Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: A Carol Symphony Part II

The Musical Times reviewer (November 1929) wrote that:
‘The novelty on September 26 was Victor Hely- Hutchinson's 'Carol Symphony,' a composition on a large scale, and with some thematic organization, yet giving the impression of a suite rather than a symphony. It is music spun agreeably round excellent material whose associations, however, only too readily hold out temptations to fall into mere picturesqueness. Mr. Hutchinson avoids this in the first movement by rather desperately building on the rocky foundation of Bach's embellished chorales, but later he succumbs to influences which do not help him much to withstand the besetting danger. This composer is resourceful, lucid, effective, very respectably conservative and complaisant to a not too sophisticated audience. An English Humperdinck, shall we say? As a personal utterance his work suffered perhaps unduly from its vicinity to Vaughan Williams's infinitely more distinctive 'Concerto Accademico,' the crack work of the evening, in which Miss Jelly d'Aranyi played the solo violin part with something just a shade below her usual form; in other words, very well.’

The reviewer of The Times (19 December 1930) noted that the Amateur Orchestra of London had furthered their ‘commendable policy’ of presenting works that are outside the usual repertoire.  On Monday 15 December 1930 A Carol Symphony was presented at the Kingsway Hall in London. The reviewer stated that ‘any competently written work employing carol tunes must make a strong appeal, especially at this time of year, and whether such a work is called a fantasia or a symphony or a suite ought not to affect one’s enjoyment of the music.’ He feels that this distinction is more problematic than a first glance would suggest. He suggests ‘it has often been demonstrated that folk-tunes do not readily lend themselves to symphonic development’ and he believes that Hely-Hutchinson has stretched ‘their capacities to the utmost by making his symphony in cyclic form.’ Furthermore, the reviewer then suggests how the composer ought to have written the work. He should have allowed one carol or wassail song to ‘suggest another, and let that suggest a counterpoint and so on.’  The problem seems to be that Hely-Hutchinson has given the impression of ‘stopping at the end of each bit of tune to think what he could do next with it.’  The fundamental issue seems to be that the texture and the scoring of the work are perfectly appropriate – it is the thematic treatment that lets the work down.

Jürgen Schaarwächter in his magisterial Two Centuries of British Symphonism (2015) suggested that the Carol Symphony is a ‘lightweight…and somewhat obscure piece’. He further describes it as ‘clearly a third-rate piece of light music (similar to Anthony Collins’s First String Symphony). This latter piece is one that I enjoy! He quotes Benjamin Britten’s view that the work was ‘utter bilge’ (Britten’s diary 22 December 1922) Schaarwachter provides a lengthy quote from D. Millar Craig (‘The Younger English Composer – XV Victor Hely Hutchinson’, in the Monthly Musical Record 1930):-
‘The Symphony is in four movements, played continuously: all are based on Christmas tunes, and the work sets forth different aspects of the festival – its solemn grandeur, the mystery and romance of the manger, and its rollicking joy as Dickens shows it to us…[The] work reveals the spirit of nearly all Hely-Hutchinson’s music: gloom does not appeal to him. But youth’s good spirits are held in check, and a fastidious restraint as well as an instinctive sense of shapeliness sees to it that exuberance and gusto do not break bounds.’

Some years later, The Times (27 November 1951) in a review of a recently released record (Paxton GTR 123/4/5, mono, Metropole Symphony Orchestra/Dolf Van der Linden) of the Symphony suggests that this is ‘not only a work brimming over with gaiety but refutes the accepted and not unjustifiable generalization that folk tunes are rcalcitrant to symphonic development’.  The reviewer is suitably impressed with the way that the composer has taken ‘the half dozen best known and most hardly worked carols and symphonizes them by dissolving them in ostinato figures, of which the chief is a cross between Bach’s Wachet Auf …and an English country dance tune’.

In 1930 an extract (3rd movement, ‘Noel Fantasy’) from the Carol Symphony was released by HMV (C1968). The Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden was conducted by the composer. 
This entire work is currently available on three CDs. The first is a reissue of a recording made by Barry Rose and the Pro Arte Orchestra made in Guilford Cathedral in September 1966 (EMI Classics CDM 7 64131)  A more recent version appeared on Naxos 8.557099 in 2002 with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland. This is also available as an MP3 download. The above noted performance by the Metropole Symphony Orchestra is currently available on the Guild Light Music Series GLCD 5233. 

All the recordings are interesting, although the Sutherland one has the edge on sound quality. On the other side of the coin, as Neil Horner at MusicWeb International has pointed out, the EMI recording does have fine couplings with R.V.W.’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Roger Quilter’s Children’s Overture and Ernest Tomlinson’s Suite of English Folk Dances. 

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: A Carol Symphony Part I

This is an updated and expanded article first published on MusicWeb International in 2008.

Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony is one of six works I always listen to at Christmastide. The others include R.V.W.’s Hodie, Finzi’s In Terra Pax, J.S.B.’s Christmas Oratorio and Benjamin Britten’s A Boy was Born. Fortunately, recordings of Hely-Hutchinson’s work have been rarely unattainable over the years since its first recording in 1951. It is a work that is infrequently given in the concert hall or on the wireless.
Hely-Hutchinson is a relatively little-known composer, professor and administrator. He merits only a handful of lines in Grove’s and has not yet been provided with a biography. So, a few notes on his lifetime’s achievement will be helpful. 

