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British Music: The Journal of the British Music Society
Volume 27 2005
Editor: Roger Carpenter
Alan Rawsthorne – Towards Unity by John McCabe
The Constancy of Lambert and some lesser-known aspects of the man by Stephen Lloyd
The Music of Thomas Attwood, Maritime Associations and His Near Contemporaries by Alastair Mitchell
William Alwyn at 100 by Hubert Culot
John Parry’s Nightingale – A British nineteenth century concert piece for duct flute by John Turner
Mátyás Seiber and the Dorian Singers by Alan Gibbs
Overshadowed: British Symphonism beyond Parry, Stanford and Elgar by Jürgen Schaawächter
Scott and Arnold: Is the Symphony out-dated? by Ian Parrott
Published by the British Music Society: 2005.
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In my younger days one of my annual treats occurred during our summer holiday. Whether it was to Morecambe, Llandudno or Blackpool my father always bought me a copy of the ‘summer special’ of the Beano and the Dandy and possibly the Beezer. Invariably on the front page were the words –‘Bumper Issue.’ Now some 40 years on I can safely apply this term to the current British Music Journal. To stretch the point it is ‘chock full’ of all my personal favorites. Well, maybe this is going a bit far – for example John Parry and his work for ‘duct flute’ is not top of my personal musical priorities – and perhaps Thomas Atwood is a little before my period of interest. I have to state that Rawsthorne, Lambert, Scott, Arnold and Alwyn are five of my favourite composers. Seiber appeals to me because I have sung some of his choral settings – and finally the Symphony – the British Symphony is one of my passions.

I will discuss what to me are the highlights – or in one case the ‘lowlight.’

If the reader searches on the MusicWeb British Composer’s Page he will find a page devoted to William Alwyn. On this page there are a number of biographical links including one to an article written by Hubert Culot to celebrate Alwyn’s 85th birthday. (Originally this article first appeared in the British Music Society Journal: Volume 7 1985) Unfortunately the composer never made it: the article became a memorial tribute.

Since 1985 there has been a revival of Alwyn’s fortunes. Two cycles of symphonies have (are being) recorded by Chandos and Naxos, augmenting but not supplanting the earlier Lyrita releases. It has also been possible to hear some of the composer’s earlier works which include the Tragic Interlude, Green Hills for piano solo and the fine Violin Concerto. We have had a revival of interest in British Film music with some three Chandos discs devoted to Alwyn. Culot effectively brings his original article up to date and gives the reader lots of fascinating avenues for exploration.

Most readers of this Journal and this review will know that the great champion of Alan Rawsthorne is John McCabe. To his credit is the definitive biography of the composer. [But let us not forget the contribution of John Belcher] [Alan Rawsthorne Society website]

Basically McCabe develops his views on the influences of other musicians on the composer. It is not an attempt to pigeon hole Rawsthorne but more an exercise in realising the impossibility of this task.

Let me quote, "He (Rawsthorne) took from the baroque, the classical, the romantic and the modern whatever seemed best suited to the clearest expression of his ideas, and the richness of these stylistic or technical derivations is a fascinating study." John McCabe sees his essay as a preliminary investigation – but to most readers it will found to be comprehensive and incidentally serving as a good introduction to Alan Rawsthorne’s music.

Now, moving swiftly on, I have to wholeheartedly disagree with Ian Parrott. His conclusions about the ‘value of the symphony’ are all the more bizarre bearing in mind that he has composed five examples of his own! Like much academic writing it is difficult to know whether the author is writing from the heart, flying a kite or just being provocative for the sake of upsetting a few preconceived notions. For example, does Parrott really believe that the symphony is outdated? Or that the ‘illiterate’ musical public is no longer able to get their head round this particular form?

Further, I disagree with Parrott’s view that Cyril Scott’s best works are confined to the short piano pieces and a few songs. I must presume that he is ignorant of, or indifferent to, the chamber works and the two fine Piano Concertos. And what about the three Piano Sonatas?

