical Study of the Music of Andrzej Panufnik by Christopher Stasiak (Belfast, 1990). An engaging introduction to Panufnik and his contemporaries is presented in Bernard Jacobson’s The Polish Renaissance (Phaidon Press, 1996).
There are the usual dictionary and encyclopaedic references to Panufnik, as well as a plethora of reviews of concerts, CDs and scores.  As noted above, there is a comprehensive website dedicated to Panufnik, which includes a catalogue of his music, sound samples, a good bibliography and a discography of past and current recordings.

Beata Bolesławska is ideally qualified to have written this present book. She studied at the Institute of Musicology at Warsaw University, and has made a major input to the scholarly investigation of 20th century Polish music.
Her CV refers to a number of important contributions to the literature of Polish Music in general and Panufnik in particular.  In 1998, she offered her Master’s thesis to the Institute of Musicology, Symmetry in Andrzej Panufnik’s Symphonies: Theories and Practice. Her doctoral thesis completed whilst studying at Cardiff University, was Symphony and Symphonic Thinking in Polish Music after 1956. (2010). She has published many articles and essays for musicological journals in Poland and abroad. Bolesławska has written much material for websites devoted to Gorecki and Panufnik.  Between 1997 and 2005 she worked for the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music and latterly she has been employed by the Culture Channel TVP (Kultura) on Polish TV. Beata Bolesławska is active in the Polish Composers’ Union.
In 2001, Bolesławska was commissioned by the Polish State Music Publishers to write a monograph about Panufnik. The present book is a reworking of this volume conveniently translated into English by Richard J. Reisner.

The concept of The Life and Works of Andrzej Panufnik is threefold: firstly, to present the course of Panufnik’s ‘eventful life’, secondly, to ‘explain the controversies that grew up around the composer’ in Poland and the United Kingdom.  And thirdly, to examine his music by way of reception history, notes by the composer on his own music, and the author’s musical analysis.
Bolesławska’s source materials include documents from the ‘Stalinist’ period of Poland’s history, as well as interviews with many people who knew and worked with the composer.

Any study of Panufnik’s music has to consider a number of influences: these include the strong bond with the musical traditions of Poland, the folk music of that country, his religious faith, the landscape and aesthetic concepts of symmetry. The composer himself was always open in discussing his ‘musical inspirations’ whether in scores, concert programmes or interviews. Beata Bolesławska concedes that this study does not include a ‘thorough analysis of all his compositions, or lengthy studies of individual scores’. This is a task for scholars in the future.  The main thrust of the argument is Panufnik’s use of symmetry and geometrical patterns as ‘pre-composition techniques’ for any ‘future piece.’ The key compositional aim was to ‘strive towards a perfect balance between the form, the construction of the work and its emotional content.’ 
This analytical section of the book is a consideration of this symmetry in his music. The four chapters examine this in terms of the composer’s ‘self-reflection’, in ‘harmony and tonality’, in the musical syntax (how it appears on paper) and finally in ‘form.’ The author acknowledges that this is of necessity ‘brief.’
In spite of Bolesławska’s wish to appeal to ‘a broader public not well versed in musicology’ her ‘detailed analyses’ of Panufnik’s music does require some grounding in 20th century musical theory in order to gain benefit from these pages.

As an example of her modus operandi, I refer to one of my personal favourite pieces of Panufnik’s music: the beautiful Lullaby for string instruments and two harps. It was one of the first Polish works to utilise quarter-tones (the gap between C and C# etc.)
This serves as an excellent example of Bolesławska’s approach to the music. She notes that the idea came to him during a stay in London in 1947. He had been invited to the capital to conduct a concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Bolesławska quotes from Composing Myself, how Panufnik had paused ‘one night on Waterloo Bridge…[watching] the river’s flow and the night sky over the misty city prompted the idea…’ Panufnik explained that the music was on three planes: the pulsating rhythm of harps representing the gentle flow of the river, solo string instruments, some moving in quartertones for the drifting clouds and, as the same moon was looking down on London as on Poland, the pentatonic (e.g. black notes only on piano) song of a Polish peasant, played on a succession of string instruments.
Bolesławska then quotes comments from essays by Nigel Osborne, and the Polish critics Stefan Kisielewski, S. Lobaczewska and Z. Mycielski to complete the ‘scholarly reception history.’ Further reference is made to Lullaby in her comments on ‘Symmetry in Terms of Harmony and Tonality’, pointing out that the work, along with Nocturne was considered by some musicologist to be avant-garde, and therefore suggested to some critics that Panufnik was ‘the father of the Polish school of composers in the 1960s.’  It is a profitable way of studying this book, taking trajectories of compositions derived from the index and reading the associated references.