Christian Victor Noel Hope Hely-Hutchinson was born in Cape Town, South Africa on 26 December 1901, the youngest son of the last Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Cape Colony, the Right Honourable Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson. He was educated at Eton and also studied at the Royal College of Music with Donald Tovey. He went up to Balliol in 1920. The following year he left Oxford before completing his degree: he had been offered a lectureship at the South African College of Music.  After three years in this post Hely-Hutchinson returned to London and joined the staff of the BBC. Later, he moved to the corporation’s Midland region before taking up a professorship of music at Birmingham University, where he succeeded Granville Bantock. In 1944 Hely-Hutchinson became Director of Music of the BBC where he remained unit his death in 1947. 
His works, apart from A Carol Symphony, include a Piano Quintet, a Violin Sonata, the orchestral Variations, Intermezzo, Scherzo and Finale (1927) and a number of settings of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs. Grove’s Dictionary suggests that he was an effective administrator rather than an important composer. It notes that few of his works are heard today.  Fortunately Dutton recordings recently released his Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra "The Young Idea" which I commented on in my ‘blog’ in April 2008.

A Carol Symphony is really more a sequence of ‘preludes’ rather than movements in a classical or traditional sense. Some critics have worried about the works internal cohesion, but typically most have been impressed by the unity of the work considering the small number of carols that the composer used.
Each movement is based on a single carol, with allusions to others, although the scherzo and the finale do have additional material. The entire work is designed to be played without a break – although there are short pauses between the movements in the recordings.
The first movement ‘allegro energico’ makes an impressive presentation of Adeste Fideles, largely in the style of a Bach Chorale Prelude. It is a strong opening and never lacks interest. The scherzo explores God Rest ye merry gentlemen in a manner not dissimilar to the Russian School of Rimsky Korsakov and Balakirev. One reviewer noted that ‘Mr Hely-Hutchinson goes far towards beating the ‘Invincible Band’ in their own bandstand, so to speak’.  The ‘andante quasi lento e cantabile’ is truly lovely, although it has been suggested that the composer ‘spreads mere picturesque-ness a little too thinly’. Yet, the use of the orchestra here is masterly. It is not ‘effect for effects sake’, but a good use of colour and balance. The outer sections are based on the Coventry Carol with the ‘trio’ section making use of The First Nowell. The introduction to the First Nowell section is the most memorable part of the entire Symphony, with its enigmatic harp theme leading to the presentation of the tune. To this listener at any rate, it is musically suggestive of a ‘cold and frosty night.’ The last movement is another ‘allegro energico’ which makes clever use of Here we come a-wassailing before reprising Adeste Fideles.  The composer makes fine use of various contrapuntal devices to explore these two melodies. It has been compared to some final movements of Stanford’s Symphonies with some justification. Like the elder composer’s works, there is nothing pedantic about this finale, in spite of its textbook use of a variety of musical devices. 

The Manchester Guardian (28 September 1929) reviewer was impressed at the first performance of A Carol Symphony at a Promenade Concert on 27 September 1929. He notes that the work ‘pleased the audience immensely…and surely not only because he uses wonderfully persuasive traditional tunes in it.’ He continues by suggesting the ‘work is extremely well turned out’ although ‘the treatment is scarcely more original than the thematic material, but the composer give the impression of knowing exactly what he wants and getting it without any effort…’ There is a slight sting in the tail. He laments the fact that ‘one sighed now and again for a little sympathy with modern thought but was consoled by the reflection that in two hundred years or so it will not matter that this work sounds about twenty years old today’.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Yuletide Greetings

A Merry Christmas

To All Readers of 'The Land of Lost Content'

Bruegel the Elder_ The Census at Bethlehem

Voices in the Mist
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Advent to Epiphany: The Frobenius Organ at Oundle School Chapel

This new CD from Priory features the fine Frobenius organ in Oundle School Chapel. This is a ‘co-educational boarding and day independent school’ in the historic market town of Oundle in Northamptonshire. It was founded by the Worshipful Company of Grocers of the City of London in 1556: they still support it.  
The liner notes suggest that in spite of the instrument’s justified fame, there has been no commercial recording since 1985. This was ‘The New Frobenius Organ at Oundle School’ with the organist James Parsons (PR168).  It featured Bach, Maxwell-Davies, Howells and Saint-Saens. The present CD celebrates the instrument’s 30th anniversary, in an attempt to redress the balance.
The programme presents music appropriate to the Christmas season from Advent to Epiphany and is designed to display the organ’s versatility: the music ranges from the 15th to the 20th century.
The CD opens with the attractive Concerto Grosso, op.6, no.4 by Arcangelo Corelli which is better known as the Christmas Concerto. It is believed to have been composed for Christmas Eve 1690 for his new patron, the Duke of Modena. Normally heard in its string and continuo version, this six movement concerto transcribes extremely well for organ.  The track listings (but not the liner notes) for some reason show this work to have been composed by a certain Alessandro Corelli (1660-1725). These dates actually suggest Alessandro Scarlatti!

The haunting Magnificat Sexti Toni by the French composer Jean Titelouze is accompanied by the chant of the canticle, beautifully sung by Daisy Tebbutt. Clearly, this instrument is at its best playing Bach and Buxtehude. So the latter composer’s Chorale Fantasia on ‘Wie Schön leuchtet der Morgenstern’ is used to display the ‘Germanic flavour’ for which the organ is justly famous. The variation structure of the work allows for some very interesting registrations. Alexander Eadon then performs three consecutive settings by Bach of the chorale prelude, ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’. It is certainly stimulating to hear them played ‘back to back’ in this manner.
Just to prove that romantic music can be effectively played on this instrument, the recital includes Alexandre Guilmant’s ‘Introduction et Variations sur un Ancien Noël Polonais’. It is not a work I warm to, and one feels that Guilmant has not quite realised the intimate mood of the ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ text in this somewhat loud and lively piece.

