Saturday, 31 October 2015

Penguin Music Magazine: New Music in 1946

One of the pleasures of browsing old newspapers and journals is to come across reviews of music that has become popular over the years but was being reviewed for the first time. Less satisfying is the discovery of works that were deemed to be important by contemporary critics but which have subsequently disappeared from view.
Robin Hull’s chapter ‘New Music’ in the first of the Penguin Music Magazines examines both categories when he considers six recently published scores. He begins with Vaughan Williams’ glorious Symphony No.5, passes on to Gordon Jacob’s Variations on an Original Theme before examining E.J. Moeran’s Rhapsody in F sharp for piano and orchestra and William Walton’s Violin Concerto. The series is concluded with a scrutiny of Alan Rawsthorne’s Concerto No.2 for piano and orchestra,  and Charles Proctor’s Violin Sonata. From the above listing it is fair to say that only the RVW and Walton works have established a strong position in the repertoire. The Moeran and the Rawsthorne compositions are known to enthusiasts of British music of this period. The Jacob and the Proctor have fallen by the wayside: I have heard the former work, but not the latter.

The Penguin Music Magazine was an example of post-war optimism in the world of music. It was first published in December 1946 and continued to July 1949. At this time it changed into ‘Music’ which was an annual published in the trademark Penguin ‘blue cover.’ Only three of these volumes were issued, with the last in 1952. The format of the journal remained largely the same over the years. For example the present edition included a series of essays, such as ‘The Future of Opera in England’ and ‘Soviet Music in Wartime.’ This was followed by regular features such a ‘New Books’, ‘Music on the Air’, ‘Concerts in London’,  and Northern Diary which presented reviews of music performed in Scotland, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. One interesting contribution was Brains Trust by Julian Herbage which answered ‘readers’ question. This was a spin-off from the popular radio programme of the same title which began in 1941 under the chairmanship of Donald McCullough and regularly featured well-known experts including Malcolm Muggeridge, Julian Huxley and Jacob Bronowski. Music was represented by Sir Malcolm Sargent. 
Authors contributing to the Penguin Music Magazine included Alex Robertson, Arnold Haskell, George Dannatt and C.B. Rees. The series was edited by Ralph Hill.

I plan to report on each of the reviews noted above and to give a brief overview of the work’s success and current status. The first piece to be discussed is Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.5 in D major (1938-43)

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

British Musical Modernism: The Manchester Group and their Contemporaries: Philip Rupprecht

Any inclusive study of post-Second World War music in Great Britain must take into account a number of trajectories. These include, but are not limited to, the phenomenon of Benjamin Britten, ‘conservatives’ like Robert Simpson and Edmund Rubbra, ‘traditionalists’ such as Kenneth Leighton and Alun Hoddinott, serialism, minimalism, light music, ‘pop’, progressive rock and the so-called avant-garde or modernist music.  The present book is mainly concerned with the last of these styles, nevertheless, the boundaries are fluid. David Bedford, for example, can sit in more than one camp. Any debate has to recognise artistic development over time. What critic in the 1960s would have imagined that Peter Maxwell Davies would become a major symphonist or that John Tavener had moved into the realms of ‘diatonic tonalism’?

The main time frame explored in British Musical Modernism is from the ‘famous’ January 9 1956 concert presented at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London by the Manchester Group (Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle and Goehr) to the mid-nineteen-seventies. The era is well-summed up in Alex Ross’ The Rest is Noise (2009) – ‘Music exploded into a pandemonium of revolutions, counterrevolutions, theories, polemics, alliances and party splits. The language of modern music was reinvented on an almost yearly basis.’ Ross notes twelve-tone works, total serialism, chance music, ‘neo-dada happenings’ and collages as some of the contemporary techniques used. 

British Musical Modernism ‘traverses a generation of composers in [a] sequence of focussed interpretive readings of a selection of their key works.’ Philip Rupprecht declares that the chapters are more akin to pen and ink drawings rather than a ‘full-dress canvas in oils.’ In reality, he is being modest. Into this progression of music, the author introduces detailed studies of eleven composers and several of their compositions. Some of these have become well-known to enthusiasts of this era: others have fallen by the wayside. None has become popular in the wider classical music world: they are rarely heard in the concert hall or on radio.  The discussions of individual works in this book are thorough and represent a major scholarly analysis that has not been attempted before.  The author recognises that he has ‘[traced] one path through the British modernist scene after 1956.’ There are other journeys that can (and ought to) be developed through these two vibrant decades.

Rupprecht argues that many British composers lagged Continental developments in applying progressive procedures. Listeners and concert-goers were given less opportunities to get to grips with modernism than their European counterparts. On the other hand, it is important to recall Jennifer Doctor’s contention (The BBC and Ultra-modern Music 1922-36, 1999) that the schools of Webern and Schoenberg were better represented in Britain during the middle part of the twentieth century than had been hitherto suggested. 

Musically, the period considered by British Musical Modernism has suffered relative neglect in academic and popular deliberation. One important textbook, British Music Now, edited by Lewis Foreman (1975) covered this era, but clearly was written close to the events. It still forms a good introduction to the subject. The major historical volumes issued by Blackwell and Oxford University Press outline the important players and artistic mores in more or less detail. Grove’s provides further information on the composers and their musical styles. Other information can be gleaned from the academic press, theses and dissertations.
Much has been written about the Manchester Group. Maxwell Davies has had the greatest attention: there are bibliographies, a source book, surveys of music and biographies. As former Master of the Queen’s Music he has become a popular figure with many listeners. Harrison Birtwistle has a few books dedicated to his music, including Jonathan Cross’ recent Harrison Birtwistle: Man, Mind, Music (2014) and a collection of Studies (2015).  Relatively little has been written about Alexander Goehr. There is the hard to find Sing Ariel: Essays and Thoughts for Alexander Goehr's Seventieth Birthday which was issued in 2003, and the thirty-five year old book by Bayan Northcott, The Music of Alexander Goehr.
A vital text for historians of the Manchester Group and their time is Finding the Key: Selected Writings of Alexander Goehr which was published by Faber & Faber in 1998.
Many of the other contemporaries discussed by Philip Rupprecht have no formal studies in print. Especially lacking are definitive biographies of David Bedford, Gordon Crosse and Thea Musgrave. 