Of considerable interest to readers is the ‘Chronological List of Compositions’. Bolesławska does not claim that this is a complete listing, and indicates that incidental music written for films and radio plays is not included. The earliest work referred to are the ‘Cabaret Songs’ dating from 1931 (now lost) whilst the final major work is the Cello Concerto, completed in 1991. The very last piece Panufnik was working on before his death was a revision of the gorgeous Love Song (1976) in a version for soprano, harp (or piano) and string orchestra. For full details the reader will probably (I have not seen this volume) need to consult the Krystyna Jaraczewska-Mockałło, Andrzej Panufnik: Katalog dzieł i bibliografia [Catalogue of Works and Bibliography] Series,1997, assuming they can get a hold of a copy. I would have appreciated details of first performances and revisions, if and where appropriate. Much of this information is available on the website noted above.
I am not convinced by the format of the bibliography in this book: it is presented at the end of each chapter, as opposed to the end of the book. This means that various essays and volumes are cited more than once. It also becomes difficult to find cross references. Although Harold Truscott, for example, is cited in the chapter-end bibliographies, he does not feature in the index. There is no detailed information about the location of primary source material such as scores, letters, diaries etc.

The Life and Works of Andrzej Panufnik concludes with an index which lists people and places associated with the composer’s life and times as well as his musical works.  The book is well produced on high quality paper and is well-bound. The printed text is in a relatively small, but well defined, font. The translation has been well done: I have had little cause to feel that I was ‘missing something’ from the original Polish.
There are a number of plates featuring the composer, his family, friends and colleagues. These are printed on standard paper, so are not like ‘plates’. The analytical section of the book is well illustrated with extracts from Panufnik’s scores, with diagrams and tables of compositional processes.

The biographical details presented in The Life and Works of Andrzej Panufnik will be of interest not only to musical historians, but also to students of ‘social realism’ and the impact of Stalinist dogma on the arts.  As noted above I found examining individual works by way of the index helpful: this is extremely useful to the engaged listener in exploring the music.

As the first monograph about Panufnik’s music to appear in English, this book will clearly appeal to scholars, critics and reviewers of his music. Yet, there is always a danger with a composer like Panufnik that he will be only approached by enthusiasts and intellectuals who wish to discuss his music without really listening to it, and, more to the point, savouring it.  My explorations of Panufnik’s work suggests that his style will (or ought to) appeal to a wide range of musical tastes: this book will help present a framework for enjoying and appreciating his compositions.
Panufnik will never be a regular on ‘Classic FM’, but with the CDs and YouTube files available, there is little excuse for the listener not being able to explore his ‘individual and original’ music.

The Life and Works of Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)
by Beata Bolesławska, translated by Richard J. Reisner
Hardback, 350pp, published 2015
ISBN: 9781409463290
Ashgate Publishing Company 
£70.00

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Frank Bridge-The Complete Works: Portraits of an English Composer in his time, with full Thematic Catalogue of Works (1900-1941) compiled and edited by Paul Hindmarsh

I discovered a copy of the first edition of Paul Hindmarsh’s book in Ken Spelman’s second-hand book shop in Micklegate, York in the mid-nineteen-eighties. Until then, I had been unaware of it.
Since purchasing this book some 30 years ago, it has become a constant source of reference as I have reviewed Bridge’s works for MusicWeb International and written a number of articles and book reviews. Even more valuably, it has allowed me to approach my listening to Bridge’s music in a structured and informed manner. I am sure that many musicians, musical historians and listeners have also been aided by this book.
So it is fitting that Paul Hindmarsh has chosen to republish this excellent Thematic Catalogue with the accumulated wisdom of more than a third of a century of his study of Bridge’s life and works.