Flor Peeters’ ‘Heer Jezus heeft een hofken’ (King Jesus hath a garden) is a lovely reflective little theme and variations. The theme makes use of the romantic salicional and flute stops. The second variation is wayward, with interesting use of polytonality and the finale is brash, but satisfying. In contrast, the short ‘Veni, Emanuel’ by Gerhard Krapf is written for manuals only and is surprisingly beguiling. Helmut Walcha, the great Bach organist, contributes an attractively simple chorale prelude on ‘Den die Hirten Lobten sehre’ (He whom the shepherds praised).  
Paul Manz’s ‘Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern’ is a will-o’-the-wisp piece that showcases the Rohr 8̍ flute on the Great and the pedal coupled to the Positive 4̍ flute.  
The most modern piece on this disc is Mark Blatchly’s Three Versets on ‘Away in a Manger’ which was published in 1995. For some reason this work is not mentioned in the liner notes. However, the composer uses imaginative harmonies and accompaniments to point up this well-loved carol.
The CD ends with Paul Edmundson’s Toccata-Prelude IV on ‘Vom Himmel hoch’ which is the finale from his Christmas Suite no.2. This American composer provides a great warhorse which I guess would sound impressive on any instrument, large or small, baroque or romantic.

Strangely there is no history given about the organ builder or the organ: a few words may be of interest to readers.
Th. Frobenius & Sons was founded in 1909 in Copenhagen, Denmark by Theodor Frobenius (1885-1972).  In 1925 the company moved to the suburb of Lyngby. Joined by his two sons, he gained a reputation for building organs with mechanical actions and slider windchests. They are regarded as epitomising neo-classical design. Important instruments include Aarhus Cathedral in Denmark, as well as The Queen’s College, Oxford, All Saints, Kingston upon Thames and the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.  The Oundle School organ was installed in 1984 and the inaugural concert given by the late Carlo Curley in January 1985. The liner notes do give the all-important organ specification of organ, which has three manuals and pedals. (Great, Positive and Swell). The instrument has tracker action for the keys and mechanical action for the stops. One useful feature of the sleeve notes are the details of the registration used for each piece.
Alexander Eadon is currently Assistant Director of Music of Eastbourne College. Between 2009 and 2015 he was Choirmaster at Oundle School. At present, Eadon has a free-lance career, giving recitals in concert halls and organ lofts across the world.
Altogether an enjoyable CD which succeeds in being both a seasonal and inclusive exploration of one of the more interesting neo-classical organs in the country.

Track Listing:-
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713) arr. Jan VERMULST (1925-94) & Robert GOWER (?) ‘Christmas Concerto’ - Concerto Grosso in G, Op. 6 No.8 (1690?)
Jean TITELOUZE (1562/3-1633) Magnificat Sexti Toni
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707) Chorale Fantasia on ‘Wie Schön leuchtet der Morgenstern’
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Chorale Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 659; Chorale Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 660; Chorale Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 661
Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911) Introduction et Variations sur un Ancien Noël Polonais
Flor PEETERS (1903-86) Heer Jezus heeft een hofken
Gerhard KRAPF (1924-2008) Veni, Emmanuel
Helmut WALCHA (1907-91) Chorale Prelude on ‘Den die Hirten Lobten sehre’ [2:06]
Paul MANZ (1919-2009) Wie schön leuchtet [2:33]
Mark BLATCHLY (b.1960) Three Versets on ‘Away in a Manger’ (pub.1995)
Garth EDMUNDSON (1892-1971) Toccata- Prelude IV on ‘Vom Himmel hoch’ (1937)
Alexander Eadon (organ) Plainchant versets for Titelouze sung by Daisy Tebbutt
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

William Walton (1902-83) Christmas Carol: All this Time: Part 2

The theme of the song is the story of the Nativity with the refrain emphasising the theological interpretation that ‘Verbum caro factum est’ - ‘The Word was made flesh’. This is the fundamental meaning of the events in Bethlehem both at the time of Jesus’ birth and for the present.
The carol is simplicity itself. William Kenneth Fulton’s (1981) dissertation provided me with analytical information on this carol. The music beings with a setting of the refrain in four parts. Walton has used the Mixolydian mode in A (scale based on A with F#, C# and G natural). However he does make use of the G# in the progress of the music.
The verses are written in A Lydian mode (scale based on A with F#, G#, C# and D#). There is a prominent octave leap at the beginning of each verse. The first three stanzas are presented by sopranos, tenors and sopranos respectively using virtually the same melody. Each time this is followed by the refrain. The final stanza is sung by the full (S.A.T.B.) choir. The carol closes with the refrain and a repeated ‘Verbum caro’. The harmony makes considerable use of parallel fourths and fifths.

In a letter dated 9 October 1972 from La Mortella, Forio d’Ischia  William Walton remarked to Malcolm Arnold, ‘I’m glad you like the S.A.T.B piece [the carol ‘All this Time’] I’m getting to like it a bit myself & so[,] he writes me, does the great B. himself.’ There is no doubt the ‘great B’ was in fact Benjamin Britten. I was unable to find the reference in The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976, Volume 5, (2010) edited Donald Mitchell.

Over the years there have been a number of recordings of William Walton’s ‘All this Time.’ At present there are 10 listed in the Arkiv CD database.  The earliest, in 1972, was by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford conducted by Simon Preston. (Argo ZRG 725)  This was part of an LP dedicated to Walton’s Church Music. S.W. writing in The Gramophone (November 1972) notes that the carol has already become popular by its inclusion in the then recent Carols for Choirs 2. Christ Church was the where the young Walton was admitted aged 10, so this album was an appropriate present for his 70th birthday.
In 1987 a fascinating album of Christmas music by Holst and Walton was issued by Nimbus records (NI 5098). Once again it featured the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, this time conducted by Stephen Darlington. It is still available from record shops and online.   The carol was included in the Chandos ‘complete’ cycle of Walton’s music in 1991 (CHAN 8998). It was coupled with the other carols, the Coronation Marches (1937) and (1953) and In Honour of the City of London (1937) as well as some of the liturgical works.  Most recently it has been featured on A York Yuletide: The Choir of York Minster with the musical director Robert Sharpe. (Regent, REGCD467). There is currently (accessed November 2015) a good version of ‘All this Time’ on YouTube sung by the Finzi Singers conducted by Paul Spicer.

