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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

MUSIC AND THE LAKE DISTRICT

The English lakes have inspired several major literary figures: people as diverse as William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hugh Walpole, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome. (1)

Their effect on musicians has, by and large, been much less striking. Not that the Lakes or Cumbria generally lack their own musical traditions. A Lake District Festival flourished in the early summer for many years and the Grizedale Piano Festival has performed a valuable service. Kendal, Cockermouth, Penrith and especially Carlisle have a lively concert life relative to their respective sizes.

The first Carlisle Choral Society dated from 1854 and past Masters of the Music at Carlisle Cathedral have included Sydney Nicholson and Frederick Wadeley (2) and Andrew Seivewright (2A), all of whom composed service (and other) music with distinction.

Penrith, like Carlisle, hosts concerts by the Northern Sinfonia. Kendal once had a thriving choral festival. Busoni played in Barrow-in-Furness; Paganini, Sousa and Johann Strauss II all visited Carlisle.

Comparatively few composers have been born in the area and not all even of those have lived there in later life or derived any obvious inspiration from it. Felix Borowski (1872-1956) a native of Burton, near Kendal, emigrated to Chicago in early adulthood after a period teaching in Aberdeen and it was in Chicago in the intervals between teaching music and writing music criticism that he composed his four stage works and three symphonies, a Piano Concerto and other orchestral works, three organ sonatas, three string quartets and the Grande Sonate Russe for piano solo. Three Novelettes also for piano solo among other pieces, date from his "British" period. In 1992 I heard Borowski's Madrigal to the Moon for wind quintet, a pleasing miniature with intriguing harmonics.

Humphrey Proctor-Gregg (1895-1980), born in Kirkby Lonsdale also near Kendal, composed piano music, sonatas for violin, oboe and clarinet and songs like The Danube to the Severn, Limehouse Reach, To an Evening Star, In the Highlands and The Dusty Miller but he is remembered primarily as an opera producer, translator and designer, also as a scholar and broadcaster.

The Cumberland-born Jeffrey Mark (1898-1965) studied music at Exeter College, Oxford and the RCM after service in World War One and indeed was to return to the RCM much later as a Professor of Composition. His output included a Piano Concerto, the Scottish Suite for strings and piano, choral works and a ballad opera, Mossgiel based on Robert Burns. His study of folk songs of the Border Counties extended to those of his native county.

Jan Hurst, who conducted many seaside orchestras especially at Blackpool - not too far away - composed a short (3 minute) Windermere Idyll.

Pianist-composer Adeline de Lara was born in Carlisle and lived until 1961 but mostly much further south than the Lakes. It is however worth recording that in addition to playing the piano in public for over sixty years she composed ballads, song cycles, In The Forest and one other suite for string orchestra and of course much for piano including a couple of concertos.

However it is Arthur Somervell who among musicians who may be said to have retained most connections with his Cumbrian roots. He is also the best known as a composer of al the figures we have mentioned so far. Born in Windermere in 1863, he studied with Stanford at Cambridge, Parry at the RCM, where Somervell himself taught between 1894 and 1901, and in Berlin. He worked as Inspector of Music at the Board of Education but despite the demands of that job he managed to compose prolifically: a Symphony in D minor (Thalassa), Brahms-inspired like the symphonies of his teacher Stanford which it somewhat resembles (may we please have a recording?), orchestral suites like The Loving Heart and In Arcady, concertos for violin and piano, an attractive Clarinet Quintet which has been recorded, a Sonata and a Suite, both for violin and piano, piano music, of which Spring Fancies and the seven characteristic pieces The Romance of the Ball were once popular, five song cycles - Maud can occasionally be heard and may well be his masterpiece, but A Shropshire Lad (1904) which predates Butterworth's setting but has now been overshadowed by it, has several delightful songs - and large scale choral works. These latter include two masses and the cantatas Joan of Arc (1893), The Forsaken Merman (1895), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1896), Elegy (1896), Ode to the Sea (1897), The Passion of Christ (1914) and Christmas (1926). Of more relevance to this paper were A Song of Praise (1891) and The Power of the Soul (1895) as both were premiered at the Kendal Festival and because it is (like The Power of Sound) a setting of words by Wordsworth, Lakeland poet par excellence, the Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, first performed at the Leeds Festival of 1907. His shorter songs include the two part Grasmere Carol - When Mary on that Christmas Day, published in 1925, which gained some popularity if not as much as his evergreen Shepherd's Cradle Song. Somervell, like Wordsworth, is buried at Grasmere.

