Classical Editor: Rob
ENGLISH COMPOSERS FOR AMATEURS: No 7- ADAM CARSE by Philip L Scowcroft
Adam Von Ahn Carse (the Von Ahn was little used latterly especially after the outbreak of the Great War) was born in Newcastle on 19 May 1878 and died in Great Missenden on 2 November 1958. During the intervening eighty years he acquired a considerable reputation as a teacher, writer, collector of old instruments and composer. mainly of music for students and amateurs. He was educated for a short time (in 1892) in Hanover, Germany and then as a Macfarren Scholar at the RAM between 1893 and 1902, where his composition teacher was Frederick Corder. For thirteen years (1909-22) he was Assistant Music Master at Winchester College, after which he returned to the RAM as Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint a post he held until 1940. His collection of 350 old wind instruments was presented in 1947 to the Horniman Museum.
His early compositions included an orchestral prelude to Byron's Manfred, the symphonic poems The Death of Tintagiles (1902) and, performed at the 1905 Henry Wood Proms, In a Balcony plus two symphonies premiered in London in 1906 and 1908, the second being revised for a Newcastle Festival performance in 1909. Later orchestral compositions were mainly shorter and lighter in style and easy enough to be readily played by amateurs. He catered indeed for the very young with a Toy Suite for piano and seven toy instruments entitled Childhood's Happy Days. Many other works were for strings only: The Variations on Barbara Allen (1921), a Berceuse (1946), Festival March, Minuet in G, Miniature Symphony in D, Northern Song, Romance and Gavotte, Three Dances, a Sinfonia in D, Two Sketches (1923), a Suite in C (1925), Variations in F, the five movement Winton Suite and sundry settings of traditional and popular tunes of which I heard recently the Norwegian Folk Dances Tunes. For larger orchestral forces he composed a Norwegian Fantasia for violin and orchestra, Lullaby and Dance, Country Song and Dance, a late work, the brief Holiday Overture, the overture Happy Heart, the miniature suite Boulogne, A Romantic Legend (first performed in September1938 on the BBC), the Waltz Variations (played at a Patrons' Fund rehearsal in 1924), the suite The Merry Milkmaids and again aimed at children, the Dance Phantasy, The Nursery, comprising an introduction, six dances and a finale. Still other orchestral works were arrangements derived from his study of 18th Century music: The Old English Military Marches (ie those for the New Coldstream, the 35th Foot and the Duke of Gloster: at least seven others appeared in piano versions), the Georgian Tunes, which included pieces by Stanley and John Humphries and Town and Country Tunes. Compositions for brass band also claimed his attention as can be seen from the Three Characteristic Pieces, Three English Pictures and the overture Puffing Billy.
Carse's chamber compositions also included many which were suitable for young amateurs with such titles as Follow Your Leader, Rondino and Slow Waltz, all for piano trio; a Trio in D Minor for the unusual combination of two violins and viola; the Terzetto for violin, viola and cello; the Capricietto in A major (1920), Hours of Pleasure and Scenes Afloat, both in three movements, the very attractive Fiddle Fancies and many other instructional pieces, plus the Waltzes of 1917 and a Sonatina in D Major, all for violin and piano; and A Dance Measure for oboe and piano and Happy Tune for clarinet and piano, both published in 1931. More serious and ambitious were a Violin Sonata in C Minor, dating from 1922 and as Cobbett remarked: "touched only slightly with modern influences". A Suite in Old Style, also for violin and piano, showed, like some of the orchestral compositions noted above, his preoccupation with old music and his ability to write convincing pastiche. For piano solo he published besides the ten old military marches we have mentioned, twelve Norwegian Folk Tunes (1924), some Preludes, sixteen Scottish Tunes (1916), a Miniature Scherzo, Three Legends and much else. Again most if not all of this output was aimed at the young student.
Nor did he ignore vocal music. Apart from a large number of part songs including settings of nursery rhymes (some male voice choirs surely remember his setting of The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls), and solo songs, including a Jewel Cycle (comprising four songs: The Pearl, The Sapphire, The Opal and Amber and Amethyst), there were two larger pieces, The Lay of the Brown Rosary, a dramatic cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra, produced as early as 1902, and Judas Iscariot's Paradise, a ballad for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra (1922).
Student orchestras still enjoy Carse's music; I heard the Festival March only just before originally writing these words (March 1988). And a world renowned violinist played in Doncaster recently one of the Fiddle Fancies as an encore mainly for sentimental reasons but it served its purpose as an encore well enough. Scholars still recall his writings. Some of these were technical treatises like Harmony Exercises, Summary of the Elements of Music, Practical Hints on Orchestration (1919, reprinted twice), The School Orchestra (1926), Orchestral Conducting (1929) and, perhaps also in this category, The Orchestra (1949). Others, like his articles for "Music and Letters" on Brass Instruments in the Orchestra and XVIIIth Century Orchestral Instruments and the books Musical Wind Instruments (1939) and The Adam Carse Collection of Old Musical Wind Instruments (1951) reflect his activities as a collector. Best of all perhaps, and certainly best remembered by me, are his historical studies: The History of Orchestration (1925), The Orchestra in the 18th Century (1951) and his The Life of Jullien (1957, his last major piece of writing). These are admirably written and highly readable yet well researched and are not wholly superseded even today. To these we must add his editions of symphonies by Abel, Arne, J C Bach, Dittersdorf, Friedrich Schwindl (almost unknown but played in Doncaster in 1972), Filtz, Gossec and the Stamitzes, which if they might be slightly short of present-day standards of scholarship, played their part in popularising the works of the lesser known 18th Century composers, British and foreign.
© Philip L Scowcroft
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