British Musical Modernism is a densely written book, with each chapter being largely descriptive of a particular set of composers or specific style. There is deliberately no attempt at following their careers beyond the mid-seventies. The musical analyses range from Elisabeth Lutyens’ serial ‘Wittgenstein’ Motet (1953) to the Tim Souster’s ‘crossover’ World Music (1974/80) which ‘encapsulates the pop/avant-garde ‘collision’ he had sensed years before.’
Chapters include introductory material defining British modernism, which is a decidedly tricky business.  ‘Post-War motifs’ surveys the influence of the ‘internationalist ideal’ on British composers. Rupprecht suggests that an iconic event was the first performance of Iain Hamilton’s Sinfonia for double orchestra at the 1959 Edinburgh Festival. This generated reviews representing it as ‘a flash point of chauvinist tensions between nationalist and internationalist music.’ It was written to commemorate the bi-centenary of Robert Burns’ birth. Something ‘kailyard’ akin to his earlier popular Scottish Dances (1956) was widely anticipated, but Hamilton turned in an avant-garde piece that caused consternation.
William Glock’s presence as controller of the BBC and his enthusiasm for ‘modernist’ music is examined in considerable detail.

The Manchester Group (or School) is featured in Chapter 3. After presenting concerts of music in Manchester and London in the mid-nineteen fifties, Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle and Goehr went on to become leading avant-garde composers in the United Kingdom. Their attempts to synthesise the serial-structuralist music emerging from the Continent, especially from Darmstadt, with more traditional British elements were largely successful, if not immediately popular.  Their further development in the nineteen-sixties is observed in Chapter 5. Opinion has often focused on the break from tradition that they created. However, Rupprecht stands the argument on its head and examines the use made by these composers of English poetry and texts, the rediscovery of Elizabethan models such as the First Taverner Fantasia by Maxwell Davies and folk-traditions like Punch and Judy developed into a ‘stark’ opera by Birtwistle and the same composer’s ‘Down by the Greenwood Side’ utilising an old English ballad.   

Chapter 4 examines an important cluster of ‘modernist’ composers who were active during the height of the Manchester Group. It analyses music by Nicolas Maw, Richard Rodney Bennet, Thea Musgrave and Gordon Crosse, each of whom were ‘responding to the post-Webern moment in 1950s modernism.’ The sub-section, ‘In the Serial Workshop: Elegy, op.1’ which investigates Gordon Crosse’s early piece is an excellent piece of scholarship.  He is an important composer who has been largely ignored by musical historians. Richard Rodney Bennett’s music is given an overview as well as a detailed consideration of his Symphony No.1 (1965).

I was particularly interested by Chapter 7 – ‘Vernaculars: Bedford and Souster as pop musicians.’  Rupprecht investigates how both men progressed from being ‘well-versed in the British modernist scene’ and having had ‘formal institutional training’ towards a rapprochement with ‘pop, rock, American minimalism, electronic sounds and non-European music.’ David Bedford is considered in over 30 pages of text, making it one of the most extensive examinations of his music available. Works examined are Whitefield Music (1967), Two Poems for Chorus (1963) (called Two Choruses in the text), the Tentacles of the Dark Nebula (1968/9) and one of my favourite pieces of avant-garde music, Twelve Hours of Sunset (1974).  This last piece pushes towards a perfect fusion of the ‘vernacular’ and the ‘modernist’ approach to composition.
Fascinatingly, this chapter includes a comprehensive study of Malcolm Arnold’s Fourth Symphony with its pop/Caribbean inspired ‘big’ tune and Peter Maxwell Davies’ St. Thomas Wake with the famous ‘foxtrot.’

The web-address of an extensive discography (.pdf) of compositions cited in the text is included. It is a valuable document for both the listener and historian of this period. The book has an impressive bibliography which provides a huge compendium of sources. It ranges from contemporary criticism of music to essays and articles by the composers and instrumentalists themselves, to modern readings of this music. It is wide-ranging and includes the theoretical writings of Pierre Boulez and Michael Nyman through to Bernard Benoliel’s essay on ‘Mike Oldfield – with and without Bedford.’ There are references to current politics, volumes of poetry and interviews with artists. Assessments of music as diverse as The Beatles, Soft Machine, Cornelius Cardew and Elisabeth Lutyens are cited. It would have been useful to have subdivided the bibliography into sections – reviews, books, journal articles, websites and academic theses and dissertations. There is a wide-ranging index providing references to all the composers, performers and their musical works.

British Musical Modernism is printed on high-quality paper. I found that the font is a little small for my eyes, especially with the footnotes. There are a number of photographs (or figures) including images of musicians and holographs of scores. Throughout the text there are many musical examples in both full-score and piano reduction. These are clear and readable. It was a wise decision to use footnotes rather than endnotes: for an academic book it is not over burdened with them.

Philip Rupprecht’s webpage intimates that ‘…he specializes in music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His recent writings engage concepts of narrative in opera, the circulation of stereotypes in the formation of national traditions in music, and agency effects in instrumental music. He is the author of Britten's Musical Language (Cambridge, 2002). He co-edited Tonality 1900-1950: Concept and Practice (2012); and edited Rethinking Britten (2013).’ He is currently Associate Professor (Music Theory and Musicology)’ at Duke University.

I implied above that this is primarily a scholarly book. The majority of copies sold will end up in the libraries of universities and music colleges. And this is as it should be. However, any private researcher who is interested in the British avant-garde will also discover that this book is essential.  
There are three reasons for its success. Firstly, a huge arc of musical history is investigated. It explores beyond the ‘Manchester Group,’ into areas which have not been adequately studied. Secondly, the extensive bibliography is an ideal place to commence any in-depth enquiry into this generation of composers. And thirdly, the musical works analysed may be challenging, but they are all important and significant contributions to the period. Philip Rupprecht’s clever approach to this investigation combines technical details with reception history which makes this book an impressive gateway into this complex, sometimes off-putting, but always thought-provoking musical world. 

