Unlike NMC’s earlier
all-Lutyens disc (D 011) with works
from various periods of the composer’s
long composing life, this centenary
release is more limited in scope. The
pieces featured here were all written
between 1953 and 1970, although the
majority of them date from 1963 and
1964. Lutyens often mentioned that a
performance of Webern’s cantata Das
Augenlicht Op.26 at the 1938
ISCM festival in London came as a revelation,
and that Webern’s music was to have
a considerable impact on her own music-making.
As Meirion and Susie Harris rightly
mention in A Pilgrim Soul (Faber
and Faber 1989), Lutyens regarded Webern’s
compositions both as an excellence in
themselves and as a beacon for the future.
This can be experienced in almost all
the pieces recorded here, although,
with the possible exception of the String
Trio Op.57, none ever attains
the lapidary quality of most of Webern’s
works. Many of her works are either
relatively short or made up of short
movements; but her music is often warmer
in tone than Webern’s.
The instrumental works
recorded here were written in fairly
quick succession. Lutyens had by then
mastered and developed her own brand
of serialism which allowed her to write
fairly quickly. Présages
Op.53 is a theme and variations
capped by a coda, actually a varied
reprise of the opening section. It is
scored for solo oboe and was composed
for Janet Craxton. The instrumental
line-up of both the Wind Trio
Op.52 (flute, clarinet and bassoon)
and the Fantasie Trio Op.55
(flute, clarinet and piano) might imply
a sort of lighter divertimento for winds;
and there is no denying that these works
are on the whole accessible and often
very attractive, but the epigrammatic
music often strongly negates any idea
of divertissement. The music
is quite exacting and demanding, although
the end result is never intractable.
The Wind Trio Op.52 consists
of five movements (Improvisations I-V)
interspersed with four interludes, the
latter being often lyrical in character.
The Fantasie Trio Op.55
is in three movements. The material
of the outer movements is fragmented
in a sort of bright mosaic. It strongly
contrasts with the warmly lyrical song
without words of the central movement,
a beautiful dialogue between flute and
clarinet, briefly and softly accompanied
by the piano. This is rather unusual
by Lutyens’ standards. As mentioned
earlier in this review, Webern’s shadow
looms large over the String Trio
Op.57; one of her most radical
works, and a challenge for string players.
As far as I am concerned, this is one
of her unquestionable masterpieces.
The beautiful Motet
Op.27 is probably the best known
piece here, were it only because it
was recorded many years ago during the
LP era. It sets words from Wittgenstein’s
It may be difficult to know what motivated
Lutyens to set Wittgenstein, but she
certainly found his words suited to
her often hieratic and sometimes Stravinskian
setting. The music is complex and demanding,
and will be beyond most amateur choirs;
just listen to the fiendishly exposed
soprano part halfway into the piece.
That said, this writing is no longer
as intimidating as it was in 1953. As
a whole this work is quite successful.
The other choral works here share an
unusual characteristic, in that they
were all three published as supplements
to The Music Times. The earlier
of them, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis,
was commissioned for the Coventry Cathedral
Choir, although there is no evidence
whatsoever that they ever performed
it. It is Lutyens’ only liturgical work.
Both parts are strongly contrasted,
the Magnificat being fairly virtuosic
and the ensuing Nunc Dimittis
simpler, although – once again – the
music puts many demands on the singers’
stamina with dangerously exposed soprano
lines. On the other hand, The
Country of the Stars Op.50
on words from Boetius’s De
Consolatione Philosophie in Chaucer’s
prose translation clearly echoes the
Motet Op.27. Verses
of Love is – by comparison –
almost simple, certainly quite effectively
done, very attractive and curiously
This is a very fine
release that may be safely recommended:
excellent performances by dedicated
and beautifully equipped musicians who
clearly believe in the music; and rightly
so, for Lutyens’ music is not as rebarbative
as it might have sounded at the time
it was written and first performed.
Some works here are actually quite attractive,
an adjective one would not have used
to describe Lutyens’ music in the 1960s.
