Gla3.jpg I now own scores for all the Hans Gal 24 Preludes & Fugues. It wasn’t completely straightforward, but I’m slightly amazed that they are available at all. They are all late works. The 24 Preludes, all brief (none of them last over four minutes in performance) were written in 1960 when the composer was already 70 years old, and published five years later. He began composing them while in hospital “as a present to himself” according to Michael Freyhan’s notes to the Alada Racz premiere recording, issued in 2001. Gal himself called them “studies in piano sound, piano technique and concentrated miniature form”. They are also elegant and beautiful, ranging from the graceful late Brahms of No 24, the flowing 5/8 of No 19, and the surprising polytonality of No 21, which despite a right hand stave in C major (avoiding any accidentals) and left hand stave in F sharp major, still manages to sound (in Gal’s description for the whole set) “unconditionally tonal”.  I don’t think there’s a dud among them, but one of my favourites is Prelude No 7, “just” a study in using the thumb to cover seconds, but the end sounding to me like Ravel at his most luminous

Of course there’s a nod to Bach in the title, something made more apparent by the publication twenty years later (the composer now 90) of the 24 Fugues. I admit I’m still getting to know these rather more abstract and single-minded works, which can be formidable to listen to as a set. While the Preludes are varied and wide-ranging in their influences (from Chopin through Mussorgsky to Ravel, Poulenc and Shostakovich), the Fugues are all about purity of counterpoint. My feeling is that a pairing of the two works into a set of 24 Preludes and Fugues would provide the necessary counterbalances, but I haven’t actually tried this out yet. They weren’t written using the same tonal scheme – the Preludes come in four groups, where the six keys form an augmented triad, while the Fugues are move conventionally sequenced – so presumably weren’t intended to be matched. There are now three recordings of the complete Preludes (by Alda Racz, Martin Jones and Leon McCawley) and one of the complete Fugues (by McCawley).

vand       Bernard van Dieren is perhaps the archetypal neglected composer – hailed as a genius by a small group of followers during his lifetime, hardly a note of his has been heard in the concert hall since his death in 1936. But how neglected is he really? Below is a chronological list of (arguably) his major works. Those marked with a star  – 12 out of 22 – have been recorded in one form or another. On top of that, there are recordings of nearly 40 songs (out of a total of around 60 composed). Many other better known composers haven’t fared so well. It’s true that very few are commercially available (or if they were, long deleted), but there are a considerable number of broadcast performances or now unavailable recordings retrieved from the archives that can now be heard on You Tube (the majority of them posted by Alexander Hart – thank you).  And of course we await the first commercial release of the Chinese Symphony by Lyrita on November 18th.

Main works:  (* = recordings)

Elegy for cello and orchestra (1908) *
Symphonic Epilogue to “The Cenci”, op 3 (1910)
Belsazar for baritone and orchestra (1911)
Six Sketches for piano, op 4a (1911) *
Toccata for Piano (1912) *
String Quartet No 1 (1912) *
Chinese Symphony, op 6 (1914) *
Diaphony, for baritone and chamber orchestra (1916)
Overture to an imaginary comedy for sixteen instruments (1916)
String Quartet No 2, op 9 (1917)
String Quartet No 3, op 15 (1919)
String Quartet No 4, op 16 (1923) *
Serenade for chamber orchestra (1925)
Sonetto VII (Spenser), for tenor and 11 instruments (1925)
Three Studies for piano solo (1925) *
String Quartet No 6 (1927) *
Sonata for solo violin op 5 (1928) *
Tema con Variazione for piano (1928) *
Sonata for solo cello (1930)
The Tailor, opera (1917-30)
String Quartet No 5 (1931) *
Estemporales, harp solo (1931) *

conk  The extract below is from Lutyens, Maconchy, Williams and Twentieth-Century British Music: A Blest Trio of Sirens, by Rhiannon Mathias (2012). In the front cover photo above Elizabeth Maconchy is on the left, Grace Williams is in the center and Elisabeth Lutyens on the right.