Rupprecht is correct when he admits that British Musical Modernism concentrates on a ‘small gathering of scores’ and that the book cannot ‘approach comprehensive coverage.’ He suggests that any overview must either be synoptic or ‘a shelf of book-length studies.’ This present volume is an essential survey of a generation of British music that has been largely ignored. What Rupprecht has begun, will hopefully be continued by others. I believe that this book sets the baseline for all future research into the ‘avant-garde’ of the post-Second World War era. 

British Musical Modernism: The Manchester Group and their Contemporaries
By Philip Rupprecht
Music since 1900 series
504pp, published 2015
ISBN: 9780521844482
Cambridge University Press
Price: £84.99 (US$135.00)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Gerald Cumberland on Frederick Delius.

In his volume of witty essays, reminiscences and anecdotes, Set in Malice (1918) Gerald Cumberland (1879-1926) (pseudonym of Charles Frederick Kenyon) discussed a wide variety of artists, writers and composers. At the time of writing this book, Cumberland was music and drama critic at the Daily Critic.
This short paragraph about Delius is of interest in that it largely reinforces the standard image of the composer as a loner, a somewhat difficult person to engage with and a unique voice in British music that influenced few subsequent composers. All these clichés are open for debate and discussion. However Cumberland’s sketch holds interest because he actually had lunch with Delius in a Liverpudlian café.

'Frederick Delius, a Yorkshireman, has chosen to live most of his artistic life abroad, and for this reason is not familiarly known to his countrymen, though he is a great personage in European music. A pale man, ascetic, monkish; a man with a waspish wit; a man who allows his wit to run away with him so far that he is tempted to express opinions he does not really hold.
I met him for a short hour in Liverpool, where, over food and drink snatched between a rehearsal and a concert, he showed a keen intellect and a fine strain of malice. Like most men of genius, he is curiously self-centred, and I gathered from his remarks that he is not particularly interested in any music except his own. He is (or was) greatly esteemed in Germany, and if in his own country he has not a large following, he alone is to blame.He is a man who pursues a path of his own, indifferent to criticism, and, perhaps indifferent to indifference.Decidedly a man of most distinguished intellect and a quick, eager but not responsive personality, but not a musician who marks an epoch as does Richard Strauss, and not a man who has formed a school, as Debussy has done.'

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Edward White: Caprice for Strings

One the most characteristic pieces of ‘light’ music is Edward White’s Caprice for Strings. Best known for his imaginative ‘Runaway Rocking Horse’ and the characteristic ‘Puffin Billy’ known to generations of listeners as the signature tune for Children’s Favourites which was broadcast between 1952 and 1966. White was a master of ‘mood music’ which was recorded and kept in libraries for the use of film and radio producers.
In his ‘Caprice’ White creates a beautiful impression of a carefree summer’s day. I do not know quite what the composer had in mind when penned this piece, but for me it is a brisk walk round one of London’s great parks on a lovely summer’s day. All the activities are in full swing.  Perhaps it is the miniature railway in Battersea Park or horses trotting along Rotten Row in Hyde Park? The music never really lets up except for a few bars between recapitulations of the main themes. There is little romance in these pages: it is all activity. There is a hint of 1940s dance music here and there. The musical form ‘caprice’ is a short composition in quick tempo characterised by unusual effects in melody, rhythm, modulation…perhaps calculated to surprise the listener. It was used to great effect by the violinist/composer Paganini. Certainly White’s piece fits the formal bill.

Edward White was born in 1910 in London. He was a musician with wide interests, playing violin in a trio, as well as a number of pre-war dance bands including the Palais Band at the Streatham Locarno. Other instruments White was competent with included the piano and clarinet. After the war, he directed the ballroom orchestra of the Grand Spa Hotel in Bristol as well as working for the BBC. White died in 1994.

This delightful piece is available on CD:-
The Golden Age of Light Music: Grandstand: Production Music of The 1940s, The London Promenade Orchestra conducted by Walter Collins. GLCD 5220

It also appears on YouTube

Monday, 19 October 2015

Percy Fletcher (1879-1932): Listings of Music Recorded on the Guild Light Music Series.

Percy Eastman Fletcher was born on 12 December 1879 in Derby. His father was a professor of music and his mother was competent on the violin, piano and church organ.  Fletcher earnt much from his parents and continued with a private musical education before moving to London. There he worked at a variety of theatres including the Savoy, Drury Lane and The Prince of Wales. For seventeen years he was musical director at His Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket.  Works composed at this time included  completing the score of Frederic Norton’s Chu Chin Chow, writing a sequel called Cairo  and then The Good Old Days which ran at the Gaiety Theatre during 1926.
Other works included a variety choral music including interesting sounding pieces such as The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Enchanted Island and The Shafts of Cupid. The library catalogue shows many songs and ballads.  The Epic Symphony and Labour and Love were once popular works for brass band.
Percy Fletcher wrote more ‘light’ orchestral suites than the better-known Eric Coates and there is much to explore amongst such titles as Six Cameos for a Costume Comedy, Rustic Revels, Sylvan Scenes, Woodland Pictures, Three Frivolities and At Gretna Green. Some were also issued in piano arrangements.
Percy Fletcher, although working on London, lived in Farnborough in Hampshire for many years. He died from of a cerebral haemorrhage in Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water on 10 September 1932.
The following works are available on the Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music series. I have not included links to each CD, however further information can be found on the record company’s webpages:-

At The Court Of Cleopatra - Queen's Hall Light Orchestra / Charles Williams (GLCD 5107)
Dancing on the Green - Queen's Hall Light Orchestra / Charles Williams (GLCD 5107)
Folie Bergere - Richard Crean & His Orchestra (GLCD 5128)
My Love to You - Reginald King & His Orchestra (GLCD 5120)
Pearl O' Mine - Lyrical Melody - Plaza Theatre Orchestra / Frank Tours (GLCD 5134)
Three Light Pieces Suite: Fifinette - Intermezzo Gavotte - Prince of Wales Playhouse Orchestra / Frank Westfield (GLCD 5108)
Two Parisian Sketches: Bal Masque - Valse Caprice - Plaza Theatre Orchestra / Frank Tours (GLCD 5108)
Two Parisian Sketches: Bal Masque - Valse Caprice - Richard Crean & His Orchestra (GLCD 5137)
Vanity Fair (Overture) -The New Concert Orchestra / Jay Wilbur (GLCD 5169)