So, a fitting centenary tribute to an
important composer whose vast output
is undoubtedly uneven, but whose finest
achievements certainly deserve wider
exposure. A re-issue of the splendid
recording of Quincunx Op.44,
one of her most readily accessible masterpieces,
and brand-new recordings of Music
for Orchestra I-IV and of Symphonies
for Piano, Wind, Harps Percussion
Op.46 are still conspicuously
absent from her scant discography and
should now be considered as priorities.
John France also listened to this
I must confess that
I write this review as something less
than the greatest fan of Elisabeth Lutyens.
However over the past year or so I have
begun to ‘review’ my opinions of her
I guess it goes back
a number of years (35 actually) to a
piece of her music called O Saisons,
O chateau. I still remember feeling
that this was some of the most appalling
music I had heard up to that date. I
realise that the work had been applauded
and encored at its 1947 performance;
historically it received mixed reviews.
But I loathed it. However many years
passed before I heard my next piece
of Lutyens. And it was quite ironic.
One of her dislikes was what she called
‘cow-pat’ music. By this I guess she
meant the folksong-inspired works of
RVW, Butterworth and the like. It does
seem surprising that with this strong
view she composed music for a British
Transport Film production called The
Heart of England. Both screenplay
and music contrive to present a country-scape
that reveals ‘gentle hills, shut-in
valleys, picturesque villages’. But
it is not only scenery that is portrayed:
we have blossoming orchards, harrowing
of the rich fields, cricket on the village
green and traditional fairs. All full
of potential for ‘cowpats’. But somehow
she manages to provide an attractive
score without falling into the ‘pastoral’
trap. However it is closer to her hated
genre than it is to serialism!
The next piece that
has contributed to my re-appraisement
was ‘Driving out the Death’ for
Oboe and String Trio, Op.81. It was
part of a programme of English works
for oboe and strings performed by Janet
Craxton. I wrote in the review that
"this work appears to me to eschew
some of the more rigorous excesses of
this style of music. There appears to
be a greater freedom and flexibility
in her use of material." I was
further taken aback by the fact that
I found it "a moving and interesting
work exploiting the qualities of the
oboe and the string trio to the full.
Certainly this strikes me as being much
less hidebound by musical dogma than
previous works I have heard."
So it was with some
interest and perhaps a little trepidation
that I spun this present disc on the
Perhaps the greatest
work on this CD is the first – Présages
for Oboe, Op.53. This piece was
again composed for Janet Craxton. Lutyens
subtitles the work a ‘recit and variations
for solo oboe on Cassandra’s lament
from the Oresteia’. Apparently this
desolate piece was written at a time
of personal distress – just after the
death of her husband.
What impressed me was
the sense of classical balance that
this work exhibits: there does not seem
to be a note or a phrase out of place.
Lutyens makes use of the twelve note
series but does not allow it dominate
the work. Présages certainly
has a depth and passion that one would
not normally apply to a piece of music
written, by and large, mathematically.
Yet Lutyens claimed that the series
only really helped her to work out what
note came next! Seven variations and
a coda follow the initial recitative.
Quite definitely the heart of the work
is the desolate fourth variation - ‘adagio’.
I imagine that not
every composer would choose to set a
passage from Plato, Aristotle or St.
Thomas Aquinas. Yet somehow it seems
hardly surprising that she decided to
set an excerpt from the ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’
(1921) by the Austrian-born English
philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951).
The programme notes rightly describe
this Germanic prose as being ‘severe’.
Consider some of the texts – ‘The world
is the totality of facts;’ ‘The picture
is a model of reality;’ 'Logic fills
the world' and perhaps 'The riddle does
not exist.' These are all thoughts that
require deep meditation and cannot really
be understood at a single reading. Yet
perhaps it is a work that should be
allowed to wash over the listener. I
actually think it is one of the loveliest
a cappella works I have heard
in a long time. Not really suited for
church or concert hall, it is the ideal
chamber choir piece. Exceptionally difficult
and having been given a bad premiere
in 1954, this work deserves to be heard
on a much more frequent basis. It is
a fine example of balancing and shaping
serial ‘lines’ and applying derived
atonal chordal sequences, yet never
losing ‘a purity of style and luminosity
The 1963 Wind Trio
for flute, clarinet and bassoon Op.52
is nearer to the style of Lutyens’ music
that I find hard to enjoy. I did listen
to this work three times – more than
I would normally allow for most other
works that I review. And it is amazing
that patterns begin to impose themselves
onto what at first hearing is a little
The work was commissioned
by the BBC for one of the Third Programme
Invitation Concerts in 1963. It has
seldom been revived since then. This
is certainly less than it deserves,
being a good example of the genre.