Maconchy’s cycle of 13 string quartets, the first composed in 1933 (when she was 26) and the last in 1979 are inevitably influenced by Bartok but they have their own individual voice – and they have all been recorded. There’s been a recent revival of interest in the work of Grace Williams, resulting in some major works such as the Violin Concerto, Second Symphony and her last major work, Fairest of Stars for soprano and orchestra (1973) receiving modern performances. Lutyens perhaps remains the best known from a historical perspective, though here music is only occasionally played these days. Mathias draws attention to the ambition set of Music for Orchestra pieces written between 1953 and 1981, lush and lyrical in the manner of Alban Berg. According to Anthony Payne (cited by Mathias), these four pieces “occupy a place in her work similar to that of symphonies in other composers”. Music for Orchestra 1V received its broadcast premiere on 15 December 1983 with the City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox conducting. Lutyens had died died nine month earlier, on 15 April 1983).

The Arts Theatre Club mentioned in the extract is not the current club with that name in Frith St, but what is now called the Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street. It had opened two years before Bartok’s visit.

bartok

 

machine Due out on October 8th, John Seabrook’s new book The Song Machine is an expansion of a New Yorker article from 2012. It describes the modern method of putting together hit songs deployed by producers such as Max Martin – who has scored 56 top ten hits since 1996 – more than Madonna (38), Elvis (36) and The Beatles (34). In brief, producers work on a backing track of chord progressions, drum track and synth sounds and pass this on to “top  line” writers that might either be session singers, who come into the studio and improvise until they find some hooks, or star singers themselves such as Beyoncé, who do the top line work themselves. Lyrics are often derived from collections of common phrases culled from magazines and television. There must be multiple hooks, not just one, if the song is to become a hit.

Seabrook highlights a case where one producer, Ryan Tedder, inadvertently sent out the same backing track to both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson in 2009. Few people noticed, Seabrook points out, and both became hits – “Halo” for Beyoncé in April and “Already Gone” for Kelly Clarkson in August.

Hound From 1917, the Carnegie Trust in the UK began a scheme to encourage the publication of large scale British musical works by asking composers to submit manuscripts. An anonymous panel chose up to six works per year for an award – publication at the expense of the Trust, in conjunction with Stainer and Bell. Unfortunately the war delayed things for the earliest prizewinners. The first to be published (in 1918) was the Piano Quartet in A minor by Herbert Howells. (It caught the attention of the young William Walton, who successfully submitted his own Piano Quartet six years later). By the end of 1920 some 13 works were available. 30 were out by the end of 1922, and when the scheme finally closed in 1928 some 60 substantial works that might not otherwise have seen the light of day had been issued under the Carnegie Collection of British Music imprint.

Today these scores with their distinctive covers aren’t all that easy to find – and they haven’t aged well. I recently bought a copy of Cyril Rootham’s Brown Earth on Ebay – this was once a very popular choral piece. Probably the most commercially successful of all the Carnegie works was Holst’s Hymn of Jesus, but it’s the hidden gems and almost forgotten composers that provide the fascination. Recently there’s been a successful revival of the W H Harris choral work Hound of Heaven, which might be followed up with a recording.

Finding out about this collection of scores isn’t easy today. A 2014 dissertation from the University of Iowa includes some very useful research, and a collection of most (over 50) or the scores is held at the Maughan Library (part of Kings College, London, on the Strand). I couldn’t find an accessible list anywhere on the Internet, so below is an alphabetical list of the holdings at Maughan Library.

Edgar Bainton (1880-1956). Concerto Fantasia: for piano and orchestra. Before Sunrise: a symphony for contralto solo, chorus, and orchestra.

Granville Bantock (1868-1946). Hebridean Symphony.

Herbert Bedford (1867-1945). Night Piece, The Shepherd: for voice (contralto or mezzo), flute, oboe, and piano.

Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960). Pastoral Fantasy: for string quartet.

Rutland Boughton (1878-1960). The Immortal Hour: music-drama.

York Bowen (1884-1961). String Quartet No 2 in D minor, op 41.

Ina Boyle (1889-1967). The Magic Harp: rhapsody for orchestra.