In 1970, R.M. Keating majored on ‘The Songs of Frank Bridge’ in his dissertation presented to the University of Texas. It was an important forerunner of current academic attention. An early popular study of the composer was Frank Bridge by Anthony Payne, Lewis Foreman and John Bishop which was published in 1976.  This short pamphlet (50 pages) re-presented Payne’s illustrated account of the music printed in Tempo (September & December 1973). The catalogue of works by Foreman was helpful in gaining a bird’s eye view of the composer’s achievement.
The most significant advance in Bridge studies was the original edition of this present book, which was published in 1983. Here for the first time, the composer’s works were listed chronologically, with details of manuscripts, instrumentation, first performances, bibliographic references and a commentary on many of the works. There was a chronology of the composer’s life, a select bibliography and discography, and indices. It was the first appearance of the ‘H’ (Hindmarsh) numbers to Bridge’s music.  All this has been retained in the new edition.
The following year, Anthony Payne published Frank Bridge: Radical and Conservative. It was the latest incarnation of his Tempo articles. In this volume, Payne reassessed the earlier compositions and found them just as important to the composer’s reputation as the later ‘radical’ works. It was deemed by Stephen Banfield as a ‘mature critical survey…a rounded accomplishment from the best man for the job.’ (Musical Times, April 1986). The book was reissued in 1999.
In 1991, Karen R. Little presented Frank Bridge: A Bio-Bibliography. Some of this material was concurrent with Hindmarsh’s Catalogue, however there were interesting additions. The succinct biographical chapter is excellent, the discography is extensive (up to 1991) and there is a comprehensive bibliography with brief précis of articles and many reviews. It remains a useful adjunct to Hindmarsh’s book.
Other important sources include Trevor Bray’s Frank Bridge: A Life in Brief, (2004-16) conveniently published online, Peter Pirie’s early Frank Bridge (1971) and a detailed study of the early ‘Modern Maritime Pastoral: Wave Deformations in the Music of Frank Bridge’ by Stephen Downes included in British Music and Modernism, 1895-1960 (2010).
There are a growing number of dissertations and theses being addressed to the composer. This includes studies of his piano works, his relationship with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Musical Modernism, and the Late Works as well Fabian Huss’ detailed examination of the chamber music (2010).
In 2015, Huss published his monograph on The Music of Frank Bridge (Boydell Press, 2015) which for the first time set the music into the various contexts implied by romanticism, musical modernism, British pastoral and the composer’s own personal development as a man and a musician.

I turn now to the new edition of Frank Bridge: The Complete Works – Portraits of an English Composer in his time with full Thematic Catalogue of Works (1900-1941).
After the usual preface and acknowledgements, there is an extremely helpful (and expanded) timeline. For example, a century ago, on 13 March 1916, Frank Bridge conducted the first performance of his tone poem Summer at one of Beecham’s Philharmonic Society Concerts. It is an excellent resource for contextualising Bridge’s musical progress.

The first section of the book features six important essays by a diverse group of writers. These include the excellent ‘Biographical Sketch: Seeds of Discontent’ by Paul Hindmarsh. Part of this was originally published in the Musical Times in 1991.  This is followed by a paper penned by Ivor James, friend of the composer and excellent cellist.  Daphne Oliver, based her notes for ‘Memories of a Unique Friendship’ on the recollections of Bridge’s companion Marjorie Fass. The redoubtable critic Edwin Evans wrote a series of articles for the Musical Times after the First World War examining ‘Modern British Composers.’ Frank Bridge was the first to be discussed.  A rare interview between the composer and P.J.Nolan was originally published in Musical America (17 November 1923). It makes fascinating reading, as Bridge was reticent in talking about his work.  Lastly, the finely stated obituary by Herbert Howells which appeared in Music and Letters (July 1941) examines the crisis in style between the first (early) and second (late) Bridge. 

The thematic catalogue itself includes a general introduction outlining the structure of the entries. This is followed by details of previously produced lists of Bridge’s music, including those in the standard reference works such as Grove’s and the unpublished hand-list in the Royal College of Music produced by Dr Peter Horton.
A summary of the location of manuscripts and sketches are given as well as a list of works where the holograph has been lost.  An important section for students of Bridge’s music is the location of his considerable body of correspondence.