Friday, 16 October 2015

Anthony Collins: Eire Suite (1938)

Anthony Collins (1892-1964) is best known as a conductor. Many listeners will be familiar with his imaginative interpretations of Delius’ tone poems and the major cycle of Sibelius’ Symphonies issued in the early 1950s. Collins was also a composer of film music, light pieces and a Symphony for strings.
One of my favourite Collins’ pieces is the well-written Eire Suite which balances excitement, patriotism and romanticism in a satisfying manner.
The Suite is based on Irish songs by Percy French. French was born in Tulsk, County Roscommon in 1840. He became famous writing the lyrics and music of many humorous and wistful songs, often reflecting the Irish diaspora. French died in Formby, Lancashire in 1920.
Philip Scowcroft does wonder just how many of the song’s melodies were written by French. He suggests that the heart-felt The Mountains of Mourne was written by William Houston Collinson (1865-1920)

The Suite’s first movement is a stirring ‘Battle March’ which is a transcription of French’s ‘Mat Hannigan’s Aunt’.  The slow, movement, a reverie, is based on the ‘The Mountains of Mourne’. Collins has created a miniature tone-poem which is beautifully scored and is hauntingly beautiful. The finale is a reel which is a brilliant reworking of the well-known tune ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’. Lewis Foreman considers it to be ‘a suitably knockabout treatment as a headlong reel'. Although the Suite is probably classed as being ‘light music’ there is a quality to this work that seems to transcend labels. The middle movement is a little masterpiece.
Anthony Collins’ Eire Suite was published in 1940 by Keith Prowse.

ASV released an album of British Film Composers in Concert in 2003 with Gavin Sutherland conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. It included music by Clifton Parker, Leighton Lucas, Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers. 
The Penguin Guide to CDs and DVDs Yearbook 2004 states that the Eire Suite is ‘full of Irish whimsy, and especially infectious in the ‘Fluter’s Hooley’ (Reel).’ Ian Lace on MusicWeb International (June 2003) writes that Sutherland and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia give ‘a lusty reading of the stirring ‘Battle March’…the lovely Reverie that follows recalls, in sentimental nostalgic mood, the misty Mountains of Mourne – in a gorgeous arrangement of the famous Irish melody. And it is another arrangement of another well-known Irish tune, the jolly ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’, that rounds off the suite’.

In 2006 Dutton Epoch released a CD of Anthony Collins’ Eire Suite. Included on the disc were the Symphony for String, no1, the Festival Royal Overture, Vanity Fair, Louis XV Silhouettes and a number of other pieces. 
Paul Snook (Fanfare January 2004) writes that  ‘…unfortunately, the Eire Suite presented here seems rather routine and heavy-handed in its treatment of Gaelic clichés’. I am not convinced that Collins does overdo the pastiche: for me he seems to have balanced the exuberance with the Celtic reflection. It is a work that deserves to be better known. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Leslie Howard: Ruddigore: Fantaisie de concert pour piano, Op.40, d’après l’opéra de Sullivan

I have always had a soft spot for Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Ruddigore. The performance given at Coatbridge High School in 1968 was my first introduction to G&S, the first time I heard an opera on stage, and my first experience of amateur dramatics. I have written about this in another post.
The pianist Leslie Howard was the most appropriate person to devise the 'Ruddigore Fantasy’. He had recently completed a massive survey of ‘Liszt at the Opera’ on Hyperion Records which was issued on six 2-CD volume. All the Operatic Fantasies, Paraphrases and Transcriptions were explored.  
In the nineteenth century, it was a common entertainment for concert pianists to improvise on popular tunes from operas and song albums. It was from his extemporisations that Liszt developed his operatic fantasies. They typically showcase the pianist’s virtuosity whilst presenting a pot-pourri of the best bits of the opera. Liszt’s most successful fantasies included those on Charles Gounod’s Faust, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Rossini’s William Tell.

Leslie Howard’s ‘Ruddigore Fantasy’ was commissioned by John Farmer for Ruth Ann Galatas. It was completed in 2005. Howard gave the first performance at a charity concert in the Royal Brompton Hospital (London).  
The liner notes of the CD recording explain that the title is ‘in homage to the early operatic fantasies of Liszt, and is conceived as a continuous suite incorporating variations and transcriptions of several themes from Sullivan’s … Ruddigore or The Witch’s Curse.’
Enthusiasts of G&S will spot the melodies and allusions in this piece. The opening reflects the chorus of the ancestors explaining the terms of the Ruddigore curse to Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. This is followed by one of Sullivan’s masterpieces: the powerful and scary ‘When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls.’  Rose’s song ‘Farewell, thou had my heart’ from the finale of Act 1 followed by the ubiquitous Bridesmaids chorus ‘Hail the bridegroom, hail the bride!’ calm the mood a little. I particularly enjoyed the transcription of the ‘patter-trio’ from Act 2 – 'My eyes are fully open' with its humorous repetitions of it really doesn’t matter, matter, matter, matter, matter’. A backward glance to some earlier melodies brings the work to a satisfying close. 
Classical Source writes that Howard’s ‘take’ on Ruddigore ‘begins with Liszt in B minor, and like Howard’s great hero, this Fantasy is full of enterprise and theatre, very Lisztian in fact, and with a full quotient of familiar Arthur Sullivan tunes. Rest assured that with playing of this quality, Howard’s Fantasy is exactly as its creator wishes it to be.’
Peter Dickinson reviewing Leslie Howard’s performance of the Ruddigore Fantasy on the Malcolm Smith Memorial Album in The Gramophone (March 2015) suggests that ‘whether you know the opera or not, the tunes are good.’ 

