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British Violin Sonatas by Dunhill, Stanford and Bantock
Violin Sonata No. 2 (1917)
Charles Villiers
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1880)
Violin Sonata No. 3 (1940)
Susanne Stanzeleit (violin)/ Gusztáv Fenyö (piano)
rec 1994?, St Michael's Church, Highgate
CALA UNITED CACD88031 [75.34]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Dunhill is one of those composers wandering in the vestibule of history and waiting to be ushered into the main hall. He has a single symphony to his name. Its strengths are fabled, rather like those of the William Baines symphony, though at least the Baines work has been recorded - albeit on a cassette and by a youth orchestra.

If he is known at all Dunhill is likely to be remembered at the very least by the last generation to perceive playing the piano as a social accomplishment. His little didactic pieces must have earned Dunhill a steady income over the years. The Second Sonata is a quite different proposition from those pleasant inconsequentialities. This is a work of serious ambition and delivery. It stands apart from the pleasures of the Stanford and Bantock for its seriousness and beauty. It is no accident that it was written during the Great War and that it can be grouped with John Ireland's own contemporaneous Second Violin Sonata. It is a significant work - passionate, lyrical, elegiac and exuberant.

Bantock wrote three violin sonatas (1929, ded. Sammons; 1932 ded. Arthur Catterall) of which this is the last. Bantock is thought of primarily as an orchestral/vocal magician but his chamber music is not to be written off as the recent Dutton Epoch disc of his music for cello and piano has already demonstrated. This sonata is the work of an old man but with none of his talents dimmed except by the darkness of the early years of the War. It is typical of this stage in Bantock's life that the middle movement should be entitled The Dryad. The mid-late 1930s also saw his Cyprian Ode and King Solomon which harked back to classic Mediterranean paradises. Given that Bantock was such an enthusiast for Sibelius it seems very likely that he knew the Finnish master's work of the same name.

Lastly a change from Royal Academy luminaries to the RCM's Stanford and his early first sonata. Stanford's chamber music has much to yield up as Chris Howell has reminded us. The eight string quartets should surely be recorded just as the McEwen sonatas are being set down by Chandos. This Mendelssohnian blessings of the sonata were written for Ludwig Strauss, Queen Victoria's 'solo violinist'.

It is typical of Cala that the liner notes are very fine indeed. I do hope that the Stanzeleit English series is simply on pause rather than stop. It would be good if she would now turn to the Bantock Second Sonata and the sonatas by Edward Isaacs, the three by Holbrooke, the Reginald Redman, Scott, Benjamin Dale, Seiber, Turnbull, Healy Willan and Gaze Cooper.

A generous and rewarding collection made outstanding by the Dunhill sonata.

Rob Barnet


Article by Philip Scowcroft

A disc of Dunhill's First Violin Sonata can be obtained as follows:-

The composer's son, David, is the producer of a rare CD of which copies are available from him. This is beautifully produced and includes two piano pieces, 10 songs (full texts are provided), and the Violin Sonata No. 1 (1908) in D minor Op. 27. The sonata is not a revolutionary piece but another example of British lyrical late romanticism - closer to Schumann and occasionally Brahms than the more forward-looking second violin sonata. The disc plays for 59:57. Recommended - highly in the case of the sonata. You can get copies by contacting the composer's son, David Dunhill (to whom cheques should be made payable) He is at 2 Plym Villas Plymouth Road TOTNES Devon TQ9 5PQ United Kingdom. There is no e-mail or fax and the only price I know is the price inclusive of post and packing for the UK. The price is £10.50 sterling. Order from outside the UK then phone Mr Dunhill - ( UK code + (0)1803 864052 There is a limited supply of these discs.


Rob Barnett.


This article was first published some years ago in the British Music Society newsletter. It is published here with Mr Matthews permission.


Thomas F Dunhill is probably best remembered as the composer of the once popular light opera Tantivy Towers Op. 73. This work, with a libretto by A. P. Herbert, was first staged at the Lyric, Hammersmith, and was so acclaimed that it then transferred to the West End where it ran for six months. During the early 1930s It toured the provinces and was even staged in America and Australia. It was regarded by some critics as the best comic opera of the inter-wars period, though Eric Blom was a little less generous in his estimation of the work: 'the music ... was rather wanting in stage effectiveness but as musicianly as Sullivan and sufficiently though never startlingly up-to-date.' But Dunhill, despite such success, has since faded into obscurity and his music is largely forgotten. He was however quite a prolific composer with over a hundred opus numbers to his credit.

