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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).

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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.

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lordsprayerFollowing on from the sad death of John Tavener earlier this month, one miniature work – his serene setting of The Lord’s Prayer – was chosen as an end piece in at least three occasions paying tribute to the composer. It was performed at Southwark Cathedral on November 15th by the South Iceland Chamber Choir (Tavener’s favorite singers), followed the day after by the Tallis Scholars, who chose the setting to end their Lincoln Center recital at the Alice Tully Hall in New York. Both of these events, planned months in advance, weren’t originally intended as tributes, but that’s how they turned out – and both saw packed audiences. Yesterday (November 28th), came the official tribute, attended by over 700 people. Tavener’s funeral service at Winchester Cathedral , the majority of which was sung, also included The Lord’s Prayer, even requiring the congregation to stand and sing. That’s a reminder of how accessible his music can be, and how the often incredibly simple source material – just look at the economic soprano line – can be used to powerful effect.

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Musical Authors: Ezra Pound (2)

In 1920s Paris Ezra Pound began writing music criticism for The New Age under the name William Atheling. He befriended the iconoclast composer George Antheil, and even wrote a book of musical theory, Antheil and the Treatise on Harmony. He also began composing his first opera, The Testament of Francis Villon. The opera had to wait until October 1931 before it gained widespread attention through a BBC broadcast organized by the innovative producer Archie Harding. But although Harding commissioned a further opera, Cavalcanti, which Pound spent much of 1932 working on, his bosses became worried about Pound’s “amateur” status as a composer and the second work was never broadcast.

Another major influence in his life, both musically and poetically, was the musicologist and concert violinist Olga Rudge, his long-term mistress and the muse who helped inspire him to complete the Cantos. She was born in 1895 and died in 1996, aged 101. During the 1930s she was a central figure driving the revival of interest in the music of Vivaldi. Pound reviewed her concert of November 1930 (poster above), met her properly in 1922 and then encouraged his friend Antheil to write some music for her to play. But he also composed some pieces himself, premiered alongside Antheil’s three violin sonatas in Paris in late 1923 and London in May 1924. Some of these pieces were subsequently put together as Fiddle Music, first suite in 2004 and recorded on The Music of Ezra Pound. There are six movements, all less than one minute long. This is Pound’s only absolute music. The use of the word “fiddle” rather than violin points to the Celtic folk influence they display.

Pound’s operatic music was somewhat influenced by the anti-romanticism of Erik Satie and Les Six – and the recitative nature and sometimes the starkness of his settings certainly brings Satie’s Socrate to mind. But it also looks back to the homophonic music of medieval music, and goes much further than any of them in its focus on the rhythm of speech.

According to Margaret Fisher, it was Pound’s radio work at the BBC which led to his involvement with Rome Radio and the radio activities of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the leader of the Italian futurist art movement. Through Marinetti he began to broadcast the series of propaganda talks that led to his indictment for fascism and a thirteen year incarceration at St Elizabeth’s Federal Hospital for the Insane in Washington. There he wrote what many consider the finest of his poetic works, the complex and highly musical Pisan Cantos.

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Musical Authors: Edmund Crispin/Bruce Montgomery (1)
Edmund Crispin, whose real name was Bruce Montgomery, was one of the later representatives of what might be considered the “golden age” school of English detective novelists. He wrote a series of crime novels featuring his amateur sleuth, Professor Gervase Fen, which began appearing in the mid-1940s, starting with The Case of The Guilded Fly. Nine volumes appeared between 1944 and 1953. But then there followed a long gap until 1977 when the final Crispin novel, Glimpses of the Moon, was published. Why the silence?

The clues are to be found within the novels themselves. It’s evident from all of them that the author has an interest in music. But two in particular, Frequent Hearses and Swan Song, have a musical backdrop. Swan Song (1947) explores the world of opera during rehearsals for a production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg, while Frequent Hearses is set in a film studio, and includes among the characters Napier, a composer of film music. By 1950, when Frequent Hearses was published, Montgomery was busy elsewhere, also establishing himself as a composer of film music. The best known of these are his scores for the four Doctor in the House series of comedy films, and the first six Carry On films.

“In his concert works,” writes Crispin, “Napier was a somewhat acrid modernist, but like most such composers he unbuttoned, becoming romantic and sentimental when he was writing for films.” In letters to his friend, the composer Geoffrey Bush, Montgomery often complains that writing film scores in order to make money is too hard, taking up all of his time and distracting him from more serious composition. “I’m mortally sick of comedies,” he wrote at one point. He eventually composed the scores for nearly forty films, including documentaries and thrillers. The Carry-On Suite – arranged by David Whittle from the scores of Carry On Sergeant (1958), Carry on Teacher (1959) and Carry On Nurse (1959), provides a representative example, dominated by the main theme, a comedy March. Unfortunately, alcoholism made Montgomery unreliable and he was replaced as the resident composer for Carry On films by Eric Rogers, though the main theme continued to be used.