Sam Hartley Braithwaite (1883-1951). Elegy: for orchestra. Snow Picture: for orchestra.

Frank Bridge (1879-1941). The Sea: suite for orchestra.

Alan Bush (1900-1995). String Quartet in A minor, op 4.

Lawrence A Collingwood (1887-1982). Poeme Symphonique: for orchestra.

Learmont Drysdale (1866-1909). Tam o’Shanter: concert overture.

Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946). The Enchanted Garden: opera in one act, op 65.

George Dyson (1883-1964). Three Rhapsodies: for string quartet, op 7.

David Emlyn 1843-1913. Concerto for String Orchestra, op 7.

Harry Farjeon (1878-1948). Phantasy Concerto: for piano and chamber orchestra, op 64. St Dominic Mass: for choir, orchestra, solo soprano, tenor and solo violin, op 51.

Ernest Farrar (1885-1918). Three Spiritual Studies: for string orchestra, op 33. English Pastoral Impressions: suite for orchestra.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). A Severn Rhapsody: for chamber orchestra.

Nicholas Gatty (1874-1946). Prince Ferelon, or, The Princess’s Suitors: a musical extravaganza in one act.

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs. The Blue Peter: a comic opera in one act.

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). The Western Playland: song-cycle for baritone voice, string quartet and piano. Ludlow and Teme: song-cycle for tenor voice, string quartet and piano.

W H Harris (1883-1973). The Hound of Heaven, for baritone solo, chorus & orchestra.

Edward Norman Hay (1889-1943). String Quartet in A major.

Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1901-1947). Variations, Intermezzo, Scherzo & Finale: for orchestra.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934). The Hymn of Jesus: for two choruses, semi-chorus and full orchestra, op 37.

Howells, Herbert (1892-1983). Piano Quartet in A minor, op 21. Rhapsodic Quintet: clarinet quintet, op 31.

John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948). Solway Symphony.

Jeffrey Mark (1898-1965). Scottish Suite: for violins and piano.

Percy Hilder Miles (1878-1922). Sextet in G minor.

Robin Milford (1903-1959). Double Fugue for Orchestra, op 10.

Edward Mitchell. Fantasy Overture: for orchestra (with six horns).

R O Morris (1886-1948). Fantasy: for string quartet.

Cyril Rootham (1875-1938). Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, for soloists, chorus, semi chorus & orchestra. Brown Earth, for chorus, semi-chorus & orchestra.

Alec Rowley (1892-1958). The Princess Who Lost a Tune: ballet-mime.

Cyril Scott (1879-1970). Nativity Hymn: for chorus, soli and orchestra.

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). Symphony No 5 in D major L’Allegro ed il Pensieroso, op 56. The Travelling Companion: opera in four acts, op 146.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). A London Symphony.

Alfred M Wall (1875 – ????). Quartet for Piano & Strings in C minor.

William Walton (1902-1983). Piano Quartet in A minor.

Peter Warlock (1894-1930). The Curlew: song cycle for tenor solo, flute, English horn, and string quartet.

Felix Harold White (1884-1945). The Nymph’s Complaint: poem for oboe (or violin), viola & piano.

W G Whittaker (1876-1944). A Lyke-Wake Dirge: for chorus and orchestra. Among the Northumbrian Hills: free variations on an original theme for piano and string quartet.

Stanley Wilson (1899-1953). A Skye Symphony, op 38.

Leslie Woodgate (1902-1961). A Hymn to the Virgin: for baritone solo, men’s voices, strings, piano and organ.

symph

With James MacMillan’s Symphony No 4 just performed at the Proms, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of representative British symphonies composed over the past decade. I’ve listed one symphony per year and made it a rule that no composer can have more than one entry. The dates used refer to the premiere performance where possible or to the date of composition where the premiere took place a long time after the work was composed (or where there hasn’t yet been a concert performance).

As with all these things, this inevitably leads to some compromises – 2006 and 2011 were “famine years” as far as the symphony was concerned, whereas 2007 was crowded with new works. Omissions from the list include works by Ronald Stevenson and Giles Swayne (both 2007), and by Ronald Corp (2009) – not to mention just as notable alternative symphonies from the listed composers and many others by perhaps lesser known names, such as the highly prolific Derek Bourgeois, who has now written over 100 symphonies.