Select Bibliography:
Craggs, Stewart R, William Walton: A Catalogue (Oxford University Press, 1990)
Ed. Craggs, Stewart R, William Walton: Music and Literature (London, Ashgate, 1999)
Fulton, William Kenneth, Selected Choral Works of William Walton (Ph.D. Dissertation, Texas Technical University 1981)
Smith, Carolyn J., William Walton: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Greenwood Press, 1988)
Tierney, Neil, William Walton: His Life and Music, (London, Robert Hale, 1984)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

William Walton (1902-83) Christmas Carol: All this Time: Part 1

William Walton’s lovely Christmas carol ‘All this Time’ was written relatively late in his career in 1970. The previous year had witnessed the premiere of the film The Battle of Britain which included music by Walton and Ron Goodwin, although subject to some considerable dissension.  On 14 January 1970 his Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten was heard in San Francisco at the War Memorial Opera House performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Josef Krips.  This work was a commission from the bio-chemist Dr Ralph Dorfman (1911-85) in memory of his first wife, Adeline Smith Dorman. The British premiere was at The Maltings, Snape on 27 June where Sir Charles Groves conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.  The year also saw music composed for the film of the Chekov play Three Sisters, now forgotten, except for the three movement suite arranged by Christopher Palmer on Chandos (CHAN 8870).  One other brief work composed in 1970 was the Theme (for variations) for cello solo: this was part of a joint work, Music for a Prince dedicated to Charles, Prince of Wales in celebration of his Investiture in Caernarvon the previous year. This collection, which included contributions by Lennox Berkeley, Arthur Bliss, Ronald Binge, Vivian Ellis, John Gardner, Joseph Horovitz, Mitch Murray, Steve Race, Ernest Tomlinson, Guy Warrack, Brian Willey, Grace Williams and David Wynne, appears to have sunk without trace. However, the Theme has been resurrected and included on Tony Woollard’s debut CD Cello Journey. (WWRCJ1)

‘All this time’ is one of the few pieces that Walton wrote for unaccompanied mixed choir. John Coggrave (Craggs, 1999) has noted there are some 15 settings of religious texts (not including Belshazzar’s Feast) made between 1916 and 1977. These fall into three groups:
1. Settings of medieval carol texts.
2. Full-scale setting of liturgical texts.
3. Treatments of poetic or biblical material.

There are four carols, (Group 1) written between 1931 and 1970 – ‘Make we Joy now in this Fest’ (1931), ‘What Cheer?’ (1961), ‘All this Time’ (1970) and ‘King Herod and the Cock’ (1977).  Coggrave suggests that these are ‘delightful examples of medieval pastiche, as invigorating and accomplished as Walton’s neo-Elizabethan pastiche in his Shakespearean film scores.’  Neil Tierney (1984) considers that the vocal scoring of ‘All this Time’ has a ‘simplicity’ that ‘matches that of the words.’  The first of these carols owes something to Peter Warlock’s examples of the genre without making use of chromatic harmonies in succeeding verses. (Meurig Bowen, Hyperion sleeve notes, CDA67330, 2002). ‘What Cheer?’ and ‘All this Time’ are vibrant and ‘full of harmonic bite.’ The final example ‘King Herod and the Cock’ is a gentle example of a Christmas carol with little to trouble or challenge the listener.

In March 1970 Walton was asked by Oxford University Press for a work to be included in the second volume of the popular Carols for Choirs, Volume 1 which had been published in 1961 with conspicuous success. ‘All this time’ was published in Carols for Choirs 2, edited by David Willcocks and John Rutter (1970). It was also issued separately as an Oxford Choral Songs Series, X201. The manuscript is archived at the William Walton Museum in Forio d’Ischia, Italy.
The text of ‘All this Time’ is an anonymous 16th century carol, written before 1536, possibly derived by the composer from Edith Rickert’s Ancient English Christmas Carols, 1400-1700, London 1910, and subsequently reprinted many times. Rickert (1871-1938) was a significant medievalist at the University of Chicago. Her major contributions included collaboration on Chaucer Life-Records and the eight-volume Text of the Canterbury Tales (1940).

There are a few minor verbal differences, and the addition of the refrain ‘All this time this song is best’ at the end of each stanza. The words ‘Verbum caro factum est’ translate to ‘The Word was made flesh.'  I have shown Walton’s changes in italics and Rickert’s original text (assuming he used this edition) in square brackets. Minor punctuation changes have been ignored.

All this time this song is best:
All this time this song is best:
‘Verbum caro factum est.’

This night there is a Child y-born,
That sprang out of Jesse’s thorn;
We must sing and say thereforn,
All this time this song is best:
‘Verbum caro factum est.’

Jesus is the Childës name
And Mary mild is His dame,
All our sorrow [is] shall turn[ed] to game:
All this time this song is best:
‘Verbum caro factum est.’

It fell upon [the] high midnight,
The starres [they] shone both fair and bright,
The angels sang with all their might:
All this time this song is best:
‘Verbum caro factum est.’

Now kneel we down [up]on our knee,
And pray we to the Trinity,
Our help, our succour for to be.
All this time this song is best:

‘Verbum caro factum est.’