Leslie Howard plays the Fantaisie de concert pour piano, Op.40, d’après l’opéra de Sullivan on Naxos 8.571354

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The First Thomas Dunhill Chamber Concert on 7 June 1907: A Third Review

This review was submitted to the Musical Standard (15 June 1907) by H.H. I have given it in its entirety here as his opening remarks seem to have a timeless quality to their complaint. This review notes the songs by William Hurlstone which are ignored by the other commentator.  See the ‘Notes’ at the end of my first post about this concert for details of Holbrooke’s Sextet and the confusion of opus numbers. I have added two brief comments here.

H.H. writes:
The first of the chamber concerts arranged by Mr. Thomas Dunhill was given at the small Queen’s Hall on Friday evening, June 7. The occasion was of momentous interest to those who take any interest in the native movement which gradually but surely is making itself felt. It is, therefore, not surprising to note that the audience was small but discriminating and appreciative. Let not Mr. Dunhill and his trusty coadjutors be dismayed. This is but the inceptive stage, and I have no doubt that if the movement can be maintained for a sufficient length of time, interest will be quickened in many quarters that are now at present in ‘outer darkness’ and, in fine, generous support will be forthcoming. Of native art, for many reasons which I have not space to detail, we know nothing. This series of concerts of Mr. Dunhill’s is a genuine and laudable attempt to introduce a healthier atmosphere, and if lavish support is not forthcoming it will prove a scandalous reproach to the community. For let it be known at once and for all that this is not an attempt to bolster up ‘old England,’ the majority of whom have given up the unequal struggle, have written their effete masterpieces and sunk into musical senility. These concerts are for ‘Young England,’ the vigorous militant young men, who I hope will kick over the traces, and instead of exclaiming hopelessly in the manner of their forefathers ‘it will do’ will stick to their guns, be true to themselves and their ideals. Present popularity, which induces many a young man to say about mediocre work ‘it will do’ is a veritable ‘will-o’-the-wisp.’ Once this frame of mind is induced, artistic destruction is sure and certain. Herein lies a national danger. The spirit of commercialism (a damning factor) may be responsible for it in no small measure, but if ‘young England’ is to realise the fairest hopes it must sedulously eradicate this sort of thing, and work as Balzac says, ‘like a miner buried in a landslip.’

On this first occasion, the first place on the programme was awarded to Mr. Joseph Holbrooke’s Sextet, No.2, ‘In Memoriam’, op.32, for piano and strings. This was composed in memory of Frederick Westlake and has been previously performed at Mr. Holbrooke’s concerts and that Temple of Art, South Place Institute. [1]
The first movement is strenuous in character and preceded by a short Adagio full of gloom. The thematic material is well contrasted and the modulatory scheme struck me as remarkably daring. There are portions where the writing is cloudy and trying for the instruments, although on the whole the movement is remarkable for its strength and impetuosity. The ‘Elegie’ (second movement) is an ear-haunting melody which is discoursed first by the ‘cello and then by the other instruments until a kind of break of light occurs. The same theme in ecstatic style is then given forth by the strings against a piano accompaniment in chords. The last movement which is in Rondo form is frankly jovial and it frisks away from the commencement, the second subject given out by viola first is of decided Scotch flavour, and though it is of a flowing, song-like character, the Scotch snap is very prominent and (if I may) homely. In course of time the gloomy subject of the first movement arrests the cheerfulness. But this is of brief duration, the merriment triumphs and in a strepitous burst the movement is brought to a close.
Mr James Friskin played three piano solos of his own composition. The Intermezzo in C sharp minor seemed very much like a good improvisation, but the Prelude in G major scampers off in fine style and the Caprice in A major is a nicely balanced piano-work. The last two mentioned works were Chopinesque in style and are well written for the instrument. They will doubtless prove of interest to pianists.
In Miss Phyllis Lett we had a vocalist with a comprehensive range of expression and a sympathetic voice. Mr. Cecil Forsyth’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Remember’ did not convince me as being a very inspired work, although there is plenty of mysticism and even passion. But it wanders on in a lugubrious, nebulous fashion. The late Mr. Hurlstone’s ‘Five Baby Ballads’ [2] are delightful and although all will well repay close acquaintance ‘Blossoms’ is a gem. They are refreshing, hopeful specimens of English art, and the pity of it is that they are still in MSS.
Finally we has an interesting reading of Dvorak’s Quintet for piano and strings in A major, op.81. With Mr. Dunhill at the piano and the John Saunders Quartet party enjoyment was assured.
H.H. Musical Standard June 15 1907.

[1] The Conway Hall Ethical Society, formerly the South Place Ethical Society, based in London at Conway Hall, is thought to be the oldest surviving freethought organisation in the world, and is the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom. It advocates secular humanism and is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. (Wikipedia)

[2] William Hurlstone’s ‘Five Miniature [Baby] Ballads’ were composed around November 1902 and are settings of texts by Olive Christian Malvery (1877-1914). Malvery, a singer, was a fellow student of Hurlstone’s at the Royal College of Music.  There are five songs: ‘Bells’, ‘Blossoms’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Darkness’ and ‘Morning’. They were published by Godwin and Tabb in 1907 and are available in two keys (soprano and mezzo-soprano). 
The Five Miniature Ballads were premiered on 12th June 1902 at Steinway Hall during a recital given by Malvery. For these songs, Lucy Barton was the soloist, accompanied by Hurlstone. Hurlstone’s Four English Sketches (composed 1898 and published in 1910) for violin and piano were performed by the composer (piano) and Haydn Wood (violin). 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot Book Review Part 2

Paul Rodmell notes that the limited scholarship on Holbrooke and his music has concentrated on the ‘neo-Wagnerian trilogy, The Cauldron of Annwn. This chapter examines the early and rather more modest and musically less-challenging opera Pierrot and Pierrette (1908) and the chamber ballet The Enchanted Garden (1915). It places this music within the context of the ‘unpropitious environment for opera composers’ in Britain at that time.  One of the reasons for this was the relatively poor quality of the librettos.
Rodmell concludes his examination of these works by suggesting that both works contained ‘some fine and impressive music’ however they remain unsatisfactory due on part to their libretti. The problem with this is that there are no recordings that would allow the reader to hear the music.  Furthermore, in the case of Pierrot the orchestral parts or full score have disappeared. This severely hampers any chance of it being performed unless in a ‘scratch’ or ‘chamber’ version derived from the vocal score with piano accompaniment.