We may perhaps relevantly include a reference to settings of Wordsworth's poetry. Although a quantitative survey is difficult and perhaps impossible, Wordsworth seems to have been less popular with composers than many other English poets, Hardy and Housman for example. Gerald Finzi followed Somervell by producing his own version of Intimations of Immortality at the Three Choirs Festival in 1950, but this gave rise to accusations that the words, however superb in themselves, were not (and possibly for that reason) suitable for setting to music. But surely both Finzi and Somervell cannot have been wrong. Fortunately some song composers have not been deterred by such an argument and we can point to the following musical versions of Wordsworth many of them from the past fifty years or so: Allan Biggs' two part I Heard a Thousand Blended Notes; The Rainbow by Doncaster composer Andrew Clark (solo, medium voice) (5); In March set by Reginald Hunt as a two part canon and by Gordon Jacob for SATB; Eric Thiman's The Maid of Dove (SSA); James Butt's The Minstrels (SSA); Rubbra's Prayer for the Queen (SATB); Harold Noble's Ravishment of Spring (SSA); Geoffrey Winter's To the Cuckoo (SSA); Audrey Piggott's Upon Westminster Bridge (2 part); Alfred Reynolds' March for solo voice and - forming part of the 1926 revue Riverside Nights put on at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith where it was spoken to instrumental accompaniment - The Power of Music; and The Solitary Reaper, set for two part voices by Mary Chandler and for three part ladies' choir with a soprano solo by Leslie Walters, Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud) one of the most famous poems in the English language and also one inextricably linked to a lakeland landscape (Ullswater) has been favoured by Hugh Hulbert for mixed voices, by the one-time Sheffield Cathedral Organist Dr Justin Baker, in three parts (1935) and by Eric Thiman: a lovely Quilteresque miniature for soprano and alto duet. The soprano Maryetta Midgeley once successfully recorded its top line as a solo. Some of these composers are well known others, at least half, may be less well celebrated.

Moving from Wordsworth settings to those of Beatrix Potter we may notice, in passing, John Lanchbery's music for the ballet Tales of Beatrix Potter, charmingly arranged from obscure British 19th Century composers, and the short-breathed but attractive and educational music by Christopher le Fleming: the musical play Squirrel Nutkin, the Peter Rabbit piano books and the suite for wind quartet, Homage to Beatrix Potter, in six tiny movements. Colin Towns' pretty music enhances the TV adaptation of Potter's stories. The best known song connected with the Lake District is John Peel, although the tune is of Scots origin. It has been much arranged. I have found solo settings of Percy Buck, W H Hadow, Thomas Dunhill, Cecil Sharp, Granville Bantock and Leslie Woodgate. Choral arrangements include those by Peter Hope (SATB, acc), Reginald Jacques (SAB), E Markham Lee (SATB), Geoffrey Shaw (unison with descant), Gerrard Williams (SATB) and J E West (SATB and TTBB). Jphn Peel is said to have been popularized by William Metcalf - Carlisle Cathedral Lay Clerk who absconded to London to sing it there. (6) It was even turned into a John Peel Galop for the Victorian ballroom. I have even traced a brass band version of this by one A Arnold.

On the whole the Lakeland scenery has inspired less music than it has poetry. Elgar, visiting Windermere with his Yorkshire doctor friend Charles Buck in 1883, was immediately smitten with the idea of writing a Lakes Overture but this was never finished and was replaced by 1885 by a similarly never-to-be-realised project for a Scottish Overture and later still by Froissart (1890) his earliest major orchestral work. Arthur Butterworth is well known for deriving inspiration from North Country landscapes and Lakeland has been no exception to this, although his Lakeland Summer Nights, a piano solo, was written as far back as 1949. When in Kendal in 1989 I noticed that a local concert was to include the premiere of his Fantasy on the Kendal Chimes. Cecil Armstrong Gibbs often visited the Lakes before he lived there for a time from 1940 when he composed the charmingly descriptive eight piano preludes collectively entitled Lakeland Pictures. The MS was given to a friend and did not resurface until 1996. The public premiere in Doncaster by Alan Cuckston took place in March 1999. Gibbs composed a Westmorland Symphony (No 3) in 1944 and this was recorded in the 1990s.

The Cambridge musician Cyril Rootham composed In The Lake Country for violin (or viola or cello) and piano; I have not heard it. The most attractive musical portrait that I can remember is the evocative, beautifully scored "Cumbrian Rhapsody" Tarn Hows by the late Maurice Johnstone. I recall this being performed "on the wireless" early in 1951 and shortly afterwards (24 February 1951) at a Sheffield Philharmonic Concert devoted entirely to British music in which it was conducted by the composer

It was aired at the Proms that year but surprisingly it has not found a place in the repertoire. The BBC revived it recently; some enterprising concert promoter, should follow suit. A more recent depiction of Lakelands mountains is John McCabe's Cloudcatcher Fells for brass band, the test piece for the National Championships of 1985: often dissonant but a brilliant, challenging and exciting piece of writing. Fortunately the 1985 winners, Black Dyke, made a record of it. A short suite Cumbria, for small wind ensemble by one John Cameron, with four movements entitled Grasmere Morning, Castlerigg, Daffodils (inevitably) and Hawkshead Stage (Coach) sounds attractive.

P L SCOWCROFT

Footnote


Lake District Summer Music is a thriving International Festival and Summer
School which in 2001played to some 6000 audience. 173 musicians from over
16 countries attended the summer schools it puts on annually taught by
artists such as the Chilingirian and Sorrel Quartets, cellist Robert Cohen
and pianists Alexander Melnikob and Barry Snyder.

Information on the 2002 programme is available on www.ldsm.org.uk.

 

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