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Frank Chacksfield: Alpine Sleigh Ride

I first came across Frank Chacksfield in 1970. I bought my mother a copy of his lovely evocative album ‘Mediterranean Moonlight’ (ECS 2041) as one of her Silver Wedding Anniversary presents. I was more interested in The Beatles and their break-up at that time, but somehow I did admire that attractively romantic string sound of Chacksfield’s orchestra performing numbers such as ‘Isle of Capri’, ‘Lady of Spain’ and ‘April in Portugal’. Not something I would have admitted to my fellow fourth formers at grammar school though.

I concede to having omitted to note Frank Chacksfield’s centenary last year (2014). However, better late than never. He was born in Battle, Sussex on 9 May 1914. In the early part of his career he played both piano and organ, with youthful concert performances at Hastings and holding the post of church organist at Salehurst. However it is as a conductor that he is now best remembered, especially of light and easy listening music.  In 1936, after leaving a career in a solicitor’s office, he formed his band. After war service which included a posting to the Royal Army Service Corp’s Entertainment division (ENSA), where he met Sergeant Charlie Chester and became arranger for the ‘Stars in Battledress.’
After the war he maintained a busy performance and recording schedule at home and in the United States. He is estimated to have sold some 20 million albums word-wide. Chacksfield’s musical style is relaxed mood-music similar to that of Mantovani.

He was also a composer of many pieces including ‘Firecracker’, ‘Cuban Boy’, ‘Candid Snap’, ‘Summer Serenade’, ‘Innishannon Serenade’, ‘Bossa For Bess’, ‘Autumn Island’, ‘Rosella’, ‘Medway Magic’ and perhaps most famously an arrangement of ‘Ebb Tide’. He wrote under the pseudonym Roger Senicourt and Martino Paticano.
His orchestras included Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra, the Singing Strings as well as The Tunesmiths.  Frank Chacksfield died in Kent on 9 June, 1995.

‘Alpine Sleigh Ride’ may not be one of Chacksfield’s (as Roger Senicourt) characteristic sweeping strings arrangements, however it is a lovely example of a little piece of programme music, ideal for the Yuletide Season. Who has not wanted to go on a sleigh ride in the Alps – whether German, French, Austrian or Italian (and not forgetting Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco and Slovenia)? I feel that the composer has chosen the German part of the snow covered mountains. The listener is gently taken past villages clearly preparing for the Christmas Festivities. There are some sweeping strings, but also a little bit of the oompah band. Naturally, he makes good use of the percussion section’s sleigh bells. It is a well-constructed little piece that suggests fun rather than a cosy trip with one’s lover. 

Frank Chacksfield’s ‘Alpine Sleigh Ride’ is available on The Golden Age of Light Music:  ‘Christmas Lights’ GLCD 5222: this is coupled with a huge variety of Seasonal favourites. The present tune is played by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra. The piece was also included on an old Decca Eclipse album ECS 2134 which was released in 1969. It features on YouTube.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Music of Frank Bridge: Fabian Huss - book review Part 2

The main matter of the text is presented in largely chronological order. After the introduction which defines some of the basic parameters of Bridge studies, the first chapter examines the composer’s ‘Background, Royal College of Music and Early Works’. Important compositions at this time include the String Quartet in B flat, the Piano Quartet in C minor, the orchestral work 'Mid of Winter', and the more forward-looking Three Idylls. These works are examined in some detail. The songs and piano pieces written at this time, which established the composer’s popularity, are mentioned only briefly.

The period of ‘First Maturity’ (Chapter 2) scrutinises music composed between 1906 and 1912. This Huss deems to be characterised by ‘increased technical control and growing stylistic curiosity and individuality’. Major studies are provided of the First String Quartet, the Phantasy Piano Trio in C minor, the Piano Quintet, the Dance Rhapsody, the Suite for Strings and the well-loved The Sea which demonstrate the composer’s arrival at a mature orchestral style. This was the period of music that dominated (and still does dominate) the composer’s reputation.

Chapter 3 looks at the music that Huss considers to belong to the ‘Transitional Period’. Bridge appeared to be ‘limited’ by the ‘stylistic limitations of the previous decade’.  He is now more likely to explore ‘technical control’ using motivic manipulation and expansion of his ‘stylistic range’. Huss includes analysis of the great Cello Sonata, the Second String Quartet and the Dance Poem. This latter work marks ‘a new adventurous individuality in its treatment of the orchestra and in terms of style more generally…’ This is also the period of the ‘luminously impressionistic’ tone-poem Summer as well as the ‘pastoral’ Two Poems (after Richard Jeffries.)

The next section of the composer’s career is explored in Chapter 4, ‘Bridge’s Post-Tonal Idiom’. This reflects the period after about 1920 when the composer began to lose his popular following. Bridge rejected the ‘comforting pastoral’ and began to absorb a more dissonant, post-tonal language owing much to Scriabin and Berg. Reasons for this may be his reaction to the Great War, political awareness and personal family concerns. Elements of this chapter include a technical examination the composer’s use of the Whole-tone and Octatonic Scales and their derivatives. Major works from this period include the game-changing Piano Sonata and the Third String Quartet which are both given in-depth analyses.

Chapter 5 examines the ‘Progressive Works’ written between 1927 and 1932. This period has been important to scholars wishing to establish Bridge’s reputation as a modernist and radical composer. Yet what can be regarded as his (and possibly all British composer’s as well) definitive statement on English pastoral, Enter Spring was written at this time. More typical of this period was ‘There is a willow grows aslant a brook’, Oration for cello and orchestra and the Second Piano Trio.  These are often Spartan, melancholic and lacking in warmth.