One of the most interesting, if difficult, chapters in this book is Michael Allis’ detailed study of ‘Holbrooke and Poe Revisited: Refiguring The Raven as the Musical Uncanny.’  Most enthusiasts of Holbrooke will know that Poe was one of the composer’s favourite authors, which resulted in some thirty works which, to one extent or another, were inspired by the American author’s stories or poems. A list of these is included by Allis. This chapter studies Poe’s impact on Holbrooke, interestingly noting other composers who were inspired by the author. The major part of this essay is dedicated to a comprehensive study of Holbrooke’s orchestral poem The Raven. The work was well-received by the British musical press and this leads Allis to explore the context of ‘other attempts to reformulate Poe’s poems in alternative artistic forms.’ To this end he examines a number of illustrations for the printed text of The Raven by Dore, W.L. Taylor and Heath Robinson.  He then examines how the ‘uncanny’ could be ‘invoked in musical terms by the composer.’

I referred above to Joseph Holbrooke’s book Contemporary British Composer. Much as I enjoyed this book when I first discovered it, I did feel that there was something a little xenophobic about it. I guess that Holbrooke’s attempt to categorise composers by their relative Britishness seemed to me taking music nationalism too far.  I accept that he wanted to campaign for ‘the advancement of British music that is free from foreign influence.’  Yet it is one thing to bemoan the lack of attention to native-born composers by artists, benefactors and institutions: it is another to suggest that there is a hierarchy of ‘degrees of Britishness’ which creates various classes of composer.  Presumably, for Holbrooke, the more British the better?
Holbrooke divided the composers in his study into three groups: for example the first had ‘solid British names and parentages and often training’. It featured Elgar, Bantock, Bridge and Boughton. The second group includes Delius, Holst, Coleridge-Taylor and Goossens of whom ‘none can pretend that those are of British parentage…’ The third group to a large extent defies categorisation but ‘speculates’ on eight younger men including Bliss, Howells, Baines and Foulds. Interestingly, Holbrooke does not define what he believes to be a ‘British style.’ And finally the composer himself was sometimes dubbed as ‘The Cockney Wagner’ so even he was not beyond foreign influence!
In the chapter, ‘A Nationalist in Art’ Paul Watt analyses Holbrooke’s nationalist agenda by way of a detailed study of Contemporary British Composer with a critique of the text and perhaps more vitally by its contemporary reception especially by Ernest Newman.
The problem is well-summed up by the critic Jack Westrup who stated ‘in appraising the work of our fellow countrymen there is always the danger of an aggressive nationalism.’ Watt attempts not so much to excuse Holbrooke’s ‘aggressive nationalism’ but to look at the ‘ideology that underpinned the expression of his hopes for a better musical future, in which British composers would be celebrated…and the British public…would be patriotic and proud’.

It has always been a nightmare for musical historians to try to get a handle on just what Joseph Holbrooke composed. It has been summed up by Kenneth Thompson in Holbrooke - some catalogue data (Music and Letters,1965):  ‘Many works bore various opus numbers at different periods; conversely, an opus number can be found attached to several different works; and the identity of some earlier compositions, particularly in the realm of chamber music, is difficult to trace because of recasting and incorporation into new definitive versions… revisions, rearrangements and reshufflings led to havoc from which not even works of later date, when the numbering system might have been expected to have settled down, are exempt.’
The 1966 edition of Grove states that ‘the catalogue of…works is enormous and though many are published, more have remained in manuscript and are often difficult to access. Even those in print have changed publishers repeatedly.’ It then gives what it calls a ‘selection from the more important works…’ The current Grove is more detailed, but is still a selection, with for example, a blank heading indicating ‘Works for Unaccompanied Chorus’ and ‘Song incl.’ followed by a few titles and ‘many others.’ There is a detailed works list on Wikipedia which is listed ‘chronologically, where possible, by opus number and by category’.
In this present volume Rob Barnett has contributed a monumental document entitled ‘Notes towards a Work List.’ Allowing for the fact that any composer’s catalogue is ‘provisional’ Holbrooke’s is ‘more [so] than most.’ Barnett admits that the ‘evidence left by Holbrooke and his publishers points in various directions’ so the ‘work list’ is largely tentative and will inevitably be superseded. 
The list is presented in the sequence of opus numbers, however many works exist outside of this category.
Each piece is itemised, along with subdivisions of movements, variations or songs where appropriate. Holbrooke seemed to enjoy giving works alternative titles – the tone-poem The Viking, op.32 (1899) was originally called The Skeleton in Armour and possibly The Corsair. Details of first performances are given where known, although I imagine that these particulars will be added to as scholarship (hopefully) explores Holbrooke’s reception history more rigorously.  In many cases subsequent concerts and broadcasts are also noted.  In the listings for the operas and ballets Barnett has included a brief synopsis.
Also included is a generic list of works. This certainly highlights how much music Holbrooke wrote: surely one of the stumbling blocks to his reassessment in our time.  Finally, there is a list by opus number which one glance at reveals the complexity Holbrooke’s works list. For example, there are six works carrying op.91 – all different genres.

The discography is a major part of this book: I was surprised at just how many recordings of Holbrooke’s music have been made over the years. Alas, many are private or are no longer commercially available.
The present discography does not include the two CDs of piano music played by Panagiotis Trochopoulous issued on the Cameo Classics label: they were probably released too late for inclusion in this book.  Other missing recordings include the Fantasie-Sonate, for cello & piano, op. 19 recorded on the British Music Society label (BMS436CD), by Raphael Wallfisch (Cello), Raphael Terroni (Piano) and the Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in F major, op. 83 ‘Orientale’ with Jacqueline Roche (Violin), Robert Stevenson (Piano) on Dutton Epoch (DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7219).
Typically the discography has been produced by ‘opus number’, however there are a few examples, whether deliberate or not, that appear out of sequence. The lovely waltz ‘Pandora’ has been included in the listings twice (p.292 & p.300). Aucassin and Nicolette, op. 115 are out of sequence in the text. In fact pages 298 and 299 seem to have become transposed in the printing.  Violin Sonata or Sonatina, no.1 op.6a is also out of order from the main run of ‘opus numbers’.
Finally, it would have been better if the titles of each work in the discography had been exactly the same as that given in the main ‘Work List.’

