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Contemporary British Composers

Joseph Holbrooke Cecil Palmer London 1925 pp199-202

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[Please note that the view and opinions are the author’s own – political correctness was not essential in the mid-1920s!]

Any musician who comes to the front in Britain has to do it like a gentleman. They nearly all accomplish this; that is why I am intrigued with Arthur Bliss. Here is a semi-wild young man, who has perpetrated some singular and comic music, which has hocked a lot of people-and also amused many. That is a distinct step in the right direction.

Such works as the Conversations, for violin, viola, 'cello, flute, oboe and cor anglais, have an irresistible lilt in places, which saves Mr Bliss from being pretentious, but it is all very small-beer when we look into it.

No. 1. - The Committee - is most diverting ; The Ballroom a good dance tune; In the Tube is an excellent bit of fooling, but the humour is not very apparent. Such work as this is fresh; it is naive. That is something in these days. It is not soporific. We pardon a composer, or anyone else, a lot for being fresh and amusing. From this work it is an easy move to the riotous Rout. This work is a medley for soprano and chamber orchestra. This style always pleases simple folk. It is active, noisome, raucous, blithe and rhythmic to a degree. No thought is required, or feeling, either for listening to it or understanding it. It is one of the few facetiae in our music, indeterminable and possible of trituration.

There is some humour to be found amongst our men of Group III.

There is the incident of the demoralised Arthur Bliss who rushed up to me one day in a music house with the dire news that he had run dry, just when his works were required, he said, in every possible direction. I told him he always had all the good fortune, and advised he used this terrible misfortune of running dry to all the journalists he knew. It was the best copy they could ever hope for. They, and all of us, were bored with the musicians who write too much, who cannot afford to run dry in this dramatic fashion; but no one had ever heard of a musician who had run dry. But Bliss would not be comforted: he fled from me, as from a scoffer.

Madame Noy, perhaps his best-known work, is again a theatrical song, and festive- not very delicious or grateful for the voice, but effective. The concerto, for piano and tenor voice, and the Rhapsody are both interesting experiments. The voice is occupied in vowel sounds only, but it is yet to be seen whether singers want to get their exercises in their solos. Let us not become too quizzical. All this type of music has nearly as much push and go as the American woman-and achieves much the same result.

The Melee Fantastique is another uproarious noise, full of violent frolic, gesticulation and unseemly behaviour; but it is never tiresome. We are grateful to be saved the prophet at every turn! Of the songs I cannot speak with great admiration. Like all experimental songs, the singers have much the worst time of it.

The last effusion from his pen is the Colour Symphony, perhaps the most serious effort of this composer. It follows his own ideals in sound, which seem to us to be cacophony, and a hardness of brilliance (allied to Mr Brian) with "effect" written all over the four movements. Whether music is going towards the region where the description of colour, metallic effect and nursery things abound, we cannot yet say. Of melody, such as we know it, there seems to be no trace. Bliss is very young, we must not be impatient with him. He has pleased all the critics already: that is great step. Of his Colour Symphony I am quite baffled to give any judgment.

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