The final main chapter examines ‘Bridge’s Last Years’. Key to this period is the ‘Janus-like’ Fourth String Quartet, which balances a forward looking harmonic language, influenced by the Second Viennese School, but still retaining a deep romanticism derived from his earlier music. The ‘note’ of English Pastoral has not totally disappeared.  There is a short ‘Epilogue’ which examines the fate of Bridge’s music since his death in 1941.

Two important sections of this book are the ‘interludes’; one of which majors on the composer’s relationship with his patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The second examines his famous pupil. A problem that has haunted the appreciation of Bridge’s music is that he is often spoken of a being Benjamin Britten’s teacher rather than as a composer and musician in his own right. It must be remembered that Britten was a ‘major advocate’ for Bridge’s music when it was at its least fashionable. The subsequent revival owes much to Britten.

Wisely, Huss has included a ‘List of Works’. This is a much simplified version of the listings in Hindmarsh’s catalogue noted above.  A number of incomplete or unpublished works have been omitted, although reference is made to various ‘lost’ pieces. Huss has given details of the date of composition and first performance (where known).  He has maintained the ‘H’ catalogue numbers (but without the ‘H’!) for ease of reference. For all other information the reader is directed to Hindmarsh. The List of Works is presented chronologically.

The bibliography is extensive. The first section notes various primary sources for Bridge’s correspondence, which include the Library of Congress for letters to Coolidge and the Britten-Pears Library in Aldeburgh for letters to Benjamin Britten and his friend, Marjorie Fass.  The second section features a wide range of text-books, studies, biographical essays, dissertations and thesis. Some of these have been mentioned in the ‘assessment of the literature’ section of this present review. It makes an ideal starting place for any student of the composer’s life, times and music. For additional newspaper and periodical reviews of each work the reader should examine Hindmarsh’s Thematic Catalogue and Little’s Bio-Bibliography.
The index is wide-ranging with references to each work included alphabetically under ‘Frank Bridge’s Works’. Main discussions of each piece are shown in bold type. I wonder if a separate index for the works would have been more convenient.

Regarding the presentation of the book, I felt that the font was just a little small, but that is probably a failing of my age, rather than a profound criticism. The book makes use of footnotes rather than endnotes which usefully avoids page flicking.  The binding is strong, the paper good quality and with an orange cover and a slightly diffused picture of the composer in pensive mood.
This book is abundantly illustrated with musical examples, as any text offering a comprehensive exploration of a composer’s works would demand. Typically, these are presented in short score which makes for a clear understanding of the author’s argument. I was disappointed to find no photographs of Frank Bridge, his family, friends and musical associates. However, I accept that this is a study of the music rather than a biography.

Fabian Huss is currently the Visiting Fellow at the University of Bristol. He is a musicologist specialising in 19th and 20th century British and Irish music. Huss has recently produced scholarly work on E.J. Moeran, Herbert Howells and Malcolm Arnold.
Future projects include co-editing a volume of ‘Frank Bridge Studies’. He is also an active conductor of music and is current director of music of the Redland Liedertafel and Cheddar Male Voice Choir.

Like all academic books, this appears at £50.00 to be expensive. Yet this volume is a crucial addition to scholarship. Being the first ‘detailed and long-overdue study of Bridge’ it will be of huge interest to serious researchers into his music. Added value here is the thoughtful analysis of many works that have been previously ignored or just touched upon by critics. The book will be of great help to all reviewers and popularisers who choose to explore Frank Bridge’s music.  The most important achievement of all is the setting of 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 have no doubt that Fabian Huss’ volume will be widely used (and hopefully acknowledged) in many forthcoming essays, theses, CD inserts, concert programme notes and record reviews. 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Music of Frank Bridge: Fabian Huss - book review Part 1

I first read about Frank Bridge in the mid-1970s in the fascinating, but rather eccentric, book Contemporary British Composers, written by Joseph Holbrooke and published in 1925. It was then considerably out of date and took little account of the generally accepted stylistic periods of Bridge’s life.
By this time, Lyrita were just beginning to issue several recordings of his music. In 1977 the Phantasm: Rhapsody for piano and orchestra (SRCS.91) which explored ‘the twilight world so dear to Bridge…’ (Payne, 1984) was released. Subsequent albums included Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (SRCS.73) in the Suite for Strings, ‘Cherry Ripe’, ‘Sally in our Alley’, ‘Rosemary’, ‘Roger de Coverley’ and Lament. The most revelatory performance (for me, certainly) on record was Sir Charles Groves’ rendition of the stunning Enter Spring. This was issued in 1976 on LP (ASD 3190) coupled with The Sea, Summer, Lament and ‘Cherry Ripe’.  Like many listeners, my understanding of Frank Bridge was greatly increased by a diligent study of these sleeve notes.

Meanwhile, scholarship was catching up. Clearly, there were many essays, dictionary entries and reviews published over the years since Bridge became an established composer. Nevertheless, the past 45 years has seen a relative explosion in studies and performances of his music.
In 1970, R.M. Keating majored on ‘The Songs of Frank Bridge’ in his dissertation presented to the University of Texas –this is not quoted in the bibliography of the present book. 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.
Studies were advanced immeasurably by Paul Hindmarsh’s Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (1983). Here 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 is 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. A revised version of this seminal work is due to be published as an eBook in the near future.  
The following year, Anthony Payne published his book 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 on 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 is a useful adjunct to Hindmarsh’s book.
Other important sources include Trevor Bray’s Frank Bridge: A Life in Brief, (2004-13) 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).
Exploring Fabian Huss’ bibliography in this present volume discloses that there are a growing number of dissertations and theses being addressed to Frank Bridge. This includes studies of his piano works, his relationship with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Musical Modernism, and the Late Works as well Huss’ own examination of the chamber music (2010).

