ConversationsThis set of five short descriptive pieces for chamber ensemble (string trio and various combinations of flute, bass flute, oboe and cor anglais), marks evidence of influence by “Les Six”, the group of French composers that Bliss had met in Paris just after the war. It was considered daring at the time, and apparently provoked scathing reviews in the Daily Mail at its first performance (at London’s Aolian Hall, 20 April 1921 – the hall partially survives today at 135-7 New Bond Street, some of it in use by Sotherbys). This is “programme music”, witty and modern 1920s style – only the pastoral second movement “In the Woods” evokes the more typical subject for descriptive music of nature, and even here the interspersed birdsong appears slightly more at odds, sometimes jarring against the gently nostalgic melodic material. The other movements describe scenes of London life. “The Committee Meeting” opens the work with the various instruments all playing together but seemingly not listening to each other, with the violin, representing the chairman trying to maintain some order, instructed “to play a monotonous mf except where marked ff.”  That “ff” marks a full blown argument towards the end of the movement, successfully silenced, only for the chaos to start over again.  “In the Ballroom” lightly evokes jazz in its outer sections, but it’s interrupted by a more reflective, darker passage in the middle. “Soliloquy” is the darkest movement of all, scored for solo cor anglais. Then it’s back to the bustle “In the Tube at Oxford Circus”, the sound of which is very evocative of the 1920s – percussive and tonally astringent, but enriched by the unusual instrumentation and striking melodic fragments, especially in the calmer middle section. Conversations cries out for filmic interpretation.

Advertisements