THE WILLIAM ALWYN SOCIETY
President: Mary Alwyn
Patron: Vilem Tausky CBE
Painting: Bird of Paradise Flowers by William Alwyn
Works Volume 2
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Divertimento for Solo flute
Crepuscule for Solo Harp
Sonata for Oboe and Piano
Sonata for Flute and Piano
Sonata Impromptu for Violin and Viola
The Haffner Wind Ensemble of London with Guests
Nicholas Daniel Director
Kate Hill - flute
Joy Farrall - clarinet
Leland Chen - violin
Clare McFarlane - viola
Ieuan Jones - harp
Julius Drake - piano
Notes © by Mary Alwyn
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Commissioned for Thea King who gave the first performance in London in 1962.
William Alwyn writes:
As with the late instrumental works of Debussy, my Sonata
abandons the conventional three or four movement work for one single movement and
so is in the nature of a fantasy-sonata full of dramatic contrasts but unconfined
by strict, formal design. The work is based on two major ideas - the first a brusquely
iterated semiquaver figure, heard first low in the bass of the piano; and second,
a long flowing cantilena sung by the clarinet over a chattering piano accompaniment,
again based on the semiquaver motif. It is a virtuoso piece which makes equal demand
on both players.
Divertimento for Solo Flute
When Alwyn learned that the International Society of Contemporary Music was inviting
entries for the next Festival (New York, 1941), he pondered on what could be the
most unlikely piece to be written for solo flute - the instrument he knew best. The
result was this Divertimento. By exploiting his intimate knowledge of the
instrument, he contrived a contrapuntal work in the classical form of four movements:
a Prelude and Fugue, Variations on a Ground, Gavotte and Musette and a Finale alla
Gigue. It was a technical tour de force for both composer and performer, as
one American reviewer commented:
The Divertimento for solo flute
by William Alwyn was musically substantial as well as very clever. It includes such
devices as a Fughetta in which the player is, of course,
required to present unaided the several voices, and an accompanied theme. The extraordinary
difficulties of the work were ably overcome by René le Roy, who was rewarded
by rounds of applause.
As Britain was in the depth of war the composer only learned of this performance
and its success sometime later.
Crépuscule for Solo Harp
This little piece was written at the request of the BBC for a broadcast on Christmas
Eve. In November 1955 Alwyn recorded in his journal Ariel to Miranda:
In the morning I was absorbed in writing a short piece
for harp for Sidonie Goossens. My new system of founding the harmonics on a short
scale pattern consisting of a few selected notes and working within these limits
is proving as stimulating here as it does in the symphony [i.e.No.3]. The discipline
is neither restrictive nor irksome: on the contrary it seems to me to ease the mental
process and, by limiting the palette, paradoxically suggests new colours. The piece
is meant to suggest a cold, clear winter's night with frosted snow.
the period between the wars Sir Henry Wood conducted many concerts in the provinces
and to strengthen these largely amateur orchestras he took with him a number of professional
wind players - Alwyn as principal flute, Helen Gaskell ( a pupil of Léon Goossens)
played the oboe and Archie Comedian the bassoon. It was for these players and the
string players with whom he frequently broadcast that Alwyn wrote much chamber music.
Sonata for Oboe and Piano
This was first played at a concert of the Royal Academy of Music New Music Society
in 1934 by Helen Gaskell and her sister Lilian. A notice in The Times praises
the work as "a true sonata" giving each instrument an equal share in the progress
of the music. By 1939 it was sufficiently in demand to be included in a broadcast
on the BBC National Programme in the series Your Choice for this Week. It
is interesting to note that in today's series Listener's Choice, Alwyn's music
is often among the requested works.
The Sonata's first movement is based on a two-bar phrase, played on the piano and
echoed on the oboe. After the chorale-like second movement comes a lively waltz followed
by a slower Coda whose gently moving semiquavers bring the piece to a close.
Sonata for Flute and Piano
During the war, Alwyn gave lessons at the Academy on the flute as well as in composition
(he had been Professor of Composition there from the age of 21). One of his pupils
was the flautist Gareth Morris, who would later gain international acclaim. Morris
gave the first performance of this Sonata in a broadcast in November 1948, with Ernest
Lush. I found the flute part amongst my husband's music, but nowhere was there any
sign of the final piano part. There were, however, two pencil copies - but these
gave differing versions of one particular phrase. The distinguished flautist, Christopher
Hyde-Smith kindly resolved this problem for me in the version which is played here.