The introduction to The Music of Frank Bridge notes the key critical problem in any discussion of his music – the ‘seemingly wide range of stylistic and aesthetic directions, [employed by the composer] from the Edwardian romanticism of the early works, through the impressionist transitional period, to the dissonant, idiosyncratic modernism of much of the later music.’ This is exacerbated by two contradictory reactions to his work. Firstly, the music most popular with the listener is derived from the earlier period –The Sea, the tone-poem Summer, the songs and some piano pieces etc. But, secondly, there has been a tendency by ‘recent commentators…to focus on the merits of the later works.’ Huss suggests that this may be to ‘establish suitable modernist credentials –and hence artistic status – for Bridge and his music.’  Matters are complicated by his short-lived ‘membership’ of the group of ‘English Musical Renaissance Composers’ with his ‘impressionistic’ pieces that led him to belong briefly to the ‘pastoral’ school of composition. There has come to be a hiatus between his earlier and later styles. The main purpose of the present book is to ‘trace his development through its various phases, and integrate the different strands of his compositional activity into a coherent understanding.’
In Huss’ dissertation on the chamber music, he quotes Bridge, in relation to the difficulty of coming to terms with modern idioms, saying that ‘a composer’s early work possibly has stepping stones upon which an understanding may grow.’ This is a key pillar of the present study (Huss, 2010). 
From a personal point of view I have always regarded the ‘late’ orchestral work Rebus as being infused with romanticism: he had relaxed his more uncompromising style. Rebus was composed around the same time as the much more expressionist Three Divertimenti. So simplistic stylistic analysis is never going to be straightforward. 

The Music of Frank Bridge: Fabian Huss
The Boydell Press, hardback, 259 pages
IBSN 978-1-78327-059-0
To be continued. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Christopher Irvin: Joie de Vivre Orchestral & Choral Works Volume 2

The first track is the jaunty little overture Love Child that cleverly mixes and matches a Great War recruitment march, a passage straight out of a Savoy opera, music that reminds me of William Alwyn’s score to the Alec Guinness film The Card, a waltz and a Suffragette’s song. The piece was drawn from music ‘developed’ for the eponymous musical which had been performed by students at Huddersfield Technical College (Kirklees College).
The lilting ‘Anniversary Intermezzo’ is extracted from the composer’s musical, Breeding, which is based on ‘William Cobbett’s polemical play Surplus Population [and the Poor Law Bill] (1731). In some ways the music does seem a little anodyne when set against the theme of the play – equal rights of the labouring poor in rural England and a blast against Malthus’ population control programme. 

Irvin does seem to recycle his music. A good example is the pleasing and well-written Oboe Concerto which was ‘developed’ (that word again) from a number of oboe and piano pieces written around the turn of the millennium. The three movement work explores some ‘styles ancien’ especially prominent in the Siciliano and Trio. There are plenty of enjoyable moments in this work and the oboe is skilfully played by Richard Weigall. It would make a good addition to the repertoire of that instrument.
When I read the title of the CD, I noticed that it was ‘Orchestral & Choral Works Volume 2’, yet there was no choir, chorus or vocal ensemble noted in the list of performers. The song ‘They Will be Remembered’ suddenly appeared on the CD player complete with vocals. Who are they? Is it the RTÉ Choir? This piece is taken from the above mentioned musical Love Child. The words and the music are just that little bit sentimental for their own good.
Edwardian Waltzes were ‘developed’ from Act 1 finale of the seemingly bottomless pit of musical invention Love Child. New material has been added to complete this enjoyable confection.
The Slavonic Variations are ‘a completely new symphonic movement’ based on a C minor theme. It is a well written work that is not so much ‘light’ in character as timeless – it could have been composed virtually any time over the past 140 years.
When I first saw this CD, the piece that caught my eye was Tales from Hebden Woods. I wondered if the inspiration was that rather cool’ and ‘bohemian’ market town in the West Riding, Hebden Bridge. And it was! The music is a medley taken from a number of Christmas plays performed locally at the Bridge Theatre. Cleary nodding to Strauss’ Vienna Woods in its title, the mood is more end of pier than anything else. There is a lot of fun in these pages and occasionally something a little more serious. Attitudes and events considered are ‘positive thinking’, a magical Widdershins (walking round anti-clockwise), and a Goblin theme. The work ends with a lot of panache and a bit of a swing.
The Divertissement for chamber orchestra was composed for a local West Riding ‘voluntary music ensemble’. The composer has cleverly and rather wittily created a ten minute piece that makes use of the available instrumental forces. In some ways it is a mini ‘concerto for orchestra’, allowing each soloist to display their ‘expertise.’ The style is catchy and the music is clearly fun to play. One of the best pieces on this disc.
The ‘Lullaby, Homeless Baby’ was worked up from a pantomime song: it has been transformed into a Christmas carol.  It is a pretty little number, which allows for full audience participation, if appropriate. The main modal melody is quite memorable. Once again this is sung by the ‘nameless choir’.
The White Rose Serenade was originally a piano piece that has been ‘developed’ into an epitome of a piece of light music. Tuneful and well scored this work clearly owes it musical style to the bandstands of Yorkshire as well as the palm-court music of Harrogate.
The final work is the Joie de Vivre Waltz. The liner notes point out that this piece was written to combat the bias of New Year’s Day music broadcasts towards Austrian waltzes. This is a definite Yorkshire (or Lancashire) example that promulgates the privilege of living in splendid towns like Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Morecambe and Halifax, all places where Christopher Irwin has had his music performed (and I have spent happy and interesting days). On a more serious note, this last waltz was written at a time of family illness and loss, so it is not surprising that a touch of melancholy occasionally appears. The ending is thoughtful rather than champagne corks a-popping. It is my favourite piece on this CD.