The ‘References’ division of the book is divided into two sections – ‘Unsigned Articles’ including concert reviews and appreciations, followed by ‘Signed Articles, Books, Chapters, Websites and Reference Works.’ This is the most extensive bibliography of Holbrooke currently available, and will no doubt form the basis of scholarship and study for many years to come. It is broad-based and includes entries on Welsh history, nationalism and Sigmund Freud. 
In the first section, many of the reviews are simply listed by event. For example, ‘Crystal Palace Concerts’ Musical Standard 13 no.323 March 10, 1900:151.’ I had to look this up to establish that it was referring to a performance of The Raven. It would have been good to have provided this reference in the catalogue section or to have noted the work in [square brackets].
The comprehensive index provides references to the works discussed in the text as well as those described in ‘Notes towards a Work List’.
There are brief biographical details of the editors and contributors given at the end of the book.
This volume is well produced, with clear, readable print. There are a number of musical examples and copies of Doré illustrations for The Raven tone poems and the Edgar Alan Poe inspired works. I was disappointed that there were no photographs of the composer and his associates. 

Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot will be of considerable interest to a surprisingly large group of people. Firstly, there are the musical historians for whom this volume will be invaluable in gaining a greater understanding of British music, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. Of especial interest is the detailed examination of Holbrooke’s often misplaced, but strongly held nationalism, as expounded in his Contemporary British Composers.  Students of Celtic and Welsh history and arts will require this book as an essential adjunct to their understanding of the influence of that nation’s history, ‘nationalist ideology’ and folklore on the London-born composer. The more general reader will find the examination of Holbrooke’s life of great interest as well as the examination of some of his key chamber and orchestral works prove helpful in gaining an understanding of one of the most important, but neglected, if somewhat wayward, British composers. 

Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot
Paul Watt and Anne-Marie Forbes, eds:
pp.380, published 2015
ISBN: 9780810888913
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Hardback £49.95 ($75.00)

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot Book Review Part 1

My first introduction to Joseph Holbrooke’s music was his tone poem The Birds of Rhiannon, op.87 (1925). This had been released on a Lyrita record in 1979 coupled with Cyril Rootham’s Symphony No.1 (SRCS103 LP: SRCD269 CD). It was a number of years before I heard anything else from his pen. In the meantime, I had discovered a copy of the composer’s polemical study of Contemporary British Composers (1925) which I read avidly. It is a book that I enjoyed in spite of its eccentricities and intellectual confusion.

Back in 1979 it was difficult to find out much about Holbrooke. There were the usual entries in Grove’s and other musical dictionaries and encyclopaedias. I was fortunate in being able to borrow G. Lowe’s Josef Holbrooke and his Work (London, 1920) from the library. Yet this book had been written some 38 years before the composer’s death, so it could hardly claim to be up to date. I had a copy of Sydney Grew’s Our Favourite Musicians, from Stanford to Holbrooke (Edinburgh, 1922) in my collection, which was interesting, but again only covered the first half of his life, in a popular manner.  In 1937 Josef Holbrooke: Various Appreciations by Many Authors was published by the then-extant Holbrooke Society. The contents included a selection of reprints from contemporary journals as well as some specially written. They featured one or two famous names including Ernest Newman and the composer Richard H. Walthew.  It is a volume that I have not seen and is scarce.
In the post-war year’s interest in Holbrooke seems to have evaporated, with little written in the academic or popular press. The first stirring of a revival appeared in 1974 when Lewis Foreman and Graham Parlett produced a contemporary discography published in Antique Record. It was not until the nineteen-nineties that some articles began to appear in the musical press, especially the British Music Society Journal and Newsletters.  Rob Barnett has contributed an important appreciation on MusicWeb International as well as publishing two major essays by Michael Freeman – ‘Joseph Holbrooke Incognito’ and ‘Joseph Holbrooke and Wales’. An interesting note by Philip Scowcroft examined the composer’s light music. Since that time there has been a small number of CDs issued dedicated to his music.
It is possible to find countless contemporary references to Holbrooke in the musical press as well as in many contemporary arts’ journals and daily newspapers. However, there has been no previous attempt to give an overview of the composer, his music and his musicological and political endeavors.
Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot is the first book to provide a detailed examination of the composer.

There is no need to present a detailed biographical sketch of Joseph Holbrooke in this review. Nevertheless, it would not be amiss to give the briefest of overviews which quotes part of the entry in Percy Scholes’ eternally useful Oxford Companion to Music.
Holbrooke was born in Croydon in 1878. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and continued with a busy professional life of ‘great activity and variety.’  His catalogue of music has works in every genre including the major opera trilogy The Cauldron of Anwyn.  Scholes concludes with a very astute sentence: [Holbrooke] ‘has composed fluently and ably… sometimes without sufficient self-criticism. As a controversialist he used to be both vigorous and even violent. He found both creation and destruction agreeable diversions and aimed at possessing a string of critics scalps as long as his list of opus numbers.’ The composer died, virtually forgotten, in 1958.

The first section of this book is one of the most valuable: the massive chronology of ‘Holbrooke’s Life and Music’ assembled by Rob Barnett. It extends to more than 30 pages. As an example, the entry for ‘August 1915’ notes the premiere of The Enchanter, op.70 in Chicago,  a performance of the Imperial March, op.26 at Bournemouth under Dan Godfrey and the a fugitive Romance op.59b for viola and piano in the Wigmore Hall.  Generally, entries include details of when works were begun and completed, the composer’s travel arrangements and holidays at home and abroad and the death of people associated with Holbrooke.  Naturally, any reception history of Holbrooke’s music will have to be cross-checked with contemporary programmes, adverts and reviews, but this chronology is critical to all subsequent study of the composer.