The entries for the Thematic Catalogue are presented chronologically, beginning with H.1 which is the lost Trio in D minor composed in 1900. The last composition is H.192, the uncompleted Symphony for string orchestra dated January 1941.
For readers who have not perused the original catalogue, I will describe a typical entry: in this case for the orchestral tone poem ‘Summer’ H.116.
Each work has the relevant ‘H’ (Hindmarsh) number which has gained acceptance in scholarship. A brief title of the work is given followed by the orchestration/instrumentation and the playing instruction, in this case ‘Andante ben moderato – A tempo ben moderato e tranquillo’. Included in the text is a short extract prepared from the score of the opening half-dozen bars.  This is followed by information such as the work’s duration, the location of the autograph manuscript and the MS sketches.  The date of composition, where known, is noted, in this case Sketch written July 1914, score 11th - 22nd April 1915’, at end of full score.’ Details of publication of the full score are included as well as the availability of miniature/study scores.
For musicians interested in the works reception history, the date, venue and performers of the work’s premiere are given.  Of great value are references to a number of contemporary reviews: those for Summer include notices in the Daily Telegraph, The Detroit Free Press, The Musical Times, The Sunday Times, The Times and Musical America. Notices of subsequent concerts are typically not included.  The entry closes with details of all recordings both historical and currently available. Printed or online reviews of these recordings are not referenced.
Extremely valuable is Paul Hindmarsh’s personal commentary on the work, which for Summer include a letter written to Bridge’s friend Marjorie Fass. This information is the solid basis of any future discussion of Bridge’s music, the writing of programme notes and the construction of performance histories.

The thematic catalogue is rounded off with a list of works classified by genre, a good general bibliography, an index of the titles and first lines of the works. A general index has been prepared by Paul Hindmarsh and Jessica Chan.  As I examined this book in its .pdf format, searching was easy using the Adobe search facility. The index will be useful to those who purchase the spiral bound edition.

I do have a concern about the ‘H’ numbers. Comparing my 1983 edition with the present catalogue, I note that certain numbers have changed or swapped about. The author has mentioned these in his introduction, however, I do worry that this could lead to a wee bit of confusion. It certainly means that Bridge scholars will have to work from this revised edition! These changes only seem to affect minor works, so that may mean relatively few essays, liner and programme notes which have used the ‘H’ numbers will be affected and have become out of date.

Three things make this revised edition of the catalogue an essential purchase for all enthusiasts of Frank Bridge’s music. Firstly, Hindmarsh has updated the commentary on each work to reflect scholarship and performance since 1983. This has included full details of all recordings of Bridge’s music up to January 2016.  This is important, as there has been an explosion of CDs released since 1983, including a virtually complete survey of the orchestral music on Chandos, the complete songs on Hyperion and two explorations of the piano music. Virtually all the chamber works have appeared in this time.  Additionally, the book features a number of rare photographs which allow the reader to see Frank Bridge as a man and not just a composer.
Secondly, a few of Bridge’s manuscripts have come to light since 1983, including the Phantasie in F minor for string quartet (H.55), the Morçeau Characteristique (H.83) and the finale from ‘A Royal Night of Variety’ (H.184). There has only been one new discovery – the song ‘Remembrance’ (H.35).

And lastly, as the author has written much about Frank Bridge over many years, he has used, to quote him, ‘much of that writing plus an extensive selection of correspondence by Bridge and his friends and some significant ‘period’ articles and images to create, I hope, a more complete picture of Frank Bridge in the context of his time.’  

Frank Bridge-The Complete Works: Portraits of an English Composer in his time, with full Thematic Catalogue of Works (1900-1941) compiled and edited by Paul Hindmarsh
Revised edition published in 2016 by PHM Publishing © 2016 by Paul Hindmarsh
272 pp, A4, coil bound ISBN: 978-1-5262-0264-2 (Print to order - £40.00)
Pdf download (£30.00) available by pre-paid order and signed use of agreement via www.paulhindmarsh.com
NB This review is based on the .pdf version of this book.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Introductions XVIII: E.J. Moeran by Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock): Part III

Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine) c.1924
Of his original compositions the most important that have yet appeared in print are the Violin Sonata [1] and the String Quartet [2] which were first introduced to the public at the concert of his works given at [the] Wigmore Hall early in 1923 with the co-operation of Miss Harriet Cohen, M. Désiré Dufauw, [3] and the Allied String Quartet [4]. Both works have three or four predecessors in the form lying in manuscript, which accounts for the entire absence of any of the signs of technical limitation and uncertainty which are often conspicuous in a composer’s earliest publications. Both display a notable wealth of ideas very completely expressed, but the quartet is undoubtedly the more original work of the two.
In the Sonata the texture and disposition of notes in the piano part, as well as certain harmonic progressions, betray too obviously the composer's intimate acquaintance with the work of John Ireland, and several pages are conceived in a turgid style which contrasts very markedly with the delightful clarity and simplicity of the Quartet. Moeran has a fine harmonic sense, wide in its range and subtle in its workings, intuitive and quite untheoretical, but in his piano writing it occasionally runs away with him at a moment of stress and defeats its own object by producing a blurred and clotted effect. But these lapses are not of frequent occurrence, and in the ‘Toccata’ (Chester) [5] we have as brilliant – and, in its middle section, as sensitive - a piece of piano writing as any British composer has given us.

Moeran's classical predilections have fortunately secured him from the too common error of supposing that a piece of music can consist exclusively of a series of curious chords. His work is always distinguished by clear melodic outlines and firm rhythmic structure, and if in his chamber music he adheres very largely to traditional forms, the admirable continuity of line and sense of climax displayed in his smaller pieces afford ample proof that this adherence is far from being servile or mechanical. In spite of his tendency to work outwards, so to speak, from a purely harmonic basis, he contrives very ingeniously to impart a quasi-contrapuntal vitality to the texture of his piano-writing by means of little wayward inflections of rhythm; even in his most massive progressions of heavy chords the sense of direction and line always predominates over the more harmonic interest of the moment.

If there is an emotional shortcoming in his work, it is that where we might look for passion we find only restless energy and a rather physical sort of exuberance; but in his quieter moments he has contrived, like Butterworth, to capture and reflect in his music in a very delightful and individual way something of the indefinable spirit of the English landscape and the life of the English countryside. There is a refreshing open-airiness about his music which is as untainted by the futility of academic prejudices as it is unaffected by the stupendous musical revolutions which take place on the continent with monotonous regularity two or three times every week.

Moeran is at present in his thirtieth year. Dr. Ernest Walker, in his History of Music in England, [6] suggests forty as the earliest age at which a composer can challenge opinion of his work as a whole; and in recent generations British musical talent seems to have come very slowly to maturity. The reputations of Delius, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams, for example, would be slender indeed, did they depend entirely on works composed before the age of thirty. But there is no British composer from whom we may more confidently expect work of sound and enduring quality in the next ten years than from Jack Moeran; there is certainly no one of his years who has as yet achieved so much.
Philip Heseltine The Music Bulletin June 1924

NOTES:
[1] E.J. Moeran’s Violin Sonata was composed in 1923. The Sonata was dedicated to Désiré Dufauw (see note 3 below) and was first heard at a concert in the Wigmore Hall on 15 January 1923 with the dedicatee and the pianist Harriet Cohen.
[2] The String Quartet in A minor was composed during 1921. It was first performed as the Wigmore Hall on 15 January 1923. It was dedicated to Désiré Dufauw. Moeran had written an earlier String Quartet in E flat which is undated but was probably composed between 1918 and 1920.
[3] M. Désiré Dufauw (1885-1960) was a Belgian violinist and conductor. During the First World War he toured England with the Allied String Quartet.
[4] Allied String Quartet (for the String Quartet) consisted of Désiré Dufauw (violin) Charles Woodhouse (violin) James Lockyer (viola) and Ambrose Gauntlet (cello). The personnel changed over time.
[5] The ‘Toccata’ for piano was composed around 1921. It was first performed in London on 15 or 16 October 1924 in London by the pianist Archy Rosenthal, who was also the work’s dedicatee.  It was published by J. W. Chester & Ltd in 1924. 
[6] Dr. Ernest Walker’s History of Music in England was first published in 1907 by the Clarendon Press, Oxford and subsequently reissued a number of times, latterly with additional information by J.A.Westrup (3rd edition, 1952).