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J.M.W.TURNER and the Music of his Time
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782) Sinfonia in B flat
Failoni Orchestra/Hanspeter Gram from Naxos 8.553367.
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No.104 Movement II
Capella Istropolitana/Wordsworth from Naxos 8.550287
String Quartet Op.74 no.3 (The Rider)
Kodaly Quartet from Naxos 8.550396.
John FIELD (1786-1826) Nocturnes 1 in E flat, 2 in C minor and 5 in B flat
Benjamin Frith, piano from Naxos 8.550761;
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Clarinet Concerto No.1 Movement III
Ernst Ottensamer/Slovak State Philharmonic/Johannes Wildner from Naxos 8.550378;
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840) Centone di Sonate for Violin and guitar No.1
Moshe Hammer, violin and Norbert Kraft, guitar from Naxos 8.5531411;
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Overture ‘The Hebrides
Slovak PO/Oliver Dohnanyi from Naxos 8.554433;
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) Harold in Italy Movement III
Rivka Golani, viola with San Diego SO/Yoav Talmi
Frederic CHOPIN (1801-1849) Trois Nouvelles Etudes Op. Posth.
Idit Biret, piano from Naxos 8.554527
NAXOS 8.558116 [74.02]

This is another in Naxos’s ongoing ‘Music and Art’ compilation series. In these discs several works by contemporaries of the chosen artist are set out chronologically. An important facet of the exercise is that the accompanying booklet should have essays on the artist, his life and his work. These also address the music and should contain good, if obviously small reproductions of the artist’s most significant pictures. The music comes from previous Naxos releases and thus more effort can be put into the general presentation than usual. This makes an attractive and inexpensive introduction to Art and Music and is an excellent idea both for home, or as a present or for use in schools and college libraries. This is the plan followed here.

Turner was well ahead of his time; ‘avant-garde’ we might call him. When you look at his pictures you see an impressionist wash of colour especially the one which is reproduced here: ‘The Fighting Temeraire’. On viewing his work, for me at least, if I hear music at all, I hear Debussy, not J.C. Bach. Thinking of a British composer, I hear Frank Bridge, not John Field. Yet that is the point. Music normally lags behind the visual arts and that point is well made. How much more ‘modern’ Turner was than his musical contemporaries. Only Berlioz stands shoulder to shoulder with him. The Serenade from ‘Harold In Italy’ well illustrates the painting on page 13 of ‘Child Harold’s Pilgrimage’.

When, last year I reviewed the Rubens volume ‘Music of his time’ (Naxos 8.558067) there was little disparity between the art and the music. It is sobering to realize how much the two art forms were beginning to move apart in Turner’s time. This situation continued until the Picasso/Stravinsky period.

There is, perhaps unexpectedly, a musical connection with Turner and his family. Although a somewhat curmudgeonly old bachelor he had two children by Sarah Danby after her husband John Danby had died. Danby had been a friend of Turner’s and was a composer of light music and motets. He was also organist at the Chapel in the Spanish Embassy. Not only that but Turner, according to the excellent booklet essay by Hugh Griffiths, would "tootle quietly on his flute to himself while he waited for the paint to dry". In Turner’s sketchbooks can also be found tiny extracts of music which he might possibly have played. To emphasize his musical interests, on page 7 of the booklet, Naxos have reproduced Turner’s 1835 picture ‘The Music Party – East Cowes Castle’ - a real wash of colour and light.

It is interesting to realize that when, in 1775, Turner was born in Covent Garden, J.C. Bach was producing his weekday concerts with much success. As Turner reached puberty Haydn was in London having his symphonies performed. By the time we come to Turner’s great picture of 1843, ‘San Benedetto’, a view of Fusina, (page 18) Chopin was shortly to make his last and ill-fated visit to London. It was a particularly good idea to add to the disc Chopin’s last three Studies - an addenda to his two more famous sets.

Also illustrated is Turner’s extraordinary ‘Snowstorm at sea’ (page 15) finished in 1842. Listen to Mendelssohn’s Storm in the ‘Hebrides’ whilst contemplating it.

It is pointless to discuss comparative versions of these extracts as obviously they are subsidiary to the overall point of this series. We are not concerned with the performances but with the music and the composers in their context. In fact none of these performances are at all a problem, and some (the Paganini and the Field) are especially good.

The booklet also contains a fascinating chronology or time-chart. This has Turner and his life-events down one column and important contemporary events down another from 1769 until his death in 1851.

Gary Higginson



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