Excluding Bourgeois, there are over 50 symphonies on my full list that were composed or premiered between 2005 and 2015 – and I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed. Astonishingly, recordings are available for all but two of the eleven symphonies listed.

James MacMillan: Symphony No 4 (premiere 3 August 2015, BBC Proms). The Proms premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie in 1990 made MacMillan internationally known. The first symphony “Vigil” came out in 1997, followed by No 2 (for chamber orchestra) in 1999 and No 3 “Silence” in 2002. (Listen again).

Michael Nyman: Symphony No 11 “Hillsborough” (premiere 5 July 2014, Liverpool). Nyman recently began to plan a series of 19 symphonies, some of them re-using themes and material from earlier works. The first of these (starting at numbers 5 and 6) received their premieres in 2013. Recording: MN Records

David Owen Norris: Symphony (premiere 27 May 2013, Dorchester). David Owen Norris is better known as a pianist and broadcaster, but studied composition with Eric Thiman and John Gardner. The London premiere of his Symphony is on October 1 2015 at St Paul’s Covent Garden, where the Piano Concerto in C and a new choral work, Turning Points, will also be performed.

Peter Maxwell Davies: Symphony No 9 (premiere 9 June 2012, Liverpool). The first of Maxwell Davies’ cycle was composed in 1976 and premiered two years later. Numbers 7 and 8 were both composed in 2000. No 10 was first performed at the Barbican in February 2014. Recording: Youtube

Christopher Gunning: Symphony No 7 (composed 2011). Gunning studied with Edmund Rubbra and Richard Rodney Bennett, but became best known as a composer of film and TV music (such as La Vie en Rose and Poirot). His first symphony was composed in 2002. Most of them have been recorded. Recording: Discovery

David Matthews: Symphony No 7 (premiere 24 April 2010, Manchester). Matthews has written eight symphonies (between 1978 and 2014) with a ninth in the works. The sixth, his biggest, was premiered at the BBC Proms in 2007. Dutton is working on recordings of the full cycle. Recording: Dutton

Richard Causton: Chamber Symphony (premiere 16 October 2009, Birmingham). Causton’s breakthrough work was The Persistence of Memory for chamber orchestra in 1995. His Chamber Symphony uses a combination of live and pre-recorded music. Twenty-Seven Heavens, for large orchestra, premiered in 2012. Recording: NMC

Philip Sawyers: Symphony No 2 (premiere 15 June 2008, Sydenham). Sawyers studied with Buxton Orr, Patric Standford and Edmund Rubbra. He has been particularly successful in the US. Symphony No 1 appeared in 2004. A third symphony has been commissioned by the English Symphony Orchestra. Recording: Nimbus

John McCabe: Symphony No 7 “Labyrinth” (premiere 14 September 2007, Liverpool): McCabe, who died in 2015, wrote thirteen symphonies before he was eleven, but there are seven numbered symphonies in the official catalogue, the first composed in 1965. Recording: Youtube

Arthur Butterworth: Symphony No 6, op 124 (composed 2006, premiere 2009, St Petersburg). As well as the seven numbered symphonies (1956-2012), Butterworth wrote symphonic studies, concertos, brass band pieces and around 40 chamber works. The final symphony (No 7) had its premiere on 28 February 2012 in Huddersfield). Butterworth died in 2014.

Matthew Taylor: Symphony No 3 (premiere 7 January 2005, St John’s Smith Square). Taylor studied at Cambridge under Robin Holloway, and later with Robert Simpson and Malcolm Arnold. His largest body of work is chamber music, but he has also written five concertos and three symphonies, the first in 1985. A fourth symphony has been commissioned for 2015/16 by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra. Recording: Dutton

lambertI only discovered the picture above a few days ago, in the Getty Images archive. Taken on Wednesday the 29th of July 1931, it shows composer Constant Lambert (aged 25) and his first wife, Florence Chuter (aged 18) just a few days before their wedding on August 5th at Kensington Registry Office. Flo, as she was known, was an actress working under the name Florence Kay. She had an oriental appearance and this must have been what attracted Lambert to her. His Eight Poems of Li Po, written five years earlier, had been dedicated to the (entirely unattainable) Chinese actress Anna-May-Wong.