Elisabeth Lutyens did
not have much time for organised religion.
She had bad experiences as a child with
her mother’s Theosophist predilection.
So it is interesting and useful to have
her only ‘liturgical’ setting on this
disc. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis
was commissioned by Coventry Cathedral
Choir in 1965. Of course this great
edifice had been a showcase for post-war
artistic endeavour. As a matter of interest
just look at this litany of names: -
Jacob Epstein, John Piper, Graham Sutherland,
Benjamin Britten and Sir Basil Spence
himself. Love or loathe this cathedral,
one has to accept that it has been inspirational
across the board.
was the present piece – a fine example
of modern choral music – with great
simplicity being revealed in a complexity
of rhythms and moods.
The String Trio
Op.57 (1964) is the most difficult
work on this present CD. The sleeve-notes
acknowledge that Lutyens puts excessive
demands on her players and her audience.
This five movement work is in many ways
analogous to Webern’s Op.20: both pieces
were composed at a time of deep personal
emotion. There is much in this present
work to explore. At first hearing it
can seem like ‘just another serial work’,
yet it is not long before the music
begins to reveal hidden depths and passion.
This is never going to be a crowd-puller,
but certainly must be regarded as one
of the more effective serial works written
in this medium. And I must confess that
I prefer it to the original Webern model!
Considering that only
six years separate the String Trio
from the Verses of Love, two
more different works are hard to imagine
– even allowing for difference of media!
It is hard to be worried by tone-rows
or serialism in this choral work. In
fact one could almost imagine it being
sung by the erstwhile King Singers.
It is effectively a three section part-song
setting of well known texts by Ben Jonson.
A truly gorgeous work; and that is not
an epithet I would loosely apply to
Elisabeth Lutyens’ music in general.
Interesting, involved, deep, passionate,
yes - but gorgeous rarely.
The Fantasie Trio
for Flute Clarinet and piano Op.55
was composed in 1963. It was commissioned
by the Charity Trio for a performance
in Dublin. This three movement work
is less introverted than the String
Trio. In fact much of this music
could be regarded as being quite ‘airy’.
Once again the added value that Lutyens
brings to this serial work is the well
contrived balance of the parts.
The first movement,
although lively to begin with, comes
to a quiet end. This leads into the
slow movement proper, where the solo
clarinet has a prominent part. There
is timelessness about this music that
defies description – the programme notes
refer to ‘mesmeric stillness’. However
the last movement opens things up again
with more virile patterns of sound.
After a brief outburst the work ends
The last work on this
disc is a setting of words by the great
and undervalued Roman philosopher Boethius.
The translation which is often truly
beautiful is by Geoffrey Chaucer. It
is yet another work from that most productive
year, 1963. However the programme notes
state that although the work was actually
published then it may have been composed
in 1957 – at the time she was working
on another Chaucer work, De Amore.
The text is basically a meditation on
‘the regulation of the starry heavens
and the courses of the earthly seasons
by Divine Love…’ This is another fine
choral work that certainly does not
deserve to be ignored by choirs and
The recording is excellent
and shows Exaudi as a truly accomplished
ensemble capable of tackling difficult
choral music and producing impressive
results. Endymion are well able to match
their choral partners in the chamber
works. Special mention must go to Melinda
Maxwell for her stunning performance
The programme notes
are excellent and the texts of the motets
This is not easy music.
Not one of these works can be approached
without considerable effort by both
players and listeners. But typically
this effort has been worthwhile. There
is no way that I will claim that Elisabeth
Lutyens is one of my ‘Desert Island’
composers – but I can confess to readers
that I was wrong to write her off all
those years ago.
An attractive, interesting
and often quite moving CD. I must admit
that here I prefer Lutyens’ choral works
to the chamber ones. The one exception
is the wonderful Présages.