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Daniel Jones by Hubert Culot

This is the first of a series of several articles devoted to composers belonging to what I refer to as the "Lost Generation". Bernard Stevens, Peter Racine Fricker and Benjamin Frankel will hopefully be dealt with later on. A common feature shared by these composers is that they generally relied on dodecaphonic or serial techniques while maintaining some sense of tonality and without thus accepting all the implications and constraints of what might too easily become a rigid straitjacket. This very attitude made them outsiders somewhat sitting between two stools, too modern for traditionalists and too reactionary for the avant-garde clique. The direct result is that they were all rather neglected by both sides of the musical establishment although some isolated first performances and scattered recordings helped maintain their names and their works in a somewhat uncertain twilight. Times have now changed and their music might now, at long last, regain some well-deserved recognition and appraisal.

Daniel Jones was born in Pembroke in 1912. He started composing at four, wrote ten piano sonatas before he was nine. He was later educated at the University of Wales of which he held the M.A., D.Mus. and Honorary D.Litt. degrees and at the Royal Academy of Music of which he was an Associate. He also won the Mendelssohn Travelling Scholarship which allowed him to study abroad. Quite early in his career Jones developed a system of Complex Metres which he first used in 1936 and which is carried perhaps to its furthest extreme in the Sonata for Three Non-Chromatic Kettledrums. "The unifying element of a fixed pattern is present, but the pattern itself is asymmetrical, therefore, with a powerful means of satisfying structural requirements, there would seem to be possible both a greater variety and a greater subtlety in the rhythm-meter relationship" (Daniel Jones, The Score, June 1950). He nevertheless insisted that, far from being just a mathematical game, this system also had an aesthetic basis.

In 1950 his Symphonic Prologue was awarded the first prize of the Royal Philharmonic society. By then he had already embarked on his life-long project of composing twelve symphonies, each of them being centred on a semi-tone of the chromatic scale. His second symphony was written for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Many of his later works were written to commission. The Royal National Eisteddfod commissioned the fourth symphony In Memory of Dylan Thomas. Thomas, a very close friend of Jones for nearly thirty years, died under tragic circumstances in New York on the 9 November 1953, at the age of thirty-nine. In response Jones chose to write an elegiac symphony which was duly completed in 1954. The fourth symphony is a fine example of what Jones has been aiming at throughout his long creative life.

"The aim of the music, however, is expressive, and, in a sense, narrative. Such a combination may seem to anybody yet another paradox; but, to judge, for example from The Knife and Orestes, which are similarly constructed, the composer evidently does not fear that the dramatic effect will be endangered by strictness of form; indeed, it is his view that expressive and structural elements in music are not merely compatible, they are mutually indispensable" (Daniel Jones, sleeve notes, Oriel ORM 1004). He continued: "a symphony is a dramatic structure, with an emotive intention... but - and this is by far the more common situation in all instrumental music - the emotive intention cannot be fairly expressed in words, even though it is obviously present" (Daniel Jones, sleeve notes, Oriel ORM 1002).

This is a very typical attitude of Jones who, in his sleeve notes, generally viewed his music in technical and structural terms, though always insisting that expressivity was the primary aim of his music. Emotion and lyricism prevail in his music though he always managed to avoid any sentimentality. Just listen to the beautiful first movement or the orchestral intermezzo Winged Messengers of his cantata The Country beyond the Stars (1958). His music is generally terse, without any aimless meanderings. It always bluntly goes straight to the point, sometimes with rudeness or ruggedness, but never loses sight of the ultimate, expressive aim that is its very heart.

In 1963 Jones was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Arts and Letters and his opera The Knife received its first performance at Sadler s Wells by the New Opera Company. In 1964 he completed the Symphony No. 5, a commission by the BBC, and the Symphony No. 6 commissioned again by the Royal National Eisteddfod. The sixth symphony has six movements arranged into three pairs, the members of each pair being joined without a break, while the pairs are separated from one another by silences. Jones regularly experimented with different symphonic structures. "I see no point in writing virtually the same symphony over again, and make a deliberate attempt to vary my approach to the problems of melody, tonality, structure and orchestration while remaining naturally recognisable as myself."

Each symphony has its own tone colour in which instruments or groups of instruments play some kind of leading (or rather unifying) part. Kenneth Loveland (Music and Musicians December 1982) mentions that the most notable changes in Jones music in recent years have been a clarification of style, refinement of textures, the use of shorter motifs, a tighter concentration of material, and therefore brevity of expression. "The bigger symphonies were right for me at the time. I stand by them, but would not write like that today" (Daniel Jones, same 1982 article).

In 1967 Jones one-act opera Orestes, a BBC commission, was broadcast but has as yet to be staged. In 1968 Jones was appointed OBE. 1972 was a particularly prolific year for he composed the Sinfonietta, the Symphony No. 7 commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and dedicated to Charles Groves, and the Symphony No. 8 commissioned by the Swansea Festival. Symphony No. 9 (1974) was a commission from the Llandaff Festival. In the meantime Jones had also continued working on his long series of string quartets. These are not numbered but only bear the date of composition, thus String Quartet 1957 . He had actually composed string quartets earlier in his career but he disowned all his earlier string quartets and retained those dating after 1957. "They were just not good enough. Bad in every way. Bad style, bad technique" (Daniel Jones, Music and Musicians December 1982). He also wrote a number of miscellaneous chamber works including a cello sonata, a wind quintet, a string trio 1970 and the already mentioned Sonata for Three Non-Chromatic Kettledrums.

From 1975 onwards he continued composing what might eventually be viewed as the backbone of his entire output, i.e. his symphonies and string quartets. Symphony No. 10 was completed in 1981 and the last of the projected series, Symphony No. 12, in 1985. This was followed by a fine Cello Concerto (1986) and by another, though unnumbered, symphony Symphony in Memory of John Fussell. His very last completed work was String Quartet 1993 . Though symphonies and string quartets were central to Daniel Jones output, it also included a number of choral-orchestral works (The Witnesses, Hear the Voice of the Ancient Bard, St Peter), a violin concerto and a good deal of shorter orchestral works (e.g. the tone-poem The Cloud Messenger, the fine Dance Fantasy of 1976 and the overture Ieunenctid, to mention just a few I know). The present survey of Jones large and varied output is, I am afraid, rather sketchy and far from complete. It is based on the works I know, but each of them has long convinced me that Jones was a very distinguished composer whose major works certainly deserve a wider recognition for all their qualities of earnestness, assuredness, sureness of touch and - more importantly still - their deeply human honesty.

(c) Hubert Culot



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