It took me a while to work out the location of the photo, even though I should have recognized it immediately, as I worked for almost a decade just a few hundred yards away. It was taken in Greek Street, close to where the Pillars of Hercules pub straddles Manette Street, and looking towards Soho Square. The sign on the right hand side is a bit blurred, but it’s easy to make out that it belongs to a Chinese restaurant – and a bit of research reveals that in the 1930s the Shanghai Chinese restaurant was located just here, at 8 Greek Street. It was a popular haunt for literary types (just as the Pillars of Hercules is today).

Maxim’s Chinese Restaurant in Gerrard Street (still today filled with Chinese restaurants) is usually cited as the most likely real-life equivalent to Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, the establishment that gives its name to Anthony Powell’s novel, part of the Dance to the Music of Time sequence. In that novel, the fictional composer Moreland is generally understood to be based on Lambert, who was friendly with Powell. But given that Casanova actually lived in Greek Street (in 1764, at No 47), and the evidence of this photo that Lambert favoured the Shanghai, perhaps there’s a case to be made for it as well?

The Eight Songs of Li Po are beautifully scored for a small chamber ensemble, influenced perhaps by the similarly scored songs by Arthur Bliss, The Women of Yueh (1923-24), also settings of Li Po. Most are less than two minutes long, and for me, two of the briefest are the best of all. “A Summer Day” begins with a limpid, mostly white note instrumental introduction in triple time that actually sounds at its best in the piano version. It reflects the poem’s depiction of easy-going drinking and relaxing in the cool mountains. “On the City Street”, once again using mostly white note harmonies, takes up just one page of manuscript, but not a note is wasted. Initially, the meter varies in response to the text, but then the vocal line starts to rise and flow for the words “There are ten thousand houses, among the drooping willow trees”. The accompaniment then gradually peters out with a series of quiet, falling figures, a very poignant effect.

MattA stirring performance of the St Matthew Passion on Saturday night in Winchester Cathedral (by the Waynflete Singers with guest conductor Sir Roger Norrington), reminded me just how great the opening chorus (“Kommt ihr Tochter”) is. It’s ridiculous to try to analyse such a towering masterpiece in a short blog entry – and I wouldn’t feel up to the task however many words I used. Instead I’ll just summarise the most obvious things I heard once again tonight that add up to so much.

First the orchestral introduction with its ominous, 12/8 tread over a persistent pedal point and grinding harmonies, ratcheting up the tension before the choir enters. In fact two choirs enter, spatially separated and singing different parts. They represent the crowds in Jerusalem (perhaps on either side of the road) questioning each other as Jesus walks slowly along bearing the cross. And there’s a third layer, choirboys singing a simple chorale melody (“innocent Lamb of God”), soaring above the complex texture in a bright G major, which contrasts with the choir’s somber E minor. Towards the end, when it seems like all the main material has been presented, the choir takes up something new, a more fragmented, quieter and harmonically uneasy sequential passage, as the crowd starts to acknowledge its own complicity and guilt. “Look. Look where? On our offence”. After that the two choirs come together as one for the first time: “Look – behold his love for us”. It’s breathtaking.

This is one of Bach’s longest single choral movements, usually lasting around eight minutes, but it never seems long enough to me – though that doesn’t mean it should be played too slowly. There’s an urgency in the music that pushes it along and that shouldn’t be resisted. For me the reason this movement is so compelling is its mixture of explicit drama, coming from the situation and the text, coupled with music that’s expertly paced in the way it ebbs and flows harmonically and rhythmically. On top of this are the spatial contrasts between the two choirs, the choirboys and the two orchestras. It’s as if the various forces have been blocked for positions, just as actors are in the theatre. This all intensifies the drama to an unimaginable height. Norrington (who is now 81 years old), sat down to conduct the performance, but his long arms expertly traced the contours of the piece to guide and inspire the performers. Chorus Master George Castle, who did a lot of the preparatory work behind the scenes, was also on hand to conduct the Winchester Cathedral Choristers.