The work is in one movement but falls into three distinct sections: the first, slow,
in which the theme is announced by the piano. Next, an Adagio tranquillo in
which the main idea is first played by the flute then appears in various guises on
both flute and piano until it resolves into the quavers leading to Allegro ritmico
e feroce. This is a fugue with the first and second voices both played by the
flute. The piano joins in with the third and fourth voices growing to a fortissimo
based on the Adagio, which leads to the Coda.
The Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola was completed in 1939 and was
written for Alwyn's viola-playing friend, Watson Forbes, who played it with Frederick
Grinke. Among its performances was one in May 1940 at the National Gallery in London.
This museum of art (bereft of its pictures, which had been removed from the constant
bombing of London to safety in the country) was used for lunch-time concerts of
classical music. The recitals were given by the finest artists, who often appeared
in their war-time uniforms. The audience ranged from members of the armed forces
on leave and off-duty fire and air raid wardens to secretaries and music students
from the R.A.M. and R.C.M. - of which I was one- often eating their lunchtime sandwiches
in the interval.
The Sonata is in three movements: the first a Prelude in which the bold opening
is followed by a fugal section with a return to the opening in the Coda. The
second is a theme and seven variations, the last of which, an Intermezzo,
leads directly into the Finale alla Capriccio. This is a much extended movement
with fugal writing based on the Prelude and a brisk ending in a major key.
The composer's mastery of the possibilities of string techniques is so great that
this little piece frequently sounds like a string trio or quartet with three or even
four players performing.
© Mary Alwyn
Undoubtedly the finest piece here is the Oboe Sonata, a splendid piece, pastoral
in feeling, which should be in every oboists repertoire. The first movement is delectably
grazioso, the second has a gentle, chorale-like tune which immediately lodges
in the memory and then is charmingly embroidered by the oboe, while the finale, in
waltz tempo, ends wistfully.
A winner! ......
....Alwyn demonstrates in all these works a natural skill in part-writing and his
ready flow of appealing invention.......
The recording is first-class, a typically superior Chandos product
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For much of his lifetime William Alwyn was looked upon as a composer's composer,
relied upon for his utter professionalism, both in terms of the craftsmanship of
his music (particularly in his film scores) and in what is asked of, and offered
the performer. I remember, for example, during a performance by John Ogden of Alwyn's
Fantasy-Waltzes, Hans Keller passing me a not which read "Alwyn is one of
the very few composers who knows how to write a waltz". Hans didn't give that kind
of praise easily. (It strikes me that, less than ten years later, all three men are
dead.) The few pieces that made it to the ears of a wider public - mainly thanks
to Lyrita's pioneering LPs - confirmed the quality of Alwyn's muse. And there it
seemed to stop: nothing "next" came along to launch Alwyn as one of Britain's more
important traditional - i.e. tonal - composers. Now, as Hyperion for Robert
Simpson. Chandos' ongoing series of recordings (each with a reproduction of one
of Alwyn's striking paintings on the front) have revealed that Alwyn was indeed a
master symphonist, a composer who was certainly a consummate craftsman - and was
also a powerful and original voice.
This second in Chandos' recording of the chamber music reflects Alwyn's expert knowledge
of just how far he could push his performers. The Clarinet Sonata of 1962 contains
some cruelly high writing for the instrument. Alwyn described it as "a fantasy-sonata
full of dramatic contrasts" which is fair comment, if slightly disingenuous - it
contains extremes as marked as anything else in the English pastoral tradition within
which it loosely sits...........
The prime mover of this series seems to have been Mary Alwyn, the composer's widow.
She can allow herself the satisfaction of seeing her husband's name firmly enshrined
in the symphonic mainstream: and if individual players and chamber musicians wonder
what gems there might be for their own instruments, they could do worse than keep
an eye on the Chandos new-release sheets.
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDECrépuscule, a beautiful
piece for solo harp. Finally we find Alwyn in neoclassic mode for the Sonata for
Violin and Viola, a fine 15-minute piece reminiscent of his Concerto Grossi previously
recorded by Chandos. This disc is a fine addition to their collection, beautifully
played and recorded.
The Penguin GuideAwarded***
Alwyn demonstrates in all these works a natural skill in interweaving his part-writing
and his usual ready flow of appealing melody. Overall this programme is consistently
rewarding and the recording is very real and immediate.