He was born in London in 1877 and by the age of four showed a keen interest in music. Enthralled by the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan which he first saw while at school in Hampstead, he set about composing his own and often attempted to organise amateur productions of these early works. By the age of about sixteen he is said to have written at least a dozen of them, though of what standard is unknown. Obviously Dunhill already possessed considerable talent, and in 1893 he entered the Royal College of Music. For seven years there he studied composition with Stanford and piano with Franklin Taylor, After completing his studies he took a post as Assistant Master at Eton College where he remained until 1908.

In 1907 he began producing the 'Dunhill Chamber Concerts'. Despite early financial setbacks, they lasted for a number of years, successfully promoting new and neglected talent. In 1913 he returned to the RCM as a professor. The same year he published 'Chamber Music: a treatise for students' which remained a standard work until well after his death.

1914 was quite an eventful year for Dunhill. He married Mary Arnold, great niece of the poet and writer, Malcolm Arnold, and at the outbreak of war enlisted in the army. He served in the Irish Guards and was lucky enough to avoid the carnage by being posted in England for the duration. After 1918 he devoted himself to conducting and composition, producing a remarkable variety of works. During the second world war he went back to Eton, again as Assistant Master, and In 1942 he re-married. He died in Scunthorpe in 1946.

Throughout his life Dunhill maintained an avid interest in the theatre. Not surprisingly his early enthusiasm for G and S prompted him to write a number of comic operas in that vein. Apart from Tantivy Towers there is Princess Chia Op. 11, the operetta for children, The Frolicsome Hours, The Enchanted Garden Op. 77, first performed in Guildford in 1933 and again in 1934, and Something in the City Op. 90 which was completed in 1939 and should have been produced that year but for the outbreak of war.

Dunhill wrote incidental music for plays including The Fairy Staff Op. 28 and The King's Threshold Op. 39 (W B Yeats): the prelude was subsequently re-scored for full orchestra and was first performed under Sir Henry Wood at a Promenade Concert in 1913. Ballet music included Dick Whittington Op. 79 (1934) and Gallimaufry Op. 86, first performed at the Staatsoper, Hamburg as Die Eiskönigin on December 11th 1937.

Dunhill wrote many orchestral works, most of which were published or performed during his lifetime. The composer considered a good number of these, along with various chamber pieces to be among his best compositions. In particular the Symphony in A minor Op. 48, of which he conducted the first performance in Belgrade on December 28th 1922. By all accounts this performance was a notable success, and, in his diary at the end of that traumatic day the composer noted how he had been called back onto the stage six times by a very enthusiastic audience. The Symphony's British premiere took place in Bournemouth in 19 April 1923 where it was later performed again on 20th January 1927. It was also played at Guildford the same year. But the work was not well-received, much to the composer's disappointment, and apart from appearing in the LPO's 1935/6 season, has never been revived.

Among Dunhill's other orchestral compositions are Suite of Valses Op. 1, Valse Fantasia for flute and orchestra Op. 12, Capricious Variations on an Old English Tune for cello and orchestra Op. 31, Dance Suite for strings Op. 41, Elegiac Variations on an Original Theme Op. 57 in memory of Parry and first performed at the Gloucester Festival in 1922, Lyrical Phantasy on a Homage Theme Op. 71, written for the Schubert Centenary, In Rural England Op. 72 - a suite for string orchestra, Concertino for two violins and string orchestra Op. 92, Divertimento for small orchestra Op. 98 and Triptych Op. 99, three impressions for viola and orchestra, written for and dedicated to Lionel Tertis and first performed by him under Sir Adrian Boult at a Promenade Concert on August 19th 1942.

Dunhill's final orchestral work, the Overture, Maytime Op. 100 also received its first performance under Boult at a Promenade Concert on 10th September 1945, seven months before the composer's death.

