£55 is a bit steep
for a 186 page book. On the other hand
if you are researching Alan Bush, his
music and his milieu or the role played
by communism in the arts in the UK you
need this book.
Alan Bush, an English
composer with lifelong communist sympathies
was a conductor and pianist. He studied
at the RAM with Corder and Matthay,
and had private lessons from John Ireland.
His tenure at the RAM as professor of
harmony and composition began in 1925
and continued until 1978. He studied
piano with Moiseiwitsch and Schnabel.
There are four symphonies,
operas, concertos for violin and piano
as well as many other concertante works
and occasional orchestral pieces, songs,
choral works, piano solos and arrangements
are numerous. We desperately need recordings
of his Third Symphony Byron,
the Concert Suite for cello and
orchestra, the opera The Sugar Reapers
and above all the Piano Concerto.
The heart of the book
is a catalogue, organised by year, of
all of Bush's works. It reflects a massive
investment of time. Unlike say Howard
Ferguson, Bush was bountifully productive.
Much of the music was for amateurs or
semi-professionals. Much of it also
was premiered in modest circumstances
in the UK or had celebrity first performances
with East European radio orchestras.
Various forms of ban on his music together
with his unswaying tonal idiom held
him back from UK broadcasts, recordings
and premieres in London.
The works are listed
here by year and for each one there
is an entry for title, opus number,
circumstances of composition, dedication,
movement titles, instrumental specification,
librettist, duration, premiere, publication
and location of manuscript. On the downside
one looks in vain for the lists of singers
and roles in the operas’ premieres.
Also, although commercial recordings
are listed against each work, there
is no overall discography and neither
are all the recordings of a particular
work listed against the work entry.
The recordings that are listed are the
ones most likely to be available to
the reader now. No attempt is made to
list first recordings so there is no
reference to the early 1960s Melodiya
recording of the Bush Symphony No. 2
with the composer conducting the USSRSO.
Also notable by its absence is a list
of documentary broadcasts about and
by Bush together with British Library
references for the sound recordings.
Be aware of these aspects but since
the book does not set out to cover these
areas they are not oversights. They
do however limit the catchment a little.
Recycling of opus numbers
is fully charted. Undated works are
listed and so are arrangements of works
by other composers including Bach and
Beethoven but as expected Bush arranged
many British folksongs as well as showing
an affection and respect for British
composers of the 16th, 17th
and 18th centuries. There’s
a full general bibliography in which
is listed the last major Alan Bush book:
Time Remembered - Alan Bush - An
80th birthday Symposium (1981, Bravura).
Works are also listed by genre and alphabetically
by title. A 14 page chronology in outline
puts the music in Bush’s life-context.
Rachel O’Higgins biographical profile
lends personality and coherence to this
book of lists - invaluable as they are.
His friendships and
political sympathies are of course reflected.
The Red Flag is there in three
different arrangements. He was against
the Atom Bomb and wrote pieces in connection
with the Aldermaston March. His Song
of Hiroshima is to English words
by Ewan MacColl.
There are some regrettable
minor typos: At the Cinem (p.
1); Esquisse: Le Quartorze Juillet
(p. 60); for Childrens’ Choir
(p. 56), The International instead
of The Internationale p. 69,
formerly instead of formally
p. 74, Schwartz instead of
Schwarz (p. 89).
Stewart Craggs is the
doyen of such productions and the result
here is admirably informative and supportive
of the deservedly growing interest in
Alan Bush’s music. What we need now
– having learnt so much from the letters
between Ireland and Bush (see that other
Ashgate book) - is a full-scale biography
of the reach and perceptive quality
of Lewis Foreman’s Bax book.
Profile by Rachel O'Higgins vii
Index of titles 1
Catalogue of works 27
Arrangements of works by other composers
General bibliography 161
Classified index of works 171
General index 179