The liner notes are written by the composer and provide all the information required (except what choir is singing). The unattributed cover picture of a bandstand defines the mood of many of the works on this CD. The RTÉ and Messrs. Sutherland and Longstaff, give good convincing performances of all these works.
This is an enjoyable disc of light music that hat tips toward the Edwardian era of Elgar, German, Finck and Monckton. 

Track Listing:
Love Child: Overture (2014)
Anniversary Intermezzo (2013)
Oboe Concerto (2011)
They will be remembered * (2014)
Edwardian Waltzes * (2014)
Slavonic Variations (2013)
Tales from Hebden Wood (2009)
Divertissement for chamber orchestra (2013)
Lullaby, Homeless Baby * (2010)
White Rose Serenade * (2013)
Joie de Vivre Waltz (2012)
Richard Weigall (oboe)
The RTÉ Concert Orchestra/Gavin Sutherland* & John Longstaff.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Norman O'Neill: A Life of Music, Derek Hudson Part 2

This new edition of Norman O'Neill: A Life of Music, Derek Hudson has been 'overseen' by O’Neill’s granddaughter, Katherine Hudson, with the end matter 'extensively revised and amplified’ by Stephen Lloyd.
It seems unnecessary to give a chapter outline or analysis of this book, however a number of points can be adduced to allow the putative reader an opportunity to get a feel for the author's achievement. Firstly, Hudson presented his material in a largely chronological order, from the 'Family History' of the composer's early days to his death. It was 'fortuitous' that the book was written when it was, 1945. Many of the composer's friends and colleagues were still alive. His wife provided abundant background information and anecdote before her death in 1947. Over and above this, Derek Hudson married the composer's daughter, Yvonne. So there were many private sources available for the author's purpose. In her introduction to this revised edition, Katherine Hudson emphasizes what is an eternal truth applicable to many historical figures: in a few short years all this precious material would have passed away unrecorded.
This sets the scene for the second point. Norman O'Neill was a kind and likeable person who had many friends in the musical and theatrical world. Derek Hudson's narrative provides many details about this wide group of diverse characters that would otherwise be unavailable. The index of persons reads like a 'Who's Who' of the great and good of the Edwardian and Georgian era. An important chapter of his relationship with Delius is a case in point. The letters from Frederick and Jelka cited in Chapter IX of this book have been published elsewhere, but are here provided with a valuable context. This correspondence has been restored to 'its original state independent of house style’ in this present edition.
Thirdly, Hudson included a number of quotes from the composer's personal diary. This sort of reference is always fascinating when it includes detailed description as well as just dates and appointments. I particularly enjoyed the selections made from the composer's visit in 1922 to the United States and Canada aboard the Empress of Britain. His purpose in sailing (a prospect not relished by O'Neill) was to compose and present music to Belasco's production of The Merchant of Venice (1922) in New York. It is a diary that would bear detailed study, and possibly publication.

Much has been added in this present edition. In no particular order of importance, there are a dozen extra fascinating photographs exhumed from the O'Neill family archive. These include images of the composer at various stages of his career, his wife Adine, a contemporary poster for Mary Rose, snaps of the idyllic Loseley Farm, Elmhurst, and the fish-pond at 4 Pembroke Villas. I must point out that the first edition contains images not included in this present book, including two delightful cartoons by Aubrey Beardsley and the “Frankfurt Gang’ Grown Up’- a truly historical picture taken in 1930 at the Harrogate Festival.

The catalogue of works has been left largely untouched (I have glanced at both lists, but not done a complete ‘like for like’ check) I guess that little (if anything) has been published since 1945. Stephen Lloyd has contributed 'additional indices' as well as a bibliography. There is an important outline of primary sources and their locations including the British Library and the Royal College of Music. Lloyd has also contributed a pathetically brief discography (not his lack of industry, I hasten to add, but reflecting the lack of interest shown in O'Neill's music by record companies). The revised index is presented in two parts: ‘People’ and ‘Compositions’ - O'Neill's first then other composer's music. I do wish that a few geographical references had been included too, such as theatres, the composer's residences, both permanent and temporary such as Loseley Farm and Pembroke Villas, places in Canada and the ship the Empress of Britain. The bibliography is short and sweet, concentrating on readily available sources rather than hard-to-find reviews. Karen Hudson has added a sprinkling of footnotes to help the progress of the narrative and to provide a commentary on matters that are no longer common knowledge.

In spite of the fact that many music historians will possess (or have access to) the first edition of this book, I believe that its re-availability will be of considerable interest to a new generation. Firstly, bearing in mind Norman O'Neill's preeminent position as a doyen of 'incidental music,' will be the historians and enthusiasts of British (and American) theatre where so much of his music was first heard. As noted above, there seemed to be few of the great and good that were not a part of the composer's circle of friends. Secondly, readers whose concern is primarily film music will find a lot of interest here to satisfy their search for musical precursors from the age of theatre. Who knows, if Norman O'Neill had lived longer he may well have composed for the silver screen? Thirdly, musical historians will discover a wealth of information and detail about the composers comprising the ‘Frankfurt Group’, fascinating insights about Delius and Holst, as well as half remembered artists and performers of the Edwardian and Georgian age. Finally, those interested in rare, forgotten and obscure music will have their appetites whetted by the references to many of the composer's orchestral, chamber, piano and vocal works that are typically lying dormant. Many of these were published and deserve (based in what little I have heard of O'Neill's music) to be revived. Maybe it would not be too much to hope for some revivals of his Overtures and incidental music at the English Music Festival or from an enterprising CD producer!
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this book review was first published.