Among his works for solo voice and orchestra are Comrades Op. 19 for baritone, premiered at the Worcester Festival in September 1905 with Frederick Austin as soloist, Night Op. 2 after a poem by Shelley for contralto, and Wind Among The Reeds Op. 30, four sonnets for tenor comprising To Dectora; The Host of the Air; The Cloths of Heaven; The Fiddler of Dooney, first performed at Queen's Hall in 1911 with Gervase Elwes. There is one major choral work with orchestra, the ballad Tubal Cain Op. 15, and of his unaccompanied choral works, the most notable are the cantatas John Gilpin on for treble voices in unison or two parts Op. 29, for treble voices in unison or two parts, Sea Fairies Op. 35, (words by Antonia R Williams), refrain for treble voices, The Masque of The Shoe Op. 49, a cantata of the Nativity for unison and two-part treble, (words by Irene Goss), Dunhill wrote some songs, once described as 'perfect specimens of fine craftsmanship', among which are Two Songs Op. 9 to poetry by Blake, Sleep, Sweet Babe and Infant Joy; Songs to Rhymes Op. 78 (words by Rose Fyleman), published in 1933, and others without opus numbers, Including Beauty and beauty. Of this work the composer said, 'It was written for John Coates and sung by him at one of his Chelsea recitals; but beyond this I do not know of its being sung by anyone else anywhere, and yet I feel it is one of my best songs.'

Thomas Dunhill devoted much time to writing chamber and instrumental music, some of it still occasionally heard today. He considered his two violin sonatas (No 1 in D minor Op. 27 and No 2 in F major Op. 80) to be amongst his best chamber works. Other pieces include Variations for flute and piano Op. 2, Quintet in E flat Op. 3 for piano, violin, cello, clarinet and horn, Quintet in F minor Op. 6 for two violins, viola, cello and horn, Piano Quartet in B minor Op. 16, winner of the Lesley Alexander Prize, Three Pieces Op. 17 for violin and piano, Variations on an Original Theme Op. 18 for cello and piano, Piano Quintet in C minor Op. 20, Phantasie in F minor for piano trio, Phantasy in E flat Op. 36 for piano, violin and viola, Phantasy in F major Op. 47 for string quartet, Trio Op. 63 for two violins and viola, Sextet Op. 64 for six violins, Trio in B flat Op. 89 for oboe, horn and bassoon 1939), Phantasy Suite Op. 91 in six short movements for clarinet and piano, and Lyric Suite Op. 96 for bassoon and piano.

Dunhill composed very many pieces for piano, a large number written for children or students. amongst these are Four Easy Pieces Op. 13; Phantasies Op. 24, a suite of eight pieces; A Child's Garden of Melodies Op. 31, Seven Easy Pieces; Recreation Op. 37; Four Salon Pieces Op. 41; Fancies Op. 53b; Lyric Thoughts Op. 57, five easy pieces; Three Woodland Dances Op. 56b; Pastime and Good Company Op. 70, a suite of six pieces for four hands; Four Hand Fancies Op. 87a, six pieces; and many others without opus numbers such as Dances, Souvenirs, Path Ways, three pieces, Twilight Scenes four pieces, and English Folk-Song Tunes. More serious compositions for the piano include Sixteen Variations on an Original Theme Op. 5, Scherzo in F Op. 8, and the Concert Study in A flat Op. 14.

Dunhill's music remains practically unknown, which is a pity as many fine works exist among his output. Almost nothing has been recorded with the exception of a few songs and the Romance for oboe and piano. This short but charming work is from Three Easy Pieces Op. 81, written for the late Leon Goossens and recorded by him in 1978. It contains some rich melodic invention which, if we are to believe contemporary accounts, colours much of Dunhill's writing for chamber and instrumental combinations. I should imagine that can also be heard in his orchestral work as Dunhill was primarily concerned, as was Delius, with the sheer beauty, expressible through the medium of music. Dunhill once said 'I suppose it is right that music should depict the present-day restlessness, but surely it should also provide some sort of relief or escape from it? Personally I have no desire to express anything In music but that which is beautiful, and which will lift people out of their troubles.' Perhaps one day we will have occasion to decide for ourselves whether these words ring true. At least one large-scale orchestral work deserves performance for a re-assessment of Thomas F Dunhill is long overdue.

The works listed here are taken from Dunhill's notebook. Included in this document are numerous other pieces not detailed in this survey. Apart from the absent works with opus numbers, there are pieces for piano, songs, works for strings and a few chamber compositions, all un-numbered. It should also be noted that many of his orchestral compositions were transcribed for piano and some piano pieces orchestrated, such as the Waltz Suite Op. 75 in 1943, first performed at a Promenade concert under Dunhill in the same year. Other arrangements by the composer were made of a good many works but lack of space prevents their listing here. Thanks are due to Barbara Vincent, the composer's daughter, who kindly sent me the recently prepared full list of her father's compositions.

© Stephen Matthews

See also article by Philip Scowcroft

Book Review by Richard D C Noble

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