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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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SCORE REVIEW

By MARION M SCOTT

STANFORDís TRAVELING COMPANION

Christian Science Monitor Saturday April 17 1920

 

SIR C V STANFORD'S NEW OPERA

Specially for the Christian Science Monitor

LONDON, England - the delays in music publication occasioned by the war are gradually being overcome, and one of the most welcome signs of this is the appearance of Charles Stanford's opera 'The Traveling Companion'. The work, it will be remembered, won a Carnegie Award in 1917, and it has now been published under the scheme of the United Kingdom Trust, in the Carnegie Collection of British music. Like all other works in this edition, it is issued by Messrs Stainer and Bell Ltd. London, and the artistic format and engraving are excellent - all that could be wished. Eight shillings net is the price of the vocal score.

The Opera's Conception

The opera is founded on Hans Andersen's tale of 'The Traveling Companion' and the libretto has been written by Sir Henry Newbolt. But the first idea of using the tale for an opera came from a third person - H Plunkett Greene, the well known singer. He it was who suggested 'The Traveling Companion' to Sir Charles Stanford as a good subject for an opera. Then came a day when Sir Charles played for him a prelude for piano that he (Stanford) had composed somewhere about the year 1911, quite independently, and Plunkett Greene suddenly exclaimed, "That's 'The Traveling Companion'".

So indeed it became, for though the piano prelude is not identical with the orchestral prelude which now opens the opera, the subject matter is the same in both, and the themes supply some of the main motives for the whole, notably those which refer to the traveling companion himself, and John. The finished score bears the date 1916. The work occupied Stanford's thoughts during the years 1915 and 1916 - thus following close upon his delightful 'Critic' - and most of it was written straight down in full score - an amazing feat for any composer.

Libretto

Newbolt's libretto lacks some of those qualities which made 'Shamus O'Brien' and 'The Critic' such admirable 'books', but it is nevertheless most picturesque. Romantic scenes succeed each other in the fifteenth century setting. The interior of a church, first lit by lightning, then by moonlight; this changes to a winding road with the church in the background; next the Palace Square, with the Princess' terrace; then the 'Wizard's Cave' this followed by a return to the Palace Square; and finally - a happy touch of artistic completion - by the church scene becoming visible once more. The characters who move through these surroundings are the Princess (heroine), John (the hero), the Traveling Companion, the King, the Wizard, the Herald, two Ruffians, two Peasant Girls and a chorus of Peasants, Goblins etc; while the story itself, chivalrous and richly colored, has for its under-currents the far-reaching power of a good deed, and of love.

Newbolt has put it together well, and has brought out the deeper issues of the allegory with delicate pure perception. But the actual wording of the libretto leans often to the lyric rather than the dramatic side, and the conventional phrases that are occasionally employed sound rather surprising from a poet of Newbolt's caliber; as for instance, John's soliloquy on first seeing the Princess:

A stir in the crowd.

I wonder who comes now, who passes yonder,

Toward the Palace steps - a lady -

Ah! What is this?

The world is changed,

The dawn has arisen,

The shadows are fleeing away -

All is a morning glory,

Oh! can it be the Princess?

A Melodic Inspiration

That Stanford can not only set such rhapsodizing but can pour real human emotion in and through it until, borne on the tide of his music, it becomes genuinely arresting, speaks volumes for the richness of his own inspiration. He has enough for himself and for the poet too. It is only fair to Newbolt to add, however, that in most instances his lyrics are beautiful, on their own merits, and his meters have a singular charm. The chorus too has been employed with felicity - it really belongs in the picture, and helps to carry on the natural development of the plot. One imagines that the collaboration between composer and poet must have been close over this, for Sir Charles, with his immense experience, is a past master of stage craft.

The opera consists of a prelude and four acts. Reference has already been made to the orchestral prelude, a movement so beautiful that a wish for its concert-room performance, apart from the theater, might very well be pardoned in those who know it, since opportunities for hearing opera in London, even with two seasons running simultaneously at Covent Garden and the Surrey Theater, are fewer than those for concerts. An impressive feature in this prelude is the noble use made by Stanford of modal color, while the truth and abundant beauty of the music and its emotional contents are expressed in terms of orchestration that seize upon one by their sheer loveliness and convincing suitability to the ideas expressed.

The Concordant Whole

Nearly every composer of real distinction evokes his own characteristic sound from an orchestra: Stanford has his and with it a peculiarly moving and felicitous use of the the woodwind and harp in his scores, a way it would be hard to parallel from the works of any other tone-poet. What is it like? These things are not to be described in words, though they are distinct and recognizable to both ear and heart, just as those wonderful lights and shadows of the Irish hills are unlike all others, and once seen are always remembered.

The prelude obviously deals with the more spiritual elements of the story; the four acts which follow are a happy blending of grave and gay. John's prayer is as deeply felt as the touch is deft and light which paints the young grace and laughter of the girls, who presently find John upon the church steps; the delicious phrase associated with the refrain "All is a morning glory" with its blend of folk-song and insouciance, sticks in one's memory for days afterwards, and is, indeed, one of the main melodic threads of the opera. The characterization throughout is always clear. In the case of the traveling companion himself, his remoteness, his unearthly quality, are indicated with extraordinary success.

Altogether it is a boon to British music to have had this opera published. One wishes now the next step might be that of performance.

Marion M Scott

This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins

 


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