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Alan Bush - A Source Book by Stewart R. Craggs
Ashgate Publishing

Publication Date: 02/2007
Number of Pages: 186 pages
Binding: Hardback
Book Size: 234 x 156 mm
British Library Reference: 016.7'8'092
Library of Congress Reference: 2006006944
ISBN-13 978-0-7546-0894-3
Price: $99.95/£55.00
Contents listed at end of review

£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.

Rob Barnett


Profile by Rachel O'Higgins vii
Acknowledgements xiii
Index of titles 1
Chronology 11
Catalogue of works 27
Arrangements of works by other composers 133
General bibliography 161
Classified index of works 171
General index 179


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