> Roger Quilter: His life and music [JT]: Book Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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ROGER QUILTER: His Life and Music by Valerie Langfield, Boydell Press, 2002: xviii, 375pp, plus CD ISBN 0-85115-871-4 £40 hardback

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This is, rather surprisingly, the first ‘life and works’ book to be published about Roger Quilter, and it appears on the eve of the composer’s death fifty years ago. (This anniversary will be celebrated, together with Lennox Berkeley’s centenary, at a concert following next year’s British Music Society Annual General Meeting, at Trinity College, London, on 25 October 2003.)

And splendid it is. Handsomely produced by an enterprising publisher relatively new on the music scene, the book has in Valerie Langfield an author fully capable of the demands of her subject.

Quilter’s life, on the outside at least, was uneventful, remarkable only to those less privileged: quasi-aristocratic background (his father, William Cuthbert, became a baronet during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897; and the family home is Bawdsey Manor, near Felixstowe in Suffolk), a private income, and a lifestyle which took for granted the presence and attention of domestic servants. On the inside, things were rather different: an artistic temperament raised in a Philistine, landed upper-middle-class environment; constant health problems (and a stammer), a homosexual temperament which courted rejection by his father and over-identification with his mother. He was a kind, generous man rather too over-protected by circumstance of birth, perhaps, for his own artistic good.

For artist he was, with a limited yet exquisite musical furrow to plough: that of the song-writer. His European predecessors in this tradition were men like Hugo Wolf and Henri Duparc, and his English successor was Peter Warlock: all four, in concentrating almost exclusively on solo song, produced a group of works for voice and piano whose pregnant beauty lingers in the mind for a lifetime.

After his student years studying music in Frankfurt along with his lifelong friend Percy Grainger and other English members of what became known as the Frankfurt Group, Quilter appeared as a song-writer virtually fully formed. He published over one hundred songs, the last in 1952, but the major part of his output appeared between 1904 and 1929. The lyric poetry he set was drawn from two broad bands: seventeenth century Elizabethan and Jacobean (most frequently Shakespeare and Herrick), and nineteenth-century and contemporary poetry. He also set verses of William Blake, and some of his own verse. Throughout the range of his songs there is little variation or growth in either quality or style; but there are one or two masterpieces, which stand out against the general accomplishment - songs such as Go, Lovely Rose, Dream Valley, The Fuchsia Tree, and the powerfully emotional arrangement of Barbara Allen, which ranks with the best of Percy Grainger’s traditional arrangements.

Quilter’s songs and choral works (there is a substantial group of the latter) are covered by Langfield in two lengthy chapters which follow the opening biographical section of the book. There follow chapters on Where the Rainbow Ends - the children’s fairy play by Clifford Mills, with incidental music by Quilter, which ran virtually every Christmas in London from 1911 until 1959, rivalling Peter Pan in popularity; on Quilter’s piano music - a small group of delightful, descriptive pieces in the romantic-impressionist manner of the period; on his light orchestral music (the Three English Dances and A Children’s Overture are still occasionally heard); and his light opera Julia, produced with only moderate success at Covent Garden in 1936 and later reworked and published as Love at the Inn. There are also sixteen pages of photographs, and six Appendices, including a Catalogue of Works, a Bibliography and substantial Discography.

In addition, and most valuably, there is included with the book a CD containing long-unavailable recordings of seventeen songs recorded by Quilter and baritone Mark Raphael in 1934; a recording from 1923 of To Julia, in the version for tenor (Hubert Eisdell), string quartet and piano (Quilter); an orchestral selection from Where the Rainbow Ends, recorded in 1930; and a recital of six songs recorded by baritone Frederick Harvey and Quilter for the BBC in 1945.

This volume, meticulously researched and finely written, is surely definitive. It is one of the most distinguished books of its type to appear in recent years and deserves to be widely read.

John Talbot

This review appears courtesy of the BMS

Details of membership of the British Music Society from

Stephen Trowell, 7 Tudor Gardens, Upminster, Essex RM14 3DE ( 01708 224795

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