More seriously, Parrott further worries about ‘how many executants are willing and able, let alone knowledgeable to do them (the Symphonies) justice.’ I suggest he listen again to some of the fine British symphonic cycles by Andrew Penny, David Lloyd Jones and Richard Hickox.

There is a whinge against the Radio Times for altering its format since the nineteen thirties, a complaint about the ‘bawling and moaning voices of pop’ and further examples of ‘reaction.’

The bottom line seems to be that Parrott feels that Scott and Arnold were somehow arrogant in imagining that their symphonic works ‘mattered’ and would mean something to future generations. I disagree – these works matter to me, and I imagine many other listeners. I am glad that record sales show that the ‘symphony’ is alive and well – and not only the German and Austrian examples – but British works too.

Yet a brief consideration of the CD catalogue perhaps puts this article into perspective. There are some three or four versions of the Malcolm Arnold symphonies currently available whilst Naxos is in the process of completing a William Alwyn cycle to complement those by Lyrita and Chandos. Scott’s Symphonies are represented by the one CD at the moment. Looking further we have easily available the essays in this form by Vaughan Williams, Bax, Berkeley, Rubbra and many others – including rarities by, for example, Edgar Bainton and Frederic Cliffe. However nowhere to be found are any recordings of Mr. Parrott’s symphonies, One through Five. In fact I can only find reference to one work in the current CD (ARKIV) catalogue - Fantasizing on a Welsh Tune. So perhaps it is just a question of sour grapes?

But onto happier matters; words cannot describe how delighted I was to read Jürgen Schaawächter’s article Overshadowed: British Symphonism beyond Parry, Stanford and Elgar. This is no rubbishing of the symphonic achievement or knocking of things Victorian and Edwardian, but a challenging rally cry to all British Music enthusiasts to get out and explore the field.

The main thrust of the article suggests that composers like MacFarren, Stamford, Parry and Alice Mary Smith were somehow lost in the mists of time when the concept of the English Musical Renaissance established itself in the Twentieth century.

And the best bit of the article is the checklist of lost, hidden, forgotten or half remembered works. Just to glance at it makes the mouth salivate! How long will we have to wait before we hear the symphonies by that old scholar Ebenezer Prout? Or perhaps we will soon be treated to those by York Bowen, Algernon Ashton or Henry Walford Davies. And what about a chance of hearing works by unsung composers such as Henry Holmes or Robert Ernest Bryson. It makes me fret that we have 25 recordings of Elgar’s First Symphony but none of works by Edith Swepstone, William Henry Bell and Frank Merrick.

Of course not all of them will be masterpieces – but they are a part of the British Heritage. We should be lusting after hearing them and making up our own minds.

I hope that the author of this article may allow MusicWeb to publish this list on these WebPages – it is truly a desideratum that all committed enthusiast of British music should aspire to!

Stephen Lloyd is beavering away writing what promises to be the definitive biography of Constant Lambert. Now many people will have heard of this composer’s well known conspectus of English music – Music Ho! Most will know that he wrote the eccentric but highly attractive Rio Grande - certainly after the Last Night of the Proms, 2005. But fewer folk will realize that he was involved in the promotion of English ballet. Not least by producing a number of well written and enjoyable scores. Of course he will be long associated with conducting and performance -Walton’s Façade for example. Lambert was friends with the Bohemian set in the 1920 and 30s including William Walton and Edith Sitwell. He was introduced to Diaghilev who commissioned Romeo and Juliet. But Lambert was also involved in broadcasting and journalism, often appearing on the BBC Home Service. His musical activities were not confined to ‘classical’ but stretched to jazz. Perhaps his most famous piano piece is Elegiac Blues. There is manifestly much to learn about this eccentric but complete musician.

Altogether a fascinating issue. Most of the articles are extremely interesting, educative and informative. One in particular, is, to be polite, somewhat challenging!

John France


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