For a very different production with the very minimum of forces that highlights the drama (perhaps a little at the expense of the music, but exhilarating none the less) an excerpt of Jonathan Miller’s theatrical staging can be seen here.

offrampThis is relatively early Metheny (from his third album, Offramp), but it’s one of his best and has stood the test of time.  It’s a slow-burner lasting more than eight minutes – perhaps that’s the reason for the title as the listener must be patient while the underlying changes work through.  Acting like a continuo part, the rhythm guitar, bass and percussion provide the harmonic basis for improvisation, but also (along with some wispy counter-melodies on top) sets the mood and the pace of the piece from the outset. It’s more than a riff, it’s an ostinato that plays out over a very long timescale. Compared to a typical 12 bar blues, the complete cycle of changes spans 48 bars before it repeats, divided (after the eight bars of introduction) into two sections of sixteen bars followed by two sections of eight bars.  The entire 48 bar sequence is used three times, the first as backing for a harmonica-sounding keyboard solo, and the second and third for Metheny’s extended guitar-synth solo. Because of this timespan it’s hard to keep track of exactly where you are until you get to know the piece.

The overall architecture is a gradual build up to a climax, and then a slight easing off at the end (at least in the recorded version – played live the build is often maintained right until the slow coda). Aside from the obvious rise in volume and the growing intensity of Metheny’s solo, this is achieved by various means. The ostinato part changes gradually, for instance with additional rhythm on high keyboards for the second repeat, and the bass part gradually broadens out until it’s revealed as a full bossa-nova like line (a little reminiscent of Horace Silver’s Song For My Father).  Then there are two modulations as the sequences complete, racking the key up a semitone each time.

There are comparisons to be made here with minimalist music, perhaps, but also with Ravel’s Bolero, in which the melody lines similarly unwind over very long phrases on top of an ostinato grouped over two 18-bar sections which alternate. Interestingly, “Are You Going With Me?” also works surprisingly well as an orchestral piece – at least when lovingly transcribed and played (in 2003) by the Netherlands-based Metropole Orchestra with Pat Metheny himself as the soloist.

StepAfter all those years of prime time telly, Cilla Black is a somewhat unfashionable figure today – but look back at her music catalogue of the 1960s and 1970s and a lot of it is still remarkably fresh and interesting. The best of all for me is the stripped back demo version of “Step Inside Love” with composer Paul McCartney accompanying on guitar (and contributing the occasional vocal during the guitar break).  It was recorded in Chappell Studios (by then located at 52 Maddox Street, London) on November 21 1967, the same venue where the Beatles had recorded “Your Mother Should Know” three months before, and also where McCartney joined Chris Barber and his Band for the recording of “Cat Call” in July – another of the songs he “gave away”.

The take shows that Cilla doesn’t need big orchestral backing to support her, and nor does she need the power of her upper register to get across the emotion of the song – in fact when the single version came out it had been transposed up a full fourth (from D to G) for that reason. The deeper register of the demo – it’s really as deep as her voice will go – makes for a much mellower atmosphere.  All the elements used in the single are also in the demo.  McCartney told Barry Miles later on: “I quite like the song, it’s very cabaret. It was just a welcoming song for Cilla”.  And that’s the point – it was written specifically to open her 1968 TV series, Cilla, though in this demo version it retains a more personal intimacy.

That cabaret feel comes from the use of bossa nova rhythm, something that’s more evident in the Beatles’ own demo, made a year later using exaggerated percussion (not one of their finest moments). The most distinct harmonic aspect of the song is the chromatic slide down to the next full tone after “let me find you a place” (G, Gb to F in the example above, which has been transposed to C major), repeated after the following phrase down another tone (F, E, Eb), and echoed in the descending motto of the chorus:  ”Step-In-Side-Love”. Hard to notate in guitar chord symbols but entirely natural to play.