Archives for posts with tag: Edmund Rubbra

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

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TippettSometimes so-called “academic” composers are derided for writing music that might be technically brilliant but has little “natural” feeling or inspiration. R O Morris (1886-1948) should be a good example. Today he’s remembered primarily as a teacher of counterpoint (at the Royal College of Music) and a writer of text books. His pupils included Gerald Finzi, Constant Lambert, Edmund Rubbra and Michael Tippett. There’s just one tiny work of his that many people will know today, the anthem “Love Came Down at Christmas”.

But Morris enjoyed a ten year period of creativity as a composer, roughly between 1922 and 1932. Finzi, at least, thought highly of his music, and in an obituary piece (quoted in Diana McVeagh’s biography) he chose four pieces representing Morris at his most approachable – Corrina’s Maying for chorus and orchestra, the Concerto Piccolo, the Suite for Chamber Orchestra and the six Canzoni Ricertati for strong orchestra or string quartet – with the Toccata and Fugue for Orchestra at the other extreme and the Symphony in D (first performed on January 1, 1934 at the Queen’s Hall) somewhere in the middle. We learn from the other Finzi biography (from Stephen Banfield) that the last of the Canzoni Ricertati was rated his “one genuine masterpiece” and described as a “grave and lovely” work. But in the early 1930s Morris stopped composing and would never talk about his own work from that point onwards.

There’s little chance of hearing any of these pieces today – most of the manuscripts lie unpublished and hidden away in various libraries. But incredibly, a recording of the last Canzoni Ricertati by the Lindsay String Quartet does exist. I’ve been listening to it over the past few weeks and find it beautiful. It’s made up of three, 3 minute sections of intense fugal and canonic writing, but using themes that have the flavor of mournful folk melodies, closely related to each other. Each of the sections begins with a main theme that is immediately used against itself, and then a secondary theme is introduced around half way through and combined with the first. Towards the end there are sequential passages where aching false relations (influenced by the “golden age” of English counterpoint from the 16th century, on which Morris was an authority) predominate. Such passages recall the music of Peter Warlock, and as with most of Warlock’s work, these are miniatures. But their emotional impact and sheer density makes them seem much longer. They aren’t online anywhere I can find, so I can’t provide a link, but the CD is available and I encourage you to seek it out.