The first chapter, also by Rob Barnett, gives a concise overview of the composer, both biographical and musical. It is essential reading before beginning to explore the more specific and detailed essays in the remainder of this book. Barnett has been an enthusiast of Holbrooke’s music since hearing the tone poem Ulalume in 1984 and has spent much time researching and writing about the composer and compiling a catalogue of his music.

David Craik has investigated Holbrooke’s ‘Friendship with Granville Bantock.’ This chapter examines this relationship by way of some 150 letters in the Bantock Collection at the University of Birmingham. Holbrooke was fortunate in having such a friend who was not fazed by his outbursts and often outrageous polemic. Craik writes that Bantock ‘exercised a paternalistic and fraternal relationship with Holbrooke’ from the first meeting at Liverpool  in 1895 until Bantock’s death on 1946.  Although the two composers had widely varying musical aesthetics, both loved North Wales and represented this in their music. Bantock ‘remained a bedrock of almost unconditional encouragement and affection for Holbrooke throughout [his] turbulent career’. One (of many) interesting things I learnt in this chapter was Holbrooke’s intention to write a biography of Bantock. It is not known if the book was completed or if the draft survives.

Anne-Marie Forbes, as well as being one of the book’s editors has contributed a chapter on Joseph Holbrooke’s relationship with Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis, Eighth Lord Howard de Walden. This larger than like ‘boy’s own’ character who had fought in the Boer War, at Gallipoli, sailed yachts, raced speedboats, retained racehorses, owned a Scottish island and some Kenyan forest and was passionate about medieval history and Welsh culture. He became a patron of the composer who himself was deeply influenced by Celticism. Ellis was to provide Holbrooke with the libretto for his operatic trilogy. Equally important, he was to offer financial security, opportunity for holidays in the Mediterranean and travel to Africa and South America.  It was Ellis’ influence on Holbrooke that caused the composer to write many Welsh works. These are listed in Appendix 2. Through Ellis, Holbrooke came to share ‘a romantic vision of an unspoiled land…populated with the heroes of mythology and legend’.
This chapter includes a major analysis of Holbrooke’ overblown, heart on sleeve, but ultimately beautiful Piano Concerto: The Song of Gwym ap Nudd, which was based on a poem by Ellis.

Joseph Holbrooke’s chamber music is the subject of Paul Hopwood’s chapter which examines its neglect and the influence of ‘mass-culture’. After noting the vast amount of chamber music in Holbrooke’s catalogue, Hopwood laments that lack of currently available recordings of these works. He considers that this music suffers almost total neglect. Part of this may be down to the composer’s difficult attitude towards performers and concert promoters.  Hopwood argues that the problem is that the chamber works may have been backward looking, reflecting a kind of ‘deliberate antiquarianism’ but further submits that it reflects the ‘emergence of music produced for the mass consumer market. It is for that reason it came to be ‘disparaged and ignored by the majority of the musical establishment.’ After a section on contemporary critical response Hopwood examines the ‘Fantasie’ String Quartet no.1 in D (op.17b) (1906) and the Clarinet Quintet in G major, op.27 no.2 (1910) in some considerable technical detail complete with musical examples.
He concludes with a section on Holbrooke’s ‘Time and the Rise of Mass Culture’ which sets the composer in the context of cheap music, the invention of the gramophone, the ‘gothic’ literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He considers that at this time there was a ‘crack’ opening up between what was popular and what was regarded as being highbrow. It was Joseph Holbrooke’s problem that to a large extent he sat on the ‘border between elite and mass culture...’ 
To be continued...

Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot
Paul Watt and Anne-Marie Forbes, eds:
pp.380, published 2015
ISBN: 9780810888913
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Hardback £49.95 ($75.00)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The First Thomas Dunhill Chamber Concert on 7 June 1907: A Second Review

After a long paragraph of philosophical speculation on ‘beauty unobserved’ and genius unrecognised, the English composer Ernest Austin (1874-1947) begins his review of Thomas Dunhill’s first chamber concert. It was held at the Queen’s Hall recital room as detailed in my earlier post on this event. No additional notes or commentary are required for this review.

Austin writes:-
The endeavour of Thomas Dunhill to bring to public notice the gifts of his countrymen in musical composition merited a better response than his first concert obtained and it is to be hoped that better attendances will be accorded his concerts on June 14 and June 21. The attendance on June 7 was scarce, not because of any demerit in his programme, but because our days are branded by the curse of indifference to mental pastimes. The mind’s enjoyment appears to be one of the last things to engage public attention, but entertainments that provide by subtle artifice, sufficient charm to engross the more animal senses, are quite certain of success.
Thomas Dunhill brought forward a work of absolute genius, a Sextet for piano and string by Joseph Holbrooke, ‘In Memoriam’, op.32 ‘To the Memory of Frederick Westlake’ The first two movements of this work were charged with that indescribable power by which men’s minds can respond to the infinite beauty and mystery of existence. The perpetual questionings of the spirit regarding the anomalies of human life will always be first thoughts to high-minded musicians and poets, and in this work under consideration I found the tension of great emotion and powerful utterance. My opinion regarding the third movement is that it is out of place in an heroic composition. Musically, it has vast claims, but its gaiety is not of the heroic type, it is too gracious to be accorded its present companionship. This is probably a fastidious opinion, but the sheet power of the first two movements removes one’s outlook to such high ground; and there is nothing in Art or Nature which can afford to despise environment- environment gives force and value, it is the measure of Beauty and Beauty is agreement

Messrs. John Saunders, H Waldo Warner, E.Yonge, J. Preuvners and G. Yate were in charge of the strings in Holbrooke’s Sextet, and they gave it a performance sufficient to satisfy the highest wish of any composer. The work was played with real sympathy and affection.
I did not hear the entire evening’s programme but mention must be made of some excellent piano pieces by James Friskin, Intermezzo in C sharp minor, Prelude in G major, Caprice in A major. There is much first hand beauty in these, but a flavour of Mendelssohn was here and there noticeable.

Ernest Austin: The Musical Standard 15 June 1907